Right when it looked like Arizona solidified itself as being the Kansas of the Pac-12, this team from Oregon appeared and was the class of the Pac-12 last year. They will also be the class of the Pac-12 again this year, as they return almost everyone from an Elite Eight run get Dylan Ennis back from essentially missing the whole year.
It’s an intriguing conference for a variety of reasons. First off is the thought of the Pac-12 and really West coast basketball from everyone that sits in the central and eastern time zones. The Pac-12 hasn’t had a Final Four team since 2008 and hasn’t had one not named UCLA since 2001. The Pac-12 Network is horrible as it’s impossible to find or own, especially if you have DirecTV.
Five Storylines to Watch in the Pac-12
- The Allonzo Trier Situation
Everyone has heard the rumor about Allonzo Trier by now. If you haven’t – remember this is just a rumor and is no way being reported as 100% truth – it’s that he’s been suspended due to PED use, likely Adderall. When Trier decided to return to school instead of the NBA Draft, many thought he’d compete with Markelle Fultz, Ivan Rabb and Dillon Brooks as Conference Player of the Year. Now, it’s something to watch as he didn’t play in the scrimmage on Wednesday night.
- How Much Time Does it Take Dillon Brooks to Look Like Dillon Brooks
Dillon Brooks is slated to be an All-American and the main player on a Final Four contending team. However, he’s battling a foot injury that is expected to keep him out of a couple games. He’s a matchup nightmare when healthy, especially in the conference. He’s a smaller stretch four and can score from almost anywhere on the court.
- Can Steve Alford Save His Job
There’s no secret that UCLA fans aren’t exactly pleased with what Alford has done during his time there. This year he has a team, led by his son Bryce and freshman Lonzo Ball that is being talked about as a top-15/20 team in the country. They have six guys that are all legit Pac-12 players and that should contribute major minutes to UCLA. A strong season and a Sweet 16 run is desperately needed by Alford.
- Can Markelle Fultz Become a Household Name
To the casual fan Markelle Fultz is likely someone you’ve forgotten about or not heard about. He’s in the race for the No. 1 overall draft pick and is a candidate for preseason National Player of the Year. However, he decided to go to Washington and play for a team that is likely a bubble-team at best. He’s going to put up ridiculous numbers, but for those that live in the East, will he personally be good enough to stay up late and watch?
- Will Ivan Rabb Regret His Decision
Many expected Ivan Rabb to declare for the NBA Draft alongside his teammate last year Jaylen Brown. Rabb was thought of as a potential lottery pick to a mid-1st rounder, but decided to come back to assure himself as a lottery pick. However, Jordan Matthews decided to transfer leaving him at Cal alone with Jabari Bird. The offense will run through Rabb this year, but is he good enough to carry this team to the NCAA Tournament?
Preseason Pac-12 Player of the Year: Markelle Fultz (Washington)
The Pac-12 POY race is going to be one of the better ones in the country as you don’t know what to expect with Brooks and Trier. Fultz though, is an uber-talented player that will have the ball in his hands almost every possession. He can play both guard positions and is predicted to score over 18 ppg this year. While he’s an excellent scorer, he’s also a gifted passer that can set up his teammates, especially with easy baskets.
Preseason Pac-12 Freshman of the Year: Markelle Fultz (Washington/Lonzo Ball (UCLA)
The Pac-12 is loaded with talented freshmen. We’ll rule out Fultz winning this and give it to Lonzo Ball from UCLA, but look at the freshmen in this conference. Outside of those two you have Lauri Markkanen, Rawle Alkins and T.J. Leaf. Those are five guys that can play anywhere in the country. But we’ll give it to Ball as Alford will trust him to run the offense, letting Bryce Alford play off the ball and be more of the scorer that he is. Ball is the definition of a playmaker and with UCLA playing a faster tempo, look for him to put up impressive stats.
