Things We Think We Know in the Pac-12

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on October 19th, 2015

It’s been a long and enjoyable summer, but, while staring out the window at a Los Angeles rainstorm, it’s clear that summertime has come and gone, my oh my. No need to worry, though; that just means college basketball season is on the horizon. We’re now less than a month away from the start of the regular season. Teams across the country already have their practice schedules in full swing. All of which means it is time to get the RTC Pac-12 microsite back up and running. We’ll be with you here from now until that first weekend in April when the Final Four visits Houston. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll be rewarded with a Pac-12 representative in our sports’ final weekend for the first time since UCLA went back in 2008.

Bobby Hurley's First Season In The Pac-12 Will Be Worth Keeping An Eye On (Tom Tingle, Azcentral Sports)

Bobby Hurley’s First Season In The Pac-12 Will Be Worth Keeping An Eye On (Tom Tingle, Azcentral Sports)

But all of that is a long way off. Today we’ll just take the first few steps to gather our bearings for the journey ahead. At this stage, there’s a lot of guesswork and uncertainty about what is to come. And as we’re reminded on the regular in both arenas of sports and in life, surprises loom around every corner. So today, by way of getting reacquainted with the Pac-12 conference, let’s take a look at what we know and what we will have to learn over the next five months.

Things We Know

New Faces – As always in college sports, there is rampant year-to-year turnover. It’s baked into the pie. It’s something we expect and something we love: getting to spend a full season figuring out all the new talents and personalities. In this year’s edition of the Pac-12, there are some high impact new faces. First, there’s a new head man patrolling the sidelines in Tempe, as Bobby Hurley takes over the reins for Herb Sendek at Arizona State. In terms of new players, the conference boasts six of the nation’s top 25 recruiting classes (according to ESPN), including a couple landing in the top five. We’re used to Sean Miller regularly pulling in sterling classes at Arizona, but the big news this season is that Cuonzo Martin welcomes a loaded recruiting class highlighted by power wing Jaylen Brown and skilled big man Ivan Rabb. Continuing the theme, there’s plenty that we don’t know about the newcomers, but we certainly know that we’ll be keeping a close eye on Tempe, Tucson and Berkeley this season.

Returnees – Cal’s Tyrone Wallace is the conference’s leading returning scorer (17.1 PPG). Washington State’s Josh Hawkinson also returns after leading the conference with 10.8 RPG last season. UCLA’s Bryce Alford is the leading returning playmaker (4.9 APG), while two guys from the Beaver State are back after leading the conference in two key defensive statistics last year: Gary Payton II notched better than three steals per outing for Oregon State, while Jordan Bell averaged 2.7 blocked shots per night for the Ducks. Those are facts. We know this stuff. But mixed in here are plenty of things we don’t know. For instance, with Wallace the point guard on a loaded Cal team and his history of a wayward jumper, will his scoring necessarily drop as he tries to get his talented teammates rolling? Likewise, after spending last year as the only real option as UCLA’s point guard, Alford was regularly critiqued for his shot selection and his leadership. With some new talent alongside him in the Bruins’ backcourt, will his role now change?

Even minus four of last year's starters, expect Arizona to have a say in the conference race (AP Photo/Wily Low)

Even Minus Four Of Last Year’s Starters, Expect Arizona To Have A Say In The Conference Race (AP Photo/Wily Low)

Things We Think We Know

Don’t Count Out Arizona – It is easy to focus on everything that is missing from this season’s Wildcats. Four starters from last season are gone: coach-on-the-floor T.J. McConnell; freaky forwards Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis Jefferson; and steady big man Brandon Ashley. Aside from senior center Kaleb Tarczewski, Sean Miller will be relying on a mixture of new recruits, newly eligible transfers and returnees asked to step into larger roles. There are a lot of questions at Arizona, for sure. But one thing we probably should have learned over Miller’s six years in the desert is that he’ll have his crew ready to once again compete for a conference title. Maybe not all these names and their games have yet established themselves, but make no mistake: There is no shortage of talent in Tucson.

