If you missed part one of the Pac-12 power rankings, summer edition, last week you can check them out right here. If you’re confused about any of the numbers included in the snapshot for each team I recommend reading the intro from that edition since those descriptions are in there.
6. Utah Utes
Projected Adjusted Efficiency Margin: +10.54 (would have been 81st last year)
PG- David Jenkins Jr. (40), Rollie Worster (76)
SG- Marco Anthony (28), Jaxon Brenchley (117)
SF- Both Gach (27), Gabe Madsen (114)
PF- Branden Carlson (16), Lahat Thioune (106)
C- Riley Battin (43), Dusan Mahorcic (71)
Utah jettisoned what my model viewed as one of the best coaches in the Pac-12 but it’s tough to blame them for it. Utah overachieved in 8 straight seasons under Larry Krystkowiak but he also somewhat plateaued after 5 years without an NCAA tournament appearance and 0 top-40 finishes. Combine it with his gruff personality and constantly reshuffling roster and the Utes swung for the fences hiring Craig Smith from across the state.
The coaching change cost the Utes 6 of their top 8 leaders in minutes from last year and it’s not like they all transferred down a level. 4 of them wound up at Texas, Illinois, Maryland, and Arizona plus one turned pro. Given that it might be hard to believe I have the Utes 6th. But Craig Smith did as good a job as you can revamping the roster.
David Jenkins Jr from Tacoma has averaged at least 15 points per game (rounding up) in all 3 of his seasons at 2 stops while shooting 41% from deep in his career. Both Gach is back at Utah after a year-long sojourn in Minnesota and is a rock solid option at small forward. Marco Anthony (10 pts, 4.8 reb, 3.1 ast) followed coach Smith from Utah State after starting his career at Virginia and should be a great 3rd or 4th option. Rollie Worster (9.1 pts, 3.8 reb, 3.5 ast) also made the jaunt across the state with similar stats and provides another great swiss army knife bench option. They will all combine with the returning frontcourt of Riley Battin and Branden Carlson who combined to average 16 points, 8 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game.
If Craig Smith is able to work the same kind of magic that he did for the Aggies then this team has the requisite tools to earn an NCAA tournament bid. But it also wouldn’t be surprising to see it take a year to gel with a new coach and almost a completely overhauled roster.
5. USC Trojans
Projected Adjusted Efficiency Margin: +11.07 (would have been 79th last year)
PG- Ethan Anderson (57), Isaiah White (69)
SG- Boogie Ellis (4), Malik Thomas (101)
SF- Drew Peterson (20), Max Agbonkpolo (78)
PF- Isaiah Mobley (1), Harrison Hornery (113)
C- Chevez Goodwin (56), Boubacar Coulibaly (110)
I mentioned in yesterday’s article that Andy Enfield rebounded last season with an out of nowhere incredibly impressive season getting his team into the Elite 8 (deservedly). Here are the coaching scores Enfield has gotten since he arrived in L.A in 2014: -2.4, -4.6, -1.3, -3.7, -10.4, -9.8, -2.5, +12.5. Think that last one stands out a bit? This year will be instructive to find out if last year’s sudden emergence was the result of a transcendent center in Ethan Mobley or if Enfield finally figured something out with his coaching.
If USC is able to get back to the NCAA tournament it will likely be because they have potentially another Pac-12 player of the year with the last name of Mobley. Isaiah definitely isn’t his brother but he still put up 10 points, 7 rebounds, and 1 block per game while shooting 44% from 3-pt range on more than 1 attempt per game. If Isaiah plays the same minutes as Evan did last year that suddenly becomes a 12 and 9 even if he doesn’t actually improve.
The loss of Tahj Eaddy also is a big one for the Trojans but they’ll hope they can instantly replace him with the transfer in of Boogie Ellis from Memphis. He averaged double figures in just 23 minutes per game last year for the Tigers and has a good shot to be a very solid perimeter scoring option that is badly needed. His backcourt mate is likely to be Ethan Anderson who struggled coming back from injury last year but if healthy for a full season could vastly outperform how my model sees him.
4. Arizona State Sun Devils
Projected Adjusted Efficiency Margin: +13.99 (would have been 57th last year)
PG- Jay Heath (29), Marreon Jackson (65)
SG- Luther Muhammad (4), DJ Horne (61)
SF- Kimani Lawrence (18), Alonzo Gaffney (84)
PF- Marcus Bagley (15), John Olmstead (115)
C- Jalen Graham (30), Enoch Boakye (83)
The 2020-21 Sun Devils had a lot of the same difficulties that Stanford did last season. Bobby Hurley brought in 2 premium recruits with Josh Christopher and Marcus Bagley and tried to pair them around a solid existing core. Expectations were reasonably high and a Pac-12 title didn’t seem too crazy. Instead, a combination of COVID-19 cancellations and injuries completely derailed the season and they finished with a losing record.
