by Gus Elvin
The Pac-10 is no more as with the additions of Colorado and Utah the conference has been renamed the Pac-12(Big 10 and Big 12 take note). The new name change may be a good thing for a conference that over the last few seasons had earned a reputation as being a very weak conference that had slipped below some non-power 6 conferences like the Mountain West and even the Atlantic 10. In all honesty the Pac-10 deserved this reputation as they got only 4 teams in a 68 team expanded NCAA Tournament in 2011(including USC one of last 4 in) and only 2 in the 2010 NCAA Tournament. This year the Pac-12 should be better than it was the last 2 seasons but there is no top 10 caliber team in the conference as the conference championship race appears to be wide open with as many as 4 teams in the mix. The Pac-12 at the top is just not as good as the other conferences and its’ bottom 5 are very weak as teams like Utah, Washington State, Colorado and USC all have very inexperienced rosters that lack elite talent. The key factor that people don’t realize is that the Pac-10 has not been short of talent the past few years and that in reality its’ not the conferences fault they have been down the past few years. The Pac-10 over the past few seasons has been decimated by early departures and hurt more by early entrants into the NBA draft than any other conference. Players like Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, Brook Lopez and O.J. Mayo have all come through the Pac-10 and left early because the NBA came calling which has left the conference with a bit of a talent void. Even looking at last season you realize what the Pac-12 could have been this year if players like Klay Thompson, Malcolm Lee, Derrick Williams, Tyler Honeycutt, Isaiah Thomas and even Alec Burks at Colorado who played in the Big 12 last season had stayed another year. The Pac-12 this season will be a very young conference as freshmen like Josiah Turner and Nick Johnson(Arizona), Tony Wroten Jr.(Washington) and Arizona State’s Jahii Carson(if eligible) should all major impacts this season. The Pac-10 is a 4 team race between UCLA, Arizona, California and Washington and at the moment it is tough to tell which of these teams has the edge if any. This season the Pac-12 is wide open as I said as anyone of the top 4 could make a run at the regular season conference title which should provide excitement and entertainment value in the inaugural season of Pac-12 basketball.
Pac-12 Conference Projected Standings
1.) UCLA Bruins
2.) Washington Huskies
3.) Arizona Wildcats
4.) California Golden Bears
5.) Stanford Cardinal
6.) Oregon State Beavers
7.) Oregon Ducks
8.) Washington State Cougars
9.) Arizona State Sun Devils
10.) Colorado Buffaloes
11.) USC Trojans
12.) Utah Utes
1.)UCLA Bruins- Last season UCLA rebounded from a dismal 14 win campaign with a 23 win season and a tournament win over Michigan State. The Bruins were set to return everyone from that team but in the offseason 4 underclassmen declared for the NBA Draft. 2 of those players chose to remain in the NBA Draft as Tyler Honeycutt (12.8 ppg and 7.2 rebs) and Malcolm Lee (13.1ppg) both were selected in the 2nd round of the NBA draft but could have improved their stock with another season of college basketball. The other 2 players Reeves Nelson and Joshua Smith decided to return to Los Angeles for at least one more season and the 2 should combine to give the Bruins one of the better frontcourts in the west. Nelson a junior is a hardworking forward who led the Bruins in scoring (13.9ppg) and rebounding (9.1rpg) and returned after realizing he was likely to be a 2nd round selection. Nelson will be the Bruins’ leader this season as he is an energetic leader who flat out competes and fills out the stat sheet every night. The other returning front court player is one of the more talented big men in the nation, Joshua Smith. Smith who many casual college fans may not know a whole lot about is a 6-10, 305 lb. center who is an absolute monster in the low block. Smith averaged 11 points and 6.5 rebounds last season which are solid numbers but when you consider he only played 21 minutes a game you realize how good Smith is. Smith has battled weight issues and foul trouble but this season he should be ready for a breakout season for Ben Howland. UCLA also adds the Wear twins to the frontcourt as David and Travis are now eligible after sitting out last season after transferring from North Carolina. The Wear twins who are originally from Huntington Beach, California decided to return close to home after a season at UNC in which they both averaged around 3 points per game in 10 minutes a game. The Wear twins are good enough shooters to play either of the forward spots and should give UCLA even more size and depth to an already very skilled and talented frontcourt. Also factoring in the frontcourt will be 6-10 sophomore Anthony Stover, an L.A. product who averaged 8 minutes a game last season and can be a factor on the defensive end (0.9bpg). The backcourt will be the key for the Bruins as they must replace 2 starters in Tyler Honeycutt and Malcolm Lee and try to make up for the 26 points and 10 rebounds vacated by those 2 players. The cupboard is not completely bare though for Ben Howland in terms of backcourt talent as UCLA returns a pair of talented senior guards in Lazeric Jones and Jermie Anderson. Jones (35%) and Anderson (38%) are both capable outside shooters and will be counted on for outside shooting on an otherwise weak 3-point shooting team. Jones averaged 9 points and 3.6 assists last season but at times his turnover totals (2.1tpg) were high as he had his ups and downs adjusting to the Division 1 level. Anderson on the other hand is also a talented player (5.1ppg and 2.6apg) but was suspended in the offseason and has had a few off the court distractions during his career at UCLA. Ben Howland will need Anderson to put his off the court problems behind him and focus on basketball as Anderson will be one of the key players for the Bruins in the backcourt. Another player to keep an eye on in the backcourt is freshman Norman Powell a quick combo guard who is very good penetrator who should challenge for the starting job at shooting guard. The other players who figure to factor in the backcourt are highly touted sophomore Tyler Lamb (12.2mpg, 2.6 ppg) and juco transfer De’End Parker. UCLA looks to be very strong in the front court with Reeves Nelson and Joshua Smith returning and the addition of the Wear twins but the Bruins success will be determined by the play of guards Lazeric Jones, Jerime Anderson and company. Ben Howland’s team will be strong defensively again this season but they will need to shoot better from the outside (32%) and protect the ball better (14.4tpg-264th in the Nation) if they want to be the Kings of the Pac-12. UCLA will not have a true home court this season with renovations being conducted at Pauley Pavilion so the Bruins will need to overcome that adversity if they want to be considered a favorite in the Pac-12 race. Don’t live and die with the opening night loss to Loyola Marymount but the Bruins are far from a lock in a closely contested Pac-12 race in which all of the Top 4 feature glaring weaknesses.
