Extended eligibility rules and player transfers have radically changed the college basketball landscape and forced bettors to adjust their strategies due to the loss of continuity in many programs for the 2021-22 college basketball season.
With that in mind, here are some teams to watch in the Pacific-12 Conference (Pac-12) this season.
Editor's note: Preseason analysis has been preserved, and immediately follows this early-season update.
Pre-conference play update
In the three weeks of non-conference play for the Pac-12, we’ve seen some interesting developments.
There are surprising signs of struggles coming from Oregon (4-3) to start the season. Granted, two of their three losses were to teams inside the top 15 (No. 12 BYU and No. 15 Houston), but to be the best you have to beat the best. Oregon has been playing at a horrendous pace with poor efficiency, ranking 309th out of 358 teams in possessions per game while ranking 191st in both two-point and three-point percentage — a major step back from previous seasons. Much of the shooting woes are a product of shot selection: Jacob Young, Quincy Querrier, and Rivaldo Soares not only account for nearly 30% of the team’s three-point attempts, but they are also shooting them even worse than expected — a collective 21.5%.
Elsewhere, No. 5 UCLA (6-1) had two marquee contests against No. 6 Villanova (86-77 win) and No. 3 Gonzaga (83-63 loss). The latter of the two illustrated a potential pressure point for UCLA: if Johnny Juzang is properly contained, who carries the load? Up until the 7:33 mark of the second half, Juzang was three for 11 from the field and the ball was funneled elsewhere. Jules Bernard and Jaime Jaquez Jr. picked up the volume but were largely ineffective (10 for 33). Regardless, UCLA remains a true contender and is still undoubtedly the favorite in the Pac-12, but one team is trailing not too far behind.
No. 11 Arizona (6-0) looks great out of the gate, and new head coach Tommy Lloyd is getting the most out of this team. The Wildcats rank third in points and rebounds, first in assists, fourth in free throw attempts, and 26th in field goal percentage. And this wasn’t against just anybody. They suffocated then fourth-ranked Michigan 80-62, holding the Wolverine's to one for 14 from three-point range. If Tommy Lloyd can keep the Wildcats performing at anything close to what they’ve shown so far, Arizona is more than deserving of some attention to win the Pac-12 at +325.
Recommended Pac-12 bet:
Arizona to win Pac-12 (+325)
Teams to watch in the Pac-12
Note: The following is the original analysis published on Nov. 9, 2021
In a lot of ways, the Pac-12 is a two-horse race. UCLA headlines the conference following a wild Last Four to Final Four March Madness and begins the year the second-ranked team in the AP poll. Leading scorer and tournament hero Johnny Juzang (16.0 PPG) returns to lead the charge for the Bruins after the finished 11th in KenPom adjusted offensive efficiency as a team.
The rest of their starting five also returns, all of whom averaged 10+ points per game last year. That includes first-team all-conference player Tyger Campbell (10.4 PPG, 5.4 APG) and Pac-12 all-defensive team honoree Jaime Jaquez (12.3 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 39.4 3P%), who will continue to play pivotal roles for the Bruins this year in the backcourt.
The frontcourt, however, will see some interesting developments. Starter Jules Bernard (10.3 PPG, 5.1 RPG) returns, but his role is a bit more up in the air as top-10 recruit Peyton Watson joins the program and figures to play a role immediately. Bernard’s proficiency behind the arc (39.6% on 3.0 attempts per game) will keep him firmly in the rotation despite Watson’s arrival.
Last year’s starting center Cody Riley (10.0 PPG, 5.4 RPG), is more than capable, but the Bruins have the luxury of adding Rutgers senior transfer Myles Johnson (8.0 PPG, 8.5 RPG), and he should become the starter down the road.
As impressive as UCLA was offensively last season, Oregon finished one spot ahead in KenPom adjusted offensive efficiency at 10th. But unlike the Bruins, the Ducks do not return the entirety of their starting lineup. Oregon lost Chris Duarte (17.1 PPG) and Eugene Omoruyi (17.1 PPG) and will need to replace their high-end production. This discrepancy between the two (among other things) led the media to vote UCLA as a near-unanimous favorite to win the conference. Still, Oregon’s Dana Altman has delivered a roster that deserves more respect and attention.
N’Faly Dante was once a very promising five-star recruit, but the starting center tore his ACL in the first month of last season. Given the Ducks’ lack of big-man talent behind him, they were forced further into a small-ball approach, which essentially defined their play for the rest of the season.
