The Pac-12 lost a slew of basketball talent in the offseason, including the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft, Arizona’s Deandre Ayton. Also gone are Pac-12 first-team selections in UCLA’s Aaron Holiday (drafted No. 23 overall), Stanford’s Reid Travis (transferred to Kentucky), USC’s Chimezie Metu and Jordan McLaughlin, Arizona State’s Tra Holder, Utah’s Justin Bibbins and Ayton’s teammate Allonzo Trier.
But there are still plenty of quality players left in the league, and with an insurgence of some of the best freshmen in the country, excitement is high for Pac-12 hoops for the 2018-19 season.
We’re still months away from tipping off, but it’s never too early to list the best players in the conference. These are ones that no doubt will be making headlines in the fall and winter.
Here we go…
Daquon Lake, Arizona State; Alfred Hollins, Oregon State; Shareef O’Neal, UCLA; Derryck Thornton, USC; Kevin Porter, USC
25. Darius McNeill, Cal, sophomore guard
Cal is expected to struggle again this season, but Darius McNeill could be one of the few bright spots. The 6-foot-3 guard from Texas continued to improve as the season went along, and finished the year scoring 11 points per game. He’s a tenacious defender and uses his long arms to get into passing lanes and cause turnovers. If he can improve on his 38-percent shooting, he could garner some all-conference attention.
24. Moses Brown, UCLA, freshman center
UCLA will have a young team this season, but how Moses Brown performs will dictate the team’s chances to return to the NCAA Tournament. The No. 27 overall prospect in the class per the 247Sports composite rankings, Brown could be a force up front replacing senior Thomas Welsh. The 7-footer is raw offensively but has good defensive instincts. If the McDonald’s All-American can gobble up rebounds and provide consistent offense alongside Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands, it will give UCLA a solid young trio capable of making waves.
23. Brandon Williams, Arizona, freshman guard
Much is expected of Brandon Williams, a 4-star prospect. He’ll be counted on to lead a Wildcats attack that lost 87 percent of its scoring from the Pac-12 title-winning team. Williams is a dynamic lead guard who scored 24.7 points per game last year for Encino (Calif.) and is the No. 32 overall prospect in the 2018 class. It’s his show.
22. KZ Okpala, Stanford, sophomore forward
Injuries limited KZ Okpala to only 23 games last season, but the 6-foot-8 wing showed flashes of becoming a go-to scorer for the Cardinal last season. He dropped 20 or more points four times as a freshman, including a career-high 23 in a Pac-12 Tournament loss to UCLA, and has a fluid offensive game. He shot only 39 percent from the floor, but will continue to improve in Year 2.
21. Jonah Mathews, USC, junior guard
Jonah Mathews is the brother of former Cal and Gonzaga guard Jordan Mathews, and last year he proved that he too can be an impact player in the conference. He scored 9.3 points a game in only 27.1 minutes per contest. With the Trojans losing Metu, McLaughlin and Stewart, Mathews, who shot 42 percent from 3-point land last season, no doubt will be in line for even more run and better numbers.
20. Louis King, Oregon, freshman forward
Louis King is one of the highest-ranked freshmen entering the conference this season (No. 20 overall), and could emerge as a go-to scoring option from Day 1. He has a similar style to Troy Brown, who spent one year at Oregon before going pro. An athletic, slashing wing who also can step out and hit the 3, King may not be as physical defensively as Brown, but he’s a better shooter and looks to be a little better at creating his own shot.
19. Ryan Luther, Arizona, senior forward
Arizona is a team without an identity heading into this fall, as it’s a young team lacking leadership. It may find it in grad transfer Ryan Luther, who came from Pitt in April. Luther is a reliable scorer and rebounder, putting up 12.7 points and 10.1 rebounds per game, and he was the best player on the Panthers before his season ended because of a stress reaction in his right foot. Sean Miller no doubt will rely on his experience playing against the best talent in the nation in the ACC for four years.
18. Stephen Thompson, Oregon State, senior guard
For years, Stephen Thompson has been one of the most underrated players in the conference, but he’s the heart and soul of Wayne Tinkle’s club. He led the conference in minutes played two seasons ago and was second last season, while contributing 15.8 points a game. He also was third in the conference in steals. Thompson is one of those kinds of players that doesn’t excel in one area, but he does everything well. His well-rounded game and ability to lead should help him garner all-conference consideration in 2018-19.
17. Kenny Wooten, Oregon, sophomore forward
Other players on this list might have better numbers than Kenny Wooten, but no one is the same kind of game-changing dynamo defensively. The 6-foot-9 Wooten led the conference in blocked shots last season (by a lot), most coming as a help-side defender. The springy power forward also made 68 percent of his field goals, as he specialized in catching lob dunks, working hard for offensive rebound putbacks, and running the floor for easy buckets in transition. His 92 blocked shots was also ninth in the nation, despite playing fewer than 20 minutes per game. Now expected to get full starter’s minutes, he has a great shot to lead the nation in rejections.
