First Impressions From UCLA’s Opening Night

Posted by Tracy McDannald on November 15th, 2014

The start may have been sluggish Friday night, but UCLA’s season-opening 113-78 win over Montana State at Pauley Pavilion was simply a matter of when things would start to click. Boy, did the Bruins roll once they found that rhythm. UCLA senior guard Norman Powell led all scorers with 25 points and point guard Bryce Alford notched his first career double-double with 18 points and 12 assists. In all, six Bruins scored in double figures. Keeping in mind it was just one game against an opponent that came in as a 23.5-point underdog, here is what stood out:

Norman Powell's Athletic Play Has His Draft Stock Rising (Associated Press)

Norman Powell Led All Scorers With 25 Points in UCLA’s 113-78 Win Over Montana State. (Associated Press)

Guards of same feather flock together: Coming into the season, the question was how UCLA would perform at the point guard position with a backcourt that makes you think of its scoring first. Powell, Alford and now-eligible Isaac Hamilton combined for 26 of the contest’s first 35 points and finished with 58 while converting 19-of-31 shots — including 8-of-14 3-pointers. Look for more on the backcourt in a separate post, but there was plenty to like as the game went on with the trio’s ability to pick their spots and not make it look like they were just taking turns. Head coach Steve Alford “loved how the ball moved,” and it started with his son’s play.

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Pac-12 Opening Weekend: What To Watch For

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 14th, 2014

We waited all these many months for opening weekend of the college basketball season and we’re rewarded with… Mount St. Mary’s at Arizona, Montana State at UCLA, and South Dakota at Stanford? Well, no matter, I’m still excited. Below we’ll take a look at some things to keep an eye on as all of the Pac-12 teams tip off their seasons this weekend.

  • Arizona: vs. Mount Saint Mary’s on Friday, vs. Cal State Northridge on Sunday (both on Pac-12 Networks): The Wildcats shouldn’t be challenged in either contest (although CSUN at least has some interesting athletes, including Landon Drew, brother of former UCLA point guard Larry Drew II), but that’s no reason not to tune in to see just how Sean Miller intends to pour all of his talent on to the court at the same time. Plus, the over/under on thunderous dunks from the duo of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson is set at 10 for the weekend.

    Rondae Hollis-Jefferson And Company Could Feel Some Rim Rash After This Weekend (Getty)

    Rondae Hollis-Jefferson And Company Could Feel Some Rim Rash After This Weekend. (Getty)

  • Arizona State: vs. Chicago State on Friday (Pac-12 Networks): Do you have the scouting report on Tra Holder, Willie Atwood and Roosevelt Scott down pat? No? Me neither, which is why I’ll be making sure to get a peak at the Sun Devils this weekend to see how Herb Sendek folds in the new talent with veterans like Shaquielle McKissic and Jonathan Gilling.
  • California: vs. Alcorn State on Friday, vs. Kennesaw State on Sunday (both on Pac-12 Networks): The Golden Bears should get through this weekend just fine and be undefeated when they face Syracuse in the 2K Classic next Thursday. Tune in this weekend to check out Cal’s high-flying wings in Cuonzo Martin‘s system and learn how Sam Singer is coming along at the point.

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A Player’s Program in Name Only: Sean Miller Runs This Show

Posted by Tracy McDannald on November 14th, 2014

Whatever you think you know about Pac-12 runaway favorite Arizona in advance of tonight’s season opener, head coach Sean Miller can always provide the media with another line of thinking. He is no different with his own players, but what they know is that Miller will not sugarcoat the truth to spare their feelings. That brings us to the Wildcats’ exhibition contest against Cal Poly Pomona last Sunday. Typically there’s little to take away from anything on the court in such a mismatch. Preseason observations can be flawed, misleading and not meaningful. But there sat JuCo transfer Kadeem Allen, who never got off the Arizona bench for the entire 40 minutes of action. Afterward, Miller said the combo guard has welcomed the idea of a voluntary redshirt. The only surprise of any sort was that Miller revealed that much publicly. He is the same coach who last season went back and forth over what Elliott Pitts’ role as a freshman would be. Brandon Ashley’s season-ending injury changed everything, of course, but digging a bit deeper, it’s tough to recall a time when Miller ever wasted words on nonsense. Everything he says, and especially the things he doesn’t say with a sly read-between-the-lines smirk on his face, has a purpose.

Why Is This Man Smiling? Maybe Because He Has the Best Team in the League.

Arizona head coach Sean Miller can smile when he has the option of stashing away talent to make managing minutes a bit easier. (Getty)

That brings us to the top prize in Arizona’s 2014 recruiting class, freshman Stanley Johnson. The forward, a unanimous preseason choice for Pac-12 freshman of the year on this site and the same pick for just about anyone else with a clue, came off the bench to produce 12 points in 24 minutes in that game. It was junior Gabe York who earned the start, and those around the program got the feeling that strategy will trickle into the start of the regular season before Johnson inevitably takes over. Miller hinted at as much with that playful smile in his postgame media session, adding, “It doesn’t matter if he’s happy; it really only matters if I’m happy.” Miller also said the starting five on opening night isn’t in cement for the entire season. That’s his way of making sure the players aren’t too comfortable with their status when it comes to competing in practice.

