On Waiting For College Basketball…

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on November 14th, 2014

Just 221 days ago we looked on as Connecticut outlasted Kentucky in the National Championship game. What you’ve done with those 221 days, I have no idea. But I know what college basketball has been doing; waiting. Just sitting there, letting the rest of the world pass it by. Sure, there were a few interesting stories that came out during the dog days of summer, but in the end, this was one of the most boring offseasons in recent history. And you know what, that’s okay. Because the time for waiting is over. Starting this very morning, games will be played again. Real games that count. Games with outcomes that might be listed on tournament résumés come March.

What I advise of you is to take it all in. Follow your team from the start. Do not give up after a bad loss. Celebrate a big win. Because this sport is way too fun to not watch it all from the beginning.

Rush the Court. (credit: TBL)

Rush the Court. (credit: TBL)

It’s funny what memories stick out in our minds. Some of the most vivid ones of mine are related to sports, and the majority of those have to do with basketball. I remember having back surgery when I was nine years old and my first request after waking up was for one of the nurses to turn the channel in my room to an Oregon State-Portland game. I remember March afternoons in grade school asking to go to the bathroom, then going to the library instead to use a computer and check the scores of Tournament games. Now I just take an extra long lunch at Buffalo Wild Wings. Some things never change.

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The 25 Non-Conference Pac-12 Games to Watch

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 13th, 2014

Hey look! Basketball! Well, maybe don’t look all that quickly because, frankly, unless you’re a die-hard, there isn’t a game that a Pac-12 team plays this weekend that is worth a whole heck of a lot. Oh, we’ll still be watching, of course, because, well, we’ve been waiting to see these teams for months now. But, if you’re a busy person and a discriminating basketball fan, don’t burn your precious basketball-watching minutes right away this season. Instead, put these 25 non-conference games on your calendar and you’ll get a chance to check out every team in this league from the comfort of your own couch. Is 25 games not enough for you? Don’t worry, I’m not even including the games in one of the many early-season exempt tournaments (11 of the 12 conference teams compete in such a tournament this season) in this list; more on those later. Here’s your list of the best games involving Pac-12 teams over the next couple of months.

  • 11/18 Utah @ San Diego State (ESPN) – Part of the behemoth in Bristol’s 24 hours of hoops kickoff, this is on the very short list of best Pac-12 non-conference games of the year. We’ll get an early look at the Utes going on the road to face a Top 25-caliber team with a chance to breathlessly overreact to whatever happens there on Tuesday afternoon.
The Show - And The Aztecs - Will Test Utah Early

The Show – And The Aztecs – Will Test Utah Early

  • 11/22 Colorado @ Wyoming (ESPN3) – The only game on this list that you won’t see on national television, this will not only represent a chance to check out the status of the Buffaloes’ point guard situation, but a look at Wyoming’s Larry Nance on his way back from a torn ACL.
  • 11/26 California @ Fresno State (CBSSN) – It’s not the sexiest looking game, but an early road game against an improving intrastate foe is a game the Golden Bears could lose if they aren’t locked in early for Cuonzo Martin.
  • 11/30 USC @ New Mexico (CBSSN) – The Trojans visiting one of the toughest places to play in the sport on Thanksgiving Sunday; sounds fun to me. The Lobos will be breaking in new players almost everywhere, though, so Andy Enfield’s young bunch has at least a puncher’s chance.

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Pac-12 Season Preview: Colorado Buffaloes

Posted by Tracy McDannald on November 12th, 2014

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

Colorado Buffaloes

Strengths: Experience can carry Colorado a long way in a Pac-12 with so much turnover. Spencer Dinwiddie is out the door, but the Buffaloes got a head start on life without The Mayor after a midseason knee injury hastened the transition. A combined 157 starts from last season returns to this Tad Boyle‘s roster, headlined by senior guard Askia Booker and junior forward Josh Scott.

