After several seasons in the wilderness, the Pac-12 finally started to regain some respect last season.
Five league teams reached the NCAA Tournament, the most since 2009. Three teams were ranked in the final Associated Press top 25 before the Tournament. And two teams reached the Sweet 16 with Arizona losing to Ohio State and Oregon losing to eventual national champion Louisville.
Now, it’s time to see if the Pac-12 can avoid slipping back to where it was two seasons ago.
Only three of 10 members of the Pac-12’s official first-team all-conference squad return, and none plays for traditional powers (Arizona State’s Jahii Carson, Colorado’s Spencer Dinwiddie and Stanford’s Dwight Powell). Meanwhile, one of those traditional powers is starting over, at least on the bench. Steve Alford takes over at UCLA where he inherits a talented roster, but these are the same players who couldn’t save Ben Howland.
Led by Nick Johnson, Arizona may be the most equipped to make a run in the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats have coaching stability, returning veterans and an influx of talented newcomers.
Beyond UCLA and Arizona, here is who is back, who is gone and who is on the way in the Pac-12 for 2013-14.
1. ARIZONA (27-6, 12-6, NCAA Sweet 16)
Key players gone: Angelo Chol, Solomon Hill, Grant Jerrett, Mark Lyons, Keith Parrom
Top returners: Brandon Ashley, Nick Johnson, Kaleb Tarczewski
New faces: Aaron Gordon (freshman), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (freshman), T.J. McConnell (transfer from Duquesne), Elliott Pitts (freshman)
The top two scorers, Lyons and Hill, exhausted their eligibility, and Jerrett made a surprising call to enter the NBA Draft. Still, the Wildcats expect to be the Pac-12 favorites and a top-10 team. T.J. McConnell will take over at point guard after averaging 11.1 points, 4.9 assists and 4.1 rebounds in two seasons at Duquesne. He and Johnson (11.5 ppg) should make a solid backcourt pairing. Arizona also adds two freshman wings in Hollis-Jefferson and Gordon, a 6-8 forward who was the fourth-ranked recruit in the 2013 class. The key to the season may be getting Gordon to play the four.
2. UCLA (25-10, 13-5, NCAA round of 64)
Key players gone: Shabazz Muhammad, Larry Drew II
Top returners: Jordan Adams, Kyle Anderson, Tony Parker, Norman Powell, David Wear, Travis Wear
New faces: Wannah Bail (former Texas Tech signee), Zach LaVine (freshman)
After several seasons of underachieving, player departures and off-court distractions, UCLA hopes to move on under Steve Alford (with mixed results so far). Alford starts his tenure in Westwood with a good sophomore nucleus in Adams and Anderson. Other freshmen received more fanfare last season, but Adams was arguably UCLA’s most important player -- the Bruins lost to Oregon and Minnesota in the last two games without him. Beyond the sophomores, the Bruins need someone to take over the point guard spot vacated by Drew, who was fourth in the nation in assists. This team has the talent for another Pac-12 title, but UCLA has not been able to capitalize in recent years.
Related: Conference snapshot: Big 12
3. COLORADO (21-12, 10-8, NCAA round of 64)
Key players gone: Jeremy Adams, Sabatino Chen, Andre Roberson
Top returners: Askia Booker, Spencer Dinwiddie, Xavier Johnson, Josh Scott
New faces: Tre’Shaun Fletcher (freshman)
Even without Roberson, Colorado returns four of its top five scorers. Dinwiddie (15.3 ppg) and Booker (12.4 ppg) give the Buffaloes one of the league’s best backcourts. The biggest void will be on the glass, where Roberson accounted for more than a quarter of Colorado’s rebounds. The Buffaloes’ two top freshmen from last season, Scott and Johnson, will need to fill the void. Colorado should be able to reach the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive year.
Related: 2013-14 Conference Snapshot: ACC
4. OREGON (28-9, 12-6, NCAA Sweet 16)
Key players gone: Carlos Emory, Arsalan Kazemi, Willie Moore, E.J. Singler, Tony Woods
Top returners: Dominic Artis, Ben Carter, Damyean Dotson, Johnathan Loyd
New faces: Jordan Bell (freshman), Elgin Cook (junior college transfer), Mike Moser (transfer from UNLV)
The sophomore Dotson is the only one of Oregon’s top five scorers returning. Perhaps more than that, Oregon will miss Kazemi’s defensive prowess. Still, coach Dana Altman has enough at his disposal for another NCAA berth. Moser struggled in his last season at UNLV when Anthony Bennett and Khem Birch squeezed him from his natural role closer to the basket, but Moser was an All-America candidate before the season. As a freshman, Artis shot only 37.2 percent from the field, but Oregon was at its best with him running the point.
Related: Conference Snapshot: Big Ten
5. STANFORD (19-15, 9-9, NIT second round)
Key players gone: Andy Brown, Gabriel Harris
Top returners: Roscoe Allen, Aaron Bright, John Gage, Josh Huestis, Robbie Lemons, Stefan Nastic, Dwight Powell, Chasson Randle, Christian Sanders
New faces: Marcus Allen (freshman)
Stanford returns nearly every notable player from last season, including the top four scorers. Powell and Huestis were double-double threats on a nightly basis, but that hasn’t translated to a breakout season for the Cardinal under Johnny Dawkins. In his sixth season at Stanford, Dawkins is under pressure to produce an NCAA Tournament team.
