The Only Thing Standing in the Way of Arizona’s Pac-12 Coronation is Arizona

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 24th, 2015

For the first half of Thursday night’s battle for first place in the Pac-12 against Stanford, Arizona looked like the team that could only muster 56 points in a losing effort against Oregon State. But in the second half, the Wildcats showed why there is no other team in the conference that can hang with them when they are at full strength and minimizing their mistakes. The Wildcats actually jumped out to an early lead as the Cardinal’s thin frontcourt had absolutely no answer for Brandon Ashley and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson inside. But Ashley also picked up three cheap fouls in the first 12 minutes of the game and teammate Stanley Johnson picked up two of his own, and when they left the court, things started to fall apart. Without their two biggest offensive mismatches on the floor, Arizona struggled to take advantage of its distinct size advantage and instead settled for contested jumpers. On the other end of the floor, the Wildcats’ stout defense made things difficult for Stanford, at least when they weren’t fouling Cardinal players. Stanford made 13 free throws in the first half and star guard Chasson Randle scored six of his 14 first half points from the charity stripe. As a result, a first half that any casual observer would think Arizona should have won ended with Stanford up two points.

Arizona Has the Look of a Team Figuring It Out (USA Today Images)

Arizona Has the Look of a Team Figuring It Out (USA Today Images)

Of course slow starts and early mistakes have become something of Arizona‘s modus operandi this season, and nobody expected the Wildcats to go away. Ashley and Johnson returned to the floor in the second half and immediately made an impact, combining for 10 points in the first six minutes as Arizona slowly but surely took the lead for good. Even more importantly, the Arizona defense decided to start moving its feet and quit picking up cheap fouls, and all of a sudden, their suffocating defense returned in earnest. Once Randle made a difficult layup to bring Stanford within three points with just under 10 minutes to play, the Wildcats’ put the clamps down and the Cardinal didn’t make another field goal for more than eight minutes. By that point, the game was well in hand and Arizona was on its way as the odds-on favorite to run away with the conference regular season title.

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A Swing Around the Pac-12 After Five Games

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 21st, 2015

Just a collection of thoughts, compiled over the course of the past two weekends of Pac-12 play.

Arizona – This Utah game actually set up really nicely for the Wildcats. Utah was on a roll and feeling invincible despite the fact that it hadn’t beaten a good team since early December. Arizona, meanwhile, had plenty to prove amid accusations of selfishness and overratedness. The ‘Cats weathered the storm early, rode T.J. McConnell while settling in, and then turned on the juice in the second half. But, really, there are two big takeaways from this game. First, my impression all year long was that this vintage of the Wildcats does not have the high-end defensive ceiling that last year’s team had. And then, I look up on January 17 and they’ve got basically the same defensive efficiency numbers as they had last season and just finished a game where they completely shut down everything Utah wanted to do. This squad still needs to prove an ability to bring that intensity on a regular basis, but they absolutely have the ability to be just about as good defensively as last year’s team (although I still have a concern that they don’t have the type of individual stoppers that they had in Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon). Offensively, my eyes tell me this team has some problems in the half-court and that, while Stanley Johnson is clearly the team’s most talented player, Sean Miller has yet to figure out a good way to find shots for him. Then I look at the stats and I see that this team is pretty much the same offensively as last year’s group, getting similar percentages of shots from all three ranges on offense. And the best part? They’re still feeling their way around. Make no mistake, Arizona in mid-January is still a top 10 team — maybe top five — and the exciting part is that the Wildcats have enough upside that they could be significantly better by March.

With Stanley Johnson Just Beginning To Reach His Potential, Arizona's Upside Is Staggering (Rick Scuteri, AP Photo)

With Stanley Johnson Just Beginning To Reach His Potential, Arizona’s Upside Is Staggering. (Rick Scuteri, AP Photo)

