2018-19 Pac-12 men’s basketball picks and predictions

Arizona State University's Zylan Cheatham (#31) gets

Previewing the 2019-19 Pac-12 men’s basketball season:

Projected order of finish

Note: Records are from 2017-18 season.

Projected conference champion

Oregon Ducks.

Don’t-miss games 

Washington at Gonzaga, Dec. 5, 8 p.m., ESPN

The Zags will be ready to be tested during this in-state matchup. If the Huskies can beat the Bulldogs at home early in the season, they can prove that they are more than just giant-killers who didn’t get a fluke win.

Kansas at Arizona State, Dec. 22, 7 p.m., ESPN2

This will be the first game that the Jayhawks play in Tempe since 1990. They seek revenge on the Sun Devils, who last season gave Kansas just its second non-conference home loss since 2007.

UCLA at Oregon, Jan. 10, 6 p.m., ESPN/ESPN2/ESPNU

This could be a preview game of the Pac-12 tournament title game. Look forward to seeing the marquee center matchup of five-star freshman recruits Moses Brown of UCLA versus Bol Bol of Oregon.

Oregon tabbed as Pac-12 men’s favorite as season gets underway

Arizona at USC, Jan. 24, 6 p.m., FS1

This is a rematch of last season’s Pac-12 tournament final. The Trojans and Wildcats are both coming off FBI investigations last season, which adds more intrigue for two teams predicted to finish within the conference’s top-tier.

Arizona

Coach Sean Miller faces the biggest test of his career this season. Miller lost recruits from his involvement in an FBI investigation that became a distraction. The Wildcats have two impact transfers in 6-10 junior stretch-4 Chase Jeter from Duke and 6-9 forward Ryan Luther (12.7 ppg, 10.1 rpg) to help its frontcourt need and to stretch the offense’s perimeter play.

There are multiple layers for the Wildcats to peel back in regards to losses. The absence of Deandre Ayton — last season’s Pac-12 Player of the Year —and two-time All-Pac-12 guard Allonzo Trier gone to the NBA, and center Dusan Ristic (12.2 ppg, 6.9 rpg) playing professionally in Serbia will be felt in their needs for second chance points on offense and defensive stops. Arizona’s returning roster, none of which average in double figures, have their work cut out for them as they defend their Pac-12 conference title.

Arizona State

The loss of three starters Shannon Evans, Kodi Justice and Tra Holder – the team’s three leading scorers last season – will be an obvious hurdle for the Sun Devils. However, a pair of transfers – forward Zylan Cheatham (6-10, 210, 9.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg) and guard Rob Edwards (6-4, 200, 16.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg) from San Diego State and Cleveland State, respectively – could fulfill that void with sophomore guard Remy Martin (9.6 ppg, 2.9 apg). 

The Sun Devils may not have a fast undefeated start as a top five-ranked team before their crash landing with a losing 8-10 conference record like last season. Sophomore forwards Romello White (6-8, 235, 10.5 ppg, 7.1 rpg) and Kimani Lawrence (6-7, 210, 3.1 ppg, 1.7 rpg) could be the ex-factors they need to compete against the height on teams such as Washington, UCLA, USC, and Oregon. 

California

What to watch: Second-year coach Wyking Jones is coming off an abysmal year, going 1-17 over the Bears’ last 18 games. Losing forward Marcus Lee (11.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg) to the NBA, guard Don Coleman (14.2 ppg, 1.9 apg) to South Alabama and center Kingsley Okoroh (5.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg) opens some big shoes to fill.

Bottom line: The Bears have two four-star recruits, small forward Jacobi Gordon (6-6, 205) and shooting guard Matt Bradley (6-4, 210), and returning starters Justice Sueing (13.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg), Darius McNeil (11.3 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.2 apg) and Juhwan Harris-Dyson (6.2 ppg, 3.4 rpg) will need to step up to fill the void of Lee and Coleman.

Colorado

What to watch: The Buffaloes have 67 percent of their returning production. Their best player, sophomore point guard McKinley Wright IV (14.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 5.5 apg), returns as the team’s top scorer. The Buffaloes have missed the NCAA Tournament three of the past four seasons.

Bottom line: Wright is the first option but needs to improve his shooting touch (30.4 3-point field goal percentage in 2017-18) to help spread the offense with frontcourt players Dallas Walton (5.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg), Lucas Siewert (6.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg) and Tyler Bey (6.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg). These big men need to step up their scoring and not repeat as the Pac-12’s 11th-ranked team in that category (67.8 points per game).

Oregon

What to watch: The Ducks are poised to bounce back as a top-ranked team in the country after their five-year NCAA Tournament streak ended last season. The focal point will be five-star, 7-1 freshman center Bol Bol, whose 7-8 albatross-like wingspan adds the biggest dimension to their defense and offense.

Bottom line: The rim protection between Bol Bol and returning starter Kenny Wooten (6-9, 220), who led the Pac-12 last season with 92 blocks and 2.6 per game in that category, will bring much-needed defensive strength and high percentage shots with returning point guard Payton Pritchard (14.5) to lead them back atop the Pac-12 in March.

