Rushed Reactions: #13 Hawaii 77, #4 California 66

Posted by Kenny Ocker on March 18th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregionKenny Ocker is covering the Spokane pods of the South and West regionals this week.

Three Key Takeaways:

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The Magic of March Goes to Hawaii (USA Today Images)

  1. Cal really, really missed its starting backcourt: The Golden Bears came to Spokane knowing it would be without its lone senior and leading scorer, point guard Tyrone Wallace, who broke his hand in practice earlier this week. They didn’t account for shooting guard Jabari Bird also being unexpectedly sidelined by back spasms just before the opening tip. And then backup-point-guard-cum-starter Sam Singer and superfreshman Jaylen Brown picked up three fouls apiece in the first half and magnified that problem. Brown ended up fouling out with about eight minutes left in the second half and the Bears still in the game, but they were never able to close it out without him on the court. He finished with a mere four points. Singer had 12 points before fouling out. Cal only had six assists in the game.
  2. REF SHOW! Speaking of all those fouls… there were 25 in the first half, which didn’t let the game generate any sort of flow. Singer and Brown had three apiece in the first half. Four of Hawaii’s starters had two fouls by that point. And then the Rainbows’ star center, Stefan Jankovic, picked up his fourth foul less than four minutes into the second half. All told, the game ended with 49 fouls, including disqualifications of Brown and Singer for Cal, and four Hawaii players finishing with four fouls. The tight officiating made it difficult to watch what should have otherwise been an entertaining #13 over #4 upset.
  3. Hawaii ignored Cal’s vaunted interior defense: The Bears came into Friday’s game with the nation’s best two-point field goal defense, according to KenPom, giving up a mere 40.9 percent shooting inside the three-point arc. Hawaii did not care. The Warriors made 24-of-38 shots inside the arc (63%), including 6-of-8 inside shooting from guards Quincy Smith and Roderick Bobbitt and 5-of-7 inside shooting from center Stefan Jankovic.

Star of the Game: Hawaii guard Quincy Smith: The slashing senior wing got to the basket at will all game against Cal, hanging up 19 points on 6-of-8 shooting, including a perfect 4-of-4 in the second half.

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Handing Out Pac-12 Superlatives

Posted by Mike Lemaire (@Mike_Lemaire) & Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 8th, 2016

With another Pac-12 season now in the books, it’s time to put a bow on the regular season before we all head to the various pool parties and blackjack tables in Vegas (cue Bill Walton: “Please. Las Vegas!). Let’s hand out all the traditional awards below, listing the top candidates followed by the rationale for our picks. Let’s get right to it.

Player of the Year

  • Ryan Anderson, Sr, Arizona: 15.8 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 118.5 ORtg, 24.8% of possessions, 56.9 eFG%
  • Dillon Brooks, Soph, Oregon: 16.7 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.2 SPG, 111.5 ORtg, 26.3% of poss, 51.4 eFG%
  • Gary Payton II, Sr, Oregon State: 15.9 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 5.3 APG, 2.4 SPG, 111.5 ORtg, 27.0% of poss, 50.8 eFG%
  • Jakob Poeltl, Soph, Utah: 17.5 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.6 BPG, 127.1 ORtg, 25.9% of poss, 65.3 eFG%
  • Josh Scott, Sr, Colorado: 16.5 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.7 BPG, 121.5 ORtg, 23.5% of poss, 53.6 eFG%

 

Jakob Poeltl's Excellence At Both Ends Of The Court Makes Him The Clear Cut Pac-12 POY (Charlie Riedel, AP)

Jakob Poeltl’s Excellence At Both Ends Of The Court Makes Him The Clear Cut Pac-12 POY (Charlie Riedel, AP)

Andrew Murawa: That’s a pretty solid five-man first team (with guys like Jaylen Brown, Andrew Andrews and Chris Boucher also having arguments for inclusion). But there is one player from this group who stands above the rest, as Jakob Poeltl has been the best offensive player in this conference, ranks among the handful of best defensive players, and has been a rock in leading the Utes to a second-place finish.

