Pac-12 men’s basketball, to frame it kindly, has not been good the last couple years.
It was a three-team Power Five conference in the 2018 NCAA Tournament, and by the time the Round of 32 hit, it was a zero-team conference.
Perennial powerhouse Arizona and eventual No. 1 draft pick Deandre Ayton bowed out in the first round after being upset by 13th-seeded Buffalo; Arizona State, which was the final undefeated team in the nation and peaked at No. 3 in the country, went 8-10 in conference play and lost in the First Four, as did UCLA.
In 2019, Arizona and UCLA missed out on March Madnesss. Pac-12 teams did at least win a few games, as opposed to the 0-3 showing the year prior: Arizona State got out of the First Four but promptly lost in the Round of 64. Washington lost to North Carolina in the Round of 32 and Oregon put on a good showing before losing to eventual champion Virginia in the Sweet Sixteen.
The recruiting classes alone are promising.
The Huskies are now the No. 10 recruiting class in the nation. Headlined by Stewart and McDaniels, rated No. 3 and 6 in the Chosen 25, respectively, they’ll also add ALL-USA Washington First Team selection RaeQuan Battle and ALL-USA Oregon First Team selection Marcus Tsohonis.
Arizona, which had the distinction of the No. 1 class in the nation for an extended period, dropped to No. 3 as Kentucky and Memphis dominated the late recruitment scene. But with ALL-USA Second Team point guard Nico Mannion and Third Team shooting guard Josh Green joined by two four-star and three-star players, it would be shocking to see the Wildcats miss the tournament.
USC has been to the Sweet Sixteen only one time since 2002. Commitments from ALL-USA Honorable Mentions Onyeka Okongwu and Isaiah Mobley give them a pair of Chosen 25 big men to go with four-star forward Max Agbonkpolo and a trio of three-star commits.
With elite defenders in Mobley and Okongwu and the No. 6 recruiting class in the country, could USC have their best season since the players in the 2019 class were babies?
Those three schools are in the top 10 of the national recruiting classes, but the Pac-12 has power beyond them.
Oregon is slightly behind with the No. 14 recruiting class. The Ducks won the conference tournament and made it to the Sweet Sixteen without Bol Bol on the court; if any of the players going through the draft process return to join the Ducks’ 2019 recruiting class of five-star CJ Walker, two four-star players and a three-star athlete, Oregon should absolutely be in the mix.
Arizona State made it to consecutive NCAA Tournaments for the first time since the 1980 and 1981 seasons. The Sun Devils are losing key pieces in NBA draft hopefuls Luguentz Dort and Zylan Cheatham, but they’re bringing aboard four-time state champion Jaelen House and a trio of three-star players.
If the Sun Devils have another strong non-conference showing and can beat a couple top Pac-12 teams, it’s not a long shot to see them back in.
There’s a path for the three-team Pac-12 to turn into a Power Five conference that sends five teams to the tournament, four of which have a five-star player in the 2019 recruiting class.
Could the conference with only one Final Four appearance since changing from the Pac-10 make noise nationally?