2.) Washington Huskies – This may come as a surprise to many especially when you consider that Washington lost its top 3 scorers in Isaiah Thomas (16.9ppg, 3.5rpg, 6.0apg), Mathew Bryan-Amaning (15.3ppg, 8.0rpg) and Justin Holiday (10.5ppg, 5.2rpg) but the Huskies are my pick to finish 2nd in the Pac-12. Why you might ask? The answer is that Washington returns a lot of role players who have potential to breakout this season and become stars and they bring in one of the top freshman on the West Coast in Tony Wroten Jr. Lorenzo Romar returns a group that includes C.J. Wilcox, Abdul Gaddy, Terrence Ross and Scott Suggs and with the addition of Wroten, UW is not a team to sleep on this season. The biggest adjustment will be playing without Isaiah Thomas as the point guard ended his career playing his best basketball leading Washington to the Pac-10 Tournament Championship and almost leading the Huskies to a huge upset against North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament’s 3rd round. The 2 guys who will be responsible for replacing Thomas who left after his junior year will be junior Abdul Gaddy and the freshman Tony Wroten. Gaddy who was once a top 25 high school player nationally has had an up and down career in Seattle including an injury shortened sophomore season where he played in only 13 games before going down with a season ending knee injury. Gaddy has looked good in his first 2 games this season and appears healthy which is good news for Washington as Gaddy seems finally ready to ascend to the starting point guard role. While Gaddy will be a balanced guard who will look to pass as much as shoot Wroten should give Romar a score first mentality off the bench this season. Wroten is a tall point guard at 6-5 and is one of the best penetrators and finishers in this year’s incoming freshman class. Wroten is also a tremendous passer with a flair for the dramatic and also possesses a solid mid-range game to go with his penetration ability. Wroten is just the latest local product to choose UW and should be an exciting player to watch because of his amazing court vision and ability to take over a game as both a scorer and a passer. Washington looks to be well equipped at the point guard position and with the talent that Gaddy and Wroten possess don’t be surprised if Lorenzo Romar plays the 2 together more and more as the season goes on. If one player is set to breakout this season in the Pac-12 look for Terrence Ross to do it. Ross a highly touted freshman averaged 8 points last season but will be expected to become one of the Huskies top scorers this season as a sophomore. The 6-6 smooth wing gives Washington tremendous athleticism and shooting ability at the small forward spot and this year he should become a consistent big time scorer something he showed flashes of last season. Ross who had 25 points in a midseason game against Oregon finished the year strong with 16 points against Arizona in the Pac-10 Tournament and 19 points in the season ending Tournament loss to North Carolina. I look for Ross to become a prolific scorer as a sophomore as he can both get into the lane at ease or knock it down from long range at a high percentage (35%). Also back is 6-5 sophomore C.J. Wilcox who possess a very similar game to Ross as he in a good athlete who can also shoot the ball (40% from 3-point range). Wilcox who put up almost identical numbers as Ross averaging 8.1 points and 2 rebounds also finished the season strong with 4 double-digit games in March including a 24 point game against a good UCLA team. Wilcox like Ross is expected to nearly double his production this season and the early returns have been good as Wilcox is averaging 21 points and 5 rebounds through UW’s first 2 games in addition to shooting 8-13 from 3-point range which for you scoring at home is a 61.5 percent clip from downtown. Wilcox will be Washington’s starting off guard with Ross playing the wing and if his early stats are any indication of what is to come this season, look out for Wilcox in the Pac-12. The third guard/wing for Washington is senior Scott Suggs, the team’s best 3-point shooter(45%). Suggs(7.6ppg) though suffered a stress fracture in his toe and will be out 8 weeks minimum with his goal to return for the Huskies trip to New York in which they will play #21 Marquette on December 6th and #6 Duke on December 10th. Suggs will give Washington another shooter and his length could even make him an option at the 4 if Washington chose to go to a smaller athletic lineup. After answering the question of how Washington will replace Isaiah Thomas, Husky skeptics will question a lack of size and depth in the frontcourt and this is a valid claim as Washington appears very thin in terms of size and experience. My answer to that question mark is that Lorenzo Romar’s frenetic pace and tempo will nullify that lack of size and post play as Washington will just go with a smaller lineup. Although Washington will go smaller they are not void of size as Aziz N’Diaye a 7 footer returns in addition to forward Darnell Gant and Desmond Simmons. Also in the fold will be a pair of newcomers as former Auburn commit Shawn Kemp Jr. and freshman Martin Breunig are expected to provide frontcourt depth off the bench. N’Diaye is a legitimate shot blocker and rebounder who won’t need to be much of a presence on the offensive end for a talented shooting team like Washington. Gant on the other hand is also a solid body at 6-8, 230lbs and is also a capable outside shooter as well as a good interior finisher. Depth will be an issue but like I said don’t be surprised to see some smaller lineups with Suggs and Ross down low especially if N’Diaye is in foul trouble. Washington will once again be all about tempo and pace as they should remain the highest scoring team in the Pac-10 with a plethora of strong shooters and an athletic lineup. Washington ranked 3rd in the nation in scoring last season at 83 points a game and once again they should average around 80 points a game with their frenetic pace. Washington will need former role players like Abdul Gaddy, Terrence Ross and C.J. Wilcox to elevate their play this season and fill the void left by Thomas, Bryan-Amaning, Justin Holiday and Venoy Overton. Ross is a guy poised for a breakout season and if he becomes the scorer he was expected to be when he signed prior to last season lookout for the Huskies in the Pac-12. Frontcourt depth and rebounding will be an issue for the Huskies this season as Washington will need their guards to help rebound and need young frontcourt players to play valuable minutes off the bench. Washington may be a bit of a dark horse in the Pac-12 race this season but an athletic and talented shooting group make them my pick to challenge UCLA at the top of the conference.
