Previewing the Pac-12 Conference

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1. Arizona 

The Pac-12 renaissance has arrived.

With it comes the resurgence of Arizona (3-0). Last year the Wildcats fell uncharacteristically short of an NCAA berth and lost in the first round of the NIT. The program also lost leading scorer Kyle Fogg to graduation. Yet the team hauled in an impressive recruiting class led by the No. 4 overall recruit in 7-foot center Kaleb Tarczewski and two of the top-five power forward picks.

Here’s looking at a national title run, ‘Cats.

Annie Gerlach

2. California

Entering the season, Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs were considered the best backcourt duo in the Pac-12. After six games, they may be the best guard duo in the country.

They are two of the top three scorers in the conference and have led the Bears to a 6-0 start. If Cal’s role players play consistent, clean basketball, the Bears could ride Crabbe and Cobbs to a conference crown and the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend.

Jonathan Kuperberg

3. UCLA

With the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class and a core group of veterans, this year’s UCLA squad is supposed to return glory to Westwood, to reach another Final Four, to cool off Ben Howland’s hot seat.

So far, the Bruins have done anything but, falling to Cal Poly at home on Sunday. Still, the talent is unquestionable, especially on offense.

If Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson and company play the rigorous man-to-man defense of past UCLA teams, the Bruins will be just fine.

— Jonathan Kuperberg

4. Colorado

The Buffs love to play the underdog.

They won the Pac-12 Tournament last season and upset sixth-seeded UNLV to advance to the round of 32. Despite losing three starters, Colorado has picked up where it left off, with a 5-0 record currently.

Behind the scoring of three underclassmen and the rebounding prowess of junior Andre Roberson, the Buffs just might return to the Big Dance. But they won’t be surprising anybody this time around.

— Jonathan Kuperberg

5. Oregon

The Ducks aren’t as ruthless on their home court as they are in Autzen Stadium. Although the team lost three of its top four scorers, it returns E.J. Singler, who last year hit 1,000 career points. But Singler doesn’t top conference leaderboards.

Oregon lost its first game in the title tilt with No. 22 Cincinnati at the Global Sports Classic — a possible omen for how the team will fare against similarly ranked squads in the Pac-12.

— Annie Gerlach

6. Stanford

Sophomore guard Chasson Randle leads a Cardinal squad hungry to reach the NCAA Tournament after winning the NIT a year ago. Stanford (4-3) has lost three of its last four and eagerly awaits the return of two injured starters.

Dwight Powell has the potential to be one of the Pac-12’s best, but the 6-foot-10 junior has lacked consistency throughout his career. His play could determine whether Stanford challenges for the conference title.

— Jonathan Kuperberg

7. Washington

Maybe it’s too early to judge a team by a two-game losing streak.

The 2-3 record thus far isn’t sparkling, but that includes a loss to No. 4 Ohio State. The roster is already riddled with injuries, the most recent of which struck star C.J. Wilcox.

With an average of 18 points a game Wilcox can’t afford to miss a game. But he gets help from Aziz N’Diaye, who leads the conference in rebounds (11 per game). The two could carry Washington through the season, but the team won’t win another conference title.

— Annie Gerlach

8. Arizona State

How would Arizona State replace all-everything guard Trent Lockett, who transferred this past offseason? With 5-foot-10 freshman guard Jahii Carson, whose team-leading 21 points per game has powered the Sun Devils to a 4-1 start.

Still, Arizona State will need production from players other than Carson and senior forward Carrick Felix (14.2 points, 5.4 boards) to make an impact in the Pac-12. As such, the squad will do nothing more than play spoiler.

— Jonathan Kuperberg

9. Oregon State

This year, Oregon State embarks on life after Jared Cunningham.

After tallying 17.9 points per game and racking up a 33.8 percent 2-point shooter, the current member of the Dallas Mavericks leaves a gaping hole in the Beavers’ backcourt.

That alone could leave Oregon State lagging behind its rapidly improving Pac-12 rivals. But since head coach Craig Robinson is Michelle Obama’s brother, at least the Beavers have the support of the White House.

— Annie Gerlach

10. USC

2011 Pac-12 basketball: the only venue in which USC finishes last in the conference behind Utah.

Last season, the Trojans went 1-17 in the conference and 6-26 overall. That doesn’t even sound possible and must have taken effort to actually throw away a season like that.

This year doesn’t look too much better. The team lost leading scorer Maurice Jones and didn’t seem to gain anyone too gilded to recoup the loss. The best USC can hope for is to at least let Utah take the bottom rung.

— Annie Gerlach

11. Washington State

The Cougars have Brock Motum and … that’s about it. The 6-foot-10 Aussie led the Pac-12 in scoring a year ago and is off to a strong senior campaign, logging 16 points a game.

But no other Washington State player is averaging double-digit scoring — or inspires even a smidgen of fear in his opponent. If Motum’s teammates don’t step up, the Cougars’ season could land down under.

— Jonathan Kuperberg

12. Utah

There’s a certain comfort to always seeing Utah bottom out the Pac-12 in any given sport.

The Utes’ roster was gutted last year and the team only returns two integral players — Cedric Martin and Jason Washburn — but neither post up stellar stats. The best the Utes can hope for is to stay competitive for four quarters. Then again, maybe it’s the altitude in the Mile High City that prevents the team from ever winning.

— Annie Gerlach