Quote by Conference 3 – Plenty of stars and no guarantees




You can read our full coverage of the big mid-major world here and here, now let’s take a look at the best conferences of the nation.

Pac 12


Favorite: Oregon

If Dillon Brooks fully recovered from his foot injury, Oregon is the favorite in the Pac12. They have a good yet underestimated coach in Dana Altman, and they will count on Tyler Dorsey, Jordan Bell and Chris Boucher return. The latter can be effective on both sides of the floor, making him extremely valuable and critical to the team’s success. They also added two players via transfers: PG Dylan Ennis and PF Kavell Bigby-Williams, who has a skill-set very similar to Chris Boucher. It is entirely possible this is the best roster ever seen in Eugene.

Runner up: Arizona

Sean Miller‘s Wildcats are the dominant force in the conference no more, but they have a roster talented and deep enough, with the right mix of experience (Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Kadeem Allen, Dušan Ristić) and youth (Lauri Markkanen, Rawle Alkins, Kobi Simmons) to get back on top. Allonzo Trier will be their go-to guy and the player who will have to carry them to the Final Four.

Outsiders: UCLA, California

Freshman Lonzo Ball will be running the Bruins’ uptempo offense and he will have to feed two scorers like Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton (a combined 33 points per game). UCLA will certainly be a fun watch in the Pac12 season, but it’s defense that wins titles, offense is only good to sell tickets, or so the old saying goes. If he wants to keep the job, coach Steve Alford will have to coax enough defense out of this talented group to give up less than the 76.5 points per game the team allowed last season. An immensely talented player like Ivan Rabb is enough to make Cal a dangerous team for anyone, even if coach Cuonzo Martin does not seem to be up to the task of coaching at this level. With such a focus on interior plays, Jabari Bird and transfer Grant Mullins 40% shooting will be sorely needed to stretch the floor and create the space where their bigs can get to work.

Ivan Rabb (California)

Ivan Rabb (California)

About the rest: Utah, USC, Washington

Kyle Kuzma will be the go-to guy for the Utes, and coach Larry Krystkowiak will have to build a supporting cast around him, starting with Lorenzo Bonam and with a good junior group. When talking about third-year players, Jordan McLaughlin and Elijah Steward will be starting in the Trojans backcourt and will carry the team to another solid season. And if sophomores Chimezie Metu and Bennie Boatwright had to show some progress, they have a real chance to threaten the top teams. Washington will be the stage for the Markelle Fultz show: if he had to prove he has the talent to be first pick in the draft, the Huskies will be a costly loss for plenty of teams.

Stars: Ivan Rabb (California, C, So), Dillon Brooks (Oregon, SF, Jr), Chris Boucher (Oregon, PF, Sr), Tyler Dorsey (Oregon, PG, So), Allonzo Trier (Arizona, SG, So)

Rabb will be the centerpiece of Cal‘s offense, and he might put up a 20-10 season. Oregon is considered the best in the Pac12 because of a trio of talents: Brooks, one of the early favorites for POY; Boucher, who can easily block a shot near the rim on defense and then score on a three pointer in the very next possession; and Dorsey, a combo guard with a very well rounded offensive skill-set. Trier, on the other hand, is the perfect go-to guy: when the game is on the line, he will have the ball in his hands, despite all the talent at roster.

Freshmen: Markelle Fultz (Washington, PG), Lonzo Ball (UCLA, PG), T.J. Leaf (UCLA, PF), Lauri Markkanen (Arizona, C), Rawle Alkins (Arizona, SG/SF)

Fultz and Ball will have to be leaders from day one and will have to take on many responsibilities from the very first game. The former is the prototype of the “generational” talent and excels in every facet of the game: shooting, court vision, defense, game IQ; while the  latter is the best passer in the conference (and he tends to prefer the highlight play) but his outside shooting and defense needs a lot of work. There’s a lot of hype around Lead coming into the season, since he can both make the athletic play and shoot it from distance. In Tucson they are used to youngsters with huge upside and this season they will meet PF Markkanen, a modern forward-center who is as skinny as Porzingis and can do a little bit of everything, and Alkins, a guard with an Nba-ready body and unlimited range on his jumper.