By Raphielle Johnson
After three seasons of poor performance the Pac-12 and its fans are hopeful that 2012-13 is the beginning of a turnaround for the league. The conference has claimed just eight NCAA tournament bids in those three years, but given the amount of talent in the league (both newcomers and transfers) the Pac-12 should grab at least three bids this year. But who gets them? That’s a question that will be answered throughout the season of course, but there are some teams better positioned than others to answer that question in the affirmative.
Both Arizona and UCLA welcome Top 5 recruiting classes but only one knows that they’ll have all hands on deck come November. That’s Arizona, which received a much-needed infusion of talent inside while also landing Xavier transfer Mark Lyons to run the point. As for the Bruins they’re still awaiting news on Kyle Anderson and Shabazz Muhammad, two freshmen who are talented enough to be game-changers for Ben Howland’s program. But even with the talent at those two schools, by no means is this a two-team race.
Defending Pac-12 tournament champion Colorado returns three key figures from last year’s team, and the cupboard certainly isn’t bare at Stanford either as the Postseason NIT champions return most of their major contributors. USC has a number of transfers eligible and returnees such as Jio Fontan and Dwayne Dedmon are healthy after having to deal with injuries in 2011-12. California can argue that they have the best back court in the Pac-12 in Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs, while Washington, Oregon, Oregon State and even Arizona State will all have reasons for optimism.
By Raphielle Johnson
The last couple of seasons the Pac-12 Conference has been a punching bag in many college hoops conversations, with pundits pointing out that the conference has been down (let’s just say that the Pac-12 has a few freshmen who could have a legit beef with the McDonald’s All-America Game selection committee). While that has been true, with the biggest piece of evidence being their two NCAA Tournament bids in 2010, many have also ignored the fact that the league was getting better thanks to an infusion of young talent. In two seasons Arizona went from a program welcoming a new coach in Sean Miller to one basket away from the Final Four, ultimately falling to eventual champ Connecticut.
Four teams made the Big Dance last season with three winning at least one game, but now comes the tough part: building on 2010-11 in spite of the heavy losses at the top of the league. Of the 15 players named First- or Second-Team all-conference just five return, with Arizona (Derrick Williams) and UCLA (Tyler Honeycutt and Malcolm Lee) incurring the biggest of the losses. The roster turnover has resulted in a wide-open race at the top of the Pac-12, meaning that it wouldn’t be a surprise if any of the top candidates won the league. Below are my predictions for how the Pac-12 will shake out.
2010-11: 18-15, 10-8 Pac-10 (NIT)
Returning starters: 4