3.) Arizona Wildcats- No team relied more on one player last season than Arizona did as they rode the curtails of Derrick Williams all the way to the Elite 8. This season Derrick Williams is gone as are his 19.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, his help defense and all of his leadership. That leaves a young nucleus that includes 4 freshmen and only 3 seniors who will play consistent minutes. Also gone are role players Jamelle Horne (6.1ppg) and 2nd leading scorer and point guard Mo Mo Jones(9.7ppg, 2.4 apg) who transferred to Iona to move back closer to home. With all that production gone Arizona is still ranked in the top 20 in the country entering this season largely due to a lot of young talent including a quartet of heralded freshmen. Those freshmen will be counted on for major contributions especially guards Josiah Turner and Nick Johnson a pair of rookies who were ranked in the top 25 of ESPNU’s Top 100 incoming freshmen. Turner is a very talented point guard who has a pass first mentality but also the ability to become a scorer when necessary. Johnson on the other hand is a strong defender like Turner who can shoot but is mostly known for his athleticism and leaping ability. Arizona also returns a trio of guards as seniors Kyle Fogg (8.1ppg, 2.6 apg) and Brendon Lavender (3.6ppg) return in addition to sophomore Jordin Mayes (4.9ppg). Fogg who was lightly recruited has been a solid player during his 3 year career thus far as he has started 85 games and has been a reliable defender and outside shooter since his freshman year. Lavender should provide depth off the bench and so far this season he has averaged 4 points and 13 minutes a game as a role player behind Johnson and Fogg. Mayes who played behind Mo Mo Jones last year will once again likely figure to play a backup role as Josiah Turner seems to be Arizona’s point guard of the future. Turner though has already been benched early this season so don’t forget about Mayes who is averaging just under 10 points a game early this season. Mayes figures to be a key player for Arizona as you never know the ups and downs a team can go through with a true freshman point guard like Arizona has in Josiah Turner. On the wing Arizona has Kevin Parrom a junior “tweener” who at 6-6 can play both guard or forward. Parrom who has battled injuries and consistency during his first 2 seasons was shot in the offseason but returned to action the other night and looked rather healthy with 6 points , 4 rebounds and 2 assists in 18 minutes off the bench. Parrom is a guy who’s numbers have yet to equal his ability but he has a lot of ability and could one day soon put up bigtime numbers. Parrom(7.6ppg last season) is a New York city kid who is very versatile and should give Sean Miller productive minutes whether its’ as a starter or as a 6th man, the role he thrived in last season. In the frontcourt the key returnee is Solomon Hill an athletic forward who like Parrom could be poised for a breakout season. Hill is another versatile player for head coach Sean Miller who does a lot of things well including rebound, pass and score in a variety of ways. Hill averaged 8.0 points and 4.7 rebounds last season but is averaging 10 points, 8 rebounds and 3.3 assists this season through the first 3 games. The other forward Jesse Perry is a former juco transfer who after averaging 6.6 points and 4.4 rebounds last season is expected to become a bigger factor with the departure of Derrick Williams. Perry has put on 20 pounds this season to bulk up and get stronger down low and at 6-7 he should be one of Arizona’s top rebounders and post scorers this season. At center Arizona returns Kyryl Natyazhko a Ukranian import who came to Arizona with a reputation as a skilled forward who could shoot from the perimeter but as his career has worn on he has become more of a glue guy who brings size on the defensive end. The final 2 players in the frontcourt who will see minutes this season are freshmen Angelo Chol and Sidiki Johnson. Johnson has not played a whole lot so far this season for the ‘Cats but he is a strong 6-8 forward who will help in terms of rebounding and interior scoring. Chol on the other hand is originally from the Sudan but played high school basketball in San Diego. Chol will be the backup at power forward to Jesse Perry and is expected to bring shot blocking and rebounding off the bench in addition to second change buckets. Like Washington and Cal but unlike UCLA, Arizona is a bit light in the frontcourt but what they lack in height or muscle they make up for in guard play and athleticism. Arizona has a very balanced team as they have a lot of players who could average between 8 and 14 points a game but lack a go to scorer like they had last season in Derrick Williams. The Wildcats though very young will contend in the inaugural Pac-12 as they have a lot of athleticism and backcourt depth and a pair of very talented impact freshmen in Josiah Turner and Nick Johnson. Arizona will go through some growing pains as they deal with the loss of Derrick Williams but Sean Miller’s ability to recruit has Arizona in good shape both this season and for the future as he already has a top 5 class for next season. Arizona needs veterans like Soloman Hill, Kyle Fogg and Kevin Parrom to take on added responsibility and accept more of an offensive load to ease the pressure on talented young guards Turner and Johnson. Arizona is a top 25 team but I think they may be ranked a little too high when you consider their leading returner scorer averaged just 8 points a game last season(Fogg) and neither of the 4 freshmen appear to be go to scorers this early in their career.
4.) California-After back to back 20 win seasons many expected the Golden Bears to really struggle last season with a young team as defensive stopper Jorge Gutierrez came in as the team’s leading returning scorer at just 5.5 points per game. California though did not undergo much of a rebuilding season as after a slow start they made some noise in the Pac-10 and qualified for the NIT. The Golden Bears ended up with an 18-15 record but with their top 3 scorers returning many think Cal can take that next step and contend for the Pac-12 title. Those hopes will hinge largely on the play and leadership of Gutierrez a tough nosed guard who blossomed as a scorer last year raising his average from 5.5 points to 14.6 points. Gutierrez is one of the best defenders in the country at the guard position but now that he has shown an ability to score and run the offense (4.5 assists) he is a legitimate Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate. Gutierrez this year as a senior will be a leader on a pretty young team and his toughness, quickness and intangibles will make him one of the better guards on the west coast. For the 2nd straight season Gutierrez will be joined in the backcourt by 6-6 off guard Allen Crabbe. Crabbe now a sophomore quietly had a very productive freshman season as he averaged 13.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2 assists for a Cal team that did not receive that much national press. Maybe more impressive was how efficient Crabbe was as a rookie as he shot 45 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range and over 80 percent from the foul line. Crabbe was even better in Pac-10 play shooting 48.1 percent from 3–point range while averaging 16.4 points per game. Crabbe is a player in the Pac-12 garnering a lot of media attention this season as the long wing player has a huge upside and should only improve as a sophomore. The third key returnee for Cal comes in 6-8 power forward Harper Kamp. Kamp the only other senior on coach Mike Montgomery’s roster is in his 5th year at Berkeley and is coming off his best season statistically with averages of 14.2 points and 5.6 rebounds. This year Kamp will be counted on to be Cal’s leader down low as Markhuri Sanders-Frison (10.9ppg, 7.4 rebs) his frontcourt mate has graduated. Kamp will be the unquestioned starter this season and with that will come a greater responsibility in terms of rebounding and defense in addition to continuing to be Cal’s 3rd leading scorer. Kamp will be the leader of the Golden Bears’ frontcourt this season and he should have a big year now that he has fully recovered from the knee injury that caused him to miss the 2009-10 season. In summary California is set at 3 positions with Gutierrez, Crabbe and Kamp but will need the rest of their roster to fall into place as they need help in the frontcourt and depth in the backcourt. In the backcourt the 2 biggest factors after Crabbe and Gutierrez should be former walk-on junior Brandon Smith and former Minnesota transfer Justin Cobbs. Smith who’s minutes increased after the transfer of Gary Franklin should start in the backcourt alongside Gutierrez as Cal will go a little small with Allen Crabbe at the wing spot. Smith averaged 6.4 points and 4 assists per game last season after taking over the starting point guard in January. Cobbs on the other hand is a transfer from Minnesota who should play about 25 minutes a game splitting point guard duty with Smith. Cobbs is big time athlete who is more of a scorer than Smith who through 2 games is averaging 10 points and 4 assists for the Golden Bears. Also in the mix for backcourt minutes off the bench will be sophomore Emerson Murray (7 minutes per game last season) and 6-7 transfer Jeff Powers. Powers is a lanky 6-7 wing who had his moments last season with games of 14 points against Washington State and 13 points against Washington. How the rest of the frontcourt shakes out after Kamp will be the key for the Golden Bears as players like Richard Solomon (15.7mpg, 5.6ppg, 4.4rpg) and 6-9 Sudanese junior Bak Bak need to step up with more expected of them this season. The other player who is making noise in the frontcourt is 6-9 freshman forward David Kravish who is averaging 8 rebounds and 20 minutes per game through the first 2 games this season. Solomon, Kravish and Bak will need to give Cal productive minutes this season especially on the defensive end as Cal has a talented group of guards but is very unproven up front. Cal has a 1st team All-Pac-10 player in Jorge Gutierrez, a 2nd team All-Pac-10 player in Kamp and the 2010 Pac-10 freshman of the year in Allen Crabbe so Cal will not be happy with anything short of an NCAA Tournament bid. Cal like the other teams I have mentioned will be in the mix at the top of the Pac-12 standings but their lack of frontcourt experience and size drop them slightly below teams like UCLA, Washington and Arizona. Gutierrez will be the glue to this team once again but look out for Allen Crabbe who could breakout this season as a star for Mike Montgomery and the Golden Bears.
