Sunday, July 14, 2024

Pac-12 expert picks 2023-24: Predictions, projected order of finish, overrated and underrated teams

Arizona is our pick to win a last Pac-12 title before most of the teams bolt after this season

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The Pac-12 as we know it will have one last dance as a basketball conference this season. The future of the “Conference of Champions” is uncertain with not only Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah departing for the Big 12 but Oregon, UCLA, USC and Washington leaving for the Big Ten and also Cal and Stanford joining the ACC for the 2024-25 academic year.

In the game of musical chairs better known as conference realignment, Oregon State and Washington State are the lone programs from the Pac-12 without a home for next season making this the last hurrah for the traditional Pac-12 lineup we are familiar with.

Two years after Oregon State, UCLA and USC all reached the Elite Eight, the Pac-12 failed to have a team make it beyond the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive season. The Bruins were the last team standing from the 2023 NCAA Tournament before they fell to Gonzaga in the Sweet 16.

Arizona is coming off being on the wrong end of one of the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history. The No. 2 seed Wildcats were upset by No. 15 seed Princeton. The good news for Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd and company is they added former North Carolina guard Caleb Love, who has experience playing on the biggest stage in college basketball. The Wildcats also return star big man Oumar Ballo, who was tabbed as CBS Sports Preseason Player of the Year.

CBS Sports Pac-12 Preseason Player of the Year

Oumar Ballo | C | Arizona

With Kerr Kriisa off to West Virginia and Ąžuolas Tubelis departing for the NBA, Ballo is expected to take a huge leap this season as Arizona’s the top returning offensive option. Ballo averaged 14.2 points and 8.6 rebounds on 64.7% shooting last season and both of those numbers are expected to increase. Ballo’s minutes nearly doubled (15.3 to 27.6) from the 2021-22 season to last and he should expect to play even more on most nights if he stays out of foul trouble. Ballo finished the 2022-23 season with 11 double-doubles and the Wildcats will need a big season from their star center if they want to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. 

Four more players to watch in the Pac-12

Adem Bona | C | UCLA: The reigning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year withdrew his name in the NBA Draft and will be a key player for Bruins coach Mick Cronin this season. Bona averaged 7.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in only 23 minutes per game and shot 68% from the field.

Tristan da Silva | F | Colorado: Like Bona, da Silva had a chance to declare for the NBA Draft and instead elected to return to school for one final season. The senior forward averaged 15.9 points and 4.8 rebounds during the 2022-23 season.

Branden Carlson | C | Utah: Carlson is one of the leading returning scorers in the Pac-12 and he averaged 16.4 points and 7.5 rebounds last season for the Utes.

Boogie Ellis | G | USC: Ellis averaged 17.7 points last season and he should pair perfectly with USC star freshman Isaiah Collier. They should prove to be one of the best backcourts in America.

CBS Sports Pac-12 Preseason Freshman of the Year

Isaiah Collier | G | USC

Collier was a relatively late riser in the 2023 class. He was ranked in the 20s and 30s for a majority of his high school career before skyrocketing into the No. 2 slot in the final 247Sports Class of 2023 rankings. Collier has a chance to be the best freshman in college basketball because of the role he’s expected to take on from Day 1 at USC. Collier was one of the best passers in high school basketball and his facilitating is considered his greatest strength as a player. His style of play complements Ellis in the backcourt well because he is one of the top-scoring guards in the country. Collier is certainly in the conversation for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 NBA Draft.

CBS Sports Pac-12 predicted order of finish

Most overrated team

UCLA: Everyone knows how good of a coach Cronin is, but UCLA is the biggest wild card in the conference this season. The Bruins have to replace Jaquez Jr., Campbell, Singleton and Clark and former star freshman Amari Bailey. UCLA has seven incoming freshman, including four International players in its recruiting class. It’s hard to pick an “overrated” team in the conference per se, but the inexperience on the roster makes the Bruins a target. It wouldn’t surprise me if UCLA makes a deep tournament run this season, but that would mean one or some of its incoming freshman had a breakout season.

Most underrated team

Stanford: Haase is coaching for his job this season. In seven seasons at the helm of the program, the Cardinal have yet to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Haase brings in two ultra-talented freshmen in Stojakovic and Kanaan Carlyle and if one or both of them make an immediate impact, it could save Haase’s job and help Stanford reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014 before they depart for the ACC.

CBS Sports Pac-12 expert picks

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