A year after sending five teams to the NCAA Tournament and three to the Elite Eight, the Pac-12 suffered a hangover last season. The league produced just three NCAA Tournament teams, and none of them advanced beyond the Sweet 16. Now, as the conference stares down an uncertain future amid the looming departures of UCLA and USC for the Big Ten, the pressure is on to reclaim some respectability on the hardwood.
Arizona and UCLA again appear like the Pac-12's best bets for a national contender, but Oregon and USC remain in good hands under veteran coaches who have tasted plenty of recent success. The question for the league's overall health is whether a couple of programs can emerge from the chase pack as viable NCAA Tournament teams this season.
Arizona State won 20 or more games in three straight seasons under Bobby Hurley before slipping the past two seasons. Similarly, Washington is trying to reclaim a place of prominence in the league after enjoying success early in Mike Hopkins' tenure. Stanford is yearning for a breakthrough, Colorado owns real estate on the NCAA Tournament bubble and Washington State looked like a program on the rise last season.
With the season just around the corner, let's dive deeper into the Pac-12 with some predictions for how things will play out in the season ahead.
CBS Sports Pac-12 Preseason Player of the Year
Jaime Jaquez Jr. | Forward | UCLA
With Johnny Juzang and Jules Bernard gone, the stage is set for Jaquez to take another step offensively and become one of the top scorers in the Pac-12. The 6-foot-6 wing averaged 13.9 points per game last season on 47.2% shooting even while battling through injuries. Jaquez has played a huge role in each act of coach Mick Cronin's success at UCLA to date and is poised to put a memorable cap on a great career with the Bruins this season, though he technically has a fifth year of eligibility available due to the COVID-19 year.
Four more players to watch
Tyger Campbell | PG | UCLA: Campbell ranked sixth nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio last season in his third year as UCLA's starting point guard while also improving his 3-point shooting percentage to 41%.
Will Richardson | SG | Oregon: A veteran of 115 games with Oregon, Richardson is a career 39.2% 3-point shooter who is poised for another big season after averaging a career-best 14.1 points per game last season.
Harrison Ingram | SF/PF | Stanford: Ingram averaged 10.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game last season as a five-star freshman and ranks No. 28 on Kyle Boone's 2023 NBA Draft Big Board.
Azuolas Tubelis | PF/C | Arizona: With Arizona bidding farewell to three NBA Draft picks, Tubelis should challenge for the league's scoring title after averaging 13.2 points per game over his first two seasons with the Wildcats.
CBS Sports Pac-12 Preseason Freshman of the Year
Amari Bailey | Guard | UCLA
Jaquez and Campbell are the established leaders for UCLA, but Bailey may be the injection of youth and raw talent the Bruins need to win the conference. The No. 10 overall prospect in the 2022 recruiting class is expected to be an immediate two-way contributor and should have no problem finding a place to produce offensively amid the departures of Johnny Juzang and Jules Bernard.
CBS Sports Pac-12 Predicted order of finish
|UCLA loses two of its top three scorers, a pair of veteran bigs and a one-and-done freshman. But the Bruins are nonetheless a deserving Pac-12 favorite and potential national title contender in Mick Cronin's fourth season. Tyger Campbell and Jaime Jaquez Jr. are seniors and All-American candidates, junior wing Jaylen Clark looks like one of the conference's top breakout candidates, and a trio of top-50 freshmen are poised to make a major early impact. Veteran role players David Singleton and Kenneth Nwuba also return, and former four-star prospects Will McClendon and Mac Etienne could be ready to contribute this season as they recover from knee surgeries. If No. 10 overall prospect Amari Bailey, a combo guard, and No. 17 overall prospect Adem Bona, a center, are as good as advertised, this will be Cronin's best team yet in Westwood.|
|Arizona loses three draft picks from a team that won the Pac-12 regular season and tournament titles before earning a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. A step back may be inevitable, but second-year coach Tommy Lloyd has a solid roster headlined by 6-11 power forward Azuolas Tubelis. The junior averaged 13.9 points and 6.2 rebounds in just 24.6 minutes per game last season. Vivacious point guard Kerr Kriisa and reigning Pac-12 Sixth Man of the Year Pelle Larsson round out the nucleus and give Lloyd a veteran back court. Texas transfer Courtney Ramey brings 106 career starts for a Big 12 program and is a good 3-point shooter who may benefit from finally playing in an up-tempo offensive system.|
|Every year, Dana Altman takes a bunch of talent, mixes it together and usually produces an excellent product. Last season marked an exception as the Ducks registered a rare NCAA Tournament miss. Now, after its annual dose of roster churn, Oregon seems poised for a bounce back. Will Richardson, a senior guard and last season's leading scorer, is back and joined by a collection of transfers in the backcourt. The intrigue is in the frontcourt, where five-star 7-footer Kel'el Ware joins former five-star big N'Faly Dante in giving the Ducks a tandem that looks intimidating on paper. Sophomore 7-footer Nathan Bittle is another former five-star prospect on the roster who struggled last season. How effectively Altman manages rotations and egos with his plethora of bigs could determine Oregon's ceiling.|
|After three straight top-three finishes in the Pac-12 with one or both Mobley brothers on the roster, it's a new era for USC following Isaiah Mobley's departure for the NBA. Five-star freshman Vince Iwuchukwu, the nation's No. 28 prospect, was expected to be part of the replacement committee. But he is dealing with a heart issue that has cast his playing future into question. Veteran big Joshua Morgan is a good rim protector who can slot in at the five. But the scoring onus for this team may fall on Boogie Ellis and Drew Peterson. Ellis averaged 12.5 points and 2.4 assists after transferring from Memphis last season. Peterson is a lanky wing who hit 41.2% of his 3-pointers last season while averaging 12.4 points per game. How far this team goes may determine how ready top-60 prospects Tre White and Kijani Wright are to contribute.|
