Pac-12 Burning Questions: Who Will Play Point Guard for Arizona?

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 25th, 2016

Even after graduating the team’s two leading scorers, Arizona has everything it needs on paper to dethrone Oregon and reassert itself as the best team in the Pac-12. The Wildcats have a redshirt senior who is likely one of the best on-ball defenders in the conference. They have a reigning member of the Pac-12 All-Freshmen Team who averaged nearly 15 points per game last season. They have a freshman wing with enough athleticism to put his own coach on a poster. They have a freshman stretch forward from Finland who can bang three-pointers and take awkward photos with local political figures. They also have a cache of athletic big men, led by a Serbian with enough offensive game to make the program’s official Twitter account think it is okay to rip off the nickname of one of the NBA’s greatest players ever. However, there is one position that isn’t represented on this list and that is because there are still very serious concerns about it. That position is point guard.

Kobi Simmons Has a Tall Task Ahead of Him In His First Season at Arizona

Kobi Simmons Has a Tall Task Ahead of Him In His First Season at Arizona. (

Sean Miller may be the best recruiter in the entire country outside of Lexington, but if one were to start picking at nits, one could easily make the argument that he has struggled to recruit and develop worthwhile point guards in Tucson. In fact, Josiah Turner and MoMo Jones are the only true point guards Miller has recruited in his tenure at Arizona and neither spent more than two seasons in the desert. The best point guards of the Miller era – T.J. McConnell and Mark Lyons – were transfers, and filling McConnell’s sizable shoes last season proved to be a more difficult task than anyone imagined. The Wildcats went from 40th in turnover percentage in 2014-15 to 191st in the category last year, as neither Kadeem Allen nor Parker Jackson-Cartwright were consistent enough to wrestle the job away from the other player. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, the position appears to be just as unsettled heading into this season. Miller smartly moved Allen off the ball, which leaves Jackson-Cartwright to fend off five-star freshman Kobi Simmons for the keys to what should be an explosive offense. Pairing a proven player with one of the best freshmen point guard prospects in the country is a luxury most coaches would love to have, but that argument doesn’t work for Miller when his fan base expect to compete for a national championship. Read the rest of this entry »

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One Burning Question: How Will Chris Beard Use Texas Tech’s Newfound Depth?

Posted by Chris Stone on October 25th, 2016

It was an adventurous offseason in Lubbock. After taking Texas Tech to its first NCAA Tournament since 2007, head coach Tubby Smith left for the Memphis job that was vacated by Josh Pastner. Two days later, the Red Raiders hired former Little Rock head coach Chris Beard away from UNLV where Beard had committed to coach just a couple of weeks prior. The 43-year old already has a long history in Lubbock, spending 10 years working there as an assistant under the Knights (Bob and Pat) from 2001 until 2011. In addition to Beard, Texas Tech will also welcome seven transfers — two of whom will sit out this season — and a walk-on freshman. Four of those players will vie for playing time immediately on a roster that returns five players who averaged at least 19 minutes per game last season. Having that collection of talent will be a boon for Beard in his first season on the job, but figuring out how to put the puzzle together will be his most challenging task.

Chris Beard will have his work cut out for him in his first season at Texas Tech. (Brad Tollefson/A-J Media)

Chris Beard will have his work cut out for him in his first season at Texas Tech. (Brad Tollefson/A-J Media)

Although Texas Tech lost its two leading scorers from last season, it still returns plenty of talent deserving of minutes on the court. Junior Zach Smith, for example, is one the Big 12’s top breakout candidates this season. A bouncy power forward that uses his quickness to attack larger defenders, Smith averaged 10.0 points per game last season. He’s also an important contributor on the defensive end where his 5.1 percent block rate and high defensive rebound percentage helps the Red Raiders close out possessions. Texas Tech should also have a fully healthy Norense Odiase back on the court this year. Odiase averaged an impressive 17.8 points per 40 minutes last season and has the ability to be an effective presence on the low blocks. Senior Aaron Ross, a 6’8″ frontcourt player, also returns as a big man who can stretch the floor, while junior Keenan Evans is likely to spend even more time as the team’s lead guard without Devaugntah Williams in the fold.

