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Tuesday, September 22, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  NCAA basketball

Pac-12 men: Veteran Colorado squad will have to hold off youthful Washington, Oregon teams

The good news for Pac-12 basketball?

Well, the NCAA still hasn’t gone nuclear on Arizona and USC for transgressions that landed their assistant coaches in front of a judge. One of its teams even reached the second weekend of March Madness last spring.

And … that’s about it.

Oh, OK, maybe it’s not all that dire. Surely things have improved a skosh since 2018, when the scandal unfolded and the conference’s representatives were out of the NCAA Tournament before sundown on the first Thursday, among other things. There are maybe five to seven teams that realistically could be tournament-caliber, and new coaches have been brought in to try and resurrect respectability at Washington State and Cal.

Still, only two Pac-12 teams – Oregon and Arizona – cracked the AP’s initial Top 25, and it didn’t particularly bode well for the conference’s talent pool when six players declared for June’s NBA draft and weren’t even selected.

So on the national front there are still challenges. Doesn’t mean the conference race can’t be some fun, though.

Oregon’s annual remake showed mixed dividends last year – just a fourth-place finish in the conference, but a Sweet 16 run. Now the Ducks have reloaded again with a mix of transfers and two standout recruits who reclassified from the 2020 high school class to join the team this year – though the NCAA has decided that 6-foot-11 N’Faly Dante will have to sit the first nine games.

Likewise, Washington has used to a top-tier recruiting class – including three McDonald’s All-Americans – to restock a roster gutted by graduation after a 27-9 season.

And yet both could be looking up at Colorado – yes, Colorado – at the end.

The Buffaloes haven’t won a regular season conference championship anywhere since taking the 1969 Big Eight title, but will try to make it happen the old-fashioned way – with an experienced roster constructed painstakingly without visiting the transfer portal.

And lurking in case the favorites falter is Arizona, back after scandal and attrition sucked out the heart of its 2019 season and ready to contend, presuming the NCAA ax doesn’t somehow fall before the season is done.

Arizona Wildcats

Coach: Sean Miller (264-89), 11th year

2018-19 record: 17-15. Pac-12: 8-10, 8th (tie)

Key newcomers: Nico Mannion (6-3, G), Max Hazzard (6-0, G), Stone Gettings (6-9, F), Josh Green (6-6, G)

Key losses: Brandon Randolph, Justin Coleman, Ryan Luther

Outlook: With the nation’s fifth-ranked recruiting class, Sean Miller has restocked in a major way – and it all revolves around Nico Mannion, whose size and ability to score and dish make him a complete point guard out of the wrapping. And even though Brandon Williams will miss the season with a knee injury, UC Irvine transfer Max Hazzard solidifies the backcourt. Freshman Zeke Nnaji and Cornell transfer Stone Gettings are welcome additions next to holdover Chase Jeter on the front line, giving Miller the size he prefers to go with improved shooting on the perimeter.

Arizona State Sun Devils

Coach: Bobby Hurley (73-58), 5th year

2018-19 record: 23-11. Pac-12: 12-6, 2nd

Key newcomers: Alonzo Verge Jr. (6-3, G), Khalid Thomas (6-9, F), Andre Allen (6-9, F)

Key losses: Luguentz Dort, Zylan Cheatham, De’Quon Lake

Outlook: Is Remy Martin ready to be the Devils’ marquee player? The playmaking guard may not have a choice in the wake of the departure of Luguentz Dort and other roster turnover if the Devils want to sustain their recent gains. Guard Rob Edwards, a premium shooter, and forward Kimani Lawrence also return as starters, but the intrigue comes from Alonzo Verge Jr., who blew up in junior college to the tune of 30.9 points and 8.2 assists per game. Two other JC imports, Khalid Thomas and Andre Allen, will join improving Taeshon Cherry in the frontcourt.

