The Pac-12 has had a meteoric rise in the past two years and now entering its third year as a conference, will be as competitive as ever. Remember 2011-2012? Colorado won the Pac-12 Tournament and went on to upset UNLV, but Washington, the regular season winner of the conference, was summoned to the NIT. Cal was the other team to join the Buffs in the NCAA Tournament that year, but overall, the conference was a disappointment. Last year, things improved, with Arizona and UCLA rising back to their rightful place in the conference's elite, but the Pac-12 paled in comparison to the ACC, Big 12, and Big Ten. This year, the Pac-12 is no longer underwhelming and arguably seven or eight teams can make the NCAA Tournament.
UCLA, Arizona, Colorado and Oregon are likely locks for the NCAA Tournament while Arizona State, Cal, Stanford and Washington all have legitimate shots to make the field of 68. All in all, Colorado will have their work cut out for them this conference season and wins won't be as automatic as they have been in the past at the Coors Event Center. Oregon, UCLA, Arizona and Arizona St. are all potential home losses and each team presents issues for Tad Boyle.
Oregon has been tremendous defensively since Dana Altman took over and has improved each year under his watch. Last year, they surprisingly made it to the Sweet Sixteen and won the Pac-12 Tournament. The duo of Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson combined for 19.9 points per game last year and is hard to match. The Ducks added depth with Detroit transfer Jason Calliste and 5-foot-8 Johnathan Lloyd will continue to provide a spark off of the bench. Up front, there are questions, but Dana Altman did add former UCLA and UNLV standout Mike Moser to help bolster a previously weak unit.
UCLA won last year at the Coors Event Center, but things have changed drastically for the Bruins since then. Ben Howland and Shabazz Muhammad are gone and Steve Alford has taken over and will have to live up to high expectations. Versatile Kyle Anderson who averaged 9.7 points and 8.6 rebounds last year and guard Jordan Adams who averaged 15.3 points per game return to Westwood after impressive first years. The pair will be the reason the Bruins stay atop the conference. Forward Travis Wear, who seemingly always plays well against Colorado hitting jumper after jumper, is now a senior while Tony Parker remains a question mark for UCLA. The 6-foot-9 center averaged around two points last season and will need to step up and play more minutes this year.
Despite what Spencer Dinwiddie thinks, Arizona is the best team in the conference. Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley return for Sean Miller up front and will cause trouble for every team in the conference with Tarczewski's large frame and Ashley's ability to stretch the floor. Add in phenomenal athlete and freshman Aaron Gordon and it will be difficult for anyone to stop Sean Miller's squad. They also still have one of the best defensive guards in the conference in Nick Johnson. Arizona is the only national championship contender in the Pac-12 and don't be surprised to see them sweep the Buffs this season.
The other team in Arizona is the Sun Devils and they return Pac-12 player of the year candidate, Jahii Carson, who averaged 18.5 points per game last year. Jordan Bachnynski, the man most known for giving Josh Scott a concussion, is now a senior and should provide a difficult matchup for the Buffs in the front court once again. The Sun Devils still have Jonathan Gilling who continues to shoot every chance he gets and brought in transfer guard Jermaine Marshall. Marshall will be depended on to fill the role of the departed Evan Gordon.
The Buffs will have to prove themselves on the road and beat the lesser teams at home like Oregon St., Washington, Washington St. and USC. The Beavers haven't proved to be much of a threat since Craig Robinson took over in Corvallis and nothing will be different this year. They return Roberto Nelson and Angus Brandt, but little else is promising for Oregon St.
Washington lost Scott Suggs, Aziz N'Diaye and Abdul Gaddy and will desperately need to replace that production. Lorenzo Romar, who is now in his 12th year at Washington, recruited terrific freshman guard Nigel Williams-Goss, yet C.J. Wilcox and and big man Shawn Kemp Jr. are key for the Huskies to contend in the Pac-12. An early trip to Washington will give Colorado fans an immediate answer to see if the Buffs have figured out the road woes that have plagued them in the past.
Washington St. once again will be a mainstay in the bottom half of the Pac-12. Besides DaVonte Lacy and Royce Woolridge, who combined for over 21 points per game last year, it looks rather bleak in Pullman.
Andy Enfield is now in charge at USC, yet they don't have enough talent to stay competitive in the Pac-12. Guard J.T. Terrell is the most complete player on the Trojans and 7-foot-2 center Omar Oraby could potentially have a breakout year. Other than that, the Trojans won't provide many problems for the conference.
The Buffs finish their season with three games on the road against Utah, Stanford and Cal. Although they are projected to finish last, the Utes will be better than last year. The loss of Jarrod Washburn certainly hurts, but Jordan Loveridge returns as the best player on the team and newcomer Delon Wright will make an impact. Utah won't finish anywhere near the top or middle of the Pac-12, however they could surprise and finish higher than where they are currently projected.
The Bay Area teams mostly remain the same. Johnny Dawkins continues to miss the NCAA Tournament at Stanford and Mike Montgomery continues to make it at Cal and it wouldn't be surprising to see that pattern continue this year. Stanford brings back an entire starting unit with Chasson Randle and Aaron Bright in the backcourt and arguably the best front court in the league featuring Dwight Powell and Josh Huestis. The duo averaged over 25 points and 17 rebounds per game last year. The Cardinal lost Anthony Brown for the entire season in 2012 due to a hip injury and his return will be a welcome addition.
Cal is now without Allen Crabbe, but they still boast one of the better backcourts with Justin Cobbs, Tyrone Wallace, and recruited Jabari Bird, the best new freshman in the conference behind Aaron Gordon. Richard Solomon and David Kravish are back for Mike Montgomery as well to complete one of the better starting fives in the conference.
Colorado has received a lot of praise in early preseason predictions and is expected to finish in the top half of the conference. This year, the Pac-12 is deeper than ever and the Buffaloes aren't going to be able to win almost every game at the Coors Event Center like years past. Consequently, they will need to start winning on the road, which Tad Boyle has failed to do in his three years at Colorado. Although it's likely the Buffs make the NCAA Tournament once again, the way they fare against the Pac-12 will be telling for how far they can advance in the field of 68.
2013-2014 Conference Schedule
Jan. 2 vs. Oregon St.
Jan. 5 vs. Oregon
Jan. 8 at Washington St.
Jan. 12 at Washington
Jan. 16 vs. UCLA
Jan. 18 vs. USC
Jan. 23 at Arizona
Jan. 25 at Arizona St.
Feb. 1 vs. Utah
Feb. 5 vs. Washington St.
Feb. 9 vs. Washington
Feb. 13 at UCLA
Feb. 16 at USC
Feb. 19 vs. Arizona St.
Feb. 22 vs. Arizona
Mar. 1 at Utah
Mar. 5 at Stanford
Mar. 8 at Cal