Predicting the 2014-15 Pac-12 College Basketball Standings
Friday night means another team-by-team projection of a major college basketball conference for the 2014-15 season, and this week we're looking at the Pac-12.
Clearly, T.J. McConnell and company are pretty excited about being in the driver's seat for the Pac-12 title after winning it last season, but which teams have the best chance of challenging them?
And are we headed for another six-bid season for the Pac-12, or will they revert to the two bids received in the 2012 tournament?
This conference is absolutely loaded with turnover from last season. Of the 12 teams, nine are losing at least three key players, and six teams are losing five or more key players.
Oregon takes the cake by losing eight players who logged at least 300 minutes last season, but that certainly doesn't mean the Ducks are headed for last place—they might not even miss the NCAA tournament.
In ranking the teams, we looked at outgoing seniors, incoming freshmen, D-I transfers, JUCO transfers, redshirts and projected starting fives. For better or worse, no stone was left unturned.
We look forward to your civilized disagreements about the order in which these teams will finish.
Previous projections in this series:
12. Oregon State Beavers
The Beavers were already nothing particularly special, and now they're losing the five primary players from last year's team. Three are graduating, Eric Moreland left a year early for the NBA draft and Hallice Cooke transferred to Iowa State. They also fired Craig Robinson, replacing him with Wayne Tinkle from Montana.
When an already below-average team experiences that much upheaval, it's kind of difficult to expect greatness.
11. Washington State Cougars
Replacing Tinkle at Montana is fired Washington State coach Ken Bone, and replacing Bone is Oregon's former coach, Ernie Kent. The coaching carousel in the northwest is running strong.
The Cougars simply haven't been the same team since Tony Bennett left for Virginia five years ago. He came in and made them a great team for two years before it all fell right back apart.
They could be marginally better than last year if Que Johnson and Ike Iroegbu improve as sophomores, but the Cougars are almost certainly headed for another finish in the bottom three.
10. USC Trojans
Between Katin Reinhardt, Jordan McLaughlin and Darion Clark, USC has a solid group of incoming players. But the Trojans are simply losing way too much from a team that only won two conference games last year to begin with.
We'll see what Andy Enfield can do in his second season at the helm, but it certainly can't be much worse than his first.
9. Washington Huskies
2013-14 Record: 17-15 (9-9 in conference)
Key Players Leaving: C.J. Wilcox, Perris Blackwell, Desmond Simmons
Key Incoming Players: Quevyn Winters
Projected Starting Five: Nigel Williams-Goss, Andrew Andrews, Mike Anderson, Winters, Shawn Kemp Jr.
Williams-Goss is going to be one of the best sophomores in the country, but he'll have his work cut out for him in trying to lead this team back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2011.
Replacing Wilcox will be no easy task. He led the team in scoring with 18.3 PPG last season and was one of Washington's best three-point options four years in a row. Unless Andrews (28.3 percent last season) is much improved from beyond the arc this year, it may be Williams-Goss or bust when the Huskies need three-pointers.
Wilcox was also the team leader in blocked shots with Blackwell close behind. With both of those players graduating, though, Anderson is the returning player with the most blocked shots—with a grand total of eight rejections last season.
Because of that, getting a full and effective season out of Kemp will be crucial to Washington's success.
The Huskies seem to always have a good point guard and small forward, but their deterioration from tournament team to barely .500 can be seen in the transition in the post from Matthew Bryan-Amaning to Aziz Ndiaye to Kemp.
If Kemp can finally put together a healthy and useful season, Washington could surprise some people by finishing in the top half of the conference. But if Kemp fails to average so much as 20.0 minutes, 7.0 points or 4.0 rebounds for a fourth straight year, it'll just be another season with at least 14 losses.
8. Arizona State Sun Devils
2013-14 Record: 21-12 (10-8 in conference)
Key Players Leaving: Jahii Carson, Jermaine Marshall, Jordan Bachynski, Brandon Kearney, Egor Koulechov, Calaen Robinson
Key Incoming Players: Willie Atwood, Roosevelt Scott
Projected Starting Five: Jonathan Gilling, Bo Barnes, Shaquielle McKissic, Scott, Eric Jacobsen
The Sun Devils were pretty dreadful before Carson's arrival two years ago, and they could be headed in that direction again now that he's leaving for the NBA draft—despite being a projected second-rounder, at best.
