Pac-12′s resurgence fueled by better players
by Nicole Auerbach, USA TODAY Sports
It starts and ends with the players. It always does.
The players — or lack thereof — contributed to a down year in Pac-12 men’s basketball last season, many having left school early to chase their dreams of playing professionally. Twenty Pac-12 players were drafted from 2009 to 2012.
“And a number of them were underclassmen,” Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said. “The NBA basically raided the league, and it takes a little bit to replenish that.”
Replacing those players hasn’t been easy.
Last season, rosters lacked star power and talent, and the league struggled against most non-conference competition.
The Pac-12 went 0-16 against teams in the Ratings Percentage Index top 25, and one Pac-12 team (California) was in the top 50 of the RPI, a measurement heavily used in NCAA tournament selection.
For much of the season — until Colorado snagged the conference’s automatic bid by winning the league tournament and California got in as an at-large — it seemed like a real possibility the Pac-12 would send one team to the NCAA tournament.
“Some of the better players were younger, freshmen, and they weren’t ready to play those non-conference games against some of the better teams,” Oregon assistant coach Kevin McKenna said.
“We didn’t pick up any wins. As the season went along, (growth and maturity) showed. Colorado came on, Stanford won the NIT, Arizona was pretty decent. Washington … Our league got stronger because our younger players got better.”
The 2012-13 season seems light years from the last. Must-see freshmen headline a handful of Pac-12 rosters. Transfers have boosted others, such as Arizona (No. 7 in the USA TODAY Sports Coaches Poll) and Oregon (No. 19 in the latest USA TODAY Sports coaches poll).
Pac-12 teams had success in non-conference play, going 109-41 with wins against ranked foes such as Florida, UNLV, Baylor and Missouri.
“We’re all trying to compete at a high level,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “The coaches are solid in the league, but it’s still all about players. It doesn’t matter the coaching aspect of it — you’ve got to have players.”
For Altman, it’s freshmen, such as guards Damyean Dotson and Dominic Arits … [For more on Pac-12's resurgent year fueled by better players, click here.]