Checking In On… the Pac-12 Conference

Posted by AMurawa on February 23rd, 2012

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-12 conferences.

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Last week at this time, we had five teams who were still serious contenders for the Pac-12 regular season title, all of them within a game of the conference lead. This week, the picture has cleared up considerably, but there is still plenty of intrigue out there. California and Washington both scored big wins over two of the other five contenders (Oregon and Arizona, respectively), in turn not only more or less knocking those teams out of the race for the title, but also cementing their status at the top of the heap. Colorado remains in the mix as well, a game and a half back of the co-leaders. The other component of the race at the top of the conference is the jostling for the #4 spot, which will earn the last first-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament. Oregon and Arizona are currently tied for the fourth spot, but the Ducks own the tiebreaker there on the basis of their earlier win at the McKale Center.

Washington

Washington's Win Over Arizona On Saturday Gave The Huskies Reason For Celebration (Elaine Thompson/AP)

What to Watch For

There is really only one big remaining matchup between teams at the top of the conference over the final two weeks of the season: California’s trip to Colorado on Sunday. Other than that, the Bears go on the road to Utah on Thursday before wrapping up their season with a trip to Stanford on the final day of the regular season.

Likewise, Washington will also be spending its last three games on the road, this week against Washington State and next week against USC and UCLA. Depsite the fact that all of those games are on the road, all of those are eminently winnable games for the co-leaders, with the Colorado/Cal game being the sole time when either Cal or Washington will likely not be favored. For the Buffaloes, however, it is going to be an uphill climb. Along with California, they also face Stanford, Oregon and Oregon State, with the latter two on the road – no pushovers anywhere among that group.

As it is, if the Pac-12 Tournament began with the current standings, this is what we’d be looking at. Certainly some pretty interesting semifinals, but my goodness is that Wednesday slate of games awful bad. The best game of the day is at noon and the Staples Center is virtually guaranteed to be whatever the opposite of “rocking” is that day.

Player of the Year Watch

There are a couple of questions here: 1) who is going to win the POTY award, and 2) who deserves to win the POTY award?

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Pac-12 Burning Questions: Pick A Part?

Posted by AMurawa on February 17th, 2012

Each week through conference play, we’ll offer up a couple of different takes on the biggest question of the week in the Pac-12.

This week: “While there are no great teams in the Pac-12, there seem to be several teams that are just one key part away from being a Top 25 team. If you could pluck one role player from a Pac-12 team and bring him over to help out another team, who would it be?”

Andrew Murawa: Arizona’s lack of interior size is their biggest weakness. At present, they’re playing a seven-man rotation with only one player bigger than 6’7” – raw 6’9” freshman Angelo Chol – getting any serious time. Jesse Perry, a 6’7” senior best suited to a combo forward spot, is ostensibly the team’s starting center. Enter Washington’s 7’0” junior center Aziz N’Diaye, sliding right into the Wildcats center position, moving Perry to a move natural four-spot, Solomon Hill to the three, and sending freshman Nick Johnson to a sixth-man role. Not only would N’Diaye give Sean Miller a defensive stopper inside, he’s shown his ability to be a solid rebounder on both ends of the court. And, when the Wildcats want to get out and run, N’Diaye has the athleticism and the motor to keep up with their young backcourt. As they are now, the Wildcats are a solid but flawed team, scrapping along to keep in Pac-12 race. Magically drop N’Diaye onto that roster and they’re the favorite in the conference, even with inconsistent freshman Josiah Turner still growing into his role at the point.

Aziz N'Diaye, Washington

Aziz N'Diaye's Length And Athleticism Would Patch A Hole In Arizona's Defense (Ted Copeland/The Daily)

Connor Pelton: I’d like to take Washington State point guard Reggie Moore and bring him over to Stanford. The Cardinal have two solid scorers in forward/center Josh Owens and shooting guard Chasson Randle, but what they are missing is a true point guard. Aaron Bright has his games, but 3.4 assists per outing just isn’t going to cut it if Stanford wants to be a top tier team in the Pac-12. If you bring Moore into the picture, you have by far the best point guard in the Pac-12 (5.7 APG). He also averages 9.2 points per game, which isn’t bad at all for a pass-first type of player. The Cardinal’s new starting lineup would look a lot better as well. The Cardinal would have Moore and Randle at guard, then go with a three forward/center combo of Owens, Anthony Brown, and John Gage. The bench looks solid as well. Bright would come off the bench and could be developed into even more of a combo-guard, and with Andrew Zimmermann and Josh Huestis down low; this Stanford team would definitely have top-tier potential. If only …