Oregon State

What to watch: The family affair will be the key if the Beavers have any success this season. Senior forward Tres Tinkle (17.6 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 3.7 apg), senior guard Stephen Thompson Jr. (15.8 ppg, 3.3 apg) and sophomore guard Ethan Thompson (9.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 3.5 assists) are the respective sons of head coach Wayne Tinkle and assistant coach Stephen Thompson. They provide 72 percent of the team’s scoring production. 

Bottom line: The Beavers are likely unable to compete with other Pac-12 teams such as UCLA, Oregon, and Washington due to their lack of size in the middle. Plus, the loss of 6-10 forward Drew Eubanks (13.2 ppg, 6.8 rpg, and 1.7 blocks) doesn’t help their cause.

Stanford

What to watch: The Cardinal missed the NCAA Tournament last year. The loss of their best player Reid Travis (19.5 ppg, 8.7 rpg) to Kentucky as well as their other top scorers, forward Michael Humphrey (10.0 ppg, 7.3 rpg) and guard Dorian Pickens (15.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg), will cause second-year coach Jerod Haase to make major adjustments that will heavily rely on their returning players Daejon Davis (10.7 ppg) and F KZ Okpala (10.0 ppg).

Bottom line: Travis, who carried 25 percent of the team’s scoring average, won’t be easy to replace. However, this will make Haase’s incoming four-star recruit and three-point marksman Cormac Ryan, as well as underclassmen Davis and Okpala, develop faster than expected.

UCLA

What to watch: All-Pac-12 honorable mention guard Kris Wilkes returns after his attempt to join his former teammates Aaron Holiday and Thomas Welch in the NBA draft. Wilkes looks to strengthen the perimeter play with Jaylen Hands (9.9 ppg) and Prince Ali (9.1 ppg).

Bottom line: Last season’s public-relations debacle following the shoplifting incident in China that handed year-long suspensions to forwards Jalen Hill, Cody Riley and withdrawn guard LiAngelo Ball is in the rearview mirror. After a year Hill (6-10, 230) and Riley (6-10, 260) are the twin towers with much to prove. They will need to step up for the team’s frontcourt play after losing their top scorer Aaron Holiday (20.3 ppg) and Welsh (12.6 ppg) to the NBA.

USC

What to watch: The Trojans’ heralded potential last season turned out to be smoke and mirrors as their season ended in disappointment with a loss to Arizona in the Pac-12 tournament title game and a loss in the second round of the NIT. They look to regroup under their best player and All-Pac-12 forward Bennie Boatwright (13.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 2.0 apg), who returns from a knee injury for his senior season to pick up where Chimezie Metu (15.7 ppg, 7.4 rpg) left off before entering the NBA draft. 

Bottom line: The loss of Metu, point guard De’Anthony Melton and Jordan McLaughlin, and the FBI corruption scandal last season could be an afterthought or an aftershock that remains for the Trojans.

Utah

What to watch: Utes coach Larry Krystkowiak takes a big hit losing three of his top scorers Justin Bibbins, David Collette and Tyler Rawson. The trio individually averaged in double figures that comprised 60 percent of their scoring last season. Senior guard Sedrick Barefield (12.0 ppg) showed with his 16-point average during last season’s NIT run that he will be the team’s new offensive weapon. 

Bottom line: Krystkowiak knows how to win as he’s gotten over 20 victories in his pat five seasons as the Utes head coach. Other returning players including forwards Donnie Tillman (7.8 ppg) and Jayce Johnson (5.5.) and guard Parker Van Dyke (4.0 ppg) will be increasing their roles in attempt to keep him about that threshold and improve their Pac-12 record from the previous year.

Washington

What to watch: The Huskies had a 12-win differential last season. After losing No. 1 overall NBA draft pick Markelle Fultz and a lowly 2-16 conference record in the 2016-17 seaon, first-year Mike Hopkins brings back his top scorers led by All-Pac-12 forward Noah Dickerson (15.5 ppg, 8.4 rpg), who returns after he entered the NBA draft without a hired agent. Also, their other offensive threat Jaylen Nowell (16.0 ppg), guard David Crisp (11.6 ppg, 3.1 apg), reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Matisse Thybulle (11.2 ppg, 3.0 spg, 1.4 bpg) and 3-point specialist Dom Green gives Hopkins as many options for their 2-3 zone defense and offense to make a run for the top spot in the conference. 

Bottom line: Their strong recruiting class of four-star center Bryan Penn-Johnson, forward Nate Roberts and swingman Jamal Bey adds depth to their rotation that is all returning this season.

Washington State

What to watch: Coach Ernie Kent is on the hot seat with a 47-77 record since he began his tenure with the Cougars in the 2014-15 season. Senior forward Robert Franks (17.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg) could be Kent’s saving grace after having a breakout season in which he made 40 percent of his 3-pointers and 85 percent of his free throws. Franks returning to school after testing his stock in the 2018 NBA Draft could reinvigorate the Cougars, but don’t count on them going far in the league play. 

Bottom line: Returning guards V’iont’e Daniels (9.0 ppg) and Carter Skaggs (8.2 ppg) will need to help Franks stabilize their offense and get out of the cellar. But Kent’s contract ending in 2021-22 could be cancelled earlier than expected if the team doesn’t show any signs of life this season. 

Preseason projections

Player of the year: Payton Pritchard, Oregon

Rookie of the year: Bol Bol, Oregon

First Team

Second Team

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