- Ky McKeon
Pac 12 Preview
- Oregon State
- Arizona State
- Washington State
All Conference Awards
POY: Ivan Rabb, California
Coach of the Year: Sean Miller, Arizona
Newcomer of the Year: Markelle Fultz, Washington
Key Returners: Dillon Brooks, Chris Boucher, Tyler Dorsey, Jordan Bell, Casey Benson
Key Losses: Elgin Cook, Dwayne Benjamin
Key Newcomers: Payton Pritchard, Keith Smith, Michael Cage, Jr., Kavell Bigby-Williams
Postseason Projection: 1 - 2 Seed
In the past 18 seasons, Dana Altman’s teams have won less than twenty games only one time. In his six years at Oregon, that number shrinks to zero. Altman’s teams have never been the most talented, but they are always well-coached. At Oregon, Altman has had only one NBA draft pick at his disposal (Joseph Young) and his recruiting classes have never been much to awe over. Despite these inhibitors, Altman has found a way to win consistently and has built the foundation of a potential Pac-12 dynasty at the University of Oregon. Last year’s Ducks squad was the school’s best basketball team since its 1939 Championship squad (and I’d argue it was even better than that – it’s 1939, come on). With such success it would seem the Oregon program has reached its precipice and would start on its gradual cliff dive during the 2016-17 season. The problem with that way of thinking is that it ignores the fact that Ducks can fly – instead of falling off the cliff this year, the Ducks will soar even higher in 2016-17 and be even better than the season prior. Sorry that was a pretty shitty play on words – on to the preview.
How does a 1-seed that won 31 games improve? Well for starters, the Ducks bring back nearly everyone from last year save for senior leader Elgin Cook and role player Dwayne Benjamin. While these subtractions certainly hurt, Oregon makes up for its losses with the addition of four talented newcomers and the promise of a natural improvement from its star players. As it was last season, Oregon’s success will center on the Big Three nucleus of Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey, and Chris Boucher. Brooks recently had offseason surgery on his foot and as a result, his status is still unknown for the season. Assuming he plays however, the junior guard is in for a big year. Brooks led the Ducks in scoring and assists as a sophomore and was second on the squad in rebounding and steals. When watching Brooks, it isn’t obvious at first to see the type of impact he really has on a game – he isn’t a flashy player and over a third of his shots come from the mid-range area, mostly off pull-ups – but the intangibles are there; Brooks makes his entire team better by being on the floor which is why he will be a candidate for Pac-12 POY. On the opposite spectrum – you KNOW when Chris Boucher is on the floor. Standing 6’10’’ and weighing about as much as Dillon Brooks’ shadow, Boucher looks about as sturdy as Bambi at the beginning of “Bambi”; but my God he is an athletic freak. I tuned into Oregon Duck games last year mostly to see Boucher play; his shot-blocking ability is otherworldly and not many players of his length can shoot the three-ball like he can. Oregon was the 3rd best shot-blocking team in the country last season primarily thanks to Boucher. Finally, Tyler Dorsey was oft-overshadowed last season (not by Boucher’s shadow – that’s too skinny – I mean in the figurative sense). Dorsey turned in one of the most productive rookie campaigns in college basketball in 2015-16 and led the Ducks with a 40% three-point shooting clip. The sky is the limit in his second season – he could be a first or second team All-Conference pick.
The scariness of Oregon lies not only in their intimidating “Big Three”, but also in their depth in both the frontcourt and the backcourt. Joining Brooks and Boucher up front will be returning enforcer Jordan Bell, who will in turn be reinforced by two newbies – Kavell Bigby-Williams and Michael Cage, Jr. Bell’s offensive game is limited to say the least, but he is one of the best defenders in the country at 6’9’’ 225 lbs. Last season Bell was 52nd in block percentage and 139th in steal percentage nationwide. Bell is a great complementary piece, but the player I’m most excited to see is Kavell Bigby-Williams. Bigby-Williams is the reigning JUCO Player of the Year, an honor he has in common with Boucher. In JUCO, Bigby-Williams average 16 points per game (pretty good, pretty good), pulled down 13 boards per contest (not bad, not bad), and blocked 6 shots per game (HOLY SHIT). Bigby-Williams is what Boucher would look like if Boucher were 30 pounds heavier – and he plays like him too. Like Boucher, Bigby-Williams has an affinity for swatting orange balls and like Boucher, Bigby-Williams has a sweet stroke from deep. So Oregon basically has two Chris Bouchers on their team, which is like your one friend who turns goaltending off in NBA Street and stands under the basket with Yao Ming, and he’s stronger than you so you can’t do anything about it – not fair guys. Cage, Jr. is a 3-star recruit and son of former NBA player Michael Cage.
Teaming with Dorsey in the backcourt will be steady junior guard Casey Benson (how is he only a junior?), 6th year point guard Dylan Ennis, and promising freshmen Payton Pritchard and Keith Smith. Benson is as consistent as they come at the point guard position; he turns the ball over at a low rate, facilitates the appropriate amount, and is deadly from deep – his 125.8 offensive rating was good for 32nd in the country (relatively low 11% usage rate). Ennis’s 2015-16 season was limited to one game after being cut short by injury. The promising point guard was a major piece of the 2014-15 1-seeded Villanova Wildcats squad. Pritchard, at 6’0’’ 175 lbs., does not look like he belongs on a Division 1 basketball team – until you see him play. He’s an ESPN Top 100 recruit and is basically a quicker Casey Benson. Smith fills a nice niche backing up the wing spot. He’s a long guard/forward capable of guarding multiple spots.
There is no ceiling on what Oregon can achieve this season. The Ducks are a bona fide top 5 team and could even end up as the #1 overall seed come March. If Brooks is healthy, Ennis regains his Nova magic, and Bigby-Williams plays to his potential, there’s little stopping the Ducks from reaching the Final Four.
Key Returners: Allonzo Trier, Kadeem Allen
Key Losses: Ryan Anderson, Gabe York, Kaleb Tarczewski
Key Newcomers: Kobi Simmons, Lauri Markkanen, Rawle Alkins, Keanu Pinder
Postseason Projection: 2 - 4 Seed
Arizona’s season ended in disappointment last year with a first round exit to under seeded Wichita State. The loss was the Wildcats’ first opening weekend exit in the Tourney since 2008. Though the Cats lose some significant talent from a year ago in Gabe York, Ryan Anderson, and Kaleb Tarczewski, they’ll be a potential top ten squad as Sean Miller brings in one of his best recruiting classes during his tenure.
