Pac-12 back behind UCLA, Arizona
In the Pac-12, there has already been a lot of attention paid to an improved UCLA team, but I really think the conference will be much improved top to bottom this season.
It starts at Westwood, where Ben Howland's team landed one of the premier recruiting classes in the nation. One reason for enthusiasm is the presence of forward Shabazz Muhammad out of Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas. He was ranked No. 2 in the ESPNU Top 150, behind only Nerlens Noel, who is going to Kentucky.
Factor in 6-7 Kyle Anderson from St. Anthony's in Jersey City, where he played under the legendary Hall of Famer Bob Hurley, and 6-9 Tony Parker from Georgia and the fans should be happy in LA. With the Wear Twins, Tyler Lamb and Joshua Smith (if he can arrive in better shape) the Bruins should be back to tournament form in 2012-13.
But they're not the only Pac-12 team rebounding. At Arizona, Sean Miller has done an outstanding recruiting job a la Lute Olson, who went on to the Hall of Fame. Miller has been special already. He has things rolling in a positive way.
Miller has a sensational group coming in, led by big man Kaleb Tarczewski, forwards Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett, along with guard Gabe York. The Wildcats have Solomon Hill back up front, plus Nick Johnson and Jordin Mayes in the backcourt.
Arizona was super, scintillating and sensational in the College World Series. Fans in Tucson should have more to celebrate this coming season at McKale Center.
There will be a battle and excitement galore out West with UCLA and Arizona back in the national spotlight. Both teams should be very good, but don't forget about Stanford. Johnny Dawkins has done a super job in Palo Alto, and the Cardinal built some momentum by beating Minnesota for the NIT championship. Stanford recently added former Cardinal and NBA player Mark Madsen to the coaching staff and he will help the big men on campus.
In recent years, there have been critics about play out West. It really runs in cycles. Yes, my friends, the Pac-10 and Pac-12 have been down a bit. That should change in the upcoming season.