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Will the Pac-12 exceed expectations again?

After advancing seven teams to the NCAA Tournament last season, does the Pac-12 have what it takes to topple South Carolina and claim the top spot?

NCAA Womens Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Lexington Regional- Texas vs Stanford Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The last time a Pac-12 team won the national championship, Shaquille O’Neal was still a senior at LSU.

Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls were on the heels of their second consecutive championship. Bill Clinton was on the cusp of becoming President of the United States, and Breanna Stewart wasn’t even born yet.

However, if the last couple of seasons are an indicator, the Pac-12 is looking like they are bound to break that streak as soon as this season.

As the only other conference with five teams in the AP Top 25 (Stanford, UCLA, Oregon, Oregon State and California), the Pac-12 has every reason to believe they can be the top conference. Look at the impressive stats from the last two seasons:

a) The conference had seven teams in the NCAA Tournament last season.

b) In 2016, both Oregon State and Washington were in the Final Four.

c) Stanford, who made the Final Four in 2017, has been ranked in the Top 25 for 18 consecutive years.

Stanford, the reigning Pac-12 champion, starts the season ranked tenth after a 32-6 season that saw them make their seventh trip to the Final Four in the last decade. Head coach Tara VanDerveer will go into the season leaning on her veterans from last year. Leading the nine returning members is senior guard Brittney McPhee, who finished second in scoring last season. McPhee also made the first-ever Ann Meyers Drysdale Award watch list, which will be awarded to the best shooting guard in the nation.

UCLA, who comes into the season ranked eighth, returns all three leading scorers from last season, including the senior duo of Jordin Canada and Monique Billings. Canada, who will most likely be a high draft pick , was named to the Nancy Lieberman Award watch list. UCLA was also picked to win the Pac-12 for the second straight season, and will be looking to capitalize off their second straight trip to the Sweet 16 (the first time in program history they’ve gone back-to-back).

Oregon was picked to finish second in the Pac-12, and also made the AP preseason poll for the first time in 16 years. As the 11th-ranked team in the nation, the Ducks hope to move further than the Elite Eight, the first time in program history they’ve advanced that far.

Returning all five starters from last season, including leading scorers sophomore Sabrina Ionescu and senior Lexi Bando, they will need all the experience they can handle. With only two juniors and two seniors on this Ducks team, youth will play a big role on whether Oregon can replicate last season’s success.

Number 19 Oregon State, who made it to the Sweet 16 last season after a jaw-dropping run to the Final Four in 2016, brings back seven letterwinners. However, their biggest issue looming is who will be the primary scorer. Sydney Wiese is in the WNBA, and she was the only player on the team to average double-digits in scoring. The Beavers will depend on senior center Marie Gulch (9.9 ppg, 8.1 rpg) to be the anchor of this squad.

Last but not least on the list is #20 California. After making it to the second round of the NCAA’s last season, the Golden Bears have their go-to scorer back in junior guard Kristine Anigwe (21.0 ppg). Like Oregon State, questions will pop up as to who else will they turn to if injuries happen. Their second-leading scorer, Asha Thomas, averaged 8.9 points per game last season. This team didn’t get picked high in the polls for no reason, though. The Golden Bears are bringing back 10 players, including four of their starters from last season.

In a season where the road to the championship is easily visible now more than ever, the Pac-12 looks to make its way to the end of the road as champions for the first time, and hopefully for a long time.