Arizona and Oregon have fallen, and as a result, only one Pac-12 team is left standing: The Cal women!
But enough about how awesome the Cal women are. Oregon has fallen to what most people believe to be the odds on favorite to take home the title, and Arizona fell in a close game to another popular pre-tournament pick. Arizona and Oregon's exit means that it's time to look forward to the 2013-14 basketball season!
Obviously, quite a lot can happen between now and next October/November. There will probably be a player that surprisingly declares for the draft. Maybe somebody unexpected will come back. There will be transfers and injuries, and maybe USC will hire a coach, or embrace their destiny by disbanding the basketball program and transferring those scholarships to the football team. ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!
But I'm going to try to predict the order of next year's pre-season media poll. In six months we can look this post up and laugh at me, or even better, totally forget that we went through this exercise!
Why they'll be picked here: When in doubt, expect the media to pick either UCLA or Arizona. The Bruins have a new coach and some roster issues, so the Wildcats become the default pick. True, Mark Lyons, Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom are gone. But Arizona already had a ton of depth and they're bringing in a few excellent recruits.
Why they might be higher/lower: Sean Miller didn't win the Pac-12 this year with superior talent, and so far his great recruits haven't been universally amazing. Some unexpected departures could change expectations.
Why they'll be picked here: Faith in Mike Montgomery, who has had the Bears competing for the regular season title every season in Berkeley. Faith in Cal's talent, which might be the most on hand in the Monty era.
Why they might be higher/lower: If Allen Crabbe comes back, the Bears may very well be the consensus pick to win the conference. I'll let you decide if that's exciting, terrifying, or both. In any case, Cal is one of three Pac-12 teams with a top 25 recruiting class according to rivals, so the Bears will be up here somewhere.
Why they'll be picked here: UCLA is a stone cold lock to be picked in the top three of the conference with any half-decent coach and collection of talent. Losing Shabazz was expected, but so far their haven't been any other early declarations. And while UCLA's new recruiting class isn't amazing, it's likely good enough to keep them afloat.
Why they might be higher/lower: Never be surprised if UCLA is picked higher.
Why they'll be picked here: The Buffs aren't losing a significant contributor from a team that was disappointed to finish 5th in the conference.
Why they might be higher/lower: If you're a voter that values experience, you've got a ton of it in Boulder. On the other hand, if you think the Buffs maxed out their performance with the talent on hand this year, then there's not much reason to expect a big different next year.
Why they might be higher/lower: Without and obvious instant impact recruits, and with four seniors departing, there's justification for dropping the Ducks lower. Altman typically gets his team to play good team defense, so keeping them this high isn't indefensible either. It will be interesting to see what they do for an encore after probably the best year of any Pac-12 team this year.
6. Arizona State
Why they'll be picked here: If Jahii Carson comes back (his mom thinks he'll stay) his star power will keep ASU projected to the top of the conference. Losing Carrick Felix will hurt, but when you have the reigning conference freshman of the year you should be OK, right?
Why they might be higher/lower: If Carson leaves, ASU's ranking could plummet. At times he single-handedly carried a bad team into mediocrity. His decision strikes me as easily the most critical in the entire conference.
Why they'll be picked here: Because one of these years, Johnny Dawkins is going to break out with a big time year at Stanford!
Why they might be higher/lower: He probably won't.
Why they'll be picked here: Because people are impressed with the late season performance from Larry Krystkowiak's group, and they might get a little dark horse love from the media trying to find a team on the rise.
Why they might be higher/lower: Two starters (Jason Washburn and Jarred DuBois) are graduating, so continued improvement isn't guaranteed. That said, Utah's talent level has been consistently going up, so there's no reason to be extremely pessimistic.
Why they'll be picked here: Because they'll be losing three contributing seniors from a team that wasn't very good to begin with. C.J. Wilcox is also contemplating early entry to the NBA draft.
Why they might be higher/lower: If Wilcox goes, UW could fall further. If he stays, and UW picks up a few of the big recruits they are still in on, they could rise. But they'll be dependent on freshman contributors either way, so there's a ceiling.
10. Oregon State
Why they'll be picked here: Because Craig Robinson has never had an above-average Pac-12 team, and there's not really any reason to think that his current group will make that happen.
Why they might be higher/lower: Well, they are only losing one significant player in Joe Burton, so if you're the type that assumes improvement from every returning player, maybe the Beavers have a shot at surprising some people. Probably not though.
11. Washington State
Why they'll be picked here: Because Brock Motum is gone, and Ken Bone couldn't even finish in the top half of the conference with Klay Thompson setting the west on fire.
Why they might be higher/lower: I could see last place picks if you believe that USC's talent will win out regardless of their coaching hire.
Why they'll be picked here: They are losing significant talent and they still don't have a coach.
Why they might be higher/lower: Maybe they'll hire a good coach?
Man, is it really a whole half year until more Pac-12 basketball?