Surprise: Colorado is the pick
A bountiful recruiting harvest should reinvigorate the Pac-12 after it placed just three teams in the NCAA Tournament in each of the last two seasons and saw a corresponding drop in national relevance. After losing 10 of its 15 all-conference players and three of five on the all-freshman team, the league needs the talent infusion. A remarkable seven of the 27 five-star recruits in the 2019 class signed with Pac-12 schools — more than any other conference. Arizona, USC, Washington and Oregon signed top-15 classes and are each capable of challenging for the Pac-12 title in a difficult-to-forecast year.
But it’s Colorado that returns two first-team all-conference players, junior point guard McKinley Wright IV and junior swingman Tyler Bey, and deserves to be spotlighted for the first time since joining the league in 2011-12. In coach Tad Boyle’s 10th season in Boulder, Bey may prove to be the league’s best two-way weapon, and Wright could challenge for Pac-12 Player of the Year honors after successful surgery to fix a shoulder injury he played through as a sophomore.
The Pac-12 figures to have plenty of parity but also boasts at least seven teams with legitimate NCAA Tournament aspirations.
The Buffaloes joined Washington as the only programs with two players on the first-team all-conference squad last season — point guard McKinley Wright IV and forward Tyler Bey, and both are back. If Tad Boyle gets solid support from returners Lucas Siewert, Shane Gatling, D’Shawn Schwartz and Evan Battey, the long-tenured coach and Colorado will have their first legitimate chance at a Pac-12 title since joining the league in 2011-12.
Although the Huskies lose their top four scorers, including Pac-12 Player of the Year Jaylen Nowell and Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Matisse Thybulle, they are reloading with two national top-10 recruits in the frontcourt, Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels.
The defensive-minded Ducks feature one of the Pac-12’s most talented and mature backcourts, led by senior point guard Payton Pritchard; New Mexico graduate transfer Anthony Mathis, who averaged a team-high 14.4 points last season; and the nation’s No. 1 junior college transfer, Chris Duarte.
If freshman five-star guards Nico Mannion and Josh Green, the signature pieces in the nation’s No. 5-ranked recruiting class, come roaring out of the gate in support of Brandon Williams, UC Irvine transfer Max Hazzard and Chase Jeter, the Wildcats could be a sneaky threat to reclaim their familiar spot atop the Pac-12.
5. ARIZONA STATE
Triggerman Remy Martin puts everything in motion for the Sun Devils as the Pac-12’s top returner in assists, and he will be well supported in the backcourt by senior Rob Edwards, a double-figure scorer a year ago, and junior college All-American Alonzo Verge, who averaged over 30 points per game in 2018-19.
The Trojans welcome in an elite recruiting class and return regular double-double threat Nick Rakocevic and veteran scorer Jonah Mathews, which should give Andy Enfield plenty of talent — though that also wasn’t a problem last year, when they were still under .500 in the Pac-12.
7. OREGON STATE
First-team All-Pac-12 forward Tres Tinkle returns along with prolific 3-point shooter Ethan Thompson and defensive anchor Kylor Kelley at center to give the Beavers an impressive three-man nucleus that can contend with anyone in the league.
Forward Timmy Allen returns after making the Pac-12 All-Freshman Team, but a lot of others have moved on, including leading scorer Sedrick Barefield, sharpshooter Parker Van Dyke and double-figure scorer Donnie Tillman.
Name brand aside, this is a full-on rebuild job for hard-nosed coach Mick Cronin in his first year leading the Bruins, who lose the team’s top three players from last season — all-conference picks Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands as well as Pac-12 All-Freshman pick Moses Brown.
The talent just isn’t there for Jerod Haase and the Cardinal to set expectations too high following the loss of KZ Okpala and Josh Sharma to the professional ranks, particularly with a modest incoming recruiting class.
11. WASHINGTON STATE
CJ Elleby will undoubtedly be among the top scorers in the Pac-12 this season, but Robert Franks was tops in the conference last year for the Cougars and they still finished 11th. First-year coach Kyle Smith has a tough rebuild.
Mark Fox will attempt to bring the Golden Bears out of the Pac-12 cellar after previous coach Wyking Jones went 5–31 in conference play in two seasons in Berkeley.
Player of the Year: McKinley Wright IV, Colorado
Best Defensive Player: Kylor Kelley, Oregon State
Most Underrated Player: Ethan Thompson, Oregon State
Newcomer of the Year: Isaiah Stewart, Washington
Tyler Bey, Jr., F, Colorado
Payton Pritchard, Sr., G, Oregon
Isaiah Stewart, Fr., F, Washington
Tres Tinkle, Sr., F, Oregon State
McKinley Wright IV, Jr., G, Colorado
Timmy Allen, So., F, Utah
CJ Elleby, Jr., F, Washington State
Nico Mannion, Fr., G, Arizona
Remy Martin, Jr., G, Arizona State
Jonah Mathews, Sr., G, USC
Chris Duarte, Jr., G, Oregon
Josh Green, Fr., G, Arizona
Jaden McDaniels, Fr., F, Washington
Nick Rakocevic, Sr., F, USC
Ethan Thompson, Jr., G, Oregon State