Josh Scott Was Snubbed It The Preseason In Favor Of More Hyped Players From Arizona and UCLA, But Has Been One Of The Leagues' Best Newcomers (US Presswire)

Josh Scott returns as the leading scorer on a Colorado team with plenty to like in the starting lineup. (US Presswire)

Weaknesses: While Dinwiddie’s injury caused Boyle to accelerate the future of the program at point guard, questions remain at the position. The team finished 11th in the league in assists (11.3 per game) and sported the worst assist-to-turnover ratio (0.85) in the conference. The narrative necessarily flips from the replacement of a missing star to a program looking for stability at the point. No excuses in Boulder this year.

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Pac-12 All-Defense & Specialty Teams

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 12th, 2014

Yesterday we unveiled our RTC Pac-12 All-Freshmen and All-Transfer teams. Tomorrow, we’ll release our All-Conference teams. And on Friday, just before the first games tip off, we’ll have the results of our preseason conference poll. Today, we will have a little fun though and unveil our specialty teams, ranging from our Gary Payton All-Defensive team, to our Jorge Gutierrez All-Glue team to our Russell Westbrook All-Dunktastic Team. Enjoy. And feel free to let us know where we screwed up.

The Gary Payton Pac-12 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year: T.J. McConnell, Arizona

He won’t wow you with his athleticism or make opponents look silly with soul-crushing blocks or quick-handed steals, but McConnell is the consummate veteran who is always in the right place at the right time, funneling opponents toward long-armed and intimidating opponents. Sure, McConnell probably gets this award because he plays on a team with so many other terrific defenders (Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson can destroy opponents with their athleticism, while Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski are capable rim-protectors), but he’s a fundamentally-minded defender who always makes things difficult on opponents.

T.J. McConnell's Smarts And Grit Earned Him Our Preseason All-Defensive Player (Arizona Athletics)

T.J. McConnell’s Smarts And Grit Earned Him Our Preseason All-Defensive Player. (Arizona Athletics)

Joining McConnell on the All-Defensive Team are:

  • Delon Wright, Sr, Utah
  • Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Soph, Arizona
  • Shaquielle McKissic, Sr, Arizona State
  • Norman Powell, Sr, UCLA

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Oregon’s Second-Most Important Player: Dwayne Benjamin

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 11th, 2014

Let’s not get too cute here or anything: Joseph Young is Oregon’s best and most important player. He knows that; Dana Altman knows that; I know that; you know that; and, all of the teams the Ducks will face this year know that. So, I’m not gonna waste my time or yours pretending to convince you that somebody else is more important to the success of this team. Young is going to get the bulk of Oregon’s shots; he’s going to get the opposing defense’s full attention; and still he is probably going to score 20 points per game in an incredibly efficient fashion — knocking in somewhere in the neighborhood of 90 percent of his team-high free throw attempts, 40-plus percent of his shots from behind the arc, and 50-some percent of the rest of his shots.

Joseph Young Is Mighty Indeed (AP Photo)

Joseph Young Is Mighty Indeed. (AP Photo)

But this is basketball, a team sport. And unless there is a rule change that I missed, the Ducks are required to run five guys out on the floor every time the ball is in play. We may not have great familiarity with who four of those five guys will be, or in what configuration they’re going to be run out there, but this cannot be an exclusively one-man show if the Ducks hope to have any type of success this season. The question then becomes: Who will be the Robin to Young’s Batman? Perhaps the only other name Pac-12 fans will remember from last season’s team is that of Elgin Cook, he of the high-flying dunks and the shoplifting arrest. He’ll certainly play a huge role for Altman this year, not only scoring the ball but also getting on the glass and being a disruptive defensive presence. It’s likely that he will be the team’s second leading scorer, and maybe its top rebounder. But on a roster chock-full of new names, Cook counts as a known entity. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Season Previews: Utah Utes

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 11th, 2014

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

Utah Utes

Strengths. If you’re reading this microsite, there is a good chance you already know about the Utes’ stars such as Delon Wright and Jordan Loveridge, but just about every team in this conference has a star it can point to. Rather, what makes this team a sexy choice as the second-best team in this conference is not merely those two stars, but the quality of depth throughout this roster. Veterans like Brandon Taylor, Dallin Bachynski, Dakarai Tucker and Jeremy Olsen are all accustomed to big roles on this team. Add in a talented batch of newcomers, including four-star power forward Brekkot Chapman, talented JuCo transfer Chris Reyes, international recruit Jakob Poetl, three-point specialist Kyle Kuzma and floor general Isaiah Wright, and Larry Krystkowiak is swimming in talented options up and down his roster.

