The college basketball season tips off Friday. Here is a look around the Pac-12 conference before we get going.
Need to Know: I'm picking Arizona to win its third consecutive conference championship, but it is not going to be as clear cut a race as it has been in years past. Gone are Stanley Johnson, Brandon Ashley, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and while coach Sean Miller has brought in an elite recruiting class to replace that trio, it is unknown just how high this team's ceiling is.
On paper, this team has the talent to return to a third straight Elite Eight. It might take a few months and a couple of losses in nonconference play before the freshman are completely acclimated, but the bottom line is that this is still the most complete team in the Pac-12.
Bold Prediction: Boston College transfer Ryan Anderson wins Pac-12 Newcomer of the Year.
Toughest nonconference game: Dec. 5 at Gonzaga
Postseason Outlook: 2 seed in NCAA Tournament
Need to Know: Don't ask me how he did it, but Cuonzo Martin managed to snag a pair of top-10 overall prospects in last year's recruiting class. Group them with point guard Tyrone Wallace (17.1 PPG in 2014-15) and Georgetown transfer Stephen Domingo, and California has a roster that not only will compete for a conference championship, but a national one as well.
If Martin can get the team to play together and focus on winning instead of improving their respective draft stock, the Golden Bears are going to be dangerous. The schedule works out so they miss a road trip to UCLA this season, and their only real test out of conference comes three days before Christmas in Charlottesville against Virginia. Really, it looks like their only roadblock is having too much talent. That is not a bad problem to have.
Bold Prediction: The Pac-12 regular season championship will come down to their March 3 game at Arizona.
Toughest nonconference game: Dec. 22 at Virginia
Postseason Outlook: 4 seed in NCAA Tournament
Need to Know: While Cal is loaded at the top, UCLA will challenge Arizona for the deepest rotation in the Pac-12. The Bruins have six players returning that were on the floor for at least 10 minutes per game a year ago and add two newcomers in the backcourt that can play right away.
This team might struggle early as they face another challenging nonconference schedule, but expect Steve Alford to right the ship later on in the year like he did in his first two seasons in Westwood.
Bold Prediction: Bryce Alford wins Pac-12 Player of the Year.
Toughest nonconference game: Dec. 19 vs North Carolina in New York City
Postseason Outlook: 5 seed in NCAA Tournament
Need to Know: Dana Altman and company seem to outperform expectations every year, so this time I am getting in on the ground floor. Replacing do-everything guard Joseph Young is going to be tough, but big men Elgin Cook and Dillon Brooks are back and can carry the majority of the load on offense.
Where this team is going to win and lose games, though, is on the defensive end of the floor. The Ducks finished the 2014-15 season ranked 202nd in defensive efficiency, and they will need to improve significantly on that standing if they want to finish in the upper third of the conference.
Bold Prediction: Oregon wins its final six regular season games.
Toughest nonconference game: Nov. 16 vs Baylor
Postseason Outlook: 7 seed in NCAA Tournament
Need to Know: The Utes are going to be fine this season, but I think they might be slightly overrated after beating expectations last year. Delon Wright and Dallin Bachynski are gone from that team that won 26 games, and there are plenty of question marks that need to be answered in Salt Lake City.
Sophomore forward/center Jakob Poeltl has the tools to be an all-conference type of big man, but how he handles being the focal point of Utah's offense still remains to be seen.
Bold Prediction: The Utes finish in 6th place at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.
Toughest nonconference game: Dec. 19 vs Duke in New York City
Postseason Outlook: 8 seed in NCAA Tournament
6. Oregon State
Need to Know: Is this the year Oregon State makes their first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 1990? It's going to be close. Wayne Tinkle has collected a nice group of young talent to go along with a veteran backcourt consisting of Gary Payton II and Malcolm Duvivier, but it is going to take some time for the team to develop the chemistry needed to make a run at the dance.
An easy nonconference slate will give the Beavers a shot at accumulating early victories, but could come back to haunt them in March when their RPI is lower than that of other bubble teams.
Bold Prediction: Oregon State sneaks into the Big Dance, their first in 25 years.