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Pac-12 Morning Five: 2.10.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on February 10th, 2012

  1. It seems like I have spent the last couple days talking and writing about how if Washington could just string together a patch of wins here down the stretch, they could earn themselves an at-large bid regardless of the holes in their résumé. And, typical of what we have come to expect of the Huskies over the past several years, just when you start buying what they are selling in the regular season, they go out and get punked on the road, just like they did Thursday night, losing at Oregon by 25 in a game that was never in doubt. The Ducks scored the first eight points of the game, shot 64.3% from the field in the first half and then coasted in the second half. No Husky who played more than ten minutes in the game shot better than 50% from the field, their top three scorers–Tony Wroten, Terrence Ross, and C.J. Wilcox–combined for 32 points on 12-of-35 shooting, with a ten turnovers between them, and the entire team shot just two-for-16 from deep. The loss drops Washington back into a first place tie while Oregon moves to within a game of first place.
  2. In the other big game of the night, Arizona continued its hot streak, taking care of Colorado by 14 in their third consecutive strong performance. While the Wildcats have struggled to find consistency in the first three months of the season, now they are playing like a cohesive unit, even as they are limited to just a seven-man rotation. Thursday night, the veteran trio of Jesse Perry, Solomon Hill, and Kyle Fogg did the heavy lifting, scoring 17, 16, and 15 points respectively, while guys like Nick Johnson, Josiah Turner, Brendon Lavender, and Angelo Chol slid comfortably into their roles and took care of business. Combined with the other results in the conference, the Wildcats now find themselves within a game of first and rolling at just the right time. Colorado is also a game back of first place, but their struggles on the road will need to be mended if they hope to seriously challenge for the title; they are now 1-4 in Pac-12 road games with the sole win coming against 1-11 USC.
  3. Speaking of USC, they got to 1-11 by getting taken apart in the second half by California last night. After a hard-fought first half that saw the Trojans down by just six going into the locker room, the Golden Bears rode Harper Kamp’s hot streak after the break (he hit his first seven shots of the second half), while freshman forward David Kravish dominated the undermanned Trojan squad on the glass, grabbing a career-high 18 boards. Coupled with the Washington loss, the Golden Bears again find themselves tied at the top of the conference.
  4. UCLA will be Cal’s next opponent on Saturday, and Thursday night the Bruins took care of business against Stanford, using a late 10-0 to finally put away a pesky Cardinal team in a game that saw both teams put together a variety of runs. It was a sloppy affair, with the teams combining for 41 turnovers, but in the end it was the Bruins’ ability to turn Stanford’s turnovers into points that decided the game, as UCLA scored 28 points off of their 22 forced turnovers. Lazeric Jones had 21 points, six assists and six steals, while freshman Chasson Randle was the only Stanford player to score in double figures, with 16.
  5. At the bottom of the conference, Arizona State welcomed back junior guard Trent Lockett with a win over Utah. Lockett had 12 points and six boards in his return, but it was the combination of Jordan Bachynski (11 points, 12 rebounds) and Carrick Felix (15 points, eight rebounds) that put the Sun Devils over the top. Meanwhile, in Corvallis, the maddening Oregon State conference season continued with a ten-point home loss to Washington State, despite Jared Cunningham filling the stat sheet in a big way. The player of the year candidate had 33 points, including five three-pointers, six rebounds, a couple of assists, three steals, two blocks, and even four turnovers for good measure. Teammate Ahmad Starks struggled, however, hoisting 13 threes and only making two on a miserable night. On the other end of the court, however, Washington State’s own POTY candidate, Brock Motum, continued his hot streak, scoring 24 points and adding nine rebounds. Since Faisal Aden’s season ending injury, Motum has averaged 27.3 points and nine rebounds over four games.
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Pac-12 Morning Five: 02.08.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on February 8th, 2012