Utah – The Utes lost. Bury ‘em, right? Not so fast, but we do need to have a talk about a couple of players in particular. First Jordan Loveridge, the team’s junior power small forward. What’s to complain about? In the five Pac-12 games since he returned from injury, he’s averaging better than 10 points per game and shooting at a 54.2% eFG rate, knocking in 11-of-24 shots from deep. In that same time frame, he’s taken twice as many shots from behind the arc as he has from inside; he’s attempting free throws at about a third of the rate of his field goal attempts; and he’s grabbing a rebound about every five minutes. In short, Loveridge has gone from being one of the more promising interior players in the conference to a three-point shooting specialist. That’s about all he does anymore. I understand that at 6’6” his upside at the four is limited, and if he is ever going to play in the NBA, it will be at the three. But this is college ball. And while his ability to hit the three and pull bigs away from the hoop is a useful skill, it’s only a fraction of what Loveridge could be doing for this team. For what it’s worth, I promise that this is the last time I will rip a guy with an offensive rating of 115.0 and a three-point percentage of 47.5 percent. The other guy I want to touch on briefly is Jakob Poeltl. We still like him as a player: like his skills; like his effort; like his upside. And sure, NBA scouts love him. But he really needs a lot of work, especially in the weight room. He got pushed around by the Wildcats all night long on Saturday. And if you go back and look at the results, anytime he has gone up against long interior players (San Diego State, Kansas, UNLV, Colorado, Arizona, even BYU), he has struggled. You can’t really throw the ball into him in the post because he doesn’t know what to do with it yet, so you have to rely on him to get his own miss off the glass if he’s going to have any offensive impact, and he’s not strong enough to do that on a regular basis. He’s still an important part of this Utah team, but his major leap forward probably won’t come until next year, at which time he should hopefully still be in college. Read the rest of this entry »

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Building a Football Team From Pac-12 Basketball Players

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 13th, 2015

Yesterday was the day that college basketball paused one last time to make way for its college football friends. From here on out, college hoops has the right of way on the amateur level. With Oregon representing our proud conference despite the loss, we figured today would be a good time to tie college football and basketball together in a fun way by piecing together an imaginary football team made up entirely of current Pac-12 basketball players. This team would probably be pretty good, so let’s get right to it.

Offense

  • QB: Nigel Williams-Goss, Washington – If there was such a thing as a pocket passer in basketball, Williams-Goss would be it. We’ll get him out on the edge every now and then to make some plays, but we want our quarterback to hang tight and deliver the ball to our play-makers.
Let's Trade In Nigel Williams-Goss As A QB on The Floor For Just A Plain, Old QB (Getty Images)

Let’s Trade in Nigel Williams-Goss As A QB on the Floor For Just a Plain Old QB (Getty Images)

  • RB: Chasson Randle, Stanford – He’s got speed, quickness and power. We can dump the ball to him out of the backfield or let him pound ahead into the line.
  • RB: Malcolm Duviver, Oregon State – The first time I saw this guy I thought he looked more like a tailback than a point guard. At 6’2”, 205, he can be our workhorse back.
  • WR: Stanley Johnson, Arizona – Man, there are so many places we could play Johnson but we’re envisioning him as our Megatron. He’s got speed and great hands, and once he makes the catch, good luck bringing him down.

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RTC Rewind: Virginia Survives, Others Not So Lucky…

Posted by Henry Bushnell on January 5th, 2015

Last Tuesday, in the first Weekly Primer of conference play this season, I wrote the following: “The beginning of conference play is important, not just because attention ratchets up and the momentous games come in droves, but because these first few weeks are full of realizations. This is when we start to get a true feel for individual teams.” A little later on, I concluded the paragraph with this: “We’ll learn a lot these next few weeks. Or at the very least, we’ll think we have.” With one week in the books – for some, two games; for others, one game; for still others, none – it’s time to start making decisions. What do we think we know? Which 2-0 conference starts are flukes? Which upsets are signs of bigger and better things to come? Which conference races are starting to take shape? Which are still complete crapshoots? These are the types of questions to consider.

Headliner: Virginia 89, Miami 80 (2OT)

Virginia Got All It Wanted from Miami, But Had the Last Laugh on Saturday (USA Today Images)

Virginia Got All It Wanted from Miami, But Had the Last Laugh on Saturday (USA Today Images)

