While the health of star guard Rawle Alkins (10.9 PPG - broken foot) will be something to monitor as the 2017-2018 season draws near, it’s no surprise that Arizona boasts arguably the best backcourt in the conference, as the Wildcats are also finding themselves as legitimate Final Four contenders. Like so many other schools in college basketball now, the main key for Sean Miller’s group will be how the team manages expectations, as well as the current FBI probe centered around the program, which can be a noticeable distraction for a team constantly in the public spotlight. Investigation or not, the combination of proven talents like Alkins, a potential Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate in Allonzo Trier (17.2 PPG) and a steady force in Parker Jackson-Cartwright (5.9 PPG) are enough play-makers in itself and that’s not even counting four-star freshman Brandon Randolph and UNC-Asheville transfer Dylan Smith (13.5 PPG). Talent? Depth? Balance? Versatility? Experience? Check. Check. Check. Check. And check. Sean Miller has all the pieces in place down in Tucson.
2. USC Trojans
Head coach Andy Enfield will boast one of the most talented USC rosters to ever take the court in the City of Angels, headlined by what could be one of the most intirguing back-courts in all of college basketball. The focal point of the group will remain play-maker Jordan McLaughlin (12.9 PPG), who also led the team with a remarkable 5.5 assists per contest a season ago. McLaughlin, who grew by leaps and bounds as a leader a season ago, will combine naturally to split ball-handling duties with Duke transfer Derryck Thornton (7.1 PPG), who was a budding talent during his one year with the Blue Devils. Add a core of Elijah Stewart (12.3 PPG), De’Anthony Melton (8.3 PPG) and five-star prospect Charles O’Bannon Jr. to the mix behind that excitable duo and Oregon State will have their hands more than full, trying to contain all of the Trojans’ options on game-day.
A group that once again this season will probably be over-worked and under-loved, it’s important to recognize just how difficult the St. John’s duo of Shamorie Ponds (17.4 PPG) and Marcus LoVett (15.9 PPG) will be to contain for the Beavers, as the Red Storm combo of sophomore play-makers are as good as they come. Both rising stars are problematic and shifty guards, who thrive in isolation situations with their abilities to break-down defenses and make plays for both themselves and their teammates. As clearly demonstrated a season ago, one of the Beavers’ biggest defensive issues on the perimeter was simply keeping the ball in front of them and not exposing the back-line of help defenders. If Oregon State can’t control the high-scoring tandem, there’s a real possibility that they start the Advocare Invitational off on the wrong foot and likely will find themselves in another game against Long Beach State.
While Arizona State may still be a few steps away from being considered a lock for an NCAA Tournament bid, the Sun Devils are one of the more enigmatic teams in the Pac-12, as they enter year three of the Bobby Hurley era in Tempe. One of the key duos expected to help Arizona State get over the hump this season is the backcourt combination of Tra Holder (16.2 PPG) and Shannon Evans II (15.0 PPG), two of the league’s most gifted all-around guards. Both Holder and Evans II have scored over 1,200 points in their career and both are likely all-league selections, who will carry heavy workloads from the get-go. At the end of the day however, the Sun Devils will need some reinforcements behind their veteran duo and the biggest contributor of that bunch could come from freshman guard Remy Martin, who is coming off a very successful high school career at California’s Sierra Canyon High School. Martin is believed to be a plug-and-play talent, who plays with both a refined finishing ability and a natural ferocity on the floor.
5. UCLA Bruins
The Lonzo Ball (14.6 PPG), Bryce Alford (15.5 PPG) and Isaac Hamilton (14.1 PPG) show may be over in Westwood but that doesn’t mean that the cupboard is bare at all for Steve Alford. Instead, the Bruins program leader will need to replace three ball-controlling talents with a core of team-oriented guards, headlined by returner Aaron Holiday (12.3 PPG). With the Bruins open-and-free style of play, instant-impact recruits like Jaylen Hands, a five-star prospect, will find their need to contribute mightily from the get-go. Hands, who comes to the City of Angels along with fellow five-star commit Kris Wilkes, could be one of the best freshman in the country, as he’s expected to thrive within the Bruins offensive-approach. Wilkes, a fellow five-star prospect, is a towering 6’ 8” talent will play his own role in an open UCLA back-court, as will LiAngelo Ball, a lesser-heralded “Ball brother”, who is still a probable plug-and-play talent. UCLA may not have the depth that some other teams on this list have, but they definitely have the top-tier talent to be considered as one of the Pac-12’s best.