  1. Oregon’s loss at Colorado on Saturday night was not the type of game from which it is easy to bounce back. The last-second loss on a controversial foul call left the Ducks tied for fourth place in the conference with Arizona, an especially precarious position to be in, since the top four teams in the conference will earn an opening round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament in March. Still, Dana Altman knows that his team doesn’t have much time to feel sorry for itself with a big game against bitter rival and current conference leader Washington due up tomorrow night.
  2. Arizona’s defense was a big key to their sweep of the Bay Area schools last weekend with Kyle Fogg, Nick Johnson, and Josiah Turner providing stellar perimeter defense at every turn. But a new weapon for Sean Miller’s squad lays waiting for intrepid souls find their way into the paint against the Wildcats, as freshman forward Angelo Chol has seen a bump in his minutes in the wake of Kevin Parrom’s season-ending injury. Against Stanford and California this weekend, Chol played a total of 36 minutes (his highest total in consecutive games since Arizona’s first two games), blocked six shots, and provided a disincentive for opponents to challenge him inside. As a high-schooler in San Diego, Chol blocked 1,120 shots in his career (good for second all-time at that level), but has been unable at Arizona to earn significant minutes, and hasn’t been all that effective in his time, until this past weekend. If he can turn into a strong presence in the paint for the Wildcats, they’ll be much better off as a result.
  3. Another freshman who is starting to earn some more minutes for his team is Washington’s Shawn Kemp Jr. Kemp played 24 minutes over the weekend against the Los Angeles schools and scored ten points in and around the paint. The son of the former SuperSonic superstar has taken a circuitous route to Lorenzo Romar’s team, committing to both Alabama and Auburn in the past, but failing to get his grades together in order to play at either school. Now, two years later, Kemp is working hard on his game to earn playing time and may be a significant piece to the Husky puzzle in 2012-13.
  4. Following a home loss against Arizona on Saturday, Stanford has now lost four of its last five games, falling from first place to a tie for sixth with UCLA. But, as Jon Wilner notes, this is more or less par for the course for the Cardinal thus far in the Johnny Dawkins era. Last year Stanford lost four in a row after starting conference play 3-1. The year before it was a 4-3 start and another four-game slide,while in 2009 the Cardinal dropped eight of their last ten after starting 3-3 in the conference. While Dawkins’ job is likely safe for the time being, at some point this Stanford team needs to prove that progress is being made.
  5. The conference announced the 2012 inductees into the Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Hall of Honor on Tuesday, and there are some great names on the list. One inductee from each member institution will be honored during the Pac-12 Tournament in March. Here’s the list: Richard Jefferson (Arizona), Kurt Nimphius (Arizona State), Lamond Murray (California), Burdette Haldorson (Colorado), Jim Barnett (Oregon), A.C. Green (Oregon State), George Selleck (Stanford), Ed O’Bannon (UCLA), Sam Barry (USC), Arnie Ferrin (Utah), George Irvine (Washington), and Steve Puidokas (Washington State). While there are some great names on that list that most college basketball fans are very familiar with (Jefferson, Murray, O’Bannon, Green, for starters), it is fun to go back through the brief bios on the Pac-12 site and read about guys you may not be all that familiar with. Just as a “for instance”, did you know that former USC head basketball coach Sam Barry helped the Trojans post 32 consecutive victories over UCLA and helped push for the elimination of the center jump after every made basket, as well as the implementation of the ten-second rule? Good stuff from the Pac-12, but my concern is that by inducting one player from every school every year (and this has been going on for many ten years already), it’s not going to be long before the Eugene Edgersons, George Zideks, and Isaac Fontaines of the world have to wind up in the Hall of Honor as well.
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Pac-12 Morning Five: 01.31.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on January 31st, 2012

