This is a continuation of our two part series previewing the upcoming Pac-12 season, and give a quick overview of each team around the conference in preparation for the the upcoming Pac-12 season. You can view the first part of this series here.
California had arguably the best off-season of any team in the entire country as they landed five star big man Ivan Robb, as well as five star wing Jaylen Brown, who surprised virtually every national recruiting analyst when he chose the Golden Bears over the likes of Duke and Kentucky. Both of these players are projected as top ten draft picks for next year's NBA draft, and provide the Bears star power like they have never had before. This team has a nice mix of young talent that can compliment (and possibly eclipse) returning players such as Jabari Bird and sharp shooter Jordan Matthews. The Bears leading scorer from last season, Tyrone Wallace, is also back on campus for the Bears, as he elected to return for his senior season after flirting with the NBA draft last spring. California does lose longtime starting center David Kravisch, but I believe that Rabb wil replicate, if not exceed his production--Kravisch averaged 11.7 points and seven rebounds per game last season-- this year.
I have to admit, I'm a bit bullish on the Golden Bears. Head coach Cuonzo Martin has done a remarkable job building a seemingly elite roster in only his second year in Berkeley. I expect California to take home the Pac-12 conference crown this year, as well as make a deep run in the NCAA tournament come March.
Like the Arizona Wildcats, the Stanford Cardinal are assigned with the tough task of replacing their top performers from last season, as they lose Stefan Nastic, Chasson Randle, and Anthony Brown to graduation. The Cardinal are welcoming in a seven player recruiting class that is headlined by four star small forward Cameron Walker, three star center Kahlil Fuller, and three start small forward Josh Sharma.
The Cardinal's season has gotten off to a very rough start already as they have been devastated by injuries early. Junior guard Malcolm Allen is out indefinitely with a stress fracture in his foot and Malcolm's twin brother, Marcus Allen, is also currently nursing an injury as he reportedly re-injured his wrist--he was forced to red-shirt last season after fracturing his wrist-- during the team's trip to Italy over the summer. Back up center Grant Verhoeven is also sideline until December as he currently recovers from a heel injury. The worst news of all for Cardinal fans came last Monday when sophomore guard and projected starter at the point Robert Cartwright suffered a compound fracture to his right arm during practice. The injury will sideline Cartwright for the entire season, and Head coach Johnny Dawkins characterized the injury as "devastating."
Obviously the early season injuries have already started to pile up for Dawkin's team, and the Cardinal will likely be in for some tough sledding at the start of the season as a result. The good news for the Cardinal is that Marcus Allen's wrist injury has almost healed up, and that he may be back in time for the start of the season. Losing Malcolm Allen and Venhoeven until December is a blow, but they should both be back in time for the beginning of conference play. The Cardinal will likely struggle during their non-conference schedule -- which features notable match-ups against Texas, SMU, Villanova, DePaul, and either Arkansas or Georgia Tech -- as they try to get back to full health. Look for the Cardinal to lean heavily on senior forward Roscoe Allen during the first part of the season. I except the Cardinal to be a relatively tough match-up for some the conference's top teams once they get back to full health, though I would be very surprised if they found themselves in the big dance.
Much to the chagrin of Husky fans, the Oregon Ducks looked poised to make a serious run at a Pac-12 title. The Ducks were ranked too low in the preseason media poll in my opinion, coming it at fourth after California and Utah tied for second place. Look, I get that replacing Pac-12 player of the year Joseph Young will be a tall task, and am not trying to down play that challenge. However, as good as Young was, I would argue that it will be much tougher for the Utes to replace the production of Delon Wright. The Ducks finally seem to have a decent amount of continuity on their roster after years of major turnover. Elgin Brooks, Dwayne Benjamin, and Lorenzo Bell all return to Eugene this year, and will provide sixth year head coach Dana Altman with plenty of athleticism and offensive firepower. The Ducks also welcome in two highly touted four stars in Trevor Manuel and Tyler Dorsey, who will add to the team's depth.
Picking the Ducks to win the league is probably a stretch given how much talent California and Arizona have on their rosters. However, I fully expect the Ducks to be in the hunt for the Pac-12 title all season, and to return to the NCAA tournament for a fourth consecutive season.
It seems to be in vogue this year to pick the Beavers as the surprise team of the conference. The Pac-12 media poll picked them to finish sixth in the conference, and four of seven of CBS's basketball experts slotted them to finish fifth. Second year head coach Wayne Tinkle brings in the 24th highest ranked recruiting class in the country, which features three four stars, as they are undergoing a youth movement that is a bit similar to Washington as they add six freshman to the roster. Unlike the Huskies, they also welcome back four seniors and four juniors.
The most important returner for the Beavers is without a doubt senior point guard Gary Payton II. Payton will need to elevate the team and guide the talented but inexperienced freshman if they are going to live up to the preseason expectations, as well as make it back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1990.
I'm not sure what to make of this Oregon State team. On the one hand they seemed to benefit from being overlooked by the majority of their opponents last season. But on the other hand, they did show stretches of playing some seriously good defense last season headlined by Payton II, who is a nightmare for opposing point guards. Still, it's hard for me to see the Beavers elevating themselves to the top half of the conference this season. I do believe that Tinkle will break their NCAA drought in the next few years, but I don't see that happening this season.
The Washington State Cougars, much like the Huskies, are bringing in a rather large 2015 recruiting class and are looking to replace some of their most important contributors. However, while the Huskies are bringing in a batch of highly touted freshman who are well known but unproven, the Cougars will be leaning on four junior college transfers to fill the void. These players are frankly unknown to the majority of those outside of the Washington State program. Something that we do know is that the Cougars will need to replace Devontae Lacey, who departs after four very productive seasons, graduating as the program's all time leader in three pointers made, and fifth on the school's all time scoring list.
The Cougars will look to junior forward Josh Hawkinson to lead them this season. Hawkinson is coming off a very impressive sophomore campaign, as he was the only player in the league who averaged a double double, posting 14.7 points per game and a league best 10.8 rebounds per game. Ike Iroegbu also returns this season after averaging nearly nine points a game last year, and the Cougars will need him, as well as red-shirt junior Johnson and sophomore guard Ny Redding to pick up their production if they are going to prove the media wrong and finish better than twelfth this season.
The fact that the Cougars will be relying on so many junior college transfers this season makes for quite a bit of uncertainty, and partly explains why the Cougars were picked to finish dead last by the media. While I'm not as down on the Cougs as the media is -- I think Hawkinson will be good enough to keep them out of the cellar, and I am also a bigger fan of Iroegbu's and Johnson's game than most -- it's hard for me to see the Cougs finishing better than they did last year, when they finished the season in tenth place.