5-star recruits Kobi Simmons, Lauri Markkanen, and Rawle Alkins highlight the Cats’ star-studded class. Each player has the potential to be on the Pac-12 All-Conference team this season, but expect Akins to make the biggest immediate impact. Alkins is a strong, compact wing at 6’4’’, 200 lbs. He plays a bruising style of basketball using his wide frame to barrel into helpless defenders to the cup. Alkins can also shoot the ball well – a rare ability for an athlete with his strength. The reason Alkins figures to make such an immediate impact is he fills a natural void in Arizona’s lineup. Kobi Simmons, a point guard, will be competing with incumbents Kadeem Allen and Allonzo Trier in the backcourt, while Lauri Markkanen, a center/power forward will go up against the veteran 7-footer Dusan Ristic and redshirt freshman Ray Smith. Simmons and Markkanen will almost certainly crack the starting lineup at some point during the season – Miller cannot afford to keep talent like their's off the floor. Markkanen is incredibly limber for a 6’11’’ post player and like any true European big, he can shoot the ball from distance. Simmons is a big point at 6’6’’ and is a gifted passer and scorer.
Ray Smith is the player flying under the radar in Tucson. Smith was a 5-star recruit in 2015 but suffered an ACL tear in October cutting his season short. The downtime has allowed Smith to put on (good) weight and get stronger, patching up what was his biggest weakness as a player. Many have described Smith as being one of the team’s emotional leaders; expect Smith to play a big roll from both forward spots in Miller’s rotation.
Complementing the talented freshmen (and redshirt freshman) is the backcourt duo of Trier and Allen. Trier will be Arizona’s undisputed leader this season; he is a pure scorer (15 ppg) and was one of Zona’s better shooters from everywhere on the floor (53.9% 2P%; 36.4% 3P%; 79.3% FT%). Allen returns as Miller’s only senior to take back the point guard reigns. The guard struggled with turnovers last season (23% TO rate) but word is he had a productive tournament down in Australia this summer, which is a good omen for the Tucson faithful. With Simmons nipping at his heels and capable backup Parker Jackson-Cartwright returning, expect Allen to play like a man with everything to lose.
There is a couple interesting players to watch this season in Zona, both of which are in the Cat frontcourt - Ristic, the previously mentioned 7-footer, and 6’10’’ sophomore Chance Comanche. Ristic is one of Arizona’s greatest offensive threats in the post, but the guy is a bit of a sieve on defense and is a soft defensive rebounder (though he did hold his own on the offensive glass). Comanche is a long player (7’1’’ wingspan) that provides value as a rim protector. He’s a better rebounder than Ristic and defends better as well. Comanche only played 6 minutes per game last year, but expect him to get a bigger “chance” this season with Zeus and Anderson out of the picture.
The old narrative applies once again this season – Arizona will compete for the Pac-12 title and a top-three seed in the NCAA Tournament. While Oregon is the odds on favorite to take the Pac-12, Zona’s talented youth gives them the potential to make a run at the crown and unseat the Ducks.
Key Returners: Isaac Hamilton, Bryce Alford, Thomas Welsh, Aaron Holiday
Key Losses: Tony Parker
Key Newcomers: Lonzo Ball, T.J. Leaf, Ike Anigbogu
Postseason Projection: 3 - 6 Seed
Steve Alford’s seat is getting a little toasty in Los Angeles. After earning a 4 seed in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, Alford’s 2015 Bruin squad limped into the postseason as an (undeserving) 11 seed. Last year, UCLA was ranked #38 going into the season (per Kenpom.com); they ended the year ranked #79 and finished a very un-UCLA-like 10th in the Pac-12 at 6-12. Coach Alford’s job will be in jeopardy if his team doesn’t perform this season; lucky for him he brings in the 5th best recruiting class in the nation.
Alford’s fantastic frosh consist of three ESPN 100 players: Lonzo Ball (#4), T.J. Leaf (#13), and Ike Anigbogu (#60). Ball is the crown jewel of the class and, along with Washington’s Markelle Fultz, will be one of the most electric young players in the country this year. Ball has great size at 6’5’’ from the point guard slot and is an athletic specimen, able to use his length and jumping ability to finish with a cornucopia of dunks. His shot is very unorthodox – he brings the ball to his opposite shoulder and hitches prior to release – but somehow he manages to hit consistently from distance (how a player of his level develops that kind of shot is beyond me). Leaf is an athletic power forward known for his offensive prowess. He has very good handles for a forward his size and is comfortable driving through the lane or posting up. The knock on Leaf is his effort on the defensive end, but that’s not such a bad knock to have. Anigbogu is an incredibly long center. He’ll look to provide defensive depth at the 5-spot.
Usually when teams bring in a superb freshmen class they are compensating for talent lost to either graduation or NBA draft aspirations – not the case for UCLA. The Bruins bring back four starters (all of which averaged in double figures last season) from last year’s squad: guards Bryce Alford (coach’s kid), Isaac Hamilton, and Aaron Holiday (Jrue’s bro) and big man Thomas Welsh. Alford and Hamilton were the squad’s leading scorers a year ago, each over 16 per game. Both players shoot a lot, but they shoot it well posting shooting slashes of (.402/.367/.831) (Alford) and (.527/.377/.805) (Hamilton). Holiday was UCLA’s best deep threat last season (41.9%) and split the ball handling duties with Alford while playing 31 minutes per game (third on the team). He’s also the team’s best perimeter defender. Despite these accolades, Holiday may not even keep his starting spot due to the incoming Lonzo Ball. Hamilton is the Bruins’ best offensive player and Alford is the coach’s son making Holiday the odd man out. Regardless of starting or not, Holiday figures to play a major role in the Bruins’ title hopes once again this season.