Larry Krystkowiak and The Utes Will Have To Deal With The Pressure Of Expectations For The First Time (Utah Basketball)

Larry Krystkowiak and The Utes Will Have To Deal With The Pressure Of Expectations For The First Time. (Utah Athletics)

Weaknesses. We’re not even going to pick nits with the roster. There are some weaknesses here which will become apparent as the season wears on, but where this squad really has to prove itself is in its ability to win games. The Utes lost all seven of their games decided by a single possession last season and, given a serious uptick in the quality of their non-conference schedule, their mettle will be tested early and often this year. Utah has plenty of guys who have been through plenty of battles, but until they can prove their ability to pull out their best effort when the chips are down, there will remain questions about the ceiling of this team.

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Pac-12 Season Preview: Oregon Ducks

Posted by Tracy McDannald on November 11th, 2014

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

Oregon Ducks

Strengths: The given is fifth-year guard Joseph Young, the dynamic leading scorer and rare returner (or so it seems these days in Eugene) for head coach Dana Altman. Young will be the do-everything playmaker tasked with keeping the Ducks’ heads above water. A distant second is a pair of freshmen, Jordan Bell and Casey Benson, who will have plenty of opportunity on a roster that tacked on five extras after October to make it appear like Oregon had a full team.

Joseph Young Will Have To Be Mr. Everything for Oregon in 2014-15. (Ryan Kang, Daily Emerald)

Joseph Young Will Have To Be Mr. Everything for Oregon in 2014-15. (Ryan Kang, Daily Emerald)

Weaknesses: Judging by the exodus in the offseason, self-discipline is high on the list. On the court, there will not be much size. Junior center Michael Chandler, a JuCo transfer from Northwest Florida State and the projected starter, is the tallest player at 6’10” but has yet to practice because of a lingering knee injury that doesn’t have a timetable for recovery. Chandler did not play in the Ducks’ exhibition opener last Tuesday. Playing the role of Captain Obvious, chemistry also will be an issue on a roster that lost 10 letterwinners.

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The RTC Pac-12 All-Freshman and All-Transfer Teams

Posted by AMurawa on November 11th, 2014

With the season imminent, it is time to start rolling out our preseason picks. Later in the week we’ll release the results of our preseason poll from our writers and friends of the microsite for things like standings, All-Conference Team, Player of the Year, and a host of other specialty awards. In getting this week’s events underway, though, we start by naming our Freshmen of the Year, Transfer of the Year and our All-Freshmen and All-Transfer teams, a group of new faces that we’ll get to know better as the season takes shape. Let’s jump right in.

Preseason Freshman of the Year: Stanley Johnson, Arizona

Stanley Johnson May Not Be An Immediate Starter At Arizona, But He Is Our Unanimous Pick For Freshman of the Year

Stanley Johnson May Not Be An Immediate Starter At Arizona, But He Is Our Unanimous Pick For Freshman of the Year

The unanimous choice among our five voters, Johnson is the latest in Sean Miller’s increasingly long line of elite recruits. Expected to be on the short list of potential leading scorers for the Wildcats, Johnson checked off all the boxes during his prep career: playing on international tournament-winning teams; McDonald’s All-American and Jordan Brand Classic participant; two-time California High School Player of the Year; Parade All-American; MaxPreps National Player of the Year. Oh, and four CIF Division I state titles in four years of high school. So, smooth sailing at Arizona, right? Well, not so fast. In Arizona’s lone exhibition game, Johnson was conspicuously absent from the starting lineup, coming off the bench while junior Gabe York started in his place. Still, Johnson proved his bona fides by overpowering lesser competition on the way to 12 points in 24 minutes of action. Miller describes him as a “physical freak,” and while you can make the argument that the Wildcats are actually better off with him bringing energy off the bench, you can count on the fact that he is going to be one of the best players on a team already loaded with All-Conference players who you will see later in the week. There might well be other freshmen in the conference that wind up with better overall numbers by season’s end, but none of those first-year guys will be the same difference-maker that Johnson can be.

