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2019-20 PAC-12 Basketball Feature: DieHard Analysis, Preview, and Predictions
By Peter Bouloukos, DieHardDevil.com
November 7, 2019 3:24 PM

Number 12:  California Golden Bears

GAME 1: ASU vs Colorado tomorrow night from Shanghai on ESPN2

2018-2019 Record:  (8-23, 3-15)

2018-2019 PAC-12 Finish:  12th

Last season was ugly for Cal in the PAC-12. Simply stated, they couldn’t play defense nor consistently score. 

The 2018-2019 Cal Bears could have been one of the worst teams since James Naismith invented the game of basketball in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1891.  In two seasons, former coach Wyking Joneswas 16-47 winning twenty-five percent of his games. 

Late in the season, they gave Arizona State everything they could handle before losing 69-59 at The Bank. 

The Bears proceeded to win 3-in-a-row against Washington, Washington State, and Stanford before dropping game 1 of the Conference Tournament to Colorado 56-51.  

 

Cal Basketball

Unfortunately for Coach Fox, promising leading scorers Justice Sueing (Ohio State) and Darius McNeill (SMU) opted to transfer out of the program.  Returning starter, Senior PG Paris Austin and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Graduate Transfer Kareem South will be relied on heavily as the Bears look to win more than eight games for the first time since the 2016-2017 season (21-13; 10-8 PAC-12). 

Cal plays Duke in Madison Square Garden’s “Empire Classic” in the third week of November…they will get either Texas or Georgetown after that Game One Loss.  

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Number 11:  Washington State Cougars

2018-19 Record: (11-21, 4-14)

2018-19 PAC-12 Finish: 11th

Kyle Smith inherits promising Forward C.J. Elleby (14.7 ppg. 7.1 rpg.) who will get more looks now that Robert Franks has graduated.  The Washington State Cougars have experience and promising transfers, but Smith’s “nerd-approach” to coaching relies on statistical probability which like everything else in life, has flaws in that the least likely thing that could go wrong, could go wrong 50 times in a row.  #math

 

Wazzu Forward C.J. Elleby

 
The Cougar schedule has six early games against teams finishing 2018-2019 lower than 313 in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings out of 353 teams.  That could help the cohesiveness of the Cougars in Smiths offense, but the only test before Conference play for WSU is Nebraska.

This will be a streaky and sometimes dangerous team but the PAC-12 schedule is tough.  It will be difficult for Kyle Smith to guide the Cougars into the top-ten of the Conference in year one.  

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Number 10: Stanford Cardinal

Stanford Guard Bryce Wills

2018-19 Record: (15-16, 8-10)

2018-19 PAC-12 Finish: T-8th

Jerod Haase needs to do better than the 48-49 record he has amassed over his first 3-seasons in Palo Alto.  KZ Okpala left two-years early (Miami Heat) and 6’5” Freshman Guard Cormac Ryan transferred as a promising starter.  Ryan now at another Catholic University, Notre Dame, averaged 28.5 minutes per game for the Cardinal as a true freshman, putting up 8.7 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. 

Stanford does have Guard Daejon Davis and Forward Oscar Da Silva returning, but 2020-2021 looks much better than this campaign with lots of young athletes getting playing time this year.  The question will be if Stanford gives Haase a fifth year at the helm.   

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Number 9: Utah Utes

2018-19 Record: (17-14, 11-7)

2018-19 PAC-12 Finish: 3rd

The Utes lost four of their top six scorers from a solid 2018-19 squad.  But Larry Krystkowiak is the Wizard of Salt Lake City and one of the great basketball minds along the West Coast.  The Utes are young, but not short on size or talent.

The Utes landed the two best bigs from the State of Utah, and both could make a nice impact immediately.  Look for 7’4” true Freshman Center Matt Van Komen to plug up the paint and another true-Freshman in four-star rated 7’0” Forward Branden Carlson who can play inside and out to fill in gaps and create tough-match-ups for undersized PAC-12 teams.

 

Utah Utes Basketball

Utah also has 6’10” 220-pound redshirt-Freshman Lahat Thioune from Dakar, Senegal helping to patrol the paint.  Adding more size and athleticism, Coach K has talented 6’8” 220 pounds Forward Mikael Jantunen who can fill it up from all over the court entering Utah as another true-Freshman. 

Look for Larry Krystkowiak to have a pesky-bunch this year. Expect some upsets from Krystkowiak’s crew, especially at home where the Jon M. Huntsman Center sits at 4,657 feet above sea level.  

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Number 8. Oregon State Beavers 

2018-19 Record: (18-13, 10-8)

2018-19 PAC-12 Finish: T-4th

Oregon State Basketball

Tres Tinkle (20.8 ppg, 8.1 rpg) returns after opting out of the NBA and is going to have a monster year for the Beavers as an all-conference PAC-12 selection.  Tinkle’s return plus Junior Guard Ethan Thompson (13.7 ppg, 3.9 apg) gives OSU a nice punch. 

