On one hand, it's kind of good -- since it enables fairly pedestrian teams like the 2011-2012 Colorado Buffaloes to have a pretty fun season, when they have just a mediocre conference to play in.
Perhaps so many Pac-12 teams taking pre-season trips overseas will improve the overall level of play in the conference.
So, we'll break the conference down into three parts -- with four teams reviewed in each part.
There isn't a team in the Pac-12 that loses more than the Huskies for the 2012-2013 season. And it's a double whammy -- not only do they lose their two top players to the NBA Draft in Tony Wroten and Terrence Ross, but it particularly stings since both are leaving early, in the same year. Both are considered late first-round draft picks, and that's a big hit to take.
It's impressive, then, that Washington will still have one of the best backcourts in the conference, with Abdul Gaddy the senior at point guard and junior C.J. Wilcox, the all-conference shooting guard, to go along with Scott Suggs, a very good shooter from two seasons ago that sat out last year with a toe injury. Gaddy won't even have to score that much more (8.1 per game), as long as he keeps dishing out the assists (5.2 PG) to Wilcox (14.2 PPG, 40% 3P%) and Suggs.
What will hold back the Huskies is their frontcourt, where they have role players and question marks. The 6-11 Aziz N'diaye will be a senior, and you can't expect him to provide much scoring. Sophomore Desmond Simmons will probably begin as the starter at power forward, even though at 6-7 and about 220 he's not greatly suited for the spot.
So much of the Washington season will depend on what other contributions they can get from some unknown quantities, like 6-11 Jernard Jarreau, who redshirted last season, or Mark McLaughlin, a JC transfer small forward who led the country in JC scoring (28.4) but has a history of some issues. Sophomore Shawn Kemp needs to be better to step in when N'Diaye inevitably gets in foul trouble. They'll also need redshirt point Andrew Andrews to contribute, or Gaddy will be playing 40 minutes per game. Hikeem Stewart, as a freshman last season, was disappointing.
Washington could really benefit by a summer trip to Europe and Africa, getting their lineup and rotation solidified before the season starts.
The Cougars have had some tough breaks of their own. Faisal Aden, their high-scoring guard (averaged 14.5 points) tore his ACL last January and will miss his senior year in 2012-2013.
It's one of those things -- if WSU had Aden they would seriously contend for the top fourth of the conference next season, and could still.
They still have 6-10, 245-pound senior Brock Motum, who is one of the best players in the league (18.4 PPG, 40% from three). There aren't many post defenders who can match up with Motum, since he's a good outside shooter. There was talk the Australian might go play professionally in Europe, but the latest is that he'll return to the Palouse.
There was talk that Reggie Moore, the senior point guard, would leave early, too, but he's returning. Moore is a huge key, being the Pac-12 assist leader.
One other starter, sophomore shooting guard DeVonte Lacy, returns, and he has to improve on a pretty erratic freshman season shooting the ball and in the turnover department.
Motum played a great deal of center last season, mostly because there was no one else to do it. WSU would love to force opposing teams to put a smaller, power-forward type on him, but that would take someone to step into the center position. WSU is hoping that possibly D.J. Shelton, the 6-10 post who was a role player last year, can do it. One of those tough breaks was the recent news that Richard Peters, a 6-10, 255-pound Canadian, didn't qualify. The WSU staff was prepared for that, and reportedly went out and got a JC transfer from, of course, Australia, 6-10, 250-pound James Hunter. But we've heard he's probably not going to be much more than a role player next season.
Senior guard Mike Ladd, who had about 20 minutes off the bench last season, looks like he's the #1 candidate for the other starting backcourt position.
Other than those six, the Cougars will probably get the rest of their rotation from some fairly unknown quantities on the roster and some incoming freshmen. Sophomore wing Dexter Kernich-Drew and 6-8 junior forward Patrick Simon are going to have to step up and at least provide role-player minutes. There is then Royce Woolridge, a 6-2 shooting guard who sat out last season after transferring from Kansas, who is expected to take up some of the outside shooting slack left by the absense of Aden. Talk around the program is that he'll probably step into a starting role pretty quickly. The three other newcomers will be Richard Longrus, the 6-6 power forward, Brett Boese, a 6-6 power forward, and Demarquise Johnson a 6-5 wing. Johnson is talented, but there is some question at this late of a date if he'll qualify academically for next fall. It's a recruiting Catch 22 -- if Johnson were capable of qualifying he probably would have gone to an elite high major. Longrus has some tremendous upside, with great athleticism and length, but raw offensive skills. Boese has some talent, too, being a very good shooter, but probably has nothing more than a chance at being a role player next season.
