It didn’t take long for Colorado, a newcomer to the Pac-12 last season, to settle in to its new digs. After flirting with the regular-season crown for most of the season, Colorado capped off an impressive first year in the Pac-12 by winning four games in four days to take home the Pac-12 tournament championship and the league’s automatic bid to the Big Dance. André Roberson played a major role in the Buffs’ success and is one of many returning players who should make the Pac-12 men’s basketball season a very interesting watch, among others.
Here is a key guy on each team to look out for in the coming months:
1. Solomon Hill (Arizona)
At last a senior, Hill has played with the poise of a veteran ever since he stepped foot on the Tucson campus. It shows in his consistent performance game-in, game-out, which is a major reason why he has started the last 78 games he has played in. Hill can score from anywhere on the floor including beyond the three-point line; he averaged 39 percent from beyond the arc last year. If “Clutch” isn’t his middle name, it should be: Hill hit three free throws with his team down three in the final seconds at Florida a year ago to force the game to overtime.
2. Carrick Felix (Arizona State)
Felix is working on a master’s degree in Liberal Studies after graduating last spring. In addition to being a scholar, this means Felix will be around for one more year in Tempe, and Herb Sendek will certainly welcome back the 10.5 ppg he provided. While that average leads all Sun Devil returners, Felix is also a pest on the defensive end, collecting 32 steals and 22 blocks in the 2011-12 campaign.
3. Allen Crabbe (Cal)
Crabbe came into Berkeley with a good bit of hype, and has lived up to the expectations through his first two seasons. He has great elevation on his jump shot and a silky smooth stroke that allowed him to drill 83 three-pointers last year, an average of 2.44 made per game that led the Pac-12. Crabbe probably does not get the respect he deserves for the other facets of his game; he also led the 2011-12 Golden Bears in total rebounds, swatted the second most shots and dished out the third most assists on the team.
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4. André Roberson (Colorado)
The Pac-12’s Mr. Double-Double is back a third go in Boulder. After living relatively under the radar for most of the season, Roberson exploded on the scene in March. While Carlon Brown was throwing down emphatic dunks, Roberson was making his case as being perhaps the most versatile player in the conference, averaging 14.8 points and 10.3 rebounds per game in the Pac-12 tournament won by the Buffs. The all-Pac-12 first-teamer and Pac-12 All-Defensive Team member is freaky athletic and developed a long-range jumper that only got more effective as the season progressed.
5. E.J. Singler (Oregon)
If you looked up the definition of “solid basketball player” in the dictionary, there’d be a picture of a 6’6’’, 215-pound senior forward from Medford, Ore., right next to it. Singler is the 13th Duck in school history to amass 1,000 points and 500 rebounds for his career. He has also led the Pac-12 in free throw shooting the last two years, a span in which he was the only Oregon player to start all 73 games his team played. The Pac-12′s active scoring leader, Singler can be counted on to come up with a big play when the Ducks need it.
6. Joe Burton (Oregon State)
What stands out about this guy is how unorthodox of a player he is. Burton is the only guy in the conference, or anywhere else of note for that matter, who shoots a true hook shot from his waist… and it almost always goes in. Craig Robinson loves to run his offense through a point forward, and the burly Burton assumes that role perfectly. He is the best passer on the Beavers and is perhaps one of the craftiest distributors on the West Coast for his size. Burton was the only player taller than 6’5’’ to be ranked in the top 15 of the conference for assists.
7. Chasson Randle (Stanford)
He is just a sophomore, but Chasson Randle has a chance to become Stanford’s most prolific guard since Brevin Knight; he is that good. The Rock Island, Ill., native wasted no time getting adjusted to the collegiate game last year; his 13.8 ppg average was second only to Washington’s Tony Wroten among Pac-12 freshmen. When you watch him play, you would not necessarily call him a shooter, but he still led the conference in total three pointers made with 85. What you would probably notice most is his want-to and ability to break down perimeter defenders one-on-one.
8. Josh Smith (UCLA)
Smith has not exactly lived up to his high school hype, but he has the tools to be the most dominant big man in the Pac-12. It has been reported that Smith has gotten in better shape, which will help him stay out on the court longer. His footwork and touch are second to none for big men. If he can stay out of foul trouble and average closer to 25 minutes per game (he nearly averaged 10 points and five rebounds in 17 minutes per contest last year), watch out.
9. Dewayne Dedmon (USC)
How many collegiate players can say they started playing organized basketball as a senior in high school? That fact has made Dewayne Dedmon one of the biggest projects in college basketball, but he has shown in his short time in a Trojan uniform just how effective he can be. The Antelope Valley College transfer played in just his third organized season of basketball last year and put up 16 points, eight rebounds and three blocks in his USC and NCAA Division I debut against Cal-State Northridge. He was averaging nearly 10 points and six rebounds per game in Pac-12 play before suffering a season-ending injury.
10. Jason Washburn (Utah)
Washburn had big shoes to fill last year when the school’s all-time leading shot blocker David Foster went down for the season before it started. The 6’10’’ center from Battle Creek, Mich., did an admirable job, leading the Utes in scoring, rebounding and blocks. He is another big man who has nice touch; that’s most noticeable at the free throw line, where he shot it at a 77 percent clip last year. Larry Krystkowiak will lean on the senior again in 2012-13 to be an anchor for the Utes in the low post.
11. C.J. Wilcox (Washington)
C.J. Wilcox is one of the best sharpshooters in the conference. The 6’5’’ guard ranks 5th all-time in school history with 136 three-pointers made in his career, and it has only taken him two years to achieve that ranking. Last year, Wilcox was one of nine dudes in the Pac-12 to shoot better than 40 percent from downtown. You give him an inch, he’ll make you pay; Wilcox does not need much space to flick his wrist.
12. Brock Motum (Washington State)
No player in recent memory has improved as drastically as Brock Motum has in his first three years in the conference. The Australian has transformed himself from a deep reserve as a freshman to a role player as a sophomore to Ken Bone’s No. 1 option on offense as a junior. It’s not often you see a 6’10’’ player move like Motum does. A 2011-12 All-Pac-12 First Team selection and the reigning Pac-12 Most Improved Player, Motum led the conference in scoring with 18 points per game last year after averaging 7.6 as a sophomore. He probably won’t make a similar jump as a senior, but he’ll still force opposing bigs to come out of their comfort zone and defend him from multiple spots on the court.