Pac-12 basketball fortified for bright future

LAS VEGAS, Nev. — The Pac-12 has had a nice bounce-back season. Five teams appear in position to make the NCAA tournament, which marks a return to normalcy after a tough 2012 in which regular-season champion Washington was snubbed and only two league teams made the 68-team field.

No. 18 Arizona and No. 21 UCLA are probably looking at no worse than No. 5 seeds when the NCAA bracket is announced Sunday, and could move up a notice with strong showings in the conference tournament that begins Wednesday at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Colorado, California and Oregon appear to be safely in the field, with Colorado putting the final touch on its resume with a decisive victory over Oregon last Thursday, the first of two Ducks’ weekend losses that gave UCLA the regular-season title.

As well as the season has gone, the future is just as bright. The good news for the league is that many of the principals will return in 2013. There are no seniors on our All-Pac-12 first team and only two on the second team: Bruins guard Larry Drew II and Arizona forward Solomon Hill.

There is probably only one jump-ship freshman, UCLA forward Shabazz Muhammad, who seems certain to leave because he is projected to be a top 10 pick in the 2013 NBA draft by most accounts. All Bruins coach Ben Howland did two weeks ago was confirm the obvious when he said Muhammad had played his last game at Pauley Pavilion.

Player of the year Allen Crabbe, a junior, is projected as a late first-round pick at best, which could lead him to return for his final year at California. Arizona State point guard Jahii Carson, who shared freshman-of-the-year honors with Muhammad, is not looking to stay all four years, but he is an unlikely one-and-done candidate either unless scouts project him in the first round. UCLA freshman Kyle Anderson is the only other Pac-12 player mentioned in mock drafts in the top 60.

So many of the contenders should contend again next year.

UCLA should have three starters back, including Anderson and Jordan Adams, who got valuable time starting as freshmen.

California: all five, if Crabbe stays.

Colorado: five, including the nation’s leading rebounder Andre Roberson.

Stanford: four.

Arizona State: three and a half.

Arizona: two and and a half, and several freshmen who saw appreciable minutes this year.

Co-champion Oregon was the hardest hit, losing three, but will return both starting guards.

The recruiting season went well, too. Five Pac-12 schools are in the top 30 in one recruiting service’s rankings after the early signing period.  

A conference that routinely placed five teams, sometimes six, in the NCAA field at the turn of the millennium is back in the swing. All it took was a few good men.

As the teams gather in Las Vegas for a wide-open conference tournament, here’s our 2013 honor roll:
 
PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Allen Crabbe, G, California. Every team tries to take away Crabbe and few can. Crabbe led the league by averaging 18.6 points a game in all games and averaged 17.2 points and 6.1 rebounds in league play. He took his game to the next level this season, too. A spot up wing shooter his first two seasons, Crabbe not only made 86 3-pointers but he took the ball to the basket with authority.

Honorable mention: Jahii Carson, Arizona State.

COACH OF THE YEAR

Dana Altman, Oregon. Rival coaches dislike facing the Ducks, which should tell you something right there. The Ducks are tough and aggressive, they push the ball at every opportunity, and they go to the boards hard. Altman alternates defenses, too, playing man and zone, including presses, to create doubts in an opponent’s decision-making. Before a foot injury to freshman point guard Dominic Artis midway through Pac-12 play, the Ducks were playing well enough to be the No. 1 seed in the Pac-12 tournament.

Honorable mention: Mike Montgomery, California.

ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM

F – Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA. Smooth left-hander can shoot it from the perimeter and get to the hoop.

F – Andre Roberson, Colorado.
Quick and hoppy, Roberson was the coaches’ choice as the defensive player of the year.

F – Dwight Powell, Stanford.
Powell was the only player to finish in the top 10 in scoring and rebounding in league play.

G –Allen Crabbe, California. The numbers go on: Tied for 10th in steals, third with 37.5 minutes a game.

G –Jahii Carson, Arizona State. It only seems that he can get to the basket at will on the high pick-and-roll.

Second team

F – Carrick Felix, Arizona State. He did on both ends of the court – top 15 in scoring and rebounding; all-defensive team selection.

F – Solomon Hill, Arizona. After playing the “4” a year ago, team leader Hill averaged 14.2 points at the “3” and added an effective 3-pointer to his game.

G – Spencer Dinwiddie, Colorado. He shoots and penetrate; his 176 made free throws are more than all but two Pac-12 players have even attempted.

G – Larry Drew II, UCLA. Excellent pass-first playmaker … and do not tell Washington he cannot shoot.
 
G – Justin Cobbs, California. The second half of the Bears’ 1-2 punch as the best backcourt in the league.

Honorable mention: Kyle Anderson, F, UCLA; Josh Huestis, F, Stanford; Mark Lyons, G, Arizona; Brock Motum, F, Washington State; Roberto Nelson, G, Oregon State; E.J. Singler, F, Oregon; Jason Washburn, C, Utah; C.J. Wilcox, F, Washington.