Mike Lemaire: My heart wants to pick Gary Payton II, but my head knows the right pick here is Poeltl. The big man has put together a season that rivals that of any Pac center in the past two decades. He is among the league leaders in nearly every statistical category and is the focal point of the Utes’ game plan on both ends of the floor. It isn’t a coincidence that Poeltl is playing his best basketball of the season as Utah has gotten hot.

Coach of the Year

  • Dana Altman, Oregon: 25-6, 14-4
  • Larry Krystkowiak, Utah: 24-7, 13-5
  • Cuonzo Martin, California: 22-9, 12-6
  • Sean Miller, Arizona: 24-7, 12-6

AM: Last year, Dana Altman received the official Pac-12 COY award in somewhat controversial (hey, Tucson) fashion, earning the nod over Sean Miller despite finishing behind him in the standings. This year, arguments can be made for any of the four coaches at the top of the league, but this award should belong to Altman. While yours truly has ranked Oregon as the Best in the West since August, the Ducks were picked fourth by the media. And that was before would-be senior point guard Dylan Ennis missed all but 21 minutes this season because of a foot injury. Altman patched together a seven-man rotation from disparate sources and coached them up to become the best team in the conference. Winning 14 games in such a competitive league this season is commendable.

ML: There are many different ways to evaluate Coach of the Year, but I prefer to pick one based on how his team performed relative to expectations. Parity in the conference meant there was no such coach this season, so, with apologies to Lorenzo Romar, this award should go to the coach of the best team: Dana Altman. He is the architect of one of the better two-way teams in the country and has done so while breaking in a new starting lineup. He is both the most deserving and a semi-obvious choice.

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Three Ways to Fill an All-Pac-12 Team

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 8th, 2016

Sometime earlier this year, we spelled out four different ways to create a Top 25 list or conference power rankings: (1) based on resume; (2) based on how teams are playing at that exact moment; (3) based on how you expect teams to be playing when it really matters; or (4) some improvisatory combination of the other three parts. Likewise, there are a bunch of different ways to put together all-conference teams. Below, we’ll give you three(-ish) different — and all entirely reasonable (says the guy who’s writing it) — ways to draw up an all-Pac-12 Team this season.

Note to the Pac-12 and other conferences that should know better: Basketball teams allow five players on the floor at a single time. Thus, all-conference teams should feature just five players. If you want to recognize additional players, that’s what Second Teams, Third Teams and Honorable Mentions are for.

Regardless Of How You Put Together An All-Conference Team, Jakob Poeltl Deserves A Spot (Godofredo Vasquez, USA Today)

Regardless Of How You Put Together An All-Conference Team, Jakob Poeltl Deserves A Spot (Godofredo Vasquez, USA Today)

Five Best Players

This one is simple. Don’t think too hard. Just go down the list and determine which players in the conference put together the five best seasons. Sure, determining “best” is completely subjective, but at least the concept is clear. Using this methodology in this year’s Pac-12, we would probably wind up with one true guard surrounded by three bigs and a swingman. Something like a team of Jakob Poeltl, Josh Scott, Ryan Anderson, Dillon Brooks and Gary Payton II. Maybe you would make an argument for Chris Boucher or Jaylen Brown over Brooks or Anderson. But either way, you wind up with a team that looks great on paper but probably would have some on-court problems — ask Purdue or Maryland about this — where they’ve got a lot of appealing pieces that do not fit together quite so well.

To take a little swerve off of this method of putting together a team, we can also move away from the players who had the “best seasons” in favor of just picking the five best players. In this scenario, California’s Brown likely moves up a notch. Judged on performance on the floor from November to early March, the freshman didn’t match what guys like Boucher, Brooks and Anderson did. But judged on performance heading into postseason play, it’s relatively easy to make the argument that Brown (or Allonzo Trier for that matter) deserves to be mentioned among the top five players in the conference.

