2018-2019 Pac-12 Preview

Preseason Player of the Year:

Jaylen Hands, UCLA

Preseason All-Conference Team:

Bennie Boatwright, USC

Noah Dickerson, Washington

Jaylen Hands, UCLA

Tres Tinkle, Oregon St

Kris Wilkes, UCLA

Preseason Newcomer of the Year:

Kevin Porter Jr., USC

Projected Order of Finish:

1. UCLA

Head coach Steve Alford has the unenviable task of trying to navigate the harsh and unrealistic UCLA fan base. His seat is as hot as it gets and he’ll probably need to make it to the second weekend to save his job. The backcourt trio of sophomores Jaylen Hands, Kris Wilkes and junior Prince Ali will be one of the best in the country. Freshman center Moses Brown will be tasked with being the defensive anchor. There’s plenty of talent here, but the Bruins will have to keep the noise away.

2. Washington

No one expected the Huskies to be as good as they were last season, but they managed to find themselves to the bubble. This season should see the Huskies become one of the best teams in the Pac-12. Senior forward Noah Dickerson is a true low-post scorer that will be tough for anyone to guard. Throw in the 2-3 zone and the combination of a true star plus style of play can lead Washington to a Pac-12 title.

3. Oregon

The Ducks missed the tournament last season after making a Final Four run the year before. The talent here this season is impressive. Junior guard Payton Pritchard and senior forward Paul White return along with a top 5 recruiting class featuring Bol Bol and Louis King. Texas A&M-CC Ehab Amin will also be able to produce right away as well for this Pac-12 title contender.

4. USC

Injuries never allowed the Trojans to meet their full potential last season, but there is enough talent here to get back to the tournament. The frontcourt is set with senior Bennie Boatwright and junior Nick Rakocevic. Junior guard Jonah Matthews will also be a key contributor. However, the Kevin Porter Jr. is the wild card here. The possible one-and-done prospect could be enough to make USC a truly dangerous team.

5. Arizona St

The Sun Devils started out the season as hot as any team in the country as they climbed all the way to a top-5 ranking. People will remember them for faltering down the stretch just as much. Tra Holder, Shannon Evans and Kodi Justice are gone from that team. Sun Devil fans should not fret though as sophomores Romello White and Remy Martin return along with newcomers, transfer Rob Edwards and freshmen Lugentz Dort and Taeshon Cherry.

6. Oregon St

Head coach Wayne Tinkle did the impossible by getting this program to the NCAA tournament in 2016. The past two years have been less than stellar. There is talent with The Thompson brothers in the backcourt and the coaches son, Tres Tinkle, in the frontcourt. The Beavers will be a middle of the pack Pac-12 team and, with the right victories, can get into the bubble conversation.

7. Colorado

Head coach Tad Boyle is one of the most underrated coaches in the country so there is no concern whether this team will be competitive. The backcourt of sophomore McKinley Wright IV and senior Namon Wright will be among the best in the Pac-12. Sophomore Tyler Bey and junior Lucas Siewart will be important to just how good this team can be.

8. Arizona

Outside of Louisville, no team was tied up in the middle of the FBI investigation as much as Arizona. That cloud will remain over the program for the foreseeable future. That plus having to replace DeAndre Ayton, Allonzo Trier, Rawle Alkins and Dusan Ristic will prove to be tough for head coach Sean Miller. Transfers Chase Jeter and Ryan Luther will have to hit the ground running as will freshmen Brandon Williams and Devonaire Doutrive.

9. Utah

The Utes are in a transitional period as a program as head coach Larry Krystkowiak attempts to get his team back to the tournament. Senior guard Sedrick Barefield returns to try to help move the program forward. Freshmen Both Gak and Timmy Allen are the future of the program, but they’ll have to be prepared right away.

10. Stanford

Injuries took a huge toll on the Cardinal last season and then Reid Travis transferred to Kentucky. Now head coach Jerod Haase is back to square one. Sophomores K.Z. Okpala and Daejon Davis return with other young pieces like sophomores Kodye Pugh, Oscar da Silva and freshman Jaiden Delaire. Stanford is at least a year away.

11. Washington St

This is the single toughest job in a power 5 conference. Head coach Ernie Kent knows this now as his time is running out in Pullman. Making matters worse is Malachi Flynn’s transfer to San Diego St. If Kent is to get out of this hole, he’ll need his numerous about of juco transfers to mesh and be productive.

12. California

Head coach Wyking Jones is having difficulty keeping his best players from transferring. The roster this year is young and needs a few years for seasoning. It’s going to be tough this season for Jones as his team struggles with an improving Pac-12.

