Oregon State supplants Stanford as preseason Pac-12 favorite

Sydney Wiese and Oregon State were a No. 3 seed that lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament in 2015. Andy Mead/YCJ/Icon Sportswire

The winds of change are blowing strong through the Pac-12 Conference.

For the first time in 16 years, Stanford was not picked to win the league title heading into the season. For the first time ever, Oregon State is the coaches' preseason pick to win the regular-season title.

The Pac-12, which put five teams into the NCAA field for the second straight year in 2014-15, and boasts the WNIT winner in UCLA, is loaded with some of the best individual talent in the country: Oregon State's Ruth Hamblin, Washington's Kelsey Plum, Oregon's Jillian Alleyne. It remains to be seen whether it's also loaded with teams that could find their way to Indianapolis.

Pac-12 predicted order of finish

1. Oregon State (27-5 overall in 2014-15, 16-2 in conference play): The Beavers, who open 2015-16 ranked No. 9 in the national polls, return four starters to a team that had a breakout season and then finished with a second-round exit at home in last year's NCAA tournament. This team has a very definite heart in point guard Sydney Wiese, shooting guard Jamie Weisner and center Ruth Hamblin, who was voted the conference's player of the year a season ago. The Beavers faded down the stretch last season, losing at home to Stanford, falling in the Pac-12 tournament and then losing in the second round of the NCAA tourney at home as a No. 3 seed. A team that experienced that kind of disappointment should be able to figure out how to make sure it doesn't happen again.

2. Arizona State (29-6, 15-3): If underestimating the Sun Devils is the Pac-12's favorite pastime, that should stop now. ASU reached the Sweet 16 last season and returns nine players and four starters from that team, including senior guards Katie Hempen and Elisha Davis and junior posts Sophie Brunner and Kelsey Moos. Last year's team won 29 games (the second-highest total in school history). The Sun Devils, who held opponents to only 55.9 points per game last season, face Kentucky, South Carolina and Florida State in nonconference play before taking aim at the program's first Pac-12 title since finishing in a three-way tie for the regular-season crown in 2001.

3. Stanford (26-10, 13-5): The Cardinal finished third in the Pac-12 last season, their lowest conference finish since 1999. In Tara VanDerveer's 30th season on The Farm, the Cardinal are experienced and balanced. Junior guard Lili Thompson and forward Erica McCall, who had a breakout summer for USA Basketball, lead Stanford. Karlie Samuelson missed the last part of 2014-15 because of an injury but is back to lead Stanford's perimeter game. Brittany McPhee will look to make a bigger impact, and Stanford brings in its first international recruit in Australian forward Alanna Smith.

4. UCLA (19-18, 8-10): Last year, the Bruins had seven freshman comprising the No. 1 recruiting class in the country and one of the toughest schedules in the land, including three of the four Final Four entrants. The end result? UCLA took a lot of lumps before putting it together to win the WNIT title. A season later, with their youngsters more seasoned and some veteran leadership, this team is a dark-horse pick to challenge for the title. UCLA returns four starters and 83 percent of its scoring. Guard Jordin Canada is back after winning conference freshman of the year honors. Nirra Fields returns as does Kacy Swain and Kari Korver to lead a team that might be ready to make some serious noise.

5. Cal (24-10, 13-5): The Bears are moving on without Brittney Boyd and Reshanda Gray, who were tone-setters over four years and accounted for nearly 60 percent of the Bears' offensive output. The task of both scoring and leading now goes to the trio of Mikayla Cowling, Courtney Range and Gabby Green, all of whom played significant minutes for Lindsay Gottlieb's team last season. Cal welcomes five freshmen into the program, including Kristine Anigwe, a McDonald's All-American who won a gold medal with USA Basketball in the World University Games last summer.

6. Washington (23-10, 11-7): The Huskies have the league's best scorer in junior guard Kelsey Plum, who led the conference in scoring in 2014-15. Brianna Ruiz will join Plum in the backcourt, hoping to make up for the loss of Jazmine Davis, who graduated as the program's all-time leading scorer. Fifth-year senior Talia Walton leads the frontcourt and is the team's all-time leader in blocked shots. Washington is looking to make NCAA tournament for the second consecutive season. The Huskies will be looking to meet their own high expectations; the team's mantra is "the standards have changed."

7. Washington State (17-15, 7-11): Losing Lia Galdeira, who decided to start her pro career, was a tough blow for the Cougars, who return three starters and add three freshmen to the program. Seniors Dawnyelle Awa and Mariah Cooks will lead the way after starting every game last season. A lot more will be asked of sophomore center Lou Brown.

8. Oregon (13-17, 6-12): In their second year under Kelly Graves, the Ducks are looking to become a factor in the Pac-12 race. They certainly have one of the league's best players in forward Jillian Alleyne, who has led the conference in rebounding for three straight seasons. Oregon has three starters back, including sophomore guard Lexi Bando, who averaged 10.4 points. The Ducks will play at Kentucky and then benefit from a run of nine straight home games before the Pac-12 schedule starts.

9. Southern California (15-15, 7-11): The Women of Troy return three starters to a team that will have a lot of work to do to replace its top three scorers and top two rebounders. Junior Jordan Adams, who came to USC as a McDonald's All-American, will have her chance to be an impact player after averaging 7.3 points and 5.5 rebounds last season. Junior Courtney Jaco will be USC's best perimeter threat. USC needs to find offense after finishing last in the Pac-12 in field goal percentage in 2014-15, but it's worth noting the Women of Troy lost seven games by 10 points or fewer.

10. Colorado (15-17, 6-12): Linda Lappe's team has only one senior in Jamee Swan, who was the team's leading scorer last season. Juniors Lauren Huggins and Haley Smith will need to play bigger roles after earning significant time last season. The Buffaloes missed the postseason for the first time in five years. They will need to improve defensively to get back after finishing 12th in points allowed (68.3 PPG) in 2014-15.

11. Utah (9-21, 3-15): In the first season under coach Lynn Roberts -- and in their first season in a new gym on the Utah campus -- the Utes return three starters, including senior guard Danielle Rodriguez (8.6 PPG), who has started 95 career games, and Tanaeya Boclair (9.0 PPG). Sophomore post Emily Potter returns after sitting out last season because of injury. Potter was the team's second-leading scorer and rebounder in 2013-14 as a true freshman.

12. Arizona (10-20, 3-15): The Wildcats, who haven't finished better than 10th in the league standings since 2011, doubled their overall win total a season ago but still couldn't escape the league's cellar. And it will be tough for them to get out again. Arizona returns three starters, guards Malena Washington and Keyahndra Cannon and post LaBrittney Jones, who led the team in rebounding last season. And coach Niya Butts, in her ninth season, is looking forward to seeing highly touted freshman Taryn Griffey on the court after she missed 2014-15 because of injury.