PROJECTED ORDER OF FINISH:

1. Arizona 

STRENGTHS: Talent level. Athleticism. Wing depth.

The addition of DeAndre Ayton alone should make Arizona a Final Four contender, but Sean Miller has surrounded him with a bevy of athletic wings, and this team should be more similar to the outstanding 2014-15 Wildcats than Miller’s last few teams. As a hyper-athletic 7-footer with a ridiculous wingspan, Ayton should immediately improve what was an uncharacteristically mediocre (for Miller’s standards) interior defense. Both the 2PT percentage defense and block rate for the Wildcats last season were the worst of Miller’s tenure since his first two seasons in Tucson. Miller’s wing corps around the mobile Ayton is deep and talented. Two more stud freshmen, Ira Lee and Emmanuel Akbot figure to slot in as hybrid 3/4s. Lee is an athletic slasher while Akbot can play anywhere from 2-4 with plus passing and ball skills on the perimeter. The frontcourt also returns highly efficient low post scorer Dusan Ristic. Ristic is extremely skilled around the rim, but he’s a net loss defensively (Arizona was +.07 points per possession better on the defensive end when he was off the floor, per HoopLens), and doesn’t rebound well for his 7-foot frame. Keanu Pinder gives Miller a secondary defensive big when the lineup dictates it. Miller’s depth at the 2/3 is outstanding, with returnees Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins (due back by December) being bolstered by UNC Asheville transfer Dylan Smith and freshman Brandon Randolph. Randolph, when cleared from concussion symptoms, can open up the floor for the outstanding rim attacking 6-foot-5 duo of Trier and Alkins, two wings who epitomize the “positionless” basketball revolution. Both are capable shooters, ball handlers, and relentless penetrators. Smith is yet another athletic 6-foot-5 2/3 hybrid who can shoot and slash, and brings defensive tenacity to the perimeter (when his suspension is lifted). Parker Jackson-Cartwright will be running the show as the nominal point guard, but with the ball handling ability of Trier and Alkins, he can also slide off the ball as a steady perimeter threat. Alex Barcello is yet another freshman perimeter option who can play 1-3 as a much-needed shot maker.

WEAKNESSES: Too much. Perhaps inconsistent perimeter shooting? Looming FBI investigation rumors from the Adidas scandal?

It’s not that Arizona can’t shoot, as they hit at the nation’s 19th best percentage and 40 percent in league play. It’s more that the 3 simply wasn’t a large part of the offense. With an embrace of “pace and space” basketball, the Wildcat offense should be more spread out and versatile this year.

SCHEME: Miller runs a motion-based offense concentrated on attacking the rim, and defensively he runs an outstanding pack line principled scheme that is one of the best in the country in terms of forcing two-point jump shots. Looks at the rim (again, last year was an aberration), open 3-point shots and transition opportunities are virtually non existent when Miller’s squad defends the way he wants them to. With this team’s elite length and athleticism, look for Arizona to return as one of the premier defensive teams in the country.

OUTLOOK: Assuming nothing comes from the reported ties to the Adidas scandal, anything short of Miller’s first Final Four is likely viewed by the Wildcat faithful as a disappointment. That’s how loaded this team is.


2. USC

STRENGTHS: Depth. Experience.

