The Pac-12 is coming off one of its stronger years in recent memory, placing six teams into the NCAA Tournament field, including three (Arizona, Stanford, UCLA) that made runs to the Sweet Sixteen.
This year most expect the Pac-12 conference to enter a bit of a recession due to a mass exodus of talent among the league’s teams this off-season for a slew of reasons.
First, the league had a ton of talent declare (or graduate) into the NBA Draft. This includes lottery picks Aaron Gordon (Arizona) and Zach Lavine (UCLA), along with first round picks Jordan Adams (UCLA), CJ Wilcox (Washington), Josh Huestis (Stanford), and Kyle Anderson (UCLA). Additionally, Spencer Dinwiddie (Colorado), Nick Johnson (Arizona), and Dwight Powell (Stanford) were selected in the second round. Even further, Eric Moreland and Jahii Carson elected to enter the draft early, but went undrafted. Moreland is currently playing in the D-League, while Carson is playing overseas in Australia. Graduated UCLA twins David and Travis Wear are also making a splash in NBA waters, with Travis playing for the New York Knicks, and David playing in the D-League.
Additionally, a lot of top notch talent transferred out of their respective programs for a variety of reasons. One of the best freshmen in the league, Hallice Cooke left Oregon State for Iowa St. Byron Wesley, one of the league’s leading scorers, bolted USC for the greener pastures of Gonzaga. Princeton Onwas, a solid role player for resurgent Utah, moved on to San Jose St.
In Oregon, the storyline was far more grave, where the team has been decimated with departures due to rape allegations (Damyean Dotson, Dominic Artis, Brandon Austin), transfers (Ben Carter and AJ Lapray) and graduation (Jason Calliste, Mike Moser, Johnathan Loyd, Richard Amarti, Waverly Austin). Needless to say, we’re going to see some unfamiliar faces in Eugene this season.
In the previous three installments of this year’s Colorado basketball preview, we broke down every aspect of the team, from the schedule, to the roster, to the numbers. In this fourth segment, we break down the rest of the Pac-12, providing some context behind what we see forthcoming in Boulder this season.
Just in case, here’s another visual reminder of what TheAirUpHere has upcoming in this five-part series, and of course, links to the previous pieces as well.
Arizona Wildcats: 33-5 (15-3)
- 1 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament
- 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament
- NCAA Tournament Elite 8 Appearance
Returning: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Brandon Ashley, TJ McConnell, Kaleb Tarczewski
Departures: Aaron Gordon, Nick Johnson
Arrivals: Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Craig Victor, Stanley Johnson, Dusan Ristic
Despite losing studs Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson, who both left early for the NBA, there isn’t a team in the league with more talent than Arizona. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is expected to be a lottery pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, as is frosh standout Stanley Johnson. Craig Victor and Dusan Ristic arrive as impact freshmen as well, and you can’t leave out Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski. Zeus is a menacing beast who has worked hard to improve his offensive repertoire, and Ashley is an athletic match-up nightmare. That group represents the best front-court in college basketball.
PG TJ McConnell is the perfect fit for this roster, tenacious defensively and a pass-first pure guard who will have no problem penetrating opposing defenses and handing off to one of his uber-talented sidekicks.
Arizona State Sun Devils: 21-12 (10-8)
- 3 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament
- 10 seed in the NCAA Tournament
Returning: Johnathan Gilling, Shaq McKissic, Bo Barnes
Departures: Jahii Carson, Jermaine Marshall, Jordan Bachynski
Arrivals: Connor MacDougall, Tra Holder, Kodi Justice, Savon Goodman, Gerry Blakes
Few teams in the league lost more significant talent than Arizona State heading into this season (nearly 59% of their minutes and 68% of their scoring are now departed). Jahii Carson was one of the league’s best players, and big man Jordan Bachynski was one of the most dominant rim protectors I can remember in college basketball. Jermaine Marshall was an underrated piece of the puzzle for the Sun Devils last season as well, averaging over 15ppg.
It is never a good sign when Shaq McKissic and Jon Gilling are your best returning players, and while ASU brought in a solid freshmen class, they likely aren’t going to have enough impact to return this program to the NCAA Tournament this season. That said, rumor is that Tra Holder has been fantastic in camp, and Kodi Justice, Gerry Blakes, and Connor MacDougall will be integral pieces for this group as well. Transfer Savon Goodman is a tough player who should help their depth issues when he becomes eligible in mid-December.
