Pac-12 M5: 10.21.14 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 21st, 2014

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  1. There are a handful of things concerning Pac-12 basketball that are beyond debate. One is that Arizona is the heavy favorite to win the conference regular season title this year, and another is that their fans are the most passionate in the conference. Both of those things were very much on display on Saturday as Wildcats fans got a first look at their team at the annual Red-Blue game. More than 10,000 people turned out to the McKale Center to watch Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon’s names get unveiled in the Ring of Honor inside the arena, Stanley Johnson take home the pre-scrimmage dunk contest, followed by a pair of 12-minute halves. Some takeaways from those who were on hand: (1) Kaleb Tarczewski may be the Wildcats’ most improved player, and yet he had his hands full with freshman center Dusan Ristic, who scored 14 points in the scrimmage; (2) Stanley Johnson may have taken a step up in competition, but he is still a physical freak on the basketball court even when compared with more talented players; and (3) while there are plenty of veterans at Sean Miller’s disposal, two other freshmen – Craig Victor and 5’10” point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwrightappear headed for significant roles on this squad.
  2. Lorenzo Romar’s recruiting roll for Washington’s 2015 class continued on Monday as 6’10” junior college center Malik Dime chose the Huskies over other suitors such as Arkansas, Iowa State and Rutgers, while 6’9” high school senior Devin Duruisseau found Washington more appealing than San Jose State. Dime is a super-athletic big man who can come in an immediately provide minutes as a rebounder and defender next year, while Duruisseau is more of a project. For the class, that means Romar has six commitments for 2015, including a pair of top 100 recruits in Dejounte Murray and Marquese Chriss, putting the Huskies in the top 10 class rankings for next season, according to ESPN. Of course, that leaves Washington with 15 committed scholarships for the 2015-16 season, meaning there will be some shuffling of the roster between now and then. But, all things considered, that’s a pretty good problem to have.
  3. Sports Illustrated had a powerful feature last week, detailing the plight of homeless young athletes in high school and college. The Pac-12’s own Shaquielle McKissic of Arizona State is no stranger to such problems, having spent his share of time without a home, among other terrible hardships. Now a senior with the Sun Devils, McKissic is telling his story in a documentary that will be released on Halloween, the four-year anniversary of the death of one of his best friends. House of Sparky has the low-down on the documentary, as well as a clip from the film, which was produced by McKissic’s brother David.
  4. Another gripping story about a Pac-12 player focuses on Colorado sophomore Dustin Thomas. Thomas struggled to make an impact as a freshman with the Buffaloes, but his story is a telling one. Above and beyond his parents’ divorce and his father’s time in prison, the death of his 13-year-old sister Shonda to a rare disease (microscopic polyangiitis) when Thomas was 11 is heartbreaking. But, while the story is tragic, Thomas’ strength and positivity in the face of such a calamity is a terrific example of humanity persevering in the face of disaster.
  5. We’ll finish up today’s five with happier news, as CBS Sports recently released its Pac-12 preview. Non-notable predictions include Arizona as the pick to win the conference (if anyone sees a Pac-12 preview that doesn’t have the Wildcats #1, that would be news), Stanley Johnson to take home the Freshman of the Year award, and Oregon State to bring up the rear. More notable picks include Utah‘s Delon Wright as the Player of the Year (the choice for the league’s top player is far more debatable than the choice of its top team), Colorado as the team with the best chance to challenge Arizona, and Matt Norlander for some reason picking Oregon State to finish 10th in the conference. But perhaps of bigger concern for fans around the conference is the idea that, outside of Arizona, nobody else should be considered a lock to make the NCAA Tournament and the idea from one anonymous coach that this conference seems more like a four-bid conference than the seven-bid conference it was last year.
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Pac-12 Season Preview: Arizona Wildcats

Posted by Tracy McDannald on October 14th, 2014

The Pac-12 microsite will preview each of its league teams over the next few weeks, starting today with Arizona. 

Arizona Wildcats

Strengths: For a team that lost the Pac-12’s Player of the Year (Nick Johnson) and top freshman (Aaron Gordon), head coach Sean Miller sure has a lot of depth around him. The reigning regular season champions will return three of its five starters from last season — including junior forward Brandon Ashley, who missed the final 16 games of the year with a foot injury. The Wildcats potentially have the ability to go two-deep at each position thanks to another top-five recruiting class, headlined by freshman forward Stanley Johnson. A defensive-minded team, Arizona is equipped with loads of size and versatility once again.

