Writer’s Roundtable: The State of Pac-12 Men’s Basketball

Posted on May 31, 2021

By Dane Miller, Nick Bartlett, Stephen Vilardo, Mark Schmor, and LaMarr Fields, SportsPac12

With the 2020-21 Pac-12 men’s basketball season solidly in the rear mirror, a group of our hoops writers got together for a roundtable discussion on the state of the league as we look ahead to the 2021-22 campaign.

There’s sure to be numerous changes and developments between now and then—and we’ll update them later in the year—but here’s how Dane Miller, Nick Bartlett, Stephen Vilardo, Mark Schmor, and LaMarr Fields see things as of now.

Dane Miller: Alright guys, the Pac-12 had its best men’s basketball postseason since the Conference expanded in 2011—three teams in the Elite 8, a Final Four run, and a 13-5 overall record. No other league came close to matching what the Conference of Champions accomplished. 

The big question moving into next season is: What does it mean? 

The East Coast bias of the Selection Committee and three-quarters of the national media was on full display this year, and you can bet that won’t change come the start of the 2021-22 campaign. 

Did this season’s success move the needle at all? Or will we be right back here come Selection Sunday in ‘22? 

Nick Bartlett: I think it all depends on what happens next year. Even though the postseason tournament run was phenomenal, it is probably too small of a sample size to justify that our Conference has taken a major leap forward. 

If you look at the entire body of work, none of our teams played consistent enough during the regular season to be considered elite. 

However, it does mean that Pac-12 hoops cannot be considered a laughing stock anymore. Victories like USC’s 34-point drubbing against Kansas and Oregon’s 15 point shellacking of Iowa speak for themselves. 

And everyone please stop with this East Coast bias talk. If our teams are good enough they’ll get the love they deserve. 

Stephen Vilardo: I tend to agree with Nick on this one.

In the non-conference portion of the schedule, the Pac-12 did not get it done against the rest of the major conferences (Power-5 & Big East), going 3-8 vs teams from those leagues.

The three wins were over Boston College (Colorado), Marquette (UCLA) and Alabama (Stanford). So as a whole, they did not do enough to prove themselves against the rest of the country. 

It was an odd year with stoppages and re-starts for all teams. Some got hot after pauses and others seem to have lost an edge.

Now, I think anyone who watched Oregon all season and saw the improvement would have thought they were better than a 7-seed in the tournament, but the lone non-conference power opponent for the Ducks was a loss to Missouri—so what was the committee to do?

Having said all of that, hopefully the rest of the country will look at the Pac-12 as a power heading into 2021-22, and any early season slip-ups will not doom the Conference due to a preconceived notion the rest of the country may have. 

The run the Conference had in the tournament was an enjoyable ride to watch and hopefully can carry over into early next season. Also, hopefully the respect that was earned will also carry over. 

LaMarr Fields: While it was a good year for Pac-12 basketball with USC, UCLA, and Oregon State playing well in the tournament, I don’t think it is enough to sway the east coast bias.

There might be a little more eyes on Pac-12 basketball next year, but not enough. 

The Pac-12 will need teams to make deep tournament runs for years to come to get the respect of east coast fans.

Also, Pac-12 teams will need to schedule more notable nonconference games and win some of them to earn more respect. 

Mark Schmor: I think the simple answer is that it means different things for different teams.

For Oregon State, their run to the Elite Eight felt a little bit like lightning in a bottle.

The last time the Beavers made it that far was in 1982, and they didn’t win another tournament game for the next 38 years. So we may not want to read too much into this one season.

For UCLA on the other hand, their Final Four trip could be more of a sign of things to come.

The hiring of Mick Cronin may not have thrilled the fan base two years ago, but this was a coach who had taken Cincinnati to nine straight tournament appearances.  He should be able to recruit better players to Westwood than he was able to recruit to Cincinnati, so the Bruins should be in a great position to build off this year.

It’s also worth noting that while the success of several Conference schools was a bit surprising given their recent track record, it was not surprising at all to see Oregon make it to the second weekend.

This is the fifth time in the last nine years that Dana Altman has led the Ducks to the Sweet Sixteen or better, and that’s not including the 2020 season that was called off after Oregon had clinched the Pac-12 championship behind All-American point guard Peyton Pritchard.

Dane Miller: I just can’t let the disrespect for the Conference from Nick and Stephen slide. 

All tournament long the talking heads on CBS and national radio were making excuses for the Big 10’s defeats, while doing their best to ignore the Pac-12’s success. And when the wins became too great to discount, they begrudgingly acknowledged the Conference of Champions. 

Their commentary was painful at times—like watching Bambi try to walk.

They blamed the blowout Kansas loss on COVID, argued that the bubble and lack of travel directly benefited Oregon State, and told us UCLA couldn’t compete with Alabama.

The disrespect was outrageous and something we should never forget.

However, one great season isn’t going to change the opinion of the rest of the country; a back-to-back one might. It all starts with a strong nonconference showing in November and December.

But moving forward, now that the dust has mostly settled on the offseason moves, which team do you think has benefitted the most and why? Conversely, which program appears to have taken a step back or not done enough?

Nick Bartlett: Dane, you have led me into something that I am extremely excited to talk about, and that is the continued emergence of my Washington State Cougars. 

Since the off-season began, the Cougs have already brought four promising prospects into their program.

The most notable may be Mouhamed Gueye, a four-star center out of Napa, California (Originally from Senegal). He is WSU’s highest recruit of all time and their first Top 100 prospect since Klay Thompson.

Along with Gueye, the Cougs added Michael Flowers, who is a 20-plus-point per game scorer from South Alabama and picked WSU over the likes of USC, Colorado, and Texas A&M. 

