5. Oregon St.
7. Arizona St.
12. Washington St.
POY: Gary Payton Jr., Oregon St.
Coach of the Year: Dana Altman, Oregon
Newcomer of the Year: Jaylen Brown, California
G – Dylan Ennis, Oregon, Senior
G – Jaylen Brown, California, Freshman
G – Allonzo Trier, Arizona, Freshman
G/F – Gary Payton Jr., Oregon St., Senior
C – Josh Scott, Colorado, Senior
G – Tyrone Wallace, California, Junior
G – Brandon Taylor, Utah, Senior
G – Dillon Brooks, Oregon, Sophomore
F/C – Tony Parker, UCLA, Senior
C – Jakob Poeltl, Utah, Sophomore
G – Bryce Alford, UCLA, Junior
G – Andrew Andrews, Washington, Senior
F – Ryan Anderson, Arizona, Senior
F/C – Ivan Rabb, California, Freshman
C – Josh Hawkinson, Washington St., Junior
C - Jordan Bell, 6’9, So.
PF - Elgin Cook, 6’6, Sr.
SF - Dillon Brooks, 6’5, So.
SG - Tyler Dorsey, 6’4, Fr.
PG - Dylan Ennis, 6’3, Sr.
Reserves: Dwayne Benjamin, 6’7, Sr.; Casey Benson, 6’3, So.; Kendall Small, 6’0, Fr.; Chris Boucher, 6’10, Jr.; Trevor Manuel, 6’9, Fr.
Postseason Projection: 4 seed
This is more of a personal hunch than anything, along with really liking the makeup of the Ducks‘ roster. At the start of the offseason, Oregon looked primed to have a wide-open offensive attack with skilled, big wings and smallish, athletic forwards, but they needed a catalyst to make it all happen. Aptly-named Top-100 recruit Kendall Small was a possibility, but coach Dana Altman really pulled a coup by snagging graduate transfer Dylan Ennis from Villanova. A good passer (though not elite – 24.4% assist rate, 272nd in the country – I would argue this would have been higher if Arcidiacono wasn’t handling the ball so much, though), Ennis is excellent at getting into the lane, a quick athlete who does a solid job of finding shooters and cutters while driving. And Oregon has plenty of that – forward Dwayne Benjamin, wing Dillon Brooks, forward Jordan Bell, wing Casey Benson, and freshmen guards Small and Tyler Dorsey can all provide some of one or both. We just saw how effective a bunch of athletes spacing the floor can be with Golden State’s onslaught to an NBA title, and I think Oregon can be a (very) junior version of that. Ennis will also enjoy working off the ball at times while Small handles the ballhandling aspects. Junior college player of the year Chris Boucher, a lanky 6’10 athlete, provides the team some height (though not much bulk), as well as a potential matchup problem with his above-average shooting ability. The team also secured a late commitment from ultra-lanky freshman forward Trevor Manuel, an athlete whose basketball IQ doesn’t quite match his raw skills.
I also love this team’s potential defensively. While the large number of effective big men in the Pac-12 is concerning, the speed and depth of wings/forwards on this team should allow them to do a lot of switching and trapping, taking advantage of a relative lack of ballhandling within the conference. No Oregon players produced elite steal rates last year, but the collective mass of athletes should allow Altman to rotate his defensive looks (as he prefers to do) and confuse opposing offenses. Manuel and Boucher can protect the rim fairly well, and Bell also blocks shots at a surprisingly effective level (the 6‘7, 190-pounder was 21st in the country in block rate at 11.3% last year), providing the team some cover in the paint.
Altman has shown an ability to get a lot out of transfers in the past, with Joe Young, Arsalan Kazemi, and Mike Moser being major impact players for teams that won games in the NCAA tournament. I think he will do the same with Ennis, making him a first-team all-conference player as he is freed from the almost-too-balanced Villanova attack. He might not score as much as Young did in his tenure, but Ennis can be the engine to an even higher finish in the conference and potentially a Sweet 16 berth, now that they won’t have to play Frank Kaminsky and the Badgers in the Round of 32 for a third straight year.
**Injury Edit: Dylan Ennis is expected to miss at least a month with a foot injury (could be out until conference play). I would expect Kendall Small to start and be the primary distributor, and Casey Benson will see an increase in minutes as well. Without Ennis, I would bump Oregon down a tier below Zona and Cal, roughly equal with Utah. Also, Jordan Bell will miss the start of the season recovering from a foot injury - Boucher and Benjamin should see the biggest benefit, opportunities-wise. The shot-blocking master will hopefully be healthy by early- to mid-December.
