Pac-12 men’s basketball preview: Arizona reloads, Colorado and Utah look to play spoiler
The Pac-12 conference got back on track in 2014, putting six teams in the NCAA Tournament, but faces another rebuilding season this year.
UCLA, Stanford, Arizona State and Oregon each lost huge chunks of their production from a year ago. The Bruins are faced with replacing three first round NBA draft picks, Stanford saw two of its three best players drafted, Arizona State lost star point guard Jahii Carson, while the Ducks were decimated by off-the-court issues.
However, the Pac-12’s best national contender, Arizona, lost Aaron Gordon, the No. 4 overall pick in the NBA draft and reigning Pac-12 player Nick Johnson, but still reloaded to produce a potential No. 1 seed for the Pac-12.
The Wildcats return center Kaleb Tarczewski (9.9 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1 bpg), point guard T.J. McConnell (8.4 ppg, 5.3 apg) as well as forwards Brandon Ashley (11.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg) and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (9.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg). True freshman Stanley Johnson, ESPN’s No.7 overall recruit,
will look to replace Nick Johnson and round out the dominant defensive team with his offensive prowess.
Behind Arizona, Colorado, Stanford and Utah represent the next-tier of contenders for the conference title.
The Buffs already have worked toward replacing their leading scorer and NBA draft pick Spencer Dinwiddie after he went down with an ACL injury in the beginning of Pac-12 play. Guard Askia Booker (13.7 ppg, 3.3 apg), forward Josh Scott (14.1 ppg, 8.4 rpg) and swing-man Xavier Johnson (12 ppg, 5.9 rpg) lead the way for Colorado, who should be a serious contender for a NCAA tournament bid.
Stanford made some noise in the 2014 NCAA tournament after upsetting No. 2 seed Kansas to reach the Sweet Sixteen, but head coach Johnny Dawkins is faced with replacing Josh Huestis (11.2 ppg, 8.2 rpg) and Dwight Powell (14 ppg, 6.9 rpg) in 2015. He’ll have to look to senior guard Chasson Randle (18.8 ppg) and versatile swing-man Anthony Brown (12.3 ppg, 5 rpg) for scoring in the backcourt, while forward Stefan Nastic (7.4 ppg, 2.8 rpg) holds down the frontcourt for the Cardinal.
Wooden Award candidate Delon Wright leads Utah(15.5 ppg, 5.3 apg, 2.5 spg, 1.3 bpg). Wright really did it all for the Utes a year ago. He will look for help from forward Jordan Loveridge (14.7 ppg, 7 rpg, 2.3 apg), but Wright will be the Utes’ entire team in 2015.
The rest of the conference is entirely up for grabs, meaning that there are a lot of questions still lingering about the rest of the field.
UCLA’s Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams and Zach LaVine are all gone, meaning Norman Powell (11.4 ppg) will be the Bruins’ top scorer. Freshman forward Kevon Looney will have to step up big alongside returners Bryce Alford (8 ppg) and Tony Parker (6.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg) if UCLA wants to contend for an NCAA tournament bid.
Cal returns Tyrone Wallace (11.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg) and Jabari Bird (8.3 ppg), but first-year head coach Cuonzo Martin has big shoes to fill after Mike Montgomery retired at the end of last season.
At the bottom half of the conference, Washington has to fill C.J. Wilcox’s 18.3 ppg, Arizona State needs to replace not only Carson, but shot-blocker Jordan Bachynski, and former Oregon head coach Ernie Kent will make his debut as the new Washington State head coach.
USC’s head coach Andy Enfield will have to improve on his 2-16 Pac-12 record from 2014, while new Oregon State head coach Wayne Tinkle is faced with rebuilding the depleted program.
After a handful of competent teams at the top end of the league, the Pac-12 is faced with another down-year as a middle-of-the-pack conference.
Follow Josh Schlichter on Twitter @joshschlichter
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