In the second part of the Pac 12 preview, we take a look at the Pac-12 South. It's the best division with some teams that will contend (along with Oregon) for the Pac-12 championship. Don’t be surprised if a couple of these teams make it to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.
Offensive Efficiency: 121.3 (1st)
Defensive Efficiency: 97.9 (77th)
Strength of Schedule: 22nd
Best Win: 97-92 vs. #1 in country at time (#5 RPI) Kentucky (away)
Worst Loss: 87-89 vs. (#16 RPI) Oregon (away)
Pre-season Pac-12 Media Poll Rank: 3rd
Non-Conference MVP: Lonzo Ball. His last name says it all. The true freshman can ball. If not for Markelle Fultz, Ball may be the Freshman of the Year. Ball had 14 points, 7 assists and 6 rebounds in the Bruins win at Rupp Arena when the Bruins took down #1 (at the time) Kentucky.
Notwithstanding the tough loss at Oregon on Wednesday (Alford should have made those FTs), the Bruins are the most impressive team going into conference play. They averaged a scoring margin of 21 points against their opponents. Of course, beating Kentucky at Rupp Arena is the best win for a Pac-12 school in the non-conference this year. The Bruins should be at the top of the Pac-12 and should be the favorites to win the conference.
Offensive Efficiency: 111.8 (29th)
Defensive Efficiency: 97.7 (77th)
Strength of Schedule: 129
Best Win: 78-73 vs. #49 SMU (home)
Worst Loss: None to date
Pre-season Pac-12 Media Poll Rank: 7th
Elijah Stewart currently leads the USC attack averaging 15.5 point per game. The junior guard from LA is having his best year with the Trojans as he’s incrementally increased his points and rebounds.
“Dunk City” might be gone but Andy Enfield has revitalized the Trojan basketball program. Transfers Derryck Thornton (Duke) and Seattle-product Shaqquan Aaron (Louisville) should help an already strong backcourt which includes Stewart and Jordan McLaughlin. In the frontcourt, Chimezie Metu provides solid contributions and when Bennie Boatwright comes back from injury (sometime in January), they will provide problems for other teams due to their height and length. The Trojans should be a force in an already loaded Pac-12 South. Look for USC to make some noise in the conference.
Offensive Efficiency: 111.7 (31st)
Defensive Efficiency: 91.7 (19th)
Strength of Schedule: 55th
Best Win: 85-63 vs. (#52 RPI) Texas Southern (home)
Worst Loss: 62-69 vs. (#9 RPI) Gonzaga (neutral site)
Pre-season Pac-12 Media Poll Rank: 2nd
Lauri Markkanen. The 7-foot, Finish-born Freshman can score from anywhere on the floor. Fortunately for Arizona, he’s stepped up to fill the void of graduating seniors Ryan Anderson and Gabe York.
The Wildcats have dealt with the retirement of Ray Smith, a prolonged injury to guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright and the mysterious case of Allonzo Trier. They also lost 3 seniors but have reloaded with 3 freshmen. In addition to Markkanen, Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons should be contributors as just freshman for Sean Miller’s club. Still, the roster lacks enough depth to make a deep March run without Trier and Jackson-Cartwright. The Wildcats will make the tournament based on sheer talent alone, but how far can they go in March?
Arizona State Sun Devils
Offensive Efficiency: 108.3 (65th)
Defensive Efficiency: 103.2 (188th)
Strength of Schedule: 74
Best Win: 74-63 vs. (#93 RPI) San Diego State (home)
Worst Loss: 63-82 vs. (#103 RPI) Northern Iowa (neutral site)
Pre-season Pac-12 Media Poll Rank: 11th
Obinna Oleka. The senior forward from D.C. has been a double-double machine in the non-conference. He’s averaging 13 points and 10.8 rebounds per game and had 8 double-doubles in the non-conference. He should help steady Bobby Hurley’s team.
It hasn’t been smooth thus far for Hurley. Seattle-native, Sam Cunliffe already has left the team in just his first year. The team will need to rely on Tra Holder and Torian Graham for scoring. It looks like this will be another year of rebuilding as the Sun Devils will be near the basement of the conference.
Offensive Efficiency: 108.5 (62nd)
Defensive Efficiency: 99.1 (93rd)
Strength of Schedule: 324th
Best Win: 87-80 vs. (#207 RPI) Utah Valley (home)
Worst Loss: 86-89 vs. (#137 RPI) San Francisco (home)
Pre-season Pac-12 Media Poll Rank: 8th
Devon Daniels. The Freshman guard from Battle Creek, Michigan is the only Ute that has played in all 12 games. He’s been the constant on a team that has dealt with a reconfigured lineup.
The Utes were 13-5 (conference) last year and second in the Pac-12 behind Oregon. However, Larry Krysstkowiak’s team will take a step back this season. It will lean on Kuzma and JC transfer Lorenzo Bonham for scoring. If Daniels matures over the season, the Utes could go on a run but it’s unlikely they will replicate another 13 win conference season. The Utes will be on the bubble to make the tournament as you might expect them to be between 6 and 8 in the Pac-12.
Offensive Efficiency: 106.0 (92nd)
Defensive Efficiency: 95.0 (48th)
Strength of Schedule: 130th
Best Win: 68-66 vs. (#6 RPI) Xavier (home)
Worst Loss: 58-72 vs. #176 Colorado State (home)
Pre-season Pac-12 Media Poll Rank: 5th
Derrick White. The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs senior transfer scored 23 points against Xavier in the Buffs upset win. White is the leading scorer for Colorado and the Buffs will look to the newcomer for more scoring in conference.
The Buffs have a very nice win against Xavier on its resume but they will need to improve on perimeter shooting to keep its head afloat in a mid-heavy Pac-12. The Buffaloes also need someone to step up as its playmaker. If this happens, we could see Colorado breaking into the top 4 of the Pac 12.