One of the things we love about college basketball is that every year, there are loads and loads of teams with brand new looks. You’ve got freshmen coming in and transfers and kids back from injuries. The entire makeup of a team can change from year to year, for better or for worse. This year in the Pac-12 is no different, but in some cases, these changes seem to be a bit more extreme than normal, with several teams across the conference ready to unveil a completely remade roster. Today, as practices kick off around the country, we’ll take a look at five of those teams, beginning with Utah, where second-year head coach Larry Krystkowiak welcomes in a roster that returns just two scholarship players from last year’s 6-25 team. Given the depths to which the talent level plunged in Salt Lake City last year, the remake was desperately needed, and Krystkowiak is certain that the team is ready to be much more competitive. With 10 new scholarship faces on the roster, the battle for time is tight and ongoing, with the head man mentioning that the Ute starting lineup may be a shifting five over the course of the year.
As bad as the Utes were last year, USC was even worse, limping (quite literally) home to a 1-17 record. Along the way, the Trojans turned into the walking wounded with dozens, if not hundreds, of players (overstatement is of use here) lost for the season to injury. But not only does Kevin O’Neill have many of those players coming back from last year’s injuries, but he’s got transfers galore and, all told, plenty of talent up and down the bench. Never one for understatement, O’Neill last season called then sophomore center DeWayne Dedmon a future NBA lottery pick, while this year he is going out on a limb and projecting Rice transfer Omar Oraby as a future 12- or 13-year pro, although USC is still waiting on word from the NCAA as to whether he’ll receive a waiver to be able to play this year. But O’Neill is most excited about getting back the services of senior point guard Jio Fontan, whom he calls the heart and soul of the team.
Washington State’s 2011-12 season was slightly more successful than either of the above teams’, but like both USC and Utah, the Cougs will unveil a new-look squad as well. Brock Motum returns after his breakout junior season, as does returning starter DaVonte Lacy and four other players, but things are going to have to be different in Pullman this season. But despite being minus recently-dismissed point guard Reggie Moore, head coach Ken Bone thinks this will be a better team than last year, with the combo of Lacy and Kansas-transfer Royce Woolridge being an upgrade over the would-be senior. And Bone hopes that the Cougs’ underdog status will help the squad “pull together.” Reading between the lines a bit, it seems I may not be the only one who thinks the loss of Moore could turn out to be addition by subtraction.
Oregon advanced to the NIT last season, but after five graduating seniors and three freshmen transferring out of the program last year, the Ducks were in need of a talent infusion of their own. Enter a five-man freshman class, two junior college transfers, and Rice transfer Arsalan Kazemi (who is appealing to the NCAA for immediate eligibility), and returnee EJ Singler, for one, is excited about the additional size and athleticism added to Dana Altman’s roster. The number of new players could jump to nine once the football season ends, assuming freshman Arik Armstead joins the team in January, but the number could have even been 10. However, junior college transfer Devon Branchopted not to enroll at UO for the fall semester, instead opting to go the Division II route, which would give him one more season of eligibility than he would have had in Eugene.
The roster makeover for Washington is not as massive as in any of the above four stops, but the Huskies are without their two highest profile stars from last season’s Pac-12 regular season champion. Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten Jr. left eligibility on the table when they split for the NBA, but it was no secret that last year’s squad underachieved in part due to chemistry issues that never got fully resolved. Lorenzo Romar commented on Twitter that this team has the chemistry and attitude that the coaching staff appreciates, a remark that seems to draw a direct comparison to last year’s squad. Put on your special glasses and it might as well read: “last year’s team had no chemistry because there were too many guys worried about getting the credit.” There’s still plenty of talent up in Seattle, with proven upperclassmen Abdul Gaddy, C.J. Wilcox and Aziz N’Diaye leading the way, so if the intangibles shift a little in the right direction, the 2012-13 edition of the Huskies could be an improvement on last year’s more talented squad.
As we go to wind down our coverage of the Washington basketball program, we head back to Ben Knibbe of UW Dawg Pound for his perspective on the Huskies. Here’s our conversation on the immediate future for Lorenzo Romar and Washington.
RTC: Washington loses Tony Wroten, Jr., and Terrence Ross at the guard spot. Will the role there be filled “by committee”, with C.J. Wilcox and Abdul Gaddy leading the charge, or something else?