Not only are they losing their do-it-all point guard, but their almost equally crucial starting shooting guard and center are graduating, leaving behind a barely recognizable shell of what the team used to be.
Gilling is unquestionably the most important returning player. In his first three years at ASU, Gilling made 39.8 percent of his 510 three-point attempts. With both Carson and Marshall out of the picture, the 6'7" Dane may become the team's point forward.
McKissic will also be crucial as the only other returning player who logged at least 350 minutes last season. He almost didn't get to return, though. He had to be granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA. We'll see if he can make the most of it.
Beyond that, Herb Sendek's squad will be heavily reliant upon former role players and newbies.
Jacobsen averaged all of 2.4 points and 2.3 rebounds last season, but—as the only player on the roster taller than 6'8"—will likely serve as the starting center. Barnes shot better than 40 percent from three-point range last season but only played 13.8 minutes per game. How will that stroke hold up with added playing time?
As is the case for quite a few teams in this conference, Arizona State will struggle at times throughout this transitional season, but the Sun Devils should at least be better than the 22-40 record that they put together from 2010-12.
7. California Golden Bears
2013-14 Record: 21-14 (10-8 in conference)
Key Players Leaving: Justin Cobbs, Richard Solomon, Ricky Kreklow
Key Incoming Players: None
Projected Starting Five: Tyrone Wallace, Jordan Mathews, Jabari Bird, David Kravish, Kameron Rooks
California is only the sixth team we have encountered thus far in the projected standings, but the Golden Bears are already the third with a new head coach this year. Unlike the firings at Oregon State and Washington State, though, Mike Montgomery willingly retired before being replaced by Cuonzo Martin from Tennessee.
Certainly no one can blame Martin for wanting to leave a place where fans were calling for his head on a daily basis from the moment he took over for Bruce Pearl, but he is entering into a bit of a rebuilding project with California.
The Golden Bears narrowly missed the NCAA tournament last March, but they are losing two extremely important pieces from that team and another that could have played a big role this season.
Cobbs was the team leader in points and assists, and Solomon averaged a double-double while serving as the fifth-best defensive rebounder in the country, according to KenPom.com (subscription required).
And yet, they could flirt with making the tournament again this season.
Solomon may be gone, but Kravish is a great rebounder and shot-blocker in his own right—and every bit as good of a scorer as Solomon was. Mathews and Bird were each freshmen last season but played quite well and could be headed for breakout seasons with more minutes as sophomores.
The big question for the Golden Bears will be depth—particularly in the post. Rooks only averaged 7.0 minutes last season, but they don't exactly have any other readily apparent options to play alongside Kravish down low. And in the backcourt, Sam Singer is just about the only bench guy who even played last season.
Being shallow isn't necessarily a terrible thing, though. Stanford and Saint Joseph's each made the tournament last season as No. 10 seeds while barely giving any playing time to non-starters.
It's just a matter of whether the starting five is good enough to win 20 games.
6. Oregon Ducks
2013-14 Record: 24-10 (10-8 in conference)
Key Players Leaving: Mike Moser, Richard Amardi, Jason Calliste, Johnathan Loyd, Waverly Austin, Dominic Artis, Ben Carter, Damyean Dotson
Key Incoming Players: JaQuan Lyle, Dwayne Benjamin, Michael Chandler, Jordan Bell
Projected Starting Five: Lyle, Joseph Young, Benjamin, Elgin Cook, Chandler
It's a real testament to the "strength" of the Pac-12 that Oregon could lose as many players as it has this summer and still have a great shot at finishing in the top half of the conference.
Whether due to graduation, transfer or dismissal from the team, the Ducks are losing eight of the 10 players who logged at least 110 minutes last season.
Young and Cook are the only significant returning players. But if they play as well as they did in the NCAA tournament, that's one heck of a solid base to build around. In Oregon's two tournament games, Young averaged 24.0 PPG and Cook added 14.0 PPG.
Along with those two players, Dana Altman will likely start a highly-rated freshman and a pair of top-ranked JUCO transfers.
Lyle is rated as the seventh-best point guard by ESPN 100 and will almost certainly start at point guard as a freshman—there really isn't any other option with Loyd and Artis both leaving town. Chandler and Benjamin are rated as the 11th- and 12th-best JUCO transfers by 247Sports.
Really, though, Oregon's success will depend on whether opposing teams are able to slow down Young.
Last year, Young, Moser and Calliste were all very real three-point threats. Calliste led the way, connecting on better than 50 percent of his 129 attempts. Lyle doesn't have much of a three-point stroke, though, which may leave Young as the singular long-range shooter for teams to defend.
