2014 Pac-12 Predictions and College Basketball Betting Odds
by Robert Ferringo - 11/4/2014
Fans of West Coast basketball should avert their eyes.
For the past several years I have been screaming to anyone who'll listen that the Pac-12 has been woefully underrated on the national college hoops scene. It wasn't a particularly novel plea; the East Coast Bias is a very real media phenomenon, and it only makes sense that it would extend to something like college basketball. But I felt like that bias was having a tangible effect on the league as schools were either snubbed by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee or were grossly underseeded when the brackets were announced.
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Ask any coach and he will tell you that the NCAA Tournament is one of the biggest recruiting tools that a program has. The Pac-12's repeated failings in March were actually creating a downward spiral for the league as top local talent was starting to look elsewhere for better competition and more exposure. It was becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy for the conference.
The Pac-12 bottomed out in 2012, its first year in existence, finishing behind mid-major leagues like the Atlantic 10 and Mountain West as the No. 8 conference in the country. But then the Pac-12 managed to bounce back over the past two seasons, fielding the No. 3- and No. 4-rated leagues, respectively. In fact, Arizona spent a hefty chunk of 2013-14 ranked No. 1 in the nation, and the Pac-12 seemed like it was back in the national spotlight.
But now it is back to the drawing board.
Coaching turnover and talent defection - through graduation or transfer - has depleted the Pac-12. And as we enter the 2014-15 season, I think that this could one of its weakest incantations over the last decade. This is a feeble league, and I think that it will be an ugly season on the Left Coast. Arizona is once again a national contender. But after that there are two good teams (Utah and Colorado) that can't win on the road and two decent teams (Stanford and UCLA) that will have to scratch and claw simply to get themselves on the NCAA Tournament bubble come March. The rest of the conference is a mess. And it won't be easily cleaned.
Here is Doc's Sports 2014-15 Pac-12 Conference college basketball predictions (with odds to win the conference title in parentheses):
The Favorite: Arizona (-250)
The Wildcats welcome back three starters from the team that began last season with 21 straight wins en route to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Arizona made its third Sweet 16 in four years last March, and they are a strong favorite to do it again this postseason. The problem is that the two guys they lost were by far their best two players, guard Nick Johnson and Top 5 NBA pick Aaron Gordon. Arizona will benefit from the return of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, a freshman starter whose season was cut short by injury. T.J. McConnell gives coach Sean Miller a heady veteran point guard, and Kaleb Tarczewski is a traditional seven-foot center on the low block. Freshman Stanley Johnson is one of the top recruits in the nation and, like Gordon, a potential one-and-done player. Johnson and Hollis-Jefferson are physically-gifted potential lottery picks and will be counted on to lead the way. This team is uber-athletic and like all Miller teams extremely versatile. They play a suffocating man-to-man defense, and the Wildcats are simply too big and too strong for about 85 percent of the teams in college basketball to compete with. They are not without weakness, however. Three-point shooting is a major concern. And depth could be a problem, just as it was when Hollis-Jefferson went down last season. Finally, Johnson was the clear-cut go-to guy in the clutch. The Wildcats don't really have a replacement for all the big buckets and key plays that Johnson made for them last year. However, that defense and athleticism should carry Arizona deep into the season and give them plenty of time to figure things out. Last year's team won the conference title by three full games. I think it would be a massive upset if any other team in the Pac-12 finished within two games of the Wildcats for this year's crown.
The Challenger: Utah (+300)
It is completely unbelievable to think that just three seasons ago the Utes went 6-25 in Larry Krystkowiak's first year. Now they are fresh off a 21-12 campaign and enter the season as Arizona's primary challenger for a league title. Yes, the Utes can challenge the same Arizona team that embarrassed them 71-39 in the Pac-12 Tournament last season. The dynamic duo of Deion Wright (15.5 PPG) and Jordan Loveridge (14.7) give Utah a pair of go-to guys. Point guard Brandon Taylor and wing Dakarai Tucker are returning starters, and big man Dallin Bachynski should give Utah the presence it needs near the basket. Freshman Brekkott Chapman is a top-notch recruit and will contribute immediately. There are three keys to Utah's season. First, they need some backups to produce because last year they were No. 233 in the nation in bench minutes. Their starters can't shoulder the whole load. Second, the Utes need to win on the road. They went just 2-9 in true road games last year and are just 4-31 straight up away from home over the last three seasons. Finally, they need to learn to close out tight games. Utah went 0-8 last year in games decided by four points or less and are 2-14 the past two seasons in those situations. This is a good team that could be on the verge of a breakout. But the sportsbooks and bettors are both getting hip to this crew, so my main concern is just how much value we'll find betting on this bunch.
