It’s that time of week for our Burning Question, as once a week we’ll try to ask the big question around the conference and get answers from all of our correspondents. This week, amidst all the fresh blood around the conference, we’ll try to find out which familiar face is ready to take a step forward.
Which returning Pac-12 player is poised to have the biggest breakout season?
Connor Pelton: I’m going to go way off the board here and pick a surprise player on my surprise team for 2012-13. Aziz N’Diaye has always been a lane-clogging, shot-blocking, rebounding-machine for Washington, but this is the year the senior center puts it all together. He’s not the most agile center in the conference, but he’s athletic enough to be the game-changing seven-footer that Lorenzo Romar’s offense desperately needs with the departure of guards Tony Wroten, Jr., and Terrence Ross. Guys like C.J. Wilcox, Abdul Gaddy, and Scott Suggs are big enough threats on the perimeter to give N’Diaye the space he needs down in the post, and Desmond Simmons (if you’re looking for a super-deep sleeper, he could be another pick) is a big enough threat to take some pressure off Aziz. I think nights like he had last year, putting up 14 points against California, or 13 against Florida Atlantic, will become the norm this year. He had a solid summer exhibition tour as well, his best game coming in a 12-point, 14-rebound performance against Zaragoza.
The key to N’Diaye’s projected breakout year will be avoiding sluggish starts. Just like the double-digit performances that you’ll see peppered throughout last season’s stat sheet, there are the few ugly offensive outings in which N’Diaye struggled early and ended up on the bench for most of the game. To avoid tempting Romar with the option of Austin Seferian-Jenkins, he needs to start each game like he wants to finish it. I think the senior steps up to the challenge, goes for 10/10, and leads the Dawgs to a surprise at-large bid come selection Sunday.