If Young averages less than 20 points per game, Oregon may be in serious trouble. But considering he has averaged 18.0 or better in back-to-back years, there's a pretty good chance he'll eclipse that mark and carry this team back to the NCAA tournament.
5. Stanford Cardinal
2013-14 Record: 23-13 (10-8 in conference)
Key Players Leaving: Dwight Powell, Josh Huestis, Robbie Lemons, John Gage, Aaron Bright
Key Incoming Players: Reid Travis, Michael Humphrey, Dorian Pickens, Robert Cartwright
Projected Starting Five: Chasson Randle, Anthony Brown, Travis, Humphrey, Stefan Nastic
Like most of these Pac-12 teams, Stanford is losing a ton of important players from the 2013-14 season. Powell and Huestis were two of the best scorers and rebounders on the team. Gage and Lemons were the first two players off the bench.
But unlike other teams that we've encountered to this point, the Cardinal keep their best player and add some excellent recruits.
At 18.8 PPG, Randle was the second-highest scorer in the Pac-12 last season. He scored at least 21 points in six of his final eight games and will once again be expected to lead the way.
They'll have an interesting balance of old and young with a projected starting five of three seniors and two freshmen.
Though two of his primary big men from last season are gone, Johnny Dawkins will still have the luxury of starting a two-guard, three-forward lineup.
From what we've seen thus far in high school and in the McDonald's All-American game, Travis is going to be a monster in the paint. He's "only" 6'8", but he is built like a grizzly bear that exercises. He and Humphrey play the same position, but they couldn't be more dissimilar, as Humphrey is tall and thin.
As was the case with California and Washington, the difference between making and missing the tournament will likely be the play of the starting center.
Despite being a starter, Nastic only averaged 19.7 minutes per game last season. While on the court, he was a pretty solid source of points and blocked shots, but he was constantly getting into foul trouble. The Cardinal do have secondary options in Grant Verhoeven, Rosco Allen and Schuyler Rimmer, but not one of them has particularly displayed an ability to deliver quantity or quality minutes.
Should Nastic pull a Brian Zoubek and suddenly become a reliable force in the paint as a senior, Stanford could be headed back to the Sweet 16 for a second straight season.
4. Colorado Buffaloes
2013-14 Record: 23-12 (10-8 in conference)
Key Players Leaving: Spencer Dinwiddie
Key Incoming Players: Dominique Collier
Projected Starting Five: Askia Booker, Xavier Talton, Xavier Johnson, Wesley Gordon, Josh Scott
At long last, we've reached a Pac-12 team that will actually resemble the one it put on the court a season ago. In fact, these projected starting five were Colorado's primary players after Dinwiddie tore his ACL.
So, as a nice change of pace, there's an established precedent for what to expect from this team.
Though the Buffaloes went 9-9 after losing Dinwiddie, there was a lot of "wrong team at the wrong time" games during that stretch, and they have already completed the process of figuring out how to play without their leading scorer.
Now their entire team is a year older and a year wiser while the vast majority of the rest of the conference will be replacing at least two starters from its 2013-14 squad.
Metaphorically, Colorado is getting a five percent pay raise in an area where the cost of living is plummeting overnight. It could even be a 10 or 15 percent raise if Johnson and Scott continue to improve in their junior seasons.
Johnson wasn't even a tertiary scorer until Dinwiddie's injury, but he averaged 14.5 PPG over the final 16 games of last season as he rediscovered the three-point stroke that he displayed as a freshman. Scott, on the other hand, was just consistently strong throughout the season, finishing the year with 13 double-doubles.
Those two players and Booker will be the primary catalysts for a team looking to dance for a fourth straight year.
Should Gordon or Talton show much development from last season, Colorado will not only make the tournament, but could legitimately contend for a Pac-12 title.
3. UCLA Bruins
2013-14 Record: 28-9 (12-6 in conference)
Key Players Leaving: Jordan Adams, Kyle Anderson, Zach LaVine, David Wear, Travis Wear
Key Incoming Players: Isaac Hamilton, Kevon Looney, Jonah Bolden, Thomas Welsh
Projected Starting Five: Bryce Alford, Hamilton, Norman Powell, Looney, Tony Parker
Rather than a returning leading scorer, an impact transfer or a highly rated 2014 recruit, UCLA's season will hinge heavily on a player that 95 percent of people have probably forgotten about.