As we said, with Aden -- top four in the league. Without him, middle third.
Stanford went 26-11 and won the NIT championship in 2011-2012, and built a good foundation to step up even further over the next two years. The Cardinal return five of their top six scorers from a season ago, and not one of them will be a senior.
Perhaps the best point guard in the conference next season will be sophomore Chasson Randle, who averaged a team-leading 13.8 points and shot 43% from three. He's a shoot-first type, but he's very talented. Picking up the slack in assists will be Aaron Bright, the 5-11 guard who sets up teammates in the halfcourt but also can shoot (both Randle and Bright averaged 43% from three). Completing the backcourt is junior Anthony Brown, who started delivering a bit on his vast potential last season.
In the frontcourt, junior Dwight Powell will be asked to take another step and be a starter. Powell came to Stanford with some hype, and it was deserved, being an athletic 6-9 and 225 pounds, but he just hasn't put it all together yet. He's kind of Stanford's version of Josh Smith, without the weight problem.
That's a pretty good returning core four. Then there is Josh Huestis, the 6-7 sophomore power forward who showed flashes last season, and the pretty skilled 6-9 junior John Gage. That's a pretty decent frontcourt rotation as it is, and then throw in Grant Verhoeven, the 6-8 prospect who is probably one of the best fairly unknown big men in the country, as well as Roscoe Allen, the 6-8 shooter who was highly recruited, and there's the makings for a very deep, talented frontcourt.
The backcourt isn't as deep. After Randle, Bright and Brown, senior Gabriel Harris is solid, but there's not much else. The Cardinal does have a good-shooting freshman guard, Christian Sanders, coming in who will have to definitely be ready to play.
This team has the potential to also be the best defensive team in the conference with Randle, Brown, Powell and Huestis (who was named to the conference's all-defensive team). And in a fairly weak conference, a really good defensive team will almost certainly have a place among the top third of the league.
Cal loses perhaps the one most influential player in the conference from last season, Conference Player of the Year Jorge Guiterrez. His grit, toughness and feel for the game was the driving force of the Bears, for a few years, and without him they'll need to find some leadership.
Junior wing Allen Crabbe was one of the best scorers in the conference last season, scoring 15 points per game, shooting 39% from three and making first-team All-Pac-12.
What was really encouraging for the Bears was the improved play by the end of the season of Justin Cobbs, the 6-2 point guard who averaged 12.6 points and shot 41% from three.
Then, there are many unknowns. You can probably assume that sophomore David Kravish, the skinny, 6-8 forward, will plug in at the four spot. He had some promising moments last season, averaging almost 7 points per game. With some added muscle he could be a solid player. Perhaps the biggest key to Cal's season will be Richard Solomon, the 6-9 center who was ruled ineligible for much of last season. Cal needs Solomon to be a good citizen, get good grades and stay on the squad, because without him they are really up against it in the frontcourt. Solomon, when he was on the court, has shown promise, and could be Cal's only good rebounder.
Cal is hoping that a transfer from Missouri, 6-5 sophomore Ricky Kreklow, who sat out last season, will be able to provide some shooting and scoring punch off the bench. He or true freshman Tyron Wallace will have a chance at some point next season to be a starter for the Bears at the other wing spot. Wallace could fit in well, having good point guard instincts and defensive potential, but not having to carry a big load of outside shooting with Crabbe and Cobbs playing alongside him, since he's not a great outside shooter just yet.
The Cal bench probably won't offer much. There will be senior point guard Brandon Smith, senior post Bak Bak, sophomore shooting guard Emerson Murray, and a few freshmen -- 6-8 Kalieb Rodriguez and 6-7 Kahlil Johnson -- who we believe are a ways away from contributing significantly. The Bears also snuck in a 6-11 center from Holland, Sami Elarky, but we have absolutely no idea about him.
All in all, this looks like a middle-of-the-conference team.