Oregon State’s Most Important Player: Gary Payton II

Posted by Tracy McDannald on October 21st, 2014

Taking over a program and instilling a new system can be difficult enough on its own. First-year Oregon State head coach Wayne Tinkle must first figure out who on his decimated roster can score. Oregon State’s top five scorers from last season are now gone — including Pac-12 scoring champion Roberto Nelson. So, attempting to pinpoint a key player is a bit difficult when the returning leader in the clubhouse, Langston Morris-Walker, averaged a whopping four points per game.

Wayne Tinkle inherited a depleted Oregon State roster that lost its top five scorers from last season. (Stephanie Yao Long, The Oregonian)

Wayne Tinkle Takes Over In Corvallis and Expects Early Help From The Glove’s Son (Stephanie Yao Long, The Oregonian)

To add to the woes, there weren’t enough bodies to field a 5-on-5 scrimmage when practice opened in Corvallis at the start of October. Tinkle had just nine of his 11 players available, with one-time practice player Justin Stangel awarded a scholarship during the offseason. There are still questions as to whether freshman guard Chai Baker (who collapsed during a summer workout) and redshirt freshman guard Alex Roth (shoulder) will be able to suit up at all this year.

A blind man could throw darts more accurately than zeroing in on one key body for this team. The smart pick is usually the most experienced returnee, but all players here will have the same learning curve in Tinkle’s system. The next best option: Pick the splashy name. Enter junior college transfer Gary Payton II, the son of the NBA legend and the school’s all-time leader in points, assists and steals. While those shoes are much too big to fill by himself, there is no pressure when the team will likely be a preseason pick to finish last in the conference.

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Pac-12 M5: 10.21.14 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 21st, 2014

pac12_morning5

  1. There are a handful of things concerning Pac-12 basketball that are beyond debate. One is that Arizona is the heavy favorite to win the conference regular season title this year, and another is that their fans are the most passionate in the conference. Both of those things were very much on display on Saturday as Wildcats fans got a first look at their team at the annual Red-Blue game. More than 10,000 people turned out to the McKale Center to watch Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon’s names get unveiled in the Ring of Honor inside the arena, Stanley Johnson take home the pre-scrimmage dunk contest, followed by a pair of 12-minute halves. Some takeaways from those who were on hand: (1) Kaleb Tarczewski may be the Wildcats’ most improved player, and yet he had his hands full with freshman center Dusan Ristic, who scored 14 points in the scrimmage; (2) Stanley Johnson may have taken a step up in competition, but he is still a physical freak on the basketball court even when compared with more talented players; and (3) while there are plenty of veterans at Sean Miller’s disposal, two other freshmen – Craig Victor and 5’10” point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwrightappear headed for significant roles on this squad.
  2. Lorenzo Romar’s recruiting roll for Washington’s 2015 class continued on Monday as 6’10” junior college center Malik Dime chose the Huskies over other suitors such as Arkansas, Iowa State and Rutgers, while 6’9” high school senior Devin Duruisseau found Washington more appealing than San Jose State. Dime is a super-athletic big man who can come in an immediately provide minutes as a rebounder and defender next year, while Duruisseau is more of a project. For the class, that means Romar has six commitments for 2015, including a pair of top 100 recruits in Dejounte Murray and Marquese Chriss, putting the Huskies in the top 10 class rankings for next season, according to ESPN. Of course, that leaves Washington with 15 committed scholarships for the 2015-16 season, meaning there will be some shuffling of the roster between now and then. But, all things considered, that’s a pretty good problem to have.
  3. Sports Illustrated had a powerful feature last week, detailing the plight of homeless young athletes in high school and college. The Pac-12’s own Shaquielle McKissic of Arizona State is no stranger to such problems, having spent his share of time without a home, among other terrible hardships. Now a senior with the Sun Devils, McKissic is telling his story in a documentary that will be released on Halloween, the four-year anniversary of the death of one of his best friends. House of Sparky has the low-down on the documentary, as well as a clip from the film, which was produced by McKissic’s brother David.
  4. Another gripping story about a Pac-12 player focuses on Colorado sophomore Dustin Thomas. Thomas struggled to make an impact as a freshman with the Buffaloes, but his story is a telling one. Above and beyond his parents’ divorce and his father’s time in prison, the death of his 13-year-old sister Shonda to a rare disease (microscopic polyangiitis) when Thomas was 11 is heartbreaking. But, while the story is tragic, Thomas’ strength and positivity in the face of such a calamity is a terrific example of humanity persevering in the face of disaster.
  5. We’ll finish up today’s five with happier news, as CBS Sports recently released its Pac-12 preview. Non-notable predictions include Arizona as the pick to win the conference (if anyone sees a Pac-12 preview that doesn’t have the Wildcats #1, that would be news), Stanley Johnson to take home the Freshman of the Year award, and Oregon State to bring up the rear. More notable picks include Utah‘s Delon Wright as the Player of the Year (the choice for the league’s top player is far more debatable than the choice of its top team), Colorado as the team with the best chance to challenge Arizona, and Matt Norlander for some reason picking Oregon State to finish 10th in the conference. But perhaps of bigger concern for fans around the conference is the idea that, outside of Arizona, nobody else should be considered a lock to make the NCAA Tournament and the idea from one anonymous coach that this conference seems more like a four-bid conference than the seven-bid conference it was last year.
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Pac-12 Season Preview: Arizona State Sun Devils

