2019 Pac-12 Conference Preview: Can Its Reputation Be Restored?

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2018 was not a kind year to the Pac-12 conference. Teams lacked consistency and failed to live up to lofty preseason expectations. However, 2019 projects to be a different story. The conference has reloaded on elite-level talent restoring excitement and high expectations for many programs.

Strong Offseason Pushes the Ducks and Huskies to the Top:

Despite Washington’s strong season, Oregon emerged as the most successful PAC-12 team in the NCAA Tournament last year. After reaching the Sweet 16, the Ducks entered the offseason searching for new stars. Several coveted prospects, 5-star Center N’Faly Dante and 4-star wing Addison Patterson, have reclassified and committed to the program within the last month. Joining 5-star Forward CJ Walker on campus, there is a lot of excitement in Eugene.

Mixing in point guard Payton Pritchard and incoming transfers Shakur Juiston (UNLV) and Anthony Mathis (New Mexico), Oregon may have their most talented roster ever on paper. Dana Altman has quality depth at every position. However, his most important addition is unequivocally Dante. Since the 2014-15’ season, Altman has rostered a player with at least 2.2 blocks per game. Dante fits that mold perfectly and has a real chance to average a double-double for the Ducks.

Their biggest challengers will be last year’s regular season champions: Washington. The Huskies signed a pair of top-10 recruits – Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels – with dynamic offensive talent ready to lead the team this season. Junior wing Nahziah Carter also looks ready to emerge for the Huskies, after averaging 18.5 PPG and 8 RPG during the team’s Summer tour in Italy.

Thin at the point guard spot, McDaniels AAU teammate Marcus Tsohonis is likely to be given the reins initially. 5-star transfer Quade Green (Kentucky) will slot into the starting role in time for conference play to start. The Huskies roster is athletic enough to manage until January. Mike Hopkins will deploy his aggressive 2-3 zone again this season, which creates a lot of offensive opportunities for the team in itself.

Both the Huskies and Ducks are likely Sweet 16 entrants with the potential to be dark-horses for the Final Four. Overall depth is not a question for either of these teams. The combination of strong offensive and defensive play will set these two programs apart on the national stage.

The Southern Division Is Chasing Hard for 1st Place:

Teams in the South division were thought of highly going into last season. UCLA earned a preseason ranking and USC, Arizona, and Arizona State were almost ranked as well. However, they were ranked for only a combined 6 weeks. It was a tumultuous year, but each will be looking to play with a renewed focus.

Arizona reloaded with 3-top 40 recruits – 5-stars PG Nico Mannion/SF Josh Green and 4-star PF Zeke Nnaji. Green is a strong candidate to make the Pac-12 All-Defensive team and Mannion is one of the nation’s premier playmakers. Add in Sophomore Brandon Williams and UC-Irvine transfer Max Hazzard and this backcourt can score with anyone in the nation.

While Miller’s defensive philosophies revolve around man-to-man principles, his team has plenty of length and athleticism to crash the glass and clog passing lanes in the half-court. The Wildcats could be very disruptive on the national scene.

That’s what the Bruins were supposed to be last year, disruptive. However, season-ending injuries to multiple freshman derailed that plan before it even started. Shareef O’Neal and Tyger Campbell return healthy to the team and will look to provide a scoring spark, after UCLA lost their top-3 options. The pair are surrounded by a very talented, yet unproven roster.

Inconsistencies led to an early-season firing of head coach Steve Alford. His replacement, Mick Cronin, comes over from Cincinnati off of 9-straight NCAA tournament appearances. Cronin’s approach emphasizes a defense creates offense mentality. This year’s UCLA team will show vast improvements on that end of the floor, while maintaining their spot as one of the premier offensive teams in the nation.

Their crosstown rival, USC, is also looking to reinvent their identity. The Trojans couldn’t live up to elevated preseason expectations and faltered to a 10th place conference finish. Andy Enfield will be looking to usher in a new and extremely talented group of players, led by 5-stars Isaiah Mobley and Onyeka Okongwu.

Freshman point-forward Max Agbonkpolo joins Jonah Matthews, one of the more versatile scoring threats in the conference. He’s among the top perimeter players in the Pac-12 and will see an increase in offensive workload this season. The Trojans have enough talent to get back into the tournament next March, but could be an outside threat to challenge for the conference title if everything comes together.

2018’s Surprise Teams are Polarizing in 2019:

Arizona State and Colorado pieced together two of the better seasons in the Pac-12 last season, although neither was expected to finish nearly as high. The Buffaloes return the most experienced and balanced roster this season. Led by McKinley Wright IV, the team features 6 players who averaged more than 8.1 PPG.

Tad Boyle’s team won’t sneak up on anybody this season, but they shouldn’t have any problems maintaining their momentum from 2018. In fact, they have a strong chance at challenging for the conference title as one of the conference’s top defensive teams.

On the other hand, the Sun Devils received incredible production from Canadian freshman Lugentz Dort and transfers Zylan Cheatham (San Diego State) and Rob Edwards (Cleveland State). Along with Sophomore PG Remy Martin, the trio were the highest scoring players on the team.

Freshman Taeshon Cherry’s minutes were restricted, as a result of Cheatham’s scoring and rebounding ability. However, he should be joining the starting lineup and will aim to become the third scoring option alongside Edwards and Martin. The Sun Devils remain a solid team, despite the losses of Dort and Cheatham. They don’t possess the same upside though that carried them to a 23-win season. Maybe Bobby Hurley’s team will find a gem and surprise the conference again.

Looking for Ways to Move Up:

The Beavers lost star PG Ethan Thompson to graduation and are searching to replace his 16.1 PPG. Jarod Lucas and Gianni Hunt will be vying for the chance to start in his place. Both are adept at scoring the ball, but Hunt’s ability to create passing windows and see the floor gives him the nod.

Tres Trinkle and Stephen Thompson will be the primary scoring options again this season. The pair are likely to receive an even bigger offensive role, despite a considerable portion of the team’s shot attempts in 2018. It wouldn’t be surprising to see this team finish in the top half of the conference.

The Cardinal lost their star in KZ Okpala, but are essentially in tact otherwise. Despite a rough season, they have continuity and several solid incoming pieces to build upon their 2018 performance. They’re likely another year away from rising within the conference, but are trending in the right direction.

Cal and Washington State’s rosters were decimated in the offseason for the second-straight year. Neither team has been able to build momentum towards finishing higher in the conference. Fortunately, the Golden Bears get Paris Austin and Matt Bradley back as strong scoring options. The Cougars likewise return CJ Elleby and Marcus Cannon, but neither program projects to be consistent on a nightly basis. Both schools are capable of stealing a game in the title race.

Utah’s roster mirrors the Bears and Cougars. Only Timmy Allen, Both Gach and Riley Battin saw meaningful minutes for the Utes from last year’s squad. The program will be the youngest team in the conference and are composed mostly of walk-ons. That does not bode well for the overall outlook of the team.

Projected Standings:
1. Oregon – NCAA Tournament
2. Washington – NCAA Tournament
3. ArizonaNCAA Tournament
4. Colorado – NCAA Tournament
5. UCLANCAA Tournament
6. USC – NCAA Tournament
7. Arizona State
8. Oregon State
9. Stanford
10. Utah
11. California
12. Washington St

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