The 2013-2014 college basketball season is under way. The Pac-12 conference will provide great excitement due to many teams getting back their key players from the year before along with incoming freshman already creating buzz for the 2014 NBA draft. Inter-conference games will be very competitive and will deliver exhilarating matchups throughout the season.
Three teams begin the season ranked in the top 25 (Arizona, Oregon, UCLA) and will have to perform well in their difficult in-conference schedules in order to stay ranked throughout the season.
1. Arizona Wildcats
20-8 (13-5 Conference)
Key Departures: G Mark Lyons, F Solomon Hill, G Kevin Parrom
Last season, Head Coach Sean Miller led the Wildcats to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament after not qualifying the season before. With a 27-8 record, Arizona tied for second place in the Pac-12 conference. Even with the departure of first team All Pac-12 players Lyons and Hill, the team should continue to do well in conference games and compete for the conference title. Johnson is the top returning scorer for the program as he averaged 11.5 ppg last season. He is also very active on defense, leading his team in steals per game last season with 1.9 spg. Brandon Ashley will be a key contributor after averaging 7.5 ppg on 53 percent shooting and 5.3 rpg. The Wildcats had a strong recruiting class this season, underlined by ultra athletic Aaron Gordon. He should fill a huge void in the frontcourt left by departing players and provides versatility with the ability to play both forward positions. Arizona has more talent than any other team in the conference and Coach Miller will have his work cut out for him divvying up the minutes on his talented squad. This is a team with legitimate Final Four aspirations.
2. UCLA Bruins
21-10 (12-6 Conference)
Key Departures: F Shabazz Muhammad, G Lary Drew II
Steve Alford takes over as head coach of the Bruins, replacing fired Ben Howland. As head coach of New Mexico last season, Alford won games having a nasty defensive team. He looks to bring that intensity to this team that has disappointed recently on defense, ranking 160th in the country with a 42.5 field-goal percentage defense. Last season, the Bruins finished first in the conference but once again were ousted early in the tournament not even winning a single game. UCLA will be without reigning co-freshman of the year and first team All Pac-12 player Shabazz Muhammad, who departed for the NBA draft. Muhammad was a key contributor all season leading the Bruins in scoring with 18.3 ppg and three-point field goal percentage shooting 42 percent from beyond the arc. This season, Adams should be a spark plug on offense and defense following last season when he averaged 15.3 ppg and 2.2 spg. Also, talented guard Kyle Anderson should be a stat sheet stuffer for the Bruins after an impressive freshman season.
3. Oregon Ducks
15-10 (8-5 Conference)
Key Departures: F Arsalan Kazemi, F Carlos Emory, C Tony Woods, F E.J. Singler
Top Returning Players: Jonathan Loyd, Damyean Dotson
Last season the Ducks were led to the Sweet 16 by Pac-12 Coach of the Year Dana Altman, making the tournament for the first time since 2008. Under Altman, the Ducks have posted their second consecutive second-place finish in the conference and third consecutive 20-win season. The Ducks will depend on two transfers, Young and Moser, to propel the team’s offense. Young averaged 18 ppg last season for Houston while Moser played a good front court roll for UNLV averaging 7 ppg and 6 rpg. Oregon needs someone down low to step up and replace the defensive presence Kazemi bought to the team. The Ducks ranked 96th in scoring defense last season allowing 63.6 opponents ppg.
4. California Golden Bears
17-10 (8-8 Conference)
Key Departures: G Allen Crabbe
The Golden Bears enter the season without arguably the best player in the conference from last season, Allen Crabbe. Crabbe was named Pac-12 Conference Player of the Year as he averaged 18.6 ppg, most in the conference, and 6 rpg. He was also among the league leaders in free throw percentage (81 percent) and steals with 1.2 spg. The bears turned into one of the best defensive teams in the conference halfway through the season mainly due to Solomon (1.1 bpg) and Kravish (1.7 bpg). Cobbs along with freshman Jabari Bird should provide big contributions for the Bears this season, without Crabbe to man the backcourt.
5. Colorado Buffaloes
20-10 (10-7 Conference)
Key Departures: F Andre Roberson
Notable Newcomers: F Wesley Gordon
The Buffaloes should improve this year with coach Tad Boyle at the helm for a fourth season. They were a good team last year making it to the round of 32 in the NCAA tournament despite finishing fifth in the conference. The biggest question is who will replace Andre Roberson, the most important player on the team last season. Roberson was dynamic on defense last season en route to winning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. He led the league with 11.5 rpg and 2.3 spg, while also adding 1.4 bpg. The team needs to improve their shooting as they averaged a shallow 43.3 percent from the field last season. Top returning scorers Spencer Dinwiddie (41 percent) and Askia Booker (36 percent) especially need to improve their shooting if the Buffaloes want to contend for a title this season.
