2020-21 Pac-12 Men’s Hoops Status, Part 3

Oregon, OSU, Washington, and WSU are profiled in this final installment

Posted on May 17, 2020

  By Dane Miller, SuperWest Sports

In this three-part series, we provide a status report on each Pac-12 program with an eye toward the 2020-21 campaign. Part Three examines the prospects of the Northwest Region schools in these Way-Too-Early Men’s Basketball updates.

 Oregon Ducks

Oregon’s Dana Altman can reinforce his Hall of Fame qualifications after losing Payton Pritchard. | goducks.com

 Key Departure: Payton Pritchard

Strengths: Depth, Talent, Coaching  

Weakness: Proven leadership

There’s no sugar-coating the loss of Payton Pritchard to graduation: Oregon no longer has a proven leader with ice in his veins.

Without question, his absence leaves big shoes to fill. Consequently, UO may struggle more than expected at the beginning of the year. 

The question becomes: Who will take over when the game is on the line? 

Fortunately, Dana Altman is a Hall of Fame coach whose system is conducive to several different types of athletes. On top of that, Will Richardson is an excellent heir to the throne, with the ability to run the offense just as effectively.

To cap it off, both CJ Walker and N’Faly Dante decided to return for their sophomore seasons. When the two bigs are combined with Richardson, along with the potent shooting of Chris Duarte, things feel pretty good in Eugene

As extra insurance, Altman brought in a strong transfer in UNLV guard Amauri Hardy. The grad transfer likely starts and meshes well with Altman’s press defense. The end result is one of the most talented rosters in the conference with quality depth that can go toe-to-toe with any other other team in the Pac-12, even after the transfer of Francis Okoro

With all the returning players, Altman’s recruiting class didn’t have enough open spots, or the need, to garner a clear one-and-done prospect. Still, four-star guard Jalen Terry, a Michigan native ranked among the nation’s Top 100 recruits, figures to play an important role for as long as he stays in Eugene.

Bottom line: The pressure will be on Richardson to return the Ducks to the top of the mountain. But after making several late-game clutch plays last season, and leading the nation in three-point shooting percentage among underclassmen, the seasoned junior appears ready.

When it comes down to it, the performance of Duarte could prove pivotal to Oregon’s success. The senior shooting guard will be counted on in key situations, along with Richardson, to fill the void left by Pritchard. 

Given their depth, experience, and talent, as well as a coach known for getting the most from his players, it may not be easy to keep the Ducks from capturing a second-straight regular season title. 

 Oregon State Beavers

OSU’s Wayne Tinkle will have his hands full replacing his son, Tres, and Kylor Kelley. | osubeavers.com

Key Departures: Tres Tinkle, Kylor Kelley

Potential Departure: Ethan Thompson

Strength: Senior Leader

Weakness: Supporting cast, Recruiting class

After losing Tres Tinkle and Kylor Kelley to graduation, the three-pronged attack of the Beaver offense has been relegated to a single prong. And that prong, Ethan Thompson, has entered his name into the NBA Draft, putting his return to Corvallis in question.

Normally, a program in that type of situation would load up with a quality recruiting class. Unfortunately, Wayne Tinkle didn’t manage to do that. Instead, the Beavers have landed the ninth ranked class in the Pac-12, putting the program near a breaking point. It doesn’t take a fortuneteller to see the writing on the wall, if things aren’t turned around in the next year or two.

Fortunately, Thompson is likely to return for his senior season to boost his draft stock and take full command of the Beaver program. The guard’s command of OSU’s offense, and his understanding of Tinkle’s system, would be a real positive for the Beavs next season. However, not having recruited a strong supporting cast, Oregon State doesn’t seem poised to break out of its current cycle of mediocrity. 

Nonetheless, the sole member of OSU’s recruiting class is no slouch. Isaiah Johnson, a three-star power forward ranked in the Top 400, should have a puncher’s chance of securing a starting role. On top of that, Tinkle is bringing in three junior college transfers in Tariq Silver, Maurice Calloo, and Rodrigue Andela. Each are eligible to play this season, and Silver was one of the better JC transfers on the market. 

The trio should make an impact right away, but relying so heavily on JUCO players could send the wrong message to elite high school prospects, especially with so much playing time available. 
Equally worrying, Sean Miller-Moore transferred out after just one season. The junior college transfer appeared destined for more playing time this upcoming season, and would likely have taken on an important role in the Beaver offense. 