All things considered though Bobby Hurley managed to rebound remarkably well this offseason. Marcus Bagley appeared gone after entering both the draft and the transfer portal but ended up withdrawing from both and returning to Tempe. Star guard Remy Martin opted to transfer to Kansas to pursue a national title but bringing in Boston College transfer Jay Heath, Ohio State transfer Luther Muhammad, and Toledo transfer Marreon Jackson restocked the depth in the backcourt.
In addition to Bagley the frontcourt also returns Kimani Lawrence and Jalen Graham who will help create one of the best starting 3, 4, 5 combos in the conference. After last year Bobby Hurley said he’d be focusing more on fit than talent in recruiting in the future but Enoch Boakye was the #27 ranked player in the 2021 recruiting class and should immediately push for heavy playing time.
My model doesn’t have a ton of faith in Bobby Hurley who now has underachieved in 4 of the last 5 seasons and never coached a team ranked better than 49th in adjusted efficiency margin. This team should finish alongside the 2018 and 2019 squads as good enough to finish in the 50-60 range and get bubble consideration but everything would really have to gel for them to suddenly vault into the top-25.
3. Washington State Cougars
Projected Adjusted Efficiency Margin: +14.36 (would have been 54th last year)
PG- Noah Williams (24), TJ Bamba (82)
SG- Michael Flowers (42), Carlos Rosario (109)
SF- Tyrell Roberts (62), DJ Rodman (80)
PF- Mohmaed Gueye (45), Matt DeWolf (111)
C- Efe Abogidi (32), Dishon Jackson (66)
Cougar fans must feel like they’re in a fever dream getting picked 3rd in the conference after a half decade of misery under Ernie Kent. Washington State somehow finished exactly 186th in adjusted efficiency margin 3 times in 5 years with Ernesto and that was their best mark. Kyle Smith finished 127th in his first season and followed it up going 78th last year, Wazzu’s highest final rank since 2011.
This year there are legitimate expectations after Noah Williams scored 72 points late in the year in a pair of home wins over the Bay Area schools. He improved from shooting just 15% on 3-pointers as a freshman to 38% last year mostly playing off the ball and if he can keep up that shooting while becoming a better distributor and still playing phenomenal defense then look out.
For the rest of the backcourt the Cougars are relying on a pair of transfers from much smaller programs. Tyrell Roberts averaged 19.2 points on 46% 3-pt shooting in his most recent season but did it at D2 UC San Diego. Michael Flowers scored 21 points last season for South Alabama on 39% shooting. Whether Washington State finishes in the top-3 of the conference will likely be determined by whether those numbers are remotely sustainable against much tougher competition and how well those 3 guards each adjust to sharing the ball more than they had to recently.
Even if the guard play struggles to adjust the Cougars are loaded in the frontcourt. Efe Abogidi was a revelation as a complete unknown coming into college and put up Isaiah Stewart-lite per minute numbers as a true freshman. Combined with Dishon Jackson at the power forward spot they were one of the more fearsome shot blocking duos in the conference. Now they add on 6’11 Mouhamed Gueye who becomes their most highly rated recruit in program history (#39 overall by 247 Sports).
It’s still a small sample size for head coach Kyle Smith. In year one he put up a season that was basically exactly what my model expected. Then last season he vastly exceeded expectations getting a seemingly underwhelming squad to be a fringe NIT contender. Now this is by far the best roster on paper the Cougars have had since the days of Tony Bennett. Can Smith continue to shine? We’ll find out.
(I had Washington State still ranked 3rd but equivalent to 48th overall before it came out that Eastern Washington transfer Kim Aiken Jr. headed back to Arizona in his 2nd flip flop of the offseason. The reigning Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year would’ve perfectly helped bring this team together and I think his departure is a big deal that greatly limits the Cougs’ ceiling. With Aiken Jr. playing for Arizona it bumps them up to 5th in my updated rankings from 7th where they were when I released Part 1 last week).
