|Pacific 12 Conference Outlook|
|Phil Neuffer, Associate College Basketball Editor|
OUTLOOK: Last Selection Sunday might have been one of the low points for what is considered one of the big six conferences, as the Pac-12 got just two bids to the NCAA Tournament including the automatic bid that went to tournament champion Colorado. That was the same amount of qualifiers as Conference USA, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and the Missouri Valley Conference and drastically behind the Big 12, Big Ten and Big East, all conferences the Pac-12 is arguably supposed to be in line with.
Arizona was one of those teams that came away disappointed when the 68-team field was announced last season but that should change this time around. With one of the best players in the conference in Solomon Hill and the addition of sharp shooting Xavier-transfer Mark Lyons, the Wildcats should reign supreme. That's if a regrouping UCLA squad doesn't come into its immense promise early on.
The Bruins added one of the most highly touted recruits of last year in Shabazz Muhammad, although he will be out for two to four weeks with a shoulder injury to start the season. California lost two key contributors but brings back enough from last season's NCAA Tournament team to challenge at the top of the conference, while Stanford is hoping to ride the momentum of an NIT title to even loftier standing both in the conference and in the postseason.
Washington had a ton of NBA talent last season but the 24-win Huskies were still left on the outside looking in on the NCAA Tournament. Losing much of the star power of last season's team won't help Washington right that wrong but the roster is not completely bare of players that will keep the team in the mix.
Colorado was a real surprise last season in its run to the conference tournament championship, but the Buffaloes won't be able to play the underdog this season, especially with the return of frontcourt bruiser Andre Roberson.
Oregon was in the same position as Washington and Arizona as teams with 20 plus wins but no NCAA Tournament appearance to show for it. E.J. Singler is the most important holdover for the Ducks, who lost a fair amount of key contributors.
Down in the desert, Arizona State will try to play the same role that Colorado did a season ago, but playing more disciplined will be the key to whether the Sun Devils make a drastic improvement or remain in the conference's basement.
Brock Motum led the conference in scoring last season, but Washington State still wasn't a real force in conference play, finishing in a tie for eighth. Motum's back but with an influx of talent to the conference the Cougars might fall even further this season.
USC won six games total last year but played much of the season with three of its most important players sidelined by injury. The Trojans could end up being in the mix near the top but are still too big of a question mark to be considered early contenders.
Oregon State lost its best player in Jared Cunningham which will really hurt the Beavers, who will more than likely be unable to match their 21 wins of a year ago.
Finally there is Utah, which has 11 new players coming in. All that new blood can't be a bad thing for a team that went 3-15 in conference play, but it doesn't make the Utes ready to climb out of the conference cellar just yet.
CONFERENCE CHAMPION: Arizona
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH: 1. Arizona, 2. UCLA, 3. California, 4. Stanford, 5. Washington, 6. Colorado, 7. Oregon, 8. Arizona State, 9. Washington State, 10. USC, 11. Oregon State, 12. Utah
TEAM BY TEAM ANALYSIS:
For the second time during Sean Miller's tenure, the Wildcats failed to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. That's not good news for Miller who was in only his third season last year. Prior to Miller, the Wildcats had made it to the Big Dance in 24 of the previous 25 seasons, including 22 appearances under legendary coach Lute Olson. Scoring efficiently could really help Arizona reclaim its past glory after the Wildcats were 10th in the conference in field goal percentage (43.9) last season. Also a key to the Wildcats will be how well Solomon Hill plays in his senior season. That's not a big worry for Miller as Hill (12.9 ppg, 7.7 rpg) is an impressive performer with the ability to post a double-double every night. Hill will be relied on even more with the loss of players like Kyle Fogg (13.5 ppg) and Jesse Perry (12.2 ppg, 7.5 rpg). Fogg was a marksman from beyond the arc last season but Miller will be able to replace him immediately with Xavier-transfer Mark Lyons, who Miller coached for a season at Xavier. Lyons scored 15.1 points per game last season and hit on 39.2 percent of his shots from three point range. Lyons may be called on to play both shooting guard and point guard with last season's starter (Josiah Turner) transferring to SMU. Jordin Mayes (4.7 ppg) could also get time at the point with Lyons fitting the two-guard role a bit more. Some of the other big additions will be just that; big. Freshmen Brandon Ashley (6-8), Grant Jerrett (6-10) and Kaleb Tarczewski (7-0) will all compete to play in the frontcourt with Hill as will Angelo Chol (2.8 ppg, 2.3 rpg), who should see increased production after playing only 12.2 minutes per game last season.
