The Pac-12 as we know it will have one last dance as a basketball conference this season. The future of the "Conference of Champions" is uncertain with not only Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah departing for the Big 12 but Oregon, UCLA, USC and Washington leaving for the Big Ten and also Cal and Stanford joining the ACC for the 2024-25 academic year.
In the game of musical chairs better known as conference realignment, Oregon State and Washington State are the lone programs from the Pac-12 without a home for next season making this the last hurrah for the traditional Pac-12 lineup we are familiar with.
Two years after Oregon State, UCLA and USC all reached the Elite Eight, the Pac-12 failed to have a team make it beyond the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive season. The Bruins were the last team standing from the 2023 NCAA Tournament before they fell to Gonzaga in the Sweet 16.
Arizona is coming off being on the wrong end of one of the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history. The No. 2 seed Wildcats were upset by No. 15 seed Princeton. The good news for Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd and company is they added former North Carolina guard Caleb Love, who has experience playing on the biggest stage in college basketball. The Wildcats also return star big man Oumar Ballo, who was tabbed as CBS Sports Preseason Player of the Year.
CBS Sports Pac-12 Preseason Player of the Year
Oumar Ballo | C | Arizona
With Kerr Kriisa off to West Virginia and Ąžuolas Tubelis departing for the NBA, Ballo is expected to take a huge leap this season as Arizona's the top returning offensive option. Ballo averaged 14.2 points and 8.6 rebounds on 64.7% shooting last season and both of those numbers are expected to increase. Ballo's minutes nearly doubled (15.3 to 27.6) from the 2021-22 season to last and he should expect to play even more on most nights if he stays out of foul trouble. Ballo finished the 2022-23 season with 11 double-doubles and the Wildcats will need a big season from their star center if they want to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
Four more players to watch in the Pac-12
Adem Bona | C | UCLA: The reigning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year withdrew his name in the NBA Draft and will be a key player for Bruins coach Mick Cronin this season. Bona averaged 7.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in only 23 minutes per game and shot 68% from the field.
Tristan da Silva | F | Colorado: Like Bona, da Silva had a chance to declare for the NBA Draft and instead elected to return to school for one final season. The senior forward averaged 15.9 points and 4.8 rebounds during the 2022-23 season.
Branden Carlson | C | Utah: Carlson is one of the leading returning scorers in the Pac-12 and he averaged 16.4 points and 7.5 rebounds last season for the Utes.
CBS Sports Pac-12 Preseason Freshman of the Year
Isaiah Collier | G | USC
Collier was a relatively late riser in the 2023 class. He was ranked in the 20s and 30s for a majority of his high school career before skyrocketing into the No. 2 slot in the final 247Sports Class of 2023 rankings. Collier has a chance to be the best freshman in college basketball because of the role he's expected to take on from Day 1 at USC. Collier was one of the best passers in high school basketball and his facilitating is considered his greatest strength as a player. His style of play complements Ellis in the backcourt well because he is one of the top-scoring guards in the country. Collier is certainly in the conversation for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 NBA Draft.
CBS Sports Pac-12 predicted order of finish
|The Wildcats lost four starters from their team that won the Pac-12 Tournament title for the second consecutive season but quickly regrouped via the transfer portal by landing Caleb Love from North Carolina. Love was previously committed to Michigan before an academic issue prompted him to reopen his commitment. Kylan Boswell returns to the program after averaging 4.6 points last season and he should have a bigger role in Lloyd's system this season. Joining Boswell and Love in the starting lineup is CBS Sports Preseason Pac-12 Player of the Year Oumar Ballo. The Wildcats averaged 81.9 points per game last season, which ranked No. 6 in the country, but the scoring defense was a glaring weakness. Arizona allowed the most points per game (71.1) in the Pac-12 last season. The Wildcats will need to make a deep postseason run this spring to forget about the horrific loss to Princeton that ended their season.
|Collier and Ellis are the best backcourt in the Pac-12 and it's possible by the end of the season they could make the case for the best in the nation. Collier is a true pass-first point guard that complements Ellis' score-first mentality. The Trojans added power forward DJ Rodman, the son of former NBA defensive guru Dennis Rodman, from Washington State through the transfer portal. The biggest storyline during the offseason has been about the health and well-being of Bronny James after he suffered a cardiac arrest during a summer practice. His status is TBD as the season approaches, but his father, LeBron James, said earlier this month that his oldest son started rehab and he aims to play this season. If USC does get James back, it would be a massive boost for the Trojans.
|Colorado enters the season with the best roster that coach Tad Boyle has had since taking over the program in 2010. The star of the show is returning forward Tristan da Silva. After averaging 15.9 points and 4.8 rebounds last season, he elected to come back to school instead of moving on to the NBA. The biggest transfer portal addition for the Buffaloes is former TCU big man Eddie Lampkin Jr., who stood out during the Horned Frogs' NCAA Tournament run in 2022. Colorado is bringing in the highest-rated recruit in school history in guard Cody Williams, who finished as the No. 4 overall recruit in the 2023 class. The kid brother of NBA star Jalen Williams is expected to play off ball next to veteran guard KJ Simpson. This could be the year Colorado makes a deep tournament run because of the talent on the roster.
|It's not a rebuild in Westwood by any means, but it will be a new era of UCLA basketball this season without the likes of Jaime Jaquez Jr., Tyger Campbell, David Singleton and Jaylen Clark in the program. The good news is the Bruins do return the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Adem Bona, who just so happens to be one of the best defensive players in the league, too. The Bruins have seven freshmen entering the program and 7-foot-3 big man Aday Mara might end up being the best of the group. He's a talented passer with tremendous upside despite the lack of competition he's faced overseas. The staple of Cronin's program is his team's defense which only allowed only 60.7 points per game last season and ranked No. 1 in the Pac-12 and No. 7 in the nation last season.