Virginia is still undefeated… but barely. After controlling much of Saturday’s contest at Miami, Virginia’s usually-stout defense was carved up late, and the Cavs eventually needed a clutch Justin Anderson three to stave off their first loss of the season. But while this was a game that should have been more comfortable for the defending ACC champions, this shouldn’t reflect negatively on them. In fact, it further drives home the point that Virginia isn’t just a defensive juggernaut. The Cavaliers can score, too, which is what makes them a top-five team in the country. But what originally looked like smooth sailing for Tony Bennett’s team turned into a perfect example of just how hard it is to go unbeaten in college basketball. Virginia escaped in Coral Gables, but the alarm bells that were sounding during overtime once again alerted the nation that anything can happen in conference play. Miami entered Saturday’s game having lost three of its last five contests by double figures, including a 28-point defeat to Eastern Kentucky. But when conference foes meet, they are generally in the same ballpark athletically. That means all it takes is an outstanding performance here, a subpar one there, sprinkled with a little underdog luck, and an upset is brewing. Louisville almost proved that point as well late Sunday at Wake Forest. Virginia and Duke are both really good teams, but neither will run the table. Kentucky might be a different story in the SEC, but the ACC is just too murderous this season.

And then there were three…

While Virginia scraped by Miami, Saturday wasn’t nearly as kind to three of the six remaining undefeated teams. For Colorado State and TCU, that’s probably no surprise. TCU had feasted on the nation’s weakest schedule, and the Horned Frogs are still a bubble outsider until they show they can win games in the Big 12. Colorado State had won an unsustainably high number of close games, and a trip to New Mexico proved to be its tipping point. The big name that fell over the weekend, though, was Villanova. The Wildcats traveled to Seton Hall on Saturday, but their lack of a true go-to scorer — the generally reliable Ryan Arcidiacono was dreadful — did them in. As a result, Villanova far too often settled for three-pointers outside of the natural flow of its offense, and, as other teams with similar makeups can attest – I’m looking at you, Iowa State – that is a recipe for an upset. Villanova can’t change the composition of its lineup, and that’s why the Wildcats will remain a step or two below the top tier of teams nationally.

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Pac-12 One-on-One: Chasson Randle vs. Joseph Young

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 2nd, 2015

With data heavily reliant on KenPom.com and Hoop-math.com, along with contributions from Adam Butler, Kevin Danna, Connor Pelton and Tracy McDannald.

Regularly here at the RTC microsite, I’ll send out questions or polls to my group of trusted Pac-12 experts: Adam Butler, Connor Pelton, Kevin Danna and Tracy McDannald. We’ll gather votes to come up with consensus all-conference teams. We’ll ask who is the best defender, best dunker, best shooter in the Pac. And every now and then, we have some disagreements. This year, Oregon’s Joseph Young is perhaps our biggest source of regular disagreement. For instance, at the start of the season, I voted Young as the second-best player in the conference, behind only Delon Wright. None of my other trusted advisors ranked him any higher than sixth. We voted for best shooter in the league and I dialed up Young (and his 88.1% FT, 52.8% 2FG, and 41.5% 3FG) as the best in the conference; nobody else ranked him higher than third. And then, when we picked our mid-season all-conference team this week, I put Young in my top five, while only one other voter – Pelton – ranked him among his first five.

On the Curious Case of Oregon's Joseph Young (USA Today Images)

On the Curious Case of Oregon’s Joseph Young (USA Today Images)

Now, all of this preamble of is not to lead into a 2,000-word post on why I’m right and everyone else is wrong, but it did allow me to dig into the numbers and compare Young to some of the other guards in the league. I looked at Washington’s Nigel Williams-Goss, I looked at Utah’s Delon Wright. And then I looked at Stanford’s Chasson Randle. And what I found was awesome. Below are screenshots from KenPom.com, detailing Young and Randle’s numbers as of New Year’s Eve.

Young_Randle_KP

The basketball nerd in me loved taking screenshots of those two stat lines and comparing them. Look at how similar they are, almost right across the board, starting with height, weight, class and continuing on. Their minutes, offensive ratings and usage numbers are almost all exactly the same. I shared these screenshots with the group, and the idea for a new post comparing similar players to each other was born. I remember some baseball magazine I used to read when I was a kid, back when I still thought baseball was interesting. One of their regular features was to compare and contrast players with some similarity: Alan Trammell vs. Ozzie Smith; Tony Gwynn vs. Wade Boggs; George Brett vs. Mike Schmidt. I loved those things, even if for the life of me I can’t remember the name of the magazine or the name of the feature. (Oh, by the way, the fact that guys like Trammell, Lou Whitaker and Jack Morris are not in the baseball Hall of Fame is ridiculous, says this guy, who hasn’t watched more than nine innings of baseball in a season since before the MLB cancelled the 1994 World Series). I figured we’d try a similar thing here. Sure, baseball is more of an individual sport made up of clearer one-on-one match-ups – pitcher vs. hitter and whatnot. And just looking at the numbers for any individual basketball player without taking into account team composition and even the variability of a schedule is a fool’s errand, but I’ve never been scared of looking foolish. I’m not always going to try to establish exactly which player is better, but I’m going to try to lay out all the facts you’ll need to come up with your own opinion. Here is the first edition of RTC Pac-12 One-on-One.

