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2016-17 Pac-12 Post-Mortem

June 22, 2017 Conference Notes No Comments

The Pac-12 of 2016-17 was not the Pac-12 of the year prior, most notably in its lack of depth. Whereas a year earlier, it was a conference of tremendous balance and top-to-bottom strength, this year the story was one of a big divide between the best and the worst. This played out by just about any metric you could use.

Looking at the standings, the top three teams were separated by a game, then fourth-place Utah was five games behind third-place UCLA. Washington and Oregon State combined to win just three games, with the next two teams up in the standings finishing four games ahead of them. There was not a single team that finished .500 (9-9) in conference play as well.

The RPI ratings tell a similar story. Far from the 2015-16 season, when only one team had an RPI with three digits, the Pac-12 placed three teams in the top 20 and two teams with RPIs of 200 or higher. Only seven teams had an RPI with two digits.

You could look at the postseason as well. Four teams made the NCAA Tournament, and each team won at least two games; Oregon made it to the Final Four. Three teams made the NIT, and all of them bowed out in the first round, with Cal and Utah dropping home games.

Of course, that postseason performance was big, as the Pac-12 was one of two conferences to place three teams in the Sweet 16 (the SEC was the other). Oregon ultimately fulfilled the preseason expectations many had of them after a non-conference run that was somewhat non-descript. There, they looked good, but not exactly Final Four material. Once Dillon Brooks was fully healthy, they looked like the team they were expected to be. The only question was how they would manage without Chris Boucher when he tore his ACL before the NCAA Tournament, and as valuable as he was, the Ducks made a run without him, a terrific job of regrouping and another example of how good a coach Dana Altman is.

After the season, there were two coaching changes. It was not surprising that Washington parted ways with Lorenzo Romar, though he had a long run with some success at his alma mater. The Huskies had slumped in recent years, bottoming out this year, and long-time Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins was hired to take his place. The less expected change was Cuonzo Martin leaving Cal the day after the Golden Bears were eliminated from the NIT to take the same job at Missouri. The school promoted assistant Wyking Jones to the top spot, so both new head coaches in the conference come by way of an assistant coaching job.

Interestingly, Romar resurfaced in the conference a short time later, as Sean Miller hired him as an assistant at Arizona. His recruiting prowess means the Wildcats’ already great recruiting should only get better.

Next year’s Pac-12 could look quite different from this year’s. A lot of teams in the top half will look very different, as will teams at the bottom, both from defections and with the return of players lost due to injury this past season. There are some real questions as to the direction of several programs as well, and we’ll get a better idea with next season.

Final Standings

Arizona State
Washington State
Oregon State

Conference Tournament

Only two games in the conference tournament were won by the lower seed, and neither was an earth-shattering upset. The first round was all chalk in four close games, with No. 8 Arizona State beating No. 9 Stanford 98-88 in overtime, No. 5 Cal topping No. 12 Oregon State 67-62, No. 7 Colorado knocking off No. 10 Washington State 73-63 and No. 6 USC ending No. 11 Washington’s season with a 78-73 win.

The quarterfinals had a couple of dandies. It started with a blowout, as No. 1 Oregon manhandled Arizona State 80-57, then No. 5 Cal edged No. 4 Utah 78-75 to keep their own NCAA Tournament hopes alive for another day. No. 2 Arizona knocked off No. 7 Colorado 92-78, then No. 3 UCLA edged No. 6 USC 76-74 in a game that was all you could want from this cross-town rivalry.

Neither semifinal was a blowout, but they weren’t quite nail-biters. Oregon held off Cal 73-65, the last quality win opportunity for the Golden Bears, then Arizona beat UCLA 86-75.

That set up the championship game, the one everyone surely wanted. It was a great game between the conference’s two best teams, and Oregon tried to beat Arizona for a third time this season. It didn’t happen, though, as tournament Most Oustanding Player Allonzo Trier led the Wildcats to an 83-80 win to take home their second tournament title in three years.