California Golden Bears

Coach: Mark Fox, 1st year

2018-19 record: 8-23. Pac-12: 3-15, 12th

Key newcomers: Kareem South (6-3, G), Kuany Kuany (6-9, F), D.J. Thorpe (6-8, F)

Key losses: Justice Sueing, Darius McNeill, Connor Vanover

Outlook: Mark Fox’s tenure at Georgia came to a desultory end – no NCAA appearances his final three years. But even that looks like an upgrade at Cal after back-to-back eight-win seasons. The Bears don’t have to be that bad this year, but they may not be a lot better. Guard Paris Austin is one of two returning starters, with grad transfer Kareem South joining the battle in the backcourt. But the Bears’ awful shooting needs to improve, and perhaps sophomore Mark Bradley will be an answer. Cal’s holdovers up front will get a push from international freshmen Kuany Kuany and Lars Thiemann.

Colorado Buffaloes

Coach: Tad Boyle (189-123), 10th year

2018-19 record: 23-13. Pac-12: 10-8, 4th (tie)

Key newcomer: Maddox Daniels (6-6, G)

Key loss: Namon Wright

Outlook: So are you still a basketball Luddite who prizes experience over 5-star one-and-dones? Then the Buffs are your team. Colorado returns its top seven scorers from a year ago, led by one of America’s undersung point guards, McKinley Wright IV. Shane Gatling and D’Shawn Schwartz are capable, if hot and cold, shooters at the wing, and there’s a double-double grinder up front in Tyler Bey, blossoming into one of the Pac-12’s best players. Evan Battey and Lucas Siewert bring different skills to the other inside role, and JC newcomer Maddox Daniels could have a role as a defender and perimeter scorer.

Oregon Ducks

Coach: Dana Altman (235-96), 10th year

2018-19 record: 25-13. Pac-12: 10-8, 4th (tie)

Key newcomers: C.J. Walker (6-8, F), N’Faly Dante (6-11, C), Anthony Mathis (6-3, G), Shakur Juiston (6-7, F)

Key losses: Bol Bol, Louis King, Paul White, Kenny Wooten

Outlook: Payton Pritchard must be good at introductions and farewells by now. The Ducks’ senior point guard seems to be the only smidgen of stability in Oregon’s annual As the Roster Turns drama. Which makes him the right guy to pull together Dana Altman’s latest wave of top-level talent, which includes grad transfers Shakur Juiston, a rugged board man from UNLV, and New Mexico’s top scorer Anthony Mathis, once Pritchard’s high school teammate. But it’s the youngsters who stir the imagination. Shot-blocking phenom N’Faly Dante and Canadian guard Addison Patterson both reclassified to enroll in 2019, and forward C.J. Walker is a 5-star prospect.

Oregon State Beavers

Coach: Wayne Tinkle (75-83), 6th year

2018-19 record: 18-13. Pac-12: 10-8, 4th (tie)

Key newcomers: Sean Miller-Moore (6-5, G), Jarod Lucas (6-3, G), Payton Dastrup (6-10, F), Dearon Tucker (6-10, F)

Key losses: Stephen Thompson, Gligorje Rakocevic

Outlook: Tres Tinkle’s decision to pull out of the NBA draft might have been less about further developing his stock and more about getting his dad’s team back to the NCAA Tournament. With standout guard Ethan Thompson doing the same, the Beavers have two big pieces – but can the Beavers put enough around them? Center Kylor Kelley, the Pac-12’s top shot blocker, is a good start, but the Beavers need a breakout from shooter Alfred Hollins and contributions from newcomers. Guard Jarod Lucas is the most likely, but JC find Sean Miller-Moore has a bouncy game that could cause problems for opponents.

Stanford Cardinal

Coach: Jerod Haase (48-49), 4th year

2018-19 record: 15-16. Pac-12: 8-10, 8th (tie)

Key newcomers: Tyrell Terry (6-1, G), Spencer Jones (6-7, F), Keenan Fitzmorris (7-0, C)

Key losses: KZ Okpala, Josh Sharma, Cormac Ryan

Outlook: After a promising step forward in 2018, suddenly it seems as if the clock has started ticking on Jerod Haase, whose three-year tenure has not been an improvement on the previous regime. Losing the splendid Okpala to the pros will not help. But there’s one of the Pac-12’s best point guards in Daejon Davis, though that also happens to be the position played by the top freshman recruit, Tyrell Terry. No one up front approximates Okpala’s skill set, but Oscar da Silva seems ready to become a go-to and 7-footer Keenan Fitzmorris will have to develop quickly after a redshirt year.

