Been wrestling all summer over whether Arizona or UCLA should be picked first in the Pac-12 this season, but assuming the Bruins get their all-everything freshmen cleared after no more than a few games, it's hard to get past UCLA's talent, depth and size.
So, here goes the picks I forwarded to the Pac-12 for its official media poll:
Who's gone: G Lazeric Jones, G Jerime Anderson, F Reeves Nelson, G De’End Parker, F Brendan Lane (transferred to Pepperdine), C Anthony Stover (dismissed for failure to meet NCAA eligibility standards)
Who's new: G Shabazz Muhammad, G/F Kyle Anderson, G/F Jordan Adams, C Tony Parker, C Adria Gasol
What's up: Just when Ben Howland’s seat was starting to heat up, the UCLA coach pulled in arguably the nation’s top recruiting class. Assuming Muhammad and Anderson receive no or minimal NCAA penalties, the Bruins will have firepower all over the court. The biggest issue for Howland may be keeping everyone happy with enough playing time.
Who’s gone: G Kyle Fogg, C Jesse Perry, G Brendon Lavender, G Josiah Turner, C Kyryl Natyazhko, C Alex Jacobson, F Sidiki Johnson.
Who’s new: G Mark Lyons (transferred from Xavier), F Brandon Ashley, F Grant Jerrett, C Kaleb Tarczewski, G Gabe York, G T.J. McConnell (transferred from Duquesne, will redshirt), F Matt Korcheck (transferred from Cochise College).
What’s up: After pulling in three highly touted big men, Sean Miller solved his “death by inches” problem that surfaced with last season’s undersized lineups. He has an enviable mix of veterans, size and youth but needs outside shooting.
Who’s gone: C Josh Owens, F Andrew Zimmerman, F Jack Trotter, G Jarrett Mann.
Who’s new: F Rosco Allen, G Christian Sanders, F Grant Verhoeven
What’s up: The time is now for fifth-year coach Johnny Dawkins, who returns five of his top six scorers from the NIT champions – and works in a well-regarded recruiting class. The Cardinal has possibly the conference’s best guard duo in Aaron Bright and Chasson Randle, plus size, depth, and experience all around.
Who’s gone: G Jorge Gutierrez, F Harper Kamp.
Who’s new: F Ricky Kreklow, G Tyrone Wallace, F Kahlil Johnson, G Kaileb Rodriguez
What’s up: The Bears may have lost their heart-and-soul (Gutierrez) and their brains (Kamp) from last season, but discounting them could be a significant gamble. Allen Crabbe, Justin Cobbs and Brandon Smith combine for a strong backcourt while the Bears also get skilled big man Richard Solomon back from academic suspension.
Who’s gone: G Carlon Brown, F Austin Dufault, G Nate Tomlinson
Who’s new: F Josh Scott, G Jeremy Adams, F Xavier Johnson, F Chris Jenkins, F Wesley Gordon, G Eli Stalzer, G Xavier Talton
What’s up: With a high-altitude home where Stanford was the only Pac-12 visitor to win last season, and a high-flying Andre Roberson, the Buffs could surprise again. There’s plenty of talent left and a deep freshman class, led by big man Josh Scott.
Who’s gone: G Terrence Ross, G Tony Wroten, F Darnell Gant.
Who’s new: F Jernard Jarreau, G Andrew Andrews
What’s up: The swagger will get toned down without personalities such as Isaiah Thomas or Tony Wroten around, but the Huskies have a solid, experience returning core led by steady point guard Abdul Gaddy. Guards C.J. Wilcox and Scott Suggs add shooting.
Who’s gone: G Maurice Jones (academics and transfer) G Alexis Moore (transferred to Penn), F Garrett Jackson (transferred to St. Mary’s)
Who’s new: F Ari Stewart (Wake Forest), F Eric Wise (UC Irvine), G J.T. Terrell (Wake Forest/JUCO), F Renaldo Woolridge (Tennessee), F Brendyn Taylor, F Strahinja Gavrilovic
What’s up: Kevin O’Neill nearly turned over the Trojans’ roster, and that was a good thing. Getting point guard Jio Fontan back from an ACL tear, and big men Aaron Fuller (shoulder) and Dewayne Dedmon (knee) helps immensely, too. But losing tireless sparkplug Mo Jones hurts.
