Wrapping Up the Pac-12 and Looking Ahead to 2015-16

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 16th, 2015

The National Championship game is now more than a week behind us and the Final Four is almost two weeks back. Stanford’s “magical” NIT run ended 14 days ago and Arizona’s loss to Wisconsin in the Elite Eight, capping off the last meaningful Pac-12 action of the season, is nearly three weeks ago. With Arizona State’s coaching vacancy filled and early-entry and transfer season fully in swing, that means it is well past time to put a bow on the season and begin to think about what comes next. Below, we’ll review each Pac-12 team and offer up grades on each team’s season. We’ll also take a look at what could be around the bend the next time college basketball rolls around.

Sean Miller, Arizona

Despite Regular Season and Conference Tournament Titles, The 2014-15 Wildcats Came Up Shy Of Their Grandest Goals. (AP)

Arizona (A-)

The goal all year long was a Final Four. Wrapping up some unfinished business and all. Well, that goal was left incomplete. Business is still pending. Still, you’re not going to see me come down too hard on the Wildcats. While their three regular seasons losses were all suspicious in nature, their Elite Eight loss to national runner-up Wisconsin was just one of those things that happens between great teams. Sean Miller’s postgame press conference after the Badgers shot a 105.0 percent eFG in the second half was one long extended verbal shrug, a “what can you do?”, a “sh– happens.” Arizona ended its season playing its best basketball, some of the best basketball being played by any team in the nation. The Wildcats just happened to lose to one of maybe two or three other teams that were capable of playing better. We have to tack a “minus” onto that well-deserved “A” simply because I would guess Miller and T.J. McConnell and Stanley Johnson and all the rest would agree that the overall result of the season was tinged with some disappointment. Without a doubt, though, the Wildcats were the best team in the Pac-12. And were it not for Buzzsaw Badger, they might still be celebrating in Tucson.

What’s next: McConnell is out of eligibility. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Brandon Ashley have said they’re forgoing their remaining eligibility to pursue NBA careers, a decision Johnson is likely to make as well. But this is Arizona. And this is Sean Miller. The ‘Cats will be fine. Kaleb Tarczewski and Gabe York will return and take on bigger roles. Sophomores Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Dusan Ristic will be relied upon to take big steps forward. Boston College transfer Ryan Anderson and junior college transfer (and 2014-15 redshirt Kadeem Allen) will jump right in. And then there’s a recruiting class featuring Allonzo Trier, Ray Smith, Justin Simon and Chance Comanche (ESPN top-100 recruits, all) that may not even be finished yet. Yeah, don’t cry for Miller and his Wildcats; they’ll be back.

Oregon (A-)

The Ducks came into the season as a middle-of-the-Pac pick. Here at RTC, we picked them eighth. Of our five preseason voters, I was most bullish on them at fifth. Instead, they finished all the way up at second place, gave Wisconsin another good run in the Round of 32 and sent Joseph Young to the NBA as the Pac-12 Player of the Year. Everything that happened on the basketball court this year for the Ducks deserved an “A.” But, the lingering shadow of last year’s sexual assault investigation and the resulting fallout still darkens the mood around Oregon basketball, requiring that little downgrade of a “minus.”

Joseph Young and The Ducks Exceeded Expecations (USA Today)

Joseph Young and The Ducks Exceeded Expectations. (USA Today)

What’s next: Young’s gone, but the foundation has been laid for future success in Eugene. Elgin Cook and Dwayne Benjamin will be seniors, while Dillon Brooks, Jordan Bell, Ahmaad Rorie and Casey Benson provide for an excellent sophomore class. With top-100 backcourt recruits Tyler Dorsey and Kendall Small entering, Eugene acting as a recently popular transfer destination, and Dana Altman‘s keen ability to squeeze the most from his kids, it would be silly to think the Ducks finish outside of the conference’s top three next year.

Utah (A)

The Utes had enough talent to make a Final Four run this year. That obviously didn’t happen because of a foul-plagued regional semifinal loss to national champion Duke, but it is awfully hard to think of Utah’s season as anything other than an unmitigated success. The goal at the start of the year was just to get back to the NCAA Tournament. They certainly accomplished that goal, and more. They provided their fans with some great memories. And, as far as I’m concerned, their battle with Wichita State way back in the start of December was maybe the best non-conference regular season game I saw all year. Oh, and Delon Wright. His season and career at Utah deserve far more words than I’m prepared to write about him here. Stud.

What’s next: The future is bright as the Utah administration rewarded head coach Larry Krystkowiak with a big and deserving contract extension. Guys like Jordan Loveridge, Brekkot Chapman, Dakarai Tucker, Brandon Taylor and Chris Reyes will return after playing huge roles this season. The Utes have a couple of intriguing recruits in Gabe Bealer and Makol Mawien, but there’s one big lingering question: Jakob Poeltl. If he opts for the money, the NBA will make him a millionaire this June. If he opts to return for his sophomore season, I’ll make him a first-team all-Pac-12 player and the Utes a favorite to return to the NCAA Tournament.