5.) Stanford- Johnny Dawkins begins his 4th season as head coach at Stanford and with 0 tournament appearances thus far the Cardinal have seemingly taken a step back since the departure of Trent Johnson. That being said Dawkins starts the year with on paper the best team he has said since arriving in Palo Alto as the Cardinal return all but one player led by senior forward Josh Owens(11.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg). The Cardinal one loss is a big one as they lose leading scorer Jeremy Green(16.7ppg) who had a tremendous junior season but went undrafted after prematurely declaring for the NBA Draft. Green will be missed as he was the team’s leading scorer and best 3-point shooter (43%) but Stanford does have talented young guys who should be able to fill in at guard. The biggest returner is Owens a 6-8 forward who emerged last season as a strong rebounder and powerful post presence for the Cardinal. This season even more will be expected of Owens who is an athletic finisher who will be counted on to provide muscle for a Stanford team that has no one who weighs over 230 lbs. Owens will be joined down low by highly touted sophomores Dwight Powell (8.1ppg, 5.2 rpg) and Anthony Brown (8.7ppg, 3.2rpg). These 2 guys made a nice impact last season as freshmen but this season they are expected to breakout even more, especially Powell a Canadian import who brings great size (6-9) and athleticism to the Stanford frontcourt. Powell is a player to watch this year in the Pac-12 as many including head coach Johnny Dawkins expect him to have a breakout season. Anthony Brown is also a highly touted sophomore who should start this season at the wing and will look to improve on a solid freshman campaign in which he averaged almost 9 points and shot 35 percent from 3-point range. Stanford is also not shy of depth up front as fellow sophomores John Huestis(2.0 ppg, 2.3 rpg) and John Gage(3.8rpg, 1.0 rpg) and senior Jack Trotter (3.ppg, 3.4rpg) all return to bolster an already very strong frontcourt. Also in the mix will be highly touted redshirt freshman Stefan Nastic of Serbia who missed most of last season with a broken foot. Nastic and Gage can both stretch the defense and shoot from outside and are valuable assets in Johnny Dawkins perimeter oriented offense. In the back court like I said the Cardinal will need to replace the departed Jeremy Green but everyone else returns led by point guard Jarrett Mann and sophomore Aaron Bright. Mann, a senior struggled last season at the point as he averaged 7 points and 4 assists but also averaged almost 3 turnovers per game and shot an anemic 33 percent from the floor. This season Mann will need to improve those numbers quickly because if he doesn’t he will lose his job early to highly touted freshman Chasson Randle. Randle an ESPNU Top 100 recruit and the 2011 Gatorade Player of the Year in Illinois will be given an opportunity early to take the reins at the point, as I expect him to become the starter before the start of conference play. Randle is a combo guard who can attack the rim with both hands and can also knock down the outside shot. Randle did not play a lot of point guard in high school but his frame and skillset make him an intriguing candidate and likely factor at the point. Aaron Bright(5.1ppg, 2.0apg) on the other hand is an offensive minded guard who at 5-11 has had a great start to the season averaging 16 points through 3 games. Bright so far this year has hit 9 of 13 three point shots and if he continues to score could be a key member of the Stanford backcourt. Stanford also returns junior slasher Gabriel Harris from a knee surgery and Andy Brown a junior sharpshooter who has suffered 3 ACL tears in his Cardinal career. In the backcourt expect Bright and Randle to emerge as both capable scorers and facilitators with Anthony Brown poised to breakout at the wing. Stanford has a very good frontcourt led by Owens and Powell and if young guards like Aaron Bright and Chasson Randle can provide coach Dawkins with solid guard play than the Cardinal could be an NCAA team. Stanford will have to adjust at guard after losing their leading scorer Jeremy Green but expect this team to be a middle of the Pac-12 team that could crack into the top 4 if they exceed expectations. The one other weakness for Stanford is size as they don’t a lot of muscle up front as all 6 of their players above 6-8 weigh less than 230lbs. Stanford is not a very good outside shooting team as they shot only 43% from the field and averaged just 66 points per game, 2 numbers that ranked near the bottom of the Pac-10. Stanford like Oregon is just outside that top 4 and will be most likely looking at an NIT berth rather than the NCAA Tournament.
6.) Oregon State- To start this is not a misprint. Oregon State a perennial Pac-10 doormat has a chance this season to make some noise and finish in the top half of the conference under Craig Robinson. Robinson has received as much attention for being the brother in-law of Barack Obama as he has for being the coach of OSU but he hopes this season that will all change up in Corvallis. The Beavers return 5 of their top 7 scorers led by leading scorer Jared Cunningham. Cunningham is one of the best athletes in America at 6-4 and last season ranked 5th in the nation with 2.83 steals per game. Cunningham just a junior averaged 14.2 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists and the amazing 2.8 steals per game last season but those numbers are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Cunningham’s talent. Cunningham more importantly added the 3-point shot to his arsenal as he shot a solid 36 percent from 3-point range and increased his 3 –point makes from 7 as a freshman to 27 as a sophomore. This season Cunningham should continue to improve and could blossom as a Pac-10 Player of the Year candidate depending on how OSU does as a team. Cunningham’s running mate in the backcourt will be 5-9 sophomore speedster Ahmad Starks who was a pleasant surprise last season for Craig Robinson. Starks finished as the team’s 3rd leading scorer at 7.8 points per game but plays the role of scoring guard rather than point guard. Starks played his best ball at the end of the year with two 16 point efforts in 2 Pac-10 Tournament games. Off the bench at guard OSU will look for redshirt sophomore Roberto Nelson (7.5 ppg) to give them valuable minutes. Nelson a former ESPN Top 100 recruit is one of OSU’s most talented players so at some times don’t be surprised if OSU goes small with Nelson, Starks and Cunningham on the floor. Nelson has had his moments at OSU as last season he tallied 34 points in a game against Arizona State in which OSU only had 6 active players because of suspensions and Robinson expects him to have a breakout year this season. The final guard on the roster is 6-3 freshman Challe Barton, a Swedish import who averaged 17.7 points and 5 assists in high school in Sweden and has also appeared for the U-18 and U-20 Swedish national teams in tournaments like the 2011 U-20 European Championships. The rest of the guards on the roster are all walk-ons or players who will have to sit out a year after transferring so OSU’s backcourt depth will be very thin this season. In the frontcourt OSU’s most important returnee is Joe Burton a 6-7, 280 lb. center who can score and rebound and also led OSU in assists last season averaging 2.4 assists per game. Burton a junior is in better shape this season and Robinson hopes that he can become more of a scorer to go along with his tremendous basketball IQ and court vision. Burton so far this season (albeit a small sample) seems to be taking that to heart as through 2 games the junior is averaging 15 points per game and has already knocked down two 3-pointers more than he had combined in his first 2 seasons. Although the competition has yet to be very good for OSU just the fact that Burton is taking more shots is a good omen for the Beavers as they need him to be about a 10 point, 6 rebound guy if they want to make some noise this season. Joining Burton up front will be sophomore Devon Collier, another former top-100 recruit who averaged 7 points per game last season in just under 20 minutes of action. Collier like Roberto Nelson could be poised for a breakout season as the sophomore was very efficient last season (FG%: 58) and should get more shots with the graduation of center Omari Johnson. Collier also played this offseason with the Puerto Rican national team an experience that should help his confidence and game this season. Off the bench look for UTEP transfer Eric Moreland a 6-10 sophomore to be an active rebounder and Australians Angus Brandt (6-10, 237lbs.) and Rhys Murphy (6-7, 195) to help. Murphy a former high jump champion gives Craig Robinson tremendous athleticism at the wing off the bench while Brandt is another big body who is ideal for the pick and pop game and could be a factor in Craig Robinson’s Princeton style offense. The final role players for OSU will be Oak Hill freshman forward Daniel Gomis who is out until December with a leg injury and senior energy guy Kevin McShane. OSU has an interesting roster as they have some capable scorers in the backcourt in Cunningham, Nelson and Starks but will need frontcourt players like Burton and Collier to increase their scoring production. Don’t sleep on Craig Robinson’s team up in Corvallis as OSU has a nice looking starting lineup that could make some noise out west this season. OSU doesn’t look like a tournament team but I expect them to be right there with Oregon and Stanford in that 2nd tier of the Pac-12. On a team with only 1 senior(McShane) this year could be a stepping stone for Craig Robinson’s Beavers as next year could be “the year” for OSU as they look to return to the NCAA’s for the first time since 1990.
