Pac-12 Season Preview: Washington Huskies

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 29th, 2014

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

Washington Huskies

Strengths. Historically, Lorenzo Romar’s teams in Seattle have been teams adept at getting up and down the court and scoring in an efficient manner. In his 12 seasons with the Huskies, his teams have ranked in the top 75 in adjusted tempo in all but one year. Likewise, his teams have ranked in the top 90 in adjusted offensive efficiency (all of these numbers are courtesy of KenPom.com) in every year except his first season as head coach there. With point guard Nigel Williams-Goss back for his sophomore campaign, joined by junior Andrew Andrews, Romar has the beginnings of the type of high-octane, backcourt-led offensive juggernaut that has been a hallmark of his best teams. Of course, Romar will have to replace his two most efficient players from last season in C.J. Wilcox and Perris Blackwell, but if Jernard Jarreau comes back from an ACL tear that cost him all but a couple minutes of last season, he’s the type of skilled forward who could be a holy terror running the floor with that pair of guards. Throw in a couple of athletic wings in Mike Anderson and Darin Johnson (who really came on at the end of his freshman campaign) and mercurial former McDonald’s All-American transfer Robert Upshaw in the middle, and if things come together, the Huskies could be fairly potent with the ball in their hands.

Nigel WIlliams-Goss and Andrew Andrews Give The Huskies A Head Start On A Potent Offense

Nigel WIlliams-Goss and Andrew Andrews Give The Huskies A Head Start On A Potent Offense

Weaknesses. So, if I’m going out of my way to praise the Huskies’ offense as a strength, I’ll give you one good guess what I think their weakness could be this season. Back in 2008-09, as Washington was running out to a #4 seed in the NCAA Tournament behind the likes of Jon Brockman, Quincy Pondexter and freshman Isaiah Thomas, Romar’s group gave the 10th most efficient defensive performance in the nation. Every year since then, the Huskies have been worse on defense than the previous year, culminating in last season’s dumpster fire. The Huskies gave up an adjusted total of 104.5 points per 100 offensive possessions, good for a dreadful 163rd in the nation and 11th in the Pac-12. Look no further for your primary reason why the Huskies were lucky to finish 9-9 in conference play. This year, if Upshaw can become something of a rim-protector in the middle and get some help from Jarreau, the Huskies should be better by default. But – let’s be blunt – Williams-Goss and Andrews are not the type of defensive-minded guards around which to build a great defensive team.

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Assessing Stanford’s Breakout Players

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on October 29th, 2014

Stanford’s biggest strength may be its senior returnees from last year’s Sweet Sixteen team – Chasson Randle, Anthony Brown, and Stefan Nastic. But with guys like Dwight Powell, Josh Huestis and John Gage now departed, there are going to be plenty of opportunities for a frontcourt player to step into the mix and up his production in a big way this season. Certainly freshman power forwards Reid Travis and Michael Humphrey are going to have a say in how minutes along the front line get distributed, but there are a pair of players from Johnny Dawkins’ 2011 recruiting class who were highly regarded but have yet to make a big splash in the Pac-12: junior center Grant Verhoeven and redshirt sophomore power forward Rosco Allen.

With More Minutes Due, Grant Verhoeven Should Have A Bigger Role For The Cardinal (AP Photo/Steve C. Wilson)

With More Minutes Due, Grant Verhoeven (30) Should Have A Bigger Role For The Cardinal (AP Photo/Steve C. Wilson)

Verhoeven has played in 52 of the Cardinal’s 70 games over his first two years on campus, but he has only received double-figure minutes eight times. His career-high scoring for a game is four points. He grabbed eight boards against Northwestern early last season, but that remains the only time that he’s grabbed more than three rebounds in a game. And still, there is reason to suspect he’s in for a much bigger role this season. While Nastic is the clear starter in the middle, he’s not a guy who is going to eat up all of the minutes and Verhoeven is the player most poised to function as Nastic’s understudy in the paint. He’s a powerful force crashing the boards or setting bone-crushing picks, and although you shouldn’t expect him to turn into a reliable scorer overnight, he’s a physical presence down low who will use up his allotment of fouls (he committed 9.2 fouls per 40 minutes played last season) and getting after the glass (his 14.4 DR% and 7.4 OR% are more than respectable and should increase). He won’t be a flashy player for Dawkins, but he may be an important minutes-eater on the front line.

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Catching Up With the Pac-12’s 62 Current NBA Players

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 28th, 2014

The NBA tips off its regular season tonight, which for most college basketball fans means little more than just another sign that the college hoops season is imminent. But it is always nice to keep an eye on former college players that we grew to know and love way back when. With that in mind, we’ll take a quick spin around the Pac-12 today and briefly touch on what can be expected of each of their 62 former players currently on NBA rosters, as well as a handful who you won’t find. We’ll group these guys by their former schools, starting with UCLA — which has 15 alums playing in the league — down to the five teams in the conference with just two pros. One big question going forward: When will Arizona catch UCLA on this list. The Wildcats seem to be in the habit of transitioning several players on their roster right into the NBA, but with veterans like Jason Terry and Richard Jefferson playing on their last legs, it looks like UCLA can hold them off for a few more years considering that the Bruins have their own future NBA prospects to be excited about.

UCLA (15)

  • Jordan Adams (Memphis) – After a last-minute decision to leave UCLA, Adams’ decision proved to be a good one as he was taken with the 22nd pick in the NBA Draft. He’s looking up the depth chart at vets like Courtney Lee and Tony Allen, but he’s been impressive enough that he could wind up stealing some minutes early.
  • Arron Afflalo (Denver) – Last year, Afflalo knocked in 42.7 percent of his threes on the way to a career-high 18.2 PPG in talent-starved Orlando. This year he won’t score that much, but he has a chance to maybe help the Nuggets compete for a playoff spot.
  • Kyle Anderson (San Antonio) – His role will fluctuate over the season on a roster filled with smart veterans, but expect Gregg Popovich to get this most out of this unique talent.
  • Trevor Ariza (Houston) – He’s changed teams eight times in his now 11-year career, following the money around the league. But after winning a title with the Lakers, he’s finally back on a team with title aspirations again.
  • Matt Barnes (LA Clippers) – Now starting his 12th season in the league, Barnes has made a name for himself as a tough, scrappy trouble-maker, the kind of guy you like if he’s on your team and hate if he’s on your rival.
  • Darren Collison (Sacramento) – It seems like he’s been around the NBA for a lot longer than five seasons, and it seems like he’s played on more than just four teams. But, now on his fifth team in six years and fighting with Ramon Sessions for a starting spot: “Oh lord, stuck in Lodi again.”
  • Jordan Farmar (LA Clippers) – A career backup, expect to see Farmar’s minutes dwindle even further this year as he sits behind MVP candidate Chris Paul.
  • Jrue Holiday (New Orleans) – His first five seasons have been solid (14.3 PPG and 7.9 APG last year was considered a disappointment), but he hasn’t been to the postseason since 2012. Looking up the West standings at all those loaded teams makes it likely that he’ll miss out again. Who ever said New Orleans was in the West anyway?
Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis Give Pelican Fans Reason For Excitement, But They're In A Crowded West (Chris Szagola/Associated Press)

Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis Give Pelican Fans Reason For Excitement, But They’re In A Crowded West (Chris Szagola/Associated Press)

  • Ryan Hollins (Sacramento) – Now starting his ninth NBA season, the seven-footer has made a nice career for himself as a spot-player off the bench.
  • Zach LaVine (Minnesota) – The Wolves envision LaVine as a future point guard, but man, he’s got a lot of work to do. The good news is that Minnesota will be patient because the Wolves have no big plans to be competitive this season.
  • Kevin Love (Cleveland) – After six years of excellence in obscurity in Minnesota, Love is now on the big stage playing alongside LeBron James with what looks to be a clear path to the NBA Finals. I can’t wait to watch Kevin Love make outlet passes in meaningful games again.
  • Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (Philadelphia) – Entering his seventh NBA season, he seems to be on the downside of his career with injuries becoming more and more a part of his story over the last three years.
  • Shabazz Muhammad (Minnesota) – Muhammad averaged 7.8 minutes per game in the 37 games in which he appeared last season (eight steals and six assists in a grand total of 289 minutes). The good news is that he’s on a team with little more to accomplish this season than to see if it has any players worth keeping, so Muhammad should see plenty of opportunities.
  • Travis Wear (New York) – I looked up and down 30 NBA rosters and no name surprised me more than this one, but good on Travis. He’s 6’10”, can shoot the ball a little bit, and is a good fundamental player. Clearly Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher see something worth investigating here.
  • Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City) – With Kevin Durant on the shelf for a month or two, the Thunder are Westbrook’s team for the time being. If he can stay healthy while carrying the load, his career-high scoring average of 23.6 PPG could be in jeopardy.

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USC’s Most Important Player: Jordan McLaughlin

Posted by Tracy McDannald on October 27th, 2014

USC heads into another season with low expectations, but the good news is that there is only one place to go after finishing last in the Pac-12 and winning just two league games last season. Second-year head coach Andy Enfield has an equally inexperienced roster after a pair of key transfers left the program during the offseason, but now in the fold are some new faces that may better fit his open-court style of play. Plenty of focus will go toward UNLV transfer Katin Reinhardt, a redshirt sophomore who sat out last season, as the Trojans will surely rely on his shooting touch to provide a bulk of the scoring load. The big name to keep an eye on, however, is freshman Jordan McLaughlin. Sophomore Julian Jacobs is the closest thing to a veteran to help bring the 6’1” point guard along slowly, but his time is now. Like Reinhardt, who attended local powerhouse Mater Dei High School, McLaughlin is a product from nearby Etiwanda. But unlike prospects across town at UCLA, there is no added hometown pressure and rich tradition to live up to. McLaughlin is what Enfield hopes will be the start to his foundation.

Athletic Point Guard Jordan McLaughlin Gives Andy Enfield A More Appropriate Point Guard (Anne Cusack, Los Angeles Times)

Freshman point guard Jordan McLaughlin will be thrust into a leading role immediately at USC. (Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times)

The overarching theme in the Pac-12 this season is the number of programs that must replace significant contributors. Half of the league could take a step back, in some fashion. But aside from Roschon Prince, who transferred to Long Beach State, there wasn’t much to redeem for USC – and how much would you want to return anyway from a group that found itself in the bottom three of several statistical categories? There is no choice but to start fresh, and McLaughlin is the biggest prize of Enfield’s recruiting class. A four-star product who was a top-50 player on both the Rivals and Scout recruiting services, he can use his quickness to get to the rim and score in bunches despite his smaller stature. Passing is not an issue, either, and McLaughlin will have a handful of capable mid-to-long-range shooters at his disposal on the wings. There will be some growing pains and a necessary adjustment to the physicality of the collegiate level, but he is poised to take the reins early and lead the Trojans from the outset.

This is likely to be another long season ahead in a longer journey to respectability for USC, but there is some intrigue here. There is no choice but to let McLaughlin loose, and the more he learns early, the better. In the big picture outlook, this is Enfield’s long-term investment that needs to provide some sense of identity for a team that has none. McLaughlin represents the immediate future for the Trojans and few first-year players around the Pac-12 will be relied upon more heavily.

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Buy, Sell or Hold at Pac-12 Media Day

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 27th, 2014

The concept here is simple and completely stolen borrowed from Seth Davis of CBS Sports. We’re going to take a look at the poll of media members conducted at the Pac-12 Media Day last week and tell you whether we think each team is going to exceed, fall short of, or match the expectations expressed in that poll. And when all this is said and done roughly five months from now, we’ll look back and see how we did. So, without further ado, let’s jump right in.

pac-12poll

Arizona: Hold. The fact is that when you’re picked first in your conference and earn 31 of the 32 possible first-place votes in the preseason poll, there is only so much higher you can go. Given that Arizona is going to be routinely chosen among the top four teams in the nation in just about every national preseason poll that appears, the stakes are pretty clear: Final Four or bust. Given the fact that Sean Miller has yet to reach such a lofty goal in his time in the desert and the fact that the Wildcats lost arguably their two most importance pieces from last season, I’m a least a little skeptical. Given such a high risk, buying this stock is out of the question. But with all the talent compiled in Tucson, we have to at least keep a little piece of the action here. When we come back to re-evaluate this, let’s consider an appearance in the Final Four the barrier, with anything less being considered a letdown and anything more a home run.

