In Part 1 of our 2012-13 Pac-12 preview we ranked Oregon ninth, USC 10th, Utah 11th and Arizona State 12th.
The Ducks aren’t finished adding to the roster, however among the quartet the Trojans are the most likely to finish among the top half in the conference.
Today we take a look at teams 5-8. A couple of these squads have the talent to compete for a title and if things go awry they could tumble to the bottom of the league.
The countdown continues.
5. WASHINGTON: Despite losing three starters including potential first-round NBA picks Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten Jr., the Pac-12 defending champions should remain in contention with a nucleus that includes shooting guard C.J. Wilcox, point guard Abdul Gaddy and center Aziz N’Diaye. That’s a solid trio and each will need to make steady improvements if the Huskies are going to win the title again. Wilcox will likely return to the starting lineup and slide into Ross’ role as No. 1 offensive weapon. He’ll get all the shots he wants. Gaddy, who will be a four-year starter, has one last chance to realize the hype that preceded him to UW when he was rated the No. 2 prep guard in the nation. N’Diaye will also be a three-year starter and he’s got plenty to prove. Senior Scott Suggs, who redshirted last season, and newcomer Mark McLaughlin, a junior-college transfer, should also provide firepower. That’s an experienced group with It’s unclear how freshmen Hikeem Stewart and Andrew Andrews fit into what will likely be a six-man rotation between the guards and small forward positions. The supporting cast is unproven and the young bigs (Desmond Simmons, Shawn Kemp Jr., Martin Breunig and Jernard Jarreau) will need to grow up quickly.
6. CALIFORNIA: Keep a lookout for Missouri transfer Ricky Kreklow, who sat out last season due to transfer rules and will likely replace Pac-12 MVP Jorge Gutierrez in the starting lineup. Kreklow has one of the great nicknames “Nuke” for a guy with a limited resume. He garnered the reputation of an undisciplined gunner at Mizzou. The Bears don’t need him to score because Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs will carry the offense. But they need him to defend and rebound. The big question is whether PF/C Richard Solomon can return from an academic suspension and give quality production in the post? The other starter is likely David Kravish, who was voted to the Pac-12 all-freshman team. The bench includes: PG Brandon Smith, C Robert Smith, F Bak Bak and F Christian Behrens. Cal signed three recruits, but only 6-4 guard Tyrone Wallace is expected to help immediately. Cal tied for second in the conference with a 13-5 record and was one of two teams in the league to advance to the NCAA tournament. The Bears (24-10) lost departing senior forward Harper Kamp as well as sophomore guard Emerson Murray who is transferring to Seattle University and redshirt freshman guard Alex Rossi who also left the program.
7. OREGON STATE: The Beavers finished eighth last season, however their 21 wins is the most since 1990 when they last appeared in the NCAA tourney. Given OSU’s recent uptick and its long history of ineptness, coach Craig Robinson will likely be given a few more years to continue a rebuilding project that enters year five next season. The Beavers spoke openly about their NCAA tourney expectations last season and if Jared Cunningham came back for his senior year, then OSU would have returned all five starters and would have been a serious candidate for the 68-team tournament. Sophomore Roberto Nelson could minimize Cunningham’s loss if he moves into the lineup and improves upon his 9.3 scoring average. The Beavers would be wise to feature 6-10 forwards Devon Collier and Eric Moreland on the offensive end. They’re dominant shot blockers, who need help scoring. It will be interesting to see if OSU can win with 5-9 sophomore guard Ahmad Starks and 6-7 junior forward Joe Burton. Both are productive and imperfect. Starks forte is three-point shooting and steals, but OSU needs a traditional playmaker. Burton led the team with 102 assists, but the 280-pounder doesn’t run the floor well and his ability to play man to man defense is suspect. The Beavers signed three recruits, but with 10 their top 11 players returning it will be difficult for the newcomers to find minutes.
8. WASHINGTON STATE: It’s unclear how athletic director Bill Moos feels about basketball. He gave football coach Mike Leach a five-year, $11 million contract in November and the Cougars expect immediate results. If hoops is a priority, then it would be prudent for coach Ken Bone to guide WSU to a finish in the upper half of the conference for the first time since he took over in 2009. The Cougars are 22-32 in three years under Bone and their best finish is a sixth-place showing in 2011 in the old Pac-10. Not sure Washington State is a NCAA tournament team at this point, but there’s more than enough returning ammunition to win 20 games and earn a NIT invitation. Of course no one begins the season aiming for the NIT and neither should WSU. Not when the Cougars boast the Pac-12’s top scorer (Brock Motum) and assists leader (Reggie Moore). Guard DaVonte Lacy was an all-conference, all-freshman honorable mention choice and is poised for a breakout season while Michael Ladd, who was injured most of last season, should be acclimated after his first season on the court with the Cougars. Freshman guard Dexter Kernich-Drew had a nice debut, Royce Wooldridge, a 6-3 guard who transferred from Kansas and sat out last season, has drawn raves and incoming freshman guard DeMarquise Johnson is a four-star recruit, according to Rivals. However, WSU needs big guys and there’s few on the roster. Incoming freshman Richard Peters, a 6-10, 250-pound center, has yet to achieve a qualifying score on his SAT along with Johnson.