By: Quin Pezoldt
November 19th, 2020
There’s no question that The Conference of Champions was given the short-end of the stick with the cancellation of the tournament back in March. The Pac12 had its highest rating last year in KenPom in over a 10 years and was poised to send 6 teams to March Madness (I still think 7). Unfortunately, with the uniqueness of this year and how unprecedented this selection process is going to be, I don’t think they’ll get to send 7 teams. However any of the top-6 teams could win the conference and if preseason projections are accurate, we could easily see 5 teams represent the Pacific in the big dance. There’s also just as much competition to “not be last” as there is to win the conference. I strongly think that any of the top-5 in this conference can come out on top as well as any team in the bottom-5 could be last.
This conference is stacked with great coaching and great players trying to put the Pac12 back on its basketball pedestal. Like the other power conferences, Pac12 is top heavy and relatively focused on the storied schools like Oregon, UCLA, Arizona, and Stanford giving them 6 degrees of separation from the cellar dwellers Oregon State, Washington State, and Cal. I can’t say right now that the Pac12 has a national title contending team but it definitely has All-American contenders and some of the most entertaining basketball in the country.
Lynq’s Pac12 All-Conference
Remy Martin Sr. G Arizona State
Chris Duarte Sr. G Oregon
Evan Mobley Fr. F USC
Oscar da Silva Sr. F Stanford
Will Richardson Jr. G Oregon
Timmy Allen Jr. F Utah
Chris Smith Sr. G UCLA
Ziaire Williams Fr. F Stanford
Coach: Mick Cronin
Tier C *Rebuild ASAP*
12 – Oregon State (+8000)
Oregon State isn’t a basketball school. They had the worst defense in the conference last year, couldn’t shoot the 3, and had an awful pace of play. Tinkle didn’t fully utilize his 7-footer Kylor Kelley or his son Tres Tinkle last season and now the Beavers have to find a way to be efficient offensively. This team is not on the same level of competition as the rest of the conference and I can probably name at least 25 mid-major teams that could beat them.
Tinkle went deep into the JUCO market to stay afloat this season picking up Tariq Silver, Rodrigue Andela, and Maurice Calloo. This looks like a team built in desperation. Oregon State couldn’t get any D1 transfers this off-season but next season they can look forward to the #7 JUCO recruit. This season, Ethan Thompson is being promoted to lead scorer averaging 15 PPG last season and most likely the only scorer. OSU is grooming a few scorers in Gianni Hunt, Jared Lucas and the JUCO picks but there’s less time in this season to work out the kinks.
11 – Washington State (+30000)
The Cougars are not in last place last season or in this preseason. For the most part, that’s looking on the bright side. Washington St lost their best rebounders and best player from last season to the draft in CJ Elleby who was 97th in the country in terms of defensive efficiency. The returning players didn’t average above 7 PPG last season with the exception of PG Isaac Bonton. He picked up an injury towards the end of the season Bonton will likely be leading the conference in percentage of possessions at the end of the season.
There’s not a lot of good basketball to look forward to for Washington St this season. I think Kyle Smith has his hands full with the budget of the irregular season as well as winning more than 4 conference games.
Tier B *Just out of Reach*
10 – California (+10000)
A lot of polls have Cal stuffed down in the bottom two ranks of the Pac12 but I have too much respect for Mark Fox to do that. This is also a power rankings article so I can respect the future of the team as well. Fox is grooming a young core of role players behind the upperclassmen that will be rolling with the start. The Bears are even a really well-rounded team with their starting 3 guards in Matt Bradley (17.5 PPG 5RPG), Makale Foreman from Stony Brook (15.5 PPG), and Ryan Betley from UPenn (11.6 PPG 6 RPG). They have a lot of depth and will probably be going 9 deep to get the young guys acclimated to the competition. I don’t see where all the hate is coming from dropping them all the way down to the bottom but I can’t argue that their ceiling is fixed at about 7th place. It’ll be refreshing to see a Cal team that isn’t an eyesore this season!
