The college basketball season starts roughly three weeks from now. I’m going to try my hardest to have season preview articles, but there’s no telling how ridiculous or meaningless they will be. Case in point: I thought this article was a good idea until I wrote it. I should have just made my own All-Pac-12 team or listed the 20 best players in the conference, but you’ll have to live with team-centric power rankings until the season starts. If Ralphie Report is great at one thing, it’s worthless power rankings.
12. UCLA — Jules Bernard, SG
UCLA has fallen quite a bit. The team has been loaded with top recruits for years, but Steve Alford never got them to play coherent basketball, other than Lonzo Ball’s genius carrying them to the Sweet Sixteen. UCLA thought they could poach a top-tier coach in the offseason, but they ended up with Cincinnati's Mick Cronin, which is hilarious. UCLA still has the history, location and uniforms to be great, but it’s going to be a while. I digress. After Kris Wilkes, Jaylen Hands and Moses Brown all departed for the NBA, UCLA is stuck with a rotation of former role players. The best of the bunch is sophomore Jules Bernard, a scoring wing with quite a bit of potential. UCLA won’t be any good, but he’s going to put up some points.
11. Cal — Matt Bradley, SG
Similar to UCLA, but much worse, Cal has fallen on hard times. They hit rock bottom last season as they went 8-23, then their three best players — Justice Sueing (Ohio State), Darius McNeill (SMU), Connor Vanover (Arkansas) — all transferred. Cal does have Matt Bradley, a former top-100 recruit who shot 47% from three as a freshman. At 6’4, 220-lbs., Bradley is the rare marksman who can bully defenders inside the arc.
10. Stanford — Daejon Davis, PG
Daejon Davis is a complete point guard who took a step back between his freshman and sophomore years at Stanford. He took on a larger role in the Cardinal offense, which combined with leg injuries led to a drop in efficiency. Stanford was pretty bad last season and now they lose KZ Okpala to the NBA and Josh Sharma to graduation. If they’re going to be competitive, they need a bounce back from Davis, as well as better production from forward Oscar Da Silva.
9. Utah — Timmy Allen, SF
If you remember when Colorado was bamboozled by Utah last season — a game in which McKinley Wright was out and the Buffs panicked at the jump — you probably noticed Timmy Allen. The two-way forward destroyed the Buffs in that game as he had 21 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals. He obviously can’t do that every game, but he flashed potential that he will try to tap into more as a sophomore.
8. Washington State — C.J. Elleby, SF
The Cougars will compete with Cal for the bottom of the Pac-12, but make no mistake that CJ Elleby is developing into a really good player. He won’t have much help, but he’s going to get buckets. He’s a smooth scorer with a silky lefty jumper who scored 14.7 points on 41% three-point shooting as a freshman. He should be better, or at least more prolific, now that he has to carry the Wazzu offense without Robert Franks to draw attention.
7. USC — Nick Rakocevic, PF
USC is loaded with blue chip talent. They have five-star freshman Isaiah Mobley (#24, 2019), veteran guard Jonah Matthews (#75, 2016), emerging wing Elijah Weaver (#43, 2018), four-star freshman Onyeka Okongwu (#27, 2019) and redshirt sophomore Charles O’Bannon Jr. (#36, 2017). But as talented as the roster is, the best player is Nick Rakocevic, the hot-headed power forward who’s just as good scoring inside as he is starting feuds. Colorado fans hate him because he hates Tyler Bey, Tad Boyle, Spencer Dinwiddie, Ralphie, Peggy and Betty.
6. Oregon State — Tres Tinkle, SF
Oregon State had NCAA Tournament aspirations last season with Tres Tinkle, Stevie Thompson and Ethan Thompson, but they fell short because of depth issues. Now they lose Stevie, their best player, and will be relying almost exclusively on Tinkle and Ethan Thompson. The problem is that both can be inconsistent and they still don’t have depth behind them. Tinkle is probably the better player, as he’s really good at creating mismatches as a 6’8 shooter with passing ability. He averaged 20.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and 3.8 assists, which is quite prolific in Wayne Tinkle’s slow-paced offense.
5. Arizona State — Remy Martin, PG
The Sun Devils really shine with their depth. We can single out Remy Martin as their top player not because he’s the best, but because he’s the talisman that makes this team go. Despite losing Lugentz Dort and Zylan Cheatham to the NBA, Arizona State is a dark horse contender in a wide-open Pac-12. Rob Edwards, Taeshon Cherry and Romello White are all really good, then there’s 6-foot-nothing Remy Martin saucing people off the bounce, hitting clutch shots and finding his teammates for buckets. It’s going to be really fun when the Buffs face off against ASU in Shanghai to open the season.
4. Oregon — Payton Pritchard, PG
No one in the Pac-12 has as much big-time experience as Oregon’s lead point guard. Payton Pritchard started in the Elite Eight as a freshman, in the NIT as a sophomore, then in the Sweet Sixteen as a junior. He is so consistent as a game-manager on offense and as an irritant on defense. He’s also a villain. If I went up for a layup and he undercut me to take a charge, I would probably start a fight that he provoked. If he tries to do that against CU, I hope Tyler Bey dunks on him and Evan Battey runs him over.
3. Arizona — Nico Mannion, PG
Nico Mannion will move from Phoenix to Tucson with sky-high expecations. The five-star freshman is expected to be an offense onto himself, similar in vein to Lonzo Ball or Trae Young, although to a lesser extent. He’s a dangerous shooter who uses his gravity to dice up the defense with intelligent passing — that type of player is so hard to guard when he has semi-functional surrounding pieces, which Mannion will have. Arizona is probably the favorite to win the Pac-12, and if they live up to expectations, it will be because of Mannion leading the offense.
2. Colorado — McKinley Wright, PG
I so badly wanted to rank McKinley Wright as the best player in the Pac-12, but I can’t. Second best player and best guard is still great, especially in a guard-dominated conference. Wright is an experienced gamer whose quickness and length make him a two-way game-changer. His scoring depends on the matchup, but there’s no questioning his ability to run the CU offense, and there’s even less doubting his defensive acumen. Wright is a big-game player, so watch for him to be locked-in against Mannion, Pritchard and Martin in crucial Pac-12 matchups.
1. Washington — Isaiah Stewart, PF
Wright is the best returning player, but five-star freshman Isaiah Stewart will be the best player, period. Stewart was the #3-rated recruit in the loaded 2019 class and he’s an early contender for first pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. At 6’9, 240-lbs., Stewart is built like an ox and powers through everyone for buckets and boards. He’s also a terrific athlete who will sky for blocks and dunks. Alongside five-star recruit Jaden McDaniels, the Huskies will rely on their young stars to carry an offense that has anemic tendencies under Mike Hopkins. The good news is that Stewart only needs an entry pass to get buckets; if you get him the ball, he will score, as simple as that.