Key Returners: Nick Johnson, Brandon Ashley, Taleb Tarczewski
Departures: Mark Lyons, Solomon Hill, Kevin Parrom, Grant Jerrett
Major additions: Aaron Gordon, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, T.J. McConnell, Zach Peters
Honestly, when you look at the players Arizona lost and who they bring back from last year, it's hard to see why they are such a popular pick to take the conference title. But then you see the recruiting class, highlighted by Aaron Gordon, and you understand.
Basically, what you think of Arizona is based on what you think about head coach Sean Miller. Arizona has more talent available than any other team, and I don't think you can really dispute that. If you think Miller is the type of guy who can mold that talent, or at least get out of the way, then the pick is Arizona. If you think Miller can't manage that talent, then maybe you look elsewhere. Personally, I think he gets the job done. Reasonable minds might disagree.
So, I suspect that many people thought of last year's Cal squad as a good but not great team. And so they think that this year they lost their best player but added a big time recruit, so it's probably a wash, and Cal will again be good but not great. And that's not an irrational take.
So why am I and the rest of the CGB team bullish on the Bears, other than blatant homerism? Maybe it's because we're tired of Cal getting picked a spot or two lower than they actually finish every year because people continually discount what it means to have Monty coaching.
But I think it starts with defense. Last year's late season run didn't happen because Allen Crabbe went off and carried the team. Last year's run happened because something clicked defensively. The Bears transformed themselves into one of the best defensive teams in the conference about midway through the year.
And as much as I love Allen Crabbe, I think Cal's improvements on defense had more to do with Richard Solomon, David Kravish, and Tyrone Wallace than anybody else. Those players are all back. I think Cal will have one of the two or three best defenses in the conference, and that's why I think they'll again compete for a title and earn a first round bye in the conference tournament.
I'm not sure exactly what to make of Colorado. The CGB voters have them 3rd, but I'm a bit more skeptical of the Buffs. On one hand, they were a good team last year and they are only losing one player, with a solid recruiting class coming in.
On the other hand, they were a pretty bad offensive team last year, and they lose what I would argue was perhaps the single most important player for any one team in the conference last year. Andre Roberson wasn't the only reason Colorado had a great defense, but he was the biggest reason. How do you replace a shot blocking, paint defending, defensive rebounding machine?
Without Roberson, will the defense regress towards average? Will it increase the focus on Spencer Dinwiddie and force Askia Booker to jack up even more ill-advised shots? A worst case scenario is that Colorado's offense stays the same while the defense declines precipitously. I think Boyle is a good enough coach to avoid that, but unless Dinwiddie makes another leap I think Colorado struggles to score too much to challenge for the title.
Dana Altman is continuing his revolving door of transfers. After losing Arsalan Kazemi, Carlos Emory and Tony Woods, he convinced Mike Moser to use his 15th and final year of eligibility at Oregon rather than Washington, an addition that should help shore up a front court that was otherwise gutted by graduation. Another transfer, former Houston guard Joseph Young, was just granted immediate eligibility from a suddenly compassionate and/or lenient NCAA.
Really, the key man is Artis, the first big time freshman recruit Altman has tried to build upon. His first season was injury-plagued enough to sow doubt but showed enough flashes for plenty of optimism as well. As per usual, it might take some time for all of the new Ducks to learn to play with each other, but if they do they might have enough talent to to compete with anybody else in the conference.
Unfortunately, I'm more bullish on UCLA's chances than the rest of the CGB voters, mostly because Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams are two of the most talented players in the conference, and when in doubt you bet on talent. That said, there are two main questions. Who plays point guard, and is Steve Alford actually a good coach?
The answer to that first question is still apparently up in the air, as the Bruins don't have a true point guard. Last year, Larry Drew proved me and many others wrong as he captained the best offense in the conference. His departure isn't as important as Mr. Gucci purse, but it hurts.
