Remember when talking heads like Seth Davis essentially declared the Pac-12 (then the Pac-10) dead due to a lack of talent a few years back? Yeah, so much for that. The Pac-12 has responded well in the last few seasons, and has regained the reputation as one of the toughest conferences in the country. Now, nearly every team has refreshed their programs with young talent, and teams like California, Arizona, and Washington garnered varying degrees of national attention for their 2015 recruiting classes.
You're probably asking yourself "But which of these freshman will be the most likely to break out next season?" Lucky for you, that's where I come in. I compiled my top five list of freshman that I think are most likely to enjoy quite a bit of success next season. Not only did I take their talent levels completely into account when forming my list, but I also considered how much each player will be expected to contribute next season.
Ray Smith, SF, Arizona. Prince Ali, SG UCLA. Tyler Dorsey SG, Oregon. Noah Dickerson, PF, Washington. Chimezie Metu, PF, USC. David Crisp, PG, Washington. Marquese Chriss, PF, Washington.
1. Jaylen Brown- California:
The number two Small Forward in the class of 2015 (according to Scout.com) shocked everyone when he spurned Michigan and Kentucky, who were thought to be well ahead in the race for his services, and decided to leave his home state of Georgia and take his talent to Berkeley. At 6'7" and 215 pounds Jaylen Brown comes in with great size which should help him make the adjustment to the college game quite seamlessly. There's a good chance Brown will be the most athletic wing in the Pac-12 next year, and should provide some rim rocking highlights - on a related note, if you haven't watched his high-school highlights, you should. The most obvious shortcoming in the Georgia native's game is his shooting, and while his stroke has improved, he has a long way to go before he is a consistent threat from deep, especially at the NBA level.
The other concern I have about Brown is whether or not he will struggle to finish at the rim despite his solid frame and elite athleticism, it wouldn't be the first time a highly touted five star recruit was a bit of a letdown at the rim. Just last season Arizona's Stanley Johnson shot just 32.1% on short shots around the basket (excluding post ups) according to Synergy Sports, despite his sturdy 6'6" 225 pound frame and supreme athleticism. The idea that Brown may struggle at the rim is rather hard to watch when you watch his game film (seriously, watch his highlights, you won't be disappointed) but the concern is completely unfounded. With those concerns noted, I expect Brown to have a very successful season and help lead the Golden Bears back to the NCAA Tournament.
2. Ivan Rabb
In a bit of a surprise, Ivan Rabb ended up snagging the number one spot in the final Scout 100 ranking, edging out the likes of LSU's Ben Simmons, Mississippi State's Malik Newman, Kentucky's Skal Labissiere fellow teammate Brown for the top spot on the list. Although Rabb beat out Simmons and Labissiere for the top ranking -Labissiere and SImmons are currently projected as the number one and number two picks in the 2016 NBA Draft, respectively- it would be a mistake to declare Rabb overrated. It is fair to believe that Rabb will become the most successful out of the three (I personally believe Simmons will enjoy the most success, but a strong case can certainly be made for each of the big men. Rabb plays well above the rim, and like Brown, shall provide Cal fans with plenty of impressive highlights this season. His athleticism also translates well to the other side of the floor as he is an elite rim protector, athletic enough to challenge shots that are in front of him and quick enough to slide across the lane and block shots on the opposite side of the floor.
At only 220 pounds Rabb comes in slightly on the skinny side,and may get bullied a little bit by some of the more physical big men in the league. However, his quickness and athleticism should help him overcome his lack of muscle, and it is hard for me to believe many big men in the entire country, let alone the conference, will be able to stay in front of Rabb when he is on offense. Cuonzo Martin's rebuild of the California Bears has been very impressive. The additions of Brown and Rabb alongside veterans Tyrone Wallace, Jordan Mathews, and Jabari Bird have catapulted the Bears into the national spotlight, and they will be expected to finish in the top ten and contend for a Pac-12 title.
3. Dejounte Murray-Washington:
Did I give Murray the slight edge over other players on this list who are rated higher than him? Sure. Is it because I am a Husky fan and therefore biased? You bet. But hey, I resisted my urge to put him at the top of the list, so I think I deserve a little credit for showing some restraint. With that being said, I think it is fair to say that even an objective person (which in this case I most certainly am not) would argue that Murray has as good of a chance as any of the incoming Freshmen to make an impact. At 6'5" 175 pounds, Murray possesses great size for the shooting guard position, and could potentially see himself playing all three guard positions for the Huskies this season, though I would be surprised if he spent much time at the small forward position. Murray is a great shooter from nearly all over the floor as he can knock down both spot up and off the dribble threes and is also a skilled mid range shooter. His skinny frame will inhibit his ability to get to the hoop and show off his ability to finish above the rim- and is the main reason why I believe he needs two years in college before he jumps to the pros- but he is a crafty finisher and should be able to use his length to carve out finishes at the rim. The fact that Murray will get as many touches as possible next year is one of the main reasons I gave him the edge over some of the other incoming freshmen around the Pac-12. While other freshmen may struggle to find their fit as they fight for minutes and touches with older players, the Huskies have eight incoming freshmen and I believe that it will only be a matter of time until the team looks for Murray to guide them as their number one option on offense.Don't be surprised if it happened rather quickly.
4. Allonzo Trier- Arizona:
Arizona kept their already well-established Findaly Prep pipeline intact this off-season when they landed five star shooting guard and Seattle native Allonzo Trier. Trier edged out Murray this spring for a roster spot on the USA U19 team (Sean Miller is the coach of the U19 team. Did that help Trier make the cut? I'll let you decide). Whether or not you believe Murray got a fair shake, it is hard to argue against Trier making this team. He is one of the best scorers in the country, and at 6'5" 207 pounds he possesses great size and weight for the shooting guard position. Trier is certianly talented enough to produce right away, and Wildcats fans should expect him to be able to score right away. However, he will have to split touches with Kaleb Tarczewski, Gabe York, Parker Jackson-Cartwright and fellow Freshman Ray Smith. On top of that, Sean Miller prefers to play at a rather slow pace and Tarczewski will be the focus of the offense, so it will be interesting to see how Trier adapts to playing a supporting role on offense.
5. Aaron Holiday- UCLA:
Aaron Holiday, little brother of former UCLA star point guard Jrue and Huskies small forward and NBA Champion Justin, is the latest Holiday brother to play Pac-12 basketball. At 6'1" Holiday is easily the shortest of the three brothers, but his ability to shoot and handle the ball more than make up for his lack of size. He is a capable three point shooter, and is a crafty finisher as he possesses a nice floater and can also score from the medium range. Holiday is a true point guard, and will have plenty of talent around him to set up next season.
There are two questions that will dertermine how much Holiday plays next year, and how successful hie is. The first is, who will win the starting point guard job, Holiday or sophomore guard Isaac Hamilton? I think Hamilton showed last year that he is more than capable of succeeding as a spark plug off the bench who can tally up points in a hurry. He also showed that he is a very talented player and I expect the competition for the starting point guard position to be fierce. The second, and arguably more important of the two questions, will Bryce Alford be willing to play off the ball more often next season? Alford has not been scared to dominate the ball during his as a Bruin, much to the chagrin of UCLA fans. Holiday is a pure point guard and does not seem like the type of player who would succeed off the ball. On the other hand, Alford has had great success using screens to get open and score, and is also a capable spot up shooter. It is in Holiday's best interest for Alford to move off the ball a bit, and it may end up being in the team's interest as well. I lied when I said there were only two questions, because the third question is, will Steve Alford finally agree to move his son off the ball?