The Pac-12 basketball season shapes up as a four-way race.
Newcomers Utah and Colorado won’t be factors, figuring to finish at or near the bottom. The usual suspects will be the top — UCLA, Arizona, Washington and Mike Montgomery.
UCLA is huge in the frontcourt. Arizona is stocked with solid veterans, a Fab Four recruiting class and as much program momentum in a decade.
Washington is, as usual, skilled. Montgomery’s Cal team returns four starters from a team that overachieved last season.
None of the teams is without its flaws and you’re not “wrong” if you pick any of these teams as your preseason favorite.
The preseason magazines offer differing opinions:
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We asked three Arizona players to give us his Pac-12 favorite — other than his own team, of course — and, probably not surprisingly, we got three different answers.
Junior forward Solomon Hill: UCLA
“I like the size of UCLA. You talk about Josh Smith returning and Reeves Nelson’s dominance. Then you have the (Wear) twins and Anthony Stover and Brendan Lane. A lot of coaches would love to have any of those guys on their team. To have all of those guys being able to play at the same time is pretty amazing.”
Last year: Arizona and UCLA split two games, with the Bruins dominating 71-49 in Pauley Pavilion. All six players Hill mentioned are 6-8 and above, and, in the case of Smith, beefy. Nelson has owned the Cats, averaging 23.3 points and 12 rebounds in the past three meetings, shooting a ridiculous 82.4 percent from the field (28 of 34).
Senior guard Kyle Fogg: Cal
“Cal is definitely going to have a good team. They have all those returning guys, and they had a good year last year. And they have a great coach. … I think it’s going to be a good year for the Pac-12.”
Last year: Arizona swept two thrillers — 73-71 in McKale Center and 107-105 in triple overtime in Berkeley. In that second game, guard Jorge Gutierrez, wing Allen Crabbe and post Harper Kamp combined to score 85 points for the Bears. Each is back this season.
Senior guard Brendon Lavender: Washington
“Last year they gave us such a good run, especially in the Pac-10 tourney. I love playing those guys. Those guys play hard, with a chip on their shoulders. We also play like that. It’s always fun to play to play against really competitive teams.”
Last year: Washington won two of three meetings, including in overtime in the Pac-10 tournament championship game. Arizona’s victory came at McKale Center, thanks to Derrick Williams’ epic game-saving blocked shot. The Huskies’ personnel losses, including guard Isaiah Thomas, are deep, but point guard Abdul Gaddy returns from a knee injury and sophomore Terrence Ross should be a star.