Pac-12 Ready for the Big Show

Ivan Rabb; Credit - SI

Ivan Rabb; Credit – SI

By Regina Robinson,

The Pac-12 has never had a championship team according to my dear friend Wiggy (aka Itasca Wiggins), a veteran journalist, who now offers her authoritative narratives on sports, theater, music and the world at-large at watercoolers and watering holes around the country. She thinks this will be the Pac’s year now that the College Football Playoff Championship is in place; maybe UCLA or USC. But, then she realized, oh, that’s football and we’re talking basketball. She’s peachy keen about the conference’s hoop squads as well, but doesn’t foresee a championship looming there. So I put together the conference’s top 10, in basketball, without the help of our round-the-couch discussion. Seven picks were pretty obvious (see last year’s NCAA tournament).

1. Oregon – Kendall Small is one of the transfers that are part of the DIII empire former Arizona guard and NBA veteran Damon Stoudamire is building in Stockton, Calif., as the new head coach at Pacific. Small had limited playing time last year with the Ducks (1.7 points in 7.8 minutes), so his exit won’t be a burden the Ducks will have to bear. They remain strong and reign again.

2. Arizona – The Wildcats’ backcourt is going to be a force that needs to be reckoned with if opponents intend to shut Arizona down. Once they get through the front line, however, scoring gets easier. The Wildcats’ weakness under the basket will get some support this season from a Finland import, 6-11 power forward Lauri Markkanen.

3. USC – Like other top prospects, Trojans star guard Julian Jacobs jumped into the NBA pool to see if an offer would swim his way. Unlike some of those other prospects, Jacobs did not withdraw his name and maintain his college eligibility after he was not selected during the draft or invited to a combine after the draft. Jacobs would have been a nice cushion for USC this season, but they are not hurting too much. Shaqquan Aaron, the 6-7 guard who sat out last year after transferring from Louisville; Bennie Boatwright, a freshman starter last year averaging 11.5 points and 5.2 rebounds per game; and senior forward Darrion Clark, the difference maker for USC (with Clark in the lineup the Trojans were 19-7, 2-5 without him) will all make sure the Trojans see postseason play.

4. UCLA – The Bruins’ incoming freshman guard Lonzo Ball (6-6, 190) is getting comparisons to Russell Westbrook. So, if he is as good as Westbrook, there’s no reason he should be on the bench. Oh wait, UCLA already has three good reasons: Bryce Alford, Isaac Hamilton and Aaron Holiday (43.2 points and 12.5 assists per game last season combined). Nice problem for coach Steve Alford to have.

5. California – Jaylen Brown gone to the NBA (Boston Celtics), so Ivan Rabb will have to demonstrate the shooting precision that has him in the conversation for national POY to keep things rolling for the Golden Bears. Rabb can fill Brown’s shoes, but it takes a village … on defense, to seal the deal.

6. Oregon State – If only the Beavers had one of the top-scoring trios (maybe all sophomores) in the country to save the day. Oh, hello Tres Tinkle, Stephen Thompson Jr., and Drew Eubanks. And with his contract extension a done deal, coach Tinkle can continue to build a team that advances to the tournament.

7. Utah – When the percentages are tallied pretty evenly across the board, it’s the sign of a strong conference. The Utes would need extraordinary numbers to move up the ranks and stand out from the pack. They don’t have them.

8. Stanford – Coach Jerod Haase needs look no further than the end of the bench for guard Rosco Allen’s replacement to Marcus Sheffield, who averaged 6 points and 2 rebounds last season as a freshman. Getting a coach locked in was on the Cardinal To-do, but there’s a little more to be done before Stanford gets an invite to March Madness.

9. Colorado – Colorado’s chances for making some noise in the postseason looks good on paper: Coach Tad Boyle has lit a fire under the Buffaloes’ program; their quiet-as-kept wingmen are doing the darn thing (George King, 13.6 points, 4.7 rebounds last season, and Josh Fortune with 10.3 points, 4.0 rebounds); and Xavier Johnson is back in the lineup, missing last season after suffering a torn Achilles. However, looking good doesn’t matter if it doesn’t translate to wins.

10. Washington – Coach Lorenzo Romar said in a recent interview with Percy Allen (Seattle Times) that the Huskies guards are not to be toyed with, adding that freshman Markelle Fultz, reminds him of Washington alum and Boston Celtic guard Isaiah Thomas. To be a winning coach means not only spotting good talent, but putting it to good use. Romar is in his 15th season with Washington, and according to Allen, is the only major conference men’s basketball coach that has not had postseason play in the past five years that has kept his job.

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