Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Pac-12 MBB: Early projections for 2023-24 put Washington State toward bottom of the conference

By Jon Wilner Bay Area News Group

The first of three deadlines has come and gone for college basketball teams across the land. Early-entry candidates for the NBA Draft were required to file paperwork by Sunday and have until May 31 to formally withdraw and return to school.

Unofficially, the Pac-12 lost at least 13 players to the pre-draft process, although the attrition was not divided equally. UCLA accounted for five of the 13 departures and Washington State for three more. Meanwhile, six teams didn’t lose any players to the draft.

We suspect a few prospects will reverse course and return to college, but which ones? The conference race depends heavily on a small subset of those 13.

For that reason, the following projections will be updated in early June.

(Note: The other important date this spring is May 11, when the transfer window closes.)

Here we go …

1. USC: The return of all-conference guard Boogie Ellis and arrival of guard Isaiah Collier, the nation’s top-ranked recruit (at any position), give the Trojans one of the best backcourts in the country. Talented wing Tre White and guard Reese Dixon-Waters are in the transfer portal, but there are more than enough secondary playmakers – the group includes defensive aces Kobe Johnson and Joshua Morgan – to support a run at USC’s first regular-season title in four decades in the school’s final year in the conference.

2. UCLA: No team stands to lose more production than the Bruins, whose top six scorers are expected to depart for the NBA or have exhausted their eligibility. Could one or two reverse course? Perhaps. But at this point, we’re assuming coach Mick Cronin fields a wholly revamped rotation next winter. It likely will include Utah transfer Lazar Stefanovic and a group of heralded recruits. (Keep an eye on returning point guard Dylan Andrews.) But the Bruins need another transfer (or two) before we can comfortably consider them the preseason favorite.

3. Arizona: Azuolas Tubelis is in the draft but not considered a first-round pick at this point, so we cannot ignore the potential for him to withdraw at the end of May. But here’s an alternative thought: The program is better off without its top scorer. Tubelis’ return would only slow the rotation overhaul necessary to turn the Wildcats into a more effective postseason team. Coach Tommy Lloyd’s knack for finding talent will be put to the test this spring. As of now, he doesn’t have the pieces needed to produce another first-rate regular season.

4. Colorado: The past two seasons in Boulder have been somewhat disappointing and ended with NIT bids. We expect that trajectory to change in 2023-24 given the presence of guard KJ Simpson and the arrivals of five-star wing Cody Williams and big man Eddie Lampkin, a transfer from TCU. The looming unknown is Tristan da Silva, who has declared for the NBA Draft. If he returns, the Buffaloes become a title threat. Otherwise, count them as a contender for one of the top four seeds in the conference tournament.

5. Oregon: The Ducks are typically one of the most difficult teams to assess and this offseason is no different. The expected losses are notable and include not only point guard Will Richardson but former five-star recruit Kel’el Ware. However, the upside is significant for Dana Altman’s program if three blue-chip recruits mesh with a group of returnees led by big man N’Faly Dante. So much of Oregon’s outlook depends on that which cannot be measured: Focus, cohesion, attention to detail and buying Altman’s message at full price.

6. Utah: Coach Craig Smith’s rebuild is ahead of schedule following a 17-win season, but maintaining the momentum will be challenging. The Utes have lost the versatile Stefanovic (to UCLA) and could be without their best player if Branden Carlson opts to remain in the NBA Draft. (Like Tubelis and UCLA’s draft contingent, he is not currently projected as a first-rounder.) If Carlson returns to team with Lawson Lovering, a Colorado transfer, the Utes have the ingredients for a top-half finish. If he stays in the draft, then a backslide seems likely.

7. Arizona State: Combine the players who have exhausted their eligibility, hit the transfer portal or declared for the NBA Draft and we have no idea (none, zero, zip) what form coach Bobby Hurley’s starting lineup will take. (Even for a program that relies heavily on the transfer portal, the current degree of roster uncertainty seems elevated.) So far, two rotation spots are filled: Transfers Adam Miller (LSU) and Kamari Lands (Louisville) should play key roles next season. Until more clarity emerges, we’ll slot the Sun Devils into the middle of the pack.

8. Washington: Plenty has gone wrong for the Huskies over the past four years. But they caught a major break earlier this month when Keion Brooks announced he wasn’t entering the NBA Draft or the transfer portal but would return to Seattle. (He’s one of the few. UW has been hit hard by attrition and thus far failed to suitably replace the departures.) Brooks provides a strong foundation and should prevent the Huskies from a complete implosion in what could be coach Mike Hopkins’ final season. Anything short of an NCAA bid, and that could be it.

9. Washington State: Momentum stalled in Year Four under Kyle Smith, and we’re struggling to envision a scenario in which it restarts next winter. The Cougars have lost guard TJ Bamba and forward Mouhamed Gueye and could lose wing Justin Powell, as well. That’s 41 points per game. They probably can replace 30 of them through the development of returning players and arrivals from the transfer portal. But the last 10 or 12 points? We’re skeptical. And those points make up the difference between finishing on the middle tier and the lowest level.

10. Stanford: You will find more optimistic Cardinal forecasts elsewhere, but the Hotline has seen far too much mediocrity over the years to project success before we see it. Not since the 2018 season has Stanford finished above .500 in league play despite a mix of NBA Draft picks and role players that should have generated more wins in what has, for the most part, been a mediocre league. Veteran Spencer Jones and five-star recruit Andrej Stojakovic form a first-rate tandem, but will the Cardinal take advantage?

11. Cal: The race for the bottom doesn’t have a clear favorite after new Bears coach Mark Madsen found two impact players in the transfer portal: big man Fardaws Aimaq from Texas Tech and guard Jalen Cone from Northern Arizona. Of course, more help is needed – loads more – but Madsen has playing time to offer and a Cal degree to dangle. We suspect whatever lineup he fields will show vastly more offensive efficiency than the version we watched stagger through the worst season in school history.

12. Oregon State: In early March, OSU’s top scorers, forward Glenn Taylor Jr. and guard Jordan Pope, stated they would return to Corvallis next season. A few weeks later, Taylor entered the portal and all eyes immediately turned to Pope. So far, so good for the Beavers with regard to one of the top young guards in the conference (and the most promising talent OSU has produced in years). If he remains on the roster next fall, Oregon State has a chance to avoid the cellar. If Pope leaves? Look out below.