OUTLOOK: Out west the hardwood has really taken a backseat to the gridiron recently in what is supposed to be one of the power six conferences. Last year however, the Pac-12 bounced back. After having just two NCAA Tournament teams in 2012, the league earned three at-large bids and teams like Oregon and Arizona made runs to the Sweet 16. It is still a little too soon to say that the league is back to the national prominence it once enjoyed, but with a cast of exciting newcomers at a number of prestigious locations (UCLA and Arizona especially) it should at least be boasting another solid class of NCAA Tournament teams.
There should also be a long list of teams that have a realistic chance at hoisting a Pac-12 championship banner. At the lead is Arizona. While Kansas has Andrew Wiggins and Duke has Jabari Parker, the Wildcats have their own blue-chip recruit that is already being heralded as a future NBA star in Aaron Gordon. The freshman phenom will come in with a few other newcomers expected to contribute early to complement a team that was a last-minute 3-pointer away from advancing to the Elite Eight last March.
The Wildcats will certainly have their hands full trying to fend off the rest of the league. Steve Alford moved over after a successful run as the head coach at New Mexico and is now looking to pick up the pieces at UCLA. Those pieces are still plenty talented despite one-and-done Shabazz Muhammad jettisoning to the NBA, as expected, in the spring. That is especially true if Jordan Adams comes back strong from injury. Arizona State quietly won 22 games last season and boasts two of the more talented players in the conference in speedster Jahii Carson and shot-blocker Jordan Bachynski. If there is one team that will make the climb it’s the Sun Devils. Colorado has suddenly, and quite surprisingly, turned into one of the premier programs in the Pac-12 with back- to-back entries into the NCAA Tournament. Even though the versatile Andre Roberson is gone, the Buffaloes should be back in the mix.
The second-tier of contenders is no less promising. Like Arizona, Oregon also pushed its way to the Sweet 16 last year and Dana Altman has coached the Ducks to improved win totals in each of the three years he has been on the bench. A wealth of backcourt riches means the Ducks will keep flying. Stanford has four starters back from a 19-win campaign and a few talented recruits that could make noise. California lost Pac-12 Player of the Year Allen Crabbe but Justin Cobbs is next in line, while up in Seattle heralded recruit Nigel Williams-Goss and sharpshooter Chris Wilcox give Washington a chance to be special.