With Tinkle fundamentally breaking down opponents, and his father’s great coaching, this Beaver team may potentially be a bubble team finding their way back into the NCAA tournament, where they haven’t won a game since 1982!  

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Number 7: UCLA Bruins 

2018-19 Record: (17-16, 9-9)

2018-19 PAC-12 Finish: 7th

Kris Wilkes, Jaylen Hands, and Moses Brown departed for NBA fame, but everyone else from last season’s team is back for 2019-20. Redshirt senior Prince Ali is the top returning scorer. Ali missed the final seven games of last season but averaged 9.6 points, 2.7 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.3 steals in 26 starts.

Jules Bernard could be the most intriguing returner in Westwood. As a Freshman, he played 17.2 minutes but was fifth on the team in scoring with 7.6 points per game on 46.9% shooting. Bernard dropped 20 points against a surging Oregon Duck team in February, showing his potential to be a top scorer against top-tier athletes.

 

UCLA Basketball

 

The Bruins have experienced talent as well as a pair of highly-touted newcomers Point Guard Tyger Campbell and Center Shareef O’Neal.  Mick Cronin’s Cincinnati teams were infamous for low-scoring defensive games, playing a somewhat boring brand of basketball in today’s Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat world of flash.  He inherited a group of kids who like to score and has all of the pieces to make an NCAA tournament run right now.

Does Mick Cronin convince scorers to burn calories on the defensive side of the ball?  UCLA plays Notre Dame and North Carolina back-to-back in December after a bunch of warm-up games.  Both teams will command UCLA play on both sides of the ball.    

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Number 6:  University of Southern California

2018-19 Record: (16-17, 8-10)

2018-19 PAC-12 Finish: T-8th

Again, the Trojans are as talented as any top-tier team in the Conference of Champions and has the athletes to run with anyone in the Country.  But that was true last season and USC ended it with a losing record.

 

USC Trojans Basketball

Center Nick Rakocevic is a 6’11” 225-pound Senior Forward who is a versatile scorer and a strong presence on the boards will have a monster season.  He enters the year 35 points away from 1,000 career points. He also ranks 15th on USC’s all-time rebound list with 665.  

Five-star Freshman Isaiah Mobley and grad transfers Quinton Adlesh and Daniel Utomi provide the Trojans experience, talent, and much-needed new perspectives potentially helping USC turn the page for the better.  Daniel Utomi has NBA range and is a pure-shooter, with the bigs down the Trojans are going to be tough to defend.

Look for early match-ups against San Diego State. Nevada and in December LSU to be measuring sticks for the Trojans.  

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W

Number 5:  Washington Huskies

2018-19 Record: (27-9, 15-3)

2018-19 PAC-12 Finish: 1st

Washington ran away with the PAC-12’s regular-season title last season, winning its first 10 conference games and finishing 3 games ahead of second-place Arizona State. The top four scorers from that team have departed, but there are still plenty of reasons to believe Mike Hopkins can keep the Huskies in the mix to compete for a PAC-12 Conference Championship. 

The Huskies bring in 2 of the top eight players in the 2019 National Recruiting Class with five-star Guard Jaden McDaniels and 6’9” 245-pound Center Isaiah Stewart. They’ll add another former five-star talent in December when Kentucky transfer guard Quade Green becomes eligible.

 

Washington Huskies Basketball

 

With a back-line of McDaniels, Stewart, and Wright the Huskies have length and should be great cleaning up the glass. On offense, the question is how crowded will the key become, and how consistent can the two 5-star Freshmen be as well as where will the shooting come from?

If the Huskies don’t score, they won’t run away with the Conference this year. Washington was 256th out of 353 teams in scoring average last season (69.8) and struggled against athletic teams that could score in volume (and play defense).  

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Number 4:  Colorado Buffaloes

2018-19 Record: (23-13, 10-8)

2018-19 PAC-12 Finish: T-4th

 

The Buffaloes haven’t won more than a single game in the NCAA tournament since 1955. Tad Boyle has a roster with the experience and talent to change that.  After a rough start in PAC-12 Conference play, Colorado finished last year’s regular-season winning 10 of its final 13 games.

The Buffaloes then had a pair of NIT wins before falling to eventual Tournament champion Texas in the quarterfinals.  Point Guard McKinley Wright (13.0 ppg, 4.8 apg) and big man Tyler Bey (13.6 ppg, 9.9 rpg) present a formidable one-two punch, and Colorado just may start all upper-classmen on a team that only allowed 67.5 points per contest last year.