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Jabari Bird is Leading Cal’s Resurgence

Posted by Mike Lemaire on March 1st, 2016

After thumping UCLA last week, Cal forward Jabari Bird told reporters that the primary reason for the Bears’ recent success was that they were “coming together as a team.” It is a nice sentiment but it isn’t why the Bears are winning. What Bird is too humble to admit is that Cal is winning because he was one of the Pac-12’s best players in February. His 12-point, five-rebound effort against USC over the weekend came in the wake of 20 points — including 5-of-8 threes — against UCLA, and and that wasn’t even his best performance of the last two weeks. His contribution against the Bruins was the third game in two weeks in which he has scored more than 20 points and made at least four 3-pointers, and it illustrates why the Bears have now won seven games in a row.

Cal forward Jabari Bird Is Helping His Team Finally Live Up To the Preseason Hype

Cal forward Jabari Bird Is Helping His Team Finally Live Up To All of the Preseason Hype. (AP)

Bird is averaging 15.3 points per game and is shooting 58 percent from both the floor and downtown during the streak. If you toss out a dud performance at Washington, he is averaging better than 18.0 points per game and is shooting better than 60 percent from the field. That is twice his season scoring average and the 22 threes he has made during the streak is more than twice as many as he made in the nine previous conference games. If that wasn’t enough perspective, the number of career games in which Bird has made at least four threes has doubled (from three to six) and the number of games in which he has made at least five threes has tripled (from one to three) in the past two weeks. Consequently, his shooting percentage from downtown has risen by seven percent (from 33% to 40%), and he has seemingly overnight gone from being one of the most disappointing players in the Pac-12 to perhaps its most important, at least relative to his team’s success. Read the rest of this entry »

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Burning Questions: Pac-12’s Best Wing

Posted by Mike Lemaire (@Mike_Lemaire), Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) and Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on January 22nd, 2016

We started out by assessing the Pac-12 point guards. Last week we moved onto the big men. This week we’re looking at the slashers and shooters (sounds dangerous) manning the wing in the conference. We asked three of our guys: who’s the best wing in the Pac, and unlike those first two questions (where Payton and Poeltl were heavy favorites), this one is wide open. Answers below.

Adam Butler: I always struggle with whether or not to call the college basketball season a sprint or a marathon. It’s easy to equate it to both, knowing that November losses can be meaningless with a strong sprint to the finish. Conversely, sprinting out of the gate (i.e. Washington last season) doesn’t alway suggest super success. This, of course, is a lead to consider that so long as you can endure the marathon and garner an invitation to the sprint (March Madness) your team is best suited by having the best players. I don’t care about your efficiencies, team chemistry, peaking, drowning, front court, back court, history — if you have the best players in the NCAA tournament you have a chance. Jaylen Brown might be the best player. His shooting stroke leaves something to be desired (28% isn’t good from three), but as the game trends towards the rim, so too does Brown’s. The 6’7″ power wing is connecting on 72% of his attempts at the rim. Furthermore, 45% of all his attempts are at the rim. Ipso facto, as math would suggest, Brown is getting lots of easy buckets. And if they’re not easy buckets, they’re free throws (10th highest FT rate in the conference). For some context surrounding his rim abilities, Stanley Johnson — a similarly sized power wing — took just 29% of his shots at the rim, connecting on only 53% of those attempts. I’d like to see him curb his turnovers and hit a few more jumpers if we’re considering his NBA prospects, but when it comes to bullying NCAA players, Brown might be my first pick.

Jaylen Brown's Ability To Bully Smaller Players Gets Him One Vote (USA Today)

Jaylen Brown’s Ability To Bully Smaller Players Gets Him One Vote. (USA Today)

Mike Lemaire: In terms of potential and ability, California’s Jaylen Brown is probably the easy answer. But in terms of production and importance to his team’s success, it is a close race between UCLA’s Bryce Alford and Oregon’s Dillon Brooks. Alford is fifth in the conference in scoring (16.9 PPG); he is tied for second in assists per game (5.2 APG); and he leads the conference in free-throw percentage. Brooks is ninth in the conference in scoring (15.5 PPG); he is 14th in the conference in rebounding (6.6 RPG); and he is right behind Alford at second in free-throw percentage. Also, both guys play more than 30 minutes per game and have similar usage rates. It comes down to Brooks’ vastly superior defense vs. Alford’s vastly superior shooting. In a pinch, the pick here is Brooks because he has a big impact on the game at both ends of the floor. Read the rest of this entry »

