Beginning in October and running up through November 13th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2015-2016 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.
Today, we are previewing the Pac-12.
Sean Miller’s Arizona Wildcats were expected to win the Pac-12 in 2014-15 and that’s exactly how things played out, with Arizona winning the league’s regular season and tournament titles while leading the way in both offensive and defensive efficiency. But with four starters from that 34-4 team having moved on, the Wildcats will have a much different look this season even with the amount of talent added by Miller and his staff. That opens the door for other contenders, with multiple teams having the combination of returnees and newcomers needed to make a run at the Pac-12 crown.
FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:
1. Two decisions within a four-week span changed California’s expectations in a big way: With Tyrone Wallace, Jordan Mathews and Jabari Bird back and Georgetown transfer Stephen Domingo eligible to play, California was in a position to rebound from a tough 2014-15 season. But things changed when five-star prospects Ivan Rabb and Jaylen Brown committed within a four-week period to play for Cuonzo Martin. Now the Golden Bears are a team many have pegged as capable of not only winning the Pac-12 but making waves nationally as well.
2. Arizona reloads with a combination of transfers and highly touted freshmen: With T.J. McConnell being a senior and Stanley Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Brandon Ashley expected to be headed to the pro ranks, Arizona prepared for the likelihood that they’d have a lot of holes to fill in their roster. So Arizona added a quartet of quality freshmen led by guard Allonzo Trier, a grad student in former San Francisco combo forward Mark Tollefsen, and two transfers who sat out last season in Kadeem Allen (redshirted after arriving from Hutchinson CC) and Ryan Anderson (Boston College). This group will join returnees led by senior center Kaleb Tarczewski in hopes of keeping the Wildcats on top of the Pac-12.
3. Bobby Hurley takes over at Arizona State: There was just one coaching change in the Pac-12, with Arizona State moving on from Herb Sendek and bringing in one of the greatest point guards in college basketball history. Hurley may have only two years of college head coaching experience under his belt but they were a productive two years, as he led Buffalo to 19 wins in 2013-14 and an NCAA tournament appearance last season. A tough non-conference schedule will test the Sun Devils before Pac-12 play begins, but Hurley can call upon players such as guards Tra Holder and Gerry Blakes and forward Savon Goodman in his debut in Tempe.
4. Just two first team All Pac-12 selections from last season return: Only the aforementioned Wallace, who’s an early frontrunner for Pac-12 Player of the Year, and Oregon State senior guard Gary Payton II (who, amidst some controversy, won Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year) return to campus this season. And of the five players who earned second team all-conference honors only two (Oregon forward Elgin Cook and Utah guard Brandon Taylor) are back. That opens up a lot of slots for those two teams, especially with the conference placing ten players on its first team.
5. Oregon State added one of the best recruiting classes in program history: Much of the focus on this group will be on Tres Tinkle and Stephen Thompson Jr., due not only to their talent but also the fact that their fathers are on staff at OSU. Head coach Wayne Tinkle landed a six-member freshman class expected to give the program the additional depth and talent they missed a season ago. Oregon State won 17 games in Tinkle’s debut, and with all five starters back (led by Payton) they could make a run at the program’s first NCAA bid since 1990.
- Favorite: “Nine of the 12 teams are returning at least three starters, so most of the teams are returning a lot of experience and a lot of those teams had good seasons on top of that. I think the league’s going to be deeper than it was last year, and I thought it was good last year. I expect Arizona, Cal, UCLA, Utah and Oregon that either return a lot or are bringing in a lot of heralded players. So I think those are the teams people are expecting to have really strong seasons.”
- Best player: “I think Tyrone Wallace is poised to have a really good year. He’s a senior, and all the experience he’s gained I expect him to have a big year. Jakob Poeltl’s poised to have a really good sophomore season as he’s really talented, and I think Josh Scott too. The injuries really slowed his (junior) year down, and you could tell he just wasn’t right. If he’s healthy he’s formidable as well.”
- Most underrated player: “A player who to me doesn’t get the respect he really deserves is Bryce Alford. I think the expectations on him are so high, and having competed against him and watching his game I think he’s an underrated player.”
PRESEASON PAC-12 PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Tyrone Wallace, California
Wallace returns to Berkeley as one of the top point guards (and players, period) in the country. As a junior the Bakersfield native averaged 17.1 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game, and he was named a finalist for the Bob Cousy Award as a result. With the amount of talent around him, Wallace will be able to continue to be a playmaker while not having as much pressure on him to score.
