And we all thought the Pac-12 was bad last season.
With Jared Cunningham’s announcement on Monday that he will be entering the NBA Draft, the conference will see nearly a complete exodus of its top talent. Four of the top five scorers from last season are gone, with Tony Wroten and Terrence Ross of Washington joining Oregon State’s Cunningham as early entry candidates while Oregon’s Devoe Joseph has (finally) used up all of his eligibility.
That list doesn’t include Pac-12 Player of the Year Jorge Gutierrez, who, along with Harper Kamp, will graduate from Cal. It also doesn’t give you the full depth of the talent drain: if Trent Lockett goes through with his transfer from Arizona State, that means that 11 of the top 20 scorers will not return to the Pac-12 next season.
Considering that the Pac-12 barely sent two teams to the NCAA tournament last season — Cal snuck into one of the at-large play-in games — and had arguably the most disappointing season for a major conference, any expectation you have for next season may be too high.
In addition to the conference’s top two teams — Washington and Cal — losing two of their key cogs, Pac-12 tournament champ Colorado graduates two of its top three scorers and as well as a third starter.
So how come no one has written the Pac-12’s obituary yet?
With Gabe York, Brandon Ashely, Kaleb Tarczewski and Grant Jerrett entering the program next season, Arizona adds one of the country’s best freshmen crops to what should be a decent core. Nick Johnson and Angelo Chol will be a year better as sophomores, Kevin Parrom and Jordin Mayes should finally be healthy, and the consistent Solomon Hill will be back for his senior campaign. If Sean Miller can somehow get through to Josiah Turner, Arizona has the talent to be a top 15 team.
Don’t forget about UCLA, either. Even if the Bruins whiff on Shabazz Muhammad and Tony Parker, they still add Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams to a good-but-not-great roster that includes Tyler Lamb, the Wear twins, Larry Drew and Joshua Smith. I know there are an awful lot of ‘ifs’ involved with the Bruins — if they land Shabazz, if they can get Drew to play as a point guard, if Smith gets into shape, if Ben Howland can find his coaching groove again — but if they catch a couple of breaks, there is potential in Westwood.
There is the potential for the top of the Pac-12 to be improved next season, but potential doesn’t always yield success.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.