Pac-12 Team Preview: Arizona Wildcats

Posted by AMurawa on November 6th, 2013

We continue unveiling our team-by-team breakdowns, in roughly the reverse order of where we expect these teams to finish in the conference standings. 

Arizona Wildcats

Strengths. Arizona has the most pure talent in the Pac-12. The roster is littered with McDonald’s All-Americans and five-star recruits and future pros. And for the first time in Sean Miller’s tenure in Tucson, he’s got a true point guard in Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell. But the one spot where this team really has a chance to be elite is on the defensive end, as McConnell’s defense has been raved about in the weeks of practice leading up to the season. Nick Johnson is already among the best perimeter defenders in the conference, if not the country. Throw in freshmen Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson as elite athletes who can guard multiple positions, Brandon Ashley who is long and athletic up front, and a big pounder like Kaleb Tarczewski in the middle, and this Wildcat team could be good enough to ride its defense if the offense struggles out of the gate.

T.J. McConnell Is The Type Of Scrappy, Pass-First Point Guard That Has Been Missing At Arizona (Arizona Athletics)

T.J. McConnell Is The Type Of Scrappy, Pass-First Point Guard That Has Been Missing At Arizona (Arizona Athletics)

Weaknesses. The most common complaint when people look for areas to pick this team apart is its questionable outside shooting. It’s a fair enough point, in that guys like Gordon and Hollis-Jefferson, in particular, still have jumpers that are most kindly described as “works in progress.” Still, Johnson shot 39.3 percent from three last season, McConnell hit 43.2 percent from deep in 2011-12 at Duquesne, and guys like Gabe York and Jordin Mayes off the pine are quality three-point shooters as well. Having a handful of guys who can stroke the three doesn’t necessarily mean that this team’s ability to shoot the ball isn’t up for debate. For instance, while Gordon and Hollis-Jefferson won’t take many threes, they do have to be able to knock down 12-footers with regularity, lest their opponents pack it in and clog up the lane for the two freshmen plus Tarczewski and Ashley.

Non-Conference Tests. Miller has put together a solid non-conference schedule with several chances at solid resume wins. The highlight of their early season slate is the NIT Season Tip-Off, which could provide an Arizona/Duke match-up in the final round, provided both teams can take care of early round action. And honestly, the Cats should get to the final game: They’ll open with Fairleigh Dickinson, then likely get Rhode Island before possibly facing Rutgers in the semifinals. The other big highlight on the schedule is a mid-December trip to Michigan for a national televised game in Ann Arbor. The other two prime games on the schedule are a mid-week trip to San Diego State during the second week of the season, and a visit from UNLV in early December.

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Pac-12 M5: 10.16.13 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 16th, 2013

