1. Oregon Ducks
Yes, I know Beaver fans don’t want to see this, but the fact is, Oregon is one of the front runners to be national champions next season.
Oregon had a key loss in starting point guard Maite Cazorla but immediately replaced her with former USC starting point guard Minyon Moore via grad transfer. Moore was a killer defender last season making the Pac 12 all-defensive team and led the Trojans in scoring at 14.8 points per game. She’ll be slotted to take over Cazorla’s spot in the starting rotation next year.
The Ducks bring back basically every major player from their Final Four team last season including Wooden Award winner Sabrina Ionescu, forward Ruthy Hebard, and forward Satou Sabally.
The Ducks averaged an astounding 84.9 points a game last season and shot 41.5 percent from three. I don’t see Oregon losing any of that production this season so it’s safe to say, whoever is going to take down the Ducks next season is going to have to do it with great effort on the defensive end.
2. Oregon State Beavers
The sky is the limit for Oregon State in 2019. The Beavers suffer two key loses in guard, Katie McWilliams and center, Joanna Grymek, but bring back most of their nucleus from last year’s team including Mikayla Pivec, Destiny Slocum, Aleah Goodman, and get shooting guard Kat Tudor back from an ACL injury at some point next season.
Oregon State is also adding three talented freshmen to the front court in 6-9 center, Jelena Mitrovic, 6-3 post, Taylor Jones, and 6-6 post Kennedy Brown. Brown was Oregon State’s first McDonald’s All-American to sign with the Beavers and was ranked as the 20th best player in the nation by ESPN.
Oregon State averaged 75.1 points per game last season and shot 37.6 percent from three. I think the front court help that the Beavers are getting from the three incoming freshman and potential emergence of the highest rated recruit in Oregon State history, redshirt freshman, 6-9 center, Andrea Aquino, will only help the Beavers scoring in 2019. Although Oregon State was still one of nations the best three-point shooting teams in 2018, I think their percentage will go up from last season following their late season slump from the arc and with the return of Kat Tudor, arguably the best shooter in the country.
The Beavers are the biggest threat to Oregon next season. When they are shooting well, they can score with anyone in the country, and Scott Rueck’s defense (when executed correctly) is enough to halter the Ducks enough for the Beavers to earn at least one victory against them next season. If everything goes right, I see the Beavers getting to at least the Sweet 16 for the third consecutive season, but depending on what seed and matchup’s OSU gets in the tournament, they could potentially make a run at a national championship.
3. Stanford Cardinal
The Cardinal are losing two of its best players from last season in Alanna Smith and Marta Sniezek, but whenever you have Tara VanDerveer as a head coach, you are always going to be a threat.
It also helps that the Cardinal signed four top 50 recruits including the number one overall prospect according to ESPN in 6-1 wing, Haley Jones.
Last year’s Stanford team finished 31-5, losing in the Elite Eight to eventual national runner-up Notre Dame. The Cardinal were stout on defense only allowing 60.9 points a game and holding their opponents to shooting just 35.8 percent from the field. Their offense was no pushover either as the Cardinal averaged 74.1 points a game.
I think that Haley Jones and the 19th ranked recruit according to ESPN, 6-1 forward, Francesca Belibi, will help the Cardinal score on the inside and will allow them to kick the ball out for open shots.
The Cardinal are a threat to both Oregon and the Beaves next year and are a potential Final Four team.
4. UCLA Bruins
UCLA was a bit of a surprise last season, making it all the way to the Sweet 16 after losing two stars from the 2017 team in Jordin Canada and Monique Billings. The Bruins finished the season 22-13, losing to UConn 61-69 but led going into the fourth quarter.
This season UCLA loses two more stars in guard Kennedy Burke and forward Lajahna Drummer, but brings back leading scorer, 6-0 junior forward, Michaela Onyenwere (18.3 points per game) and 5-6 senior guard, Japreece Dean.
Onyenwere was a proven scorer last season getting to the hoop at will, and Dean hit some extremely clutch threes, late in games, including one against the Beavers in Corvallis last season.
The Bruins also bring in four talented recruits including the 13th overall rated recruit according to ESPN, point guard Jaden Owens, and the 22nd overall rated recruit, point guard Charisma Osborne. The Bruins backcourt should prove to be one that is difficult to stop from scoring next season, but the frontcourt is a bit of a question mark at this point.
I see the Bruins definitely making the tournament next season but for sure fall into the second tier of Pac 12 teams.
5. Arizona Wildcats
Arizona made a splash at the end of last season, racking off six straight wins in route to a WNIT championship. The wildcats were led by sophomore guard Aari McDonald, a first team all-Pac-12 player and finished the season averaging a Pac 12 high, 24.1 points per game. Arizona carried that momentum into the off season, signing four international players, and adding two transfers, Shaina Pellington, the 2017-18 Big 12 freshman of the year and grad transfer Amari Carter from Penn State. Pellington will have to sit out a year due to NCAA transfer rules.
