LWOS is continuing to choose the best player, team, and coach from every power conference. Up next is the Pac 12 all-time series. The Pac-12 is a storied conference that has struggled in recent years but appears to be on the upswing.
Pac 12 All-Time Series Part 1
Best Team: 1996-97
Led by future lottery picks Mike Bibby, Jason Terry, and Michael Dickerson, the 1996-97 Wildcats squad had one of the most surprising championship runs in recent memory. They clearly had the prerequisite talent, but their inconsistency was exemplified by their fifth-place finish in the Pac-10. Seeded fourth by the selection committee, it seemed that nobody had the Wildcats on their radar. From there, however, the Wildcats went on a historic roll. They won an unprecedented three games against number one seeds on their way to a championship, a feat that still has not been replicated to this day. The following season also warranted consideration for the greatest Wildcats team, led by the same NBA-bound core. Unfortunately, though they won the Pac-10 with a total of 30 wins, they failed to go all the way, losing in the Elite Eight.
Best Player: Sean Elliott
Playing from 1986-89, Sean Elliott had quite a career with the Wildcats. In 1988, he led the Wildcats to their first-ever Final Four. His encore was just as impressive, as he became the first Wildcats recipient of the Wooden Award. Overall, the legendary forward established himself as a lethal scorer and sharpshooter during his time in Tucson. His legacy will last at the U of A for years to come, especially given that he’s by far the school leader in points scored.
Best Coach: Lute Olson
Lute Olson manned the ship in Arizona for 25 years. Under his watch, the Wildcats transformed from local laughingstock to national prominence. He was the coach of the championship-winning 1996-97 Wildcats team, and he led the team to 23 consecutive NCAA tournament berths. He was especially known for his ability to develop talent, and his program was dubbed “Point Guard U”. Some of his notable players that weren’t highly regarded coming out of high school include Steve Kerr, Gilbert Arenas, Damon Stoudamire, and the aforementioned Bibby and Terry.
Arizona State Sun Devils
Best Team: 1980-81
The 1980-81 Sun Devils squad went a solid 24-4, finishing third in the country. They possessed one of the most talented squads in basketball history, as all five starters and one bench player were drafted into the NBA. Featuring future first-round draftees Byron Scott, Fat Lever, and Alton Lister, the team had a high flying offense that won eleven straight games at one point. Though the team was a number two seed and poised for a deep run in the Big Dance, they were ultimately upset in the second round of the tournament.
Best Player: James Harden
James Harden played for the Sun Devils for two seasons, 2007-08 and 2008-09. During this time, he averaged a superb 21.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 4.3 assists. Harden had a plethora of achievements, as he won the 2009 Pac-10 Player of the Year Award on his way to becoming ASU’s first-ever consensus All-American. He was eventually selected as the third overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft and has since won the NBA MVP Award.
Best Coach: Ned Wulk
Ned Wulk coached ASU from 1957 to 1982, during which he went a solid 405-273. Wulk led the team to a total of nine NCAA tournament berths, and he made the Elite Eight in six of those years. Wulk will best be remembered for reviving an athletics program that was, at many times, overshadowed by its UCLA neighbors.
Best Team: 1958-59
As the only Golden Bears squad to win the NCAA tournament, the 1958-59 Bears will go down as the most impressive team in school history. Under coach Pete Newell, the team developed a gritty, defensive identity. They weren’t given much of a chance by the media, especially considering the prevailing sentiment that West Coast Basketball was of lower quality. However, despite the odds, the Bears went a remarkable 25-4, holding their opponents to a measly 51.0 points per game. Alas, heading into the Final Four, the Bears were given the lowest odds to win the Big Dance. However, just like they did during the regular season, the Golden Bears knocked off future Hall of Famers Oscar Robertson (Cincinnati) and Jerry West (West Virginia) on their way to the only championship in school history.
Best Player: Jason Kidd
Now an NBA Hall of Famer, Jason Kidd had quite an illustrious career with the California Golden Bears. Despite the fact that he only played two seasons, he picked up a bevy of awards. In his first year, he averaged 13.0 points, 7.7 assists, 4.9 rebounds, 3.8 steals in 31.8 minutes per game. These spectacular totals earned him the National Freshman Player of the Year Award, the Pac-10 Player of the Year, and a berth on the 1993 All-Pac-10 Team. He raised those totals to 16.7 points, 9.1 assists, 6.9 rebounds, and 3.1 steals in his second season. Leading the nation in assists, he was named the Pac-10 Player of the Year as well as a First Team All-American. Kidd was subsequently chosen by the Dallas Mavericks with the number two pick in the 1994 NBA Draft.