  1. It wasn’t too long ago where Washington was given up for dead as another underachieving Lorenzo Romar squad doomed to limp through the regular season before perhaps scraping it together in time for a run in the Pac-12 Tournament. But now, after a road sweep of the Arizona schools in which the Huskies played with assertiveness and passion, they’re tied for first place and have a schedule advantageous enough where they should be considered legitimate title contenders. Unfortunately, with an RPI still in the 70s, even a regular season Pac-12 title may not be quite enough to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, so winning that Pac-12 Tourney may still be a necessity.
  2. Washington’s win over Arizona knocked the Wildcats back to 5-4, putting Sean Miller’s club in a position where they may need to win the rest of their games to have a chance at the conference title. Add the fact that they will now have to do so without junior wing Kevin Parrom, who broke his foot in the loss to the Huskies. The Parrom loss now makes this UA team that was already undersized even smaller, leaving Miller with only 6’7” Jesse Perry, 6’6” Solomon Hill and 6’9” Angelo Chol as regular contributors up front.
  3. What’s a rivalry without a little controversy? And hey, if there’s not any controversy, why not make one up? The fact that Oregon State’s cheerleaders were not going to be allowed a spot on the court Sunday night when the Beavers faced in-state rival Oregon at the Ducks’ Matthew Knight Arena was known prior to the game. And, in fact, both schools’ athletic departments had decided that neither road team would send their cheerleaders to the games at the other’s school. But, on Monday, Oregon State’s sports information director, Steve Fenk, noted that if Oregon wanted to bring their cheerleaders to the return game in Corvallis on February 26, they would be welcome to do so.
  4. With a 5-16 record, Utah doesn’t have a whole lot left to play for this season. But for any Ute that wants a chance to get on the floor, earn some playing time and maybe generate some momentum for next year, the door is wide open. Head coach Larry Krystkowiak is making it very clear that players who are willing to play hard and to play smart will earn minutes the rest of the way. In Saturday’s loss at USC, guys like Alex Mortensen and Kyle Perkins found themselves earning significantly more minutes than normal, a trend that could continue over the last month of the season.
  5. Lastly, it is always good to check in on the ongoing legacy of former UCLA head coach John Wooden. While his impact on the sport of college basketball is well known, Wooden’s philosophies have now reached into war-torn Uganda, where a handful of basketball coaches have begun trying to use some of the former coach’s teachings to help reach former child soldiers and others touched by the fighting in that country. Last week, a delegation of four coaches from Uganda visited UCLA as part of a State Department grant to learn more about Wooden and to talk about how they use his “Pyramid of Success” and other teachings to help kids in their country.
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UCLA and Arizona: Reasons For Hope and Reasons For Concern

Posted by AMurawa on January 7th, 2012

Thursday night in Anaheim, the two blueblood Pac-12 basketball programs squared off in a battle of deeply flawed teams. While neither UCLA nor Arizona has lived up to either of their historical standards or even their diminished expectations heading into the 2011-12 season, both programs have reasons to believe that not only will things get better in a big way next season, but that they have the ability to improve between now and the Pac-12 Tournament in March. However, at the same time, if changes aren’t made and improvement not shown, both of these teams could continue to disappoint. So, below, the reasons for hope and the reasons for concern for both UCLA and Arizona.

Reasons for Hope – UCLA

The Bruins played without sophomore center Joshua Smith last night, as he was sidelined due to a concussion he suffered in practice on Wednesday. However, in his postgame press conference, head coach Ben Howland noted that Smith was making significant progress in his quest to improve his conditioning, reporting that he was down to his lowest weight in more than a year and that he had been putting in extra running and completed a three-mile run on Sunday. Improved conditioning should keep him on the floor for longer stretches, make him more effective for those stretches, and would hopefully improve his ability to avoid cheap defensive fouls. He still has to prove that on the court, however.  Another positive for the Bruins was the play of the Wear twins last night. The sophomores turned in their best collective performance, combining to score 34 points on 13-of-16 shooting while grabbing ten rebounds and just generally playing more aggressively and actively than they had displayed in the past. As Howland noted, this is really the first time in their career that they’ve played extended minutes, so there is still improvement to be had from both of them. Ideally, Thursday night was a first step towards realizing that improvement.

