Pac-12 Burning Question: What Are You Most Looking Forward To?Posted by AMurawa on November 8th, 2012
We’re so close. Tomorrow around this time, we’ll all be looking at getting ready for opening night. Sure, there may not be a whole lot to look forward to this weekend involving Pac-12 teams, but it will be good just to see what some of these teams look like in the early going. And, of course, we’ve got plenty of things to look forward to this year around the conference. We kept it simple this week and gave our correspondents a chance to peer into the future.
“What are you most looking forward to in the upcoming Pac-12 season?”
Kevin Danna: November and December. Forget conference play, forget conference tournaments, forget the Big Dance. November and December are where conferences earn their keep — in the non-conference slate. These have been two months that have absolutely haunted the Pac-12 ever since the likes of James Harden, Jrue Holiday and Darren Collison skipped town. If the Pac is going to get “bac” to 2007-08 form, its constituents MUST take care of business in these two months. Since the theme of 2012-13 seems to be restoring respectability to the conference, November and December is by far the most intriguing time of the year. Everyone needs to do its part — can UCLA take down Georgetown and put up a worthy fight against Indiana? How will Stanford fare in the Bahamas and on the road at NC State and Northwestern? What about Cal — can the Golden Bears finally get a meaningful road non-conference win when they travel to Madison to take on the Badgers? Top to bottom, it will be very interesting to see how the Pac-12 fares against other leagues. A .500 record against ranked opponents and things are looking up; another 9-38 job against the RPI Top 50, and we’re looking at another two-bid league.
Adam Butler: The Seniors. It’s the same reason we all tuned in to Chipper Jones this year and why we urge our champions to go out on top. The college senior gets no such urging. He is not afforded the luxury of choice because time hath run its course. He must come to grips with his own mortality. This is when legacies are cemented and special things happen. Or hearts are broken. I’ll never forget Kyle Fogg’s tear through the second half of the Pac-12 season last year. He garnered two Player of the Week awards en route to willing the Wildcats to the Pac-12 championship game. They’d lose that game and Kyle Fogg would barely play another game; taking a meager five shots in a first round NIT loss. As for this season’s crop of seniors, I’m excited about what Jio Fontan can do for the Trojans. He’s a terrific story and a ball of heart who finds himself – a year removed from ACL reconstruction – with a newly talented roster and a chance at turning heads. Does that story sound familiar? It should because Abdul Gaddy is dealing with the same situation in Seattle. He’ll be doing it alongside another knee reconstruct and his co-captain, Scott Suggs. These are classic comeback tales I’ll follow from the edge of my seat. And while we’re talking about comebacks, how about Kevin Parrom? He lost grandma and mom and then was shot. Then his foot broke. I don’t care who your team is, you have to root for this kid. Also on his team is Solomon Hill who has developed into a leader and player to be feared. Hill will have the opportunity to cement himself as a Wildcat great, the beginning of the Miller era not unlike a Kerr or Elliott began the Olson era (way hyperbolic there and, frankly, no way Hill is in their league; although rings can do weird things, ask Frodo – wow full tangent). We of course can’t leave Mark Lyons, EJ Singler, Brock Motum (yes!), Joe Burton, Angus Brandt, Jason Washburn, Larry Drew II, and Carrick Felix off the list of must watch swan songs. These are the guys, the stories, that make the college game our favorite.
Parker Baruh: The Stanford Cardinal. Ever since Mike Montgomery left, things haven’t been the same in Palo Alto. They made the Tournament a couple years after his departure, but after the Lopez twins left, the Cardinal has been disappointing year after year. Remember Nick Robinson hitting the half-court buzzer-beater against Arizona to win and pandemonium ensuing? Going 30-2 and flirting with being undefeated? The Cardinal used to be a power in the Pac-12, making the Tournament 10 straight years under Montgomery. UCLA and Arizona have always been the dominant powers of the Pac-12, but Stanford used to be right there with them. And now, they finally have the players to become relevant again and get back to the NCAA Tournament. They’ve got a nice post tandem in Josh Huestis and Dwight Powell, while Anthony Brown has the potential to be a great scorer. Chasson Randle is now a sophomore and ready to impact the team and with Aaron Bright next to him in the backcourt, the Cardinal has stability back there. All the pieces are in place, but that’s been said before with Stanford. It’ll come back to Johnny Dawkins and I’m looking forward to seeing if he can finally do what he was brought to Stanford to do: continue their history of success. He hasn’t been all that successful thus far, but there are no more excuses. And I cannot wait for this Pac-12 basketball season to begin.
Andrew Murawa: The Rivalry. It’s ba-ack. Look, there are tons of storylines around this conference that I’m very much looking forward to. I think Utah, USC and Arizona State all could be significantly improved. I’m very curious to see the Colorado freshmen. I want to see if Brock Motum can continue last year’s success without a point guard and with a great big target on his back. I’m interested to find out if Washington has the whole addition-by-subtraction thing down. And, believe me, there are plenty more. But if I had to circle just two dates on my calendar between now and the postseason, I’m breaking out the big red sharpies to highlight Thursday, January 24 and Saturday, March 2. You see, those are the two days when UCLA and Arizona will renew their rivalry, and with potentially quite a bit on the line. Each team not only features stacked freshman classes, but plenty of experienced returnees and an incoming senior transfer at the point. But, most of all, both of these teams feature coaches who are desperate to appease the locals and get their teams back on a consistent streak of not just NCAA appearances but conference titles. And, just like the good ol’ days, each program knows that the other is the primary obstacle in their path. In a season that holds plenty of promising storylines up and down the conference, I’m most looking forward to seeing the big boys battle it out.
Connor Pelton: Feast Week. It may seem odd to be looking forward to the non-conference tournaments the most since we have the entire season ahead of us, but honestly, is there a better week than Feast Week in the regular season? These tourneys, when the Pac-12 is on a national stage for the first time of the year, will have a huge impact later in the season. Games like Washington-Connecticut, Oregon-UNLV, and Stanford-Missouri will help not only those respective teams’ RPI’s, but the rest of the conference as well through the “opponent’s opponents” category. But let’s step away from the RPI and perception aspects for a moment; these games are downright fun to watch. You can’t look at a late night match-up from Lahaina like USC-Illinois without getting excited, or imagine the possibilities if the Trojans can pull a couple of upsets and get a meeting with North Carolina in the Maui final. Then there’s Stanford, who will take on a Top 25 Missouri team on Thanksgiving morning in Paradise Island before having a chance to face Louisville and Duke in the following days. Pac-12 play may be thrilling, but it’s these early non-conference tournaments that have me most pumped this season.