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ACC Burning Questions: Florida State Seminoles

Posted by Matt Auerbach on October 25th, 2016

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Will the stable of talent Leonard Hamilton has assembled in Tallahassee finally manifest into an NCAA bid?

The preseason hype swirling around the Florida State basketball program has seemingly become a summer rite of passage. But sure as we are to be inundated with grand proclamations of Leonard Hamilton‘s crew becoming a factor in this season’s ACC title race, it is almost as certain that results will fall significantly short of expectations. Heading into his15th campaign at the helm, Hamilton once again has a roster that appears capable of earning the Seminoles’ first NCAA Tournament berth since 2012. In light of recent disappointments, however, it would be prudent to exercise a cautious approach with this bunch.

It's Dwayne Bacon's team now that classmate Malik Beasley left early for the NBA. (Greg Oyster, 247Sports)

It’s Dwayne Bacon’s team now that classmate Malik Beasley left early for the NBA. (Greg Oyster/ 247Sports)

Upon his arrival on campus last year, the popular belief was that McDonald’s All-American Dwayne Bacon was a one-and done player. And while classmate Malik Beasley parlayed his immediate success into a first-round NBA Draft selection, Bacon opted for another year of seasoning. From a physical standpoint, Bacon’s size and strength are commensurate with that of typical NBA wings – the issue is with refining his skill set. The freshman led the team in scoring and rebounding, crossing the 20-point threshold an impressive 12 times despite only shooting 28 percent from behind the arc. He will be relied upon to make the leap from productive freshman to an all-ACC performer this season. He has the talent and pedigree to do just that.

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Even Without Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall is Here to Stay

Posted by Justin Kundrat on October 25th, 2016

Things took a turn for Seton Hall in the offseason when Isaiah Whitehead, the team’s leader and go-to scorer, opted to remain in the NBA Draft. Over the course of his two-year stint as a Pirate, the 6’4″ guard transformed from a ball-dominant, somewhat careless passer into one of the nation’s best combo guards. His 33.0 percent assist rate ranked 44th nationally and his savvy ability to get into the lane warped opposing defenses, summoning all help attention his way. In the wake of his departure, the prevailing concern is whether Kevin Willard‘s team can recoup its losses and turn in another Top 25 season. That sentiment is valid, but dropping the Pirates to a middle-of-the-pack conference contender and fringe NCAA Tournament team is overkill. There are a number of reasons why.

Isaiah Whitehead Led Seton Hall to Its Best Season in a Long While (USA Today Images)

Isaiah Whitehead is Gone But All is Not Lost at Seton Hall (USA Today Images)

1. The team’s stout interior defense will be largely unchanged from last season as forwards Angel DelgadoIsmael Sanogo and Desi Rodriguez all return. It was easy to appreciate the Pirates’ offensive prowess when Whitehead was improvising and making unfathomable plays — even if the Seton Hall offense was remarkably average from a metrics standpoint. The real backbone of the team, however, was its defense — the 10th-most efficient unit in the country and one of the very best at altering opponents’ shots.

2. Junior forward Delgado is poised for a breakout campaign. While Whitehead was the key cog in last season’s offense, Delgado’s role was also substantial. Not only was he the Pirates’ best rebounder and interior defender, but the Seton Hall offense took a remarkable hit when he wasn’t on the floor (a difference of 0.15 points per possession).

To compensate for its poor outside shooting, Seton Hall generated numerous second chance scoring opportunities from offensive rebounds. Delgado and fellow stretch forward Sanogo were two of the conference’s best at that particular skill, helping the Pirates recover 37.1 percent of its misses (37th nationally). This portion of the offense will remain intact. Without Whitehead, Delgado’s usage rate will climb and it would be wise for Willard to feature his ultra-efficient forward on the offensive end.