Perhaps the ominous clouds on the horizon led Miller-Moore to leave before a dark storm converges on Corvallis.

 Washington Huskies

A poor recruiting year coming off a down year will test Washington coach Mike Hopkins this season. | gohuskies.com

Key Departures: Isaiah Stewart, Jaden McDaniels

Strengths: Defensive system, Identity

Weakness: Recruiting class

Things are broken in Seattle.

Without a single commit in the 2020 class, Mike Hopkins is playing with fire. That’s what happens when you don’t properly manage a Top 5 recruit, especially one who went to high school right down the road from your program. 

In an instant, the Dawgs went from one of the hottest recruiting programs in the nation to a class with zero commits over the course of a single season. Realistically, Hopkins’ mismanagement of Jaden McDaniels may go down as one of the worst coaching jobs in Washington history. The lanky guard’s nearly unlimited potential was all but squandered, with McDaniels even losing his starting role at one point.

That’s a potentially devastating message to send to potential recruits and their handlers; it may be difficult to find elite prospects willing to play for Hopkins after his apparent mismanagement. 

Categorically, if the headman is willing to bench someone like McDaniels, a projected lottery pick, then he is certainly willing to do the same to a less-heralded player. At minimum, the burned bridge could arguably have cost Hopkins the recruiting momentum he had gained at UW.

Transitioning to the 2020 season, one clear positive is the return of Quade Green. The former McDonald’s All-American is the presumptive leader of the program, and will have the trust and confidence of Hopkins, if he maintains his eligibility. But Green can’t do it alone.

Ideally, Wichita State shooting guard Erik Stevenson would land an eligibility waiver from the NCAA, but without any incoming freshmen and the unreliable waiver process, the onus is placed at the feet of the returning players.

Fortunately, the cupboard isn’t completely bare. Returning guards Naziah Carter, Jamal Bey, Elijah Hardy, Marcus Tsohonis, and RaQuan Battle combine for a solid mix of backcourt depth to support Green. In the front-court, Hamier Wright returns, but the most important piece may be Nate Roberts. The big man didn’t get as much playing time as he probably deserved, and the upcoming season presents a significant opportunity for him to breakout.

Still, UW is in a precarious position with a head coach that may be prone to picking favorites. If the returning players aren’t on his good side, they may find it difficult to see the floor, even if they can contribute.

At the end of the day, it’s not a stretch to say Washington is focused mostly on the 2021 recruiting class. Hopkins will do his best to land Paolo Banchero, Peyton Watson, and Nolan Hickman, but the need to ring the alarm bells may be just around the corner. 

 Washington State Cougars

WSU’s Kyle Smith can build on his success of last season, especially if CJ Elleby were to return. | wsucougars.com

Key Potential Departure: CJ Elleby

Strengths: Coaching, Identity

Weakness: Road games

By any measure, Kyle Smith’s first year in Pullman was a resounding success. 

The unexpected upswing set WSU up for a renaissance, but the progress of Smith’s second season largely rests in the hands of CJ Elleby. The prolific scorer’s NBA decision could make the upcoming year one of the best in recent memory, and may even generate discussion of an outside chance at the NCAA Tournament, if he were to return.

That being said, the Cougars could revitalize without Elleby, but his decision would kick the engine into high gear. Optimistically, Elleby’s choice to come back may even be the push needed to land a Top 40 recruiting class as early as 2021. 

As things currently stand, Smith did a better-than-expected job with his first group. The “smart ball” coach landed four three-star recruits, all ranked in the Top 400. Center Dishon Jackson is the highest rated of the bunch, but Canadian point guard Jefferson Koulibaly may end up having the best freshman campaign. Fittingly, combo guard TJ Bamba was another solid addition who should see early playing time, and Efe Abogidi is a big man who adds ideal depth to the front court.

The class currently ranks 58th in the nation and may be a harbinger of things to come.

As for the returners, part of the burgeoning optimism in Pullman is due to Isaac Bonton. The guard was pivotal to Washington State’s surprise season, as he often took over the offense when Elleby was having a rare off night. And when things were clicking right, the two combined for 40 points or more per game. Objectively, the duo were among the best in the Pac-12, and their chemistry shouldn’t be understated.

That makes Elleby’s decision carry even more weight.

If he were to return, it may put WSU into consideration for a Top 6 finish in the Pac-12. That would be a surprising outcome, but the Cougs would at least be in the running as a potential dark horse.

As of now, things haven’t looked brighter on the Palouse in a decade or longer. 

—More from Dane Miller—