Commentary on Pac-12 developments on and off the court …
Rising: Washington State basketball
The Cougars have lost a slew of key players to the NBA Draft or transfer portal this spring, with a shell of a roster left in their wake.
But good news finally appeared on the scene in the Palouse — two pieces, in fact.
First, forward Mouhamed Gueye on Tuesday reversed course and returned to WSU after spending one month in the portal. The 6-foot-11 sophomore is a bit raw but one of the most physically gifted young big men in the conference.
Given standard year-over-year development, he should be an impact player next season on both ends.
Also on Tuesday, the Cougars bolstered their backcourt with the addition of Tennessee transfer Justin Powell, a rotation-level player whose career began two seasons ago at Auburn, where he shot 44 percent from 3-point range before a season-ending injury.
(Because the move to WSU is his second transfer, Powell’s eligibility in 2022-23 is not guaranteed. He must apply for a waiver from the NCAA.)
In our view, Gueye’s return solidifies the Cougars as a mid-level finisher in the conference race next season, along with the likes of Colorado and Stanford but behind the four favorites: UCLA, USC, Oregon and Arizona.
While the frontline looks solid, WSU seemingly lacks the backcourt skill and depth to push for a top-tier spot — at least right now.
Coach Kyle Smith likely isn’t finished tinkering with his perimeter unit after losing top scorers Michael Flowers, Tyrell Roberts and Noah Williams.
Neutral: Oregon State’s administration
The Beavers have a new president, and the Pac-12 has a new board member.
The university’s Board of Trustees this week named Jayathi Murthy as the new boss on campus following a year-long search.
Murthy seems well qualified on the academic side, but the Hotline, as always, is far more interested in how the hire could impact Pac-12 football.
After all, the Beavers aren’t bringing 40,000 people onto campus six times each fall to watch an engineering lecture.
It’s too soon to draw conclusions on Murthy’s interest in, and willingness to commit resources to, football. But our initial reaction is decidedly mixed based on her career trajectory.
Murthy spent the previous six years as the dean of engineering at UCLA, where she worked for an administration that has proven itself deeply indifferent to major college football.
(Were the Hotline to rank the Pac-12 presidents and chancellors based on football indifference, UCLA’s Gene Block would be the easy pick for No. 1.)
On the other hand, Murthy spent a decade in the Big Ten (Purdue) and several years in the Big 12 (Texas) — an encouraging sign for OSU fans.
The Pac-12 has experienced significant turnover at the presidential level since the mid-2010s and, with that, an uptick in the Ivory tower commitment to football.
In fact, Washington State president Kirk Schulz addressed the dynamic with the Hotline a few years ago.
“As new people come into the league that have been elsewhere,” Schulz said, “they say this (football) is something we need to be talking about.”
Over the coming months, we’ll learn just how deeply Murthy cares about football talk.
Falling: USC’s administration
There’s nothing inconclusive about a front office development with the Trojans.
Athletic director Mike Bohn is losing his chief of staff, Brandon Sosna, who reportedly accepted a high-level position with the Detroit Lions this week.
Sosna played a vital role specifically in the Lincoln Riley hire but generally in overhauling USC’s athletic department.
After years of administrative incompetence that seemed to reach new lows on a regular basis, the Trojans have been a smooth-running operation with Bohn in charge and Sosna handling day-to-day operations.
The turnaround unfolded at an ideal time for the Pac-12, which needs the Trojans to lead in much the same way, for example, that the Big Ten needs Ohio State to continually help clear a path forward competitively, administratively and strategically.
As the Pac-12 enters a pivotal stretch, with the media rights negotiations upcoming and so much change unfolding across the NCAA landscape, the Trojans are well positioned to add value to the collective, not drag it down.
Credit for that starts with Bohn, then moves directly to Sosna, who ran the coaching search that landed Riley.
The Pac-12 cannot afford for USC to lose its momentum.
Rising: Washington basketball
The Huskies snared one of the top transfers on the market this week with a commitment from Keion Brooks,
A former five-star recruit who spent two seasons at Kentucky, Brooks might emerge as Terrell Brown Jr. 2.0.
(Or would that make him Terrell Brown Jr. Jr.?)