With players like Isaiah Thomas,Derrick Williams,Malcolm Lee, Tyler Honeycutt, and now Kly Thompson , and Alec Burks leaving the Pac-12 to play basketball professionally either in the NBA, NBDL, or over-seas let’s take a look at who is coming back in the Pac-12 for the 2011-12 season and a projected power ranking of the league since the spring signing period has started.
1. UCLA Bruins
UCLA loses Lee and Honeycutt but also return perhaps the league’s best post player next season in sophomore Josh Smith as well as starting power forward Reeves Nelson. Add starting point guard Lazeric Jones and the Bruins have a solid core back from their starting lineup.
Tyler Lamb and Jerime Anderson will be joined by incoming freshman and JUCO transfer Dwight Powell and De’End Parker.
Powell and Parker could likely decide the fate for the Bruins as both players are expected to come into Ben Howland’s program and fight for a starting position. If both players can transition easily with the Bruins and Lamb continues his developmental progression UCLA could be a top 20 team.
Lorenzo Romar lost his best player in Thomas and also his top post player in Matthew Bryan-Amaning but the Huskies are loaded with athletes and might be the most talented team in the Pac-12 next season.
The problem however is that Romar and the Huskies lack size and will have a tough time matching up against teams like UCLA, Stanford, and Arizona down low.
Sophomore Terrence Ross could be the league’s best scorer next season and the 6-foot-6 guard likely could become the team’s best player as well.
Fellow sophomore C.J. Wilcox will be tough to guard as well and Romar can put Ross on one side and Wilcox on the other and spread defenses thin with their deadly range.
Junior Abdul Gaddy will likely return to running the point guard following his season ending injury last season and incoming freshman Tony Wrotencould win the Freshman of the Year award.
Guards are not the issue for Romar but the lack of size.
If Romar can even get solid production from junior Aziz N’Diaye, senior Darnell Gant, and freshman Desmond Simmons the Huskies could win the Pac-12 and fight for a deep run into March next season.
I might be higher than most on the Cal Bears but Mike Montgomery is one of the best coaches in the country and the Bruins return virtually their entire team minus starting center Markhuri Sanders-Frison
Senior Jorge Gutierrez is the toughest player in the league and sophomore Allen Crabbe is likely a top NBA draft pick when he comes out of college. The two create the best combo on the wing in the entire league.
Senior post Harper Kamp has proven to be a low-post scorer and defender at this level and will anchor the Bears down low.
For a team who finished only four games out of first place in a much tougher league in 2010-2011 the Bears will need juniors Bak Bak and Brandon Smith along with sophomores Richard Solomon and Justin Cobbs to provide solid play and Cal could be a team who played in the NIT move into the NCAA Tournament.
The loss of Williams stings for the team’s likely hood of being a top five team and also the entire roster’s production. With Williams players like Lamont Jones Jordan Hill, Kyle Fogg and Kevin Parrom could roam freely and get open looks with opposing defenses focused on Williams.
How will these players play next season when Sean Miller will need them to carry the program while the heralded freshman recruiting class adjusts?
If Chol and S. Johnson can combine to supplement the production lost by Williams and N. Johnson and Turner can crack into the guard rotation the Wildcats could quickly find themselves back in the NCAA Tournament.
Yet it is tough to rely on so many freshmen to provide big minutes and key contributions. Team’s like Kentucky and Ohio State in the past have survived with freshman and made deep runs in the NCAA. Yet we’ve also seen power house North Carolina rely on freshman and fight to stay above .500.
Until we see how this Arizona club can play with the incoming freshman it is tough to say how far they can go.
This is a stretch because the Ducks lose their best player in Joevan Catron and fellow senior Jay-R Strowbridge but head coach Dana Altman has shown he can turn lemons into lemonade with a nice little umbrella on top as well.
Yet with the loss of Catron the Ducks are not at a loss that can’t be overcome.
Junior EJ Singler came a live down the stretch of the season and made big plays during the Ducks 2011 C.B.I. title run.
Senior forward Tyrone Nared was easily one of the most athletic players in the league last season and Altman said at the end of the year the team didn’t use his athleticism enough and the staff needs to find a way to get him more looks.
Finding a replacement for departed guard Malcolm Armstead could be a bigger issue than Catron but Oregon has options.
Senior transfer Devoe Joseph could be the wildcard factor that could send the Ducks from the CBI into the NIT in 2011-2012.
Stanford might very well be the dark-horse to win the Pac-12 next season.
Pending a return of academically suspended senior guard Jeremy Green the Cardinal will have a terrific trio of Greem, sophomores Anthony Brown and Dwight Powell.
Green will be the league’s top returning scorer as he averaged 16.7 points a game while Brown and Powell both averaged eight a game.
The Cardinal have size and length down low and in a league where there aren’t many proven low post threats the Cardinal have Powell and senior Josh Owens who both can be tough to stop.
Add in incoming freshman point guard Chasson Randle who will be a big-time scoring guard that can lso rebound and run the point and the Cardinal will have three or even four scoring threats on the floor.
Consistency will be key for head coach Johnny Dawkins. If the Cardinal play their best basketball night in and night out they should win 20-plus games and be in contention for a late push for the league title.
However getting this team to play at their best every night has been a major issue and will continue to be one going into next season.
7. Oregon State
Perhaps the most frustrating team in the entire Pac-10 last year still finds themselves at a crossroads of making that leap of cellar dweller to upper echelon.
The talent is there. Junior Jared Cunningham is one of the league’s top ten players and sophomores Ahmad Starks, Roberto Nelson, and Devon Collier can all play at the Pac-12 level.
Junior post Joe Burton also showed impressive play at times but needs to do it more often to be truly counted on.