7-footer Thomas Welsh was the Bruins’ most efficient offensive player a season ago posting a 125 O-rating (41st nationally) while achieving a true shooting percentage of 60.5%. Welsh doubles as the team’s best rebounder and rim protector – something Anigbogu should complement quite well. Gyorgy Goloman, a 6’11’’ junior, should also see substantial time in the middle with the departure of Jonah Bolden (turned pro in Australia).
Offensively, UCLA will be as good as any team in the country; it’s the defensive end that has Bruin fans worried. UCLA ranked 140th in defensive efficiency last season, and though Holiday is a stout defender, Alford and the incoming Ball are not known for their defensive prowess (nor is frosh T.J. Leaf). Welsh is strong inside, but he was often in foul trouble last season. Prince Ali (mighty is he – Ali Ababwa) is arguably the Bruins’ second best defender, but he likely won’t be ready for the start of the season coming off of knee surgery. Even if the Bruins aren’t the best defensively, there’s a good chance they just outscore everybody anyways.
Key Returners: Ivan Rabb, Jabari Bird
Key Losses: Jaylen Brown, Tyrone Wallace, Jordan Matthews
Key Newcomers: Grant Mullins, Don Coleman, Charlie Moore
Postseason Projection: 4 - 8 Seed
On paper the Cal Bears were one of the nation’s best teams last season with experience and young NBA talent all up and down their roster. After starting the year a disappointing 4-5 in conference play, Cal finished tied for third in the league at 12-6 before ultimately succumbing to Hawaii in the first round of the NCAA Tourney. Despite the Bears’ apparent offensive talent, the team finished 65th in the country in offensive efficiency compared to a stellar 17th in defensive efficiency. The discrepancy in O vs. D rating isn’t that surprising for a Cuonzo Martin coached squad, as his teams usually excel on the defensive end while leaving something to be desired on offense. Still though, one has to wonder how Martin couldn’t get more production out of a lineup that included 3rd overall pick Jaylen Brown, Jordan Matthews, Ty Wallace, Jabari Bird, and Ivan Rabb. Alas.
This season’s version of the Bears may appear slightly downgraded on paper, but they may actually fare better this year with shot hoarders Brown and Wallace gone. Brown used 31.2% of Cal’s possessions last season (20th nationally) and posted an O-rating of 95.4 (not very good). He turned the ball over at a 21% clip and shot a dreadful 29.4% from downtown. Likewise, Wallace used 27.9% of Cal’s possessions and shot 29.8% from deep. Bricks, once a plentiful resource in Berkeley, will finally become scarce. Amazingly, the Bears still shot pretty well from three as a team last season, primarily due to Bird and Matthews’ respective trey-ball percentages of 40.9% and 41.6%. Matthews is off to find greener pastures at Gonzaga, but Bird returns to assume the senior leader role.
Bird was vastly underutilized a season ago evidenced by his 118.6 o-rating and stellar shooting percentages. He figures to be the Bears’ top perimeter scoring threat this season and should see his production climb dramatically. Cal brings in Grant Mullins, a transfer from Columbia, to fill the void Matthews leaves. Mullins was one of the best three-point shooters in the country last season converting 44.1% of his 143 attempts. He also is a gifted ball handler capable of running the point. At Columbia last year, Mullins posted a 21.5 assist rate while turning it over only 13% of the time. He’ll be a nice comfort for fellow guard Sam Singer, a point guard who struggled protecting the rock last year in a reserve role.
Of course the nucleus of Cal will be Ivan Rabb, a Naismith Player of the Year candidate and 3MW’s Pac-12 conference POY pick. Rabb surprised everyone by forgoing the NBA Draft (in which he’d surely be a lottery pick) instead opting to stay in school for his sophomore season. Last season Rabb attempted the 5th most shots on the team – this season, he figures to be the undisputed #1 option. Rabb’s offense (capable of producing over 20 points per game) isn’t the only attribute he brings to the Bears squad; he also defends well and rebounds at one of the highest rates in the country. Rabb was a vital part in Cal allowing the 4th lowest effective FG % in the country last season (2nd lowest inside the arc) and ranking 20th in defensive rebounding percentage.
Kameron Rooks, Stephen Domingo, and Charlie Moore are the three other key pieces to Martin’s team. Rooks, son of the late Sean Rooks, is a big body in the post. His presence combined with Rabb’s will make scoring and rebounding a nightmare for opposing teams. There will not be a more imposing frontcourt in the conference. Domingo looks to finally beak out of his shell this season. The swingman was a 4-star recruit coming out of college but has failed to make much of an impact during his two years at Georgetown and one year at Cal. A promising showing from him in Australia this summer (10ppg in 16mpg) could be a sign of a major uptick in production this year. Moore is a 4-star recruit out of Chicago. The point guard is a little guy at just 5’11’’ 170 lbs. (I don’t believe he’s actually either of those dimensions) but he is very skilled. Moore can shoot and pass, and is effective attacking the basket despite his small stature. He should challenge Singer and JUCO transfer Don Coleman for minutes this season.
The major factor in Cal’s success last season was their defense – particularly in transition and limiting the three-ball. The Bears ranked 1st in the country in defensive transition FG%, 7th in shots allowed in transition, and 4th in shots allowed behind the arc. Brown, Wallace, and Matthews were all huge factors in these numbers, but so was Martin’s defensive philosophy. If Singer, Mullins, and Domingo can pick up where the departed guards left off, Cal’s D should be similar to last season’s (especially with the constants Rooks and Rabb returning). Also, with ball stoppers Brown and Wallace out of the picture, expect an uptick in offensive efficiency in Berkeley. Cal has the talent to compete in the Pac-12 – will Martin get the most out of his talent this year?
Key Returners: George King, Josh Fortune, Wesley Gordon, Xavier Johnson, Dominique Collier
Key Losses: Josh Scott
Key Newcomers: Derrick White, Bryce Peters, Lucas Stewart
Postseason Projection: 5 - 9 Seed
The cat’s out of the bag in Boulder. Colorado is quickly becoming the sexy sleeper pick to make a run this season in the Pac-12, making them less of a sleeper and more so of a legit contender. The Buffs have been sitting comfortable in the middle of the Pac-12 since their acceptance into the league in 2011-2012 and have made 4 of the last 5 NCAA Tournaments under coach Tad Boyle. Though they lose First Team All-Leaguer Josh Scott, Colorado returns one of the deepest, most talented teams in the conference this season.
