The Pac-12 continues to produce some of the top teams and most explosive talent in college basketball. This year the league enters the season with two teams in the AP Top 10, a Final Four favorite (Oregon), one of the potentially most exciting and explosive teams in the nation (UCLA), and with six of the Top 20 freshmen in the country a bevy of potential one-and-done players.
Pac-12 basketball is thriving. And although they are suffering through the same talent drain that we are seeing across the country , I think that this is going to be another banner season for the league, which could send at least half of participants to The Big Dance for the second straight year and third time in three seasons.
The Favorite: Oregon (+150)
Oregon is coming off a 31-win 2015-16 season and enters this winter as one of the favorites to win the National Championship. The Ducks are currently No. 5 in both Top 25 polls and even received a vote for the No. 1 slot. Dana Altman has created a monster. The key for Oregon will be the health of Dillon Brooks, who had offseason foot surgery. Altman insists that Brooks, a future first-round draft pick, is fine. If he is, then Brooks will pair with super sophomore Tyler Dorsey to give Oregon a fantastic one-two punch on the wing. Oregon dominated the post last year. And while they graduated a pair of solid forwards, the Ducks will lean on shot-blocking machines Chris Boucher and Jordan Bell along with touted junior college transfer Kavell Bigby-Williams. Oregon is outstanding defensively and multi-dimensional on offense. They deserve all of the praise that they are getting and now just need Brooks to suit up and do his thing.
The Challenger: Arizona (+125)
I can say right now that I am not high on this Arizona team at all. I love Sean Miller. He is one of the best coaches in college basketball. But this has the potential to be one of his weakest teams. The Wildcats lost a ton of experience and size from last year's squad. And right now there is a lot of mystery around the status of his star player, guard Allonzo Trier. There is a chance that Trier could miss part or all of this season due to suspension - for what we don't know. But Trier didn't attend Pac-12 media day and didn't suit up in Arizona's exhibition game. Miller has another solid recruiting class. But without Trier these guys will struggle to make the NCAA Tournament, much less win the Pac-12. It is ridiculous that Arizona is the betting favorite entering the season, and I think that this team is woefully overrated in both Top 25 polls right now.
The Dark Horse: UCLA (+300)
Last year was a disaster for the Bruins, and coach Steve Alford enters 2016-17 on a bit of a hot seat. However, last year was supposed to be a transitional year for UCLA. The Bruins talent was overhyped and inexperienced. Yes, UCLA should've performed better than the 15-17 mess that flamed out with five straight losses to close the year and missed the postseason entirely. But I think last year's struggles will help keep the Bruins focused heading into this year. Bryce Alford is one of the most clutch guards in the nation, but he can be erratic. The same can be said for Aaron Holiday, whom I thought was a disappointment last year. Wing Isaac Hamilton and center Thomas Welsh give Alford two more upperclassmen that are double-digit scorers. UCLA's ceiling will be determined by how quickly his electric recruits adjust to the college game. Forward Lonzo Ball is one of the nation's best freshmen, and two other 6-10 forwards will reinforce the interior. I think these guys are legit - as long as they take care of the ball, focus defensively and don't have chemistry issues.
The X-Factor: Colorado (+650)
I think that Colorado is one of the most underrated teams in the country entering the season. Maybe I am just a sucker for the Princeton Offense, which Tad Boyle still utilizes. But despite the loss of Josh Scott, the sun around which last year's team orbited, I still think the Buffs are really talented and experience. And Scott's loss doesn't make Colorado different than any other team in the Pac-12 as just about everyone lost their best player from last year. The Buffs boast four fifth-year seniors and a fourth-year junior, making them one of the oldest teams in the Pac-12. They also return Xavier Johnson, a talented 6-7 wing that they lost at the start of last season. He will team with Wesley Gordon, George King, Josh Fortune and exciting transfer Derrick White to give the Buffs a handful of guys between 6-5 and 6-9 that can defend multiple positions while causing matchup problems of their own. Without Scott the Buffs definitely lack heft in the post. But if one of their freshmen big men can be just a big body for them this is a team with a lot of potential.
The Disappointment: Utah (+800)
Larry Krystkowiak has done a fantastic job in Salt Lake City. But these odds for Utah to win the Pac-12 are insane. Utah lost their three best players and five guys from their eight-man rotation. Their two best returning players, Lorenzo Bonam and Kyle Kuzma, are both better as supporting players. And the guys that will fill in around them are completely untested and unproven. Utah didn't garner a single vote in either Top 25 poll. While I don't put a ton of stock in the polls - especially early in the season - it is telling that the books have the Utes as the No. 5 favorite to win the league yet six other teams from the Pac-12 received votes in the preseason polls. Their top player could be transfer David Collette, but even he isn't eligible until December. I think Krystkowiak will continue to have success in SLC. But not this year.