Head coach Craig Robinson had his team play a slow-down style that made his athletes look to be running in sand. If he decides to hand over the keys to the team’s Ferrari and play an up-tempo style that attacks the rim the Beavers could find themselves on the winners column more often.
This isn’t a great shooting team as they were tied for last in the league last year with Oregon at 41.1 percent and were the worst offensive efficiency team as well.
Attack the basket and increase your free throw attempts and the Beavers could see better results, if not Robinson could finally see his coaching seat become hotter than luke-warm.
8. Washington State
No team in the Pac-12 saw themselves take a bigger hit to the NBA Draft than Ken Bone’s Cougar program.
Gone is last season’s conference leading scoring in Klay Thompson. Also DeAngelo Casto, one of the league’s few good post players, decided to go pro due to family issues.
Senior Fasial Aden will assume the go-to scorer role after thriving as the Cougar’s sixth man off the bench and junior point guard Reggie Moore will need to increase his scoring load more for the Cougars to rise above the bottom half of the league.
Junior Brock Motum was a good post player when paired with Casto but can he provide ample production without the physical Casto gone from the lineup?
Bone signed Davonte Lacy out of Tacoma, WA and also added power forwards Greg Sequele and D.J. Shelton with Shelton drawing praise from Bone as a guy who can replace Casto.
Still, it will be tough for Bone and the Cougars to add in the three incoming players to the current roster to make up for the loss of Thomspon and Casto.
Maybe the league’s best front-court last season in Alex Stephenson and Nikola Vucevic is now a memory with Stephenson graduating and Vucevic declaring for the NBA draft. Also gone is Marcus Simmons who was a good on-ball defender.
Senior Jio Fontan and sophomore Maurice Jones are both back and were the teams second and third leading scorers from last season.
6-foot-6 transfer Aaron Fuller will be eligible and will likely assume the go-to role down low for the Trojans. Sophomore Garrett Jackson was a solid player as a freshman but with Vucevic going pro the Trojans will need Jackson to transition from a solid role player to someone the Trojans can rely on every night.
Kevin O’Neill adds small forward Byron Wesley who should find himself starting right away as a true freshman while also adding junior college transfers Greg Allen and James Blasczyk. Blasczyk is a 7-foot-1 center that will instantly be relied upon to fill Stephenson’s departed role of defensive stopper and rebounding machine.
O’Neill also signed Alexis Moore out of Long Beach Poly and could use his added size to a very small backcourt.
In a strange twist Herb Sendek’s Sun Devils were terrible last season despite having multiple seniors return with starting experience. It seemed like the Sun Devils simply had no identity and couldn’t figure each player’s role.
As a result Sendek was forced to try multiple starting lineups through the season and team
Junior Trent Lockett is a good scorer and athlete and will return as the team’s best player. Fellow Junior Kyle Cain was a heralded recruit coming out of junior college and a year in the Sun Devil system should prove wonders for the 6-foot-7 forward.
Sophomore Keala King was thought to be one of the best players in the country for the 2010 class but struggled mightily all season long averaging only 3.7 points and 2.6 rebounds a game in 12.7 minutes of action.
Sendek adds impressive and highly sought after point guard Jahii Carson from Mesa, AZ just outside of Tempe and the freshman point guard will instantly become the team’s second or even first option on offense. Carson is a dynamite athlete that can run the team’s offense or create for himself.
Just the player the Sun Devils need.
JUCO point guard Chris Colvin is brought in to help ease the burden for Carson and small forward Jonathan Gilling is also added to improve the front court.
If Lockett can become one of the league’s best scorers while King lives up to his potential and then one of Carson, Felix, or sophomore Kyle Cain can become that third scoring option the Sun Devils could climb the pecking order.
The Bufflaloes have a tough year ahead of them for their first year in the Pac-12. Gone is leading scorer Alex Burks as well as seniors Cory Higins, Levi Knutson, and Marcus Relphorede who all started and were the team’s top four scorers.
Sophomore Andre Roberson averaged six points and seven rebounds a game as a freshman and quickly will be relied upon down low next season. Senior Austin Default also returns for his senior season and a player who played 22 minutes a game. As does point guard Nate Tomlinson.
Yet Tad Boyle instantly becomes one of the better in-game coaches in the league and surely will have his team compete and be tough outs right from the get go.
Boyle adds point guards Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie to the fold while also adding junior college transfer Jeremy Adams and freshman forward Damiene Cain.
Dinwiddie was an All-State player as a senior in California and will be a candidate for making the All-Freshman team next year. He can play both the point and shooting guard spots and could even be the team’s best scorer. Adams was an added insurance policy if Burks went pro and now Boyle will need him right away.
Leading scorer Will Clyburn decided to leave for Iowa State and third leading scorer Jay Watkins graduates.
Newly hired head coach Larry Krystkowiak already had a tough task competing next season and with Clyburn gone and multiple other players transferring the Utes are poised for a terrible season next year.
Freshman George Matthews will be added to the roster from Westwind Prep in Arizona but the roster will still have few scoring options and elite athletes.
Player of the Year-Terrance Ross SO (Washington)
Defensive Player of the Year-Jorge Gutierrez SR (Cal)
Freshman of the Year- Jabari Brown FR (Oregon)
Sixth Man of the Year- Nick Johnson FR (Arizona)
Coach of the Year- Lorenzo Romar (Washington)
1st Team All-Pac-12
1. Jorge Gutierrez SR (Cal)
2. Terrance Ross SO (Washington)
3. Allen Crabbe SO (Cal)
4. Reeves Nelson JR (UCLA)
5. Josh Smith SO (UCLA)
2nd Team All-Pac-12