The Buffs are led by guard tandem George King and Josh Fortune. King was one of the best three-point shooters in the land last season, connecting on 45.9% of his threes (good for 18th nationally). Colorado as a team didn’t shoot a lot of threes last season and maybe that was a mistake – the Buffs ranked 22nd nationally in three-point percentage but a dreadful 331st in two-point percentage. This imbalance was driven a lot by Josh Scott, a wonderful player but not the best finisher around the basket (although he was the only Buff to shoot over 50% from two last season – wow). Tad Boyle squads historically don’t shoot a lot of threes, but with Scott gone and Tory Miller (47.4% from two) and Wesley Gordon (41.3%) the major inside presences, expect Colorado’s offense to shift more towards a perimeter focused attack. Like King, Fortune can also shoot the trey ball (37.4%), but struggled with his decision making at times last season (poor shot selection and ball protection). Fortune will need to right the ship to increase his minutes with Colorado’s talented bench.
Colorado has a talented point guard in junior Dominique Collier. Similar to King, he shot lights out from deep last season (44.3%) and similar to Fortune he struggled mightily finishing inside the arc (Collier was in the bottom three percentile in finishing around the basket in 2015-16). Inside, the aforementioned Wesley Gordon will anchor what should be another stout Buffalo defense (Colorado was 33rd in defensive efficiency last season). Gordon’s 6.9% block percentage was good for 76th in the country last season.
Besides the obvious returnees, basketball pundits have two other Colorado players to be giddy over: 1) Xavier Johnson, and 2) Derrick White. Johnson returns from a year-long medical hiatus. The forward had a successful first three seasons in a Colorado uniform proving to be a versatile player – one who can score inside and out and clean the glass when needed. I’d expect Johnson to see significant minutes at the four spot given the Scott absence and his 230 pound frame. White is a D-2 All-American and is off the charts on the “hype” meter. It could be for good reason, the high-flying White averaged 25.8 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 5.2 assists as a junior for the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs (UCCS). He is the all-time leading scorer, assists leader, and 4th leading rebounder in the school’s history. The addition of White gives Colorado a fearsome backcourt rotation with Collier, King, and Fortune. Throw in second-year backup point guard Thomas Akyazali and 4-star shooting guard Bryce Peters and I dare say this backcourt is stacked.
The one area Colorado needs to improve in is their transition defense. The Buffs were among the bottom 20 teams in the country in allowing transition opportunities – driven mostly by their inability to take care of the ball (five guards had over a 20% turnover rate, which most definitely isn’t good) and their poor shooting percentage (48.8% overall – 242nd nationally). The maturation of Colorado’s primary ball handlers and shift of focus from a center-dominated offense should help quell these issues and vault Colorado into Pac-12 title contention.
Key Returners: Jordan McLaughlin, Bennie Boatwright, Elijah Stewart
Key Losses: Julian Jacobs, Katin Reinhardt, Nikola Jovanovic
Key Newcomers: Jonah Matthews, De’Anthony Melton, Nick Rakocevic, Shaqquan Aaron, Charles Buggs
Postseason Projection: 7 - 10 Seed
USC basketball’s 2016 offseason has been a rollercoaster of ups and downs (and a few gut-wrenching loops). The biggest blow to the Trojans’ Pac-12 title hopes was the news of rising seniors Julian Jacobs and Nikola Jovanovic entering their names into the Goblet of Fire (NBA Draft) despite the fact that neither player even sniffed the top 60 of Draft Boards formulated by so-called experts. Not surprisingly, neither Jacobs nor Jovanovic was selected in the draft. I could go on for days on the stupidity of leaving school early for an uncertain professional future, but we will save that for a later date. To make matters worse for Andy Enfield’s squad, sweet-shooting guard Katin Reinhardt decided to jump ship to Marquette. Bottom line: USC lost 43% of its scoring from prior year and none of the players that departed were seniors. Ouch.
Normally, this type of turnover would be a death sentence to a program, especially one in a competitive conference such as the Pac-12. But the Trojans still return some of the best talent in the league and bring in one of the better recruiting classes in the country (#31 per ESPN). The two stalwarts will be returning point guard Jordan McLaughlin and power forward Bennie Boatwright. McLaughlin was an honorable mention All-Conference selection last season and figures to step into the leadership role with Jacobs, Reinhardt, and Jovanovic out of the picture. The guard put up one of the best true-shooting percentages in the country last season driven by his 42.4% three-point percentage. Boatwright was the Trojans’ highest used player last season while on the court (58% minutes played; 22.6% usage) – and he was only a freshman. Bennie is more of a stretch-four type of forward on offense, his 167 three-point attempts (35.9%) led the team; however, he has the size and length to compete with Pac-12 bigs (3.1% block percentage) on the defensive end. Expect Bennie to take a giant leap forward this season as his minutes increase – he has All-Conference written all over him.
Supporting Boatwright and McLaughlin in the starting five will be junior guard Elijah Stewart and sophomore forward Chimezie Metu. Stewart is the Trojans’ defensive leader, and is uber-efficient on the offensive side of the ball. Despite using only 15.7% of USC’s possessions last season, Stewart poured in almost 10 points per contest and turned in a shooting slash of .450/.429/.733. Metu is a freak-athlete and though he only put up 6.4 ppg last season, he is the player that stood out the most to me while watching USC games last year (most common reaction: “My God. Who the hell is this guy?”). Word is Metu put on around ten pounds from last season, bringing his 6’11’’ frame up to 225 lbs., and his offseason work in the Drew League (with fellow teammates De’Anthony Melton, Jonah Matthews, and Boatwright) should pay dividends in the upcoming season. His defensive prowess is well-documented (50th in the nation in block percentage last season as a frosh), but Metu also has some nice offensive potential with his unique speed and coordination at the center position. Calling it now – Most Improved Player in the Pac-12 will be Chimezie Metu.
