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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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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