Pac-12 preview: Oregon, Arizona could be Final Four contenders
- Oregon and Arizona—assuming their stars are healthy and eligible—appear to be the two of the top West Coast teams again this year.
Sports Illustrated’s 2016–17 preview is guided by data from our College Basketball Projection System, a collaboration between economist Dan Hanner and SI’s Luke Winn and Jeremy Fuchs. We project teams on a player-by-player, lineup-based level and then simulate the season 10,000 times to generate our 1–351 national rankings and conference forecasts.
These are the model’s projections for the Pac-12, including individual awards, the teams’ order of finish and (advanced and raw) stats for the top seven players in each school’s rotation.
The Big Picture
The Pac-12 hasn’t produced a Final Four team other than UCLA since 2001, and Oregon and Arizona are both candidates to end that drought this season. At the very least, they’ll start ‘16–17 ranked in the top 10, while UCLA and Cal have enough talent to crack the top 25. The league drops off precipitously after that, and there’s a chance it’ll only get four teams in to the 2017 NCAA tournament.
Player of the Year: Ivan Rabb, Cal
Rabb projects to average 18.3 points and 9.7 boards—making him the major-conference big man closest to 20-and-10—with a 119.7 offensive rating. He was an efficient role player last season while Jaylen Brown and Jordan Mathews dominated the offense, and there’s a chance Cal’s scoring attack could be better off with Rabb as its centerpiece. He’s hardly a lock for Pac-12 POY, though: Oregon’s Dillon Brooks, if he’s not slowed by a foot injury, will provide stiff competition, as will the guy who’s projected to win the next award. . . .
Newcomer of the Year: Markelle Fultz, Washington
Fultz averaged a stunning 21.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists on the Huskies’ exhibition tour of Australia in August, and we project his freshman-year stat line to be in that range: 18.2 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 5.2 assists. Washington’s fast pace will inflate his numbers a bit, but Fultz is also a transcendent talent who’s the favorite to go No. 1 overall in the 2017 NBA draft. The biggest thing holding him back in awards races is the fact that the Huskies aren’t likely to be an NCAA tournament team.
All-Conference Team & Sixth Man
PG: Markelle Fultz, Washington
SG: Allonzo Trier, Arizonar
SF: Dillon Brooks, Oregon
PF: Chris Boucher, Oregon
PF: Ivan Rabb, Cal
6th man: SG: Isaac Hamilton, UCLA
Projected Order of Finish
(Projected conference record in parentheses. The tiebreaker for teams with identical records is their standing in SI’s 1–351 national rankings, which will be revealed in early November.)
|Conference Rank||Team||Proj. Conf. Record||’15-16 Conf. Record|
The Skinny on Each Team
1. Oregon (14–4)
As long as Brooks is healthy, this Oregon team should be even stronger than the one that went 31–7 and reached the Elite Eight last season. There’s quality depth at point guard, with Villanova transfer Dylan Ennis and last year’s starter, Casey Benson, likely to share the position. Beanpole big man Chris Boucher, who was by far the nation’s best juco transfer last season, is so efficient as a floor-spacing and floor-running scorer and so valuable as a rim protector that he could join Brooks on the All-Pac-12 team.
2. Arizona (13–5)
This projection is based on a full-strength Wildcats team, but there have been rumors—fueled by his recent removal from a scheduled appearance at Pac-12 media day—that sophomore guard Allonzo Trier’s eligibility is in question. If he’s available, he’s their clear offensive leader and a darkhorse All-America candidate. If Trier is out, SI would drop Arizona to 12–6 in the league, and project talented freshmen Rawle Alkins and Lauri Markkanen to be 1–2 on the team in scoring.
3. UCLA (11–7)
This could be the most entertaining team in the Pac-12, even if it’s not the best. Freshman Lonzo Ball is a playmaker extraordinaire who should make things easier for scoring guards Isaac Hamilton and Bryce Alford, and by swapping the more agile T.J. Leaf into the starting lineup in place of departed giant Tony Parker, the Bruins are expected to play at a higher tempo.
4. California (11–7)
Grant Mullins could be one of the nation’s most valuable graduate transfers. He left Columbia, where he was an efficient, pass-first point guard and 44.1% long-range shooter, to help fill the role vacated by Tyrone Wallace’s graduation. Cal’s interior defense is its biggest strength, as a front line of the 6' 11" Rabb, 7-foot Kameron Rooks and 7' 1" Kingsley Okoroh should provide plenty of rim protection.
5. USC (9–9)
The Trojans went 9–9 in the Pac-12 last year and made the NCAA tournament on the strength of some quality, nonconference wins; we see them finishing the same league record this time around, but on the outside of the tourney bubble. That could change if big men Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu make bigger-than-expected impacts as in expanded roles as sophomores.
6. Utah (9–9)
It’s Kyle Kuzma’s time to become Utah’s offensive leader: The 6' 9" junior spent his first two seasons complementing eventual first-round draft picks Jakob Poeltl and Delon Wright, but he’s ready to score at a higher level. The Utes are getting an impact transfer in forward David Collette, who was Utah State’s most effective scorer two seasons ago and is capable of translating that performance to the Pac-12 when he gets eligible in December.
7. Colorado (8–10)
Our projection model did not see George King coming last season. The 6' 6" wing had an awful freshman season in ‘13–14, voluntarily took the following year off as a redshirt . . . and remade himself into an elite three-point shooter and the Buffaloes’ best perimeter scorer. He’s likely to lead them in points per game now that Josh Scott has moved on to the pros.
8. Washington (8–10)
Fultz can’t do everything on offense for the Huskies, and sophomore wing Dominic Green might be the breakout scorer they need to complement their blue-chip freshman. Green got off to a slow start at Washington in ‘15–16, and was mostly buried on the bench of for the first few months, but he averaged 10.3 points on their tour of Australia and should earn enough minutes to get close to double-digits this season.
9. Oregon State (7–11)
With ball-dominating guard Gary Payton II now competing for a roster spot with the Rockets, Stevie Thompson is set for a huge scoring increase from the 10.6 ppg he averaged as a freshman. The 6' 4" sophomore guard is a rising star and could be a multi-year all-conference performer for the Beavers.
10. Stanford (7–11)
Jerrod Haase left UAB to take over a Cardinal team that was anemic on offense in ‘15–16, but has a lot of yet-to-be-maximized talent. There are five former top-100 RSCI recruits on the roster, including power forward Reid Travis, who only played eight games last season due to a stress reaction in his left leg. When fully healthy, he’s their best rebounder and best overall player.
|Marcus Sheffield||So||SG /SF||7.5||2.8||1.0||101.0||23%||45%|
11. Arizona State (7–11)
How valuable is junior point guard Shannon Evans to coach Bobby Hurley? Two seasons ago, Evans led Hurley’s Buffalo team to the NCAA tournament and helped the coach land the Arizona State job. Evans then transferred to ASU, where he projects to start in their backcourt and be their second-leading scorer.
12. Washington State (4–14)
The Cougars went 1–17 in the Pac-12 last year, so this is an improvement, but the overall outlook is bleak. There just isn’t enough talent around 6' 10" power forward Josh Hawkinson, who projects to average a double-double for the second straight season, for them to get out of the cellar.