Three Coaches on the Hot Seat – It’s not fun to talk about, but it’s a fact of life in the pressure-filled world of high-major basketball coaching. Every day, every game, every season is a performance review on how well you’re doing your job. And, it doesn’t matter if you’re a guy like Washington’s Lorenzo Romar, with 13 seasons at your current job, 12 straight winning seasons and three Sweet Sixteens under his belt. When you’ve missed the NCAA Tournament for four straight years and you’re starting almost completely over with a new roster, you can bet there’s a win-or-else pressure in Seattle. Joining Romar looking over his shoulder this season will be at least a couple more Pac-12 coaches. First, there’s Stanford’s Johnny Dawkins, who has taken his Cardinal to just one NCAA Tournament appearance in seven years as head coach on The Farm. With his ability to pull in big-time recruits seemingly drying up, he’ll need to get a young roster to overachieve this season. Then there’s USC’s Andy Enfield. He admittedly took over a USC program in rough shape, made an immediate splash in the media and on the recruiting trail, then proceeded to go 23-41 overall and 5-31 in conference play in his first two seasons (while underwhelming with his team’s preparedness and in-game strategies). He continues to land quality recruits in Los Angeles, but unless he turns that into success on the court – and quick – he could be headed to an early exit.

Things We Know We Don’t Know

Anybody on the Washington Roster – Okay, this may be overstating it a bit. But just a bit. Certainly, we’ve got three years of Andrew Andrews under our belt and we’re always looking forward to seeing what senior point guards can pull out of their hats in their final years. Also, Donaven Dorsey made a positive impression in his freshman campaign and Dan Kingma at least had a memorable performance in the Pac-12 Tournament. Aside from that, everybody else on this roster is brand new. There are seven freshmen and a junior college transfer. Sure, there’s a lot of talent here, including four guys who were considered four-star recruits, but a nearly complete roster remake, while probably a much-needed thing in Seattle, is bound to be loaded with question marks.

Andrew Andrews Is One Of Few Familiar Faces On The Washington Roster (Elaine Thompson, AP Photo)

Andrew Andrews Is One Of Few Familiar Faces On The Washington Roster (Elaine Thompson, AP Photo)

Rocky Mountain Lead Guards – The two newest Pac-12 schools (Utah and Colorado are each entering their fifth basketball seasons in the conference) both enter this year with backcourt question marks. For the Utes, do-everything point guard Delon Wright has graduated to the NBA — a huge loss of a player who led the team in points, steals, assists, offensive efficiency, and usage last year. Everything on both ends of the court was heavily reliant on Wright’s versatile game. Put it this way: The last time the Utes played a season without him in the lineup, they won five conference games. Utah still has one more year of veteran guard Brandon Taylor, and sophomore Isaiah Wright and junior college transfer Lorenzo Bonam are among the players looking to ease the pain; but we’ll find out very early in the season just how important the departed Wright was to the Utes’ success.

Elsewhere in the Rockies, this will be Colorado’s first Pac-12 season without Askia Booker on its roster. In Booker’s four seasons with the Buffaloes, he was among the most controversial figures in the conference. He was never afraid to launch a shot from seemingly anywhere on the court, often with complete disregard for the locations of the other nine guys on the floor. He made tough shots; he missed even tougher ones; but, all the while, he had a major impact. Maybe the only thing predictable about Booker straight to the end was his unpredictability. Now he’s gone and anyone that tells you they know what to expect out of the Buffs’ backcourt this season is either Tad Boyle or lying to you. Xavier Talton is the returning starter at the point guard position, but he was one of the least-effective offensive players in major college basketball last season. Sophomore Dominique Collier could be in line to jump up the depth chart and into the starting lineup, and junior wing Tre’Shaun Fletcher and Providence transfer Josh Fortune will also be in the mix. The Buffaloes are talented up front, even with Xavier Johnson’s season in doubt following an offseason Achilles’ injury, but in order for them to be anything more than a back-third team in this league, Boyle needs to find reliable production from his guards.

Things We Don’t Know We Don’t Know

At the risk of getting too Rumsfeldian, there’s this whole other category of things that will reveal themselves to us as the season wears on. As we’ve been recently reminded — whether watching the Toronto Blue Jays have serious trouble with the catcher to pitcher exchange, or watching the Michigan Wolverines have a punting meltdown at the worst possible time — sports has a seemingly unending ability to surprise us with something new. Between here and the finish line of this new college basketball season, you better believe there are going to be all manner of surprises. It could be moments on the field of play like those mentioned above. It could be a previous afterthought turn into an all-conference player, like Josh Hawkinson did at Washington State last season. Or it could be something else entirely; something off the radar. Surprises loom. Get ready.

AMurawa (999 Posts)

Andrew Murawa Likes Basketball.

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