BK: While the losses of two NBA lottery talents in Wroten and Ross will sting, the Huskies have the depth to survive the loss. The production of two such talents can rarely be reloaded with the ease John Calipari displays at Kentucky. Coach Lorenzo Romar almost always is deep at the guard position, and this coming season will be no different. Ross’ outside shooting will be replaced by the return of senior guard Scott Suggs. Suggs redshirted last season after suffering a foot injury before the season started, and while he could have returned partway through the season, he decided to redshirt and play in this upcoming season. Suggs also has the ability to handle the point guard position in a pinch. Wroten may have been a major talent, but he frustrated many Husky fans, myself included, with his constant boneheaded mistakes, ball dominance and complete and utter lack of a jump shot. His slashing ability will be replaced by redshirt freshman Andrew Andrews. Andrews impressed in practice, and is considered a talent that just has to be put on the floor.
There will also be the maturation of a healthy Gaddy and Wilcox. Gaddy was never completely confident with his knee following tearing his ACL in practice his sophomore season; Wilcox was not only limited in practice after suffering a stress fracture in his femur, he was relegated to 50 jump shots per day as his entire practice. I may be in the minority on this, but the growth and healing process or Suggs, Gaddy, and Wilcox, combined with the addition of Andrews and junior college transfer Mark McLaughlin (more on him later), will more than replace the losses of Wroten and Ross.
Senior Scott Suggs Returns From A Right Foot Injury To Bolster An NBA Draft-Depleted Husky Roster (credit: Drew McKenzie)
RTC: Did you think Washington deserved to be in the NCAA Tournament last season, or did losing the final two games before Selection Sunday seal their fate?
In this “one-and-done” era of college basketball (or two-and-queue, or even three-and-leave), it is pivotal for upper-tier teams like Washington to reload, not rebuild, after losing two guards to the NBA Draft. It looks as if the Huskies have the pieces in place to do just that, as Abdul Gaddy and C.J. Wilcox return, Scott Suggs comes back from injury, and newcomers Andrew Andrews and Mark McLaughlin are there to back them up. But of course, replacing a pair of first-rounders is much more difficult than it may seem. Do you think the Dawgs will be able to make a smooth transition that leads to a fourth NCAA Tournament bid in five years, or will they be relegated to the NIT in back-to-back seasons?
Terrence Ross (right) and Tony Wroten, Jr. (left) were selected eighth and 25th in the 2012 NBA Draft, respectively. (credit: Ted S. Warren)
Connor Pelton:By the end of the season I expect the Huskies to be right on the NCAA bubble, and most likely on the good side of it. But while I do expect them to put out a solid group of guards night in and night out come January, there are bound to be struggles early on after replacing Tony Wroten, Jr. and Terrence Ross. I don’t think they will miss a beat at shooting guard, as C.J. Wilcox has ridiculous range, and although he isn’t as great a rebounder (which is why Ross went in the top 10), the Huskies have enough bigs in Aziz N’Diaye, Desmond Simmons, Shawn Kemp, Jr., and Austin Seferian-Jenkins to take care of those loose boards. Even if Wilcox is having an off night, Lorenzo Romar can pull the Mark McLaughlin lever, who just happened to lead all junior college players in scoring last season, or even go to Scott Suggs, who sat out last year with a stress fracture in his foot. The problem lies at the one spot. Wroten was solid in all three phases of the game — scoring, rebounding, and passing — so replacing him is going to be a much tougher task. Abdul Gaddy may be a more pure point guard, but his ability to take the ball into the lane and consistently put it in the hoop is nowhere near Wroten’s; at least it wasn’t last year. Wroten’s ability to force his way into the paint also clogged things down low, constantly leaving Ross open. Overall, the Dawgs have a fine group of guards, but the one thing missing is that special take-over ability, and that could lead to a few extra losses. Losses that were turned into wins by Wroten last season.
The Huskies return four contributors from last season’s team, along with guard Scott Suggs, who comes back after losing last year to a foot injury. The returnees range from sharpshooters to prolific passers to big men down low. Below, we’ll take a look at each of these returnees in order of their scoring averages in the last season played.
