Making Sense of the Wild Pac-12 Standings

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on January 11th, 2016

We’re now through two weeks of Pac-12 play and Washington sits alone atop the conference with a 3-0 record. USC, Oregon State and Oregon are the next three teams, with only one loss. Teams among the conference favorites – for example, Arizona and Utah – sit with sub-.500 records. And Arizona State, a team expected to be in the mix somewhere in the middle of the conference race, is sitting alone in last place with an 0-3 record. Sure, given that teams have only played a fraction of the conference schedule, most of this is meaningless. But here are some more relevant facts. At halfway through the college basketball regular season, 11 of the 12 conference teams are ranked among the KenPom top 100 — only Washington State sits out at #122. If RPI is more your thing (for some reason), those 11 teams rank among the top 75 of that metric. If you want to throw out Stanford and Washington, the top nine teams in the conference rank among the top 66 in KenPom and the top 48 in RPI. The conference is listed as the #2 strongest collection of teams in the land by RPI, while KenPom puts the league third. Oregon is rated highest in RPI (#11), while Arizona tops KenPom at #16.

Two Weeks Into Conference Play, One Thing Is Clear: It's Going To Be A Wild One (Gary A. Vasquez, USA Today)

Two Weeks Into Conference Play, One Thing Is Clear: It’s Going To Be A Wild One (Gary A. Vasquez, USA Today)

Enough numbers for now; the important question is what do they all mean? To begin with, this is a conference that runs deep with good teams. In a season seeming to lack great teams on a national level, the Pac-12 will again be expected to extend its streak of seasons without a Final Four entrant to eight. However, because of that lack of dominant team on the national landscape, if this NCAA Tournament tends towards wild upsets (as sometimes happens), the Pac-12 has some teams in that next tier of strength that could either be the upsetter or take advantage of brackets thinned out by upsets.

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Dear Santa: Here’s Our Pac-12 Holiday Wish List

Posted by Mike Lemaire (@Mike_Lemaire) & Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on December 18th, 2015

Here at the Pac-12 microsite we are hardly immune to the allure of a cheesy holiday-themed post, and so in the spirit of the season, we created a wish list for each team in the conference. Although none of the teams are even close to a finished product and it may be too early in the season to thoughtfully examine strengths and weaknesses, everyone has played enough games that we can start to draw worthwhile conclusions from what we’ve seen. As with any holiday wish list, there are some wants and needs that are easier to satisfy than others but hey, you have to dream big when gifts are involved.

Arizona: Another Shooter

Arizona Could Stand To See Mark Tollefsen Dial In His Perimeter Shot (USA Today Sports)

Arizona Could Stand To See Mark Tollefsen Dial In His Perimeter Shot. (USA Today Sports)

Even without post anchor Kaleb Tarczewski, the Wildcats have been and will continue to be the conference’s best defensive team. But the offense has been a work in progress primarily because the outside shooting has been ugly. The team is shooting just 31 percent from downtown, down from 38 percent last season and Gabe York is pretty much the only one making shots behind the three-point line with any regularity. York has been much better of late and is one of the most dangerous shooters in the country when he gets hot, but he is pretty much the only one on the roster who can shoot. The big reason why the Wildcats rank near the bottom of the country in 3PA/FGA is because Sean Miller knows his team can’t really shoot it from there. The best hope is that Mark Tollefson rebounds from a slow start and becomes the 36 percent three-pointer shooter he was coming into the season.

Arizona State: a Personal Offensive Coach for Savon Goodman

Goodman is almost as bad at shooting and passing as he is good at everything else he does on the court. He is a vicious dunker, a suffocating defender, one of the better rebounding wing players in the entire country and a good finisher at the rim. But, like many freak athletes on the basketball court, as he moves farther away from the basket, his effectiveness disappears. Goodman has missed all seven of the three-pointers he has attempted in his collegiate career and he is a career 57 percent free throw shooter. Also, his assist rate is below 5.0, which means once he gets the ball, he isn’t looking to get rid of it again. Goodman’s offensive issues are a good microcosm for Arizona State’s offensive issues. The team is athletic and defends hard, but they don’t have any truly skilled offensive players. Goodman will likely never become a consistent three-point threat but imagine how good he and the Sun Devils could be if he develops some feel for his shot.