The Dark Horse: Colorado (+500)
Last January things were looking great for the Buffs. They were a Top 20 team off to a 14-2 start. They had a win over Kansas on their resume, and Colorado was a top contender for the Pac-12 title. Then star guard Spencer Dinwiddie went down with a torn ACL, and the ceiling on their season caved in. Colorado could've folded. But they didn't. They scrapped and clawed their way to an NCAA Tournament bid without their leading scorer…only to take an embarrassing 77-48 beating from Pitt. The scenario made for a disappointing 2013, but the experience will make them stronger for this season. Colorado has all five starters back, including a pair of ultra athletic three-year starters at forward in Josh Scott and Xavier Johnson. They also have Askia Booker, one of the most underrated point guards in the country, as the straw to stir the drink. Their depth is minimal. And the Buffaloes need some of the young bench players to step forward. But they finished third in the league standings last year while trying to simply weather the storm. With the core of that team back this club is a legitimate threat to Arizona's throne.
The X-Factor: Stanford (+250)
Stanford sure is getting a lot of mileage out of the NCAA Tournament upset of Kansas that propelled them to the Sweet 16. Johnny Dawkins parlayed that late-season rush into a contract extension, and Stanford has become a chic pick to challenge for the Pac-12 conference crown this year. But the Cardinal had underachieving years in 2011 and 2013 surrounded by an NIT title in 2012 and last year's Sweet 16. They are talented but erratic. Stanford lost two critical big men, Dwight Powell and Josh Heustis. But Chasson Randle and Anthony Brown combined to average 31 points and nine rebounds per game. Dawkins bagged a Top 15 recruit in forward Reid Travis as well as a Top 40 freshman in Michael Humphrey to lead a stellar recruiting class. If the newcomers blend with the three returning starters then this team could play a major role in West Coast hoops this year. If not, then last March will look like a flash in the pan. And I have to say I'm expecting the latter while hoping for the former.
The Disappointment: UCLA (+250)
The Bruins are back! They are the defending Pac-12 Tournament champions and finished 26-8 in Steve Alford's first season in Pauley Pavilion. That will totally carry over into this season, right? No. Not many teams in the nation lost as much talent as the Bruins this offseason, including three NBA Draft picks and their two best post players. UCLA brings back just one-third (26.3 points per game) of last year's offensive production. They will get reinforcements from a trio of five-star recruits. But all three are frontcourt players, and UCLA has a dearth of perimeter options. Their top two returning scorers are guards Norman Powell and Bryce Alford. But that's not exactly an awe-inspiring duo. I think Alford will be successful with the Bruins. And he did a great job of molding the talent Ben Howland left behind. But this year is really the first block in Alford's rebuilding project, and I think that the Bruins are going to get worse before they get better. They play a very challenging schedule this season, including a spot in the Battle 4 Atlantis in November, back-to-back games against Gonzaga and Kentucky right before Christmas, and a stretch of seven of nine road games in late December and early January. That will be too much for a young team.
Oregon (+1000) - The Ducks offseason has been a slow-moving train wreck. They lost three key starters to graduation. Two other projected starters and a redshirt freshman were dismissed due to sexual assault allegations. Two other guys transferred out, and right now this is one of the weakest rosters in the league. Joseph Young is a stud scorer and the only proven player on this entire roster. Coach Dana Altman is on the hot seat because his program seems out of control. And after going to the transfer well one too many times the last three years he is left with a roster in disarray. It should be a long year in Eugene.