At the new Pauley Pavilion there is now an eight-foot statue for legendary head coach John R. Wooden. This Bruins' squad wants to live up to the type of program that Wooden transformed UCLA into and very well could with the addition of one of the best recruiting classes in the conference. The crown jewel of that class for head coach Ben Howland is Muhammad. Muhammad is an elite scorer who should be in the starting lineup right away although a shoulder issue will cause his unveiling to be delayed. Another nice addition, although one that came with less fanfare, is Larry Drew. The former McDonald's All-American played at North Carolina, but transferred to UCLA after his minutes were slashed with All-American Kendall Marshall taking over the point guard position. Drew had to sit out last season but he will be ready to go this time around. Drew's addition is especially important as the Bruins lost their two most productive passers in Lazeric Jones (4.1 apg) and Jerime Anderson (4.2 apg). The new guys will be added to a roster that wasn't exactly lacking last season. Tyler Lamb (9.0 ppg) started in 32 games last season and will return to the starting five. Lamb will want to reproduce the production of the end of last season when he scored in double figures in four of his final seven games. Then there are the Wear brothers, who formed a very productive frontcourt tandem last season. Travis (11.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg) was a bit better offensively, while David (10.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg) had the better season on the glass. Joshua Smith (9.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg) will also contribute up front off the bench giving Howland options in the post.
The Golden Bears were the only team other than Colorado, who earned an automatic bid, to actually enjoy selection Sunday. The Golden Bears were awarded a No. 12 seed in the tournament after a 23-12 overall finish which included a second-place effort in conference play (13-5). It was the third 20-win season in the last four years for the Golden Bears. Those four years have been the entirety of head coach Mike Montgomery's tenure in Berkeley and the fifth could end with similar results. Jorge Gutierrez (13.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.1 apg) and Harper Kamp (11.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg) are gone but the Golden Bears should still have no trouble scoring or moving the ball. Last season California was the best team in the conference in assists (15.9 pg) and field goal percentage (47.6) which ranked 12th and 20th in the nation respectively. Keying the return to such production is the backcourt duo of Justin Cobbs (12.6 ppg, 5.0 apg) and Allen Crabbe (15.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.1 apg). In fact the two players' combined 27.8 points per game is the most among any returning back court combination in the conference. Crabbe is also the team's leading returning scorer and second-leading returning rebounder. Cobbs will inherit the ball-handling duties that Gutierrez typically dominated, while Crabbe will be the No. 1 scoring option. In the frontcourt the Golden Bears have less certainties. David Kravish (6.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg) played well in his freshman season and will get every opportunity to improve on his production from his rookie campaign. Richard Solomon (6.0 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.2 bpg) is a 6-10 junior that adds size, scoring and rebounding, although he played in only 13 games last season. There are also some intriguing freshmen such as Tyrone Wallace and Kahil Johnson.
Even though the Cardinal did not get an invite to the NCAA Tournament, Johnny Dawkins' squad still might have had the best postseason. Stanford took home the NIT title from Madison Square Garden by winning five straight games which certainly aided in the team's lofty 26-win total on the season. Now the Cardinal will try to make the next step and get into the field of 68 in 2013. That's a goal that should be well within reach. Aaron Bright (11.7 ppg, 3.7 apg) capped off a strong season by elevating his game in the NIT. On the national stage, Bright really excelled, scoring 16.8 points and dishing out 4.8 assists per game during the tournament to earn the NIT Most Valuable Player Award. Bright isn't the only guard that can score as last season's lead scorer, Chasson Randle, will be back. Randle (13.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 2.1 apg) is a very good all-around player and teams with Bright to form one of the more talented backcourts in the conference. The pair are both excellent three-point shooters with each hitting more than 43 percent of their attempts from beyond the arc. That helped Stanford be the best three-point shooting team in the conference (.379). Rebuilding the frontcourt will be more of an issue with the loss of Josh Owens (11.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg) and Andrew Zimmerman (4.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg). That gives players like Josh Huestis (5.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg) and Dwight Powell (5.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg) a real chance to step up with expanded roles. Huestis was used almost exclusively off the bench last season, playing in all 37 games but making only five starters. Still he averaged 20.1 minutes per game, which is the most among any returning frontcourt player on the roster. Powell started 11 games and played 17.5 minutes per game. Powell and Huestis playing well will be necessary if the Cardinal hope to continue their strong play on the boards. last season, the Cardinal ranked second in the conference in rebounding (37.2 pg).