Sean Miller, Arizona

Is This The Year Sean Miller and The Wildcats Cut Down The Nets? (AP Photo)

Utah: Sell. Sell, sell, sell. And I like Utah. But let’s remember that this is a squad that went 9-9 in conference play last season. And while they’ve got some fun new pieces (Brekkot Chapman, Chris Reyes, Isaiah Wright, Jakob Poeltl and Kyle Kuzma all have the opportunity to earn playing time), second place in this league is some heady stuff. The Utes will have to prove that they can win games when they’ve got a target on their chest, that they can win close games (they were 3-8 in games decided by two possessions or fewer), and that they can win away from the Huntsman Center (they were 2-9 in true road games) before they’re worthy of blue-chip status.

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Pac-12 Media Day Roundup: Part Two

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) on October 24th, 2014

Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) of Pachoops.com is back for another go-round on his March to Vegas. He covered the Pac-12 Media Day on Thursday. Part I of this two-part series, which covered USC, Washington State, Oregon State, California, Washington and Utah, is located here.

Arizona State

Senior Jonathan Gilling Had Head Coach Herb Sendek Speaking In Glowing Terms (Pac-12 Conference)

Senior Jonathan Gilling Had Head Coach Herb Sendek Speaking In Glowing Terms (Pac-12 Conference)

If nothing else, you have to love Herb Sendek’s enthusiasm. He’s a very positive dude and, at Media Day, has so many great things to say about everything. This year in particular he came out, positivity guns-a-blazing, about his senior wing, Jonathan Gilling. “He basically has been a four-year starter except for the fact last year he discovered he loves to come off the bench. He’s our best sixth man… I think he’s had the best offseason and preseason since he’s been at Arizona State.” Jon Gilling, as it were, seems to be killing it, perhaps even Gilling it, if you’ll allow me. But with the level of turnover and the new faces in Tempe, it’s going to take a lot more than a sixth man’s effort for the Devils to be successful. Fear not, positive Herb would have you know! Newcomers like Willie Atwood, Gerry Blakes, and Roosevelt Scott will be providing wing skills and combo-guard talents that will greatly help Arizona State. Tra Holder, their freshman point guard, will be distributing to these wings and the three-raining Gilling. The Devils can maintain their year-over-year emphasis on tempo with this personnel. This isn’t your Jahii Carson or James Harden Sun Devils, but it just might be a collective effort that leads this group beyond expectations. Particularly considering Sendek’s thoughts on how the conference’s final standings could – literally – shake out: “You could probably put everybody in a hat, shake it up, have just as good a chance at predicting the order of finish as we are able to do sitting here today… So how anybody short of Nostradamus could sit here today and predict like there really is a difference between ninth and tenth or eighth and ninth just is unreasonable.” Here’s a hat, Herb, shake it up.

Stanford

For the first time in his six seasons at Stanford, Johnny Dawkins took the podium as an NCAA Tournament coach. That’s huge. Had that not been the case it’s very likely that he wouldn’t have been joining us at Media Day. Nevertheless, that wasn’t the case and he wasn’t going to miss his opportunity. JD gave the longest and most insightful opening remarks of any of the coaches. He touched on last season and the experience they had as well as whom they lost. Dawkins transitioned into his excitement for this season and the schedule they’ve pieced together, its challenges. He praised his stage-mate, Chasson Randle, and noted that the Cardinal’s game in Chicago is an opportunity for Chasson to return home. Johnny Dawkins was excited to be here just as I imagine he was excited to have made last year’s Sweet Sixteen. I asked him about it and loved what he had to say: “It’s about standards, you know. Last year we were able to set the bar… You have to have standards to meet or exceed what you’ve accomplished.” These were some of my favorite quotes of the day and certainly the most encouraging I’ve heard from Dawkins before. Last year he told me his 9-9 conference team, returning almost completely intact, was going to “Think about things differently.” I wasn’t sold and they managed 10-8. But now that bar has been set. The hurdle has been jumped and the program knows that it can make the Tournament. And be loud there. The experience of Randle, Anthony Brown and Stefan Nastic is not just games played but actual NCAA Tournament wins. That speaks volumes to the newcomers filling the gaps left by Josh Huestis, Dwight Powell, and John Gage. Collectively, this group doesn’t just believe, they don’t think about doing it anymore. They now know.

