Pac-12 Preseason Poll and Preview Wrap-Up

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 14th, 2014

And then there was basketball. Starting tonight, if you play your cards right, you can watch college basketball straight through for the next four months, maybe taking a Friday night off here and there to recharge the batteries. Hopefully we’ve done a good job here at the RTC Pac-12 microsite getting you ready for the season. As our last hurrah before we have actual games to talk and write about, we’d like to unveil the results of our five-man preseason poll (Adam Butler, Andrew Murawa, Connor Pelton, Kevin Danna and Tracy McDannald), linking to our team previews for each of the 12 teams in this conference. Below that we also link to our preseason All-Conference teams for one handy spot to return come March to figure out all the places we screwed up. Besides that, the recommendation from these parts is just to sit back, enjoy a tasty snack or enticing beverage, and enjoy some hoops tonight. Happy New Year everybody.

preseasonpoll

  1. Arizona. The Wildcats are our unanimous choice for first place and, all things considered, we mark them and point guard T.J. McConnell as the team to beat by a wide margin.

    T.J. McConnell and The Wildcats Are The Runaway Favorites In The Pac-12 (Lance King, Getty Images)

    T.J. McConnell and The Wildcats Are The Runaway Favorites In The Pac-12 (Lance King, Getty Images)

  2. Utah. The Utes still have a lot to prove, especially in close games, but with All-America candidate Delon Wright leading the way, their talent wins out for our voters.
  3. Stanford. The Cardinal are coming off a thrilling Sweet Sixteen run, and if the Johnny Dawkins can find a few breakout players they could be the team to challenge the Wildcats.
  4. Colorado. Tad Boyle’s squad returns all of his familiar faces, save one. One of their point guards will have to step up for the Buffaloes to sneak up the standings.
  5. UCLA. The Bruins are the conference’s blue blood, but they’ll need Isaac Hamilton to have an impactful freshman season to get much higher than this.
  6. Cal. Cuonzo Martin’s first year in the Bay Area will be a lot easier if Sam Singer steps up and earns the point guard spot.
  7. Washington. The last time the Huskies made the NCAA Tournament, Isaiah Thomas was their point guard. If they’re going to break that streak, Robert Upshaw needs to begin to live up to his promise.
  8. Oregon. Joseph Young is the team’s star, but newcomers like Dwayne Benjamin are going to have to contribute for the Ducks to have a chance.
  9. Arizona State. Guys like Jahii Carson and Jordan Bachynski are gone, meaning newcomers like Willie Atwood are feeling the pressure to produce.
  10. USC. In Andy Enfield’s second season, the Trojans are starting to look like the team he has in mind, but Jordan McLaughlin and company might need a little more experience to move up the standings.
  11. Washington State. Ernie Kent is ready to change the culture in Pullman, but in the short-term, DaVonte Lacy is the Cougars’ best bet.
  12. Oregon State. The Beavers are ready to bring in a talented recruiting class next season, but in his first year, Wayne Tinkle has to hope Gary Payton II plays a lot like his father.

Beyond all of that content, below you’ll find the rest of our preview pieces. Feel free to make fun of us for our misses, and congratulate us for our hits, when all is said and done a few months from now.

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The RTC Pac-12 All-Freshman and All-Transfer Teams

Posted by AMurawa on November 11th, 2014

With the season imminent, it is time to start rolling out our preseason picks. Later in the week we’ll release the results of our preseason poll from our writers and friends of the microsite for things like standings, All-Conference Team, Player of the Year, and a host of other specialty awards. In getting this week’s events underway, though, we start by naming our Freshmen of the Year, Transfer of the Year and our All-Freshmen and All-Transfer teams, a group of new faces that we’ll get to know better as the season takes shape. Let’s jump right in.

