For the Pac-12, the 2013-14 season was a rebound from a stretch of so-so seasons. Six teams made the NCAA Tournament, with three reaching the Sweet 16. A record eight teams won at least 20 games. As a whole, the conference was as competitive as it’s ever been, with five teams tying for third place.
And yet, if you think the Pac-12 has entered some new halcyon days, you might want to stop right there. The conference is in a bit of flux right now, especially when you look at the coaching ranks and, correspondingly, how teams are trending.
To be sure, Arizona and UCLA are trending upward, although UCLA is losing three players early to the NBA Draft. Colorado appears to be in a good place as well, although the early departure of Spencer Dinwiddie to the NBA Draft might knock back their potential for next season. Stanford appears to be trending upward, as does Utah, even if only slightly so. But from there, things get murky.
Since the season ended, California, Oregon State and Washington State have all changed coaches. Mike Montgomery retired, while the latter two schools fired their leaders, the former coming at a strange time in early May right after the staff had been out recruiting during the only weekend the NCAA approved for Division I coaches this spring. California hired a proven replacement in Cuonzo Martin, who succeeded when basically nobody wanted him to at Tennessee, and the Golden Bears have been in a good place of late as well.
Beyond that, Oregon has been a haven for graduate transfers, so their personnel is almost inherently unstable of late. Then on the same day Robinson was fired by arch-rival Oregon State, the Ducks suspended three players, at least one of whom is leaving the school. Arizona State finally got back to the NCAA Tournament but is losing a great deal from this season’s team. In addition, Washington has been trending downward for a while despite having good talent, although injuries were a big part of the explanation for that in 2013-14.
The Pac-12 has recruited well, so there will be good talent. Newcomers will have to play key roles right away as only four of the 15 All-Pac-12 selections will return next season.
The tournament opened with Utah handling Washington 67-61 and Colorado edging USC 59-56, then Oregon beat arch-rival Oregon State 88-74 and Stanford beat Washington State 74-63. The first day was the only day of the tournament not to be sold out.
Arizona drubbed Utah 71-39 in the first quarterfinal, then Colorado beat California by the same 59-56 score they beat USC by a day earlier. UCLA handled Oregon 82-63, then Stanford blew out Arizona State 79-58 in what was thought to be a potential bubble team elimination game. In the end both teams made the NCAA Tournament.
Both semifinals were blowouts, with Arizona beating Colorado 63-43 and UCLA beating Stanford 84-59. That set up a championship game that was highly anticipated and lived up to its billing. It was a dramatic game played at a fast pace and with just 15 combined turnovers. But a few late turnovers helped turn a close game in UCLA’s favor, and the Bruins made a few more plays down the stretch to become champions with a 75-71 win over the Wildcats.
Player of the Year: Nick Johnson, Arizona
Rookie of the Year: Aaron Gordon, Arizona
Coach of the Year: Sean Miller, Arizona
Defensive Player of the Year: Jordan Bachynski, Arizona State
Most Improved Player: Anthony Brown, Stanford
All-Conference Team (the conference names a 10-man first team)
Jordan Adams, So. G, UCLA
Kyle Anderson Jr., So. F, UCLA
Jahii Carson, So. G, Arizona State
Justin Cobbs, Sr. G, California
Aaron Gordon, Fr. F, Arizona
Nick Johnson, Jr. G, Arizona
Dwight Powell, Sr. F, Stanford
Chasson Randle, Jr. G, Stanford
Josh Scott, So. F-C, Colorado
Delon Wright, Jr. G, Utah
- Three teams made the Sweet 16, with Arizona reaching the Elite 8
- Arizona won the NIT Season Tip-Off
- Eight teams won at least 20 games, a conference record
What we expected, and it happened: Arizona was back among the nation’s elite teams. The injury to Brandon Ashley hurt the team’s depth, but the Wildcats were still right there for a Final Four berth.
What we expected, and it didn’t happen: Oregon State wasn’t in the discussion for an NCAA Tournament bid. The Beavers had good talent and experience, but bad defense sunk them as they went 8-10 and had to settle for a CBI bid.
What we didn’t expect, and it happened: Washington struggled, although injuries that decimated the frontcourt go a long way toward explaining that. The Huskies had a nice backcourt with freshman Nigel Williams-Goss and senior C.J. Wilcox, but they didn’t have much help up front.
Team(s) on the rise: Utah. Larry Krystkowiak has the Utes poised to be an NCAA Tournament team next season with only three players – two of them bit players and another who is not irreplaceable – gone from this season’s team.
Team(s) on the decline: Oregon State. This was supposed to be a year where the Beavers broke through for an NCAA Tournament bid at last. Now they will have no starters returning and a new coach.
2014-15 Conference Outlook
The Pac-12 will be hard-pressed to match this season’s overall success at first glance. While Arizona still figures to be among the nation’s elite and UCLA and Colorado should still be pretty good, the latter two should take an initial step back and there aren’t many others that look like elite teams at first glance. Many teams just behind them, like Oregon and Arizona State, are losing a great deal of production and are harder to project.
USC was 2-16 this past season and lost Byron Wesley to a transfer and Pe’Shon Howard to graduation. However, they have a good class of freshmen and will be more experienced next season, so the Trojans should at least be better. Oregon State and Washington State, on the other hand, are more open questions with new coaches coming in.
The Pac-12 will surely be a difficult conference to project come the fall. It’s just about impossible right now given the flux it’s currently in.