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Pac-12 Season Preview: Stanford Cardinal

Posted by Tracy McDannald on October 24th, 2014

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

Stanford Cardinal

Strengths: Losing an all-league player (Dwight Powell) and one of its premier defenders (Josh Huestis) will be an adjustment, but there is still enough of the group remaining from Johnny Dawkins’ first NCAA Tournament qualifier to make some noise. Look no further than senior Chasson Randle, the team’s top scorer from a season ago and one-half of a seasoned backcourt to go with the Pac-12’s reigning most improved player in Anthony Brown. The duo started all but one of the Cardinal’s 36 games last season. Center Stefan Nastic, a fifth-year senior like Brown, also logged significant minutes as a starter in the run to the Sweet Sixteen.

Stanford Can Be Fun When They're Scoring, But Their Defense Is The Big Question (Ben Margot, AP Photo)

Chasson Randle (5) and Anthony Brown (21) give Stanford a formidable backcourt high on experience. (Ben Margot/AP Photo)

Weaknesses: Brown just happens to be Stanford’s top returning rebounder at a mere five boards per contest. Those two aforementioned departures, Powell and Huestis, combined to pull down 15 rebounds per game, accounting for 43 percent of the team’s production. Coming into the program will be a pair of top-50 frontcourt recruits, Reid Travis and Michael Humphrey, but the boards and their development will be worth watching early. Point guard play is also a concern, despite the abilities of Randle and Brown. Powell led the team in assists last season as a stretch-four, and freshman Robert Cartwright is the only true floor general expected to play a role. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Media Day Roundup: Part One

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) on October 24th, 2014

Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) of Pachoops.com is back for another go-round on his March to Vegas. He covered the Pac-12 Media Day in San Francisco on Thursday. Check back later in the day for his notes on the conference’s other six teams.

In Case You Needed A Reminder, Pac-12 Media Day Means Actual Basketball Games Are Just Around the Corner

In Case You Needed A Reminder, Pac-12 Media Day Means Actual Basketball Games Are Just Around the Corner

USC

Coach Andy Enfield took the stage with his starting power forward (or center, Enfield noted both), Nikola Jovanovic, and provided opening remarks lasting about as long as a USC possession: 16 seconds. It was swift and brief. He was complimentary of his fellow, on-stage Trojan, and left the rest to us. Which is probably indicative of the program he’s building. It is just year two and arguably the least interesting season during a rebuild. It’s neither new and exciting nor developed enough to garner much attention. His team is picked to finish 10th, but he likes what he’s building, “We have more athleticism, better shooting. We have an elite freshman point guard (Jordan McLaughlin) we recruited,” said Enfield. These components, he notes, are and will become major parts of what we presume is the Enfield system, aka Dunk City, aka Galen Dunk Center. The addition of McLaughlin is huge, and, without directly saying it, Enfield knows how important he is to their future, “We’re expecting big things from him. I think he came to USC for that opportunity, to be relied upon as a freshman. He’ll have that opportunity. We’re excited for him.” Which is great because I am, too! I’ll be closely following McLaughlin’s progress as his commitment to USC, rather than UCLA when the Bruins were in dire need for a 2014 point guard, is a fascinating storyline to this season. USC might play in flashes and make swift opening remarks, but they just might be a program to stick around awhile.

Washington State

Easily the most charismatic of the coaches, Ernie Kent considered himself back from sabbatical: “Any coach that has coached 30-plus years needs a sabbatical. I’m just amazed at what it’s done for me in terms of your energy, your spirt.” Energy and spirit he provided. He was colorful and funny, even having a slight back-and-forth with his accompanying star, DaVonte Lacy. The two seemed to understand the challenges ahead considering the roster in Pullman and the depth of the conference. But Lacy believes they have the unique opportunity to come together, build on chemistry and do something special. It’s something he learned in his short stint with the Pac-12 All-Star team while in China and it’s something he expanded upon when I asked him about leadership, “Being someone that’s been through the fire already, preparing [newcomers] to go through it, that’s how I’m approaching leadership.” Lacy hopes to galvanize this group, building chemistry and subsequently surprising a few people with what the Cougars can do. And speaking of surprises, can you imagine a “lost” Ernie Kent knocking on your door looking for directions? “Hi, I’m lost. I’m also your new basketball coach.” It’s something Kent has been doing in trying to energize the Cougars fan base, “I’ve tried to make myself available as much as possible… it’s been fun getting out and meeting people in Pullman.” Like I said, the most charismatic of the 12 lead gentlemen.

