Pac-12 men’s basketball season preview

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Get ready for conference play on Friday as the the men’s basketball beat writers take a look at every team in the Pac-12 and give their season predictions. 

 

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Arizona

No. 8 Arizona lost four starters to the NBA in Stanley Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, T.J. McConnell and Brandon Ashley at the end of last season. But head coach Sean Miller replaced them with a talented mix of freshmen and transfers, namely former Boston College star Ryan Anderson. The 6-foot-9-inch senior forward is averaging 15.5 points per game to lead Arizona in his first year as a Wildcat. Add that fresh batch of talent to returning role players Gabe York, Kaleb Tarczewski and Parker Jackson-Cartwright, and you get a team that can shoot for a second consecutive Pac-12 title. The Wildcats do not have the elite talent they did last season, but they are certainly a deeper team. And if there’s any coach that can integrate these new pieces into a collective, it’s defensive mastermind Miller. There may be more parity in the conference, but make no mistake: This is Arizona’s conference and everyone just gets to play in it.

Pac-12 record projection: 14-4

— Winston Cho

 

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Arizona State

Headed by first-year coach Bobby Hurley, a former Duke point guard and college basketball’s all-time assists leader, the Sun Devils’ nonconference season has been a mixed bag. After a devastating upset to Sacramento State to kick off the season, Arizona State went on to register a solid win over NC State, a disappointing loss to Marquette, two strong wins over now-No. 20 Texas A&M and Creighton, and an unsurprising defeat to now-No. 10 Kentucky. The up-and-down record leaves a lot of unknowns heading into the conference portion of the season, but with the return of four starters from last year’s NIT squad and reliable performances thus far from sophomore guard Tra Holder and junior forward Savon Goodman, the Sun Devils appear as poised as any team to compete in a cutthroat Pac-12 schedule this season.

Pac-12 record projection: 8-10

— Dani Jo Coony

 

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Cal

Cal head coach Cuonzo Martin pulled off the biggest recruiting coup of the summer by convincing forwards Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb to join the lowly Bears over basketball behemoths such as Michigan and Kentucky. Brown can’t find sand in the desert from deep but is a tank driving to the rim, using his 225 pound, 6-foot-7-inch frame to absorb contact and finish at the basket. And although Rabb can stand to gain a few pounds (or 50), he boasts a refined game well beyond his years. Averaging 1.7 blocks per game, he leverages his size and surprisingly quick feet to challenge shots as the second line of defense when the Cal wings get beat off the dribble. The two five-star recruits run with an experienced core of wings — namely guard Tyrone Wallace — who are all battle-tested with three or more years of Pac-12 basketball. Despite all of Cal’s potential, let’s not forget that the Bears were the most disappointing team in the Pac-12 last year and limped their way to a 7-11 conference mark. It begs the question whether two freshmen will be enough to propel the Bears past the defending champions.

— Winston Cho

 Pac-12 record projection: 13-5 – Cho

Pac-12 record prediction: 13-5 – Getzenberg

Pac-12 record prediction: 12-6 – Lee

 Pac-12 record prediction: 12-6 – Coony

 

Colorado

For Colorado, the 2015-16 season has been a tale of two Joshes. After an injury-plagued 2014-15 campaign, 6-foot-10-inch senior forward Josh Scott has come back in dominant form, averaging 18.4 points per game and contributing to a Buffs defense that ranks fifth in rebounds per game with a personal average of 9.4. Meanwhile, guard Josh Fortune, who transferred from Providence, has contributed an average of 11.8 points per game in his debut season with the Buffs. Together, the two highlight a Colorado roster without now-graduated point guard Askia Booker and have helped the squad leap ahead to a 11-2 start to the year, with both losses coming against ranked opponents. The addition of a breakout season from 6-6 guard George King, who redshirted last year, might give the Buffs the talent that was missing from last season’s 16-18 team to propel them to an improved Pac-12 performance in their 2015-16 campaign.