Sean Miller, Arizona

Head coach Sean Miller has reloaded the defending Pac-12 Conference regular-season champion Arizona Wildcats. reloaded (AP Photo)

Weaknesses: Expect last year’s questions regarding the team’s outside shooting to be at the forefront again. Nobody on the Wildcats cracked the 40 percent mark from the three-point line last season, and like the previous year, the top two shooters — Elliott Pitts (39.3 percent) and Gabe York (38.5 percent) — are competing for similar minutes off the bench at the same position. But this is where Ashley’s return may help keep defenses honest, as he connected on 11 of 29 long-range attempts with a more refined jump shot as a sophomore. The next-closest criticism of this team may be at the free throw line, where no returnee shot better than 75 percent and most of the roster failed to crack the 70s. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Post-Mortems: Arizona

Posted by AMurawa on April 25th, 2014

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll go through each Pac-12 team one by one and recount the season that has just completed and begin to turn the page to what we might see next season. Today, Arizona.

What Went Right

With freshmen Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson stepping into roles as big-time contributors right away, with Nick Johnson taking his game to a higher – and more consistent – level, with sophomores Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley and Gabe York making huge strides in their second seasons, and with T.J. McConnell tying everything together as the team’s consummate floor general, this vintage of the Wildcats came together about as well as Sean Miller could have hoped. Sure, there was plenty of talent on this team. But what made this group a great unit is their ability to function together seamlessly. Defensively, they always had one another’s backs, combining to form the year’s most fearsome defensive squad. And on the offensive end, everybody bought into their roles and found ways to complement each other. Indeed, this 2013-14 group of Wildcats exemplified the word “team” as well as any college basketball squad in the country.

The 2013-14 Wildcats Exemplified The Word Team (Christian Petersen, Getty Images)

The 2013-14 Wildcats Exemplified The Word Team (Christian Petersen, Getty Images)

What Went Wrong

A whole lot went right in Tucson this season, but if we wanted to pinpoint one thing that went wrong, we’d jump straight to February 1st in Haas Pavilion, where in the opening minutes of a clash with California, Ashley landed awkwardly following a shot and wound up with a broken foot that ended his season. While Miller was able to rejigger his lineup on the fly and keep the Wildcats among the best teams in the nation, there will forever be questions about what could have been without that simple twist of fate in Berkeley.

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Pac-12 M5: 11.25.13 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on November 25th, 2013

pac12_morning5

  1. Welcome to Feast Week! It’s already been a great November of basketball with high quality hoops from coast to coast (and beyond), but we have still got one of the best weeks of the regular season ahead of us, with wall-to-wall ball and great tournament action. There will be plenty of Pac-12 action this week, but Cal and Stanford tip things off today, and the two cross-bay rivals will be playing in a pair of games about 5,000 miles apart from each other. The Golden Bears will get things underway in the Maui Invitational today just after 9 AM local time, while the Cardinal will face Houston at roughly 9:30 PM in Brooklyn this evening in the semifinals of the Legends Classic. But for both schools, it will be a chance to measure themselves against good competition and get some national publicity.
  2. Utah got to 5-0 this weekend after sweeping through the Global Sports Hoops Showcase, an exempt event hosted by the university that featured less than stellar competition. Over the course of three days, the Utes knocked off Grand Canyon, Lamar, and finally Savannah State to win the event. And yet, despite the relatively unappetizing appeal of the opponents, the Utes announced attendances averaging better than 7000 every night. Either that is some very creative accounting, or there are a few fan bases around the conference that could learn from the Ute fans.
  3. USC head coach Andy Enfield made a big splash on Friday with some loaded quotes in an article published in Men’s Journal. The money quotes are straight trash talking about fellow coaches, like cross-town rival Steve Alford and former USC head coach Tim Floyd, currently that head man at UTEP. About Floyd, Enfield dropped this bomb: “Tim Floyd shows up every day at work and realizes he lives in El Paso, Texas. And he’s pissed off that he didn’t get the USC job [again].” While Alford received this treatment: “I’ve made it to one Sweet 16 in two years, and he’s made it to one Sweet 16 in 18 years.” Just a reminder: you may want to circle January 5 on your calendar, as Enfield’s Trojans will visit Alford’s Bruins that day. You probably won’t have to watch the second half.
  4. Speaking of USC, with the news that J.T. Terrell was declared academically ineligible for the rest of the fall semester dropping last week, Jeff Eisenberg of Yahoo Sports writes that the gamble that former USC head coach Kevin O’Neill took on Terrell and his former Wake Forest teammate Ari Stewart most decidedly did not pay off. Stewart saved the drama and earned himself an academically ineligible designation prior to the season. The duo had run into problems – both academic and otherwise – previously in their college careers.
  5. Lastly, Arizona head coach Sean Miller weighed in Friday on his 2014 recruiting class, the latest in an increasingly long line of unabashed successes. His class features 6’6” wing Stanley Johnson (the #9 overall recruit according to ESPN), 6’7” power forward Craig Victor (#29) and 5’8” mighty-mite point guard Parker Johnson-Cartwright (#60), along with off-the-radar JuCo guard Kadeem Allen. But, Miller says scoring a big recruiting class like this just buys a coach a little more time, but that he’s still got to go out next year and do it all over again. Meanwhile, former Arizona head coach Lute Olson can relate and says one of the big things he doesn’t miss about coaching is having to deal with the new dynamics in recruiting.
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Pac-12 M5: 11.15.13 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 15th, 2013