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Pac-12 Season Preview: USC Trojans

Posted by AMurawa on October 23rd, 2014

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

USC Trojans

Strengths. Let’s get this out of the way immediately: This USC roster is not one that is going to win the Pac-12 or likely to find its way into the NCAA Tournament. And really, that’s no surprise given that this is a squad that won two conference games last season and lost the team’s top four scorers to boot. But this is a program in the middle of a complete rebuild and change of identity. The strength of this version of the Trojans is the fact that said change in identity is well underway. The last time the Trojans were even remotely relevant on a national scale, they were trudging their way through 63 possessions of terrible offense a night. And last year in his first season at Southern California, head coach Andy Enfield was stuck with a mishmash of players who either weren’t good fits for his style of play or weren’t fit to act as veteran leaders on a team in transition. This year, however, there is some reason for excitement. Enfield’s got his point guard in freshman Jordan McLaughlin, an explosive, attacking player most comfortable in the open floor. He’s got UNLV transfer Katin Reinhardt ready to serve as a secondary ball-handler and a floor stretcher who will likely lead the team in scoring. He’s got a couple of Serbian big guys (Nikola Jovanovic and Strahinja Gavrilovic) with pick-and-pop skills. And he’s got intriguing athletic depth. There’s still a ways to go here, but Enfield is starting to round his roster into shape.

Andy Enfield's Roster At USC is Starting To Take Shape

Andy Enfield’s Roster At USC is Starting To Take Shape

Weaknesses. Of course, coupled with that rebuild is the fact that right now there is an awful lot of inexperience on this team. There are only four players — Reinhardt, Jovanovic, sophomore Julian Jacobs and Charlotte-transfer Darion Clark –who have averaged as much as 15 minutes per game at the Division I level – and each of those players has only done it once. This team is going to have to learn on the fly; but then again, “on the fly” says a lot about how Enfield will want his team to play.

Non-conference Tests. After a couple home warm-up games against Portland State and Tennessee Tech, we’ll get a good glimpse of USC against legitimate competition in the second week of the season, where they’ll open with Akron in the Charleston Classic, then face either Miami or Drexel on day two, and then a beatable opponent in their final game. Honestly, USC has as much of a chance to win that tournament as anybody else invited. Their biggest test during the rest of non-conference play will likely come when the Trojans travel to New Mexico on the final day of November, but even that is a winnable game against a team that lost most of last year’s top contributors. Later on, there’s a trip to Boston College just before Christmas. But, really, USC plays 12 very winnable games prior to conference play. Anything less than a 9-3 record will be disappointing, even for a young team.