8. Oregon State
Who’s gone: G Jared Cunningham, F Kevin McShane
Who’s new: F Langston Morris-Walker, F Victor Robbins, F Jarmal Reid, F Daniel Gomis, F Olaf Schftenaar
What’s up: Despite Cunningham’s “kiss the sky” reputation, his loss may hurt the Beavers more on the defensive end than the offensive. But OSU has capable guards, and is strong up front, with Devon Collier a potential go-to force and Eric Moreland a dynamic defender and rebounder.
Who’s gone: G Garrett Sim, F Olu Ashaolu, G Devoe Joseph, G Jabari Brown (transferred to Missouri), G Brett Kingma (transferred to Washington State)
Who’s new: G Dominic Artis, F Arik Armstead, F Austin Kuemper, F Ben Carter, G Devon Branch (juco), G Damyean Dotson, F Willie Moore, F Arsalan Kazemi (Rice transfer)
What’s up: Dana Altman’s revolving door of transfers (in and out) will keep the Ducks competitive again. How quick Oregon’s new players can adjust and bond will determine how far they go.
Who’s gone: G Josh Watkins, G Chris Hines (transferred to Drake), G Kareem Storey (transferred to College of Southern Idaho), F Dijon Farr (transferred to Arkansas-Fort Smith), F Javon Dawson (transferred to Jacksonville), F George Matthews (transferred to Texas-San Antonio), G Anthony Odunsi (Tyler JC, Texas), F Blake Wilkinson (Mormon mission)
Who’s new: G Glen Dean, G Aaron Dotson (LSU transfer), G Justin Seymour, G Jarred DuBois (LMU transfer), F Renan Lenz (juco transfer), G Brandon Taylor, F Dakarai Tucker, F Jordan Loveridge
What’s up: Coach Larry Krystkowiak’s frantic rebuilding job continues into year two with another avalanche of transfers in and out, plus a local gem to build around in Loveridge. You may not recognize the Utes but they will be better.
Who’s gone: G Faisal Aden, G Marcus Capers, F Abe Lodwick
Who’s new: F James Hunter, F Richard Longrus, G Brett Boese, G Royce Woolridge.
What’s up: Aussie big man Brock Motum isn’t likely to get much help, now that guard Reggie Moore was booted from the team for violating team rules and incoming recruits Richard Peters and Que Johnson didn’t clear academic hurdles to become eligible.
12 Arizona State
Who’s gone: G Trent Lockett (transferred to Marquette), G Keala King (dismissed), G Chanse Creekmur (transferred to Iowa State), F Kyle Cain
Who’s new: G Jahii Carson (non-qualifier last season), G Evan Gordon, (Liberty transfer), G Bo Barnes (Hawaii transfer), G Calean Robinson, C Eric Jacobsen, F Kenny Martin
What’s up: Coach Herb Sendek’s contract extension through 2016 belies the pressure he will be under to win this season. It won’t be easy to do so, with the dynamic Carson probably needing time to shake off some rust, but wing Carrick Felix and forward Jonathan Gilling are solid Pac-12 players.
Please feel free to add your picks in the comments section and I'll do my best to compile them and see how we all did in March (as determined by the Pac-12 Conference Tournament seeds).
I have typically "scored" them by adding the difference between the projected and actual finish for each team -- i.e. you would have gotten three points if you picked Arizona to win last season, because the Wildcats were fourth -- with the lowest cumulative score winning.
Am open to suggestions, however. Portland Catfan said he would give exact finishes an extra credit and would only pick the top six. But so far, I've liked to pick all 12 since it measures a true feel for the conference overall...