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Maye Day

 

Luke maye

(Gerry Broome – Associated Press)

The defending national champions are looking good enough to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament after their 78-73 road win over Tennessee on Sunday.  Much of that is due to the emergence of Luke Maye. The junior forward is averaging 19.5 points and 10.3 rebounds per game this season and has filled in aptly for the departed Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks.

 

Maye burst on the scene during last year’s NCAA tournament when he hit the game-winning jumper to send the Tar Heels to the Final Four over Kentucky. He has been even better than anyone outside of the North Carolina locker room could expect this season.

Inside that locker room, they say they’re not surprised because they saw Maye put in the work.

“Let’s be honest, too, it’s not coaching,” North Carolina head coach Roy Williams said earlier this month according Raleigh News & Observer. “It’s sweat because Luke Maye has been willing to put in the sweat at an amount and level that very few players have done.”

Add him with proven winner Joel Berry at point guard and the Tar Heels have enough veteran talent to sustain success throughout this season.

National Player of the Week: Tyus Battle, Syracuse. Battle wasn’t the most efficient, but he hit big shots when his team needed in a rivalry game on the road. His 29 points helped propel the Orange to the win over Georgetown on Saturday.

Stock Up: Oklahoma. Buoyed by high-octane freshman Trae Young, Oklahoma went on the road (basically) and beat a good Wichita St team. The Sooners are now 8-1 and are putting together a solid NCAA resume.

Stock Down: Andy Kennedy’s job security. Ole Miss has now lost home games to Illinois St and South Dakota St this season while getting blown out on the road by Middle Tennessee. This was a critical year for him and he’s not off to a great start.

Stock Up: Clemson. The Tigers went on the road (basically) and beat Florida for their second win over a marquee opponent this season after winning at Ohio St last month. Brad Brownell was on thin ice going into this season, but he’s having the kind of start he needed.

Stock Down: UCLA. The Bruins are almost out of chances to get a good non-conference win before league play starts. UCLA lost back-to-back games to Michigan and Cincinnati and only have Kentucky left on the 23rd. If the Bruins lose that one, they’ll have a lot of work to do in a down Pac-12.

This Week’s Top 25:

1.       Villanova

2.       Michigan St

3.       Arizona St

4.       Duke

5.       Miami

6.       Kentucky

7.       Texas A&M

8.       Xavier

9.       North Carolina

10.   TCU

11.   Gonzaga

12.   West Virginia

13.   Wichita St

14.   Kansas

15.   Virginia

16.   Purdue

17.   Seton Hall

18.   Texas Tech

19.   Oklahoma

20.   Florida St

21.   Baylor

22.   Tennessee

23.   Arizona

24.   Cincinnati

25.   Notre Dame

Westwood Rising

 

lonzoball

(Photo: Casey Sapio, USA TODAY)

 

 

All year long, Steve Alford has been brewing something in Los Angeles. The embattled coach has had a superb bounce back season for UCLA. That was no more evident then on Saturday night as the Bruins took down the Arizona Wildcats in Tucson.

UCLA’s resurgence can be attributed to freshman sensation Lonzo Ball. The sure-fire lottery pick has proven himself to be the best pure point guard in a draft class filled with talented point guards. He leads one of the most explosive teams in the country.

UCLA isn’t always dialed in defensively because they’re so adept on the other end. The Bruins will certainly need to defend better in March, but if they don’t it won’t stop them from being one of the toughest outs in the Big Dance.

Let’s do some conference tournament previews.

ATLANTIC SUN: Florida Gulf Coast, once again, proved to be the class of the Atlantic Sun as it won another regular season title. With many of its primary challengers defecting from the conference recently, the Eagles have enjoyed life at the top. Despite that, they’ll have a difficult time winning the automatic bid here. Lipscomb watched crosstown rival Belmont dominate this league before it left and is ready to step up to primetime. The Bisons have already beaten the Eagles on their home court and that’s why they’ll win the automatic bid.

BIG SOUTH: Winthrop and UNC-Asheville tied for the regular season title at 15-3 with Liberty right on their heels at 14-4. Those three have separated themselves from the pack and look primed to take the bid. UNC-Asheville has the most experience here and thus the Bulldogs are the team no one wants to see in this tournament. Too bad. The Bulldogs will be the team that wins it.

OHIO VALLEY: This one is simple. If Belmont doesn’t breeze through the conference tournament it will be one of the more shocking results in any conference tournament. The Bruins finished five games ahead of their next closest competition and look like a team that can pull off an upset in the Big Dance.

