Here's what you need to know about the Pac-12 this year - they're going to be bad again. Once again, the Pac teams have been hit hard by attrition and although they continue to pull in a good share of stud recruits, the players are leaving more quickly than they can be replaced. If there was an easy way to look this up without having to straight count it or if there was a page with bids by conference by year, but there's not, so instead I'll just point out how the Pac has struggled even getting 2-3 teams bids in the last few seasons.
They've done so crappy in the non-conference slate that it's hard to build a profile back-up in a conference where seemingly everybody has a bad early loss. Last year Oregon lost to San Jose State and Idaho, UCLA lost to Montana, USC lost to Rider, Bradley, Nebraska, and TCU, Stanford lost to Tulsa, Oregon State lost to Seattle, Texas Southern, and Utah Valley, and Arizona State lost to New Mexico. Those are RPI killers and bring down the whole league. They'll stabilize eventually because of the level of some of the programs, but this might be another rough one.
Oh well, at least they have hot chicks.
1. CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BEARS. Unlike the majority of the team's in the Pac-12, Cal managed to avoid getting hit with the big curse of graduations/NBA defections and as such they should be the best team in the conference this year, despite the fact that Justin Cobbs is probably going to be their starting point guard. And Cobbsy should have plenty of opportunity for assists with Cal bringing back a lot of fire power - Jorge Gutierrez, Harper Kamp, and Allen Crabbe are all back and all averaged over 13 points per game last season. Of course, Cal was also a pretty terrible defensive team last year and lost their best inside presence, so it's not like they're going to run away with anything here. And speaking of running.........
2. UCLA BRUINS. Just like Washington, UCLA was also hit pretty hard in the losing players department. Replacing Malcolm Lee and Tyler Honeycutt won't be easy, but luckily the Bruins have plenty coming back and a bumper crop of newcomers to help ease the transition. Interestingly, of the newcomers the only freshman is SG Norman Powell (#69 overall on Rivals), but he's been called a Jrue Holliday type athlete, so he should be pretty damn impressive. The newcomers most key to the Bruins' season are the Wear twins, 6-10 former McDonald's All-Americans who transferred over from North Carolina. Despite their identical size, their skill sets put one at the 4 and one at the 3, adding some extra flexibility. As long as they get quality point guard play from Lazeric Jones they'll be at the top end of the Pac. And I wrote all that without mentioning their best player, Reeves Nelson, who is like what Brian Cardinal or Dusty Rychart would have been if they had actual talent. So yeah, UCLA is fairly loaded, much like myself (booze not money).
3. WASHINGTON HUSKIES. Washington was hit hard by graduations and early defections, losing their three best players in PG Isaiah "Captain Circus Ball" Thomas, Justin Holiday, and Matthew Bryan-Amaning. No need to panic however, because with Lorenzo Romar still coaching and Abdul Gaddy still around the sweet Circus Ball days should continue. And thank god. Really, if you haven't taken in a Washington basketball game lately you owe it to yourself to. Two of my favorite memories of the last 2 tournaments are watching them play New Mexico and North Carolina. The tempo is just out of this world. Oh, and Washington also signed another fast as hell guard in Tony Wroten, so fire up the band!
4. ARIZONA WILDCATS. This sounds pretty familiar at this point, but Zona is yet another Pac-12 team losing a bunch of talent from last year with not only Derrick Williams but also Lamont Jones gone. Fortunately they're bringing in an excellent class to help out, highlighted by the backcourt duo of PG Josiah Turner (#2 PG, #11 overall) and SG Nick Johnson (#4 SG, #18 overall). Turner should keep Arizona's traditional of top PG play alive and I'd bet this is the best incoming backcourt in America, but Arizona's lack of impact returning players will hold them down, and their improvement will be the difference between the NCAA and NIT this year.
5. STANFORD CARDINAL. Stanford loses their leading scorer, Jeremy Green, to the NBA Draft even though he's a dummkopf and didn't get drafted, but luckily for them they have Chasson Randle (#78 recruit) coming on and ready to step in to his starting position after choosing the Cardinal over Illinois and Purdue probably because he's a nerd but didn't want to go to Northwestern because they're terrible at everything always. Everyone else is back from last year's mediocre team, and Stanford will likely end up in the same mediocre position as last season unless somebody shows a vast jump in ability. The most likely candidate is 6-8 PF Josh Owens, a fifth-year senior whose numbers nearly doubled last year.
