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November 11, 2014 at 12:02 PM

2014-15 Pac-12 preseason forecast

If Rondae-Hollis Jefferson returns next season, he'll be one of the stars expected to help Arizona to another Pac-12 regular-season title.

Rondae-Hollis Jefferson is expected to help Arizona to another Pac-12 regular-season title next season.

The Pac-12 season begins this week. Here’s a stab at the regular-season conference title race to get you ready for the season.

1. Arizona
Key losses: F Aaron Gordon (entered NBA draft), G Nick Johnson (entered NBA draft), G Jordin Mayes.
Key returners: G T. J. McConnell, G/F Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, F Brandon Ashley, C Kaleb Tarczewski, G Gabe York, G Eliott Pitts
Notable newcomers: G/F Stanley Johnson, G Kadeem Allen, G Parker Jackson-Cartwright, C Dusan Ristic, F Craig Victor
Outlook: Entering his sixth year, coach Sean Miller has rebuilt the Wildcats into a powerhouse that will contend for Pac-12 conference and national championships for the next few years. Arizona (33-5, 15-3) was crazy good last season and it could be even better next season. The Cats are expected to roll out a lineup that includes three picks (Hollis-Jefferson, Tarczewski and Ashley) in the 2015 NBA draft, not including Johnson who is also a projected first-round pick. The draft hopefuls garner a lot of preseason hype, but McConnell just might be the lynchpin for the Wildcats. Don’t be surprised if he captures the Pac-12 MVP award. The roster is loaded, but there’s still potential hurdles for Arizona. The Wildcats are expected to terrorize teams with a ball-hawking, suffocating defense, but offensively they don’t have many outside shooters, which might explain why York could get the starting nod over Johnson. There’s few teams who could bring a five-star recruit like Johnson off the bench. Arizona did it last year with Hollis-Jefferson, but developing chemistry and trust will be essential for the Wildcats.
Projected starters:
G – T.J. McConnell
G – Gabe York
F – Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
F – Brandon Ashley
C – Kaleb Tarczewski

2. Colorado
Key losses:
G Spencer Dinwiddie (entered NBA draft).
Key returners: F Josh Scott, G Askia Booker, F Xavier Johnson, F Wesley Gordon, G Xavier Talton, G Jaron Hopkins and F Dustin Thomas
Notable newcomers: G Dominique Collier and F Tory Miller.
Outlook: The Buffaloes return four starters (Scott, Booker, Johnson and Gordon) from a team that finished 23-12 and 10-8 Pac-12 last season. Losing Dinwiddie, who suffered a season-ending knee injury midway through the season, hurts. The Buffs were 9-10 without him and they need to find someone to fill the void. It appears as if Talton, a 6-2 junior, will get the first opportunity. He played in all 35 games last season and started 13. Scott, a 6-10 junior forward, is Colorado’s next NBA candidate. He averaged 14.1 points and 8.4 rebounds last season while shooting 51 percent from the field and 81 percent at the line. Scott is consistent, but not spectacular. Johnson and Gordon, two athletic forwards, have the potential to be all-conference players someday. The key to the season is Booker. The senior guard has big-play ability. However, he can disappear for long stretches and he’s erratic. CU needs him to be a playmaker who makes the game easier for teammates. Booker could become the first player in school history to make four straight NCAA tournament appearances. The Buffaloes are also helped by a tremendous mile-high homecourt advantage.
Projected starting lineup:
G – Askia Booker
G – Xavier Talton
F – Xavier Johnson
F – Wesley Gordon
C – Josh Scott

