Pac-12 basketball primed for another down year

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Ginny Polin and Ginny Polin | The Daily Wildcat Ginny Polin / Arizona Daily Wildcat No. 1 Oregon State guard Jared Cunningham is among one of the best in the country.

Pac-12 basketball can’t get any worse than it was last season, can it?

Think again.

The revolving door from Pac-12 hoops to the NBA continues, and the former basketball power conference is poised to slump for a second consecutive year because of it.

Two of the conference’s top underclassmen, Washington freshman Tony Wroten and sophomore Terrence Ross, declared for the NBA draft earlier this week and announced their intentions to hire agents.

Ross and Wroten ranked fourth and fifth, respectively, in conference scoring, while bringing major star power to a conference that lacks it.

The former Washington backcourt duo is a microcosm of the problem that’s set the Pac-12 back in terms of performance.

As ESPN basketball analyst Jay Bilas told me before Arizona’s whiteout game against the Huskies, “The green room at the NBA draft used to look like the Pacific 10 Conference all-conference team.”

The Pac-10 lost Derrick Williams, Klay Thompson and Nikola Vucevic to the draft last season. James Harden, Jrue Holiday, Jordan Hill and Taj Gibson all left early in 2009. In 2008, five of the top 15 picks were all underclassmen from the Pac-12 — Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, Brook Lopez, Jerryd Bayless and Robin Lopez.

Therein lies the problem. It’s a never-ending cycle.

The best of the best continue to leave early, and unless the next crop of underclassmen is just as impressive, the conference as a whole is going to struggle.

While this is an NCAA-wide issue, the Pac-12 has been dealt the worst cards.

“Nobody’s been hit as hard as the Pac-12,” Bilas said. “They’ve lost so many players to the NBA and across the board.”

That trend is going to continue this season. While there are no Westbrooks, Loves or Lopezes in this year’s group of Pac-12 NBA draft hopefuls, the conference is losing its top players, either to graduation or the association.

In addition to Ross and Wroten, Oregon State star Jared Cunningham is expected to forego his senior year and test the NBA waters. He has yet to hire an agent, but if he likes what he hears in terms of his draft stock, he’ll be out of Corvallis, Ore., in a heartbeat.

The conference’s third-leading scorer, Oregon’s Devoe Joseph, is out of eligibility, meaning four of the conference’s top five scorers won’t be back next season.

Conference player of the year Jorge Gutierrez is done at the college basketball ranks and reliable senior performers Kyle Fogg, Carlon Brown and Lazeric Jones are gone due to graduation.

The Pac-12 still has a handful of great coaches and a solid core of young talent like Cal’s Allen Crabbe, Colorado’s Andre Roberson, Stanford’s Chasson Randle, UCLA’s Wear twins, CU’s Spencer Dinwiddie and Oregon State’s Devon Collier. Soon-to-be seniors Solomon Hill, Brock Motum and E.J. Singler will also keep the conference afloat.

But despite their productivity, these players don’t have the talent of the Hardens, Baylesses and Holidays.

Sure, Arizona is bringing the nation’s top recruiting class to the Pac-12, which should give the conference a major shot in the arm. Yes, UCLA is neck and neck with Kentucky to land the nation’s top recruit Shabazz Muhammad.

But outside of that, the Pac-12 is behind in terms of recruiting.

Outside of Arizona, UCLA is the only other Pac-12 school in the top 15 of ESPN’s recruiting class rankings. Colorado comes in at No. 22, but other than that the Pac-12 can’t be found amongst the nation’s recruiting powers. Schools like Houston, Virginia, Xavier and Providence are pulling in better classes than Pac-12 squads, which may only set the conference back even further.

While this star power outage bodes well for an Arizona team that could very well run away with the conference next season, the Pac-12 may once again be the joke of the Power Six conferences for a second straight year.

Bilas said he expects it to be only a “blip in the radar screen,” which is most likely the case, as the Pac-12 has the history and facilities to regain its dominance.

But for the time being, the once-feared basketball conference will likely be stuck in the gutter for at least one more season.

—Mike Schmitz is a marketing senior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu or on Twitter via @WildcatHoops .


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