The Pac-12 is in a better place than it was only a few years ago.
Coaching hires at Arizona, Oregon, Utah, USC, Colorado and Oregon State have improved the league at the top as well as the overall depth and consistency.
And yet there’s still major void. The other five major conferences in college basketball (the ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten and SEC) have been represented in the last two Final Fours. The American, Missouri Valley, Horizon and Colonial have produced Final Four teams since the last time — UCLA in 2008 — was in the national semifinals.
The Pac-12 has the longest national championship drought of any of the top seven conferences in college hoops — the Power 5, plus the Big East and American. The Pac-12 hasn’t produced a champion since Arizona in 1997.
Could the 20th anniversary of Lute Olson’s national championship bring about change? If so, the best hope might not be the typical contender (read: UCLA or Arizona). Oregon reached the Elite Eight last season and returns enough firepower to make a run at its first Final Four since winning the first NCAA championship in 1939.
As usual, Arizona and UCLA will be talented, so the Ducks will be challenged. Washington will have one of the nation’s best freshmen in Markelle Fultz. If the Pac-12’s drought in the final weekend of college basketball doesn’t end this season, at least the journey will be entertaining.
All Pac-12 predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2016-17 Preview Magazine, available in our online store and on newsstands everywhere.
Player of the Year: Dillon Brooks, Oregon
Best Defensive Player: Chris Boucher, Oregon
Most Underrated Player: Thomas Welsh, UCLA
Newcomer of the Year: Markelle Fultz, Washington
G Lonzo Ball, UCLA
G Markelle Fultz, Washington
G Allonzo Trier, Arizona
F Dillon Brooks, Oregon
F Ivan Rabb, Cal
G Tyler Dorsey, Oregon
G Jordan McLaughlin, USC
F Kyle Kuzma, Utah
F Chris Boucher, Oregon
C Lauri Markkanen, Arizona
G Tra Holder, Arizona State
G George King, Colorado
G Isaac Hamilton, UCLA
F Tres Tinkle, Oregon State
C Thomas Welsh, UCLA
1. UCLA: The Bruins’ No. 4-ranked class includes three top-25 prospects, including versatile point guard Lonzo Ball.
2. Arizona: The Wildcats reload with talented Finnish shooter Lauri Markkanen and two top-35 guards in Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons.
3. Oregon: Oregon’s class is headlined by three players in the top 100, including Payton Pritchard, the top player in the state.
4. Washington: Maryland native Markelle Fultz, Scout’s No. 3-ranked player, is a steal for head coach Lorenzo Romar, who keeps attracting top talent to Seattle.
5. Arizona State: Sam Cunliffe, a four-star small forward from Seattle, leads a deep and well-rounded class in Bobby Hurley’s inaugural recruiting year.
6. USC: Four-stars Jonah Mathews and De’Anthony Melton could see immediate playing time.
7. Stanford: Shot blocker Trevor Stanback joins New Jersey’s No. 2 small forward Kodye Pugh.
8. Utah: Jayce Johnson, the nation’s No. 13 center, draws favorable comparisons to NBA-bound Jakob Poeltl. The Utes also welcome a host of junior college transfers.
9. California: Four-star point guard Charlie Moore, a late signee, should make for a fun running mate alongside returning sophomore Ivan Rabb.
10. Oregon State: JaQuori McLaughlin might be asked to make an immediate impact with starting point guard Gary Payton II graduating.
11. Colorado: The Buffaloes picked up a sleeper recruit in three-star shooting guard Bryce Peters.
12. Washington State: Coach Ernie Kent compares point guard Milan Acquaah to Tim Hardaway