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Pac-12 Basketball: UCLA No. 2 in Preseason AP Poll

But only one other Pac-12 team ranked in the top 25

Pac-12 basketball has regained national respect. Well, sort of.

UCLA, which returns everyone from its surprising run to the Final Four last spring, is ranked No. 2 in the Associated Press preseason media poll released Monday. Only Gonzaga is ranked ahead of the Bruins, who received eight first-place votes.

Last year, no Pac-12 team was ranked in the top 15 in the preseason poll, and UCLA’s ranking is the Pac-12’s highest preseason ranking since Arizona was No. 2 to start the 2014-15 season.

However . . . .

Only two Pac-12 teams are among the top 25 this year, with Oregon coming in at No. 13. Last year, three Pac-12 teams were in the top 25 before the season began. Back in 2007-08, when the conference was acknowledged as a basketball power, six Pac-10 teams were in the preseason top-25.

UCLA’s high ranking is based entirely on its NCAA tournament performance. The Bruins finished only fourth in the Pac-12 standings, lost to Oregon State in their first conference tournament game, dropped their final four games before the NCAA tournament and barely made it into the NCAA tournament field, forced to play a preliminary game as a No. 11 seed.

In the final AP rankings before the NCAA tournament, UCLA was not among the 39 teams that received votes. Cleveland State, Winthrop and UC Santa Barbara got votes, but not UCLA.

But the Bruins won five games in the NCAA tournament, including wins over Michigan State, Alabama and Michigan, before losing to top-seeded Gonzaga in overtime in the national semifinals.

When postseason star Johnny Juzang opted to return this year rather than turn pro, it meant that every UCLA player who played in last season’s postseason was back. Chris Smith and Jalen Hill are not back after starting games last season, but neither was available for the NCAA tournament.

Plus the Bruins added freshman swingman Peyton Watson, a top-15 recruit who is the Pac-12’s highest-rated recruit this year, and 6-foot-10 center Myles Johnson, a transfer from Rutgers.

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Oregon, meanwhile, remains highly rated thanks to transfers. The addition of Quincy Guerrier, who was at Syracuse last season, and De’Vion Harmon, an Oklahoma transfer, and Jacob Young, who moved West from Rutgers, has, in the minds of AP voters, made up for the loss of Chris Duarte and Eugene Omoyuri.

Cal faces UCLA twice this season – Jan. 8 in Berkeley and Jan. 27 in Los Angeles. The Golden Bears play Oregon only once – Feb. 12 in Eugene, Oregon.

One other ranked team Cal might play is Ohio State, who is 17th in the preseason AP poll. Cal faces Florida on Nov. 22 in in the Rocket Mortgage Ft. Myers Tip-Off event, and two days later the Golden Bears will meet either Seton Hall or Ohio State.

Former Cal standout Justice Sueing was a starter for the Buckeyes last season and figures to be one of their top players this season after averaging 10.7 points last season.

Two other Pac-12 teams – USC and Arizona – barely missed earning a ranking, with the Trojans coming in 28th in the voting and Arizona 29th.

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Cover photo by Johnny Juzang is by Kelley L Cox, USA TODAY Sports

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Follow Jake Curtis of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jakecurtis53

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