3. Utah
Key losses:
G/F Princeton Onwas, F Renan Lenz and G Ahmad Fields (transfer)
Key returners: G Delon Wright, F Jordan Loveridge, G Brandon Taylor, C Dallin Bachynski, G/F Dakarai Tucker, F Jeremy Olsen and G/F Princeton Onwas
Notable newcomers: C Jakob Poeltl, PF Brekkott Chapman, PG Isaiah Wright, G/F Kyle Kuzma, F Chris Reyes.
Outlook: The starting lineup and the top seven scorers return for the Utes. No other Pac-12 team that can make a similar claim. Wright is a do-everything star, but the 6-5 guard must improve his woeful three-point shooting (12 of 54, 22.2 percent) to make opponents defend him honestly. It also remains to be seen if Wright’s supporting cast can carry Utah to its first NCAA tournament since 2009. Loveridge (14.7 ppg., 7.0 rpg., 2.3 apg.) is arguably the best Pac-12 player who wasn’t honored in the postseason in 2014. ESPN ranks the incoming freshman class 31st nationally and fifth in the Pac-12. The newcomers are talented – especially Chapman, Reyes, and Poeltl, a 7-footer from Austria. But it will be difficult for them to find meaningful minutes on a team with so many returners. Taylor and Tucker will knock down outside shots and Bachynski will rebound, but the Utes’ hopes are tied to Wright. He’s the leading candidate to win the Pac-12 MVP award. It will be interesting to see how Utah manages high expectations and a difficult nonconference schedule that includes Kansas, San Diego State and Wichita State.
Projected starting lineup:
G – Brandon Taylor
G – Delon Wright
G – Brekkott Chapman
F – Jordan Loveridge
C – Dallin Bachynski

4. UCLA
Key losses:
G Kyle Anderson (entered NBA draft), G Zach LaVine (entered NBA draft), G Jordan Adams (entered NBA draft), F Travis Wear and F David Wear
Key returners: G Norman Powell, G Bryce Alford and F Tony Parker
Notable newcomers: G Isaac Hamilton (sat out last season/transfer), PF Kevin Looney, C Thomas Welsh, PF Jonah Bolden (ineligible).
Outlook: Despite the early defections of Anderson, Jordan and LaVine, the Bruins may not skip a beat under second-year coach Steve Alford. UCLA is loaded with talent, but it may take players awhile to settle into their new roles. Powell was the third scoring option last season. He averaged 11.4 points per game. This year, he’ll be asked to do more shooting, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. He was horrendous at the free throw line (53.3 percent) and beyond the arc (29.4). Alford isn’t a prototypical point guard and he’ll likely take over for Anderson while Looney, a five-star prospect, should replace Travis Wear. The X-factor is Hamilton. The 6-5 sophomore was a highly regarded recruit who has the potential to lead the Bruins in scoring.
Projected starting lineup:
G – Bryce Alford
G – Isaac Hamilton
G – Norman Powell
F – Kevon Looney
C – Tony Parker

5. Washington
Key losses:
G C.J. Wilcox, F Perris Blackwell and F Desmond Simmons (transfer).
Key returners:
G Nigel Williams-Goss, G Andrew Andrews, G Darin Johnson, G Mike Anderson, F Shawn Kemp Jr. and F Jernard Jarreau
Notable newcomers:
C Robert Upshaw (sat out last season/transfer), G Donaven Dorsey and G Quevyn Winters.
Outlook:
The Huskies are loaded in the backcourt. Williams-Goss has star potential and Andrews is poised for a breakout season. Anderson, Johnson, Winters and Dorsey will battle for the minutes at the other guard/small forward spot. It’s a good mix on the wing that gives UW a little defense, a little rebounding and a little offense. However, there’s lots of questions about an inexperienced front line that returns just one player – Kemp. The senior forward looked good during a comfortable 88-65 exhibition win over Division II Saint Martin’s while scoring 19 points on 8-for-10 shooting. Upshaw was also promising in his UW debut. It remains to be seen if Jarreau will reclaim the promise he once had after missing last season due to a season-ending knee injury. It’s also a mystery on who is going to emerge as a three-point threat to stretch defenses and create room down low. Several weeks ago, I had Washington eighth in my preseason poll, but quite frankly the bottom half of the conference looks like a train wreck. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Huskies finished as high as fourth in the conference race, which bodes well for their NCAA tournament chances. The Pac-12 sent six teams to the Big Dance last season.
Projected starting lineup:
G – Nigel Williams-Goss
G – Andrew Andrews
F – Mike Anderson
F – Jernard Jarreau
C – Shawn Kemp Jr.