USC is absolutely loaded. With everyone of note returning from last year’s tournament squad and the addition of former five-star Duke recruit Derryck Thornton, Andy Enfield has a Final Four contender on his hands (although the dark Adidas cloud hangs over the Trojan program as well). While Enfield’s roster is loaded with underclassmen talent, the heart and soul of the Trojans is the senior backcourt duo of Jordan McLaughlin and Elijah Stewart. McLaughlin has become one of the steadiest PGs in the league with outstanding penetration ability coupled with a plus jump shot (which he has worked hard to develop, as he didn’t come to USC as a natural shooter). Stewart, meanwhile, is a versatile defender and a plus shooter off of McLaughlin’s penetration. A pair of sophomores off the ball offer a plethora of upside on both ends of the floor. De’Anthony Melton proved to be one of the best all-around defenders in the league last year, posting the league’s top steal rate and 12th-highest block rate. While Melton is an athletic penetrator and plus distributor as a secondary ball handler to McLaughlin, fellow soph Jonah Mathews (Jordan’s brother) has potential to be a lethal volume shooter on the perimeter as an outlet from the constant backcourt penetration of his teammates. He’s also one of the better perimeter defenders in the backcourt. Thornton, meanwhile, allows Enfield to actually give McLaughlin a rest, and can set up dual PG sets when they’re on the floor together. The frontcourt is just as loaded as the backcourt, with 6-foot-10 matchup nightmare Bennie Boatwright leading the way. Boatwright is a lethal offensive threat as a stretch 4 on the perimeter. Boatwright can shoot and handle the basketball from anywhere on the floor, but his defensive game is a different story. HoopLens paints the picture pretty well, as the Trojans scored at 1.18 points per possession when he was on the floor and 1.09 when he was off. Unfortunately, opposing offenses scored at 1.12 ppp when he was on the defensive end and just 1.03 when he was on the bench/injured. He’s also a poor rebounder for his size, but part of that can be chalked up to his role in Enfield’s zone defense. Chimezie Metu is the anchor of that zone, but his block rate and overall defense and rebounding ability (again, potentially deterred by scheme) didn’t really grade out as well as you would expect given his height/athleticism combo. Nevertheless, he’s an improving talent on both ends and the anchor of the frontcourt. Louisville transfer Shaqquan Aaron saw a diminished role as the season progressed, and with highly-touted freshmen Chuck O’Bannon and Jordan Usher coming in as highly skilled 3/basket facing 4s, his minutes likely won’t rebound. Victor Uyaelunmo is another freshman addition who projects as a major rim protector in limited minutes, while Nick Rakocevic earned Enfield’s trust as a tenacious rebounder on both ends when Boatwright was hurt. The Uyaelunmo/Rakocevic duo could serve as offense for defense substitutions in certain scenarios.

WEAKNESSES: Defense. Rebounding. Adidas scandal.

Simply put, Boatwright probably will never be a plus defender, and Metu is still learning on the job, so I’m not sure Enfield will stray from the 2-3, even with the influx of NBA-ready talent. The zone certainly takes a toll on the defensive rebounding, though, where the Trojans really struggled last year. Additionally, Melton is the alleged focus of the FBI probe into USC, and he didn’t participate in offseason scrimmages, which is fairly ominous for his status to start the year. That would be a huge loss for USC, particularly defensively.

SCHEME: Enfield’s up-tempo, quick-hitting transition offense made famous at Dunk City should officially take flight this year, while the ubiquitous 2-3 zone likely remains unless Boatwright and especially Metu have made significant gains as individual defenders.

OUTLOOK: Talent wise, the Trojans are a Final Four contender, but the defense and off the court issues could drastically lower their ceiling.


3. Oregon

STRENGTHS: Coaching.

Few teams lost as much firepower as the Ducks, but Dana Altman brought in a bevy of grad transfer talent along with a stud freshman to keep Oregon near the top of the Pac-12. Payton Pritchard at the point is the only returning Duck of note from last year’s Final Four team. Pritchard should be ready to catapult into a massive role as a sophomore as a penetrating lead guard with a plus jump shot. He’ll have high-scoring New Mexico grad transfer Elijah Brown as his running mate in the backcourt. Brown is an uber penetrator and pure scorer with an outstanding jump shot and an ability to handle the basketball as well. The dual ball handling ability of Pritchard and Brown should open up the floor for frosh Troy Brown, a 6-foot-7 slasher who can handle the rock himself and lead the break in transition. Brown could have a massive one-and-done year in Altman’s NBA schemed offense. Victor Bailey Jr. is the most athletic addition to the backcourt, and he should see immediate minutes with the dearth of proven scoring options outside of the elder Brown, while another highly-touted frosh in Abu Kigab could see help on the glass and defensively as an athletic 6-foot-6 wing. MiKyle McIntosh comes in at the 4 as a perfect fit in Altman’s various defensive trapping schemes. McIntosh is long and athletic and was a defensive menace at Illinois State. His offensive game, however, is a bit limited. He’s an efficient finisher at the rim, especially trailing in transition, and he’s a plus passer out of the post, but he doesn’t have the stretch capabilities so common out of today’s 4, and limits the floor spacing that was a key component of Altman’s offense last year. Altman has several options at the 5 between frosh Kenny Wooten, Georgetown transfer Paul White, and redshirt freshman MJ Cage. Of the three, Wooten profiles as the most likely to provide a reasonable facsimile of the athleticism that Jordan Bell brought to the frontcourt, but Cage and White have the benefit of a year learning Altman’s system in practice. Senior Roman Sorkin will also be a factor in the frontcourt rotation, but I expect Wooten to eventually command the most minutes based on his sheer athleticism, and Altman’s center is expected to cover a lot of court on the back end of his traps.

