Complete Pac-12 preview for the 2018 season.
The Pac-12 never lacks for intrigue, but the conference heads into 2018 looking to rebound after a disappointing 2017 slate. The league did not produce a playoff team, had only two programs reach double-digit victories and went 1-8 in bowl games. But there’s reason for optimism on the West Coast for 2018. Washington takes the top spot in Pac-12 predictions, as coach Chris Petersen’s team should be in the mix for a playoff spot this fall. The Huskies are loaded on both sides of the ball and are a clear favorite to win the conference title. Stanford and Oregon are both top 25 teams and will battle Washington for the top spots in the North. The other side of the conference features three teams vying for the division title. USC is the favorite in the South, but there’s little separation between the Trojans, Arizona and Utah.
The arc of the Cal program is headed in a positive direction, but second-year coach Justin Wilcox knows the Bears aren’t where they need to be. “It’s not good enough. We can say we have all these returnees, but we were 5-7,” he says. “Every one of us has got to show improvement.”
A year ago, the Bears dramatically improved the Pac-12’s worst defense and inched close to bowl eligibility. But the stretch run was a study in frustrating close calls, a 1-4 finish that included three losses by a combined seven points. “Those are the margins that are toughest to overcome,” Wilcox says. That will remain Cal’s challenge in the tough Pac-12 North.
The schedule sets up for a return to contention in the Pac-12 North. After three bland non-conference matchups — the Ducks can thank Texas A&M for backing out of a contracted series — Oregon hosts Washington and Stanford in conference play. With Justin Herbert and Tony Brooks-James in the backfield, and experience up front, the offense should be able to put up points. History says the defense in its second year under defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt will take another step forward. But will it be enough to get Oregon back to double-digit wins and Pac-12 title contention? The Ducks haven’t won a bowl game since the 2014 CFB Playoff semifinal, a streak fans badly want to see end.
The Beavers aren’t trying to snap a streak of 28 consecutive losing seasons like in 1999, but the gap between them and the rest of the Pac-12 felt as wide as ever last year. Still, if OSU can buy into what Jonathan Smith is selling and move past a disastrous 2017, his first season as a head coach will be considered a success.
For years, Stanford has led with its defense, which it backed up with a rugged, run-first offensive attack. That could change this year The Stanford offense hasn’t eclipsed 40 points per game since 2011, when Andrew Luck lined up behind center. It could in 2018. And it might need to, thanks to a defense in transition.
Stanford visits Pac-12 North favorite Washington on Nov. 3, but we’ll get a good picture of the Cardinal before September is over, with games vs. USC, at Oregon and at Notre Dame.
In Year 5 of the Chris Petersen era, the meticulous Washington coach will trot out a rarefied group that boasts 16 returning starters from a team that won 10 games. The Huskies take a backseat to no team when it comes to game experience. They’re positioned to run with college football’s elite again this season, and expectations are through the roof in Seattle. All Petersen’s club needs to do now is stay relatively healthy — and win.
In each of the past two seasons, Washington State fell four quarters shy of its first Pac-12 Championship Game appearance. It’s unlikely that the race for the Pac-12 North will come down to the Apple Cup again, and fans may need to temper their expectations after WSU followed an eight-win season in 2016 with nine wins in ’17. That doesn’t mean that the Cougars will backslide too much. They may just have to find some middle ground: Competing for a title in the rugged Pac-12 North seems unrealistic, but a bowl game is within reach.
With a forgiving schedule – Arizona does not play Washington or Stanford – the Wildcats are positioned to contend for the Pac-12 South title. Arizona is thin on defense, but its starters are of Pac-12 quality. Khalil Tate will attempt to be the school’s first All-Pac-12 first-team quarterback since Arizona joined the league in 1978. But much like on defense, Arizona is not deep and has no game-ready backup should Tate go down. Still, this is Arizona’s most anticipated season since 2010.
The presence a handful of top-shelf Pac-12 players may mask to some degree the scope of ASU’s overhaul, but at least it’ll give the staff a boost in the transitional phase. While the Sun Devils likely won’t challenge for the Pac-12 South division title, they have potential to remain relevant into November. All eyes will be on coach Herm Edwards, one of the most intriguing hires in college football in years.
After a South Division title in 2016, Colorado entered last season eager to prove it was more than a one-hit wonder. Instead, the Buffs settled into their familiar spot at the bottom of the division. Mike MacIntyre is only one year removed from winning National Coach of the Year honors and signing a contract extension (through 2021), but there’s pressure to get the Buffs back to the postseason. There’s enough talent and hunger to get them there, but not much margin for error.