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on October 20th, 2014

The Pac-12 microsite will preview each of its league teams over the next few weeks, continuing today with Arizona State. 

Arizona State Sun Devils

Strengths: Goodbye Jahii Carson, enter Tra Holder. For a team that lost the quickest point guard in the country after last season, Arizona State’s tempo on offense should still be faster than any other team in the Pac-12. Holder provides the speed and talent needed at the one spot for the Sun Devils’ offense to run like head coach Herb Sendek wants, but inexperience might plague the true freshman early in the season. Senior shooting guard Bo Barnes provides some maturity in the backcourt, but he will definitely need to average more than his 4.5 PPG from last season.

Herb Sendek is Coming Off an NCAA Tournament Appearance, Finally (Photo credit: US Presswire).

Herb Sendek is Coming Off His Second NCAA Tournament Appearance in Tempe (Photo credit: US Presswire).

Weaknesses: This team has an extremely thin bench. Combo guard Chance Murray will be forced into playing most of his minutes at point guard, backing up Holder, and while this will be his second year in the system, he is still a big question mark for Sendek. Down low, the second team is filled with new faces. There is plenty of raw talent, but it could be a while before they develop into a Pac-12 ready group. It doesn’t help that one of its biggest scrappers in the post, UNLV transfer Savon Goodman, will not be eligible until after the team faces Maryland, UNLV and Texas A&M.

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Pac-12 Season Preview: Oregon State Beavers

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 17th, 2014

The Pac-12 microsite will preview each of its league teams over the next few weeks, continuing today with Oregon State. 

Oregon State Beavers

Strengths. Well. Um. Geez. Yikes. Can I pass? Do I get a pass? Look, we’re not here to tear down kids or rip coaches or make fun of programs, and certainly, at some point, this Oregon State team will have something that is a relative strength. But, goodness gracious sakes alive, there probably aren’t many people outside of new head coach Wayne Tinkle and his staff who have a good idea what that strength might be. The most experienced player on this roster – junior Langston Morris-Walker – had career highs of 18 minutes and four points per game last season. The most anticipated new recruit is a JuCo guard (Gary Payton II) most famous for being the son of an NBA Hall of Famer. But in a way maybe that newness will turn out to be the strength of this edition of the Beavers. Gone are bad habits and underachieving and questions about the direction of the previous coaching staff. Now this roster – from the head coach on down – is filled with guys looking to prove that they belong.

Gary Payton II Follows His Famous Dad's Footsteps To Gill Coliseum, But Has His Work Cut Out For Him

Gary Payton II Follows His Famous Dad’s Footsteps To Gill Coliseum, But Has His Work Cut Out For Him

Weaknesses. Many. Pick one. Their top two big guys (junior Daniel Gomis, sophomore Cheikh N’Diaye, and junior Justin Stangel) are most accurately described as “raw offensively.” They’ve got a handful of wings with experience, none of whom have shown the ability to create for themselves and few of whom have shown an ability to handle their defensive assignments. The point guard spot will be held down by either Payton — who is still a work-in-progress perhaps best suited for the off-guard spot — or Malcolm Duvivier, who may be best suited to be a running back. Really, this season is just a building block for the future of the program, giving all of these guys a chance to show whether they can be a part of the second block in the foundation next season.

Non-conference Tests. Every game Oregon State plays this season will be a test. Whether that involves home games against teams like Oral Roberts, Mississippi Valley State, Grambling or even Corban, or more challenging contests against bigger schools like Mississippi State, DePaul or Oklahoma State (in the MGM Grand Main Event Tournament during the week of Thanksgiving), there are no sure things on this Beaver schedule. Read the rest of this entry »

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What You Missed: DaVonte Lacy Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 17th, 2014

If you were one of those people who went out of your way to avoid watching Washington State play basketball last season, no one can blame you; and second, and more to the point, you missed out on watching one of the best players in the conference put on a pretty impressive performance out of the spotlight. You see, DaVonte Lacy was pretty amazing last year. Just look at his traditional numbers (19.4 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 1.4 APG, 42.9 FG%) and yeah, whatever, they’re pretty good. But take those numbers, and some of the advanced ones, in the context of what Washington State basketball was last season, and they paint a picture that was more readily apparent when you watched the Cougars play: You see, Lacy was a special player on a team that was looking up at mediocre.