Joining Johnson on the All-Freshman Team are:

  • Kevon Looney, UCLA
  • Reid Travis, Stanford
  • Jordan McLaughlin, USC
  • Isaac Hamilton, UCLA

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Assessing Colorado’s Most Important Player

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 10th, 2014

At this point in the preseason, it is too soon to argue which player on this Colorado roster will be its most important player, but I can tell you which position he’ll play. If you follow Colorado basketball or the Pac-12 in general, you probably know their biggest question of the preseason: Who is going to replace point guard Spencer Dinwiddie? The Mayor of Boulder tore his ACL in the middle of last season and the Buffs went 9-10 down the stretch — including Pitt running them out of the NCAA Tournament — after he went down. When Dinwiddie subsequently announced his plans to enter the NBA Draft in June, the 2014-15 narrative for Tad Boyle’s team was already set in stone.

Askia Booker Is Among The Players Who Will Need To Replace Spencer Dinwiddie's Production

Askia Booker Is Among The Players Who Will Need To Replace Spencer Dinwiddie’s Production

Who are the main candidates? Really, there are three. The one you probably know is senior guard Askia Booker, who, even when he was not technically “the point guard” at the end of last season, was still the guy initiating the Colorado offense. The problem is that Booker is the team’s best scorer on the wing and, despite his sometimes erratic shooting percentages (I’m being kind here), its best shot-maker. He’s capable of playing the lead guard position, but that involves a complete change of personality. You see, this is a guy like former All-American Russ Smith at Louisville. Sure, Booker is very much a poor man’s Smith, but they’re cut from the same cloth: defend like crazy on one end; get up shots on the other. And it doesn’t always matter if they’re good shots, so long as those shots get up. That’s the M.O. for Booker, and it works to an extent, especially in end-of-clock scenarios where there are few other guys on the team who can create a shot.

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The Pac-12’s Biggest Questions: Askia Booker, UCLA Point Guards & Arizona Shooters

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 7th, 2014

Little story, probably not all that interesting. With the college basketball season due to tip off a week from today, we here around the RTC Pac-12 microsite are finalizing our preseason rankings and all-conference teams and whatnot. So, in compiling those things, I sent out a poll to our writers and friends of the microsite. Tucked away at the very end of the poll was something of an afterthought; it read, simply “Biggest Question Marks – use any criteria.” Now, when I wrote that and when I filled out my own poll, I was thinking of just individual players and I came up with a list that included Robert Upshaw, Sam Singer, Tra Holder, Bryce Alford and Jordan Loveridge. And then when I looked at everybody else’s ballots, I saw more big picture question marks: Oregon’s mental state, new coaches around the league, Utah playing with expectations. And I thought those were some damn good questions myself. Never one to pass up a good topic to write on that I can easily cherry-pick, I’m going to go through some of the biggest questions that my colleagues came up with and ponder their answers as much as I can.

Askia Booker, Colorado

Question Number One For The Buffaloes Is Whether Askia Booker and Company Can Follow Spencer Dinwiddie’s Example (Patrick Ghidossi, BuffaloSportsNews)