Coach Chip Kelly is inheriting a full rebuilding job and not a top-25 team like he had when he embarked on his magical run at Oregon. The Bruins do have talent on campus from all those top recruiting classes signed by the previous staff, but there are significant issues on both sides of the ball.
It may not be long before Kelly has the Bruins contending for titles like they did with regularity two decades ago, but there are bound to be a few growing pains in 2018. Even in a wide-open Pac-12 South, this UCLA squad may prove to be more pesky than good as it builds toward a brighter future.
Clay Helton is the first coach in the program’s history to guide the Trojans to 10 wins in each of his first two seasons, but it is going to be a challenge to continue that level of success with significant roster turnover.
The Trojans should remain the favorites in the Pac-12 South race, considering the talent remaining on their roster and coaching changes that occurred at three of their division rivals. The challenge to repeat as Pac-12 champions gets off to a difficult start with a tough September slate that includes trips to Stanford and Arizona, plus a matchup with Washington State on a Friday night. It won’t be an easy road to navigate.
Utah is entering its eighth season in the Pac-12, and Kyle Whittingham now has been a head coach in this conference longer than he filled that role in the Mountain West. So the Utes are feeling some pressure to win their first Pac-12 South championship. “We are getting closer and closer to where we want to be, but no one cares about being close,” Whittingham says. “We have to get over that hump.”
The schedule is difficult – the Utes miss Oregon State and California in the rotation – but the pieces are in place for Utah to threaten USC for supremacy in the South.
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March Madness First Four Preview
UCLA vs. St. Bonaventure
UCLA makes its fifth trip to NCAA Tournament in six years and looks to win at least two games for the fourth straight time when it begins play against dangerous St. Bonaventure on Tuesday in the First Four at Dayton, Ohio – in a battle of 11th seeds to open the East Region. The Bruins lost three of their last five games, but gave red-hot Arizona all it could handle before losing in overtime at the Pac-12 semifinals.
St. Bonaventure, which won 13 games in a row before losing to Davidson in the Atlantic-10 semifinals, set a program record for victories in a regular season (24) and is tied with the 1969-70 team that made the Final Four for the most overall (25). The matchup could come down to guard play as both teams boast talented backcourts that can put up plenty of points, dish the ball and drain long-range shots. UCLA’s junior guard Aaron Holiday averages a Pac 12-best 20.3 points, 5.8 assists and drains 43.3 percent from 3-point range, while the senior duo of Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley for the Bonnies combined to score almost 40 per contest and have connected on 177 tries behind the arc between them. The survivor will travel to Dallas where it will take on sixth-seeded Florida in the first round on Thursday.
TV: 9:10 p.m. ET, truTV
ABOUT UCLA (21-11): Holiday was held to 15 points on 5-of-20 shooting from the field by Arizona, but averaged 28.2 points in his previous five games and scored at least 29 five times this season after producing 12.3 per contest as a sophomore. Thomas Welsh, a 7-0 senior, had a big Pac-12 Tournament while averaging 17.5 points along with 14 rebounds in two games and the Bruins will need that again to make a run. Kris Wilkes, a 6-8 guard who was named to the Pac-12’s All-Freshman team, is second on the team in scoring (13.8).
ABOUT ST. BONAVENTURE (25-7): Adams, who also leads the team in assists (5.4), steals (1.5), averages 19.8 points while connecting on 45.7 percent beyond the arc. Mobley made 14 shots from long-range in the A-10 Tournament and boasts 102 of 292 career triples this season while averaging 18.5 points in his second season with the Bonnies. Production in the paint will be needed to open up the perimeter and Courtney Stockard (12.9 points, 6.4 rebounds) along with fellow junior forward LaDarien Griffin (8.7, team-best 6.5 boards) can provide that.
1. UCLA has won 11 NCAA Tournament titles and is making its 49th appearance overall.
2. Adams is sixth in scoring all-time at St. Bonaventure (1,893) and second in 3-pointers (270) – 11 away from the top spot.
