Published on October 8th, 2012 | by Bryant West, Columnist0
2012 NCAA Conferences Previews: Pac-12
Welcome to October! For the next month leading up to the start of actual NCAA Games, I’ll be breaking down some of the biggest conferences.
The Pac-12 is back, baby! Or, at least it should be… it has four top 10 recruits according to pretty much any ranking services. Will the talents of Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson, Kaleb Tarczewski and Grant Jerrett restore a Arizona/UCLA rivalry and kickstart the Pac-12 back into NCAA relevance?
Five Top Squads:
1. Arizona Wildcats
Nick Johnson and Solomon Hill are both excellent players in their own right, but they’ve got a ton of talented company. Guard Mark Lyons comes over from Xavier and won’t have to sit out a year since he graduated—he adds some electric scoring from the guard position but needs to prove he can be a floor general as well.
The Wildcats also have three HUGE recruits—literally. Forwards Grant Jerrett and Brandon Ashley join center Kaleb Tarczewski to form the most dangerous big-man core on the West Coast. This is easily the most talented Wildcats squad in the past five years.
Hit the jump for the rest of Bryant’s PAC-12 preview…
2. UCLA Bruins
UCLA snagged two top five recruits of their own in Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson. Both are excellent scorers and top-tier NBA talent, but I’m concerned it may be hard to fit both of them into one offense. Center Joshua Smith is another concer—he has the size and strength to dominate, but was exceptionally inconsistent last season.
Add in my increasing doubts about Ben Howland’s coaching abilities/integrity and you’ve got a squad that can either blow up the NCAA or blow up in their own faces. I struggled between having UCLA at No. 2 and No. 3, but finally went with No. 2 simply because they have the more potential.
3. Colorado Buffaloes
It starts and ends with Andre Robinson for the Buffaloes, but they have some other players to be excited about.
Senior Austin Dufualt should have a nice season, and Colorado also added freshman center Josh Scott to help bolster the paint. If there is one team that can challenge Arizona down low, it’s Colorado. Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker are two other returnees who will play a big role in keeping the Buffaloes in contention.
4. Stanford Cardinal
I’m putting huge pressure on guard Chasson Randle, but he had a spectacular freshman season last year (13.8 points, 2.2 assists on 43.8 percent) and I expect he makes a play for Pac-12 Player of the Year. Add in a decent supporting cast with wing Anthony Brown and forward Dwight Powell and the Cardinal could be the sleeper this year.
5. Cal Golden Bears
The loss of 2011-12 POY Jorge Gutierrez hurts a ton, but the Bears have too much talent to knock out of the top five. Where Arizona controls the paint and UCLA controls the wings, Cal might control the guard spot—the combo of Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs makes Cal a dangerous squad.
Four Players to Watch:
1. Forward Andre Roberson, Colorado
Colorado is anchored by Andre Roberson, who has the potential to be the best player in the conference this season. I’m putting a big caveat on that “has”, though, because it’s a pretty decent risk.
Last season, Roberson lead Colorado in rebounds (11.1), steals (1.3) and blocks (1.9). Defensively, he’s the best player in the Pac-12. Offensively? If he can make the leap this year, he could be a top 15 draft pick next June.
He’s not bad offensively and scored 11.6 points on 51 percent shooting last season, but he’ll have a bigger workload this season with Carlon Brown’s departure. Roberson needs to prove he can score, and I’d hope to see him in the 15 points per game range.
2. Forward Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA
Muhammad is a lock for a top two spot in next year’s NBA Draft should he declare (and I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t). He may be the best wing scorer since Kevin Durant, although I doubt he has a Kevin Durant level rookie year (when Durant averaged 25.8 points a contest). Somewhere between 15-18 points on 45% shooting seems a safe expectation.
3. Kaleb Tarczewski, Arizona
While Tarczewki may not be the most important player on Arizona’s roster, he’s the one that has the most NBA potential. He could be a top 10 pick if he declares next season. With his NBA size and excellent skill set, he’s got everything you want in a big man. He’s tough, determined and has an unmatched work ethic. I’ll pencil in 11 points, nine rebounds and two blocks a game for the freshman, even with Arizona’s depth.
4. Guard Allen Crabbe, Cal
With Jorge Gutierrez gone, the pressure goes on Crabbe, who actually outscored the Pac-12 POY last season (15.2 points to Gutierrez’s 13.0). Can Crabbe take the next step and be the full-time option?
He won’t be completely alone—he has Justin Cobbs playing the opposite guard spot, but he’ll need to average around 17 points a game for Cal this season.
Three Award Predictions
Player of the Year: Andre Robinson, Colorado
Freshman of the Year: Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA
Defensive Player of the Year: Andre Robinson, Colorado
Two Storylines to Pay Attention To:
1. Can USC bounce back?
1-17 in conference last season and a 6-25 record overall, last season was one of the worst in Trojan history. You can chalk off some of the failure to injuries (both Aaron Fuller and Dewayne Dedmon missed significant time) but as a whole it was just a dismal failure for USC.
Things are looking up this year. The squad should be healthy, and they add two sharp newcomers in UC-Irvine transfer Eric Wise and freshman forward Strahinja Gavrilovi. The Trojans could see a huge improvement this season.
2. Can the Pac-12 send more than four schools to the Big Dance?
Last year, only two teams (Colorado and Cal) got into the Big Dance. Pac-12 hasn’t been the power conference of old in the past few years, but can they change that thus year?
I’ll pencil in Arizona as a near lock for a NCAA Tournament bid, and I can’t keep UCLA or Colorado out. That leaves Cal and Stanford. Both have the talent to get an at large bid (or even contend for the Conference Championship) so there is about a 50/50 chance that the Pac-12 gets four teams in this year.
One Conference Championship Winner: Arizona Wildcats
In the end, it’s hard to bet again Arizona’s experienced players and their addition of talented newcomers. They very well could be a top 5 team in the nation if they click together.
Projected Final Standings:
9. Oregon State
10. Washington State
12. Arizona State