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Sports >  NCAA basketball

College basketball 2021-22: A year after dominating the NCAAs, the march for respect starts all over for Pac-12

By John Blanchette For The Spokesman-Review

The glow from the great vindication of Pacific-12 Conference basketball lingered pretty much all the way through the summer of 2021, or at least until football started messing with the conference’s cred once again.

Now the resurrection narrative has to go on hold until the nation starts paying attention to hoops again. Which is to say, next March.

But there are enough hints that the big splash in last March’s madness wasn’t just a one-off. There are also hints that the national view of the Pac-12 remains, “Prove it.”

Actually, a look at the preseason Associated Press and coaches’ polls provides more than a hint. Only two Pac-12 teams appear: UCLA at No. 2 and Oregon at 12/13.

“Maybe now we’ll get some damn respect,” Oregon State coach Wayne Tinkle groused last March when the Pac-12 made up 25% of the Sweet 16 – for the first time in 20 years – and three teams made the Elite Eight. That’s as many as the league had in the previous five tournaments.

Well, so much for respect.

OK, nine of last year’s 10 first-team all-league players moved on, either to the pros or the transfer portal. And, yes, the Pac-12 is 17-27 the past two regular seasons against the other power conferences.

But surely that March surge has to count for something, especially when you consider that it could have been even more pronounced if USC and Oregon hadn’t been paired against each other in the Sweet 16 – and that Arizona, Pac-12 royalty since forever, was sitting out the dance altogether under self-imposed sanctions.

Presuming the NCAA doesn’t administer more noogies this year, the Wildcats should be back in the mix under new coach Tommy Lloyd, the longtime Gonzaga assistant who’s bringing some fresh air to that program – with his recruiting acumen, a more up-tempo game and the end of the bunker mentality that had taken hold under Sean Miller.

And there might be another addition to the NCAA contenders if Washington State continues its steady rise under coach Kyle Smith – a distinct possibility considering some of the talent acquisitions of the past two recruiting classes.

Arizona Wildcats

Coach: Tommy Lloyd, 1st year

2020-21 record: 17-9 overall. Pac-12: 11-9, 5th (tie)

Key newcomers: Justin Kier (6-4, G), Shane Nowell (6-5, G), Pelle Larsson (6-5, G), Kim Aiken Jr. (6-7, F)

Key losses: James Akinjo, Jemari Baker, Jordan Brown

Outlook: It wasn’t just the NCAA violations cloud over the Sean Miller regime that got Tommy Lloyd his break; the Wildcats just haven’t been very good for several years. Nonetheless, Lloyd’s remake revolves around two holdovers, 6-7 Bennedict Mathurin and 6-11 Azoulas Tubelis, the latter a skilled young scorer. Lloyd re-recruited point guard Kerr Kriisa out of the portal to run what figures to be a more up-tempo approach, and newcomers Justin Kier (Georgia) and former Utah sharpshooter Pelle Larsson give the backcourt more pop. EWU transfer Kim Aiken Jr. gets a chance to show what he can do in higher competitive altitude.

Arizona State Sun Devils

Coach: Bobby Hurley (104-83), 7th year

2020-21 record: 11-14. Pac-12: 7-10, 9th

Key newcomers: Marreon Jackson (6-1, G), Enoch Boakye (6-10, C), Jay Heath (6-3, G)

Key losses: Remy Martin, Josh Christopher, Alonzo Verge Jr.

Outlook: Ten new bodies arrive for a much-needed makeover of the Pac-12’s most disappointing team of 2021. Transfers Marreon Jackson (Toledo), Jay Heath (Boston College) and DJ Horne (Illinois State) are quality scorers and Luther Muhammad was a defensive ace at Ohio State, but it’s often a chemistry issue at ASU, and involving the big men will be a must. Marcus Bagley toe-dipped in both the NBA draft and the portal before deciding to stay, and freshman Enoch Boakye figures to be a powerful force underneath. Bouncy Jalen Graham and veteran Kimani Lawrence provide stylistic options as well as depth.