Best Coach: Pete Newell
Pete Newell coached at California from 1954-1960. He was immensely successful, going a remarkable 119-44 overall. He was especially successful in conference play, leading his squad to four consecutive Pac-8 titles. As previously mentioned, Newell coached the Bears to the 1959 championship. In 1960, he was elected National Coach of the Year. The following season, he was promoted to Athletic Director, where he witnessed the continued growth of the Golden Bears basketball team.
Best Team: 2011-12
In their first year as members of the Pac-12, the 2011-12 Colorado Buffaloes went 24-12, with an 11-7 record in conference play. Lead by Askia Booker and future NBA guards Andre Roberson and Spencer Dinwiddie, the Buffaloes surprised many by winning the Pac-12 conference tournament. Entering the tournament as an 11 seed, the Buffaloes reached the third round, where they lost to Baylor.
Best Player: Chauncey Billups
Chauncey Billups is indisputably the greatest player to come out of Colorado’s lackluster basketball program. In two seasons with the team from 1995-1997, Billups averaged 18.5 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 5.1 assists. In 1997, he was a consensus second-team All-American, as well as a member of the All-Big 12 First Team. Given his versatility and defensive prowess, Billups was drafted by the Celtics with the third overall pick of the 1997 NBA Draft.
Best Coach: Tad Boyle
Tad Boyle is the current coach of the Colorado Buffaloes. He’s coached in Boulder since 2011 and has made a school-record 4 NCAA tournament berths. He’s well regarded in college basketball coaching circles, especially since he engineered a turnaround of the deplorable basketball program following the disastrous tenure of Jeff Bzdelik. In his ten years, the Buffaloes have gone 210-134. His 18 postseason wins are tops in school history.
Best Team: 2016-17
The 2016-17 Oregon Ducks team was immensely successful. The team finished 33-6, with a share of the Pac-12 regular-season title. Coming off an Elite Eight finish the season before, expectations were high in Eugene. Led by future NBA players Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey, Jordan Bell, and Chris Boucher, the Duck ended up living up to those expectations. They reached the Final Four, where they lost to eventual champion North Carolina by one in a nail-biter. Though they ultimately fell short of Big Dance glory, this was the farthest that any Oregon team had reached in the modern era.
Best Player: Payton Pritchard
Payton Pritchard was an invaluable asset during the most successful stretch of Oregon basketball in program history. His senior season in 2019-20 was one for the ages, as he averaged 20.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per game. With the Ducks, Pritchard has won numerous awards and accolades for his important role, especially in 2020. To begin, Pritchard won the Bob Cousy Award for Best Point Guard. He was the Pac-12 Player of the Year, as well as the first Ducks consensus First Team All-American in 80 years. Additionally, he was the first Naismith Award finalist in program history. Pritchard ends his abbreviated senior season as the Oregon career leader in wins, starts, and assists, as well as second in steals and three-pointers made.
Best Coach: Dana Altman
The highest-paid public paid employee in the state of Oregon is unsurprisingly by far the best coach in school history. Under Dana Altman, the Ducks have risen to the top echelon of the Pac-12, and have consistently emerged as an NCAA title contender. In 10 seasons with the team since 2010, Altman has compiled a 259-103 record, and he has made the Big Dance six times. Altman has led the Ducks to three conference tournament championships, as well as three regular-season conference championships.
Oregon State Beavers
Best Team: 1980-81
The 1980-81 Oregon State team will go down as one of the biggest “what-if’s” in history. Nicknamed “Orange Express”, this 26-2 Beavers team was uncannily adept at both defense and offense. Offensively, the squad nearly broke the NCAA accuracy record and were among the greatest passing teams of their generation. Defensively, they forced nearly twenty turnovers per game along with approximately nine steals a game. Sadly, the Beavers suffered one of the most incredible upsets in the history of college basketball, as they lost as a one seed to the eighth-seeded Kansas State in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The star-studded team ultimately sent five players to the NBA.
Best Player: Steve Johnson
While he didn’t enjoy the same successes in the NBA as some of his fellow Beavers alumni, Steve Johnson nonetheless had the most illustrious career in Oregon State basketball history. In four seasons with the Beavers, he averaged 17.5 points and rebounds over his collegiate career. Most notably, during the aforementioned 1980-81 season, Johnson set the single-season field goal percentage record. Johnson was a three-time All-Pac-10 First Team member, and he was the Pac-10 Player of the year in 1981. That same year, he was a consensus first-team All-American.
Best Coach: Ralph Miller
Ralph Miller was the coach of the Oregon State Beavers from 1970 to 1989. In 19 seasons with the team, he compiled a 342-198 win-loss record, and he led his squad to 8 NCAA tournament berths. He had the most success from 1979 to 1984, during which he won 4 conference championships along with a trip to the Elite Eight. The Beavers program has not enjoyed such levels of success since his tenure ended.
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