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  1. After a stretch of several months where most of the news coming out of Westwood was of the bad variety, UCLA finally found some good news waiting for them on Tuesday when forward Wanaah Bail was granted eligibility to play immediately for the Bruins after transferring out of the Texas Tech program. While Bail is still recovering from offseason knee surgery, if and when he is healthy enough to go, he’ll be expected to provide much-needed depth in the frontcourt behind the senior Wear twins and sophomore center Tony Parker. Still, despite the good news, some Bruin followers have chosen to paint this as, somehow, another strike against new head coach Steve Alford before the guy has even gotten to the plate. Seriously though, Alford had the temerity to answer a question about comparing John Wooden to his former college head coach, Bobby Knight. I mean, get a rope, right?
  2. Turning back to UCLA’s biggest rival in the conference, Arizona is considered the prohibitive favorite by most prognosticators, but the one weakness most people look to nitpick is the team’s possible lack of outside shooting. The team loses four of their top five three-point shooters from last season and their most ballyhooed newcomers, namely freshmen Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, are known for just about anything on the basketball court except long-range shooting. Nevertheless, newly eligible transfer T.J. McConnell is a 41.6% three-point shooter for his career, junior guard Nick Johnson improved to a 39.3% three-point shooter last season, and guys like sophomore Gabe York (despite his one-for-nine shooting in the Red-Blue game) and Kansas transfer Zach Peters are expected to chip in from range. Meanwhile, even sophomore Brandon Ashley has worked to expand his range out toward the three-point line.
  3. Speaking of T.J. McConnell, while anyone who never saw him play in his first two seasons of collegiate eligibility at Duquesne can look at the numbers and see a guy who can knock down the three as well as drop a dime (KenPom, paywall) with the best of them, Arizona head coach Sean Miller has been talking up McConnell’s ability to get after it on defense. The Wildcats’ defensive efficiency has improved every season under Miller (again, KenPom, paywall), but if McConnell can live up to Miller’s hype, he’s definitely got a versatile enough frontcourt to match up with just about any opponent, what with Kaleb Tarczewski’s ability to out-physical true posts, Ashley’s length and athleticism advantage over  most fours, Gordon’s ability to guard any number of positions, and Jefferson’s toughness and length. Throw in the already established Nick Johnson, whose ability to annoy the heck out of opposing ball-handlers far away from the hoop can be disruptive enough on its own, and this Wildcat squad is a good bet to improve on the team’s defensive numbers from a year ago.
  4. For some reason, we haven’t talked a lot about Colorado so far these past couple of weeks (something we will remedy soon enough), but the Buffaloes are one of the handful of teams who can legitimately challenge Arizona for conference supremacy. Things will be a bit easier for the Buffs this season, especially around Boulder, as season tickets for the Coors Event Center have sold out for the first time in CU history. With a student section that has evolved into one of the best in the conference, and now the full Boulder community also committed to supporting the team, expect the Rocky Mountain swing to be one of the least welcoming road trips on the Pac-12 schedule.
  5. We’ll wrap up the morning by pointing you to a thorough rundown on the Washington basketball roster by Ben Knibbe (follow him now) at the UW Dawg Pound. Yesterday he took you through the high post players Jernard Jarreau and Desmond Simmons (and offered the saddest of lines for a Husky fan: “Aaron Gordon would have been…”). Last week he broke down wings C.J. Wilcox, Hikeem Stewart, Darin Johnson and Mike Anderson. And the week before that he filled you in on point guard options Andrew Andrews, Nigel Williams-Goss and Jahmel Taylor. Certainly, we’ll get the breakdown on low posts Perris Blackwell and Shawn Kemp in the near future, but you’ll need to keep up with Ben (seriously, follow him now) in order to get the best position-by-position rundown you’ll find around the Pac-12 team blogs.
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Arizona Post-Mortem

Posted by AMurawa on April 11th, 2013

Now that we are officially in the offseason, it’s time to take a look back and evaluate each team’s 2012-13 performance. Next on our list: Arizona.

What Went Right

You know, after all is said and done, after all the chatter about his strengths and weaknesses, you gotta say that the Mark Lyons experiment turned out pretty well. Yes, the end of the season and a not-quite-buzzer-beating loss to Ohio State in the Sweet Sixteen is disappointing, and a fourth-place Pac-12 finish isn’t what was expected, but down the stretch, this team was clicking pretty well behind Lyons. With a dearth of other create-for-themselves offensive players (outside of Solomon Hill), Lyons was a pretty good fit here. He never materialized as the distributing floor general some had hoped, but he was a good version of himself — scoring efficiently, playing hard and zipping people up defensively.

Despite Some Ups And Downs, You've Got To Call The Mark Lyons Experiment A Success, Right?

Despite Some Ups And Downs, You’ve Got To Call The Mark Lyons Experiment A Success, Right?

What Went Wrong

For a team with three hardened veterans among the seven-man rotation, this was a surprisingly inconsistent team. Much of that can be chalked up to three freshmen occupying the rotation at the four and five spots. As talented as Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett are, they were still freshmen growing into their bodies and into their games. There were blown assignments, soft defense and the handful of boneheaded plays. But, the bright side is all three of these guys got tremendous experience, displayed their major upside and are expected to return next season.

