Now that we are almost halfway through league play, it is time to look around the conference and project how it unfolds. Unfortunately the Bears have entrenched themselves in the Pac 12 basement, but there is still plenty of intrigue around the conference even in a down year like this one.
Projected Finish in the Pac 12 Standings
(Current Record in Parentheses)
- Washington (7-0)
Washington is the most experienced team in the Pac 12 and it shows when you watch the way this team deals with adversity on the road. Mike Hopkins has done a stellar job with this program and this team is in prime position to win the conference. Jaylen Nowell, Noah Dickerson, and Matisse Thybulle have played at an All-Conference level thus far with David Crisp not far behind. The Huskies thrive defensively in their 2-3 zone spearheaded by Thybulle who has been a nightmare for opposing offenses.
Additionally, Nahziah Carter is starting to come into his own and this Husky team continues to take care of business. They are my pick to win the Pac 12 and receive a respectable seed in the NCAA Tournament.
2. USC (5-2)
The Trojans have played much of its season without some key pieces. Attrition has hurt the Trojans’ resume, but they are playing their best basketball of the season right now. Bennie Boatwright has returned to form and is beginning to have a stellar senior season accompanying fellow frontcourt star Nick Rakocevic. Both have thrown their hat into the Player of the Year conversation and USC has become a legitimate contender for the conference title.
Furthermore, Jonah Mathews continues his strong season and this team will get even better with Kenny Porter’s return from suspension. Much of the Trojan’s success will be determined by Derryck Thornton’s point guard play which has improved mightily from the non-conference. The Trojans have a golden opportunity to prove themselves Wednesday when they travel to Seattle to take on the Huskies.
3. Arizona State (5-3)
It is difficult to get a read on the Sun Devils this season. They upset Kansas in the non-conference and followed up with home losses to Princeton and Utah. This team, however, looks much different from last season. They are no longer dependent on guard play and are one of the most athletic teams in the conference. When at their best, there may not be anyone better in the league. Look for them to become more consistent in the second half of the season after winning three of their last four.
San Diego State transfer, Zylan Cheatham is one of the most dynamic, complete players in the conference and is emerging as an emotional leader alongside fiery guard Remy Martin. Meanwhile, Luguentz Dort has made a strong case for Pac 12 Freshman of the year with his freakish physique. The Sun Devils are loaded with athletic, physical players making last season’s problems rebounding and defending issues of the past. Perimeter shooting is the x-factor for Bobby Hurley’s squad and is the key to a conference title run. Look for this team to contend for the conference and be an exciting team to watch in Las Vegas.
4. UCLA (4-3)
There is no team in the conference more frustrating than UCLA. Cal fans can make an argument of their own, but the Bruins have failed to produce wins with the most talented roster in the conference. UCLA’s December meltdown before conference play led to them firing Head Coach Steve Alford. Since then, the Bruins have continued their inconsistent play but have flashed moments of dominance from time to time.
Much emphasis needs to be placed on the leadership of sophomore standouts Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands. Both have NBA ability but occasionally do not bring the level of focus and grit necessary for this team to achieve what it is capable of. Freshman center Moses Brown is one of the league’s most impressive physical specimens with his incredible length but is still tapping into his potential. Prince Ali has played his best basketball of late and this team has everything it needs to win the conference. They are loaded with size, athleticism, and shooting ability. Their youth is easy to see as they turn the ball over often, frequently surrender easy baskets, and are terrible at the free throw line. Young teams always improve, however, so do not count these guys out of the title race and get ready for them to bring it in Las Vegas.
5. Arizona (5-3)
After a 4-0 start to conference play, the Wildcats have lost three of their last four. Their recent trip to Los Angeles was one to forget losing by a combined 44 points while playing without their best front court player, Chase Jeter. It is evident the Wildcats are dependent on Jeter’s return if they plan to make any kind of push for another conference title.
The Wildcats do not have the star-studded roster we are used to seeing in Tucson, but this is still a quality team. They are the only team in the conference that consistently defends man-to-man and is one of the Pac 12’s best on that end of the floor. Underclassmen guards Brandon Randolph and Brandon Williams have emerged in the backcourt. Randolph is one of the conference’s most improved players with his impressive length and scoring prowess while Williams looks to land on the All-Freshman team.
Arizona is nowhere as big in the frontcourt as they usually are and it became a serious problem without Jeter against the L.A. schools. The good news is that his injury does not appear to be too serious and he should return soon. Sean Miller has taken some serious heat with Arizona’s recruiting scandals and last season’s early exit from the NCAA Tournament, but he is reminding us this year why he is one of the best coaches in the conference. Expect Arizona to bounce back from this weekend and be a contender in the Pac 12 title race.