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Pac-12 M5: 10.23.14 Edition

Posted by Tracy McDannald on October 23rd, 2014

pac12_morning5

  1. Let the dissection of the Pac-12 media poll begin. The league will have its media day from the San Francisco headquarters today, and the schools will be represented by each head coach and a few select players. The Pac-12 Networks and website will have live coverage, and here’s a schedule of when to expect each coach to take the stage and address the media in attendance. Who’s ready for commissioner Larry Scott’s rose-colored declaration about how the league is stronger than it’s ever been and another non-story update on the failed DirecTV negotiations? If there is such thing as suspense on this day, it will come from the predicted order of finish behind the likely favorite, second-ranked Arizona. In fact, the folks in Tucson are already wondering whether the Wildcats can run the table in conference play.
  2. Speaking of Wildcats and running the table, USA Today’s Scott Gleeson highlighted the group from Kentucky and skimmed through its schedule to pinpoint the toughest tests that stand in the way of a perfect season for the preseason No. 1. Among the contests circled was the December 20 matchup with UCLA in the CBS Sports Classic. Quality opponent and neutral court – the game will be played in Chicago – is a good start to the makings for an upset. And, as Gleeson pointed out, the timing of the game should give both programs a fair barometer and good sample size to mesh. That will be particularly important for the Bruins, who add Isaac Hamilton and Kevon Looney to the mix but are short on experience and in search of a defensive identity.
  3. The intrasquad showcases continued Wednesday as Stanford put on a Cardinal and White scrimmage. Head coach Johnny Dawkins has work to do in reloading the program’s first NCAA Tournament qualifier of his six-year tenure. It appears he has already found the breakout star of Year 7, as Rosco Allen turned heads with a winning performance in the dunk contest and 11 points and six rebounds in the 20-minute scrimmage. A team that finished in the top five in the Pac-12 in three-point shooting, the Cardinal have another dead-eye shooter to watch as Dorian Pickens edged out Chasson Randle in the contest. Randle, a first-team all-conference pick last season, led all scorers with 18 points on 5-of-9 shooting.
  4. In Salt Lake City, Utah hosted its “Night With the Runnin’ Utes.” After a lackluster intrasquad scrimmage last Friday, head coach Larry Krystkowiak said his team is “making progress” and has the ability to go two-deep at each position. Utah played 16-minute halves that include a halftime shakeup in the rosters. It was a good night to be on Jordan Loveridge’s team as the junior scored a combined 27 points in split duty for each squad. The forward finished 8-of-11 from the field, including 4-of-5 from beyond the arc, and converted all seven of his free throws. The sidebar of the night belonged to 7-foot freshman Jakob Poetl, who returned after missing a week of practice because of a concussion suffered while playing dodgeball during a team dinner at Krystkowiak’s house. The Austrian collected 12 points, five rebounds and two blocks.
  5. At Colorado, sophomore guard Jaron Hopkins is making it a point to be more aggressive. Head coach Tad Boyle, who is looking to fill the void left behind by standout Spencer Dinwiddie, said the notable difference is in Hopkins’ decision-making. Hopkins received a crash course in his first year as the Buffaloes adjusted after Dinwiddie’s season-ending injury, so the transition should be more accelerated and less foreign this time around.
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Arizona State’s Most Important Player: Willie Atwood

Posted by Tracy McDannald on October 21st, 2014

The most important label is a lot like defining a most valuable player — a player’s talent may not necessarily translate into the team’s best, but his presence is discernible. So while Tra Holder and Shaquielle McKissic will shoulder a good chunk of the load as Arizona State looks to replace an all-conference backcourt, the void in the middle this season may be more glaring. The Sun Devils lost Jordan Bachynski, the Pac-12’s Defensive Player of the Year. Look around the league this season and there is plenty of size left to battle, from freshmen Kevon Looney and Reid Travis to juniors Kaleb Tarczewski and Josh Scott. It’s a long way from a 7’2″ safety net and rim protector in Tempe nowadays.

Jordan Bachynski, The Pac-12's All-Time Leading Shotblocker, Will Be A Tough Guy To Replace

Arizona State has a 7’2″ void in the middle to replace with Jordan Bachynski (left) no longer in uniform.

Looking strictly at height, Eric Jacobsen and Cameron Gilbert are the biggest bodies on the roster at 6’10” each. While Gilbert is just a freshman, Jacobsen made 32 appearances (15 starts) and averaged 2.4 points and 2.3 rebounds per game as a sophomore last season. But neither is the answer here. Rather, head coach Herb Sendek brought in 6’8″ junior college transfer Willie Atwood, who averaged 20.8 points and 9.0 rebounds per game at Connors State in Warner, Oklahoma, for this very reason. But, like many JuCo big men, there is not much else big about his frame. Atwood is listed at 210 spindly pounds and is more likely to steal a few boards from the offensive glass and score off putbacks. Protecting the rim is not a core strength of his, but that’s not where the projected reserve needs to make his mark against the Pac-12’s other bigs. The Sun Devils are looking at Atwood as a stretch four and possible center in spurts, someone to provide much-needed depth in the frontcourt. With more of a face-up than post-up game, he will be asked to use his quickness to take his opponents off the dribble. Execute those moves properly and that could translate into foul trouble for the opposition, and that’s where an effective offense may be just as good as a lockdown defense.

A favorable non-conference schedule awaits to help Atwood transition to the Division I level, and there will be plenty of work to do before the team’s January 4 league opener at Arizona. But early production will be welcome as the Sun Devils await the availability of UNLV transfer Savon Goodman, who will be eligible in mid-December. With a full season under his belt, the most important title would be Goodman’s to carry — and it probably will be come Pac-12 play — but this is Atwood’s chance to emerge immediately.

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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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