2. Oregon Ducks
Projected Adjusted Efficiency Margin: +20.03 (would have been 27th last year)
PG- Will Richardson (17), Eric Williams Jr. (67)
SG- De’Vion Harmon (8), Rivaldo Soares (95)
SF- Jacob Young (7), Lok Wur (118)
PF- Quincy Guerrier (6), Nathan Bittle (72)
C- Franck Kepnang (36), N’Faly Dante (73)
At this point it’s entirely predictable. Lose a few players to the draft. Have a few unexpected transfers. Poach several highly experienced and successful transfers from elsewhere. Somehow get a 5-star big man from the next class to reclassify and commit just before the season. We haven’t gotten to that last part quite yet but otherwise the Dana Altman playbook is working perfectly.
The Ducks will be without several key pieces as Chris Duarte left for the NBA draft and grad transfers Eugene Omoruyi, LJ Figueroa, and Amauri Hardy decided not to come back for another year of college and to instead pursue other pro opportunities. Highly recruited young players Jalen Terry and Chandler Lawson couldn’t break through into the starting lineup and each transferred.
But stepping in for them are a trio of players who could all be top-10 players in the conference. Quincy Guerrier (13.7 pts, 8.4 reb) was the top rebounder for Syracuse last season despite standing just 6’7. De’Vion Harmon (12.9 pts, 3.4 reb) was a major piece for an Oklahoma team that made the 2nd round of the tournament. And Rutgers’ Jacob Young (14.1 pts, 3.4 ast) helped lead the Scarlet Knights to the 2nd round as well. How many teams ever can say they added 3 players in the same offseason that scored 12+ points per game on teams that won an NCAA tournament game the previous year?
The remaining group for Oregon is centered on Will Richardson who would rate higher in the model if he hadn’t missed a significant portion of last year with a hand injury. He averaged 11 points and 4 assists per game last season and is a career 40% 3-pt shooter so the Ducks will have one of the deepest and most experienced guard rotations in the country.
The backcourt is a little more uncertain as N’Faly Dante and Franck Kepnang were both very highly ranked reclassifiers but haven’t quite broken out yet. Dante looked like he had finally put it all together at the beginning of last season but tore his ACL and so his outlook for this fall is unclear. Kepnang has the physical tools to take over at center especially since the Ducks don’t need much from him other than rim protection.
Depth is an issue, especially down low. But Dana Altman has proven himself to be one of the better in-game coaches in the country and has exceeded expectations in my model in 8 of the last 9 years. Given the experience at the guard spots and Altman’s track record of getting teams to gel without much continuity this looks like an incredibly safe bet.
1. UCLA Bruins
Projected Adjusted Efficiency Margin: +23.74 (would have been 11th last year)
PG- Tyger Campbell (9), David Singleton (74)
SG- Johnny Juzang (2), Jaylen Clark (86)
SF- Peyton Watson (11), Jules Bernard (63)
PF- Jaime Jaquez (5), Jake Kyman (87)
C- Cody Riley (12), Myles Johnson (64)
The Bruins are for many analysts the #1 team in their national preseason rankings so it’s not a surprise to see them here. I’ve got UCLA at 4th overall behind Gonzaga, Texas, and Kansas but it’s really splitting hairs between all of those teams. UCLA returns every meaningful piece from their run to the Final 4 and also added a really good shot blocking center and a top-10 recruit. There’s really not much here to nitpick.
Every single one of UCLA’s starters ranks among the top-12 in the conference in my model so there’s not a weak link anywhere. Johnny Juzang will be the preseason favorite for Pac-12 player of the year after his performance in the NCAA tournament and it’s tough to argue against. I think this team is well-balanced enough that we won’t see someone averaging 20+ points per game. But if they’re as good as expected and Juzang leads them in points per game then it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him get the nod by virtue of being the best player on the best team.
If you truly want to find some areas of concern it would be the depth at point guard. Tyger Campbell played over 80% of the team’s minutes last season and was the only player on the roster to average more than 2 assists per game. He has previously torn an ACL so if he goes down with another knee injury or something then the ball handling is fairly suspect. Every other UCLA guard is either a shooter or isolation scorer. But there’s so much offensive talent that even when Campbell is on the bench they should be able to just take turns playing isolation and still bludgeon teams.
Mick Cronin was a great coach at Cincinnati and the question was just how he was going to get his hard-nosed style to fit with the culture at UCLA. So far it looks like he’s managed to transform the ethos of the program and I’m not going to bet for him to suddenly underachieve with this team despite the high expectations. Would it completely shock me if Oregon ended up winning the conference? Not particularly. But even with their talent and consistency it’s pretty tough to make a coherent argument that the Bruins shouldn’t be the clear favorites come the fall.