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Initial 2024 MBB Projections- Pac-12

What does the conference landscape look like as we ramp down from the height of roster chaos?

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NCAA Basketball: Washington at Arizona Zachary BonDurant-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this week I talked about the projections in my model for the Washington Huskies Men’s Basketball team going into next season. If you missed it then I recommend you go back and read it at this link right here.

There are several reasons for that. The first is that as someone reading a Husky blog you probably care more about Washington than the rest of the conference. The second is that article also talks about the methodology which I’m not going to repeat here so if you want to know more about the inputs going into this, check it out there.

A reason for not clicking on that link? It got published less than an hour before Nate Calmese committed to Washington. Because of that I wanted to offer a few more thoughts on Calmese before getting into the rest of the conference.

Nate Calmese

The transfer from Lamar was unrated in the 247 Sports Composite despite averaging 31.4 ppg as a high school senior and winning a state title. He then went off to the Southland Conference and won Freshman of the Year while scoring 17.6 points per game. So can Calmese come up and instantly be a difference maker at Washington? It seems silly to doubt him but there are a few reasons for caution.

One thing I love to do in situations like this is to look for historical comparisons. It turns out that’s hard to do for Calmese. I looked in my database (going back to 2012) for guards who had seasons similar to Calmese as a true freshman in a one-bid league that transferred up to a P6 school as sophomores. The not long. There are only 4 other names on it. And 2 of them also were freshmen last year meaning we can’t use them for comparison.

Comparison #1: Michael Weathers was a 6’3 point guard out of Kansas who committed to Miami Ohio and put up 16.7 ppg, 4.8 apg, and 4.2 rpg on 43/22/78% shooting splits. That helped him transfer up to Oklahoma State. He sat out a year due to transfer rules at the time then came off the bench averaging 20 minutes per game and scored 9.2 ppg with 2.1 apg and 2.8 rpg on 44/22/63% splits. He was one and done in Stillwater transferring back down to Texas Southern where he had 16.5 ppg, 3.5 apg, 5.2 rpg on 48/31/80% splits. He transferred a 3rd time to SMU finishing his career with 11 ppg, 2.2 apg, and 5.9 rpg.

Comparison #2: Mikey Dixon started out at Quinnipiac and scored instantly with 16.5 rpg, 2.3 apg, and 3.7 rpg on 45/37/86% splits. He transferred to St. John’s and in 14 games came off the bench to score 5.9 ppg with 1.1 apg and 1.3 rpg on 46/43/44% splits. He immediately transferred again to Grand Canyon and scored about 10 ppg over 2 seasons there. Dixon chose to grad transfer to Idaho where he returned to his freshman form with 16.6 ppg, 1.9 apg, and 3.2 rpg on 43/40/87% splits.

If history is any guide then Calmese may be in for a tumultuous next few seasons with a short stay in Seattle. It shouldn’t necessarily be a surprise that players who came in and were instant stars (albeit at a lower level) once they got to college couldn’t quite cope with coming off the bench and looked for a situation where they could once again be “the guy”. Of the two, Dixon’s profile is much closer to Calmese as he was also a clear scoring guard rather than a distributor and had similar efficiency.

The other two examples that also will be sophomores this upcoming season? Andrew Rohde scored 17.1 points per game last season for St. Thomas who were in their 2nd year as a D1 program. He’s transferring to Virginia under Tony Bennett. Meanwhile, Jackson Paveletzke scored 15.1 points per game on 39% 3-pt shooting for Wofford and is now headed to Iowa State. It will be fascinating to compare how each of the 3 performs this upcoming season. (If you expand it to include non-guards then you also get Norchad Omier who helped lead Miami to a surprise Final Four this past season).

Pac-12 Conference Projections

Washington without Calmese was projected to finish 9th in the conference. Now with him on board they’re 7th. Is that reasonable?