C.J. Wilcox, Junior, Shooting Guard (14.2 PPG, 1.1 APG, 3.4 RPG, 0.9 SPG) – If there was ever a player to average a quiet 14.2 PPG, Wilcox was that player last season. The sharpshooter was the one player coach Lorenzo Romar could always count on to make a clutch shot, yet he still was an afterthought to most casual fans because he played behind a pair of NBA first round draft picks in Tony Wroten, Jr., and Terrence Ross. He averaged a solid 28.5 MPG, but was basically fourth in the depth chart behind Wroten, Ross, and Abdul Gaddy. The best night of his season came on a Friday in Reno, where Wilcox played 38 minutes in Washington’s 76-73 overtime loss against Nevada. In that game he matched his average of 14 points and three rebounds, but he also recorded two steals on the defensive end. An interesting trend in Wilcox’s game revealed itself after coming back from a three-game layoff due to a stress-related hip injury. Romar was reluctant to play Wilcox for any substantial amount of time in the first five games of his return, in part because Wilcox was struggling to find his shot. The sophomore guard was only averaging about half his normal production through his first four games back, but then, while still playing fewer minutes than usual, he turned his game up a notch for the final stretch of the season. He poured in 22 points at UCLA, 20 against Northwestern, and 17 each at Oregon State and home against Oregon in an NIT quarterfinal game. By early March, Wilcox had completely gained back the minutes he had lost due to his hip injury. His totals near the end of the season should have Husky fans excited, as his quick-scoring ability should be able to soften the blow left behind by the losses of Ross and Wroten.
After Losing Their Top Two Guards To The NBA Draft, Wilcox’s Ability To Knock Down The Three When Needed Will Be Huge For The Huskies In 2012-13 (credit: AP)
Abdul Gaddy, Senior, Point Guard (8.1 PPG, 2.5 RPG) – Along with Suggs, it will be Gaddy’s responsibility to provide some senior leadership at the guard position. The guy is a terrific passer, and can also kill you with a jumper if you give him enough room.
Aziz N’Diaye, Senior, Center (8.0 PPG, 0.3 APG, 7.6 RPG) – N’Diaye is a monster on the glass, pulling down over seven boards a game in 2011-12. But with the departure of Darnell Gant, he will have to increase his production even more. The monster out of Senegal is no slouch either on the offensive end, as he is more than capable of putting in a double-digit scoring night. Twice in 2011-12 he had a stretch of three games with double-digit scoring figures, and he scored a season high 14 points against Seattle U. and California. Without question, N’Diaye will be counted on to shoulder the load in the post and balance out an offense that was mainly guard-oriented last year. Read the rest of this entry »
The past season was an interesting one for Xavier‘s Mark Lyons and after a falling out with Chris Mack, reportedly based on Lyons’ tendency to try to take over games and play outside of the team’s system, he decided to transfer making him one of the most coveted transfers on the market. On Sunday his name announced that he would be heading to Arizona (clarified in a subsequent tweet). The mercurial rising senior, who averaged 15.5 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game last season will likely start for the Wildcats next season as he is set to graduate from Xavier this summer and would be eligible to play next season if he enrolls in a graduate program at Arizona that is not offered at Xavier. One of the more interesting aspects of the transfer is that it reunites Lyons with Sean Miller, the coach who recruited Lyons to Xavier before himself departing to Arizona. The arrival of Lyons in Tucson this summer likely shifts the balance of power in the Pac-12 from Pauley Pavilion to the McKale Center and adds to the conference’s respectability even if we still have doubts about the rest of the conference after the top two teams.
On Saturday, Trent Lockett announced that he will transfer from Arizona State to Marquettefor his senior season to be closer to his mother who is battling cancer. Lockett, who already completed his undergraduate degree, should be eligible to play for Marquette next season either through enrolling in a graduate program at Marquette that is not offered at Arizona State or through a family hardship waiver. Last season, he averaged 13 points and 5.8 rebounds per game for a dysfunctional Sun Devil team and although he is joining a much better team he should get plenty of court time for a team that lost its two best players to graduation.
Lyons and Lockett may have a more immediate impact, but the biggest transfer news of the weekend may be Derrick Gordon who announced on Friday afternoon that he was leaving Western Kentucky to go to Massachusetts. The freshman guard averaged 11.8 points and 6.7 rebounds per game while leading the Hilltoppers to the NCAA Tournament and managing to put up some decent numbers against eventual national champion Kentucky (12 points and 5 rebounds) when he got there. Gordon will have to sit out next season, but he does have three more seasons of eligibility left making his impact much more important in the long-term and could serve as a foundation for the program to build around for the future rather than just one year like the two players we already mentioned.
