In 2012 Washington won the regular season Pac-12 title but didn’t qualify as an at-large for the NCAA Tournament. At the time it seemed likely to be the nadir of Pac-12 basketball. About that...
On the heels of an abominable Pac-12 bowl season the conference embarrassed itself again as 4-seed Arizona got blown out by 21 points to 13-seed Buffalo and UCLA and Arizona State both lost in the First Four. The final tally: 3 teams in the 68, 1 team in the 64, 0 wins. Woof.
All of this doesn’t even take into account the off-court problems. As everyone knows by now, both USC and Arizona had assistant coaches arrested in the FBI probe at the beginning of the year and the Wildcats have continued to face scrutiny although with the caveat of some potentially sketchy reporting. This may the most disorganized the conference has ever been. Which means the Huskies have a chance to fill the power vacuum (forgive me folks) in much the way that Oregon asserted itself in football following USC and Washington’s struggles.
There are still 5 Pac-12 teams remaining in the NIT and several major decisions to be made but let’s take a quick glimpse at each team heading towards next year. We’ll have more in-depth previews once all of the coaching/transfer/NBA/recruiting decisions have been made but here’s a first glance in reverse of this year’s standings saving UW for last.
California Golden Bears, 8-24 (2-16)- Stock: Slightly Up
There’s basically nowhere to go but up for the Bears after a dismal year one for Wyking Jones. He was considered an odd choice at the time of the hire but this year he wasn’t given the resources to tell if he can actually coach. Freshman Justice Sueing (13.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg) appears to be a future 1st team Pac-12 player but it’s unclear if the trio of him, Darius McNeill, and Juhwan Harris-Dyson is enough to challenge for an NCAA Tournament berth in 2 years. Cal brings in what is currently the 6th ranked recruiting class in the conference with a fringe top-100 guy in 6’4 wing Matt Bradley. But as it currently stands they’ll have no one over 6’8 on their roster next year which isn’t a recipe for success.
Washington State Cougars, 12-19 (4-14)- Stock: Neutral
The “there’s nowhere to go but up” phrase doesn’t apply to the Fighting Ernestos who very easily could just stay at the bottom indefinitely unless Tony Bennett decides to retire in Pullman at age 50. Junior Robert Franks (17.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg) has appeared as a possible 2nd round NBA draft pick. But if he comes back it gives the Cougars a likely all-conference candidate. Sophomore Malachi Flynn is another building block but there’s likely not another guy who starts for more than a couple Pac-12 squads. 3-star Seattle-area guy C.J Elleby might contribute from day one next year but Wazzu continues to go the JUCO route to fill scholarships which keeps them from building a strong foundation.
Oregon State Beavers, 16-16 (7-11)- Stock: Up
The Beavers, like the Huskies, will be built around a veteran core next year that will give them a good shot at an NCAA berth. The advanced metrics think their record was worse than their talent and UW fans will likely agree. OSU loses only one player who played more than 15% of their total minutes and no one who played at least one third. A foursome of (rising) Senior Stevie Thompson, Senior Drew Eubanks, Redshirt Junior Tres Tinkle, and Sophomore Ethan Thompson will go toe to toe with anyone in the conference. The question will be if they can find a 5th above average player. They’ve got the 9th ranked class in the conference at the moment with a trio of 3-star 6’11+ bigs. Can OSU sustain once they graduate their 3 coaches’ sons?
Arizona State Sun Devils, 20-12 (8-10)- Stock: Slightly Up
It looked like ASU might be poised to take over the mantle of best program in the conference in December but things have cooled greatly since then. The Sun Devils will lose the senior trio of Tra Holder, Shannon Evans, and Kodi Justice who combined for 57.1% of their points and 63.6% of their assists. But Remy Martin and Kimani Lawrence look like future stars and they have the 4th ranked class in the conference. 6’4 Luguentz Dort and 6’8 Taeshon Cherry are top-50 guys who will likely start from day one and they have an additional 4-star wing in Finland’s Elias Valtonen. They may take a slight dip next year but have a bright future.
Colorado Buffaloes, 17-15 (8-10)- Stock: Neutral
The Buffs will lose George King who was the heart and soul of the team but they have a solid young core. Freshman PG McKinley Wright IV was a revelation and looks to be a perennial all-conference candidate. Fellow freshmen Tyler Bey and Dallas Walton also appear to be above average long-term contributors and they’ll get back Evan Battey from academic eligibility issues who was their best recruit last year. This year was probably the floor for Colorado but they’re unlikely to ever recruit at a high enough level to seriously challenge for a spot at the top of the conference.