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On the Quiet Rise of the California Golden Bears

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on January 6th, 2016

About three weeks ago, after California struggled to put much of any space between itself and Incarnate Word, we here at the Pac-12 microsite staged an intervention. Without actually intervening, of course. But we did call out the Golden Bears’ loaded roster for poor defensive effort, a general lack of energy, non-existent half-court offense and questionable chemistry. Given that it only a month into the season, we still gave Cuonzo Martin‘s team a pass with upcoming dates against St. Mary’s, Virginia, Davidson and the entirety of the Pac-12 on the horizon. Since that December 9 game, the Golden Bears have gone 5-1, with the sole loss coming in an overtime affair at Virginia, KenPom‘s fourth-best team in America. That loss, if anything, gave Cal its first taste of credibility. So are the the boys from Berkeley now out of the woods and headed to the Final Four? Hmmmmm.

In Recent Weeks, Jordan Mathews Can't Seem To Miss (Mike Stobe, Getty Images)

In Recent Weeks, Jordan Mathews Can’t Seem To Miss. (Mike Stobe, Getty Images)

There is a lot to be excited about in the East Bay right now. Jordan Mathews can’t miss (52.3 percent from three-point range). Jabari Bird is finally showing the two-way consistency that was missing in his first two campaigns. Kameron Rooks and Kinglsey Okoroh are making wholly unanticipated leaps into relevance as capable big men on both ends. Ivan Rabb  is impressing with his ability to both pull bigs away from the hoop but also bang with them down low. Sam Singer has been a legitimately good reserve off the pine. Jaylen Brown, while still struggling to put it all together, has started hitting more jumpers while improving his defensive effort and terrorizing opponents in transition. All of this is happening while senior point guard Tyrone Wallace is in the midst of a serious drought (13.3 percent from three-point range; three turnovers per game). In past years, such a malaise from Wallace would have surely coincided with a significant losing streak (see: last year’s devastating 1-8 stretch in late December and January).

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Happy New Conference Year: A Pac-12 Reset

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on December 31st, 2015

Happy New Year’s everyone! May you all celebrate the arbitrary tick of the clock on an arbitrary day on the arbitrarily human-invented calendar in whichever arbitrary fashion pleases you the most! Here in this space we’re turning our attention to something far less arbitrary, a tradition older than the hills, a ritual that goes back to before the first organism crawled out of the ocean and onto dry land however many million years ago: the transition from non-conference college basketball to Pac-12 conference play. At least seven unnamed sources indicate that such a sacrament is timeless. And so, to celebrate, let’s take a spin around the Pac-12 and do a quick reset, preparing you for what will seem, as it always does, like a sprint from New Year’s to March Madness.

All-Conference Team (No Surprises Edition)

Jakob Poeltl and Gary Payton II May Wind Up Fighting Over Conference Player of the Year Honors (Godofredo Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Jakob Poeltl and Gary Payton II May Wind Up Fighting Over Conference Player of the Year Honors. (Godofredo Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports)

  • G Gary Payton II, Sr, Oregon State
  • G Tyrone Wallace, Sr, California
  • F Josh Scott, Sr, Colorado
  • F Ryan Anderson, Sr, Arizona
  • C Jakob Poeltl, So, Utah

When we put together our preseason all-conference picks back in November, Poeltl and Payton were unanimous choices as first-teamers, and here they are at the turn of the calendar as the heavy Player of the Year favorites in the conference. Wallace was also on our preseason first-team and he’s been fine, if not spectacular. Scott and Anderson were second-team guys and have both been rock-solid as seniors. Scott has struggled some in his team’s two losses, but if he can lead the Buffaloes to an upper division finish, he might yet have a say in the Player of the Year race as well. Read the rest of this entry »