Postseason Awards
Player of the Year: Dillon Brooks, Oregon
Rookie of the Year: Lonzo Ball, UCLA
Coach of the Year: Sean Miller, Arizona
Defensive Player of the Year: Jordan Bell, Oregon

All-Pac-12 Team
Bryce Alford, Sr. G, UCLA
Lonzo Ball, Fr. G, UCLA
Dillon Brooks, Jr. G, Oregon
Markelle Fultz, Fr. G, Washington
Kyle Kuzma, Jr. F, Utah
T.J. Leaf, Fr. F, UCLA
Lauri Markkanen, Fr. F, Arizona
Ivan Rabb, So. F-C, Cal
Reid Travis, Jr. F, Stanford
Derrick White, Sr. G, Colorado

Season Highlights

  • Oregon became the first Pac-12 team since UCLA in 2008 to reach the Final Four.
  • For the fourth straight year, a Pac-12 team has reached the Elite Eight, the only conference in the country to accomplish that.
  • Three Pac-12 teams made the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament.
  • UCLA freshman Lonzo Ball led the nation in assists.
  • Oregon set a new conference record for blocked shots in a season.
  • UCLA set a new conference record for three-pointers made with 354.
  • Cal’s Ivan Rabb and Washington State’s Josh Hawkinson both averaged a double-double.

What we expected, and it happened: Oregon was one of the teams to beat, although it was not a smooth ride at first. The Ducks won the regular season title, though Arizona took home the tournament title, and Oregon led most of the way.

What we expected, and it didn’t happen: Oregon State was expected to be among those pushing the Ducks, especially after what they did last year. Instead, the Beavers were decimated by injuries and won just one conference game.

What we didn’t expect, and it happened: Washington struggled mightily to win games. While it was known before the season that the Huskies were not loaded alongside Markelle Fultz, most expected a little better than a 2-16 Pac-12 showing and just nine wins overall.

Team(s) on the rise: USC. Andy Enfield did a great job coaching this team after a couple of unexpected personnel losses, and this time around they aren’t losing anyone they didn’t expect to. With Jordan McLaughlin, Bennie Boatright and Chimezie Metu leading the way (the latter two bypassing the NBA Draft), the Trojans could contend for the conference title next year.

Team(s) on the decline: Cal. The Golden Bears were a borderline NCAA Tournament team, which is about what was expected for them, but they will be a completely different team next year. Besides the seniors who depart, Ivan Rabb and Charlie Moore are also gone, and Cuonzo Martin left to take the head coaching job at Missouri a day after they were eliminated in the NIT by a No. 8 seed at home. New head coach Wyking Jones appears to have a challenge ahead of himself next season.


2017-18 Pac-12 Outlook

As mentioned earlier, the standings could look quite different next year. However, one team that has been a fixture at or near the top should be there again.

Arizona will bring back Allonzo Trier, who didn’t even declare for the draft, and Rawle Alkins. Despite significant personnel losses, the Wildcats will have plenty of talent and experience again, especially with DeAndre Ayton leading the newcomers. USC looks like the best bet to push them, as this time around the Trojans were not bit by the early entry bug the way they have been in other seasons.

After that, there are more questions than answers. UCLA and Oregon will each look very different, though they will still have talent. Utah and Cal look primed to take a step back, with the Golden Bears sustaining big personnel losses and having a new coach, and Colorado loses their two best players in Derrick White and Xavier Johnson. Arizona State and Stanford, meanwhile, are getting better, but are they ready to make a jump in the standings? With the Cardinal, a bit question is the health of Reid Travis, the only All-Pac-12 player who will return next year.

The team near the bottom to watch is Oregon State. The Beavers were not supposed to fall back like they did this year, but injuries had a great deal to do with that. If healthy, the Beavers should at least be in the top half of the conference, especially since Stephen Thompson Jr. opted to return to school.

The other open question is just how good the conference will be as a whole. The last two years have been something of a roller coaster, but several schools have recruited very well.

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