California Golden Bears: 21-14 (10-8)
- 4 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament
- 2 seed in the NIT Tournament
- NIT Elite 8 Appearance
Returning: Jabari Bird, Tyrone Wallace, David Kravish, Jordan Mathews
Departures: Richard Solomon, Justin Cobbs, Ricky Kreklow
Arrivals: Dwight Tarwater, Kingsley Okoroh
There is no denying the talent at the top for California, despite losing studs Justin Cobbs and Richard Solomon to graduation. Their sophomore class just oozes with potential, with Jabari Bird still being considered a potential lottery pick despite an underwhelming freshman campaign. Jordan Mathews is a crafty player who can score in a variety of fashions. Tyrone Wallace has steadily improved in his two years in Berkeley, but can he improve his outside game enough to complement his lethal ability to attack the paint off the dribble. That said, there wasn’t a player more clutch in crunch time than Cobbs, and Solomon was one of the league’s best big men. They will be sorely missed on a roster lacking any semblance of depth.
The problem, as hinted above, is their front court. David Kravish is a capable big man with a tremendous spot up game and remains a quality defensive presence and a plus shot blocker. But then…who? Christian Behrens is probably the next man standing, but he’s proven little thus far and Cornell transfer Dwight Tarwater is undersized. Freshman Kingsley Okoroh may be forced to play significant minutes this season, which has to be a concern for the Golden Bears.
Colorado Buffaloes: 23-12 (10-8)
- 5 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament
- 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament
Returning: Askia Booker, Xavier Johnson, Josh Scott, Wesley Gordon, Xavier Talton
Departures: Spencer Dinwiddie
Arrivals: Domonique Collier, Tory Miller
Last season was undoubtedly a tale of two halves. Heading into Washington, the Buffs sat 15-2, were ranked #15 in the country, and were considered to be a legitimate threat to make an NCAA Tournament run. Down goes Spencer Dinwiddie, and down goes the dream. The Buffs limped to an 8-10 finish down the stretch, and struggled to score consistently.
Luckily, no team in the Pac-12 has more returning than the Buffs statistically. Dinwiddie, now in the NBA, is the team’s lone departure, and the Buffs still have plenty of talent on the shelf. Josh Scott is the Pac-12’s top returning rebounder, and he’s probably a dark horse candidate for Pac-12 Player of the Year. Askia Booker will look to assume the team’s leadership role in Dinwiddie’s absence, and will look to reign in his sporadic play. Xavier Johnson, despite a disappointing sophomore season, might be one of the league’s most underrated players. He’s among the league’s top ten returning scorers, and top eight returning rebounders. Wesley Gordon was one of the better freshmen in the Pac-12 last season, but will need to be more assertive offensively this season.
The depth will be what determines this team’s future, though. Sophomores Tre Fletcher, Dustin Thomas, and Jaron Hopkins all showed flashed last season, but someone must step up and become a consistent and reliable weapon for this team to make the next step. Freshmen Dom Collier (elite defensive capabilities) and Tory Miller (physicality) provide unique attributes last year’s roster sorely missed.
Oregon Ducks: 24-10 (10-8)
- 7 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament
- 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament
- NCAA Tournament 3rd Round Appearance
Returning: Joseph Young, Elgin Cook
Departures: Johnathan Loyd, Damyean Dotson, Dominic Artis, Brandon Austin, Waverly Austin, Jason Calliste, Ben Carter, AJ Lapray, Mike Moser, Richard Amarti
Arrivals: Jordan Bell, Ahmaad Rorie, Dwyane Benjamin, Michael Chandler
As mentioned above, no team in the country has been decimated more savagely than Oregon. Seniors Jason Calliste, Mike Moser, Richard Amarti, and Johnathan Loyd provided veteran leadership to a strong group of young talent. Damyean Doston, Brandon Austin, and Dominic Artis were all unmistakably talented, but now they’re unmistakably absent after getting kicked off the team amidst rape allegations. On a positive note, Joseph Young, one of the league’s best players, is returning, as is quality starter and fellow transfer Elgin Cook.
The Ducks will once again lean heavily on transfers with Dwyane Benjamin and Michael Chandler likely to earn starting roles this season after playing elsewhere previously. Freshman Jordan Bell has been turning heads in the preseason, and you can expect to see Ahmaad Rorie for extended minutes as well. There’s no doubt the Ducks are in for a tough season, but if they can gel together, they may be able to surprise come conference play.
