As expected, the University of Arizona Wildcats were picked to finish first in the 2014-15 Pac-12 Conference men’s basketball race, according to a poll of media members who cover Pac-12 men’s basketball. What was surprising to many is that the same media picked Utah to finish second.
Utah narrowly claimed No. 2, with just one more point than third-place finisher COLORADO. Both the Utes and the Buffs return four starters from last season, including first team All-Pac-12 honorees in Utes' point guard Delon Wright (15.5 ppg/6.8 rpg) and Colorado center Josh Scott (14.1 ppg/8.4 rpg).
Reigning Pac-12 Tournament champion UCLA is slotted fourth in the poll, followed by Stanford at fifth, after both squads advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 in 2013-14. Washington edged out Cal by one point to round out the top half of the poll, weighing in at sixth while the Golden Bears come in at seventh. Oregon is tabbed at eighth, followed by Arizona State at ninth and USC at 10th. Washington State was picked to finish 11th, while Oregon State, one year after firing the President's brother-in-law, are picked to finished dead last.
After being picked consistently in the bottom half (or at the bottom) of the league, Utah finds itself in unfamiliar territory, as a frontrunner. The recognition is clearly deserved with one of the league's (and the nation's) most exciting collegiate players in Wright, as well as junior small forward Jordan Loveridge, coming of a summer's worth of experience with the Pac-12's All-Star Team that toured China. Seven-footer Dallin Bachynski returns to a league without many dominant big man, along with depth in the post provided by senior center/forward Jeremy Olsen and freshman big Jakob Poeltl. In addition to returning starters like guards Brandon Taylor and Kenneth Ogbe and forward Dakarai Tucker, the Utes have added quality depth with freshmen forwards Kyle Kuzma and Brekkot Chapman, as well as JC transfer forward Chris Reyes (6-7) and freshmen guards Isaiah Wright, Jake Connor, and Eris Winder. Last season, Utah's starting five could compete with any of the leagues starters, but there was a considerable lack of quality depth. This year, Krystkowiak's cupboard is stocked, so it will be interesting to see how his squad handles being the hunted, rather than the hunter.
In order to really lay claim to the title of legitimate conference contender, Utah will need to do something it has yet to accomplish as a member of the Pac-12, and that's beat Arizona. In addition to a challenging non-conference slate that includes the likes of Kansas, Wichita State, UNLV, and San Diego State, the Utes know the road to the Pac-12 men's basketball title runs through Tucson. Just as importantly, Utah will need to turn last season's close losses into close or dominating victories in order to make their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament under coach K.
The 2014-15 season gets underway for the Pac-12 with 11 games on Friday, November 14. All but one of those games will be televised live on the Pac-12 Networks as part of this year’s Full Court Friday.
2014-15 PAC-12 MEN’S BASKETBALL MEDIA POLL:
First place votes in parentheses