The Pac-12 is as good as it has been in a number of years with at least seven teams that should contend for a NCAA tournament bid. The league is also filled with individual talent, as nearly every team has a legitimate NBA prospect.
Arizona is young but extremely talented.
The Wildcats return sophomores Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley, and Gabe York, and they will add two highly-touted freshmen, Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
Tarczewski, a 7-foot center, started all 35 games as a freshman and averaged 6.6 points on 53.8% shooting and 6.1 rebounds. Ashley started 21 games, and he averaged 7.5 points on 52.5% shooting and 5.3 boards.
Gordon and Hollis-Jefferson join them in the frontcourt. Gordon was a top-five recruit in the Class of 2013, and both were McDonald’s All-Americans and Jordan Brand Classic participants. Gordon will start for Arizona while Hollis-Jefferson will be one of the first guys off the bench.
The only senior on the roster is reserve guard Jordin Mayes (2.8 ppg), but juniors Nick Johnson and T.J. McConnell give the backcourt some good experience. Johnson, who started for Arizona last season, averaged 11.5 points, 3.2 assists, and 1.9 steals while shooting 39.3% on three-pointers. He is the team’s top returner in all those categories.
McConnell, a Duquesne transfer, averaged 11.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 5.5 steals, and 2.8 assists in 2011-12. He also shot 50.9% from the field and 43.2% from beyond the arc, earning All-Atlantic 10 Third Team and Defensive Team honors.
UCLA was one of the most disappointing teams in college basketball last season, but the Bruins once again have high expectations in head coach Steve Alford’s first year.
They return six of their top eight scorers and adds talented freshman shooting guard Zach LaVine.
LaVine, who was ranked a top-50 recruit by Scout, Rivals, and ESPN, joins Jordan Adams,Norman Powell, and Kyle Anderson in the backcourt. Adams was UCLA’s best overall player last year as a freshman with 15.3 points and 2.2 steals per game. Powell added 6.1 points per contest.
Anderson, a hybrid, played some guard and some forward last season. The 6’9″ sophomore averaged 9.7 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 3.5 assists and will play some point for the Bruins again this season.
The Bruins also return forwards Travis Wear, David Wear, and Tony Parker. The Wear twins combined for 18 points and 10.2 rebounds per game while Parker contributed 2.4 points and 1.2 rebounds off the bench.
Colorado has been to the NCAA tournament each of the last two seasons, and that should happen again in 2014. The Buffaloes lost a pair of key players in Andre Roberson and Sabatino Chen, but they still return four starters.
In the backcourt, the Buffaloes return juniors Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker. Dinwiddie led Colorado with 15.3 points and three assists per game last season, and Booker recorded 12.4 points and 2.2 dimes per contest. Together they also averaged 2.5 steals.
At forward, Colorado brings back Josh Scott and Xavier Johnson, both of whom showed star potential as freshmen last season. Scott averaged 10.2 points and 5.7 rebounds while Johnson averaged 8.9 points and 4.8 boards.
Stanford returns eight of its top nine scorers from a team that flirted with a NCAA tournament bid. The result is a Cardinal squad that could find itself nationally ranked this season.
Leading the way in the backcourt are Chasson Randle, Aaron Bright, and Robbie Lemons. Randle has been a star for Stanford in each of his first two seasons, although last year he actually hit a sophomore slump. His numbers dipped from 13.8 points per game, a 43.9 field-goal percentage, and a 43.8 three-point percentage to 13.6 points, 39.9% from the field, and 35.9% from beyond the arc.
Bright, a senior, has started at point guard for Stanford the last two seasons, and he too slumped last season. His scoring averaged dipped more than two points, his field-goal percentage fell nearly nine points, and his three-point percentage dropped more than 11 points. The big positive was that he increased his assist to turnover ratio to 2.1.
At forward, the Cardinals return Dwight Powell, Josh Huestis, and John Gage. This trio of seniors make up the Pac-12’s second-best frontcourt, behind Arizona’s. Powell led Stanford with 14.9 points and 8.4 rebounds last season while Huestis was also very impressive with 10.5 points, nine boards, and 2.1 blocks per game. Gage, a 6’10” stretch-four, came off the bench for 5.8 points per game and 45-of-101 shooting on three-pointers (44.6%).
Oregon returned to the NCAA tournament in 2013 for the first time since 2008. Now, the Ducks return their top three guards and add a trio of impact transfers.
Returning for Oregon are senior Johnathan Loyd and sophomores Damyean Dotson and Dominic Artis. The 5’8″ Loyd had a breakout junior season with five points, 2.9 assists, and 1.4 steals per game. He is not known for scoring, but in the season’s final 10 games, he averaged 9.3 points and also dished out 3.7 assists.
Dotson is the Ducks’ top returning scorer with 11.4 points per game, and Artis is a great complement to Loyd at point guard. Last season, he averaged 8.5 points, 3.2 assists, and 1.5 steals.
The Ducks also add guards Joseph Young and Jason Calliste. Young, who played at Houston last season, is immediately eligible thanks to a waiver from the NCAA. He averaged 18 points and shot 42% on three-pointers as a sophomore in 2012-13. Calliste, a graduate student who is also eligible immediately, averaged 14.4 points and 3.3 assists at Detroit last season and netted 73 three-pointers.