C - Kaleb Tarczewski, 6’11, Sr.
PF - Ryan Anderson, 6’8, R-Sr.
SF - Allonzo Trier, 6’4, Fr.
SG - Gabe York, 6’3, Sr.
PG - Parker Jackson-Cartwright, 5’8, So.
Reserves: Mark Tollefson, 6’8, Sr.; Justin Simon, 6’5, Fr.; Kadeem Allen, 6’3, R-Jr.; Ray Smith, 6’8, Fr.; Elliott Pitts, 6’5, Jr.; Dusan Ristic, 7’0, So.; Chance Comanche, 6’10, Fr.
Postseason Projection: 3 seed
This will be an interesting year for Sean Miller and Arizona, as the team loses most of its scoring and almost all of its dynamic playmaking without TJ McConnell, Stanley Johnson, and Brandon Ashley. Instead, the catalyst will be star freshman Allonzo Trier, a superb athlete with a sweet shooting stroke who should immediately become the top perimeter option. Diminutive point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright will try to run the show, and his numbers in limited minutes last year reflect a high-risk/high-reward playing style – he had a 32.8% assist rate (which would have been top-50 in the country if he played more minutes), but he also turned the ball over on 21% of possessions, a very high rate for an elite team’s point guard. The Wildcats will hope he can cut down on the miscues as he grows (Ha! He’s 5‘8!) into a larger role. Arizona also returns two solid wings in Gabe York and Elliott Pitts, both of whom are good outside shooters but don’t offer much else. Redshirt junior Kadeem Allen, who sat out last year after transferring from Hutchinson Community College (where he was the national juco player of the year), will provide more athleticism on the wing, as well as some potential dynamic slashing. He could be an x-factor.
In the frontcourt, Kaleb Tarczewski made a wise decision to return to school. He is a physical behemoth, but his skill level has never developed to the point of being a difference-maker on the offensive end. He also doesn’t protect the rim as well as you would expect a 7-foot center to (2.4% block rate, not in the top 500 nationally). Luckily for Sean Miller, Arizona has a solid complement in Boston College transfer Ryan Anderson. Though he doesn’t protect the rim either (or shoot the three the way his NBA namesake does), Anderson brings a lot to the table as a skilled inside scorer who gets to the free throw line at an elite level (70.7 free throw rate in 2013-14, 66th in the country) and converts when he gets there (shot 75% from the line). San Francisco transfer forward Mark Tollefson will provide depth and spacing, having shot 39% from deep while only turning the ball over 10.9% of the time for the Dons last year. He is extremely thin, though, so Arizona will need contributions from one of 7‘2 sophomore Dusan Ristic or freshmen Ray Smith and Chance Comanche. Overall, Arizona might not be on the same talent level as the previous years‘ Elite 8 squads, but Miller will again have them in the top-25 challenging for a conference title in a strong year for the Pac-12.
C - Ivan Rabb, 6’10, Fr.
PF - Christian Behrens, 6’8, Sr.
SF - Jaylen Brown, 6’6, Fr.
SG - Jordan Mathews, 6’3, Jr.
PG - Tyrone Wallace, 6’5, Sr.
Reserves: Jabari Bird, 6’6, Jr.; Sam Singer, 6’4, Jr.; Stephen Domingo, 6’6, R-Jr.; Kingsley Okoroh, 7’1, So.; Davon Dillard, 6’5, Fr.
Postseason Projection: 4 seed
Cal is probably the most talented team in the conference, but I am extremely hesitant to place them higher than Oregon and Arizona, both also very talented teams in their own right with (in my humble opinion) significantly better coaching. Cuonzo Martin has had a history of underperforming in the regular season as compared to his teams‘ talents, although he did make a strong run in the NCAA tournament the one year he actually made it. Some of that under-performing is due to the kenpom.com-quanitified “luck“ factor, finishing 341st in his final year at Tennessee after 159th- and 265th-place finishes in 2013 and 2012, respectively. Some of it, though, is simply due to failing to maximize his talent. With players like Scotty Hopson, Jeronne Maymon, Jarnell Stokes, Jordan McRae, and Josh Richardson, it’s fair to wonder why the 2013 and 2012 teams missed the tournament altogether. Similar rumblings can be found about last year’s Cal team, despite Jabari Bird missing 10 games with injury.