The most intriguing part about Enfield’s upcoming team this season is the influx of quality newcomers. The Trojans bring in two transfers, redshirt sophomore Shaqquan Aaron and graduate transfer Charles Buggs, and four freshmen – Matthews, Melton, Harrison Henderson, and Nick Rakocevic. Aaron, a 6’7’’ transfer from Louisville, is a skilled wing and was a top 50 recruit coming out of high school. Questions over his academic standing and receiving illegal benefits hindered his opportunity at Louisville, but Aaron looks to right the ship at USC. Buggs (6’9’’ 230 lbs.) was a solid contributor for a piss-poor Minnesota squad last year. On video and in person Buggs really isn’t the most impressive basketball player, but he’s serviceable and will certainly bolster an already stacked USC frontcourt. Henderson (6’10’’) and Rakocevic (6’11’’) are 3-star recruits hailing from Grand Prairie, TX and Chicago, respectively. Both big men can run the floor and have the ability to score from the outside giving Enfield some nice options off the bench behind Boatwright and Metu (by the way if you’re keeping score at home – that’s four guys 6’10’’ and above that will be receiving major minutes for the Trojans this season). Melton and Matthews are both guards from California. These two will vie for the final spot in the starting five, but look for Matthews to get the first crack at the rotation. Matthews is the 79th ranked player in the class of 2016 and is also the younger brother of former Cal guard Jordan Matthews. Jonah lacks size (6’1’’ 175 lbs.) but possesses a smooth three-point shot that should be a lethal option for Enfield and Co. this season. Melton has been impressing people at the Drew League this summer. The 6’4’’ guard is a do-it-all sort of player that can guard almost any position, making him a natural fit to spell Stewart in the rotation.
The Trojans achieved their best season in 2015-16 since the Tim Floyd days back in 2009. Enfield, building off his success at Florida Gulf Coast, has laid the foundation for a successful program for years to come. Expect USC to cruise into a tourney berth once again this season, and despite their major turnover, don’t be surprised if the Trojans fare even better overall in 2016-17. The scary part is (or exciting part if you’re a Trojan fan), USC doesn’t have a single senior on the roster this season (save for Buggs) and next year they add Duke transfer Derryck Thornton. Yikes.
7. Oregon State
Key Returners: Tres Tinkle, Stephen Thompson, Jr., Drew Eubanks, Malcolm Duvivier
Key Losses: Gary Payton II, Olaf Schaftenaar
Key Newcomers: Keondre Dew, Ben Kone, JaQuori McLaughlin, Ronnie Stacy
Postseason Projection: 10 Seed - Bubble
Oregon State is coming off their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1990; while the 2016-17 version of the Beavers (top five nickname in college basketball) could certainly repeat as Tourney entrants, the battle will be an uphill one with the departure of Corvallis Demigod Gary Payton II (actually Corvallis Demigod would be a pretty sweet name to have). This year’s Beavers will be a youthful squad, led by three rising sophomores, a senior with a chip on his shoulder, and one of the most underrated coaches in the country, Wayne Tinkle.
If you’re going to be the coach’s son, you better at least be halfway decent, so when Dad decides to show you a little favor, it doesn’t stroke the ire of your fellow teammates. Lucky for Tres Tinkle, son of Coach Wayne Tinkle, he’s the best player in the Oregon State basketball program. Tinkle played way beyond his years last season as a freshmen finishing second on the squad in scoring and rebounding (to C. Demigod). The forward did everything for the Beaver squad and was a source of perpetual energy on both ends of the floor. His usage will sky rocket this season with Payton gone and I think he’ll be one of the better players in the conference. The coach’s son will have help from fellow classmates Stephen Thompson, Jr. and Drew Eubanks. Both Thompson and Eubanks spent some time in Australia this summer playing against the Boomers in some friendly exhibition contests and the feedback was generally positive. Eubanks has been said to put on another ten pounds this offseason, making him a little more of a formidable post presence. He, like the rest of the 2015-16 Beaver squad, was not a particularly effective rebounder, so hopefully his extra girth with help improve that weakness. Thompson (amazingly) used almost as many possessions as Payton last season and actually took more shots. His percentages were respectable for a volume shooter (44% from two; 36.4% from three) and he took care of the ball well given his usage (though much of his usage is made up of spot-up three-point attempts). He’ll look to be the Beavers’ main three-point option once again this season.
Payton’s departure leaves a chasm at the point guard position. Coach Tinkle is liable to use a point guard by committee approach, but the majority if the ball handling will likely fall on senior Malcolm Duvivier. Duvivier had an objectively horrible junior season, shooting 65% from the free throw line and 39% from inside the arc, and turning the ball over at a 23.4% rate. As a sophomore, Duvivier averaged double figures in scoring and played the 4th most minutes of anyone in the Pac-12 (though he still had similar shooting woes). The guard will play like he has something to prove this season – which he does; and if he doesn’t play that way, he may see his minutes slip even further with the inflow of new talent.
The inflow of new talent consists of four recruits, each of which is one of the nicest people you’ve ever met if Wayne Tinkle’s interviews with Mike Parker (voice of the OSU Beavers) are to be believed. The Beavers’ highest ranked recruit is 6’3’’ point guard JaQuori McLaughlin, who looks damn impressive on film. McLaughlin is a skinny, lanky guard with a 40” vertical and a pass-first mentality. He has the potential to be an outside shooting threat and perimeter stopper for the Beavers this season; I’d expect him to get a lot of run in the backcourt for Tinkle. The other guard in OSU’s 2016 class is JUCO transfer Ronnie Stacy, a 6’4’’ physical guard who can handle the ball. Stacy likely won’t play as big of a role as McLaughlin, but his potential as a lockdown defender makes him valuable. Big men Ben Kone (6’9’’) and Keondre Dew (6’8”) round out the recruits for OSU. Kone is a strong below-the-rim post player. He had surgery to repair an ACL in January and is expected to miss the beginning of the season so his impact is likely limited this coming year. Dew, however, will look to step into the vacant starting spot alongside Tinkle and Eubanks in the frontcourt. Dew’s value lies in his defensive tenacity; he can guard on both the perimeter and the post. His versatility will be key for the Beavers this season and Tinkle has already stated he plans to use Dew in multiple ways. The JUCO transfer will have competition for minutes inside from returning bigs Gligorije Rakocevic and Cheikh N’Diaye. Both brutes played about 25 games last season, but very limited minutes. Rakocevic, a sophomore that can stretch the floor on offense, is more likely to see a spike in minutes.