UCLA Bruins

Coach: Mick Cronin, 1st year

2018-19 record: 17-16. Pac-12: 9-9, 7th

Key newcomers: Shareef O’Neal (6-9, F), Jaime Jaquez Jr. (6-6, G), Tyger Campbell (5-11, G)

Key losses: Kris Wilkes, Jaylen Hands, Moses Brown

Outlook: Mick Cronin was hardly UCLA’s first choice to clean up after the Steve Alford collapse, but he may turn out to be the guy to restore some of the toughness that was the hallmark of Ben Howland’s tenure when the Bruins enjoyed Final Four success. Of course, there’s but a single returning starter – fifth-year senior Prince Ali – but there is talent. Shareef O’Neal, Shaq’s kid, has been cleared to play after a heart condition sidelined him last year, and forwards Cody Riley and Jalen Hill and rangy guard Chris Smith and Jalen Hill all seem due for breakout seasons – or at least fresh starts.

USC Trojans

Coach: Andy Enfield (110-93), 7th year

2018-19 record: 16-17. Pac-12: 8-10, 8th (tie)

Key newcomers: Isaiah Mobley (6-10, F), Daniel Utomi (6-6, G), Quinton Adlesh (6-1, G), Onyeka Okongwu (6-9, F)

Key losses: Bennie Boatwright, Kevin Porter Jr., Derryck Thornton, Shaqquan Aaron

Outlook: Here comes the latest crackerjack recruiting class from Andy Enfield, and maybe this time he can goose the most out of it. Around two proven producers in Nick Rakocevic and Jonah Matthews, Enfield will sprinkle in grad transfers Daniel Utomi and Quinton Adlesh – double-figure scorers at Akron and Columbia, respectively – and some gifted freshmen. Onyeka Okongwu and Isaiah Mobley are potential one-and-dones up front, while Kyle Sturdivant and Ethan Anderson had athleticism at guard. There’s even the chance footballer Drake London can offer some help, along with Charles O’Bannon Jr., who missed most of 2019 with an injury.

Utah Utes

Coach: Larry Krystkowiak (155-111), 9th year

2018-19 record: 17-14. Pac-12: 11-7, 3rd

Key newcomers: Rylan Jones (6-1, G), Jaxon Brenchley (6-5, G), Mikael Jantunen (6-8, F), Alfonso Plummer (6-1, G),

Key losses: Sedrick Barefield, Donnie Tillman, Parker Van Dyke, Jayce Johnson

Outlook: Maybe no team in college basketball experienced the roster upheaval of the Utes, who were riddled by transfer bailouts and wound up with a roster that lists no fewer than 11 freshmen. Which leaves three sophomores central to Utah’s hopes. Forward Timmy Allen becomes the Utes’ immediate go-to option, but 6-7 Both Gach and 6-9 Riley Battin offer dynamic, skilled play, though both must improve on the defensive end. JC sharpshooter Alfonso Plummer also offers some needed experience but some of those freshmen will have to help – guard Rylan Jones and two-way forward Mikael Jantunen being the most likely.

Washington Huskies

Coach: Mike Hopkins (48-22), 3rd year

2018-19 record: 27-9. Pac-12: 15-3, 1st

Key newcomers: Isaiah Stewart (6-9, F), Jaden McDaniels (6-10, F), Quade Green (6-0, G)

Key losses: Jaylen Nowell, Matisse Thybulle, Noah Dickerson, David Crisp

Outlook: Washington’s experienced core paid dividends with a Pac-12 regular-season title and NCAA berth last year, and now Mike Hopkins will try to duplicate it with youth – but really talented youth. The third-year coach landed two national Top 10 recruits in forwards Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels, who don’t figure to be around long. Just as key is Kentucky transfer Quade Green, a 3-point sniper at the point guard position who is awaiting an NCAA decision on his pending eligibility. Among the holdovers, Nahziah Carter and Hameir Wright will log important minutes. The question is, can so many youngsters grasp the nuances of Hopkins’ zone defense?

See Washington State preview on Page 16

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