Conference Catchup: Pac-12 primed for return to prominence

By Matt Norlander | College Basketball Writer

Part of the offseason for the Pac-12 has been spent repairing its image with officiating. (USATSI)
Part of the offseason for the Pac-12 has been spent repairing its image with officiating. (USATSI)

It's the nineth entry of our 11-edition Conference Catchup series. Click the box below and to the left for offseason reviews of the biggest leagues in college hoops. A lot has happened since the college hoops season has ended. We wanted to make sure you were caught up with every program, every move, every headline of significance.

Today we conclude the series with an examination of the Pac-12, a league that took a huge PR hit in the wake of its conference tournament. But as we begin to turn to the 2013-14 season, a lot of talent is there and this could be a conference that reaches the top three in college basketball.

FOUR OFFSEASON HEADLINES

1. Alford takes over as coach at UCLA: Steve Alford doubled back on a 10-year contract with New Mexico and surprised many by becoming the coach of the Bruins. It wasn't an easy transition. You can't blame Alford for taking a top-five college basketball job, but the task ahead of him will not be easy and history is not on his side. Would five years and a Final Four run count as success? Because that's what the average UCLA coach has done since the end of John Wooden's legendary reign.

2. Ed Rush resigns: The controversy started at the Final Four, where Rush was the director of officials for the Pac-12. The longtime NBA ref, who'd be hired by the Pac-12 in 2012 to improve officiating, may or may not -- depending on who you talked to -- have had it out for Arizona coach Sean Miller. Rush was forced to resign in April after CBSSports.com reported on comments he'd made to league officials about Miller, which led to ...

3. Pac-12 reviews its officiating: As a result of an independent review, the conference cleared itself of some suspicion while accepting responsibility for other unwanted behavior. A lot of this fell on Rush. Going forward, however, the league has an interesting marriage with the Mountain West and will operate, assign and review its officials jointly.

4. Dunk City's mayor moves west: Andy Enfield and Florida Gulf Coast became one of the biggest college basketball stories of the year when the Eagles made a run to the Sweet 16. Leading a team to two tourney wins as a No. 15 seed will get a coach job offers and, sure enough, Enfield took the gig at USC after Kevin O'Neill was fired in January. Enfield has a track record of being awesome at everything; nonetheless, expectations are high for the Trojans.

BIG QUESTION THAT REMAINS

Does Sean Miller make a Final Four next year? Miller is quietly moving into that territory of being a really good coach, a coach so good he should be making a Final Four soon. It's not such a terrible thing, after all. With his success at Xavier and at Arizona, that should be an expectation. Arizona has stockpiled talent for next season that could rival most of the Lute Olson teams of yore. Expect Miller to coach under this pressure for, really, the first time in his career.

NBA DRAFT REPORT

TRANSFERS

TEAM COMMENTARY IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

Arizona: Aaron Gordon is the freak freshman you'll need to know immediately. In general, so much talent. They will be must-watch, most definitely.

Arizona State: Herb Sendek coaching for his job, but he's got the best guard in the league in Jahii Carson -- so that's a huge help.

California: Mike Montgomery almost never fails to win 20 games/make NCAA tournaments. Allen Crabbe is gone, but Cal will still dance.

Colorado: Ridiculously good coach in Tad Boyle will make a star out of Spencer Dinwiddie the way he did Andre Roberson and Alec Burks.

Oregon: Dana Altman was the league coach of the year after a 28-9 record. He then made a Sweet 16. Guess what: the team will be better next year.

Oregon State: Notice to Craig Robinson: Few coaches go six seasons in a major league with no NCAA tourneys and make it to Year 7.

Southern California: First year at a big program but no pressure to do anything big. Watch Enfield's team win 20.

Stanford: Mark Madsen left after a year on the job to become a D-League coach. Bummer for college hoops.

UCLA: I'm fascinated by what Alford will do. I'm on record as being against the hire, but undeniably he wins in November-February.

Utah: Utes won eight games in their first two seasons as Pac-12 members. I'm guessing they won't get to 15 league Ws in total by March.

Washington: Lorenzo Romar will have a younger team leaning on the back of C.J. Wilcox, one of my favorite players in this league.

Washington State: Ken Bone had a bad team last year. With one less year at his school, he's in the same do-or-fired spot at Craig Robinson, most likely.

EARLY GUESS AT THE TOP FIVE IN THE LEAGUE

  1. Arizona
  2. Oregon
  3. UCLA
  4. Colorado
  5. Arizona State

EARLY GUESS AT THE ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM

  • G: Jahii Carson, Arizona State
  • G: Spencer Dinwiddie, Colorado
  • F: Aaron Gordon, Arizona
  • F: Mike Moser, Oregon
  • F: Dwight Powell, Stanford

Final thought: It's going to be a really good year for the league, I think. Take a look again at the names that chose to leave -- and stay -- regarding draft decisions. The Pac-12 had a drop-off in recent years with talent. But that's on the comeback now, and the talent in this league is leading to good times ahead. It should be a resurgence, of sorts. I'd expect no less than five NCAA tournament teams and, eyeballing it, the conference will boast at least seven draft picks next season.

West Coast hoops took a deserved reputation hit from 2010 to 2012. Last season was the beginning of the turn and return to normalcy. UCLA may not be the flagship in the early going, but the Bruins will be a player, and Arizona could be the most exciting team west of the Mississippi. Not only that, but you'll have inherent buzz at schools like USC and Arizona State, where talent and/or coaching situations will dictate our attention.

 
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