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21 Predictions for Pac-12 Basketball in 2016-17

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Crazy predictions have helped the Buffs before.

NCAA Basketball: Colorado at California
Wesley Gordon and Ivan Rabb will battle a few times this season.
Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

College basketball began on Friday night when the Buffs endangered the Hornets of Sacramento State with a 90-53 win in what will be their first of many victories. Even though the season has begun, it doesn’t mean we can’t still be previewing the season.

You can read a breakdown of the starting lineup, of the bench rotation, of the Buffs’ non-conference and conference schedules, of the Buffs’ most important home games, and even a feature piece on transfer Derrick White. Today, we have some crazy predictions for the college basketball season.

1. The Pac-12 will be the second best conference in the country.

The preseason rankings had three Pac-12 teams in the top 25 — No. 5 Oregon, No. 11 Arizona, No. 20 UCLA — and had five more teams receive votes — No. 27 Cal, No. 38 USC, No. 40 Colorado, No. 49 Washington and No. 55 Utah. If the ranked teams perform as expected and the unranked teams play to their potential, this could be the deepest conference in basketball. Not the best, though, because the ACC is always the best.

2. Cal will be the surprise team of the season.

Led by super sophomore Ivan Rabb and a great returning cast, these Cal Golden Bears won’t disappoint like they have in previous years (not until March anyway). Instead, they’ll surprise people across the country as they use experience and Rabb’s skillset to pull off a 25-win regular season and win the Pac-12.

3. Oregon won’t win the Pac-12.

If Cal is returning tons and tons of talent, Oregon is smuggling it in en masse. Dana Altman’s crew has stars Chris Boucher (on the Sports Illustrated cover), Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey, Dylan Ennis and Jordan Bell. With so many shooters on the court, this offense may be the best in the country, even better than Duke or Villanova. But Oregon’s success may be limited, as no one knows when leading scorer Brooks will return from a foot injury or how he will look upon his return. In his absence, Oregon will drop a couple games they shouldn’t, and a surprise run from Cal will see the Ducks lose vital ground in the Pac-12 standings.

4. Oregon will win the Pac-12.

Oregon will finish in second in the Pac-12 standings, but they will still win the Pac-12 Tournament, and thus, the Pac-12. With a string of blowout wins (including over Arizona) and a win over Colorado in the tournament final (they beat Cal), the Ducks will have all the momentum leading up to the NCAA Tournament. Almost too much momentum...

5. UCLA will be as good and as bad as many hope and fear.

At times, this UCLA will look like the best in country. In these times, Lonzo Ball will look like a god, Isaac Hamilton will be golden, Thomas Welsh will play defense like the better Gasol, and even Bryce Alford will make some shots. Other times, UCLA will be an absolute disaster and bring shame upon Bill Walton and John Wooden. In these times, Ball and Bryce Alford will look lost, Welsh will play defense like the other Gasol, and coach Steve Alford will attempt to flee the building.

6. USC will combine with UCLA to be the best regional pairing.

UCLA will have their ups and downs, ups and downs, but they will still finish fifth in the Pac-12 while they play in and out of the rankings. USC, meanwhile, will try to replace the irreplaceable Julian Jacobs and Nikola Jovanovic. They won’t be as good as last year, but Jordan McLaughlin and Bennie Boatwright will lead Andy Enfeld’s team to a 6th-place finish. As far as being the best regional pairing, it’s not as difficult as it seems. Arizona has Arizona State, Oregon has Oregon State, Cal has Stanford and even Washington State has Washington. The only competition will be the fourth-place Colorado Buffaloes and the 7th-place Utah Utes.

