Conference Catchup: Powers UCLA, Arizona improving in so-so Pac-12

by | College Basketball Insider
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Xavier transfer Mark Lyons will be the key to Arizona's backcourt this season. (US Presswire)  
Xavier transfer Mark Lyons will be the key to Arizona's backcourt this season. (US Presswire)  

It was a complete embarrassment. Again. The Pac-12 has been down for a while now, but this past season it was downright putrid. UCLA and Arizona were mediocre -- and for a while, it appeared as though it may be a one-bid league. Colorado wound up running the table in the conference tourney and Cal earned (and we use that term loosely) an at-large bid. But the Pac-12 is back.

Well, not quite.

The flag-bearers -- UCLA and Arizona -- are back and should battle for conference supremacy. Both Ben Howland and Sean Miller got it done on the recruiting trail and the influx of talented freshmen should make both programs Top 25 teams next season. As for the rest of the league, well, it doesn't look all that much more promising than last season.

Offseason headlines

1. UCLA with No. 1 recruiting class: It's no secret the Bruins have been down the past few years, but Ben Howland got it done on the recruiting trail -- putting together the top-ranked freshman class in the country. It started with 6-foot-8 point guard Kyle Anderson, but the key was the addition of arguably the No. 1 player in the entire class: Las Vegas native Sbabazz Muhammad.

2. Sean Miller also loads up: Even though UCLA wound up on top, for a while Arizona boasted the No. 1 recruiting class in the country. Sean Miller will bring in a ridiculous group of big men -- Brandon Ashley, Grant Jarrett and Kaleb Tarczewski were all ranked in the Top 25 overall. The Wildcats also bring in Xavier transfer Mark Lyons, a one-year addition, and talented shooter Gabe York.

3. Early Husky Departures: If Lorenzo Romar had brought Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten back to Seattle, U-Dub would have been scary talent-wise. Then again, they were scary talent-wise a year ago and underachieved. Anyway, Ross and Wroten bolted for the NBA and now Washington becomes just another team in the lowly Pac-12.

4. President-in-Law Loses Star: Oregon State coach Craig Robinson was in position to make a move. The president-in-law was set to return his top seven players from last year's team. Now he'll return six of his top seven after standout guard and leading scorer Jared Cunningham opted to leave early for the NBA. The Beavers still have a chance to do some damage.

Big question that remains

Question?Will Shabazz Muhammad be suspended by the NCAA?

We wrote the story back in February -- about Muhammad's family and their connections to a pair of financial advisors. Don't be shocked if UCLA's star guard ends up on the sidelines as a spectator to begin his college career via an NCAA suspension.

NBA Draft report

Could've gone and did: Jared Cunningham (Oregon State), Terrence Ross (Washington), Tony Wroten (Washington)

Could've gone but stayed: Josh Smith (UCLA)

Transfers

Coming: Perris Blackwell (San Francisco to Washington), Jordan Railey (Iowa State to Washington State), Jarred Dubois (Loyola Marymount to Utah), Renaldo Woolridge (Tennessee to USC, eligible immediately), Justin "Richie" Edwards (Valparaiso to USC), Mark Lyons (Xavier to Arizona, eligible immediately), T.J. McConnell (Duquesne to Arizona)

Going: Brendan Lane (UCLA to Pepperdine), D'End Parker (UCLA to San Francisco), Trent Lockett (Arizona State to Marquette, eligible immediately), Kyle Cain (Arizona State to UNC Greensboro), Chanse Creekmur (Arizona State to Iowa State football), Josiah Turner (Arizona to SMU), Ben Mills (Colorado), Shannon Sharpe (Colorado), Garrett Jackson (USC to St. Mary's), Curtis Washington (USC to Georgia State), Alexis Moore (USC), Emerson Murray (Cal to Seattle), Alex Rossi (Cal to Valparaiso), Brett Kingma (Oregon), Kareem Story (Utah to Southern Idaho), Javon Dawson (Utah), Dijon Farr (Utah to Arkansas-Fort Smith), Chris Hines (Utah to Drake), George Matthews (Utah to Texas-San Antonio), Anthony Odunsi (Utah)

Team commentary in 140 characters or less

Arizona: The Wildcats will bring in three studs up front, but the key is in the backcourt where Xavier transfer Mark Lyons will need to be a quality leader at point guard.

Arizona State: The days of James Harden in Tempe seem like a distant memory. Herb Sendek & Co. need to be respectable this season. Evan Gordon, Eric's little brother, is eligible this year after transferring from Liberty.

Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins and the Cardinal are coming off a 26-win season. (Getty Images)  
Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins and the Cardinal are coming off a 26-win season. (Getty Images)  
California: Mike Montgomery lost the Player of the Year in Jorge Gutierrez, so now it'll be Allen Crabbe's team.

Colorado: The Buffaloes lose three starters, but still have talented junior forward Andre Roberson -- and a heck of a coach in Tad Boyle.

Oregon: Dana Altman loses a couple of his quick fix guys in Devoe Joseph and Olu Ashaolu, but E.J. Singler and Tony Woods are back for the Ducks.

Oregon State: Jared Cunningham left early for the NBA -- and that certainly hit Craig Robinson and the Beavers hard. However, Oregon State has everyone else back.

Stanford: While the Cardinal did lose a few seniors, including athletic forward Josh Owens, Johnny Dawkins returns most of his top players from a team that won 26 games last season.

UCLA: Ben Howland may have saved his job -- and brought the Bruins back to national relevance -- with this star-studded recruiting class led by Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson.

Southern California: Kevin O'Neill's team was decimated by injuries and won only a single conference game last season. Jio Fontain is back. So is Dewayne Dedmon -- and the Trojans also add transfers Ari Stewart and Eric Wise.

Utah: It was a mass exodus of transfers for Larry Krystkowiak, who has his work cut out for him in Salt Lake.

Washington: Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten left early, so now the Huskies will build around C.J. Wilcox and Abdul Gaddy. Maybe I'm crazy, but I think this year's team can be better without as much talent.

Washington State: Did you know that Brock Motum was second in the league in scoring, led the Pac-12 in field goal percentage and also averaged 6.5 boards? Me either -- and he's back for his senior year.

Early guess at the top six in the league

1. UCLA
2. Arizona
3. Stanford
4. USC
5. Washington
6. California

Early guess at the all-conference team

G: Mark Lyons (Arizona)
G: Allen Crabbe (Cal)
F: Shabazz Muhammad (UCLA)
F: Kyle Anderson (UCLA)
C: Brock Motum (Washington State)

Final thought

It's not as if the Pac-12 is back to where it was a few years ago, when pros littered most rosters, but it's certainly taken a step in the right direction. This league needs UCLA and Arizona to be good -- just as the ACC needs Duke and North Carolina and the SEC needs Kentucky. Well, the Bruins and Wildcats both possess enough talent to be factors come March. The question is who else will contend for the top few spots in the conference. Stanford has key pieces back, USC should make a huge jump -- and Washington and Cal are question marks after losing plenty. Finally, the Pac-12 will no longer be a laughingstock.

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