Pac-12 basketball title up for grabs

Eight teams lost top scorers, but UA coach says Pac-12 is deeper
2011-11-07T00:00:00Z 2014-07-02T12:14:40Z Pac-12 basketball title up for grabsPatrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
November 07, 2011 12:00 am  • 

The conference's leading scorer is gone.

So is No. 2 - and, actually, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7.

Looking for rebounds? Eight of the best nine from last season - all but UCLA's Reeves Nelson - are toiling professionally this year, or at least hoping to.

Their financial gain, labor strife notwithstanding, doesn't do much for the Pac-12, which finds itself again trying to defend itself against cries of roster depletion.

And trying to figure out if any team - the defending champion Arizona Wildcats included - has emerged as the favorite this season.

"I don't know if there's a team to beat," Washington coach Lorenzo Romar told reporters in Seattle.

Washington State, USC, Washington, Stanford, Oregon and the UA all lost their leading scorers, each of whom finished in the top six of the conference in points per game.

The two new schools are no better. Colorado's leading scorer, Alec Burks, was drafted No. 12 overall; Utah's leading scorer, Will Clyburn, graduated.

UA coach Sean Miller tried to look at the positive in comparison to last year, which saw the Wildcats, UCLA, USC and Washington reach the Big Dance.

"The Pac-12 Conference is more balanced and deeper this year," he said. "Last year we weren't as healthy as we will be, and we still were so close to having three teams in the Sweet 16.

"Some conferences have a lot of teams, but there aren't many that have 40 percent of their teams going to the NCAA tournament."

The only favorite spared seems to be Cal, which returns first-team all-conference guard Jorge Gutierrez and second-teamer Harper Kamp. Electric scorer Allen Crabbe, a sophomore, returns after being an honorable mention.

No one returns more of its scoring than Cal's 77 percent, or more of its three-point field goals made than the Golden Bears' 80 percent.

Rival Stanford leads in the other major categories, including rebounding, assists, steals and blocks, and will contend for its first NCAA tournament berth since 2008.

And Washington, which knocked off Pac-12 champion Arizona to win the league tournament, will have to replace do-everything guard Isaiah Thomas.

The Huskies are looking internally and externally. Abdul Gaddy, whose torn knee ended his season in January, could be the team's steadiest player.

Freshman guard Tony Wroten, already a household name in his native Seattle, might be its star.

"People wanted to see Isaiah," Romar told reporters. "Tony's the next guy people want to see."

Besides Gutierrez, the only member of the 10-man all-league first team to return is Nelson.

He'll anchor a Bruins team whose frontcourt, at least, figures to be a juggernaut. Sophomore Josh Smith will continue to do his "Baby Shaq" impression, while twin forwards Travis and David Wear are eligible after transferring from North Carolina.

The Bruins, however, won't have a home.

They'll spend the season at Los Angeles Sports Arena and, to a lesser extent, Honda Center in Anaheim, while Pauley Pavilion undergoes a season-long remodel.

"It's going to be a mental-toughness issue, to deal with the travel and the logistics," UCLA coach Ben Howland told reporters in Los Angeles.

"But what awaits us at the end of the rainbow is a brand new Pauley Pavilion.

"So it is totally worth it. All the heartache of not having Pauley this year will be made up tenfold when we get back in there in 2012."

Miller cited Utah and Colorado, which are playing their first seasons in the league, as having "a pair of great coaches."

Second-year CU boss Tad Boyle and first-year Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak know the switch will be challenging.

"There aren't a great deal of expectations now; we're picked in bottom third of the Pac-12," Krystkowiak said. "But there's an awful lot of excitement.

"From a coaching perspective, the one term that comes to mind is, 'The same thing that will make you laugh, will make you cry.'

"It's a fantastic opportunity in an elite league with some high-caliber athletes."

What he didn't say was more frightening: Just imagine if the stars who left early had returned.

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