California (+2000) - I have been driving the Cal bandwagon, with varying degrees of success, for most of the past five seasons. However, I have finally reached the point where the public's expectations of this team have surpassed my own. They finally busted through with an NCAA Tournament bid last year. But injuries ravaged their roster and they lost to Hawaii in the first round. Cal lost its three best players and leading scorers. Yes, they brought back talented big man Ivan Rabb, who withdrew from the NBA draft. And I am predicting that Jabari Bird is going to have some monster games this season. But that's not enough. The Golden Bears are still light in the post - a constant problem for the past decade - and they don't have any more firepower to support their top two unless either A) someone breaks out or B) transfer Grant Mullins makes an incredible adjustment from Ivy League to Pac-12.
Oregon State (+3000) - Wayne Tinkle has done an excellent job of laying a foundation for the OSU program in his first two seasons in Corvallis. He, along with Gary Payton Jr., was able to drag the Beavers to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1990 last March. And with a solid three-man sophomore core, the Beavers are positioned to be pests for the next several seasons. That trio of second-year players includes Tinkle's son, Tres. He was injured late last season but is ready to roll heading into this year. Guard Stephen Thompson and pivot Drew Eubanks will need to avoid sophomore slumps. And this year's four-man freshman class will have to prove itself up to last year's group. But OSU has some nice young pieces and should continue to improve, even if they can't make it back to the Big Dance.
USC (+2000) - What could've been?!?! USC could've been a preseason Top 10 team and one of the favorites to win the Pac-12 this year. Sorry, they SHOULD'VE been a Top 10 team and league favorite. But underclassmen Julian Jacobs and Nokola Jovanovic foolishly entered the NBA draft (neither was selected in either round, naturally) and Katin Reinhardt transferred. Had those three come back then Andy Enfield would've had his top seven scorers back - including six guys that averaged 10 or more points per game - from a 21-win NCAA Tournament team. Enfield is adding a banner freshman class with three Top 100 recruits. But this team won't be nearly as powerful without those three key pieces. Jordan McLaughlin is a three-year starter and proven go-to guy. And Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu give the Trojans some nice frontcourt pieces. But I won't help but think about "what if" with this group all season long.
Arizona State (+5000) - Bobby Hurley looked like an All-World coach last year when his team started 10-3 and scored some major nonconference wins. However, ASU tanked in the Pac-12, going 5-13 and finishing the year below .500. The Sun Devils were - and still are - too small and too unathletic to be a major player in this league. I like Hurley. I think he is pointed in the right direction. He has a workable backcourt with transfer Shannon Evans and Tra Holder. But Hurley has six frehsmen and just one senior on the roster, and this is obviously a team that is building for the next few seasons. They will be feisty. But I think the CBI is their ceiling.
Stanford(+1500) - The Cardinal finally realized what I have been saying for years: Johnny Dawkins was a loser as a coach. Dawkins took Stanford to the NCAA Tournament just once in eight years and was let go this offseason, replaced by up-and-comer Jerod Haase. Haase rebuilt UAB quickly and will attempt a similar turnaround in Palo Alto. He inherits a seasoned team that will feature a lot of juniors and seniors with pretty clearly defined roles. Marcus Allen, Dorian Pickens and Michael Humphrey are all double-digit scorers. And Marcus Sheffield has breakout potential. But Stanford desperately needs Reid Travis to stay healthy as they lack the inside heft and athleticism to compete with teams like Arizona and Oregon. Don't be surprised if Haase puts together a moderate contender in his first season.
Washington State (+8000) - Ernie Kent is finding the sledding a lot tougher in his second jaunt through the Pac-12. The former Oregon head man is doing yeoman's work with this horrendous Washington State program. But Wazzou went just 1-17 in league play last season. Center Josh Hawkinson is one of the best players in the country that no one knows about (15.4 points and 11.1 rebounds per game). And erratic Ike Iroegbu can put some pressure on a defense. But other than that there isn't a lot to rally around up in Pullman.
Washington (+3000) - Lorenzo Romar is the Sisyphus of college basketball coaches. The guy hasn't been to the NCAA Tournament since 2011. But he keeps his job because he somehow is able to recruit ridiculous top-end talent to UW. But just when it looks like Washington might have the talent to make a move, his players all leave early and head to the pros! Isaiah Thomas, Tony Wroten, Terrence Ross, DeJounte Murray and Marquese Chriss have all turned pro early over the past five years, leaving Romar to head back on the trail and scrounge up more talent. And this year he did it again! Romar lured Markelle Fultz, a Top 10 recruit, and will again attempt to build around a potential one-and-done player. Washington lost its three best players from last season, accounting for 51 points and 17 rebounds each game along with all of the primary ball-handling duties. I don't care how good Fultz is, he won't be better than Murray and Andrew Andrews. Thus, it should be another wasted year for the Huskies.
Projected Pac-12 Standings:
7. Oregon State
11. Arizona State
12. Washington 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 10 straight winning nonconference seasons and 10 straight winning regular seasons. Robert's $100-per-Unit clients have banked $16,800 last year alone and $28,900 over the past three seasons. Robert has raked in a remarkable $68,200 in the last 10 years with his nonconference picks (November and December) 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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