2020-2021 Pac-12 Basketball Preview

LWOS continues its conference previews with the 2020-21 Pac-12 Conference Basketball Preview. The Pac-12 is one of the most entertaining and interesting conferences to watch due to the heavy competition among the west coast. However, conference success is typically a hit or miss within the last few years. In other words, teams either excel enough to stand out as an NCAA Championship contender or diminish in early-to-middle rounds. An interesting fact is that six teams reached the 20-win mark during the 2019-20 season. Oregon captured the Pac-12 title, but look for UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State, and Stanford to challenge the Ducks.

2020-21 Pac-12 Basketball Preview

12. Oregon State Beavers

Returners: Ethan Thompson, Zach Reichle, Alfred Hollins

Losses: Tres Tinkle, Kylor Kelley

Newcomers: Warith Alatishe (Nicholls State), Rodrigue Andela (JUCO), Tariq Silver (JUCO)

Losing Tres Tinkle to graduation is huge for Oregon State and his father – head coach Wayne Tinkle. Not only is he the program’s all-time leading scorer and second all-time leading rebounder, but he is the heart and soul of the team. Kylor Kelley averaged 11 points and 5 rebounds per game last season, so the Beavers have to make up for the loss of production down low.

However, Ethan Thompson’s return is critical for Oregon State. The senior averaged 15 points, four rebounds, and four assists last season, so expect a special season from him as one of the top guards in the Pac-12. A silver lining is that the Beavers have the ninth-ranked recruiting class in the nation and Tariq Silver’s addition is huge for Oregon State. His 46% three-point shooting could be beneficial in Corvallis this season, along with Warith Alatishe. The Beavers have serious potential but expect them to be at the bottom of the pack again.

11. Washington Huskies

Returners: Quade Green, Nahziah Carter, Hameir Wright

Losses: Isaiah Stewart, Jaden McDaniels

Newcomers: Cole Bajema (Michigan), Erik Stevenson (Wichita State)

It’s been a tale of two cities for the Huskies the last two years. They won the Pac-12 in 2019 but finished dead last in 2020. Losing Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels are big stingers and the Huskies also do not have a 2020 recruit on their roster. Quade Green does return after missing the final months of the season due to academic ineligibility to team up with Nahziah Carter in the backcourt. However, Carter is suspended, so expect the Huskies to utilize Hameir Wright more. The good news for Washington is that Erik Stevenson was granted eligibility, so his shooting abilities will help the team’s depleted three-point attack. Despite the team’s experience, the Huskies lost too much talent and even morale within the last year, so do not expect much from Washington this year.

10. California Golden Bears

Returners: Matt Bradley, Grant Anticevich, Andre Kelly

Losses: Paris Austin, Kareem South

Newcomers: Makale Foreman (Stony Brook), Ryan Betley (Penn), Monty Bowser

California losing two of its top three scorers is a huge hit to the roster. However, Matt Bradley will return for his junior season. He averaged 17.5 points per game and shot 38.4 percent from behind the arc last season. Adding transfers Makale Foreman and Ryan Betley significantly improve the lineup, especially from the three-point line. Foreman averaged 15.6 points off 8.8 three-point attempts per game last season. Betley is also a solid addition. He averaged 12.8 points per game and shot 38.3 percent from the three-point line. California’s outside shooting attack is enough to overpower other teams. However, their lack of frontcourt presence will affect them against bigger teams. The Golden Bears could hit the middle of the pack, but their lack of frontcourt depth is too concerning.

9. Washington State Cougars

Returners: Isaac Bonton, Tony Miller

Losses: CJ Elleby, Jeff Pollard, Jervae Robinson

Newcomers: Carlos Rosario, Andrej Jakimovski, Dishon Jackson

CJ Elleby’s decision to pursue the NBA Draft was soul-crushing for the Cougars. However, they still have guard Isaac Bonton, who averaged 15.3 points last season. Despite losing key players, head coach Kyle Smith put together a solid recruiting class. Four-star wings Carlos Rosario and Andrej Jakimoviski, along with three-star center Dishon Jackson will all play a big part on the roster. The Cougars will be exciting to watch and while they may not do any significant damage this season, the team is young enough to develop and excel for the next few years.