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Pac-12 M5: 02.20.13 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on February 20th, 2013

pac12_morning5

  1. One side effect of the parity in the conference this season has been a lot of intensity as we head into the stretch run. We saw this most glaringly on Sunday night with Mike Montgomery’s now infamous “shove” of Allen Crabbe, but elsewhere around the conference there were more incidents. In Pullman, Oregon center Tony Woods was ejected for throwing an elbow to the head of Washington State’s Brock Motum. The Pac-12 reviewed the play and decided Woods would face no further suspension. Another pair of bigs got tangled up in Boulder on Saturday when Jordan Bachynski and Josh Scott fell to the floor in pursuit of a rebound. Scott wound up banging his head against the hardwood and sustaining a concussion from which he is still recovering. Colorado head coach Tad Boyle called that game the most physical game he has ever been involved in.
  2. It’s been a tumultuous season for UCLA freshman Shabazz Muhammad, with an NCAA investigation delaying his debut and the flu catching up with him prior to the USC game back in January. Now, and again in advance of a USC game, Muhammad is dealing with pinkeye, which kept him out of practice on Tuesday. However, this issue isn’t expected to have any impact on Muhammad’s availability for Sunday’s game.
  3. Arizona State has compiled an 8-5 conference record largely on the strength of its starting five. Senior Carrick Felix leads the conference in minutes (38.3 minutes per night), while Jahii Carson and Jonathan Gilling both top out at over 36 minutes per game and are among the top five players in the conference in minutes. While head coach Herb Sendek admits that his heavy reliance on a small number of players is “a concern,” he doesn’t expect much to change for the rest of the year.
  4. Meanwhile, down south a little, Arizona head coach Sean Miller has been increasingly relying on a smaller number of players as well. And with his confidence in Jordin Mayes dwindling, Mark Lyons and Nick Johnson are becoming the only options in the backcourt for the Wildcats. However, unlike Sendek up the road, Miller may be ready for a change and could turn to freshman guard Gabe York for some spot minutes on the perimeter. York earned 16 minutes over the course of three games back at the turn of the month into February, but since then York has never left the bench in the last four games.
  5. Continuing the theme, Lorenzo Romar returned to freshman Jernard Jarreau this past weekend as an option off the bench. Jarreau won the starting power forward spot in preseason practice, but was ineffective while starting the first seven games of the season. Since then his role almost completely evaporated to the point where he played just 17 minutes over the course of six games prior to his emergence against Oregon State on Saturday. And Romar says Jarreau has earned a right to continue getting minutes in the hopes of building up his game to the point where he can be a contributor for the next three seasons.
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Pac-12 M5: 01.31.13 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton on January 31st, 2013

pac12_morning5

  1. Losses to teams like Albany and Utah yet victories over the likes of Stanford and Colorado have Washington fans confused and wondering what the next step is for a program with potential and frustration at every turn. The immediate future likely holds an NIT berth for the Dawgs, but as The Husky Haul points out, this year’s recruiting class could answer the question of when Washington returns to national prominence, and if Lorenzo Romar is the one to lead it there. Landing Archbishop Mitty (CA) wing Aaron Gordon would be a big first step in that direction, as the five-star senior has the bounce and athleticism to turn a team around instantly. At the moment, however, the Huskies have more important things to worry about, as number eight Arizona comes calling tonight in Seattle.
  2. Behind Kaleb Tarczewski, Grant Jerrett, and Brandon Ashley, Gabe York played a bit of the role of “forgotten freshman” early in the 2012-13 season. But York has improved his play significantly the past couple of weeks in practice, and he has continued his success in game situations. The freshman guard dropped a pair of threes on Saturday against USC en route to a career high seven points in Arizona‘s 24-point thrashing of the Trojans. As the feature points out, York needs to step up his play on both ends of the court (averaging just 0.2 SPG) before he sees any extended action for the Cats. But you can never be too deep once we hit the home stretch of the season, and York provides a nice option on Sean Miller’s bench.
  3. Drew noted yesterday of yet another Pac-12 Player of the Week award for Arizona State wing Carrick Felix, and House of Sparky takes a wider look here at how the senior has led the Sun Devils from a 10th place finish last season to the NCAA bubble in 2012-13. Felix’s constant positivity and willingness to give up some of his touches to freshman Jahii Carson has paid dividends for Arizona State, as the Sun Devils find themselves at 16-4 and 5-2 in conference play heading into the final month and a half of basketball. The duo is now one of the most fun to watch in the league, as opposing defenses have to continually be on high alert for a streaking or backdooring Felix awaiting a dime from Carson. And then there’s this, which is on the short list for my favorite play of the season thus far. The Sun Devils visit Pullman tonight and will look to add to their two-game winning streak.
  4. DISASTER. For once, that’s not exactly hyperbole surrounding the UCLA hoops program. In front of a lackluster blued-out crowd at the new Pauley Pavilion on Wednesday, Bruin fans felt extra blue as they fell behind by as many as 15 points and were upset by crosstown rival USC in overtime. UCLA is still safely in the field of 68 at this point, but it has to be careful in eight days when Washington comes calling. Another trip-up against the Huskies would mean a three-game skid and the rumblings would be back in earnest in the Los Angeles basin.
  5. Utah will honor the late Rick Majerus on Saturday by hanging a replica sweater inside the Huntsman Center during its “rivalry” game with Colorado. Majerus took the Utes to seven NCAA Tournaments while in Salt Lake City and will be the first coach honored with a retirement ceremony by the university. “We need Rick in the building. The sweater is going to be there and some of what he has created around here,” current head coach Larry Krystkowiak said about the pending events.
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Pac-12 M5: 01.28.13 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on January 28th, 2013