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We Need to Talk About California

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 11th, 2015

In recent days, I’ve heard knowledgeable college basketball folks refer to California as both “inconsistent” and “disappointing.” Let’s jump right in and say that they’re being far too kind. So far, this California team, compared with its talent level and their expectations, has been outright bad. They were ranked in nearly everyone’s Top 25 prior to the season, with more than a few supporters slotting the Bears as a top 10 team and mentioning them in the same breath as the words “Final Four.” And looking up and down their roster, it is easy to see why. Pop over to DraftExpress right now and you’ll find freshman forward Jaylen Brown sitting as the projected #6 pick in next year’s NBA Draft. Point guard Tyrone Wallace is projected as a second round pick. And freshman center Ivan Rabb is listed as the #15 pick in the 2017 draft. Throw in very good college guards Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews and the Golden Bears are loaded down with position-appropriate talent across the entire lineup.

So Far, Jaylen Brown And The Bears Have Been Bad (USA Today)

So Far, Jaylen Brown And The Bears Have Been Bad (USA Today)

Now, contrast that load of talent with what this team has actually done to this point. They’ve played two games all year against teams ranked in the top 100 by KenPom.com. Both of those game came over Thanksgiving weekend in Las Vegas. In the first, they Bears looked decent in the first half against San Diego State, before getting outscored 44-22 (1.26 PPP to 0.63) in the second half by an Aztec team who has really, really struggled to score against anybody all season long. The Bears followed that up by allowing a pretty dang good offensive team in Richmond to score 94 points against them, to the tune of a 1.31 PPP average. From there, the Bears haven’t taken a loss in the record books, but they sure haven’t been winning. They were taken to overtime by a Wyoming team still trying to find itself after replacing four of five starters from last year. In that game, Cowboys senior guard Josh Adams outplayed all of Cal’s future pros, and by a wide margin. California followed that game up by hosting Incarnate Word, a team without a win against a Division I team yet this season. At the half, those teams were tied. With eight minutes left, Incarnate Word was within five points.

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Cal Handles Its Business, An Uneventful But Good Thing

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 17th, 2015

There was absolutely nothing noteworthy about Cal’s 85-67 thrashing of UC Santa Barbara last night in Berkeley, but if the Golden Bears are going to be the contender that they have been advertised as this preseason, that is without question a very good thing.

Cal Rolled to Its Second Win of the Season Last Night Versus UCSB

Cal Rolled to Its Second Win of the Season Versus UCSB Last Night

Cal didn’t play all that well against the Gauchos. Freshmen Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb battled foul trouble all night long, and head coach Cuonzo Martin mentioned afterward that his offense looked stagnant in settling for too many three-pointers (the Bears finished just 6-of-22 from downtown). But UC Santa Barbara is not your typical cupcake either, as the Gauchos were picked by some pundits to win the Big West this season — the type of opponent where a loss would hurt far more than a win helps. But instead of letting UCSB keep the score close and build confidence as the game wore on, Cal instead trampled them from the start with its vastly superior size and athleticism. This fact is easily illustrated in that the Bears’ margin of victory (18) was nearly identical to the difference in made free throws between the the two teams (17). The game was clearly over by midway through the second half, but the final score appeared closer than it actually was after Martin emptied his bench in the final minutes.

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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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Pac-12 Preseason Poll, Superlatives & All-Conference Teams

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 13th, 2015

Over the past three weeks, we’ve unveiled individual previews for each of the 12 conference teams (for a full list with links, scroll down to the very bottom of this post). Now it is time to put it all together and take a look at the Pac-12 as a whole. So we gathered our most knowledgeable Pac-12 aficionados and voted on things like projected conference standings, All-Conference Teams, and Player of the Year. Below we’ll unveil those results.

First, though, since this is a team sport, let’s get right to the heart of the matter and review our preseason Pac-12 poll. We asked each of our pollsters to rank each team from #1 through #12 and found some interesting results. Three of our four voters picked Arizona to three-peat as the regular season champion, while the fourth person picked Oregon. Utah and Cal are in the mix as well, while the biggest gap separates spots #6 (Oregon State) and #7 (Arizona State).