UCLA (B)

Two seasons in Westwood; two Sweet Sixteens. Regardless of all the other nonsense, that’s a success for head coach Steve Alford. Sure, the Bruins didn’t deserve an NCAA Tournament bid. And sure, they were fortunate enough to find a golden path to get to that Sweet Sixteen. And yes, for the record, Alford’s four NCAA Tournament wins in two years are against Tulsa, Stephen F. Austin, SMU and UAB. But the Bruins are an NCAA pipeline. They’re getting good recruits and pairing them with four-year guys. Eventually this thing is going to click into place for UCLA, maybe as early as next year.

What’s next: Kevon Looney is off to the NBA Lottery. Norman Powell will get plenty of NBA attention as well. But the Bruins will return starters Bryce Alford, Isaac Hamilton and Tony Parker. Reserve frontcourt guys Thomas Welsh and Gyorgy Goloman will benefit from an offseason in the weight room. Highly anticipated Aussie Jonah Bolden will finally make his UCLA debut. And Alford’s recruiting class, which already consists of guards Prince Ali and Aaron Holiday, is not yet done. Once again, UCLA will be a threat near the top of the standings.

Stanford (D-)

No. Winning the NIT is not going to get you a better grade. That’s like asking for extra credit work after blowing off a class all semester long. In fact, if anything, you probably get a worse grade for winning the NIT because you showed that you were in fact capable of playing halfway decent basketball all along. Just. Yuck. Let’s never speak of this stupid season again.

What’s next: Bye bye Chasson Randle, Anthony Brown and Stefan Nastic, but Reid Travis and Michael Humphrey are a pair of frontcourt sophomores worth getting very excited about. A backcourt of sophomore Robert Cartwright and junior Marcus Allen intrigues me. And Rosco Allen at the three could turn into something. Throw in a decent recruiting class highlighted by 6’11” center Josh Sharma and there are some nice pieces here. But Johnny Dawkins is going to have to prove he has the ability to put those pieces together or else he may finally be off the hot seat and back on the job market.

Arizona State (B-)

Just to be clear, that B- grade is solely for the on-court performance of the Sun Devils this season. There are a lot of other things going on in Tempe, but lost amid all that is the fact that Herb Sendek got his team to overachieve. Here at RTC, we picked the Sun Devils ninth in the preseason. They finished tied for fifth. They knocked off Arizona in a wild game. They won nine of their last 14 conference games after starting out 0-4. It was a pretty good year for the Devils. And, of course, it got Sendek fired.

Herb Sendek, Arizona State

Herb Sendek Leaves Arizona State As One Of Their Most Successful Coaches Ever. (Harry How, Getty Images)

What’s next: Bobby Hurley is the next head coach. Name recognition, elite national ties and a new momentum for the program. And, best of all, Hurley is greeted with a roster that can go out and win, like, tomorrow. Tra Holder, Gerry Blakes, Roosevelt Scott, Savon Goodman, Eric Jacobsen with Kodi Justice coming off the pine. If Hurley can make some quick work late in the recruiting calendar and score another contributor from the transfer market, the junior college ranks or even a traditional freshman, there is no reason the Sun Devils can’t put together an upper-division finish next year and make a run at an NCAA Tournament bid.

Oregon State (A)

Back in October and November I was making some pretty bold proclamations about how bad the Beavers were going to be this season. Worst major conference team. Worst Pac-12 team in recent history. Dumpster fire. I don’t know. I said a lot of things. I was not alone. Wayne Tinkle and this Beaver squad took all of those things and shoved them right back in the prognosticators’ faces when they hosted Arizona and beat the Wildcats. A 17-14 overall record and 8-10 in conference play doesn’t seem like much. But considering this team’s expectations, it was a very successful campaign.

What’s next: Gary Payton II as a senior. Yes, please. Surround him with Malcolm Duvivier, Olaf Schaftenaar, Daniel Gomis and the other Beaver returnees. Mix in a (by Oregon State standards) phenomenal recruiting class headed by coaches’ sons Tres Tinkle and Stephen Thompson and next year’s expectations will be significantly higher. How will this team play when people actually pay attention to them?

Colorado (D-)

Way back in early November, I picked the Buffaloes as second in the conference. They finished in a fortunate three-way tie for eighth place. It was a disastrous season, replete with three different conference losing streaks of at least three games and a pair of losses to conference-dictated rival Utah by an average of 26.5 points per game. Junior center Josh Scott was terrific when he was healthy and when he was fed, but he missed eight of nine games at the start of conference play and then took another month or so to get back into the swing of things. But the ultimate indignity in a season of frustration was senior “leader” Askia Booker declining to play with the team in its CBI appearance. While maybe the best thing for the future of the team, it speaks to the rampant dysfunctionality that was apparent in this team’s locker room.

