THE PAC-12 IS BACK, BABY! And, hopefully, it can stay that way, at least through April.
After a few seasons as the laughingstock of the high-major conferences, the Pac-12 cashed in on its potential last season, and was expected to have 5-6 NCAA Tournament teams before the season was shut down. Luckily for the conference, a large chunk of its top players decided to return for one more season, and that puts the floor for many of its teams extremely high. Add in the fact that the conference secured three of the best freshman recruits in the country, and this season looks to be an exciting one.
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However, for as good as the top half of the conference is expected to be, the bottom third will likely be only slightly improved from its atrocious last few years. Teams like California and Washington State are on the right track, but may need another year or two before they lift the bottom of the conference out of the cellar. Overall, though the conference will be one to watch, especially for those who enjoy watching “late” night hoops.
Let’s take a look at how the Pac-12 is shaping up this season. This preview includes preseason power rankings, our burning questions, the top players to watch, and preseason awards predictions.
12. Oregon State Beavers
Last season: 18-13 (7-11 Conf); No. 89 in DPI
Head coach: Wayne Tinkle (7th year with school)
Key returners: Ethan Thompson, Zach Reichle, Alfred Hollins
Notable newcomers: Tariq Silver, Isaiah Johnson
We are probably beating a dead horse at this point, but Wayne Tinkle has been one of the most underachieving head coaches in the Pac-12 over the past decade. Even with some of his stronger rosters, the Beavers have only made the NCAA Tournament once under their current head coach. Now with a heavily depleted roster and not a ton of new talent coming in, it is difficult to imagine Oregon State finishing outside the conference’s bottom two.
Ethan Thompson may be a potential All-Conference Second Team level player, but when he is the clear top option on a roster, there are bigger issues at hand. If Alfred Hollins can become the player we all hope he can be, and the team’s freshman class can step in immediately, we could be looking at a dangerous team. However, even then, it isn’t likely that Oregon State presents anything more than a trap game on the Pac-12 schedule.
11. Washington State Cougars
Last season: 16-16 (6-12 Conf); No. 146 in DPI
Head coach: Kyle Smith (2nd year with school)
Key returners: Isaac Bonton, Tony Miller, Noah Williams
Notable newcomers: Andrej Jakimovski, Carlos Rosario, Dishon Jackson
Washington State basketball has been in shambles for nearly a decade, and Kyle Smith won’t be able to change that overnight. He is still likely the right man for the job, but will need some time to stabilize the roster before the Cougars move up in the conference pecking order. CJ Elleby’s decision to leave for the pros didn’t help matters at all.
There isn’t a single player on this roster who should be viewed as an All-Conference caliber player, at least not at this point in the preseason. That said, there is still a lot of promise on the Cougars roster with Isaac Bonton and Tony Miller being joined by a relatively solid recruiting class. The program shouldn’t be expected to be much more than a respectable opponent at the bottom of the standings this season, but give it a year or two of stability, and this roster could be really good.
10. Washington Huskies
Last season: 15-17 (5-13 Conf); No. 42 in DPI
Head coach: Mike Hopkins (4th year with school)
Key returners: Quade Green, Marcus Tsohonis, Hameir Wright
Notable newcomers: Erik Stevenson, J’Raan Brooks
If you were hoping for the Huskies to rebound significantly after last year’s mess of a season, you may have to keep waiting. Between Naz Carter’s suspension and the lack of any top end recruits, it may take some time for Coach Hopkins to identify a top option to run alongside Quade Green. Either Erik Stevenson or J’Raan Brooks could be that guy, but they don’t provide the same level of high octane offense that Carter was expected to bring.
It is difficult to gauge just how good Mike Hopkins can be as a head coach as he succeeded early in his tenure with the Huskies, but has since whiffed with teams composed of his own recruits. The good news for Hopkins is that Quade Green exited last season looking like the team’s most important player, as their success flipped when he was ruled academically ineligible. So if he can stay on the court this season, the Huskies have the potential to finish higher in the rankings.
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