Screenshot 2015-11-11 12.56.49

Compared with last season’s standings, Cal is the team expected to take the biggest jump, which is no surprise given Cuonzo Martin’s stellar recruiting class. On the flip side, our voters are less bullish on Stanford across the Bay. Last year the Cardinal finished tied for fifth in the conference and won the NIT. This year? Two of our voters pick them as the absolute worst team in the Pac-12.

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Introducing the RTC Preseason All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on November 12th, 2015

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

First Team All-Americans

first_team_2015_16

  • Kris Dunn, Providence (UNANIMOUS) – Dunn enters his junior season after a finally healthy campaign where he averaged 15.6 points and 7.5 assists per game in leading Providence to its second straight NCAA Tournament. While his numbers show he is a triple-double threat every night, he needs to be watched in order to understand just how good he is. He ranked first in the country last season with a 50.0 percent assist rate; he was named co-Big East Defensive Player of the Year; and he recorded a steal once every 20 defensive possessions for the Friars. The quintessential floor leader does it all for his team and he does it at an awe-inspiring level. Factoid: The television show “Friends” may have aired its last episode in 2004, but that has not stopped Dunn from apparently becoming an avid fan of the series. Could we see the likes of Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer show up at Dunkin’ Donuts Center to root Dunn’s team on before season’s end?
  • Melo Trimble, Maryland – Maryland was quite successful in its inaugural Big Ten season as the team advanced to its first NCAA Tournament since 2010. Those Terrapins were unquestionably led by senior guard Dez Wells, but now that he has graduated, Trimble will take over as the team’s heart and soul. The sophomore guard turned in a highly impressive freshman season where he averaged 16.2 points per game and shot a respectable 41.2 percent from behind the three-point line. Expectations are high this season in College Park, and Trimble will be a big reason why if Maryland ultimately meets its goals. Factoid: Trimble spent a portion of last summer playing for Team USA at the Pan American Games. At 20 years old, he was the youngest player selected to the squad by Gonzaga coach Mark Few.
  • Buddy Hield, Oklahoma – The reigning Big 12 Player of the Year returns to Norman for his senior season. After terrorizing conference foes throughout both his sophomore (16.5 PPG) and junior (17.4 PPG) years, Hield will look to take his game to an even higher level during his final collegiate go-around. When he bypassed the NBA Draft last spring, the junior guard noted, “I just can’t wait to see what Coach Kruger has in mind for next year. I know we’re going to be a really good team.” It’s difficult to argue with Hield’s assertion there. Factoid: Hield, a native of the Bahamas, says that his self-proclaimed “Bahamian Swagger” is something he developed while growing up on the island chain with his single mother and six brothers and sisters.
  • Ben Simmons, LSU (UNANIMOUS) – The 2015 Gatorade National Player of the Year arrives in Baton Rouge accompanied by a great deal of hype. When looking at the freshman’s prep statistics, it’s easy to understand why expectations surrounding him are so high. In 29 regular season games as a senior, he averaged 28.0 points, 11.9 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 2.6 steals per game while shooting 70.7 percent from the field and collecting 24 double-doubles. Factoid: Former LSU great Shaquille O’Neal called Simmons “the best player in the world” when he introduced the prep star to his many Instagram followers last November.
  • Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga – Wiltjer returns to the fold at Gonzaga after a junior season where he averaged 16.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game on his way to becoming a consensus second-team All-American. At 6’10”, Wiltjer’s long-range shooting makes him a nightmarish match-up for Zags’ opponents — he shot a sizzling 54 percent from the field and 46.6 percent from behind the three-point line a season ago. Factoid: When Wiltjer arrived in Spokane following his transfer from Kentucky, Wildcats head coach John Calipari called Gonzaga coach Mark Few and told him how good of a post scorer Wiltjer can be, even though he never really had a chance to show that part of his game in Lexington.

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