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Conference Catchup: In Pac-12, Arizona still set up to be king

By Matt Norlander | College Basketball Writer

Larry Nance (USATSI)
Ernie Kent, right, is back in the league. Does Washington State have a chance to contend with him? (USATSI)

More: Draft coverage | Coaching changes | Early Top 25 (And One)

Things are now mostly settled in college basketball. We basically know who will be coaching where. We basically know who will be playing where. So this seems like as good of a time as any to reset everything and get caught up on all of the notable leagues.

That's the idea behind the CBSSports.com Conference Catchups.

Previously we've touched on:

The ACC
The American Athletic Conference
The Atlantic 10
The Big East
The Big Ten
The Big 12
The Mountain West

Today, we look at another left coast beauty, the Pac-12.

FOUR OFFSEASON HEADLINES

1. Oregon alleged rape case becomes big national story: Multiple alleged sexual assault incidents back in March led -- seven weeks later -- to the dismissal of three Oregon players. But the way the story played out, when Oregon officials claimed to know what, and why the athletes in question were allowed to keep on playing has brought about a lot of skepticism and criticism toward the university. Ducks coach Dana Altman held an apologetic press conference after all the discipline was handed out, but he's faced no punishment at all. There have been multiple on-campus protests and calls for his job.

The alleged victim has since publicly criticized the university for its handling of the situation.

It's been a dramatic and somber spring for Oregon athletics. The case led some to call Oregon's handling a cover-up. The story does not feel completed yet, either.

2. Oregon State waits a while before canning Craig Robinson: This was a weird one. OSU coaches were told publicly and privately that their jobs were safe. This sentiment came after the season. But on May 5, Robinson was told to leave his post, and in doing so Oregon State's administration did something very rare. It removed a coach more than a month after the end of the college basketball season. Inside of a major conference, this kind of action happens once every ... 10 years? If that? Very strange.

Robinson never went to the NCAA Tournament in his six years at the school. The Beavers hired away Wayne Tinkle (yes, that's his name) from Montana.

3. Cal capitalizes on Cuonzo: No matter what, Cuonzo Martin would have a head-coaching gig in 2014-15. But the former Tennessee coach looked like he might stay as Tennessee coach after reaching the Sweet 16 as an 11 seed. The fans weren't huge on Martin at UT, though, and he knew he wasn't long for Knoxville. There was some thought he'd land at Marquette, but when he didn't get that job, Cal became an opportunity once Mike Montgomery was hired.

I'd still like to know how it all really went down, because there were a few other candidates very much in the mix there. Then, almost out of nowhere, the deal is finalized with Martin. He'll lead the Bears, and it's going to be very interesting. He has no ties to the area but has hired a solid staff around him, including rising star assistant coach Yanni Hufnagel.

4. Ernie Kent returns to the league: The former longtime Oregon coach was out of the coaching business for a few years, opting to do TV work while he waited for another chance. If he was ever going to get one. And in April, he did. Washington State fired Ken Bone, who never made the NCAA Tournament, and went with Kent in his place. It's a hire that's had some skepticism due to Kent's age and a slew of younger candidates able/willing to take the position.

Washington State is such a hard job. This is almost definitely Kent's last hurrah in college hoops. Can he build something, or will this be a three-year experiment that ends with the Cougars in the same spot they're in now?

BIG QUESTION THAT REMAINS

Who can challenge Arizona? Are you seeing anyone that's going to have the power, speed or depth to run with the Wildcats? I don't. It's looking like the Wildcats can win the 2015 Pac-12 by three or four games. The team, as a whole, stands to be even better than last year's team. It's fun to see Sean Miller build this. His stature in the profession is growing by the month.

The Pac-12 will be a battle for second next season. Especially if Arizona dodges any injury issues. The Wildcats lost Brandon Ashley midway through the league slate last season, but Miller recently said Ashley is on pace to be fully healthy in time for next season.