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  1. With the start of the early signing period well underway, we’re going to spend almost all of this morning’s rundown on recruiting. And to kick things off, not only did Arizona have a big night on Thursday by getting a hard-earned victory over a tough San Diego State team, but they heard whispers of some very good things for the future as well. Stanley Johnson, a top-10 recruit out of Mater Dei in the greater Los Angeles area, will announce his decision on where he will attend school next season and the rumors are that Johnson will select Arizona over competitors like USC and Kentucky. With four-star guys Craig Victor and Parker Johnson-Cartwright already committed, Sean Miller’s got the beginnings of another phenomenal class.
  2. On the other side of the things, Oregon State is struggling through a rough start to the season, but Beaver fans not only can celebrate the signing of a new recruit, but this specific recruit – junior college transfer Gary Payton II – offers up ties to the most recent glory days of the basketball program in Corvallis. While “The Mitten” doesn’t have the accolades that “The Glove” brought to OSU, he is a strong defender like his father and will provide some excitement for the Beavers next season. Meanwhile, there are three other recruits who have already verbally committed to Oregon State who may sign in the coming days. The big question that remains is whether head coach Craig Robinson will still be around to enjoy the fruits of his recruiting labor.
  3. Up in the Bay Area, both Cal and Stanford have signed highly regarded recruits. Mike Montgomery signed four-star point guard Ahmaad Rorie, who had committed to the Golden Bears almost two years ago, while Stanford inked five-star power forward Reid Travis, who just committed to the Cardinal last week. Johnny Dawkins still has a couple four-star recruits in point guard Robert Cartwright and center Michael Humphrey who have already verbally committed, but they still need to make it official. And then, of course, we’ll need to see if Dawkins is still around to welcome them into Palo Alto next season.
  4. Let’s switch from NorCal to SoCal to check out what USC and UCLA got done yesterday. Trojan head coach Andy Enfield signed three players, including big guys Malik Price-Martin and Jabari Craig along with four-star point guard Jordan McLaughlin, all of whom will be significant upgrades in terms of players who fit in with the style of play that Enfield wants. Expect these three to get big roles early for the cardinal and gold. Meanwhile, across town, Steve Alford signed Kevon Looney – a five-star power forward –and Hungarian power forward Gyorgy Goloman, who is spending 2013-14 at a prep school in Florida. Looney, in particular, is a big-time get for UCLA.
  5. Lastly, we’ve got football again tonight. And, while we’ve got sufficient focus on basketball this time of year, we’ll be sure to take a couple breaks this weekend to keep our eye on some exciting Pac-12 football. Connor and I continue our battle for prognosticating supremacy, and we’re in a tight contest. Last week we both went 4-1, with Connor eking out a fun one when Arizona State knocked off Utah, and me riding Myles Freaking Jack !!!!! (yes, I believe those exclamation points are now officially a part of his name) to a UCLA win over Arizona (although I was wishing I was watching a UCLA/Arizona basketball game the whole time). On the season, Connor’s still got a one-game lead on me, with him checking in at 58-15 and me at 57-16. Our game of the week comes tonight, when Washington and UCLA meet up at the Rose Bowl (a 6:00 PM football game at the Rose Bowl on a Friday night? Yeah, calling that thing half full at kick-off will be extraordinarily optimistic). I’m leaving the Bruins bandwagon to hop on Bishop Sankey and company, while Connor’s going with the Bruins at home.pickem_midnov
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Arizona: King of the Hill In the Pac-12

