Sunday was the final opportunity for underclassmen to withdraw from the NBA draft, and decisions by Stanford’s Jeremy Green and Washington State’s Klay Thompson to exit school created a scenario perhaps no one could have ensvisioned:
Cal guard Jorge Gutierrez, known over much of his career for anything but scoring, will be the top returning scorer in the Pac-12 Conference next season.
In fact, the Bears will have three of the top six scorers in the league, at least from the 10 schools that competed in the conference in 2010-11.
Gutierrez will be No. 1 among those returnees at 14.6 points per game, Harper Kamp No. 3 at 14.2 and Allen Crabbe No. 6 at 13.4.
Kamp (5.6) and Crabbe (5.3) rank Nos. 7 and 9 among returning Pac-10 rebounders and Gutierrez 4.48) and Brandon Smith (3.91) will be Nos. 1 and 3 in assists.
Do these statistical riches categorize the Bears as favorites to win the first Pac-12 title?
By no means.
But they do underscore the very real opportunity for Mike Montgomery’s club to at least challenge for its second conference crown in three seasons.
First, let’s review who has decided to make an early dash for pro cash:
— Washington State junior guard Klay Thompson, who ranked No. 1 in the Pac-10 in scoring at 21.6 points per game.
— Arizona sophomore forward Derrick Williams, No. 2 at 19.5.
— USC junior forward Nikola Vucevic, No. 3 at 17.1.
— Washington junior guard Isaiah Thomas, No. 4 at 16.8.
— Stanford junior guard Jeremy Green, No. 5 at 16.7.
— UCLA junior guard Malcolm Lee, No. 14 at 13.1
— UCLA sophomore forward Tyler Honeycutt, No. 15 at 12.8.
— Washington State junior forward DeAngelo Casto, No. 18 at 12.0.
Factor in three departing seniors, and that leaves just seven of the Pac-10’s top 18 scorers due back next season. And that doesn’t include Colorado sophomore guard Alec Burks, who averaged 20.5 points and is projected a lottery pick after declaring for the draft.
So what do we make of the 2011-12 Pac-12 race? Who is the favorite?
After much thought, and some discussion with a couple colleagues who cover teams elsewhere in the conference, I have come to this conclusion:
There is no clear favorite to win the Pac-12 in 2012.
Sure, someone is going to win the thing, but we may not know that until the first weekend of March.
For now, here’s a look ahead, breaking down the teams into three categories: