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2020-21 NCAA Basketball Conference Preview: Pac-12

College hoops season is finally here. After a delayed start, and much scrutiny over how things were being run, the games began on November 25th. This season will certainly provide the NCAA with unprecedented challenges, as many games have already been postponed or canceled just a week in, but the programs are determined to press on. As conference play is still several weeks away, we continue with our conference previews, this week looking at “the conference of champions”, the Pac-12. Check out our other CBB conference previews here: ACC  Big 12  Big East

Individual Conference Awards:

Player of the Year: Remy Martin (Arizona State)

Freshman of the Year: Evan Mobley (USC)

Defensive Player of the Year: N’Faly Dante (Oregon)

Most Improved Player: Chris Duarte (Oregon)

6th Man of the Year: Jaime Jaquez Jr. (UCLA)

First Team All-Conference:

Remy Martin 

Chris Duarte

Chris Smith (UCLA)

Oscar da Silva (Stanford)

Evan Mobley

Second Team:

McKinley Wright IV (Colorado)

Alonzo Verge Jr.  (Arizona State)

Timmy Allen (Utah)

Ziaire Williams (Stanford)

Isaiah Mobley (USC)

Third Team:

Johnny Juzang (UCLA)

Josh Christopher (Arizona State)

Matt Bradley (California)

James Akinjo (Arizona)

N’Faly Dante 

  1. Arizona State (Fourth in 2019-20)

After surprising many with their success last year, Arizona State won’t be sneaking up on anyone in 2020-21. They come in with what is widely considered the most talented roster in the conference, and one of the best teams on paper that Bobby Hurley has coached.

The Sun Devils bring back the engine of their team in preseason All-American guard Remy Martin. His backcourt mate, Alonzo Verge, is also returning, giving them one of the most dynamic offensive backcourts in the country. The big difference this season though is the outstanding incoming freshman talent. Josh Christopher is the 11th ranked prospect by ESPN and one of the highest rated recruits in the program’s history. He is joined by Marcus Bagley, another top-100 recruit and an elite outside shooter. With this upgraded personnel group around Martin, Arizona State promises to be one of the most dangerous offensive teams in college basketball.

The one major hit that they took in the offseason was the loss of their anchor in the middle Romello White, who transferred to Ole Miss. His production will have to be replaced by committee on a team that is relatively thin up front. This team might have their struggles defensively, but if they can figure out that side of the ball they can be one of the best teams in the country.

  1. Oregon (First in 2019-20)

The Payton Pritchard era of Oregon Ducks basketball is finally over. In his senior season, Pritchard was a consensus All-American and led the Ducks to the top spot in the Pac-12. With him now graduated and drafted by the Boston Celtics, the team is not expected to replicate the same level of success they had last year. However, with a strong returning core for the Ducks to build around and a plethora of incoming transfers, Dana Altman still has a very talented group to coach. 

Senior Chris Duarte will be the primary option this season, the number two scorer behind Pritchard last year. N’Faly Dante is expected to make a big step forward and be the interior complement to Duarte on the perimeter. The program’s incoming freshman class is not as strong as it usually is, but they made up for it with acquiring quite a bit of talent from the transfer portal. To begin with, two sit-out transfers from 2019, Eric Williams Jr. and Eugene Omoruyi, are now eligible and should provide high-level production from the wing. This summer they brought in Amauri Hardy from UNLV, and LJ Figueroa, one of the highest valued guards in the transfer portal. With both of them eligible immediately, Oregon looks like a top-15 team in the country, and will have the firepower to stack up with Arizona State.

  1. UCLA (Second in 2019-20)

After losing Jaylen Hands, Moses Brown, and Kris Wilkes after the 2018-19 campaign, UCLA was not expected to be as competitive as they were last year. The Bruins bring back much of the team that got them to the second spot in the Pac-12, and have high expectations entering 2020-21. 

Chris Smith, their leading scorer, decided to stay one more year at school instead of entering the draft, and should be one of the best players in the conference. Sophomores Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Tyger Campbell are expected to be key contributors after strong freshman seasons. Another team that failed to bring in new freshman talent this offseason, the Bruins also looked to the transfer portal for roster upgrades. They were able to grab one of the best players in the crop in Johnny Juzang. He was a highly recruited freshman in 2019 who didn’t get much opportunity to prove what he could do on a loaded Kentucky team. He should provide Mick Cronin with a great secondary scoring option. This team clearly has top-25 level talent, the only reason they may not move up is simply the strength of the conference.

  1. USC (Third in 2019-20)

Few teams in the country, let alone the Pac-12 had as much roster turnover this summer as USC. They lost their five leading scorers from a season ago to graduation or transfer. Luckily, Andy Enfield was able to revamp the roster with several strong acquisitions.

Most notably, for the second season in a row, the Trojans were able to bring in one of the best freshman big men in the country. Evan Mobley was the third ranked player in the ESPN 2020 recruiting rankings, and the brother of current Trojan and 2019 5-star recruit recruit Isaiah Mobley. They also brought in 5 major transfers, four of which will be eligible for this season. Much of the production at guard will likely come from two of the transfers, Drew Peterson and Tahj Eaddy. This will be a team that will for the most part play through their frontcourt on the offensive end though, an approach unusual for the Pac-12. They are expecting Isaiah Mobley to take a big step this season and become the team’s leader after a relatively underwhelming freshman season. Younger brother Evan is expected to be a key contributor right away on both ends of the floor. Quite simply, this USC team goes as the Mobley brothers do this season.

  1. Arizona (Fifth in 2019-20)

It is not every year that Arizona is tied for the most players from any program drafted into the NBA; Yet last year them and Kentucky both sent three players from their schools to the pros. 