|Oregon returns star big man N'Faly Dante after he averaged 13.4 points and 8.4 rebounds last season. Dante missed three of the Ducks' NIT games because of an ankle injury and he's expected to play a large role once again for coach Dana Altman. The Ducks have a trio of top-40 freshmen coming into the program in Kwame Evans Jr., Jackson Shelstad and Mookie Cook and all three should be in the rotation. Oregon lost former five-star recruit Kel'el Ware to Indiana and 7-foot big man Nate Bittle should see an extended role after having a big performance in the NIT against UCF.
|Since taking over the Arizona State program in 2015, coach Bobby Hurley has guided the Sun Devils to three NCAA Tournament appearances. The Sun Devils won their First Four matchup against Nevada last season and took TCU to the wire before being eliminated in heartbreaking fashion. Arizona State returns guard Frankie Collins after he averaged 9.7 points and 4.1 rebounds and added transfers Adam Miller from LSU and Bryant Selebangue from Tulsa. Hurley saw his younger brother, Dan Hurley guide UConn to the title and the Sun Devils are eager to get back to the NCAA Tournament.
|The Utes got a major boost when Branden Carlson announced he was coming back for his fifth-season. Not only did he put up big stats on offense (16.3 points) last season, but on the defensive end he averaged the second-most blocks per game in the Pac-12. Utah guard Gabe Madsen knocked down 62 three-pointers last season, which ranked No. 3 in the Pac-12. The Utes also added depth in the frontcourt in Colorado transfer Lawson Lovering, who averaged 4.9 points, 4.7 rebounds and recorded 33 blocks. Utah has not made the NCAA Tournament since 2016 and it will be deemed a worthy return back to school if Carlson can lead the program back to the Big Dance.
|Stanford has a mix of veterans returning and two star freshmen entering the program that could create the perfect storm for coach Jerod Haase. One of those returners is senior guard Michael Jones, who has a chance to become Stanford's all-time leader in 3-pointers made this season if he knocks down 44 shots from distance. Forward Brandon Angel is a name to keep an eye on as a potential breakout candidate after having a strong finish to the season in the Pac-12 Tournament. Freshman wing Andrej Stojakovic, who is son of former NBA All-Star Peja Stojakovic has a very similar skillset as his father. The younger Stojakovic is a mid-range assassin and has shown an ability to knock down shots from anywhere on the floor. There's a chance by the end of the season that Stojakovic emerges as the No. 1 option.
|Washington star wing Keion Brooks Jr. averaged 17.7 points and 6.7 rebounds last season and the third leading scorer from the Pac-12 should be an early contender to lead the conference in scoring this season. Washington coach Mike Hopkins added six Division l transfers to the program this offseason but the star newcomer to the program should be 6-4 freshman guard Wesley Yates lll, who finished as the No. 53 overall player by 247Sports in the Class of 2023. From the transfer side, Washington landed former Kentucky and Georgia guard Sahvir Wheeler and the fifth-year senior is expected to make an impact right away.
|It's a new era in Berkeley as the program hired a rising star in the coaching profession in former Utah Valley coach Mark Madsen. The former Stanford star basketball player is heading to its arch-rival and hopes to turn the Bears back into an NCAA Tournament team. Madsen was able to land one of his former players from Utah Valley from the transfer portal in forward Fardaws Aimaq, who averaged 11.1 points and 7.9 rebounds last season. Cal returns point guard Devin Askew after he averaged 15.5 points and 3.4 rebounds before a hernia injury sidelined him for a significant portion of last season.
|Washington State only returns two rotation players from last season: Jabe Mullins and Kymany Houinsou. Mullins primarily came off the bench and averaged 8.4 points and 2.1 rebounds and Houinsou averaged 3.9 points and 2.5 rebounds but should be the top defender on the roster. The Cougars' starting backcourt from last season left the program entirely. TJ Bamba transferred to Villanova and point guard Justin Powell departed to pursue professional opportunities. Washington State hasn't reached the NCAA Tournament since 2008 and it's hard to believe that the streak ends this season because of the amount of talent talent coach Kyle Smith lost.
|It seems like yesterday Oregon State was making a surprising run to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1982 but the tournament hangover since that 2021 run is real. The Beavers are 14-49 since the loss to Houston in the Elite Eight and they haven't reached the NCAA Tournament in each of the last two seasons. Oregon State has a youthful roster, but star sophomore guard Jordan Pope returns after averaging 12.6 points as a true freshman. Pope set an Oregon State record with 60 3-pointers and should be one of the top shooters from distance in the Pac-12. A newcomer to keep an eye on is 6-10 big man Thomas Ndong, who comes from NBA Academy Latin America.
Most overrated team
UCLA: Everyone knows how good of a coach Cronin is, but UCLA is the biggest wild card in the conference this season. The Bruins have to replace Jaquez Jr., Campbell, Singleton and Clark and former star freshman Amari Bailey. UCLA has seven incoming freshman, including four International players in its recruiting class. It's hard to pick an "overrated" team in the conference per se, but the inexperience on the roster makes the Bruins a target. It wouldn't surprise me if UCLA makes a deep tournament run this season, but that would mean one or some of its incoming freshman had a breakout season.
Most underrated team
Stanford: Haase is coaching for his job this season. In seven seasons at the helm of the program, the Cardinal have yet to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Haase brings in two ultra-talented freshmen in Stojakovic and Kanaan Carlyle and if one or both of them make an immediate impact, it could save Haase's job and help Stanford reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014 before they depart for the ACC.