Oregon State: 16-16 (8-10)
- 10 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament
- CBI Tournament appearance
Returning: Langston Morris-Walker, Malcolm Duvivier, Victor Robbins, Olaf Schaftenaar
Departures: Roberto Nelson, Eric Moreland, Devon Collier, Angus Brandt, Challe Barton
Arrivals: Gary Payton
The talent was there in Corvallis last season, but as was commonplace with Craig Robinson, the pieces never fell together. Robinson is now gone, and replacing him is Wayne Tinkle, who has already made a significant impact on recruiting. Unfortunately, those pieces aren’t arriving until next season, and the Beavers will be without their top four contributors from last season, including the conference’s leading scorer in Roberto Nelson and leading rebounder (had he played enough games to be eligible) in Eric Moreland.
Left is Langston Morris-Walker, a solid contributor last season no doubt, but when he’s your best player things aren’t projecting well. Gary Payton’s son is now on campus, but he’s a ways away from matching his dad’s contributions. Don’t fret though Beavers fans, Coach Tinkle will get this program headed in the right direction.
Stanford Cardinal: 23-12 (10-8)
- 6 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament
- 10 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament
- NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Appearance
Returning: Chasson Randle, Anthony Brown, Stefan Nastic
Departures: Dwight Powell, Josh Huestis
Arrivals: Reid Travis, Michael Humphrey, Robert Cartwright, Dorian Pickens
Chasson Randle is probably one of the two preseason favorites for Pac-12 Player of the Year, and Anthony Brown was the Pac-12’s Most Improved Player last year. Nastic blew up at the end of the season and will be one of the league’s most talented big men this year. The question on the Farm, though, will be can this team guard? They lose two of the league’s best defenders in Dwight Powell and Josh Huestis, who were both animals on the glass as well.
Their incoming freshmen class is by far the most talented they’ve brought in for years. Reid Travis will be an immediate impact freshman most likely, and they should return to the NCAA Tournament with any production from the remaining trio of Michael Humphrey, Robert Cartwright, and Dorian Pickens, all ranked within the Rivals150.
UCLA Bruins: 28-9 (12-6)
- 2 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament
- 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament
- NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Appearance
It might not be a stretch to say that UCLA lost more talent than ANYONE in college basketball from last season, pretty incredible given Kansas boasts the #1 and #3 overall picks. Get this though, they lost three first round picks (Zach Lavine, Jordan Adams, Kyle Anderson) and the Wear twins, Travis is playing on the Knicks, and David is in the D-League. That’s an entire starting five playing on an NBA/D-League roster!
Luckily, they remain UCLA, and thus, there is talent in the wings. Norman Powell is one of my favorite players in the Pac-12, a do-it-all physical bulldog of a guard who should make a name for himself this season. Tony Parker has the talent and size to be an elite NCAA big man, but he’s been less than consistent and will need to get into better shape this season. Bryce Alford will be asked to run the offense full-time this year, will he step up, or prove he looked elite passing to elite players last season? Transfer Isaac Hamilton is now eligible, but it remains to be seen just how productive he can be despite his immense talents.
The freshmen class brings a lot of big names, most notably Kevon Looney. Many have pegged him as the best freshmen in the league, even above Stanley Johnson, but in my eyes, its always a risky proposition to put so much pressure on freshmen to contribute at that level. Their depth is undoubtedly suspect, any significant injury or an underwhelming start could put them in a bit of trouble, but its also reasonable to project them to have another big season. They probably represent the biggest unknown in the conference right now.
USC Trojans: 11-21 (2-16)
- 12 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament
Returning: Julian Jacobs, Nikola Jovanovic
Departures: Omar Oraby, PeShon Howard, JT Terrell, DJ Haley, Byron Wesley
Arrivals: Jordan McLaughlin, Elijah Stewart, Malik Martin, Katin Reinhardt
Dunk City hasn’t flown out to the West Coast quite yet for head coach Andy Enfield, but the recruiting has certainly picked up, so the Trojans are definitely trending upwards. Unfortunately, they’ve got a long ways to go before they find relevancy. Byron Wesley transferring to Gonzaga really hurt the Trojans this off-season, effectively ending their chances of making a huge leap in the conference this year. Returning are Julian Jacobs and Nikola Jovanovic, who both had very productive freshman seasons and will have bright futures in LA. Joining them is Katin Reinhardt, a local kid who transferred back home after playing for UNLV two seasons ago. Reinhardt is extremely talented offensively, capable of creating his own shot at any time, but he struggles to guard.