Brazilian Senior Forward, 6’10” 230-pound Lucas Siewert enters this year’s campaign as the most experienced Buffalo, with 98 games played. Siewart has made 91 of 238 3-point field goals and at 38.2 percent and can extend defenses opening the middle for Tyler Bey. 

Colorado is as good as any team in the Conference, with that being said, unless their true bigs can contribute meaningful minutes in the paint, Colorado is going to struggle against length on the road.  But like Salt Lake City, Boulder sits at 5,328 feet above sea level, a tough rise for the beach and desert schools in the PAC-12. 

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Number 3: Arizona State Sun Devils

Sun Devil Captain, Remy Martin

2018-19 Record: (23-11, 12-6)

2018-19 PAC-12 Finish: 2nd

Let’s be honest DieHard Devil Fans, last year Arizona State trailed off course after one-and-done Freshman Luguentz Dort revealed himself to be an inconsistent volume scorer. Dort shot 29 percent from 3-point land in-conference while swallowing up 430 total shot attempts from the field.

Not to stoke any emotional fire here, but Dort had a 98 Offensive Rating and was Bobby Hurley’s highest-usage player! 

The lack of efficiency was telling in Conference let-downs and a thorough beating at the hands of Buffalo in the NCAA Tournament’s first round.  Against Vanderbilt, Luguentz was 3-13 from the field on 1-9 from 3-point range.

Arizona State was embarrassed by Vanderbilt 81-65, a team that finished with only 9 wins and a fired coach in Bryce Drew.  Against Ivy League Princeton, Luguentz shot 12.5 percent from the field on 1-6 from beyond and 0-2 inside the arc, a game ASU lost by 1-point. 

 

Sun Devils Remy Martin and Rob Edwards

This year Arizona State Men’s Basketball will be far more efficient, and with more quality and depth, the Sun Devils go 10 deep. I would play all twelve in spots. Junior Guard and PAC-12 Conference First Team Selection Remy Martin is going to make a name for himself nationally. 

Any self-proclaimed hoops fan should dial-in to Sun Devil Basketball just to watch Remy “share the sugar” and fill it up whenever his team needs some points.   

6’3” 170 pound Junior College transfer, Alonzo Verge will be attacking and scoring in the paint.  Look for returning Shooting Guards, Rob Edwards and Taeshon Cherry both to benefit from some of Dort’s now-available 176 long-range shots (54-176 30.7%) and 1072 minutes played. 

6’9” 210-pound Junior College Transfer Khalid Thomas possesses a fundamentally sound long-range jumper but he also thrives in the paint with a soft touch.  I think of Thomas as I do Robert Frank’s, last year’s leading scorer in the PAC-12 and now on a two-way contract with the Charlotte Hornets. 

 

Sun Devil Kimani Lawrence – Photo, Sun Devil Athletics

 

Another Junior College Transfer 6’9” 210-pound Forward Andre Allen will help fill the void left by current New Orleans Pelican and DieHard favorite, Zylan “Yes Sir” Cheatham.  Andre can run the floor and explode around the rim.

ASU returns “The Big Fundamental” in Romello White who has yet another year in the weight room and with coaches working on footwork and touch. At 6’7” and 235-pounds, he is easily a vital component of Arizona State’s success as an undersized Center. His playing experience and leadership will keep everyone focused in tight spots.

Look for Romello to add the “assist” to his stat-tally, if any defense drops down on White, he has lethal perimeter players even at the new 3-point line distance. 

Another “X-Factor” will be the health of Senior Mickey Mitchell who can play guard, forward and dare I suggest on the block?  If his back is healthy, Mickey will do whatever Hurley needs him to do on any stage at any time. 

 

Head Coach Bobby Hurley and Junior G Remy Martin speak with the press in China – Photo, ASU

 

If Remy Martin and Sun Devil Point-Guards consistently move the ball around, look for ASU to improve 3-point efficiency and push into the Top-25 nationally in scoring. 

Talented Freshmen Jaelen House, Sophomore Elias Valtonen and Junior Kimani Lawrence will also make noise at The Bank and in key spots in PAC-12 play.  Kimani will have a breakout year, and last year should have swallowed up some of Dort’s erratic minutes in my humble observation. 

The Question for Bobby Hurley?  When will that East Coast Mentality Defense arrive in Tempe?

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Number 2:  Oregon Ducks

2018-19 Record: (25-13, 10-8)

2018-19 PAC-12 Finish: T-4th

 

Oregon lost Louis King, Kenny Wooten and Bol Bol to the professional ranks.  Payton Pritchard even tested the waters before returning to the Ducks.  Those defections took Oregon from being a Top 10 squad Nationally up to 25-32 in my opinion.   

