5 questions ahead of Pac-12 basketball Media Day

5 questions ahead of Pac-12 basketball Media Day

By Andy Katz
FOX Sports College Basketball Analyst

As the Pac-12 convenes for its men’s basketball Media Day Wednesday in San Francisco, the pending departures of its two biggest brand names—UCLA and USC—for the Big Ten will loom large.

The move of the Bruins and Trojans is still a couple of years away, however, and this season, both programs have squads capable of carrying the Pac-12 standard on deep and/or significant runs in March.

Here are the top five questions heading into Pac-12 Media Day.

1. Why is UCLA a national title favorite?

For starters, the Bruins bring back Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Tyger Campbell. Jaquez is ready to be the go-to player for Mick Cronin. He has had his moments, but had to share the headlines with Johnny Juzang the last two seasons. Now, it’s Jaquez’s time to shine brightest, and he’s ready for the challenge. He can score in a variety of ways and is as gritty as they come. Meanwhile, Campbell has become an elite leader who can make a big shot and is extremely reliable at the free-throw line late in games.

But this is not a two-man game. The Bruins, who have been a strong defensive team under Cronin, from the 2021 Final Four run to the Sweet 16 appearance last season, also have depth. David Singleton and Jaylen Clark have been key rotation players in past seasons but now will be featured. A newcomer class led by Amari Bailey, the return of a healthy Will McClendon — who was sidelined last season with an ACL — and the trio of Adem Bona, Mac Etienne and Kenneth Nwuba give UCLA options inside. The Bruins are the overwhelming favorites in the Pac-12 and national title contenders.

2. Can Arizona duplicate Tommy Lloyd’s Coach of the Year rookie season with another Pac-12 title chase?

The Wildcats were simply one of the best teams in the country last season, leading the league and ranking third in the nation in scoring at 84 points a game. They were beaten by Houston in the Sweet 16 after a narrow escape against TCU in a thrilling second-round game in San Diego.

Bennedict Mathurin, Christian Koloko and Dalen Terry are all gone, but the cupboard isn’t bare. Azoulas Tubelis returns to be a focal point, and Kerr Kriisa will be his usual Mr. Everything for the Wildcats. Expect breakthrough seasons for Oumar Ballo and Pelle Larsson.

And of course, Lloyd and the staff did well in recruiting, bringing in expected impact transfers Courtney Ramey (Texas) and Cedric Henderson Jr., and freshmen Kylan Boswell, Henri Veesaar and Filip Borovicanin. Expect the Wildcats to be in the top four in the Pac-12 and back in the NCAAs.

3. What are the odds Oregon misses the NCAA Tournament again?

Zero.

Yes, the Ducks are going to be back in the NCAAs. Book it. Dana Altman doesn’t disappear from the NCAAs for long. Oregon didn’t mesh last season and the scoring defense was simply not good enough, allowing nearly 70 points per game. The core three of Will Richardson, Quincy Guerrier and N’Faly Dante should be up for the challenge. Help arrived in the form of Jermaine Couisnard (South Carolina), Keesawn Barthelemy (Colorado), big man Kel’el Ware, and two junior college transfers who have put up big-time numbers: Brennan Rigsby and Tyrone Williams.

We should know by end of November if the Ducks are ready for prime time, as they play Houston at home, then UConn and either Alabama or Michigan State in the first two games of the PK85 event in Portland.

4. Why is USC going to be back in the Pac-12 title chase?

The Trojans aren’t going anywhere anytime soon under Andy Enfield. Drew Peterson is a big-time shot-maker. Boogie Ellis has another season to be comfortable in the system. Reese Dixon-Waters is ready for a breakout season. The next line of big men stars will come from a trio of Vince Iwuchukwu, Kijani Wright and Tre White.

The Trojans always fly under the radar in LA and that will continue with the expectations in Westwood. But that bodes well for this USC team. There is no need for them to feel the pressure early. They will be ready to make some noise in the Pac-12.

5. Who will be No. 5?

The fifth spot is wide open and there are a number of candidates. Arizona State (Marcus Bagley and DJ Horne), Colorado (Tristan da Silva and KJ Simpson) and Stanford (Harrison Ingram and Spencer Jones) seem to be the most likely candidates. But this league has consistently produced surprise runs. That means Utah, Washington, Washington State, Oregon State and Cal will all feel some level of optimism.

Andy Katz is a longtime college basketball writer, analyst and host. He can be seen on the Big Ten Network, as well as March Madness and NCAA.com, and he hosts the podcast “March Madness 365.” Katz worked at ESPN for nearly two decades and, prior to that, in newspapers for nine years.


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