Last season started with a lot of hype for the West Coast’s only Power 5 league. It ended with three NCAA tournament bids for the entire conference. And all three teams were done before the second weekend.
It’s unclear if this league will exceed that tally on Selection Sunday in 2019. Nothing feels like a certainty in the Pac-12 entering the season. But that could also open the door to a tumultuous and fascinating 2018-19.
1. Oregon Ducks: Dana Altman’s squad is the most intimidating program in the Pac-12. Bol Bol, the 7-foot son of former NBA veteran Manute Bol who is comfortable in the paint or 15 feet from the basket, adds a new wrinkle to Oregon’s plans with his size and versatility. He’ll play next to veteran Payton Pritchard and five-star wing Louis King on a team that could win Oregon’s third Pac-12 title in four years. The only lingering question for this talented team is the health of King, who is still recovering from a knee injury he suffered as a senior in high school.
2. Washington Huskies: Last season, Mike Hopkins guided Washington to wins over Arizona, Arizona State and Kansas to cap a 21-win season in his first year with the program. His team’s 10-8 finish in league play wasn’t sufficient for an NCAA tournament berth. But David Crisp (11.6 PPG, 3.1 APG), Noah Dickerson (15.5 PPG, 8.4 RPG), Matisse Thybulle (11.2 PPG), Jaylen Nowell (16.0 PPG) and Dom Green (43 percent from the 3-point line) all return to a team that adds four-star freshmen Bryan Penn-Johnson, Jamal Bey and Elijah Hardy, a collection of standouts who could lead the Huskies back to the NCAA tournament and a Pac-12 title.
3. UCLA Bruins: Steve Alford followed his trend of signing elite recruiting classes by locking up another incoming group that’s ranked third on ESPN.com. Although Shareef O’Neal will not play this season because of a heart condition and guard Tyger Campbell will miss the season because of a torn ACL, the Moses Brown-led freshman crew represents Alford’s third consecutive top-five class. But that talent pool hasn’t led to a Pac-12 title. Perhaps Kris Wilkes, Jaylen Hands, Prince Ali and this strong recruiting class will change that.
4. USC Trojans: USC looked like a conference champion and potential Final Four contender before the 2017-18 season, but the season ended with an NIT berth. Bennie Boatwright (13.6 PPG, 6.4 RPG before he suffered a season-ending injury) is healthy again, and the Trojans will also welcome a class full of top-100 recruits (Elijah Weaver, Kevin Porter, J’Raan Brooks). Andy Enfield can lead this team back to the NCAA tournament.
5. Arizona State Sun Devils: Bobby Hurley lost veteran guards Shannon Evans, Kodi Justice and Tra Holder, a trio that helped the Sun Devils reach the NCAA tournament. Newcomer Zylan Cheatham, who averaged 9.1 PPG for San Diego State in 2016-17 before sitting out last season, will join Remy Martin to spark a roster that must replace the trio. Freshman wing Luguentz Dort and top-100 forward Taeshon Cherry could blossom in their first season with the program.
6. Arizona Wildcats: Arizona finds itself in this unlikely position below the top tier of the Pac-12 after a season in which the program became part of the FBI bribery investigation. The fallout probably cost coach Sean Miller key recruits. Duke transfer Chase Jeter is eligible, Pitt transfer Ryan Luther (12.7 PPG, 10.1 RPG) comes aboard and a group of bouncy wings will try to keep the Wildcats afloat, but no player on the roster averaged double figures for Arizona last season.
7. Oregon State Beavers: It’s up to the coaches’ kids to assist Wayne Tinkle in his effort to send Oregon State to the NCAA tournament for the second time and secure a top-five finish in Pac-12 play for the first time of his tenure. Tres Tinkle, the head coach’s son, is the leader of this team, and assistant coach Stephen Thompson Sr.’s sons, Stephen Jr. and Ethan, round out a trio that hopes to lead the Beavers to the top of the league and, possibly, save Tinkle’s job.
8. Utah Utes: Despite losing three first-round picks since 2015 (Delon Wright, Jakob Poeltl and Kyle Kuzma), Larry Krystkowiak’s teams have made more than 52 percent of their shots inside the arc for five seasons in a row. He’ll be challenged to continue that streak with veteran Justin Bibbins, David Collette and Tyler Rawson, a trio of scorers who averaged double figures, all gone. Sedrick Barefield (12.0 PPG) and a multitude of newcomers will attempt to keep Utah from the Pac-12’s basement.
9. Colorado Buffaloes: If McKinley Wright IV, the team’s top scorer from a season ago, can improve upon his 30.4 percent clip from beyond the arc, he might put together an All-American campaign. He averaged 14.2 PPG, 4.7 RPG and 5.5 APG, while shooting 77 percent from the free throw line in 2017-18. But the Buffaloes lost George King and more than 27 points per game of offensive production overall, so Wright has a lot of weight to carry.
10. Stanford Cardinal: Reid Travis, an All-Pac-12 big man, had a chance to come back for another season and lead an intriguing mix of young talent. His choice to leave and transfer to Kentucky puts more pressure on sophomores Daejon Davis (10.7 PPG), Kezie Okpala (10.0 PPG) and four-star freshman Cormac Ryan to anchor this group. That’s a difficult task for any underclassman.
11. Washington State Cougars: To exceed expectations and do more than last season’s squad, which finished 4-14 in league play, Ernie Kent will call for Robert Franks to steady the ship. Franks considered the NBA after making 40 percent of his 3-pointers and 85 percent of his free throw attempts last season. The senior wing will get the same opportunities to put up big numbers for the Cougars this season.
12. California Golden Bears: Wyking Jones is still finding his way after accepting the job following Cuonzo Martin’s move to Missouri last summer. He’ll have a pair of four-star wings, Jacobi Gordon and Matt Bradley, on this season’s roster. But it’s unlikely they’ll replace the production of veterans Marcus Lee and Don Coleman.