Coach Dana Altman and company have appeared in and won at least one game in six of the last seven NCAA tournaments, and there are reasons to believe that trend will continue in 2020. The recipe for Altman is stout defense, in last year’s three-tournament games, opposing offenses scored 54 (Wisconsin), 54 (UC-Irvine) and 53 (National Champion Virginia). 

Payton Pritchard (12.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 4.6 apg) is a true headache to contend with and will run the point after a standout junior campaign.  Payton is a career 37-percent 3-point shooter for the Ducks. Pritchard will get plenty of help from the additions of five-star Freshman C.J. Walker and UNLV Graduate transfer Shakur Juiston (10.8 ppg, 8.8 rpg).

The PAC-12 is going to have to deal with True Freshman Center, 6’11” 235-pound N’Faly Dante who can bring the thunder on the block, has a soft touch in the paint and can run the floor with any big in Conference.  If Dante passes inside-out look for Oregon’s field goal percentage to improve, and they already shot 52-percent (35.1% 3-pt). 

Dana Altman will contend for PAC-12 Conference Coach of the Year with this crew. 

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Number 1:  Arizona Wildcats

2018-19 Record: (17-15, 8-10)

2018-19 PAC-12 Finish: T-8th

UA Basketball

 

Arizona fans are praying they never have to go through a season like 2018-19 again, both in terms of win/loss record and off-court drama. The Wildcats finished with their worst overall record in over three decades and many believed Sean Miller would be implicated in a pay-to-play scandal. 

The Wildcats lost a few key recruits on this front!  The University of Arizona’s James E. Roger’s College of Law must be pretty solid. 

But don’t Pitty the Kitty in the abyss that is Tucson, Arizona.  The Wildcats will be back in a big-way and pose a unique threat to every PAC-12 team, at every position, and they do so with depth.  DieHard Devil Fans always want to play the best, so hearing Sophomore Guard Brandon Williams will miss the entire season due to a knee injury is slightly disheartening. 

Williams’ injury places the pressure on Point Guard Nico Mannion and Small Forward Josh Green, both Freshman who played High School hoops in the Valley of the Sun.  Look for UC Irvine graduate transfer Max Hazzard, who fueled the Anteaters’ upset of fourth-seeded Kansas State in last year’s NCAA tournament.  Hazzard is a solid 5-foot-10 combo guard who just so happens to be the younger brother of former UA walk-on Jacob Hazzard.

Look for versatile Center, 6’11” Freshman Zeke Nnaji to mesh well with 6’10” 230-pound Senior Chase Jeter creating a powerful interior presence that will cause trouble for smaller PAC-12 Conference teams. 

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I anticipate the PAC-12 will place five teams in the NCAA Tournament.  The Conference of Champions will be back in a big way.  But Conference play is going to be brutal for any of six-teams on the 2020 March Madness bubble five months from now.

 

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Arizona State Sun Devil Basketball Quick Hitters

ASU finished 23-11 and 12-6 in the PAC-12 in 2018-19, good enough for second in the league after being picked sixth in the preseason media poll.

It defeated No. 1 Kansas on Dec. 22, the first win over No. 1 at home in program history and the second all-time (also won at Oregon State in March of 1981).

Notched its first NCAA Tournament win (First Four) since 2009 with a 74-65 victory over St. John’s on March 20 in Dayton and posted 23 wins for just the eighth time in school history.

The Sun Devils have been predicted to finish 6th in the PAC-12 Conference for the third straight year

 

Not many have been better early than the Sun Devils in the past two seasons, they are 20-5 in November under Coach Hurley in his four years including 12-0 the past two seasons. The 12 straight November wins is fourth-best in college basketball, behind only Virginia (25), Kansas (17) and Nevada (15).

It could be “Jekyll & Hyde” but ASU has 21 halftime comeback wins under Coach Bobby Hurley in his four years, after posting 12 in the previous five seasons. That is tied for sixth-most among major conference teams (Kansas leads with 27) and is best in the PAC-12 (Washington has 19). It has 10 of those wins on the road, the best among all major conference teams (Providence has nine) and leads the PAC-12 (Oregon has six). 

ASU Non-Conference Regular Season Road Games under Bobby Hurley (5-2)

  1. 👉 Vanderbilt 81, #18 ASU 65 (Dec. 17, 2019)
  2. 👉 #20 ASU 76, Georgia 74 (Dec. 15, 2019)
  3. 👉 #16 ASU 95, #2 Kansas 85 (Dec. 10, 2017)
  4. 👉 ASU 74, San Diego State 63 (Dec. 10, 2016)
  5. 👉 ASU 66, UNLV 56 (Dec. 16, 2015)
  6. 👉 #5 Kentucky 72, ASU 58 (Dec. 5, 2015)
  7. 👉 ASU 79, Creighton 77 (Dec. 2, 2015)

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