The burning question about the Beavers this year is “can they make it back to the tournament?” Their weaknesses lied in rebounding and finishing inside. OSU attempted the 26th most shots at the rim last season, but finished at the 295th highest rate. Maturation of Eubanks and Tinkle, and the swap of the toughness of Dew for the finesse of Schaftenaar should help address both these issues. A tournament appearance will be a lofty goal, but Tinkle and Co. have the chops to make it a possibility.
Key Returners: Lorenzo Bonam, Kyle Kuzma
Key Losses: Jakob Poeltl, Jordan Loveridge, Brandon Taylor
Key Newcomers: Jayce Johnson, JoJo Zamora, David Collette, Sedrick Barefield, Devon Daniels, Jakub Jokl, Tyler Rawson
Postseason Projection: Bubble - NIT
Utah comes into the 2016-2017 season a completely different team than the 27-9 3-seeded Utes of yesteryear. Gone is NBA Lottery pick and team fulcrum Jakob Poeltl. Gone is point guard Brandon Taylor, a senior leader that played just under 33 minutes per contest last season. And gone is senior wing and second leading scorer Jordan Loveridge. Add in the graduation of Dakarai Tucker and the transfers of Brekkott Chapman, Kenneth Ogbe, Chris Reyes, and Isaiah Wright, and the Utes are left with two players on their current roster that averaged more than 7 minutes per game last season. To say Utah had high turnover would be an understatement.
The good news for Utah is that the two high-profile returners are quality basketball players. Senior wing Lorenzo Bonam and junior post Kyle Kuzma are both All-Conference potential players. Each averaged double-digit scoring for the Utes last season and Kuzma was the team’s second-leading rebounder. Bonam was in the 83rd percentile in true shooting percentage last season, shooting a slash of .536/.400/.842. He didn’t shoot many three pointers (55) last season relative to the rest of the country, but departures Taylor, Tucker, and Loveridge combined to shoot 506 three-pointers, so expect Bonam’s volume of perimeter shots to spike. While watching Utah last season, Bonam really stood out as a player with high energy and the ability to create his own shot at will in the lane and has been praised as being able to score the ball equally well with either hand. Bonam exceeded expectations coming out of JUCO last season for the Utes; expect him to grow even more in his second year under Krystkowiak.
A high number of departures means a high number of newcomers for Utah this season. Many coaches tend to struggle uniting a team of mostly transfers and freshmen, but Western Coach K (trademark pending) is in his 6th year now at Utah and is one of the better coaches in the country, so he should be up to the task. Utah’s biggest recruit (pun not intended – yes it was - PUN ABSOLUTELY INTENDED) is Jayce Johnson, a 6’11’’ center out of Dana Point, California. Johnson joined the team in December 2015, so he should be pretty well acclimated to the Ute culture. Expect Johnson to be the day 1 starting center for Utah. Joining Johnson in the frontcourt is 7-footer Jakub Jokl from Prague and 6’10’’ JUCO forward Tyler Rawson. Jokl’s highlight tape is basically him shooting running, sweeping hooks in the post – but they appear to be pretty effective. A tandem of Jokl and Johnson at the 5 seems likely. Rawson isn’t overwhelmingly athletic, but he is long and can shoot the shit out of the ball. Expect Western Coach K to throw him at the four and bump Kuzma to the three in a lot of lineups. Also, a sneaky good add for the Utes is Utah State transfer David Collette (6’8, Jr.) who is eligible second semester. Collette was one of the Aggies’ best players as a freshman in 2015, averaging 12 points and 5 boards per game – expect him to slide into the starting five once eligible.
Aside from Bonam, Utah’s backcourt is full of uncertainty. Filling out the guard rotation will be 6’3’’ JUCO transfer JoJo Zamora, 6’4’’ freshman Devon Daniels, and 6’3’’ junior Parker Van Dyke (fresh off a LDS mission). Zamora and Van Dyke will likely compete for the open point guard slot. Zamora is a solid ball handler from the point guard position and promises to be a key cog to Utah’s perimeter defense. Van Dyke brings a pseudo-veteran presence to the squad as he saw the floor in 21 games as a freshman for the Utes in 2014. Daniels will provide an athletic punch to the Ute lineup. JUCO transfer Tim Coleman, and returning senior Gabe Bealer will provide extra depth. SMU transfer Sedrick Barefield is set to join Collette in the lineup after the fall semester, but won’t have near the same impact.
Key Returners: Reid Travis, Marcus Allen, Michael Humphrey, Dorian Pickens
Key Losses: Christian Sanders, Rosco Allen
Key Newcomers: Kodye Pugh, Trevor Stanback
Postseason Projection: Bubble - NIT
Stanford brings back one of the most experienced teams in the Pac-12; however, there is fresh blood in Palo Alto, that of new head coach Jerod Haase. Haase replaces Johnny Dawkins who, in eight seasons at the helm of the Cardinal, was only able to produce one NCAA Tournament berth. Prior to Dawkins’ arrival, Stanford was a staple in the Big Dance, making 13 of 14 Tourneys from 1995 to 2008. Haase spent four years at UAB leading the Blazers back to relevance and a surprise upset of 3-seed Iowa State in the 2015 Tournament. I personally love the coaching hire; it’ll be interesting to see what Haase can do in a major conference environment.
The Cardinal lost their best player, Rosco Allen, to graduation, but Stanford returns four players that averaged in double-digit scoring in 2015-2016. Stanford will be paced by guards Dorian Pickens and Marcus Allen. The pair will each be expected to handle the ball a bit more with the departure of point guard Christian Sanders, and Marcus’s twin brother Malcolm Allen should also see some major point time. Pickens was Stanford’s best three-point shooter last season, but the Cardinal were one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the land last season and focused more on driving and pounding the ball in the paint. To wit – Marcus Allen, a 6’3’’ guard, shot 83% of his shots at the rim in 2015-16. As a team, Stanford shot the 82nd most twos in the nation and got to the line at the 9th best rate in the country. With the consistency in personnel, not much should be expected to change and Haase’s UAB teams never shot a ton of threes.