16. Sedrick Barefield, Utah, senior guard
Sedrick Barefield’s inclusion on the list isn’t necessarily based on what he’s done over the past two years at Utah, but rather that he’s one of the only starters left from the team that made a thrilling run to the NIT finals. In trying to replace the production of Justin Bibbins, David Collette and Tyler Rawson, all double-figure scorers, the load will be given to Barefield. As one of the streakiest shooters in the Pac-12, Barefield could put up big numbers for the Utes.
15. Nick Rakocevic, USC, junior forward
Nick Rakocevic was a dependable front-court player last season. He was content to defer to Metu, rebound, play good defense, and pick up bonus buckets where he could. But Rakocevic’s emergence in two NIT games to close the year (which Metu sat out) showed his potential. He had double-doubles in both, including a monster 24-point, 19-rebound performance against UNC Asheville, a game that lasted four overtimes. Now with Metu gone, he’s the Trojans’ most reliable big man, and will be in line for an expanded role. Envisioning him putting up 16 points and 10 rebounds a game isn’t all that far-fetched.
14. Remy Martin, Arizona State, sophomore guard
Lost in the shadow of the star senior backcourt of Tra Holder and Shannon Evans in 2017-18, Remy Martin quietly put together a solid season in his first campaign in Tempe. In only 23.8 minutes per game, Martin averaged 9.6 points and 2.9 assists and had an assist-to-turnover ratio of better than 2:1. He shot a respectable 37.1 percent from 3 and also attacked the basket well, getting to the line 2.9 times a game. As the incumbent lead guard for Bobby Hurley’s up-tempo offense, Martin is a star on the rise.
13. Romello White, Arizona State, redshirt sophomore forward
Romello White was one of the top newcomers in the conference last season, and with another year in Hurley’s system, a lot is expected from the versatile 6-foot-8 standout. He averaged 10.5 points and 7.1 rebounds per game and was in the top 10 in the conference in field-goal percentage on 2 pointers (third) and offensive rebounds (seventh). If he can develop a mid-range jump shot, he’ll be even tougher to cover, as he thrives on using his energy to grab rebounds and get to the foul line.
12. Daejon Davis, Stanford, sophomore guard
Yes, we know. The turnovers are a problem. As a freshman, Daejon Davis led the conference with 132 giveaways and was third nationally. But he also showed toughness, leadership, and game-changing ability in 33 starts. He averaged 10.7 ppg, and added 4.4 rpg and 4.8 apg, good for fourth in the league. Davis has great size for a point guard at 6-foot-3, and his long arms and instincts helped him nab 40 steals last year. With the loss of Travis, Michael Humphrey and Dorian Pickens, the Cardinal need Davis to assume more of a scoring role. He could be one of the country’s most underrated players this season. And he gave fans one of the most memorable moments of the season vs. USC, as shown above.
11. Payton Pritchard, Oregon, junior guard
The ultimate “Iron Horse” in the conference, Payton Pritchard has led the conference in games played in both of his seasons in Eugene. He’s a steady performer who continues to improve and ranked in the top 10 in the league in minutes (fifth), field goals (ninth), 3-pointers (third), assists (fourth), and steals (fifth) in 2017-18. He makes the Ducks offense go, and will be the most important player on a team that has serious conference title hopes.
10. Noah Dickerson, Washington, senior forward
Noah Dickerson is one of the best post players in the league, and he saw career highs in points (15.5) and rebounds (8.4) last season while also raising his field-goal percentage and free-throw percentage over his sophomore year. The 6-foot-8 forward tested NBA draft waters, but chose to return to school. Dickerson can score in many ways, and his ability to get to the line, leading the league in free-throw makes (169) and finishing second in attempts (215), should help him continue to be a dominant force down low for a Huskies team that has serious NCAA Tournament aspirations.
9. Bol Bol, Oregon, freshman center
Bol Bol is the highest-rated recruit (No. 4 overall) in Oregon history, and his debut is among the most anticipated in recent memory. There have been 7-foot-2 players in the NCAA before, but none of them have featured Bol’s incredible skill set. He has a feathery-soft jumper that extends to 3-point range. He also can handle the ball and lead the fast break. It will be interesting to see how and where Dana Altman deploys Bol. He has the size to be a dominant defender. One thing that is certain is that you won’t be able to take your eyes off this certain one-and-done player.