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  1. The biggest breaking news over the weekend came out of Eugene late Friday night when Bob Clark of the Register-Guard reported that Dominic Artis would be out indefinitely with a foot injury of undetermined severity. Oregon still managed to knock off Washington on Saturday evening (in the first sellout at Matthew Knight Arena in almost two years) with Artis watching from the bench in a walking boot. Junior Jonathan Loyd got the start and was solid, getting to the line 10 times in 31 minutes of action and scoring nine points, but he did turn the ball over five times to go along with his five assists. The other guy who earned some of the Artis’ minutes was freshman Willie Moore, who earned nine minutes, his most since before Christmas, but he too struggled with turnovers. With no timetable announced for Artis’ return, the Ducks will have to rely on those two to step up as they go to the Bay Area schools next week.
  2. The other injury of note over the past week was to UCLA’s Travis Wear, whose concussion suffered in the first half against Arizona on Thursday night kept him out of Saturday’s visit to Arizona State. But, Travis Wear or no Travis Wear, the Bruins were going down hard on Saturday. They struggled with the Sun Devils’ athleticism, size and energy, but mostly, they just weren’t engaged in the game after Thursday night’s big win. ASU outhustled UCLA from the opening tip to the closing buzzer, with Jordan Bachynski, Carrick Felix and Evan Gordon having big games and Jahii Carson, despite struggling from the field, conducting a masterful performance at the point.
  3. Last night in front of a sparse crowd limited by blizzard conditions in Salt Lake City, Stanford’s offense got back on track in a big way against Utah, scoring 46 first-half points, 87 points for the game, and looking for the first time in a long time like the explosive team that ran to last year’s NIT title. On the Utah side of the court, sophomore transfer Dallin Bachynski did not suit up for the game and his future at the school is in doubt. After getting double-figure minutes in his first 12 games as a Ute, he hasn’t seen anywhere near that run in Pac-12 play and has lost his starting job to senior Jason Washburn. Bachynski met with head coach Larry Krystkowiak on Friday to discuss his future with the program, and while there are no immediate answers as to his long-term status, the fact that he did still sit on the bench with the team (although he didn’t dress out), indicates that he isn’t going away permanently quite yet.
  4. Arizona bounced back from its disappointing loss on Thursday by jumping out to a commanding early lead against USC and never looking back. The Wildcats held USC to nine points on its first 23 possessions, forcing seven turnovers and 2-of-19 shooting. Aside from the crispness with which the ‘Cats played, another aspect of the game that pleased head coach Sean Miller was the fact that it gave him a chance to extend his bench and find some minutes for guys like Angelo Chol and Gabe York. After playing in the first 14 games of the year, Chol has slid back to take the ninth-man spot in an eight-man rotation, but he played with energy in his eight minutes against the Trojans, grabbing a couple boards and blocking a shot. York, a high-flying freshman, has now played in nine games this year, but the USC game was his first appearance in Pac-12 play and he followed Miller’s advice by being very aggressive in looking for his shot. York played eight minutes and yet found room for five three-point attempts, knocking down a couple. Miller has talked with both guys about their playing time and has come away impressed with their maturity even when the minutes haven’t been there.
  5. Colorado took it to California on Sunday and did so without the services of Andre Roberson for much of the first half. Despite losing the nation’s leading rebounder to foul trouble, the Buffs rode some hot shooting to a 34-18 halftime lead and never looked back. After the game, Cal head coach Mike Montgomery had plenty of questions about his team, including whether the team even thought it could win the game and what type of mindset it now has. With conference leader Oregon due in Haas Pavilion next weekend and any distant hopes of an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament receding into the sunset, the Bears need to get it together, and quick. One good bit of news: senior guard Brandon Smith returned to action this weekend after six games lost due to the effects of a concussion.