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Pac-12 Weekly Honors: Week Six

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 29th, 2014

Each week the Pac-12 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, which typically will include a Team, Player and Newcomer of the Week, along with our weekly Power Rankings.

Team of the Week: Stanford

Behind Chasson Randle and Anthony Brown, Stanford Earned Themselves A Big-Time Non-Conference Win

Behind Chasson Randle and Anthony Brown, Stanford Earned Themselves A Big-Time Non-Conference Win. (Getty)

In a week with so much inexplicable carnage – Arizona, Washington, California, UCLA and Colorado all would like to have do-overs – the Cardinal are the conference’s saviors, earning the league’s best non-conference win of the season with a true road win at Texas in overtime last Tuesday. Coming on the heels of a tight loss at BYU, and with that ugly DePaul loss still lingering in the air, this game proved that this Cardinal team is capable of doing the kinds of things that last year’s Sweet Sixteen team did. Led by seniors Anthony Brown and Chasson Randle, Stanford battled the Longhorns and their crowd, fought back time and again from (at times self-inflicted) bad breaks and gave themselves and the conference an early Christmas present that should pay dividends the rest of the year.

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Surveying Feast Week Carnage Around the Pac-12

Posted by AMurawa on December 1st, 2014

Feast Week around the Pac-12 didn’t bring a whole lot of comfort to the conference. Seven teams around the league played in tournament-style events and only two even made it out of their first game and into the championship side of the bracket, with four of the remaining five teams taking two losses on the week. There was good news, however, as Arizona won the Maui Invitational with a workmanlike win over San Diego State and Washington earned the Wooden Legacy title with solid wins over an underwhelming field. And the teams that did not participate in tournaments this week (including Utah, who hosted a round robin event against overmatched opponents) combined to post a 10-1 record. Of course, that “1” on the right side of the record was an inexplicable Stanford loss to DePaul. Below, we’ll take a quick spin around the conference and get you caught up.

Stanley Johnson Is Turning Into A Disruptive Defensive Force (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

Stanley Johnson Is Turning Into A Disruptive Defensive Force (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

Arizona – The Wildcats have not yet looked spectacular this season, in racing out to a 6-0 start. But as they showed against the Aztecs on Wednesday, this is a team with chemistry and toughness, traits that should help them weather the storm as they work towards living up to their incredible upside. Things are coming along slowly but surely, Stanley Johnson is getting comfortable offensively and turning showing his ability to disrupt things defensively and everybody is feeling each other out. It will come all in due time; they’ve still got three months to dial things in before March rolls around. But in the meantime, even as we can pick apart little faults, the ‘Cats have confirmed what we already thought: Sean Miller’s team is the class of the conference. Read the rest of this entry »

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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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Introducing the RTC Preseason All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on November 13th, 2014

With the season tipping off on Friday night, there’s no better time to roll out our preseason All-America Teams. More than anything, these three groups of outstanding players are here to foster and encourage discussion over the next four months. Our crack panel of seven national columnists provided ballots over the last week or so, and this is where we ended up.

