I will be taking an in-depth look at both schools as well as making my predictions on where the others schools in the Pac will finish and what the upcoming season has in store.
12. Washington State Cougars – Are the Cougars really that bad are or they just the victim of a small town where nobody wants to attend? I have been to Pullman and I don’t ever plan on returning, coach Ken Bone may be joining me in this sentiment after another disappointing season. The Cougars have already lost senior guard Reggie Moore due to dismissal and Que Johnson will have to redshirt after being ruled academically ineligible.
11. Utah Utes – What was once a storied program in the past has struggled mightily since the Sweet 16 team of 2005. The newly revamped Utes will feature 10 new players including former LSU guard Aaron Dotson. Coach Larry Krystowiak will have a monster job trying to find some cohesiveness with so many new players and team building will be paramount.
10. USC Trojans – After an abysmal 2011-12 season wherein the Trojans won only one Conference game and lost their final 10 games of the season, Kevin O’ Neill has reason to believe that this Trojans team can be much improved. They have recently added Former Rice standout Omar Oraby, a 7-2, 270 center from Cairo, Egypt. Oraby has applied for a hardship waiver to play this year. The big man only started four games at Rice but holds the school record for most blocks in a season with 54.
9. Arizona State Sun Devils – Herb Sendek has done an admirable job with the cards he has been dealt. That is the true measure of a great coach but it just isn’t going to enough to get over the hump in a major conference with a perennial Championship team 90 miles to the south. The addition of redshirt freshman Jahii Carson will help but the departures of Trent Lockett & Kyle Cain will make this team nothing more than a work in progress. The addition of former NBA Head Coach Eric Musselman will help…just not soon enough for the Devils.
8. Oregon State Beavers – The Beavers are looking to build on last year’s 21 win season but will have to focus more on the Conference games after only winning 7 of 18. They had a successful trip overseas going 4-0 with a 15 point average margin of victory. Coach Craig Robinson recently received a contract extension through the 2017 season and has already had one of his recruits head to the NBA in Jared Cunningham. The Beavers are returning four starters as well as two seniors, Joe Burton and Angus Brandt.
7. Washington Huskies - Coach Lorenzo Ramar has seen the early exit of his top two scorers in Tony Wroten and Terrence Ross and will look to change his primary offensive scheme to the high-post halfcourt game. It will be difficult to not only run with new players but to switch out from a high-octane style offense that has served the Huskies well in the past. This will most likely be to their detriment in the upcoming season, but we shall see.
6. Oregon Ducks - It is hard to believe that a team that won 24 games last year and went 13-5 in Conference will be finishing 6th in the Pac this year, but hear me out. Coach Dana Altman has his work cut out for him in the upcoming season with only six returning players and two starters. E. J. Singler is a phenomenal player but he will will not be enough to carry this team into the upper echelon of a tough Conference.
5. Stanford Cardinal – The Cardinal are going to be tough this year, but their schedule is going to be tougher. Hosting one of the best mid-major programs in recent memory, Belmont is returning 11 players from a team that compiled 27 wins last year and won the Atlantic Sun Conference for 4 of the past 5 years. The Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament on Paradise Island, Bahamas features some of the best college programs in the country. Their fist game will be against 30-win team in Missouri that was a No. 2 seed in last year’s tournament. Also in the tournament are Duke, Memphis, Louisville and Mid-Major powerhouse Virginia Commonwealth. After that grueling contest, they will have to go on the road to face NC State and Northwestern.
4. Colorado Buffaloes – After a surprising first year in the Pac-12, the Buffaloes beat the heavily favored Arizona Wildcats in a squeaker and won the 2012 Conference Tournament in dramatic fashion. With only one senior and 5 returning players, Coach Tad Boyle will have a difficult road to hoe. Fortunately for him, the non-conference schedule for the Buffs looks to be on the light end. This is great for team morale getting easy wins against Charleston or Boston College, but bad when it comes to their R.P.I. It’s not all cupcakes for Colorado as they have to travel to Lawrence to play a tough Kansas team.
3. California Golden Bears - The Bears have a daunting non-conference schedule in front of them this season including Creighton (29 wins), Wisconsin(26) , UNLV(26) and Harvard(26). They will face a total of 12 teams with at least 20 wins and five teams that were invited to the NCAA Tournament in 2012. I believe that they the Bears will do well in these tough match-ups which will launch them into a solid finish in the Conference as well as a Tournament invitation to boot.
2. UCLA Bruins – With arguably one of the best recruiting classes in the nation, embattled coach Ben Howland‘s future in Westwood relies on his incoming class of question marks. Tony Parker has been cleared to play but two of the highest rated freshmen this year Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson are still pending clearance to get on the court. The necessity of these two is imperative for UCLA to maintain it’s elite status and if they are cleared, they will give the Bruins the needed push to overtake Arizona, but for now – they are behind the Cats.
1. Arizona Wildcats - Coach Sean Miller and the Wildcats enter the preseason rankings at #8 and with good reason thanks to one of the strongest recruiting classes in the country – that are all eligible. The main addition was in the big men, three five-star players are now in Tucson. Kaleb Tarczewski, Grant Jarret and Brandon Ashley join an experienced team of five seniors including stand outs Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom. Their non-conference schedule is lighter than most and prior to the Diamond Head classic in Honolulu, they only have to play two games outside of McKale Center where they are nearly unbeatable.
I really can’t see any other team other than UCLA or Arizona taking the Conference this year, but like any other sports, the upsets are fun. The unheard of late season runs by an underrated team with guts and heart that dig deep and impress everybody is what sports is all about to this writer. Those type of stories are unpredictable but rest assured, if there is anything happening in the Pac, I will know about it and have an opinion on it. I look forward to this season with optimism thanks to some great recruiting classes, incredible coaches and intense rivalries in this oft-disregarded conference.
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