8. Colorado Buffaloes

Returners: McKinley Wright IV, Evan Battey, D’Shawn Schwartz

Losses: Tyler Bey

Newcomers: Jeriah Horne (Tulsa)

Colorado’s recent history is interesting. Throughout head coach Tad Boyle‘s 10 seasons, the Buffaloes have barely finished either right below, at, or slightly above .500. Tyler Bey’s defensive presence will be heavily missed. However, McKinley Wright IV returns for his season after averaging 14.4 points, 5.0 assists, and 5.7 rebounds per game last year. Tulsa transfer Jeriah Horne will replace Bey. Evan Battey, D’Shawn Schwartz, and Wright IV make one of the Pac-12’s most dominant big-three, but Colorado’s reserves are simply too inexperienced to truly make a deep run in the tournament. However, if they execute well on the court, the Buffaloes are an underrated team to look out for this season.

7. Utah Utes

Returners: Timmy Allen, Alfonso Plummer, Riley Battin, Rylan Jones

Losses: Both Gach

Newcomers: Ian Martinez, Pelle Larsson, Norbert Thelissen

Utah had recent success in the Pac-12, finishing the last five seasons with a winning record. However, they finished last season with a losing record to break the streak. The Utes lost defensive wing Both Gach, who transferred to Minnesota, which hurts the roster defensively. Utah does return the rest of its starting lineup, including Timmy Allen, who averaged 17.3 points per game last season. Riley Battin, Rylan Jones, and Alfonso Plummer can all average in double-figures this season. Despite their strong trio of freshman (Norbert Thelissen, Pelle Larsson, and Ian Martinez), the Utes are still too small and lack a true defensive presence, so expect Utah to barely miss the top half of the Pac-12.

6. USC Trojans

Returners: Isaiah Mobley, Ethan Anderson

Losses: Onyeka Okongwu, Jonah Mathews, Nick Rakocevic

Newcomers: Evan Mobley, Chevez Goodwin (Wofford), Isaiah White (Utah Valley), Tahj Eaddy (Santa Clara)

The Trojans and Pac-12 as a whole lost a gem in Onyeka Okongwu, who was drafted No. 6 overall by the Atlanta Hawks. However, USC will be adding a new big man, Evan Mobley. The No. 3 overall prospect of the 2020 recruiting class will join his older brother Isaiah Mobley, a five-star prospect in last year’s class. While Mobley will likely ease in, USC is only returning four scholarship players from last season. Ethan Anderson’s growth will also be key to the Trojans’ success. They did add the transfer trio of Chevez Goodwin, Isaiah White, and Tahj Eaddy, who will help with depth and experience. Regardless of how Mobley adjusts to college basketball, the Trojans’ experience will keep them in the middle of the pack.

5. Arizona Wildcats

Returners: Jemarl Baker Jr.

Losses: Nico Mannion, Josh Green, Zeke Nnaji

Newcomers: Terrell Brown (Seattle) James Akinjo (Georgetown), Jordan Brown (Nevada)

The Wildcats lost quite a few players, including the deadly freshman trio of Nico Mannion, Josh Green, and Zeke Nnaji. However, do not doubt a Sean Miller team. Arizona’s bench is mostly freshman, with five players ranked above No. 122. Terell Brown, Jordan Brown, and James Akinjo bring enough experience and leadership to help a young team. Jemarl Baker is the highest leading scorer as of today, averaging 5.7 points per game. If the transfer trio plays well, along with a few of Miller’s freshman, expect the Wildcats to do some serious damage in the Pac-12.

4. Stanford Cardinal

Returners: Oscar Da Silva, Daejon Davis, Spencer Jones, Bryce Wills

Losses: Tyrell Terry

Newcomers: Ziaire Williams, Max Murrell

Freshman phenom Tyrell Terry is a 0ne-and-done who declared for the NBA. However, top-five prospect Ziaire Williams will instantly replace him. The good news for Stanford is that the rest of their starting lineup will return, including star forward Oscar Da Silva and guard Daejon Davis. This is certainly a defensive-minded team due to their length and instincts, so expect the Cardinal to seriously compete in the Pac-12 this season. If Williams can adjust and fill the scoring void Terry left behind, Stanford will challenge be a serious contender in March.