Isaac Hamilton was UCLA's top recruit last offseason. He was rated as the 20th-best overall incoming player by 247Sports, but he was ruled ineligible last season after originally signing a letter of intent to play for UTEP.
Though he lost a year of eligibility in the process, he'll start at shooting guard as a first-year sophomore for the Bruins. He should pair quite nicely with Alford in the backcourt, who showed in spurts last season that he can be a legitimate starting point guard capable of delivering a handful of assists and three-point buckets every night.
When Alford and Hamilton aren't busy draining three-pointers, Powell will be plowing his way to the rim for buckets. Steve Alford's small forward is the most seasoned vet on the team. Powell started all 37 games last season and will be expected to be a leader both in the huddle and on the scoreboard.
UCLA doesn't have much in the post in terms of established players, but there's certainly no shortage of options.
Looney (PF) is one of the best incoming players in the country, and Welsh's (C) stock has risen meteorically over the past 12 months. Bolden (SF/PF) isn't too shabby, either, rated as the 35th-best overall player in this year's class by 247Sports.
Parker figures to be a starter at the beginning of the season, but don't be surprised if he is replaced by Welsh or Bolden before conference play begins. Either way, all four of those players ought to deliver quality minutes in a conference that is otherwise relatively devoid of above-average big men.
Even though they're losing just about their entire starting roster from last season, the Bruins should be in line for another strong season.
2. Utah Utes
2013-14 Record: 21-12 (9-9 in conference)
Key Players Leaving: Renan Lenz, Princeton Onwas
Key Incoming Players: Brekkott Chapman, Chris Reyes
Projected Starting Five: Brandon Taylor, Delon Wright, Dakarai Tucker, Jordan Loveridge, Dallin Bachynski
Whether championing Utah as a bubble team toward the end of last season or as a breakout team for this coming season, I've been banging the Utes' drum for quite a few months now. So when they come out of seemingly nowhere to nearly win a Pac-12 championship, just remember who started this bandwagon.
Wright is a bona fide stud. I'm already on record as saying he will be the best senior in the entire country, but hardly anyone seems to know who he is because he played his first two years in JUCO before spending his junior season at a program that hadn't finished .500 or better in either of the previous four seasons.
He averaged an unreal 15.5 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 5.3 APG, 2.5 SPG and 1.3 BPG last year. If he doesn't get at least one triple-double this season, I will eat my hat.
But Utah is more than just a one-trick pony.
Loveridge and Taylor are talented scorers with a knack for creating buckets for teammates, as well. Bachynski hasn't played a ton and has lived in brother Jordan's shadow for the past few years, but he is a talented center who shot 61.9 percent from the field while averaging 15.1 points and 10.8 rebounds per 40 minutes last season.
Tucker is no slouch as a three-point shooting small forward, and Larry Krystkowiak is getting a pair of immediate-impact forwards in ESPN 100 recruit Chapman and JUCO transfer Reyes.
Throw in Jeremy Olsen as a key contributor off the bench for a second straight season and these Utes will legitimately run an eight-man rotation capable of winning a major conference title.
1. Arizona Wildcats
2013-14 Record: 33-5 (15-3 in conference)
Key Players Leaving: Aaron Gordon, Nick Johnson
Key Incoming Players: Stanley Johnson, Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Craig Victor, Kadeem Allen
Projected Starting Five: T.J. McConnell, Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Brandon Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski
Fun as it may be to suggest that Utah has a shot at winning this conference, it would be horribly irresponsible to suggest that anyone other than Arizona will win the 2014-15 Pac-12 regular-season championship.
The Wildcats may have lost two players to the NBA (if Johnson actually gets drafted, that is), but they still have a roster more than worthy of being ranked in the top five in the country when the season begins.
In addition to the four incoming players and the four returning players in the starting rotation, Sean Miller will have Elliott Pitts, Gabe York and Matt Korcheck on the bench at his disposal.
This team isn't quite as ridiculously stacked from No. 1 through No. 10 as Kentucky or Kansas, but Arizona could definitely split into two teams and have them both finish in the top four in the Pac-12.
Most intriguing to watch on this team will be the immediate impact of Johnson and how well Ashley bounces back from the injury that ended his 2013-14 season. If Johnson is as good as advertised and if Ashley is anywhere near as good as he was before his injury, the Wildcats will leave everyone else in the dust on their way to a third conference title in five years.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.
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