As for Alford? Well, he's certainly not the reincarnation of Coach Wooden that UCLA fans expect, and I don't think he's the type of guy to will build a team that is more than the sum of its parts. But I don't think he's a guy that will underachieve based on his talent either. And for right now, Alford has talent. Hopefully he'll struggle to keep bringing it in.
Carson will make the Sun Devils competitive and entertaining all by himself, but I don't think there's enough talent around him for much more beyond a middle-of-the-pack finish and a few upsets that could swing the title race.
ASU's hopes to do more depend on five new transfers, highlighted by former Penn State guard Jermaine Marshall, former Michigan State small forward Brandan Kearney, and former Michigan walk on Sai Tummala. As great as Jahii Carson is, I don't think he can turn Big 10 cast offs into a tourney team by himself.
If ASU overachieves, it's because the transfers mesh quickly and Jordan Bachynski makes a run for the title of best post player in the conference. If ASU underachieves, it's because they have the same team as last year, with weaker role players.
At least from a Cal fan perspective, this could be one of the most hate-able Stanford teams of all time. I feel like the nucleus of this team has been around forever, and they've found that classic annoying formula of not really being very good, but still managing to beat Cal - particularly when it matters most. That and being mouthy about beating Cal.
Powell is one of a handful of players that could compete for player of the year honors, and if I trusted Johnny Dawkins to ever overachieve based on the talent on the roster, I might even be tempted to pick Stanford higher than they already are on this list.
Cal has to sweep this team. The Bears need to kill the Dawkins era, in the year in which their hopes are highest. God I'm getting nervous and angry and agitated just thinking about it right now. I hate this team.
Things are looking ominous for Lorenzo Romar, and if C.J. Wilcox had decided to declare for the NBA draft, I would have considered predicting an even lower finish for the Dawgs. Gone are three of the key players from a .500 team, although Romar has a few new impact players.
His biggest recruit is point guard Nigel Williams-Goss, who will look to replace Abdul Gaddy. While that helps shore up the perimeter, there are major questions about Washington's interior options, with USF transfer Perris Blackwell as likely the top option. If Williams-Goss and Blackwell are both ready to contribute at a high level, UW could ride Wilcox to a better than expected season.
One relatively not bold prediction? Wilcox will win the conference scoring title, and he'll lead the conference in shots attempted. And not because he's selfish.
USC has made a very high risk coaching hire, and I for one am fully behind it. Not because I necessarily think that Andy Enfield will make the Trojans a major contender in the short term or the long term, but because he'll make USC an interesting team to watch. I'd much rather watch USC lose 90-78 than 55-49.
Initial returns on the recruiting trail have been positive, but for now the cupboard is pretty empty, particularly after Dewayne Dedmon's odd decision to declare for the NBA draft. But considering the level of attention USC basketball gets, one suspects that Enfield will have plenty of time to build the program he wants to build, for better or worse.
If Ahmad Starks had stayed in Corvallis for his senior year, maybe the Beavers would be poised to do more. But he's off to Illinois, and this feels like the final year for Oregon State and Craig Robinson. The Beavers have never had a good defense under hope-in-law, and I don't see any reason to expect that to change this year.
Worse, multiple important players received suspensions for team rules violations over the summer. I'm not sure if all of our voters were aware (I wasn't!) and I have a feeling that the Beavers would have perhaps fallen below Utah if we talked about their issues more in depth. This just doesn't feel like a team going in the right direction.
The biggest rebuilding job in major college basketball continues, and there is a sense that the Utes are getting better, slowly but surely. Games in SLC are getting tougher, and I'm not disappointed that Cal doesn't have to make the Mountain trip this year.
Utah has brought in a bunch of transfers over the last few years, and a few graduated last year. Loveridge looks like he could be a pretty decent first option, and although there are plenty of questions behind him as Larry Krystkowiak continues to rebuild the roster.
The Cougars finished tied for last in the Pac-12 last year with an all-conference level performer. Now, Brock Motum is gone, and so any realistic hopes for competitive basketball. Sometimes, it's as simple as that.