Now that the Huskies and the rest of the PAC 12 have completed their preseason (or non-conference schedule). We will take a look at how the real part of the season should shake out. Can the Huskies repeat as conference champions? Or better yet, make the NCAA tournament. Will the huskies find some consistency? Will they figure out what type of team they will be? Has UCLA figured out their early struggles? Can Tad Boyle continue his magic in Boulder? Is Arizona really one of the top five teams in the country? Time to get to my thoughts on the PAC 12 Conference for 2013.
1. Arizona - Undefeated and ranked #3 by ESPN. Arizona has a good resume so far with a pair of 1 point victories over the two ranked opponents on their schedule. Florida and San Diego St.. With the #3 recruiting class, the second best coach in the conference and returning stars like Soloman Hill, the Wildcats are a lock to return the NCAA tournament. An added bonus for the Wildcats so far is Mark Lyons. The senior transfer from Xavier has been their leading scorer so far with 13.4 ppg. Combine him with senior forward Soloman Hill and Sean Miller has assembled a nice one two punch. I do not expect Arizona will go undefeated in conference play but, I do predict they will run away with the regular season title. Are they a final four team? I wouldn't bet the house on it, but they are they only PAC 12 team making national news. Remember how bad all of us (maybe just a few) wanted Angelo Chol? I remember thinking he was the big man we needed to help complete this team. Well he is averaging 9 minutes and 2.3 ppg. It is fair to say he would play more at Washington but would he really be making a difference this year? I don't know that answer but some off that answer may be that he is just buried because Miller brought in three of the top big men in the country last year.
How is that #3 recruiting class so far? Their big 3 is all contributing solid time, and statistics so far 6'8" Brandon Ashley is 5th on the team in scoring but leading the team in rebounding. 7 footer Kaleb Tarczewski is second in rebounding and 6th in scoring, and 6'10 Grant Jerrett is providing 17.3 minutes off the bench. Arizona is poised to have one of the best front courts in the country come tournament time. This depth may be part of what led 2013 C Kameron Rooks to verbal to Cal instead of Arizona.
2. UCLA - After a rough start to the season that had Shabazz Muhammad ineligible, Josh Smith quit, and a home loss to Cal- Poly, the 2013 Bruins seem to be back on track. They have reeled off five straight wins including a 97-94 OT thriller over #7 Mizzou. The #1 recruiting class was not all about Muhammed. He is everything he was advertised to be, averaging nearly 20 points and 5 rebounds, he hopes to carry UCLA to the NCAA's in what is likely his only season in Westwood. However, Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson are stepping up their games as well. Adams is second on the team in scoring at 17.7 ppg and Anderson is averaging 8.5 rebounds. Ben Howland has some great returning players like the Wear twins (Travis and David). Travis is the teams leading returning scorer, and David the leading returning rebounder. Both are still contributing but this team is now clearly led by the freshman. They visit Hec Ed for the final conference game of the season. I hope that it will end up being an important one for the Dawgs.
3. Colorado - For as bad as the Buffs are in football, Tad Boyle is that good of a coach. I started calling him the best coach in the PAC 12 after his team dismantled the huskies before my eyes last year. CU was up and down last year and won the PAC 12 tournament with a roster that should have been in the NIT. But they have Andre Robersonreturning. Andre is arguably the best returning player in the conference. He was 4th in the country in rebounding last year and a probable lottery pick next spring. Roberson averages over 12 points and over 12 rebounds a game. However, Roberson isn't alone on the Buffs roster. PG Spencer Dinwiddie returns as well as, a couple highly touted freshman in C Josh Scott and 6'6" swing Xavier Johnson. G Askia Booker also returns with plans on sending CU back to the NCAA tournament, he leads a balanced scoring attack with 14.8 ppg. CU got off to a quick 6-0 start which saw them ranked. A tough loss at Wyoming coupled with a pounding by #9 Kansas has them off the pollsters radars, which I don't agree with. They open conference play against Arizona tonight which is the best early season match-up in the PAC.
4. Oregon One thing this conference isn't lacking is good head coaches. After a successful 13 years at Creighton, Dana Altman is in his third year at Oregon. Oregon will sport its own football player on the roster in 6'8" Arik Armstead. Oregon is lead by Freshman G Damyean Dotson and Senior F EJ Singler. Oregon is the surprising team in the conference so far. Yes there are many teams with good records until you really break down there schedule. Oregon has a win over UNLV and their two losses are against #14 Cincinatti and at UTEP. That last loss scares me if I am a duck fan. But at this point I mark it up as an anomoly. Oregon has their sights set on the NCAA tournament this year. Here's to hoping that UDUB has a hand in keeping that from happening.