Related: Realignment tracker for all college basketball moves
6. CAL (21-12, 12-6, NCAA round of 32)
Key players gone: Bak Bak, Allen Crabbe, Brandon Smith, Robert Thurman
Top returners: Justin Cobbs, David Kravish, Ricky Kreklow, Richard Solomon, Tyrone Wallace
New faces: Jabari Bird (freshman)
Crabbe (18.4 ppg) is a major departure for a team that struggled at times offensively. Bird, a 6-6 guard, could step into Crabbe’s spot and make a quick impact as a freshman alongside the veteran Cobbs (15.1 ppg). Solomon and Kravish form a solid, veteran frontcourt duo. There’s not a lot that jumps off the page for Cal, but the Bears should remain a postseason contender.
Related: 2013-14 Conference Snapshot: American
7. ARIZONA STATE (22-13, 9-9, NIT second round)
Key players gone: Chris Colvin, Carrick Felix, Evan Gordon
Top returners: Jordan Bachynski, Jahii Carson, Jonathan Gilling
New faces: Richie Edwards (transfer from Valparaiso), Sai Tummala (junior college transfer)
The point guard Carson elected to return to school, and he’ll be one of the top players in the league. The sophomore will need some help around him, though, as Felix (14.6 ppg, 8.1 rpg) graduated and Gordon (10.1 ppg) transferred to Indiana. Bachynski, a 7-2 senior, will anchor the frontcourt while 6-7 forward Gilling will provide perimeter shooting after leading the Pac-12 in 3-point attempts and baskets last season.
Related: 2013-14 Conference Snapshot: Big East
8. WASHINGTON (18-16, 9-9, NIT first round)
Key players gone: Abdul Gaddy, Aziz N’Diaye, Scott Suggs
Top returners: Andrew Andrews, Jernard Jarreau, Shawn Kemp Jr., Desmond Simmons, C.J. Wilcox
New faces: Perris Blackwell (transfer from San Francisco), Darin Johnson (freshman), Nigel Williams-Goss (freshman)
Washington is looking to rebound from back-to-back NIT appearances, though the Huskies did win the 2012 Pac-12 regular season title. Wilcox will hope to be healthy for a full season after averaging 16.8 points per game last year despite playing on a bad foot late last season. The sophomore Andrews and freshman Williams-Goss will look to lock down the point guard spot with Gaddy gone, and the 6-9 Blackwell should be an impact transfer after averaging 12.7 points and 6.1 rebounds at San Francisco two seasons ago.
9. OREGON STATE (14-18, 4-14)
Key players gone: Joe Burton, Ahmad Starks
Top returners: Charlie Barton, Devon Collier, Eric Moreland, Roberto Nelson, Jarmal Reid, Olaf Schaftenaar
New faces: Angus Brandt (returning from ACL injury)
Oregon State will look for a rebound season in 2013-14 with the top two leading scorers returning in Nelson (17.8 ppg) and Collier (12.6). Moreland, who nearly averaged a double-double at 9.4 points and 10.6 rebounds, is also back. Perhaps the most important improvement in personnel is the return of Brandt, who started as a sophomore and junior before missing all but four games last season with a torn ACL.
10. USC (14-18, 9-9)
Key players gone: Dewayne Dedmon, Jio Fontan, Eric Wise, Renardo Woolridge
Top returners: Chass Bryan, Omar Oraby, Ari Stewart, J.T. Terrell, Byron Wesley
After Dedmon’s surprising leap to the NBA Draft, USC returns only two players who averaged more than 15 minutes per game. Point guard also may be a troublesome issue as Andy Enfield begins his rebuilding job with the Trojans.
11. UTAH (15-18, 5-13)
Key players gone: Glen Dean, Jarred DuBois, Cedric Martin, Justin Seymour, Jason Washburn
Top returners: Dallin Bachynski, Jordan Loveridge, Brandon Taylor
Utah showed signs of progress at the end of last season, earning nearly as many Pac-12 wins (five) as overall wins from the previous season (six). Utah will build around Loveridge, who averaged 12.1 points and seven rounds as a freshman. The Utes still have a long way to go after loading up on junior college players to fill out the roster.
12. WASHINGTON STATE (13-19, 4-14)
Key players gone: Mike Ladd, Brock Motum
Top returners: Will DiIorio, Dexter Kernich-Drew, Devonte Lacy, D.J. Shelton, Royce Woolridge
New faces: Que Johnson (partial qualifier), Brett Kingma (Oregon transfer), Jordan Railey (transfer from Washington State)
The Cougars’ top player, Motum, is gone, and they have few options to replace him. Que Johnson was Washington State’s top recruit last season, but he did not play as a partial qualifier. Coach Ken Bone will be looking for answers if Washington State is gong to be competitive.