3. Bruins freshman G Jaylen Hands averages 10.1 points but has scored in double figures once in his last 10 games.
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NCAA Football 2017-18 Season
Pac-12 South Preview
Defending South Division champion Colorado has several key losses on defense, but coach Mike MacIntyre should keep the Buffaloes in the mix for second behind USC. Utah and UCLA are two other wild cards to watch in the South this fall. The new season of fantasy college football kicks off Saturday August 26 at FanPicks
The resurgence of USC, coming off its best season since the Pete Carroll era, is expected to continue, with the program inching toward its first conference championship in nearly a decade and first-ever appearance in the College Football Playoff.
QB Sam Darnold, considered among the early favorites for the Heisman Trophy, adds credence to the hype. But the Trojans remain young. More than 50 of their 85 scholarship players will be underclassmen.
Coach Clay Helton has recruited well thus far, with two straight top-10 classes, so the Trojans are talented and have been free of NCAA sanctions since 2014. If USC is to become the third Pac-12 team in four seasons to make the CFB Playoff, it can thank a regular-season schedule that is more navigable, without Alabama and Washington. It’s likely the Trojans will be a factor in the race.
Colorado had its best season in 15 years and snapped a nine-year bowl drought with an inconsistent offense and a top-notch defense. This year, the Buffs will lean more on an experienced offense. There is a lot of excitement about quarterback Steven Montez’s potential, and with the weapons around him, the expectation is for the offense to improve upon last year’s 31.1 points per game, which ranked seventh in the Pac-12. Given the losses on defense, it’s tough to expect the Buffs to be as good as they were a year ago, but if they can keep opponents under 28 points per game and the offense improves, this team has the ability to challenge for the South title and get back to a bowl game.
Those who swear allegiance to the powder blues have been trying to figure out if the Bruins’ disastrous 2016 season was a blip in the radar or part of a troubling trend under head coach Jim Mora. Injuries to key players like quarterback Josh Rosen were a big factor in the team’s recent backslide, but two straight campaigns of declining win totals have many thinking that 2017 will be a referendum on the head coach’s tenure.
Despite concerns, the return of Rosen to the starting lineup is enough to get people to buy low on a team that should make big gains offensively. That should take some pressure off a re-tooled defense that is stuffed with talented players, and it’s hard to go anywhere but up on special teams. It might be tough to have a breakthrough season given how competitive Pac-12 South has become, but this has the potential to be a top-25 team if the pieces fall into place.
Utah has established itself as one of the Pac-12’s most consistent programs, but there’s more to do. Head coach Kyle Whittingham is driven to make his team the South’s sixth winner in seven seasons. The Utes’ October 14th visit to USC will be pivotal. Utah has beaten the Trojans two of the past three seasons.
Arizona St. Sun Devils
In the talent game, the Sun Devils are headed in the right direction but still are not near their destination. Head coach Todd Graham has quadrupled the number of four- and five-star recruits on his roster over a five-year period, but much of the best talent is still young. If the Sun Devils can stabilize this season, with improvement in the secondary and at quarterback, they’ll likely be over the hump transitioning to 2018, when most of their best players will return. However, Graham may need to reach a bowl game this year to make sure he’s still around.
Arizona allowed 44.8 points per game in its eight Pac-12 losses. Improving the defense is the top priority. Head coach Rich Rodriguez hired two new defensive coaches, but the defensive line remains under-sized, and the linebacking group is freshman-laden. Almost as worrisome, Arizona averaged only 22.6 points in Pac-12 games.
Rodriguez’s contract buyout would be $5.1 million if new athletic director Dave Heeke made a change. This roster is not built to shine in 2017, but, if all goes well, 2018 could be promising. Sweeping the three non-conference games against NAU, Houston and UTEP seems imperative for Arizona to have a winning season.
Sweet Sixteen Day Two
Friday CBB Rundown
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No 4 Butler Bulldogs (25-8) vs No 1 North Carolina Tar Heel (29-7)
The Bulldogs have been crisp on offense in the tournament, shooting 50 percent overall and 47 percent from 3-point range, with Memphis transfer Avery Woodson (8.9 points) going 8-of-14 from behind the arc. The Tar Heels nearly met their match with Arkansas’ frenetic style of play, but their up-tempo game should match up better against the Bulldogs.
No 7 South Carolina Gamecocks (24-10) vs No 3 Baylor Bears (27-7)
This marks the fourth time in 14 seasons under Scott Drew that the Bears made it to the Sweet 16 and they’ve advanced to the Elite Eight twice with wins over Saint Mary’s in 2010 and Xavier in 2012 while losing to No. 2 seed Wisconsin in 2014. Seventh-seeded South Carolina takes part in the school’s first Sweet 16 under the current NCAA Tournament format. SEC Player of the Year Sindarius Thornwell was somewhat under the radar nationally until Sunday’s upset of Duke when the 6-5 senior guard filled up the stat sheet with 24 points, six rebounds and a team-high five assists as the Gamecocks exploded for 65 second-half points.