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Pac-12 Notebook: A Stroll Around the League

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on December 16th, 2015

Every week I check in with the Mountain West by writing a little blurb about each team. I like that format because it provides a chance to follow the development of all the league’s teams and focus in on little things that may not be worthy of a longer post. Some teams may get a few hundred words one week while other teams just get a sentence or two, but it highlights the important things. We’re going to bring that format to the Pac 12, beginning right now. We might as well throw in some power rankings while we’re at it, so let’s check in with the league in order of how these teams rate at this point. Let’s get to it.

Jordan Bell Is Back For The Ducks, But They're Still A Long Way From Healthy (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Jordan Bell Is Back For The Ducks, But They’re Still A Long Way From Healthy. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

  • Oregon – Yes, the Ducks are coming off two losses in their last four games. But I’ve had Dana Altman’s team as the best team in the conference since the middle of the summer and, even playing shorthanded, they’ve done nothing to dissuade me of that so far. Sophomore center Jordan Bell made his season debut Saturday night at Boise State and he looked healthy following surgery over the offseason to repair a broken foot. He ran the court hard, and played big in chasing rebounds and blocked shots. He didn’t appear to be favoring that foot at all. In 17 minutes, he blocked a couple shots, grabbed seven boards and even handed out four assists. Last night against UC Irvine, he was even better with 12 points and three steals. Encouraging debut aside, it is going to take him some time to get back into game shape and to get comfortable with his new teammates. He still also hasn’t played a minute with Tyler Dorsey (out following a knee sprain against UNLV) or Dylan Ennis (still sidelined with a foot injury). This Oregon team remains one that may not reach full strength until mid-February, something that isn’t a problem in a sport that so values March.

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Pac-12 Bests and Worsts of The Week

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 8th, 2015

With notable results filtering in throughout the week, the complexion of the Pac-12 has undergone significant change in the last seven days. Here’s a look at some of the highlights — and lowlights — of recent action.

Best Audition for NBA Scouts: Most of the NBA’s attention has been on Tony Parker this season, but it has been sophomore seven-footer Thomas Welsh who has been UCLA’s best offensive player and rim protector. Welsh logged back-to-back double-doubles against Kentucky and Long Beach State and is shooting 62 percent from the field — some five percentage points better than Parker even though the senior attempts nearly twice as many shots at the rim. Furthermore, Welsh has been close to automatic on 15-foot jumpers this season, shooting better than 60 percent on such attempts. NBA teams will always find a place for a legitimate big man who can stretch the floor with a mid-range game. If Welsh can keep it up, he will get plenty of attention from scouts throughout the season.

Thomas Welsh Was Massive On Both Ends Of The Court Thursday

Thomas Welsh Has Been Arguably UCLA’s Best Player At This Point In The Season

Best Travel Experience: Arizona wasn’t supposed to beat Gonzaga in Spokane, not with Kaleb Tarczewski sidelined with foot issues and especially not when trailing by double-figures at halftime. But Gabe York and Allonzo Trier sparked the offense; Dusan Ristic held his own inside against Domantas Sabonis; and Sean Miller’s team played its trademark stingy defense down the stretch. The result was one of the most impressive road wins of the young season for any team and the rise of a notion that maybe Arizona won’t need to spend this year “rebuilding” after all. If its defense can remain as ruthlessly efficient as it has been and some of the underclassmen continue to develop, this team will be there again late in March.

Worst Travel Experience: Oregon left the friendly climes of Eugene for the first time this season, but a trip to Sin City didn’t quite go according to plan. Instead the Ducks were greeted rudely by UNLV, who buried the unsuspecting team under a barrage of three-pointers while harassing it into 15 turnovers. If there is one subtle flaw in Oregon’s roster, it’s a profound lack of of experience from top to bottom, especially as injuries continue to sideline key rotation players. The Ducks have shown a knack for gaining fuel from the atmosphere at Matthew Knight Arena, which will makes stealing road wins very difficult for visitors (just 10 losses in four seasons). But road games have been the more pressing recent issue. If the Ducks want to be considered legitimate conference title contenders, they will need to win on the road with some degree of regularity.

