2015-16 Pac-12 Predictions: Cal to break Arizona's streak

The Pac-12 is in transition this season. There's no dominant force like Arizona Wildcats has been over the past three seasons, and that means that the league is wide open in a way it hasn't been recently.

However, don't mistake that for thinking this is a "down" year for the conference. In fact, some coaches believe the talent level is as good as it's been in a long time.

"I think the league is the toughest or strongest it's been since I've been in it," said one long-time Pac-12 coach. "Anybody can beat anybody. Look what you've got. The Arizona-Arizona State trip is rough now. Utah and Colorado will be good. When I first got to the league, Utah was pretty much an automatic win and now it's anything but. It's hard to go up to Pullman. The Oregon trip every year is tough. USC is going to be improved. There are no 'gimme' games." 

Sometimes parity does mean that it's a down league talent-wise. The Pac-12 only has to look to its 2012 iteration to find an example of that, where Washington Huskies -- who won the league outright in the regular season -- didn't make the NCAA Tournament and the league as a whole had no team seeded higher than 11. But given the incoming talent to the league this season, it's hard to see how that would be the case.

The Pac-12 brought in six of the top-23 recruiting classes in America this season according to 247Sports' composite ranking, more than any other league in the country. At the top, you have to look at California Golden Bears and Arizona, both of whom were in the top-10 and feature multiple five-star recruits. But even depth-wise, Oregon Ducks , Oregon State Beavers , UCLA Bruins and Washington bring in stellar groups that should reap dividends for the league over the next few years.

Even in spite of that youth, this is shaping up to be around a five-bid league this season, and could have upside for more depending on how some of the mid-level teams with upside pan out. Here's what to expect from the Pac-12 in 2015-16.

Tyrone Wallace (USATSI)
Cal's Tyrone Wallace led the Bears with 17.1 points per game last season. (USATSI)

1. CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BEARS 

The Golden Bears certainly have the most upside of any team in the league, as five-star freshmen Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb join all-Pac-12 guard Tyrone Wallace . Plus, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews are still around on the wing to create offense. It's a truly potent lineup. But it's hard for me to personally shake the fact that this was possibly the most disappointing team in the Pac-12 season last year, really only picking up one quality victory (at home against UCLA) on their way to a 7-11 mark. Can these freshmen really make enough of an impact to double their conference win total?

2. ARIZONA WILDCATS 

The Wildcats have a ton of talent to replace after losing all of Stanley Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, T.J. McConnell and Brandon Ashley to the NBA. But they also bring in a ton of talent in freshmen Allonzo Trier, Ray Smith , and Justin Simon , transfers Ryan Anderson and Mark Tollefsen , and no-longer-redshirted guard Kadeem Allen . With those guys along with returning role players Kaleb Tarczewski , Elliott Pitts and Gabe York , there will certainly be more depth than they had last year. It's just all going to be about how well the new pieces integrate.

3. UTAH UTES 

For my money, looking at both ends of the floor, Delon Wright was one of the five or so most valuable players in all of college basketball last season. Replacing him is about as tough a task as you can find. Look for Brandon Taylor and Isaiah Wright to have cracks at it early. And even if they only replace a fraction of Wright's skill, the Utes still return just about everyone else from last year's top-10 KenPom team. That, along with a terrific coach in Larry Krystkowiak should send them back to the NCAA Tournament.

4. OREGON DUCKS 

This is a team that seems to be flying under the radar right now for reasons unbeknownst to this author. Sure, they lose Pac-12 Player of the Year Joseph Young. But they return nearly everything else, plus bring in Tyler Dorsey and Dylan Ennis to replace him as lead guard. Then, they also bring in three other four-star prospects that could play a role this season. The biggest weakness of this team last year was depth, and it seems like they won't be nearly as lacking there this season. The Ducks could surprise in the Pac-12. 

5. UCLA BRUINS 

Losing Kevon Looney is obviously a big deal given that he was a first-round pick. But Norman Powell is the even larger loss here, as he was an integral piece in every single aspect of the Bruins' play last year. Still, Bryce Alford and Tony Parker return after big NCAA Tournament runs, and Thomas Welsh could provide a bigger presence inside after a good run with the USA's U19 team this summer. The gamebreaker here though is Jonah Bolden . If Bolden can replicate Looney's performance last year, the Bruins could return to the Tournament.

6. OREGON STATE BEAVERS 

This could be the year that the Beavers finally get back to the NCAA Tournament after a 25-year absence. Gary Payton II could end up winning the league's player of the year award, all of the team's important pieces return, plus they bring in freshman shooters to help buoy the team's biggest weakness last year -- offensive efficiency and 3-point marksmanship. The defense will be strong, they just need to prove they can score enough to hang with the big boys.

7. COLORADO BUFFALOES 

After three straight Tourney appearances under Tad Boyle, the Buffs missed the mark last year after an injury-riddled campaign. But big man Josh Scott is back this year to bring stability inside, as he and Wesley Gordon look to combine as one of the best frontcourts in the league. If Dominique Collier and Tre'Shaun Fletcher can steady the perimeter, this could be a .500 team in the league.

8. STANFORD CARDINAL 

The Cardinal might lose more than any other team in the conference beyond Arizona, as Chasson Randle, Anthony Brown and Stefan Nastic depart. Plus, now presumed starting guard Marcus Allen is out for a while with a stress fracture in his foot. The keys for the Cardinal will be getting more out of former McDonald's All-American Reid Travis , who missed part of last season with injury, and finding stability in the backcourt.