5. Washington - Ok, Maybe a little bit of homer pick, but I have never claimed not to be a homer. But let me explain my position. Many of us felt Tony Wroten hurt the team's chemistry on the court. Most of us were probably right. There is no doubt that the Dawgs will miss Terrance Ross. But one thing I have learned about watching college basketball is that a senior PG can go a long way in the development of your team. Washington returns Abdul Gaddy, C.J. Wilcox and Aziz N'Diaye to the starting rotation. They welcome back senior Scott Suggs who missed all of last year with an injury. Their are more players with experience on this years roster like, Shawn Kemp Jr, Martin Bruenig, and Desmond Simmons. Andrew Andrews when healthy appears to be ready to be that spark at guard off the bench. This team won the conference last year. Predicting them to finish fifth is not that far fetched. Yes, Washington has been up and down this season. They have also had some injuries (Andrews and Kemp) and are trying to establish their identity. Romar has always messed with rotations and playing time during non-conference play and this year seems to be no different. Wilcox is leading team with 18.5 ppg and Suggs is showing us how much he was missed last year by adding 13.5 ppg a game while shooting 43% from behind the arc. This team does not have the bigs to compete with Arizona and UCLA, but defending their home court and learning how to win a game or two on the road could give the Dawgs a shot in March. A decent schedule has gives them a real chance at 12 conference wins that will get them to the 20 win mark. That alone is not enough anymore unless one of those victories can be over Arizona. They will most likely need to make a run in the conference tournament to have a chance.
6. Stanford - The Tree returns the bulk of the lineup from last year and many people think they will be the team that falls in line behind the big two in the conference. They will certainly be that conversation. But I am going to pick them sixth because the three teams above them have better coaches. Not that Dawkins cant coach. I just dont think he is as good as Romar, Tad Boyle or Dana Altman. He may be some day but not now. Stanford having 4 losses may have some of you questioning them but the losses come against #9 Minnesota, #23 NC State and #12 Missouri. Ok yeah there is a loss against Belmont as well but everyone in the conference has a bad loss except Arizona. The Cardinal are a deep team led by Dwight Powell, Chasson Randle and Josh Huestis. They sport 10 players averaging over 10 minutes a game. Playing time will most certainly drop once we get in to conference play but they will hope to wear out some of the more talented teams in the conference.
7. CAL - The Bears will once again push for a tournament bid, falling a couple wins short this year. Their recent loss to Harvard will be one of the games they will have liked to have back. With maybe the best guard combo in the conference they can scare or upset some of the elite. However, they are not deep. Any injuries or foul troubles will severely hamper them. I don't see them having enough to compete for an NCAA's but they should be a tough out in the NIT. Coming off that loss to Harvard at home they could easily lose their first 3 conference games, pushing them to a 4 game losing streak. At UCLA and USC before hosting Washington on Jan 9. That will be a good early gauge of which of the two teams will be in the top half of the conference. The bears are led by junior guard Allen Crabbe at 20.9 points a game, coupled with 5.8 rebounds.
8. Oregon St - The Beavers have to replace Jared Cunningham and his 18 ppg. That has not be easy and thus I have them toward the bottom of the Conference despite their 10-3 record. On some nights, like a hard fought 84-78 loss to Kansas where Ahmad Starks scored 25 and Roberto Nelson adds 17 you get to think they have something going. But they also have nights like the December 29th home loss to Towson where Starks scores 5 points you begin to wonder how low they might finish. Roberto Nelson has been the bright spot for OSU. The junior is scoring nearly 16 a game up from 9.3 last year. And has done it in an improving fairly consistent fashion. The high side for this team will be the NIT.
9. ASU - Sporting one of the easiest schedules in the country has the Sun Devils with an 11-2 record. They do not have a signature win and lost to a bad DePaul team. Furthermore, ASU is a young team that will struggle to beat anyone on the road or a get a big a upset at home. Led by freshman Jahii Carson and his 17 points, the only senior making a significant impact is 6'6" swing man Carrick Felix.
10. WSU - The last three teams are hard to distinguish, except for one guy. Brock Motum. And the Cougars have him. The 6'10 senior is one of the best players in the conference. Averaging 19.7 ppg and 7 rebounds he also has the range to knock down one 3 pointer per game. Brock will keep the cougars in many games and probably lead them to a couple victories. However, outside of Motum the cougs do not bring much to the table.
11. USC - With one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country the trojans are off to 5-8 start. The bright side is that three of those loses come to ranked opponents. That will be about the only bright spot for the trojans this year. They will struggle to score enough points to beat anyone. With only one player averaging over double digits in scoring, and this is not what I would call balanced scoring. Eric Wise, a UC-Irvine transfer is the player to watch. He averages 11.4 ppg and 4.6 rebounds. Yes USC best player spent his first three years playing for Irvine.
12. Utah - The Utes are improved this year, but they couldn't have really gotten worse. Their 8-5 record includes a blowout victory over Boise St. and two tough losses to BYU and in OT in the conference opener at ASU last night. The two Utes to keep your eye on are freshman forward Jordan Loveridge and senior guard Jarred DuBois. Loveridge averages 12.7 ppg and 7.8 rebounds. He should be a force in the conference for the next 4 years. He is giving the Utah fans something to look forward too. The Utes could leave the cellar of the conference but probably not any higher than 10th.
Where does this leave the conference as it relates to the postseason? After sending only two teams last year that did not include the conference champion, the PAC 12 seems improved this year. But like Utah it couldn't have gotten much worse. This year should see at least 3 teams to the NCAA. Arizona is a virtual lock and UCLA seems to be on track to get back there also. Who will be the third team in will be a battle all year between, CU, Oregon, Washington and Stanford. The conference high point is probably 4 teams. And that may only happen if someone outside the top 3 wins the tournament. This should be an exciting season for college hoops.