By Jon Rothstein
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FIVE QUESTIONS IN PAC-12
1. CAN UCLA MESH?
It’s the question we’ve all been wondering and it should be fascinating to watch it all unfold. Bruins coach Ben Howland has always built teams from scratch and made them elite. Now, he’s forced with the task of molding one of the best rosters he’s ever had into a national contender. UCLA won’t be short on talent but they’re going to need to sacrifice for what’s most important — winning. A major key in blending all of the Bruins’ pieces together will be freshman point forward Kyle Anderson, a player who made his mark in high school by dominating games with his unselfishness. Anderson’s presence and ability to make others better could go a long way in balancing the stardom of fellow freshmen Shabazz Muhammad and Tony Parker along with veterans Josh Smith and David and Travis Wear. Also keep an eye on freshman Jordan Adams. The forgotten member of UCLA’s fabled recruiting class, Adams has a terrific basketball IQ and can really shoot it from deep. His presence could go a long way as an ancillary piece in Westwood.
2. WHAT DOES MARK LYONS ADD FOR ARIZONA?
Everything considering how badly Sean Miller was looking for stability at point guard over the past few seasons. Lyons desperately craved a chance to showcase his lead guard ability to have a chance to play at the next level and departing Xavier for Tucson should give him the forum to do just that. With Lyons, Nick Johnson, Solomon Hill, and a healthy Kevin Parrom and Jordin Mayes, Arizona should have a much deeper and explosive perimeter than they had last season. The Wildcats should also get higher percentage looks thanks to their strong influx of interior talent, headlined by freshmen Kaleb Tarcewski, Brandon Ashley, and Grant Jerrett.
3. HOW WILL STANFORD DEAL WITH EXPECTATIONS?
The Cardinal built up some nice momentum after winning last year’s Postseason NIT and anything less than a trip to the NCAA Tournament will be a disappointment in Palo Alto. Not to worry, Johnny Dawkins returns a terrific team headlined by the best guard no one knows about in sophomore Chasson Randle. Between Randle, Aaron Bright, and Anthony Brown, Stanford will have a battle tested perimeter and Dwight Powell should flourish as this team’s sole low post presence after Josh Owens’ graduation. Also keep an eye on the different ways Dawkins uses the power forward spot. John Gage is a stretch four man that can space the floor with his ability to make outside shots but perhaps the most intriguing player in this team’s front court is 6-7 junior forward Josh Huestis. The Cardinal staff loves him and Huestis could add big time shot blocking on the interior with augmented minutes.
4. WILL COLORADO RETURN TO THE NCAA TOURNAMENT?
It all depends on their back court. Both Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie were terrific for the Buffaloes last season when Tad Boyle’s team came out of nowhere to win the PAC-12 Tournament and earn an automatic bid to the field of 68. Booker was sensational in NCAA games against UNLV and Baylor and should assume lead guard responsibilities. History has proven that Andre Roberson is more than capable of averaging a double-double on a nightly basis and the 6-7 forward looks primed for a major season in Boulder. Keep an eye on two freshmen, Josh Scott and Xavier Johnson who both will have a chance to start.
5. WHO IS THE SLEEPER?
It feels a little weird at this point calling USC a sleeper since they’ve gotten so much off season attention but the Trojans are without question one of the more interesting teams in all of college basketball. After a year in which Kevin O’Neill’s team only won one game in the PAC-12, USC looks like a legitimate contender for the NCAA Tournament. O’Neill could have potentially have five new starters including a potential first round pick in lead guard Jio Fontan, who missed last season with a knee injury. With plenty of talent and depth at their disposal, the Trojans will need to build cohesion and chemistry if they hope to reach the field of 68 for the second time in the past three seasons.
PAC-12 PRESEASON POWER RANKINGS
THE SKINNY: The addition of Mark Lyons makes the Wildcats the team to beat in the PAC-12.
THE SKINNY: The buzz is back in Westwood.
THE SKINNY: People won’t sleep on Chasson Randle after this season.
THE SKINNY: Richard Solomon’s return is good news for people in Berkeley.
THE SKINNY: The Trojans are incredibly deep — now can they blend?
THE SKINNY: Lorenzo Romar’s group should have terrific balance.
THE SKINNY: Tad Boyle hopes the Buffaloes can reach the NCAA Tournament for the second time in as many seasons.
8. OREGON STATE
THE SKINNY: This team can play their way into the bubble picture if they learn to guard.
THE SKINNY: Freshman guard Dominic Artis is a gem.
10. ARIZONA STATE
THE SKINNY: The Sun Devils have a sleeper back court with Jahii Carson and Evan Gordon.
11. WASHINGTON STATE
THE SKINNY: This team will go as far as Reggie Moore takes them.
THE SKINNY: Folks in Salt Lake City will have be patient with Larry Krystowiak.
PAC-12 PRESEASON FIRST TEAM
Mark Lyons, Arizona
Allen Crabbe, Cal
C.J. Wilcox, Washington
Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA
Brock Motum, Washington State
PAC-12 PRESEASON PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Andre Roberson, Colorado
TEN THAT HAVE WAITED AND WILL MAKE AN INSTANT IMPACT
1. Larry Drew, UCLA (transfer)
2. Ricky Kreklow, Cal (transfer)
3. J.T. Terrell, USC (transfer)
4. Jio Fontan, USC (red shirt)
5. Eric Wise, USC (transfer)
6. Evan Gordon, Arizona State (transfer)
7. Jahii Carson, Arizona State (red shirt)
8. Andrew Andrews, Washington (red shirt)
9. Austin Kuemper, Oregon (red shirt)
10. David Foster, Utah (red shirt)
TEN BREAKOUT PLAYERS
1. Roberto Nelson, Oregon State
2. Spencer Dinwiddie, Colorado
3. Askia Booker, Colorado
4. Carlos Emory, Oregon
5. Dwight Powell, Stanford
6. Josh Huestis, Stanford
7. Richard Solomon, Cal
8. Josh Smith, UCLA
9. Nick Johnson, Arizona
10. Jonathan Gilling, Arizona State
TEN FRESHMEN TO WATCH
1. Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA
2. Kyle Anderson, UCLA
3. Tony Parker, UCLA
4. Brandon Ashley, Arizona
5. Grant Jerrett, Arizona
6. Kaleb Tarczewski, Arizona
7. Jahii Carson, Arizona State
8. Dominic Artis, Oregon
9. Josh Scott, Colorado
10. Xavier Johnson, Colorado
FIVE UNDER-THE-RADAR FRESHMEN
1. Rosco Allen, Stanford
2. Jordan Adams, UCLA
3. Strahinja Gavrilovic, USC
4. Tyrone Wallace, Cal
5. Damyean Dotson, Oregon