On top of getting Dante back this year, Altman has added five-star recruit Nate Bittle to help bolster the position. What Bittle lacks in physical maturity (175 lbs with a 6’10” frame), he makes up for in unique three-point and passing ability. Altman has the flexibility to play Bittle alongside Dante in some freak rotations, which will spell trouble for opponents.
Altman has also added a lot to round out the Ducks’ starting rotation. Syracuse’s Quincy Guerrier (13.7 PPG, 8.4 RPG) joins the team as a rare all-around talent on both ends of the floor. Oklahoma’s De’Vion Harmon (12.9 PPG) will share ball-handling duties with returning starter Will Richardson (11.3 PPG), who only played in 16 games last season due to a wrist injury. Redshirt senior transfer Jacob Young (14.1 PPG, 36.9 3P%) comes over from Rutgers and provides the Ducks a level of scoring depth that is hard to find.
Once a powerhouse in the conference, the Arizona Wildcats start fresh under new head coach Tommy Lloyd who left Gonzaga after 20 years as an assistant. Between the coaching change and the departure of four of last year’s top-six scorers (James Akinjo, Jemari Baker, Jordan Brown, and Terrell Brown), Arizona is one of the toughest top 50 teams to project.
Arizona will try to manage the significant departure of experience and production by relying on its budding youth and a handful of transfers.
Sophomore power forward Azuoas Tubelis (12.2 PPG, 7.1 RPG) is the most promising young player and will work in tandem with returning 7’1” junior Christian Koloko and Oumar Ballo, a pet project of Tommy Lloyd’s who has come with him from Gonzaga. Together, the three look to repeat and possibly improve on Arizona’s general proficiency at rebounding (44th in the nation last year, second in the conference).
Arizona uses a similar approach in the backcourt, with sophomore Bennedict Mathurin (10.8 PPG, 4.8 PRG) leading the homegrown youth movement while Eastern Washington’s Kim Aiken (11.3 PPG, 8.4 RPG) and Georgia’s Justin Kier (9.5 PPG) bring production and experience via the transfer portal. Utah transfer Pelle Larsson (8.2 PPG, 46.9 3P%) brings a combination of both as a sophomore transfer and figures to play a crucial role throughout the season.
All in all, the Arizona Wildcats have an excellent foundation for Tommy Lloyd to build on. Expectations for this year should be realistically managed (but not entirely dismissed), but log this program as one to remember for 2023.
The rest of the Pac-12
After breaking through in 2021 and appearing in their first Elite Eight in 20 years, USC looks to keep their head above water after losing star freshman and third-overall pick Evan Mobley (16.4 PPG, 8.4 RPG) as well as Tahj Eaddy (13.6 PPG). The rest of the tournament team remains intact, and they gain Memphis’ Boogie Ellis (10.2 PPG) to bolster the starting lineup, but the losses may be too significant to overcome.
Washington State Cougars
Washington State provides the most surprise potential of the mid-tier Pac-12 teams. Although they lose Isaac Bonton (17.7 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 4.0 APG), the Cougars bring in mid-major transfers Michael Flowers (21.0 PPG for South Alabama) and Tyrell Roberts (19.2 PPG for UC San Diego). Flowers and Roberts join returning junior Noah Williams (14.1 PPG) to create a three-headed scoring monster. This pairs well with their already stout defense from last year (24th in KenPom adjusted defensive efficiency), which could help this team make some noise in the conference and the tournament later this year.
Arizona State Sun Devils
Arizona State is arguably the most Frankenstein’d team in the entire conference, as their five best additions to the team are all transfers — including three starters: Toledo’s Marreon Jackson (18.1 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 5.9 APG), Boston College’s Jay Heath (14.5 PPG), and Ohio State’s Luther Muhammad (did not play last year). Illinois State’s DJ Horne (15.1 PPG) joins the transfer party as the No. 1 guy off the bench.
Colorado suffocated teams last year, finishing 32nd in points allowed and 22nd in rebounds surrendered. Their surprise berth into the tournament as a five seed will be hard to replicate, as stars McKinley Wright IV (15.2 PPG, 5.7 APG) and Jeriah Horne (10.8 PPG, 5.8 RPG) were a large part of that identity. Nevertheless, Tad Boyle has had a knack for building the program up to its identity with his own hands. He will continue to do that as the team features zero transfers and five freshmen, including projected starter Quincy Allen.
Recommended Pac-12 bets:
Oregon to win the tournament (+4,500)
Oregon to win P12 reg season (+350)