All throughout the weekend here on BTD I will be focusing on previewing the college basketball season. Today: Predicting the Surprises of the Pac-12. Enjoy!
Arizona - In my opinion, the overreaction to the loss of Derrick Williams has been unnecessary. Yes, Williams was a force and he will be missed, especially on defense. But the Wildcats still return Kyle Fogg, Solomon Hill, and Jesse Perry, and with the additions of sure one-and-done point guard Josiah Turner and shooting guard Nick Johnson, I don't see how Arizona can be stopped on offense.
Besides for Turner and Johnson, Arizona also adds forward Sidiki Johnson and Angelo Chol, meaning this team can go ten or eleven deep comfortably, depending on the availability of Kevin Parrom. With that much talent, there is no way the Cats finish outside of the top two in the Pac-12.
I have Arizona going 23-6 this year, with their losses coming against Florida, Gonzaga, UCLA, Colorado, California, and Washington. They will miss duplicate games against the Oregon and Bay Area schools, which are usually good for two additional losses. In the end, I think Arizona finishes at a close-second behind California, with the defacto conference championship game coming on February 2nd in Berkeley.
Oregon - Hopes are high in Eugene this season, with a sixth or seventh place finish in the Pac-12 being predicted by most people around the country. I actually think the Ducks will surpass those expectations, most likely finishing fifth, or possibly, even as high as fourth. Freshman guard Jabari Brown will need to make an immediate impact early on if the Ducks are to have a good year, andI do not see any reason why Brown can't make that impact.
Other impact players on this year's team will be senior forward Olu Asholu and junior forward E.J. Singler. Asholu comes by way of Louisiana Tech, who is able to play immmediatelyafter transferring last year since he has already graduated. To show you how talented he is, Olu averaged 14.2 PPG at LA Tech last year and was considering transferring to Texas or going to the NBA before finally deciding to Eugene. Also down low is Singler, who averaged 11.7 PPG last year and will be looked upon to lead this team in tough early season games against Vanderbilt, Nebraska, and BYU.
Oregon's toughest games of the eason will be their November 11th meeting with Vanderbilt in Nashville and their January 14th game in Tucson against Arizona. Those are almost sure-losses for the Ducks, but we will get to see just how talented they are when they match up against the BYU Cougars on December 3rd in Salt Lake City. The Ducks will miss the Arizona and Los Angeles schools in duplicate games this year.
My final surprise team is after the break
Oregon State - Once again we have a team will only be a one or two spot surprise, but it will be a big jump for them nevertheless. The Beavers are being picked to finish seventh or eighth around by the pundits around the country, but I think at least a sixth place finish is in order for this talented team. Oregon State will be led by junior guard Jared Cunningham, who could even turn pro after this season if he has a huge year. Joining him in this electric backcourt will be Ahmad Starks, an on and off again sprak-plug of a three point shooter, and Roberto Nelson, who finally started living up to expectations in the final three games of the 2010-2011 season.
There is potential for greatness down in the paint, but the key to a great year for the Beavers will be whether or not Joe Burton and Devon Collier can turn that potential into consistent talent. Burton had a great season rebounding the ball but needs to improve on his passes and touch by the rim, while Collier just needs to tighten up everything. If these two can't get it together or need a rest, Angus Brandt is a solid option coming off the bench.
The toughest games for Oregon State will come on November 19th against Texas and January 12th at Arizona. If the Beavers can split those two games, it could be the difference between going to the NIT or being left out.