NBA DRAFT REPORT

Could've gone and did: Jordan Adams (UCLA), Kyle Anderson (UCLA), Jahii Carson (Arizona State), Spencer Dinwiddie (Colorado), Aaron Gordon (Arizona), Zach LaVine (UCLA), Eric Moreland (Oregon State), Nick Johnson (Arizona)

Could've gone but stayed: Brandon Ashley (Arizona), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (Arizona), Kaleb Tarczewski (Arizona), Delon Wright (Utah), Joseph Young (Oregon)

TRANSFER LIST

Coming: Ryan Anderson (Boston College to Arizona); Stephen Domingo (Georgetown to California); Robert Upshaw (Fresno State to Washington)

Going: Eric Conklin (Arizona to Amherst); D.J. Henderson (Arizona State to Kilgore College); Brandan Kearney (Arizona State to Detroit); Egor Koulechov (Arizona State to Rice); Calaen Robinson (Arizona State to Portland State); Dominic Artis (Oregon to TBD); Brandon Austin (Oregon to TBD); Ben Carter (Oregon to UNLV); Damyean Dotson (Oregon to TBD); A.J. Lapray (Oregon to Pepperdine); Hallice Cooke (Oregon State to Iowa State); James Hunter (Washington State to South Dakota); Brett Kingma (Washington State to Western Washington); Royce Woolridge (Washington State to Grand Canyon); Danny Lawhorn (Washington State to Midwestern State); Desmond Simmons (Washington to St. Mary's); Hikeem Stewart (Washington to Kentucky Wesleyan); Aaron Bright (Stanford to St. Mary's); Kahlil Johnson (California to TBD); Ricky Kreklow (California to Creighton); Sooren Derboghosian (UCLA to TBD); Byron Wesley (USC to Gonzaga); Roschon Prince (USC to Long Beach State); Ahmad Fields (Utah to Drexel); Marko Kovacevic (Utah to Tampa); Princeton Onwas (Utah to TBD); Chris Jenkins (Colorado to Detroit)

TEAM COMMENTARY IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

Arizona: Team still looks so good, and incoming frosh Stanley Johnson can be a superstar. You will love him.

Arizona State: Lost two best players in Jahii Carson and Jordan Bachynski, who I think can be an NBA player. Sendek on the hot seat again?

California: Give Cuonzo time. I think he makes the NCAAs two of the next four seasons. Recruiting area is blooming with talent for him to poach.

Colorado: Tad Boyle can reaffirm his rep as the most underrated coach if he gets Colorado to 20-plus wins next season.

Oregon: Basketball-wise, the Ducks will be competitive. Aside from Joe Young, Elgin Cook will be a cog for Altman's team.

Oregon State: Beavs fans wanted a new coach. Now they need to patiently wait at least two more years before expecting anything.

Southern California: Andy Enfield is quietly on his way to getting back. 2015-16 will be the year when the big jump is made.

Stanford: Cardinal could be the most underrated team in the country heading into next season. Chasson Randle is a big-boy player.

UCLA: Huge exodus of talent, but the Bruins still have Norman Powell, Tony Parker and Bryce Alford, who I think will make leaps at the point next season.

Utah: Utah flirted with an NCAA bid last season. They'll get one in 2015. Delon Wright. Just remember the name. Stud all-around player.

Washington: Lorenzo Romar has been at the helm for 12 years now. No NCAAs next year ... is he out? Some U-Dub fans are probably rooting for it.

Washington State: Nobody wins at Wazzu. Except Tony Bennett. Best of luck to Ernie Kent, who is now 59 years old.

EARLY GUESS AT THE TOP 5

1. Arizona
2. UCLA
3. Stanford
4. Utah
5. Colorado

EARLY GUESS AT THE ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM

(The Pac-12 has a 10-man team, but we're sticking to tradition here.)

  • G: Delon Wright, Utah
  • G: Chasson Randle, Stanford
  • F: Stanley Johnson, Arizona
  • F: Josh Scott, Colorado
  • C: Kaleb Tarczewski, Arizona

Final Thought: It's a complete mystery what the Pac-12 will become next season. Aside from the question posed above, regarding an Arizona challenger, I wonder if the league can sustain a four- or five-bid floor for the NCAA Tournament. I have my doubts. The bottom of the league will probably churn in rebuilding mode for a few years. I'm not seeing the Washington schools crawl of the muck next year, and the same goes for USC, Oregon State and maybe even Arizona State. The Pac-12's interesting problem is this: The league is producing NBA talent. Just look at the guys who left and see where they end up getting picked this season.

But all that individual talent is growing the league into a clear-cut top-four conference. If Arizona lords over the league with Sean Miller for the next two or three years, it could become a Kentucky/SEC-like situation. (Knowing full well that Florida is a worthy rival to UK, I'm talking bigger picture here.)

So is this a good thing for the league? Not exactly. Ideally you want seven or eight teams in the mix come February. When you're annually bringing in three new coaches every offseason, and dealing with another three on the so-called hot seat, it's hard to dip out of the cycle.

 
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