Arizona top team in Pac-12 basketball |

Arizona top team in Pac-12 basketball

SAN FRANCISCO — Arizona is the near-unanimous pick to win the Pac-12 this season.

The Wildcats received 31 of 32 first-place votes in the poll released Thursday. Utah was chosen to finish second and Colorado third by members of the media who cover the conference. UCLA, which was picked fourth, received the other first-place vote.

Arizona won the Pac-12 regular season and tournament titles last season before finishing one shot shy of the Final Four, falling 64-63 in an overtime thriller to Wisconsin. The Wildcats lost Pac-12 Player of the Year Nick Johnson and fourth overall pick Aaron Gordon to the NBA, but coach Sean Miller’s team still has a ton of talent in Tucson.

Following UCLA in the poll is Stanford, Washington, California, Oregon, Arizona State, Southern California, Washington State and Oregon State.

Not many programs could lose the conference’s player of the year and an NBA lottery pick and remain among the nation’s elites. But Miller has built depth at Arizona and reloaded once again.

Forwards Brandon Ashley and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson will lead the way for the Wildcats along with center Kaleb Tarczewski and point guard T.J. McConnell. The defense should still be one of the country’s best with those four back, and heralded freshman Stanley Johnson is expected to help fill Johnson’s absence on offense.

Arizona should keep the conference relevant in what figures to be a rebuilding year for most of the league.

The Wildcats are No. 2 in the USA Today preseason coaches’ poll, the only Pac-12 team that’s ranked. The Associated Press preseason poll will be released Oct. 31.

The Pac-12 put six teams in the NCAA tournament last season, three in the round of 16 and Arizona was the only one to reach the regional finals. If the conference wants to continue the strong showing this year, new stars will need to remerge after most of the league’s best players departed.

UCLA had three players — Zach LaVine, Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson — selected in the first round of the NBA draft, and its heralded recruiting class was hit with a couple of big blows. The NCAA ruled freshman Jonah Bolden eligible to play this season, and Colorado State transfer Jon Octeus was reportedly denied admission before ending up at Purdue.

Of course, no team in the country had a worse offseason than Oregon.

The Ducks lost five players to graduation, then dismissed Damyean Dotson, Dominic Artis and Brandon Austin after a student filed a police report alleging she was sexually assaulted by the players.

Prosecutors decided there wasn’t enough evidence to criminally charge the players, who said the sexual contact was consensual.

Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins and his team had a surprising run to the Sweet 16, earning him an undisclosed extension. But his roster isn’t looking quite as stellar.

The Cardinal had two players — Josh Huestis and Dwight Powell — taken in the draft. That leaves point guard Chasson Randle with a lot of unproven teammates to support.

Arizona State lost two seniors to graduation and point guard Jahii Carson made the decision to declare for the draft after his sophomore season. Now he’s trying to resurrect his career in Australia.

Lorenzo Romar will try to get Washington back to the tournament for the first time since 2011, even after losing guard C.J. Wilcox to the draft. Andy Enfield is hoping to forget Southern California going 11-21 in his first season as coach.

Three schools with new coaches — California (Cuonzo Martin), Oregon State (Wayne Tinkle) and Washington State (Ernie Kent) — are hoping to inject energy into their programs. Martin, who took Tennessee to the round of 16 in the tournament, has the most talent of the trio.

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