8. Jaylen Hands, UCLA, sophomore guard
On talent alone, Jaylen Hands might be one of the best guards in the country. He’s a next-level athlete and has quickness and hops for days. But Hands’ inconsistency and poor shooting plagued him during his freshman season. He was also hampered by injuries that limited him to only 15 starts. With do-everything guard Aaron Holiday opting for the pros, the UCLA offense will be in Jaylen’s hands (hey now). The expectations will be high for the former 5-star guard, and if he can reach his potential and become what scouts expect him to be, the Bruins will have a great shot at returning to the NCAA Tournament, despite their personnel losses.
7. Bennie Boatwright, USC, senior forward
Bennie Boatwright was second on the Trojans last season with 13.6 points per game. He’s a reliable scorer, but staying healthy has been an issue throughout his career. He played only 19 games as a sophomore and 23 games last season because of various injuries. But the versatile 6-foot-10 forward is adept at using his height to shoot over smaller wings, and can create his own shot off the dribble as well. With Metu and McLaughlin gone, it’s Boatwright’s time to prove that his NBA-level skill set and body can handle a full season of being the Trojans’ No. 1 option.
6. Jaylen Nowell, Washington, sophomore guard
One of the pleasant surprises in the conference last season was Jaylen Nowell, who led all freshmen in scoring last year at 16 points per game. Not bad for the No. 67 overall prospect in the 2017 class. Nowell’s shooting numbers don’t jump off the page (45 percent, 35 percent from 3), but he was the clear go-to option for the Huskies. As he continues to get stronger and improve his shot selection, the 6-foot-4 guard likely will become one of the best scorers in the Pac-12, as he dropped 20 or more points 10 times last season.
5. McKinley Wright IV, Colorado, sophomore guard
Few college basketball fans outside of Colorado were aware of the superb year McKinley Wright, a freshman from Minnesota, had last season. And why would they? The diminutive point guard ranked No. 229 nationally in the 2017 class and was the fourth(!) highest ranked recruit on his own team. But Wright will become a household name this season after a freshman year that saw him put up 14.2 points, 4.7 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game. He ranked third in the conference in assists and 16th in scoring and broke Colorado legend Chauncey Billups’ record for assists in a season by a freshman. Wright plays bigger than his 6-foot, 185-pound frame, and got into the lane to create for himself and his teammates last year. He will be one of the conference’s breakout stars in 2018-19.
4. Robert Franks, Washington State, senior forward
Robert Franks just gets buckets. Period. One of the few bright spots on the Cougars last season, Franks ranked in the top 10 in the conference in points per game (seventh), field-goal percentage (14th), free-throw percentage (fourth), effective field-goal percentage (sixth) and usage rate (ninth). Of all the players who scored more than he did last season, only Oregon State’s Tres Tinkle returns. The 6-foot-7 wing also pulled down 6.6 rebounds a game last season. Returning to school after testing the NBA draft waters, Franks will be Mr. Everything for the Cougars.
3. Matisse Thybulle, Washington, senior guard
The reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year takes pride in his craft like no other. The three-year starter led the league in steals and steals per game last season, and was second in the nation in total steals. He was also seventh in the league in blocks with 49, only the second player in Pac-12 history to have 90 steals and 40 blocks. The lanky 6-foot-5 wing has arms that go forever, excellent anticipation skills, and uses great footwork to make life hell on the man he’s guarding. What’s more, Thybulle also can step out and knock down 3s, giving him the kind of skill set that makes NBA scouts drool. If he takes a step up offensively this season, he’ll shoot up draft boards, as there may be no better all-around defensive player in America.
2. Kris Wilkes, UCLA, sophomore guard
UCLA is lucky to have Kris Wilkes back. He chose to remove his name from the NBA draft on the second-to-last possible day, despite many scouts thinking he was a fringe first-round pick. The talent in the 6-foot-8 swingman is undeniable, and this likely will be his last season with the Bruins. They should enjoy his silky, smooth jumper and ability to score in bunches while they can. Wilkes has all the makings of a go-to scorer that can carry a team. If he works to get stronger this offseason and develops a killer instinct, he has the potential to be an All-American.
1. Tres Tinkle, Oregon State, junior forward
Tres Tinkle takes the throne as the conference’s best player heading into this season. He’s the leading returning scorer at 17.6 points per game, after averaging 20 per game in a sophomore season cut short by a broken right wrist. The crafty left-hander is a much better deep shooter than his 32.7-percent mark from 3-point land would indicate. He’s an unselfish player who rarely makes mistakes and is the only player in the Pac-12 to rank inside the top 10 in points, rebounds, assists, and steals. Pac-12 teams know all too well the kind of havoc he can cause offensively, and with Oregon State as a team on the rise, the rest of the nation may soon learn all about Tinkle as well.