Disappointing Endings For Arizona, UCLA, and Stanford, But The Future Is BrightPosted by AMurawa on March 31st, 2014
Six NCAA Tournament teams, three Sweet Sixteen seasons, one Elite Eight appearance and yet when the final quartet of teams still standing show up at the Final Four next weekend in North Texas, there will not be a Pac-12 team among them. This will now mark the sixth consecutive season (dating back to the last of UCLA’s three straight last decade) where college basketball’s premier weekend will dance away without a Pac-12 partner. So, yeah, Pac-12 fans, in a year where the hope was that the Pac was back, you’re right to feel some disappointment.
Worse yet, along with outgoing seniors like Roberto Nelson and Justin Cobbs and Mike Moser and C.J. Wilcox, the conference has also seen the last of guys like Kyle Anderson and Aaron Gordon and Jahii Carson and Zach LaVine with guys like Nick Johnson, Jordan Adams, Joseph Young, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson still weighing their options. But you know what? These are good things. It hurts to see guys like these go, but such is the nature of the beast. And in the long run, a program like Arizona providing an appealing and welcoming temporary landing spot for a player the caliber of Gordon will make it more likely that future Aaron Gordons will wind up playing for Sean Miller as well. And, in the great circle of life that is college athletics, out goes Gordon, in comes Stanley Johnson; rinse and repeat.
Below, three quick thoughts on the status of the three Pac-12 schools whose seasons ended this past weekend in the NCAA Tournament.
Stanford – Stanford’s likely played its best game in the history of this graduating senior class last weekend when they knocked off Kansas in St. Louis. Earning a Sweet Sixteen appearance erased any questions about Johnny Dawkins’ future with the program and sent guys like Dwight Powell and Josh Huestis out the door with a nice feather in their collective cap. But man, a poor effort against Dayton with an Elite Eight on the line has to leave something of a sour taste behind, no? Still, Dawkins certainly made some strides as a head coach this season, and next year will feature a good mixture of returning veterans (Chasson Randle, Anthony Brown, and Stefan Nastic), players returning from injury (Christian Sanders and Rosco Allen) and a group of talented freshmen (four four-star recruits, including frontcourt guys Reid Travis and Michael Humphrey and backcourt guys Robert Cartwright and Dorian Pickens). For the Cardinal, the loss to Dayton need not be the end to a good run, but rather the start of the next big wave of Stanford men’s basketball success.
UCLA – For a program with the history of UCLA, a Sweet Sixteen is never going to be much to write home about. But in Steve Alford’s first season with the program, it is a start at least. And, going out in a fairly competitive game to the #1 overall seed is no shame. But, Alford had some questionable substitutions, highlighted by the fact that none of his starters played more than 31 minutes while LaVine and Bryce Alford struggled their way to three-of-12 shooting in a combined 45 minutes of action. Still, Alford gets through season one with a passing grade, even if his first run through at UCLA isn’t going to earn him a spot on the honor roll. And, much like the Cardinal, it is a certainty that the Bruins will look much different next season. We already knew that this was going to be Anderson’s last year in Westwood, and the day after the loss to Florida, LaVine followed him out the door. Meanwhile, Adams is weighing his professional future, meaning as of now, UCLA could be looking at a starting backcourt of Alford, Norman Powell, and Isaac Hamilton, with little in the way of backcourt depth unless the Bruins are able to bring in a late signee or a transfer of some sort. Up front, UCLA has four freshmen signees – highlighted by five-star power forward Kevon Looney – to go with Tony Parker, making for a talented, if unproven, front line.
Arizona – And then there are the Wildcats, left to ponder all sorts of what-ifs in the offseason. What if Brandon Ashley never got injured? What if that 50/50 Johnson charge/block was left as a no-call? What if they had collected a few more defensive rebounds in the first half against Wisconsin? Hey, and while we’re at it, what if Aaron Gordon returned for his sophomore campaign? Well, unfortunately, we’ll never know the answers to any of those. Though no official word has come down yet, we can rightfully expect Gordon to head off to great success in the NBA. More questionable is whether Johnson or Hollis-Jefferson returns to Tucson. Johnson, at this point,probably already is whatever he’s going to be. Whether he leaves this year or next, barring injury, he’ll likely wind up picked as a late-first or a second-round flier. Hollis-Jefferson, meanwhile, was expected to be a long-term guy in Tucson, but was good enough this season that it is reasonable to think his draft value is at an all-time high; maybe better to cash in now rather than give another year for scouts to pick apart his game. So, worst-case scenario for the Wildcats in 2014-15 is that all three of those guys are gone. Barring other surprises, you can expect Brandon Ashley to be back from injury for his junior year paired alongside classmate Kaleb Tarczewski up front while backcourt returnees T.J. McConnell and Gabe York will likely start again next year. Throw in five-star stud Stanley Johnson as the likely fifth starter and that is one heck of a starting five, with sophomore Elliott Pitts and four-star freshmen Craig Victor and Parker Jackson-Cartwright looking to provide immediate depth. Without breaking down each and every roster in the conference, odds are good, that roster is the obvious Pac-12 favorite next year and again a top ten team nationally. If either Johnson or Hollis-Jefferson winds up back in Tucson, that’s pure bonus.