NORTHEAST: Mount St. Mary’s looked to be clear favorites in the NEC until last week when LIU beat the Mountaineers on their home court. It’s going to be a slugfest for the Mountaineers as 7 of the 8 teams that qualified for the conference tournament finished at .500 or above. This will be competitive, but the regency of the the loss to LIU will work in their favor and they’ll return to the dance for the first time since 2014.

AMERICA EAST: The Vermont Catamounts went 16-0 in conference play and are as heavy favorites as Belmont is in the OVC. This tournament will be played on the home court of the higher seeded team. That means teams will have to travel to Vermont to attempt to do something none of them have been able to do all season – beat the Catamounts. That won’t happen. Vermont goes dancing.

On to the bracket.

Last Four In: Syracuse, Illinois, Georgia Tech, Rhode Island

Last Four Out: Marquette, California, Wake Forest, Houston

This bracket is good for games through 2/26

EAST

1.Villanova16.UC Davis/Mount St Mary’s Buffalo

8.Michigan9.Dayton

5.Purdue12.Nevada Orlando

4.Florida St13.Monmouth

6.Oklahoma St11.USC Buffalo

3.West Virginia14.East Tennessee St

7.Virginia Tech10.Providence Sacramento

2.UCLA15.CSU Bakersfield

SOUTH

1.North Carolina16.South Dakota Greenville

8.South Carolina9.Michigan St

5.Florida12.Georgia Tech/Illinois Orlando

4.SMU13.Akron

6.St. Mary’s11.Vanderbilt Salt Lake City

3.Arizona14.Bucknell

7.Wisconsin10.Middle Tennessee St Indianapolis

2.Kentucky15.Oakland

MIDWEST

1.Kansas16.North Carolina Central/New Orleans Tulsa

8.VCU9.Arkansas

5.Cincinnati12.Texas-Arlington Milwaukee

4.Notre Dame13.Princeton

6.Minnesota11.Rhode Island/Syracuse Tulsa

3.Baylor14.Florida Gulf Coast

7.Wichita St10.Northwestern Indianapolis

2.Louisville15.Winthrop

WEST

1.Oregon16.North Dakota Sacramento

8.Creighton9.Maryland

5.Iowa St12.UNC-Wilmington Greenville

4.Duke13.Vermont

6.Miami(Fl)11.Illinois St Milwaukee

3.Butler14.Belmont

7.Virginia10.Seton Hall Salt Lake City

2.Gonzaga15.Texas Southern

Ute Nation

Utah’s Delon Wright (AP Photo)

It was apparent last season that Larry Krystkowiak was on to something. However, no one knew he was on to this. The Utah Utes have staked their claim as one of the premier teams out west and it’s because of the talent they can roll out there.

The Utes are led by do everything guard Delon Wright, who is tracking to be a first-team all-American. The senior guard is averaging nearly 15 points, over four rebounds and a little under six assists per game. He leads an attack that also features Jakob Poeltl, the Austrian import that has NBA scouts watching, and three-point marksman Brandon Taylor.

They are efficient. They can defend. They’re big. They’re good. This is a team that appears to be a legitimate contender to get to the Final Four.

Stock Up: Albany. The Great Danes are undefeated in the America East and seem very interested in making a return trip to the NCAA tournament.

Stock Down: Texas. The Longhorns have lost 5 out of their last 7. I understand that the Big XII is competitive, but they should probably put a few wins together.

Stock Up: UCLA. The Bruins aren’t in the bracket below, but a 2-0 week would be huge after beating Colorado and Utah last week.

Stock Down: VCU. Unfortunately for the Rams; Briante Weber went down with a season-ending knee injury in their loss to Richmond. He was the heart and soul and the key to VCU’s havoc defense.  It’ll be interesting to see if VCU can bounce back.

On to the bracket.

