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October 27, 2011
We continue with our league breakdowns for the upcoming season; we're working backward from league No. 32 to our top-ranked league.
The breakdowns have become more in-depth as the leagues have become "bigger."
By Jeff Eisenberg
In an effort to shed further light on what appears to be a wide-open Pac-12 race, the Tucson Citizen recently asked three Arizona players the team they consider their biggest competition for the conference title.
The wide range of responses from the Wildcats only reinforces the fact that the inaugural Pac-12 season features no clear-cut favorite entering the season. Defending champion Arizona and fellow contenders UCLA, Cal and Washington each have enviable strengths and noticeable weaknesses, making it difficult to separate the four of them.
What makes Arizona perhaps the safest bet is its depth and balance. Derrick Williams' departure will force the Wildcats to find new ways to generate points, but there is an abundance of experienced former role players and talented freshmen capable of scoring in double figures, chipping in on the glass and playing solid defense. F Solomon Hill could become an all-league player if he shows more aggressiveness as a scorer, G Kyle Fogg is a lockdown defender and perimeter threat and freshmen Gs Josiah Turner and Nick Johnson are capable of making an immediate impact.
UCLA and Washington are total opposites of one another, which should make for intriguing matchups in Seattle and Los Angeles.
Joshua Smith and Reeves Nelson highlight a deep, versatile UCLA frontcourt, but the Bruins lack proven shooters or scorers in their backcourt as a result of the early departures of Malcolm Lee and Tyler Honeycutt. On the other hand, Washington has a wealth of perimeter talent, yet the loss of Matthew Bryan-Amaning leaves the Huskies with no established back-to-the-basket scorer and only one proven big man in foul-prone Aziz N'Diaye.
The most experienced of the top four contenders is Cal, which returns the core of a team that won 18 games last season, including standout wings Jorge Gutierrez and Allen Crabbe. What determines the Bears' fate is whether senior F Harper Kamp's oft-injured knees hold up over the course of the season and whether either returnee Brandon Smith or Minnesota transfer Justin Cobbs provides quality play at point guard.
In the conference's crowded middle tier, Oregon appears the most likely to emerge as a surprise contender. The question will be how quickly coach Dana Altman can blend a handful of key returnees with a talented four-man freshman class and several key Division I transfers.
About the only certainty in the Pac-12 is that the conference's newest members seem likely to struggle. Colorado lost its top four scorers off last season's NIT team, including first-round pick Alec Burks, while undermanned Utah faces a multi-year rebuilding project under new coach Larry Krystkowiak.
ALL-PAC-12 FIRST TEAM
PROJECTED ORDER OF FINISH