If fans are looking for relief from football season, they will have it soon — Cal’s basketball season commences next week.
The lead up to the season’s tip off began out west in the Pac-12 with a glitzy media day in the conference’s downtown San Francisco headquarters.
Coaches and two star players from all twelve schools arrived in the Bay to give fans a first look at what to expect from the conference this season.
What was meant to be a focus on actual basketball was somewhat lost in the shuffle with the bigger elephant in the room: USC and UCLA’s impending departure to the Big Ten.
Some might call that a shame, seeing as the Pac-12 brings some of the most competitive and entertaining college hoops in the country to many.Fans contend that a complete Pac-12 basketball bracket will soon be sorely missed, but for now, there’s still an opportunity to enjoy its final moments.
“Our goals are to optimize for national championships and NCAA tournament bids,” said Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff.
The Pac-12 has been fairly successful in recent years and once again should be in the position to compete on a national level if it continues on that trajectory. An expanded schedule against better competition on bigger stages plays a significant part, but the conference’s leading programs are the clearest reasons for optimism.
UCLA may be the favorite this season.
The Bruins are just two years removed from a final four appearance and their rosters feature a return of much of the talent that led them there. Senior guard Tyger Campbell and Senior small forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. form a dynamic duo as UCLA’s veteran leaders that will make the team a force to be reckoned with.
Both Campbell and Jaquez Jr. are Pac-12 First Team selections and represented the conference at media day.
Paired with head coach Mick Cronin, the trio of the two veteran UCLA players and coach Cronin made their intentions to win a national championship clear to fans looking on.
UCLA was picked to win the Pac-12 conference in the preseason media poll for the third time in three seasons. But each of the last two years they’ve fallen short with surprising contenders knocking them a peg short of the crown.
This year, it is likely that teams will be waiting — eager to play spoiler.
None are thought to be more eager than crosstown rival USC.
Led by Fifth Year Senior Guard Drew Petersen, the Trojans should still be competitive and a likely NCAA tournament team, but without the Mobley brothers, they may take a step back.
Two more likely challengers are Oregon and Arizona — schools with a strong history and talent as well.
The Wildcats, however, lost a lot of talent from the squad that boasted a Pac-12 win last season. But, with head coach Tommy Lloyd at the helm of a team that is coming off a win, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Arizona reemerged as champions.
Oregon, conversely, disappointed last season, but could take a step forward with a strong recruiting class and promising young talent.
Outside of the four title contenders, there are a slew of teams in the middle of the pack who might aim for the NCAA tournament. The leaders of the eager group are Stanford and Cardinal forward Harrison Ingram — a likely top-10 NBA draft selection and reigning Pac-12 freshman of the year who has returned for a second season.
Colorado, Washington, Washington State and Arizona State are also part of this hopeful cross section of the Pac-12. Each team has enough talent to surprise this season if things break right for them.
Finally, there are a trio of squads that round out the bottom of the pack: Utah, Cal and Oregon State are teams with a lot of questions and not many answers. If one looks hard enough, reasons for optimism appear on each roster, but all three programs seem a long ways away from success.
The beauty of college basketball, though, is its unpredictability.
This is clear in the chaos of the Pac-12. So while Pac-12 Media Day may have been an opportunity to set initial expectations, expect nothing less than for many predictions to be completely flipped by season’s end.