Preseason Freshman of the Year: Stanley Johnson, Arizona

Stanley Johnson May Not Be An Immediate Starter At Arizona, But He Is Our Unanimous Pick For Freshman of the Year

Stanley Johnson May Not Be An Immediate Starter At Arizona, But He Is Our Unanimous Pick For Freshman of the Year

The unanimous choice among our five voters, Johnson is the latest in Sean Miller’s increasingly long line of elite recruits. Expected to be on the short list of potential leading scorers for the Wildcats, Johnson checked off all the boxes during his prep career: playing on international tournament-winning teams; McDonald’s All-American and Jordan Brand Classic participant; two-time California High School Player of the Year; Parade All-American; MaxPreps National Player of the Year. Oh, and four CIF Division I state titles in four years of high school. So, smooth sailing at Arizona, right? Well, not so fast. In Arizona’s lone exhibition game, Johnson was conspicuously absent from the starting lineup, coming off the bench while junior Gabe York started in his place. Still, Johnson proved his bona fides by overpowering lesser competition on the way to 12 points in 24 minutes of action. Miller describes him as a “physical freak,” and while you can make the argument that the Wildcats are actually better off with him bringing energy off the bench, you can count on the fact that he is going to be one of the best players on a team already loaded with All-Conference players who you will see later in the week. There might well be other freshmen in the conference that wind up with better overall numbers by season’s end, but none of those first-year guys will be the same difference-maker that Johnson can be.

Joining Johnson on the All-Freshman Team are:

  • Kevon Looney, UCLA
  • Reid Travis, Stanford
  • Jordan McLaughlin, USC
  • Isaac Hamilton, UCLA

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The Pac-12’s Biggest Questions: Askia Booker, UCLA Point Guards & Arizona Shooters

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 7th, 2014

Little story, probably not all that interesting. With the college basketball season due to tip off a week from today, we here around the RTC Pac-12 microsite are finalizing our preseason rankings and all-conference teams and whatnot. So, in compiling those things, I sent out a poll to our writers and friends of the microsite. Tucked away at the very end of the poll was something of an afterthought; it read, simply “Biggest Question Marks – use any criteria.” Now, when I wrote that and when I filled out my own poll, I was thinking of just individual players and I came up with a list that included Robert Upshaw, Sam Singer, Tra Holder, Bryce Alford and Jordan Loveridge. And then when I looked at everybody else’s ballots, I saw more big picture question marks: Oregon’s mental state, new coaches around the league, Utah playing with expectations. And I thought those were some damn good questions myself. Never one to pass up a good topic to write on that I can easily cherry-pick, I’m going to go through some of the biggest questions that my colleagues came up with and ponder their answers as much as I can.

Askia Booker, Colorado

Question Number One For The Buffaloes Is Whether Askia Booker and Company Can Follow Spencer Dinwiddie’s Example (Patrick Ghidossi, BuffaloSportsNews)

Askia Booker and Life After the Mayor

Adam Butler of Pachoops.com listed this as his biggest question mark and it is no surprise. First, Butler absolutely loves writing about Booker (seriously Adam, how many more columns do you think you can get out of ‘Ski in his remaining collegiate eligibility?). Second, if Tad Boyle can find a coherent answer at the point guard position post-Spencer Dinwiddie, the Buffs are maybe the team with the best chance to challenge conference-favorite Arizona. But after Dinwiddie fell from a torn ACL last year, Colorado went 9-10 down the stretch and got run out of the NCAA Tournament in embarrassing fashion. As Butler loves to point out, Booker began to shelve his freewheeling, bad-shot hoisting, basketball-purist infuriating ways and embrace his inner point guard. Still, for the Buffaloes to live up to their ceiling, he needs to play off the ball on a regular basis and become a high-octane scorer. This means guys like sophomore Jaron Hopkins and freshman Dominique Collier will have to prove themselves worthy of earning the majority of those on-ball minutes. The facts that Hopkins struggled in his first season and that Collier is battling ankle problems do not bode well for positive answers on those fronts. In other words, the Booker point guard experiment (a role the 6’2” guard will probably have to embrace if he hopes to earn a long professional career) may continue.

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UCLA’s Most Important Player: Isaac Hamilton

Posted by Tracy McDannald on November 5th, 2014

The offseason in Westwood could have gone better — much better. The Bruins knew they were going to be woefully thin in the backcourt, and head coach Steve Alford was never going to completely replace point-forward Kyle Anderson, the 6’9” match-up nightmare with elite point guard skills. But then UCLA received word that Colorado State transfer Jon Octeus had been denied admission, nixing the Bruins’ best-laid plans to make him the starting point guard. There’s just not much depth available here at all, and this clearly puts additional pressure on the Bruins’ starters (although senior Norman Powell should have little issue so long as he remains in good health). Off the bench, UCLA may struggle beyond Noah Allen to find any realistic contributors under the height of 6’9”.

