Arizona is the near-unanimous picked as Pac-12 favorites in preseason media poll.
First-year Washington coach Mike Hopkins won’t be saddled with heavy expectations as the Huskies were predicted to finish 10th in the Pac-12 in the conference’s preseason media poll.
“I don’t look at the past,” Hopkins said during an interview on the Pac-12 Networks. “I look at the future and what we’re going to bring and the system. We’re all new. The staff is new. We’ve never worked with each other.
“The players are learning a new system, but you got to give them a lot of credit. They’ve bought in. They’ve worked exceptionally hard and we look like we’re moving in the right direction.”
For the third straight year, Washington State was projected to finish in last place in the annual poll.
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Arizona, which returns three starters from last year’s team that was Pac-12 regular season co-champions and captured the conference tournament title, was the near-unanimous pick to win the league title again.
The Wildcats captured 22 of a possible 23 first-place votes.
USC, which returns its top eight scorers from a team that won a school-record 26 games last season and advanced to the NCAA tournament Round of 32, was picked second — its highest spot ever in the poll.
UCLA was tabbed third followed by Oregon, last season’s Pac-12 regular-season co-champion and a Final Four participant that returns just one starter and lost its top five scorers.
Stanford was picked fifth and Arizona State sixth.
Utah was tabbed to finish seventh ahead of Oregon State, Colorado, UW, California and WSU.
Hopkins, a first-time head coach who spent the past 22 years as a Syracuse assistant, takes over a UW team that went 9-22 last season and was 11th in the Pac-12 at 2-16 under Lorenzo Romar.
“The transition has gone a lot smoother than I thought,” Hopkins said. “There were obviously some ups and downs, but getting this opportunity to come in and take from what I’ve learned from Coach (Jim) Boeheim and USA Basketball and try to come in and bring a successful system and get these guys prepared is critical to go and win some games.”
The Huskies lost guard Markelle Fultz, who was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft, but they return three starters and four of their top five scorers, including David Crisp (13.8 points per game), Noah Dickerson (12.5), Matisse Thybulle (10.5) and Carlos Johnson (5.9).
“It’s a lot different,” Crisp said during a Pac-12 Networks interview. “The stuff (Hopkins) is showing us and the culture he’s brought in – everybody is buying in. I think we’re definitely heading in the right direction.
Thybulle added: “We’ve all bought into the team. Guys have set aside their own personal agendas and we’re all just putting everything into this team because we realize that one thing we talk about as a team is we’re stronger together. And when you’re stronger together you can go farther and when you win, everybody looks good.”
Meanwhile, the Cougars were 13-18 and tied for ninth in the Pac-12 at 6-12 last season.
Fourth-year coach Ernie Kent lost five of his top six scorers and WSU is led by sophomore guard Malachi Flynn, who averaged 9.7 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists in 2016-17.
Kent is 35-58 (.376) including a 14-40 (.259) Pac-12 record since taking over in 2014. In May, WSU enacted a rollover clause in his contract that ties him to the school for at least another five years and expires in 2022.
2017-18 Pac-12 men’s basketball preseason media poll
(First-place votes in parenthesis)
1. Arizona (22) – 273
2. USC (1) – 251
3. UCLA – 223
4. Oregon – 203
5. Stanford – 182
6. Arizona State – 182
7. Utah – 129
8. Oregon State – 125
9. Colorado – 112
10. Washington – 71
11. California – 46
12. Washington State – 33
Here’s a look at where Washington has been picked in the Pac-12 preseason media poll and how Huskies have fared since the 2002-03 season.
Year …. Prediction …. Finish
2016-17 … 6th … 11th
2015-16 … 11th … t-sixth
2014-15 …. sixth … 11th
2013-14 … eighth … t-eighth
2012-13 … fifth … t-sixth
2011-12 … fourth ……. first
2010-11 … first ………. third
2009-10 … second …. third
2008-09 … fifth ……… first
2007-08 … second … eighth
2006-07 … third ……. seventh
2005-06 … fourth ….. second
2004-05 … second … second
2003-04 … eighth …. second
2002-03 … eighth …. ninth