9 – Colorado (+1500)
Colorado had their chance last year to take advantage of a great shooting team but they dropped down to the middle of the conference right before March. Their position in the middle of the season at the top of the conference was something I thought was an inflation of their actual ability. The Buffs last year looked great on paper and were ranked for a part of the season but teams caught on and ultimately, it wasn’t sustainable for Tad Boyle.
The Buffs have a solid starting 5 but virtually no depth and the starters only average a combined 42 PPG. The lack of scoring options could be very glaring on a Colorado team that could be looking to surpass where they ended up last season. Outside of McKinley Wright IV and D’Shawn Schwartz, I don’t even know where the consistency is going to come from on the offensive end. It looks like Tad Boyle will have to hang his hat on their defense again this season but who could fill Tyler Bey’s shoes? I don’t think they are completely lost and could steal a game or two from the A Tier only because teams won’t be prepared for the famous Colorado pace.
8 – Washington (+3000)
To this day, I still have no idea how Washington had two 5-star recruits and managed to earn last place in the conference. Jaden McDaniels and Isaiah Stewart were great players and they looked like the pieces that Mike Hopkins needed to be considered for a top-4 spot in the Pac12. On paper it looks like they might have tried to do it but no, they just fell on their face with their hands in their pockets. This year they are sporting a suit of mediocrity and are returning Quade Green who wasn’t able to play almost all of last season due to grades slipping. The Huskies expected Green to put up 10-18 points a night and is expected to be the main cog in this machine moving forward still.
To put pieces around Green, Hopkins will be trying to play Erik Stevenson from Wichita State (11.1 PPG 5RPG) but they are banking on a waiver and nothing is given in 2020. Washington is certainly coached too well to fall into the bottom tier this season but there is nothing quality on the team in terms of someone who will be able to slow down the fast pace of the Pac12.
7 – Utah (+3000)
The Utes only lost one player from their weak season last year. Utah only finished 9th in the Pac12 and lost to OSU in the first round of the postseason tournament. They weren’t going to make it into the NCAA Tournament in March when the Pac12 could’ve sent 7 teams and they aren’t looking too hot again when there will probably be 5 teams. Last season they were in the bottom-100 in the nation in terms of defense and with a full returning squad, it’s hard to imagine that anything will change from last year. Utah in general isn’t a great dinner table conversation and that goes especially when talking about Pac12 basketball.
Utah has a young team (no seniors) and their starting 5 can each get double-digit points per game against their non-conference schedule. If we compare them to the top half of the conference, they really shouldn’t win which, in a regular season, would account for about half of their conference games. I have them at the middle of the pack because I don’t trust the coaching and they can beat the bottom tier teams but they can’t beat the following teams.
6 – Arizona (+700)
The two names heard last year in reference to the Arizona Wildcats were Zeke Nnaji and Nico Mannion. Both of those players went to the draft and will not be returning as the backbone of the ‘Cats offense. For me, there’s nothing but question marks for one of the most storied schools in the sport. The questions range from, “Will anyone be able to score at the rate Nnaji and Mannion did,” or “Will the school’s investigation interfere with the season?”
Sean Miller was able to recruit a couple of transfers building a team of almost entirely combo players with an emphasis on scoring/speed. This really fits into Miller’s previous scheme of ramming the ball down the opponent’s throat but his scheme is typically built around a 5-star recruit of some sort. He doesn’t have that this season. Rather he has Ira Lee (3.3 PPG 3RPG) and Nevada transfer Jordan Brown (3 PPG 2 RPG) in the front court. The Seattle transfer, Terrell Brown and the Georgetown transfer James Akinjo are going to take turns with possessions coming off of great scoring years at their previous schools. But it just seems like the talent is really focused on one side of the ball rather than playing both. I think the lack of a name like Nnaji and Mannion could show how much they carried the last squad. I’m setting AU’s ceiling lower than last year’s and the floor leagues lower.