Washington (+1200) - Speaking of hot seats, Lorenzo Romar is feeling the warmth up in Seattle. The Huskies have missed three straight NCAA Tournaments and are just 35-31 the past two seasons. Romar lost his clear-cut top scoring option in C.J. Wilcox. But he has an NBA prospect to lean on in Nigel Williams-Goss. Two other starting guards are back but Romar needs to completely rebuild his frontcourt. Washington is expecting help from transfer Robert Upshaw in the middle. And if they could get anything out of underachieving forward Shawn Kemp Jr. then that would be a big help. One way or another Romar has to get his guys to play some defense. They are perennially one of the weakest defensive teams in the country, and they won't go dancing if they can't find some stops.
Arizona State (+1500) - Herb Sendek was able to save his job - at least for a little while - after coaxing an NCAA Tournament appearance out of last year's team. But Sendek lost his three best players, including All-American and NBA pick Jahii Carson, and may have just delayed the axe one more year. ASU has a few bit parts back for this campaign. But they're going to need a lot more than that if they want to avoid another losing season. This isn't a young roster. There are eight juniors and seniors on the team. But almost none of them have contributed squat in their careers, which begs the question: why are they on the team? The veterans are going to get a chance to earn their scholarships this season. And I don't think it will be pretty.
California (+1500) - The Bears lucked into a really good coach when Tennessee foolishly cut bait with Cuonzo Martin. Martin takes over in Berkley and will try to get the Golden Bears to turn that corner that Mike Montgomery could never get them around. Montgomery wasted a lot of talent in his time at Cal. And Martin, a guy who preaches and teaches toughness, defense and rebounding, is essentially the antithesis of Montgomery. Guards Tyrone Wallace, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews give Martin something to work with. But the Bears are a joke in the post. The new coach will try to get these guys to bow their back and learn to fight. But if they just don't have the bodies to protect the rim and score in the post - and they don't - then there's only so much he can do in Year 1.
USC (+5000) - Dunk City West never really got off the ground, but Andy Enfield is going to try to push the pace again this year. This season is the first in which Enfield will be playing with his own recruits. He has two highly-regarded freshmen in guards Jordan McLaughlin and Elijah Stewart, and sophomores Julian Jacobs, Nikola, Jovanovic and Katin Reinhardt (transfer) provide some option and some potential. But it is going to take a bit for these youngsters to develop chemistry and trust with one another. We should be able to tell early on if the talent on this roster is legit or if Enfield is still a long way away from bringing the Trojans back to the league's top tier.
Washington State (+3000) - Ernie Kent, the man who helped build the Oregon Ducks hoops program into a Pac-12 power during a 13-year stint in Eugene, has found his way back into the league. Now he is charged with transforming the Cougars. Good luck with that. Wazzou does boast one of the best players that no one knows about in DaVonte Lacy. But the two other returning starters combined for nine points per game. Sophomores Que Johnson and Ike Iroegbu have the potential for breakout years. Kent will need them to bust out if the Cougars want to avoid the Pac-12 basement this winter.
Oregon State (+6000) - I predicted that last year would be Craig Robinson's last as he had gotten as much mileage as he could out of his Barrack Obama connection. He has moved, on and now Wayne Tinkle moves up from his post at Montana. The Beavers lost their top five scorers, who averaged nearly 64 points per game, and Tinkle will have nothing to work with this winter. Fortunately, expectations will be as thin as his bench. There just isn't anything here, and this will be a flat-out bad basketball team.
Projected Pac-12 Standings:
10. Arizona State
11. Washington State
12. Oregon State
Robert Ferringo is a member of the Basketball Writer's Association of America and a professional sports handicapper for Doc's Sports. He is considered one of the best college basketball handicappers in the country and has an unmatched streak of six straight winning college basketball seasons. His $100-per-Unit clients banked $10,890 in profit with his sides and totals last year and he has raked in a remarkable $55,300 in the last eight years with his nonconference picks alone. There is no better moneymaker in the nation and Robert is looking forward to another amazing season. You can sign up for his college basketball picks and get more information here.
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