In the frontcourt, Oregon returns Waverly Austin, who averaged 3.1 points and 2.7 boards in 11 minutes per game.
But, talented UNLV transfer Mike Moser, the third transfer on this team who played last season and is immediately eligible, will join him down low. Moser struggled with injuries last season, but as a sophomore he averaged 14 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.9 steals.
6. Arizona State
Jahii Carson is returning for his sophomore season, along with talented forwards Jordan Bachynski and Jonathan Gilling.
Carson is one of the favorites for Pac-12 Player of the Year this season. Last year, as a freshman, he took care of business with 18.5 points and 5.1 assists per game while shooting better than 47% from the field. He scored as many as 34 points in a single game (vs. Stanford 3/13/13) and flirted with a triple-double in the Sun Devils’ NIT game against Detroit with 22 points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists.
Bachynski, a 7’2″ center, is coming off a breakout junior season where he averaged 9.8 points on 58.3% shooting, 5.9 rebounds, and 3.4 blocks. In block percentage, he ranked No. 7 in the nation. He posted a triple-double against Cal State Northridge last December with 13 points, 12 rebounds, and 12 blocks.
Gilling, a 6’7″ junior, averaged 9.7 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 2.8 assists while shooting 36.7% from beyond the arc.
Arizona State will get an added boost with three transfers joining the program. First is Penn State transfer Jermaine Marshall, who averaged 15.3 points for the Nittany Lions and should begin the season as a starter. Valparaiso transfer Richie Edwards is also eligible for the start of the season, but Michigan State transfer Brandan Kearney will have to wait until the end of the first semester.
California could contend for a NCAA tournament bid with four starters returning.
Returning in the backcourt are Justin Cobbs and Tyrone Wallace. Cobbs, a redshirt senior, averaged 15.1 points and 4.8 assists while Wallace had an impressive freshman campaign with 7.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game.
The Golden Bears also add talented freshman wing Jabari Bird to the roster. The top-50 recruit is a great athlete with a great jump shot, and he should open the season as a starter.
At forward, the Golden Bears return Richard Solomon and David Kravish. Solomon averaged 8.9 points and 6.8 rebounds last season, and Kravish recorded 7.9 points, 6.9 boards, and 1.7 blocks per game.
Washington returns four notable players from last year’s team and adds an impact transfer in Perris Blackwell, a forward who averaged 12.7 points and 6.1 rebounds at San Francisco two seasons ago.
Returning for the Huskies are C.J. Wilcox, Andrew Andrews, Shawn Kemp Jr., and Desmond Simmons. Wilcox led the team in scoring with 16.8 points per game, and Andrews added 7.8 points and 2.3 assists during his rookie season.
Kemp and Simmons, both juniors, combined for 11.2 points and 9.5 rebounds per contest.
Washington also adds one of the nation’s top freshmen in Nigel Williams-Goss, a McDonald’s All-American and Jordan Brand Classic participant. Williams-Goss will likely open the Huskies’ season as their starting point guard.
USC may not be too talented this season, but the Trojans will certainly be fun to watch with first-year head coach Andy Enfield running the show. Enfield, who coached Florida Gulf Coast to the Sweet 16 last season, lets his players play an up-tempo, free style of basketball that is always entertaining.
The Trojans return two starters, J.T. Terrell (11.7 ppg) and Byron Wesley (10.2 ppg), to lead the way, and with increased production from 7’2″ center Omar Oraby (6.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.5 bpg), the Trojans could pull off a few upsets.
USC also adds Maryland transfer Pe’Shon Howard, a point guard who struggled last season but averaged 6.5 points and 3.7 assists as a sophomore.
10. Oregon State
Oregon State lacks depth, but its top four players will allow the Beavers to compete with basically anyone on any given night.
The Beavers return Roberto Nelson (17.8 ppg, 2.4 apg, 39.7 3P%), Devon Collier (12.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg), Eric Moreland (9.4 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 2.2 bpg), and Angus Brandt (9.1 ppg).
Moreland is suspended for the first 14 games of the season, and he will return against Stanford on January 9.
11. Washington State
Washington State has two talented guards in juniors Royce Woolridge and DaVonte Lacy, but the Cougars do not have the big men or the depth to compete at a high level in the Pac-12.
Woolridge and Lacy do make a dynamic duo, though, combining for 21.5 points and 4.7 assists per game and 89 three-pointers last season.
Utah got hot late last season, winning their final two regular season games and then winning a pair in the conference tournament before falling to Oregon in the semifinals. But, the Utes are once again looking at a year in the cellar of the Pac-12 as five of their six leaders in minutes departed.
However, there is still some hope for the Utes’ future in sophomores Jordan Loveridge and Brandon Taylor. Loveridge posted 12.1 points, seven rebounds and two assists per game last season, and Taylor added 6.9 points and two assists.
Pac-12 Player of the Year
Jahii Carson, Arizona State
Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year
Jordan Bachynski, Arizona State
Pac-12 Freshman of the Year
Aaron Gordon, Arizona
Pac-12 All-Conference Team
Jahii Carson, Arizona State
Spencer Dinwiddie, Colorado
Jordan Adams, UCLA
Aaron Gordon, Arizona
Dwight Powell, Stanford
*All advanced statistics are courtesy of KenPom.