Having brought Kentucky its eighth national title a month ago, John Caliparitook his team to the White House on Friday. While the White House visit was most likely the most memorable part of Calipari’s day, getting a 8.3% pay raise (or $400,000 extra guaranteed per year) was a nice cherry on top. Although we would like to think that this was just a thank you for bringing title #8 to Lexington, this was more likely a preemptive strike against any other basketball organizations that might try to lure Calipari away from Rupp Arena like a certain organization that could use someone to lead them who can keep their players focused on the opposition and not fire extinguishers. With the President election coming up in November, President Obama is doing more than just inviting the national champion Kentucky Wildcats to the White House. He is also campaigning for reelection and to do that he will be relying in large part on his campaign rallies. While we are not aware of any deals President Obama made with John Calipari, he did enlist the help of another well-known coach: Shaka Smart. The Virginia Commonwealth coach hosted a rally for President Obama on Saturday. It is unlikely that Smart, who was a guest of Obama at last year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner, will help deliver the state of Virginia for Obama, but when you have a popular local figure it seems like Obama picked the right coach in the state of Virginia to bring out to pull in a few extra votes.
While some teams go to exotic destinations for their offseason trips they usually stick to fairly frequently visited destinations such as France, China, and the like. That will not be the case for Washington this year as they will also head to Senegal as part of a 15-day trip. In addition to stops in Spain, France, and Monaco, the Huskies will also visit Senegal and play a game in Dakar. The impetus for the trip is senior Aziz N’Diaye, who is from Senegal, and serves as one of the more unique ways to honor a tradition of rewarding seniors with a game in their hometown. The trip will also serve as a way for the Huskies to get used to their new pieces as they will have to adjust to live after underachieving last season before losing their two best players early to the NBA Draft.
Over the course of the next two weeks, the Pac-12 Microsite will break down each team’s season: what went well, what didn’t, and a look ahead at the future.Today’s subject: Washington.
What Went Wrong
Going into the year, a major question facing Washington was how quickly it would gel after losing its top three players from the 2010-11 season. That proved to be a big challenge as the Huskies started the season 5-5, their worst start since the 2003-04 campaign. While four of those defeats were to NCAA Tournament teams, there was no doubt about it; the Dawgs were playing bad basketball. However, once December came to an end and January arrived, there was really nothing to complain about in Seattle. Washington went on to win 16 of its next 19 after the poor start, with two of the three losses coming to NCAA Tournament teams. That stretch took them into the final game of the regular season, a road game against UCLA, meaning that the Huskies had at least two games to play before Selection Sunday. They needed to win just one to cement their spot in the Dance. Instead they fell to the Bruins and returned to Los Angeles five days later only to lose in the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinals against Oregon State. Those two losses ended their hopes of an NCAA berth, and the Dawgs were then relegated to the NIT.
A lot went right Lorenzo Romar's Huskies this season, but a bad start and a poor finish would eventually doom Washington's NCAA dreams. (credit: Geoffrey McAllister)
What Went Right
A main goal for coach Lorenzo Romar was to identify a new leader after the departure of guard Isaiah Thomas. They ended up finding two in Tony Wroten and Terrence Ross. Both would be named first team all-Pac-12, with Wroten averaging 16.7 PPG and Ross finishing with 15.3 PPG. Read the rest of this entry »
Lorenzo Romar met with local media on Wednesday and had a ton of news as Washington heads to the offseason. While the early entries of Tony Wroten and Terrence Ross to the NBA are by now old news, it is newsworthy that freshman point guard Andrew Andrews underwent hip surgery and junior center Aziz N’Diaye is scheduled for wrist surgery, although neither issue is serious enough to impact their availability for next season. Romar also noted that although the Huskies have yet to sign any new recruits for next season, he expects to land two or three new players. Mark McLaughlin, a recruit from Tacoma Community College, verbally committed to the program but has yet to sign a letter of intent. And, among other things, Romar said an offseason focus would be on improving perimeter defense and finding an inside scoring presence. That last goal does not have an immediately obvious answer, although guys like Shawn Kemp Jr., Jernard Jarreau and Martin Breunig will all get a chance.
When Trent Lockett announced his decision to transfer from Arizona State, he cited his desire to be closer to his mother who is fighting cancer at her home in Minnesota. So, while schools like Iowa State, Minnesota and Wisconsin all made perfect sense as possible landing grounds, the news that Gonzaga is somehow in the conversation comes as a bit of a shock. Still, Iowa State appears to be the leader for Lockett’s services, but the graduating senior must find a school that offers a graduate program that ASU does not in order for Lockett to be eligible to play next season.
