Pac-12: Five Things I Can't Wait To See

October, 31, 2011
10/31/11
11:10
AM ET
Here are five things I can't wait to see in the Pac-12 this season:

1. How good are the freshman guards?

The Pac-12 lost a boatload of talent to the NBA draft, but that doesn't necessarily mean the conference is short on star power. A number of freshmen have an opportunity to get the ball in their hands and make an immediate impact, and seeing which of these players are as good as advertised should be quite the treat.

Arizona replenished its roster with Josiah Turner, who is expected to take over point guard duties. Because of the complexities that come with the point position, shooting guard Nick Johnson might be further along at this point, but the two will be key figures in the Wildcats' title defense.

Washington's Tony Wroten and Oregon's Jabari Brown are two other high-profile recruits with flashy skills, and watching them take on leading roles in the early parts of their careers should be interesting. UCLA's Norman Powell and Stanford's Chasson Randle are expected to receive early playing time. And if and when Arizona State's Jahii Carson becomes eligible, he should be a game-changing player for the Sun Devils.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Williams
Chris Morrison/US PresswireReplacing Derrick Williams will be a tall order for Arizona.
2. How will Arizona do in the post-Derrick Williams era?

Losing to Seattle Pacific in an exhibition game last week won't be the lasting memory from this season for Arizona, but it does serve as a warning sign that at least in the early going, the Wildcats will greatly miss Williams. He became the No. 2 overall pick in the NBA draft after leading Zona to the Elite Eight, and now it's up to the Wildcats to figure out who steps forward after his departure, coupled with the transfer of point guard Lamont "MoMo" Jones.

Can Kyle Fogg and Solomon Hill grow into leaders and take on the added responsibility? Can senior Jesse Perry be a frontcourt force while Kevin Parrom continues to recover from a gunshot would? How long will it take for Turner and Johnson to feel comfortable at the college level?

Those are questions Arizona faces as it no longer has Williams to wreak havoc on opponents, get to the foul line and serve as the team's go-to guy. They might take some time to answer, which is fine if the Cats can peak later in the season like they did during a memorable postseason run in 2010-11.

3. Can Cal reach its potential?

In 2010, it took a senior-laden roster and a down season for many of the league's other teams for the Bears to capture their first conference crown in 50 years. This season, the pieces are in place for the program to establish itself as a perennial championship contender.

While a short-handed team did better than expected in 2011, this season's team has established players primed to take it to the next level. Jorge Gutierrez is an unquestioned leader whose physical style and work ethic define the team's blue-collar approach. Harper Kamp has battled through injuries and developed into a rugged interior presence. Allen Crabbe is the reigning freshman of the year, and his scoring ability could continue to drive this team.

On paper, California has a roster that is as good as that of any team in the league. But as the Bears know from their history, championships aren't easy to come by. It should be interesting to see whether this is a group that has that killer instinct, because it has already shown signs that it does.

4. Which programs turn the corner?

Oregon, Oregon State and Stanford have combined for zero winning records in the Pac-10 over the past three seasons. Is this the year that all changes?

For Dana Altman's second season, the Ducks added plenty of talent to a team that surprised last season by winning the CBI championship when it had been picked last in the Pac-10 preseason poll. But with Brown and experienced transfers in Olu Ashaolu, Tony Woods and Devoe Joseph, Altman has more than enough talent to make this a special season in the program's first full season at Matthew Knight Arena.

At Oregon State, coach Craig Robinson is no longer asking for patience entering his fourth season with the team. Rather, the Beavers are talking about their NCAA tournament potential based upon the talent Robinson has recruited and developed, such as Jared Cunningham, Ahmad Starks and Roberto Nelson.

Stanford is a program that has been plagued by health issues and inexperience in the past, but with Josh Owens ready for a breakout season and the addition of Randle, coach Johnny Dawkins is feeling good about his team.

5. What do Colorado and Utah bring in their first season in the Pac-12?

The Colorado and Utah football teams have started off slowly in their first season in the Pac-12, and the basketball teams are in for transition years as well.

The Buffaloes lose Alec Burks to the NBA but are coming off a school-record 24-win season under coach Tad Boyle in their last year in the Big 12. There is reason for optimism with Andre Roberson looking to develop into a double-double threat, Utah transfer Carlon Brown becoming eligible and a good recruiting class arriving.

The Utes were picked to finish last in the conference and are expected to struggle after numerous players transferred following the coaching change. But coach Larry Krystkowiak will bring his intensity to attempt to energize the program, and his success in the recruiting game will be important going forward.

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