Askia Booker and Life After the Mayor

Adam Butler of Pachoops.com listed this as his biggest question mark and it is no surprise. First, Butler absolutely loves writing about Booker (seriously Adam, how many more columns do you think you can get out of ‘Ski in his remaining collegiate eligibility?). Second, if Tad Boyle can find a coherent answer at the point guard position post-Spencer Dinwiddie, the Buffs are maybe the team with the best chance to challenge conference-favorite Arizona. But after Dinwiddie fell from a torn ACL last year, Colorado went 9-10 down the stretch and got run out of the NCAA Tournament in embarrassing fashion. As Butler loves to point out, Booker began to shelve his freewheeling, bad-shot hoisting, basketball-purist infuriating ways and embrace his inner point guard. Still, for the Buffaloes to live up to their ceiling, he needs to play off the ball on a regular basis and become a high-octane scorer. This means guys like sophomore Jaron Hopkins and freshman Dominique Collier will have to prove themselves worthy of earning the majority of those on-ball minutes. The facts that Hopkins struggled in his first season and that Collier is battling ankle problems do not bode well for positive answers on those fronts. In other words, the Booker point guard experiment (a role the 6’2” guard will probably have to embrace if he hopes to earn a long professional career) may continue.

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Pac-12 Season Previews: Washington State Cougars

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 6th, 2014

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

Washington State Cougars

Strengths. Washington State has two things in particular really going for it: (1) DaVonte Lacy, and (2) newness. Lacy himself isn’t new, but he is excellent, as we’ve already detailed this year. But what is new is the culture around the program. Ken Bone is both a fine man and basketball coach, but he had his chance in a place where it is ridiculously hard to succeed and he just couldn’t get it done. That’s no knock against him; many have tried there and failed before. But without a doubt, the excitement level around this program significantly waned to last year’s low point. Enter Ernie Kent. He’s had success in this conference before, and he brings with him a new energy to the program. Make no mistake, he’s got a lot of work ahead of him in convincing talent to come to Pullman, but at least the program gets a fresh start.

New Head Coach Ernie Kent Brings New Hope To The Paloose (Geoff Crimmins, AP Photo)

New Head Coach Ernie Kent Brings New Hope To The Paloose (Geoff Crimmins, AP Photo)

Weaknesses. Everything else. Really, aside from Lacy and sophomore wing Que Johnson, you could make a fair argument that no one else on this roster has any business playing significant minutes in the Pac-12. At the very least, nobody else has proven that worth. Everywhere else on the floor, Kent needs to find temporary solutions. Sophomore Ike Iroegbu figures to start at the point guard slot, but he’s still a work in progress and more comfortable off the ball. He has three freshmen with varying degrees of comfort ready to challenge him for that role. And then up front, wow, it is a mess. Only D.J. Shelton kept the Cougs from being completely overmatched in the paint last year, and he’s already used up his eligibility. At least one of Jordan Railey, Josh Hawkinson or JuCo transfer Aaron Cheatum is going to need to surprise.

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UCLA’s Most Important Player: Isaac Hamilton

Posted by Tracy McDannald on November 5th, 2014

The offseason in Westwood could have gone better — much better. The Bruins knew they were going to be woefully thin in the backcourt, and head coach Steve Alford was never going to completely replace point-forward Kyle Anderson, the 6’9” match-up nightmare with elite point guard skills. But then UCLA received word that Colorado State transfer Jon Octeus had been denied admission, nixing the Bruins’ best-laid plans to make him the starting point guard. There’s just not much depth available here at all, and this clearly puts additional pressure on the Bruins’ starters (although senior Norman Powell should have little issue so long as he remains in good health). Off the bench, UCLA may struggle beyond Noah Allen to find any realistic contributors under the height of 6’9”.

Isaac Hamilton, the No. 25 overall prospect, cited his relationship with UTEP head coach Tim Floyd as deciding factor

Sophomore guard Isaac Hamilton, who was forced to miss all of the 2013-14 season, will be needed at both backcourt positions at UCLA.

The void creates a big opportunity for combo guard Isaac Hamilton, and there may not be a more valuable player on the roster. The 6’4” sophomore missed the entire 2013-14 season after backing out of his initial commitment with UTEP. While Hamilton lost a year in the transition, he was able to practice with his teammates and digest the system, and that is where his true value will be revealed. The year away from action did wonders for T.J. McConnell at Arizona, where the point guard ran the scout team before becoming a valuable piece last season. Hamilton’s case is different because he doesn’t have previous Division I experience under his belt, but there’s something to be said about developing team chemistry and learning the tendencies of teammates in a practice setting.

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