6. Oregon (3-4)
Oregon does not have the roster it expected to have this season when they were picked to finish first on Pac 12 Media Day. The Ducks have had to adjust to the absence of Bol Bol after an injury put an end to a sensational start to his freshman season. The Ducks are finally coming together thanks to the emergence of its other highly touted freshman Louis King along with defensive standout Kenny Wooten’s return from injury. Dana Altman’s squad has settled in and I expect strong play for this team moving forward.
Payton Pritchard is the lone remainder from the 2017 Final Four team and is a consistent leader on both ends of the floor. Paul White is also playing his best basketball and this Ducks team will rattle off some wins to put itself in the championship picture and be a strong contender in Las Vegas.
7. Oregon State (4-3)
Offensively, the Beavers are a three man show and all three players are coaches’ sons. It is hard to find a better offensive player than head coach Wayne Tinkle’s son, Tres Tinkle. He is a surefire candidate for Player of the Year as long as the Beavers continue to win. Assistant Coach Stephen Thompson has two fine sons of his own, Stephen Thompson Jr. and Ethan Thompson. Each of these three can take over a game.
Defensively Kylor Kelley was an awesome find for the coaching staff as he has been a shot-blocking terror in the Beaver’s 2-3 zone. Outside the top four players, it is difficult to find any consistency. The Beavers look to finish above .500 but will have trouble finding consistency with such a top loaded roster.
t7. Utah (5-2)
What a surprise! Larry Krystkowiak again manages to put the Utes in position for a first round bye in Las Vegas. While it has been an admirable start to conference play, I do not see Utah being a serious contender for the title. Coach K has this team playing its best basketball after lackluster results in non-conference play, but I am not sure this team has the horses to continue playing at this level.
The Utes can really shoot the basketball. They have been red hot from the perimeter led by stellar play from senior guard Sedrick Barefield. Underclassmen forwards Donnie Tillman and Timmy Allen have been consistent contributors in addition. The Utes struggle defensively, however, and may have a tough time grinding out wins when shots do not fall at the clip they are currently. Then again, it is hard to bet against Coach K.
9. Stanford (3-5)
The Cardinal have flashed at times but do not appear to have enough dependable contributors to finish in the top half. The one player who needs everyone’s attention, however, is KZ Okpala. There are times he appears unguardable with his tremendous length, agility, and vastly improved perimeter shooting. If Stanford can float around .500, he is a serious Player of the Year candidate. The other player to know is Daejon Davis. He has not been quite as consistent as fans hoped for following a stellar finish to his freshman season but still has the ability to take over games.
Elsewhere, it is pretty hit-or-miss. Oscar Da Silva and Josh Sharma occasionally have big games but Reid Travis’ transfer to Kentucky will continue to haunt the Cardinal of a season that could have been.
t9. Colorado (2-5)
It has been a tough start to league play for the Buffalo’s but expect better things to come with the improved health of sophomore point guard McKinley Wright IV after playing through a shoulder injury. Wright is hands-down one of the top players in the conference and consistently affects the game on both ends. Tyler Bey has done so as well adding more offense to his impressive play on the defensive end (reminiscent of former Buffalo, Andre Roberson).
Elsewhere the Buffs need to find more offensive production and may be a year away from being a top-half team. Tad Boyle has proven himself as one of the better coaches in the conference and should get more out of this bunch as the season progresses.
11. Washington State (1-6)
It has been really challenging for Ernie Kent to attract recruits to Pullman but they are doing their best to stay competitive. After an ugly start, the Cougars have improved primarily due to the conference’s leading scorer Robert Franks returning from injury. Franks is the real deal and rarely meets a shot he does not like. C.J. Elleby has had a promising freshman campaign and the Cougars are one of the better shooting teams in the conference.
Washington State, however, lacks any kind of defensive fortitude inside and struggles to rebound. Points are easy to find against the Cougars and there is not enough athleticism or size here to beat Pac 12 teams without shooting the lights out.
12. California (0-8)
Just when you thought an 8 win season was the floor for the Cal Bears under Wyking Jones, that number looks like a reach in 2019. Cal has some capable scorers but the lack of ball movement and offensive fluidity hinders their offensive potential.
Defensively, it is unwatchable. It is obvious Cal lacks size and experience on this roster but it appears teams can score 75 points in their sleep against the Bears. There are enough likable players on this roster to expect better results than the 0-8 start Cal has managed in a down year in the Pac 12 conference.