As great players come and go, Pac-12 looking for team success
The Pac-12 produces great players but not many great teams. While the league provided the top two selections in the 2017 NBA Draft — Washington’s Markelle Fultz and UCLA’s Lonzo Ball — Oregon was its first Final Four qualifier in nine years. Ultimate greatness seems to sidestep the Pac-12. Sean Miller has done everything at Arizona except advance to the Final Four; the Wildcats have missed out for 16 seasons now, eight under Miller’s watch and eight before his arrival. Arizona supplied the Pac-12 with its last national championship team 20 years ago. Miller has his usual assortment of top-tier talent — a Final Four is way overdue.
Searching for a sleeper nationally? Take a long look at USC, which returns a roster loaded with elite talent. The Trojans boast four players on Athlon Sports’ list of the top 100 players in the nation and have a coach in Andy Enfield who has enjoyed success in the NCAA Tournament. A Final Four run might be a stretch, but this team will be on everyone’s radar when March rolls around.
UCLA continues to restock its lineup from talent-rich Los Angeles, with electrifying guard Jaylen Hands its latest elite addition. Hands will join holdovers Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday to form a solid nucleus for coach Steve Alford. Oregon, after losing three players to the NBA Draft following its Final Four breakthrough, will start over — though Dana Altman, as usual, is adding some quality transfers.
It was a struggle for both Stanford and Arizona State — which combined to go 13–23 in the league last season — but both teams feature veteran rosters and are poised for significant improvement.
Two new coaches join the league, with Wyking Jones taking over for Missouri-bound Cuonzo Martin at Cal and longtime Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins making the move across the country to replace Lorenzo Romar at Washington. Romar found a job in the league, joining Miller’s staff at Arizona.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
The Cats finally have an elite big man in DeAndre Ayton, who could be the missing ingredient needed for a long overdue national title run. Arizona might have the most complete roster in the nation.
Andy Enfield’s rebuild is complete. Led by Chimezie Metu and Bennie Boatwright, the most experienced team in the league will be capable of challenging Arizona for the top spot in the Pac-12.
Steve Alford’s Bruins lost three all-conference performers, but UCLA will once again have the talent to be a major factor in the league race. Alford has advanced to the Sweet 16 three times in his four years at the school.
The Ducks are 64–13 in the last two seasons, but the majority of the players responsible for that gaudy record have moved on. Dana Altman will look to sophomore guard Payton Pritchard to lead a retooled roster.
The Cardinal have an experienced and deep roster led by underrated talent Reid Travis. Second-year coach Jerod Haase will need some role players to step up.
6. Arizona State
The turnaround in Tempe is taking far longer than Bobby Hurley envisioned; unlike his alma mater Duke, this is just not a basketball school.
Larry Krystkowiak is a proven coach who wills his teams to win; it doesn’t hurt that he has a capable big man in David Collette.
8. Oregon State
Expect a big turnaround in Corvallis this season thanks in large part to the return of forward Tres Tinkle from injury.
George King’s withdrawal from the NBA Draft should keep the Buffaloes in the hunt for a postseason berth.
Mike Hopkins takes over a program without an NCAA bid for six seasons and lacking anyone who plays defense. This rebuild will take some time.
Wyking Jones inherits a depleted roster in his first season as a head coach. Guard Charlie Moore’s decision to transfer was a crushing blow.
12. Washington State
The Cougars showed signs of life last season, improving from one Pac-12 win in 2015-16 to six in ’16-17. But with Josh Hawkinson no longer around, expect Wazzu to take several steps back.
Player of the Year: Allonzo Trier, Arizona
Best Defensive Player: Aaron Holiday, UCLA
Most Underrated Player: David Collette, Utah
Newcomer of the Year: DeAndre Ayton, Arizona
ATHLON SPORTS’ ALL-PAC-12 FIRST TEAM
DeAndre Ayton, Fr., F, Arizona
Rawle Alkins, So., G, Arizona
Chimezie Metu, Jr. F, USC
Reid Travis, Sr. F, Stanford
Allonzo Trier, Jr., G, Arizona
ATHLON SPORTS’ ALL- PAC-12 SECOND TEAM
Bennie Boatwright, Jr., F, USC
Troy Brown, Fr., F, Oregon
Aaron Holiday, Jr., G, UCLA
Jordan McLaughlin, Sr., G, USC
Thomas Welsh, Sr., Cc, UCLA
ATHLON SPORTS’ ALL- PAC-12 THIRD TEAM
George King, Sr., G, Colorado
De’anthony Melton, So., G, USC
Mikyle McIntosh, Sr., G, Oregon
Payton Pritchard, So., G, Oregon
Tres Tinkle, So., F, Oregon State