As the 2020-21 NCAA basketball season quickly approaches, Pac-12 fans are eagerly awaiting what is poised to be a great season. In Part 1, I dived into the teams that I feel will finish in the bottom half of the conference, ranging from Oregon State in 12th position to Utah in seventh. Below are my predictions for the top half of the Pac-12, including a Pac-12 champion that may surprise many.
The Trojans are a very interesting team, and while I wouldn’t count them out of a top-five finish just yet, don’t get your hopes too high. First with the losses, and really, I’ll just focus on one. Forward Onyeka Okongwu, coming off of an electric freshman season during which he averaged 16.2 points and 8.6 rebounds per game, will be going pro. The loss of Okongwu was expected, but still devastating, for a USC team that relied on him to stay afloat in a highly competitive conference last season.
USC is welcoming many new players in the offseason, but there are two in particular that I feel will have significant roles on this team. First is Evan Mobley, a 6-foot-11-inch freshman who will look to fill somewhat of the role that Okongwu played last season, as he is an extremely strong and skilled big man. Mobley was a consensus five-star recruit out of high school and, while he will likely be a one-and-done, he is going to be immensely important for the Trojans this year.
The other newcomer that I believe is a serious sleeper is Tahj Eaddy, a graduate transfer from Santa Clara. I’ve seen Eaddy play in-person many times, and let me tell you, he is an explosive guard with some serious scoring ability. Eaddy’s best basketball was actually played in the 2018-19 season, during which he averaged 15 points, 2.7 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. If he can hit his stride again, he will be a key player for this Trojans team.
I am skeptical about putting Arizona in the top five, as I have a similar outlook on the Wildcats as I do the Ducks. Coming into 2020-21, Arizona is without several crucial players from last year, including guards Nico Mannion, Max Hazzard and Josh Green and forward Zeke Nnaji. Three of those four — with Hazzard being the exception — were freshmen last season (all of whom decided to pursue careers in the NBA), and had they returned to play another year, I would likely have the Wildcats right at the top of my Pac-12 power rankings.
Despite the many losses, Arizona had one of the top recruiting classes in the nation with many four-star recruits. One such recruit, 6-foot-7-inch freshman forward Dalen Terry, is the king of assists. He averaged 11.4 assists per game as a junior in high school, so expect him to be a significant asset for the Wildcats. It is freshmen like Terry that have influenced my decision to put Arizona in the top five of these power rankings, but Arizona has a high upside and a low downside. I wouldn’t be surprised by a second place finish if the freshmen step up and the veterans integrate the younger players into the program well. I wouldn’t be surprised by a seventh place finish either, if newcomers like Terry are unable to account for the losses of Mannion, Hazard and others. Keep an eye on this unpredictable Wildcats team.
Oregon, in my opinion, is the most unpredictable team in the conference for the 2020-21 season, largely thanks to the loss of their definitive best player, Payton Pritchard. While Oregon welcomes several new transfers and quality freshmen, the question remains whether or not they can fill the significant void left by Pritchard’s departure.
If Rutgers transfer forward Eugene Omoruyi, senior guard Chris Duarte and Duqeusne transfer guard Eric Williams Jr. have anything to say about it, the loss of Pritchard won’t prevent the Ducks from having another successful season.
Last season, that success existed both in conference play and out of it, with a win over then-number-five Michigan early in the year, as well as a first place regular season Pac-12 finish. Expect Oregon to finish in the top half of the conference, and, if they play cohesively and the newcomers step up, to see the Ducks be competitive with the UCLAs and ASUs of the league.
For the Cardinal, there is good news and bad news. The good: Stanford is set to be a top-25 team with the best shot of a deep tournament in recent Cardinal memory. The bad: Star freshman guard Tyrell Terry opted to test the professional waters, meaning Stanford will be without a player who would have easily been a First-Team All-Conference selection this season.
Despite Terry’s departure, this Stanford team is the most talented many have seen in years. First there is senior forward Oscar da Silva, who stands tall at 6 feet and nine inches and averaged 15.7 points and 6.4 rebounds per game last season. Over the years, da Silva has been steadily improving on both ends of the floor, and he is slated to be one of the best players in the Pac-12 in his senior season.
Other notable returning players for the Cardinal include guard duo Daejon Davis and Bryce Wills — who bring quickness, agility and experience as a senior and junior, respectively. Both Davis and Wills will likely average double figures this season, and almost undeniably, Stanford has one of the most dangerous backcourts in the Pac-12.
Lastly, and possibly most importantly for Stanford, is the addition of five-star recruit Ziaire Williams. Williams could very possibly be a one-and-done before pursuing a career in the NBA, but for now he’s a Cardinal. Expect Williams to play a significant role for this Stanford squad, and, if he and his teammates can play to their full potential, Stanford will be a serious contender for the Pac-12 title.
The challenge for the Bruins, a team that is undoubtedly one of the most talented on the West Coast, is consistency. In 2019-20, UCLA started the season playing like Coastal Carolina or Rice or any other struggling Division I program that comes to mind. By the end of the season, however, the Bruins looked like Duke — winning seven of their last eight games while playing some of the best teams in the league, including two wins over Arizona and one over Arizona State.
Coming into this season, UCLA has suffered very few player losses while gaining some key newcomers and welcoming back several returning players. Chris Smith, a senior guard who averaged 13.1 points per game, will be leading the way after his breakout season last year. Smith paired with redshirt sophomore Tyger Campbell could prove to be a lethal duo from 3-point range. Kentucky transfer Johnny Juzang, a sophomore guard, will add a versatile threat to this Bruins lineup, and junior forward Jalen Hill along with sophomore guard Jaime Jaquez Jr. will round out arguably the most talented starting five in the league. I have high hopes for this UCLA team, but I question their consistency — which is why I have them sitting in the second spot in the Pac-12, just behind ASU.
1. Arizona State
This Arizona State team may be overlooked by some, but in my opinion, the Sun Devils should be the clear favorite to win the Pac-12. The story of the offseason for ASU is the return of Martin, a star who averaged 19.1 points per game in his junior season. Martin received First-Team All-Conference honors following the 2019-20 season, leading some to believe that he would be off to bigger and better places: professional ball. When ASU announced in early August that Martin would be returning to play in his senior season, however, the Sun Devils immediately became the team to beat in the Pac-12.
With other talented returning players to complement Martin, such as senior guard Alonzo Verge Jr. and senior forward Kimani Lawrence, this Sun Devils team has starpower.
It’s not just returning players that will be paving the way for ASU, but also the seventh best recruiting class in the country. Freshman guard Josh Christopher, a five-star recruit, is the most notable of the incoming squad and has been regarded as one of the best guards in his class. He will be joined by Marcus Bagley (Name look familiar? It should!), a strong small forward out of Sacramento. The immense talent of the incoming freshmen will not only provide for ASU this season but may pay dividends in years to come, depending on who stays.
The main challenge for ASU will be to fill the role of forward Romello White, who transferred to the University of Mississippi in the offseason. White was a force to be reckoned with down low and also a frequent double digit scorer, averaging 10.2 points a contest when the season concluded and leaving Head Coach Bobby Hurley with his work cut out for him to replace such a star. Regardless, it’s the Martin-Verge duo alongside an absolutely incredible recruiting class that I believe will lead the Sun Devils to a Pac-12 Championship.
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Max Hazzard was a freshman last season. The Daily regrets this error.
Contact Teddy Solomon at tedsol ‘at’ stanford.edu.