7.)Oregon- The Ducks last season finished the year strong ending the year on a 7-2 streak that culminated in a CBI Championship (College Basketball Insider). The Ducks were not a tournament team last season but that post season experience should definitely benefit the Ducks in Dana Altman’s 2nd season at the helm. After being picked to finish last in the Pac-10 the Ducks overachieved with a 7-11 conference record which was good enough for sole possession of 7th in the conference. This year though the Ducks may be capable of more as they return 2nd leading scorer E.J. Singler, bring in top freshman Jabari Brown and welcome 3 Division 1 transfers in Olu Ashaoulu, Devoe Joseph and Tony Woods. Oregon even without departed leading scorer Joevon Catron(15.9ppg, 6.7 rpg) will be a better team on paper this season but time will tell to whether or not all these newcomers can gel and become a complete team in the Pac-12. The key returnee for the Ducks is E.J. Singler(Kyle’s brother) a junior small forward who finished 2nd on the team in scoring and rebounding last season with averages of 11.7 points and 5.6 rebounds. Singler is back as the leader for a Ducks team that has only 3 other seniors who have worn an Oregon uniform and should once again be a versatile presence both inside and outside (40 percent from 3-point range) for head coach Dana Altman. Singler will be joined in the frontcourt by a pair of impact newcomers as Louisiana Tech transfer Olu Ashaoulu and Wake Forest transfer Tony Woods are expected to step right in as starters in the frontcourt. Ashaoulu who played 3 seasons for Louisiana Tech in the WAC is a nightly double-double threat as he averaged 14.2 points and 9.4 rebounds as a junior. The 6-7 forward will bring intensity and rebounding ability to an inexperienced Ducks team and should also be someone who can average 8-10 points per game. Woods on the other hand was a highly touted recruit for Wake Forest who in 2 years in Winston Salem struggled on and off the floor. Woods is a tremendous athlete for his size and has played well in spurts in the past but has never fulfilled the hype he garnered out of high school. Woods who was charged with assault in 2010 will welcome a fresh start in Eugene as he looks to revive his player career and put behind his off the court issues. A good sign for Woods is that he led the Ducks with 12 points in the season opener against Vanderbilt and showcased a lot of the ability that made him a hot commodity coming out of high school in Georgia. With a solid rebounder and athlete in Ashaoulu, a versatile forward in E.J. Singler and a physical presence on both ends in Tony Woods, as Oregon should have one of the better frontcourts in the Pac-12. In terms of depth Oregon can bring in Tyrone Nared a former juco transfer who last season started 21 games for Oregon averaging 5.1 points and 3.9 rebounds. Also expected to provide depth at forward are juco-All-America Carlos Emory from Howard College in Texas (16.4 points, 7.9 rebs) and returning senior Jeremy Jacob(6.2ppg, 3.5 rebs). Like UCLA, the key for Oregon will be how their backcourt performs as a bunch of young or new players are in the mix with the lone senior being Garret Sim. The two biggest newcomers figure to be top 50 recruit Jabari Brown a 6-4 freshman from Oakland and Minnesota transfer Devoe Joseph. Brown is expected to play major minutes at the off-guard spot from Day 1 as he is an offensive juggernaut who can attack and finish at the rim because of his tremendous athleticism or kill you from long range as one one of the best shooters in this year’s freshman class. Brown led the Ducks in scoring during the offseason trip to Europe at over 15 points per game and is one of the best freshman people don’t know a lot about heading into the season. Joseph on the other hand is a scoring guard who can take defenders off the dribble or shoot from the outside. Joseph is a guy who has a lot of ability and potential who shot at just under a 39 percent clip from 3-point range over the last 2 seasons at Minnesota. Joseph, the older brother of Spurs guard Corey Joseph transferred after 8 games last season so he will not be eligible until December but his 11 points and 3.5 assists should help the Oregon backcourt once conference play starts. Joseph is a player to watch this season as once he becomes eligible he could be a key factor in whether or not Oregon is ready to challenge for a NCAA Tournament berth. Until Joseph becomes eligible Oregon will mainly use 2 guys at point guard as sophomore Jonathon Loyd( 4.7ppg, 2.3 apg) and senior Garret Sim(8.2 ppg, 1.8apg) are expected to split the minutes. Loyd (brother of former BYU guard Michael Loyd) had an up and down freshman season but played some good ball down the stretch in the CBI including a 10 point and 6 assists game against Creighton in the final series. Sim on the other hand is the Duck’s 2nd leading returner scorer behind Singler and can play the point or shooting guard for Dana Altman. The final players expected to be in the rotation are a pair of freshman in guards Bruce Barron and Brett Kingma. Kingma is a wildcard this season as he had a very good offseason trip to Europe and could become a factor because of his 3-point shooting ability. The Pac-10 is very cluttered this season and Oregon looks like one of those teams that will benefit as they should move up a few spots and be in contention for a postseason berth. Dana Altman has done a nice job recruiting and rebuilding Oregon’s basketball heritage and with top of the line facilities like Mathew Knight Arena, Oregon should be on the way back up the Pac-12 ladder. Similar to Iowa State in the Big 12, Oregon will go through a bit of a science experiment this season as they bring in a lot of new transfers and freshman hoping that these players can gel and become a complete team. Oregon is better this year but with a lot of new faces and a weak Pac-12 conference I see the Ducks as a middle of the conference team that should content for an NIT spot.