I just mentioned that there are some reasons to have some healthy skepticism about Calmese’s impact next season at UW. I only group transfers into 3 buckets: power conference, usual multi-bid non-power league, and single bid conference. Should there be even more of a penalty though for transfers coming from bottom-ten teams in the country like Lamar versus for example a good team from the Big West like UC Irvine? Probably. But for now his addition bumps UW up a couple spots since it was a pretty tight grouping with the Bay schools. Let’s look at what that means for the overall Pac-12.

Let’s talk about the big elephant in the room from looking at that chart. No, I don’t actually think that UCLA is going to finish 11th in the conference. But their roster right now just isn’t very good now that Jaime Jaquez, Tyger Campbell, David Singleton, Amari Bailey, and Jaylen Clark all left. That’s 5 of their top-6 players with only C Adem Bona returning. He’s a very good player and will be a contender for Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year but Bona, similar to UW’s Braxton Meah, isn’t a post-up big and hasn’t shown that he can regularly create his own offense. The only other player on the roster who played at least 30% of his team’s minutes last year was Utah transfer Lazar Stefanovic. He’s a solid shooter with size but against Q1/Q2 opponents for his career shoots 38% on 2’s an 29% on 3’s. Definitely not a surefire star.

Otherwise, the Bruins are relying on a ton of unproven mid-4-star talent. Dylan Andrews, Will McClendon, Devin Williams, Sebastian Mack, and Brandon Williams are all either 1st or 2nd year players who were ranked between 44th and 84th in their respective recruiting classes and have combined for 0 career college starts. If say 3 of them pop and become above average Pac-12 starters then they’ll be very good again. But Bona is the only guy you’d actually bet on to make an all-conference team even if it’s likely someone breaks out and joins him. If Cronin wins the Pac in UCLA’s final year with this group then he deserves a ton of credit.

It should be noted that UCLA is adding a pair of international players and there are rumors they’ll end up with at least one more. Those players are much more likely to outperform their ranking than the average player from the States because the global scouting at recruiting sites isn’t as robust. If those players come in and dominate from day one like an Azoulas Tubelis at Arizona then that’s another path to UCLA keeping up their dominance. Although Tubelis was bumped up to #51 in the rankings by the time he enrolled on campus.

Speaking of the Wildcats, Tommy Lloyd is my runaway favorite in the Pac-12 yet again. Last year my model liked Arizona more than UCLA which ended up being incorrect but this year it isn’t close to being close. The postseason success hasn’t been there quite yet under Lloyd but so far he’s 2 for 2 putting out really good regular season teams so it seems reasonable to keep up the faith.

The trio of Oumar Ballo, Pelle Larsson, and Alabama transfer Jaden Bradley are all in my top-15 for the Pac-12 while Ballo is 5th. Add in Kylan Boswell who was really good off the bench as a freshman, North Carolina transfer Caleb Love, and San Diego State transfer Keshad Johnson (the last 2 each played in one of the last 2 NCAA Tournament title games) and that’s a really nice 6-man group to anchor your rotation.

A lot of people have USC as the leading team in the Pac thanks to a dynamic 1-2 punch of Boogie Ellis and #1 overall recruit Isaiah Collier. Sure enough they are #2 and #3 respectively in the model’s top rated players in the Pac behind Keion Brooks Jr. The difference here comes down to the coaching.

USC’s Andy Enfield and Oregon’s Dana Altman are the most veteran coaches in the conference (until USC leaves next year) but have almost opposite tenures. The Ducks overachieved in 7 of 9 seasons under Altman from 2012 through 2020 before stumbling the past 3 seasons to various degrees. Meanwhile, USC underachieved in my model for 7 straight years before going over in 2 of the last 3 seasons. If you only used results from the last 3 years instead of overall then the teams would flip places. But when you take into account their entire tenures I have Altman as above average and Enfield still in the negative. I’ve toyed with the idea of weighting more recent seasons more heavily because of these 2 in particular but haven’t pulled the trigger yet. I’ll think it over this offseason.