First Team All-Americans

FirstTeam

  • Marcus Paige, North Carolina – Paige enters his junior season at North Carolina following a sophomore campaign when the guard take his game to new heights. After a fairly productive freshman season (8.2 PPG), the 6’1″ point guard took home the ACC’s Most Improved Player Award by upping that average to 17.5 PPG as he led the Tar Heels to the NCAA Tournament. Paige’s season was good enough for him to be the first North Carolina point guard to be named first-team All-ACC as a sophomore since Tar Heels’ legend Phil Ford in 1976. Expectations are high in Chapel Hill again this season, and with Paige running the show, it is easy to understand why. Factoid: In an informal poll of college coaches taken by CBSSports.com in August, Paige was named as one of the players the pollsters would most like to have on their team this season. Once coach said of the Tar Heel, “he really doesn’t get enough credit for what he did for North Carolina last season. Won’t surprise me if he’s National Player of the Year.”
  • Juwan Staten, West Virginia – Not many guards can fill up the stat sheet like Staten. The highly productive senior returns for the Mountaineers following a season when he become the first player in West Virginia history to score 500 points (598), grab 150 rebounds (186), and dish out 150 assists (193) in a season. With the offseason transfers of Eron Harris and Terry Henderson, Staten will almost definitely see those numbers rise during his final collegiate season in Morgantown. After a two-year hiatus from the NCAA Tournament, Staten appears primed to lead what one expert is calling an underrated Mountaineers squad back to the Big Dance. Factoid: Following Staten’s first season at West Virginia, Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins gave his guard the assignment of watching tape from two of the great point guards Huggins coached at Cincinnati – Nick Van Exel and Steve Logan.
  • Montrezl Harrell, Louisville – It was a bit of a surprise in April when Harrell announced that he would return to Louisville for his junior season rather than enter the NBA Draft. Cardinals coach Rick Pitino is undoubtedly pleased with his big man’s decision, as Louisville is set to begin its first season in the arduous ACC. With Russ Smith and Luke Hancock gone, Harrell seems to be the best bet to pick up the slack in Pitino’s up-tempo offense. The junior forward has reportedly added what he and his coach call a more consistent 14-to-16 foot jump shot to his offensive repertoire. While that development unquestionably has Louisville fans giddy, it should worry the Cards’ new conference foes. Factoid: Harrell originally committed to Virginia Tech out of high school, but he reopened his recruitment following Seth Greenberg’s abrupt dismissal. A few weeks later, Harrell signed with Louisville and the rest, as they say, is history.
  • Jahlil Okafor, Duke – The Chicago prep superstar-to-Duke pipeline continues as Okafor is set to begin his freshman season in Durham. The consensus number one high school player in the Class of 2014 enters his college career with a tremendous amount of hype. He has been described as “one of the most skilled and poised back to the basket centers to come along in some time.” Duke brought in a star-studded recruiting class to help offset the early departures of Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood, and there is no question that Okafor is the jewel of that class. If the big man turns in the type of season that many expect from him, there is no telling what the ceiling for the Blue Devils could be. Factoid: Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has already acknowledged that he expects Okafor to be a one-and-done: “We won’t have him long. We’ll have him this year and then he’ll be one of the top NBA picks.”
  • Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin – Kaminsky entered the 2013-14 season as a relative unknown after averaging just 4.2 points in 10.3 minutes per game as a sophomore. He did not remain an unknown for long, though, as the junior emerged as one of the top big men in the Big Ten, taking home consensus first-team All-Big Ten honors. While his regular season was outstanding, what really turned Kaminsky into a household name was his 28-point, 11 rebound effort against Arizona to send Wisconsin to the Final Four. The Badgers return four starters from that Final Four squad, but none are more important than the seven-foot senior. Factoid: Kaminsky was lightly-recruited coming out of Benet Academy in Lisle, Illinois. In fact, he was a Plan B for the Badgers after one of their top frontcourt targets, Nnanna Egwu, committed to Illinois.

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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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One on One: A Pac-12 Preview With Jon Wilner

Posted by Walker Carey on November 7th, 2014

RTC interviews one on one

Rush the Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you throughout the preseason with previews of each of the major conferences.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview with the Pac-12, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking with a Pac-12 expert in San Jose Mercury News college basketball scribe, Jon Wilner (@wilnerhotline).

Rush the Court: Even with losing Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon from last season’s squad, Arizona is once again loaded. What makes the Wildcats so well rounded, and do you see them as one of the favorites to take home the national title?

Wilner: They certainly have to be in the very top tier of contenders for the national title. I that that their depth again is their biggest strength. They have so many good players that they are not just reliant on one or two guys. I think they are going to have more options to score this year. They should be a little bit better on offense. There might be a slight drop-off on the defensive end of the court, but it will not be enough to really hurt them. They should be right in the mix nationally. Sean Miller does a great job of getting his guys to play hard all the time. They have a huge homecourt advantage and they have a lot of experience of being able to go win on the road. A lot of success comes from the ability to go win on the road and this group has done just that.

