There are likely a few last minute surprises still ahead of us with regards to roster construction in men’s college basketball but for the most part the carousel has stopped. The NBA Draft deadline has passed. The major targets left in the transfer portal have made decisions. Undoubtedly Oregon will somehow get a 5-star combo forward to reclassify in August, play sparing minutes, then transfer back home in the offseason like normal. But other than that we have a pretty good idea of where we are in the Pac-12.
Just in case any of you happened to be in a coma in March, the conference had by far its best NCAA tournament in years. UCLA, USC, and Oregon State all made the Elite 8 while UCLA came a buzzer beater away from the title game. The conference hasn’t had this kind of momentum in a long time. Now we’ll see if they can capitalize on it.
I promise this isn’t to try to deflect any criticism but I want to emphasize that these rankings are entirely the result of my modeling without any type of manipulation or adjustment. Within each team’s section I’ll explain why my model sees them in the range that it does and whether or not I agree with its placement. One result of modeling is that it generally doesn’t predict outliers. The worst teams in the conference will probably be a little worse and the best teams in the conference will probably be a little better. When we eventually get to #1 their rating would’ve been 11th nationally last year. It’s reasonable to think for a variety of reasons the top team will finish better than that in a national context.
Finally, I list a projected depth chart for every team and undoubtedly there will be differences between what’s listed and what they go with throughout the year. My model uses 10 players with starters allotted 70% of the minutes and backups 30% to try to account for depth and factor in the potential for injury. Some teams will use 8-man rotations. Some will have 50/50 splits between players. It will even out. I am dividing them into the traditional PG, SG, SF, PF, C naming system even though some teams may run a 3-guard starting lineup and others a 3-big lineup. If that’s what you’re fixated on then you’re focusing on the wrong things.
Within those listed depth charts the number in parentheses next to them is where they fall in my model’s ranking among Pac-12 players. By definition there will be 120 total (60 starters and 60 backups). The highest ranked backup in the conference will be #61 and the worst starter will be #60.
Let’s get started. With an unfortunately familiar name.
12. Washington Huskies
Projected Adjusted Efficiency Margin: +6.04 (would have been 117th last year)
PG- Daejon Davis (19), PJ Fuller (79)
SG- Terrell Brown Jr. (35), Cole Bajema (91)
SF- Jamal Bey (25), Langston Wilson (94)
PF- Emmitt Matthews Jr. (39), Jackson Grant (98)
C- Nate Roberts (51), Riley Sorn (105)
Let’s start with the bright side. The Huskies finished with an adjusted efficiency margin of +3.65 last year so this represents a jump of about 15 spots with the complete roster retooling. Unfortunately the team that finished 114th last year was 9-20 Cal who ended up last in the Pac-12 conference standings so this doesn’t really mark that much of an improvement.
There are still some reasons for optimism. If I were to use Daejon Davis’ junior year stats rather than last season (when he missed a chunk of games due to injury) then he moves up to the 14th ranked player in the conference. Terrell Brown Jr. played a supporting role with Arizona but showed the ability at Seattle U to be a quality lead guard. Nate Roberts was seemingly too bulky last season and an offseason of better conditioning could greatly help his agility.
But as it stands right now this is a roster that my model projects only has 2 above average starters in the Pac-12 and one above average bench guy led by the worst coach in the league. With the firing of Dave Leitao it means the Pac-12 now has 4 of the 5 biggest underachieving coaches among the power conferences and Hopkins is at the bottom after the disaster of last season.
If you take out the coaching adjustment factor then Washington moves up to 10th so probably the best hope is that Hopkins truly learned a great deal from his experiences last year and is able to meaningfully improve. It’s not impossible. Andy Enfield had a below average coaching grade in my model in every season before last year and then had an Elite 8 team that finished #6 nationally in adjusted efficiency margin. That team also flipped almost the entire roster with a ton of transfers. Of course they also added a top-3 NBA draft pick and All-American in Evan Mobley which is not the case for Washington.
I don’t think Washington ends up finishing last in the conference standings. But it takes an exceedingly large number of ifs to imagine them finishing in the top half of the conference. And very few ifs to arrive at them finishing last. So here we are.
11. Colorado Buffaloes
Projected Adjusted Efficiency Margin: +7.56 (would have been 110th last year)
PG- Mason Faulkner (54), Keeshawn Barthelemey (85)
SG- KJ Simpson (60), Nique Clifford (111)
SF- Elijah Parquet (58), Quincy Allen (103)
PF- Jabari Walker (33), Tristan Da Silva (92)
C- Evan Battey (10), Lawson Lovering (99)
This would represent a major step down for Colorado after they earned a #5 seed in the NCAA tournament and finished the season 8th in adjusted efficiency margin. However they lost their leader McKinley Wright IV (15.2 pts, 5.7 ast, 4.3 reb) who had an extremely underrated career and is the type of player who’s just about impossible to replace. They also will be without Jeriah Horne (10.8 pts, 5.8 reb, 39.7%) and SF D’Shawn Schwartz (9.3 pts, 4.1 reb, 40% 3pt) who gave Colorado veteran floor spacing at 6’7 or taller. Throw in the departures of Dallas Walton and Maddox Daniels and that’s 6 of the 9 rotation players for Colorado gone.