Tier A *Could win Pac12*
5 – USC (+1000)
A Tier is a mix of the teams that have realistic expectations of winning a Pac12 title this season. Starting off the A Tier is USC with the recruitment of 5-star Pac12 preseason all-conference Evan Mobley to join his brother Isaiah near the board. The Mobley brothers will most likely be the most devastating frontcourt in the conference. Isaiah averaged 6.2 PPG and 5.3 RPG. Anderson was up and down last year but the game plan wasn’t to get him ready for this season but to constantly hand the ball off to Rakocevic and Okongwu. Enfield is dropping him into the driver’s seat and trusts him to move the ball through the Mobley brothers as well as share minutes with the transfers they picked up in the offseason. This team has an extremely high ceiling but they also have the potential to stagnate.
Noah Baumann from San Jose St (10.8 PPG), Isaiah White from Utah Valley (14.5 PPG 8.4 RPG), and Tahj Eaddy from Santa Clara (9.1 PPG) are all big transfers for Enfield and he’s expecting to hit the court running. They have a lot of talent and potentially a sleeper to win if they pull it all together. The success of this team is going to heavily rely on the assumption that Anderson can facilitate the movements. I have them just out of the B Tier because of Andy Enfield almost entirely but if point guard Ethan Anderson can step up and dish, they’ll be contending to win the conference. The Trojans were right on the A/B line and I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt even though it expands the A Tier draining a bit of its luster.
4 – Stanford (+600)
Stanford hasn’t made it to the NCAA tournament in over 10 years and weren’t much to write home about last year when it comes to conference play. They were only 9-9 and lost to Cal in the first round of the partial Pac12 tournament that did happen. Stanford also lost their best player to the draft in Tyrell Terry who averaged 15 PPG 4.5 REB and 3 AST. Terry was a great all-around player but they returned their leading scorer in Oscar da Silva (15.7 PPG 6.4 REB) and double-edged senior point guard Daejon Davis. The Cardinal arguably has just as good, if not better, of a team as any in this tier.
They got a 5-star recruit and one of the best small forwards in the country in Fr. Ziaire Williams from Sierra Canyon HS. Stanford has always gotten a good amount of 4-stars but was neverThe coaching staff and the media are hyping this guy up like he’s the real deal and will be the key to a tournament team that they needed to fill Terry’s scoring spot. With Davis feeding Williams and da Silva playing a tree, this team is dangerous given the right coaching.
The coaching has to be in question considering the losing streak they had to finish last season and falling out of contention late. Jerod Haase hasn’t been able to put together a reasonable season to compete with the top of the conference in a while. Their problem has always been that they can get a couple of 4-star recruits but two 4-star recruits isn’t as good as one 5-star (unless you’re Mark Few). This year they finally crossed that threshold with Williams. I have them in 4th for now until Williams shows that he can replace Tyrell Terry in our hearts and on the scoreboard, which could be next week.
3 – UCLA (+260)
The great Mick Cronin and his UCLA team scored #22 in the AP preseason rankings because he was able to hold onto the majority of his team through the offseason. They made a huge push at the end of last season finishing only a game back out of first in the conference and missed out on their opportunity to win the conference tournament. In his first year, Cronin was able to bring UCLA back to national relevance despite global talents. I’m excited for what he can do for the Pac12 by bringing UCLA back into the picture after Steve Alford wildy misused talent in the Pac12’s showcase years. UCLA is back and it’s what college basketball needed but we didn’t think we did.
