1. Oregon Ducks
To think that a likely all-league talent in Payton Pritchard, a future first-round NBA Draft pick in Kenny Wooten and one of the country’s most feared group of freshmen will all be mashing up in Eugene next season, is really not something that Beaver Nation will want to have on their mind for a while. Although, that’s exactly what Dana Altman has assembled with the Ducks. You gotta give it to them on this one, Oregon may have the best roster in the “Conference of Champions”.
Teams of the Pac-12, it’s time to start fearing the zone. Mike Hopkins wasted no time installing the signature defense he brought over from Syracuse into the culture at Washington and it wrecked a bit of havoc last season in disjointing some of the league’s more free-flowing offenses. If Hopkins gets the full trio of Noah Dickerson, Jaylen Nowell and Matisse Thybulle to all return to campus, there’s no reason the Huskies aren’t a trendy pick to win the league.
3. UCLA Bruins
It’ll be now or never for Steve Alford in Westwood, who once again brought in a highly-touted recruiting class to potentially give the Bruins a chance to be playing deep into March. Between seven-footer Moses Brown, versatile power forward Shareef O’Neal and point guard Tyger Campbell, UCLA has the three main focus points of next year’s team. Oh yeah, and that’s not even counting three more prolific freshman in David Singleton, Jules Bernard and Kenneth Nwuba.
The biggest challenge facing Arizona heading into the 2018-2019 campaign will begin with burying the hatchet and putting the chaos of the 2017-2018 season behind them. Sean Miller couldn’t escape both the strong play and the distractions surrounding Deandre Ayton, who’s now off to the NBA, and will need to shape up almost a completely new roster. However, this year’s model looks to be one more fitting on Miller’s mold, which has brought him to 59 wins in the past two years.
Bobby Hurley’s gritty and hard-nosed style has finally converted over to the recruiting trail, where Sun Devils program leader snagged a quartet of four-star prospects in Canadian guard Luguentz Dort, 7’ 1” center Uros Plavsic, Finnish swingman Elias Valtonen and former USC commit Taeshon Cherry. It’s hard to argue that this year’s group may be the most raw and young talent that he’s ever had in Tempe, which should play into the soon-to-be-fourth-year head coach’s hand.
6. USC Trojans
It was easy to over-hype USC heading into last season, when a seemingly talent-loaded roster on paper was an intriguing Pac-12 pick. It’ll be hard to make the same mistake again with the Trojans, especially considering the fact that Chimezie Metu’s recent NBA combine invite probably shows his future direction. Getting big man Bennie Boatwright to return is needed to lead a young roster filled with future stars. It’s on Andy Enfield now to make it all into one cohesive mix.
7. Utah Utes
It may have taken a deep NIT run to achieve, but Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak compiled his fifth-straight twenty-win season with the Utes in 2017-2018, displaying his staying power in the “Conference of Champions”. Krystkowiak has developed a knack for bringing key transfers and developing big men into his program and he won’t stray from that blueprint going forward. The key now for this Utes team is finding their way back to the big dance for the first time since 2016.
Projected to be the breakthrough group in Pac-12 a year ago with a collection of veteran talents, Stanford didn’t quite live up to the hype and now faces a crossroad entering the third campaign of the Jerod Haase era. This ranking in our list comes with the assumption that forward Reid Travis returns to Palo Alto (an optimistic thought for Stanford fans) and that Haase can build on the style of team-oriented play that the Cardinal exhibited when Travis was last healthy.
The fact that forward Drew Eubanks stood by his decision to enter the 2018 NBA Draft makes things all that more confusing for the 2018-2019 Beavers outlook. Tres Tinkle is still a complete force to be reckoned with on the interior and Stephen Thompson Jr. is still one of the league’s best guards but behind them (sans some an intriguing sophomore group), there’s not too much to be excited about. Oregon State needs to find depth and get off to a hot start.
With a sub-.500 season, Colorado head coach Tad Boyle could find himself in a perplexing position, considering the fact that the Buffs program has been trending downward since their 2016 NCAA Tournament trip. Boyle relied heavily on freshman McKinley Wright IV last season, even more than senior George King at times, which proved the talent on this roster is deeper than it looks. The growth of this unit will have to be rapid to keep from treading water in the Pac-12 hunt.
The Golden Bears won’t be helped by the loss of Don Coleman to transfer (South Alabama), who was one of the best surprises in the league a season ago. Head coach Wyking Jones will have to throw many new pieces into the fire, including what could become a brand new starting line-up. Rising sophomore forward Justice Seuing may become the focal piece for California offensively, which will be good for the 6’ 7” talent, but probably won’t add to the overall success of the squad.
What a brutal time it’s been for Ernie Kent since he’s taken over the reigns in Pullman. Kent has been unable to draw much talent (outside Malachi Flynn) to Washington State and when he does, nobody seems to stay in town much too long. This off-season alone, Kent has seen four players leave the program, including NBA prospect Robert Franks, who will likely remain in the draft. The cupboard isn’t getting bare for the Cougars, it’s completely empty at this point.