6. Stanford
Key losses:
F Dwight Powell, F Josh Huestis, F John Gage, G Robbie Lemons and G Aaron Bright (transfer)
Key returners: G Chasson Randle, G/F Anthony Brown, C Stepan Nastic, G Marcus Allen and C Grant Verhoeven
Notable newcomers: PF Reid Travis, PF Michael Humphrey, PG Robert Cartwright and SG Dorian Pickens
Outlook: Coach Johnny Dawkins assembled his highest rated recruiting class since he took over in 2008. ESPN ranks Stanford’s incoming freshmen second in the Pac-12 and No. 13 nationally. Dawkins should be able to find immediate help to replace starters Huestis and Powell, who were taken in the NBA draft. Keep an eye on Travis. The 6-8, 240-pound freshman forward is the first McDonald’s high school All-American to sign with the Cardinal since Brook and Robin Lopez in 2006. Stanford returns three starters (Randle, Brown, Nastic) from a team that finished 23-13, 10-8 Pac-12 and advanced to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008. Brown, a 6-6 senior guard, has all-conference ability while Nastic, a 6-11 senior center, is solid and serviceable. The star is Randle who has Pac-12 MVP potential. He tallied 26 points in Stanford’s exhibition win over Cal Poly Pomona while converting 16 of 19 free throws. The potential problem with Stanford is finding a playmaker because that’s not Randle’s forte. He’s a 6-2 guard that knows how to score. However, he’s never averaged more than 2.6 assists during his three seasons with the Cardinal. During it’s tight 79-76 exhibition win, Stanford managed just six assists.
Projected starting lineup:
G – Chasson Randle
G – Anthony Brown
F – Roscoe Allen
F – Reid Travis
C – Stefan Nastic

7. Oregon
Key losses:
F Mike Moser, G Jason Calliste, G Johnathan Loyd, F Richard Armadi, C Waverly Austin and F Ben Carter (transfer), A.J. Lapray (transfer), G Damyean Dotson (dismissed), G Dominic Artis (dismissed) and G/F Brandon Austin (transfer/dismissed)
Key returners: G Joseph Young, F Elgin Cook and G Jalil Abdul-Bassit.
Notable newcomers: F Dwayne Benjamin (transfer), F Dillon Brooks, F Jordan Bell, PG Ahmaad Rorie, PG Casey Benson and F Michael Chandler (transfer).
Outlook: Reports of Oregon’s demise may have been exaggerated. It’s been a horrendous offseason for the Ducks that included a sexual assault scandal, which led to the dismissal of Dotson, Artis and Austin. Carter and Lapray transferred for separate reasons. And standout recruits JaQuan Lyle and F Ray Kasongo were not admitted into school. The fifth-year of the Dana Altman era begins with more questions than ever before, but he’s worked miracles before and he just might do it again with a roster that includes just three returnees and a walk-on. The Ducks added six newcomers, which leaves them with just nine scholarship players. Retaining Young, who led Oregon with an 18.9 scoring average last year and considered bolting for the NBA draft, was a major accomplishment. He may lead the Pac-12 in scoring. With Loyd gone, the Ducks need to find a point guard and it’ll likely fall to Rorie or Benson. Rorie, the former standout from Tacoma’s Lincoln High, is one of three freshman battling for a starting job, including Benson and Brooks, a four-star forward from Findlay Prep (Nevada). Good health is essential for the Ducks and Chandler, a 6-10 forward juco transfer has yet to practice due to a knee injury. Perhaps preparing for the worse, the Ducks added five walk-ons to the roster. Of course it’s just practice games, but Oregon tallied a a 104-55 victory over Western Oregon and a 101-69 win over Northwest Christian.
Projected starting lineup:
G – Casey Benson
G – Joseph Young
F – Elgin Cook
F – Dillon Brooks
F – Dwayne Benjamin

