The Pac-12 was easily the most underrated conference in college basketball last season. And if I were a player in this venerable league, I’d be getting pretty pissed off about the second-class status that this conference has been shackled with over the past few seasons.
To wit, over the last three years the Pac-10 has sent fewer teams to the NCAA Tournament (eight) than regional “mid-major” conference the Mountain West (11). Leagues like the Colonial and Atlantic 10 – conferences that I love – have also been getting more attention from the NCAA selection committee than the Pac-12, and that is ridiculous.
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Since 2007, the Pac-12 is No. 5 in terms of total tournament bids for BCS conferences. Their 24 dance tickets is just one ahead of the SEC during that stretch.
I have long held the opinion that the Pac-12 is getting unfairly persecuted because of their tie-in with Fox Sports. ESPN, the self-appointed kings of the bobblehead sports media, almost completely ignores the Pac-12 because they aren’t going to “advertise” (see: shill) for a conference that isn’t on their payroll. As a result, the West Coast teams get less exposure and, come March, there is less of a groundswell for teams to garner at-large consideration.
That may sound like a conspiracy theory. But as someone who makes a living watching, studying and consuming college basketball, I can assure you that it is the absolute truth. ESPN doesn’t show Pac-12 basketball games – with rare exception – so they don’t waste any time talking about, featuring, analyzing, or promoting those schools. In their eyes it is just good business sense and people – from suits to “analysts” – have admitted that this is the company’s policy regarding just about anything that they don’t own the rights to.
Hopefully that will not be the case this year. UCLA is one of the best teams in the country and they will force their way into the national discussion. And there are at least four or five other teams from this league that should be in the mix for an NCAA Tournament berth.
Here are my 2011-12 Pac-12 Basketball Predictions to help you with your college basketball picks, and the odds to win the Pac-12 are in parentheses:
The Favorite: UCLA (+200)
The Bruins have endured a tumultuous couple of seasons. However, I think that this is the year that UCLA reasserts itself as one of the best programs in the nation. The Bruins have perhaps the best frontcourt in the country, with twins David and Travis Wear joining with hefty Josh Smith. Those three combined to average nearly 32 points per game and will be even better if they can find a point guard. That role will attempt to be filled by outcast Larry Drew, who was pretty much a walking disaster at North Carolina. He is a senior and simply needs to stay under control and not turn the ball over in order to be effective. Add in a Top 5 recruiting class, including potential one-and-done freshman Shabazz Muhammed, and this is the most talent Ben Howland has had to work with in several seasons. UCLA has size and some young shooters. And I feel like they have a solid us-against-the-world mentality going into this season. I expect this to be a Sweet 16 team – at least.
The Challenger: Stanford (+500)
Three starters and several key reserves are back from the defending NIT Champions. Three-year starters Anthony Brown and Dwight Powell provide the leadership and athleticism for this group. But the true strength of the Cardinal lies in the backcourt, where 5-foot-7 sparkplug Aaron Bright and 6-1 Chasson Randle lead the way. Depth and size are an issue for Stanford. And I have no idea how they are going to slow down UCLA in the post. But Stanford has a solid seven-man rotation, and they will try to build on last year’s 26-win season.
The Dark Horse: Washington (+1200)
Tony Wroten and Terrence Ross split, and that lowered the ceiling on what this Huskies team can accomplish. But I almost feel like Lorenzo Romar’s clubs perform their best when they enter the season without expectations. This year’s group may lack star power, but it doesn’t lack athleticism. Wings C.J. Wilcox (14.2 points per game) and Scott Suggs (7.4 ppg) should be the focal points on offense. And three-year starter Abdul Gaddy will run the show. The Huskies also have some nice post players in Aziz N’Diaye and Desmond Simmons, which makes them one of the few teams in the league that might be able to match up with UCLA down low. Washington also benefits from an underrated home court advantage. This team plays a tough nonconference schedule. As long as they steal some wins against the bevy of potential tournament teams on the slate, this team should be back in the Big Dance this March.
The X-Factor: Arizona (+175)
Arizona had everything last year – size, athleticism, depth, shooting, experience – except for perhaps the most important thing in college basketball: a point guard. This offseason a golden gift fell into their laps when talented, experienced lead guard Mark Lyons joined the team after an unceremonious exit from Xavier. Lyons could be the key piece that makes everything else fall into place. I am also excited to see how Nick Johnson matures in his second year. This kid has all the tools and great instincts. He does some very good things, but last year he just struggled to put the ball in the hole at times. It is not that he can’t – the ball just wouldn’t fall for him. This team has size and athleticism and a great in-game coach in Sean Miller. And if this team gets anything out of this year’s crop of ballyhooed freshmen they could be dangerous.
The ATS Machine: USC (+800)
The Trojans have been an absolute train wreck under Kevin O’Neill. O’Neill is not a good coach – he hasn’t been successful anywhere he has been – but he does have some experienced talent to work with. USC suffered atrocious luck last year, with no less than three starters being lost for the year due to injury. This year those guys, particularly USC’s two best players, point guard Jio Fontan and forward Aaron Fuller, are back and ready for action. Leading scorer Maurice Jones won’t be asked to do as much this year, and four talented veteran transfers – J.T. Terrell (Wake), Ari Stewart (Wake), Renaldo Woolridge (Tennessee) and Eric Wise (UC-Irvine) – are guys that I think will be able to step in and produce right away. This team reminds me a bit of Oregon last year at this time. I tabbed the Ducks as the Pac-12’s ATS Machine, and all they did was go out and go 20-11 ATS last year. Expect similar results from the Trojans.