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Pac Goes 3-0 in Tip-Off Marathon: Thoughts

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 18th, 2015

Three Pac-12 teams participated in very competitive contests in ESPN‘s Tip-Off Marathon earlier this week, each coming away with very good wins for their programs. Below let’s take a quick look at the biggest takeaways from those three performances.

Utah – Before we dig into what Monday night’s win over San Diego State means for the Utes, let’s compare that game to last year’s and see what it might mean for the whole sport. You might remember that last year the Utes and Aztecs battled to a 53-49 final in a game that only a mother could love. This year, even though both teams are transitioning with brand new point guards, the two teams combined for 53 more points. Sure, there were 14 more free throws attempted in this game (a total of 57 were attempted), but we’re already seeing an uptick in possessions per game and, as players adjust to the new whistles, we should continue to see greater flow. The rules still aren’t perfect, but all things considered, it seems like we’ve taken an incremental step in the right direction.

As for the Utes, despite losing do-everything guard Delon Wright, this team is so loaded with talent and skill that this year’s edition may be even better than last year’s Sweet Sixteen team. You know about Jakob Poeltl already, and he’s continued to be spectacular (just see above), to the tune of 20.5 points, 11.5 boards and 2.5 blocks per game as well as 70 percent shooting from the field. Plus the seven-footer who shot 43 percent from the charity stripe last year has improved to a 62 percent marksman in the early going — this will be big. Then there’s senior Jordan Loveridge, who looks poised to have the type of year we’ve been waiting on from him since his promising freshman year, averaging 22.5 PPG and knocking in 10 threes already.

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Pac-12 Bests and Worsts: Opening Weekend Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 16th, 2015

The season is back and it is time for what will be a recurring Monday feature here — Bests and Worsts. We usually prefer to spend our weekends watching basketball and save the analysis for the following week so we figured this is the best way to recap some of the good and bad of each weekend. For starters, two teams (UCLA and Stanford) played two games this weekend and everyone else played a single one. One team (Washington) won a potential resume-builder while two other teams (Arizona State and UCLA) lost games that they hope everyone will forget by early February. Let’s take a look at what went down.

Jakob Poeltl Does What You Want A Big Man To Do (Utah Basketball)

Jakob Poeltl Picked Up Where He Left Off In A Season-Opening Win. (Utah Basketball)

  • Best Early Case For Player of the Year Honors: There is little doubt at this point that Jakob Poeltl is going to be a lottery pick as soon as the end of this season, but for now, let’s make sure to celebrate his outstanding versatility before he is gone. The sophomore filled up the box score with 26 points on 10-of-13 shooting, 11 rebounds and four blocks as the Utes’ frontcourt overwhelmed intrastate foe Southern Utah. The Thunderbirds will probably be one of the least physically imposing teams Poeltl goes up against this season, but if his teammates can continue to shoot well from behind the three-point arc, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a Poeltl 20/10 become a regular occurrence in Salt Lake City.

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Gametime: Previewing Colorado vs. Iowa State

Posted by Andrew Murawa & Brian Goodman on November 13th, 2015

We’re just so excited that games are tipping off today that we had to spend some time thinking about what we’re about to see. As a result, the Pac-12 and Big 12 microsites got together to review this afternoon’s Iowa State vs. Colorado matchup from beautiful downtown Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Ken Pomeroy’s FanMatch system rates this as the second-best contest on opening day (behind only Gonzaga vs. Pittsburgh) and lists Iowa State as a five-point favorite. Below Brian Goodman and Andrew Murawa make a case why either team will walk away from Sioux City with its first victory of the season.

