1. Oregon Ducks
After going to the Final Four and then losing the entire team that took him there, Dana Altman is back. He reloads with similar genetic freaks, like human flyswatter Kenny Wooten and trebuchet Bol Bol, and experienced leadership at the point guard position in Payton Pritchard. The Ducks have four and five star talent at every position, an annoyingly good coach, and the clearest path to a championship that I’ve ever seen in this conference. Sure, losing Troy Brown hurts, but who cares? They have everything they could ever want.
2. UCLA Bruins
I am higher on the Bruins than most. They’re talented enough to overcome Steve Alford somehow remaining on the bench. They lose Welch and all-everything Aaron Holiday, but depending on some freshman’s decisions, they keep everyone else and add a stacked class. Moses Brown is a huge interior talent, Shareef O’Neal and David Singleton are polished wing scorers, and Tyger Cambell is a sweet lead guard with a sweeter name. Add that class to Jaylen Hands (if he stays), Kris Wilkes (if he stays), and Cody Riley, and baby, you got a stew going.
Mike Hopkins has this thing rolling. There are apparently no scheduled seniors for Washington, which seems unbelievable. Matisse Thybulle is back after putting on a masterful defensive performance on his way to winning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. Jaylen Nowell is a fantastic lead guard back for his sophomore year, and David Crisp enters his senior year in a more natural role of scoring guard. Down low, Sam Timmins may leave, but they have Bryce Penn Johnson coming in as a mobile center. If Noah Dickerson stays, he becomes a primary scoring option down low for the Huskies and a great rebounding big. Mike Hopkins has a team set up to be a defensive menace, with a few great 1-on-1 options. If they can score effectively for 40 minutes, I am really high on this team.
That’s right, the most important team checks in at 4. I would say that this is optimistic, but with national publications placing CU on the cusp of a top 25 finish and Pac-12 writers equally as high on the Buffs, I’m not as crazy as I think. CU absolutely has the talent to get here. McKinley Wright is about as sure of a thing at PG as there is in the Conference of Champions, Tyler Bey is a defensive menace that will get stronger, and the scoring hole left by George King will be filled by committee. Namon Wright and D’Shawn Schwartz should be able to slide into bigger scoring roles with ease. That leaves two major questions for this team in my eyes: who is the second ball handler after Kin and where is the outside shot coming from? As of right now, Deleon Brown seems to be most likely 2nd PG, but he has had a shaky handle in college. Incoming guards Daylen Kountz and Elijah Parquet are both used to having the ball in their hands, but they are more combo guards. There is still time to find another PG (who can hopefully shoot), but as of right now, there is no one on the roster that I feel confident can run the offense when McKinley needs a break. As for shooting, Dom Collier and King were knockdown shooters. Namon and Schwartz have smooth strokes, but they aren’t the gunners that Dom and GK were. An increased volume from Lucas Siewert may do the trick, but they need to find it from somewhere. Other than that, this team is solid, young, and growing up.
5. USC Trojans
No one team lost more than USC did. Well, except Arizona (Editor’s note: LOL). But whatever, the point is, USC loses almost everything. Jordan McLaughlin is no longer there to keep the offense ticking, Chimezie Metu is not there to destroy the other team’s hope of getting an interior shot, and Elijah Stewart is not there to explode for 40 points every other night. De’Anthony Melton is also gone, but he was never really there. They may get Bennie Boatwright back from the NBA, but if not, that’s a lot of production gone. That leaves them with a talented team that had no major players last year. Jordan Usher is an athletic freak (like most on this roster), Jonah Matthews can shoot the rock and play D, and Nick Rakocevic played well enough down the stretch to seize the starting center role. But these are all plus role players, and it’s yet to be seen if they can comprise the core of a successful Pac-12 team. Derryck Thornton, the Duke transfer, steps into the PG role, but he has consistency questions and is a scorer more than a passer. They need a #1 scoring option and a leader to emerge. Incoming freshman Kevin Porter can step into that scoring role, but with a bunch of unproven pieces and no leader to string them together, this season will be a step back for USC.