The Disappointment: California (+1000)
I am not high on Mike Montgomery’s group. Cal finished No. 2 in the Pac-12 last year but lost its heart and soul in guard Jorge Gutierrez and forward Harper Kamp. The Golden Bears will still be solid offensively, led by aggressive guard Justin Cobbs and smooth forward Allen Crabbe. But Cal has zero size or depth in the interior. And Crabbe is one of those guys that puts up a lot of great numbers but looks better on paper than he does on the floor, where he never seems to take over a game. Cobbs and Crabbe are the only two returning players to average more than 6.1 points per game, and they have just three guys that scored over four points per outing. I think that this is a middle-tier group, and their only hope is that Crabbe doesn’t bolt for the NBA after this season.
Oregon State (+2000) – The Beavers would have been one of the top two or three teams in the Pac-12, and a shoo-in for the NCAA Tournament, if guard Jared Cunningham had not declared for the NBA Draft. But, alas, he is gone and the Beavers are left to find answers in the backcourt. Diminutive guard Ahmad Starks was the team’s best shooter. But now he’ll be tasked with setting up and distributing to the powerful frontcourt of Joe Burton, Angus Brandt and Devon Collier. Oregon State desperately needs Roberto Nelson to step forward and justify all the hype he had coming into Corvallis. I really think that this team is going to play its way onto the NCAA Tournament bubble, and their postseason will be determined by their ability to find some marquee nonconference wins. I am much higher on this team that a lot of the bobblehead media.
Oregon (+1500) – This was my team last year! And I collected a good chunk of change on Dana Altman’s crew. But, unfortunately, they were snubbed for the NCAA Tournament, and this year’s roster isn’t as promising. E.J. Singler is a three-year starter and a go-to guy for this team. And Tony Woods gives them an anchor in the middle. But things are pretty thin on the perimeter, and I don’t see one consistent guard currently on the roster. Jon Loyd is amazingly fast and is a playmaker. But he hasn’t proven he can be a lead guard. Three of the top four scorers are gone, and just six letterwinners – only four of whom really saw action – are back. This is clearly a rebuilding season.
Arizona State (+1200) – Herb Sendek’s head is on the chopping block, and if you’re taking bets on it he is the most likely candidate for a midseason termination. Graduation and transfers have soaked out most of the talent from this team, and Sendek even had to endure mass assistant coach defections through the offseason. ASU is hoping that Jahii Carson, a highly-touted freshman who was ruled ineligible last year, can have an instant impact. He will instantly be thrust into a leading role with three other bit parts – Carrick Felix, Jon Gilling and Chris Colvin – from last year’s team. Depth is nonexistent. But they do have a pair of seven-footers to help underneath and to help this Sun Devils team compete against more powerful teams in the Pac-12. I think this team will find its way into a postseason tournament. But things aren’t going to be pretty in Tempe, and I don’t know if it will be enough to save Sendek.
Colorado (+800) – This team played way, way above itself last year and earned a surprise trip to the NCAA Tournament. Their home court edge was quite pronounced in the new league, and Colorado snuck up on everyone in the Pac-12. That won’t happen this year. Colorado lost three key pieces to graduation and have just two starters back in the fold. Forward Andre Roberson is a double-double machine and one of the best, most underrated players in the country. Savvy sophomores Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie provide some cover. But after that there is nothing here for Tad Boyle to work with. Besides Roberson, the four other juniors and seniors on this team combined to average just 5.7 points per game last year. The rest of the roster is six freshmen and the sophomore duo. I expect another slow start, but this team will be competitive later in the year.
Washington State (+1800) – Things have come off the rails a bit for Ken Bone out in Pullman. He has just two starters back from an underwhelming 19-18 team from last season and not much undeveloped talent to focus their attention on. Forward Brock Motum is one of the best players in the league and can fill up a stat sheet. But he is really a one-man show. Washington State’s season was dealt a savage blow before it even begun when talented but troubled guard Reggie Moore was kicked off the team. This Cougars club should be a pushover this year.
Utah (+3000) – Larry Krystowiak is in Year 2 of the massive renovation project he walked into in Salt Lake City. A stunning 16 players have departed the program since the coach took over, and he begins this season with nine new faces on the bench. Utah was pathetic last season, going just 6-25 overall and 3-15 in Pac-12 play, and I don’t know how much better they are going to be this year after losing four of their top six players. Utah will rely on transfers Glen Dean, Jarred DuBois and Aaron Dotson, but all three of those players gained experience at lower tiers than you would expect for someone starting in the Pac-12. These guys are still pretty bad.
Projected Pac-10 Standings:
6. Oregon State
8. Arizona State
11. Washington State
*Projected NCAA Tournament Teams
Robert Ferringo is a writer and a professional sports handicapper for Doc’s Sports. He is considered one of the best college basketball handicappers in the country and has produced three consecutive profitable college seasons and four of five winning years overall. He earned his $100-per-Unit clients over $30,000 in the last five years with his nonconference handicapping. You can sign up for his college basketball picks and get more information here.