The PAC-12 announced the weekly schedule pairings for the 2017-18 men’s basketball season this week. In conference play, Stanford is paired with Cal and the Bay Area rivals are pitted off against another pair of Pac-12 foes each week (except for when they play each other).
The first two weeks will take place in Maples before Stanford students return from Winter break. Unfortunately, these games will feature the other three California teams. They’re all schools whose fans figure to travel decently well.
With the schedule released, let’s take a cursory look at how the teams shape up.
Cal (Week 1, @ Week 8)
Stanford opens conference play looking to make it four straight home victories against Cal. The Golden Bears will be almost unrecognizable from a year ago. Coach Cuonzo Martin bolted for Missouri, Ivan Rabb and Jabari Bird were drafted into the NBA, and Charlie Moore and Kameron Rooks both opted to transfer. Altogether, Cal returns just 17% of their minutes played and a paltry 14% of their scoring from a season ago. New coach Wyking Jones will rely on Kentucky transfer Marcus Lee and some of his six new three-star recruits to step in and contribute immediately. Travis, Humphrey, Sharma, and Stanback should match up well with a thin front line of Kingsley Okoroh and Lee.
UCLA (Week 2, @ Week 5)
UCLA was tremendous a year ago, but had a major roster overhaul this offseason; Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton graduated, while Lonzo Ball, T.J. Leaf, and Ike Anigbogu all declared early for the NBA draft. They received some good news when Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday opted to return to school, and their incoming recruiting class is ranked fifth nationally. Five-star recruits Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands are strong one-and-done candidates, and they and a trio of four-stars should slot in seamlessly. Three-star recruit LiAngelo Ball and father LaVar will of course be the ones keeping the media circus alive in Westwood. UCLA will likely be a tough out and are currently a 4 seed in Lunardi’s bracketology. The Card will need a pair of classic Michael Humphrey UCLA performances to steal a win or two.
USC (Week 2, @ Week 5)
The Trojans snuck into the tournament a year ago and made a surprising little run. I was mere minutes away from losing a bet and having to name my first-born after big man Chimezie Metu (although I may opt to anyway, because Chimezie Avalon has a nice ring to it). They graduated no one of real consequence (sorry Charles Buggs), and all of their players came back to school. USC adds Duke transfer PG Derryck Thornton and Charles O’Bannon Jr. to an already talented squad. Lunardi has them as a 6 seed, but with a full season of Bennie Boatwright and the continued development of their young roster, they could really make some noise. It’s unfortunate that USC comes to campus before Stanford students can ‘pack’ Maples.
Washington (@ Week 3, Week 9)
A trip to Seattle should be a good way to start our conference road slate. The Huskies won just nine games last season despite the efforts of Markelle Fultz, and just might be worse this season. Despite pulling in a historic recruiting class headlined by top recruit Michael Porter, head coach Lorenzo Romar lost his job. A number of top recruits and a couple of players looked elsewhere. Stanford was lucky that U-Dub decommit Daejon Davis decided to come to the Farm instead. However, the Huskies did find a few late commits, including Jay-Z’s nephew.
Washington State (@ Week 3, Week 9)
A trip to Pullman is never a gimme, but the Cougs should be one of Stanford’s more favorable matchups. Last season Stanford defeated them by a thirty-point margin. Since then, they’ve lost all-time great Coug Josh Hawkinson to graduation, fellow big man Connor Clifford, and top guards Ike Iroegbu and Charles Callison. They still feature promising sharp shooter Malachi Flynn, a former semi-finalist for the USA U-19 team. His appearance on the list was puzzling; I can only imagine Coach Calipari liked his hair. They also added Roberto Gittens, a dunking champion who destroyed my old high school’s team. The Card should be able to pound the Cougs inside with Reid and company.
Arizona (Week 4, @ Week 10)
The Cats are among the early national title favorites. Sure, they lost Kadeem Allen to graduation, Lauri Markkanen to the draft lottery, and Chance Comanche and Kobi Simmons to a curious decision to declare for the draft. All they did was return a strong core and add a top-notch recruiting class. Big man DeAndre Ayton is an early candidate for top overall selection in next year’s draft, and he is joined by three other 2017 four-stars. With 2018 five-star Emmanuel Akot reclassifying, U of A truly has an embarrassment of riches. A trip to Tucson will be a tough end to the regular season. Even if they weren’t so talented, nobody wants to hear “Bear Down” that often.
Arizona State (Week 4, @ Week 10)
ASU was a terrible matchup for Stanford’s poor three-point defense, and they return many key players. Thankfully, Torian Graham and Obi Oleka have moved on. Bobby Hurley’s Devils will still feature an up-tempo perimeter attack with shooters Kodi Justice, Tra Holder, and Shannon Evans. They’ve also added a pair of four-star recruits. Stanford will be able to score points on this team. The real wild card is the perimeter defense in year two with Jerod Haase.
Oregon (Week 6)
The Ducks made the final four a year ago, but will head into next season without four of their starters and PAC-12 leading shot blocker Chris Boucher. Kavell Bigby-Williams and Casey Benson also transferred out. Still, they’re not completely hopeless. Mike Brown’s son, Elijah, grad transferred in from New Mexico, where he put up 19/5/3 this season. Georgetown transfer Paul White is coming off his redshirt year. They’ve also added five-star recruit Troy Brown, Jr., a strong one and done candidate from the same high school that gave us Marcus and Malcolm Allen. Despite their potential upside, it sure looks like the Ducks will have a thin front line. A home match with Oregon appears very winnable.
Oregon State (Week 6)
The Beavers were downright terrible a year ago, but they do return everyone - for better or for worse. However, coach’s kid Tres Tinkle is a legitimate star and is returning from injury. Assistant coach’s kid Stephen Thompson, Jr. should continue to improve. Thompson’s four-star brother, Ethan, will join him in Corvallis. The one good player who originally chose to come to OSU for reasons other than family is Drew Eubanks, who is an impressive interior defender. The Beavers will be improved, but it’s still unfortunate the Cardinal plays them only one time.
Utah (@ Week 7)
The Utes were a decent team a year ago, but lost do-everything forward Kyle Kuzma to the Lakers, as well as starter Lorenzo Bonam. With those losses and the tenth-ranked recruiting class in the conference, Utah will likely take a step back this season. The Huntsman Center is always a difficult place to play, but Stanford should have a chance to steal a conference road win.
Colorado (@ Week 7)
The Buffs were another decent team a year ago, but they lose four key players. Most importantly, star PG Derrick White’s one year Boulder career is over. They’ve added three four-star recruits in a class good for fifth in the conference. George King should also step into a bigger role this season. I’d expect this to be a winnable road contest for Stanford, and the kind of game that makes a big difference if the Cardinal want to finish in the top five in the PAC.