The Pac-12 made strides back into the spotlight last season, but Arizona appears to be the only sure-thing this time. Who might upset the Wildcats on the college basketball odds?
Death, taxes and the UCLA men's basketball team winning the Pac-12. Those used to be three things you could count on in life.
Death and taxes are still a certainty, but the Bruins' place atop the conference's hardwood standings is no longer a safe bet. UCLA did turn out to be a decent wager a year ago with an unexpected Pac-12 Tournament Championship in Steve Alford's first season at the helm in Westwood, but it took an upset to make that happen.
Arizona was the team the Bruins upset for the 2014 crown, and the Wildcats are once again favored to win the Pac-12 this time around. Sean Miller's crew enters the campaign ranked second in the preseason USA Today Coaches Poll and sitting in the same spot on ESPN's recently released top 25 power rankings. Arizona is also fetching a -250 price on the college basketball futures odds in the conference race, along with 8/1 odds to be the last dancer on the floor in the 2015 Men's Basketball Tournament.
Miller & Company appeared headed to the Final Four last March before falling in overtime to Wisconsin in the West Region Finals. A key member of that team is gone, however, after Nick Johnson moved to the NBA where he was a 2nd-round pick by the Houston Rockets.
Replacing him will not be easy, but the Wildcats did manage to bring in one of the country's top recruits in Stanley Johnson. The 6-7 star-in-the-making should be part of Miller's rotation from Day 1, and the Wildcats also have Brandon Ashley, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Kaleb Tarczewski and TJ McConnell back in the fold.
When making your NCAA basketball picks keep in mind the Pac-12 should be Arizona's for the taking, but we know the rest of the conference won't make it easy on the Wildcats.
Plenty Of Talent To Replace At UCLA
Alford enjoyed a successful first year at UCLA, guiding the Bruins not only to the conference tourney title, but also the Sweet 16 before losing to South Region top seed Florida. According to the NCAA basketball futures odds, it's supposed to be another fine season for Alford and the Bruins who are behind Arizona at +250 to win the Pac-12.
They're a pretty distant 50/1 on the NCAA Championship odds, though, and for good reason after the Bruins lost Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams, Zach LaVine and the Wear Brothers, Travis and David. That quintet represented about 66% of the floor minutes last year for the Bruins, and despite incoming freshman talent like Kevon Looney and Thomas Welsh, we could easily see UCLA take a step back this time around.
Can Utes Or Buffs Upset The Old Pac-12 Guard?
It's certainly difficult to imagine the Utah Utes as a possibility to win the Pac-12, but they do sit third on the futures odds at +300. Larry Krystkowiak brings a group of unheralded players into the season, including three starters in guards Brandon Taylor and Delon Wright plus forward Jordan Loveridge.
Krystkowiak's prized recruit is freshman Brekkott Chapman. The 6-8 Utah native is expected to be a big part of the rotation early, if not in the starting lineup, and while the Utes don't have a ton of size, they're still going to surprise some teams and make it to the NCAA's.
One team I like as a dark horse is Colorado, fourth on the futures odds at +500 to win the Pac-12. Tad Boyle's Buffaloes learned the hard way about life without Spencer Dinwiddie, and bring back most of the team that made it into March Madness without their star last spring.
Stanford Loitering In The Conference Shadows
Sitting behind that quartet at +800 to cut down the Pac-12 nets are the Stanford Cardinal. They pulled off a mild shock last year by making it not only into the NCAA Tournament as a 10-seed, but then knocking off No. 7 New Mexico and No. 2 Kansas in the South Region to make it to the Sweet 16.
Johnny Dawkins' job was on the line before that showing, and he should have even more talent at his disposal this season. The two big losses are down low where Dwight Powell and Josh Huestis departed. Enter Reid Travis, a beefy 6-8 freshman who should team well with returning center Stefan Nastic.
Dawkins is likely to play small to begin with, but the good news there is having the experienced Chasson Randle back on point along with Anthony Brown who is a true threat from beyond the arc.