The emergence of the likes of Stanford and Utah will allow the Pac 12 to have a positive year. Five teams project to represent this conference come March, all of which with legitimate hopes of deep tournament runs.
The Wildcats look to have another top-ranked defensive season under coach Sean Miller with four returning starters- senior PG TJ McConnell, super-sophomore Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, junior PF Brandon Ashley, and junior center Kaleb Tarczewski. At 6’9 and 7’0 respectively, Ashley and Tarczewski are as imposing as any post pair in the nation, while Hollis-Jefferson is a lockdown wing, and McConnell is a pest at the point. Ashley missed the stretch run last season after injuring his foot and looks to establish himself as the go-to scoring threat this season. The addition of freshman guard Stanley Johnson will give Zona more length on the perimeter at 6’7 and he and Ashley will be a lethal scoring duo. McConnell, a fantastic facilitator, projects to be among the top in the nation in assists, while Hollis-Jefferson will be hitting the highlight reels nightly with some posterizing dunks.
Losing post players Dwight Powell and Josh Huestis, the Cardinals look to move on with senior guard Chasson Randle running the offense. It will be tough for coach Johnny Dawkins to repeat last season’s Sweet Sixteen run, but having one of the nation’s leading scorers in Randle will surely help. With two seniors in the post in Anthony Brown and Stefan Sastic, Stanford will have the leadership and experience to return to the tournament.
Regression seems inevitable this season for UCLA and coach Steve Alford, with the Bruins losing the likes of Zach LaVine, Jordan Adams, and Kyle Anderson to the NBA. A trio of guards will lead UCLA’s offense this year in Norman Powell, Isaac Hamilton, and Bryce Alford. It will be interesting to see how the sophomore and freshman Alford and Hamilton mesh with senior Powell, but junior forward Tony Parker will be a solidifying force in the pain.
In his first three seasons, coach Larry Krystkowiak has improved Utah’s win total and it looks like the progression will continue this season. Delon Wright and Jordan Loveridge are an experienced outside-inside duo who may only be second to Arizona’s one-two scoring punch in this conference. The Utes will surely break through with an automatic tourney bid this season.
The Buffaloes were inadvertently prepared for this season when their star Spencer Dinwiddie went down with a torn ACL in January of last season. This makes the transition for life-after-Dinwiddie more seamless this season. The junior-senior backcourt of Askia Booker and Xavier Johnson should be among the highest-scoring backcourts in the nation, while Josh Scott could challenge for the most double-doubles among America’s forwards.
First Team All-Pac 12
G Delon Wright, Senior, Utah
G Joseph Young, Senior, Oregon
G Chasson Randle, Senior, Stanford
F Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Sophomore, Arizona
F Brandon Ashley, Junior, Arizona