Georges Niang and the Cyclones open up against Washington in a rare Friday afternoon game. (Nirmalendu Majumdar)

Georges Niang and the Cyclones open up against Colorado in a rare Friday afternoon tilt. (Nirmalendu Majumdar/Ames Tribune)

Colorado will win if:

  • It gets good play out of the point guard position. Last year, the Buffaloes’ combination of Askia Booker, Xavier Talton and Dominique Collier combined to lead a Colorado offense that turned the ball over on almost 20 percent of its possessions and struggled mightily to find good looks in the half-court. Forty percent of Colorado’s field goal attempts came at the rim (57th in the nation) but just 45 percent of those came off of assists (166th); 28 percent of its shots came from three (300th) but just 82% of those were assisted (249th). Booker’s now gone — and given that he was about the only Buffs’ player who could consistently find those looks for himself — Talton and particularly Collier are going to need to prove that they can find good looks for their teammates (and themselves, when necessary). Now, if Iowa State under Steve Prohm is anything like it was under Fred Hoiberg, the Cyclones are not going to spend a lot of effort on pressure defense intended to force turnovers. That means that the Colorado point guards could have the best conditions possible to get their season off on the right foot.
  • It’s a new season and all but last year’s Cyclones were Charmin soft inside the paint defensively. Sure, Jameel McKay is a fine shot-blocker, swatting away just under nine percent of opponents’ two-point field goal attempts when he was in the game last season. But if McKay is not busy rejecting opponents, those shots stand a good chance of converting if the ball enters the paint. Last year the Cyclones ranked a paltry 335th in the nation in field goal percentage allowed at the rim. The flip side of that number is that — partially because they allowed so many three-point attempts — they were among the best in the nation in limiting opponents’ looks at the rim. For a team of Buffaloes without many established three-point shooters, the key to victory may be passing up some of those open three-point looks in order to work the ball inside to more efficient inside scorers like Josh Scott and Wesley Gordon.

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Colorado Preview: What’s The Point?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 9th, 2015

In the next three weeks leading up to season tipoff, the Pac-12 microsite will be evaluating each of the league’s 12 teams. Today, we head to Boulder.

Colorado Buffaloes

Last year was not good in Boulder. It was understood there were going to be growing pains following the Spencer Dinwiddie era, but at least there were plenty of seemingly good options to step into his old point guard role. Not only did none of those options really pan out, but there were also issues everywhere else. This year, despite the fact that there may be a smidgen less talent on the Colorado roster, the hope is that a little more cohesion will help get Tad Boyle’s program headed back in the same direction it was in a couple of years ago.

Josh Scott Is Arguably The Best Returning Player In The Pac-12 (Jeremy Papasso, Daily Camera)

Josh Scott Is Arguably The Best Returning Player In The Pac-12. (Jeremy Papasso, Daily Camera)

Strengths. The Colorado frontcourt has a chance to be among the best in the conference this season. That’s quite a statement given that Xavier Johnson is likely to miss the entire season after tearing his Achilles tendon. Let’s start with senior center Josh Scott, who might be the best returning player in the conference. He’s a highly efficient scorer who can hit mid-range jumpers, score over either shoulder with a jump hook, and also pick up some hustle buckets on the offensive glass. Next to him at the power forward spot will be garbageman extraordinaire Wesley Gordon, who is skilled enough to score more than the 6.6 PPG he averaged last season, but also content to clean the glass, set picks and play hard-nosed defense. Backing up those two spots will be sophomore Tory Miller, who showed flashes of brilliance in limited minutes during his rookie campaign. Miller has drawn rave reviews over the offseason, so a big leap could be coming from him in year two. At the wing position, Boyle will employ a combination of junior Tre’Shaun Fletcher and redshirt sophomore George King, players who are capable of filling lanes in transition, stepping out and hitting threes, or getting dirty work done inside. In fact, there will likely be times this year when Fletcher and King are on the court at the same time with two Colorado bigs, allowing the Buffs to go large and find a way to get their best players the most minutes. Read the rest of this entry »

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A Twelve-Pack of Important Pac-12 Newcomers

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 2nd, 2015

At this time of year, it is easiest to get excited about the unknown. We have some idea what to expect from players like Jakob Poeltl and Josh Scott and Bryce Alford and Elgin Cook, but the new guys in their new environments? The sky’s the limit. Below we’ll count down our picks for the 12 guys in a conference of 12 teams who have us most intrigued heading into the season.