The cupboard isn’t totally bare though. Evan Battey is a brick house down low and should be one of the better centers in the league. Jabari Walker (52.6/52.3/77.8 shooting splits) was phenomenal as a freshman just in limited minutes with seniors ahead of him. He is an obvious pick for breakout player of the year and I could easily see him averaging something like 15 and 8 this year and making an all-conference team.
The Buffs are bringing in Western Carolina transfer Mason Faulkner to be the point guard and he put up McKinley Wright-esque numbers with the Catamounts (16.9 pts, 4.8 ast). But his defensive numbers were not good and we’ll see if he can replicate that playing in the Pac-12 rather than for a bad SoCon team. Eli Parquet will be among the favorites for Defensive Player of the Year and he’s a Matisse Thybulle-lite at 6’3. He’s hurt in my system for featuring in dramatically more defensive possessions than offensive ones since he generally went against the opponents’ best guy while being the 5th option on the other end.
Tad Boyle is my 3rd ranked coach in the conference so I would personally expect the Buffs even in a down year to finish closer to the middle of the Pac. But there are a lot of unproven pieces on this roster who will need to gel quickly to get there.
10. Stanford Cardinal
Projected Adjusted Efficiency Margin: +7.56 (would have been 108th last year)
PG- Michael O’Connell (34), Israel Silva (100)
SG- Spencer Jones (31), Noah Taitz (88)
SF- Harrison Ingram (23), Brandon Angel (116)
PF- Jaiden DeLaire (13), Max Murrell (93)
C- Lukas Kisunas (49), James Keefe (112)
Stanford’s season last year was very reminiscent of the Huskies in 2019-20 when they bottomed out despite the presence of Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels. The Cardinal had 5-star Ziare Williams (10.7 pts, 4.6 reb) plus stud Oscar da Silva (18.5 pts, 6.7 reb) and at one point seemed like locks to make the NCAA tournament. But they lost their last 5 games of the season and were plagued by injuries (including to now Husky Daejon Davis) to finish just 14-13. Now Williams, da Silva, and Davis are gone along with starting SG Bryce Wills.
It should be another extremely big Stanford lineup again though even with the defections. Starting PG Michael O’Connell (6.7 pts, 2.8 ast) is only average for a PG but the rest of the Cardinal starters should go 6’7, 6’8, 6’9, 6’10. Once again Stanford is bringing in a 5-star with 6’8 Harrison Ingram who was the 16th ranked player in the class of 2021. He’ll play alongside Jaiden DeLaire (12.5 pts, 4.1 reb) who seems likely to have a true breakout campaign without da Silva occupying the same role.
Unfortunately for Stanford, coach Jerod Haase is right there as my 4th biggest underachieving active coach. In 5 seasons at the helm the Cardinal have only overachieved once and have never finished in the top-40 in adjusted efficiency margin. If you gave Dana Altman this roster I’d have them in the top half of the league but with Haase this is where they are.
9. California Golden Bears
Projected Adjusted Efficiency Margin: +8.45 (would have been 101st last year)
PG- Joel Brown (44), Jarred Hyder (96)
SG- Makale Foreman (47), Jalen Celstine (97)
SF- Jordan Shepherd (41), Lars Thiemann (90)
PF- Grant Anticevich (38), Kuany Kuany (108)
C- Andre Kelly (21), DJ Thorpe (104)
I’ll be honest, if this is my own personal set rather than what my model puts out then I would have Cal last on this list. They finished last in the conference standings a year ago (although 11th in aEM) and lost their star player who decided to transfer to San Diego State in Matt Bradley (18.0 pts, 4.6 reb). Throw in the departure of starting SG Ryan Betley (8.5 pts, 3.5 reb) with the addition of 0 top-100 players and that doesn’t exactly scream success.
Look a little deeper though...and maybe squint a little...and you can kind of see it. The frontcourt duo of Anticevich and Kelly is extremely solid. They’ve got an inside/outside synergy you want from a 4/5 combo and last year combined for basically 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 1 block per game. The guard trio of Shepherd/Brown/Foreman aren’t the most dynamic group but all of them are upperclassmen and at least there’s a veteran presence. In fact if Cal decides to go with this depth chart it would mean 4 seniors, 4 juniors, and 2 sophomores. This may not be a team with a lot of raw talent but they at least have experience and that counts for something.