Preseason Pac-12 Coach of the Year: Dana Altman (Oregon)
Again, it’s going to be an impressive coaching job by Altman if Oregon wins this conference by a couple of games over Arizona. He’ll have to deal with a deep roster, getting a guy like Dylan Ennis involved and mesh Brooks back into the lineup when healthy.
All-Pac 12 Team
Markelle Fultz (Washington)
Ivan Rabb (Cal)
Lonzo Ball (UCLA)
Dillon Brooks (Oregon)
Kyle Kuzma (Utah)
Allonzo Trier* (Arizona)
Tyler Dorsey (Oregon)
Tres Tinkle (Oregon State)
Jordan McLaughlin (USC)
Isaac Hamilton (UCLA)
- Oregon – This team has everything from scoring to rim protection to shooting. They should easily win the conference and be a top-5 team all year.
- Arizona – News just came in as I was typing this that Ray Smith is going to miss the year again with another torn ACL. He suffered that during the exhibition game this week and I feel just awful for the kid who suffered one last year too. Despite the injury to Smith, questions about Trier and Commanche suspended indefinitely for academic reasons this team still has unbelievable talent on the roster. Oh, having Sean Miller, a top-10 coach in America helps too.
- UCLA – There’s no way this team can struggle with all the talent on the roster. As long as the offense meshes well with Ball as the point and Alford playing off the ball, they should score. Hell, you even get to play more uptempo with Leaf in the lineup than Tony Parker last year.
- Cal – Everyone seems to be in agreement these are the top-4 teams in the conference and in this order. The main reason why? They each have a guy they can go to on the offensive side of the basket. For Cal it all starts and ends with Ivan Rabb.
- USC – USC looked like they were going to make a major jump last season before a late season collapse dropped them to a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament. While they do lose talent from last year, they still should be balanced with three guys expected to score over 12 points per game. Jordan McLaughlin should lead the way, but Bennie Boatwright is the matchup nightmare USC should take advantage of on the offensive side.
- Washington – Yeah, Markelle Fultz is that good. I don’t care that Lorenzo Romar is the head coach and that Andrew Andrews is gone. Fultz might be the best player in college basketball this year and with the Pac-12 wide open after the top-3 they can steal some wins because of him alone.
- Colorado – While the Buffs made the NCAA Tournament just a year ago, losing Josh Scott will be a big blow to this team. They get George King and Josh Fortune back, who are expected to be two of the main scorers for Colorado.
- Utah – Get to know the name Kyle Kuzma as he’ll finally be the star for this Utah team with Jakob Poeltl playing in the pros. Kuzma is expected to average 14/8 and be the leading scorer for the Utes as he’s coming off a sophomore year where he averaged over 10 ppg.
- Oregon State – Tres Tinkle, the son of the coach, a real gym rat and the guy who brings his lunch pail to work is due for a monster year. Oregon State does have a lot of young talent with its top-3 projected scorers all being sophomores. Without Gary Payton II there anymore, expect the ball to move a little bit more and the offense to be more fluid.
- Stanford – Stanford gets Reid Travis back from injury – he only played eight games last season, which should help Jarrod Haase in his first year there. There’s only one senior in the projected top-7 players so look for them to try and work the offense with younger players.
- Arizona State – The Sun Devils actually do have a nice backcourt this year. Led by Tra Holder and Shannon Evans, they can help Arizona State keep games close. What they don’t have is a talented frontcourt this year. If you want to count Obinna Oleka as a frontcourt guy he’s really the only talented guy they have out there. It’s going to be another long year watching Bobby Hurley yell at refs.
- Washington State – Josh Hawkinson is good. He’s a walking double-double and a great fantasy player if you do fantasy college basketball. Washington State is not a good basketball team though. There’s just no talent around Hawkinson for them to compete every game.
Podcast: Terrence Payne of NBC Sports and I sat down to talk the rest of the power conferences. We discuss Ray Smith retiring from basketball, Arizona’s questions, the one-and-done-rule and what coaches have some pressure to win this year. Check it out here: