After getting snubbed at every turn in March's NCAA tournament, the Pac-12 has good reason to come into 2013-14 with a chip on its shoulder.
The league should be even stronger top-to-bottom than it was a season ago when it earned five NCAA bids (all seeded sixth or worse) and turned them into a pair of Sweet 16 entrants.
One team looking to get in on this season's Big Dance (for the first time since 2009) is the Arizona State Sun Devils.
Superstar point guard Jahii Carson is back in Tempe with a year of experience under his belt, and he won't have to worry about being the team’s only viable scoring option this time around.
Read on for a look at the new arrival joining Carson in the backcourt, along with previews of all the rest of the teams in the Pac-12, presented in projected order of finish.
You'll also find projections for some of the league's award winners (including Player of the Year) and a pick for who will be crowned Pac-12 tournament champion.
Top Newcomers: C Jordan Railey, G Que Johnson
Key Losses: F Brock Motum, G Mike Ladd
Outlook: Motum's absence leaves a gaping hole in the offense that even the talented Johnson (a Kansas transfer) won't be able to fill.
Returnees Royce Woolridge and DaVonte Lacy will likely pick up some of the extra shots, but turning those shots into points is far from a given.
With no real point guard and no impact defenders—at least until shot-blocker Railey returns from suspension—the Cougars are in for another long year.
Top Newcomers: G Delon Wright, G Princeton Onwas
Key Losses: G Jarred DuBois, C Jason Washburn
Outlook: Sophomore Jordan Loveridge has star potential as a combo forward (6’6”, 218 lbs), but he'll have precious little help around him.
JUCO transfer Wright—younger brother of the NBA's Dorell Wright—will contribute as a scorer, but there’s no obvious replacement for DuBois' leadership or Washburn's physicality inside.
Top Newcomers: C Cheikh N’Diaye
Key Losses: G Joe Burton, G Ahmad Starks
Outlook: Although scoring ace Roberto Nelson is the only proven guard, the Beavers have tons of rebounding ability (and even a bit of scoring) up front.
A 14-game suspension for star power forward Eric Moreland will hurt badly, but he'll be back in time to help Oregon State score an upset or two in Pac-12 play.
Top Newcomers: G Nigel Williams-Goss, F Perris Blackwell
Key Losses: C Aziz N’Diaye, G Abdul Gaddy, G Scott Suggs
Outlook: Celebrated freshman Williams-Goss will be a more than adequate replacement for Gaddy at the point. The youngster's impact will be limited, though, by the fact that senior C.J. Wilcox is the only real scorer he'll have to feed.
Shawn Kemp Jr. (6'9", 250 lbs) and San Francisco transfer Blackwell (6'9", 275 lbs) must learn to coexist up front to keep the Huskies afloat in a conference brimming with size.
Top Newcomers: G Marcus Allen
Key Losses: F Andy Brown
Outlook: With four starters and most of the bench returning, Stanford won't surprise anybody this season, but it may not have to.
A terrific low-post tandem (Dwight Powell and Josh Huestis) will dominate the paint, putting the onus on inconsistent guards Aaron Bright and Chasson Randle to play well enough to put the Cardinal back in the NCAA tournament.
Top Newcomers: Coach Andy Enfield, C D.J. Haley, G Pe’Shon Howard
Key Losses: C Dewayne Dedmon, F Eric Wise, G Jio Fontan
Outlook: Enfield is already making an impact, landing transfers Haley (VCU) and Howard (Maryland) to prop up a thin roster.
Both new arrivals will shine in Enfield’s fast-paced offense, but the roster has few reliable shooters.
J.T. Terrell and his mates are destined for the NCAA tournament bubble at best, but even that represents a huge improvement in L.A.
Top Newcomers: G Jermaine Marshall, F Brandan Kearney
Key Losses: F Carrick Felix, G Evan Gordon
Outlook: After a breakout freshman season, point guard Jahii Carson will be a front-runner for the conference scoring title. He'll get some welcome offensive help from backcourt mate Marshall (a Penn State transfer).
Meanwhile, shot-blocker Jordan Bachynski and the athletic Kearney (formerly of Michigan State) should provide enough defense to make an NCAA tournament push.