This team is extremely young, with freshmen Jordan McLaughlin and Elijah Stewart expected to play big roles next to their trio of sophomores, and that lack of veteran leadership will likely show at the end of games this year. The experience gained, though, will be vital for future seasons, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see USC find themselves in the top half of the league in a few years time.
Utah Utes: 21-12 (9-9)
- 8 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament
- 4 seed in the NIT Tournament
Returning: Delon Wright, Jordan Loveridge, Brandon Taylor, Dillon Bachynski
Departures: Princeton Onwas, Renan Lenz
Arrivals: Brekkot Chapman, Kyle Kuzma
Many thought last year’s Utah squad was good enough to play in the NCAA Tournament, but their embarrassing non-conference slate failed to impress the committee and their inability to win close games down the stretch sealed their fate. The out of conference schedule won’t be an issue this season, with match-ups vs. San Diego St, Wichita St, BYU, Kansas, and UNLV looming. Last year, they were able to fly under the radar and surprise teams throughout, but this year, the national spotlight will be upon them, as they enter the year ranked #25. Will they wilt under the pressure, or prove the pundits right?
Delon Wright is the best player in the conference, lethal defensively with his length, and nearly impossible to guard on the other end. If Wright can become a reliable outside shooter, you might as well just turn out the lights on trying to game plan him. Jordan Loveridge is making the transition to small forward after playing inside, and his versatile skill set should allow him to thrive on the wing. Incoming freshman Brekkot Chapman is the highest ranked recruit Utah has landed in awhile, and his presence inside next to Dillon Bachynski will really be the key to their success this season. Brandon Taylor and Dakarai Tucker are quality rotation pieces that will be reliable throughout the season.
Washington Huskies: 17-15 (9-9)
- 9 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament
Returning: Nigel Williams-Goss, Andrew Andrews, Jernard Jarreau, Mike Anderson, Darin Johnson, Shawn Kemp Jr.
Departures: CJ Wilcox, Perris Blackwell, Desmond Simmons
Arrivals: Robert Upshaw, Donaven Dorsey
This group probably represents the league’s biggest chance for a dark-horse NCAA Tournament participant. Last year, they were just middling in all aspects, but Nigel Williams-Goss was fantastic last year as a freshman and will likely be among the league’s All-Conference teams come March. Andrew Andrews is a little-recognized guard who could have a huge impact this season if he can improve his FG%, and Jernard Jarreau has the potential to be a big time player if he can stay healthy. They will obviously miss CJ Wilcox’s perimeter talent and Perris Blackwell’s veteran toughness, but there are pieces here.
Robert Upshaw will ultimately be the X-factor on this team’s success, however. The big man was one of the nation’s best big man prospects a few years ago, struggled at Fresno St, but has looked phenomenal this off-season and will be a big-impact rim protector for the Huskies this season.
Washington State Cougars: 10-21 (3-15)
- 11 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament
Returning: DaVonte Lacy, Dexter Kernich-Drew, Junior Longrus, Que Johnson
Departures: DJ Shelton, Royce Woolridge
Arrivals: Jackie Davis
The good news? DaVonte Lacy returns this season.
The bad news? Most of the rest of the roster from Washington State returns this season.
But in all seriousness, the Cougars should be much improved this season, but that may not mean all that much. DaVonte Lacy is a lethal scorer capable of blowing up on any given night. Que Johnson is a quality complementary piece, as is Dexter Kernich-Drew, who can shoot the lights out. Junior Longrus could blossom into a quality Pac-12 performer as well, his length and potential seems limitless.
Unfortunately, their big man in the middle, DJ Shelton, has graduated, leaving a gaping hole in the middle of their defense. Royce Woolridge also transferred out, and without a freshmen of any notoriety, the Cougars will remain a few years away from competing in the Pac-12.
Be on the lookout for the final piece of this preseason breakdown, where TheAirUpHere breaks down all of the info you’ve seen over the previous four segments, and predicts how the Pac-12 season will play out, along with specific team predictions related to your Colorado Buffaloes.