Askia Booker, Colorado

Seniors Like Colorado’s Askia Booker’s Decision To Skip The CBI Tournament Was a Fitting End To A Puzzling Season in Boulder. (Patrick Ghidossi, BuffaloSportsNews)

What’s next: After that kind of year, you can expect a much-needed house-cleaning. Booker is done. Jaron Hopkins and Dustin Thomas have already announced their intentions to transfer. There have been rumors of Xavier Johnson following, as yet unfounded. But Scott will be back for his senior year and if head coach Tad Boyle can put the right pieces around him, that’s a very good start. Best case scenario for the Buffaloes features Dominique Collier earning the point guard spot, Providence transfer Josh Fortune providing three-point shooting at the two, then some combination of Tre’Shaun Fletcher, George King (back after a redshirt year) and perhaps Johnson at the forward spots, with sophomore Tory Miller backing up Scott and the four-spot. That’s not a bad roster, but one that has a lot to prove on the chemistry front.

Cal (C-)

We’re going to give Cuonzo Martin a bit of a break here. He was handed a roster with really just about five guys who were ready to play at the major conference level. Still, after a nice start and a fairly competitive home loss to Wisconsin, the Golden Bears found themselves at 10-2 on Christmas Day with plenty of reason for optimism. Then, Cal came back from their time off and dropped a home game to Cal State-Bakersfield. Reality check. After winning their Pac-12 opener, they went on to drop six straight; then after a five-game winning streak, dropped five of six to end the year. Tyrone Wallace ended the year as the team’s leading scorer with 17.1 PPG. But after shooting 47 percent from three through that Christmas break, he shot just 23.2 percent from deep the rest of the way.

What’s next: Despite Wallace’s shooting woes, he went a long way towards establishing himself as the team’s point guard. He needs to dial back looking for his own shot and get the ball to more effective scorers like Jordan Mathews and Jabari Bird, but he’s a good creator who takes cares of the ball and is an excellent on-ball defender. Martin also needs Bird to take that next step, which always seems so tantalizingly close. He’s got an NBA body and his game looks polished when the switch gets flipped every now and then. But he lacks consistency and he’s had momentum slowed by injuries in both of his seasons. But to really figure out what is next for the Bears, we’ll have to wait a little bit longer. Martin got that superstar commitment from Ivan Rabb and is still very much in hot pursuit of Jaylen Brown. Brown is the more high-profile prospect, but Rabb is a local kid who will slide right into a starting spot up front. If the Bears get both, they’re probably the Pac-12 favorite next season. Even with just Rabb, they’re still among the top three or four teams next year.

Washington State (C+)

Ernie Kent came into his first year in Pullman knowing his roster was shorthanded – basically just senior Davonte Lacy and a bunch of other guys. Given that, seven wins for this bunch was on the plus side of expectations. More importantly, with Lacy’s career now done, Kent got contributions from sophomores Josh Hawkinson and Ike Iroegbu that make them appear to be major building blocks for the future.

What’s next: Trevor Dunbar, Jackie Davis and Aaron Cheatum have already announced they’re transferring out of the program. The trio earned 305 minutes last season, so clearly this is just the natural process of a program turning over to a new head man. Still, the Cougs at this point return Iroegbu, Hawkinson, Que Johnson, Brett Boese, Ny Redding, Junior Longrus and nothing else. Kent currently has commitments from two JuCo guys and a couple of two-star freshmen. Barring significant movement on the recruiting front, Kent will head into year two with little forward momentum.

Washington (D)

The Huskies’ season followed a pattern similar to that of Cal. On Christmas Day, Lorenzo Romar and company were undefeated at 11-0 with three wins over future NCAA Tournament teams. Following their Christmas break, they lost to Stony Brook, just the first of 15 losses in their final 20 games. Along the way, presumptive conference Defensive Player of the Year Robert Upshaw was abruptly dismissed and the team never showed any heart after that point. Over the past three seasons the Huskies are now 51-46 (52.6%) and 23-31 (42.6%) in conference play.

What’s next: A season on the hot seat. There has been talk about it here and there but it hasn’t really been real until now: If the Huskies don’t show significant improvement and earn an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2015-16, odds are good that next year will be Romar’s final go-around in Seattle. Prospects did not brighten last week when point guard Nigel Williams-Goss announced that he’d be transferring out of the program. Still, Romar has his best recruiting class in years entering the program, with three four-star recruits scattered among the six-man class. Still, Andrew Andrews will likely be the only returning player who earned at least 50 percent of the team’s minutes this season. Romar’s got his work cut out for him.

USC (D-)

The season started with a home loss to Portland State, a team that would finish the year ranked 252nd nationally by KenPom. It didn’t get a whole lot better from there for the Trojans. The season highlight was a rally from 14 points down to beat Arizona State in the Pac-12 Tournament’s opening round (and send Herb Sendek packing in the process). Twenty-four hours later, the Trojans lost to UCLA by 26 points to end their season. While USC experienced some bumps and bruises this season, it was not a roster that should have earned sole possession of last place in this conference.

What’s next: For the second consecutive year, Andy Enfield will bring in two ESPN top 100 freshmen. His starting lineup should be something like Jordan McLaughlin, Elijah Stewart, Katin Reinhardt, Bennie Boatwright and Nikola Jovanovic, with solid depth on the pine. If the Trojans don’t begin to make obvious leaps up the Pac-12 standings, Enfield isn’t likely to get a fourth season in the Galen Center.

AMurawa (994 Posts)

Andrew Murawa Likes Basketball.


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