WEAKNESSES: Proven scoring. Lack of experience in intricate defensive scheme.

The addition of Elijah Brown was a huge score for Altman, as he’s the only proven bucket getter on the team, so I’m more concerned about the new faces adjusting to Altman’s shifting defensive schemes.

SCHEME: Offensively, Altman has been known for his ability to exploit mismatches on the perimeter, and giving his talent the opportunity to thrive in the offense by not “overcoaching”. He’s a master at teaching his guys how to exploit attack alleys, and offense off ball screens can be initiated by his wings, not just on ball guards. Spacing might be a little bit of an issue with a proven stretch candidate, but the Browns should thrive in this system. Defensively, Altman is one of my favorite schemers. He consistently keeps opposing offenses off balance by seamlessly blending man, matchup and pressure zones, and a trapping 1-2-2.

OUTLOOK: Don’t sleep on the Ducks this year. Yes, the personnel losses were heavy, but Altman’s the best coach in the league by a comfortable margin, and he has simply reloaded in Eugene. A second-place finish and playing into the second weekend is certainly a reachable ceiling for this team.


4. UCLA

STRENGTHS: Incoming talent. Backcourt. Offensive explosiveness.

While there’s no replacing Lonzo Ball, one of the best point guards I’ve personally ever seen in college basketball, Steve Alford does have two five-star recruits coming in, and the backcourt of Jaylen Hands and Aaron Holiday is more than enough to keep the Bruins relevant on the national scene this year. Hands is an elite point guard prospect with a long wingspan for his 6-foot-3 frame. Highlights show off an outstanding ability to see the court (not quite Lonzo-esque, but who is?) and attack the rim in transition. Paired with the otherworldly explosiveness of Holiday, the Bruin backcourt should once again be one of the best in the country, especially with Prince Ali back in the fold this year. Hands and Holiday can work off each other as dual point guards, in a penetrate-and-kick heavy halfcourt scenario. Kris Wilkes (who I was fortunate enough to see several times at North Central in Indy) is the other five-star freshman addition for Alford, and he’ll thrive as an explosive playmaking wing in Alford’s transition offense. Thomas Welsh returns at the 5 as the country’s most dominant mid-range big. Welsh scores in the mid-range and baseline like he’s playing pop-a-shot, and he has steadily improved as a rim protector and rebounder. Gyorgy Goloman provides much-needed frontcourt depth.

WEAKNESSES: Depth (especially considering the latest news). Defense. Halfcourt offense.

Of course I have to mention the shoplifting incident in China. It’s unclear how that will play out, but outside of North Korea, China is probably the worst place in the world for LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill to have done this. I have no idea what the status of those three going forward is, but Hill and Riley were going to be relied upon heavily as explosive freshmen in the frontcourt. Alford could potentially have even less depth than last year, when he basically had none. Additionally, this team figures to give up points in bunches, similar to last year’s team, and when Hands and Wilkes aren’t in transition, the offense might look a little wonky.

SCHEME: Showtime Lakers offensively, Byron Scott coached Lakers defensively. The offense was lethal in transition with Ball at the helm, and Hands can continue that, but defensively the same issues (inability to contain dribble penetration in man-to-man) can continue as well. Alford’s most reliable zones have been his 3-2 and a 1-2-2 with an athletic 4 at the top (although it was often Ball as the “one” last year). Can Wilkes play that role this year?