California Golden Bears

Coach: Mark Fox (23-38), 3rd year

2020-21 record: 9-20. Pac-12: 3-17, 12th

Key newcomers: Jordan Shepherd (6-4, G), Obinna Anyanwu (6-7, F), Marsalis Roberson (6-5 G)

Key losses: Matt Bradley, Ryan Betley

Outlook: Losing top scorer Matt Bradley to the portal (and San Diego State) leaves Mark Fox’s rebuild in neutral, despite the return of three starters. Charlotte transfer Jordan Shepherd will try to replace some of Bradley’s offense, and Fox did outrecruit USC for forward Obinna Anyanwu, but the Bears need production jumps from what have been mostly complementary players. Bulky Andre Kelly is reliable, but needs to be more than that, as does super senior Grant Anticevich. This team just lacks firepower, unless youngsters like Marsalis Roberson and Jalen Celestine can play their way into the conversation.

Colorado Buffaloes

Coach: Tad Boyle (233-143), 12th year

2020-21 record: 23-9. Pac-12: 14-6, 3rd

Key newcomers: KJ Simpson (6-2, G), Quincy Allen (6-7, G-F), Lawson Lovering (7-0, C)

Key losses: McKinley Wright, Jeriah Horne, D’Shawn Schwartz

Outlook: McKinley Wright’s graduation looms large, but also opens opportunity for the Pac-12’s best recruiting class and rising star Jabari Walker, who should land a regular role up front alongside top returnee Evan Battey. Tad Boyle has some veteran leadership at guard in Eli Parquet, one of the Pac-12’s top shooters and an all-defensive player, and George Mason transfer D’Shawn Schwartz. The kids to watch? Three top 100 recruits, led by scoring sensation KJ Simpson, a pickup after the coaching change at Arizona. Lawson Lovering needs muscle, but he’s skilled for a 7-footer, and Quincy Allen’s scoring will be hard to keep out of the lineup.

Oregon Ducks

Coach: Dana Altman (280-110), 12th year

2020-21 record: 21-7. Pac-12: 14-4, 1st

Key newcomers: De’Vion Harmon (6-2, G), Jacob Young (6-2, G), Quincy Guerrier (6-7, F)

Key losses: Chris Duarte, Eugene Omoruyi, LJ Figueroa

Outlook: The usual turnover of elite talent is something Dana Altman takes in stride, even with the inevitable hiccups in the early going. And why not when you can land three double-figure transfers from Power Six programs? De’Vion Harmon and Jacob Young replenish the backcourt alongside sweet-shooting Will Richardson, while Quincy Guerrier will be a dynamic addition underneath where promising 6-11 N’Faly Dante returns from knee surgery. With starter Eric Williams Jr. returning, it could get crowded up there when Altman tries to find room for 6-11 five-star recruit Nathan Bittle, who can run the floor and shoot it outside.

Oregon State Beavers

Coach: Wayne Tinkle (113-109), 8th year

2020-21 record: 20-13. Pac-12: 10-10, 6th (tie)

Key newcomers: Dashawn Davis (6-3, G), Tre’ Williams (6-5, G), Xzavier Malone-Key (6-4, G)

Key losses: Ethan Thompson, Zach Reichle

Outlook: Their shocking run to the Elite Eight was the delight of the NCAA Tournament, but now the Beavers must prove they’re for real – and without the production of departed Ethan Thompson. But there’s nightly double-double potential from Warith Alatishe and guard Jarod Lucas is a proven clutch shooter, and that’s where things start. Maurice Calloo’s postseason surge should land the 6-10 forward starting minutes, and 7-1 Roman Silva lends a strong defensive presence. For additional pop, Wayne Tinkle found Dashawn Davis in the junior college ranks, and Fairleigh Dickinson transfer Xzavier Malone-Key joins the rotation after sitting out 2021.

Stanford Cardinal

Coach: Jerod Haase (82-74), 6th year

2020-21 record: 14-13. Pac-12: 10-10, 6th (tie)

Key newcomers: Harrison Ingram (6-8, F), Isa Silva (6-4, G), Jarvis Moss (6-4, G)

Key losses: Oscar da Silva, Ziaire Williams, Daejon Davis

Outlook: The Cardinal feature a top-25 recruiting class which had better develop in a hurry or Jarod Haase may not get a chance to bring in another one. The jewel is 6-8 Harrison Ingram, both a playmaker and a post presence, and the heir to Oscar da Silva’s alpha role. Jaiden Delaire and Spencer Jones are also holdover starters with offensive chops, but the Cardinal look awfully thin at guard after losing Bryce Willis to pro aspirations and Daejon Davis to the portal. Michael O’Connell will have to make a big jump at the point, and freshmen Isa Silva and Jarvis Moss better be ready to contribute.