Toughest nonconference game: Dec. 12 vs Kansas in Kansas City
Postseason Outlook: 11 seed in NCAA Tournament
7. Arizona State
Need to Know: It's a new era of basketball in Tempe, and Bobby Hurley has done a nice job of rejuvenating the program in his seven months here. The big question is, can he parlay that excitement into a successful first season? The Arizona State backcourt seems set with Tra Holder and Gerry Blakes handling the ball, but what we don't know is who will take over for the departed Shaquille McKissic.
If Hurley is able to find an answer, whether it is in the form of Savon Goodman or one of his multiple junior college transfers, the Sun Devils could very well finish in the upper half of the Pac-12 and return to the NCAA Tournament after a one year hiatus.
Bold Prediction: JC transfer Obinna Oleka finishes the season averaging over 10 points per game.
Toughest nonconference game: Dec. 12 at Kentucky
Postseason Outlook: 2 seed in the NIT
Need to Know: Askia Booker is gone in Boulder, which gives this Colorado team some interesting options. While you never want to lose a player of his caliber, his absence will open up a lot of shots for this new-look team. The biggest beneficiary could be 6-foot-7 junior Tre'Shaun Fletcher, who has the ability to hit from distance and provides a lot of matchup problems for opponents due to his size.
If Fletcher can capitalize on a strong finish to his sophomore season, coach Tad Boyle will have a big three consisting of Fletcher, Josh Scott, and Xavier Johnson. That's a trio with the potential to surprise a lot of teams this year.
Bold Prediction: The Buffaloes win three games in the Pac-12 Tournament before losing in the title game.
Toughest nonconference game: Nov. 13 vs Iowa State in Sioux Falls
Postseason Outlook: 4 seed in the NIT
Need to Know: The Huskies haven't gone dancing since 2011, and that streak will not be broken this season. That doesn't mean there is not any talent in Seattle, just that they are a year or two away from seeing their young prospects blossom.
Senior guard Andrew Andrews (15 PPG in 2014-15) will act as an on-floor babysitter for the rest of his young rotation, which includes a top 10 junior college transfer and three top 100 high school recruits.
Bold Prediction: Washington loses to Texas twice in less than two weeks.
Toughest nonconference game: Nov. 25 vs Gonzaga in Nassau
Postseason Outlook: CBI
10. Washington State
Need to Know: For a team that is being picked by most to finish dead last in the Pac-12, a finish here might be considered a success for Ernie Kent and company in his second season. Like their rivals across the state, while this season might not bring many wins, Washington State's future is bright.
Junior forward Josh Hawkinson is one of the most intriguing big men in the country, and Houston transfer Valentine Izundu can play at the five and take some pressure off of Hawkinson. What the Cougars lack is experience, and that will lead to some growing pains (especially on the road) this season.
Bold Prediction: Josh Hawkinson is named a second team All-American at the end of the year.
Toughest nonconference game: Dec. 2 vs Gonzaga
Postseason Outlook: N/A
Need to Know: It's just tough to see Stanford competing with the rest of the conference after losing Chasson Randle, Anthony Brown, and Stefan Nastic. I loved what Johnny Dawkins was doing with the team the past few years, but a less than stellar recruiting class has left the cupboard pretty bare. It looks like a rough season is ahead on the Farm.
Bold Prediction: One of the few Cardinal wins in Pac-12 play comes against rival California.
Toughest nonconference game: Nov. 26 vs Villanova in New York City
Postseason Outlook: N/A
Need to Know: If you can say one thing for Andy Enfield, it is that he has done a good job of stockpiling some high-profile prospects. He's got a quartet of top 100 players from the last two recruiting classes on the roster, and those guys are good enough to steal some surprise victories this season.
With that said, however, this team is incredibly young and will struggle on some nights to stay competitive. The good news for Enfield and company is that the future is bright. The bad news is that the future is not now.
Bold Prediction: USC finishes with less than the three conference wins it managed last year.
Toughest nonconference game: Nov. 26 vs Wichita State in Bay Lake
Postseason Outlook: N/A