The Pac-12 was projected to get six teams in the 2020 NCAA Tournament before it was canceled, according to CBS Sports Bracketology Expert Jerry Palm, with a resurgent UCLA on the bubble as a potential seventh. After seeing just three teams make the NCAA Tournament field of 68 in 2018 and 2019, Selection Sunday likely would have been a nice showcase of the league's hoops renaissance.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic cut the season short and left the league with plenty still to prove. But as a new season approaches, there is reason to believe the oft-maligned conference could be even better this season than it was a year ago when Oregon edged UCLA for the league crown.
The Ducks and Bruins are projected again to be top teams in the Pac-12, but there is a solid mix of productive returners and incoming talent throughout the entire league that suggests the conference's status will continue to climb. Even the projected bottom-feeders return potential stars in Ethan Thompson (Oregon State), Isaac Bonton (Washington State) and Matt Bradley (Cal) in what should be a compelling season for a conference on the rise.
Pac-12 Preseason Player of the Year
The senior point guard passed on the NBA Draft after coming up clutch for the Sun Devils on numerous occasions as a junior while averaging 19.1 points, 4.1 assists and 1.5 steals per game. Martin has continued to rise since winning the Pac-12's Sixth Man of the Year award as a freshman and will now have a chance to lead Arizona State past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1995. Few athletes play their sport with as much passion and fearlessness as Martin does, and he is poised to take over for departed Oregon guard Payton Pritchard as the face of the conference.
Pac-12 Preseason Coach of the Year
Bobby Hurley, Arizona State
The COVID-19 pandemic and scheduling disruptions it may bring will be the only thing that stops Hurley from being the first coach in program history to lead Arizona State to four consecutive 20-win seasons. His sixth season on the job is set to be a crescendo-type year, as he's assembled a roster combination that includes an excellent veteran core and the nation's No. 7 recruiting class.
Pac-12 Preseason Freshman of the Year
Evan Mobley, USC
Mobley, who was ranked the No. 3 prospect in the class of 2020 by the 247Sports Composite, faces stiff competition to be the Pac-12's top freshman. Stanford wing Ziaire Williams (the No. 6 overall player) and Arizona State's Joshua Christopher (No. 12) could have special seasons, as could any of the five four-star players that are part of Arizona's No. 5 ranked signing class. But at 6-foot-11, Mobley's elite size and athleticism make him the top choice as he seeks to follow Onyeka Okongwu and be an elite one-and-done post player for the Trojans.
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Pac-12 predicted order of finish
| It says a lot about what Dana Altman has built at Oregon that the Ducks can lose the Pac-12 Player of The Year and a four-year starter in Payton Pritchard yet still get picked to win the league. Altman has become a master at remixing his roster every season, and this year's team features an appetizing blend of returning production and intriguing newcomers. Pritchard is gone, but senior guard Chris Duarte and junior Will Richardson will lead the way after both averaged double-figures last season. Transfers Amauri Hardy (UNLV), Eugene Omoruyi (Rutgers) and Eric Williams Jr. (Duquesne) are likely to play key roles. But the most-intriguing transfer will be LJ Figueroa, if he's eligible. Figueroa led St. John's in scoring last season and is a menacing defender with a solid all-around game.
| All five starters are back from a team that won seven straight Pac-12 games in February as the Bruins went from a laughingstock to a league title contender in the span of a couple months during Mick Cronin's first season as coach. Five-star point guard Daishen Nix's decision to join the G League's Pathway Program after signing with the Bruins is a stinger, but UCLA added Kentucky transfer Johnny Juzang and four-star freshman Jaylen Clark to beef up an already solid roster. Cronin's ability to solicit buy-in after a slow start earned him the league's Coach of the Year honors, and it's evident how close this team became when you look at the wealth of returning talent. Even leading scorer Chris Smith opted to return after testing the NBA Draft waters following a breakout junior season.
| Is there such thing as having too many good guards? Because if there's an issue with this Arizona State roster it's that sixth-year coach Bobby Hurley will have some tough decisions to make when it comes to doling out minutes. Obviously, the Pac-12's leading returning scorer Remy Martin will be a focal point. But there are other mouths to feed, with guard Alonzo Verge Jr. back for his senior season after averaging 14.6 points per game last season. Then there's freshman wing Joshua Christopher, the No. 12 overall prospect in the 2020 class, not to mention transfers Holland Woods (Portland State) and Luther Muhammad (Ohio State) and returning reserves Jaelen House and Caleb Christopher. It will be interesting to see how Hurley juggles the rotation, but this team is poised to keep rising following its third straight 20-win season.
| It's hard to believe Stanford has made just one NCAA Tournament appearance since advancing to the Sweet 16 with Brook and Robin Lopez leading the way in 2008. The Cardinal should get back this season for the first time in coach Jerod Haase's five-year tenure as a solid returning core joins forces with the the nation's No. 11 recruiting class headlined by five-star wing Ziaire Williams. Last year's second-leading scorer Tyrell Terry left for the NBA Draft after an impressive freshman season, but the other four starters are back from a 20-win team, including star senior forward Oscar Da Silva. This is a potentially elite defensive team, and if Williams can fill the scoring void Terry is leaving behind, Stanford appears to have the right combination of veteran leadership and young talent to be a dangerous team in March.