7. Arizona will be as good as they should be, not not any better, if that makes sense.

The Wildcats saw a few key pieces graduate last year in Ryan Anderson, Zeus "Zeus" Zeuszeuski and Gabe York. They replace those players with Kobi Simmons, Lauri Markkanen and Rawle Alkins. If you don’t know those names yet, you’ll learn them shortly — those freshmen are quite good. Beside those freshmen will be returning contributors Allonzo Trier, Kadeem Allen and Dusan Rustic. As a whole, Arizona will have talent coming out of their ears and enough experience to play level-headed and consistently, so they have a low floor to their success. Fortunately for the rest of the Pac-12, the Wildcats sure do have some injuries (Ray Smith retired after a torn ACL) and eligibility concerns (Trier). Those concerns tamper expectations and should limit them to a 3rd-place finish.

8. So about Colorado, they will be pretty good.

The Buffs have numerous question marks surrounding the team — Derrick White’s defense, Xavier Johnson’s defense, George King’s defense, Josh Fortune’s defense, etc. — but they should score and rebound enough to ease those fears. As they’re wont to do, the Buffs will win a game they shouldn’t (Xavier, Oregon, Cal), lose one they really shouldn’t (at Oregon State, at Arizona State) and find themselves atop the middle class of the Pac-12. But instead of finishing in fifth or sixth as is habit, the Buffs will grab the 4-spot and a bye week in the Pac-12 tournament. From there, they’ll make a surprise run to the tournament championship.

9. Washington State will be the true surprise team of the conference.

The man, the myth, the legend, Josh Hawkinson will finish what is arguably the best individual career in Wazzu basketball history (Klay Thompson would be his competition) and will lead a fiesty bunch to an 8th-place finish in the conference. Hawkinson won’t do it alone, thanks to breakout season from Que Johnson and Ike Iroegbu. The Cougars will surprise a few teams in Pullman and should knock off an upper-tier team at some point this season.

10. You don’t want to play Oregon State.

The symbol of Oregon State basketball is Gary Payton II. All-world defense, scrapping for every lose ball, dunking on poor fools, barely being able to shoot, it’s all Beaver basketball. Unfortunately, Payton graduated and is playing for Rio Grande in the NBA D-League. No matter, the Beavers will continue this defensive identity and be the worst team no one wants to play. When they need buckets, they’ll rely on sophomore Tres Tinkle, who is one of the more underrated player in college basketball.

11. Ivan Rabb will win Pac-12 Player of the Year.

Rabb, he of the inside-out unguardable offensive game, will not only lead Cal to the regular season title, but he will put up some gaudy stats along the way, something like 23 points, 11 rebounds and 2 blocks per game. To win this award, Rabb will have to beat out Dillon Brooks, Markelle Fultz and Josh Hawkinson. Yes, Josh Hawkinson.

12. Josh Hawkinson will be the most underrated player in the Pac-12.

In fairness, Hawkinson has already been the most underrated player, so it’s especially so this year. He’ll post stats better than Rabb and lead the surprising Washington State Cougars to that 8th-place finish. Still, Hawkinson will be left off the All-Pac-12 first team, because this is a cruel world (and Chris Boucher is terrific).

13. First team All-Pac-12 will have some familiar faces, and one new.

There’s been an infusion of young talent in the Pac-12, but experience will be king come All-Conference selections. First team All-Pac-12 will be USC’s Jordan McLaughlin, Oregon’s Dillon Brooks, Oregon’s Chris Boucher, Cal’s Ivan Rabb ... and Washington’s freshman phenom Markelle Fultz.

14. Second team All-Pac-12 will have a Buffalo.

The second team All-Conference will include UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, Oregon’s Tyler Dorsey, Utah’s Kyle Kuzma, Washington State’s Josh Hawkinson ... and Colorado’s Derrick White. White will play significant minutes at both point guard and shooting guard and appears to be the Buffs’ best offensive weapon. In leading the Buffs to their 4th-place finish, White will average 17 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists and will be honored for his stellar season.