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Pac-12 M5: The Halloween Edition

Posted by KDanna on October 31st, 2012

  1. Happy Halloween, everyone. Arizona will treat its fans to an exhibition against Humboldt State tonight at the McKale Center. Exhibitions are usually for the die-hards, but probably more than a few casual fans will make their way over to the Tucson campus to catch a glimpse of the third-ranked recruiting class in action for the first time against somebody other than themselves. One question surrounding this class is whether it will be able to live up to the hype better than last year’s class. Remember how highly touted the trio of Nick Johnson, Josiah Turner and Angelo Chol were? All signs point to Grant Jerrett, Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley  and Gabe York as able to deliver in a bigger way this season, but one can never be 100 percent certain until they perform in a game. This contest will also provide Wildcat supporters with a first look at point guard Mark Lyons in an Arizona uniform, as the mercurial senior averaged 15 points per game last year at Xavier. It’s also worth mentioning that the Wildcats lost their exhibition opener last year to Seattle Pacific, but I find it hard to believe that a similar result will be produced against Humboldt State on this night.
  2. The NCAA approved tougher sanctions against those programs and coaches who buck the NCAA law. A couple of the more striking provisions are that NCAA violators who are found to be in “serious breach of conduct” could potentially suffer similar punishments to the one handed out to the Penn State football team (a four-year postseason ban and a $60 million fine). Also, if an assistant coach commits a serious violation, the head coach must be able to prove that he or she was unaware of the assistant’s actions; if not, the head coach could be suspended for anywhere from 10 percent to the entire season. All changes will go into effect starting August 1, 2013. While the coaches who are quoted in the various articles seem to be largely in favor of these tougher sanctions, it obviously still remains to be seen how effective these changes will be. As has been the case throughout history, cheaters will find a way to continue their cheating ways. Hopefully these tougher penalties will accomplish the NCAA’s and everyone’s goal of a markedly cleaner collegiate athletics scene.
  3. Another day, another CBS Sports list. On Tuesday, it was the top 50 shooters in the country, a list that made space for three current Pac-12 players: Washington’s C.J. Wilcox (No. 11), California’s Allen Crabbe (No. 12) and Stanford’s Chasson Randle (No. 41). Additionally, former Husky and current Texas A&M Aggie Elston Turner made the cut at No. 19. No real gripes here, but perhaps Aaron Bright was also deserving of a nod, especially considering his play during the 2012 NIT, a five-game run that earned him NIT Most Outstanding Player honors. What’s noteworthy with this list is that 35 of the 50 players come from non-power conference schools, including representatives from Texas Pan-American and Texas Southern. For those not curious enough to check out the list, former Razorback-turned-Butler Bulldog Rotnei Clarke holds down the top spot.
  4. Earlier this week, ESPN.com’s Eamonn Brennan released his top 10 rebounders in the country, and Colorado’s André Roberson topped the list. We’re probably a little biased here at the Pac-12 microsite because we get to see Roberson play so often, but there’s no faulting Brennan for this selection. Roberson is an elite rebounder thanks to his hops, long arms and overall very high basketball IQ. There were spots during last year’s Pac-12 Tournament where Roberson looked like a future lottery pick, especially when he started to knock down a few threes. He certainly has that kind of upside, and big things are expected again of the only guy in the Pac-12 to average a double-double last season. There were no freshmen in Brennan’s top 10, but Kaleb Tarczewski and Grant Jerrett of Arizona both made his “freshmen to watch” mentions.
  5. Lastly, the Pac-12 announced its talent lineup for the Pac-12 Networks’ men’s basketball coverage for the upcoming season. Headlined by Bill Walton, other analysts include Don MacLean, Ernie Kent, Lenny Wilkens and Detlef Schrempf. The play-by-play lineup doesn’t necessarily include as many big names, but all are very good broadcasters and will not disappoint viewers. The most famous of the play-by-play guys is probably Ted Robinson, a two-time Emmy winner who has done just about every sport imaginable. Overall, it’s a very intriguing lineup of broadcasters and it should keep Pac-12 Networks broadcasts for men’s basketball entertaining.
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Predicting the Pac-12 “Midnight Madness” Events This Weekend