8.) Washington State- It’s hard for Washington State coach Ken Bone and the rest of the Cougar fans up in Pullman to not think of what could have been as the Cougars lost 2 of their top 3 scorers in DeAngelo Casto and Klay Thompson. Thompson who was selected 11th overall by the Golden State Warriors would have been a National Player of the Year candidate as the guard was coming off a junior season in which he averaged 22 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals for the Cougars. Casto on the other hand was a physical specimen who led the team in rebounding (6.8rpg) and also contributed on the offensive end averaging 12 points. This season without those two early departures Wazzou will rely on senior guard Fasial Aden (12.7 ppg) and point guard Reggie Moore (9.1ppg, 3.4 apg). Aden is an explosive scorer who when paired with Thompson often got some great looks but now that Thompson is gone, opposing defenses will likely key on Aden. Look for Aden to lead the Cougars in scoring this season but he is a volume scorer who can both shoot the Cougs in games but also shoot them out of games as well. Moore on the other hand is in his 3rd season as the starting point guard and this year they will need for him to focus on basketball and stay on the floor. I say this because Moore has had few run ins with the law and coach Bone during his career but when he is on the floor the 6-1 guard is a very talented player and a key piece for WSU. Washington State should remain solid in the backcourt with 2 returning starters but how the rest of the roster fills out will be a bit of a mystery. One guard who could be poised to make a big impact this season is freshman DaVonte Lacy. Lacy who notched 21 points in WSU’s exhibition game against Lewis and Clark , played just 14 minutes in the Cougars’ opener against Gonzaga but the freshman guard made the most of his time on the floor scoring 11 points and grabbing 4 rebounds, while knocking down 3 late 3-pointers. The other guard/wing expected to help partially fill the void left by Klay Thompson will be junior guard Mike Ladd. Ladd who played his first 2 years at Fresno State averaged 10.3 points as a sophomore for the Bulldogs while shooting 39 percent from 3-point range. After sitting out last year because of transfer rules Ladd should help WSU as a secondary scorer and outside shooter and should be a double digit scorer for the Cougars. The other 2 guards to factor in will be senior Marcus Capers and little used sophomore Will DiOrio. Capers has averaged around 6 points both of the last 2 seasons and this year he will once again be someone who will be expected to scorer 6-9 points per game. In the frontcourt WSU must begin life without leading rebounder DeAngelo Casto and that responsibility will fall to a series of players. The most important returner will be Brock Motum an athletic 6-10 junior from the Australian Institute of Sport. Motum is an explosive leaper and powerful finisher at the rim and also possesses a feathery touch from outside (32% percent) for someone his size. Motum this season will become more of a focal point for the WSU offense this season and I expect him to double his last season’s scoring average of 7.6 points. Motum has always been a guy who passed the eye test, and with more minutes and another year of experience expect him to become the Cougars’ top post option this season. Motum will be joined up front by Abe Lodwick a 6-7 senior who like Motum possesses the ability to shoot from the outside(33%) in addition to being able bang down low. Lodwick only averaged 3.5 points per game last season but his skills and versatility should make him more of an offensive weapon this season. Off the bench Ken Bone will turn to sophomore Patrick Simon a good outside shooter at 6-8, and freshman D.J. Shelton. Washington State will severely miss Klay Thompson and DeAngelo Casto but the Cougars still return a talented backcourt and few nice frontcourt pieces this season. WSU will not be a tournament team this year but with talented players like Reggie Moore, Fasial Aden and Brock Motum the Cougars should finish a few spots clear of the bottom of a weak Pac-12. WSU does not have any bona fide stars as of yet but with weaker programs like Utah and a depleted USC, the Cougars should finish around 7th or 8th in the Pac-12. WSU has a very intriguing backcourt but their frontcourt is very unproven and a major question mark with the exception of Brock Motum.
9.) Arizona State- The Sun Devils are the hardest team to project this season in the Pac-12 mostly because we are unsure of what their team will look like. ASU is still waiting to hear back on the eligibility of heralded freshman point guard Jahii Carson, a recruit who was supposed to reignite life in a program that won just 12 games last season. Carson’s eligibility may factor greatly in how ASU fares this season as the talented guard was supposed to be an immediate contributor and without him ASU could once again struggle to score. Carson if eligible is an elite talent as the ESPNU Top 100 recruit is a 5-10 speedster with tremendous athleticism and strength who can also shoot from the outside or lead the team at the point. How good is Carson? Well for one he is was the only high school player to make the USA U-19 team for this summer’s World Championships. Carson a local product averaged 32 points per game in high school and ASU hopes that they will have him eligible very soon. The most influential returner for the Sun Devils this season will be junior guard Trent Lockett. Lockett a former top recruit really has developed his game during his first 2 seasons including averages of 13.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists as a sophomore. Make no mistake about it this is Lockett’s team and it has been for 2 years now so ASU will go as far as their young leader will take them. The other guards to look for this season for ASU will be Keala King(3.7ppg) and former Iowa State transfer Chris Colvin. King a highly touted sophomore can play either guard spot but if Carson is declared ineligible expect him to see many of his minutes at point guard. King an athletic player who can drive to the rim needs to improve his outside shooting numbers as he connected on just 1-18 3-point attempts last season. Colvin on the other hand comes from Community Collge via Iowa State and should immediately compete for minutes in Herb Sendek’s backcourt. Colvin averaged 3 points per game as a freshman for the Cylcones but is coming off a junior college season in which he averaged 13 points per game at Palm Beach State Community College in Florida. Colvin is also expected to play minutes at either guard spot and is more of a polished outside shooter than King at this point. At the wing ASU will likely play a lot of Trent Lockett but also expected to play at either small forward or shooting guard will be Carrick Felix. Felix a 6-6 “tweener” who originally was committed to Duke averaged 4.6 points in just 14 minutes per game last season but with almost double those minutes and a year of Division 1 basketball under his belt he should be around a double-digit scorer for the Sun Devils. In the frontcourt ASU has some size in a pair of 7-footers in 7-2 Jordan Bachynski and7-0 Ruslan Pateev. Neither one played major minutes last season but both have tremendous size and potential. Sendek expects both to increase production this year as they should split time at the center position in Tempe. At power forward the projected starter is sophomore Kyle Cain. Cain a 6-7 forward is coming off a solid freshman season in which he averaged 5.4 points and a team high 5.5 rebounds in 20 minutes. This year Cain should become more of a threat offensively as the forward will be ASU’s best scoring option on the low block. Look for Cain to have a nice season as the 6-7 forward has a lot of physical ability but just hasn’t found his groove yet at the college level. ASU also has an option with Chanse Creekmur(3.1ppg) as a wing player off the bench, as well as Danish freshman Jonathon Gilling. Creekmur may be ASU’s best 3-point shooter this season with Ty Abbott, Rihard Kuksiks and Jamelle McMillan all gone while Gilling is a 6-7 skilled forward who is expected to play very little this season. The Sun Devils are not going to be a tournament team even with Jahii Carson but without him they will be in for a long year as they will most likely finish in the bottom 3 of the Pac-12. ASU struggles to score the ball as they averaged only 64 points per game and shot just 43 percent from the field both numbers that will need to improve if ASU wants to improve on their 4-14 conference record from a season ago. An eligible Jahii Carson would be a huge boost for this Sun Devil program as he is an elite talent who could help them both this season and into the future. ASU if Carson is eligible could finish as high as 7th in the Pac-12 but without him they look more like a 10-12 team.
