College Basketball Preview: Ducks Looking to Repeat in Pac-12
The Pac-12 Conference features two prominently ranked teams and a bunch of question marks this season.
Cal, Utah, and Washington all lost a top player within the first eight picks of this year's NBA draft. With a load of young talent coming in and a lack of a clear middle class in the conference, there will be plenty of room for surprise teams coming out of the Pac-12 this season.
Here's what you should know about the conference.
Team to Beat: Oregon Ducks
Oregon is returning tons of talent from last season's Elite Eight team that topped 30 wins for just the second time in school history. Coach Dana Altman has led the Ducks to four straight NCAA Tournament appearances and looks highly likely to make it five behind a group of veteran players.
Among the important players returning are forwards Dillon Brooks and Chris Boucher and guard Tyler Dorsey. They were three of Oregon's four leading scorers, accounting for 53 percent of the team's output per game.
Oregon will likely have less fierce competition with teams like Utah and Cal taking a step back this season and the conference having fewer veteran teams.
On the Rise: UCLA Bruins
UCLA is one year removed from Steve Alford's worst season thus far in Westwood, missing the NCAA Tournament and finishing under .500. The Bruins' faithful is hoping to turn their fortunes around after securing a top five recruiting class, according to ESPN, and four starters from last year, including senior guards Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton.
UCLA will be looking for quick contributions from their big recruits, mainly top point guard in the nation, Lonzo Ball, and third-ranked power forward, TJ Leaf. It will not be tough for the Bruins to improve from their 10th-place finish in the conference last season and hope the youth movement will be enough to reach the tournament after a one-year hiatus.
On the Decline: Utah Utes
Utah will have a big hole to fill in the middle of the floor in order to stay afloat in the Pac-12 this season. After finishing second in the conference last season, Utah was upset as a 3 seed in the second round by Gonzaga, then lost their best player, Jakob Poeltl, to the NBA.
Along with Poeltl, the Utes lost another two of their top five leading scorers from last season in Jordan Loveridge and Brandon Taylor to graduation. Utah will be leaning on junior forward Kyle Kuzma and senior guard Lorenzo Bonam to lead them if they are going to have a shot at making it back to the Big Dance this year.
Player to Watch: Dillon Brooks
Oregon's top scorer from last season is back for his junior year, and the spotlight will be on him to lead Oregon to the Final Four. Brooks earned first team All-Pac-12 honors last season with 16.7 points and 5.4 rebounds per game as a sophomore.
Brooks shined on the biggest stage last year, putting up 25 and 22 points against Saint Joseph's and Duke , respectively. The junior guard was named an AP preseason All-American, and while battling back from offseason foot surgery this summer, Brooks is expected to be back early in the season.