It’s no secret to anyone that’s read this spot this season, but Shabazz Muhammad is more or less a must-get for UCLA. If Muhammad goes to Westwood, it means Ben Howland has landed an elite recruiting class and it means the Bruins may even have a shot to land power forward Tony Parker as well. If Muhammad chooses Kentucky, it reinforces the idea that John Calipari and the Wildcats are the place to be for potential one-and-doners and it likely slams the door on the potential for Parker in blue and gold. Sure, the Bruins will still have a nice little recruiting class with Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams, but with Muhammad in tow, the Bruins are possibly the Pac-12 favorite and a force again on the national stage. My gut feeling? Muhammad will be wearing a blue and gold hat on April 10.
A day after Muhammad’s decision will be announced on ESPNU, Tony Parker will announce his decision, with UCLA also among the favorites. On Wednesday, the Memphis Roar reported that Parker’s father had said that his son had cut his list of potential schools to UCLA, Duke and Memphis, but later in the day he retracted that statement, noting that his son would not be trimming his list until the April 8. Still, for the three schools on the supposed short list, this should be seen as good news, while the others – Kansas, Ohio State and Georgia – should probably start making other plans. And, if Brooks Hansen – the author of the piece – is to be believed, the Bruins are the leader in the clubhouse for Parker’s services.
Arizona would certainly have something to say about the idea that the Bruins would be the Pac-12 favorite with the addition of Muhammad. After all, as of right now, the Wildcats have the best incoming recruiting class in the country. And, with the proliference of all the silly 2012-13 preseason rankings that have come out in recent days, it is interesting to see UA, presently sans a set-in-stone answer at the point guard, showing up near the top of many lists. Andy Katz, for instance, has the Wildcats at #12, but two writers at the Daily Wildcathave differing thoughts on such a lofty ranking. One thinks the love is deserved, even if Josiah Turner never wears an Arizona uniform again, while the other prefers to see the team prove it before giving them such praise.
1. California (23-8, 13-5) Projected NCAA Seed: #10
Here it is, the only team locked into the NCAA Tournament no matter what happens this week in Los Angeles. With only eight losses and wins against Oregon and Washington on the road and Colorado at home, even a loss to or Stanford or Arizona State on Thursday wouldn’t knock them out of the Tournament. However, I could see them moving up to a nine seed (which is exactly like an eight) if they win two games at Staples and have teams in front of them (Long Beach State, Alabama, and Kansas State, to name a few) lose early on in their respective conference tournaments. While we could see any team from Cal to UCLA win the Pac-12 Tournament, the Golden Bears are the definite favorite coming in. They’ve got a near-elite to elite player in Allen Crabbe, and with a supporting cast made up of Jorge Gutierrez, Justin Cobbs, and a sleeper player that I think will come alive this week, Emerson Murray, the Golden Bears have unrivaled depth in this conference.
Allen Crabbe and The Cal Bears Appear To Be Headed To The Big Dance (Ben Margot/AP)
2. Oregon (22-8, 13-5), NIT
The Ducks remain on the outside looking in heading into the Tournament, but I’m of the belief that if they win two games and play in the Pac-12 Championship, regardless of what happens there, the Ducks will be included in the field of 68. Oregon has been on the bubble for the better part of conference play, but the real noise in Eugene began when it went down to the desert and took both games from the Arizona schools. Before that trip, Oregon was embarrassed by a 77-60 loss to California at home. Since then it has gone 11-3, with the biggest margin of defeat coming in a 76-71 loss at home against rival Oregon State. Besides Cal, the Ducks have the best chance to make a run in the Pac-12 Tournament; it’s almost like their team was built for it. To win any college basketball tournament, whether it is the Maui Invitational or NIT, you need to be able to shoot lights out, and two, have depth off the bench. As of late, the Ducks have been making everything they put up, and they put up a lot of shots. Watch for Devoe Joseph, E.J. Singler, and Garrett Sim to go off on any given night, considering all three are capable of creating and making their own shot. Look for junior forward Carlos Emory to have a big tournament coming off the bench.
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-12 conferences.
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'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?
With the schedule winding down, it’s a good time to start looking ahead to some of the postseason awards. For quite a while, there was a logjam in the race for Coach of the Year, but with the leaders of the conference now more clear, it looks like Colorado’s Tad Boyle and California’s Mike Montgomery have jumped out into the lead. The two teams meet Sunday in Boulder in a game that could go a long way toward determining the eventual winner, but both coaches have done a stellar job this year. For Boyle, his Colorado team was expected to finish near the bottom of the conference in its first year in the Pac-12; instead they’re just a game and a half back of the leaders. Meanwhile, Montgomery dealt with the aftermath of a successful procedure to treat bladder cancer prior to the start of the season and has since turned in another typically great job patching the holes in a Golden Bear team that now sits tied with Washington for first place.
