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The Daily Wildcat

 

Conference outlook: Arizona basketball top dog for Pac-12 next season

When forward Aaron Gordon— the No. 4 overall recruit in ESPN’s 2013 rankings- committed to the Arizona men’s basketball team, the Wildcats firmly took control of the Pac-12 heading into next season.

After some curious pro decisions, coaching changes and transfers the UA still reigns supreme, at least on paper, but several other teams will push the Wildcats in the upcoming year.

Here now, is the current conference outlook for the 2013-14 basketball season.

Unquestioned favorite

Arizona (27-8, 12-6) / No. 6-seed NCAA Tournament [Sweet 16]

Notable additions: 5-star PF Aaron Gordon (4); 5-star SF Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (16); 4-star SG Elliott Pitts (100); PG T.J. McConnell (transfer/Duquesne); C Matt Korcheck (transfer/Cochise College)

Notable losses: SF Solomon Hill (senior); PG Mark Lyons (senior); SF Kevin Parrom (senior); PF Grant Jerrett (freshman/draft); C Angelo Chol (sophomore/transfer)

Outlook:

With Gordon’s announcement , Arizona jumped from being potentially great next season to becoming one of the elite teams in the country. The Pac-12 should continue its upward trend in 2013, but the Wildcats are clearly the gem of the class.

A ton of talent is leaving Tucson (Hill, Lyons and Parrom), but even more is coming in. Two more McDonald’s All-Americans are joining an already talent-heavy frontcourt. While McConnell isn’t the dynamic scorer Lyons was, he has the perfect skill set to lead one of the tallest teams in the country.

This past season Arizona talked about having a target on its back. With another top recruiting class headed to the McKale Center, the bull’s eye just got a whole lot bigger.

Of course, the loss of Jerrett and Chol leaves Arizona without an embarrassment of riches inside. Still, the Wildcats will have plenty of talent, even with the two big men gone.

Contenders

UCLA (25-10, 13-5) / No. 6-seed NCAA Tournament [2nd-round loss]

Notable additions: 4-star (50) PG Zach LaVine; SG Bryce Alford (3-star); SF Noah Allen (3-star)

Notable losses: Larry Drew II (senior), Shabazz Muhammad (declared/draft)

Outlook:

Unlike last season, the Bruins aren’t bringing in a top-three recruiting class. What UCLA will have, though, is a new vibe around Westwood with former New Mexico coach Steve Alford in town.

If guard Kyle Anderson stays (like he said) and guard Jordan Adams fully recovers from a broken foot, the Bruins will again be a formidable challenger for the Pac-12 crown. They have a solid recruiting class entering (though the decommitment of Allerik Freeman hurts) and only Drew and Muhammad left. The added stability of Alford could help UCLA repeat as Pac-12 champions.

Yet for that to happen, someone like Anderson will need to make “the jump” to the next level. UCLA should be really good; it’s hard to tell if they’ll be great — and it’ll need to be to overtake the Wildcats.

Colorado (21-12, 10-8) No. 10 seed NCAA Tournament [2nd-round]

Notable additions: 4-star SF Tre’Shaun Fletcher (78); PF Dustin Thomas (4-star); SG Jaron Hopkins (3-star)

Notable losses: F Andre Roberson (junior/draft); G Sabatino Chen (senior)

Outlook:

In all honesty, 2012-13 was a disappointing season for Colorado. The Buffaloes started off great, putting together a great non-conference resume and began conference play as a top-tier team.

Things then started to go downhill. Sure, CU had some nice wins, but it finished fifth in the Pac-12 and was knocked out in its opening tournament game by Illinois.

Next season’s team looked destined for greatness as a March Madness-caliber squad returned along with two four-stars recruits, including a top-100 prospect in Fletcher. That all changed when star forward Roberson left early for the draft.

Roberson averaged a double-double the past two season and is an incredible talent. Colorado will still be good, the Buffaloes just won’t be great. In the Pac-12, good won’t be good enough.

Dark horses

Stanford (19-15, 9-9) / No. 4-seed NIT [2nd-round]

Notable additions: PF Schuyler Rimmer (3-star); SG Marcus Allen (3-star); PG Malcolm Allen (2-star)

Notable losses: G Gabriel Harris (senior)

Outlook:

Stanford was dangerous — but ultimately mediocre — last season. With almost the entire core group of players returning, the Cardinal will have a chance to resurrect its middling 2012-13 season.

The only player leaving is the minimally used Harris (10.6 minutes per game). Of course, not much is coming in, either. Or at least no impact freshmen.

