New Coaches Boosting Men’s Basketball Programs In Conference Of Champions

Entering this Pac-12 season, Cal, UCLA, and WSU all entered the campaign with new coaches at the helm. Mark Fox, Mick Cronin, and Kyle Smith all emphasize defensive basketball, and it was going to be interesting to see how their similar approaches fared in the Conference of Champions. 

At the mid-season point, it is obvious that all three of these men have already vastly improved their programs, while simultaneously changing the style of play in the conference. Here’s how they’re getting it done.


The Cougs already have more wins than they did last season currently boasting a 14-10 (5-6) record, last year they finished 11-12 (4-14).

From the onset of the season it was apparent that this team played with more effort, specifically on the defensive end of the court. Even though WSU slumped out of the gate with a 2-3 start, things quickly began to rectify themselves. They finished the non-conference slate on a six-game winning streak.

As Pac-12 play emerged, there were no guarantees that the Cougs would succeed early on, but yet they found a way.

After stumbling early to a 1-3 mark, they quickly responded with a huge weekend beating number eight Oregon and Oregon State on a homestand. This was arguably the most exhilarating basketball weekend Pullman has seen since the Klay Thompson era; oddly enough the Saturday win against the Beavers occurred on Thompson’s jersey retirement night.

In addition to that weekend, the Cougars have impressive wins against ASU, UCLA, and against rival Washington. They’ve proven tough to beat at home donning a 12-3 record.

Smith has done a marvelous coaching job so far. Along with his defensive mindset, he’s allowed offensive freedom for forward CJ Elleby, and the sophomore responded by turning into one of the Pac-12’s best all-around players. Smith has also offered and increased role for forward Jeff Pollard, who’s a tough-nosed defensive player.


Out of all of the teams on this list, Cronin had the toughest rebuild job… by far. Fair or not, the tradition of UCLA basketball expects Final Four runs, and ultimately National Championships.

In the offseason, the Bruins lost their top three scorers in Kris Wilkes, Jaylen Hands, and Moses Brown for various reasons. Nevertheless, Cronin didn’t use this as an excuse and has his team on par with last year’s squad.

Out of the gate, they hopped out to a 4-0 standing in non-conference. However, due to a difficult schedule, they began to sputter and ultimately ended up 7-6 before Pac-12 play began. Some of their losses came at the hands of Notre Dame, North Carolina, and Michigan State.

The Bruins’ record currently stands at 13-11 (6-5), while last year they finished with a 17-16 (9-9) mark.

And while their record doesn’t jump off the paper, the quality of their wins does. They’ve beaten Colorado, Arizona, and UW. These could be considered three out of the four most talented teams in conference, and yes, Washington is still extremely talented even though they’ve had the most disappointing season since the McRib.

Cronin has found success simply by competing and staying tight in games. So far, a combination of Chris Smith, Jalen Hill, and Jaime Jaquez Jr. lead the way. Point guard Tyger Campbell also appears to be coming into his own.


The last couple of years the Golden Bears have been absolutely dismal. It seemed that there was no way that Cal was going to be able to compete this season. But surprisingly, the Bears’ record currently stands at 10-13 (4-6), which is improved from last year’s 8-23 (3-15) on both accounts.

To begin the season the Bears ran out to a hot 5-0 start. But then reality set in, as a tough 35-point loss to number one Duke sent them in a downward spiral. They finished non-conference with a 6-7 record.

Cal probably has the least talented roster of all Pac-12 schools, yet Fox has found a way to win some games and hang around the middle of the pack.

Their four wins are truly impressive and should be a testament to his coaching abilities. They have notable victories against Washington, Oregon State, and rival Stanford. The win against the Cardinal can’t be overstated enough because of the implications it could have on recruiting.

They’ve been very tough to beat at home posting a 10-3 record. However, they’ve still yet to win a game on the road, but the 0-7 mark is understandable for a team that lacks talent.

Fox has utilized guard Matt Bradley. The star sophomore is the undeniable team leader averaging 17.6 points per game. No one else on Cal has been a consistent playmaker.

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About Nick Bartlett 212 Articles
My name is Nick Bartlett, and I am a Senior Writer at as well as a Senior Writer here at OregonSportsNews. My work has been featured in the Seattle PI, OregonLive, and various other publications. I've also served as a guest on Sirius XM radio as a "Pac-12 Football Insider" For business inquiries, you can reach me at - Email: Phone Number: 425-366-9711