12. Bennie Boatwright, Freshman, USC – The Trojans’ offense was abysmal last season. There are plenty of things that need to happen for that to change, but Boatwright’s ability to fill it up from deep could provide an immediate boost. He averaged 27.8 PPG as a high school senior, knocking in eight threes in a single game two separate times.

Bennie Boatwright Getting Ready To Bomb From Deep - Get Used To That Sight (Photo by Kelly Kline/adidas)

Bennie Boatwright Getting Ready To Bomb From Deep – Get Used To That Sight (Kelly Kline/adidas)

11. Lorenzo Bonam, Junior, Utah – Just one of many candidates on the Utah roster to help ease the post-Delon Wright transition, Bonam averaged 16.5 points, 6.8 boards and 3.4 assists per game last season at Gillette College in Wyoming. In his Huntsman Center unveiling last month, he had 16 points in about 32 minutes of action.

10. Dejounte Murray, Washington – On a team loaded with new faces, Murray is the most highly regarded of them. He was the 2015 Washington boy’s high school basketball Player of the Year after averaging 25.0 points and 12.4 boards per game, while notching 24 double-doubles and 14 triple-doubles on the season. Read the rest of this entry »

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Six Injuries Affecting Pac-12 Teams

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 28th, 2015

Here we are, counting down the final few weeks until the start of the college basketball regular season. Everything’s great. We get to read about new players making their marks, possible breakout players and teams, and we get to dream of the season that is about to unfold before us. And then, in the middle of it all, we get bummed out with news like that which broke over the weekend: Arizona freshman Ray Smith, recently off a torn ACL in his left knee that caused him to miss his senior season of high school, has now torn the ACL in his right knee and will miss the entire upcoming season. Horrible, terrible, stupid no-good, **expletive deleted**. Unfortunately, these things are a part of the game and they’ll have an impact on the year ahead of us. Below we’ll review six injuries to Pac-12 players that occurred during the offseason, and later today we’ll take a look at five players who will (hopefully) return from an injury suffered last season.

Ray Smith, Arizona – We’ll start with Smith, who in all likelihood was going to start the season as a reserve. However, since he was playing a position of scarcity on the Arizona roster, he had the potential to work his way into the starting lineup as an athletic defender at the three with excellent open court abilities. Now, after successfully rehabilitating his left knee for the past year, he’s got to do it all over again with the right leg. Best wishes go out to Smith in the hopes that he’ll be back in time to have an impact on the 2016-17 season.

Xavier Johnson's Achilles Injury Will Likely Cost Him The 2015-16 Season (Jeremy Papasso, Daily Camera)

Xavier Johnson’s Achilles Injury Will Likely Cost Him The 2015-16 Season (Jeremy Papasso, Daily Camera)

Xavier Johnson, Colorado – Johnson tore his Achilles in June. With that kind of injury, you typically just figure: “Okay, he’s out for the year.” But in September Jon Rothstein reported that Johnson has not yet been entirely ruled out and that the program would re-assess his condition in December. After playing at least 24 minutes per game and averaging 10.2 PPG and 5.3 RPG over his first three seasons in Boulder, Johnson is as big piece to the puzzle for the Buffaloes, especially if paired alongside fellow senior Josh Scott in the frontcourt. More likely, however, a redshirt season is the likely outcome for Big X this year. As a result, sophomore George King (himself coming off a redshirt season, although for player development rather than from an injury) is the most likely candidate to spend time at the three for the Buffs.

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Ranking the Pac-12’s Top 20 Non-Conference Games: Part I

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 22nd, 2015

Part I contains games #20 – #11. Check back later today for the top 10 non-conference games featuring Pac-12 teams.