UCLA Bruins

Coach: Mick Cronin (41-22), 3rd year

2020-21 record: 22-10. Pac-12: 13-6, 4th

Key newcomers: Peyton Watson (6-8, G-F), Will McClendon (6-2, G)

Key losses: Chris Smith, Jalen Hill

Outlook: It took Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs winging in a 40-foot Hail Mary to end UCLA’s surprising tourney run from a play-in start, but now the Bruins have expectations – and the best 1-2 combo in the Pac-12 to fulfill them. That would be dynamic Johnny Juzang, who sizzled in March, and Jaime Jaquez Jr., a handful both in penetration and on the perimeter. Perpetually underestimated Tyger Campbell is a terrific distributor who can score when needed. Top 10 prospect Peyton Watson and Rutgers transfer Myles Johnson are welcome additions, but no one’s more important to UCLA’s ambitions than Cody Riley, who gritted his way through a bum ankle all last season.

USC Trojans

Coach: Andy Enfield (157-110), 9th year

2020-21 record: 25-8. Pac-12: 15-5, 2nd

Key newcomers: Boogie Ellis (6-2, G), Harrison Hornery (6-9, F), Malik Thomas (6-3, G)

Key losses: Evan Mobley, Tahj Eaddy

Outlook: Isaiah Mobley has played alongside two NBA lottery picks – including brother Evan last season – and now has a chance to prove his bona fides as USC’s lead dog. But if the Trojans are going to replicate last year’s Elite Eight success, other complementary players are going to have to produce, too – notably 6-9 Chevez Goodwin and stretch four Max Agbonkpolo up front, Isaiah White and Ethan Anderson at guard. Drew Peterson is a versatile, reliable playmaker who should take on a bigger scoring role, and the backcourt gets a boost from Memphis transfer Boogie Ellis, an aggressive defender with a work-in-progress shot.

Utah Utes

Coach: Craig Smith, 1st year

2020-21 record: 12-13. Pac-12: 8-11, 8th

Key newcomers: David Jenkins Jr. (6-2, G), Boslyn Holt (6-7, G), Rollie Wooster (6-3, G)

Key losses: Timmy Allen, Alfonso Plummer, Mikael Jantunen

Outlook: Larry Krystowiak’s firing sent most of Utah’s major producers scurrying for the portal, so former Utah State coach Craig Smith has filled in with “his guys” – Aggies transfers Rollie Worster and Marco Anthony – and a few others. David Jenkins Jr. was a 15-point scorer at UNLV and figures to be a focal point of the offense, and Both Gach makes an intriguing return after bouncing to Minnesota for one season. The loss of Timmy Allen up front leaves questions, but opportunity for 7-foot shot blocker Branden Carlson, previous starter Riley Battin and juco operator Bostyn Holt.

Washington Huskies

Coach: Mike Hopkins (68-60), 5th year

2020-21 record: 5-21. Pac-12: 4-16, 11th

Key newcomers: Langston Wilson (6-9, F), Daejon Davis (6-3, G), Terrell Brown Jr. (6-3, G)

Key losses: Quade Green, Marcus Tsohonis, Erik Stevenson

Outlook: The Huskies’ nosedive from the early promise of Mike Hopkins’ first two years has been ugly, and a slew of last year’s leading players beat feet. But maybe that’s not a bad thing. The restocking began with two veteran transfers, Terrell Brown (Arizona) and Daejon Davis (Stanford), both proven scorers. But the excitement comes up front, where McDonald’s All-American Jackson Grant and one-time Alabama signee Langston Wilson arrive – much-needed help for a team that was absolutely battered on the boards last year. Still, the Huskies need more production from underperforming Nate Roberts, and a boost from West Virginia transfer Emmitt Matthews Jr.

See Washington State preview on Page 15

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