Arizona (Casey Sapio, USA Today Sports)

Arizona Brings Back Enough Talent to Win a National Title This Year (Casey Sapio, USA Today Sports)

RTC: Colorado brings back a lot of experience from last season’s NCAA Tournament squad. With key players Josh Scott, Xavier Johnson, and Askia Booker returning for the Buffaloes, can Tad Boyle make it three NCAA Tournaments in three years?

Wilner: I think so. I expect them to be an NCAA Tournament team. I think Colorado is the best bet to finish second behind Arizona in the conference standings. It might be three or four games behind Arizona, but second place is second place. Tad Boyle is a terrific coach. He is as good as there is in the league. I think the fact that they played so much of last season without Spencer Dinwiddie will help them now that he is officially gone. There is not going to be the transition that you would normally find with a team that loses its best player to the NBA because Colorado did not have Dinwiddie for the last couple months of last season.

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Pac-12 Media Day Roundup: Part Two

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) on October 24th, 2014

Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) of Pachoops.com is back for another go-round on his March to Vegas. He covered the Pac-12 Media Day on Thursday. Part I of this two-part series, which covered USC, Washington State, Oregon State, California, Washington and Utah, is located here.

Arizona State

Senior Jonathan Gilling Had Head Coach Herb Sendek Speaking In Glowing Terms (Pac-12 Conference)

Senior Jonathan Gilling Had Head Coach Herb Sendek Speaking In Glowing Terms (Pac-12 Conference)

If nothing else, you have to love Herb Sendek’s enthusiasm. He’s a very positive dude and, at Media Day, has so many great things to say about everything. This year in particular he came out, positivity guns-a-blazing, about his senior wing, Jonathan Gilling. “He basically has been a four-year starter except for the fact last year he discovered he loves to come off the bench. He’s our best sixth man… I think he’s had the best offseason and preseason since he’s been at Arizona State.” Jon Gilling, as it were, seems to be killing it, perhaps even Gilling it, if you’ll allow me. But with the level of turnover and the new faces in Tempe, it’s going to take a lot more than a sixth man’s effort for the Devils to be successful. Fear not, positive Herb would have you know! Newcomers like Willie Atwood, Gerry Blakes, and Roosevelt Scott will be providing wing skills and combo-guard talents that will greatly help Arizona State. Tra Holder, their freshman point guard, will be distributing to these wings and the three-raining Gilling. The Devils can maintain their year-over-year emphasis on tempo with this personnel. This isn’t your Jahii Carson or James Harden Sun Devils, but it just might be a collective effort that leads this group beyond expectations. Particularly considering Sendek’s thoughts on how the conference’s final standings could – literally – shake out: “You could probably put everybody in a hat, shake it up, have just as good a chance at predicting the order of finish as we are able to do sitting here today… So how anybody short of Nostradamus could sit here today and predict like there really is a difference between ninth and tenth or eighth and ninth just is unreasonable.” Here’s a hat, Herb, shake it up.

Stanford

For the first time in his six seasons at Stanford, Johnny Dawkins took the podium as an NCAA Tournament coach. That’s huge. Had that not been the case it’s very likely that he wouldn’t have been joining us at Media Day. Nevertheless, that wasn’t the case and he wasn’t going to miss his opportunity. JD gave the longest and most insightful opening remarks of any of the coaches. He touched on last season and the experience they had as well as whom they lost. Dawkins transitioned into his excitement for this season and the schedule they’ve pieced together, its challenges. He praised his stage-mate, Chasson Randle, and noted that the Cardinal’s game in Chicago is an opportunity for Chasson to return home. Johnny Dawkins was excited to be here just as I imagine he was excited to have made last year’s Sweet Sixteen. I asked him about it and loved what he had to say: “It’s about standards, you know. Last year we were able to set the bar… You have to have standards to meet or exceed what you’ve accomplished.” These were some of my favorite quotes of the day and certainly the most encouraging I’ve heard from Dawkins before. Last year he told me his 9-9 conference team, returning almost completely intact, was going to “Think about things differently.” I wasn’t sold and they managed 10-8. But now that bar has been set. The hurdle has been jumped and the program knows that it can make the Tournament. And be loud there. The experience of Randle, Anthony Brown and Stefan Nastic is not just games played but actual NCAA Tournament wins. That speaks volumes to the newcomers filling the gaps left by Josh Huestis, Dwight Powell, and John Gage. Collectively, this group doesn’t just believe, they don’t think about doing it anymore. They now know.

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