6. Stanford Cardinal
17-12 (8-10 Conference)
Key Departures: None
Notable Newcomers: G Marcus Allen
The Cardinal have one of the more experienced rosters in the conference with six seniors returning for this season, notably Powell. He was named Pac-12 Most Improved Player of the Year last season as he averaged 15.1 ppg and 8.2 rpg. Huestis should continue to progress after a solid season last year averaging 10.5 ppg, 9 rpg, and 2.1 bpg. Head coach Johnny Dawkins had many of these players on the roster two seasons ago when the Cardinal won the NIT championship, so this team right now should have the chemistry to be an upset candidate in the conference. Limiting turnovers this season will be crucial to the success of the team, they averaged 11.8 tpg last season.
7. Arizona State Sun Devils
16-13 (8-10 Conference)
Key Departures: G Carrick Felix, G Evan Gordon
Notable Newcomers: G Jermaine Marshall
Top Returning Players: Jahii Carson, [Player:Jordan Bachynski]
Marshall may prove to be an important addition to the backcourt of the Sun Devils offense. Adding him should take some of the pressure of reigning Pac-12 Co-Freshman of the Year, Carson, who averaged a league high 37 mpg last season. He was efficient averaging 18.5 ppg and 5 apg. Carson can make the Sun Devils competitive all by himself, but he is going to have to cut down severely on his turnovers (3.5 tpg). Bachynski was very solid on the defensive end last year averaging 3.4 bpg and should retain his consistency as a top post player in the conference. Ultimately, role players will decide the fate of the Sun Devils.
8. Washington Huskies
15-15 (7-11 Conference)
Key Departures: G Scott Suggs, F Abdul Gaddy, C Aziz N’Diaye
Notable Newcomers: G Nigel Williams-Goss, F Perris Blackwell
Top Returning Players: C.J. Wilcox, Andrew Andrews
The Huskies have not made it to the NCAA tournament the past two seasons. Last season, they were eliminated in the first round of the NIT tournament. Three main players, Suggs (12.2 ppg), Gaddy (10.9 ppg, 4.6 apg), and N’Diaye (9.1 rpg, 1.2 bpg), are gone and newcomers have to fill the roles left behind by these departures. The biggest recruit is Williams-Goss, who will replace Gaddy at point guard and is a great defender and leader. He should help improve the perimeter of the Huskies. Blackwell is expected to start at one of the forward positions. If Williams-Goss and Blackwell can perform well in their roles along with returning top scorer Wilcox (16.8 ppg), the Huskies can improve their record this season.
9. Utah Utes
13-11 (4-8 Conference)
Key Departures: G Jarred DuBois, C Jason Washburn
Notable Newcomers: G Ahmad Fields
Top Returning Players: Brandon Taylor, [Jordan Loveridge]
The Utes have missed out on tournament play each of the last four seasons. Head Coach Larry Krystkowiak took over two seasons ago and has slowly began to improve the teams conference record, going from six wins to 15 last season. But with the enhancement of the Pac-12 conference this year, the Utes will take a step back. Besides Loveridge, 12.1 ppg last season, there are not many other scoring options on the team. Even Loveridge has to improve on his shooting from the field ( 37 percent) if the Utes want to have a chance at winning conference games. With the loss of top scorer DuBois (12.4 ppg) and Washburn (11.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg) and a lack of scoring options, Utah will likely struggle to be competitive in the Pac-12 this season.
10. Oregon State Beavers
11-17 (3-15 Conference)
Key Departures: F Joe Burton, G Ahmad Starks
Notable Newcomers: C Cheikh Ndiaye
The Beavers get their top scorers back from a year ago in Nelson (17.8 ppg) and Collier (12.6 ppg), but Moreland will be suspended for 14 games, almost half of the season. Moreland is the team’s leading rebounder (10.6 rpg) and shot blocker (2.5 bpg) from a year ago. This will be a devastating blow to a team that was already struggling defensively. This season could be Head Coach Craig Robinson’s last in Oregon State if they do not win more games and make a push to qualify for the NCAA tournament, having not made it since 1990. The Beavers have to improve defensively as the team ranked 263rd in the country allowing 70.3 ppg. With the suspension and lack of major additions to the team, the Beavers will struggle this season.