This year’s California team will be a popular pick to do big things, with an NBA prospect at PG (Tyrone Wallace, who turned down a probable 2nd-round draft selection to return), two extremely dynamic top-10 recruits in post player Ivan Rabb and scoring wing Jaylen Brown, and long perimeter shooters/scorers in Bird and Jordan Mathews (not the Philadelphia Eagles WR). While those five players are probably the best lineup Cal can put on the floor, it remains to be seen if Martin will be willing to go small a la 2006 Villanova or 2012 Missouri, the latter of whom absolutely blitzed opponents on offense with great shooting and spacing and an efficient, undersized post player. Giving Wallace and Brown the space to penetrate that those lineups could provide would be deadly. Another long wing, Georgetown transfer Stephen Domingo, will also provide versatility and could contribute in small ball lineups. Forward Christian Behrens and guard Sam Singer provide some experience (with Behrens likely to start in a traditional 2-big lineup), and center Kingsley Okoroh provides more size for conventional lineups, but my money is on Cal frustrating with its lack of elite results despite prodigious talent.
While obviously massively talented, this team has all the makings of an underperforming regular season team that becomes a popular dark horse Final Four pick as a 4- or 5-seed in the NCAA tournament (and someone I pick to lose to an elite small conference team like Iona, Valpo, or Stephen F. Austin).
C - Jakob Poeltl, 7’0, So.
PF - Jordan Loveridge, 6’7, Sr.
SF - Kyle Kuzma, 6’9, So.
SG - Dakarai Tucker, 6’5, Sr.
PG - Brandon Taylor, 5’11, Sr.
Reserves: Chris Reyes, 6’7, Jr.; Brekkott Chapman, 6’7, So.; Isaiah Wright, 6’2, So.; Kenneth Ogbe, 6’6, Jr.; Makol Mawien, 6’9, Fr.
Postseason Projection: 8 seed
This is an odd team this year – Utah has a lot of talent and experience, but the team‘s upside seems limited by the lack of a real dynamic playmaker. Delon Wright was one of the most valuable and irreplaceable players in the country last year, a great passer and defender who dominated the ball and made everyone else better. In particular, Jakob Poeltl, who surprised almost everyone with his incredible performance on the inside as a freshman, faces a crossroads of sorts. He decided to return to school after a season in which he capitalized on a lot of offensive rebounds and Wright assists to shoot an absurd 68% from the field. Without Wright to set him up, will he be able to get as many easy buckets? Can he expand his game to include being a real post presence? As the best chance Utah has for an “elite“ player, Poeltl’s development will be crucial in raising the ceiling for a good-but-perhaps-not-great team.
Utah has an outstanding complementary core around Poeltl, led by 5’11 senior gunner Brandon Taylor (who will likely attempt to take over the point guard duties from Wright). Taylor actually showed flashes as a solid passer last year (22.4% assist rate), but it will be interesting to see how he balances that duty with the 185 threes he attempted. In between Taylor and Poeltl are senior shooting guard Dakarai Tucker, senior forward Jordan Loveridge (who can stretch the floor as an undersized stretch four), and sophomore forwards Kyle Kuzma and Brekkott Chapman, two relatively highly-regarded recruits who will probably battle each other for an expanded role this year. Aside from junior rebounding fiend Chris Reyes, most of the team’s depth is very unproven, especially in the backcourt – Kenneth Ogbe and Isaiah Wright will attempt to fill the holes, but neither played even 30% of minutes last year.
Coach Larry Krystowiak’s calling card has always been a slow tempo, and the team would probably be best-served to continue that strategy this year. They will have a lot of length on the team besides Taylor, and that should allow them to continue the suffocating defense they played in 2013-14 (6th overall adjusted defense, 5th in effective FG% allowed) despite the loss of Wright on the perimeter. Utah should still be very solid, but the limits on their offensive potential will likely leave them outside of the elite this year.
5. Oregon St.
C - Daniel Gomis, 6’10, Sr.
PF - Olaf Schaftenaar, 6’10, Sr.
SF - Tres Tinkle, 6’7, Fr.
SG - Gary Payton Jr., 6’3, Sr.
PG - Malcolm Duvivier, 6’2, Jr.