David Wear, UCLA

David Wear, And His Brother Travis, Are Still Growing Into Full-Time Players (photo credit: Lawrence K. Ho, LA Times)

Reasons for Hope – Arizona

In the previous ten games Solomon Hill had played against the two Los Angeles area schools, the LA native had averaged about five points and three rebounds. Thursday night Hill went for 16 points and 11 rebounds and has clearly matured to the point where he is the team’s go-to offensive player and their team leader. He’s a versatile 6’6” wing capable of scoring off the bounce, rebounding with the big boys (he’s second in the conference in rebounding), and creating for his teammates (he leads the Wildcats in assists and is 14th in the Pac-12). More importantly, he is beginning to lead by example. And perhaps his leadership is starting to rub off on Josiah Turner. The mercurial freshman point guard earned back his starting position which he last held in the Wildcats’ season opener, played the most minutes of his career, and scored nine points, grabbed six rebounds and handed out three assists – not the most impressive of lines, but a start at least. Turner was effective at getting in the lane and drawing contact (he got to the line six times) and also showed a willingness to look to set up his teammates. He’s got plenty of talent; if he can harness it positively, the Wildcats will be better for it.

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Pac-12 Morning Five: 12.12.11 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on December 12th, 2011

  1. It was another wild weekend in the Pac-12, with some disciplinary action, upset losses and low-scoring slugfests. But let’s jump in with some good news: contrary to recent history, Oregon actually gained a player over the weekend. Minnesota transfer Devoe Joseph played his first game for the Ducks on Saturday and led his team in scoring with 18 points in his debut. He came off the bench but played the most minutes on the team and was their most effective offensive weapon. He wrapped back-to-back three-pointers around an E.J. Singler block to get the Matt Court crowd jumping and also handed out a key assist to Singler as the shot clock expired in a close game down the stretch. Head coach Dana Altman has had a rough time with personnel matters in the first month of the season, but the arrival of Joseph gives Duck fans reason for optimism.
  2. Not all was rosy in the state of Oregon this weekend, however, as the bad Beavers returned at Oregon State. On the heels of an on-campus tragedy on Wednesday, the basketball team came out flat Friday night against Idaho and trailed almost from start to finish. They allowed the Vandals to shoot a 60.4 eFG% (shooting just 35.8% themselves) and were never closer than ten in the second half. Head coach Craig Robinson didn’t want to tie any of the team’s poor performance to the tragedy, but we’ll give the Beavers a pass on this one. Another poor performance in their upcoming games against Illinois-Chicago, Howard or Portland State, though, and OSU’s squad officially goes on red alert.
  3. Back to some good news, as Arizona bounced back from its loss to Florida with an easy win over Clemson on Saturday. Freshman point guard Josiah Turner was reinstated following his one-game suspension after a missed practice, but it was fellow frosh Nick Johnson who led the way, scoring 14 points and throwing down some massive dunks. With Turner’s game improving by the game and freshman big man Angelo Chol beginning to contribute, these Arizona freshmen are about ready to bust out.
  4. Back to the bad news, and it was a lot of bad news for Washington this weekend. Not only did it lose its third straight game, this time to Duke at Madison Square Garden on Saturday morning, but they lost junior center Aziz N’Diaye to a sprained knee early in the second half of that game. He did not return and no prognosis has been given for his future status. This came on the heels of the announcement Friday that senior guard Scott Suggs, who had foot surgery prior to the season, would be taking a redshirt year this season. If there is any good news out of the weekend, it is that the four-guard attack the Huskies used after the N’Diaye injury was effective, and Tony Wroten, in particular, played the best basketball of his young career. UW has a history of starting slowly for Lorenzo Romar, but the smart money is on this team becoming a tough out come March.
  5. In Berkeley, it was supposed to be forward Richard Solomon’s return from his own indefinite suspension. And while Solomon played in California’s 73-46 win over Jackson State, he and his roommate Allen Crabbe got the day started off on the wrong foot when they both overslept and were ten minutes late to the team’s morning shootaround. While Solomon was going to come off of the bench anyway, Crabbe was punished for his transgression by being benched to start the game, although he did wind up playing 27 minutes and leading all scorers with17 points. Jorge Gutierrez racked up a career-high 10 assists to go with seven points and seven rebounds.
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Pac-12 Morning Five: 10.28.11 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on November 28th, 2011