Arizona gave the Beavers a scare with a double overtime battle in Tucson in which Oregon State came out on top, 65-60. Behind McDonald, Arizona is going to be able to score a ton next season, but they’ll have to sure up things on the defensive end if they want to make a splash in the Pac 12 next season.
Either way, the Wildcats have been near the bottom of the Pac 12 for a while now, but it appears that head coach Adia Barnes has them trending up.
6. USC Trojans
USC lost two huge transfers in Minyon Moore and Ja’Tavia Tapley (both of which transferred to Pac 12 schools Oregon and Arizona State).
But what USC lost in grad transfers, they also gained in grad transfers. The Trojans are adding North Carolina grad transfer Stephanie Watts, and Morehead State grad transfer, Aliyah Jeune. Both players give the Trojans outside scoring ability and Jeune is known to be a good perimeter defender as well.
USC also has a very good five player recruiting class coming in, including three top 50 recruits according to ESPN’s rankings. The Trojans will look like a very different team next season after losing 4 starts due to graduation and transfers but I think the talent that they brought in will be enough to keep them in the middle of the pack (no pun intended).
7. Arizona State Sun Devils
ASU has been a thorn in the Beavers side for years. They always seem to have the formula that leads to success against the Beavs. Last season, the Sun Devils beat Oregon State in both of their regular season matchups.
One of the key reasons the Sun Devils had success against the Beavs was Kianna Ibis. Ibis scored 28 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in ASU’s double overtime victory in Corvallis on Jan. 6 and put up 20 points and 8 rebounds in their win against the Beavs in Tempe on Mar. 1.
The good news for the Beavers, Ibis graduated after last season, along with Charnea Johnson-Chapman, and Courtney Ekmark. All three were key contributors to the Sun Devils last season.
ASU did bring in USC grad transfer Ja’Tavia Tapley and added 6-0 wing recruit, Eboni Walker, who is rated as the 44th overall recruit in the nation according to ESPN. Because of that, I still see ASU being competitive in the conference.
8. Utah Utes
Utah had a tough off season, losing do it all big, Megan Huff due to graduation and Pac 12 freshman of the year Dre’Una Edwards due to transfer. Those two players helped Utah finish 6th in the Pac 12 last season, but injuries and stamina issues hindered the Utes down the stretch.
The Utes do pickup a transfer from El-Paso in 6-2 forward, Zuzanna Puc (though she’ll have to sit out due to transfer rules) and add guard Kemery Martin, the 45th overall rated recruit according to ESPN.
I think the Utes are well coached and play a tough brand of basketball. They could be a team to pull off a major upset in the conference next season and maybe mix things up at the top.
9. Cal Golden Bears
Cal has been in the upper echelon of the Pac 12 for years, but two major departures this off season are going to put the Bears back a couple of steps. Head coach Lindsay Gottlieb received the job offer of a lifetime to become an assistant coach of the Cleveland Cavilers, something she just couldn’t turn down. Although I think Cal made a great in house hire of Charmin Smith, it will still take a bit to implement her style into the program.
Cal also lost one of the best forwards in the history of the Pac 12 in first round WNBA draft pick Kristine Anigwe. Anigwe was a huge reason why Cal was able to make the NCAA tournament last season averaging 22.5 points and 16.2(!) rebounds a game.
I think Cal is going to have a tough time replacing Anigwe’ production and is the reason I have them 9th in the power rankings.
10. Washington State Cougars
Washington State is another team that has given the Beavs some trouble over that last couple seasons. They have some talent on the team in 6-0 senior forward, Borislava Hristova, who averaged 19.9 points and 5.5 rebounds a game and 5-9 senior guard, Chanelle Molina, who averaged 15.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 5.1 assists a game last season.
With both of those players coming back, I think the Cougars might be able to challenge some opponents in the Pac 12 next season. Their biggest problem is the bench. When Hristova and Molina inevitably need to go to the bench for rest, the Cougars are hard pressed to find someone to score for them, leading to opponents going on runs.
If the Cougars can find someone to give them a little but of offensive production off the bench, they may find themselves higher on this list as the year goes on.
11. Washington Huskies
Washington was not a great team last season. But they sure played great when they upset the Beavers in the second round of the Pac 12 tournament. The Huskies shot the ball unconsciously from the outside and the Beavers…well…didn’t.
Even though that was just one game of Washington’s 11-21 season last year, it should give them confidence going into 2019.
The Huskies bring back senior leading scorer Amber Melgoza (18.1 points per game) and sophomore Haley Van Dyke became a lot more productive as the season progressed. Those two players should help the Huskies be competitive in some league games. Though I don’t think it’s enough to cause a real shake up at the top of the conference.
12. Colorado Buffalos
The Buffalos might be in for a tough 2019 season. They lost their two leading scorers due to graduation in Kennedy Leonard and Alexis Robinson, but they bring in three recruits that could help them fill that production, especially 6-4 post, Maura Singer, who is rated as he 19th best post in the 2019 class according to ESPN.
We’ll have to wait and see whether the Buffalos are able to improve at all next season because honestly, I’m not sure what to expect out of them.