Reserves: Stephen Thompson Jr., 6’4, Fr.; Langston Morris-Walker, 6’5, Sr.; Jarmal Reid, 6’7, Sr.; Cheikh N’Diaye, 7’0, Jr.; Drew Eubanks, 6’8, Fr.
Postseason Projection: 10 seed
The Beavers? The Beavers!! The Oregon St. Offspring (copyright: fellow writer Ky) will be keyed by 3 significant sons (as well as a younger brother). The last time Oregon State made the NCAA tournament was in 1990, the last year of Gary Payton’s illustrious career. This year, the team’s success hinges on his son, Gary Payton Jr. Payton bears some similarities to his father’s game, leading the country in steal rate (thanks to Briante Weber’s unfortunate injury). He was also 33rd in the country in % of minutes played, led the team in assist-to-turnover ratio (second in overall assists), and was easily the team’s best defensive rebounder despite being only 6‘3, 175 lbs. The only thing really missing from Payton’s game is a refined shooting stroke; he shot just 29% from deep and 66% from the free throw line. If he can add that to his game, he absolutely has conference Player of the Year potential. His candidacy will be helped by having two impact freshmen wings – Tres Tinkle, the son of head coach Wayne Tinkle, and Stephen Thompson Jr., the son of assistant coach Stephen Thompson (duh). Both top-100 recruits, Tinkle and Thompson Jr. should provide an extra dose of basketball IQ (all coach’s sons have this, right?) as well as an injection of wing shooting and scoring. Both will compete for starting spots, but incumbents Malcolm Duvivier and Langston Morris-Walker played a ton of minutes last year and will fight for their own playing time. It will be interesting to see how Coach Tinkle handles that dynamic – he needs the talented sons on the floor, but needs to avoid upsetting the upperclassmen who have given the program a lot already.
Another crucial piece for the Beavers/Offspring is Olaf Schaftenaar, a 6’10 center and also the team’s best returning shooter. Schaftenaar is not terribly helpful as a rim protector or rebounder (leave that to center Daniel Gomis, who will play with Schaftenaar at times), but the spacing his shooting provides will open things up for Payton, Duvivier, and the coaches‘ sons. Olaf’s older brother Roeland graduated in 2010 after a solid career with Oregon St., and the team hopes the younger brother will help finally push the program over the NCAA tourney hump. Jarmal Reid will start at the other forward spot, though he was not a big contributer last year – he’ll have to watch his back as well, as freshman Drew Eubanks will push for minutes. Eubanks could provide the rebounding next to Schaftenaar that Reid simply hasn’t been able to give.
All things considered, this could be an extremely special season for Oregon St. I’m bullish on their potential to compete in the Pac-12 as well as make the NCAA tournament, using the cornerstone of Payton and the youthful talent of the coaches‘ sons to finally reach the tournament again 25 years later.
C - Thomas Welsh, 7’0, So.
PF - Tony Parker, 6’9, Sr.
SF - Prince Ali, 6’4, Fr.
SG - Isaac Hamilton, 6’4, Jr.
PG - Bryce Alford, 6’3, Jr.
Reserves: Jonah Bolden, 6’9, R-Fr.; Aaron Holiday, 6’1, Fr.; Alex Olesinski, 6’10, Fr.; Noah Allen, 6’7, Jr.
Postseason Projection: 11 seed (but actually worthy of it this year)
I’ll start out by saying I could be low on UCLA because I despise the Alford family. There, bias divulged. Now, bias aside, it just doesn’t seem like the Bruins have a lot of weapons. Tony Parker is a legitimate post threat after growing out of his tiny French body and coming west from the San Antonio Spurs, Bryce Alford is a destitute man’s version of his dad (I swear that’s a compliment), and Prince Ali, after escaping from Agrabah, will be a scoring threat on the wing to replace Norman Powell. The team’s high-level depth, however, is questionable. This problem is similar to last year’s squad; this year‘s team may have more bench depth, but the amount of real impact players will probably hold UCLA back slightly. Isaac Hamilton and Thomas Welsh are solid complementary starters, and freshmen Aaron Holiday (Jrue’s little bro!) and Alex Olesinski should contribute, but it’s hard to see where this team jumps a level to the Oregon-Arizona-California tier.