8. USC
Key losses:
G Byron Wesley (transfer), G Pe’Shon Howard, G J.T. Terrell, C Omar Oraby, C D.J. Haley and G Roschon Prince (transfer)
Key returners: F Nikola Jovanovic, G Julian Jabobs and F Strahinja Gavrilovic
Notable newcomers: PG Jordan McLaughlin, G Katin Reinhardt (sat out last season/transfer), G Elijah Stewart, C Malik Price-Martin, G/F Malik Marquetti and C Jabari Craig
Outlook: The Trojans lost their top four scorers from a team that stumbled through an 11-21 season and finished last in the Pac-12 at 2-16 during his first season. However, coach Andy Enfield assembled a recruiting class ranked 25th nationally and fourth in the Pac-12 by ESPN. His first year at USC was pretty much a disaster, but the Trojans should begin to resemble the ‘Dunk City’ up-tempo attack teams he had at Florida Gulf Coast. Enfield will likely build around McLaughlin, who was considered the No. 1 PG prospect in California. There’s plenty of good young players at USC, including Jovanic and Jacbos. Both appeared in all 32 games last season. Jovanic represented USC at Pac-12 media day and participated with the Pac-12 all-star team that traveled to China. Reinhardt, who transferred from UNLV, can provide scoring. However, losing Wesley, a three-year starter who averaged 17.8 points last season, hurts. He was going to be the only senior on a team that includes at least eight underclassmen.
Projected starting lineup:
G – Jordan McLauhglin
G – Elijah Stewart
G – Katin Reinhardt
F – Malik Price-Martin
F – Nikola Jovanovic

9. California
Key losses:
G Justin Cobbs, F Richard Solomon and G/F Ricky Kreklow.
Key returners: F David Kravish, G Tyrone Wallace, G Jabari Bird, G Jordan Matthews, G Ricky Kreklow, G Sam Singer, F Christian Behrens and C Kameron Rooks (out for year foot injury).
Notable newcomers: F Dwight Tarwarter (transfer), G Brandon Chauca, C Kingsley Okoroh and C Idrissa Diallo.
Outlook: Cal was picked to finish seventh in the Pac-12 media preseason poll, but I’m suspecting there’s going to be some rocky times for the Golden Bears due to the players adjusting to first-year coach Cuonzo Martin. Still, retiring coach Mike Montgomery didn’t leave the cupboard bare. There’s plenty of returning talent from a team that finished 21-14 and 9-7 Pac-12. First and foremost, Martin will have to get the Golden Bears to buy into his defense-first approach. Next, he’ll have to find a point guard to replace Cobbs. Singer should be the heir apparent, but he may struggle on the defensive end and force Martin to rely on Matthews and Wallace to run the offense. It’s not an ideal situation. Kravish, a shot-blocking forward, should do well in Martin’s system. But he’s going to have his hands full if he’s forced top play center. Martin may have to rely on a zone defense and surround Kravish with four guards. Meanwhile Wallace, who averaged 11.3 points last season while shooting well from the floor (43 percent) and three-point arc (32.0) will have a chance to become an all-conference performer. Still, the season may hinge upon Bird shaking off an unspectacular freshman season and emerging into a star.
Projected starting lineup:
G – Jordan Mathews
G – Tyrone Wallace
G – Jabari Bird
F – David Kravish
F – Christian Behrens

