UCLA Bruins and Arizona Wildcats Top Pac-12 Basketball Rankings
With top recruits like Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson, Grant Jerrett and Kaleb Tarczewski, it’s little wonder why UCLA and Arizona are topping the 2012 college basketball rankings.
UCLA and Arizona brought in the No. 1 and No. 3 2012 NCAA basketball recruiting classes ranked by ESPN. Added to that, Yahoo! ranked the Bruins No. 5 and the Wildcats No. 9 in their preseason top 25 (posted on May 4). ESPN ranked UCLA No. 7 and Arizona No. 17 in their preseason top 25 (posted on April 12).
What does this mean for Pac-12 basketball as a whole? Quite a bit, as it is a chance for the conference to renew its image as a leading conference in the sport. Rankings go hand in hand with RPI, and as long as the postseason relies on RPI, it will remain one of the more important factors to determine a conference’s talent.
You could make a long list of items that need to be changed in order for the Pac-12 to improve this coming season, but really they only need to do one thing to make the biggest improvement. That one thing is to win, but more specifically to win big non-conference games.
This past season the Pac-12 played a dozen non-conference games against ranked teams and lost to everyone. In a RPI system that is simply unacceptable. Almost half of those loses were by two possessions or less, but close loses don't add much if any weight in RPI or the media's and public's eyes.
If UCLA and Arizona can hold it together against early non-conference opponents and a couple other Pac-12 teams can take in some big non-conference wins, it will look like an entirely different conference next season.
As it currently stands, Yahoo! predicts the Pac-12 to finish sixth in the 2012-13 conference RPI rankings; this past season the Pac-12 finished 10th. A big part of that increased RPI ranking relies on UCLA and Arizona living up to their potential.
But what about the rest of the Pac-12 conference, and how are things shaping up to change from this past season? Bud Withers of the Seattle Times recently made a 2012-13 Pac-12 hoops forecast.
No. 1 UCLA
No. 2 Arizona
No. 3 Stanford
No. 4 Washington
No. 5 California
No. 6 USC
No. 7 Oregon
No. 8 Washington State
No. 9 Colorado
No. 10 Oregon State
No. 11 Utah
No. 12 Arizona State
Ranked too low, in my opinion, are Colorado and Oregon State, while ranked too high is USC.
Colorado is taking a big hit with the loss of Carlon Brown, Nate Tomlinson and Austin Dufault. However, the Buffs are bringing in a solid recruiting class. If Colorado’s title performance at the Pac-12 tournament and its win over UNLV in the 2012 NCAA tournament showed anything, it was that the Buffaloes should not be underestimated.
Oregon State is bringing back most of its 2011-12 team, with the exception of top scorer Jared Cunningham. The Beavers finished last season 21-15, but those loses include several close games. Oregon State lost 64-62 to then-No. 18 Vanderbilt and had several close conference loses: 75-72 to Washington, 87-82 to Stanford and 74-73 to California.
The Beavers beat Washington in the Pac-12 tournament and went on to beat Western Ill. and TCU, before losing to Washington State in the CBI.
USC finished in last place in the Pac-12 in 2011-12. While the Trojans do have some incoming talent, they’re going to have to make some major changes from last year. Utah is in a similar spot, only with essentially an entirely new team coming in.
Cal is losing Pac-12 player of the year Jorge Gutierrez. Oregon would have had a huge gain if it could have brought in Anthony Bennett who went to UNLV. Both of these teams have potential and will likely finish somewhere near or within the top half of the conference in 2012-13.
Pac-12 wildcards for next season include Stanford and Washington. Stanford notably won the NIT this past year. The Cardinal will return most of its top scorers and is bringing in some promising talent. Washington finished the 2011-12 season as the Pac-12 regular season champion. The Huskies lost to Minnesota in the NIT after beating Texas-Arlington, Northwestern and Oregon.
Washington didn’t bring in much on the recruiting end this season. But the Huskies will be adding Mark McLaughlin to a strong roster with proven talent, along with some players that sat out last year. Whether that will be enough without Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten remains to be seen.
Overall Pac-12 basketball will likely be much-improved in 2012-13 and should have little trouble getting attention on a national level once again.
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