6. OREGON DUCKS. I don't know if it's the attrition from other teams or improvement on the Ducks' part, but suddenly Oregon is looking a little frisky under second-year coach Dana Altman. I'm just kidding - it's the attrition. But things are looking up, starting with the end of last season's championship in the CBI. . What? It counts. Anyway, the Ducks lose their leading scorer and rebounder from last year and their starting point guard, but have a bunch of quality adds including guard Jabari Brown, the #19 freshman according to Rivals, and possibly the best incoming shooter on the West Coast who turned down UCONN, Kansas, and Washington to come to Eugene. Of course, your boyfriend Devoe Joseph becomes eligible after the first semester and will add some scoring pop in a more uptempo system. Of course, the smart move would have been to sit out this year so he could have played all of next season, when the Ducks will be better and, you know, he'd be eligible for the whole year. Then again, I suppose Devoe has never been known for thinking things through.
7. ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS. There's nothing more fun than watching players from Minnesota light it up for other teams and this might be your best chance outside of Iowa State. Trent Lockett led the Sun Devils in scoring last season at 13.4 per game, and with the team's 2nd, 3rd, and 4th leading scorers all gone ASU might look to Lockett to be less a part of the offense than the majority of the offense. He doubled his scoring average from his freshman to sophomore year, so he could be up for the challenge. The two guys who really need to step up are guard Kaela King and forward Carrick Felix. King was a much heralded and celebrated get for the Sun Devils as the #26 recruit in the country going into last year, but really had a disappointing year scoring over 10 points in a game just twice. Felix originally committed to Duke before pulling out and and coming to Tempe, and like King needs to live up to his pedigree if ASU is going to compete for an NCAA bid this year.
8. WASHINGTON STATE COUGARS. Losing a guy like Klay Thompson, who did everything for your team and led the conference in scoring, is always going to sting but you can try to prepare because it was pretty obvious odds were better than 50/50 he'd be heading to the NBA. What makes it worse is when DeAngelo Castro - double-digit scorer, leading rebounder, and second in the conference in FG percentage - bolts as well to head play professionally in Turkey. They still have some fire power with second leading scorer and noted chucker Faisel Aden returning to throw the ball at the rim, but the key will be to see if he and junior PG Reggie Moore can co-exist. Moore looked like a future star in his freshman year, but after Aden arrived he regressed with both Aden and Thompson needing the ball constantly. If Moore can figure out his role that could be the difference between my 9th place prediction and as high as 7th.
9. OREGON STATE BEAVERS. I thought last year the Beavers had a shot to return to relevance for the first time since the days of Corey Benjamin, but alas, it was not meant to be, but at least they had the decency to let everyone know right away by losing to Seattle, Texas Southern, and Utah Valley before the season was a month old. Just like Gary Sinise I won't get fooled again, but it is hard not to like their guards in Roberto Nelson and Jared Cunningham who are about as athletic as can be with Cunningham averaging nearly three steals per game last season, good enough for fifth in the country. Really though, this was a bad team last year who did almost nothing well (other than steal the ball), last year's leading assist man averaged just 2.4 per game and is a 280 lb. power forward, and they lost one of their best players from last season with nothing real impressive waiting to step in. So yeah, not a sleeper.
10. USC TROJANS. Last year USC made the tournament on the backs of their twin towers Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stephenson and solid guard play from the trio of Jio Fontan, Maurice Jones, and Donte Smith. Now both of the bigs are gone along with Smith, and Fontan broke his knee off during the team's trip to Brazil, leaving just Jones and 8 other scholarship players (they also have two transfers eating up schollys who won't be eligible until next year and a season-ending shoulder injury to another guy), only one of whom has played in more than 6 games in his career. Jones will have a little bit of help coming in with former Iowa forward Aaron Fuller becoming eligible this year and a big JuCo center coming in to rave reviews, but the only way USC is going to do much this year is with their usual solid defense, but not even that will be enough to make them post season relevant this year.
11. COLORADO BUFFALOES. Every so often things come together for even the most moribund of programs and unheralded players improve, diamonds in the rough shine, and for one brief year a school that rarely makes its mark on the basketball world has a huge year. Unfortunately when that happened for Colorado they somehow managed to bumblefuck it up and ended up in the NIT. Now their four leading scorers are gone, including two of the better players in school history in Alec Burks and Cory Higgins, and Colorado prepares for the basement once again, but at least it's a brand new shiny basement. Andre Roberson is a great athlete who led the team in rebounding, blocks, and steals last year and that's pretty much where the positives stop. I heard it's a fun town though.
12. UTAH UTES. Remember when Majerus had Utah running along as a major western power? Well that's not really relevant here. Utah fired their coach after four straight losing seasons, which then sent four major contributors from last year's team will eligibility remaining heading for the transfer door which, along with graduations, means a terrible Utah team will now be missing 5 of their top 6 scorers from last season. They do get back #2 leading scorer Josh Watkins at 15 per game and have a couple of assets most teams don't in a pair of 7-footers in David Foster and Josh Washburn. Neither is particularly athletic or skilled, but you can't teach size so they'll grab rebounds, block shots, and probably make at least 50% of their lay-ups.