Stanford will be the wily veteran in the league, which gives it some dark horse potential. The Cardinal lacks the talent of the teams around it, but experience could help Stanford sneak into the Pac-12 title discussion if Arizona trips a few times in conference play.

Washington (18-16, 9-9) / No. 6-seed NIT [1st-round]

Notable additions: 5-star PG Nigel Williams-Gross (20); SG Darin Johnson (3-star); PG Jahmel Taylor (3-star); F Perris Blackwell (transfer/San Francisco)

Notable losses: PG Abdul Gaddy (senior); C Aziz N’Diaye (senior); G Scott Suggs (senior)

Outlook:

Last season was the worst for the Huskies since 2007-08 and the third lowest win total in Lorenzo Romar’s tenure. The future looks much brighter for Washington with Williams-Gross coming in and leading-scorer C.J. Wilcox returning for a senior campaign.

Unlike Stanford, though, Washington really embraces the dark horse profile. No matter what happens, Stanford will be good; you can’t say the same thing about the Huskies. The three departing seniors contributed roughly 32 of the teams’ 68 points per game, N’Diaye was the team’s top rebounder and Gaddy led UW with 4.6 assists per game.

If Williams-Gross can be an impact player immediately, he and Wilcox will combine for a deadly backcourt. Add that to the great home advantage in Seattle and Washington can be back to fighting for the title.

If the freshman isn’t what people project, the Huskies most likely will be a sub 20-win team and NIT bound.

Cal (21-12, 12-6) / No. 12-seed NCAA Tournament [3rd-round]

Notable additions: 5-star SG Jabari Bird (19); SG Sam Singer (3-star); SG Jordan Mathews (3-star); C Kameron Rooks (3-star)

Notable losses: G Allen Crabbe (declared/draft); F Robert Thurman (senior); G Brandon Smith (senior) F Bak Bak (senior)

Outlook:

Cal caught fire late in the year and finished tied for second in the conference. It went on to add an opening-game upset of No. 5-seed UNLV in the NCAA Tournament to complete the late-season surge.

Entering 2013, the Golden Bears were planning to be without a couple senior role players in Thurman, Smith and Bak — something the team can easily overcome.

But Cal received the news that Allen Crabbe, the Pac-12 Player of the Year, will forgo his senior year and head to the NBA. Without Crabbe, the Golden Bears fall from contender status to most likely a middle of the pack team.

The only reason the Cal squeaks into the dark horse conversation is that an extremely talented player in Jabari Bird will fill the void left by Crabbe. The McDonald’s All-American will play alongside Justin Cobbs in what is still a very talented backcourt.

However, Cal went from being a ranked team to fighting for a long-shot bubble spot thanks to the decision by Crabbe. With how well he played last year, though, the veteran shooting guard deserved his shot at the NBA.

Competitive fighters

Oregon (28-9, 12-6) No. 12-seed NCAA Tournament [Sweet 16]

Notable additions: F Mike Moser (transfer/UNLV); 4-star PF Jordan Bell (79); SF A.J. Lapray (3-star)

Notable losses: PF Arsalan Kazemi (senior); SF E.J. Singler (senior); F Carlos Emory (senior); C Tony Woods (senior)

Outlook:

Despite having no true No. 1 option, Oregon nearly captured the Pac-12 title and had its best season since 2006 when Ernie Kent was in charge and the Ducks made it all the way to the Elite Eight.

Head coach Dana Altman won Pac-12 Coach of the Year and a team built on depth made it all the way to the Sweet 16.

But, again, Oregon was built on that “team” concept and a good chuck of the team won’t be back in 2013. Four of UO’s top five scorers are gone, and while Bell and Lapray replace the experience with young talent, it just won’t be enough.

Point guard Dominic Artis and small forward Damyean Dotson will make Oregon competitive and in no way an easy out at Knight Arena. Also, the addition of Moser is a huge get for Oregon.

The former Runnin’ Rebel averaged 14.0 and 10.5 as a sophomore before hip and elbow injuries resulted in a steep decline last year. Without Moser, Oregon was destined for mediocrity at best. With him, the Ducks could slip into Dark Horse category — it’s better to be safe than sorry, though.