15. Third team All-Pac-12 will also have a Buffalo, but not the one you would expect.

On the third team All-Pac-12, we’ll see Arizona State’s Tra Holder, Oregon State’s Tres Tinkle, UCLA’s Isaac Hamilton, USC’s Bennie Boatwright ... and Colorado’s Dominique Collier. Collier has been one of the most divisive CU players in recent memory, but any and all concerns will be answered this season. Collier looks much improved as a shooter — his 4-6 three-point shooting on Friday was him playing 50%, according to Boyle — and will get many, many open shots as he plays extensively off the ball beside White, a role that will also mitigate his turnover problems. On the other end of the floor, Collier will emerge as the premier perimeter defender in the Pac-12, succeeding Gary Payton II. His 15 points, 3 rebounds and 5 assists per game combined with that defense will see him recognized as a top-tier guard.

16. The Pac-12 will send six teams to the NCAA Tournament.

This is derivative of No. 1, but the depth of the Pac-12 will show on Selection Saturday. Oregon will enter as a 2-seed, Cal as a 3-seed, Arizona and UCLA as 5-seeds, Colorado as a 6-seed (but they deserve better), USC as a 9-seed and Utah as an 11-seed. Missing from here is Washington, but do you really think Lorenzo Romar won’t screw up his chances with Markelle Fultz? (I wrote this before Washington lost to Yale on Sunday night.)

17. Only three of those six teams will survive the First Round.

The Pac-12’s victory of depth won’t be long-lasted. Of the six teams in the Big Dance, only Oregon, Arizona and Colorado will win their First Round games. Cal, as you would expect, will be matched up with the one 14-seed who has a big capable of defending Rabb, and Cuonzo Martin’s coaching will see the Golden Bears out. UCLA, pegged as a team with Final Four chances if everything clicks right, will collapse and lose to No. 12 Rhode Island. USC and Utah, meanwhile, will be the lower seeds in their matchups and will play admirably in tight losses.

18. All three surviving Pac-12 teams will reach the Sweet Sixteen.

Oregon and Arizona should get to the Sweet Sixteen with all that experience and talent; they’ll both roll in convincing victories. Colorado, the most experienced team in the nation™, will finally break free from their Tournament struggles and reach the Sweet Sixteen by defeating the 3rd-seeded Indiana Hoosiers. This Sweet Sixteen appearance will be Tad Boyle’s first ever and Colorado’s first since their very nice 1968-69 season.

19. Only two of those teams will reach the Elite Eight.

That would be Oregon and Colorado. Oregon, the 2-seed, will end 11th-seeded St. Mary’s College’s Cinderella run in a blowout. Arizona will have a brutal matchup against the undefeated Duke Blue Devils, which they will lose because no one will beat Duke. Colorado will narrowly defeat the 2nd-seeded Kansas Jayhawks in a mind-melting game that will be played on ESPN Classic for years to come.

20. Oregon loses in the Elite Eight.

Sadly, the Oregon’s March Madness run falls just short of the Final Four, as they lose a heartbreaker to top-seeded Virginia. Not even Dillon Brooks, resurgent in his comeback, can score on the Hoos and Oregon’s defense isn’t enough to prevent London Perrantes’ game-winning layup with four seconds left.

21. Colorado reaches the Final Four, again.

After the football team’s miraculous run to the Final Four and near-upset of Alabama, nothing is impossible for Tad Boyle’s team. Now that they’ve survived Indiana and Kansas, the Buffs are on top of the world, but they still want to rise higher.

The Buffs are matched up with the 5th-seeded Wisconsin Badgers, fresh off their upset over top-seeded Kentucky. CU has played a defense-first game or two in their time, so this is nothing new to them. The Buffs play lockdown defense and get just enough points from the magical Derrick White to cap off the Year of the Buffalo.

No one cares CU loses 94-67 the next week to eventual champion Duke, because they got to cut down the nets in Memphis as South Region winners. In that, these Buffs will be immortal in Colorado legend.

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Crazier stuff has happened. Roll Tad.