Arizona and UCLA are the two favorites to win the Pac-12 this season, but this is a weak conference where no team deserves that short of a price, so California get the upset call at nice 8/1 odds.
The 2011-12 NCAA Basketball season begins this Monday night, and we now conclude our preseason previews of the six major conferences with our look at the Pac-12.
Unlike four of the conferences that we have already previewed, namely the ACC, Big Ten, Big East and SEC, there are no serious contenders for the national championship in the Pac-12. The only other major conference we would say that about is the Big 12, where we took a flyer on Texas A&M to win the conference at decent odds, and in a weak Pac-12 that looks like the weakest of the six major conference for the third straight year, we are again looking at value.
The two favored NCAA Basketball picks in this conference are Arizona (+125) and UCLA (+150), but we are going with the California Golden Bears to win the conference at juicy 8/1 odds, as they are the only team among the projected top four schools that returns its three best players from last season.
Here is our entire rundown of the Pac-12 for the 2011-12 season, including the current odds to win the regular season conference title from The Greek Sports Book.
1 – California (+800): The Golden Bears were the best ‘over’ team in the country last season at 23-8-1, as it was believed they lost a lot of scoring from two years ago, but instead they averaged 72.5 points per game and the oddsmakers never adjusted enough. This time around, the Golden Bears return there top three scorers Jorge Gutierrez, Allen Crabbe and Harper Kamp, who combined to average over 50 points per game in conference play. They also get a key addition at guard in Justin Cobbs, who is now eligible after transferring from Minnesota. This is the most experienced team in the conference and we are looking for that to pay off at a nice price.
2 – UCLA (+150): The Bruins lost to the Florida Gators in the NCAA Tournament for the third time in five years last season, but unlike the first two times when the losses came in the National Championship game, this loss came in the third round, marking the third straight time that the team did not make it out of the opening weekend. With that said, they may have the best and deepest frontcourt in the conference this year. Returnee Reeves Nelson led the team in scoring and rebounding, and another returnee, the enormous 6-foot-10, 305-pound Josh Smith, got better as the season went on last year. The Bruins now add the Ware twins Travis and David to the forward mix after they transferred from North Carolina, and they will help with their perimeter shooting, and they have a good enough point guard in Lazeric Jones.
3 – Washington (+800): The Huskies are the second longshot that can be contemplated as a nice value play to win the conference. Washington beat the Georgia Bulldogs in the NCAA Tournament last season before getting nipped by the North Carolina Tar Heels by a respectable 86-83 score, and although the Huskies have only two seniors that will see significant playing time, they have a bunch of very talented underclassmen that should allow their rotation to go at least nine deep in non-blowouts. Now we get that this team has peaked just in time for March Madness each of the last two years, but we think that they are good and deep enough to start their surge earlier this year and have a better regular season.
4 – Arizona (+125): Arizona had a great run to the Elite Eight in the Big Dance last year, romping past top-seeded Duke by 16 points in the Sweet 16 before losing by only two points to the eventual champion Connecticut Huskies. However, we feel this team cannot help but fall back after losing one of the best players in the country in Derrick Williams, and as if that is not enough bad news, they also lost their second leading scorer from last year when Lamont Jones recently decided to transfer out of the school. The news is not all bad as Arizona is bringing in a great recruiting class headed by possibly the most hyped recruit in school history in Josiah Turner. Still, look for a slow start this year while the Wildcats try to integrate their young talent, and that is enough of a reason to avoid them as favorites to win the conference.
5 – Oregon (+1500): There is a huge drop-off between the top four teams in the Big-12 and the rest of the conference, and that is what makes this such a weak major conference, as the bottom eight teams all have work to do if they hope to make the NCAA Tournament. The Ducks are the defending CBI Tournament Champions, but they are obviously eying a more prestigious tournament this season. That will be difficult however with just one double-digit scorer returning, even though it is a good one in E.J. Singler, who is very versatile and does everything well while filling out a stat sheet. The supporting cast leaves a lot to be desired however unless one or two of the four freshman recruits shows something.
