CU Buffs remain intact while Pac-12 hoops landscape under construction

  • Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

    UCLA director of athletics Dan Guerrero, left, and new coach Mick Cronin pose for a photo at Cronin''s introductory press conference on April 10.

  • Dean Rutz / Seattle Times

    Washington''s Jaylen Nowell is projected as a second round pick in the NBA draft.

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While just about every rival in the Pac-12 Conference begins the offseason wondering what their 2019-20 roster will look like, the Colorado Buffaloes are recuperating with a group that remains fully intact as it begins a journey the Buffs hope will end with a berth in the 2020 NCAA Tournament.

With junior college transfer Maddox Daniels signing his letter of intent Wednesday, the Buffs’ 2019-20 roster configuration already is set. The only players CU loses from its 23-13 season that featured wins in 12 of 15 games before a season-ending loss at Texas in the NIT quarterfinals are senior Namon Wright, who missed the final two months due to a foot injury, and, seemingly, junior guard Deleon Brown.

Brown’s fate has yet to be made official, but he has entered the NCAA transfer portal after appearing in just nine games before succumbing to academic issues. If Brown does leave, his roster spot is likely to filled with an eye toward the 2020-21 season.

Like everyone, the Buffs might be wondering who exactly will suit up against them once Pac-12 play begins. It has been a month since the conclusion of the Pac-12 tournament and three weeks since CU’s season ended in Austin, and in that span chaos has completely reshaped the league’s basketball outlook, with plenty of changes yet to come.

Among the highlights:

• Three new coaches will work the sidelines next season: Kyle Smith (Washington State), Mark Fox (Cal), and Mick Cronin (UCLA). UCLA was widely panned for the deliberate pace it set in finding a replacement for Steve Alford, who was dismissed in late December, and being unwilling to fork over the $8 million buyout it would have taken to pry a previous choice, Jamie Dixon, from TCU. However, in Cronin the Bruins eventually landed a hard-nosed leader who is coming off a run of nine straight NCAA Tournament appearances at Cincinnati.

Cronin inherits a roster in transition with Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands already exiting for the NBA draft. Fox inherits a similar dilemma at Cal, where Justice Sueing, Darius McNeill, Connor Vanover, Juhwan Harris-Dyson, and Roman Davis all have entered the NCAA transfer portal. McNeill already has landed at SMU.

• As always, and with the CU Buffs aside, the Pac-12 will be hit hard by transfers and early entries into the NBA draft. The draft won’t be as festive an occasion for the league, which produced the past two No. 1 overall picks (Markelle Fultz in 2017, Deandre Ayton in 2018) and is just two years removed from a league-record 14 selections in the two-round NBA draft. The latest mock draft has the top Pac-12 player going at No. 12 in Stanford sophomore forward KZ Okpala.

While some early entrants, like Oregon’s Bol Bol and USC’s Kevin Porter, are as good as gone, others will be curious for CU Buffs fans to follow through the NBA draft combine May 16-20. Currently, ASU freshman Luguentz Dort projects as a second-round pick and might return to Tempe if he doesn’t play his way into the first round. The same can be said of reigning Pac-12 Player of the Year Jaylen Nowell from Washington. The fate of either of those players will make a significant impact on the fortunes of teams expected to be Pac-12 contenders alongside the Buffs.

• Oregon saved a fair amount of face for the Pac-12 in a down year by advancing to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, yet the Ducks also are in flux. While coach Dana Altman will welcome a solid recruiting class in the fall, freshman guard Louis King announced his attention to enter, and remain in, the NBA draft process. Junior guard Payton Pritchard, the sparkplug of the Ducks’ late-season run, also entered the process with the option of returning to Oregon, though he is not currently projected as a draft pick.

• Among the under-the-radar potential roster defections that might make a big impact is the decision of Utah big man Jayce Johnson to enter the transfer portal. The 7-foot junior averaged 7.1 points and a team-leading 7.7 rebounds while improving throughout the season — Johnson averaged 7.9 points and 9.1 rebounds in Pac-12 games.

Pat Rooney: rooneyp@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/prooney07