SALT LAKE CITY — Not only is Utah coming off its worst men's basketball season ever, but so is the Pac-12, which was so bad this year it was nicknamed the "Pathetic-12."
For most of the season, the former Pac-10 was ranked No. 10 among the country's Division I basketball conferences, not good for a league that has won more NCAA titles than any league in America and has always been considered one of the six "power" conferences. For the first time since 1944, the league's regular-season champion didn't make the NCAA Tournament field as Washington was relegated to the NIT.
Only two teams made it into this year's Big Dance and it took an upset by newcomer Colorado in the first round to save some face for the conference.
But things are looking up.
The Pac-12 won't have to worry about losing a bunch of early-entry players to the NBA as it has in recent years. And the bulk of the top players are underclassmen who will be returning next season.
Also, according to ESPN Recruiting Nation, the Pac-12 has three of the top recruiting classes for 2012, with Arizona ranking No. 1, UCLA No. 12 and Colorado No. 22.
Arizona's No. 1 recruiting ranking comes on top of an outstanding class last year (ranked No. 7) that included the likes of Nick Johnson and Josiah Turner, who started the majority of the Wildcats' games this year.
Although Colorado loses three seniors from this year's NCAA team, it expects to be bigger and deeper next year led by sophomore forward Andre Roberson and freshman forward Spencer Dinwidde and a strong recruiting class.
Washington had a top-15 recruiting class in 2011 and returns seven of its top eight players from this year, assuming none of them decides to turn pro. Sophomore Terrance Ross and freshman Tony Wroten were all-Pac-12, and Utahn C.J. Wilcox, the third-leading scorer on the team, will be a junior next year.
Oregon had a senior-dominated team but will return forwards E.J. Singler and Carlos Emory and center Tony Woods and has some good recruits.
Oregon State, which knocked off Washington in the first round of the Pac-12 tourney, returns its top nine players from this year's 19-14 squad. Freshman Jared Cunningham was a first-team all-Pac-12 selection after averaging 17.7 points per game, and other top returnees are Devon Collier and Ahmad Starks.
Cal will lose Pac-12 player of the year Jorge Gutierrez, but five of their top players this year were underclassmen and they'll add Tyrone Wallace, one of the top guards in the country next year.
Of Stanford's seven top scorers this year, only one was a senior and, in freshman guard Chasson Randle, the Cardinal have one of the league's top young players.
UCLA experienced one of its more challenging seasons, capped by a Sports Illustrated article detailing problems in the program. Coach Ben Howland has been given another year and he'll have four of his top six scorers back.
Washington State only had two seniors on its entire roster this year and returns its best player, 6-10 center Brock Motum.
Arizona State didn't have a single senior on this year's roster and will have everybody back plus a couple of transfers from Division I schools. Jordan Bachynski, the 7-foot-2 brother of Utah's Dallin Bachynski, came on strong late in the season and could be one of the league's best centers next year.
USC had an even more dreadful season than Utah at 6-26, thanks in large part to five main players going down with injuries. But the Trojans, who went to the NCAA Tournament just a year earlier, don't lose any of their key players from this year and will be much-improved.
One person who is optimistic about the league's future is commissioner Larry Scott, who recently announced the league's tournament will be moved to Las Vegas.
"I look at the fundamentals — we have high-quality coaches, very good facilities for the most part and a great recruiting base," he told the Deseret News last month. "What we haven't had is great exposure for our programs compared to other conferences. I think you'll see a turnaround."
Copyright 2017, Deseret News Publishing Company