Isaac Hamilton, the No. 25 overall prospect, cited his relationship with UTEP head coach Tim Floyd as deciding factor

Sophomore guard Isaac Hamilton, who was forced to miss all of the 2013-14 season, will be needed at both backcourt positions at UCLA.

The void creates a big opportunity for combo guard Isaac Hamilton, and there may not be a more valuable player on the roster. The 6’4” sophomore missed the entire 2013-14 season after backing out of his initial commitment with UTEP. While Hamilton lost a year in the transition, he was able to practice with his teammates and digest the system, and that is where his true value will be revealed. The year away from action did wonders for T.J. McConnell at Arizona, where the point guard ran the scout team before becoming a valuable piece last season. Hamilton’s case is different because he doesn’t have previous Division I experience under his belt, but there’s something to be said about developing team chemistry and learning the tendencies of teammates in a practice setting.

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Pac-12 Burning Questions: Most Interesting Team & Player

Posted by AMurawa on November 4th, 2014

What’s that smell? Hey, is it getting a little warm in here? Call the fire department, because it is time for Pac-12 Burning Questions, where we ask our Pac-12 writers for their answers to what we’re dying to know. This week:

Burning Questions: Which team are you most excited to watch this season? And which player are you most interested to see?

Adam Butler: I won’t shy away from being a homer: I’m most excited to see the Arizona Wildcats. This is Sean Miller’s crown jewel, the team he aimed to build when he first came to Tucson. Which is maybe what last year’s team was, but at this point the expectations have aligned with the realities and it’s his year. The Wildcats have coupled Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson into the most dynamic wing/backcourt/hybrid/power force in the country. I want to see that operate. The question will be asked if they can play defense as well as they did last year, and while I don’t think they can, I think they’ll be that much more offensively effective that it will negate the lapse (I use the term relatively considering Arizona was leaps and bounds the best defensive team last year). I want to see that operate.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson And The Wildcats Have Hoops Fans Intrigued (Mike Christy, Arizona Daily Star)

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson And The Wildcats Have Hoops Fans Intrigued (Mike Christy, Arizona Daily Star)

As for players, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is the guy I’m most excited to see. He’s had what seems to be a meteoric rise from sixth man to preseason All-American. Hype-be-damned, Jefferson already has demonstrated he can defend up and down a lineup. With any semblance of a jump shot, he has the skills (ones he’s already displayed) to absolutely fulfill those All-American accolades. There are a lot of pieces on that lineup, but what Jefferson will let the Wildcats do defensively, and his ability to create going at the rim, will make them the offensive threat they might have missed a season ago.

Kevin Danna: The team I’m most excited to watch this year is Utah. While I think we can all agree that this team looks primed to make its first NCAA Tournament appearance in six years, there’s a reasonable chance that the Runnin’ Utes will be 7-5 heading into conference play. They were criticized for their non-league slate last year, something that won’t happen this time around with games against San Diego State, Wichita State, Kansas, BYU and UNLV on the docket. Obviously, though, that could come back to bite them – how many of those games can Utah pull out? What happens if the Utes lose all five – what will this team’s resolve be like heading into Pac-12 play? If Utah can win three of those contests (say Wichita State, BYU and UNLV), then 10-2 looks really good and a winning conference record should be enough to get them into March Madness (depending on how the rest of the Pac-12 stacks up in November and December).

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Pac-12 Season Preview: UCLA Bruins

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 3rd, 2014

Throughout the preseason, the Pac-12 microsite will preview each of the league’s 10 teams, from worst to first. Today: UCLA.

UCLA Bruins

Strengths. There’s plenty of talent here, no doubt. Norman Powell, Bryce Alford and Tony Parker return as players who earned at least 40 percent of the team’s minutes last year and were all highly efficient offensive players on a high-powered offensive squad. They’ll be joined by freshmen Kevon Looney and Isaac Hamilton, both of whom are highly-regarded recruits expected to slip seamlessly into the starting lineup. Throw in guys like Wannah Bail and Noah Allen, who played bit parts efficiently last year, and another highly regarded freshman in Thomas Welsh (who may be more of a project than his classmates) and there is plenty of reason for excitement in Westwood. The Bruins once again should be a high-flying, entertaining ballclub.

Norman Powell's Athleticism On The Wing Will Be A Big Part Of UCLA's Offense (Harry How/Getty Images)

Norman Powell’s Athleticism On The Wing Will Be A Big Part Of UCLA’s Offense. (Harry How/Getty Images)

Weaknesses. Two immediately jump off the page: a lack of depth and defensive uncertainty. First, the depth thing is pretty clear. Freshman Jonah Bolden and senior transfer Jonathan Octeus were both supposed to play significant roles off the bench for the Bruins, but they ran into academic problems that will keep them out of UCLA uniforms this year (Octeus wound up at Purdue as a transfer after being denied admission). That leaves Bail, Allen and Welsh as the top three players off the bench. The Bruins could survive one well-placed and well-timed injury, but any significant health problems beyond that could lead to raw freshmen or even walk-ons playing big roles. Throw in the fact that Looney has battled injuries in early workouts already and this coiuld get scary. The second issue is on the defensive end. Powell is a fantastic defender, but just about everybody else on the roster has question marks. Alford is a terrific offensive player but he can get outquicked or overpowered by better athletes. Parker has a history of foul trouble. Hamilton and Looney are talents more known for their offensive abilities who still need to prove their defensive merits. On down the line, questions loom.

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Pac-12 M5: 10.23.14 Edition

Posted by Tracy McDannald on October 23rd, 2014

pac12_morning5

  1. Let the dissection of the Pac-12 media poll begin. The league will have its media day from the San Francisco headquarters today, and the schools will be represented by each head coach and a few select players. The Pac-12 Networks and website will have live coverage, and here’s a schedule of when to expect each coach to take the stage and address the media in attendance. Who’s ready for commissioner Larry Scott’s rose-colored declaration about how the league is stronger than it’s ever been and another non-story update on the failed DirecTV negotiations? If there is such thing as suspense on this day, it will come from the predicted order of finish behind the likely favorite, second-ranked Arizona. In fact, the folks in Tucson are already wondering whether the Wildcats can run the table in conference play.
  2. Speaking of Wildcats and running the table, USA Today’s Scott Gleeson highlighted the group from Kentucky and skimmed through its schedule to pinpoint the toughest tests that stand in the way of a perfect season for the preseason No. 1. Among the contests circled was the December 20 matchup with UCLA in the CBS Sports Classic. Quality opponent and neutral court – the game will be played in Chicago – is a good start to the makings for an upset. And, as Gleeson pointed out, the timing of the game should give both programs a fair barometer and good sample size to mesh. That will be particularly important for the Bruins, who add Isaac Hamilton and Kevon Looney to the mix but are short on experience and in search of a defensive identity.
  3. The intrasquad showcases continued Wednesday as Stanford put on a Cardinal and White scrimmage. Head coach Johnny Dawkins has work to do in reloading the program’s first NCAA Tournament qualifier of his six-year tenure. It appears he has already found the breakout star of Year 7, as Rosco Allen turned heads with a winning performance in the dunk contest and 11 points and six rebounds in the 20-minute scrimmage. A team that finished in the top five in the Pac-12 in three-point shooting, the Cardinal have another dead-eye shooter to watch as Dorian Pickens edged out Chasson Randle in the contest. Randle, a first-team all-conference pick last season, led all scorers with 18 points on 5-of-9 shooting.
  4. In Salt Lake City, Utah hosted its “Night With the Runnin’ Utes.” After a lackluster intrasquad scrimmage last Friday, head coach Larry Krystkowiak said his team is “making progress” and has the ability to go two-deep at each position. Utah played 16-minute halves that include a halftime shakeup in the rosters. It was a good night to be on Jordan Loveridge’s team as the junior scored a combined 27 points in split duty for each squad. The forward finished 8-of-11 from the field, including 4-of-5 from beyond the arc, and converted all seven of his free throws. The sidebar of the night belonged to 7-foot freshman Jakob Poetl, who returned after missing a week of practice because of a concussion suffered while playing dodgeball during a team dinner at Krystkowiak’s house. The Austrian collected 12 points, five rebounds and two blocks.
  5. At Colorado, sophomore guard Jaron Hopkins is making it a point to be more aggressive. Head coach Tad Boyle, who is looking to fill the void left behind by standout Spencer Dinwiddie, said the notable difference is in Hopkins’ decision-making. Hopkins received a crash course in his first year as the Buffaloes adjusted after Dinwiddie’s season-ending injury, so the transition should be more accelerated and less foreign this time around.
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Pac-12 Post-Mortems: UCLA

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 23rd, 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, UCLA.

What Went Right

Although it took some time to get there, this Bruins team coalesced nicely as the season wore on. Kyle Anderson turned into an All-American talent while the pieces around him were, by and large, rock solid. Team chemistry was light years better than under the previous administration, and eventually Steve Alford’s first team in Westwood won over a wary fan base. While a Sweet Sixteen appearance is not going to earn accolades from the most jaded fans, the first year of the Alford era was definitely a step forward for the program.

Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams Were Vital To UCLA's Success (Don Liebig/ASUCLA Photography)

Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams Were Vital To UCLA’s Success (Don Liebig/ASUCLA Photography)

What Went Wrong

Honestly, for this program and with this team, a loss in the Sweet Sixteen to a #1 seed isn’t exactly an underachievement. Sure, maybe a better performance by the Bruins’ frontcourt against Florida could have extended their season, and maybe Alford made some substitution errors in dealing with some minor foul trouble in that game. Certainly there were some defensive breakdowns too (how does Michael Frazier get that wide open that often?). But all told, Alford got about what he should have gotten out of this season’s UCLA club.

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Pac-12 M5: 12.02.13 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on December 2nd, 2013

pac12_morning5

  1. Out of all the preseason preview publications out there, the highest praise rained upon an incoming transfer from Moberly Area Community College was “brings scoring potential.” That was via Athlon Sports, and boy has junior guard Mike Anderson showed some scoring potential this season for Washington. He led the Huskies to a 92-89 double overtime win Saturday against Long Beach State, scoring 19 points and grabbing a ridiculous 16 rebounds in the victory. Head coach Lorenzo Romar has not run out of good things to say about the junior college transfer, telling reporters that while he expected him to be a jack-of-all-trades type of player, this goes above and beyond that description. Anderson is playing out of position and is excelling at it, adding a nice complement in the Huskies’ three-guard lineup to C.J. Wilcox and Nigel Williams-Goss. The Huskies will play San Diego State on the road Sunday and need a win to stay above the .500 mark.
  2. Feast Week came to a close yesterday, and Washington State went cold down the stretch in Lake Buena Vista to fall to St. Joseph’s, 72-67. The Cougars led 65-63 with three-plus minutes remaining, but a 9-2 Hawks’ run to cap the game sent Ken Bone’s team home with a 1-2 record in the Old Spice Classic. “We didn’t execute as well as we needed to win the game,” said Bone. Second half execution has been a recurring problem for the Cougs, something he’ll need to figure out if he wants to stick around much longer in Pullman.
  3. While Stanford has faced some solid opponents thus far in the 2013-14 campaign, the Cardinal played their first high-profile, “nationally relevant” games during Feast Week at the Legends Classic. Golden Gate Sports breaks down what we learned about Stanford in its two regional round wins and 1-1 championship round record. As the piece points out, the Pittsburgh game wasn’t a bad loss because of the quality of the opponent, but rather because it turned out to be a blowout and the Cardinal were never really in the game. Stanford will get a chance to prove it can play with quality competition outside of the Pac-12 when it meets Connecticut and Michigan in back-to-back games away from home later this month. Meanwhile in Palo Alto, Johnny Dawkins’ seat gets warmer.
  4. Former USC coach and current head man at UTEP, Tim Floyd, says the verbal feuding between himself and current Trojans’ coach Andy Enfield, is over. The bad-mouthing began in April when Floyd thought Enfield was tampering with the recruitment of guard Isaac Hamilton, who was originally supposed to be a Miner (eventually landing at UCLA). The altercations came to a head earlier this week with both teams playing in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in Nassau, Bahamas, with the respective coaching staffs exchanging heated words following the publication of this feature two weeks ago.
  5. One of the quietest 7-0 records in the country belongs to Dana Altman and Oregon. Ever since the Ducks topped Georgetown on opening night, they have flown under the radar with a soft schedule and without the play-making abilities of starting sophomore point guard Dominic Artis, who was suspended after it was discovered he had been selling his team-issued shoes. Since that first week, the Ducks have used fast starts in most of their contests to jump ahead of their lesser opponents. They did just that again on Sunday night, taking an early 36-18 advantage against Cal Poly before rolling to a 21-point victory. Things get considerably tougher for Oregon now, though, as it faces Mississippi, Illinois, UC Irvine, and BYU in its next four games, the first two of which will be played away from the friendly confines of Matthew Knight Arena.
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Pac-12 M5: 11.01.13 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 1st, 2013