OUTLOOK: The Bruins were projecting to be a volatile squad, even pre-international incident. The talent is there for a 4 or 5 seed, but the floor is low enough that even a double-digit seed is possible.


5. Arizona State

STRENGTHS: Deep and talented backcourt.

Bobby Hurley’s squad in Tempe should be one of the more improved teams in the league, and will likely be battling for an at-large bid if his frontcourt additions can give him even a modicum of interior production. Hurley will utilize four-out perimeter sets (and at times even vacant post sets) with a backcourt led by Shannon Evans (who notched 50 in ASU’s last exhibition game), Kodi Justice, Tra Holder and Remy Martin. Evans, Holder,and the freshman Martin are all ball handlers who can penetrate and fill it up from outside, while Justice is a deadly volume shooter on the wing who hit 46 percent of his 3-pointers in league play last year. That tetrad could post one of the nation’s highest 3-point attempt rates, and Hurley will likely push the pace and an even faster tempo with three ball handlers leading the way. Add in highly-touted stretch 4 Kimani Lawrence as a floor spacer that can open things up for that ball handling trio, and the ASU offense has the potential to be one of the more explosive units in the country. Hurley will be relying heavily on two newcomers to shore up a nonexistent frontcourt. Romello White projects to have a massive year as the “one” in Hurley’s four-out lineup. Think Jordan Washington at Iona when you think of White’s potential numbers this year, as he’ll work against single post defenders all game, every game. De’Quon Lake provides much-needed rim protection out of the JUCO ranks this year. Hurley will have even more firepower at his disposal when Ohio State transfer and four-star wing Mickey Mitchell is eligible in December.

WEAKNESSES: Interior defense. Rebounding.

Again, ASU was horrific defending at the rim and rebounding on both ends last year. The plan obviously is for White and Lake to shore those areas up, but both are unproven at the D1 level, and White is currently suspended, with his status moving forward still up in the air (he is expected to be back, though). If they’re not the answers Hurley is looking forward, this team has many of the same problems as last year.

SCHEME: Offensively Hurley has fully embraced small ball and rolls out a bevy of quick, sharp shooting guards. While that was a winning formula in the MAC, it’s hard to get by without a frontcourt in the Pac-12, and Hurley had to use a lot of zone last year to compensate on the other end. If White and Lake are the real deal down low, Hurley can be much more aggressive with his guards defensively, but the Sun Devils still project to be a bottom half defense again.

OUTLOOK: Evans, Holder and Martin as a three-headed point guard attack is going to be exciting basketball, and if White and Lake shore up the frontcourt even remotely, this is an NCAA Tournament team.


6. Stanford

STRENGTHS: Talent/length upgrade in backcourt/wing. Grown man frontcourt.

Jerod Haase has one of the better Pac-12 recruiting classes coming in, and it should bolster the Cardinal backcourt, which has seemingly been an issue for years, predating Haase’s arrival. Playmaking combo guard Daejon Davis was the big coup for Haase, as he snagged him from Washington when Lorenzo Romar was dismissed. Davis can play off the ball with incumbent point guard Robert Cartwright or on it as dribble drive motion offense initiator from the top of the key. Freshman combo guard Isaac White doesn’t have the recruiting pedigree of Davis or Cartwright, but he’s probably going to be the best shooter out of the backcourt this year. Haase suddenly has a deep wing corps at his disposal, and it’s a perfect blend of veterans and freshmen talent. Dorien Pickens returns as the only consistent volume shooter from the perimeter along with athletic “point-forward” Marcus Sheffield, while KZ Okpala, Kodye Pugh and Oscar Da Silva should all see regular minutes at the 3/4. Okpala and Da Silva are long, athletic wings at 6-foot-8 and 6-foot-9, respectively, while Pugh is something of stretch 4 and a strong rebounder. The heart of the Cardinal lies in the frontcourt with Reid Travis and Michael Humphrey. Travis is one of the most efficient block scorers in the league, while Humphrey is a slightly better defender of the two. Both are among the best overall rebounders in the league, and probably the best offensive rebounding duo. Interestingly, Haase only played them together on roughly 700 possessions, but when he did, it was the most effective Cardinal lineup, as they scored at 1.09 points per possession. What makes Haase’s reluctance to play together even more baffling is that he comes from the Roy Williams tree and his sturdy dual big, high low scheme.