10.) Colorado-Last season the Buffaloes won a school record 24 games but were disappointingly left out of the NCAA Tournament on Selection Sunday. This season Colorado figures to take a few steps back as they lose the school’s all-time leading scorer Corey Higgins to graduation and Wooden Award Finalist Alec Burks to the NBA. Burks is a huge loss as the 6-6 point forward had an outstanding sophomore season in which he averaged 20.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.9 assists on his way to All-Big 12 honors. Burks would have been an All-American candidate this season but decided to forgo his final 2 years of college eligibility and enter the NBA Draft where he was selected 12th overall by the Utah Jazz. Higgins on the other hand was a valuable 4 year player for the Buffs who finished his career tied for 1st on the CU all-time scoring list after a senior season in which he averaged 16 points per game. Also graduating with Higgins were Marcus Relphorde(11.2ppg) and Big 12 6th Man of the Year Levi Knutsen(11.7ppg, 47%-3point%). In all the Buffaloes lose their top 4 scorers and entering a new conference they figure to be in for a rebuilding year for 2nd year head coach Tad Boyle. The best returner for CU may be Andre Roberson a 6-7 wing who led the team in rebounding last season at 7.8 rebounds per game. Roberson just a sophomore is the Buffs top returning scorer(6.7 points) and his athleticism and ability to shoot the 3-point shot(34%) should make him one of CU’s offensive leaders this season. Another guy to watch this year will be Carlon Brown a senior transfer from Utah who sat out last season but is eligible this year after practicing with the team all of last season. Brown led the Utes in scoring in 2009-10 at 12.6 points per game and really improved last year competing at practice against Higgins and Burks. At point guard senior Nate Tomlinson will be the starter once again this season as the 4 year player saw his minutes decline last year as Burks handled a lot of the point guard duties. Tomlinson is a tough kid out of Australia who can both pass the ball and shoot from downtown (45 percent 3-point shooter for his career) and will counted on for more scoring this season. At center CU figures to go with 6-9 senior Austin Dufault (6.6ppg, 4.2rpg) and Australian 7-footer Shane Harris-Tunks. In the backcourt former Texas A&M signee Jeremy Adams a juco transfer should challenge for minutes. Adams has yet to play this season because of a concussion but he is expected to be a scoring 2 guard who could make up some of the production lost with the departure of Burks and Higgins. Off the bench look for sophomore Shannon Sharpe (2.7ppg) as well as freshmen Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker to contribute. Booker is an athletic scoring guard, while Dinwiddie is a game manager at the point guard who could be the point guard of the future for Tad Boyle. Colorado will struggle in their first year in the Pac-12 as they have a very young team that will have to adjust to playing without their top 4 players from a season ago. Losing Alec Burks early was a crushing blow to the Buffaloes’ chances in the Pac-12 this season but with a young nucleus Colorado should see better days down the line. Andre Roberson is a player who could emerge as a star over the next couple of seasons and with a heralded recruiting class coming in next season CU could be a threat in the Pac-12 as soon as next season. This year Colorado’s younger players will receive a lot of playing time and that experience should help them the next few years when they figure to be a stronger team. Colorado is a bottom 4 Pac-12 team this year but look for Andre Roberson to emerge as one of the most exciting players in the conference.
11.)USC- The Trojans were expected to be in rebuilding mode this season after losing Nikola Vucevic to the NBA Draft and graduating fellow starters Alex Stephenson and Marcus Simmons but expectations got even lower this summer when leading returning scorer Jio Fontan(10.5ppg, 3.9apg) went down with a season ending ACL injury. Now without Fontan, USC’s roster looks even lighter as not much production returns from a team that qualified for the NCAA Tournament last season. USC like expected has struggled out of the gate, starting just 1-3 including a loss to lowly Cal Poly. For those of you who don’t understand how much USC is struggling just look at the Cal Poly box score and you will see the Trojans managed just 36 points against a team that went 15-15 out of the Big West last season. With Fontan out Kevin O’Neill turns to5-7 sophomore guard Maurice Jones to lead his team . Jones a tough ball player who plays hard is the Trojans’ leading returning scorer at 9.9 points but is a high volume shooter who shot just 37 percent from the field last season. This season on a roster that flat out just lacks the talent needed to compete in a weak Pac-12 conference there is no telling how many shots Jones will take. So far the diminutive guard has already put up a 6-22 game and a 1-11 effort against Cal Poly and don’t expect the guard to stop shooting. One bright spot for the Trojans this year has been Iowa transfer Aaron Fuller who has fit in nicely for the Trojans and leads the team in scoring (14.0ppg) and rebounding (7.5 rpg) through 4 games. The other bright spot has been juco transfer Dewayne Dedmon a sophomore transfer from Antelope Valley College (Ca). Dedmon an athletic 7-footer already has an NBA body and is garnering a lot of NBA attention because of his physical tools. Dedmon is still very raw having only been playing basketball for 2 years but his energy, size and effort have been very impressive thus far this season. Dedmon is averaging 7.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game this season and looks to be a guy who with more experience could become a dominant low post player on both ends of the floor. 2 other newcomers who have been thrown right into the fire because of a lack of depth and talent are Alexis Moore and Byron Wesley. Moore a point guard from Long Beach is a very good athlete and a bright prospect but so far this season he has struggled shooting the ball from the field (25%) and with his decisions at point guard. Wesley on the other hand is a strong 6-6 wing player who does most of his damage inside 15 feet but has been working to extend his range on the perimeter. Moore and Wesley are projects as neither are considered elite recruits but you wouldn’t know that by the box score as both kids are averaging 33 minutes a game, another sign that the Trojans are lacking in depth and talent. The Trojans best outside shooter figures to be 6-6 forward Garret Jackson who last season shot 45 percent from 3-point range as a sophomore but figures to get a lot more opportunities this year as a junior. USC is going to be among the worst teams among teams in power conferences as they have a roster that lacks elite talent and features a lot inexperienced newcomers. USC will struggle to score this season with no credible #1 scorer now that Fontan will be out for the year so expect a long year for the fans in L.A. On a very bad team look for Fuller and Dedmon to have nice seasons as both players should get plenty of minutes and should emerge as SC’s best options on the offensive end. USC will have a very short bench this season with all of their injuries and a lack of quality players, so many of their newcomers will be forced to play around 30 minutes a game. Kevin O’Neill has one of his toughest coaching assignments of his career and this team will need to play outstanding defense if they want to be competitive and stay in games. One positive for the Trojans is that Utah joins the conference this season and the Utes might have even more issues than SC does.