No 2 UCLA Bruins (31-4) vs No 3 Kentucky Wildcats (31-5)
Bruins freshman point guard Lonzo Ball had one of his most impressive performances of the season in the second round and should be motivated to play well against the freshman backcourt of Kentucky. Isaiah Briscoe is the third starting guard for the Wildcats and also has good size at 6-3, and is the best rebounder in the backcourt, posting four double-doubles this season and ranking second on the team at 5.4 rebounds. The Bruins need to decide who to put on Briscoe, and that could be Ball, who has the length at 6-6 to keep him off the glass.
No 8 Wisconsin Badgers (27-9) vs No 4 Florida Gators (26-8)
The Badgers have two key seniors with multiple Final Four experience in Koenig, who has drained 11 3-pointers en route to 45 points through two games of this event, and Nigel Hayes, who is averaging 17.5 points and nine boards through two NCAA contests. The Gators are 8-1 all-time in the Sweet 16 and have an excellent shot at improving that mark if Devin Robinson continues to shine.
Pac-12 (29-4, 15-3)
by Dan Levine
UCLA jumped onto to the scene early with impressive play, climbed the polls, and never looked back. They are one of the few teams that have relied heavily on freshmen this season. It has worked out for them. Steve Alford, who has had success everywhere he’s coached, has his best team to date with these Bruins. The up-and-down style lends itself to a lot of points. UCLA can make a run towards April with this group – if they improve their defense.
Big Wins: 12/3 at Kentucky (97-92), 2/9 Oregon (82-79), 2/25 at Arizona (77-72)
Bad Losses: 12/28 at Oregon (87-89), 1/21 Arizona (85-96), 1/25 at USC (76-84)
Coach: Steve Alford
Why They Can Surprise:
Point blank this is one of the most offensively talented teams in the country. In a back-and-forth game, not many teams can outlast UCLA. Their freshmen stars, point guard Lonzo Ball and forward T.J. Leaf, have been nothing short of sensational. Ball, a projected top-2 pick in the upcoming NBA draft, is an outstanding leader as a freshman. He is such an important part of what they do that he leads the team in minutes. An elite assist man (over seven per game), he also shoots 41 percent from three.
Their transition offense is stellar and they can beat you inside the arc or from long range. Bryce Alford, the coach’s son, always seems to be able to hit a big three for the Bruins whether it’s to stop an opponent’s run or to get the crowd fired up. Six players are averaging double-figures for Alford’s squad. That is proficiency at its finest. They will be hard to stop.
Why They Can Disappoint:
If UCLA has a weakness it was on display during their “swoon” in mid-January against Arizona and USC. Their defense was lackluster at best and it spelled doom for them in those two games. Even in their wins, their opponents are filling it up. They allow over 75 points per game which is among the bottom third nationally. Usually they are able to mask their defensive weaknesses with their explosive offense. But if the shots are not falling, than the Bruins might find themselves in some trouble. They have played the same style all season to resounding success. They will live and die with it.