  1. Over the weekend, three different Pac-12 teams played in eight-team tournaments. Arizona State, Utah and Washington State combined to go 1-8 in the Old Spice Classic, the Battle 4 Atlantis and the 76 Classic. Thankfully ASU was able to come across another BCS conference team that was worse than they were, handing Wake Forest a 28-point beatdown, but other than that, there wasn’t a whole lot to be thankful for in the Thanksgiving tournaments this year. Other tournaments this week had mixed results, as Stanford advanced to the championship of the NIT Season Tip-Off and gave Syracuse just about all it could handle before succumbing in the final minutes, and USC also split its two games in Las Vegas, losing to UNLV on Friday in the semifinal, but knocking off South Carolina in the consolation game.
  2. Arizona State did get some sort of good news this weekend, however, as an update on Jahii Carson finally came through. While Carson is still not eligible to play at this point, there is at least some movement here, as Doug Haller clarified in reporting that Carson was waiting on a late ACT score to post. When that score posts, if it is high enough, Carson can begin practicing (and playing) with the team immediately. If the score is not high enough, Carson will be ineligible this season. Stay tuned.
  3. Down the road a piece in Arizona, Sean Miller is promising big changes for the Wildcats. “The same five that started against San Diego State (Jordin Mayes, Kyle Fogg, Solomon Hill, Jesse Perry and Kyryl Natyazhko) “will never start another game (together) at Arizona,” said Miller. Certainly Natyazhko is expected to be out of the starting lineup, although it remains to be seen whether Perry will move over to center or if freshman Angelo Chol will get a chance to start. But Mayes’ tenuous hold on the point guard position may be slipping as well, after he has struggled, handing out just three assists in his last five games. While freshman Josiah Turner has had his struggles adjusting to the new level of competition, his last few games have shown improvement and he may be ready to take over the reins. Likewise, the time could be now for Miller’s other freshman guard, Nick Johnson, who could slide in at the wing if Perry takes over in the middle. We’ll see what Miller has in mind on Tuesday night at New Mexico State.
  4. Oregon State had a fun weekend, wrapping up their week-long east coast road trip with a 20-point win over Towson in front of President Obama, among others. Devon Collier continued his strong start to his sophomore season by scoring 15 points, grabbing five offensive rebounds, handing out three assists and snagging two steals, while sophomore guard Roberto Nelson had by far his best game of the year, scoring 12 points and handing out four assists while playing under control. There were high hopes for Nelson this season, and maybe Saturday was the first sign of promising things to come.
  5. Finally, as if a 1-2 record in the Maui Invitational and a 1-4 start to the season weren’t enough for UCLA, sophomore forward Travis Wear cut his foot while snorkeling in Maui on Thursday and took five stitches. The Bruins’ second-leading scorer on this underwhelming season did not practice this weekend and will be reevaluated today to determine whether he will be able to play tonight when UCLA hosts Pepperdine at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.
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Pac-12 Game of the Week: Arizona vs. Mississippi State

Posted by AMurawa on November 18th, 2011

Each week around these parts we’re going to pick one big game involving a Pac-12 team and provide a preview of the game. Last week we took a look at Oregon traveling to Vanderbilt, today we’ll look at a real dog vs. cat matchup as Arizona faces Mississippi State in the final of the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament this evening in New York City.

The Bulldogs (3-1) got to this championship game by racing out to a big 22-point lead in the first ten minutes of Thursday night’s semifinal game against Texas A&M, then hanging on from there to post a nine-point win. MSU hit five three-pointers during the opening ten minutes and made 11 of their first 15 shots from the field, then cooled off considerably, hitting just one of seven three-point attempts in the final 30 minutes of the game and only 28.2% of their field goals over that span. Of those two extremes of shooting, the final 30 minutes probably more accurately reflects MSU’s shooting ability, as the best three-point bombers from last year’s MSU club have graduated. Senior point guard Dee Bost is the Bulldogs’ most important player, team leader and leading scorer (18 PPG), but the real strength of the team lies along their frontline with 6’11” center Arnett Moultrie, much-maligned and underachieving 6’10” power forward Renardo Sidney, and 6’9” reserve big man Wendell Lewis.  The Wildcats will need their veteran forwards Jesse Perry and Solomon Hill, along with freshmen bigs Sidiki Johnson and Angelo Chol, to put in a full night’s work on the glass to keep Arizona in touch.