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Michigan State’s Freshmen Will be This Season’s Catalysts

Posted by Alex Moscoso on October 25th, 2016

As another exciting Big Ten season approaches, Tom Izzo, the league’s most accomplished and celebrated figure, finds his program in the familiar position as the favorite. What’s different this year is that the longtime Michigan State head coach brings something he’s never had into this season – a top-five recruiting class (according to 247sports). While that fact may surprise some, it shouldn’t. Izzo has had his fair share of individual blue-chip prospects in the past, but he’s never snagged so many at once nor has he been considered a recruiting virtuoso like John Calipari or Mike Krzyzewski. Rather, he’s previously expressed his frustration with the seedier aspects of chasing commitments from 17-year olds but he’s since adjusted his recruiting approach which has culminated in an incoming group of four top 50 players – two of whom are McDonald’s All-Americans. This talented group joins enough returning veterans that the Spartans are once again poised to challenge for a Big Ten championship.

Tom Izzo has his highest-ranked recruiting class coming into a season with big expectations.

Tom Izzo has his highest-ranked recruiting class coming into a season with big expectations.

This year’s freshmen class includes four exceptional players: Miles Bridges (#12), Josh Langford (#20), Cassius Winston (#33), and Nick Ward (#41). Aside from that notable injection of talent, it is a balanced class with each player filling a specific position on the floor. As the crown jewel of the class, Bridges – a bouncy yet physical combo forward who can finish above the rim – is the freshman who will be ready to contribute from day one. Langford is a big-bodied combo guard who likes driving to the rim and proved he could play among elite players when he scored 12 points in 15 minutes of action at the McDonald’s All-American game. Winston is a prototypical point guard with a well-rounded offensive skill set, but what makes him most attractive are his intangibles — the Detroit product led his high school team to four state championships. Finally, Ward is the true big man of the class. The wide-bodied Gahanna, Ohio, native has exceptional hands, has dropped 20 pounds since his last high school season, and says “I’m in the best shape of my life.” Read the rest of this entry »

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One Burning Question: What’s In Store For Jamie Dixon’s First Season at TCU?

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 24th, 2016

TCU was woefully unprepared to compete in the Big 12 when the school jumped over from the Mountain West in 2012. Schollmaier Arena wasn’t in any kind of condition to attract the talent necessary to compete, and the hiring of Trent Johnson instead of a hungrier coach on the rise always seemed like a suspect move. TCU subsequently learned the hard way — in the form of an 8-64 league record over Johnson’s four seasons — that it needed to make serious investments in order to compete. After a $72 million renovation of its facility and the foresight to sense that Jamie Dixon and Pittsburgh were growing tired of each other, those investments have now been made. The upcoming season won’t define Dixon’s tenure at TCU, but with seven of last year’s nine rotation players returning, a top-50 recruiting class, and a promising transfer eligible in December, a solid foundation exists in Fort Worth for TCU to climb out of the Big 12 cellar.

TCU brought their man home. Is Big 12 relevance next for the Horned Frogs?. (Ron T. Ennis/Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

TCU brought their man home. Is Big 12 relevance next for the Horned Frogs? (Ron T. Ennis/Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

Backcourt: This is a group that has some potential, but it’s tough to see how the pieces fit together. Malique Trent is the team’s leading returning scorer at 11.6 points per game, but those points came on a paltry 38.9 percent shooting, including 25.2 percent from distance. Freshman Jaylen Fisher, who the Horned Frogs pried away from UNLV, is the prize of TCU’s recruiting class. He’s a play-making point guard rather than an attacker, but with a lack of high-level weapons around him, it may take some time before the team can fully capitalize on his skill set. The Horned Frogs should also get a boost from point guard Alex Robinson, who transferred over from Texas A&M when Trent Johnson was still coach and maintained his commitment through the transition. He won’t be eligible to play until after the fall semester ends, but he’ll be able to help Fisher shoulder the workload and give defenses a different look as a lefty.

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ACC Burning Questions: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 24th, 2016

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: How long will it take Josh Pastner to turn around the Georgia Tech program?

