Arizona is the No. 1 team in SI.com's Pac-12 basketball preview, followed by Utah, Stanford, UCLA and Colorado.
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 -- read more about it here -- we've projected the conference standings and the top seven scorers from each team. Today we look at the Pac-12, which should have a healthy competition for second place behind Arizona.
Projected conference race
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Coach of the year: Larry Krystkowiak, Utah
Arizona is the obvious favorite to win the conference, but the Utes could make a run for second place. Jordan Loveridge and Delon Wright are the nucleus of a team whose minimum goal should be making the NCAAs. It was only three seasons ago, you’ll recall, that Krystowiak’s team won three conference games and posted an 11th-place finish in league play. The “team on the rise” narrative, should it come to fruition, will be tough to resist.
Player of the year: Chasson Randle, Stanford
With Dwight Powell and Josh Huestis moving on, coach Johnny Dawkins should give Randle the keys to the Cardinal’s offense. All other things being equal, lots of shots translates to lots of points, which should keep the senior floor leader in the discussion even if Stanford take a step back this season. If the Cardinal can push Colorado, Utah or whichever other team emerges for one of the top spots in the league standings, Randle will have an even stronger case.
Freshman of the year: Stanley Johnson, Arizona
You can’t really go wrong by picking the best freshman on the league’s best team. The Wildcats are so balanced that they won’t need anyone to score in bulk, but Johnson has the athleticism and talent to shine right away. A physical wing with improving skills, Johnson will pose matchup problems on offense while serving as a perimeter stopper on the other end of the floor. The highlights dunks we know Johnson’s capable of certainly won’t hurt his candidacy.
It’s a testament to Sean Miller’s recruiting that the Wildcats lost last year’s conference player of the year (Nick Johnson) and a top-five NBA draft pick (Aaron Gordon) and still return as the clear favorite to win the Pac-12. Arizona brings back skilled point guard T.J. McConnell along with a deep frontcourt and welcomes in a recruiting class highlighted by likely future first-round pick Stanley Johnson.
The Utes have improved their win total every season since Larry Krystkowiak was hired – from six in 2011-12, to 15 in 2012-13 to 21 last season. Could this be the year Utah breaks through with a tourney bid? It should be. Delon Wright and Jordan Loveridge form one of the best one-two punches in the league, and Utah returns essentially all of its key contributors from last year.
Coach Johnny Dawkins responded to the hot seat talk by leading his team to an upset of Kansas en route to the Sweet 16. Whether the Cardinal can build off that run will hinge on how they adapt to losing Dwight Powell and Josh Huestis to the NBA. Expect Stanford to lean on point guard Chasson Randle, one of SI.com’s the top projected scorers in the country.
Steve Alford had the luxury of coaching three first-round draft picks in his first season in charge of the Bruins. Regression seems inevitable this year, but leaps from guards Norman Powell and Bryce Alford as well as big man Tony Parker coupled with immediate contributions from a heralded recruiting class and now-eligible sophomore guard Isaac Hamilton should keep the Bruins in the top half of the conference.
The Buffaloes stumbled a bit after Spencer Dinwiddie went down with a torn ACL in January but recovered to secure a tourney birth. The injury may have slowed Tad Boyle’s team at the time, but it also allowed for a trial run of Life Without Dinwiddie. This year, the Buffs will look to Josh Scott, Askia Booker and Xavier Johnson to drive their push for a top-three league finish.
The Ducks endured a tumultuous offseason that included the dismissal of three players following rape allegations, the arrest of two others for shoplifting and a pair of recruits not enrolling. With such a depleted roster, Oregon should turn its offense into the Joseph Young Show. The senior guard averaged 18.9 points and posted an impressive 128.6 offensive rating while using 24.1 percent of available possessions last season.
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Cuonzo Martin left Tennessee to become Cal’s head coach after thousands of Vols fans signed a petition asking the school to rehire Bruce Pearl. Despite losing floor leader Justin Cobbs, the Bears have enough perimeter talent – Tyrone Wallace, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews comprise a formidable trio – to help Martin avoid a rocky transition into his new job. But their lack of depth in the frontcourt is troubling.
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Point guard Nigel Williams-Goss decided to return to Washington after reportedly considering turning pro. The Huskies also bring back big man Jernard Jarreau, who missed virtually all of last year with a torn ACL. A backcourt anchored by Williams-Goss and Andrew Andrews and a frontcourt featuring Jarreau and Fresno State transfer Robert Upshaw should give Washington enough to push for its first tourney bid in four years.
This is shaping up as a transition season for the Sun Devils, who reached the NCAA tournament last year for the first time since 2009. Jahii Carson opted to go pro and Jordan Bachynski and Jermaine Marshall also departed. Arizona State will hope leading returning scorer Shaquielle McKissic and a host of junior-college transfers including ex-UNLV forward Savon Goodman (eligible in December) can help prevent a major dip.
Year 2 of Dunk City architect Andy Enfield’s tenure doesn’t promise to be much more exciting than Year 1. After winning 11 games and finishing last in the league last season, the Trojans lost wing Byron Wesley to transfer along with three other top scorers. The bright side? Freshman point guard Jordan McLaughlin and UNLV transfer Katin Reinhardt give the Trojans the makings of a formidable backcourt.
Ken Bone was fired following five seasons in which the Cougs only once posted a winning percentage of at least .500 in conference play. To replace Bone, AD Bill Moos tabbed former Oregon coach Ernie Kent (Moos also hired Kent at Oregon in 1997). Kent’s path to league title contention is steep, but Wazzu does return two of its top three scorers in DaVonte Lacy and Que Johnson.
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The Beavers made headlines this offseason when they landed verbal commitments from three top-150 recruits on the same day. The bad news is that none of those players will be eligible this season. For new coach Wayne Tinkle, formerly of Montana, keeping his team out of the league cellar in 2014-15 will prove challenging given everyone from last season’s roster who averaged more than 18 minutes took off.