Posted by KDanna on October 19th, 2012

So maybe it’s a little late to still call it Midnight Madness, but season-kickoff events are still happening across the country. In the Pac-12, Stanford, Arizona State and Arizona introduce the 2012-13 versions of themselves to the fans with a trio of scrimmages over the weekend, along with slam dunk contests for the Cardinal and Wildcats. In light of what is happening in Palo Alto, Tempe and Tucson, here are three predictions for each of the three schools on what will happen.

Gabe York

Gabe York will put on quite the show at the Red-Blue Game this Sunday in Tucson.

Stanford’s Friday Frenzy Cardinal-White Scrimmage (October 19, 5:30 PM)

  1. Dwight Powell will throw down the nastiest dunk: Last year, Powell threw down a dunk off a side-of-the-backboard pass from Aaron Bright (it’s at the 0:54 mark- you really won’t want to watch the first 30 seconds). It didn’t win the competition as Josh Huestis won last year’s dunk contest, but Powell will take home the crown this year.
  2. Aaron Bright will make the biggest “wow” play of the night: Bright is the closest thing Stanford has to a showman, and he will be in all his glory later tonight. Behind-the-back passes, no-look passes, deep threes; Bright will put it all on display.
  3. White will defeat Cardinal: Johnny Dawkins doesn’t put his projected starting five all on the same team for the scrimmage, so it’s not key players vs. reserves. Cardinal has won the last two years, so it’s time for white to take home some early-season bragging rights.

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Wrapping Up The Pac-12’s Summer Exhibition Tours

Posted by Connor Pelton on September 13th, 2012

Seven Pac-12 schools took a foreign exhibition trip this summer. We recap them below with Drew taking UCLA, Utah, and Colorado, and Connor taking the rest.

Not Every Team Went Tropical, But All of Them Learned Something

Arizona

  • Where: The Bahamas
  • When: August 11-13
  • What: The Wildcats swept their two games against Bahamian competition.
  • Why: As Arizona transitions from an NIT one-and-done to having at least NCAA Third Round expectations, this trip was all about integrating instant-impact newcomers Kaleb Tarczewski, Grant Jerrett, Brandon Ashley, Gabe York, and Mark Lyons into the rotation. Setting lineups and seeing what groups of players meshed well together was much more important than the actual play against less than stellar competition.
  • Who: Lyons and fellow senior Kevin Parrom were the stars of the trip, each averaging 18.5 PPG. The most anticipated freshman to don the cardinal red and navy blue in a while, Tarczewski, scored eight points in each game on the trip. Arizona absolutely destroyed their lowly competition, winning both games by a combined 112 points.

Colorado

  • Where: France, Belgium and the Netherlands
  • When: August 11-22
  • What: The Buffaloes went 2-3 in five games against European professional teams.
  • Why: With CU breaking in six scholarship freshmen, the trip gave head coach Tad Boyle a chance to build camaraderie between the talented new guys and their six returnees from last year’s Pac-12 championship team. The trip also gave the freshmen a chance to build an identity of their own, evidenced by the fact that Boyle sat out the core returnees from last year’s squad – Andre Roberson, Askia Booker, Spencer Dinwiddie and Sabatino Chen – in one of the games, allowing five of the freshmen to start the game together.
  • Who: While Roberson was his usual magnificent self – he averaged 14.4 points and 13.8 rebounds – freshman Josh Scott eliminated any doubt that he could be an immediate impact player. Scott led the Buffs in scoring in four of the five games, coming up a point short of the leaders in the opening game; he averaged 17.4 point per game for the trip. His classmate Xavier Johnson also made a statement, averaging more than ten points to go with seven rebounds for the game.