The true difference-maker could be redshirt freshman Jonah Bolden. An Australian who was ruled academically ineligible last year, he is a wiry, skilled forward who could add a degree of elite wing scoring that Ali and Hamilton can’t quite bring. He can shoot it, but he will need to prove he gained strength during his year off to make a multi-faceted impact. If he can be very good or even great, UCLA’s ceiling bumps up a notch.
Bias back engaged – the Alford family just carries themselves poorly, in this loser writer’s opinion. For a guy who hasn’t done anything significant as a coach (only 1 Sweet 16 despite 5 tournament appearances as a 3-5 seed), he sure gives off an arrogant sense from the bench. His son is no different. I have a hard time seeing a team led by those two guys finding elite chemistry and rising slightly above their talent level to challenge for the Pac-12 crown.
Last year’s UCLA team was pretty unremarkable in all key statistical categories, not ranking in the top 65 or bottom 100 in any of the Four Factors offensively or defensively (see kenpom.com for full description). Welsh and Parker will likely block a lot of shots (4.2% and 7.9% block rates, respectively), giving the perimeter defenders a little more leeway to pressure and force more turnovers (probably the team’s weakest aspect – 247th in the country in forced TO rate last year). The makings of a good team are here, but it’s hard to see the Fighting Alfords being much better than a 7-10 seed.
7. Arizona St.
C - Eric Jacbson, 6’10, Sr.
PF - Savon Goodman, 6’6, Jr.
SF - Gerry Blakes, 6’4, Sr.
SG - Andre Spight, 6’3, Jr.
PG - Tra Holder, 6’1, So.
Reserves: Kodi Justice, 6’3, So.; Willie Atwood, 6’8, Sr.; Maurice O’Field, 6’5, Jr.; Andre Adams, 6’9, Fr.
Postseason Projection: NIT
From Buffalo, NY, to Tempe, AZ – it’s hard to imagine a coach experiencing a better change in climates than Bobby Hurley this offseason. The outlook of his team’s ability to compete, however, looks slightly more cloudy. At Buffalo, Hurley left a team capable of winning the MAC and possibly even contending for an NCAA at-large bid if the non-conference portion of the year went well enough, probably returning 4 out of 5 starters (I’m assuming that Shannon Evans wouldn’t have transferred to ASU in this scenario). At ASU, it’s a little more of a slightly bigger fish, signficantly bigger pond – the Sun Devils return 3 out of the 5 starters from the team that lost to Richmond in the NIT, but with a strong year for the Pac-12 looming, it’ll be interesting to see if Hurley can push the Sun Devils up the rankings.
Arizona State will notice its roster losses most in the outside shooting department – of the team’s 230 made threes last year, 143 of them graduate, and the main returner (Gerry Blakes, an inefficient, high-volume wing) shot 30% from deep. Sophomore Tra Holder will run the show, and he must also improve after a very inefficient freshman year. Newcomers Andre Spight and Maurice O’Field (both junior college transfers) will need to bring some shooting the table (and Spight in particular likely will be able to), or this team will really struggle to find spacing. A possible breakout candidate is sophomore Kodi Justice, a shooter who made a three per game at a high rate (46%) in very limited minutes (and only played 18 games due to a broken left foot).
In the frontcourt, ASU loses floor-stretcher Jonathan Gilling, but does bring back the big man in the middle, senior-to-be Eric Jacobsen. Jacobsen is what he is – a 6’10 guy who makes a lot of his easy shots from the floor, rebounds fairly well, blocks a few shots, and can’t make free throws. Next to him will be Savon Goodman, a superb rebounder who doesn’t bring a whole lot else to the table. Frontcourt depth is in short supply, and Hurley will need to get something from one of senior Willie Atwood, junior college transfer Obinna Oleka, and freshman Andre Adams.
A major change with Hurley’s arrival will be the team’s pace of play – in 6 of Herb Sendek’s 9 years, ASU was in the bottom 75 in tempo (and his teams at NC State played similarly slowly). Though he attempted to ramp up the tempo slightly in his final 2 years, it wasn’t quite the breakneck speed with which Buffalo played last year (23rd in the country). Whether the personnel Sendek left behind can adequately play that style remains to be seen; the 2014-15 Sun Devils turned the ball over at an alarming rate, and one has to wonder if speeding up the tempo will prevent any improvement in that area.
Hurley should have the Sun Devils playing a more interesting and exciting style next year, at the very least, and as he brings in more of his players (as mentioned, Shannon Evans will sit out this year as a transfer and take over PG duties in 2016-17), Arizona State should start to climb back to consistent contention.