11. USC Trojans
11-18 (3-15 Conference)
Key Departures: F Eric Wise, G Jio Fontan, C Deeayne Dedmon
Notable Newcomers: G Pe'Shon Howard
Top Returning Players: Omar Oraby, J.T. Terrell
The Trojans brought in Andy Enfield to coach after his impressive rise to stardom coaching Florida Gulf Coast to remarkable wins in the NCAA tournament last season. Enfield’s fast pace play style should improve the scoring of the Trojans depleted offense. This season they will be without their top scorer from the previous year, Wise (11.9 ppg) and their top defender, Dedmon (2.1 bpg). Terrell looks to be the only bright spot in the offense (11.7 ppg), but the Trojans will need a lot more help if they want to win games. Even with the addition of Enfield at coach, USC still has a long way to go before they are contenders in the conference.
12. Washington State Cougars
10-18 (2-16 Conference)
Key Departures: F Brock Motum, G Mike Ladd
Notable Newcomers: G Ike Iroegbu
Top Returning Players: Royce Woolridge, Dexter Kernich-Drew
The Cougars finished tied for last in the conference last season with a conference record of 7-11. Their top player from last season, Motum (18.7 ppg and 6.3 rpg), is gone and no major additions were added to help replace his departure. Iroegbu is a good shooter, but his inexperience will hold him back from winning games for the Cougars. It will be a tough season for Washington State; don’t expect to see them in many competitive games this season.
Top 5 Pac 12 Prospects
1. Aaron Gordon – Fr., Arizona
Gordon’s 6-8 225 pound frame allows him to excel at both the 3 and 4 positions on the court. His great athleticism and ability to handle the ball makes him a viable option at small forward, but his lack of mid-range shooting skill makes him better suited at power forward. Gordon is covering the stat sheet so far this year; averaging close to a double-double with 13 points and nine rebounds. His 2.3 blocks per game are tops on his team and he is steadily improving as a tough defender down low for opposing players cutting to the basket. Improving his 3-point shot could put him in the same category as former Wildcat, Derrick Williams. As impressive a prospect as Gordon is, there are three other Pac 12 freshmen prospects that could ultimately surpass him, (Zach LeVine, Jabari Bird and teammate Rondae Hollis-Jefferson).
2. Kaleb Tarczewski – So., Arizona
Tarczewski has an excellent build for an NBA center. Standing tall at 7-0 he has some developing post skills, and with the right mentoring and approach to the game he can develop into a solid center for the next level. He’s averaging eight points on the year so far shooting 50 percent, so when he gets his touches around the rim he usually converts. In the early going, Tarczewski is more of a defensive center and should continue to focus on developing his rebounding and defensive post-game while at the collegiate level. Also, adding a go to post move to his repertoire could provide another aspect to his game. A true big man is hard to come by nowadays in the NBA and Tarczewski can become one of the most coveted over the next few seasons.
3. Zach LaVine – Fr., UCLA
Russell Westbrook is a lofty comparison, but this kid has a chance to be special. Not even a top 50 recruit on many recruiting lists, he began the season projected as a top 10 pick for the 2015 draft on NBADraft.net. LaVine is a great athlete that plays along the lines of a modern day point guard. One thing he can improve upon is his 37 percent shooting from the field by driving to the hole more and picking up fouls instead of settling for the jumper. He’s strong, very explosive and quick while handling the ball and that is what allows him to get to the basket and finish around the rim. Making smarter decisions is something that he should work on improving. LaVine is also very active on the defensive side averaging close to two steals per game. With his size and ability to get to the rim, LaVine has a chance to be an electric scorer at the next level.
4. Jahii Carson – So., Arizona St.
Carson’s poise while handling the ball may be incomparable to any other point guard in the Pac 12 conference. He is a distributing point guard that also has the ability to score and take control of a game. Most of his scoring is done in or around the paint area because of his capability to get around defenders. A big aspect to his game is his unpredictability with the ball and he can provide at the next level as a pure point guard or playmaker. On the other hand, he can be too trigger happy, which can be easily fixed with good coaching. Averaging 19 points and seven assists on the season; Carson can shake the defender and take it to the hole for an electrifying jam or dish it off to a wide open teammate for a high percentage shot.
5. Jordan Adams – So., UCLA
Adams has the potential to become a pure scorer in the NBA as well as a solid perimeter defender. His athleticism gives him the ability to create scoring opportunities with the ball in his hands or by running around screens creating space to get an open look at the basket for a mid-range or 3-point jumper. Adams is also strong at getting to the free throw line and converting, shooting 92 percent from the stripe on the year. With so much attention being drawn his way, developing his passing skills could really improve his draft stock. He is very firm on defense averaging two steals per game, which translates to exceptional fast break scoring ability off of a steal. Adams has the talent to be successful at the next level at both the shooting guard and small forward position.