Jeremy Green is gone, and with him goes 16.7 ppg on the strength of 42.9 percent shooting from three-point range. There is no doubt that Green will be missed, putting added pressure on the broad shoulders of Josh Owens. The F/C scored 11.6 ppg on 58 percent field goal efficiency while also pulling down 6.5 rpg, and he is the lone returning double-digit scorer in the fold. So who figures to step up and help Owens carry the load for Johnny Dawkins' team in 2011-12? Well, Anthony Brown, Dwight Powell and Aaron Bright all figure to be logical candidates. Brown scored 8.7 ppg last season, while Powell (8.1 ppg) wasn't far behind. As for Bright, his output of 5.1 ppg would have been far better if not for his horrendous 34.5 percent shooting from the field. Stanford shot and surrendered the same exact percentage from the field last season (.431), so it isn't surprising that the club finished a game below .500 overall.
After the regular season last year it seemed like a sure thing that Washington would be able to earn an NCAA Tournament invite. After all, at 14-4 in conference play the Huskies had earned the regular season title for the conference and entered with 23 wins on the season. Then the Huskies were downed by Oregon in their first game of the conference tournament and all that went out the window as the Huskies had to settle for an NIT bid. Much of that talent is gone with Terrence Ross (16.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and Tony Wroten (16.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg) both selected in the first round of the NBA Draft. There's still enough left over for Washington to be competitive, but finishing the season with an NCAA Tournament bid might be out of reach. Washington was a very good offensive team last season, scoring 75.6 points per game, which was second in the conference. That didn't translate on the opposite end, as the Huskies surrendered 70.1 points per game. Losing Ross and Wroten could hurt the offensive punch, but C.J. Wilcox (14.2 ppg, 3.4 rpg) still scores in bunches Wilcox will now have a bigger role in the offense especially with his ability to shoot the three (.403). Abdul Gaddy will be called on to up his scoring (8.1 ppg), while continuing to run the point as effectively as he did last season when he led the team with 5.2 assists per game. Scott Suggs (7.4 ppg in 2011) red-shirted last season and will provide offensive punch. Rebounding should again be a strength after the Huskies led the conference and ranked sixth nationally on the boards last season (40.1 pg). Aziz N'Diaye (7.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg) was the top man in that category and he will be back. N'Diaye is a force on the boards, but will need to contribute more in terms of scoring. The Huskies will also need to get more production out of players like Shawn Kemp Jr. (1.6 ppg) and Martin Breunig (1.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg).
There were three double-digit scorers on the Arizona State roster last season and only one of those returns. Fortunately, the lone holdover of that trio is leading scorer Trent Lockett, who brings back 13.4 ppg to go along with 5.3 rpg and 73 assists. Lockett shot 51.6 percent from the field a season ago and will be even more productive if he can improve his shaky free throw efficiency. Kyle Cain may be able to add some offensive punch, as he shot 54.5 percent from the floor last season and figures to be on the court for many more minutes in 2010-11. Herb Sendek is one of the most well-respected coaches in all of college basketball and always seems to get the most from his roster.
