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Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Preview: Part 1

Previewing teams 12 through 7 in the conference as college basketball season inches closer

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 26 Washington State at Washington Photo by Lawrence Iles/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Tomorrow is the start of the season for Washington men’s basketball as the Huskies host an exhibition game against Alaska-Fairbanks. You can find our UW-specific coverage on the site from last week here where we went player-by-player through the Husky roster with analysis and stat projections: Guards, Wings, Bigs.

This week we’ll help you get prepared for the conference race as a whole by looking at each team individually. The teams are ranked by what I’m calling the consensus analytics which is an average of the rankings at,, and I highly recommend looking at the data from each if you want to get more informed about the sport and so we’ll start with the squad ranked last across those 3 sites. I also list the consensus analytics national rank to show where they think they’ll finish across the country.

Then you’ll see the UWDP Analytics rank. This is where each team is currently projected to finish in my own personal model. There are a few teams that see a fairly large difference from the consensus and so it’s fun (it is, I swear) to examine why there might be disagreement. Finally we have their projected starters for each team with their rank across the conference in my model. Since there are 12 teams with 5 starters each it means that they are ranked 1-60. If a player has a number in parentheses next to them that’s better than 30 then my model considers them an above average starter in the conference.

With that let’s get to it with a team that seems destined to finish in the cellar yet again.

12. Oregon State Beavers

Consensus Analytics National Rank: 242nd

UWDP Analytics Pac-12 Rank: 12th

Projected Starters with Pac-12 Rank: SF Glenn Taylor Jr. (41st), PG Christian Wright (52nd), C Chol Marial (55th), PF Rodrigue Andela (57th), SG Dexter Akanno (59th)

You can understand why Oregon State gave a huge extension to head coach Wayne Tinkle after he miraculously won the Pac-12 tournament and made it to the Elite Eight in the spring of 2021. It also was easy to foresee disaster. Perhaps no one saw it hitting so soon though as the Beavers had the worst ever collapse for a team that made it that far into the NCAA tournament the previous year by freefalling to 3-28 (1-19).

It’s also difficult to envision things getting all that much better. Gone are 5 of the top 6 in minutes from last season. Given how bad they were you’d expect some addition by subtraction but to make that work you also need some regular addition. The only top-200 recruit coming in is guard Jordan Pope who was 166th in the 247 Sports Composite. A few Washington prep players in Tyler Bilodeau and Jayden Stevens are also part of the class but neither seems like they can be an impact Pac-12 player off the bat.

You would hope they could bring in talent via the transfer portal with so much playing time available but the only major add was PG Christian Wright from Georgia. The Bulldogs though were one of the few power conference teams almost as bad as OSU and Wright averaged 5.3 points on 26.5% 3-pt shooting. And this week Coach Tinkle announced that Wright will be out until at least January with an injury so Jordan Pope will be relied upon to start at point guard as a true freshman at the beginning of the season.

None of the starters on this roster rank in my algorithm’s top half in the conference. That’s probably not a good sign for their chances. It will be a minor miracle if Tinkle can get this roster anywhere other than last place and honestly anywhere other than the worst power conference team in the country. The last time Oregon State completely bottomed out it was because Tres Tinkle was injured and they still had the Thompson brothers on the roster the next year. This time that talent isn’t there and so the situation in Corvallis is bleak.

11. California Golden Bears

Consensus Analytics National Rank: 145th

UWDP Analytics Pac-12 Rank: 10th

Projected Starters with Pac-12 Rank: SG Devin Askew (24th), C Kuany Kuany (45th), SG Dejuan Clayton (50th), PG Joel Brown (53rd), SF Sam Alajiki (60th)

While things may better at Cal than at Oregon State, it’s not by much. Mark Fox took over after a disastrous head coaching tenure from now Husky assistant Wyking Jones and hasn’t done anything other than tread water. In 3 seasons he has finished 153rd, 114th, and 142nd at KenPom and has never finished with even a 0.500 record. It’s an improvement over Wyking’s years but before that the last time Cal finished worse than 113th at KenPom was in 2005. Now that has become the ceiling.

At least Cal can say they bring back a decent chunk of the roster. Gone are 3 mainstays in Jordan Shepherd, Andre Kelly, and Grant Anticevich but 5 members of the rotation from last year are back including 3 that started at least half of Cal’s games (Joel Brown, Jalen Celestine, and Kuany Kuany). Unfortunately for Cal, Celestine is hurt and will miss an unspecified amount of the season.

The hope is that incoming Texas transfer Devin Askew can become the guy on offense as a former top-35 high school recruit. But he struggled at both Kentucky and Texas and time is running out for him to be a productive college player. My rankings don’t like Sam Alajiki but he definitely has some upside and I personally think he has a chance to be their breakout player. Still, it’s pretty hard to fathom this team even coming close to the NIT and 10th place in the conference would feel like a bit of an achievement.

