Pac-12 basketball preseason rankings: 2015-16 preview

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The usual suspect figure to be the cream of the crop in the Pac-12, but this conference will be among the most competitive in the country. Arizona is always a player on the national scene, but both Cal and Utah have a lot coming back from last season and want to make a statement.

The Utes' Jakob Poeltl is among the best big men in the country, and Cal freshman Jaylen Brown might be the best young player in the league. The regular season will be a full-on brawl, and the league's strength from top to bottom has taken a step up this season.

Pac-12 Basketball Preseason Rankings
1. Arizona Wildcats

Yes, Arizona lost four starters from last year's squad, but the return of Kalbe Tarczewski inside—plus the usual fantastic recruiting haul—will keep the Wildcats rolling. Guard Gabe York should take a step forward and provide plenty of leadership, and the trio of Ryan Anderson, Ray Smith and Allonzo Trier will inject the roster with athleticism. Anderson is a graduate transfer who was a two-time All-ACC talent at Boston College, and he will make an immediate impact. Watch JUCO transfer Kadeem Allen, a quality guard who can do a little bit of everything on the floor.

[MORE: Preseason AP No. 1 Basketball Teams To Win Championship]

2. California Bears
The Bears went 18-15 in their first year under head coach Cuonzo Martin, but they are poised to make a huge leap this season. The reason? Besides three talented, experienced guards, including All-Pac-12 star Tyron Wallace, Martin welcomes one of the best recruiting classes in the country. Forwards Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb are both five-star talents, and they have NBA skills. Their size inside will help balance the strong guards to create problems for every opponent. This could be a special year at Cal.

3. Utah Utes
The good times should continue to role at Utah where head coach Larry Krystkowiak welcomes back four starters from last year's Sweet 16 team. Yeah, Delon Wright is a huge loss, but forward Jakob Poeltl is back, and the 7-footer should be ready to take the next step this season. Jordan Loveridge will help inside and out, and he has the quickness to take anyone off the dribble. The backcourt is anchored by senior Brandon Taylor, a 5-10 point guard who will step into the spotlight, and JUCO transfer Lorenzo Bonam has the skills to be a nice third option with his quickness and ability to get to the bucket.

4. UCLA Bruins
UCLA surprised a lot of people by getting back to the Sweet 16 last season, and even though the Bruins lost Norman Powell and Kevon Looney during the offseason, don't bet against Steve Alford. Alford managed to guide his team through a transition last season, and he has plenty of talent at his disposal this year. Forward Tony Parker continues to improve inside, and he will anchor the paint. But the Bruins' success or failure will hinge on guards Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton, both of whom have something to prove this year. Freshmen Aaron Holiday and Prince Ali are expected to make an impact and will help provide quickness.

5. Oregon Ducks
When most teams lose a talented star who leads the conference in scoring, they usually take a step back. That isn't the case with Oregon, which has lost Joseph Young but still has plenty left in the tank. Fifth-year senior Elgin Cook and sophomore Dillon Brooks both averaged double digits in scoring last season, and the addition of former Villanova point guard Dylan Ennis should help fill the void left by Young's departure. Keep an eye on freshman guard Tyler Dorsey, who could be the next star for the Ducks.

6. Stanford Cardinal
It's time to rebuild a bit at Stanford now that Chasson Randle, Anthony Brown and Stefan Nastic have left the building, taking with them literally 66 percent of the Cardinal's scoring last season. Head coach Johnny Dawkins will ask a pile of players to take on a bigger role, and there's no telling how they will adjust. Forward Rosco Allen got plenty of minutes last season and should be ready to take on more this year, but the X-factor could be Reid Travis, a former McDonald's All-American who missed all of last year with an injury. He's a sophomore, but he's a talented kid who could give the Cardinal an anchor.

7. Oregon State Beavers
The Beavers hang their hat on defense, and they will count on the defending Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Gary Payton II to once again be the catalyst on that end of the floor. Payton also led the team in scoring, and if he can play unselfish basketball and improve his consistency, he's going to create a matchup problem for every opponent. Fellow guard Malcolm Duvivier provides experience, and freshmen Tre Tinkle (coach Wyane Tinkle's son) and Drew Eubanks will bring size and quickness to the paint. A lack of scoring from top to bottom, however, will be an issue.

8. Colorado Buffaloes
It has been a time of turmoil at Colorado with players transferring and locker room strife reportedly leading to the departure of guard Askia Booker, and the loss of forward Xavier Johnson for the season back in June with an Achilles tear leaves the Buffaloes with a lot of questions. Head coach Tad Boyle does have some talent on his roster in the form of forward Josh Scott and providence transfer Josh Fortune, and sophomores George King and Dominique Collier will help in the backcourt, but this is a team that has a lot to work out before conference play.

9. Arizona State Sun Devils
The Bobby Hurley Era at Arizona State will open with plenty of question marks as Hurley tries his best to mold his uptempo style to the Sun Devils' strengths. ASU is lacking shooting from the perimeter, and that will be a negative when drives to the bucket are cut off and there's nobody who can consistently bail out his teammates. The good news is forward Savon Goodman, who averaged 11.2 points and 7.6 boards last season, is one of the better frontline players in the Pac-12, and along with center Eric Jacobsen, he'll give ASU an edge inside. Sophomore Kodi Justice is intriguing on the perimeter, and he could thrive in Hurley's system. The same goes for guard Tra Holder, who is back from a foot injury.

10. Washington State Cougars
Ernie Kent's second year at Washington State will come with plenty of questions, not the least of which who will be the Cougars' go-to scorer with the clock winding down. DaVonte Lacy filled that role last season, and Josh Hawkinson hopes to take on that job this season. He averaged a double-double last year and will be a leader for WSU. JUCO transfer Conor Clifford will take some pressure off Hawkinson inside, and guard Ike Iroegbu is fast and makes opponents pay in the open court. Defense is an issue for this team, and it has to turn up the intensity in that area to avoid another struggle.

11. USC Trojans
The Trojans were inexperienced last season, and head coach Andy Enfield had to pull his team through a dismal conference season without letting its confidence slip. This season, experience won't be a problem because USC hasn't suffered any major losses. That said, a pile of players need to step up their games to avoid another disappointing season. Guards Katin Reinhardt and Jordan McLaughlin can both put points on the board in a hurry, and they are ready to take the next step. Size inside won't be an issue, either. Nikola Jovanovic is 6-11 and is a load in the paint, and 6-11 Chimezie Metu was one of the most highly-touted power forwards in the Class of 2015. He should make an immediate impact.

12. Washington Huskies
Huskies fans just hope the roller coaster that rolled through Washington has moved on for good. Washington started last season with 11 straight wins, but Lorenzo Romar's team came off the rails, and it missed the postseason. The loss of Nigel Williams-Goss, Robrt Upshaw and Shawn Kemp Jr. hurt, but Romar will welcome a strong recruiting class that should help the program hit the reset button. Andrew Andrews is the only returning starter, but he can score from anywhere on the floor and will provide a rudder.

MORE: College Basketball Preseason Top 25 Ranking

Conference Previews:

ACC Basketball Preview
Big 12 Basketball Preview
Big Ten Basketball Preview
Mountain West Basketball Preview
Patriot League Basketball Preview
SEC Basketball Preview
WCC Basketball Preview
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