We're 13 days away from the official start of the 2020 college basketball season in Tucson, when the Arizona Wildcats host in-state foe, Northern Arizona inside McKale.
The Wildcats, who missed the NCAA Tournament a year ago for the first time since 2012, feature a stacked roster this year, with five-star recruits Nico Mannion and Josh Green highlighting the new arrivals list.
The Pac-12 as a whole should be much-improved over a year ago, with Colorado, Washington and Oregon all featuring fearsome starting fives.
The road to college basketball perdition is long and winding, especially in the 'Conference of Champions,' with four teams that could contend for a league title.
I've taken it upon myself to produce a comprehensive ranking of the 12 teams in the conference, since I wasn't in attendance at Pac-12 media days earlier this month.
Without further ado, here's how I see Larry Scott's athletic emporium stacking up on the hardwoods of the west this season:
1. Colorado Buffaloes (21-12, 10-8 in 2019)
Key returnees: McKinley Wright IV (13.0 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.1 steals per game)/Tyler Bey (13.6 points, 9.9 rebounds, 1.2 blocks per game)
The Buffaloes earn their way atop this list, simply because of the talent that Wright and Bey possess, with each being strong contenders for conference player of the year. The Buffs are looking to make the Big Dance for the first time since 2016 and should be in good shape to do so under the illustrious leadership of coach Thomas Martin 'Tad' Boyle, who has one of the strangest names in college basketball. It pains me, as a Colorado State alum, to say anything nice about CU, but they should be a helluva team this season.
2. Arizona Wildcats (17-15, 8-10 in 2019)
Key returnees: Chase Jeter (10.9 points, 6.6 rebounds per game)/Ira Lee (6.6 points, 4.2 rebounds per game)
Key arrivals: Josh Green (five-star shooting guard), Nico Mannion (five-star point guard), Zeke Nnaji (four-star center), Christian Koloko (four-star center)
The Wildcats enter the 2019-20 regular season with a vastly improved lineup, thanks to the addition of Green and Mannion in the backcourt and the loss of ineffective guards like Brandon Randolph, who shot a woeful 38.4 percent from the field while averaging 1.3 turnovers per game last season. The biggest question for Sean Miller's team this year will be whether their depth will be enough, with injuries and personnel issues being a constraint in the meat grinder that is today's college basketball schedule. I'm pretty high on the Wildcats' chances this year, considering that the Pac-12 media poll has them slotted to finish fourth, but believe the likelihood of a deep run in March will come down to how well fab freshmen like Green and Mannion mesh when the season gets underway.
3. Oregon Ducks (25-13, 10-8 in 2019)
Key returnees: Payton Pritchard (12.9 points, 4.6 assists, 3.9 rebounds, 1.8 steals per game)
Key arrivals: N'Faly Dante (five-star center)/CJ Walker (five-star power forward)/Addison Patterson (four-star guard)/Chandler Lawson (four-star power forward)
There's no stopping the machine that Dana Altman has built in Eugene apparently, as the Ducks marched their way to the Sweet 16 a year ago, despite losing superstar recruit Bol Bol to a stress fracture early in the year. The Ducks pummeled Wisconsin and California-Irvine in the Dance, before succumbing to eventual champs, Virginia, 53-49 in the Sweet 16. The Ducks could very well win the Pac-12 this year, with the fourth-ranked recruiting class in the nation coming in and the wily leadership of Payton Pritchard in the backcourt. I'm going to slot the Ducks in the third spot, despite them being anointed the preseason favorite by my media cohorts, because I don't think their core will come together until the latter half of conference play. Don't fret, Ducks fans, as I think Oregon will once again hoist the Pac-12 Tournament hardware in the Sin City next March.
4. Washington Huskies (26-8, 15-3 in 2019)
Key returnees: Nahziah Carter (8.1 points, 2.4 rebounds per game)
Key arrivals: Isaiah Stewart (five-star center)/Jaden McDaniels (five-star power forward), RaeQuan Battle (four-star shooting guard)
It was quite a year for Mike Hopkins and the Huskies in 2019, winning the Pac-12 regular season title, while beating Utah State in the NCAA Tournament. The Huskies lost their top-four scorers to either the NBA Draft or graduation, but reap the benefits of the nation's 11th ranked recruiting class, with two five-star talents coming to Seattle. The Huskies should be quite formidable this year, with Hopkins' zone defense flustering opponents all year long. The only reason Washington is this far down on my rankings is their lack of experience, combined with the names ahead of them in the conference pecking order. It wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if Hopkins leads the Huskies to the top of the conference again this year. It also wouldn't surprise me, however, if the team bottoms out and misses the tournament, because of their lack of veteran leadership. It'll be an interesting year in the Emerald City, with a talent-laden roster and a solid coach leading the way in Seattle.
5. University of Southern California Trojans (16-17, 8-10 in 2019)
Key returnees: Nick Rakocevic (14.7 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.4 blocks per game)/Jonah Matthews (12.6 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.2 assists per game)
Key arrivals: Isaiah Mobley (five-star power forward)/Onyeke Okongwu (five-star center)/Max Agbonkpolo (four-star small forward)
No team in the Pac-12 faces more pressure, outside Arizona perhaps, than the Trojans, who have missed the tournament in each of the last two years. This year's team returns 6'11 tour de force Nick Rakocevic, who tormented Arizona a year ago in Los Angeles. The arrival of five-star power forward Isaiah Mobley will be interesting, as he'll immediately provide the Trojans a complement in the paint they sorely lacked a year ago. The Trojans have all the talent needed to compete for a Pac-12 title this season, but I'm not convinced Andy Enfield is a good enough coach to lead them there.