9. USC TROJANS 

It's time that Andy Enfield starts to make progress in the league, and he has the talent to do it. Elijah Stewart was one of the most underrated freshmen in the country last season, and he could take a step forward. As could point guard Jordan McLaughlin . With guys like Nikola Jovanovic h, Malik Martin and Julian Jacobs also back, this could be a fun group that improves as the year goes on. One place they'll need to get better is in close games, as the Trojans went 0-7 last year in games decided by two-possessions (six points or fewer). 

10. ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS 

Coach Bobby Hurley will bring a different vibe with him as he comes in from Buffalo. But there's a lot of work to be done here to get the talent level up to par, and a rough first season could be in the works for the former Duke star. Look for Tra Holder and Gerry Blakes to hold down the backcourt while Savon Goodman and Eric Jacobson do the same in the frontcourt. 

11. WASHINGTON HUSKIES 

There are just so many new pieces to integrate here. The Huskies bring in a top-15 recruiting class nationally, but all of those kids will likely play a role as Nigel Williams-Goss transferred to Gonzaga. The pieces to be most excited about here for 2015-16 are senior guard Andrew Andrews , sophomore Donoven Dorsey, and freshman Dejounte Murray

12. WASHINGTON STATE COUGARS 

The only thing to get excited about here is the return of Josh Hawkinson , who should be an All-Pac-12 big man this coming season. But they lose a big piece of their offense in DaVonte Lacy, plus finished 313th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency according to KenPom. That's not the recipe for success in Ernie Kent's second year. Maybe guards Ike Iroegbu and Ny Redding can take a step forward and push them to a top-eight spot?

CBS Sports Experts' Pac-12 Predictions
 

Gary
Parrish

@GaryParrishCBS

Matt
Norlander

@MattNorlander

Chip
Patterson

@Chip_Patterson

Sam
Vecenie

@Sam_Vecenie

Jerry
Palm

@jppalmCBS

Jon
Rothstein

@JonRothstein

Doug
Gottlieb

@GottliebShow
1.
CAL

CAL

ARIZONA

ARIZONA

ARIZONA

CAL

CAL
2.
ARIZONA

ARIZONA

UTAH

CAL

CAL

OREGON

UTAH
3.
UTAH

UTAH

CAL

OREGON

UTAH

ARIZONA

ARIZONA
4.
OREGON

OREGON

UCLA

UTAH

OREGON

UTAH

OREGON
5.
UCLA

OREGST

OREGST

OREGST

UCLA

UCLA

OREGST
6.
OREGST

UCLA

OREGON

UCLA

OREGST

OREGST

UCLA
7.
COLO

COLO

STNFRD

COLO

COLO

ARIZST

STNFRD
8.
STNFRD

STNFRD

COLO

USC

STNFRD

COLO

COLO
9.
USC

ARIZST

ARIZST

STNFRD

WASH

USC

USC
10.
ARIZST

USC

USC

ARIZST

USC

WASH

WASH
11.
WASH

WASH

WASHST

WASH

ARIZST

STNFRD

ARIZST
12.
WASHST

WASHST

WASH

WASHST

WASHST

WASHST

WASHST

BIGGEST RISER: California

Cal's obviously going to be better than they were last season. Even if they only end up jumping to a top-three spot in the league versus No. 1, that would be a massive improvement in Cuonzo Martin's second season in charge. Brown is the most talented player in the league, Rabb can be one of them this season if his added weight allows him to establish position more easily, and Wallace won't need to do as much with this talent around him. They're going to need to replace David Kravish inside and get some further help from their returning big men for depth. But regardless, anything beyond a top-five seed in the NCAA Tournament and contending in the Pac-12 will be a disappointment.

BIGGEST FALLER: Stanford

Has to be the Cardinal, who were almost a shoo-in for the NCAA Tournament last year until losing eight of their last 12 games -- including games to Washington State, Colorado and Arizona State. Now, without Randle, Brown or Nastic, it's hard to see how this group finishes in the top-half of the Pac-12. And if that happens, at what point does Johnny Dawkins' seat start to become a bit hot? That would be only one NCAA Tournament appearance in eight seasons, without marked momentum in either play on the floor or recruiting given that they currently have zero future commitments. Hard to survive that long at any high-major job with that level of success.

BOLD PREDICTION: Oregon State makes its first NCAA Tournament since 1990

The Beavers really could have an elite defense in college basketball this season after finishing 16th nationally last season and not losing anyone major off of that roster. They also held down their home floor as well as anyone last season, going 15-2 in Corvallis. As long as those two things hold up from last year, they're going to be in position. They just need to improve on the road, where they went 2-9 last season. With the experience they gained last year and the improved firepower from a strong recruiting class, I think they get it done.

CBS SPORTS PRESEASON ALL-PAC-12 TEAM

G: Tyrone Wallace, California

G: Gary Payton II, Oregon State

G/F: Allonzo Trier, Arizona

F: Jaylen Brown, California

C: Jakob Poeltl , Utah

CBS SPORTS PRESEASON PAC-12 PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Jaylen Brown, California

CBS SPORTS PRESEASON COACH OF THE YEAR

Wayne Tinkle, Oregon State

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