C - Malik Dime, 6’10, Jr.
PF - Marquese Chriss, 6’8, Fr.
SF - Dejounte Murray, 6’5, Fr.
SG - Andrew Andrews, 6’2, Sr.
PG - David Crisp, 6’1, Fr.
Reserves: Quevyn Winters, 6’5, Jr.; Donovan Dorsey, 6’7, Sr.; Matisse Thybule, 6’6, Fr.; Noah Dickerson, 6’9, Fr.
Postseason Projection: NIT
It’s tough to know what to make of this year’s Huskies – they must overcome a great deal of roster turnover (including easily the country’s best shot-blocker in Robert Upshaw, who was kicked off the team and then went pro, and Nigel Williams-Goss, a masterful pass-first point guard – #23 in the country in assist rate – who transferred to in-state rival Gonzaga), though based on the seeming lack of great chemistry last year (no doubt in part due to Upshaw’s immature ways), that might be a blessing. The Huskies bring in a fairly strong class of freshmen, led by three top-100 forwards in Marquese Chriss, Noah Dickerson, and Dejounte Murray, who will compete with inefficient returnees Quevyn Winters and Donoven Dorsey for starting spots (smart money is on Dickerson and Murray). Washington also has very limited options at point guard, which will likely lead to another freshman, David Crisp, getting the reins from day 1. Crisp is a relatively unheralded in-state recruit who should be competent if unspectacular. Replacing Upshaw (and fellow center Shawn Kemp) will be highly-regarded junior college transfer Malik Dime. While not overly skilled offensively, the Senegalese post man will be an effective rebounder and rim protector from the get-go – he grabbed 7.1 rebounds and blocked 3.3 shots per game in only 16.4 minutes last year at Indian Hills, an elite junior college program. He should be a good complement to Dickerson down low, who is more skilled on the block.
The lone key returnee for Washington is the wonderfully-named shooting guard Andrew Andrews. Andrews is a hyper-competitive shooter who also gets to the free throw line a decent amount. Last year, as injuries and dismissals sapped the teams depth, Andrews showed impressive leadership qualities with his competitive nature – qualities which will be huge for the young Huskies. Lorenzo Romar returns as the coach, but his seat is heating up with Washington having missed the NCAA tournament for 4 straight years, getting steadily worse each time. Unless the young players really step in and succeed right away, it’s going to be tough to end that streak this year, especially with the Pac-12 being a better league than in years past. It’s interesting to note that in the 6 years Washington has made the tournament under Romar (2004-2006, 2009-2011), they have been in the top 23 in the country in adjusted tempo each time. The Huskies tempo ranks from 2012 to 2015, in order: 30, 183, 71, 133. It seems that Romar might do well to bring back the frenetic pace that has served his teams well in the past – if Crisp shows he can handle the duties of running such an attack (or if Andrews is able to handle being a lead guard a little more often).
C - Josh Scott, 6’11, Sr.
PF - Wesley Gordon, 6’9, R-Jr.
SF - Josh Fortune, 6’5, Jr.
SG - Xavier Talton, 6’2, Sr.
PG - Dominique Collier, 6’2, So.
Reserves: Kenan Guzonjic, 6’8, Jr.; Tre’shaun Fletcher, 6’7, Jr.; Thomas Akyazali, 6’2, Fr.; George King, 6’6, R-So.