Pac 12 record projection: 10-8 

— Dani Jo Coony

 

Oregon

Every year, the Ducks fly under the radar, and every year, they make fools out of everyone by exceeding expectations. Oregon got all the way to the Pac-12 title game last season behind conference player of the year Joseph Young’s 20.7 points per game, but the guard has since graduated from the flock. Fret not, however, as sixth-year coach Dana Altman returned a strong nucleus to build around in forwards Elgin Cook, Dillon Brooks and Jordan Bell. Brooks and Cook have combined for more than 30 points per game, while freshman guard Tyler Dorsey is exceeding expectations with 15 points per game. The Ducks also added Spalding NJCAA Division 1 Player of the Year forward Chris Boucher. The former Wyoming star seamlessly transitioned into Altman’s squad and leads the team in rebounding with 8.7 per game. Round out that roster with three four-star recruits that could play a sizable role later in the season, and you get the makings of a deep dark horse contender for the Pac-12 title.

Pac-12 record projection: 11-7

— Winston Cho

 

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Oregon State

With a “civil war” upcoming for the Beavers, their Pac-12 season is about to be underway quickly. Oregon State will be facing off against Oregon to start its conference slate Sunday and will be coming into the game with a 9-2 record. The Beavers have had significant success when they have gotten out to strong starts in the second half, as seen in their 15-0 run to start the half in their most recent win against Quinnipiac. Oregon State is a team led by both veterans and newcomers, with the team returning all three of its starting guards from last season and bringing on two strong freshmen, forwards Drew Eubanks and Tres Tinkle. Tinkle has already gotten off to a strong start, averaging the second-highest points per game on the team with 11.6. The Beavers are led, however, by senior Gary Payton II, who is averaging 16.8 points per game and 28 steals, which leads the Pac-12 by 11. Oregon State has potential but has yet to win against an opponent that has truly tested the team. If the freshmen can continue to improve, the Beavers still have a chance to make a dent in conference play.

Pac-12 record prediction: 8-10

— Alaina Getzenberg

 

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Stanford

The tough battle between the Bears and the rival Cardinal may not have its usual fervor this year. Cal’s biggest rival finds itself at the bottom of the contentious Pac-12, entering into conference play with a 7-4 record. Stanford began the season with two wins but then proceeded to go on a three-game losing streak, including falling 78-61 to Saint Mary’s, whom the Bears beat Dec. 12. After the streak, the Cardinal have proceeded to win five of its last six games, although all of its victories came against inferior opponents. Part of Stanford’s difficulties has come from being without many of its key players from last season as three players that comprised two-thirds of the team’s point total are no longer on the squad. In addition, sophomore guard Robert Cartwright, who was expected to make up for the squad’s loss, is out for the season because of a compound fracture. The Cardinal has struggled to amass rebounds so far this year but have not had issues scoring, managing an average of 72.7 points per game. With a relatively inexperienced squad, look for Stanford to continue to struggle against talented opponents and have an overall rough go in the Pac-12.

Pac-12 record prediction: 7-11

— Alaina Getzenberg

 

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UCLA

The No. 25 Bruins have begun the season with a splash, with their biggest win easily coming in a defeat over then-No. 1 Kentucky, 87-77. In the game, UCLA had five players score in double digits and shot a whopping 53 percent from the field while holding the Wildcats to just 38 percent. Despite the impressive win, the Bruins find themselves entering conference play with a 9-4 record in the bottom half of the league. Two of these defeats came against very tough opponents, including now No. 2 Kansas and a close defeat to now No. 7 UNC, 89-76. This may account for UCLA’s current place in the Pac-12. The Bruins have had no trouble scoring this year, averaging 79 points a game and a 46.8 percent total field goal percentage. UCLA also have five starters averaging 10 points or more per game, including junior guard Bryce Alford’s team-leading 16.5 per game. With the fifth-best scoring offense in the Pac-12 and forward/center senior Tony Parker — who is second in the conference in rebounds with 10.3 per game — the Bruins offense could cause some serious damage. While UCLA does not have the toughest defense, it should be able to outscore many of the teams in the Pac-12, which should win the team a significant amount of conference games.

