If reading our outlook for the upcoming Pac-12 basketball season prompts eyes to roll or blood to boil, keep this in mind: We don’t pick ties, but they’re inevitable.
Last season, for example, there were two teams with six losses in conference play, and three teams with 10 losses.
Two years ago, the regular-season race ended with a two-team tie for third place, a two-team tie for fifth place and a three-team tie for eighth place.
And it will happen again this winter.
Whether the Pac-12 builds on its NCAA success and emerges as one of the top leagues in the land or loses its March momentum and recedes into mediocrity, the conference race inevitably will feature multiple deadlocks.
But the Hotline doesn’t pick ties, ever.
So here we go …
1. UCLA: An easy call as rosters coalesce following NBA Draft and transfer decisions. With Johnny Juzang back for an encore, coach Mick Cronin’s entire rotation from the Final Four run returns intact. There are two important newcomers, as well: five-star freshman Peyton Watson and Rutgers transfer Myles Johnson. The issue is whether soaring expectations affect the chemistry and mentality. It’s not like the lineup is loaded with lottery picks and can dominate on talent alone. If the Bruins don’t continue to embrace the grind, disappointment will follow.
2. Oregon: The clear pick for second, not because the rotation is airtight but because there are fewer concerns in Eugene than anywhere else but Westwood. Oregon lost its best players in Chris Duarte and Eugene Omoruyi, but underrated point guard Will Richardson should provide a steady hand, and a slew of quality options exist up front. The Ducks will rely heavily on transfers to provide scoring and defense on the wings, but they’re first-class arrivals: Quincy Guerrier (Syracuse), De’Vion Harmon (Oklahoma) and Jacob Young (Rutgers).
3. USC: Admittedly, this pick is made with some trepidation, for the Trojans lost more than Evan Mobley; they also must replace the invaluable Tahj Eaddy. We expect Isaiah Mobley, who passed on the draft, to fill the role of a No. 1 option. And to replace Eaddy on the wing, USC welcomes Memphis transfer Boogie Ellis, a San Diego native who averaged 10.2 points for the Tigers. Otherwise, the rotation is largely intact with point guard Ethan Anderson, wings Isaiah White and Drew Peterson, plus forwards Chevez Goodwin and Max Agbonkpolo.
4. Oregon State: The Beavers avoided a mass exodus to the NBA Draft and will return the majority of the rotation that powered their stunning run to the Elite Eight, including emerging star Warith Alatishe and shooter Jarod Lucas. Is there enough back to offset the departure of floor leader Ethan Thompson? Seems that way. The more complicated calculation is whether the NCAAs should be viewed as a harbinger of regular-season success. After all, the Beavers were an average team last season for all but the final three weekends.
5. Washington State: The Hotline is officially bullish on WSU’s prospects under coach Kyle Smith, in part because the Cougars return the bulk of the rotation that won seven league games and dropped five by five points or less – they were thisclose to an upper-level finish. We expect WSU to offset the loss of top scorer Isaac Bonton with a combination of improvement by returning players (Noah Williams and Efe Abogidi, to name two) and contributions from key newcomers, starting with transfer Michael Flowers and freshman Mouhamed Gueye.
6. Colorado: There’s plenty to like in Boulder after a 23-win season and round-of-32 appearance but not necessarily for the upcoming season. In our view, CU is destined for a transition year while coach Tad Boyle seeks new on-court leadership and direction. So deep was McKinley Wright’s influence that his exit will have triple the impact typically seen when a point guard departs. The remaining pieces, including big man Evan Battey, shooter Jabari Walker and an impressive freshman class, are good enough to prevent a complete backslide.
7. Arizona State: The issue in Tempe isn’t the parts, for ASU has plenty of good ones – from Marcus Bagley, who shunned the NBA Draft, to five-star recruit Enoch Boakye and heralded transfers Marreon Jackson (Toledo) and Jay Heath (Boston College). No, the issue in Tempe is the sum: Will coach Bobby Hurley assimilate the new pieces and mold his overhauled roster into a cohesive unit? We’re staking out the middle ground: The Sun Devils will be better than they were last season but not quite a contender.
8. Utah: The roster suggests a long first year under coach Craig Smith following a mass offseason exodus, with Timmy Allen, Alfonso Plummer, Rylan Jones, Pelle Larsson and Ian Martinez moving on. The returning and incoming production, including big man Branden Carlson and wing Both Gach – yes, that Both Gach – doesn’t come close to matching what was lost. But we’re expecting a slight upside surprise from the Utes based on Smith’s proven ability to maximize his personnel and his shrewd eye for talent.
9. Arizona: We just don’t see it happening for the Wildcats, at least not in Year One under Tommy Lloyd. Our murky outlook is partly rooted in Lloyd being a rookie head coach matching wits against a load of high-level tacticians. But there’s more to our outlook: The Wildcats are devoid of an established point guard and proven production beyond Bennedict Mathurin. There are options (Kerr Kriisa, Adama Bal, Justin Kier, Shane Nowell), but we aren’t convinced there are enough good options for a program in transition within an ascendant conference.
10. Stanford: Jerod Haase has been on the job for five seasons, and not once has the Cardinal risen above mediocrity. To our dubious assessment of the situation, add the departures of Stanford’s best player, Oscar da Silva, and its top talent, Ziaire Williams, plus the annual problems with offensive efficiency. Without an NCAA tournament berth, this very well could be Haase’s final season. Such an existence could produce an upside surprise (players rally behind their coach) or lead to collapse (players quit on their coach).
11. Washington: As with Arizona State, the immense roster turnover in Seattle could be a good thing: Change the culture, change the chemistry, and the results might change, as well. If Mike Hopkins is, in fact, coaching for his job in 2021-22, at least he’s doing it with veteran guards: Daejon Davis and Terrell Brown are former starters (Stanford and Arizona), while forward Emmitt Matthews Jr. (from West Virginia) adds Big 12 experience. We’re convinced the product will improve but skeptical it will improve enough to save Hopkins.
12. Cal: If UCLA was the easy call for first place, the Bears are the obvious pick for last. After all, they finished in the basement in 2021 and won’t have the services of their best player, guard Matt Bradley, who took his 18 points per game and clutch shooting to San Diego State. In his wake … there isn’t much. Coach Mark Fox is a solid tactician who owns Stanford in the Pac-12 Tournament but hasn’t assembled nearly enough playmakers to own anyone anywhere else. If anything, the talent disparity appears to be expanding.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.