DaVonte Lacy Blew Up In His Junior Year Despite Drawing The Attention Of Opposing Defenses (credit: Dean Hare)

DaVonte Lacy Blew Up In His Junior Year Despite Drawing The Attention Of Opposing Defenses (credit: Dean Hare)

The fact is that the 2013-14 Cougars did not have a whole lot in the way of players who could hurt you offensively. Freshman Que Johnson had some moments here and there. Senior power forward D.J. Shelton could blow hot, at times, but tended to drift too far from the lane for a 6’10” guy. And Royce Woolridge may have started the season as a hot name, but he turned into a disaster as the year went on. In other words, when Washington State took the court, the opposing team knew that stopping Lacy was priority number one; nobody else the Cougs threw out there could be considered a consistent threat. So, Lacy put up those 19.4 points per game in the face of defenses dedicated to slowing him.

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Arizona’s Most Important Player: T.J. McConnell

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 17th, 2014

There’s no argument that Arizona is the most talented team in the conference, and there are probably at least four players with NBA futures on this squad. Freshman forward Stanley Johnson is already projected as a lottery pick in next June’s NBA Draft and could step right in as the leading scorer for a national championship contender this season. In all likelihood, if it isn’t Johnson who leads the Wildcats in scoring, it will be sophomore Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, whom DraftExpress also sees as a first round pick after the season. Beyond those two stud wings, perhaps the biggest strength that Arizona has is in its power and size up front, as junior center Kaleb Tarczewski and power forward Brandon Ashley also seem to have the NBA in their sights sooner rather than later (both are projected as second round picks). And yet, while cases could easily be made for any of those four guys as Arizona’s most important player, the pick here is a senior whose chances to earn an NBA paycheck are considerably less clear.

"Senior Point Guard;" How Sweet That Sound (Lance King, Getty Images)

“Senior Point Guard;” How Sweet That Sound (Lance King, Getty Images)

The fact is that there are few phrases more magical in college basketball than “senior point guard.” It’s even better when you can modify that with other phrases, like “four-year starter” or “experienced veteran” or “rock-solid decision-maker.” On this embarrassment of riches that Sean Miller calls a basketball team, rock-solid decision-maker T.J. McConnell is in his fourth year starting at point at a major Division I college (his first two years of eligibility were spent at Duquesne). On last year’s Elite Eight squad, McConnell played the role of level-headed distributor, finding ways to get the ball to explosive talents like Nick Johnson, Aaron Gordon and some of the returnees mentioned in the first paragraph above. On an elite defensive team, McConnell didn’t always have the onus of checking the other team’s best backcourt player, but he still held his own among more naturally athletic talents.

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Pac-12 M5: 10.16.14 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 16th, 2014