Mark Fox hasn’t been able to build very good teams while at Cal but he has slightly overachieved with the dreck he’s had. Ultimately that’s good for a net +2 over Jerod Haase and given their difference of less than 1 it’s clear that going with completely average coaches for both teams would flip the rivals in the rankings.
8. Oregon State Beavers
Projected Adjusted Efficiency Margin: +9.25 (would have been 89th last year)
PG- Gianni Hunt (59), Dexter Akanno (120)
SG- Jarod Lucas (3), Tre Williams (75)
SF- Xzavier Malone-Key (46), Rodrigue Andela (77)
PF- Warith Alatishe (50), Roman Silva (68)
C- Maurice Calloo (53), Chol Marial (107)
For a team that made a miraculous run to the Elite 8 it would seemingly be a massive drop to fall to 89th in the country. However after a regular season finale loss to Oregon the Beavs were 93rd and then went on a miraculous 6-game winning streak over teams ranked in the top-35. Put it all together and they finished 43rd nationally and were much closer to a bubble team than a top-10 one despite their tournament finish. They also have now lost the heart and soul of their team with Ethan Thompson’s departure. For the first time since 2015 the Beavers are without a coach’s son on scholarship.
Jarod Lucas’s 3rd overall ranking will surely come as a surprise and it was to me as well. He is an elite shooter making 39% of 3’s on nearly 200 attempts as well as nearly 90% of his free throws. Combine that with surprisingly excellent points per possession defensive numbers and he profiles as Oregon State’s top player. His career 36% mark on 2-pointers however points to the fact that he needs to be exclusively off ball and that might be difficult without Thompson taking charge.
Any concerns I have by Lucas’s ranking are outweighed by Warith Alatishe being underrated. His offensive numbers are only so-so but his defensive points per possession don’t properly capture his excellence on that side of the court. He’s on the short list for defensive player of the year in the conference and I would personally move him up substantially. Otherwise Oregon State is returning 4 players who averaged between 4.5 and 6.0 points per game so they have experienced depth but not much else in the way of star power. Xzavier Malone-Key averaged 11.7 points over his last 2 years at Fairleigh Dickinson and will help solidify the backcourt but isn’t exactly a budding star.
It has been a mixed bag of a career for Wayne Tinkle as he overachieved in his first 2 seasons, had 4 straight underachieving years, and then clearly did better than expected last season. Put it all together and I have Tinkle as slightly below average but there has been tremendous variation in his results (from between -13.2 to +8.0) so it’s pretty tough to truly know what to expect.
7. Arizona Wildcats
Projected Adjusted Efficiency Margin: +9.77 (would have been 87th last year)
PG- Kerr Kriisa (52), Justin Kier (81)
SG- Pelle Larsson (48), Shane Nowell (102)
SF- Benedict Mathurin (22), Dalen Terry (70)
PF- Azuolas Tubelis (14), Tautvilas Tubelis (119)
C- Christian Koloko (37), Oumar Ballo (89)
It ended up being somewhat a fortuituous confluence of events that Sean Miller switched his recruitment strategy to start taking international players the year before Tommy Lloyd took his place. Lloyd was known for being the guru who turned Gonzaga into a worldwide feeder school which vaulted them into the stratosphere over the last several years. The entire projected starting 5 for Arizona were born outside the U.S in addition to 3 of their bench spots.
The Wildcats lost their PG duo of James Akinjo (Baylor) and Terrell Brown Jr (Washington) to transfer plus SG Jemarl Baker Jr. (Fresno State) and now no one on the roster has experience as a true distributor. The backcourt duo of Krissa (36.8% 3pt) and Larsson (46.3% 3pt) should be one of the best shooting backcourts in the conference but shot creation is going to be an issue. Throw in Benedict Mathurin (41.8% 3pt) and there’s a good chance that even without magnificent passing there are the makings of a strong inside/outside game.
Down low starting center Jordan Brown decided to transfer again which leaves Christian Koloko as a shot blocker/dunker who should be able to clean up around the rim. Azuolas Tubelis was phenomenal as a freshman and should be a dominant player after putting up 3 games of 16+ points and 12+ rebounds last year. He also averaged 23.5 points and 11.5 rebounds in a pair of games against USC with the Mobley brothers defending him.
The bench is a little bit more uncertain with Georgia transfer Justin Kier (9.0 pts, 3.7 reb) a solid piece and Dalen Terry who struggled offensively as a freshman but was a plus wing defender. Oumar Ballo was much ballyhooed at Gonzaga but struggled to find playing time before following coach Lloyd to Arizona. Since Lloyd hasn’t coached yet it means he gets a completely neutral coaching adjustment in the model but it wouldn’t be a surprise with his experience to see him immediately take this squad to the NCAA tournament.
Stay tuned next week for Part 2 where we go over teams 6 through 1 in the conference.