12.)Utah-Once a dominant program in the Mountain West the Utah Men’s Basketball program has fallen on hard times the last few years winning just 27 games in 2 years, including a 13-18 campaign a year ago. Utah the 12th winningest college basketball program in NCAA history was once a mainstay in the NCAA Tournament but recently that hasn’t been the case as the Utes have qualified for the Big Dance just once since 2005. This season the Utes move into the Pac-12 under new coach Larry Krystkowiak but Utah appears overmatched for now and likely will be a bottom feeder this season in their new conference. Utah comes into the Pac-12 at an inopportune time as well as they unexpectedly lost leading scorer Will Clyburn (17.1ppg) who transferred to Iowa State and wing J.J. Obrien(6.4 ppg) who left for San Diego State. That leaves 2nd leading scorer Josh Watkins(14.5ppg) as their top scoring threat. Watkins a 6-0 point guard will have to be a score-first guard on this team which will suit him well as has never been shy as a shooter (11.9 fga per game). So far this season Utah has struggled like expected at 1-2 with losses coming to Boise State by 21 points and Montana State. Watkins has been their go to scorer so far averaging 21.5 points per game but after Watkins there is a huge dropoff as the Utes next highest scorer (Jason Washburn) is averaging only 9 points per game. Watkins’ backcourt mate this year will be Chris Hines a shooter who should get plenty of looks with teams’ game planning to stop Watkins. Hines last season averaged 5 points per game but was one of the team’s better shooters at 37 percent from 3-point range. Utah’s other key returnees are 7-footers David Foster (2.9ppg, 5.2rpg, 3.5bpg) and Jason Washburn(6.0ppg, 4.4rpg, 1.1bpg). Foster who is 7-3 ranked 6th in the nation last year in blocks per game average and also can shoot the ball a bit from the outside. The 2 big guys figure to split time up front for the Utes but don’t count out Krystkowiak playing both guys at the same time as part of a big lineup. Utah also figures to play several newcomers this season as freshmen Kareem Storey and Anthony Odunsi and transfers Dijon Farr and Cedric Martin all should be key members of Utah’s rotation. Storey a Baltimore high school point guard is a pass first point guard who has a reputation as a quarterback who makes his teammates better. Odunsi is also a freshman who was originally committed to Iowa State but found his way to Salt Lake City for Krystkowiak. Odunsi is a 6-3 guard who brings versatility and size to the backcourt and should become a key member of Utah’s rotation. Martin on the other hand is another guard who comes to Utah via the junior college ranks and should be one of the Utes better defensive players this season. Fellow juco Dijon Farr will also see plenty of minutes in his 1st season of Division 1 basketball as he is an active defender who has also shown the ability to shoot from the wing. In terms of frontcourt depth juco transfer Javon Dawson should come in off the bench as well as freshman George Matthews, a 6-7 forward who was the most heralded of the Utes’ first Pac-12 recruiting class. Utah wasn’t good in the Mountain West last season (6-10) and as after moving up into the Pac-12 I don’t expect them to fare any better as they have a team that lacks the elite talent of teams like Arizona, UCLA and Washington. Utah won’t be in a position to contend this season but if they are able to recruit once again and make some progress in the Pac-12 maybe Krystkowiak can revive basketball at Utah. Utah will be in the bottom 3 this season with USC and Colorado but moving to the Pac-12 is a good move for the program’s future.
Pac 12-Preseason Accolades
- G-Jared Cunningham, Oregon State
- G- Jorge Gutierrez , California
- G- Allen Crabbe, California
- F-Terrence Ross, Washington
- C-Joshua Smith, UCLA
- G-Abdul Gaddy, Washington
- G-Trent Lockett, Arizona State
- F-Solomon Hill, Arizona
- F-Reeves Nelson, UCLA
- F-Josh Owens, Stanford
Pac-12 Player of the Year- Terrence Ross, Washington
In a year with no clear favorite for conference player of the year I am going with a bit of a dark horse in Washington sophomore Terrence Ross. Ross averaged 8 points a game last season on a veteran team and the former heralded recruit will be counted on to become more of an offensive factor this year. Washington with no clear go to scorer will look for the talented Ross to emerge as a star and with great size, athleticism and skill Ross should embrace that new role. Terrence Ross can play a number of positions at 6-6 and his tremendous athleticism and outside shooting prowess make him a handful to defend against. I like Ross to emerge as a the go to scorer for the Huskies and if the Huskies contend for the Pac-12 title like expected Ross could be the guy who receives the personal accolades.
Also Considered: Jorge Gutierrez, California, Reeves Nelson, UCLA, Jared Cunningham, Oregon State, Allen Crabbe, California
Pac-12 Freshman of the Year- Tony Wroten Jr., Washington
Wroten is my choice for freshman of the year in the Pac-12 because of his ability to beat you as a scorer and as a passer. Wroten is an athletic wonder but his court vision, penetration ability and passing skills are just as much a part of his game as his athleticism. I like Wroten in a close race to win the award over Arizona’s freshman guards Nick Johnson and Josiah Turner. Wroten is more of scoring threat than Turner and a better passer than Johnson so his versatility and multi-faceted game give him the edge. Also Considered: Josiah Turner, Arizona, Nick Johnson, Arizona, Jahii Carson, Arizona State, DaVonte Lacy, Washington State
Pac-12 Coach of the Year-Craig Robinson, Oregon State
This award often goes to the coach who leads his team to a league crown or a surprising tournament berth but this season my choice goes to Craig Robinson of Oregon State. I think Robinson’s team will make the biggest improvement of any team in the conference and I could see the Beavers finishing as high as 5th in the Pac-12 after a decade long of finishing near the basement of the Pac-12. OSU will be a lot better this season and Robinson’s rebuilding job will get some notice as he is my pick to win Pac-12 Coach of the Year. OSU doesn’t have the best talent in the conference or big recruits like Arizona or UCLA but OSU should improve this season with another year under Craig Robinson. Also Considered: Dana Altman, Oregon, Johnny Dawkins, Stanford, Sean Miller, Arizona, Lorenzo Romar, Washington.
Most Improved Player-Brock Motum, Washington State
This is the award that is always the hardest to project but I have a good feeling about my choice this season as I think Brock Motum is ready to explode. The 6-10 Aussie is an explosive leaper and his size and strength make him a force down in the low block. Add in a very underrated outside shooting touch(31%) and good rebounding and defensive instincts and Motum is the complete package. Washington State is also a team that lost a lot from last season so Motum will be given increased minutes and shot attempts which should make him more of a factor this season. I like Motum to emerge as one of WSU’s top players this year in a conference with a lot of good candidates for Most Improved Players. Also Considered: Terrence Ross, Washington, Abdul Gaddy, Washington, Toney Woods, Oregon, Solomon Hill, Arizona
Feb 9th UCLA at Washington
2 of the top 4 teams in the Pac-10 face off in a game that has become almost a rivalry of sorts over the last decade. This matchup will feature a strong UCLA frontcourt against a very quick and talented Washington backcourt in a matchup of opposite tempos. The game also could have conference championship implications as the Bruins and Huskies should both be in the mix in the Pac-12. In a rivalry that features 2 teams that don’t like each other look for Washington to use their homecourt to their advantage as their talented guards will quicken the pace to their tempo rather than UCLA’s half court style.