pac12_morning5

  1. The most intriguing thing about preseason preview time in college basketball is finding out about all the new faces you’re about to get to know and trying to make sense of how they’re going to fit in with their new teams. We more or less know what to expect of guys like Chasson Randle and Kaleb Tarczewski and Askia Booker, but in this first Morning Five of the new season, we’ll take a quick five-stop tour around the conference to meet some of the new guys. First stop: Eugene, where Dana Altman welcomes in six new faces (four freshmen and two junior college transfers), but five-star guard JaQuan Lyle is not among them. Lyle’s struggled with academic eligibility questions all summer, questions that were apparently answered when he did not enroll at Oregon for the fall semester. Similarly, freshman forward Ray Kasongo was denied admission to Oregon and is now at Southern Idaho. Still, after a tumultuous offseason, the Ducks are happy to be back on the court and look forward to contributions from all of their newcomers. Freshmen Casey Benson and Ahmaad Rorie will share duties at point guard, while freshmen Jordan Bell and Dillon Brooks should expect time there as well. Likewise, JuCo transfer Dwayne Benjamin appears to be in for a big role, while the other JuCo transfer, Michael Chandler, is dealing with knee problems early that have prevented him from getting in much work.
  2. Like the Ducks, Arizona State is also going to be dealing with a number of fresh faces, as seven newcomers have chances to earn playing time for head coach Herb Sendek. And, as Connor Pelton of The House of Sparky writes, despite new faces in the backcourt, Sendek appears primed to stick with the more up-tempo offense we saw during the last two seasons. Point guard Tra Holder and off-guard Kodi Justice are a pair of freshmen who have a good chance to jump right into the meat of the Sun Devils’ backcourt rotation, with JuCo transfer Gerry Blakes in the mix as well. And given that Sendek says that this team is the fastest and most athletic team he’s coached in his time in Tempe, that up-tempo style could fit them well.
  3. As USC heads into its second season under head coach Andy Enfield, even the most die-hard USC basketball fan probably wouldn’t recognize any of the players on this year’s squad if they walked by on campus. But while the talent level on this squad is still in need of an upgrade, this team is slowly but surely starting to fit Enfield’s vision. Last year, Enfield inherited some players whose style did not fit his, but with freshman point guard Jordan McLaughlin – whose services Enfield beat out cross-town suitors UCLA for – leading the way, this year’s Trojans should at the very least play the type of pace that the second-year head coach is looking for.
  4. While there are plenty of familiar faces on the Arizona squad, freshman point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright is a new one with a lot to prove. You see, not only is Jackson-Cartwright a 5’10” player in a sport dominated by giants and a point guard in a program known for the consistent excellence of their point guards, but he is a young man looking to bounce back from a rough senior season in high school. You see, in the middle of the season, he left his high school because of an academic misconduct investigation and spent the remainder of the year finishing up his prep education at a different school without the benefit of basketball to fall back on. In the process, Jackson-Cartwright may have proven his maturity for the way he handled the situation.
  5. Rounding out our Morning Five by landing back in Central Oregon again, new head coach Wayne Tinkle may not have a ton of true newcomers on his first Oregon State team, but they will largely be new faces even to the most dedicated Pac-12 basketball fan. The most experienced player on his roster – Langston Morris-Walker – averaged just 18 minutes per game last season. Nobody on this roster can rightfully dodge the “unproven” tag, so they’re all embracing it and hoping to use this year — and the opportunities for playing time that come with an unproven roster — to do some proving. Check back later today for RTC’s Oregon State team preview.
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Can Washington and Lorenzo Romar Make Progress This Season?

Posted by Tracy McDannald on October 15th, 2014

The year-to-year turnover in college basketball these days can make recent history appear ancient in a hurry. It was just five seasons ago when Lorenzo Romar guided Washington to the third Sweet Sixteen appearance of his tenure. Heck, just three seasons ago the 2011-12 campaign resulted in a regular season Pac-12 championship and Coach of the Year honors. It was Washington’s fourth consecutive top-three finish and seventh overall under Romar. But that same season ended in a first-round Pac-12 Tournament exit, an NCAA Tournament snub and the early departures of star freshman Tony Wroten and sophomore Terrence Ross. The Huskies haven’t been awful since then, but back-to-back .500 records in conference play is quite the fall in a relatively short period of time.

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C.J. Wilcox made the Huskies a respectable foe, and Romar did not lack for effort in trying to surround his high-scoring guard with talent. But a relationship with Aaron Gordon’s father was not enough to beat out Sean Miller and Arizona for the lottery pick’s services last season. Freshman point guard Nigel Williams-Goss developed into the Huskies’ second-leading scorer among last season’s class, but the rest of the freshmen did very little to distinguish themselves. For the first time since 2007, there was no postseason of any sort for the Huskies.

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Pac-12 Season Preview: Arizona Wildcats

Posted by Tracy McDannald on October 14th, 2014

The Pac-12 microsite will preview each of its league teams over the next few weeks, starting today with Arizona. 

Arizona Wildcats

Strengths: For a team that lost the Pac-12’s Player of the Year (Nick Johnson) and top freshman (Aaron Gordon), head coach Sean Miller sure has a lot of depth around him. The reigning regular season champions will return three of its five starters from last season — including junior forward Brandon Ashley, who missed the final 16 games of the year with a foot injury. The Wildcats potentially have the ability to go two-deep at each position thanks to another top-five recruiting class, headlined by freshman forward Stanley Johnson. A defensive-minded team, Arizona is equipped with loads of size and versatility once again.