Arizona State (22-13, 9-9) No. 3-seed NIT [2nd-round]

Notable additions: SG Chance Murray (2-star); SF Egor Koulechov (2-star); F Richie Edwards (transfer/Valparaiso)

Notable losses: G-F Carrick Felix (senior); PG Chris Colvin (senior); C Ruslan Pateev (senior); SG Evan Gordon (transfer/Indiana)

Outlook:

Entering the offseason, the Sun Devils knew a talented guard would most likely leave Tempe. And, with the dust setttled, they were right.

Fortunately for Arizona State, that guard was Gordon, not Carson. Last season Gordon was a solid role player and a nice addition to the team. Carson was the team.

Last season ASU flirted with the NCAA Tournament before ultimately making the NIT. The Sun Devils might slip into the field now with Carson returning. Especially if center Jordan Bachynski continues to defend the hoop at a record-breaking level.

USC (14-18, 9-9 Pac-12)

Notable additions: PG Julian Jacobs (3-star); PF Nikola Jovanovic (3-star); SF Roschon Prince (3-star)

Notable losses: SF Eric Wise (senior); G Jio Fontan (senior); F Aaron Fuller (senior); Renaldo Woolridge (senior); C James Blasczyk (senior)

Outlook:

USC is very difficult to read: a new coach in Andy Enfield (Florida Gulf Coast) is coming across country to invigorate some energy into the program and the Trojans already showed a lot more fight at the end of the season.

But, they also lose a pretty decent amount of talent, as top scorer Wise (11.9 ppg) and the leading minutes man Fontan (33.0 mpg) won’t be back.

The cupboard isn’t empty since J.T. Terrell, Byron Wesley and a few others return to Los Angeles. It’s just not enough to seriously contend.

Most likely USC will bounce between decent and bad throughout the year, much like in 2012-13. The Trojans just have enough talent and potential to avoid being labeled as a bottom-feeder.

Top-team fodder

Oregon State (14-18, 4-14)

Notable additions: C Cheikh N’diaye (2-star); SG Hallice Cooke (2-star)

Notable losses: F-C Joe Burton (senior)

Outlook:

Not much went right for head coach Craig Robinson and Oregon State last year. The Beavers won most of their games during a ridiculously easy nonconference schedule and only had one impressive win all season — in the final game of the regular season at Colorado.

Things should probably improve in 2013-14 with only the big man Burton departing from Corvallis, Ore.

Still, the Beavers didn’t show enough on the court to really be taken seriously and unless seniors Devon Collier and Robert Nelson take their game to another level, it will be another lackluster year for Oregon State. Plus, its recruiting class leaves a lot to be desired.

Robinson’s seat might start getting hot in the near future.

Utah (15-18, 5-13)

Notable additions: SG Parker Van Dyke (3-star); SG Brandon Miller (3-star); Ahmad Fields (2-star); C Harry Whitt (transfer/Southern Illinois)

Notable losses: G Jarred DuBois (senior); C Jason Washburn (senior); Cedric Martin (guard)

Outlook:

After a miserable opening campaign for Utah in the Pac-12, 2012-13 was a huge upgrade. While a 5-13 record doesn’t really reflect that, the Utes managed to push a lot of teams to the edge. They could just never finish the upset.

The Utes even won four of its last five and freshman Jordan Loveridge showed some flashes last year. With more experience and a decent recruiting class, it seems like Utah is getting ready to turn a corner.

But, it’s not quite time for the jump to happen. DuBois (12.4 ppg) and Washburn (11.9 ppg), the team’s first and third scoring option, are leaving and there isn’t enough talent to make up for it.

In a few years Utah could start approaching a .500 record in the conference; it just won’t happen next year.

Bottom-feeder

Washington State (13-19, 4-14)

Notable additions: PG Ikenna Iroegbu (3-star); PF Tanner Lancona (3-star); Josh Hawkinson (3-star); C Jordan Railey (transfer/Iowa State)

Notable losses: F Brock Motum (senior); Mike Ladd (senior)

Outlook:

Somehow head coach Ken Bone survived a 13-19 season last year, one where the Cougars lost nine straight and 11 of 12 in the conference. Even with a great player in Motum, Washington State finished in a last place tie with Oregon State and had the worst overall record in the Pac-12.

WSU does have a solid recruiting class coming in, but the loss of Motum will keep the Cougars squarely at the bottom of the conference. Heck, its other graduate, Ladd, finished third on the team in scoring.

To be fair to Bone, he’s had a winning season in three of his first four years and is slightly over .500 in his career in Pullman (70-65).

With how next years’ team looks on paper, that winning record might disappear and along with it Bone’s job.

-Kyle Johnson is a journalism senior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu or on Twitter via @KyleJohnsonUA.

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