Stanford should be fairly solid inside this season with the tandem of Michael Humphrey and Reid Travis. Humphrey was 111th in the country in block percentage as a sophomore and was Stanford’s best defensive rebounder. He also showed flashes of a three-pointer last year, a skill that will have room to improve on with the Rosco Allen departure. Travis only appeared in eight games last season due to an early season leg injury, but in those games, the 245 lb. big man was effective. Travis led the Cardinal in total rebounding, excelling especially on the offensive glass. His presence will be a welcome return for a Stanford team that ranked among the worst rebounding squads in the Pac-12 a season ago.
The X-factor for the Cardinal could be Marcus Sheffield, a 6’5’’ sophomore guard that showed flashes of brilliance during his freshman season and had a knack for stepping up in big games. Sheffield scored in double figures five times in 2015-16, the opponents: Utah (twice), Colorado, California, and Arizona. Sheffield should enter the starting lineup this year and will be counted on to provide a perimeter impact to an otherwise lackluster perimeter-shooting unit.
Haase and Co. add two freshmen to the fold in 2016-17, Kodye Pugh and Trevor Stanback. Both froshies look impressive on film, particularly Pugh who possesses a silky left-handed stroke and above average athletic ability. Pugh should see time during his rookie campaign on the wing. Stanback moves well for his 6’9’’ frame. His long arms make him a potential wreaker of havoc blocking shots on the defensive end. Stanback will compete with returning lug Josh Sharma for time behind Humphrey and Travis.
Stanford’s experience makes them a sexy pick for a run at the last Pac-12 bid (think 11-seed play-in game). The Pac-12 is competitive, but the Cardinal have the size and guard leadership to accept the challenge. The December 3rd game at Kansas, Haase’s alma mater, should be a telling sign of what’s to come from the Stanford this season.
Key Returners: Noah Dickerson, Malik Dime, David Crisp
Key Losses: Andrew Andrews, Dejounte Murray, Marquese Chriss
Key Newcomers: Markelle Fultz, Sam Timmins, Matt Atewe, Carlos Johnson
Postseason Projection: NIT - None
Lorenzo Romar has led the Washington Huskies since 2003. In his 14 seasons, Romar has taken Washington to six NCAA Tournaments – the last being in 2011. Washington, despite having some of the best talent in the country the past five years, has been a model for mediocrity begging the question: Romar can obviously recruit, but can he coach? (Interesting fact: UW won the Pac-12 regular season title in 2012 with an overall record of 24-11 but failed to make the NCAA Tournament). Let’s look at the talent Romar has had at his disposal the past five seasons:
C.J. Wilcox (NBA Draft first round pick)
Tony Wroten (first round pick)
Terrance Ross (first round pick - 8th overall)
Dejounte Murray (first round pick)
Marquesse Chriss (first round pick – 8th overall)
Throw in Nigel Williams-Goss (15.6 ppg; 2nd Team All-Conference) and Andrew Andrews (20.9 ppg; 1st Team All-Conference) and you begin to shake your head. How does a program with five first round picks in the last five years and two premier Pac-12 conference players fail to make a single tournament? I think we have an answer to that previously posed question.
Despite the program’s relative insignificance the past few seasons, that freaking wizard Lorenzo Romar has wielded his magic once again by landing one of the nation’s best point guards in the class of 2016 – Markelle Fultz. Fultz, a 6’4’’ athletic monster (6’10’’ wing span), was named the MVP of the U18 FIBA Americas tournament this summer and is already projected as a top five pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. As if that wasn’t enough, Romar also landed Michael Porter, Jr. (#2-4 prospect) for Washington’s 2017-18 team.
With Fultz, the Huskies should be competitive in nearly every contest this season. The supporting cast holds a myriad of potential and mystery in forward Noah Dickerson, wing Matisse Thybulle, center Malik Dime, and guard David Crisp. The departing Andrews, Chriss, and Murray take with them 60% of the Huskies’ scoring from last season leaving a big load for Fultz and company to shoulder. Crisp, Dickerson, and Thybulle were all freshmen last season, so the potential for big gains is there. Dickerson is a wide body inside, but he’s a bit raw still offensively. The exposure he received his rookie season (22.3 mpg) and being out of Chriss’s enormous shadow should help him grow in his sophomore year. Thybulle had a productive freshman campaign; he contributes as one the Huskies best long-ball shooters (36.6%) (Romar’s teams have been notoriously poor the last few seasons from beyond the arc) and is the best wing defender at Romar’s disposal. Crisp will serve as a solid backcourt mate with Fultz; the guard struggled a bit with his shooting and turnovers in 2015-16, but that isn’t too much cause for concern from a frosh. The X-factor will be Malik Dime. Dime posted the 13th best block percentage in the country last season (10.8%) and also was a beast on the offensive boards where he developed a knack for getting easy twos off put-backs. His physicality will be a key for UW in the coming year.
Washington’s bench shouldn’t hold too much to write home about, but New Zealand freshman Sam Timmins, junior Dominic Green, and Auburn import Matt Atewe should all provide some assurance off the pine.
So once again, Washington has a first-round NBA Draft pick leading their squad. Fans of the Huskies, however, probably shouldn’t expect a break in the current Tourney drought. Like all of Romar’s teams the past five years, we will see another Huskies squad that focuses on getting buckets off drives and crashing the glass. If Fultz or Thybulle can provide any sort of semblance of three-point competency, then maybe, just maybe, Romar and the Huskies can get over the hump in 2016-17.
11. Arizona State
Key Returners: Tra Holder, Obinna Obeka
Key Losses: Gerry Blakes, Savon Goodman
Key Newcomers: Sam Cunliffe, Jethro Tshisumpa, Andre Adams, Shannon Evans, Romello White, Torian Graham
Postseason Projection: NIT - None
Arizona State is the mystery team of the Pac-12 this season. Bobby Hurley’s squad has the talent and potential to make a run and finish as high as 5th or 6th in the conference – or they could finish 11th or 12th. The source of the uncertainty lies in the incoming freshmen class led by three 4-star recruits. The talented freshmen in addition to two injury/suspension comebacks and one of best backcourt tandems in the conference makes the Sun Devils and interesting dark horse pick to make a run for a fringe Tourney bid.
