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Pac-12 men's basketball preview: Arizona, USC lead charge in conference's final season

Arizona and USC are the only two Pac-12 teams that will start the season ranked this fall.
Arizona and USC are the only two Pac-12 teams that will start the season ranked this fall. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images) (Ethan Miller via Getty Images)

The 2023-24 men's college basketball season begins Nov. 6. Come back each day this week as we break down the biggest conferences, teams and more leading up to the season. Check out our previews on the Big 12, the ACC, the Big Ten, the SEC and the Big East.

It’s time for one last run in the Pac-12.

The west coast league will lose all but two members next summer, which is sure to leave Bill Walton extremely upset. Before that happens, however, the Pac-12 is almost certainly going to come down to a battle between two teams.

Arizona, despite falling short the last two years under Tommy Lloyd, is back and in position to finally rectify those losses. USC, despite the unknowns surrounding LeBron James’ eldest son’s health, landed the top recruit in the country.

Here’s everything you need to know about the last Pac-12 basketball season as we know it:

Ranked Pac-12 Teams

No. 12 Arizona

No. 21 USC

Others Receiving Votes: Colorado (49), UCLA (47)

Notable national championship odds

Odds via BetMGM

• Arizona +2000
• UCLA +3000
• USC +4000

Can Oumar Ballo finally lead Arizona on a deep run?

Lloyd is entering his third season with the Wildcats this fall. While he’s averaged more than 30 wins a season over that span, Arizona was knocked out in the Sweet 16 in 2022 and then fell to No. 15 Princeton in the opening round of last year’s tournament.

For a program that’s been a true national title contender and won the conference tournament two straight times, those finishes have been incredibly disappointing.

Before Arizona makes the jump to the Big 12 — which has undoubtedly become the top basketball conference in the country — Lloyd has one last chance to make a deep tournament run this spring.

"This year it's about doing the best job we can in the Pac-12. Arizona's done a lot for the Pac-12 and the Pac-12 has done a lot for Arizona,” Lloyd said last month, via AZCentral. "So we want to go out and have a great experience. I'm sure there are going to be a bunch of moments that we're going to be sentimental about over the course of the season. So I just want to enjoy this experience but at the same time, change can be exciting."

Despite losing leading scorer Ažoulas Tubelis to the NBA, the Wildcats are bringing back Oumar Ballo — who should be a dominant force inside this season. The 7-footer averaged 14.2 points and 8.6 rebounds per game last year, all while shooting almost 65% from the field.

Guard Pelle Larsson is back after averaging just shy of 10 points per game last season, and the Wildcats also landed former North Carolina star Caleb Love from the transfer portal. Love initially committed to Michigan, but ended up moving to Arizona after an academic issue in Ann Arbor. Love put up a career-high 16.7 points last season with the Tar Heels. The Wildcats brought in San Diego State forward Keshad Johnson, who is fresh off a championship game run with the Aztecs and should give them an added boost defensively — something they need after allowing the most points per game in conference play last year.

While Lloyd has another great team on his hands, the Wildcats’ non-conference schedule could throw them off early. They’ll take on No. 2 Duke, No. 3 Purdue and No. 4 Michigan State all before Christmas, along with games against No. 24 Alabama and No. 10 FAU. That’s as good as any non-conference schedule in the country.

Bronny James experienced cardiac arrest during a workout with the Trojans earlier this summer.
Bronny James experienced cardiac arrest during a workout with the Trojans earlier this summer. (Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) (Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

USC loaded with No. 1 overall recruit; Bronny James recovering

USC is the only other ranked team in the Pac-12 to start the season. While he’s not the biggest part of this team just yet, all eyes will be on Bronny James as the season gets going.

The oldest son of Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James experienced cardiac arrest during a workout with the Trojans earlier this summer. Bronny, a freshman at USC, was rushed to a hospital but was released three days later. He was diagnosed with a treatable congenital heart defect, and LeBron revealed in October that Bronny underwent surgery after the incident. It’s unclear what type of surgery that was, but LeBron said Bronny was recovering well.

Bronny was a four-star recruit who landed offers from Oregon, Ohio State and Memphis, among others, before choosing USC. He’s been “doing well” in his recovery, coach Andy Enfield said at the Pac-12 media day, and both the school and Bronny expect him to play for the Trojans at some point this season. It’s unclear when that may be. USC will open the season on Monday night against Kansas State.

Outside of Bronny, though, USC has plenty of other big names that will carry the program this season. Guard Isaiah Collier was the top-ranked player in his recruiting class, per, and he’s expected to be a lottery pick in the NBA Draft next summer. Boogie Ellis opted to return for one last season with the Trojans, too, after averaging a team-high 17.7 points per game last year. Kobe Johnson and Joshua Morgan are back, too, and Enfield landed graduate transfer DJ Rodman — who is the son of former Chicago Bulls star Dennis Rodman. DJ spent the last four seasons at Washington State, and averaged 9.6 points and 5.8 rebounds per game last year.

While Arizona is clearly a step ahead in the conference’s last run before it dissolves, USC has all of the pieces to make a run and steal the league title away from the Wildcats if they all work together as planned.

Notable Early Games

All times ET | * Neutral site

Nov. 6
No. 21 USC at Kansas State* | 10 p.m. | TNT

Nov. 10
No. 12 Arizona at No. 2 Duke | 7 p.m. | ESPN2

Nov. 20
UCLA at No. 5 Marquette* | 11:30 p.m. | ESPN2

Nov. 22
No. 22 Baylor at Oregon State* | 7 p.m. | ESPN2
Stanford at No. 14 Arkansas* | 7:30 p.m. | ESPNU

Nov. 23
No. 12 Arizona at No. 4 Michigan State* | 4 p.m. | FOX
Seton Hall at No. 21 USC* | 5:30 p.m. | FS1
BYU at Arizona State* | 11:59 p.m. | ESPN2