6 – Stanford (+1500): The Cardinal loses Jeremy Green, who hit an impressive 42.9 percent of his three-point attempts in 2010, and considering that they do not return any other good perimeter shooters, that is an enormous loss. Stanford returns only one double-digit scorer, and that is Josh Owens, who shot better than 58 percent from the floor while playing mostly near the basket. Owens is very talented, but opposing defenses can now sag inside without a legitimate outside shooting threat, making his job tougher. The recruits are not that great, so Green’s shoes will attempt to be filled by several returnees that were bench players last year. Anthony Brown was the leading scorer among those candidates at 8.7 points per game.
7 – Oregon State (+1500): The Beavers only have one senior on their roster, but they are actually fairly experienced for a young team, as they do return a bunch of underclassmen that saw significant playing time last season. That is the good news, but the bad news is that the frontcourt is just not very good, notwithstanding its experience. The strength of this team is a good backcourt that is led by Jared Cunningham, who led the team in scoring last season at 14.2 points per game and who ranked fifth in the entire country with 2.83 steals per contest. Their point guard Ahmad Starks took too many shots last year and will need to distribute the ball better, but as mentioned, he would not be feeding much up front if he does improve in that area.
8 – Southern Cal (+1800): The Trojans are beset by injuries, as point guard Jio Fontan was supposed to be their only returning double-digit scorer, but he will miss the season with a torn ACL. Forward Curtis Washington can also miss the whole year with a labrum injury and Curtis Washington’s timeframe for returning from a fractured hand is still in question. USC has no offense right now, as the returning uninjured players averaged a grand total of 13 points combined last season, and only one or those players was a starter. The backbone of this team was a great defense that limited opponents to 40.9 percent shooting from the field, but that was with basically an entirely different team.
9 – Colorado (+3000): The Buffalos won 24 games in their final season in the Big 12 last year, but they lost four starters that all averaged double-digits. That group accounted for almost 75 percent of the team’s scoring, and it included NBA first round draft pick Alec Burks. Their two leading scorers from last year that return are Andre Roberson (6.7 PPG) and Austin Dufault (6.6), so Colorado’s first year in the Pac-12 figures to be a tough one.
10 – Arizona State (+1800): The Sun Devils do return their leading scorer in Trent Lockett, who averaged 13.4 points and also filled out the stat sheet with 5.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 0.7 steals per game. The bad news is that their other two double-digit scorers do not return, and this team has no seniors on its roster. Arizona State does add a highly touted freshman in Jahii Carson, but a lack of overall scoring and depth should hold the young Devils back this season.
11 – Washington State (+2500): The Cougars could have the biggest decline of any Pac-12 team this year after their top two underclassmen Klay Thompson and DeAngelo Casto both left the team early. Those two combined to average 33.6 points last season, but Thompson was a lottery pick in the NBA Draft and Casto is now playing professional ball in Turkey. The backcourt is still deep, especially with the addition of Fresno State transfer Mike Ladd, who is a great outside shooter, but the frontcourt is full of question marks. That critical part of the team is very inexperienced and we simply have no idea who will pick up the slack offensively for the scoring that Casto took with him overseas.
12 – Utah (+5500): The Utes are coming off of a couple of down years in the Mountain West Conference, and their inaugural year in the Pac-12 figures to be even worse. The team returns just one double-digit scorer in Josh Watkins, who also added 109 assists to his 14.5 points per game last year. Watkins was very erratic however, as he also committed 104 turnovers and shot just 26.7 percent from three-point land. Moreover, four key contributors to the team all transferred out of the school after last year’s Head Coach Jim Boylen, was fired in favor of Larry Krystowiak, who has been coaching in the NBA since 2006, first as the head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks and then as an assistant coach with the New Jersey Nets.