WEAKNESSES: Defense. Perimeter shooting. Rebounding.

Stanford did one thing well defensively in Haase’s first year, and that was generate turnovers, as the Cardinal led the Pac-12 in defensive turnover rate. Other than that, they were below average in league play in pretty much every defensive statistical category. Additionally, Stanford didn’t rebound their misses like a typical Haase team, which was a staple of his UAB teams. Pickens was the only consistent perimeter threat last year, and the freshman White appears to be the only help in that regard this year.

SCHEME: Haase is a man-to-man coach defensively, so the Johnny Dawkins amoeba zone was largely cast to the side last year. I mentioned Haase is a Roy Williams disciple, and he blends in a lot of the dual big action that was synonymous with KU/UNC basketball, and ubiquitous crashing of the offensive glass.

OUTLOOK: Haase has an interesting blend of a previous regime’s seniors and his own stellar recruiting class. The veterans don’t necessarily mesh with Haase’s preferred style, so it will be interesting to see how he juggles this roster. Talent wise, the Cardinal are an at-large team. Realistically, I think the defense and perimeter shooting both struggle again, and Stanford is on the wrong side of the bubble on Selection Sunday.


7. Utah

STRENGTHS: Balance.

The Utes have a solid dual PG backcourt and a solid frontcourt centered around David Collette. Outside of that, Larry Krystkowiak has some major question marks. Justin Bibbins comes in from Long Beach State to pair with Sedrick Barefield in dual ball handler backcourt. Bibbins is  a pure “pass first” point, which means Barefield can focus more on being the Utes’ resident sharpshooter. In the paint, Collette returns as an efficient finisher at the rim, aided by Tyler Rawson at the 4, who was an undervalued  big to big passer and smooth operator out of the high post. 7-footer Jayce Johnson is a developing frontcourt commodity as a rebounder and rim protector, especially if he can stay on the floor.

WEAKNESSES: Wing play.

Gabe Bealer and undersized spot shooters Parker Van Dyke and Jake Connor make up a fairly underwhelming wing corps, but freshman Donnie Tillman brings upside if he can pick up Coach K the Younger’s schemes on both ends.  He was a factor in the Utes’ tour of Spain.

SCHEME: Base flex motion and paint touch offense with a mix of man-to-man and well-masked matchup zone defensively. The tricky matchup zone is effective in limiting clean looks at the rim while also shutting down the 3-point line, leaving two-point jumps as the only option, and the Utes have always been very strong rebounding the misses under Krystokwiak.

OUTLOOK: Probably not enough firepower offensively for the Utes to make it to the dance as an at-large, but they’ll be a tough out nightly in the Pac-12.


8. Oregon State

STRENGTHS:  Return to good health. Wings.

Last year was a total disaster for Wayne Tinkle and the Beavers, as injuries to Tres Tinkle and Stephen Thompson completely derailed the season before it even began. Without Tinkle and Thompson, the OSU posted 0.92 points per possession in Pac-12 play. Only Rutgers was worse offensively among the power conference, and the Beaver defense wasn’t far behind, allowing 1.16 ppp. The return of Tinkle and Thompson gives OSU two much-needed perimeter threats, and they’re Tinkle’s best defenders as well. Tinkle particularly is a matchup headache with his ability to play on the perimeter at 6-foot-8, exploiting opposing 3s in the post and winning matchups vs. 4s on the perimeter. He also opens up space for returning big man Drew Eubanks, who was the lone bright spot for OSU last year. Eubanks turned into an efficient back-to-the-basket scorer and rim protector on the other end despite seeing consistent double teams. With Tinkle and Thompson back, he’ll have a far easier path to offense this year. Ben Kone, UMass grad transfer Seth Berger and Gligorije Rakocevic can all log minutes at the 5, which would allow Tinkle to move his son to the 3 and Eubanks to the 4, which in turn could pose some matchup problems for opposing defenses. The backcourt will be bolstered by the addition of Ethan Thompson (Stephen’s brother). Thompson instantly becomes the best off-ball scorer for the Beavers in the backcourt.