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Arizona Week: Q&A With Pachoops’ Adam Butler

Posted by AMurawa on June 29th, 2012

As we head toward closing out our coverage of the Arizona basketball program in our third of a summer-long series of in-depth looks at Pac-12 schools, we’re inviting Adam Butler of Pachoops back in to give us his thoughts on the big questions facing the Wildcats in 2012-13. Adam gave us a hand yesterday with our Burning Question of the week, and we hope to have him back from time to time to add his unique perspective. Without further ado, here’s what we came up with:

RTC: Let’s dig right in here Adam, starting from the top of the program. So, in 29 seasons since Lute Olson took over the Wildcat program, the team has missed the NCAA Tournament exactly three times: Olson’s first year, and then two of the three years under current head coach Sean Miller. Yet, it seems there is a confidence around the program that not only do they have the right coach, but that big things are on the verge of happening again in Tucson. Do you hold that view as well? And why or why not?

Sean Miller, Arizona

Arizona Has Missed The NCAA Tournament In Two Of Sean Miller’s Three Seasons In The Desert, But Arizona Fans Still Have Faith In Their Head Coach (AP Photo)

AB: Oh the Lute years were sweet. Arizona was no worse than a five-seed for 16 straight tournaments. Do you realize how awful March 2010 was for me? I literally fled the country. But I’ve digressed. Yes, I think Sean Miller is on the verge of very big things. He’s a phenomenal coach and has already demonstrated such in very short order. He took a bare cupboard and turned that into an Elite Eight; and before we get too far down the road talking about how that 2009 class fell into his lap, it did fall into his lap and those kids could’ve gone anywhere. But they chose Miller for a reason. And my impression of that reason is that he’s piecing together a very special something in the desert. I like to use Indiana’s rebuilding as a barometer and if you look at where they are following Kelvin Sampson bottoming them out, Tom Crean is in year five with the top team in the country in the preseason. Last season – year four – was their first taste of big success again. Arizona has essentially followed the same trajectory (2010-11 was a glorious anomaly), and finds itself with a very sound roster here in Miller year four and project to have a filthy year five. Here, let me pass you the Kool-Aid.

RTC: While the 2012-13 version of the Wildcats will have five returnees from last season, all of whom should get some run, it is a group of four highly touted freshmen and incoming transfer Mark Lyons who give the program the most cause for optimism. Let’s start with Lyons. He’s not a true point, is more of a shoot-first guy and his most recent head coach, Chris Mack, didn’t seem all that sad to see him transfer. Can he really be the type of point guard to help meld together some talented returnees with a frontcourt-heavy freshman class?

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Arizona Week: Five Newcomers Could Earn Immediate Playing Time

Posted by AMurawa on June 27th, 2012

Paired with the more-than-adequate group of returnees we profiled earlier today, the Wildcats have a stellar group of newcomers that they’re welcoming in as well. Their five-man freshman class was rated third in the nation by ESPN, and that’s not even including the commitment they got from senior transfer Mark Lyons, who will be immediately eligible for Sean Miller’s club next year after choosing the Arizona version of the Wildcats (over the Kentucky version). All told, there are five players among the six newcomers who will get a chance to make a major contribution next season. Below, we’ll take a look at all of the newcomers, by order of who is likely to make the biggest impact in 2012-13.