It is easy to assume that Arizona would struggle to replace the kind of one-and-done talent they lost in Nico Mannion, Josh Green, and Zeke Nnaji. Yet, in a fortunate turn of events, the Wildcats were able to bring in another elite-level recruiting class. Sean Miller landed five four-star recruits this offseason, revamping this team to be a factor in the conference yet again. These talented freshmen will be paired with James Akinjo and Terrell Brown, two highly sought after transfers from Georgetown and Seattle, respectively. These seven players will make up the majority of the production from the Wildcats, who not only lost three players to the NBA but also their entire starting lineup. This version of the Wildcats might be just as talented as last year, but they will need some time to gel as a unit.

  1. Stanford (Seventh in 2019-20)

After finishing seventh in the conference last year and losing Tyrell Terry to the NBA Draft, it is easy to see why Stanford might be overlooked this season. Yet the Cardinal have several foundational pieces that could help them get back to the NCAA Tournament this year.

Oscar da Silva, who has improved every year he’s been with the program, and is now entering his senior season, will be a reliable and consistent presence, especially on the offensive end. Him, along with Daejon Davis and Bryce Wills create an experienced core that won’t be phased by the unique challenges this season holds. The x-factor in this team has to be Ziaire Williams, one of the highest rated recruits in the history of the program. He should make up for some of the dynamic scoring ability that the team lost with the departure of Terry. Don’t expect this team to be able to compete with the top three programs in the Pac-12, but don’t be surprised if Stanford makes some noise when championship season rolls around.

  1. Colorado (Sixth in 2019-20)

A team that never deviates much from the middle of the conference, don’t expect this year to be much different for Colorado. After finishing sixth last year, they lost two-way star forward Tyler Bey to the NBA Draft. Other than that though, much of their roster remains intact from 2019-20.

McKinley Wright IV, the Buffaloes leading scorer last year, returns, now a senior and the clear leader of the team. They also bring back two other starters, scoring guard D’Shawn Schwartz and power forward Evan Battey. Their key addition is transfer forward Jeriah Horne from Tulsa, who should take some of the scoring burden off of Wright. The Buffaloes also brought in one four-star freshman recruit, Dominique Clifford, a guard from in-state. Overall this seems to be a typical Colorado team. They will get a handful of good wins here or there, but overall will be a middle-of-the-road team.

  1. Utah (Ninth in 2019-20)

After a very successful 2018-19 season for Utah, the program lost a considerable amount of talent to graduation and transfer. Last year they struggled to remain competitive in conference play, dropping to ninth in the standings. The one glimmer of hope was the emergence of Timmy Allen as a legitimate number one option. He averaged 17.3 points and 7.3 rebounds last year, and is expected to have a very productive junior season. 

Unfortunately, it may be a similar script to last year for the team. Utah’s only other double digit scorer from last year, Both Gach, transferred to Minnesota. The team will need sophomore guard Rylan Jones and others to come into their own, especially on the offensive end, if they hope to compete in a conference with such high-level guard play. The good news is, they have a chance to move up in the standings given the makeup of the conference. After the top six teams, there is a rather large drop off in team talent, giving the Utes an opportunity to finish higher than last year despite the lack of depth on paper.

  1. Washington (12th in 2019-20)

The Washington Huskies were quite the phenomenon in the world of college basketball last year. They had two five-star freshman recruits, both of which were drafted in the first round of the NBA Draft this year. Yet the Huskies at the end of the 2019-20 season found themselves dead last in the conference when the season ended. This year, with Jaden McDaniels and Isaiah Stewart gone, along with several other pieces, the team looks a lot different. Quade Green, coming off a half-season suspension, is expected to be the team’s leading scorer. They also bring in two highly rated transfers in J’Raan Brooks from USC and Erik Stevenson from Wichita State. The revamped roster should lead to good things for Mike Hopkins’ team, but they are unlikely to be in the top half of the conference.

  1. Washington State (11th in 2019-20)

Even with one of their best players in the last decade of their program, Washington State could not keep pace with the rest of the conference last year. C.J. Elleby led the team in points, rebounds, blocks, and steals, but was only able to lead the Cougars to 11th in the Pac-12. Elleby has now been drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers, and the Cougars are expected to struggle once again. Talented senior guard Isaac Bonton, who averaged 15.3 points per game last year, will try to replace some of Elleby’s production last year. He will be joined by a team of mostly freshmen and sophomores who will have to take on bigger roles than they might be ready for. Nevertheless, given the lack of talent in the bottom of the conference, they will be able to sneak in a few wins here and there.

  1. California (10th in 2019-20)

Since the departure of Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, and Jabari Bird, California has struggled to bring in top-rated recruits and their record in recent years has suffered accordingly. In the last three years, the Golden Bears haven’t been higher than 10th in the conference. This year doesn’t look like the one that will break the trend either. They only bring in two three-star or better recruits, and no notable transfers. Matt Bradley is the one elite offensive player in this struggling program. He averaged 17.5 points per game last year, and will have to provide even more production than that for the Golden Bears to be anything but a bottom dweller in the conference.

  1. Oregon State (Eighth in 2019-20)

This is not the year to be a fan of Oregon State Basketball. After finishing a mediocre eighth in the conference last year, they lost star big man Tres Tinkle, along with starting forward and third leading scorer Kylor Kelley. They also failed to make any key acquisitions through recruiting or the transfer portal. The hopes of this team will rely on senior guards Ethan Thompson and Zach Reichle. Regardless of how those two perform though, it is likely to be a rebuilding year for Wayne Tinkle and the Beavers. 

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