Last season, according to Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, UCLA had the toughest non-conference strength of schedule among Pac-12 teams, good for 91st in the nation. Beyond the Bruins, only Stanford (136th), Utah (155th) and Arizona (180th) finished among the top 200. As a conference, those are obscene numbers. We talked a lot last year about the state of the game and watchability and the like, and yet, when a major conference like the Pac-12 can’t be bothered to play halfway decent opponents in their elective games, that is a sure sign that something is wrong in the game. This year, things should be somewhat better but it is still a mixed bag. Big ups to teams like Utah, UCLA and Arizona State for scheduling well outside of league play, but several other teams still missed the mark. Arizona, for instance, a program never known for ducking quality competition, has a decent-ish schedule, but one that is missing its typical oomph. Oregon State, a team seemingly on the rise with good returning talent coupled with a big recruiting class, has a schedule where, arguably, a home game against Valparaiso is the second-toughest game on the slate. You’ve got to do better, Beavs.

Larry Krystkowiak, Utah

Larry Krystkowiak and Utah, In Particular, Have Done An Excellent Job Scheduling

With all this in mind, we’re going to check in on the 20 best games we’ll see before the conference slate kicks in around the turn of the calendar year. A couple caveats: First, we’re doing this using MLB All-Star game rules, so every team gets an appearance here; and second, games that are the first game in a multi-game tournament get bonus points. Without further ado, let’s count one man’s picks for the Pac-12 non-conference games to watch.

20. 11/26 USC vs Wichita State in Orlando, FL (Advocare Invitational) – In the Thanksgiving weekend tournament formerly known as the Old Spice Classic (among other things), the Trojans get to swing for the fences against the Shockers. While it would indeed be a shock if Andy Enfield’s bunch advances to the semifinals, this game will serve as a great barometer for USC’s improvement. Read the rest of this entry »

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Wrapping Up the Pac-12 and Looking Ahead to 2015-16

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 16th, 2015

The National Championship game is now more than a week behind us and the Final Four is almost two weeks back. Stanford’s “magical” NIT run ended 14 days ago and Arizona’s loss to Wisconsin in the Elite Eight, capping off the last meaningful Pac-12 action of the season, is nearly three weeks ago. With Arizona State’s coaching vacancy filled and early-entry and transfer season fully in swing, that means it is well past time to put a bow on the season and begin to think about what comes next. Below, we’ll review each Pac-12 team and offer up grades on each team’s season. We’ll also take a look at what could be around the bend the next time college basketball rolls around.

Sean Miller, Arizona

Despite Regular Season and Conference Tournament Titles, The 2014-15 Wildcats Came Up Shy Of Their Grandest Goals. (AP)

Arizona (A-)

The goal all year long was a Final Four. Wrapping up some unfinished business and all. Well, that goal was left incomplete. Business is still pending. Still, you’re not going to see me come down too hard on the Wildcats. While their three regular seasons losses were all suspicious in nature, their Elite Eight loss to national runner-up Wisconsin was just one of those things that happens between great teams. Sean Miller’s postgame press conference after the Badgers shot a 105.0 percent eFG in the second half was one long extended verbal shrug, a “what can you do?”, a “sh– happens.” Arizona ended its season playing its best basketball, some of the best basketball being played by any team in the nation. The Wildcats just happened to lose to one of maybe two or three other teams that were capable of playing better. We have to tack a “minus” onto that well-deserved “A” simply because I would guess Miller and T.J. McConnell and Stanley Johnson and all the rest would agree that the overall result of the season was tinged with some disappointment. Without a doubt, though, the Wildcats were the best team in the Pac-12. And were it not for Buzzsaw Badger, they might still be celebrating in Tucson.

What’s next: McConnell is out of eligibility. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Brandon Ashley have said they’re forgoing their remaining eligibility to pursue NBA careers, a decision Johnson is likely to make as well. But this is Arizona. And this is Sean Miller. The ‘Cats will be fine. Kaleb Tarczewski and Gabe York will return and take on bigger roles. Sophomores Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Dusan Ristic will be relied upon to take big steps forward. Boston College transfer Ryan Anderson and junior college transfer (and 2014-15 redshirt Kadeem Allen) will jump right in. And then there’s a recruiting class featuring Allonzo Trier, Ray Smith, Justin Simon and Chance Comanche (ESPN top-100 recruits, all) that may not even be finished yet. Yeah, don’t cry for Miller and his Wildcats; they’ll be back. Read the rest of this entry »

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