Five starters are back to try again this season. The Bruins return So. guard Tyger Campbell, Sr. guard Chris Smith, Jr. forward Cody Riley, Jr. big Jalen Hill, and So. wing Jaime Jaquez Jr.. Campbell was a McDonald’s All-American and had the best assist rate in the conference, Jaquez was one of the best two-way players in the conference, and Smith was lights out and is a Naismith POTY. It looks like Cronin brought his hard-fought defense to SoCal with a mix of the SoCal talent that he can really benefit off of. In the offseason he lost a couple of commitments but was able to bring over a shooter in Johnny Juzang from Kentucky.
The Bruins are like a wind-up toy car. Last year he saved UCLA and built a good team winding up the car to cause havoc this season. Right now, a lot of polls have them winning the Pac12 but I think that has more to do with where they finished last year and less relative to the talent that was brought in on other teams. I have them in 3rd place as a coaching pick until the team lives up to their preseason potential.
2 – Oregon (+425)
It’s common sense that Oregon would fall in this top tier and there’s definitely an argument that they are the best team again. They are ranked 20th in the nation to start the season after finishing 13th in the nation last season and earning the top seed in the conference. The reason I don’t have them perched on top is the loss of Pac12 POTY and All-American, Payton Prichard. After what seems like a decade, Prichard is onto greener pastures leaving Dana Altman and the Ducks passing the reins to Will Richardson and Chris Duarte. Both sides of the ball heavily relied on his greatness. So this team is going to need to transition from a true point guard who can shoot back against the wall to Will Richardson who is more of a shooting guard with point guard abilities. Big difference. I think they are the team to beat right now with the one of the best recruiting classes in the nation but in the Pac12 preseason polls, they were picked 3rd behind UCLA and Arizona State.
Altman was busy in the offseason landing LJ Figueroa from St John’s (still waiting for his waiver to go through) and Amauri Hardy from UNLV who both averaged 14.5 PPG last year at their previous schools. He also got Eugene Omoruyi from Rutgers and Eric Williams Jr. from Duquesne last year who both averaged 14 PPG at their previous schools and sat out last season. This Ducks team has the highest potential ceiling this season because of the transfer talent alone and might have the highest quality depth, offensively, in the conference. Looking at their length, they could be a very good defensive team too which is a change from last season (7th in the conference in defensive efficiency per KenPom). There’s a lot of reasons to be high on them and it was very difficult to leave them off the top seed because if LJ Figueroa is playing, they are easily the best team. I would say that, at (+425), Oregon defending the title would be my safest/best preseason bet.
1 – Arizona State (+265)
Arizona State is the most interesting team in this conference. They finished unranked and only #63 on KenPom. They claim the Pac12’s top returning scorer and preseason All-American Remy Martin as well as Alonzo Verge. Martin averaged 19 PPG and Verge averaged 14.6 PPG on 44% from the field earning him last year’s Pac12 sixth man of the year. The Sun Devils bring back those scorers but also bring in Josh Christopher (ESPN Top-10) and Marcus Bagley (ESPN #30). Guard U is in full swing and they have some great names moving the rock this year. Arizona St is going to play their normal explosive and exciting hoops and I think the Pac12 is going to have a hard time keeping up with the scoring potential of this ASU team.
Jalen Graham is also a great player and will probably fill Romello White’s spot, as one of the best defensive players/bigs in the conference, perfectly. The only foreseeable problem for Arizona State is their depth in terms of how many minutes the first 5 are going to be distributed because I’m not understanding the arguments that they won’t play good defense. Graham was great off the bench last season giving us flashes of brilliance directly correlating to the 7-game win streak last season. Pretty much any negative press about these players is nit-picking because this team is really well-rounded and has an extremely high ceiling this season. Bobby Hurley has managed a winning record over the last 2 years and recruited a great team to compete on the court this season but if the sky’s the limit for this team, then Bobby Hurley is cast as the sky. He’s only made the tournament 2 out of the 5 years he’s been in Arizona and has been bounced by the second round of each tournament I’ve seen him in. It’s up to Bobby to bring this one home for the Sun Devils and I’m here for the ride. They’ve got a tough game early on against Baylor.