Utah in 4th is a surprise for many I’m sure but Craig Smith has a high coaching grade after making last year’s team competent despite what looked on paper like the least talented Utah team since joining the Pac-12. They lose Marco Anthony and Lazar Stefanovich but bring in Cole Bajema, Lawson Lovering, and Deivon Smith who were all at least rotation players on power conference teams last season. Branden Carlson turned down the allure of the NBA Draft and returns for his 5th season as a legitimate Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate after averaging 16.4 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks.

NCAA Basketball: Utah at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Colorado also got good news with their star Tristan da Silva spurning professional ball. He’ll combine with KJ Simpson off a 15.9 ppg season plus the highest rated freshman in Colorado history, Cody Williams (#7 overall). The bench has some question marks but that triumvirate will contend for the best in the conference and any of those 3 could end up 1st team all-Pac-12 at season’s end. If you want a sleeper to win the conference, this is it.

Arizona State once again got a facelift via the transfer portal as 6 of their projected 9 top minute getters are new imports. The Sun Devils have finished with an aEM between about +8.0 and +15.0 for all but one year in the past decade. This projection has them slightly above that at +16.2 which means it’s probably a little high unless Hurley has his best season ever. Not impossible but not likely.

There’s a drop before getting to Stanford (with UW in between) which is yet again coached by Jerod Haase despite the Cardinal yet again failing to make the NCAA tournament. They lost the closest thing to a star they had when Harrison Ingram transferred to North Carolina and they’re filled with a lot of B- guys who are good role players but no one that projects as a true star. The definition of meh.

Cal is a surprise for many given that they’ve been consistently awful for years but newcomer coach Mark Madsen did yeoman’s work in the transfer portal. Their 5 new transfers would at the very least have been in Cal’s top-6 last year had they been on the roster: SF Jaylon Tyson (Texas Tech), PG Jalen Cone (Northern Arizona), SG Keonte Kennedy (Memphis), C Fardaws Aimaq (Texas Tech), and SG Mike Meadows (Portland). As long as Madsen is competent as a coach they have a chance to finish near the midpoint of the conference.

There was a point this offseason when the model had Washington State #1 in the conference. Then Mouhamad Gueye and Justin Powell opted to stay in the NBA Draft and TJ Bamba transferred to Villanova while other teams added portal talent. It’s hard to recover from losing your 3 best players. They got Isaac Jones from Idaho to try to replace Gueye, Joseph Yesufu from Kansas to replace Powell, and Jaylen Wells as one of the better D-2 players in the country to replace Bamba. But I would bet on at least 2 of the 3 being downgrades which means it’s hard to imagine an improvement in year 5 (already!?) under Kyle Smith.

Finally, we end with Oregon State. Wayne Tinkle looked at a roster that won 5 games in league play and lost its 2nd best player to the transfer portal and said “I’ll stand pat”. The Beavers added a JUCO SG, an unrated prep wing, and no transfers. It would be an all-time coaching job if OSU can even finish 10th in the conference.

Early Pac-12 All-Conference Squads

(Based on model’s evaluation of players and each all-conference team has to make some sense playing together)

1st Team: USC G Isaiah Collier, USC G Boogie Ellis, Washington F Keion Brooks, Utah F/C Branden Carlson, Oregon C N’Faly Dante

2nd Team: ASU G Adam Miller, ASU G Frankie Collins, Cal F Jaylon Tyson, Colorado F Tristan da Silva, Arizona C Oumar Ballo

3rd Team: Colorado G KJ Simpson, Arizona G Jaden Bradley, Arizona G Pelle Larsson, Oregon F Devan Cambridge, UCLA C Adem Bona

Team my model is higher than consensus on: Oregon

Team my model is lower than consensus on: UCLA


Next week we’ll have initial projections for the other 5 major conferences (with fewer words on each, I promise)