Pac-12 basketball preview: UCLA’s the team to beat, but not by much — the conference is deep – The Denver Post

Prior to publication of this column, the Hotline became aware of two changes to the Pac-12 schedule.

First, Stanford’s season-opener on Wednesday against Utah Valley was canceled because of COVID-19 issues within the UVU program.

Then came word Cal and Oregon State had arranged to play a season-opener on Wednesday — against each other.

The hastily-arranged tipoff in Corvallis will count as a non-conference game.

The optimal word, of course, is game.

If you’re healthy enough to play and there’s an opponent available, the who, where and what are secondary “in a year when disruption is likely the norm,” as Cal coach Mark Fox said.

If you think three weeks of Pac-12 football have produced a wild ride, get ready for dizzying changes to the basketball schedule as it unfolds over the next five or six months.

For all the presumed chaos, the Pac-12 is moving forward with detailed plans to navigate the pandemic and play a 20-game conference season.

Our projections are as follows:

1. UCLA

The Bruins return all the key players from a roster that won seven of its last eight and was the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament. They have the Pac-12’s top wing, Chris Smith, and one of the best point guards in Tyger Campbell. But the style-of-play under second-year coach Mick Cronin is what sets them apart: In a finesse conference, they’re tough and brutish, equally capable of winning games 52-50 or 80-78. And in this league, being different is a benefit.

2. Arizona State

No team has a better combination of perimeter playmakers then the Sun Devils with maestro Remy Martin, wings Alonzo Verge, Josh Christopher and Marcus Bagley, plus Portland State transfer Holland Woods. The challenge comes up front, where the Sun Devils lack proven production and raw size. When they’re right, they’re dynamite. But titles are claimed by winning when you’re wrong. In that regard, UCLA has a slight edge.

3. Oregon

As is often the case, the Ducks turned over a chunk of their roster — Payton Pritchard’s departure is, of course, atop the list. We expect a more balanced attack with returning wings Will Richardson and Chris Duarte, plus gifted big man N’Faly Dante. To that core, add three versatile transfers who averaged double digits at their previous school: Eric Williams (Duquesne), Eugene Omoruyi (Rutgers) and Amauri Hardy (UNLV). Nobody assimilates newcomers better than Dana Altman.

4. Utah

The Utes were picked eighth in the Pac-12 preseason media poll after their worst season (eighth place) since early in coach Larry Krystkowiak’s tenure. But we suspect an upside surprise is brewing in Salt Lake City with five of the top-six scorers returning, led by wing Timmy Allen (17.3 ppg) and point guard Rylan Jones. The Utes must improve their perimeter shooting — it can’t get much worse (33.5%) — and they need a third playmaker to emerge.

5. Stanford

Several stout recruiting cycles have stocked the Cardinal’s roster with enough talent, from senior Oscar da Silva to freshman Ziaire Williams, to produce its best season in eons. Stanford has size, shooters and defensive specialists. But there are two things it lacks: a first-rate point guard (following Tyrell Terry’s exit) and a track record for cohesive offense (three consecutive years of No. 100+ in offensive-efficiency rankings). Maybe this year will be different. We’re skeptical.

6. Colorado

The good news for the Buffaloes is the same as the bad news: They lost half of their one-two punch. Forward Tyler Bey is off to the NBA, while point guard McKinley Wright returned for his senior year — and with even more responsibility than in previous seasons. We know CU will be well coached and difficult to beat at home. But to rise above the 10- or 11-win tier, the Buffs need next-level seasons from Evan Battey in the post and D’Shawn Schwartz on the wing.

7. Cal

No team made greater strides — or demolished expectations — like the Bears, who improved from three conference wins in 2019 to seven last season in the first year under Mark Fox. Top scorer Matt Bradley returns, as do other key pieces (Grant Anticevich and Andre Kelly). Much like Colorado, the Bears are destined for a mid-level finish unless a high-level second scorer emerges to help the initiator. And they must play better on the road (1-8 last year).

8. Arizona

We struggled with placing the Wildcats, who have an overhauled roster and the clouds of the NCAA investigation hovering for the third season. Returnee Jemarl Baker must elevate his game, but the newcomers are key: transfers Terrell Brown (Seattle) and James Akinjo (Georgetown), plus freshmen from all over the world. Add it up, and we’re left wondering if there are enough playmakers to win on the road and move into the top half of the standings.

Related Articles


  • At long last, CU men’s basketball ready for a new story in 2020-21


  • As tipoff nears, CU Buffs men’s basketball crossing fingers to reach opening night safely


  • Pac-12 basketball preview: Wearable devices, daily testing and adjusted practices designed to combat COVID-19


  • Justinian Jessup in CU Buffs’ black-and-gold? It wasn’t meant to be.


  • Former CU Buffs star Tyler Bey headed to Dallas Mavericks in NBA draft

9. USC

The No. 1 recruit in the country, center Evan Mobley, joins his brother, Isaiah, plus guard Ethan Anderson and a load of transfers. Mobley might be as good as advertised, but consider: The Trojans had a top-10 pick last season in Onyeka Okongwu and more playmakers than will surround Mobley … and they finished 11-7. Too often under coach Andy Enfield, we have seen USC underachieve. Until there is evidence to the contrary, expectations here are low.

10. Washington

The Huskies were indisputably the most disappointing team in the conference last season (12th place with two first-round picks). The unraveling was due, in part, to point guard Quade Greene being academically ineligible. He’s back this season and should bring cohesiveness to an offense that had none. But there are questions all around, including the status of suspended senior Naz Carter and the reliability of the perimeter shooting. Huge season for coach Mike Hopkins.

11. Washington State

Not often does a coaching hire that looks smart at the time appear just as savvy one year later, but that’s the situation in Pullman after Kyle Smith produced 16 wins in his inaugural season. The Cougars were hit hard by CJ Elleby’s jump to the NBA but return a potential all-conference guard in senior Isaac Bonton. Forward Tony Miller should provide complementary production, but WSU remains a few recruiting classes away from competing for an upper-tier finish.

12. Oregon State

He gone. Yep, after a memorable 11-year career in Corvallis, Tres Tinkle has moved on. And he’s not the only one. The Beavers also lost shot-blocking machine Kylor Kelley. How they replace all that production, we cannot fathom … Actually, we can fathom: It starts with steady senior Ethan Thompson. But from the looks of things, it might end with Thompson, as well. Hence our projection for the cellar.

Support the Hotline: Several Hotline articles will remain free each month (as will the newsletter), but for access to all content, you’ll need to subscribe. I’ve secured a rate of $1 per week for a full year or just 99 cents for the first month, with the option to cancel anytime. Click here. And thanks for your loyalty.

*** Send suggestions, comments and tips (confidentiality guaranteed) to [email protected] or call 408-920-5716

*** Follow me on Twitter: @WilnerHotline

*** Pac-12 Hotline is not endorsed or sponsored by the Pac-12 Conference, and the views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the Conference.

Source: Read Full Article