This will be my fourth season on the beat covering college basketball — the Colorado Buffaloes in particular and the Pac-12 Conference in general. This was far and away the most curious I have been to see the results of the league’s preseason media poll.
Here is how I voted this year, with each team’s actual finish in parenthesis.
1. Oregon (1): The Ducks’ vaunted recruiting class, ranked third in the nation by 247Sports.com, includes a pair of one-and-done candidates in Louis King and Bol Bol, the 7-foot-2 son of the late former NBA player Manute Bol. Add the fresh talent to holdovers like guard Payton Pritchard and forward Kenny Wooten, and the Ducks are in line for their third first-place finish in four seasons.
2. UCLA (2): Among Pac-12 coaches not directly embroiled in the ongoing FBI college basketball corruption saga, Steve Alford probably is on the hottest seat. The return of Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands, along with the addition of a top-10 recruiting class, gives Alford another chance to win over the impatient Bruins faithful.
3. Washington (3): UW scored a huge nonconference win last year against Kansas in Kansas City before coming down to earth in league play. The Huskies return the bulk of their production and should be even more cohesive in the second season under head coach Mike Hopkins.
4. USC (5): Bennie Boatwright’s return from injury will at least dampen the loss of Jordan McLaughlin and Chimezie Metu.
5. Colorado (7): At the risk of sounding like a homer, the Buffs finishing seventh was probably the result that surprised me the most in the preseason poll.
6. Arizona (4): When the Wildcats ended the Buffs’ season in the Pac-12 tournament, it looked as if the fallout from the FBI college basketball corruption would send the Wildcats program into a downward spiral. While a vaunted recruiting class originally all abandoned their commitments to UA, Brandon Williams eventually changed his mind and could make a huge impact.
7. Arizona State (6): It’s difficult to recall a team that turned heads so impressively in nonconference play (wins against Kansas and Xavier) before being so ho-hum in league play. The Sun Devils have young talent, but it’s difficult to project this club as superior to last year’s.
8. Utah (8): Coach Larry Krystkowiak routinely gets the Utes to play above expectations. He will be challenged to do so again this season.
9. Stanford (9): Had Reid Travis returned, the Cardinal would boast a league Player of the Year candidate while posing a threat to the league favorites. Instead, Stanford will struggle for a top-half finish.
10. Oregon State (10): The Beavers have a tremendous core in Tres Tinkle and the Thompson brothers. Depth once again will be an issue.
11. Cal (11): In their second season under Wyking Jones, the Golden Bears hope to at least make strides after finishing 2-16 in the league last year.
12. Washington State (12): The return of 2018 Pac-12 Most Improved Player award winner Robert Franks gives the Cougars something to hang their hats on. But it’s likely to be another long winter in Pullman.