Top Newcomers: F Wesley Gordon, G Tre’Shaun Fletcher
Key Losses: F Andre Roberson
Outlook: Roberson hasn't taken all of Colorado's terrific defense with him to the NBA, as guard Spencer Dinwiddie and center Josh Scott both return.
Overall, four of the top five scorers are back, and redshirt freshman Gordon will soften Roberson's departure with his solid all-around game.
Still, the Buffaloes’ lack of either a real point guard or much size (excepting the 6'10" Scott) will take its toll.
Top Newcomers: G Jabari Bird, C Kameron Rooks
Key Losses: G Allen Crabbe
Outlook: Prize recruit Bird, a sensational finisher, will step right into Crabbe's shooting guard job alongside four returning starters. Point guard Justin Cobbs is one of the conference's best, and the blue-collar forwards get the job done inside.
Even with minimal depth, this starting five is too good to miss the Big Dance.
Top Newcomers: Coach Steve Alford, G Zach LaVine
Key Losses: F Shabazz Muhammad, G Larry Drew II
Outlook: Drew's departure leaves point-forward Kyle Anderson in charge of the offense, a job the sophomore is more than ready for.
He and classmate Jordan Adams will provide star power while the 6'10" Wear twins, David and Travis (now seniors), do the dirty work under the boards.
Unless freshman guard Isaac Hamilton is ruled eligible after jilting UTEP (unlikely), depth will be lacking.
Top Newcomers: F Mike Moser, G Joseph Young, F Jordan Bell
Key Losses: C Tony Woods, F E.J. Singler, F Arsalan Kazemi
Outlook: Rebounding specialist Moser, a UNLV transfer, will replace Kazemi nicely, but the rest of the frontcourt will be a downgrade from last year's model.
Fortunately for the Ducks, sophomores Dominic Artis (healthy after last year's foot injury) and Damyean Dotson will provide even more perimeter punch now that they've had a year of seasoning.
Top Newcomers: F Aaron Gordon, G T.J. McConnell, F Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
Key Losses: G Mark Lyons, F Solomon Hill
Outlook: The Wildcats are the only legitimate Final Four contender in the Pac-12, thanks to a loaded frontcourt anchored by 7'0" Kaleb Tarczewski.
McConnell can't score the way Lyons did, but he's a first-class distributor and defender—just the kind of point guard this deep lineup needs.
Fans in Tucson will love Aaron Gordon, who showed off his dunking prowess in running away with MVP honors at the McDonald’s All-America game.
Ranked No. 4 among the nation's freshmen by ESPN, he's a 6'9", 225-pound power forward who will get bumped to small forward in Arizona’s crowded frontcourt.
Even playing out of position, Gordon's athleticism (and his place on the prohibitive conference favorites) should be enough to bring home top honors here.
If he struggles with perimeter play, though, look for Cal’s Jabari Bird to make a push for this award.
Last year's Trojans finished at 14-18, so there's all sorts of room for improvement in Andy Enfield's debut.
Even if he doesn't manage to get them all the way into the NCAA tournament, an NIT berth would still merit Coach of the Year consideration in what's going to be a much-improved league.
Enfield has just enough talent on his roster to score some upsets (especially at home, where his brand of high-speed offense will maximize crowd noise and momentum).
He'll also benefit from the fact that USC will be far from the only team in this conference that's short on bench help.
Already a lethal scorer, Jahii Carson will likely put up even more than the 18.5 points he averaged per game as a redshirt freshman.
His speed and quickness make him especially well suited to taking over games in this conference, where free-flowing offense and plenty of fast-break chances are the norm.
Now that Carson has some college experience, look for him to play more of a leadership role on a team that finally has the talent to contend for an NCAA tournament berth.
Unless one of Arizona's forwards manages to separate himself head-and-shoulders above the pack of his teammates, Carson is unlikely even to face a serious challenge for this award.
Single-elimination tournaments don’t always go to the best team, but when the best team is also the most versatile, it’s tough to pick against them. Arizona has defense, rebounding, a great point guard and more depth than any other team in the Pac-12.
The Wildcats can outmuscle smaller teams or outrun bigger ones with fast-break finishers Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon.
They’re not without weaknesses—three-point shooting could come down to Johnson or bust—but this is a far more complete team than any of its league foes.