After using college basketball's biggest stage to shout down the widespread whispers of its demise, the Pac-12 is swaggering into the 2021-22 season with its head held high and chest puffed out.
Nowhere is this more the case than at UCLA, which led the conference's remarkable, nation-best 13-5 NCAA Tournament record by becoming the second team ever to advance to the Final Four after squeaking into the First Four.
One of three Elite 8 teams from the Pac-12, the Bruins are easily the favorites to repeat as conference champions and are generally considered to be among the best teams in the country as they return three all-conference-caliber players: guards Tyger Campbell and Johnny Juzang and forward Jaime Jaquez Jr.
With 17 of its 20 top scorers departing from last season in a league heavily hit by early NBA declarations and the transfer of several top veteran players, the Pac-12 could be hard-pressed to match its performance from a year ago.
Oregon, which should get a huge boost from third-team All-ACC Syracuse guard transfer Quincy Guerrier and five-star freshman center Nathan Bittle, appears to be the league's best hope to challenge the Bruins.
Due to several factors, including relaxed NCAA transfer rules, the rise of Oregon State and Washington State and a coaching change at Arizona, the second tier appears more unpredictable than at any point in recent history, with USC, Colorado, Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon State and Washington State all capable of vying for NCAA Tournament consideration.
Tyger Campbell and Johnny Juzang form the top backcourt in the region, and five-star freshman wing forward Peyton Watson should nicely complement Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Rutgers 6'11" transfer Myles Johnson in the frontcourt. After establishing his culture over the last two years, Mick Cronin is now layering in longer, more athletic players. Look out, Pac-12.
As long as Dana Altman is in Eugene, the Ducks will be consistently competitive on the strength of his discombobulating defense and grating game plans. His teams have finished tied for second or better in the Pac-12 in seven of the last 10 seasons.
The Trojans return starting big man Isiah Mobley and wings Drew Peterson and Isaiah White and will be boosted in the backcourt by the addition of former five-star guard Boogie Ellis, a transfer from Memphis. Head coach Andy Enfield has hit his stride.
4. Arizona State
The Sun Devils have undergone an extreme makeover, particularly in their backcourt, with Remy Martin transferring to Kansas and Bobby Hurley adding three prominent guard transfers, led by Mid-American Conference Player of the Year Marreon Jackson and the ACC's No. 12 leading scorer, Jay Heath.
5. Washington State
Kyle Smith has done an excellent job identifying and developing under-appreciated talent in his first two years on the Palouse, and it should begin seriously paying off during the season ahead.
6. Oregon State
After their shocking Cinderella story, the Beavers won't sneak up on anyone this season. High-level shooter Jarod Lucas and frontcourt utility player Warith Alatishe provide coach Wayne Tinkle with a solid inside-out duo.
Colorado returns high-upside scorer Jabari Walker, big man Evan Battey and potent defender Eli Parquet. If the Buffaloes can get steady point guard play, Tad Boyle could put together his fourth straight winning season in Pac-12 play.
The cupboard is far from bare, but the backcourt looks a bit iffy, and there will inevitably be growing pains as new head coach Tommy Lloyd works to implement his culture and style of play.
Five-star guard Harrison Ingram and point guard Isael Silva are potential impact additions for coach Jerod Haase, who needs to find some momentum after finishing no better than .500 in any of the last three Pac-12 seasons.
An excellent start to his tenure turned into a nightmare for Mike Hopkins and the Huskies over the last two seasons, leading to extreme consternation from the program's faithful. He added two potentially big-impact intra-conference guard transfers, Daejon Davis from Stanford and Terrell Brown from Arizona.
Minnesota wing transfer Both Gach and interior players Branden Carlson and Riley Battin provide first-year head coach Craig Smith some experienced frontcourt bodies, but this team appears destined to go through a painful transition.
Mark Fox lost his best player, Matt Bradley, to San Diego State, a sure sign that things are not going well in Berkeley, where Fox has not been able to sign a top-150 high school prospect or acquire any instant-impact transfers.
Player of the Year: Johnny Juzang, UCLA
Best Defensive Player: Eli Parquet, Colorado
Most Underrated Player: Dishon Jackson, Washington State
Newcomer of the Year: Quincy Guerrier, Oregon
All-Pac-12 First Team
Tyger Campbell, Jr., G, UCLA
Jaime Jaquez Jr., Jr., G/F, UCLA
Johnny Juzang, Jr., G, UCLA
Isaiah Mobley, Jr., F, USC
Ąžuolas Tubelis, Fr., F, Arizona
All-Pac-12 Second Team
Marcus Bagley, So., F, Arizona State
Quincy Guerrier, Jr., F, Oregon
Bennedict Mathurin, Fr., G/F, Arizona
Will Richardson, Sr., G, Oregon
Jabari Walker, Fr., F, Colorado
All-Pac-12 Third Team
Warith Alatishe, Sr., Oregon State
Boogie Ellis, Jr., G, USC
De'Vion Harmon, Jr., G, Oregon
Marreon Jackson, Sr., G, Arizona Sate
Noah Williams, Jr., G, Washington State