For Ben Howland's last season the Bruins Nation editors and writers got together to make predictions for the season. I lead with this sentence because it is important to note that Ben Howland needs to win the conference and make a deep run to the final four to justify his job. I can't find anyone anywhere that believes that will happen now.
Everyone at Bruins Nation agrees that UCLA will be in the top third in the PAC 12, anywhere from second to fourth which will probably lead to a NCAA Tournament bid. However it is worth noting that preseason UCLA was talked about as a PAC 12 winner and a potential final four team. Results that were reasonable and absolutely essential for Howland to keep his job after the last four seasons.
Of course, second to fourth may not be good enough to make the tournament. The PAC 12 went 5-15 against top 25 teams and, in part because of recent bad losses by Oregon State and Cal, the PAC 12's RPI ranking has dropped to sixth. While this is not good, the PAC 12 is better than recent years. (It was ranked ninth last year.)
So without further ado here are the BruinsNation rankings:
1. Arizona (All 9 first place votes)
Arizona is 2-0 vs. the top 25 and despite their outstanding recruiting class they are led by veterans like Solomon Hill and Xavier transfer point guard Mark Lyons. Arizona is ranked number 3 in the nation and is viewed now as a lock to win the PAC 12. The only question in my mind is Coach Miller. While some are already calling him great, I remain skeptical of the number 3 ranking because of Coach Miller.
2. (tie) UCLA (high vote second place, low vote fourth) and Oregon (high second place, low fourth) average 2.9
I don't need to comment on UCLA. If Oregon beats UCLA, UCLA fans will have another reason to be sad/frustrated/angry. Brief UCLA recruit Dominc Artis has become Oregon's point guard and is leading them in assists and steals. While Larry Drew II has exceed the low expectations many had for him (on offense), Artis will be with Oregon for likely four years. Another sign of long term trouble for UCLA.
4. Colorado (second to fifth, average 3.9)
Opinions on last year's PAC 12 tournament champion varied a bit. They have arguably the conference's second best big in Andre Robinson who is averaging 12.1 rebounds a game. However, it must be considered ironic that football school Colorado has been good in basketball while terrible in football. I believe Colorado's altitude will help lead to a healthy home court advantage this year.
5. California (two second places votes, the rest fifth)4.3
California has Allen Crabbe, the conference's leading scorer but more importantly Mike Montgomery the conference's best game coach. The question at Cal is depth, they have none. They lost a lot of players last year and it will be up to Montgomery to pull another rabbit out of his hat. No one doubts that he could do it.
The next group of teams has to be considered second tier by Bruins Nation. Unlike all the above who received at least one second place vote, none of these teams had a vote above sixth.
6. University of Washington (one sixth place vote, the rest seventh) 6.9
University of Washington just lost too much early for Coach Romar to overcome. UW losses include at home to Albany State, although Bruins can't throw stones. Albany State has a winning record while Cal Poly is now 3-6. Will this be the year Howland finally wins at Hecht Ed against UW?
7. Stanford (high of sixth, low of eighth) average 7
Stanford won the NIT last year and had high expectations going into the season. While Howland's seat is the hottest it is doubtful whether Stanford Coach Johnny Dawkins could survive another under achieving season.
8. ASU (high of sixth low of eleventh) average 7.5
ASU had the widest range of votes in our preseason conference predictions. Some like myself believe that a player like redshirt freshman Jahii Carson is so good he can make a little noise with ASU. Others think head coach Herb Sendak was only good when he had James Harden.
9. Washington State (One Eighth and One Tenth, rest ninth) average 9
It is perfect that ASU and WSU are right next to each other. ASU has a young potential great point guard and some role players. Washington State has the potential conference MVP in Brock Motum and no point guard when they kicked senior Reggie Moore off the team. If Motum can get the ball he can do some damage, but that is a real problem at Washington State.
10. Oregon State (high of eight, low of tenth) 9.7
Oregon State is the one team in the conference that may make UCLA's defense look good. Oregon State hung close to Kansas despite letting Kansas shoot 60% for the game. But to go with that Kansas moral victory the Beavers recently lost to Towson State, the only conference loss that may be worse than UCLA's to Cal Poly. Oregon State will fight with UCLA for the conference lead in scoring but that is about it.
11. USC (one tenth, rest eleventh) 10.9
The Trogans are working hard to prove they don't care about basketball. USC is the only PAC 12 team with a losing record in out of conference games. They have played some tough teams and are once again good on defense but remain a nightmare on offense. I would say head coach Kevin O'Neill is fired after the season but I am not sure Haden is aware of this other sport. It will be interesting for teams traveling to Los Angeles. One night they will play the conference's worst offense team and one of the better teams on defense in the Trogans; two days later they will play the conference best offense team and one of the worst defense teams in UCLA. Not sure how that contrast works out.
12. Utah (unanimous)
Utah lost its top three scorers to graduation or transfer last year from a team that went 3-15 in conference. Utah is terrible and not likely to get better anytime soon. This is likely the game that Howland let's Tony Parker play big minutes.