It's been a quick turnaround by Dana Altman in his two seasons at the Helm in Eugene. After the Ducks had their worst season since 1992 in 2009 (8-23) followed by a mediocre 16-16 mark in 2010, the Ducks have won 20 or more games in each of Altman's two seasons. That includes a 24-win effort last season when the Ducks were just another squad on a long list of Pac-12 teams with 20 wins and no NCAA Tournament bid. Making it three straight seasons with that many wins and ending a NCAA Tournament drought of four years will be a real challenge though for Altman this season. The Ducks lost a trio of important players in lead scorer Devoe Joseph (16.7 ppg), Garrett Sim (12.2 ppg) and Olu Ashaolu (9.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg). Staying behind and taking over the go-to role for the team is E.J. Singler. The 6-6 senior (13.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg) is a versatile player that plays mainly on the wings. He is a decent shooter from three point range (.368) and is the only real returning offensive commodity for a team that ranked third in the conference in scoring (74.3 ppg). Carlos Emory (6.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg) and Tony Woods (6.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg) were both bench players in the frontcourt last season, but will be called on to take on greater roles this season. The Ducks also strengthened the frontcourt with the addition of 6-7 Rice transfer Arsalan Kazemi (12.6 ppg, 10.1 rpg). That trio of players add great size to an Oregon squad that likes to run. That type of tempo needs strong guard play and Oregon is largely untested in that area. There is a great deal of hype for freshman point guard Dominic Artis, which if lived up to, could make up for losing Sim and Joseph. Johnathan Lloyd (3.3 ppg) has to improve his shooting (.340) as his minutes go up.
Herb Sendek got off to a fast start to his tenure at Arizona State. After struggling mightily in his first season (8-22) he had the Sun Devils nationally-ranked and in the NCAA Tournament just two seasons later. James Harden, now an NBA star, was on that team but since his departure Sendek has had a tougher time getting wins out of his squads. The Sun Devils finished 10-21 overall last season and 10th in the conference (6-12). Arizona State ranked 10th in the conference in scoring (61.0 ppg) and were at the same level in rebounding (31.5 pg). Improving on that performance gets a lot tougher with lead scorer Trent Lockett (13.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg) gone via transfer to Marquette. With Lockett gone the Sun Devils are now Carrick Felix's team. Felix (10.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg) is the top returning scorer but needs to play more consistently. He has good size and is a slasher that can get to the hoop and plays well in transition. While it's Felix's team going into the season, it could very well become Jahii Carson's by year's end. Carson is a highly-touted recruit with a ton of speed that can run the court. He was on the team last season but was a non-qualifier, so shaking off the rust will be the key to how well he plays in year one. Chris Colvin (7.0 ppg, 4.0 apg) is another important backcourt returnee and could fill in at the point. The frontcourt is more of a concern with not much depth or experience. Jordan Bachynski (6.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg) is a 7-2 center that has the size to dominate and will now be given the opportunity to do so. Jonathan Gilling (7.1 ppg, 1.8 rpg) can shoot and score, but doesn't add much on the boards.
Having the conference's most prolific scorer didn't do much in the way of putting numbers in the win column for Washington State last season. Even with Brock Motum putting in 18 points per game, the Cougars still finished with a mediocre 19-18 overall mark and a 7-11 record against the Pac-12, tied for eighth place in the conference standings. Other than the loss of Faisal Aden (14.5 ppg), the majority of that squad is back looking to make a push towards the top of the standings this time around. Motum is a great offensive player in the low post that can score seemingly at will. The 6-10 senior could stand to up his rebounding numbers (6.4 pg) as well as protecting the rim (0.4 bpg). Motum's battery mate up front will be D.J. Shelton (4.7 ppg, 2.9 rpg), who averaged only 14.7 minutes per game but got a great deal of experience by playing in 35 games total. In terms of guard play, Reggie Moore is the team's most consistent returning player. The 6-1 senior is one of two returning players that scored in double digits (10.2 ppg). However, where he makes the most contributions is in setting up his teammates. Moore led the conference in assists (5.5 pg) last season. The Cougars were originally supposed to get an infusion of size and strength in the backcourt as well, but touted recruit Que Johnson was ruled a partial qualifier at the end of August, meaning he will receive athletic aid but cannot compete during the 2012-2013 season. With Johnson unable to go, players like DaVonte' Lacy (8.5 ppg) and Mike Ladd (5.4 ppg) will have to pick up the pace.
