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Pac-12 Basketball: Preseason power rankings for 2023-24 season

Mar 2, 2023; Los Angeles, California, USA; Arizona Wildcats head coach Tommy Lloyd yells from the sideline in the first half against the USC Trojans at Galen Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 2, 2023; Los Angeles, California, USA; Arizona Wildcats head coach Tommy Lloyd yells from the sideline in the first half against the USC Trojans at Galen Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports /
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Pac-12 Basketball Washington State Cougars head coach Kyle Smith Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Pac-12 Basketball Washington State Cougars head coach Kyle Smith Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports /

11. Washington State Cougars

Kyle Smith has been trying to put something together in Pullman for four seasons, finishing as high as fifth in the last two. As it felt like he was about to turn a corner and get his Cougs to their highest standing in the conference since getting there, a mass exodus occurred. Four of his starters (Mouhamed Guye, Justin Powell, TJ Bamba and DJ Rodman) left the program to either play in the NBA or for the likes of USC and Villanova.

To make things even more difficult, several of those decisions came late in the process, leaving the Cougars scrambling for answers at important positions, especially point guard. Smith will need magic to appear out of thin air with his backcourt situation, leaning on Kansas transfer Joseph Yesufu to take a mile-long step as a lead guard or for redshirt freshman Myles Rice to quickly become a leader when the thought was to slowly bring him along at the start of the offseason.

Rice does have the components to become that player someday, as the 6-foot-3 guard shows an ability to get to his spots and make the right reads. But he’s coming off of a medical redshirt season after battling Hodgkins Lymphoma. How that battle changes his timeline is worth considering.

The lone returning starter, wing Andrej Jakimovski, will need to become more efficient on the offensive end and help provide scoring that is now sorely lacking. Big expectations are on grad transfer Isaac Jones, who makes a short move from the campus of Idaho. Jones will be the lead scoring threat for Smith, coming off of a season where he averaged 19.4 points and 7.8 rebounds.

Much of this season will come down to how Yesufu looks at his new school. His scoring from his year at Drake didn’t translate at Kansas; can it translate in Pullman? If he is able to shoulder the responsibility of lead guard, Washington State may not take a massive step back. But there is healthy skepticism that that’s a good bet to make.