|Stanford has made just one NCAA Tournament since 2008, but this team has a chance to get the Cardinal in the Big Dance for the first time under seventh-year coach Jerod Haase. They have a potential first round NBA Draft pick in sophomore forward Harrison Ingram, leading scorer Spencer Jones returns and they add sharpshooting Davidson transfer Michael Jones. Some of the issues that plagued Stanford during last season's 16-16 (8-12 Pac-12) campaign, such as turnover woes and poor free-throw shooting, are relatively simple fixes. The lack of a rim protector could be an issue unless sophomore 7-footer Maxime Raynaud has a breakout season.|
|Arizona State has some glamour on the roster in Michigan transfer guard Frankie Collins and junior forward Marcus Bagley. Both were highly sought recruits who give the Sun Devils appealing upside. But Collins will have something to prove after logging just 11 minutes per game as a freshman with the Wolverines, and Bagley will need to stay healthy after an injury plagued first two seasons on campus. If those two play near their potential, there are enough other veteran pieces on this roster for the Sun Devils to bounce back from consecutive losing seasons.|
|Washington emerged from a two-year detour into the Pac-12 gutter to go 17-15 (11-9 Pac-12) last season. If the Huskies are going to take the next step and return to the NCAA Tournament, it may be on a group of transfers to deliver. Former Kentucky forward Keion Brooks Jr. is the group's headliner after averaging 10.8 points for the Wildcats last season. If Washington State transfer guard Noah Williams can reclaim the offensive efficiency he enjoyed as a sophomore before struggling last season, it would help with the collective effort to replace Terrell Brown, who led the league in scoring at 21.7 points per game last season. The final major transfer piece is center Franck Kepnang, who fled Oregon's logjam at the five and should be able to help the Huskies improve their rim protection.|
|Washington State broke through for its first 20-win season since 2011-12 in Kyle Smith's third year as coach. Now, the Cougars must replace the top four scorers from that team. Junior guard TJ Bamba and sophomore big Mouhamed Gueye look capable of taking on bigger roles, and three others who played regular minutes last season are back as well. Former Auburn and Tennessee guard Jusin Powell has been up and down through two college seasons, but if he can reclaim his freshman form, it could help Washington State sustain some of the momentum it generated last season.|
|Colorado has surpassed 20 wins each of the past four seasons, but the Buffaloes may be challenged to keep that trajectory after losing their top three scorers from last season. Point guard K.J. Simpson made the Pac-12 All-Freshman team last season, and versatile forward Tristan Da Silva enjoyed a breakout sophomore campaign. With Ivy League transfer guards Ethan Wright (Princeton) and Jalen Gabbidon (Yale) on board, the Buffs look solid on the perimeter. But sophomore center Lawson Lovering will need to make a big jump on the interior, where Colorado looks a bit lean following the departures of Jabari Walker and Evan Battey.|
|Utah's 11-20 (4-16 Pac-12) record last season marked its worst since the program's first year in the league in 2011-12 and underscored the rebuild facing Craig Smith. While a return to the conference's upper crust seems unlikely this season, the Utes return five players who logged 15 or more minutes per game last season. Headlining the group is 7-footer Branden Carlson, who averaged 13.6 points and 6 rebounds per game while expanding his offensive game to the 3-point line. Defense was a glaring weakness for this team last season and must improve for Utah to make significant progress.|
|There isn't much on Cal's roster to suggest that a breakthrough is imminent in coach Mark Fox's fourth season. The Bears lose their top three scorers from last season's 12-20 squad, and their top returning producer, Jalen Celestine, is expected to miss a chunk of the season following knee surgery. Transfer point guard Devin Askew is a former big-time prospect but is on his third school in three seasons after underwhelming stops at Kentucky and Texas. If Askew and former Coppin State star Dejuan Clayton both pop, then perhaps the backcourt can be a strength for the Bears.|
|Oregon State returned to Earth with a violent thud last season by finishing 3-28 (1-19 Pac-12) after its storybook Elite Eight run in 2021. The Beavers lose their top five scorers from last year's squad, but perhaps that's a good thing. The door is open for returning contributors Dexter Akanno and Glenn Taylor Jr. to seize significant roles after both played supporting roles last season behind a group of struggling returners from the Elite Eight team. Ninth-year coach Wayne Tinkle brought in a solid freshman class, but it looks like more of a developmental group than one that can help Oregon State move the needle right away.|
CBS Sports Pac-12 most overrated team
Boogie Ellis and Drew Peterson are productive veterans on the perimeter, but the Trojans are otherwise fairly young compared to most of the league. Theof freshman center Vince Iwuchukwu casts further uncertainty on the rotation, which means the Trojans could dip a bit after three straight top-three finishes in the league.
CBS Sports Pac-12 most underrated team
Collectively, our panel pegged Colorado to finish ninth. Since the Buffaloes joined the league amid its expansion to 12 teams in the 2011-12 season, they have never finished worse than tied for eighth. While it's hard to see this Colorado team competing for a league title after losing the likes of Jabari Walker and Evan Battey, the Buffs have enough talent to stick in the middle of the pack. Colorado has been remarkably consistent under 13th-year coach Tad Boyle, and that stability should continue in the season ahead.