It’s been a long time since the Georgia Tech basketball program has been a consistent winner. If fact, the Yellow Jackets have only put together one winning ACC season in the past two decades. When Brian Gregory was fired soon after the end of last year’s 20-win campaign, that opened the door for Josh Pastner to bolt from his sputtering Memphis program to take over the reins in Atlanta. With a depleted roster awaiting him, Pastner will not be expected to do much in Year One. But given the high level of competitive balance within the ACC, can Georgia Tech hope for progress anytime soon?

Josh Pastner faces an uphill climb to turn around the Georgia Tech program. (Photo:

Josh Pastner faces an uphill battle to turn around the Georgia Tech program. (

The cupboard in Atlanta is not completely bare, but there is not a lot of talent left on the shelves. College basketball insider Jon Rothstein recently noted on Twitter that “Georgia Tech may have the worst power-five roster I’ve ever seen. Yellow Jackets won’t win a game in ACC play this season. Book it.” Considering the fact that Boston College is still in the league after going 0-18 in ACC play a season ago, that statement, while somewhat exaggerated, may not be too far off the mark. Gregory never could seem to get over the recruiting hump in Atlanta, so he frequently used upperclassmen transfers to keep the roster competitive. That Band-Aid approach resulted in a nice 21-15 season with an NIT appearance last year, but five seniors have since departed and Pastner has inherited the mess. Read the rest of this entry »

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Highlighted Quotes From Each Team at Pac-12 Media Day

Posted by Adam Butler on October 24th, 2016

Pac-12 Media Day, the annual effusing of excitement, promise and not caring for the media poll, was held on Friday at the conference’s network headquarters in San Francisco. There were no on-stage fireworks (there rarely are) but Allonzo Trier was replaced by Kadeem Allen as Arizona’s player representative the night before things got started. Sean Miller would not comment. There was Larry Scott’s now annual promotion of all things Pac-12 + China as well as no update on a DirecTV deal. Following each player/coach stage appearance, and wrapping the day up, was the conference’s top official, Bobby Dibler. Did you know that a Pac-12 referee (or rather a Western Officiating Consortium official) was a Naismith Men’s Basketball College Official of the Year? Quite an honor and something not held by a west coast official since 2011 or 2012 (according to Dibler). All-in-all, it was a reminder that basketball season is upon us, and that to this point, we’ve had nothing but our own opinions and perhaps some “insider” knowledge, to evaluate, predict, and feel about our favorite teams. If you’re a stat nerd, we don’t even have KenPom’s updated ratings (ed. note: KenPom released his ratings Sunday) or a Pac-12 preview from Hanner and Winn over at SI. But Media Day finally gave us some knowledge straight from the proverbial horse’s mouth! Let’s dive into some of the key quotes to come out of each team’s address:

Four years as leader of the nation's premier D1 West Coast athletic conference has earned Scott huge financial bonuses on top of an already sizable base salary (U.S. Presswire).

As the Pac-12 gets ready for the new season, so does commissioner Larry Scott, who faced some of the same questions at Media Day that has been a hot topic league-wide. (U.S. Presswire)

Washington State, Ernie Kent and Josh Hawkinson

“If there was ever a time that a team needed a summer tournament, it was us, an opportunity to go overseas.”

This was Ernie Kent’s opening line and I’d have to agree. The benefit of these trips was expressed many times over throughout the day but when you consider it’s Year 3 at Wazzu and the Cougars went 1-17 in conference last year – yeah – they could use the extra practice. The Cougs do have some seniors, experienced big men like Josh Hawkinson and Conor Clifford, but they are seniors who have won just 11 conference games in their three previous efforts. It could be another long one in Pullman. Read the rest of this entry »

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O26 Stars in the Making: A Non-Comprehensive Guide to Breakout Candidates

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on October 24th, 2016

If you’re reading this post, chances are you already know about Alec Peters, Justin Robinson, E.C. Matthews, and a number of Other 26 players who have cemented themselves among the nation’s best. Look past those names, though, and you will find another tier of players on the fast-track to (relative) stardom. Whether because of increased minutes, increased visibility or both, here is a list of guys outside the power conferences poised to break out in 2016-17.