Oregon Ducks 23-12 (10-8)- Stock: Way Up
The Ducks lose grad transfers Elijah Brown and Mikyle Macintosh and will likely lose freshman Troy Brown to the NBA draft. But they’re bringing in the #2 recruiting class in the country with #4 overall 7’1 Bol Bol, #17 overall 6’8 Louis King, #41 overall 6’4 Will Richardson, and #60 overall 6’10 Miles Norris. That plus the core of PG Payton Pritchard and C Kenny Wooten looks like a team capable of competing for a national title. Pending an FBI subpoena of the Nike offices it looks like Oregon has moved itself to the top of the Pac-12 power rankings.
Stanford Cardinal 19-15 (11-7)- Stock: Up
Stanford loses seniors Dorian Pickens and Michael Humphrey who were both above average contributors but neither’s departure will kill the team. Reid Travis will return as a senior and as likely favorite for Pac-12 player of the year. Travis plus the freshman duo of Daejon Davis and Kezie Okpala will keep the Cardinal in the conference title hunt. They’re bringing in the 5th ranked class in the Pac with a top-100 SG in Cormac Ryan plus a couple of 3-star guys. I still have doubts about Haase as a coach but it seems clear that Stanford athletics is capable of recruiting itself at this point and they’ll at least be middle of the pack every year.
UCLA Bruins 21-12 (11-7)- Stock: Shrug Emoji
This one really depends on a few things. UCLA fans are clamoring for Steve Alford’s job after an exit in the First Four. The problem is he has the #3 recruiting class in the country. The parallels to the Lorenzo Romar situation are striking. If Alford stays it caps the ceiling short of a national title but they’ll be talented enough to pull off a run like the Lonzo Ball-led squad as a top-4 NCAA seed. The Bruins will lose Aaron Holiday and Thomas Welsh but likely return talented freshmen Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands. They’ll also bring in five players who are 4-star or better including #21 overall 7-footer Moses Brown and #33 overall 6’9 Shareef O’Neill (Shaq’s son). If they choose to fire Alford and blow up the recruiting class though then their ceiling is probably what Washington did this year.
Utah Utes, 20-11 (11-7)- Stock: Down
With the home court advantage and one of the best coaches in the conference in Larry Krystkowiak I don’t see Utah falling below the middle of the Pac. But this team will lose 4 starters including PG Justin Bibbins and bigs Tyler Rawson and David Collette. It’s possible that Utah jumps right back up but they’ll be relying on a lot of unproven talent to do so. The Utes have the 8th ranked class in the conference with 5 guys but only one 4-star in 6’6 Timmy Allen.
USC Trojans, 24-11 (12-6)- Stock: Down
Before the FBI probe started it appeared that Andy Enfield might be the new king of the conference. But senior guards Jordan McLaughlin and Elijah Stewart will graduate, junior bigs Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu are off to the NBA, and sophomore guard DeAnthony Melton is also turning pro after never getting eligible this season. The re-commitment of J’Raan Brooks means the Trojans only lost one member of their vaunted recruiting class (Taeshon Cherry to ASU) but this team should still take a step back after missing the NCAA Tournament this year. At this point it’s hard to make a case that Enfield is any better than a great recruiter and poor coach and that combo hasn’t fared well for the conference.
Arizona Wildcats, 27-8 (14-4)- Stock: (Falls off Cliff)
Oh boy. The calls for Sean Miller’s head are only going to grow louder after he got blown out by Buffalo with 3 likely NBA draft picks on top of the FBI probe. They’ve already lost their top-10 recruiting class so there’s nothing left to protect. Arizona now has 0 recruits signed on for next year. They’re losing all 5 starters either to graduation or the NBA draft. That’s not a good combo. Former 5-star Chase Jeter is transferring in from Duke and they return 4 top-100 players from last year’s class but it’s tough to see this team finishing near the top of the conference next year barring them scooping up a lot of the best remaining players in the spring period..
Washington Huskies, 21-12 (10-8)- Stock: Up
I went over why Husky fans should be optimistic here last week so I’ll mostly stick to putting that information in context of everyone else. Washington is expected to return a veteran core that includes a 1st team Pac-12 PF, Pac-12 defensive player of the year, and the top returning freshman scorer in the conference. On top of returning their 5 other top rotation players and adding 1 (and likely 2) top-100 recruits should anyone take a step back. The 2019 class for the Seattle area includes a pair of top-100 recruits in PG P.J Fuller and SF/PF Jaden McDaniels who would both fit perfectly into the zone. If Washington can make some noise with their 2019 class they have a chance to ascend alongside Oregon and ASU to fill the void that is rapidly approaching from Arizona, USC, and UCLA. This is the opportunity Washington basketball needed. Now they need to take advantage.
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