THE REST OF THE ALL PAC-12 FIRST TEAM:
- Gary Payton II, Oregon State: Payton ranked first on his team in scoring, rebounding and steals and second in assists and blocks last season.
- Jaylen Brown, California: In a conference that won’t lack for talented freshmen, this Georgia native may be the best of the bunch. He’ll play multiple positions for the Golden Bears.
- Elgin Cook, Oregon: One could argue that teammate Dillon Brooks would be a good choice here. But don’t overlook Cook, who averaged 13.0 points and 5.2 rebounds per game last season.
- Jakob Poeltl, Utah: Poeltl (9.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg) didn’t land on either all-conference team last season, but he’s added some weight and has the tools needed to make sure that doesn’t happen this time around.
FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:
- Ryan Anderson and Ray Smith, Arizona
- Bryce Alford and Jonah Bolden, UCLA
- Brandon Taylor, Utah
- Tyler Dorsey, Oregon
- Ivan Rabb, California
BREAKOUT STAR: Dillon Brooks, Oregon
Brooks was one of the top freshmen in the Pac-12 last season, averaging 11.5 points and 4.9 rebounds per contest. He, like teammate Tyler Dorsey (Greece), made a positive impression at the FIBA U19 World Championships (18.8 ppg) this summer and earned a spot on Canada’s silver medal squad at the Pan-American games as well. With Joseph Young in the NBA the Ducks will need Brooks to step forward as a scorer, and he’s capable of doing so.
COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Lorenzo Romar, Washington
The Huskies haven’t reached the NCAA tournament since 2011 and they missed out on postseason play in each of the last two years. What works in Romar’s favor is the fact that they’ve recruited well in the 2015 class, and they’ve got a five-star prospect in Markelle Fultz coming in next season. The Huskies will be very young this year, which may provide a buffer of sorts for the coaching staff.
ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : can any of these team’s end the Pac-12’s Final Four dry spell?
I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT : the race for the Pac-12 title, which should be tight throughout.
FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:
- December 3, Kentucky at UCLA
- December 4, Oregon vs. UNLV (at MGM Grand, Las Vegas)
- December 5, Arizona at Gonzaga
- December 19, Utah vs. Duke (in New York)
- December 22, California at Virginia
ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @pachoopsab
1. Arizona: The newcomers may be the focus, but mainstays such as Tarczewski, Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Gabe York will be just as important for this group.
2. Oregon: Losing Joseph Young hurts, but their returnees don’t lack for talent and the additions have given them needed depth on the perimeter (Dorsey, Dylan Ennis) and in the paint (Chris Boucher).
3. California: The talent is most certainly there for a Pac-12 title run. But do the Golden Bears have the interior depth (Kameron Rooks missed last season with a torn ACL) they need to get it done?
4. Utah: The one starter who didn’t return (Delon Wright) was a huge factor, but the Runnin’ Utes have enough back to make this prediction look conservative come March.
5. UCLA: The additions of Aaron Holiday and Jonah Bolden certainly help as the Bruins look to account for the loss of NBA draft pick Norman Parker.
6. Oregon State: Is this the year that Oregon State’s NCAA tournament drought ends? It could be, depending upon how the newcomers and returnees mesh.
7. Arizona State: Four of the team’s top five scorers from last season return, and South Plains JC transfer gives them another perimeter scoring option.
8. Colorado: Josh Scott’s one of the top post players in the Pac-12. But the Buffaloes will need breakthrough seasons from Dominique Collier and George King in light of Xavier Johnson’s Achilles injury.
9. USC: The Trojans are young but they won’t lack for talent, especially with freshman forwards Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu in the fold. They need Jordan McLaughlin to stay healthy though.
10. Stanford: The triumvirate of Chasson Randle, Anthony Brown and Stefan Nastic have moved on, leaving Johnny Dawkins with a young team that includes sophomores Robert Cartwright, Reid Travis and Michael Humphrey.
11. Washington: Senior guard Andrew Andrews will lead an incredibly young team, with freshmen such as Dejounte Murray, Marquese Chriss and Noah Dickerson among those who will compete for minutes.
12. Washington State: Josh Hawkinson, the league’s most improved player last season, is back as are two other starters. But the loss of DaVonte’ Lacy leaves a big void for Ernie Kent to account for.