WEAKNESSES: Point guard play.

Kendal Manuel should have the inside track to consistent minutes on the ball, but he and JaQuori McLaughlin had major issues as ball handlers, as few teams had a higher turnover rate than the Beavers.  Neither improved the offense when they were on the floor, and both graded out as poor defenders, per HoopLens.

SCHEME: Tinkle reportedly wants to play at a faster pace this year with his wing corps returning and the addition of Ethan Thompson. Defensively, Tinkle loves to utilize a 1-3-1 zone that has been effective in the past, both in Corvallis and Missoula.

OUTLOOK: The Beavers should see one of the biggest turnarounds in D1 this year, and an NIT bid is well within reason.


9. Colorado

STRENGTHS: Transition attack. Backcourt/wing depth. Improved chemistry.

While Tad Boyle has three seniors to anchor his Buffs this year, a talented freshman class is the future of the program, and this should be viewed as something of a transition year. George King will be the alpha scorer as a relentless wing attack, especially in transition, as Boyle loves to push off opposing misses. Dom Collier is looking to have a bounceback season as an off-ball shooter after he struggled when removed from the point, while Tory Miller-Stewart returns as a solid senior rebounder and capable interior presence. The backcourt will receive a shot in the arm with the addition of point guard McKinley Wright, who should start immediately. Boyle has been effusive in his praise of the former Dayton commit. Namon Wright comes in from Missouri as 6-foot-5 veteran wing, but he could be battling freshman D’Shawn Schwartz for minutes. Schwartz is a prototypical do-it-all hybrid forward. Deleon Brown should also see a role increase on the wing as a sophomore as a potential perimeter threat.

WEAKNESSES: Frontcourt.

Boyle will almost certainly roll with a four-out scheme, and potentially even an entirely vacant post at times, as the frontcourt play is a major concern. Lucas Siewert is probably the best option at the 5, but his defense and rebounding need to improve dramatically. Dallas Walton is the highest ranked of the frontcourt additions as a redshirt freshman, while 6-foot-7 Alex Strating is another option in a smaller lineup.

SCHEME: Boyle has always been a coach that looks to push in transition off the defensive glass, but this team looks to be one of his worst rebounding teams of his tenure in Boulder. In the halfcourt, Boyle uses a lot of motion principles – mostly motion post action and side pick-and-roll for the guards. Defensively, Boyle likes to disrupt on the perimeter by trapping on ball screens (Collier is particularly effective at this.)

OUTLOOK: Again, this looks to be rebuilding year for the Buffs, but a trio of seniors around Wright at the point should keep them at least competitive in a weaker Pac-12.


10. Washington

STRENGTHS: Length. Athleticism.

The strengths of the Huskies listed above are going to be a perfect fit for Mike Hopkins’ 2-3 Syracuse zone that relies on versatile length to disrupt on the perimeter. Hopkins is of course a long time Boeheim assistant and will immediately implement the active zone in Seattle. Hopkins was able to convince Noah Dickerson to stay, and he and Sam Timmins (and versatile 4 star 3/4 Hamier Wright) will anchor the back end of the zone, with Dickerson being the focal point of the interior offense.  The starters around Dickerson are likely David Crisp on the ball, four-star frosh Jaylen Nowell running off him, and junior wings Matisse Thybulle and Dominic Green.  Along with sophomore wing Carlos Johnson, that unit should be able to score, but Thybulle is the only known defensive quantity, and while they have length and athleticism, that doesn’t guarantee success within the zone.

WEAKNESSES: Team defense. Rebounding.

Excluding the freshman Nowell, this year’s projected starters surrendered points at a laughably bad 1.28 points per possession when on the floor together, per HoopLens. Now that stat comes via just 300 possessions, and it was in a totally different scheme (Lorenzo Romar’s “aggressive” man-to-man), but it certainly doesn’t portend an immediate turnaround in an entirely different and more complicated scheme. To wit, Hopkins is already tinkering with the zone after St. Marten’s hit an absurd 18 of 34 3-point attempts in an exhibition game.  Additionally, UW was a bad rebounding team in man last year. I shudder to think how poorly this team will rebound out of the zone.

