By Ken Cross
“This IS the Pac-12! It IS the Conference of Champions! Hey, wait a minute, aren’t you Dave?” – (sic, Bill Walton)
Walton and Dave Pasch are a killer duo on ESPN on Thursdays and some Saturdays and thinking about them and the improvements and depth in this league make college hoops fans wish for a fast-forward to the second Friday in November. This league will be stacked again and this time with three teams that look like they will have Final Four potential.
The Wildcats reload once again as Sean Miller is going to have a good shot at that elusive Final Four. If Rawle Alkins decides to come back and the No. 5 recruiting class in the nation rises, the Wildcats are once again a threat to win the Pac-12 and advance far into the NCAA Tournament.
The biggest news for the Trojans is the return of Benny Boatwright, who had a knee injury for half of this past season, decided to come back and play for another year along side 6-10 center Chimezie Metu. The Trojans will then have no seniors among their key players and they add a strong three-man class led by Charles O’Bannon. Duke transfer Derryck Thornton will fit in the mix.
UCLA will absorb the loss of Lonzo Ball, T.J. Leaf, and seniors Brice Alford and Isaac Hamilton with the addition of 5-star recruits in point guard Jaylen Hands and swingman Kris Wilkes. Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday will rise as experienced leaders.
Wyking Jones is in at Cal as he will create more of an up-tempo offense and changing defense to offense through the full-court pressure. Remember he worked as Rick Pitino’s assistant at Louisville for four years which includes two Final Fours and a national championship.
Mike Hopkins come over from Syracuse after 22 years beside Jim Boeheim and as his coaching-in-waiting since 2007. Hopkins was in the mood for the challenge right now and he gets it in a Pac-12 that is moving rapidly into striking distance of the ACC and Big 12 This is a fractured Huskies team for the moment that is undergoing a really thorough restructuring.
— UW Men's Basketball (@UW_MBB) May 17, 2017
Travis gets extra year on the Farm…
As Jerod Haase enters his second year on ‘The Farm,’ Stanford might be the surprise riser in the Pac-12. Center Reid Travis was given a medical-redshirt based on his injuries in the first two seasons at Stanford. He is the leading returning scorer and rebounder in the Pac-12 with 17.4 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. Now, coach Jerod Haase has Travis, Dorian Pickens, Michael Humphrey, and point guard Robert Cartwright plus two-way player Marcus Sheffield and then the No. 12 recruiting class, nationally.
Utes still easiest team to overlook
Larry Kryskowiak has proven to be a program builder as he goes into his sixth season in Salt Lake City. The Utes lose Kyle Kuzma as an earlier entrant to the NBA Draft, but return five of their top seven players. Utah is always a team that can execute consistently and get good shots in the half-court. The Utes finished 20-12 a year ago and were on the bubble for an NCAA bid up until the last week on the season.
“Nobody circles the wagons like the Colorado Buffaloes” – (sic) Chris Berman
Circling the wagons is what coach Thad Boyle is doing after four senior starters graduated and Colorado now looks like it could be in a a full rebuild next season. Boyle’s herd lost its first seven Pac-12 games a year ago, but four were by one, three, two , and two as those two point losses were both in overtime at the Washingtons.
George King returns at small forward with Dominique Collier is a likely contributor on the point. The Buffaloes need big men in the paint where they were short on a shot-blocking presence last season.
— Pat Rooney (@prooney07) May 13, 2017
Sun rise in the Valley …
Arizona State is always known as a proverbial sleeping giant in the west. Now it looks like they have the man in Bobby Hurley that can awaken that giant and bring those Sun Devils to Pac-12 and national prominence. Hurley has an enigmatic fire that is a motivator that his players latch on to. It has already created an excitement across the Valley of the Sun in Tempe with the level of competitiveness that this team has performed in his first two years. It’s a change of culture and the wins will come. This year he turns over the program and ASU will once again be competitive even with the losses of Obinna Oleka and Torian Graham.
Here is what we know – The Oregon Ducks will probably field a competitive team under Dana Altman this season. The question – Who will comprise the roster?
Ducks’ key losses:
- Dillon Brooks – Early Entrant – NBA Draft
- Dylan Ennis – Senior, NBA Draft
- Jordan Bell – Early Entrant – NBA Draft
- Chris Boucher – Early Entrant – NBA Draft
- Casey Benson – Graduate Transfer – Grand Canyon, University
- Tyler Dorsey – Early Entrant – NBA Draft
- Kavell Bigby-Williams – Transfer
As of mid-May, Altman has comprised a roster turnover as 5-star guard Troy Brown is the key to the No. 13 national recruiting class.
Ducks’ returnees and incoming keys:
- Payton Pritchard, So, Guard
- Troy Brown, Fr., 5-Star, Forward
- Victor Bailey, Fr., 4-Star, Guard
- Abu Kigab, Fr., 3-Star, Forward
- Kenny Wooten, Fr., 4-Star, Forward
- MJ Cage, Red-shirt Fr., Forward
- Paul White, Red-shirt Jr., Forward
- Elijah Brown, Graduate Transfer, from New Mexico
With this, Altman has players on his bench such as Roman Sorkin and Keith Smith who may return as key role players or even starters. Ducks fans are really looking at this roster and wondering how it resurfaces. The talent is pretty good, but the team lacks experience.
Oregon State had a total program turnover as coach Wayne Tinkle took the Beavers to the NCAA Tournament in ’15-16 and last year, Oregon State went 5-27 and 1-17 in the Pac-12. Tinkle’s son, Tres, had to take a red-shirt season because of a broken wrist in the sixth game of the season against Fresno State. He was averaging 20.2 ppg, 8.3 rpg., and 2.3 apg at the time of the injury. With Tinkle back, the Beavers all of a sudden have their leader in a premium “stat-sheet stuffer” that allows players to remain in normal positions and not get out of their comfort level on the floor.
Key Returnees to watch in the post:
- Dusan Ristic, Arizona
- Drew Eubanks, Oregon State
- Reid Travis, Stanford
- Michael Humphrey, Stanford
- Thomas Welsh, UCLA
- Chimezie Metu, USC
- Benny Boatwright, USC
- David Collette, Utah
- Noah Dickerson, Washington
Key Returnees to watch on the perimeter:
- Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Arizona
- Rawle Alkins, Arizona
- Kobi Simmons, Arizona
- Tra Holder, Arizona State
- Shannon Evans, Arizona State
- George King, Colorado
- Don Coleman, Cal
- Aaron Holiday, UCLA
- Shaqquan Aaron, USC
- Jordan McLaughlin, USC
- De’Anthony Melton, USC
- Jonas Matthews, USC
- Elijah Stewart, USC
- Sedrick Barefield, Utah
- Devon Daniels, Utah
- David Crisp, Washington
- Matisse Thybulle, Washington