Additionally, the Cougs added Kim Aiken Jr. from Eastern Washington. Last season he was named the Big Sky’s 2020 Defensive Player of the Year and was a vital piece for the Eags in their run to the NCAA Tournament. He had initially committed to Arizona but left after the Sean Miller firing. 

Rounding out the group is Tyrell Roberts, a transfer from UC San Diego and a Division II All-American two seasons ago. 

Bottom line is, WSU has not looked this promising since the Tony Bennett Era, and they could realistically make the NCAA Tournament next year. 

In terms of disappointing teams there’s really only one answer in my visitor’s pamphlet, and that’s the Washington Huskies.  

They’ve lost six players already via the transfer portal, including arguably their two best contributors in Marcus Tsohonis and Erik Stevenson. This coming from a team that only won five games last season. 

The UW program is arguably at its lowest point in its history, and something just doesn’t feel right. 

Stephen Vilardo: No question, Kyle Smith is making his mark in Pullman and getting Gueye sets the tone for Washington State.

But for purposes of this discussion, I am going to go with Colorado and the recruiting class the Buffs are bringing in. Tad Boyle has proven the Buffs are here to stay atop the conference standings. 

Lawson Lovering is a 7-foot center from Cheyenne, Wyoming, who shot 69% from the floor in his last season and has been rated in the Top 50 by some recruiting boards. Joining him is another four-star recruit in Quincy Allen, a wing from Washington DC.

Landing Allen stretched the Buffs footprint to the East Coast and an area Colorado has not had a lot of prior success hitting. Also perhaps getting the Conference as a whole more prestige east of the Mississippi as we were discussing with the last question.

Joining those two are a pair of backcourt players: Julian Hammond from Englewood, CO—who can flat out score, but also rebound and dish out assists—sounding statistically a bit familiar to another guard who just finished up his time in Boulder.

Javon Ruffin from New Orleans, the son of former NBA-er Michael Ruffin, also can score from the two spot and add rebounding help.  

On the other end of it for me is Arizona State. The disappointing season in Tempe may be overshadowed by the disappointing off-season so far for the Sun Devils.

The roster will look completely different next season for ASU.

Some of the transfers were expected, while others—see Remy Martin—were far from expected. One has to wonder if this could be the beginning of the end for Bobby Hurley, or his chance to re-tool an ineffective roster?

Mark Schmor: I’ve been continually impressed by Dana Altman’s ability to mine the transfer market and this coming year figures to be no exception.

Yes, the Ducks lose three senior starters in Chris Duarte, Eugene Omoruyi, and L.J. Figueroa (all transfers); but the Ducks have also landed a couple highly touted transfers in an effort to fill the void. 

Quincy Guerrier, a 6-foot-7 forward, was a third-team All-ACC selection at Syracuse last year. Rivaldo Soares, a 6-6 guard, was a NJCAA first-team All-American as a junior college player at South Plains College in Texas.

De’Vion Harmon, a 6-2 point guard, averaged 12.9 points per game for an Oklahoma team that reached the Second Round of the tournament.

Just like that, Oregon has replaced three battle-tested upperclassmen with three battle-tested upperclassmen.

Altman’s ability to patch together an experienced lineup year after year has worked out well for the Ducks in part because nobody else in the Conference has been able to regularly dominate the recruiting cycle. 

However, that could be about to change.

UCLA may be losing Johnny Juzang to the NBA, but Mick Cronin will be bringing in five-star recruit Peyton Watson, the most highly touted recruit from the state of California.

Cronin has already proven his coaching chops, so winning big on the recruiting trail only figures to make UCLA more formidable.

If UCLA’s Final Four run was a sign of things to come, the Elite Eight runs by USC and Oregon State appear to me to be more lightning in a bottle.

The Beavers lose leading scorer Ethan Thompson from their best team in 39 years. The Trojans lose Evan Mobley, Isaiah Mobley, and Tahj Eaddy from their best team in 20 years.

I’m not saying it will take decades for either program to rebound from those losses, but I wouldn’t expect either to finish in the upper half of the conference standings next year. 

Dane Miller: Going back to Nick’s point, I actually like what Mike Hopkins has done in Seattle this offseason.

Losing essentially the entire roster of a five-win team is a good sign, especially when the replacements are substantially better. 

Hopkins is bringing in four-star freshman center Jackson Grant, the second-best junior college transfer in Langston Wilson, TCU transfer and former four-star P.J. Fuller, Stanford transfer and former four-star Daejon Davis, Arizona transfer Terrell Brown, Jr., and West Virginia transfer Emmitt Matthews Jr. 

That is a group with the talent to compete in the Pac-12, and one that should execute UW’s zone defense with more efficiency than last year’s squad.

When it comes down to it, I am a ardent believer in Washington’s zone scheme, and I fully expect a much stronger year in the Emerald City this winter.

As for the program that has taken a step back, it’s the Utah Utes. And it’s not even close. 

I didn’t agree with the termination of Larry Krystkowiak, and the result has been a mass exodus without a corresponding reload.

Timmy Allen, Alfonzo Plummer, Pelle Larsson, Rylan Jones, Ian Martinez, and Riley Battin all transferred out. If that’s not a knockout punch, I’m not sure what is.

Realistically, the Utes weren’t that far off from the Tournament-caliber programs in the Pac-12, and now they have condemned themselves to a several-year rebuild.

At least Bobby Hurley rebuilt his roster with the type of players he thinks will work for his system. I don’t get the same impression when looking at Craig Smith and his roster. 

On a closing note, this has been great, guys. Thank you all for taking part, and we will revisit more basketball topics as the summer progresses. Until then, we are counting down the days to November.

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