Postseason Projection: NIT
It all starts and ends with the man in the middle. Senior center Josh Scott was absurdly efficient as a junior, putting up the 15th best O-rating in the country at 127.1. It’s hard to put in perspective just how good that is – that is the third best rate for anyone using over 20% of his team’s possessions (behind only Kyle Wiltjer and Aaron White) and the highest of any player who doesn’t shoot threes. However, due to now-departed Askia Booker’s offense-wrecking ballhogging campaign (took 35.4% of the team’s shots!), Scott simply didn’t get the ball enough. It’s fair to wonder why Tad Boyle allowed that to transpire, but either way, this should be a case of addition by subtraction – without Booker, it will allow the rest of the team to grow into their own roles. Starting opposite Scott down low will be hardworking forward Wesley Gordon, a great rebounder and finisher (55% from the field). Gordon and Scott provided a very solid rim protection duo, each blocking over 6% of opposing shots. In the backcourt, sophomore point guard Dominique Collier underperformed relative to his 4-star recruiting ranking, but as the only primary ballhandler on the roster, he should grow more comfortable running the offense and playing to his strengths. On the wing, Colorado suffered a major summer blow when versatile forward Xavier Johnson tore an achilles; luckily, this is probably the deepest position on the roster. Providence transfer Josh Fortune is a skilled guard who should flourish in a bigger role for the Buffaloes, and European shooters Kenan Guzonjic and Thomas Akyazali will help provide spacing if they prove they can defend at the Division I level. Fortune and Akyazali will likely be the reserve options behind Collier at point guard as well. Xavier Talton also returns on the perimeter, but he has had a spotty career plagued by poor shooting (30% from the field last year) and far too many turnovers (26.3% turnover rate in 2014-15, compared to only a 13.4% assist rate). He’ll need to play much better to hold off the newcomers for playing time, as well as junior Tre’Shaun Fletcher, who was starting by the end of last year. Fletcher, like Akyazali and Guzonjic, provides more size and shooting on the wing, though he also needs to clean up his excessive turnovers.
Colorado should be an interesting team to watch this year. They have the star power in Scott and another ultra reliable complement down low in Gordon; the team needs the perimeter to grow and gel without Booker’s overriding influence. If Fortune steps up as the primary slasher/scorer and Collier proves he can run the offense efficiently while getting everyone involved, Colorado certainly has the ceiling of reaching the NCAA Tournament. If the backcourt stays prone to turnovers and can’t feed the efficient big guys, though, this team could again disappoint as it did last year.
C - Nikola Jovanovic, 6’11, Jr.
PF - Darion Clark, 6’7, Jr.
SF - Katin Reinhardt, 6’6, Jr.
SG - Julian Jacobs, 6’4, Jr.
PG - Jordan McLaughlin, 6’1, So.
Reserves: Elijah Stewart, 6’5, So.; Malik Martin, 6’11, So.; Malik Marquetti, 6’6, So.; Chimezie Metu, 6’9, Fr.; Bennie Boatwright, 6’9, Fr.
Postseason Projection: CBI/CIT
This is a pretty good roster, but unfortunately is probably still a year away from truly making noise. Andy Enfield’s rebuild has taken a few years since leaving Dunk City and FGCU, but it finally looks like he has some talent maturing up through the program. Before his season was cut short by injury, freshman Jordan McLaughlin was extremely impressive as a distributor (30.1% assist rate vs only 16.4% turnover rate), and as he gets stronger and more used to the speed of the game, it’s fair to hope his extremely poor shooting will improve. McLaughlin’s return at PG should help the rest of the players improve their efficiency as they slide back into normal roles (along with another year of their own growth); notably, juniors-to-be Nikola Jovanovic (a strong inside force), Katin Reinhardt (a relatively inefficient gunner), Julian Jacobs (very turnover prone after taking over as the lead ballhandler), and Darion Clark (a burly rebounder) all had offensive ratings below 100 – numbers that will need to improve for the Trojans to really start pushing towards the top half of the conference. McLaughlin’s return also allows sophomore Elijah Stewart to return to his role as the first guard off the bench, one in which he should be even more comfortable in his second season. He showed impressive athletic abilities for a 6‘5 guard (5.5% block rate!), but had a disastrously low 6.2% assist rate and shot the ball poorly – Enfield will hopefully not have to ask for much offense from Stewart this year.
Frontcourt depth should be a major strength. Malik Marquetti will play some small forward off the bench, and fellow second-year man Malik Martin will be able to spell Jovanovic. The real wild cards will be a pair of 6‘9 freshmen 4-star recruits – Chimezie Metu and Bennie Boatwright. It would not be shocking to see one of them redshirt based on the depth of the frontcourt, with Metu being the more likely candidate based on his raw-ish game. Boatwright is a silky smooth shooter with deep range, and that range could be a valuable weapon for a team that neither took many threes nor shot a very good percentage (and had nothing even resembling a stretch 4). Enfield will likely find a way to get Boatwright on the floor, even if it hurts the team’s defense and rebounding a little at times.
USC showed some positive signs last year – they played solid defense without fouling and defended the three-point line fairly well despite their youth and quick tempo (25th in the country). Finishing defensive possessions with strong box-outs will be key (especially from the guards) after the team ranked 309th in defensive rebound rate last year. The next big step will be juicing up the offense with better shooting and taking care of the ball – the second of those should improve with experience, even as USC runs at Enfield’s now-trademark quick pace. This year needs to be one of development, with the big things really starting to come next year.