Dee Bost, Mississippi State

Dee Bost Is The Engine That Makes The Mississippi State Offense Go

While the Wildcats are off to a 4-0 start, they’ve yet to really gel. They needed a big 23-6 in the final seven minutes of their semifinal game with St. John’s to advance, and they’ve struggled to not only replace last year’s two leading scorers, but to fold four freshmen into the mix. Offensively, the Wildcats have been decent, with multiple players chipping in on a nightly basis to provide balanced scoring, but things still remain unsettled. Five players (Kyle Fogg, Hill, Perry, Nick Johnson and Jordin Mayes) have averaged double figure scoring thus far, but this team is still a work in progress, albeit with much upside. Junior wing Kevin Parrom just returned from a gunshot wound suffered in September and has yet to get back to 100%; freshman point guard Josiah Turner is getting slightly more comfortable game by game, but he is still too wild to be completely trusted; and the freshman frontcourt duo of Johnson and Chol has shown some serious flashes but not yet the ability to produce on a consistent basis. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Team Previews: Arizona

Posted by AMurawa on November 5th, 2011

Over the next two weeks, we’ll be previewing each of the Pac-12 teams as we head into the season.

Arizona Wildcats

StrengthsSean Miller’s modus operandi in his time in Tucson has been to play a lot of guys every night. This year, he’ll be able to do that again; the only question may be who doesn’t find his way into the regular rotation. This Wildcat team has so much depth, there are 12 players who could rightfully expect consistent minutes. There are two players, junior wing Kevin Parrom and senior center Alex Jacobson, who are still working through injuries, but at least in the case of Parrom, he is expected to be back soon and to be a major contributor. The other great strength of this team is its athleticism, which has only been bolstered over the offseason with the addition of a highly athletic four-man freshman class of Josiah Turner, Nick Johnson, Angelo Chol and Sidiki Johnson. Those four may have their struggles adjusting to the higher caliber of competition, but they likely won’t be fazed by the athleticism of Division I performers.

Solomon Hill, Arizona

Solomon Hill Is Just One Wildcat Who Must Play A Bigger Role

Weaknesses. Not only do the Wildcats lose all-everything forward Derrick Williams, but they also lost their second-leading scorer from last season, Momo Jones. And for all the talent on this team, there is not one standout performer nor is there anyone who has proven his ability to consistently create offensive opportunities for himself. All four of the freshmen have shown flashes of those abilities, but they’ll need to prove they can do it consistently, just as returnees like Kyle Fogg, Solomon Hill and Jesse Perry need to prove that they can handle larger roles.

Nonconference Tests.  Arizona gets their season started with the 2K Sports Classic, which will start with a game against St. John’s on their home floor at Madison Square Garden. The Wildcats then will either face Mississippi State or Texas A&M to wrap up that tournament, a good test either way. A tough non-conference slate continues with a visit from San Diego State, then a tough three game stretch in the middle of December where they travel to Florida, then host Clemson before playing Gonzaga in Seattle. Read the rest of this entry »

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RTC Conference Primers: #6 – Pac-12

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 1st, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-12 and Mountain West conferences as well as a Pac-12 microsite staffer. You can find him on Twitter @AMurawa.

Reader’s Take I

With only two of the ten players named to last year’s All-Pac-10 team returning, the race for the conference player of the year is wide open.