Lonzo Ball, Freshman, Guard, 14.6 ppg, 7.7 apg, 6.1 rpg, 1.9 spg
Thomas Welsh, Junior, Center, 10.7 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 1.4 bpg
T.J. Leaf, Freshman, Forward, 16.2 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 2.6 apg, 1.2 bpg
Bryce Alford, Senior, Guard, 15.8 ppg, 2.6 apg
Isaac Hamilton, Senior, Guard, 14.1 ppg, 2.8 apg
Key Role Players:
Ike Anigbogu, Freshman, Forward, 4.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 1.3 bpg
Aaron Holiday, Sophomore, Guard, 12.6 ppg, 4.2 apg
Gyorgy Goloman, Junior, Forward, 3.6 ppg, 2.5 rpg
By the Numbers:
Scoring Offense: 91.3 (1st in nation, 1st in conference)
Scoring Defense: 75.0 (245, 9)
Field-Goal Percentage: 52.6 (1, 1)
Field-Goal Defense: 41.7 (69, 5)
Three-Point Field Goals Per Game: 10.1 (9, 1)
Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage: 41.5 (3, 1)
Free-Throw Percentage: 73.6 (65, 5)
Rebound Margin: 4.3 (52, 4)
Assists Per Game: 21.7 (1, 1)
Turnovers Per Game: 11.4 (39, 3)
Recent Postseason Appearances:
2015 NCAA Round of 64 win over SMU
2015 NCAA Round of 32 win over UAB
2015 NCAA Regional Semifinal loss to Gonzaga
2014 NCAA Round of 64 win over Tulsa
2014 NCAA Round of 32 win over Stephen F. Austin
2014 NCAA Regional Semifinal loss to Florida
2013 NCAA Round of 64 loss to Minnesota
2011 NCAA Round of 64 win over Michigan State
2011 NCAA Round of 32 loss to Florida
2009 NCAA Round of 64 win over VCU
2009 NCAA Round of 32 loss to Villanova
2008 NCAA Round of 64 win over Mississippi Valley State
2008 NCAA Round of 32 win over Texas A&M
2008 NCAA Regional Semifinal win over Western Kentucky
2008 NCAA Regional Final win over Xavier
2008 NCAA National Semifinal loss to Memphis
2007 NCAA Round of 64 win over Weber State
2007 NCAA Round of 32 win over Indiana
2007 NCAA Regional Semifinal win over Pittsburgh
2007 NCAA Regional Final win over Kansas
2007 NCAA National Semifinal loss to Florida
2006 NCAA Round of 64 win over Belmont
2006 NCAA Round of 32 win over Alabama
2006 NCAA Regional semifinal win over Gonzaga
2006 NCAA Regional final win over Memphis
2006 NCAA National semifinal win over LSU
2006 NCAA National Final loss to Florida
*all team stats through 3/5
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Pac-12 Games of the Week Preview
Be part of the new conference bundle Games of the Week. Get inside the Pac-12 games with Thursday Games of the Week contest (Enter Contest). Here’s a look at the conference matchups.
No 5 UCLA Bruins (24-3) vs Arizona State Sun Devils (13-15)
UCLA is the only Pac-12 team that’s unbeaten in February. The Bruins are coming off one of their most impressive wins of the season, a 102-70 victory Saturday against USC, a team that beat the Bruins by eight points in January. UCLA also put up 102 points the last time it faced Arizona State and small forward Isaac Hamilton had his most productive game of the season, scoring 33 points with the help of 9-for-14 shooting from 3-point range. Hamilton has slowed down of late and hasn’t surpassed his 14.3 scoring average in the last five games, but the Bruins won all five so it hasn’t been a concern.
Arizona State wasn’t able to add to its two-game winning streak and lost at Washington State on Saturday. Torian Graham scored 26 points off the bench against UCLA in the last meeting, and he’s averaging 23.7 points in the last three games while shooting 52.9 percent from the floor.
USC Trojans (21-6) vs No 4 Arizona Wildcats (25-3)
Arizona hasn’t been at full strength very often this season, but the fourth-ranked Wildcats should have all their key personnel available against USC. Starting point guard Kadeem Allen missed the last two games with a finger injury and starting forward Dusan Ristic missed the most recent game with a sprained left ankle, though both are expected to return against the Trojans. Arizona has had its full rotation for just seven games this season, as Allonzo Trier, the team’s top returning scorer, was suspended the first 19 contests. The Wildcats used only seven players in their 76-68 win Saturday at Washington and received just two points from their reserves, but still maintained a one-game lead atop the Pac-12 standings with the win.
USC is coming off losses to No. 7 Oregon and No. 5 UCLA, but is still a game behind fourth-place California because the Golden Bears have also dropped their last two games. USC forward Bennie Boatwright continues to get stronger after missing two months with a knee injury, and the 6-10 sophomore is coming off his first double-double of the season, finishing with 20 points and 10 rebounds in a 102-70 loss to UCLA last weekend.
Utah Utes (17-10) vs Colorado Buffaloes (16-12)
Colorado and Utah have a combined six NCAA Tournament appearances since joining the Pac-12 in 2011. They are currently on the outside of the bubble looking in. Utah got off to a 5-2 start in conference play, but they have 11 players who didn’t log a minute of playing time a season ago. The lack of experience seemingly has caught up with coach Larry Krystkowiak’s crew. Colorado stumbled to a 0-7 Pac-12 start, and even a 6-2 mark since still leaves the Buffaloes three games short of .500 in the conference with three to play.
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