  • Mark Lyons, Senior, Combo Guard, 6’1”, 188 lbs, Xavier University – Despite the fact that UA’s three freshmen big men all probably have brighter futures ahead of them than Lyons, the graduate transfer will have the biggest impact on the Wildcat’s 2012-13 season. Lyons spent the last two seasons in Cincinnati playing second-fiddle to point guard Tu Holloway, but he’ll get his chance to have the ball in his hands a lot more in Tucson, as he’ll take over the point guard duties from day one. He’s got the reputation of a guy who is more interested in finding his own shot than creating looks for his teammates, but in his three years with the Musketeers, he averaged assists on almost 18% of his teammates’ made field goals, a pretty impressive number for a guy who played off the ball. Nevertheless, there is some truth to the idea that Lyons likes to, and is very capable of, creating his own shots. What he’ll need to prove this season, not only for the success of this Wildcat team but for Lyons’ dreams of playing in the NBA, is that he can walk the fine line between making himself a scoring threat and setting up his new teammates with good scoring opportunities. If Lyons can pull that off, the Wildcats could be in the national championship picture; if he falls back into his 2011-12 habit of shooting nearly 28% of his team’s shots, UA could be a major underachiever.
Kaleb Tarczewski, Arizona

Kaleb Tarczewski, Here Facing Up Against National #1 Recruit Nerlens Noel, Will Man The Post For The Wildcats (Jay Connor, Boston Globe)

  • Kaleb Tarczewski, Freshman, Center, 7’0”, 230 lbs, St. Mark’s High School, Claremont, New Hampshire – Tarczewski wound up as ESPN’s 4th rated player in the 2012 recruiting class, highlighting Sean Miller’s best recruiting class, and he is not the type of center that comes into college as a project years away from consistent production. He’s got a strong body ready to step in and immediately pound away with veteran Pac-12 bigs, but also displays surprising athleticism in the open floor. His real strength, however, is carving out prime real estate on the block, catching the ball with his back to the basket and using his strength and agility to get to one of his go-to post moves. He’s equally adept at cleaning the glass on both ends of the floor, and his size and strength are sure turn him into a strong post defender. Tarczewski averaged 20.7 points and 10.2 rebounds as a high school senior, shooting 63% from the field and showing all the signs of a guy in the midst of serious improvement. If he can continue to home his game, he may not be long for Tucson. Read the rest of this entry »
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Pac-12 Comings and Goings: Shabazz Muhammad and Josiah Turner

Posted by AMurawa on April 12th, 2012

It was a big day of comings and goings in the Pac-12 on Wednesday as the picture surrounding the two historic basketball powers in the conference crystallized a bit. UCLA and its embattled head coach Ben Howland got a piece of great news as the nation’s #2 recruit – Shabazz Muhammad – announced his intentions to attend the school next year, while Arizona finally cleared up the status of freshman point guard Josiah Turner when it was announced he would be transferring out of the program.

Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA

Shabazz Muhammad Gives The Bruins Plenty Of Talent And Plenty Of Options

First, the Bruins. Despite UCLA’s struggles over the past three seasons (their 56-43 record since 2009-10 is the worst three-year record in program history since Wilbur Johns went 38-36 from 1945 to 1948 prior to the John Wooden era), Howland was able to add Muhammad to an already strong recruiting class that already featured the #5 recruit in the nation (according to ESPNU) – Kyle Anderson – and highly touted sharpshooter Jordan Adams. And, with the program still in hot pursuit of widebody Tony Parker, their haul could get even gaudier. Muhammad is an explosive offensive talent with the ability to throw down highlight-reel dunks with the best of them as well as knock down threes or score in a variety of ways in between. He will join a roster that features plenty of depth and versatility. Muhammad can play either the two or the three, and he is joined on the wings by returnees like Tyler Lamb and Norman Powell, a pair of nice pieces as well as Adams. Anderson as well can play the two or the three, but he is very adept with the ball in his hands and will play a part at the point, along with controversial North Carolina transfer Larry Drew Jr. And then up front, there are the Wear twins as well as big man Joshua Smith (although there is still a chance, somehow, that Smith could decide on his own or be encouraged to leave early), and perhaps Parker. In short, Howland has put together a ton of pieces in Westwood, but he’ll need to prove his ability to congeal those parts into a gestalt. Is Drew the answer at the point or can Anderson run the Bruin offense? Can Howland open up the offense enough to take advantage of Muhammad’s vast skills in the open court? Can Smith lose half a hundred pounds and be effective for 25 minutes a night? Can the Wear twins develop their offensive games and their defensive toughness? And can Lamb or Powell be counted on to knock down threes when called upon, or will Adams jump ahead of them in the rotation? There are plenty of questions to be answered at UCLA, but one thing is for certain: it should be fun to see it all play out.

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