Last Four In: Michigan St, Miami(FL), NC State, Iowa

Last Four Out: Texas A&M, Colorado St, Temple, St. John’s

This bracket is good for games thru 2/1

MIDWEST

1.Kentucky16.St. Francis(NY)/North Florida Louisville

8.Xavier9.Dayton

5.Wichita St12.Stephen F. Austin Seattle

4.Baylor13.UC Davis

6.San Diego St11.Iowa/Miami(FL) Pittsburgh

3.Villanova14.North Carolina Central

7.SMU10.Tennessee Charlotte

2.Duke15.High Point

EAST

1.Virginia16.New Mexico St Charlotte

8.Cincinnati9.Oklahoma St

5.Georgetown12.NC State/Michigan St Columbus

4.Iowa St13.Yale

6.Northern Iowa11.Mississippi Louisville

3.North Carolina14.Iona

7.Providence10.Georgia Omaha

2.Wisconsin15.Texas Southern

SOUTH

1.Kansas16.North Dakota St/Colgate Omaha

8.Tulsa9.Stanford

5.Oklahoma12.Wofford Jacksonville

4.Maryland13.Valparaiso

6.Ohio St11.George Washington Pittsburgh

3.Louisville14.Akron

7.Indiana10.Old Dominion Portland

2.Utah15.Sacramento St

WEST

1.Arizona16.Georgia Southern Portland

8.LSU9.Texas

5.Butler12.Murray St Jacksonville

4.West Virginia13.Louisiana Tech

6.VCU11.Kansas St Columbus

3.Notre Dame14.William & Mary

7.Arkansas10.Seton Hall Seattle

2.Gonzaga15.Albany

Sons of Westwood

UCLA coach Ben Howland and freshman Shabazz Muhammad. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

The rumors of UCLA’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.  Early in the season it looked bleak for UCLA after struggling to beat Georgia and losing to Cal Poly.  The Bruins chemistry looked shoddy and they were working to incorporate Shabazz Muhammad into the lineup.

Now the Bruins are tied for first in the Pac-12 and Muhammad, along with other freshmen Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams are key contributors to the team’s success.

Those freshmen are now meshing with North Carolina transfers, David and Travis Wear and Larry Drew II, to form a team that can score and will put fear in the hearts of any team in March.

That being said; regular season success isn’t the measuring stick in Westwood.  It’s Final Fours and national championships and any season when neither happens is a disappointment.  So while I commend the Bruins for figuring it out, they have a long way to go to please their fans.

It’s March.  No stock report this week as we have conference tournament previews.

BIG SOUTH CONFERENCE: This is a league that’s grown in numbers and appears to be undergoing a changing of the guard.  UNC-Asheville and Coastal Carolina had been at or near the top of the standings lately, but this year Charleston Southern and High Point have taken over that mantle.  I like experience and until proven otherwise, I think UNC-Asheville will find itself in the NCAA tournament again.

HORIZON LEAGUE: Butler is gone, but the top of the conference looks similar to last season.  Valparaiso finished in first, the same place it finished in 2012 while Detroit finished second – one spot above where it finished last year.  In the conference tournament Detroit avenged regular season losses to Valpo to get to the dance.  I think Detroit is the more talented and more explosive team and will go dancing  again.

OHIO VALLEY: One of the more underrated moves in conference realignment was Belmont leaving the Atlantic Sun to go to the OVC.  That move has proven to be a good one for the Bruins as they won the regular season title in the league while gaining a conference mate that rivals them in quality in Murray St.  The Racers return one of the best players in the country in Isaiah Canaan, but did not finish the season well.  Watch out for Eastern Kentucky, but I think you have to go with the Bruins in this league.

ATLANTIC SUN: Florida Gulf Coast beat Miami earlier this season and looked to be in good shape.  However, Mercer walked the Eagles down even with a loss to them last week.  Mercer is hosting the conference tournament and I expect the Bears to be tough to beat on their home court.

On to the Bracket.

