The Pac-12’s Biggest Questions: Askia Booker, UCLA Point Guards & Arizona Shooters

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 7th, 2014

Little story, probably not all that interesting. With the college basketball season due to tip off a week from today, we here around the RTC Pac-12 microsite are finalizing our preseason rankings and all-conference teams and whatnot. So, in compiling those things, I sent out a poll to our writers and friends of the microsite. Tucked away at the very end of the poll was something of an afterthought; it read, simply “Biggest Question Marks – use any criteria.” Now, when I wrote that and when I filled out my own poll, I was thinking of just individual players and I came up with a list that included Robert Upshaw, Sam Singer, Tra Holder, Bryce Alford and Jordan Loveridge. And then when I looked at everybody else’s ballots, I saw more big picture question marks: Oregon’s mental state, new coaches around the league, Utah playing with expectations. And I thought those were some damn good questions myself. Never one to pass up a good topic to write on that I can easily cherry-pick, I’m going to go through some of the biggest questions that my colleagues came up with and ponder their answers as much as I can.

Askia Booker, Colorado

Question Number One For The Buffaloes Is Whether Askia Booker and Company Can Follow Spencer Dinwiddie’s Example (Patrick Ghidossi, BuffaloSportsNews)

Askia Booker and Life After the Mayor

Adam Butler of listed this as his biggest question mark and it is no surprise. First, Butler absolutely loves writing about Booker (seriously Adam, how many more columns do you think you can get out of ‘Ski in his remaining collegiate eligibility?). Second, if Tad Boyle can find a coherent answer at the point guard position post-Spencer Dinwiddie, the Buffs are maybe the team with the best chance to challenge conference-favorite Arizona. But after Dinwiddie fell from a torn ACL last year, Colorado went 9-10 down the stretch and got run out of the NCAA Tournament in embarrassing fashion. As Butler loves to point out, Booker began to shelve his freewheeling, bad-shot hoisting, basketball-purist infuriating ways and embrace his inner point guard. Still, for the Buffaloes to live up to their ceiling, he needs to play off the ball on a regular basis and become a high-octane scorer. This means guys like sophomore Jaron Hopkins and freshman Dominique Collier will have to prove themselves worthy of earning the majority of those on-ball minutes. The facts that Hopkins struggled in his first season and that Collier is battling ankle problems do not bode well for positive answers on those fronts. In other words, the Booker point guard experiment (a role the 6’2” guard will probably have to embrace if he hopes to earn a long professional career) may continue.

Utah As The Hunted

Both Butler and Tracy McDannald had questions about Utah playing with the weight of expectations. Last year the Utes were picked toward the back of the Pac. The few years before that, they were among the worst power conference teams in the nation. But here they are with expectations of living among the handful of teams that can press Arizona for conference supremacy, and they’ve got a player in senior Delon Wright who is on the very short list for conference Player of the Year. Last year the Utes proved that they’re a talented squad that can play with anybody. But they also proved that they have not yet learned how to win ball games, posting a 3-8 record in contests decided by two possessions or less, including an 0-7 mark in games decided by a single possession. So how does this squad deal with those expectations, especially as Kevin Danna points out, they’re about to face a significant non-conference slate with games at San Diego State, BYU, Kansas and UNLV and a home game against Wichita State. As a result of that schedule, we’ll know early on whether these Utes are ready to live up to the hype.

Are Delon Wright And The Utes Ready To Be The Hunted? (Rick Egan, The Salt Lake Tribune)

Are Delon Wright And The Utes Ready To Be The Hunted? (Rick Egan, The Salt Lake Tribune)

UCLA Point Guard Situation

Butler and McDannald also asked questions about UCLA’s backcourt situation, while Danna questioned whether freshman transfer Isaac Hamilton would be able to quickly shake off the rust after a lost season. Questions about the backcourt situation are definitely why I wrote down the name Bryce Alford. There’s no question that both Alford and Hamilton are talented players (although there are certain factions who are determined to believe that Alford is only in the Bruins rotation because of nepotism), but the fact is that there are questions about their ability to run the point guard position. Hamilton has the reputation of a scoring guard, while Alford has defensive limitations and is unproven as a play-maker. Throw in the fact that Norman Powell is the only other real guard on the squad, and we’re hearing Steve Alford talk about guys like Noah Allen and Kevon Looney as guards. Be skeptical. It is Alford and Hamilton who are going to need to combine their talents to run this team. If they succeed and the Bruins stay healthy, UCLA has a high ceiling. If the young backcourt runs into hiccups, it could be a rough year.

Arizona’s Wings

Butler and McDannald again were on the same wavelength when they raised questions about the Arizona wings’ ability to shoot the ball. You see, when you look up and down that Arizona roster filled with an insane starting five and future pros everywhere and a bench loaded with intriguing talent, you have to try to come up with some sort of weakness, right? It’s not that Arizona doesn’t have guys on the wing who can shoot the ball extremely well: Gabe York shot 38.5 percent on 148 attempts from deep last year, and Elliot Pitts shot 39.3 percent in much more limited action. Throw in JuCo transfer Kadeem Allen who, though more of a scorer, is certainly capable of hitting the three as well. But, the thing is, if the Wildcats are going to put their best five players on the court at the same time, none of those players are going to be there; therefore it is going to be Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson – guys with much less polished three-point shots – manning the wings. This brings up intriguing questions: Do the ‘Cats spend a lot of time going small with one of those shooters replacing either Kaleb Tarczewski or Brandon Ashley on the court? Or do Johnson and Hollis-Jefferson spend less time on the court at the same time? These are fun problems to have for Sean Miller, but it is going to be interesting to see how his team decides to play.

AMurawa (995 Posts)

Andrew Murawa Likes Basketball.

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