10. Washington Huskies

Consensus Analytics National Rank: 100th

UWDP Analytics Pac-12 Rank: 6th

Projected Starters with Pac-12 Rank: PF Keion Brooks Jr. (1st), C Franck Kepnang (20th), SG PJ Fuller (23rd), PG Noah Williams (36th), SF Jamal Bey (37th)

The rest of the analytics world clearly doesn’t see a lot of upside in this Huskies team and objectively it’s easy to understand why. Washington overachieved last year to finish with a winning record but still ended up worse than 100th nationally in essentially all of the advanced metrics. They then proceeded to lose 4 starters including Terrell Brown Jr. who did absolutely everything for the Huskies on offense.

Mike Hopkins is hoping that a roster infusion of experienced talent can allow the Dawgs to build on last season rather than take a step back. The key to the potential reload is going to be Washington State transfer Noah Williams. Last season was a disaster for Noah as he regressed across the board but a return to his sophomore form would go a long way to being able to replace Brown.

The biggest concerns are the lack of depth at the PG spot and lack of shooting which go somewhat hand in hand. Neither of expected starting guard duo Williams (30.7% 3-pt) and PJ Fuller (30.4% 3-pt) are true point guards or above average 3-point shooters which will impact spacing. Kentucky transfer Keion Brooks Jr. (23.4% 3-pt) provides a proven scoring punch at the forward spot but again isn’t known as a shooter.

Along the interior the Huskies lost a top shelf rebounder with Nate Roberts but added a premier shot blocker in Franck Kepnang from Oregon. They also brought in 7’1 Fresno State transfer Braxton Meah and the duo won’t stretch the floor but do give the Huskies legitimate size and rim protection at the center position.

You’ll notice that my system is higher on Washington than most computer models. The smart money is on the guys who do this for a living but it’s worth examining why there’s potential upside. The basis of my model is on experience and recruiting talent (it does factor in production but maybe less than others) and that’s where this roster excels.

Brooks shows up as the top player in the conference in my model even though he pretty clearly isn’t going to win P12 POTY. That’s because Brooks is a former top-25 senior that had an above average all-around season last year for Kentucky. Historically those kind of players have had very low bust rates and the floor for them is set at very good.

Beyond Brooks there’s Kepnang (junior and top-40 recruit), Fuller (senior and top-80 recruit), Bey (senior and top-115 recruit), plus Bajema (senior and top-115 recruit). Those 5 players are going to make up more than 60% of the team’s minutes. Realistically the only underclassmen likely to see playing time this year are maybe one of the true freshman guards and Jackson Grant who himself was a top-75 recruit.

The pieces may not fit together the way you want on offense but the bones are here for this to be a dominant defensive squad if they pick up the zone quickly. If you use my minutes projections then the average player at any given time will be 79.1 inches tall. That would’ve tied USC last year for the 4th tallest team in the country (Stanford, Arizona, and Florida State were the top three). Combine that with the known quantities of Williams’ length in passing lanes plus Kepnang’s shot blocking and the defensive upside is real.

I personally think it’s more likely the offensive deficiencies doom Washington than that the defense carries them into the upper half of the conference. One thing that is certain though is that the analytics consensus of 100th nationally and 10th in the Pac-12 will not be enough for Mike Hopkins to hold onto his job for another year. The seat starts about as warm as an early October in Seattle nowadays (that’s quite hot for those of you who didn’t just go through that).

9. Utah Utes

Consensus Analytics National Rank: 93rd

UWDP Analytics Pac-12 Rank: 11th

Projected Starters with Pac-12 Rank: C Branden Carlson (8th), PF Marco Anthony (34th), PG Rollie Worster (48th), SG Gabe Madsen (51st), SF Lazar Stefanovic (56th)

You can’t necessarily blame Utah fans for wanting to oust Larry Krystkowiak given his perpetually angry temperament which led to constant roster churn plus a pair of losing Pac-12 records n his last 2 seasons. But there’s no denying he was a good coach and it was a bit of a bumpy arrival for new head man Craig Smith after journeying from across the state (Utah State). The Utes won just 11 games which was their fewest since Krystkowiak’s debut season back in 2012 and which coincides with the year Utah joined the Pac-12.

The hope for Utah making a major leap is built on the back of continuity. The Utes return every piece of what became their starting 5 by the end of last season. All of the depth behind them is gone but the hope is that starting group will be cohesive enough to make up for shortcomings on the rest of the roster.

There’s no question that center Branden Carlson is the star of this Utah team and he’s a big that can do it all. He has increasingly added long range shooting to his arsenal and is now a career 34.1% 3-pt shooter. At 7-feet tall he’s an above average shot blocker and a solid but not exceptional rebounder given his height. The potential is there for him to be a 1st team all-conference center and if Utah exceeds expectations it will likely be because Carlson has carried them there.

Marco Anthony is an intriguing piece as a 6’5 power forward who is solid at everything but exceptional at nothing. He’s the kind of player every coach would love to have. Gabe Madsen is a sniper from the shooting guard spot and every projected starter shot at least 30% from deep last season. There’s still not a true point guard on the roster though and I have concerns that Carlson’s rim protection might not be enough to keep Utah’s defense afloat.