Last Four In: Tennessee, Saint Mary’s, Villanova, Iowa St

Last Four Out: Kentucky, Alabama, Iowa, Arizona St

This bracket is good for games thru 3/3

MIDWEST

1.Indiana16.Norfolk St/Charleston Southern Dayton, OH

8.Pittsburgh9.Creighton

5.Saint Louis12.Akron  Salt Lake City

4.Oregon13.Iowa St/Tennessee

6.Illinois11.Louisiana Tech Salt Lake City

3.New Mexico14.Princeton

7.North Carolina10.La Salle Philadelphia

2.Georgetown15.Stony Brook

EAST

1.Duke16.Robert Morris Philadelphia

8.Missouri9.Oklahoma

5.Arizona12.Belmont Dayton, OH

4.Ohio St13.Villanova/St. Mary’s

6.UNLV11.Virginia Kansas City

3.Kansas St14.Stephen F. Austin

7.VCU10.Colorado Lexington, KY

2.Louisville15.Niagara

SOUTH

1.Kansas16.Montana Kansas City

8.Memphis9.Minnesota

5.UCLA12.Boise St San Jose

4.Marquette13.Davidson

6.Syracuse11.Colorado St Auburn Hills, MI

3.Michigan St14.Valparaiso

7.Butler10.Wichita St Lexington, KY

2.Miami(FL)15.Long Beach St

WEST

1.Gonzaga16.Northeastern/Southern San Jose

8.California9.San Diego St

5.Wisconsin12.Cincinnati   Austin

4.Oklahoma St13.Bucknell

6.NC State11.Middle Tennessee St  Austin

3.Florida14.South Dakota St

7.Notre Dame10.Temple Auburn Hills, MI

2.Michigan15.Mercer

In graphical form

Gael Force Wind

Photo by Tod Fierner

Two years ago Saint Mary’s shocked the country in the NCAA tournament when, as a No. 10 seed, it upset Richmond and Villanova on its way to the Sweet 16.  If the Gaels shock anyone in the tournament this year then it’s because of negligence because they might be the best team on the West Coast.

The Gaels are currently undefeated in the West Coast Conference, including an impressive 3-0 over Gonzaga and BYU.  In those three wins, the smallest margin of victory was 14 points.

Leading the Gaels is Australia native Matthew Dellavedova who played a key role in that Sweet 16 role two years ago as a sharpshooting roleplayer.  He’s still a sharpshooter, but now he’s one of the best guards in the country.

Complimenting Dellavedova is Rob Jones who’s averaging a double-double with 14.3 points and 10.8 rebounds per game.  This is a dangerous team and clearly a top-25 squad.

Stock Up: Florida St. Earlier in the season it looked like the Seminoles were in serious trouble of making the tournament.  However, they turned it around and are looking like legit contenders for the ACC regular season championship.  More than the wins over North Carolina and Duke; the Seminoles are staying focused and taking care of the Maryland’s and Wake Forest’s of the world.  That shows staying power at the top of the conference.

Stock Down: Pac-12.  The conference has been struggling for a few years now, but at least last year it had a few good teams.  This is the worst I’ve seen a power conference.  This week I only have one Pac-12 team in the bracket and that’s a shame.  UCLA is down, Arizona is struggling.  Those are the two bell cows for this league and it won’t get back right until they do.

Stock Up: Notre Dame. Mike Brey might be doing it again.  People seem to count his teams out every year yet he manages to get them going again.  The Fighting Irish are in a three-way tie for third place in the Big East with Georgetown and South Florida due to a three-game winning streak over Syracuse, Seton Hall and Connecticut.  Notre Dame is young and lacking star power, but make no mistake about it, its ready to make another run at the Big Dance.

Stock Down. A-10 contenders.  What’s going on in the Atlantic 10.  St. Joseph’s, St. Louis, Dayton, Xavier and Temple are all taking turns proving that they can’t handle success.  Despite impressive non-conference resumes, none of them seem to want to win the regular season conference title.  This has resulted in a three-way first place tie between Massachusetts, St. Bonaventure and La Salle.  Stretch run in the A-10 looks to be fun, but it may not be pretty.

This Week’s Bracket Projections:

Last Four In: BYU, Arkansas, Colorado St, Alabama
Last Four Out: UCF, Washington, Wyoming, Mississippi

Good for games through 1/29

SOUTH

1.Kentucky16.UNC-Asheville/Mississippi Valley St Louisville

8.Wichita St9.Illinois

5.Gonzaga12.Seton Hall Portland

4.Florida St13.Oral Roberts

6.Mississippi St11.Minnesota Albuquerque

3.UNLV14.Akron

7.Louisville10.Xavier Albuquerque

2.Baylor15.Montana

WEST

1.North Carolina16.Texas-Arlington/Stony Brook Greensboro

8.California9.Notre Dame

5.Wisconsin12.Alabama/BYU Portland

4.Marquette13.Long Beach St

6.Virginia11.Dayton Nashville

3.Vanderbilt14.Davidson

7.Michigan10.Connecticut Omaha

2.Kansas15.Long Island

EAST

1.Syracuse16.Bucknell Pittsburgh

8.Southern Miss9.Kansas St

5.San Diego St12.Purdue  Nashville

4.Florida13.Iona

6.Murray St11.Massachusetts Columbus

3.Michigan St14.Nevada

7.West Virginia10.Iowa St Greensboro

2.Duke15.Belmont

MIDWEST

1.Ohio St16.Norfolk St Pittsburgh

8.Temple9.Memphis

5.Georgetown12.Colorado St/Arkansas Columbus

4.St. Mary’st13.Middle Tennessee St

6.Indiana11.New Mexico Louisville

3.Creighton14.Cleveland St

7.Harvard10.Cincinnati Omaha

2.Missouri15.George Mason

In Graphical Form