| There is no one headliner who jumps out from Arizona's 2020 signing class, but Sean Miller's seven-man haul finished ranked No. 5 nationally in the 247Sports team rankings. The Wildcats will need a few of those newcomers to shine as they replace one-and-done players Nico Mannion, Josh Green and Zeke Nnaji who combined to average 44 points per game last season. In total, the top six scorers are gone from last season's 21-11 team, leaving former Kentucky transfer Jemarl Baker as the leading returning scorer at 5.7 points per game. Georgetown transfer guard James Akinjo should have an immediate chance to shine after winning the Big East's Freshman of the Year award in the 2018-19 season.
| It's another year and another roster remake for Andy Enfield as he enters his eighth season at USC. Fortunately for the Trojans, one of this year's newcomers is 6-11 Evan Mobley. The No. 3 overall prospect in the 2020 recruiting class will pair with brother Isaiah, a five-star prospect from the previous class, to form an imposing front court duo. The younger Mobley should replace most of the production that one-and-done star Onyeka Okongwu provided last season. Otherwise, USC will be leaning heavily a group of transfers to contribute as the Trojans lose their top five scorers from last season's 22-9 (11-7 Pac-12) team. The development of sophomore point guard Ethan Anderson will also be key after he dished out 4.2 assists per game while starting 28 times as a freshman.
| The Utes' streak of five straight seasons with a winning record in the Pac-12 came to an end last season. But with a rotation full of freshmen and sophomores, some growing pains were to be expected. Now, with star forward Timmy Allen withdrawing from draft consideration, and nearly every key contributor back, Utah is poised to make a run at its first NCAA Tournament since 2016. Allen averaged 17.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.2 steals per game while playing 35.6 minutes per game last season. In short, he does it all. If he can improve on his 21.1% 3-point percentage from last season, he'll quickly become a first-round draft prospect and carry the Utes back into the top half of the Pac-12.
| Colorado has never finished more than four games under .500 in league play during Tad Boyle's 10 seasons but has never finished more than four games over .500 in league play, either. The Buffaloes have been remarkably consistent team in a league that's seen some chaos. With six of 10 rotation players back from last season's 21-11 (10-8 Pac-12) team, that trend appears likely to continue this season. Colorado lost versatile wing Tyler Bey to the NBA Draft after he averaged 13.8 points and 9.0 rebounds per game while proving to be a quality defender as a junior. But leading scorer and distributor McKinley Wright IV is back for his senior season after averaging 14.4 points, 5.0 assists and 5.7 rebounds per game last season. So long as Wright stays healthy, you can bet on the Buffaloes being a tough out in the Pac-12 just like normal.
| Washington went from winning the Pac-12 with a 27-9 (15-3 Pac-12) record in 2019, to finishing last in the league in 2020 even after welcoming a pair of top-10 prospects in Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels. Both players are now gone, but the Huskies welcome back point guard Quade Green after he was ruled academically ineligible and missed the final two months of the season. The Kentucky transfer averaged 11.6 points, 5.3 assists and shot 51.4% from the floor as the Huskies started 11-4. Without him, they won just four more games the rest of the season. Now a junior, Green will pair with versatile senior Nahziah Carter to form a solid duo. If Wichita State transfer Erik Stevenson and Michigan transfer Cole Bajema are eligible, they could add some offensive punch. Senior forward Hameir Wright is poised to take on a big role in the post this season.
| After consecutive eight-win seasons that featured a combined five Pac-12 victories, the Bears took a big step forward in Mark Fox's first season as coach. The progression of Matt Bradley had a lot to do with that. The 6-4 guard averaged 17.5 points per game during a standout sophomore season while proving to be an effective volume shooter. With front court starters Grant Anticevich and Andre Kelly back and graduate transfer 3-point specialists Makale Foreman and Ryan Betley in the mix, there's a chance this team could improve again. If nothing else, the Bears should be fun to watch offensively as Bradley seeks to elevate his draft status during what could be a prolific junior season.
| The Cougars improved in Kyle Smith's first season as coach by going from 11-21 (4-14 Pac-12) to 16-16 (6-12). But taking another step forward this season might be tough after leading scorer CJ Elleby opted to keep his name in NBA Draft consideration following a standout sophomore season. Fortunately, Smith has another veteran guard to hand the reins to in senior Isaac Bonton, who averaged 15.3 points per game last season. Bonton should be a steadying force capable of keeping the Cougars competitive while an intriguing six-man recruiting class headline by four-star wings Andrej Jakimovski and Carlos Rosario begins to chart the future for a program in transition.
| After five years in the program playing under his father, Tres Tinkle departed as Oregon State's all-time leading scorer and second all-time leading rebounder. Thankfully for seventh-year coach Wayne Tinkle, fellow star Ethan Thompson opted to return for his senior season. Thomspon has improved each year and could be poised for a special 2020-21 season. He is part of a solid senior class that also features returning starters Zach Reichle and Alfred Hollins. If the Beavers get some scoring help from a deep well of transfers, it would go a long way toward mitigating the potential dropoff following Tres Tinkle's departure.