If Aaron Gordon, left, had dreams of designing his own shoe, it was suggested, he would commit to Oregon. Turns out he has bigger dreams.


A day before Oregon opened the NCAA tournament against Oklahoma State, UO coach Dana Altman arranged for the Ducks to practice at San Jose's Archbishop Mitty High School.

Aaron Gordon's turf.

Gordon was told that Nike's Phil Knight would be at the next day's game and that he was the missing link to a Final Four season, one that Oregon hasn't enjoyed since 1939.

"If Gordon has the marketing savvy that I believe he does," wrote John Canzano of the Oregonian newspaper, "if he's dreamed about designing his own shoe someday, or playing for a college that has become a testing ground for cutting-edge Nike products, he probably realizes he can only get that at Oregon."

A few days later Gordon chose Arizona.

If you are as good as Aaron Gordon, you do not dream of designing shoes. You dream of being on the biggest stage and in the biggest games. You play for Sean Miller in Tucson.

Within 12 hours of Louisville's national championship Monday night, ESPN, USA Today and CBS released their annual Top 25 projections for next season. Arizona was listed No. 4, No. 4 and No. 7.

Some might say that's not high enough, but in early April, six months before the first official Arizona practice of 2013-14, who cares?

Pac-12 basketball next season should continue its slow evolution back to prominence, which is another way of saying Pac-12 hoops won't be awful, the way it was in 2012, nor will it be overflowing with NBA prospects and killer teams. Not yet.

It's conceivable that Arizona, Colorado, Stanford and UCLA could be Top 25 teams, and that Oregon and Cal won't be far behind. It's getting better. I like the context provided by Colorado coach Tad Boyle, who said "we've put Colorado basketball on the map; I'm proud of what Colorado basketball is in the process of becoming."

Key words: "in the process."

No other team in the league can truthfully say, as Arizona's Miller can, "the time is now."

Finishing in the first six is going to be difficult. Size-challenged Oregon will be fortunate to make it that high, even though guards Dominic Artis, John Loyd and Daymean Dotson will be among the nation's 10 or 20 best backcourts.

Here's how the league's first division looks:

1. Arizona. The rotating Pac-12 schedule diminishes the overall UA's strength of schedule. It will play UCLA and Washington just once. No one's saying the Wildcats could be the first conference team to finish 18-0 - Lute Olson had five 17-1 seasons - but it's unlikely Arizona will get bumped off at home the way it did against Cal and UCLA this season.

2. Colorado. Every starter returns for the Buffaloes as long as Andre Roberson doesn't do anything stupid and declare for the NBA draft before he develops a reliable offensive game.

The problem with CU is that it doesn't have depth or a true point guard; Spencer Dinwiddie is a wonderful ballplayer with NBA size, but he doesn't set up the club's offense.

Colorado has a star-in-the-making in 6-6 sophomore wing guard Xavier Johnson and a useful power forward, Josh Scott, who should improve notably from his freshman year.

The lack of size, bench firepower and (on paper) an average recruiting class is likely to keep CU from becoming an elite, Sweet 16-type team. Playing at the Coors Events Center in Boulder has become the second-most intimidating home court in the league.

3. UCLA. The Bruins will miss point guard Larry Drew II more than it's-all-about-me Shabazz Muhammad. The rest of the club returns almost intact, which means sophomore Jordan Adams and swingman Kyle Anderson are likely all-conference players.

New coach Steve Alford's top recruit is 6-3 shooter Zach LaVine from Bothel, Wash. The club's flaw: no real center. The Wear twins are not rebounders, nor good defensive players, which will be UCLA's Achilles'.

4. Washington. I like the Huskies to return to the NCAA tournament because they will be improved at point guard, with freshman McDonald's All-American Niguel Williams-Goss over the limited Abdul Gaddy.

The Huskies are likely to have an impact transfer, 6-9 Perris Blackwell, to form a strong inside bond with Sean Kemp Jr. If indeed UNLV's Mike Moser transfers to Washington for his senior season, the Huskies could finish second.

5. Stanford. All of those now-familiar names return: Dwight Powell, Chasson Randle, Josh Huestis, Aaron Bright and John Gage. With a little improvement, and help from 6-11 freshman recruit Schuyler Rinner, who initially committed to Florida, Stanford could win 12 or 13 league games and get a No. 6 or No. 7 NCAA tournament seed.

6. Cal. Typically thin and lacking size - that's the middle class of Pac-12 basketball - the Bears have two feared scorers in Justin Cobbs and Tyrone Wallace, and a franchise freshman, Jabari Bird, who is apt to get more shots than Aaron Gordon at Arizona and be the league's Freshman of the Year. Bird will make the size-challenged Bears forget Allen Crabbe in a hurry.

The rest: Oregon and Oregon State will threaten to break into the top six. The Beavers have 7-1 recruit Cheikh N'diaye to add to a fairly strong returning group that includes 6-9 redshirt and former starter Angus Brandt.

Utah is well-coached and a power-to-be by 2017, but is going to need a few more recruiting classes. USC is going to be perfectly awful, Washington State is apt to get coach Ken Bone fired, and Arizona State's Jahii Carson is going to be the most entertaining player in the league.

And at McKale Center, no one is going to be talking about Aaron Gordon's shoes.

Contact columnist Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or ghansen@azstarnet.com. On Twitter @ghansen711