The 2019-20 college basketball season is starting today, so what better time to power rank everyone in the Pac-12. Here we have a fairly solidified three-team basement, a two-team lower middle class, two teams with NIT aspirations, two with NCAA Tournament hopes, and a three-team race to win the Pac-12 title.
12. California Golden Bears
Cal was easily the worst team in the Pac-12 and they have lost almost everyone good from that squad. Leading scorers Justice Seuing and Darus McNeill left for Ohio State and SMU, respectively. 7’3 stretch-center Conor Vanover transferred home to Arkansas. The only real players the Bears have left are guards Matt Bradley and Paris Austin. It will be a rough first year for head coach Mark Fox, but it can’t be worse than it was under Wyking Jones’s tenure.
11. Washington State Cougars
Something strange: for as bad as the Cougars will be, there may be two Wazzu wings picked in the 2020 NBA Draft. One of is Malachi Flynn, who transferred to San Diego State. The other is C.J. Elleby, a gifted lefty scorer who should average over 20 points per game this season. Elleby has to take all the shots because there’s no one else on the team. Robert Franks graduated and they have no experienced big man left. Ernie Kent also got fired and replaced with Kyle Smith from San Francisco, which is a boring hire that may be doomed from the start.
10. Stanford Cardinal
Despite having a talented squad with KZ Okpala (now in the NBA), Josh Sharma (playing in Belgium) and Daejon Davis, the Cardinal disappointed last season. Former top-100 recruit Cormac Ryan left for Notre Dame, so now Davis and Oscar Da Silva — who are built to be high-level role players — will have to lead a depleted team. Unless someone breaks out, Stanford will be in the basement with Cal and Wazzu.
9. Utah Utes
The difference between Stanford and Utah is a huge jump. Because Larry Krystkowiak is a damn warlock, the Utes could finish as high as fourth in the conference and it wouldn’t be a surprise. This Utah team is very young, but they have a lot of talent and have a considerable home court advantage. Timmy Allen is the star and could be a stealth contender for Pac-12 Player of the Year. Utah has a lot of potential and it’s only a matter of time before they’re back competing for the Pac-12.
8. UCLA Bruins
The cosmic opposite of Utah, UCLA is a historical power in prime recruiting grounds that always disappoints because their coaches can never maximize their talent. Gone is Steve Alford, in is former Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin. That is a very weird hire because UCLA is built to run and score, but Cronin is a drill sergeant whose grit-n-grind style is supposed to shrink talent discrepancies. Obviously there’s still talent on the UCLA roster — Jules Bernard and Cody Riley loom — but it more likely be a transition year.
7. USC Trojans
Despite the FBI breathing down their necks, Andy Enfield continued his run on high-level recruits with a 2019 class featuring instant impact bigs Isaiah Mobley and Onyeka Okongwu. The USC front line could be really good with those two and senior Nick Rakocevic, who doubles as a two-way threat and a heel to the rest of the conference. On the perimeter, they have Chuck O’Bannon as a smooth scorer, as well as solid guard Jonah Mathews and talented wing Elijah Weaver. So, in short, USC has a ton of talent, but it remains to be seen how the pieces fit together.
6. Oregon State Beavers
Oregon State has two stars in Tres Tinkle and Ethan Thompson. They will go as far as those two can carry them. Tinkle is a do-it-all forward who may be the frontrunner for Pac-12 Player of the Year. Thompson struggles with consistency, but even when his shot is off, he’s a long athlete who can shut down opposing guards. There’s also Kylor Kelley, the former Lane Community College (Eugene, OR) transfer who averaged 3.4 blocks in just 23 minutes per game. Oregon State doesn’t look like a top-tier Pac-12 team, but Wayne Tinkle’s style works well, home and away, and the Beavs will pick up their usual 18 wins.
5. Arizona State Sun Devils
Arizona State has been overlooked because they lost their two best players to the NBA in Luguentz Dort and Zylan Cheatham. Dort was their entire offense at times and Cheatham was a defensive savant, but the Sun Devils have an experienced team that should collectively fill in the gaps. Little Remy Martin is still a talisman, Romello White is a physical force inside, and Rob Edwards doesn’t miss a shot. They are all low-ceiling, low-floor players who will help win. If the Sun Devils get breakout seasons from Taeshon Cherry and Kimani Lawrence, they may return to the NCAA Tournament.
4. Arizona Wildcats
Arizona has a pair of five-star talents in Nico Mannion and Josh Green who may change how Sean Miller coaches. Mannion is an offense unto himself as he’s a gifted passer with a nasty pull-up shot. If the Wildcats spread the floor and let him run the show a la Lonzo Ball, Arizona would have a superb offense. Green is mostly a freak athlete who could be a two-way playmaker on the wing. They will be helped by Max Hazzard, the grad transfer from UC-Irvine who just knows how to play basketball. As strong as Arizona is on the perimeter, however, they are very thin in the frontcourt. I’m also concerned that Sean Miller is too stubborn to hand the keys over Mannion, so this offense could be good but not great.
3. Washington Huskies
Gone are Jaylen Nowell and Mastisse Thybulle, the 2019 Pac-12 Player of the Year and the guy who should’ve won it. In are Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels, who absurdly talented wings who should power Washington to the NCAA Tournament in their one-and-done seasons. Stewart is my pick for conference POTY because he’s an absolute monster at center as he has explosive athleticism with all kinds of skill. McDaniels is 6’10 and lean and has a versatile offensive game. Elsewhere, Mike Hopkins is going to run his vaunted 2-3 zone with Sam Timmins at center, Kentucky transfer Quade Green at point guard and Naz Carter at wing. There may not be that much offense outside of those super freshman, but that may be enough to win the Pac-12.
2. Colorado Buffaloes
The Buffs have everything pointing towards a breakout season. It’s an experienced and deep roster with (1) two-way stars in McKinley Wright and Tyler Bey, (2) role players who should flourish in Evan Battey and D’Shawn Schwartz, (3) experienced depth at forward in Dallas Walton and Lucas Siewert, and (4) talented wings that all have breakout potential in Daylen Koutnz, Shane Gatling, Eli Parquet and Maddox Daniels. Just as important, Colorado has a known identity with established leaders, a non-conference schedule built to test the team, a friendly Pac-12 schedule ripe for some win streaks, a significant home court advantage, and Tad Boyle’s pettiness powering the ship.
1. Oregon Ducks
Just as the sun rises in the east and sets at 4:30pm, Dana Altman will bring in a new roster and win 25 games. Payton Pritchard is the known quantity at point guard, who will lead the offense with pure shooter Anthony Mathis and natural scorer Will Richardson. The defense will be as good as always with freak athletes Skakur Juiston, N’Faly Dante, Chris Walker and Chris Duarte. Oregon was picked by the media to win the Pac-12 and as much as I hate it, they should be the favorites.