6. Oregon State Beavers (18-13, 10-8 in 2019)
Key returnees: Tres Tinkle (20.8 points, 8.1 rebounds, 3.8 assists per game)/Ethan Thompson (13.7 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.9 assists per game)
The Beavers are facing a 'now or never' moment under sixth-year coach Wayne Tinkle, having made the tournament once since arriving in Corvallis. This might be the Beavers' year to do just that once again, with Wayne's son, Tres, returning for his senior year in the Willamette. Tinkle and fellow upperclassman Ethan Thompson will need to come up huge for the Beavers, who play a piss-poor non-conference schedule, if they're going to make the tournament. There's no reason the boys from Corvallis can't run the table in the nonconference portion of the year, with home games against Iowa State complimented by tournament games against Oklahoma and road clashes with Wyoming and Texas A&M as the only real challenges for the Beavers. I expect Tinkle's team to gain a lot of confidence from their early slate of games, leading to a better than expected year for the team, with an NCAA Tournament berth being a real possibility.
7. Arizona State Sun Devils (23-11, 12-6 in 2019)
Key returnees: Remy Martin (12.9 points, 5.0 assists, 3.2 rebounds per game)/Rob Edwards (11.1 points, 3.3 rebounds per game)/Romello White (8.7 points, 5.2 rebounds per game)
Key arrivals: Jaelen House (four-star point guard)
I'm low on the Devils, in large part because I'm not convinced that they can survive the gauntlet without the likes of Lugentz Dort and Zylan Cheatham, both of whom left early to go to the NBA. I think that Bobby 'F-cking' Hurley has done enough to warrant attention in Tempe, but don't see the Devils' soft nonconference slate doing them any favors come conference play. The home showdown between the Devils and Saint Mary's Gaels on Dec. 18 will be fascinating, as it'll tell us whether the team's for real or not. I expect the Devils to have another fast start, but to once again flame out when the going gets tough down the stretch.
8. Stanford Cardinal (15-16, 8-10 in 2019)
Key returnees: Daejon Davis (11.4 points, 4.4 assists, 3.0 rebounds per game)
Key arrivals: Tyrell Terry (four-star point guard)
The Cardinal just can't seem to get over the hump in the Pac-12 under coach Jerod Haase, who's in his fourth season in Palo Alto. The Cardinal have only finished over .500 once in his first three years on The Farm, that being the NIT championship-winning team in 2018, and looked anemic as hell in a disappointing 2019 campaign. The Cardinal lost leading scorer KZ Okpala to the NBA, which will definitely hurt their offensive production this year. Stats wiz Ken Pomeroy
has Stanford as his 90th ranked team in the nation, which is about where I see The Cardinal finishing this year. It might be time to consider another coaching change in NorCal if things don't get better soon.
9. UCLA Bruins (17-16, 9-9 in 2019)
Key returnees: Prince Ali (9.6 points, 2.7 rebounds per game)/Shareef O'Neal (DNP in 2019)
Key arrivals: Jaime Jaquez (four-star small forward)
Out with the old (Steve Alford) and in with the new (Mick Cronin) in Westwood, as the Bruins yet again try to capture magic in a bottle after a disappointing decade in SoCal. Cronin, who was the Bruins' safety pick to their backup pick in the offseason, comes to UCLA after a successful 14-year run at Cincinnati, where he went 296-146 with two conference titles in that span. The Bruins wanted a splashier hire, as per usual, but were turned down by the likes of John Calipari (Kentucky), Billy Donovan (Oklahoma City Thunder) and just about everybody else with a pulse. The Bruins return a talent-depleted roster and should be pretty mediocre this year, but that's why they play the games folks! The actuality of UCLA's mediocrity won't be known for a good long while, so let's sit back and watch the Bruins' neurotic fanbase eat its own, as is tradition.
10. Utah Utes (17-14, 11-7 in 2019)
Key returnees: Timmy Allen (12.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.4 assists per game)
Key arrivals: Rylan Jones (four-star point guard)
The Utes haven't made the NCAA Tournament since 2016 and have pretty much failed to live up to expectations in the three years since. Coach Larry Krystkowiak (or Larry K, as we'll call him here), is still the highest-paid coach in the conference, raking in $3,572,500 a year, according to USA Today
. That averages out to $23,048.39 per win, which is a terrible bargain for the fine taxpayers of Utah. Don't be surprised if Larry is on the curb after this season, as I don't see the Utes doing anything on the court to be proud of this year.
11. Washington State Cougars (11-21, 4-14 in 2019)
Key returnees: CJ Elleby (14.7 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.0 assists per game)
Welcome to Pullman, Kyle Smith! Smith comes to the Palouse after resurrecting a moribund San Francisco Dons team, leading them to three-straight 20-win campaigns. He'll need an extra strong dose of magic in what's considered by many to be the toughest Power Five coaching job in the land, as the Cougs' don't have a lot of resources and virtually no recruiting base to pull from. Expect CJ Elleby to be the team's lone offensive force, coming off an impressive season as the team's number-two offensive option behind Robert Franks in 2019.
12. Cal Bears (8-23, 3-15 in 2019)
Key returnees: Paris Austin (11.6 points, 4.3 assists, 3.1 rebounds per game)/Matt Bradley (10.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists per game)
Speaking of unenviable coaching jobs, how about we break down what might be the worst Power Five program in the country? Well, welcome to Berkeley Mark Fox, who was fired at the University of Georgia, only to find his way to an even less-desirable coaching gig. The Bears lost leading scorer Justice Sueing, as he transferred to Ohio State, and will rely on returning players Paris Austin and Matt Bradley to usher the team forward. I don't expect them to have much success, however, as the Bears are in a deep hole that will take several years to dig out of. Where have you gone, Ivan Rabb? The Golden Bears turn their lonely eyes to you (or Jaylen Brown, for that matter).