Posted by AMurawa on October 8th, 2013

Still a month away from actual games and a marathon away from March, there are plenty of questions to be asked and answered about the Pac-12. But one thing is beyond debate: Arizona is not only the clear-cut favorite in the conference this year, but they are the strongest program in the conference these days. Maybe by a long shot. Since Lute Olson turned Arizona into a national power with four Final Four appearances and one national title between 1988 and 2001, the conventional wisdom has been that the power in the conference was fairly evenly divided between Tucson and Westwood, what with UCLA’s 11 banners and all. But while three consecutive Final Four appearances are not that far in the rear view mirror for the Bruins, for the time being at least, Arizona is the power conference beacon out west.

Aaron Gordon Is Just The Latest High Profile Recruit To Choose Arizona Under Head Coach Sean Miller (Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports)

Aaron Gordon Is Just The Latest High Profile Recruit To Choose Arizona Under Head Coach Sean Miller (Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports)

Looking up and down the roster, it is easy to see why, as this year’s vintage of the Wildcats will feature three McDonald’s All-Americans (Aaron Gordon, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Brandon Ashley) and and no fewer than four guys (Gordon, Ashley, Nick Johnson and Kaleb Tarczewski) projected by DraftExpress as selections in either this year’s or next year’s NBA Draft. Throw in a polished point guard in T.J. McConnell, newly eligible after a transfer season, and a talented supporting cast, and not only is Arizona picked to win the Pac-12 this year (unanimously here, according to CBS’ cast of characters), but they’re on the short list of teams with a chance to cut down the nets in early April.

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Welcome Back: Pac-12 Team-By-Team Offseason Wrap

Posted by AMurawa on October 7th, 2013

After a long offseason away from college basketball, we’re back. With practice underway across the country, with “Midnight Madness” events looming and with the start of the season on the not-too-distant horizon, it is time to end our hiatus and dig back into hoops. In a year where the Pac-12 seems to sport one legitimate national title contender and a healthy pack of NCAA Tournament contenders, we can finally say that the conference is back from the recent depths and ready to be a consistent contender on the national stage again. But, in taking an offseason sabbatical, we’ve missed some key storylines. So, in order to get you back in the swing of things, we’ll go team-by-team around the conference and quickly catch you up on some key offseason happenings. Later in the week we’ll break down some of these stories in a little more detail. Next week we’ll be back with our daily Morning Fives, and over the course of the next month, we’ll catch you up on everything you need to know going into the 2013-14 Pac-12 season. Without further ado, here’s what you need to know if you’ve been away from the conference for a few months.

Why Is This Man Smiling? Maybe Because He Has the Best Team in the League.

Why Is This Man Smiling? Maybe Because He Has the Best Team in the League.

Arizona – The conference’s clear preseason favorite got some good news over the offseason when 6’10″ sophomore forward Zach Peters was granted his waiver request by the NCAA for immediate eligibility after transferring from Kansas. A quality recruit in the 2012 class, Peters career never got off the ground in Lawrence largely due to injuries, including multiple concussions. If he can stay healthy, he’s a stretch-four who can provide another offensive threat for the Wildcats. Elsewhere, Sean Miller continued his hot streak on the recruiting trail, landing 2014 four-star power forward Craig Victor, while continuing his pursuit of additional heavy hitters in next year’s class.

Arizona State – It was an offseason roller coaster for the Sun Devils, with Evan Gordon opting to spend his senior season closer to home at Indiana, only to have Penn State transfer Jermaine Marshall decide that he’d spend his final season of eligibility in Tempe. Marshall, who averaged 15.3 points per game for a depleted Penn State squad last season, will likely slide right into the spot vacated by Gordon’s departure. It’s not all sunshine and roses for Herb Sendek’s team, however, as Jahii Carson is dealing with a stress reaction in his right leg that will limit him in practice during the early going.

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