A trio of devastating injuries really derailed the Trojans last season and caused them to put together their worst season since 1977. USC finished just 6-26 overall and dead last in the conference with one win in 18 tries. Jio Fontan (ACL), Aaron Fuller (shoulder) and Dewayne Dedmon (MCL) are each returning from their respective injuries as the Trojans look to drastically improve on the win total of last season. Not returning however, is junior guard Maurice Jones. In early September it was announced that Jones would miss the 2012-2013 season due to academic issues, but the 5-7 guard decided to transfer to Iowa State where he could play as early as December. Losing Jones is a big deal especially for the offense, as he was the leading scorer (13.0 ppg) and the team's point guard (3.5 apg). Fuller, who averaged 10.6 points and 5.9 rebounds per game before going down is now the team's leading returning scorer. Having Fontan back will somewhat ease the departure of Jones. Fontan averaged 10.5 points and 3.9 assists per game for the 2011 NCAA Tournament squad. USC did get a transfer of its own that will contribute in the backcourt in J.T. Terrell, formerly of Wake Forest. He averaged 11.1 points per game during the 2010-2011 season. Dedmon will be the returning stabilizer in the frontcourt. A seven-footer, Dedmon averaged 7.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game in 20 appearances before the injury. A few other players like Tennessee-transfer Renaldo Woolridge (4.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg) will compete for minutes.
It has been quite a while, 22 years in fact, since Oregon State made an appearance in the NCAA Tournament. It had also been a long time since the Beavers won 20 or more games (21 years), before last season's squad broke through with a 21-15 overall mark. Two of those wins came during the College Basketball Invitational. So Craig Robinson seems to have the Beavers moving in the right direction. This season however, Robinson won't have his star player from a season ago. Jared Cunningham (17.9 ppg), the second leading scorer in the Pac-12, decided to declare for the NBA Draft, leaving a gaping hole for the Beavers offensively. That's a hole that will need to be filled quickly if the Beavers want to duplicate their offensive numbers of last season when they ranked 10th nationally in points per game (78.9) and 22nd in field goal percentage (47.5). A transition from the backcourt to the frontcourt in where the points come from may be in order as 6-foot-8 power forward Devon Collier (13.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg) is now the leading returning scorer. Collier finishes extremely well near the hoop as he shot a conference best 61.5 percent from the floor. Eric Moreland (5.2 ppg, 6.8 rpg) won't add a whole lot offensively but his ability to protect the rim is invaluable. Angus Brandt (9.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg) is another big man that will contribute and can hit a shot from the outside when needed. Ahmad Starks (12.1 ppg, 2.7 apg) will take on the lead scorer role in the backcourt with Cunningham's exit. Starks is a solid three point shooter and will be helped by Roberto Nelson (9.3 ppg) who should get a chance to start after coming off the bench last season.
There wasn't a whole lot to cheer about in Salt Lake City last season in terms of college basketball from the Utes. Utah finished just 6-25 overall and 3-15 in conference play, giving it three straight losing seasons, although last year was the first for the Utes in the Pac-12. Still Larry Krystkowiak's first season at the helm had few if any successes. Utah ranked near the bottom of the conference in just about every category, including scoring (55.5 ppg), assists (10.3 pg), rebounds (28.9 pg) and field goal percentage (.405). All of those marks were 11th best in the conference and none was better than 304th in the nation. So to say that the Utes have an uphill battle this season would be an understatement, especially with four key players gone. Jason Washburn (11.5 ppg, 6.2 rpg) is the team's best player and top returning scorer and rebounder. After him no other returner averaged more than 7.4 points or 3.2 rebounds per game. The Utes are hoping that a number of other unproven frontcourt players like 6-11 Dallin Bachynski, 6-10 Jeremy Olson and junior college transfer Renan Lenz will be able to take some of the pressure off Washburn. Cedric Martin (7.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg) accomplished both of those feats and will be back with the hopes he can improve offensively to match his strong defensive efforts. LSU-transfer Aaron Doston played all of two minutes last season, but hopes are that he'll be able to contribute much more this season. Jarred DuBois (10.1 ppg), a Loyola-transfer, should also be in the rotation.