  • Jeremy Morgan, G – Sr., Northern Iowa – 2015-16: 11.3 PPG, 1.9 SPG: There’s no two ways about it: Northern Iowa’s collapse against Texas A&M last March was a brutal, all-time debacle that will not soon be forgotten in Cedar Falls. If there was a silver lining, though, it’s the fact that Morgan (36 points) accounted for a whopping 41 percent of his team’s scoring that night. In an MVC that saw many of its best players graduate (including the Panthers’ top two scorers), the 6’5″ senior—whose Valley-leading steal rate already earned him All-Defensive Team honors—should see his offensive numbers increase and his national profile rise.
Northern Iowa's Jeremy Morgan should become a household name in 2016-17. (Credit: Getty Images/ Ronald Martinez)

Northern Iowa’s Jeremy Morgan should become a household name in 2016-17. (Getty Images/ Ronald Martinez)

  • Markis McDuffie, F – So., Wichita State – 2015-16: 7.4 PPG. 3.3 RPG: McDuffie is a true breakout candidate in the sense that his minutes and usage are almost surely going to skyrocket this season. The 6’8″ wing showed flashes of brilliance in limited action last year, using his versatility and athleticism to impact nearly every facet of the game. Among Missouri Valley Conference players, McDuffie finished among the top 15 in offensive rating, offensive rebounding percentage, and two-point percentage. As a defender, his length enables him to defend several positions. Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet may be gone, but McDuffie—who will be relied on heavily to help fill that void—has the talent to become another Shockers legend.
  • Cameron Oliver, F – So., Nevada – 2015-16: 13.4 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 2.6 BLK: As a freshman, Oliver logged 12 double-doubles and earned Mountain West All-Defensive Team honors before nearly turning pro. His game-changing ability on both ends of the floor helped Nevada turn in its first winning season since 2012, including a CBI championship run on which Oliver averaged 19.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 4.0 blocks per contest. Now in his second year, the powerful, athletic forward will be the unquestioned anchor for a Nevada club with its highest expectations since the Mark Fox era ended in 2009. Expect Oliver to shine, the Wolfpack to contend, and the basketball world to take notice. Just don’t count on him returning to Reno next season if he lives up to expectations.

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Can Peter Jok Lead Iowa Back to the NCAAs?

Posted by Brendan Brody on October 24th, 2016

Last season Iowa boasted the Big Ten’s highest scoring duo with two players who finished among the top eight in points per game. One of those players is returning to Iowa City; the other (along with three other starters) has exhausted his eligibility. Wing Peter Jok has played in the NCAA Tournament in each of the three years of his career, but now in his senior season, his elevated play may be the only way for the Hawkeyes to reach the Field of 68 for the fourth consecutive time. Much of this determination will also hinge upon the improvements of holdovers who will be thrust into bigger roles, but Jok’s ability to carry Iowa’s scoring load will go a long way toward determining the fate of Fran McCaffery’s seventh season in Iowa City.

Peter Jok faces a big load as the only returning starter for Iowa in 2016-17. (Alyssa Hitchcock, The Daily Iowan)

Peter Jok faces a big load as the only returning starter for Iowa in 2016-17. (Alyssa Hitchcock/The Daily Iowan)

Jok enjoyed quite the breakout season last year as he more than doubled his scoring average (7.0 to 16.1 PPG), scored 20 or more points 11 times, and did so with the sixth best offensive rating in the Big Ten among those using over 24 percent of his team’s possessions. His effective field goal percentage (53.1%) and his true shooting percentage (57.3%) were also career-highs by a wide margin. The caveat with this, however, is that a certain lanky forward wearing jersey number 20 (Jarrod Uthoff) was the clear first option, meaning that Jok was able to get much better looks than he’s likely to get this season. He’ll be the Hawkeyes’ first option this year, and the lack of an experienced point guard like Mike Gesell or Anthony Clemmons to run the offense may also hinder his efficiency numbers. Read the rest of this entry »

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