Pac-12 contenders look very different now than six weeks ago
Cinco de Mayo was not kind to basketball programs in the state of Oregon.
It started with Craig Robinson, Oregon State’s now-former head coach and President Barack Obama’s brother-in-law. He was let go in mid-May -- which almost never happens -- after an offseason that saw the Beavers lose their entire starting lineup to graduation, transfer or the professional ranks. Oregon State will be in full-blown rebuilding mode next season, and that’s not a good sign for a program that just finished a 16-16 campaign and that went 39-69 in the Pac-12 during Robinson’s tenure.
How bad is it in Corvallis?
The situation may be too dire for Ben Howland to want to deal with, and he has made a push for just about every high-major job that has come open this offseason.
And that wasn’t as shocking as what Oregon announced a couple of hours later. Sophomore Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson and freshman Brandon Austin have all been suspended from the Oregon program. They’ll follow Ben Carter and A.J. Lapray out the door, meaning that of the 10 players on Oregon’s roster that were a part of their rotation a season ago, eight are now gone. Only Joseph Young and Elgin Cook are scheduled to return.
The Ducks do bring in a solid class of recruits -- headlined by five-star prospect JaQuan Lyle and former top 50 recruit and JuCo center Michael Chandler -- but Dana Altman cleaning house will turn what could have been a top 15 team into one that will likely be on the bubble until late in the 2014-2015 season.
Things only get worse when you look at the Pac-12 as a whole:
- UCLA had a shot to be Arizona’s biggest challenger in the league, but they went 0-for-3 when it came to stars leaving for the NBA Draft. Kyle Anderson was a given -- he made no secret about the fact that he was leaving school this year -- but losing a Zach LaVine and Jordan Adams is going to hurt. Adams would have been an all-american while LaVine had the potential to be a star at this level.
- Early entry wasn’t kind to Colorado, either, as Spencer Dinwiddie announced that his career in Boulder is over. The Buffaloes still have a chance to make the tournament in 2015, but they went from being a potential top 15 team to one that is probably closer to the top 40 when they lost their best player.
- Arizona State was ready for Jahii Carson to go pro, but his departure combined with the graduation of Jordan Bachynski and Jermaine Marshall puts the Sun Devils in a hole.
- Cal saw Mike Montgomery retire, and while new head coach Cuonzo Martin might end up being a perfect fit in Berkeley -- especially with his hire of ace recruiter Yanni Hufnagel -- a coaching change is never easy when it coincides with the loss of a team’s two best players (Richard Solomon and Justin Cobbs).
- USC and Washington State both lost their leading scorers, and Wazzu will be replacing head coach Ken Bone.
Arizona is our No. 2 team in the country and the clear favorite in the Pac-12, but after that, things get really murky. Utah looks like they will be good next season as they essentially return their entire team, but this is also a group that couldn’t close out a big win in last season and is just two years removed from winning all of six games in a season.
Stanford returns Chasson Randle, Stefan Nastic and Anthony Brown and has the size to handle the loss of Dwight Powell and Josh Huestis, but we’ve been waiting for the Cardinal to live up to the amount of talent that the program has for a couple of years now.
I say all that to say this: the Pac-12, at the end of the 2014 NCAA tournament, looked like it would end up being one of the stronger conferences in the country.
And while it still could every well produce the 2015 national champion, the last six weeks have yielded quite a talent drain at the top of the conference.