pac12_morning5

  1. Earlier this week, we spent the better part of a Morning Five poking around the state of Oregon. Today, we’re gonna spend most of our time in Los Angeles, where  Steve Alford got his recruiting mojo going on Thursday when five-star recruit Kevon Looney made a verbal commitment to the Bruins. With the UCLA frontline undermanned in 2014-15, Looney’s choice of the Bruins over other big-time programs like Duke, Florida, Michigan State, Tennessee and Wisconsin is a huge boon to the program. ESPN’s scouting report on the big man is glowing: a combo forward who can hit the three, score off the bounce, and pound the boards. Still, after Alford previously got burned when Trevon Blueitt backed out of his commitment to UCLA, just remember that nothing is set in stone until that letter of intent gets signed.
  2. And as Isaac Hamilton proved to UTEP, even a signed letter of intent doesn’t exactly seal the deal. Hamilton, a four-star wing in the 2013 class, was originally the centerpiece of Tim Floyd’s recruiting class in El Paso. But Hamilton second-guessed that decision over the summer and decided that he didn’t want to play at UTEP after all. Floyd refused the youngster’s request to back out of his commitment, but Hamilton petitioned the NCAA for immediate eligibility after he chose UCLA for his college. Hamilton’s petition was rejected on Thursday, meaning that not only will he be ineligible to play for the Bruins this season, but he’ll lose a year of eligibility. He’ll get to practice with the squad this year, but will be relegated to scout team action.
  3. Wrapping up the news at UCLA, the Bruins got their season underway on Wednesday night with an exhibition game against Cal State San Bernardino. Despite playing without senior forward Travis Wear, who is sidelined, perhaps for up to a month, due to surgery to remove his appendix, the Bruins rolled to an easy 30-point win. Jordan Adams returned from his broken foot to lead all scorers with 25 points, while David Wear filled in ably for his brother with a 12-point, 13-rebound double-double. Tony Parker, who will team primarily with David Wear to make up for Travis Wear’s absence, had 10 points, three blocks and three boards. Meanwhile, Kyle Anderson’s debut as the Bruin point guard began with 10 points, 10 boards and five assists along with three turnovers.
  4. We’ll stop over across town before we leave LA, as ESPN.com’s Dana O’Neil profiles Andy Enfield and the new USC basketball program. For a guy with a business background, Enfield is not only talking about Xs and Os with the Trojans, but about branding and selling a hip and exciting style of basketball to potential recruits. He did that and more at Florida Gulf Coast with a school that completely lacked a brand prior to last season’s Dunk City run, so Enfield sees his job at USC as different, but perhaps easier, than the task he undertook at FGCU.
  5. Lastly, here’s your reminder to flip the calendar and realize that next week at this time, we’ll be preparing to dig into our first weekend of college basketball. As such, let’s take a peek at the AP Top 25 basketball poll, released yesterday to, well, OK, nobody really cares all that much about polls in a sport where we actually decide the champion on the court of play. But, still, Top 25. Arizona leads the way for the conference, checking in at #6 overall, while Oregon checks in at #19, a few spots ahead of UCLA at #22. Four other Pac-12 schools were in the “others receiving votes” category (Colorado, Arizona State, Washington and Stanford), while California, which Doug Gottlieb notoriously had as his #10 team in the nation, was curiously absent.
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