8. Arizona State Sun Devils

Consensus Analytics National Rank: 76th

UWDP Analytics Pac-12 Rank: 7th

Projected Starters with Pac-12 Rank: Desmond Cambridge (25th), Warren Washington (28th), Marcus Bagley (29th), DJ Horne (32nd), Devan Cambridge (47th)

The situation that most closely mirrors Washington is the one found in Tempe with Bobby Hurley. Arizona State finally found a rhythm at the end of last year winning 7 of 8 to close the regular season following a beatdown in Seattle to the Huskies before losing by one to Stanford in the P12 tournament. Four members of that starting group either graduated or transferred and Hurley has gone to the portal to try to fill the gaps.

Only one projected starter was signed out of high school by Arizona State and that’s Marcus Bagley who has had an interesting road. He looked like a potential one and done but missed 10 of the last 11 games of his freshman year due to injury and decided to come back and prove his status. Another injury as a sophomore shut him down after just 3 games. A fully healthy Bagley would greatly raise the ceiling for ASU but it remains to be seen if that’s possible.

Around him the Cambridge brothers from Nevada and Auburn will be essential pieces. Desmond (Nevada) was one of the premier scorers in the Mountain West last year and will combine with DJ Horne to form a high powered backcourt. Warren Washington also starred with the Wolfpack after starting his career at Oregon State and will be one of the better rim protectors in the conference.

When you look at the bench almost everyone was a high profile recruit at one point and is trying to prove they belong. Alonzo Gaffney (50th from Ohio State), Frankie Collins (46th from Michigan), Luther Muhammad (75th from Ohio State), and Enoch Boakye (29th from ASU) were all premium recruits out of high school. 75% of them were implemented from the B1G’s biggest rivalry while Boakye showed off the physical tools as a freshman center last year (great rebounding/block stats) but had no skill on offense (28.1% turnover rate and 30.4% FT shooting).

Unsurprisingly my system that is based heavily on talent also thinks ASU has a good shot to over-achieve the consensus view. That’s despite it thinking that Hopkins and Hurley are the 2 biggest underachievers of any P6 coach with more than 1 year on the job. That should show you that the roster talent is very high for both teams but the trust that it will all come together should rightly be lacking.

7. Washington State Cougars

Consensus Analytics National Rank: 68th

UWDP Analytics Pac-12 Rank: 4th

Projected Starters with Pac-12 Rank: Mouhamed Gueye (12th), Andrej Jakimovski (22nd), TJ Bamba (26th), Justin Powell (39th), DJ Rodman (54th)

Everything seemed to be lining up for Washington State last season as they had all the pieces set for a return to the NCAA tournament. Instead, the drought continued due to a terrible 1-9 record in games decided by 5 points or less. Flip that into a mediocre 5-4 record and suddenly Washington State has 23 wins headed into Selection Sunday and likely has a spot. Still, things were headed in the right direction after 3 wins in the NIT before the Cougars were smacked by defections. Gone are starters Noah Williams (UW), Tyrell Roberts (San Francisco), and Efe Abogidi (G-League) plus Michael Flowers graduated.

Compounding all of that is terrible health luck. Forward Dishon Jackson who likely would’ve been the starting power forward is out indefinitely due to an undisclosed health issue and could miss the entire season. Shortly after that announcement in September, scholarship guard Myles Rice announced that he had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and will miss time as he battles cancer. Putting aside the rivalry, if the Cougars are able to get back to the tournament this year they will have one of the highest national approval ratings ever with the challenges they’ve faced and it will be well deserved.

Even without all of those pieces there’s enough on the roster to make that the goal. Mouhamed Gueye scored a career high 25 points against Washington in a late season win and without Abogidi or Jackson he will get a ton of touches down low. Gueye is the 3rd highest rated prospect in WSU history per the 247 Sports Composite and it’s not hard to picture him breaking out with a 15/8/2 type of season.

Around him Wazzu returns valuable wing shooter Andrej Jakimovski who is essentially what UW wants out of Cole Bajema as a 6’8 forward who hit 38.3% of his 3-pointers last year. TJ Bamba is a bulldog wing who has made 40% of his career 3’s and also projects as a breakout with so many of the guards gone in front of him from a season ago.

A big year though likely means major contributions from Justin Powell who bounced around the SEC at both Auburn and Tennessee as a 6’6 PG. He had a phenomenal freshman year at Auburn in limited minutes but struggled integrating with Tennessee. The talent is there for him to be an above average point guard from day one and he is also a 40%+ career 3-point shooter for an offense that loves to bomb it from deep.

Two years ago Washington State was 5-5 in games decided by 5 points or less. That suggests last year’s terrible close game record was in part due to bad luck rather than a complete inability by Kyle Smith to navigate close games. If the Cougars rebound in that regard then this team still has NCAA aspirations although another NIT berth may be more realistic unless we see Dishon Jackson able to return mid-season.

We’ll be back tomorrow to cover teams six through one and conclude our conference preview.