Previewing the Pac-12 in the last three seasons has felt increasingly like previewing the English Premier League: discuss the two or three teams that have a realistic hope at competing for the title and then save a bit of time at the end for the rest of the pile. The lack of parity has allowed national media and fans outside the West to give the Pac-12 a lazy treatment: hype up a great Arizona team, either hype UCLA or mock the Bruins for falling short of their historical greatness, and only talk about the two or three other tourney-quality teams come March.
Now, as we look towards the 2015-16 season, it finally feels plain wrong to break down the conference in terms of Arizona, UCLA, and then everyone else. The biggest hope for our new-found chance at chaos: those crazy Golden Bears. With their massive hype and likely top-15 preseason rankings built almost entirely on a single incoming recruiting class, Coach Martin's team epitomizes the 15-16 Pac-12: the ceiling is extremely high, but god only knows how low the floor sits.
Between Utah, Cal, and Oregon, there are four or five total teams that have a respectable chance at the Pac-12 title. To me, the conference has not felt up for grabs like this since UW's last regular season title during Tony Wroten's lone year on campus. Arizona may very well still be favored by many to win the conference. People will still pay more attention to UCLA than demanded by their on-court quality. Only this time other teams, teams that aren't supposed to compete for Pac-12 titles and attract national attention, look primed to demand an audience.
Even the Huskies, who appear destined for a middle-of-the-road finish via their near-complete lack of experience, are extremely intriguing. They may well fail to dramatically improve on last year's record, but this will be a younger, more athletic, more talented group of players. For long stretches of play, especially early on, the results will likely be painful. However, the potential to dazzle and entertain should be far higher, and the expectation will be for the team to gel and grow tangibly as the year goes on.
Come this fall, I will be plenty eager to see what young players like Dejounte Murray and Noah Dickerson can do. Thing is, I'll be almost as excited to see what the hell those Golden Bears look like. I'll be curious to see if Jakob Poetl can take a step forward and keep Utah nipping at Arizona's heels. I'll be watching, with a mixture of fascination and mild disgust, to see if Dana Altman can piece together yet another NCAA tournament squad after losing key contributors. Hell, I'll have reason to pay attention to Oregon State, re-energized as they've been by the arrival of Wayne Tinkle and the do-it-all contributions of Gary Payton III.
For Coach Romar, this may just be a year to flash the necessary potential to earn one more season, and to build for a shot at something bigger once his ultra-young squad has matured. For the conference as a whole, it feels like a shot at building on a fine NCAA tournament by breaking up the recent Pac-12 hierarchy and contributing more than just our two traditional powers to the national consciousness.
I'd love to hear what you all have to say about this upcoming Pac-12 season as a whole, and if you share my optimism for this year as a source of much-needed change for the conference. As always, thanks for reading.