The 2012-13 Pac-12 title came down to the final games of the season and three teams, Cal, Oregon, and Arizona, finished just one game behind UCLA for the regular season crown.
Arizona will likely be picked to win the conference again and for good reason. The Wildcats have to get over the
Rondae Jefferson is the #4 Small Forward and Aaron Gordon is the #2 Power Forward in this year's class. Gordon, a one-man highlight machine, is an early favorite for National Freshman of the Year honors and should be able to replace Solomon Hill's production. The question with this Wildcat team, like all young and talented rosters, is whether or not they'll put it all together and live up to their potential this time around.
UCLA, the other traditional basketball powerhouse in the conference, is coming off a regular season championship but a disappointing postseason that resulted in Ben Howland losing his job. Freshman sensation Shabazz Muhammad declared for the NBA draft but the Bruins can still lean on returning contributors like Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams, and the Wear twins. Highly-touted point guard recruit Zach Levine should help make up for the loss of senior Larry Drew II, who led the Pac-12 in assists last season.
But the real key for UCLA this season is how they will respond to the coaching change. Steve Alford led New Mexico to a 24-9 record his first season on the job and if the Bruins buy into their new coach's philosophy, they could make the Pac-12 a two-team race.
The Wildcats and Bruins definitely represent the top tier of the Pac-12, but there are other teams that will be in the hunt despite not recruiting elite talent.
Since Tad Boyle has taken over as head coach at Colorado, the Buffaloes have three straight 20-win seasons. Before Boyle showed up, they had four in the school's history. And if the Pac-12's leading rebounder, Andre Roberson, comes back to school, they will have all five starters returning. This experienced and well-coached group could definitely give the higher upside, less experienced teams a run for the title.
The other coaching change in the conference is on the other side of town at USC. Andy Enfield, of Florida Gulf Coast and hot wife fame, will take over at USC. I'm sure Mrs. Enfield will fit in just fine in LA, but her husband may have some more issues. The Trojans have the 44th ranked recruiting class according to Scout.com and ifthey don't improve on last season's 14-18 record, the excitement of the new hire will wear off quickly.
Jabari Bird, the #5 SF in the country, will help the Cal Golden Bears recover from the loss of Allen Crabbe to the NBA. Justin Cobbs, who averaged 15.1 points per game last year, is expected to return to school, meaning Cal will return four of their five starters. After finishing strong last season, including winning seven of their final eight conference games, Cal should be right in the thick of things in 2013-14.
In Seattle, Coach Lorenzo Romar needs to get his team back to the upper tier of the conference if he wants to stay off the hot seat. The Huskies are losing their defensive anchor in Aziz N'diaye and veteran leaders Abdul Gaddy and Scott Suggs. But with disappointing production from Gaddy and Suggs last year and ESPN five-star point guard Nigel Williams-Goss coming to town, 2013-14 could be a bounce back season for the Dawgs. The Huskies could compete for the conference title if sharpshooter CJ Wilcox stays in school and if UNLV's Mike Moser does end up transferring to UW, as has been reported.
Stanford fans are pleased that Dwight Powell is coming back to school to help the Cardinal improve on their 9-9 conference record. Stanford should improve considering how much of the team is coming back, but several other teams are improving too so it will be up to Powell to take the team to the next level.
And for some reason, Stanford seems to really like recruiting twins. First it was Jason and Jarron Collins, then Brook and Robin Lopez, and now twin guards from Las Vegas, Malcolm and Marcus Allen, will be joining the Cardinal.
Arizona State star freshman and leading scorer Jahii Carson tis returning for his sophomore season. Carson led the team to a 22-13 record, but finishing 9-9 in the conference wasn't good enough. If the Sun Devils can translate their early season success to conference play and if Carson can improve on his 31.7% shooting from beyond the arc, they could be in play for a top spot in the conference.
Washington State will be looking for help now that two-time Pac-12 scoring champion Brock Motum has played his final game for the Cougs. And even with Motum the team finished with a 13-19 record and last in the conference, so expect Ken Bone to be coaching for his life in 2013-14.
Oregon could be in a rebuilding year after losing four seniors including EJ Singler, but with Dana Altman in charge and the potential for Oregon basketball to start bringing in top recruits like the football program does, PhilKnight University may be a sleeping giant just waiting to take the Pac-12 by storm one of these years. The Ducks may regress a little this season, but don't count them out moving forward.
Oregon State and Utah finished 10th and 11th respectively last year and they don't have too much to be excited about heading into the 2013-14 season. Fortunately for Oregon State, Joe Burton was the only senior on the teamlast season and his 11 points and 6 rebounds a game should be made up with the return of Angus Brandt, who missed all of conference play last season due to injury.
Utah will have to fill the void left by leading scorer Jarred DuBois, but just yesterday the Utes signed three players who will hopefully help get the team back on track and competing at a high level.
With a few exceptions, most of the teams in the Pac-12 look like they could give the favorites a real challenge. And with plenty of new coaches, hot seats, incoming freshman, and veteran teams, more story lines are sure to develop in the Pac-12.