 

Top Storylines

  • Twelve Is The New Ten: After 33 seasons, college basketball fans on the west coast are getting used to calling their conference the Pac-12. With Colorado and Utah along for the ride (and currently taking their lumps in football), gone are the days of the home-and-away round-robin schedule on the basketball side of things. But lest the traditionalists complain too much, it could have been much different, as schools from Oklahoma and Texas (obviously the very definition of “Pacific” states) flirted with changing their allegiance for the second consecutive year before heading back to the Big 12.
  • Fresh Blood: As mentioned above in our poll question, the conference loses eight of the ten players on last year’s all-Pac-10 team, with just Jorge Gutierrez of Cal and UCLA’s Reeves Nelson returning. In other words, it is time for a new set of players to step up and take the reins of the league. The most likely candidates are a talented group of freshman guards – names like Josiah Turner and Nick Johnson at Arizona, Tony Wroten, Jr. at Washington, Jabari Brown at Oregon, Norman Powell at UCLA and Chasson Randle at Stanford.

Jorge Gutierrez Is A Lightning Rod Of A Guard For Mike Montgomery's Golden Bears, And Big Things Are Expected.

  • The Carson Show On Hold. A seventh highly-touted freshman guard, however, is stuck in limbo. Arizona State’s Jahii Carson has yet to be cleared for practice while an investigation continues into an online course the 5’10” point guard took this summer at Adams State in Colorado. That school has yet to release his course transcript, and until that happens, Carson is unable to practice with the Sun Devils, making an already difficult situation (being regarded as a savior for a team coming off a 12-19 campaign) even worse.
  • Hard Times for Kevin Parrom: Sometimes, just when everything is going well, life conspires to deal you a set of circumstances that just suck. It’s not bad enough that Parrom took a couple of bullets on September 24 during a home invasion, while in the Bronx visiting his sick mother. But on October 16, Parrom’s mom then passed away after a long battle with cancer. While both incidents will have lasting effects on Parrom, the bullet wounds are the biggest obstacle to him getting back on the court, with bullet fragments lodged in his right leg, a boot on his right foot, nerve damage and his left hand currently wrapped up to protect lacerations sustained in the attack. Parrom is rehabilitating his injuries and as of this writing, no hard timetable is set for his return. But if anybody is due for a good break or two, Parrom’s the guy. Get well soon, Kevin.

Predicted Order of Finish

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Arizona Schools Opt For Mid-Day Madness Over the Weekend

Posted by AMurawa on October 24th, 2011

After skipping out on the hysteria that is Midnight Madness, both Arizona and Arizona State gave their fans a treat last weekend with events centered around open scrimmages on their home court. For the ambitious desert hoops fan, they were even scheduled appropriately enough to allow the truly committed to make it to both events.

Jesse Perry, Arizona

Jesse Perry will be a major factor up front for the Wildcats this season.

For the last three years under head coach Sean Miller, Arizona has opted for using the Red-Blue Game, an intrasquad scrimmage played at the McKale Center, as a chance to present his team to the fans. Calling Midnight Madness little more than “playing a glorified pickup game,” Miller has instead turned the annual game into an event, complete with player introductions, a dunk contest, and the honoring of former players. For instance,in front of a capacity crowd that included former Wildcat greats such as Andre Iguodala, Richard Jefferson, Jason Terry, Jerryd Bayless, Lute Olson and others, as well as a handful of recruits, Arizona this year inducted Derrick Williams and Chase Budinger to its prestigious Ring of Honor.

As for the game itself, it was a good chance for UA fans to get a first glimpse at their highly-touted freshman class of Josiah Turner, Nick Johnson, Angelo Chol and Sidiki Johnson, who went for a combined 49 points in the scrimmage. The two Johnsons (no relation) were arguably the most impressive players on the day by all accounts, with Nick hitting three three-pointers, playing tough defense, throwing down a put-back dunk (on top of winning the pre-game dunk contest) and even running a bit of point. Sidiki, meanwhile, hit all seven of his shots from the field, including a couple of threes (a skill he was not known for in high school) and looks to be slightly ahead of Chol in the chase for minutes. Senior forward Jesse Perry led all scorers on the day with 20 points, including three threes, an addition to his game since last year. He will seemingly be the main offensive threat in the frontcourt for the Wildcats. Junior wing Kevin Parrom, who is recovering from being shot in New York about a month ago, dressed for the game but did not play. Nevertheless, there was good news on the Parrom front in the postgame press conference, as Miller mentioned that the team is unlikely to redshirt him this season, although he is expected to miss some of the Wildcats’ early games while his rehabilitation continues.

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