The preseason PAC-12 power ranking for 2019-20 shows promise to be an exciting year for the PAC-12 Conference coming off of a down period where it became an afterthought and mid-major schools like Gonzaga, Nevada, and St. Mary’s created most of the buzz from West Coast basketball.
Power Ranking the PAC-12
This season opens the Mark Fox era in Berkeley, and the big question is whether the coach who impressed at Nevada in the late 2000s should’ve simply waited for a PAC-12 job to open rather than going to Georgia where he disappointed. Big picture aside, Cal is in rebuilding mode coming off a last-place finish.
Last season they finished with a record of 8-23 and 1-17 in the conference. Fox’s recruiting class this season is nothing to write home about and he’ll rely upon holdovers Paris Austin and Matt Bradley to try to help the Bears improve on their sad 2018-19 record.
11. Washington State
A new coach is also taking over in Pullman by the name of Kyle Smith. He made the University of San Francisco competitive in the West Coast Conference. Smith inherits some skilled performers in CJ Elleby and Marvin Cannon. It might take some time for Smith to institute his system and make the Cougars a player but it would not be a surprise if Smith can match some or all of the accomplishments of one of his predecessors, Tony Bennett.
The basketball news has not been good coming out of Palo Alto lately and, unfortunately, 2019-20 does not appear to be bringing much hope for the Cardinal. Jerod Haase appears to be coaching for his job. It appears the Cardina made the blunder of the decade firing Johnny Dawkins, and with programs like Oregon and Washington brining in top recruiting classes, it will be a big ask for Stanford to hope to compete.
They did bring in a good point guard recruit in Tyrell Terry to complement returning players including Oscar Da Silva and Daejon Davis. Unfortunately, it appears Stanford will finish in the bottom half of the PAC-12, miss the NCAAs, and be on the lookout for a new coach come March.
The Utes come off a down year that saw them finish 17–14 overall but 11-7 in the conference which was good for third place. However, it was not nearly enough to snag an at-large bid.
Larry Krystkowiak hopes to build upon his success by riding new players such as Brendan Wenzel, Rylan Jones, and Mikael Jantuen. It will be interesting to see whether the Utes have the firepower necessary to battle the top teams in the conference night in and night out given how improved some of the teams they finished higher than last season.
One of the more interesting “under the radar” storylines this season will be how Mick Croningets his Bruins team to play after the disaster that befell the “Sons of Westwood” under Steve Alford the last couple of seasons.
Cronin is off to a good start recruiting for the 2020 class but what will be interesting to watch is how his players and the UCLA fans embrace the hard-nosed, grind it out style that characterized his teams at Cincinnati.
Some players to watch for UCLA include Shareef O’Neal and Prince Ali. While the talent will not be spectacular this season, the hope is that the new culture will make the Bruins a team to be reckoned with.
7. Oregon State
With all the hype surrounding their in-state rivals from Eugene, it’d behoove people not to sleep on Wayne Tinkle and his Oregon State team. The Beavers come off a solid, if not spectacular 18-13 overall record in 2018-19. They were 10-8 in the conference which allowed them to tie the Ducks for a fourth-place although it did not bring an NCAA bid.
The Beavers return two of the three leading scorers from last year in Tres Tinkle and Ethan Thompson. One other factor that might help Oregon State is nine of its 20 conference games will come two nights after their opponent will have played Oregon. This is due to the PAC-12s continuing “travel partners” arrangement. This may allow them to catch teams tired from battling the Ducks earlier that week.
Any other season there would be a buzz about a team like Colorado being a favorite to win a conference title. Especially after a season seeing them tie for fourth and making a run to the last eight in the NIT. Maybe as things play out, the Buffaloes could surprise people and contend for the top of the PAC-12.
The expectations were high in Los Angeles when USC hired Andy Enfield fresh off of Florida Gulf Coast’s improbable Sweet 16 run in 2013. Unfortunately for the Trojans, the last six seasons have resulted in only one NCAA tournament bid which featured a loss in the First Four in 2017.
Enfield has attempted to redeem himself by recruiting a good class in 2019 including Isaiah Mobley and Onyeka Okongwu. Ultimately the success of USC will rest of their ability to bring a maximum effort to every game and not have letdowns against lesser opponents. They face a big test to that early January when they travel to cross-town rival UCLA for the Bruins’ home, conference opener.
4. Arizona State
Houston Rockets’ star James Harden’s former alma mater, the Arizona State Sun Devils, will attempt to counter the size and athleticism of their PAC-12 rivals the way their coach, Bobby Hurley, did in his days at Duke with the wisdom of experience and the excellence of execution. It is in that vein that Arizona State will depend on returning guards Remy Martin and Rob Edwards to match their good seasons in 2018-19 in the hopes of leading their team back towards the top of the PAC-12 and to another NCAA bid.
One thing that can be said about a Bobby Hurley team is that they will not beat themselves. An opponent will have to bring their “A” game if they hope to beat the Sun Devils.
For most of the last two seasons, the Wildcats and their coach Sean Miller have been under the cloud of an NCAA investigation into illegal recruiting. The storm has apparently subsided and Arizona can try to get back to what they do best – trying to dominate PAC-12 opponents and making NCAA Tournament runs.
In 2019-20 Miller will call upon a mix of hot new recruits such as Brandon Williams along with talented holdovers such as Chase Jeter in the hopes of redeeming the Wildcats from the disappointments of the last two years. The question now is whether Miller has the coaching chops, free from distraction to continue the winning legacy in Tucson or whether having the reins of an elite program is too much to handle.
The 2018-19 season was a mixed bag. They dominated conference play but had a very uneven March losing unexpectedly to cellar-dwelling California. That loss was in the PAC-12 tournament semifinals. However, they turned it around by winning their First Round matchup in the NCAA Tournament versus hard-charging Utah State.
Mike Hopkins scored an impressive recruiting class including NBA big man prospects Jaden McDaniels and Isaiah Stewart. It’s also likely that the 2-3 zone employed by Hopkins could serve to frustrate some of the younger teams in the conference and give Washington the foundation to continue their solid run at or near the top of the PAC-12.
As opposed to their neighbors to the north from Washington who struggled in March, the Oregon Ducks came alive by winning the PAC-12 Tournament. They then parlayed their automatic bid into an unexpected Sweet 16 run culminating in giving the eventual champions from Virginia all they could handle in the South regionals.
To follow up on that success Dana Altman has recruited one of the top five classes in the country. It includes big men N’Faly Dante and CJ Walker as well as highly regarded shooting guard Addison Patterson.
The real question for the Ducks may not be whether or not they can win the PAC-12 but whether they can repeat the accomplishments of the 2017 Oregon team that made it to the Final Four. Whatever the results, Oregon will be one of the most exciting teams to follow not only for college basketball fans but also for fans of the NBA Draft. Oregon will have quite a few high-level prospects in the 2020 NBA Draft.
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