Oregon may start somewhat slowly as Dillon Brooks recovers from an offseason foot injury, but make no mistake — the defending regular season and tournament champion Ducks are loaded and ready to repeat.
The media that covers Pac-12 Conference basketball agrees.
On Friday the league announced the results of its preseason media poll, and Oregon was a resounding choice to once again claim the conference crown, collecting 23 of 27 first-place votes…including mine. Second-place Arizona received the other four first-place votes.
The CU Buffaloes were picked seventh last year but ultimately finished fifth. This year they were selected fifth in the preseason poll. Here’s how I slotted the league’s 12 teams. (Actual finish in preseason poll in parenthesis.)
1. Oregon (1): Brooks’ early health concerns aside, the Ducks are loaded. Brooks, Tyler Dorsey, and Chris Boucher all averaged at least 12 points. Casey Benson is one of the best decision-makers as a point guard in the country. Oh, and Oregon added the junior college national player of the year in 6-foot-11 Kavell Bigby-Williams.
2. Arizona (2): The Wildcats feature one of the top backcourts in the league with Allonzo Trier and Kadeem Allen. Arizona lost three of its top four scorers but welcomes a top-10 recruiting class.
3. UCLA (3): Along with everyone else, I’m expecting a rebound season in Westwood. The Bruins finally have a true point guard in freshman Lonzo Ball (a possible one-and-done NBA lottery pick) to pair with Isaac Hamilton and Bryce Alford. Six-foot-10 T.J. Leaf also will be one of the premier freshmen in the Pac-12.
4. Colorado (5): Despite the loss of leading scorer and rebounder Josh Scott, this likely will be the deepest Buffaloes team in coach Tad Boyle’s seven-season tenure. The return of Xavier Johnson (missed 2015-16 due to injury) and the addition of former Division II All-American Derrick White should offset Scott’s departure, while George King is expected to build on a season that ended with the Pac-12’s Most Improved Player award.
5. Cal (4): The Golden Bears still will be uniquely talented, particularly with Ivan Rabb opting to return for his sophomore season. Yet Cal’s late swoon — followed by the dismissal of an assistant coach after an off-court harassment issue, as well as the sudden and surprising transfer of Jordan Matthews — didn’t exactly send the Bears into the offseason with momentum.
6. Washington (6): Huskies replace two one-and-done players with Markelle Fultz, a guard also expected to make a hasty departure for the NBA. Washington will be a tough out, but even with two first-round picks and the league’s leading scorer last year the Huskies only reached the NIT.
7. Utah (8): A little difficult to get a grasp on the Utes with a number of transfers and freshmen in the fold, but coach Larry Krystkowiak always has Utah ready to play and still returns solid scorers in Lorenzo Bonam and Kyle Kuzma.
8. Arizona State (11): A tie for the biggest discrepancy between where I voted and where a team actually landed. My belief is that while Sun Devils aren’t ready to move into upper half of the league, the second season under coach Bobby Hurley and a decorated freshman class has ASU on the upswing.
9. Stanford (10): The Cardinal welcomes the only new coach in the league in Jerod Haase and brings back four starters. That doesn’t include versatile junior Reid Travis, who missed most of last season due to a leg injury.
10. USC (7): Also my biggest voting discrepancy, but in the other direction. Guard Jordan McLaughlin is a budding star, but the Trojans will rely heavily on freshmen following heavy roster defections.
11. Oregon State (9): Gary Payton Jr. led the Beavers back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since his father did the same over 20 years previous. With Payton gone, OSU could struggle.
12. Washington State (12): The Cougars went 1-17 but came within a few plays of twice defeating CU during the regular season. WSU still boasts one of the top all-around players in the league in Josh Hawkinson.