Kyle Caron, NCAAMReview Author
The 2016-17 season saw the Pac-12 fighting for a place as the most dominant Power 5 conference behind the ACC. In a year where both the Big 12 and Big 10 seemed to under perform, the west coast teams were poised to show their dominance on a national scale and they did not disappoint. UCLA, Arizona, and Oregon all carried the conference to national relevance despite the best efforts of bottom half teams to pull them down. And with the Duck’s Final Four appearance, the first Pac team to make the Final Four in almost ten years (UCLA, 2008), the conference proved its ability to be a postseason threat for the first time in a long time. But with the loss of some of its best players to the draft, will the league be able to hold its spot in the limelight for the 2017-18 season? Let’s break down last year’s best of the Pac-12 and how they will fair this year.
The Oregon Ducks were the best team in the Pac-12 last year. Finishing 33-6 with only two losses in conference play, the Ducks saw themselves live up to the pre-season hype and more. Dana Altman took his 2016 elite eight squad and improved upon it with a decent recruiting class, most notably Payton Pritchard who quickly overtook Dylan Ennis as the team’s starting PG, forcing Ennis back to the SG role he was known for at Villanova. However, after their Final Four run, the majority of the team’s key players opted to leave in some capacity. Dylan Ennis and Chris Boucher have graduated while Jordan Bell, Dillon Brooks, and Tyler Dorsey all chose to forego the rest of their college careers in pursuit of the NBA. This means that the Ducks will be losing four of their five starters from last season, leaving only Pritchard to carry the load of a young team for the upcoming year. This also means that almost their entire offense will be absent as the five departures happened to be the top five scorers for the team as well. The silver lining to this seemingly devastating news is that it appears the Duck’s incoming recruits will be even better than last years. Three 4 star players will fill some of the space in the team’s roster along with one of 2017’s most highly touted prospects, 5 star Troy Brown Jr., providing Pritchard with some much needed support at Small Forward. While this by no means will be a championship caliber team, the future of Oregon basketball looks bright and they should still expect to finish in the top four of the conference.
When will Sean Miller finally make a Final Four? Every year Wildcat fans seem to get more and more hopeful, and this year appears to be no different. However every year skeptics also write them off as an elite eight team at best, and much like Mark Few, they won’t believe Miller is capable of bringing a team past the regional final until they see it. Regardless of his accomplishments in the postseason, it is indisputable that Sean Miller is one of the most talented coaches in the sport, and if there ever were a roster capable of reaching the promised land it is this one. While losing Lauri Markkanen to the draft was expected, the loss of Kadeem Allen to graduation and the surprising declaration for the draft by Kobi Simmons hurts as well. The damage done to the roster is nowhere near as devastating as that suffered by Oregon, but in losing Markkanen the Wildcats are also losing their highest scorer and rebounder on both ends of the floor. On the bright side, Arizona will be bringing in much more than what they’ve lost in four ESPN top 100 recruits, and one to fill each position at that. Alex Barcello, Brandon Randolph, and Ira Lee will all offer solid support coming off a deep bench, but the crowned jewel of this roster is without a doubt #2 overall, 5 star recruit DeAndre Ayton. At 7’0, 241 lb Ayton will be an absolute monster down low adding plenty to an Arizona front court that left much to be desired. Couple Ayton’s defensive presence with the scoring power behind Rawle Atkins and Allonzo Trier and it is easy to see why this Miller squad is considered a favorite in many preseason polls.
Bruin fans are not shy when it comes to expressing their dissatisfaction with Steve Alford over the last couple seasons. Coming off a rather abysmal 2015-16 season by UCLA standards, many were calling for a quick exit for Alford a mere three seasons after his arrival. However last season which saw the Bruins reach the #2 ranking in the AP poll, a three seed in the NCAA tournament, and a tough loss to Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen, may have cooled Alford’s hot seat at least for the time being. But how much of last season’s success could be attributed to the dynamic duo of Lonzo Ball and T.J Leaf? Probably most of it, which is why the Bruin’s head coach better hope his incoming recruiting class can carry him through another year of success or he may spend some time job searching come April. It is always dangerous when the success of a team is heavily reliant on their recruits (see UConn last year). The early departures of Leaf and Anigbogu will leave some space to fill in the front court and despite the hype surrounding incoming Freshman Jaylen Hands, filling the shoes of last year’s number two draft pick will not be an easy task. However, the other pieces of this #4 recruiting class (ESPN) will hopefully be able to give enough support to keep the Bruins in the conversation for most of the season, including 5 star SF Kris Wilkes and 4 star PF Cody Riley. And even if their performance on the court doesn’t keep them nationally relevant, the commitment of LiAngelo Ball will ensure media coverage of this team never dies. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is up to you…