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Pac-12 Preseason Poll and Preview Wrap-Up

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 14th, 2014

And then there was basketball. Starting tonight, if you play your cards right, you can watch college basketball straight through for the next four months, maybe taking a Friday night off here and there to recharge the batteries. Hopefully we’ve done a good job here at the RTC Pac-12 microsite getting you ready for the season. As our last hurrah before we have actual games to talk and write about, we’d like to unveil the results of our five-man preseason poll (Adam Butler, Andrew Murawa, Connor Pelton, Kevin Danna and Tracy McDannald), linking to our team previews for each of the 12 teams in this conference. Below that we also link to our preseason All-Conference teams for one handy spot to return come March to figure out all the places we screwed up. Besides that, the recommendation from these parts is just to sit back, enjoy a tasty snack or enticing beverage, and enjoy some hoops tonight. Happy New Year everybody.

preseasonpoll

  1. Arizona. The Wildcats are our unanimous choice for first place and, all things considered, we mark them and point guard T.J. McConnell as the team to beat by a wide margin.

    T.J. McConnell and The Wildcats Are The Runaway Favorites In The Pac-12 (Lance King, Getty Images)

    T.J. McConnell and The Wildcats Are The Runaway Favorites In The Pac-12 (Lance King, Getty Images)

  2. Utah. The Utes still have a lot to prove, especially in close games, but with All-America candidate Delon Wright leading the way, their talent wins out for our voters.
  3. Stanford. The Cardinal are coming off a thrilling Sweet Sixteen run, and if the Johnny Dawkins can find a few breakout players they could be the team to challenge the Wildcats.
  4. Colorado. Tad Boyle’s squad returns all of his familiar faces, save one. One of their point guards will have to step up for the Buffaloes to sneak up the standings.
  5. UCLA. The Bruins are the conference’s blue blood, but they’ll need Isaac Hamilton to have an impactful freshman season to get much higher than this.
  6. Cal. Cuonzo Martin’s first year in the Bay Area will be a lot easier if Sam Singer steps up and earns the point guard spot.
  7. Washington. The last time the Huskies made the NCAA Tournament, Isaiah Thomas was their point guard. If they’re going to break that streak, Robert Upshaw needs to begin to live up to his promise.
  8. Oregon. Joseph Young is the team’s star, but newcomers like Dwayne Benjamin are going to have to contribute for the Ducks to have a chance.
  9. Arizona State. Guys like Jahii Carson and Jordan Bachynski are gone, meaning newcomers like Willie Atwood are feeling the pressure to produce.
  10. USC. In Andy Enfield’s second season, the Trojans are starting to look like the team he has in mind, but Jordan McLaughlin and company might need a little more experience to move up the standings.
  11. Washington State. Ernie Kent is ready to change the culture in Pullman, but in the short-term, DaVonte Lacy is the Cougars’ best bet.
  12. Oregon State. The Beavers are ready to bring in a talented recruiting class next season, but in his first year, Wayne Tinkle has to hope Gary Payton II plays a lot like his father.

Beyond all of that content, below you’ll find the rest of our preview pieces. Feel free to make fun of us for our misses, and congratulate us for our hits, when all is said and done a few months from now.

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RTC Pac-12 Preseason POY and All-Conference Teams

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 14th, 2014

It is Opening Day around college basketball nation, and that means that it is time to unveil our picks for our Pac-12 All-Conference teams. We asked five voters (Tracy McDannald, Adam Butler, Kevin Danna, Connor Pelton and myself) to list their 15 best players in the conference, in order of #1 to #15. What follows is our collective best guess at the 15 players most worth watching in the Pac-12 this season.

Pac-12 Preseason Co-Conference Players of the Year

Delon Wright, Sr, Utah and Chasson Randle, Sr, Stanford. Wright and Randle tied atop our poll and each player received two first-place votes among our five voters, so they’ll share this preseason honor. This first bit to note is that, in an era of star freshmen and one-and-dones and very few elite upperclassmen to speak of, not only do two seniors share our Preseason POY honor, but more than half of the 15 players on our three teams are seniors, with just three underclassmen (one freshman and two sophomores) on our list.

Delon Wright's Versatile And Efficient Game Has The Utes Pac-12 Contenders (Rick Egan, The Salt Lake Tribune)

Delon Wright’s Versatile And Efficient Game Has The Utes Pac-12 Contenders (Rick Egan, The Salt Lake Tribune)

But, let’s focus on our POYs for a second. First, Wright. After earning plaudits in the Utes’ early season practices last year, he announced his presence to the college basketball world by racking up ridiculous lines against overmatched opponents — witness the 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting, 10 boards, seven assists, seven steals and three blocks in the Utes’ opener last season; or the 12 points, nine boards, six assists and two blocks he followed that up with. Sure, those games were against Evergreen State and UC Davis, but as the season advanced, the story they told about him remained the same: a highly efficient player capable of positively affecting the game for his team in a variety of ways. Look at his final traditional numbers on the year: 36.4 MPG, 15.5 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 5.3 APG, 2.5 SPG, 1.3 BPG, 56.1% FG, 79.3% FT. The only glaring weakness was his inability to regularly knock in three-point shots (22.2% on 54 attempts). Oh, and there was that little issue about his team struggling in close games and missing the NCAA Tournament. That last bit? That’s the area Wright needs to change the most this season. For Wright to be in consideration for Pac-12 Player of the Year at the end of the season, we can forgive a little bit of a backslide on last year’s spectacular individual numbers so long as the talented Utes live up to their potential, push Arizona a little bit in the conference standings, and wind up dancing come March. Read the rest of this entry »

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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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