10. Arizona State
Key losses:
G Jahii Carson, G Jermaine Marshall and C Jordan Bachynski.
Key returners: G/F Shaquielle McKissic, F Jonathan Gilling, F Eric Jacobsen, F Brandan Kearney, G Bo Barnes and G Egor Koulechov
Notable newcomers: F Savon Goodman (transfer), F Willie Atwood (transfer), PG Tra Holder, PG Kodi Justice, C Connor McDougall, PG Gerry Blakes (transfer) and G/F Roosevelt Scott (transfer).
Outlook: The Sun Devils lost three starters from a team that advanced to the NCAA tournament. They accounted for the bulk of the scoring and rebounding. Despite the losses, coach Herb Sendek was in a pretty good mood at Pac-12 media day a few weeks ago. He said ASU has a good chance at returning to the NCAA tourney. Perhaps he knows something that isn’t obviously apparent. He’ll need immediate contributions from several newcomers. Good news for ASU, Goodman who transferred from UNLV, looks as if he can lead the team in scoring. Bad news, he’s not eligible until Dec. 16. In the meantime, the Sun Devils will have to try and win games with a defense spearheaded by McKissic who started 26 of 32 games last season. The 6-5 senior will be asked to lead the way. Gilling and Jacobsen, both part-time starters, combined to average 10.1 points. Gillling, a 6-7 senior, is versatile and could be a solid player given minutes. At least five newcomers will contend for minutes. Arizona State will need to find a point guard to replace Carson. Holder, Justice and Blakes are candidates to win the job.
Projected starting lineup:
G – Chance Murray
F – Shaquielle McKissic
F – Savon Goodman
F – Jonathan Gilling
C – Eric Jacobsen

11. Washington State
Key losses:
F D.J. Shelton, G Royce Woolridge (transfer) and F Will DiIorio
Key returners: G DaVonte Lacy, G Ike Iroegbu, F Josh Hawkinson, F Junior Longrus, F Dexter Kernich-Drew, G Que Johnson, C Jordan Railey.
Notable newcomers: F Aaron Cheatum (transfer), G Ny Redding and G Trevor Dunbar.
Outlook: New coach Ernie Kent desperately wanted to return to coaching after a five-year layoff, but he accepted a major rebuilding task at Washington State. Last season the Cougars ranked last in the Pac-12 in scoring (62.4 ppg), assists (10.5 apg), rebounds (32.8 rpg) and field goal percentage (.400). Kent will lean heavily on Lacy, who’s going to challenge Young for the Pac-12 scoring title. It may take Kent some time to figure out what he’s got. For instance, few expected Hawkinson, a sophomore who averaged 1.2 points last season, to score 24 in an 88-74 exhibition win over Azusa Pacific. Given that kind of performance, you have to pencil the 6-10 forward from Shoreline High into the starting lineup ahead of Longrus who many considered the projected starter. A lack of size also appears to be a potential problem for the Cougars, which has just two players (Railey and Hawkinson) in the rotation taller than 6-7.
Projected starting lineup:
G – Davonte Lacy
G – Ike Iroegbu
G – Dexter Kernich-Drew
F – Josh Hawkinson
C – Jordan Railey

12. Oregon State
Key losses:
G Roberto Nelson, F Devon Collier, C Angus Brandt, F Eric Moreland (entered NBA draft), G Hallice Cooke (transfer) and G Challe Burton (turned pro).
Key returners: G/F Langston Morris-Walker, G Malcolm Duvivier, G/F Victor Robbins and F Daniel Gomis.
Notable newcomers: G Gary Payton II and SG Chai Baker.
Outlook: The Beavers lost its top five scorers and four starters. That’s a lot to overcome for a team that posted a 16-16 record and went 2-8 in its last 10 games. Morris-Walker is the only returning starter and he was role player who averaged 8.2 points, 2.6 rebounds and 2.5 assists. Still, he may be the best player on a roster loaded with inexperience. Gomis (shoulder) will miss at least a month, incoming freshman center¬†Isaiah Manderson received his release and picked Texas Tech while Baker has been ruled medically ineligible after collapsing in a summer workout. Payton, the son of Sonics and Oregon State legend, could be a bright spot during his first year at his dad’s alma mater. He tallied 10 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, three blocks and two steals in OSU’s exhibition against Division II Western Oregon. However, the Beavers trailed 32-19 at halftime and lost 57-47. It’s going to be a long winter in Corvallis, Ore. But help is on the horizon considering the 2015 recruiting class is ranked among the top 15 in the nation.
Projected starting lineup:
G – Gary Payton II
G – Malcolm Duvivier
G – Langston Morris-Walker
F – Cheikh N’diaye
C – Olaf Schaftenaar

 

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