Before the season started, the Pac-12 seemed like it was destined to have a good year. UCLA was ranked in the top 25, and Washington, Cal, and Arizona all looked like they were going to make the NCAA Tournament. Now after non-conference play has ended, it is anyone's league. It might be another down year for the Pac-12, but that could bode well for Colorado. More importantly, there seems like there are no great teams in the conference this year. Great teams win on the road, and with the Coors Event Center always a tough place to play, Colorado could get some upset wins at home. Games at home will be crucial to the Buffaloes' chance at postseason play this season. Ultimately, if the Buffaloes start off conference play with a couple wins at home, they have a chance to finish in the middle of the conference this year and that would be a great outcome for the season. A brief look at every team and their strengths and weaknesses as well as predicted finish...
1) Cal- They had a couple embarrassing losses to UNLV and Missouri, but they still remain my pick for first in the conference. Cal returned most of their team and Allen Crabbe and Jorge Guitierrez are excellent shooters and can put in on the floor when they need to. Along with their efficient offense, Cal plays strong defense and are coached well by Montgomery. Additionally, they have strong leadership which should propel them to the Pac-12 title.
2) Arizona- If this team sorts all their problems out, they could be scary heading into March. Josiah Turner hasn't shown any reason why he was a top recruit yet, and the Wildcats have made careless decisions throughout non-conference play. Solomon Hill is a beast inside and if they get more production and develop some continuity with their starting unit, they will be heading to the NCAA Tournament for another year.
3) Washington- Led by freshman Tony Wroten, Washington has similar issues to Arizona. They have a lot of young talent, but no leadership or cohesiveness. Lorenzo Romar has been at Washington for a while now and knows how to get the most out of his team. The Huskies should pick up the slack as the year goes on and duke it out with Stanford for the final bid from the Pac-12.
4) Stanford- Johnny Dawkins surprised the Pac-12 with Stanford in non-conference play. The team is very strong defensively and has a great chance to make the tournament. They are led by standout freshman Chasson Randle and senior leader Josh Owens. Dawkins has this team playing with a defensive mentality and If Dawkins keeps this team strong defensively, they could be very tough to beat.
5) UCLA- The favorite of the Pac-12 before the season started, has had issues to say the least. They started out losing to Loyola Marymount and Middle Tennessee State. Reeves Nelson, their leader from last year, was recently dismissed from the team. Josh Smith, their best big man, came into the season looking out of shape. Ben Howland has been a very successful coach during his tenure at UCLA so he should be able to turn it around this season. However, if he doesn't do it soon, UCLA might have their most disappointing season in a while.
6) Oregon State- Even more surprising than Stanford are the Oregon State Beavers. They upset Texas in non-conference play showing the nation that they can play. Led by returning Jared Cunningham and Devon Collier, the Beavers will look to continue their surprising start by outscoring opponents as they have done frequently so far this season.
7) Oregon- The Ducks got quite the blow when star recruit Jabari Brown left after just two games this year. However, Dana Altman is turning things around quickly at Oregon and should keep the Ducks in the midst of things throughout conference play. Entering conference play, the Ducks are 10-3 and with the help of senior Devoe Joseph, the Ducks could be a sleeper in the Pac-12 this year.
8) Colorado- The Buffaloes fit in perfectly with the theme of the Pac-12: inconsistency. When this team plays well, they look like they are a contender in the Pac-12, however, when they play poorly, they are not fun to watch. The Buffaloes don't have too much depth and will be very reliant on their starters for success this season. Andre Roberson's outstanding rebounding is always going to be there, but, Spencer Dinwiddie and Carlon Brown are both supporting players that need to step up if the Buffaloes want to have success. Nonetheless, the Buffaloes will make every game close this year in conference play and things are only looking up for the program.
9) USC- The Trojans did not have the greatest showing in non-conference play. They lost to Cal Poly 42-36, and have looked lost in multiple games. They are a very young team and just don't have much ability to score. USC is too young and inexperienced to make any impact this year, but the team should improve gradually as the year goes on and look to make an impact next year.
10) Washington State- Led by returning players Brock Motum and Faisal Aden, the Washington State Cougars should be an interesting team in the Pac-12 this year. Similar to Colorado, they had an easy non-conference schedule and came out with a decent record. They could upset a couple of teams at home, however, Washington State won't be in any serious contention this year.
11) Arizona State- The Sun Devils have their work cut out for them this year. Jahil Carson, a standout freshman, has been ruled ineligible and Arizona State has not responded well. They have a record of 4-8 in non-conference play and have not looked good at all. However, the program has a good recruiting class coming in and won't be in the basement of the Pac-12 for long.
12) Utah- There was a reason that Carlon Brown transferred. Utah, a program that has been very good in the past has dropped significantly in recent years. The Utes have had some really bad losses in non-conference play so far and don't look to get many victories in Pac-12 play. Josh Watkins, their leading scorer, seems to be their only bright spot. Bottom line, it's going to be a long year for Utah.
Overall, the Pac-12 is as wide open as it's ever been. There is no clear favorite at all. If Arizona figures it out, they could be scary. If UCLA gets everything together, they could be good as well. There are so many teams that have talent, but are young and inexperienced. I still think Cal will win the conference, but halfway through conference play, things could look entirely different. Moreover, because the conference is so wide open, each game and team will be very intriguing to watch and as a result, make the season come down to the wire.