3. Arizona State Sun Devils

Returners: Remy Martin, Jaelen HouseCaleb Christopher, Alonzo Verge Jr.

Losses: Romello White

Newcomers: Holland Woods (Portland State), Luther Muhammad (Ohio State), Joshua Christopher

The Sun Devils are very guard-heavy this season. Romello White transferred from Arizona State, but the roster still has Remy Martin and Alonzo Verge running the backcourt. Verge averaged 14.6 points per game last season, so he is slated to have a strong senior year. The Sun Devils also brought in No. 12 prospect (2020 class) Joshua Christopher, along with Holland Woods and Luther Muhammad. If Christopher successfully fills in his role, Arizona State will be a serious contender in the NCAA. However, a glaring issue is their three-point shooting and lack of depth in the frontcourt. If this team fulfills their roles, the Sun Devils will be just fine. Otherwise, do not expect them to finish higher than No.5.

2. Oregon Ducks

Returners: Will Richardson, Chris Duarte, N’Faly Dante

Losses: Payton Pritchard, Anthony Mathis, Shakur Juiston

Newcomers: Amauri Hardy (UNLV), Eugene Omoruyi (Rutgers), Eric Williams Jr. (Duquesne), LJ Figueroa (St. John’s)

Payton Pritchard’s loss is huge for Oregon, along with Anthony Mathis and Shakur Juiston. However, Will Richardson and Chris Duarte will return and lead the way in Eugene. Head Coach Dana Altman also brought in several transfers to play key roles, especially Eugene Omoruyi and LJ Figueroa, if he is granted eligibility to play. Figueroa’s playmaking and defensive skills will be critical for the Ducks. N’Faly Dante is the X-factor as he is looking to bounce back from an injured freshman season. If he bounces back and fills in, not only will he be a top NBA Draft pick, but Oregon will be a serious contender in the tournament and even win the Pac-12.

1. UCLA Bruins

Returners: Chris Smith, Tyger Campbell, David Singleton, Jaime Jaquez Jr., Jalen Hill

Losses: Prince Ali

Newcomers: Johnny Juzang (Kentucky), Jaylen Clark

All five starters for UCLA will return, which puts them in an excellent position. The starting unit won seven straight games in February before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down sports. New coach Mick Cronin had a short, but stellar first season with UCLA. Chris Smith’s decision to return for his senior season puts UCLA in a high, Pac-12 ranking.

The Bruins will definitely miss Prince Ali, but adding Kentucky transfer Johnny Juzang and four-star shooting guard Jaylen Clark boosts an already stacked roster. Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Tyger Campbell will anchor the Bruins’ offense. UCLA may not bolster a star player compared to other Pac-12 opponents, but in the game of basketball, it is also just as beneficial to have 10-11 solid players on a roster. If Jalen Hill excels in the paint, not only will UCLA win the Pac-12, but also make a big run in the NCAA Tournament.

2020-21 Pac-12 Basketball Preview Award Projections

Player of the Year: Remy Martin, Arizona State

Ever since he won the Pac-12’s Sixth Man of the Year in his freshman year, Remy Martin has only grown from there. His scoring and playmaking abilities, along with leadership, will help put Arizona State on the map as contenders in the Pac-12. Due to his passion and confidence, he will be in the right position to take over for Payton Prichard as the Pac-12’s Player of the Year.

Rookie of the Year: Evan Mobley, USC

Evan Mobley was the N0.3 prospect in the 2020 class. He will have some competition with Stanford’s Zaire Williams and Arizona State’s Joshua Christopher, but Mobley’s size and athleticism put him above the others. With Onyeka Okongwu departing USC for the NBA, the 6-foot-11 post player will likely excel and follow his footsteps as a future one-and-done draft pick for the Trojans.

Coach of the Year: Bobby Hurley, Arizona State

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, head coach Bobby Hurley has successfully put together the right combination of veteran players and recruits from the N0.7 recruiting class. He led Arizona State to three straight 20-win seasons and could have his fourth one, pending on scheduling issues and the pandemic. Unless major schedule changes are made, Hurley will earn the Coach of the Year award.

All-Conference First-Team Projection: Remy Martin (Arizona State), McKinley Wright IV (Colorado), Chris Smith (UCLA), Evan Mobley (USC), Oscar Da Silva (Stanford)

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