SCHEME: Ball screen heavy motion offense and of course the 2-3 zone.

OUTLOOK: The defense will likely be a train wreck for the first two months, but things could click down the stretch (3-point bombing Belmont is about as unideal of a first opponent as UW could have scheduled).


11. California

STRENGTHS: Frontcourt. Scheme continuity. Rebounding.

Wyking Jones takes over for Cuonzo Martin and has a large scale rebuild on his hands, but he clearly intends to continue Martin’s stout man-to-man defense that denies everything at the rim and in transition, chasing shooters off the 3-point line into a massive frontcourt. That frontcourt will be anchored by Kentucky transfer Marcus Lee and 7-foot-1 shot swatter supreme Kingsley Okoroh. Lee and Okoroh will also be the focal point of the offense as well, as the backcourt/wing pieces around them are extremely young. The offense under Martin was tedious even with high level talent, so I expect the same from the Jones era, with the best offense likely being Lee and Okoroh grabbing misses for putbacks.

WEAKNESSES: Backcourt experience. Offense.

Don Coleman likely starts for Jones in the backcourt simply by virtue of being the only veteran presence, but I would suspect Deschon Winston and Darius McNeill eventually both start as dual freshmen point guards, with a third frosh – either sharpshooter Justice Sueing or Juhwan Harris-Dyson (although Sueing is still recovering from a stress fracture). Regardless, this offense should struggle mightily.

SCHEME: Man-to-man defense that relies on never having to double in the post thanks to the stout interior defense of Lee and Okoroh, which in turn allows them to stay at home on shooters instead of collapsing down on penetration – essentially a carbon copy of Martin’s defense. Offensively, it’s going to be Lee and Okoroh playing backboard volleyball with the plethora of misses from the young backcourt.

OUTLOOK: The defense will keep Cal competitive in Jones’ first season, but the offense is going to be brutal.


12. Washington State

STRENGTHS: Transition offense. Backcourt.

Ernie Kent is likely going to get back to his transition-heavy offensive attack this year with Malachi Flynn and Robert Franks probably putting up nearly every Wazzu shot – at least until North Dakota grad transfer Drick Bernstine is healthy, which might not be until Pac-12 play begins. Flynn will likely be one of the league’s top scorers this season with a  massive increase in usage and shot rates, especially if redshirt freshman Milan Acquaah can competently run the point. Franks projects as something of a stretch 4, as he returned to Pullman in much better shape, and he’ll be a volume perimeter threat this year. The 1-2 backcourt combo of Flynn and Acquaah (and shooter Kwinton Hinson) is clearly the strength of this team, and thus Kent will return to his up-tempo, spread pick-and-roll roots, and Wazzu could see one of the biggest pace increases in the country.

WEAKNESSES: Frontcourt. Defense.

Josh Hawkinson and Conor Clifford are gone, meaning the frontcourt will be manned by sophomore Jeff Pollard, 6-foot-11 JUCO Davante Cooper and Bernstine when healthy. That’s a major downgrade, although they realistically can’t get any worse than Hawkinson and Clifford were defensively. With an increase in tempo, the Cougars are likely to get burnt in transition going back the other way as well, especially with so much offense being dependent on deep penetration from the backcourt (meaning no one is left to rotate back).

SCHEME: Transition-heavy attack offensively with four perimeter shooters, and with that an increase in ball pressure defensively.

OUTLOOK: This is no longer a two big offense, and Wazzu could potentially surprise some teams with their “pace and space” approach.  It will be fun to watch Flynn fly around the floor, though, and the Cougars will be better when Bernstine is up to speed.


PAC-12 PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Allonzo Trier, Arizona

ALL PAC-12 FIRST TEAM

DeAndre Ayton, Arizona
Allonzo Trier, Arizona
Shannon Evans, Arizona State
Reid Travis, Stanford
Jordan McLaughlin, USC

ALL PAC-12 SECOND TEAM

Tres Tinkle, Oregon State
Elijah Stewart, USC
Bennie Boatwright, USC
Rawle Alkins, Arizona
Aaron Holiday, UCLA


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Jordan Majewski