College basketball conference previews: Pac-12
With the start of college basketball season less than a month away, we're previewing each team in nine conferences. Using a statistical projection system developed by economist Dan Hanner and SI's Luke Winn, which is now in its second season, we've forecast the conference standings and the top seven scorers from each team. Next up is the Pac-12:
Coach of the year: Sean Miller, Arizona
He rebuilds as well as anyone and is a defensive witch doctor, continually getting his teams to lock down opponents. Point guards grow exponentially under him, too. The Wildcats lost four starters, which means some will predict them to finish as runner-up. But after they’ve cruised to a conference title on the backs of newcomers, Miller will pick up another postseason award. What he’ll really want, of course, is his first trip to the Final Four.
Player of the year: Gary Payton II, Oregon State
He’s the best all-around player in the conference, and the reigning defensive POY. Payton II isn’t his father—he doesn’t talk as much trash and isn’t as good a shooter—but he has a terrific nose for the ball, even leading the Beavers in rebounds (7.5) last season. He was No. 1 in the conference in steals (95) and averaged 1.2 blocks per game despite measuring just 6'3". He needs to be a better ball-handler, but can get to the rim and finish in traffic. All he has to do to lock up the award is lead OSU to its first NCAA tournament since 1990.
Freshman of the year: Jaylen Brown, Cal
Brown became the coup of the 2015 recruiting class, when he picked the upstart Bears over Michigan and Kentucky, a shocking choice for a kid from Georgia. Maybe the most talented player in his class and a potential top three pick in next year’s draft, the 6'7", 225-pound forward play his best basketball when attacking the hoop. He can finish through contact and his strength and length make him an almost impossible matchup. He’ll get lots of touches early, and his floor presence instantly elevates the Bears.
Projected conference race
|conference rank||team||projected Conf. record||last year's Conf. record|
Each team’s outlook in about 68 words
Life’s rough for most coaches who lose four starters. It’s easier when you’re Miller, and you get to build around 7-footer Kaleb Tarczewski (9.3 points, 5.2 rebounds per game 2014-15). Tarczewski’s numbers should increase considerably as he becomes a focal point on offense, and senior Gabe York (40% from three) will continue to bomb from long range and potentially lead the team in scoring. Sophomore point guard Jackson-Cartwright needs to develop quickly, and our projections believe he will.
Behold the Pac-12’s two best recruits, Brown and 6'10" forward Ivan Rabb—and the veteran trio they join. The return of senior guard Tyrone Wallace (17.1 points, 7.1 rebounds in 2014-15), junior wings Jordan Matthews (13.6 points, 44.3% from three) and Jabari Bird (10.5 ppg), coupled with the standout rookies make the Bears an instant contender—for the conference title, and for a deep NCAA tourney run.
Delon Wright is gone, but 7-footer Jakob Poeltl is back—and he’s about to become one of the best players in the country. Poeltl has a go-to sky hook and counter move now, and should increase his production (9.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg) as he learns to stay out of foul trouble (he averaged 23.3 minutes a game last season). Look for 6'8", 200-pound sophomore Brekkott Chapman to break out.
As usual, the Ducks have a couple transfers expected to contribute immediately. Chris Boucher, a 6'10" junior forward who was the NJCAA national player of the year at Northwest College (Wyoming) last year, and 6'2" senior Dylan Ennis, a guard from Villanova, will help UO. Freshman Tyler Dorsey, who broke out while playing for Greece at FIBA's U19 World Championship this summer, will contribute right away as well. It’ll take time to gel offensively, so Oregon will lean on its defense early—and that means sophomore Jordan Bell will be busy blocking shots.
The Bruins have to replace the conference’s leading rebounder in the departed Kevon Looney, which means sophomore Thomas Welsh and senior Tony Parker will share much of the load on the boards. If the frontcourt can perform, the backcourt of juniors Bryce Alford (15.4 ppg, 4.9 apg in 2014-15) and Isaac Hamilton (10.6 ppg, 3.2 apg) and freshman Aaron Holiday (younger brother Jrue) could be a nightmare for defenses.
|Gary Payton II||PG/SG||12.6||5.6||3.0||111.7||22%||80%|
The best recruiting class in program history is on campus, but the Beavers will go as Payton II does. The senior guard is very good on his own, but will need help from the newcomers, especially 6'4", 170-pound shooter Stevie Thompson, who’s lethal from long-distance. Big men Jarmal Reid and Tres Tinkle (coach Wayne Tinkle’s son) will play need to become scoring threats inside.
|Marcus Allen||SG /SF||9.8||4.0||1.5||106.0||20%||67%|
The natural assumption would be that Stanford, after winning the 2015 NIT, would take a step forward to the NCAA tourney. But winning without your top three scorers from 2014-15 will be tough. That means Rosco Allen, a 6'9", 200-pound forward from Hungary has to be tough to guard—inside and out. The Cardinal will rely on a balanced attack in which five players are projected to average better than 7 points a game, but none more than 11.
The biggest name in the Sun Devil program this year is one who won’t be playing—coach Bobby Hurley, who starts his Tempe tenure after an impressive run at Buffalo. He doesn’t have a ton to work with, so junior forward Savon Goodman (11.2 points, 7.6 rebounds) has to stay healthy and stuff the stat sheet. Juco transfer Andre Spight, a 6'3" guard, brings with him his excellent outside shooting.
The Buffs’ biggest challenge in 2015-16: Stay healthy. After an injury-filled 2014-15 season, Colorado suffered another loss in the off-season when swingman Xavier Johnson tore his Achilles. Now the Buffs return just one double-digit scorer. Senior forward Josh Scott, who averaged 14.5 points and 8.4 rebounds, will have to carry the team.
The “Dunk City” hype is over, and third-year coach Andy Enfield needs to get a few Pac-12 wins on his resume ASAP. The Trojans should be able to improve (there’s plenty of room to rise after a 3-15 record in Pac-12 play) because they return their top nine scorers and a pair of highly-touted freshmen forwards in Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu, who both measure 6'10". It’ll help to have sophomore guard Jordan McLaughlin (multiple shoulder issues) healthy.
Fourteenth-year coach Lorenzo Romar’s hot seat gets hotter with each loss and each empty seat in the Huskies’ arena. A top-10 recruiting class could quell the calls for a coaching change. Senior 6'2" guard Andrew Andrews is the returning leader in three statistical categories (15 ppg, 4.3 rpg and 2.2 apg) and freshman 6'4" slasher Dejounte Murray, a local prep standout, has one-and-done potential.
Wazzu will live and die with the play of 6'10" forward Josh Hawkinson, a junior who averaged 14.7 points and 10.8 rebounds last season. The Cougars don’t have much experience around him, which means they’ll rely on a bevy of novices, including juco transfer Conor Clifford, a 7-footer. Junior guard Ike Iroegbu, who connected on 43.5% of his shots, should become a more consistent scoring threat.