As college football season begins its homestretch (shoutout to the resilient Ducks for defeating Stanford this past weekend), sports fans will begin to shift their focus towards the constant rollercoaster ride that is NCAA basketball.
In recent years, the Pac-12 Conference has been home to exceptional individual players, but success in the NCAA tournament has been futile.
Yet this season, several Pac-12 teams just might have that perfect combo of individual talent and teamwork to make a deep run into March Madness. Here is my list of Contenders and Pretenders in the Pac-12.
Arizona: Sean Miller is in seventh season as Wildcat head coach. Miller will look to progress past the Elite 8, where his team has been knocked out the past two seasons.
After losing four key components to the NBA this offseason, (Stanley Johnson, T.J. McConnell, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Brandon Ashley) Miller will rely heavily on 7-foot senior center Kaleb Tarczewski on an otherwise young team.
High-flyer Gabe York must step up as well if the Wildcats want to win their third straight Pac-12 regular season championship.
Although the Wildcats lost their most valuable assets from last season, they have recruited exceptionally well under Miller. Their overall talent should keep them in contention this season.
California: Cal scored on two of the top 2015 recruits in the country in Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb. Both diaper dandies will be key components for a Golden Bears team that failed to make the dance last season.
Returning guards Tyrone Wallace and Jordan Mathews should provide stable scoring while the freshmen adjust to a much more rugged collegiate game.
With tons of potential and a depleted Arizona team, Cal should be considered among the favorites to snag the conference title this year.
Oregon: The Ducks are deep, which is good, considering Jordan Bell and senior transfer Dylan Ennis are still hurt. A lanky and athletic team, the Ducks will create mismatches with 6’6 wings Dillon Brooks and Elgin Cook.
With highly-touted freshman Tyler Dorsey starting at shooting guard, coach Dana Altman will have a plethora of offensive weapons at his disposal this season. The Ducks will be a serious threat to contend for the Pac-12 championship.
UCLA: Steve Alford is in his third season as coach of the Bruins. Coach’s kid Bryce Alford returns after averaging 15 PPG last season.
A 3-point specialist, Alford will play alongside big man Tony Parker and guard Isaac Hamilton, two talented players looking to average in double figures this season.
The Bruins’ success will be contingent on how far these three players can take them.
Utah: Losing star player Delon Wright leaves the Utes depleted, so center Jakob Poeltl will look to take over a leadership role on a team that still has some solid returning talent.
Brandon Taylor and Jordan Loveridge return after both contributing 10 PPG last season. That being said, Wright really carried this team last season, and his graduation will likely be too much for the Utes to overcome.
Oregon State: Gary Payton II is the conference’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year, and he creates countless turnovers and transition opportunities on his own.
But the senior guard is surrounded by young, unknown talent. Individually, Payton II will be successful and ascend up the ranks of many an NBA draft board, but the Beavers won’t be playing in deep into the Pac-12 tournament.
Stanford: The Cardinal’s woes following its gridiron loss this past weekend will continue into basketball season.
The 2015 NIT champions lost their top three scorers from last season; simply too much to make the leap this year to the Big Dance.
Post Reid Travis is solid, but cannot be the best player on a contending team. Maybe Stanford can make another deep NIT run in March, but it won’t be dancing this season.
Although football will be hard to top, this basketball season should be extremely exciting for the Pac-12 conference. Multiple squads are built on principles of depth and balance rather than on individual skill and flashiness, which should lead to quality play all season.
Think your pretender is actually a contender? Shoot me a comment below and let’s discuss.
Top Photo by Pac-12 Conference Photos