The bad news for Pac-12 men’s basketball this spring is the same as the good news: The conference has only one player, Arizona wing Bennedict Mathurin, projected for the first round of the NBA draft.
That speaks ill of the talent on display this season but could bode well for next year by reducing the size of the NBA exodus. The conference will undoubtedly lose a few key players, but there isn’t a talent pool available for draining. It’s more like a puddle.
Of course, the transfer portal serves as the prime driver of attrition these days and already has claimed a handful of 2021-22 starters, with plenty more to come.
Our projections below are intended to provide an initial framework for the Pac-12 race in 2022-23. We will revisit the list in late April, after the NBA draft deadline and any portal-driven departures.
This is either an exercise in undaunted courage or abject stupidity. (Don’t answer.)
1. UCLA: Our current estimate calls for Jaime Jaquez Jr. to leave for the NBA while Johnny Juzang, Tyger Campbell and Peyton Watson return for another season. They would join Jaylen Clark and five-star recruits Amari Bailey and Adem Bona to form a gifted core. Jules Bernard and Cody Riley also have the option to return and would extend the rotation. There is much to be resolved in Westwood over the coming weeks, and we won’t discount the possibility that everyone returns and UCLA begins next season where it started this one: With a top-five ranking.
2. Arizona: We’re presuming Mathurin follows his destiny into the lottery, and big man Christian Koloko could declare next month, as well. Their departures would constitute major blows to Arizona’s quest to repeat as conference champs, but several choice pieces seem likely to return, including point guard Kerr Kriisa, wings Pelle Larson and Dalen Terry, forward Azuolas Tubelis and big man Oumar Ballo. We’re also assuming coach Tommy Lloyd will add talent through the transfer portal. Arizona should be a popular destination.
3. Oregon: No team is better positioned than the Ducks to make a great leap forward from the pack and contend for the regular-season title. Point guard Will Richardson has eligibility left but will face competition from five-star recruit Dior Johnson. We expect former transfers De’Vion Harmon and Quincy Guerrier to return, as well, but the strength of the team will be up front. If you thought Arizona’s size caused problems for opponents this season, wait until the Ducks take the court with four 7-footers. We’re kidding, but not by much. Tall Firs, indeed.
4. USC: Look for the Trojans to experience significant roster turnover. Isaiah Mobley could turn pro, although he’s not currently projected for the first round, while point guard Ethan Anderson and wing Max Agbonkpolo are already in the transfer portal (others could follow). Boogie Ellis has eligibility remaining, as does Drew Peterson. Meanwhile, USC’s recruiting class is loaded, with five-star big man Vince Iwuchukwu headlining the group. Barring unexpectedly high attrition, we see the Trojans finishing in the small grouping of teams below the top two but above the pack.
5. Colorado: The Buffaloes were hit with transfer portal news earlier this week when guards Elijah Parquet and Keeshawn Barthelemy officially began the process of moving on. CU is well positioned at two spots, with point guard K.J. Simpson and forward Tristan da Silva expected to take on enhanced roles, but the outlook in Boulder hinges on Jabari Walker. If the double-double machine returns, slot CU into the league’s top tier. If Walker pursues the NBA draft — he is not pegged for the first round — the Buffs will face production challenges.
6. Washington State: Point guard Michael Flowers is out of eligibility but was the only senior in the rotation. Tyrell Roberts, Noah Williams, Efe Abogidi, Mouhamed Gueye, TJ Bamba — they all can return to Pullman for Kyle Smith’s third season. Given the way of the world, we expect someone to enter the transfer portal, but the damage could be limited. In that case, the Cougars should be more consistent offensively, which will help them early in the season … which will help them on Selection Sunday.
7. Arizona State: Two key players in the late-season charge have used up their eligibility (Marreon Jackson and Kimani Lawrence), but we don’t expect a repeat of the upheaval that defined ASU’s past two springs. The bulk of the roster is set to return, including top scorers DJ Horne and Jay Heath. (Marcus Bagley provides an X-factor element.) Given their finish to 2021-22, the Sun Devils should start 2022-23 with momentum. We have slotted them for the lower half for the moment but acknowledge the potential for an upgrade in the late-April projections.
8. Washington: The closest thing in the Pac-12 to a one-man show, UW guard Terrell Brown Jr., is moving on. In his absence, the Huskies have output challenges to resolve in order to hold their ground. The second- and third-leading scorers, Jamal Bey and Emmitt Matthews Jr., have eligibility remaining, as does big man Nate Roberts, who intends to enter the draft. This time last year, it was difficult to envision a path forward, but the transfer portal delivered (Brown). It could do the same again — and the Huskies are starting from a stronger point.
9. Utah: We’re not sure what to make of Utah’s prospects following a disappointing first year under Craig Smith. Riley Battin and David Jenkins are already in the transfer portal, with others likely to follow. Guard Marco Anthony has stated his intentions to return, and Both Gach has eligibility left. We expect Smith to be active in the transfer market, but big man Branden Carlson is the key to ensuring a baseline level of production. If he seeks more success elsewhere, all bets are off for the Utes next season.
10. Stanford: One reason the Cardinal opted to bring Jerod Haase back for Year Seven is the “the young nucleus of talent on our team” (according to athletic director Bernard Muir). That nucleus has lost two players to the transfer portal since the announcement (Jaiden Delaire and Noah Taitz) and could lose star rookie Harrison Ingram to the draft. The Cardinal’s whole is typically less than the parts, not greater. Will next season be any different? Will the offense finally emerge as an efficient unit? We’ll believe it when we see it.
11. Cal: The Bears won five conference games and, in doing so, managed to max out their talent. Mark Fox is due back for Year Four and faces personnel challenges and a limited number of quick-fix options through the transfer portal (because of admission standards). Leading scorer Jordan Shepherd is out of eligibility. The other top threat, big man Andre Kelly, has one year remaining. If he spends it in Berkeley, the Bears should avoid the cellar. Otherwise, they could overtake — err, undertake Oregon State.
12. Oregon State: The presumed exodus (voluntary or forced) following an abysmal season is already underway in Corvallis, where Gianni Hunt and Dashawn Davis have entered the transfer portal. Given coach Wayne Tinkle’s stated displeasure with the chemistry, expect more goings to follow. But what of the comings? So far, there are no inbound transfers, either from junior or four-year colleges. OSU is starting over from a low base. The portal will provide some relief but not nearly enough.