Speaking of Washington, some Husky fans are still wondering whether head coach Lorenzo Romar has done a masterful job or a subpar job this year. There have been some bad losses for U-Dub this year (the blowout home loss to South Dakota State stands out, but big losses at Colorado and Oregon also fit the bill), but still the Huskies figure to finish the season with more than 20 wins for the fourth straight season and they could still possibly post a 15-3 record (if they win their final three conference games), potentially the best record in school history. And, given the fact that Romar has dealt with the loss of senior leader Scott Suggs prior to the season and has done a good job folding eight freshman into a roster, it appears from this angle that Romar has done just about as good of a job as he’s ever done to this point. However, reputations are earned in March, and the success of the Huskies in their remaining games may deliver the final verdict.
Washington’s players are still debating among themselves whether Aziz N’Diaye traveled on his phenomenal end-to-end blocked shot and dunk against Arizona on Saturday. See for yourself here. Sophomore guard C.J. Wilcox is in Sean Miller’s corner, thinking that the Husky big fella traveled on his way up court, but Romar and senior forward Darnell Gant think N’Diaye made a great, and legal, play. I tend to agree with Romar and Gant; it looks like N’Diaye threw the ball ahead before securing it, then controlled the ball and began his dribble. Regardless, just a terrific end-to-end play by the junior out of Senegal.
The Huskies next get on the court Thursday night at USC, and given that the Trojans have now lost 14 of their last 15, it is likely that Washington will skate through that game. However, despite the team’s struggles with injuries throughout the year, the team is still playing hard for head coach Kevin O’Neill. And, just as importantly, the players in the program are all in O’Neill’s court, supporting their coach despite calls from some SC fans for a new coach. Athletic director Pat Haden has made it pretty clear that O’Neill will be back next year, so it will be interesting to see how far the Trojans can bounce back up next year.
Bud Withers at the Seattle Timestakes a look ahead to next season’s Pac-12 possibilities, and sees better things on the horizon. For instance, while California will lose a couple important seniors, and Washington could see guys like Tony Wroten and Terrence Ross head to the NBA early, teams like Arizona, Colorado and Stanford are not only expected to return some quality pieces, but they have strong recruiting classes coming in. Likewise, UCLA sees reinforcements arrive next year, while teams like USC, Washington State and Oregon State could be ready to jump into the upper half of the conference.
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'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 …
California @ Washington, January 19, 5:30 PM PST, ROOT Northwest
The Golden Bears head north to Washington tonight in a battle that should help sort out the pecking order at the top of the conference, and both teams come into the big game a little bit shorthanded. For Cal, they’ve lost sophomore forward Richard Solomon for the remainder of the season when he was declared academically ineligible, while the Huskies will be without second-leading scorer C.J. Wilcox, whose absence is a little less final – he’s out in the short-term with a stress fracture in his hip. But there are still plenty of talented players on either end of the court who should make this an exciting game.
Washington won both games in this series last season, and by an average of over 31 points per game, so this Golden Bear team which is made up of much the same personnel, will need to prove they can hang with the Huskies’ up-tempo style. Last year, the two games between these teams averaged 75.5 possessions per game (with Washington averaging 1.33 points per possession in those games), and this year Mike Montgomery’s team has struggled in uptempo games again. So far this season, Cal has only played in four games that featured more than 70 possessions, and they’ve lost three of those – and by an average of over 20 points per game.
Mike Montgomery And California Will Need To Keep The Tempo Slow Against Washington (photo credit: Associated Press)
Given that the Bears are so guard-oriented, it is surprising that they struggle so much in the open court, but really, athleticism is not the strength of this team. Defensively, they like to lock you down in the halfcourt, pack it in and make you take tough shots over their defense. They’ve got enough size on the perimeter to challenge three-point shooters, and they send all five players to the defensive glass. Offensively, they don’t really have any one player that can break down a defender on a consistent basis, but their guards – Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs, especially – are excellent from long range, while Jorge Gutierrez is a guy who just seems to get it done anywhere on the floor. And they even get Brandon Smith back after several missed games due to a concussion.