C - Josh Sharma, 6’11, Fr.
PF - Reid Travis, 6’8, So.
SF - Rosco Allen, 6’9, Jr.
SG - Marcus Allen, 6’3, Jr.
PG - Robert Cartwright, 6’2, So.
Reserves: Dorian Pickens, 6’5, So.; Michael Humphrey, 6’9, So.; Marcus Sheffield, 6’5, Fr.; Cameron Walker, 6’7, Fr.
Postseason Projection: None
I’m concerned about this team. Losing Chasson Randle and Anthony Brown, two guys in the top-75 of the country in % of minutes played, along with Stefan Nastic could be a huge problem. Marcus Allen returns to start in the backcourt, but Allen only assisted on 10% of baskets, made 13 threes, and shot 54% from the free throw line – not exactly a perimeter lynchpin. Rosco Allen and Reid Travis are solid forwards, with Travis in particular providing strong rebounding, and top-100 freshman center Josh Sharma should help soften slightly the blow from losing Nastic. One main issue for Stanford last year was perimeter defense, allowing opponents to shoot 37.4% (303rd in the country) on threes last year and posting a low steal rate of 8.3% - it’s possible some younger, hungrier replacements for Randle and Brown will help that, but not terribly likely, and the new guys certainly will not be as skilled offensively as that combination was.
I’m also not entirely sold on Johnny Dawkins as a head coach. Similar to the rest of the Mike Krzyzewski coaching tree, Dawkins’s teams run extremely hot and cold, both in-season and year-to-year. Dawkins has only made the tournament once in his seven-year tenure, constantly hovering around the periphery of the bubble but ultimately unable to really muster the kind of resume that would get them into the tournament. Stanford has had some fairly talented teams, talented enough to be pushed into the NCAA tournament by a good coach. This year’s team is probably Dawkins’s worst since 2011, when Aaron Bright, Dwight Powell, Josh Huestis, and Anthony Brown were only freshmen, and if that season is any indication, Stanford will struggle to stay relevant in the Pac-12.
12. Washington St.
C - Josh Hawkinson, 6’10, Jr.
PF - Derrien King, 6’8, Jr.
SF - Que Johnson, 6’5, Jr.
SG - Ike Iroegbu, 6’2, Jr.
PG - Ny Redding, 6’2, Fr.
Reserves: Junior Longrus, 6’7, Sr.; Dennis Clifford, 7’0, Jr.; Trevor Dunbar, 5’10, So.; Brett Boese, 6’7, Sr.
Postseason Projection: None
I don’t necessarily think Washington State is a terrible squad, but it’s extremely difficult to put them ahead of anyone with no real senior leadership and the underwhelming Ernie Kent at the helm. Josh Hawkinson is an absolute monster down low, having gobbled up 31% of available defensive rebounds while on the floor, good for third in the country. He was also extremely efficient, shooting 54% from the floor and 85% (!!!) from the free throw line – if he can draw a few more fouls and use a few more possessions (while continuing to turn it over at a microscopic rate), he can beef up his efficiency even more. The issue for the Cougars will be the talent around Hawkinson. Junior wings Ike Iroegbu and Que Johnson will have slightly larger roles with the loss of perimeter leader DaVonte Lacy, though neither was particularly prolific in complementary roles last year. A major key will be the development of rising sophomore point guard Ny Redding – he showed a great ability to distribute (64th-best assist rate in the country at 31.5%), but needs to do so under more control (31.7% turnover rate).
In general, Washington St.‘s defense needs to improve drastically. They were 313th in adjusted defense last year, by far the worst an Ernie Kent-coached team has ever been. The most glaring flaws seem to be in perimeter defense; they allowed a scorching 52.4% effective field goal shooting and were 349th in the country in turnovers forced and steal rate. The team does not appear to be bringing any major impact defenders, so Kent might be well-served to implement a more aggressive style. Hawkinson isn’t a star rim protector, but he is serviceable; if the young guards can speed up opponents a little more and funnel them to Hawkinson and junior college transfer Connor Clifford (a solid backup big at 7‘0), there’s a chance the team can improve its defense without major personnel changes. Similar to USC, though, this year is one to build and improve, with the hope being an extremely experienced Cougars team in 2016-17 can make some real noise in the conference.