Pac-12 Hoops: Actual Contenders in the Big Dance

The 2022-23 Pac-12 hoops season has played out as most have expected it to. Two top tier teams, with a big drop off in terms of talent after those two teams. The UCLA Bruins and Arizona Wildcats are not only at the top of the Pac-12, but they are two top 10 teams in the country who can genuinely contend to win a National Championship in March.

There are a couple of factors that each of these teams have in common, including strong defensive play, tremendous chemistry, and star-players who are consistent night in and night out.


Starting off with the UCLA Bruins, a veteran squad who has seen final four and sweet 16 appearances in their last two campaigns. With the departures of Johnny Juzang, Cody Riley, Jules Bernard and one-and-done forward Peyton Watson, UCLA has not missed a beat. Jaime Jaquez Jr assumed his role as the best player on this Bruins team, averaging 16 ppg, 7rpg, while averaging nearly 2 steals an outing. Jaquez is a bit of an undersized forward, but his strength combined with his creative and disciplined footwork allow him to be able to score on all three levels on offense. Defensively, Jaquez is super solid, and contains the prowess and leadership that is needed in order to win come tournament time.

Along with retaining Jaquez, UCLA and Mick Cronin kept star point guard Tyger Campbell. Campbell can really do it all on the offensive end, he can score at all three levels, all while being able to find open teammates in halfcourt sets. Campbell is the glue guy to this UCLA team, and, although his consistency has not been tremendous, come tournament time he is a high IQ point guard who is the perfect player any program wants in their team come march.

Now, one of the bigger surprises for this UCLA team has been Junior Guard Jaylen Clark. Clark has seen a huge rise in his production over the past year, moving his scoring average up from 6.7 ppg to 13. His three-point shooting has improved tremendously, going from shooting 25% from beyond the arc to roughly 33%. This scoring is just a huge bonus to the lockdown defense that Clark brings to the table. He is averaging over 2.5 steals an outing, as well as 7 rebounds a night. Clark is another guy who can continue to push this UCLA team over most others, as his energy is unmatched night in and night out.

Continuing the story for this 2022-23 UCLA squad, Mick Cronin did a good job recruiting in the offseason, landing two consensus five-stars in guard Amari Bailey and center Adem Bona. has done a great job integrating Bailey and Bona into consistent, starting roles. Bona provides a big body presence that the Bruins lost with Cody Riley’s departure, averaging 1.5 blocks per game and a solid 8 points a night along with 5 rpg. Bailey, an athletic, scoring guard has presumed a nice roll as a starting, spot up shooting guard. With Jaquez and Tyger Campbell doing most of the playmaking for UCLA. Come tournament time, Bailey will be huge, as Coach Cronin knows what he is getting out of Jaquez, Jaylen Clark and Tyger Campbell.


Arizona has had a very interesting season thus far to say the least. A team that has lost just four games this season have all come against conference opponents who most likely will not make the tournament. They have dropped conference games against Oregon, Washington State, Utah and Stanford, with their loss against the Cougars being their only loss at home this season. Arizona has been undefeated out of conference, winning four ranked games against Creighton, Indiana, Tennessee and SDSU, respectively.

Starting with the Wildcats frontcourt, it might just be the best one-two punch in the country. Azuolas Tubelis is the best player on a loaded squad with Naismith player of the year talent, but Zach Edey has essentially locked in the award. Toubelis is averaging 20 points, 9 boards, 1 block and 1 steal an outing. The Lithuanian forward is putting these numbers up all with solid splits, shooting roughly 40% from beyond the arc and 58% from the field. Oumar Ballo has been magnificent at Center for the Wildcats. The 7ft Junior is posting averages of 15 points, 9 boards, and 1.5 blocks a game, all while shooting 65% from the field. To round out one of the most solid starting fives in the country, Texas transfer Courtney Ramey has provided immediate production, as well as seeing solid play from returning guards Pelle Larsson and Kerr Kriisa.

Depth is where Tommy Lloyd’s Wildcats might have some issues come postseason time. The second-year coach has been phenomenal, posting a record of 55-7 in his first two campaigns as head coach since the firing of Sean Miller. Kylan Boswell and Cedric Henderson are the only two players who receive more than 10 minutes per game off of the bench, with Adama Bal and Henri Vaasaar playing almost every game, but not seeing too many minutes. The Wildcats are essentially 7 deep when it comes to the trust Lloyd has shown from his bench, and this lack of depth has caused for contending teams in the past to have struggles in the tournament.

Tubelis and Ballo are going to be forces on both ends of the floor for the Wildcats, and when it comes tournament time, Lloyd and the Wildcats are going to need to see more production from its role players to help take a load off of Tubelis. This Arizona team plays at a high pace, they play scrappy defense, and they mesh well as a team. Similar to UCLA, if  given production from its role players, the Wildcats could come out of the final four with their first national championship victory since 1997.

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