Conference Countdown: No. 6 -- Pac-12

by | CBSSports.com College Basketball Insider
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UCLA's Lazeric Jones needs to match the frontcourt's production if the Bruins are to go far. (Getty Images)  
UCLA's Lazeric Jones needs to match the frontcourt's production if the Bruins are to go far. (Getty Images)  

The top seven scorers from a year ago are gone.

Arizona brings in a strong freshman class, UCLA is loaded up front, California has three of the league's top players, Washington remains deep and Oregon coach Dana Altman has upgraded the talent in Eugene.

2012 Tournament:
March 7-10 -- Los Angeles
Quick facts
Defending regular-season champion:
Arizona
Defending tournament champion:
Washington
Top returning scorer:
Jorge Gutierrez (California), 14.6 ppg
Top returning rebounder:
Reeves Nelson (UCLA), 9.1 rpg
Accolades
First team
G - Jorge Gutierrez, California
G - Jared Cunningham, Oregon State
G - Terrence Ross, Washington
F - Reeves Nelson, UCLA
C - Josh Smith, UCLA
Second team
G - Allen Crabbe, California
G - Josiah Turner, Arizona
G - Jabari Brown, Oregon
G - Trent Lockett, Arizona State
F - Dwight Powell, Stanford
Player of the year
Reeves Nelson, UCLA
Newcomer of the year
Josiah Turner, Arizona
Breakthrough player
Terrence Ross, Washington
Coach on the hot seat
Craig Robinson, Oregon State
Click here for more
conference previews

That's five programs -- all with a shot at winning the league this season.

It's honestly anyone's guess who rises to the top.

Sean Miller led Arizona to an improbable Elite Eight appearance a year ago, but will have to learn how to adjust to life without Derrick Williams.

UCLA has two of the league's top big men in Reeves Nelson and Josh Smith, but guard play will be an issue -- especially with the early defection of Malcolm Lee.

Don't count Mike Montgomery and the Bears out of the equation as long as they have the three-headed monster of Jorge Gutierrez, Harper Kamp and Allen Crabbe.

Lorenzo Romar appears to have lost a ton, but U-Dub still has no shortage of talent with guys like Terrence Ross, freshman Tony Wroten and Abdul Gaddy.

Oregon is a question mark, especially with the Ducks adding a trio of transfers. However, we saw what Altman could do a year ago with virtually no depth and a shortage of talent.

After those five programs, there's a drop-off. There isn't much disparity between the likes of Stanford, Oregon State, USC, Arizona State and Washington State -- and the same can be said for the newest additions in the league, Colorado and Utah.

(Schools listed in predicted order of finish.)

1.UCLA: The Bruins have questions in the backcourt, but the frontcourt is about as potent as anywhere in the country. Reeves Nelson and Josh Smith return and the Wear twins -- Travis and David -- are eligible after transferring back home from North Carolina. The key for Ben Howland is guard play, though, and Lazeric Jones will need to take another step forward.

2.Arizona: Sean Miller and the Wildcats relied heavily on Derrick Williams -- and now they will do so with talented freshmen guards Josiah Turner and Nick Johnson. Arizona still has veteran wings Kyle Fogg, Kevin Parrom and Solomon Hill, but it'll be Turner and Johnson who determine whether the Wildcats can contend for a Pac-12 title this season.

3. California: The Bears return three of the league's top players: senior guard Jorge Gutierrez, sophomore guard Allen Crabbe and senior power forward Harper Kamp. If Kamp can remain healthy, there's no reason to believe Mike Montgomery's team won't contend for the league title. He'll need raw big man Richard Solomon to emerge as a consistent post player.

4. Washington: The Huskies lost Isaiah Thomas, Matthew Bryan-Amaning and Justin Holiday, but still, Lorenzo Romar has no shortage of talent. Look for sophomore wing Terrence Ross to have a break-out season and Abdul Gaddy should return from a season-ending injury to become one of the league's top point guards. The key could be whether enigmatic freshman Tony Wroten buys into what Romar wants.

5. Oregon: Dana Altman won 21 games a year ago with the cupboard basically bare. Now he's added one of the nation's top freshman, wing Jabari Brown, and a trio of talented transfers: big man Tony Woods, power forward Olu Ashaolu and wing Devoe Joseph. Junior forward E.J. Singler, the younger brother of former Duke star Kyle Singler, is also back in the fold.

6.Stanford: The Cardinal lost Jeremy Green, who left early for the NBA Draft. However, Johnny Dawkins should have a quality frontcourt with Josh Owens and Dwight Powell. Look for freshman Chasson Randle to make an immediate impact -- and the hope is that skilled sophomore Anthony Brown emerges.

7. Oregon State: Craig Robinson and the Beavers finished a disappointing ninth in the league last season, but now this group has some experience -- and is led by junior guard Jared Cunningham. Roberto Nelson will need to produce and UTEP transfer Eric Moreland should help along the frontline.

8. Arizona State: It was a brutal year for Herb Sendek and the Sun Devils, but the bright spot was the emergence of Trent Lockett -- who returns after being a second-team league selection a year ago. Freshman point guard Jahii Carson will have a lot of weight on his shoulders.

9. USC: The season-ending loss of Jio Fontan was a crushing blow to Kevin O'Neill and the Trojans. Compared to last year, this is a completely different team, which was led by Nikola Vucevic, Fontan and Alex Stepheson. Now it'll be up to Maurice Jones and how quickly talented big man Dewayne Dedmon emerges at the D-1 level.

10. Washington State: Ken Bone lost Klay Thompson and DaAngelo Casto early and will have his hands full this year. The backcourt of Reggie Moore and Faisal Aden should be fine, but the question is whether the Cougars have enough up front. Brock Motum will need to become a consistent contributor on the frontline.

11. Colorado: Tad Boyle enters the Pac-12 without Alec Burks, Cory Higgins, Marcus Relphorde and Levi Knutson. All of which averaged double-figures a year ago. This will be a long year in Boulder, but expect wing Andre Roberson and Utah transfer Carlon Brown to get numbers.

12. Utah: New Utes coach Larry Krystkowiak has to rebuild in the team's first campaign in the Pac-12. Utah won just 13 games last season, jettisoned Jim Boylen after the year and then leading scorer Will Clyburn transferred out of the program. Josh Watkins is talented, but he doesn't have enough around him.

2011-12 Season Preview
DateFeatureDateFeature
Oct. 13Preseason Top 25 (and one) Nov. 1Top freshmen
 Projected NCAA tournament field Nov. 2Top transfers
 Goodman and Parrish bracket picks Nov. 3Under the radar players
Oct. 14Team profiles: 'Cuse | UConn | UK | UNC Nov. 4Breakout players
Oct. 17Preseason All-Americans Nov. 5Best shooters
Oct. 18Top 100 players Nov. 6Best defensive players
Oct. 19Positional rankings: Point guards Nov. 768 things ...
Oct. 20Positional rankings: Wing men Nov. 8Ranking the preseason tourneys
Oct. 21Positional rankings: Big men Nov. 950 can't miss games
   Nov. 10Coaches on the Hot Seat
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