Pac-12 record prediction: 14-4

— Alaina Getzenberg

 

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USC

In every conference, there seems to be at least one team that, while not posing a serious threat to the top, far surpasses expectations. Last season in the Pac-12, that honor went to Oregon State, which finished near the middle of the conference after being picked by some to finish dead last. This year, it’s USC that looks set up to be the Pac-12’s overachiever. After a dismal 12-20 (3-15 Pac-12) performance last season, the Trojans were predicted by most to finish near the bottom of the conference in 2015-16. But as the nonconference portion of the season comes to a close, third-year coach Andy Enfield’s squad is tied for second in the Pac-12 after only dropping games to Monmouth — noted as receiving votes in the AP Top 25 — and No. 6 Xavier. That success has come from a deep lineup in which six players are averaging more than 10 points per game and a team average of 42.5 rebounds per game ranking 18th in the nation. Yet, while USC has taken care of business against a slew of unranked opponents, the Trojans still remain relatively untested. The most impressive win on the team’s resume is a 72-69 neutral court win over Wichita State, which is a program that has been shorthanded much of the nonconference season and was missing guard Fred VanVleet when the two teams met Nov. 26. If USC hopes to maintain its success in the Pac-12, it will need to prove it can keep pace against more elite competition.

Pac-12 record projection: 9-9

— Dani Jo Coony

 

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Utah

The No. 21 Utes (11-2) have benefitted this year from something most collegiate teams never get to experience: consistency. Despite the loss of point guard Delon Wright (two-time First-team All-Pac-12 Selection and two-time Pac-12 All-Defensive team), Utah returned four starters this season — including forwards Jakob Poeltl and Jordan Loveridge and guard Brandon Taylor — who have helped anchor the Utes’ backcourt this year. Poeltl, a talented rim protector, has averaged nearly a double-double per game this season, with 17.8 points and 9.7 rebounds, while Loveridge is shooting nearly 45 percent from beyond the arc and tallies 12.9 points a game.

Utah is guided by Larry Krystkowiak, who is now in his fifth year with the program and led the team to the Sweet 16 last season, where the Utes fell to Duke. Wright is a crucial loss for the group, but it’s difficult to imagine that Utah won’t earn another bid to the Big Dance and finish as one of Pac-12’s top teams.

Pac-12 record projection: 13-5 Pac-12

— Michelle Lee

 

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Washington

Projected by most to finish as a bottom-dweller in the conference, Washington has one of the worst records in the Pac-12, at 8-4. Though conference season is usually when the dust settles and the best teams arise, the Huskies’ struggles so far do not bode well for Pac-12 play. Washington boasts a top-15 recruiting class, perhaps one of the only things saving head coach Lorenzo Romar’s job, but the program is closer to starting from scratch than building on a foundation. The Huskies have consistently started four freshmen this season, including guard Dejounte Murray — a First Team All-State last year — who is second on the team with 13.6 points per game and is leading the Huskies in assists with 55. The sole veteran in the starting lineup is senior guard Andrew Andrews, who leads Washington in points per game and is tied for first in rebounds per game this year.

The Huskies began last season with 11 consecutive wins, but the year quickly fell apart, as Washington won only five more games the whole season. It’s unclear how much better the team will fare during a rebuilding year, but how the young unit’s performance against Pac-12 teams could be an important indicator of the future.

Pac-12 record projection: 5-13

— Michelle Lee

 

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Washington State

The Cougars also own an 8-4 record this season and do not project much better than their in-state rivals. Washington State’s hopes this year have depended almost entirely on junior Josh Hawkinson, a talented 6-foot-10-inch forward who averaged 10.8 rebounds — good for 10th in the nation — and 14.7 points a game last season, while earning 20 double-doubles. But even with the talents of the big man who is currently leading the team with 16.5 points per game — the Cougars have been scrambling to replace the production of departed guard DaVonte Lacy, who is the program’s all-time leader in made three-pointers and is fifth all-time in scoring.

Washington State will need players such as junior guard Ike Iroegbu — who started 30 games for the Cougars as a sophomore — to help lessen some of the burden on Hawkinson. But Washington State must also improve its overall performance on defense against conference opponents, proving dreadful on that side of the ball last season.

Pac-12 record projection: 4-14

— Michelle Lee

 

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