Last season, Arizona dominated the Pac-12, but the Wildcats and the other two teams that made the NCAA Tournament, UCLA and Arizona State, failed to win a game during March Madness. What should we expect from the “Conference of Champions” this year?
Let’s take a look at how the Pac-12 will shake out in 2018-19.
1.) Oregon Ducks
After failing to make the “Big Dance” last season, Oregon will return to being a force in the Pac-12 with a strong incoming recruiting class. Returners Payton Pritchard and Kenny Wooten will be joined by star freshman Bol Bol, son of Manute Bol, and Louis King. Dana Altman hopes that the Pac-12 Championship will go through Eugene this year.
2.) UCLA Bruins
Although UCLA will be near the top of the conference this season, Steve Alford may be on the hot seat if he fails to generate postseason success. Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes decided to stay in school after flirting with the NBA Draft this past spring and will look to make a run through the league slate and late into March.
3.) Washington Huskies
First year coach Mike Hopkins turned a team that won nine games in 2016-17 into a 21-win NIT team in 2017-18. The Huskies will look to build on last year’s success by finishing near the top of the conference and making it to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011. Hopkins will lean on the trio of Noah Dickerson, Matisse Thybulle, and Jaylen Nowell to get them there.
4.) Arizona Wildcats
After surviving a midseason scandal in which Coach Sean Miller was allegedly caught on wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment to secure the commitment of big man Deandre Ayton, Arizona rallied down the stretch in 2017-18 to win both the Pac-12 regular season and tournament titles. The Wildcats were unable to make a run deep into March as they were upset by Buffalo in the first round. Miller is tasked with replacing all five starters from last season’s team. Freshman guard Brandon Williams and transfers Ryan Luther (Pitt), Chase Jeter (Duke), and Justin Coleman (Samford), will hope to fill the void and keep Arizona among the class of the league.
5.) USC Trojans
USC was one of the first four teams out of the “Big Dance” a year ago. Bennie Boatwright is one of the best frontcourt players in the Pac-12. If freshman guards Kevin Porter and Elijah Weaver can develop as go-to guys for the Trojans, they may find themselves sniffing an NCAA Tournament once again.
6.) Arizona State Sun Devils
After climbing as high as number three in the polls in December, Arizona State barely cracked into the “Big Dance” as part of the last four in. The Sun Devils were promptly sent packing when they were taken down by Syracuse in the First Four. This season, Bobby Hurley will look for transfers Rob Edwards and Zylan Cheatham and freshman Luguentz Dort and Taeshon Cherry to keep the Sun Devils relevant in the Pac-12.
7.) Colorado Buffaloes
McKinley Wright IV is one of the best players in the conference, but he may not have enough of a supporting cast to help get the Buffaloes back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in three years.
8.) Oregon State Beavers
Oregon State will lean heavily on the duo of Tres Tinkle and Stephen Thompson Jr. if they hope to be a surprising team in the Pac-12 this season.
9.) Utah Utes
Utah will have a rebuilding year this season, but do not be surprised if the streaky three-point shooting of Sedrick Barefield helps the Utes pull off an upset or two in the league slate.
10.) Stanford Cardinal
Stanford suffered a major blow to its chance of making a run toward the top of the Pac-12 in 2018-19 when graduate student Reid Travis decided to transfer to Kentucky for his final year of college basketball eligibility. Without Travis, Daejon Davis and the Cardinal will probably fall to the bottom third of conference this year.
11.) Washington State Cougars
Washington State will live and die by the three which will definitely make Klay Thompson, their notable basketball alumni and current Golden State Warriors star, proud. The Cougars are led by Robert Franks, but are not likely to be a factor in the league.
12.) California Golden Bears
Cal was specifically bad on the defensive end a season ago. The Bears lost their top rebounder and shot blocker and had a poor showing on the recruiting trail in 2018. Cal should find themselves in the basement of the Pac-12 yet again in 2018-19.
2018-19 Pac-12 First Team
*Kris Wilkes, UCLA
McKinley Wright IV, Colorado
Noah Dickerson, Washington
Bennie Boatwright, USC
Tres Tinkle, Oregon State
Payton Pritchard, Oregon
Jaylen Nowell, Washington
Matisse Thybulle, Washington
Robert Franks, Washington State
Bol Bol, Oregon
Jaylen Hands, UCLA
Daejon Davis, Stanford
Sedrick Barefield, Utah
Stephen Thompson Jr., Oregon State
Ryan Luther, Arizona
*Preseason Pac-12 Player of the Year