I fully realize that this may be low for a Stanford team that surprised last year and will surprise again next year. They lose Dorian Pickens and others, but there are no losses that are truly killer and there are some great additions to the team. The biggest of which will be Reid Travis when he returns from his toe-in-the-water entry in the NBA Draft. Daejon Davis will be battling with McKinley Wright for conference supremacy at PG for years to come, KZ Okpala is an athletic freak who can flex inside or out, and Oscar Da Silva is a nice piece on the inside. Cormac Ryan is an incoming freshman that is skilled offensively and can slot right in next to Travis in the starting lineup. Jerod Haase has a lot of fun pieces to work with, and you know they’ll play smart. This placement is closer to their floor than their ceiling.
7. Utah Utes
The Utes are rebuilding in a big way after losing the majority of their production from 2017. Four seniors are leaving, including one-year rental and top-tier guard Justin Bibbins, and the recruiting class isn’t as star-studded as UCLA’s or Oregon’s. Sedrick Barefield will enter his senior season as the top option on offense, and he’s surrounded by a bunch of question marks. Utah has scoring talent, as always, but Jayce Johnson (center) hasn’t shown much in his two years in Utah and Donnie Tillman was the only other meaningful contributor that was not a senior. Plenty of players will have to take an unprecedented step up for Utah to contend at the top of the Pac, but their talent and Coach K of the West’s ability prevents them from dropping much farther.
This is purely biased. But look at the house Sean Miller, with the help of the FBI and some shoddy reporting, built. The Wildcats utterly wasted DeAndre Ayton, a generational talent who will be selected top 3 in the NBA Draft. Now, there are facing a steep talent cliff with shaky NCAA ground and a pretty tough recruiting sell. Ayton leaves, Allonzo Trier leaves, Rawle Alkins leaves, Parker Jackson-Cartwright leaves, and Dusan Ristic leaves (so does Keanu Pinder). That’s about 3 years of Arizona basketball history going out the window. The Wildcats, famously, have one 2018 commit for next year, but they are asking every grad transfer with a pulse to save their team. Emmanuel Akot may be the star of next year’s team, along with Dylan Smith and Duke transfer Chase Jeter. Brandon Randolph is also a person. Times are tough for A Player’s Program.
The last time we saw Bobby Hurley, he was awestruck on the bench at the blinding brilliance of McKinley Wright and watching his team of supposed veteran seniors fall apart mentally under pressure. He went on to lose to Syracuse and get bounced early in the tournament. Now, Hurley has to look around see what he’s got. Tra Holder - gone. Shannon Evans - gone. Kodi Justice - gone, thank god. That leaves them Remy Martin (the co-sixth man of the year with Dom Collier), De’Quon Lake, Mickey Mitchell, Romello White, Kimani Lawrence, and incoming SDSU transfer Zylan Cheatham. They have a small incoming class of three, but they are all solid four stars with two solid shooting guards (Luguentz Dort and Elias Valtonen) and a big power forward in Taeshon Cherry. I don’t know, right now it looks like Bobby Hurley’s talented team that finished 9th in the conference will take a step back, and finish around... 9th in conference.
It’s crunch time for Wayne Tinkle. After a tournament appearance with one-man hurricane Gary Payton II.0, he has failed to make the Big Dance even once, despite massively upgrading the talent on the roster. Now, they’ve had some awful injury luck, but that doesn’t excuse every disappointing season or result. Tinkle’s only huge loss is Drew Eubanks, who is leaving early for the draft. That leaves them with a core trio from last year, all of whom are coach’s sons. Tres Tinkle and the Thompson Bros now have control of the team. They average 40 points as a group, with the lion’s share of the assists as well. This team will go as far as they go. If they can stay healthy, that’s a pretty good core in this conference. But they need reinforcements. Their recruiting class is... interesting, with three post players that are all developmental prospects. I don’t think this will end well for Wayne.
11. Cal Golden Bears
Wyking Jones continues his long rebuild. The Golden Bears were decimated by players leaving for the NBA and the rest leaving in general. Cal added Marcus Lee as a stop gap center and after that, it was pretty much open season. Dom Coleman became a surprise contributor and Justice Sueing is a scoring wing that has three more years of eligibility. But they still need to desperately overhaul the roster. Luckily, they recruited perfectly to that reality. Matt Bradley is a ready-made wing from California, and Jacobi Gordon should being some scoring from Texas. Andre Kelly is a nice piece at forward that can move pretty well. All in all, every one of them can and should contribute next year. Wyking Jones needs them to as he continues to move through roster changes.
I’m not really feeling it. Robert Franks and Malachi Flynn are gone, leaving the Cougars with Brady Heslip clone Carter Skaggs and.......