Let’s start with Hurley’s backcourt led by the best player on last year’s team, Tra Holder, and the potential best player on this year’s squad, Shannon Evans. Holder was the definition of a volume shooter last season primarily due to the lack of viable personnel surrounding him. The guard was often forced to take tough shots from the middle of the floor, connecting on only 34% of his two-point jumper attempts. His 36.6% three-point percentage was respectable though, and with Evans in tow, Holder’s percentages should see a spike as he’ll finally has some help shouldering the offensive load. Evans comes by way of transfer from Hurley’s previous school, Buffalo. Evans was instrumental in Buffalo’s 2014-15 NCAA Tourney team averaging over 15 points per game while shooting a scorching 38.2% from deep. Evans will take over majority of the point guard duties, allowing Holder to play more off the ball. Both guards will be in All-Conference team conversations this year.
Returning with Holder is guard Kodi Justice, forward Obinna Oleka, formerly injured Andre Adams, and formerly suspended Torian Graham. Justice and Oleka were both serviceable role players last season – Justice shot 40% on 150 three-point attempts while Oleka was one of the better rebounders in the conference at 6’7’’. Adams was a 3-star recruit coming out of high school and Graham was a 4-star recruit. Adams, at 6’9’’ will help bolster the frontcourt while Graham gives Hurley yet another option in the backcourt.
Arizona State’s fate this season will likely be determined by how effective their big recruits are. Hurley brings in three 4-stars in 6’6’’ wing Sam Cunliffe, 6’10’’ behemoth Jethro Tshisumpa, and 6’9’’ power forward Romello White. All three players are ESPN Top 100 recruits and each of them should make a big impact on the rotation (Cunliffe and Tshisumpa likely start). Cunliffe is the best of the three, he has a silky smooth jump shot, can handle the ball, and is an athletic freak; Fultz and Ball will get most of the attention this season in the Pac-12 but Cunliffe has the potential to be nearly as effective for his respective team. Tshisumpa is a shot blocking extraordinaire, something the Sun Devils struggled mightily with last season. With Jethro, Hurley has a post presence and inside enforcer he so sorely lacked last year. White is a big forward that will provide Oleka and Tshisumpa support off the bench. Vitaliy Shibel (Update: Shibel tore his ACL on August 19 - he is done for the year) and Ramon Vila, 6’9’’ Euro imports, could also see floor time at the stretch four and in the post, respectively.
Picking where Arizona State finishes this season in the Pac-12 is nearly impossible. I love their potential and Cunliffe is already one of my favorite players after watching some of his film. But the Pac-12 is brutally competitive this year and teams on the Devils’ level like Washington, Stanford, Oregon State, Utah, and USC each have their own bright spots as well. The Devils are well coached and are playing a tough non-conference schedule that includes games against Kentucky, Purdue and San Diego State, with potential matchups with Oklahoma and Xavier in the Puerto Rico Classic. They should be ready for Pac-12 play, but so should everybody else.
12. Washington State
Key Returners: Ike Iroegbu, Josh Hawkinson, Charles Callison
Key Losses: Que Johnson
Key Newcomers: Milan Acquaah, Jeff Pollard, Malachi Flynn, Keith Langston
Postseason Projection: None
Ernie Kent’s Cougar squad will be one of the nation’s most experienced in 2016-17 with four returning seniors featured in their projected starting lineup. While Wazzu’s experience should help them surpass their one-win conference success of a year ago, it likely won’t quite be enough to propel them out of the basement of an extremely stacked Pac-12 conference. Wazzu’s only loss of consequence was sharpshooter Que Johnson, who was the team’s best long-range shooting threat last season. The Cougars return their two leading scorers in Josh Hawkinson and Ike Iroegbu and bring in some promising new blood as well.
Hawkinson is the life force of Washington State. The senior forward has drawn plenty of NBA interest with his knack for grabbing boards and dominating the paint. Hawkinson recorded 20 double-doubles last season and ranked 4th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage (ironically, though, Hawkinson was not an effective offensive boarder). The big man is impressive to watch and literally does everything on the floor for the Cougars: he is super effective posting up, he can put it on the floor, he has great vision and passing ability, and he can also shoot the trey ball. Hawkinson’s abilities make him a dark horse Pac-12 POY candidate and a potential first round draft pick in 2017.
Seniors Iroegbu, Charles Callison, and Conor Clifford return to provide support for Big Hawk. Iroegbu and Callison will split ball handling duties for the Cougars. Both players averaged over three assists per contest last year but both struggled with turnovers (Wazzu as a squad ranked 275th in turnover percentage). There’s a lot of buzz surrounding the freshmen brought in to complement the Iroegbu/Callison backcourt – Milan Acquaah and Malachi Flynn are both highly praised by Coach Kent as guys that can come in and contribute immediately at the point guard position. Acquaah (or Acquaa Man as he’s awesomely called) in particular should make a big splash. He’s a strong point guard (former football player) that excels at penetrating and facilitating. The incoming tandem will be counted on to reduce the turnover woes of Wazzu’s past. Clifford will be Hawkinson’s frontcourt mate. At 7-feet tall, the big Californian will form a twin tower effect with the team’s MVP. Clifford’s biggest issue is staying on the court as he’s often in foul trouble. He’s also not a great rebounder for his size and somehow had a 24.3% turnover rate as a center last season. Wazzu’s 23.9% offensive rebounding percentage ranked 325th in the nation last year which is inexcusable and unfathomable when they have one of the best rebounders in the country and an additional 7-footer on their squad.
Obviously a lot went wrong for the Cougars last season, finishing 9-22 overall and 1-17 in conference play. As discussed above, two big reasons for their lack of success were turnovers and the inability to create second chances. On the defensive end, however, one interesting stat stands out. The Cougars were the 38th best team at taking away three-point attempts last season. However, Wazzu allowed teams to shoot 35.9% from deep (242nd nationally). So basically, Wazzu didn’t allow a lot of threes, but when teams shot them, they went in. This could also be due to Wazzu’s lack of defensive pressure – they were among the worst teams in the country in forcing turnovers and teams weren’t exactly challenged in finding good perimeter looks. It could also mean Wazzu was unlucky, and could be due for some positive regression. According to KenPom, Wazzu was the 295th luckiest team in the country last season; so perhaps it wouldn’t be crazy to see Kent’s squad back out of the basement in 2017.