Sean Miller, Arizona

Head coach Sean Miller has reloaded the defending Pac-12 Conference regular-season champion Arizona Wildcats. reloaded (AP Photo)

Weaknesses: Expect last year’s questions regarding the team’s outside shooting to be at the forefront again. Nobody on the Wildcats cracked the 40 percent mark from the three-point line last season, and like the previous year, the top two shooters — Elliott Pitts (39.3 percent) and Gabe York (38.5 percent) — are competing for similar minutes off the bench at the same position. But this is where Ashley’s return may help keep defenses honest, as he connected on 11 of 29 long-range attempts with a more refined jump shot as a sophomore. The next-closest criticism of this team may be at the free throw line, where no returnee shot better than 75 percent and most of the roster failed to crack the 70s. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Offseason Wrap-Up

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 14th, 2014

With basketball season now officially a speck on the horizon, it is time to dig back in and begin the trek that will eventually drop us off at the Final Four in Indianapolis on the first weekend of April. If you, like us, have been away enjoying your summer and you need a refresher on what’s going on in the world of Pac-12 basketball, we’ll get you jump started by trying to sum up every Pac-12 team’s offseason and their big questions for this season in a short paragraph.

Washington State – The Cougars’ big offseason story was etched in stone way back on March 18 when they fired head coach Ken Bone after five increasingly less successful seasons in Pullman. After a tidy two-week search, former Oregon head coach Ernie Kent was named as Bone’s successor. Kent’s got his work cut out for him at the toughest job in the conference, but he’s shown an ability to recruit on the fly, putting together a tidy four-man 2014 class that will at least give the Cougs a chance to surround star senior guard DaVonte Lacy with some decent parts.

Ernie Kent, Now At Washington State, Is One Of Three New Pac-12 Head Coaches (Geoff Crimmins, AP Photo)

Ernie Kent, Now At Washington State, Is One Of Three New Pac-12 Head Coaches (Geoff Crimmins, AP Photo)

California – Likewise, the Golden Bears’ offseason story revolves around a coaching change, what with Mike Montgomery putting an end to his Hall of Fame career following last year’s disappointing season. Athletic director Sandy Barbour wound up with an intriguing hire when he pulled Cuonzo Martin away from Tennessee following his March run from the First Four to the Sweet Sixteen. Martin’s first year in Berkeley will be marked by a short bench, and he’s yet to have any success on the recruiting trail. Furthermore, replacing a fixture like Montgomery is never going to be easy. But Martin immediately gives Cal a completely different feel on the sidelines. Stay tuned.

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Relaunching the Pac-12 Microsite: Introducing Tracy McDannald

Posted by Tracy McDannald on October 14th, 2014

Meet the new guy whom you will be convinced has something against your Pac-12 Conference team of choice this upcoming season (ed. note: Tracy can be found on Twitter @tracy_mcdannald). Well, if I’m doing my job, anyway. For the last three college basketball seasons, I was the senior editor over at GOAZCATS.com, which covered the University of Arizona as well as its recruiting for Yahoo!/Rivals.com. While the backbone of the site was the recruiting side, I was the primary team beat writer and made it a point to keep a pulse on the rest of the Pac-12. So, the transition to RTC should be natural.

Pac-12

Although the job was Arizona-centric, the recruiting aspect offered a firsthand look at the top prospects in the country. To go with the looks at Stanley Johnson and Parker Jackson-Cartwright, the high school and AAU circuit provided a good dose of others new to the Pac-12 like Thomas Welsh, Robert Cartwright and Dorian Pickens.

No, there will not be a bias, either. The three years in Tucson was just that, three years. I just happen to have a better feel for what type of questions Sean Miller will sarcastically answer. I attended Long Beach State and am now back in Southern California. I’ve covered a 6-25 Long Beach State team and an Arizona team within a possession of the Final Four, so proper perspective and a realistic look should be no issue.

It could be the Big West or the Big Ten, you’re just getting a basketball junkie — period. I’m thrilled to be part of the Rush the Court team and I’m ready for the season to begin like the rest of you.

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Aaron Gordon, Doug Gottlieb and an NBA Career

Posted by Andrew Murawa on June 16th, 2014

Doug Gottlieb has made his skepticism of Aaron Gordon’s NBA upside very clear. Check the following tweets for a glance at his feelings on the matter, and dig further through his timeline for more on the topic.

To be clear, these are perfectly reasonable opinions. And, just like I did back in the preseason when I questioned Gottlieb’s pick of California as the #10 team in the nation in his preseason poll, I’ll freely admit that Gottlieb is more often right than wrong and has probably forgotten more about the sport than I’ll ever know.

Gottlieb’s argument on Gordon boils down to the fact that the Arizona product is a tweener who can’t shoot the ball from distance nor score in the post. All of those points are perfectly reasonable. It’s true that at this time we’re not sure if Gordon will project as an undersized four or a powerful three at the next level. It’s also true that Gordon’s shot is, at best, a work in progress; personally I called it an offense that would make baby Jesus cry. And it is additionally true that Gordon is, let’s say, unpolished around the paint; his points in college came either from putbacks or athletic plays against overmatched defenders. I won’t make a single argument against any of those points.

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