Pac-12 First Weekend Notebook

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 17th, 2014

After a single weekend of games against generally lesser competition, I feel like I could write a book about all the different things I saw this weekend around the Pac-12. But, we’ll let these teams get a few more games – preferably against better competition – before we make any grand proclamations. Still, you have to come away from this weekend pretty impressed with the level of play out of the gates. We saw a lot of teams look better than we had any reason to expect. And we also had USC. Below, we’ll take a look at a few of the bigger non-Arizona takeaways from the first weekend of play around the conference.

Utah

Let’s save a more in-depth look at the Utes until after they play San Diego State on Tuesday afternoon, but a couple new names to keep an eye on in that game: First, freshman Jakob Poeltl is going to be a huge factor for the Utes this year. He’s an active and skilled seven-footer who, frankly, is not long for the college game. Because he runs the floor well and is aggressive and confident, he is going to be a challenge for opposing defenses all year long. Then there’s his frontcourt starting partner, JuCo transfer Chris Reyes, a strong and active power forward who is a great combination of skill, athleticism and motor. A lot of the reason people were high on the Utes coming into this year were returnees and maybe freshman Brekkot Chapman, but Poeltl and Reyes are a couple of new elements that may push Utah over the top. And Jordan Loveridge? His body looks better than it ever has before; he’s quicker than he’s been in his first two seasons; and he looks far more comfortable in his role. Let’s put it this way: If I were filling in a Top 25 poll right now, I’d probably have the Utes in the top 15. I think a lot of people are going to have their eyes opened tomorrow afternoon.

Jakob Poeltl's Double-Double Debut Should Raise Eyebrows Across the Conference (Utah Basketball)

Jakob Poeltl’s Double-Double Debut Should Raise Eyebrows Across the Conference (Utah Basketball)

Colorado

Given the level of competition they were playing against (Drexel is a pretty solid mid-major), what the Buffaloes did to the Dragons was impressive. Josh Scott looks like he took another step forward in his development during the offseason, looking stronger and more aggressive on the glass and on defense while showing more comfort with the face-up jumper (he even hit a three). Pairing him alongside Wesley Gordon in the middle makes for an intimidating one-two punch. Head coach Tad Boyle went with a strange starting lineup due to some disciplinary measures, and Xavier Johnson and Askia Booker as a result never really got in the flow when they entered the game, with Booker in particular looking pretty bad with a 2-of-14 effort. As far as the big question about the point guard spot, one guy that we routinely overlooked in trying to come up with an answer there was junior Xavier Talton. For now, at least, he appears to be the leader for that job. He’s a facilitator who isn’t going to wow anybody with his athleticism or play-making ability, but he’s very good at making the easy play, keeping the offense moving, and playing solid defense. Whether he’ll lock down that spot for good remains to be seen, but he’ll be a big part of the Colorado rotation all year long. Freshman Tory Miller also deserves a mention. His body and athleticism are already Pac-12 ready and as the game slows down for him, he’s got a good chance to become a solid defender and rebounder off the pine this year, with upside for the rest of his career in Boulder as his offensive game develops.

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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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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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USC’s Most Important Player: Jordan McLaughlin

Posted by Tracy McDannald on October 27th, 2014

USC heads into another season with low expectations, but the good news is that there is only one place to go after finishing last in the Pac-12 and winning just two league games last season. Second-year head coach Andy Enfield has an equally inexperienced roster after a pair of key transfers left the program during the offseason, but now in the fold are some new faces that may better fit his open-court style of play. Plenty of focus will go toward UNLV transfer Katin Reinhardt, a redshirt sophomore who sat out last season, as the Trojans will surely rely on his shooting touch to provide a bulk of the scoring load. The big name to keep an eye on, however, is freshman Jordan McLaughlin. Sophomore Julian Jacobs is the closest thing to a veteran to help bring the 6’1” point guard along slowly, but his time is now. Like Reinhardt, who attended local powerhouse Mater Dei High School, McLaughlin is a product from nearby Etiwanda. But unlike prospects across town at UCLA, there is no added hometown pressure and rich tradition to live up to. McLaughlin is what Enfield hopes will be the start to his foundation.

Athletic Point Guard Jordan McLaughlin Gives Andy Enfield A More Appropriate Point Guard (Anne Cusack, Los Angeles Times)

Freshman point guard Jordan McLaughlin will be thrust into a leading role immediately at USC. (Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times)

The overarching theme in the Pac-12 this season is the number of programs that must replace significant contributors. Half of the league could take a step back, in some fashion. But aside from Roschon Prince, who transferred to Long Beach State, there wasn’t much to redeem for USC – and how much would you want to return anyway from a group that found itself in the bottom three of several statistical categories? There is no choice but to start fresh, and McLaughlin is the biggest prize of Enfield’s recruiting class. A four-star product who was a top-50 player on both the Rivals and Scout recruiting services, he can use his quickness to get to the rim and score in bunches despite his smaller stature. Passing is not an issue, either, and McLaughlin will have a handful of capable mid-to-long-range shooters at his disposal on the wings. There will be some growing pains and a necessary adjustment to the physicality of the collegiate level, but he is poised to take the reins early and lead the Trojans from the outset.

This is likely to be another long season ahead in a longer journey to respectability for USC, but there is some intrigue here. There is no choice but to let McLaughlin loose, and the more he learns early, the better. In the big picture outlook, this is Enfield’s long-term investment that needs to provide some sense of identity for a team that has none. McLaughlin represents the immediate future for the Trojans and few first-year players around the Pac-12 will be relied upon more heavily.

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Pac-12 Season Preview: USC Trojans

Posted by AMurawa on October 23rd, 2014

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

USC Trojans

Strengths. Let’s get this out of the way immediately: This USC roster is not one that is going to win the Pac-12 or likely to find its way into the NCAA Tournament. And really, that’s no surprise given that this is a squad that won two conference games last season and lost the team’s top four scorers to boot. But this is a program in the middle of a complete rebuild and change of identity. The strength of this version of the Trojans is the fact that said change in identity is well underway. The last time the Trojans were even remotely relevant on a national scale, they were trudging their way through 63 possessions of terrible offense a night. And last year in his first season at Southern California, head coach Andy Enfield was stuck with a mishmash of players who either weren’t good fits for his style of play or weren’t fit to act as veteran leaders on a team in transition. This year, however, there is some reason for excitement. Enfield’s got his point guard in freshman Jordan McLaughlin, an explosive, attacking player most comfortable in the open floor. He’s got UNLV transfer Katin Reinhardt ready to serve as a secondary ball-handler and a floor stretcher who will likely lead the team in scoring. He’s got a couple of Serbian big guys (Nikola Jovanovic and Strahinja Gavrilovic) with pick-and-pop skills. And he’s got intriguing athletic depth. There’s still a ways to go here, but Enfield is starting to round his roster into shape.

Andy Enfield's Roster At USC is Starting To Take Shape

Andy Enfield’s Roster At USC is Starting To Take Shape

Weaknesses. Of course, coupled with that rebuild is the fact that right now there is an awful lot of inexperience on this team. There are only four players — Reinhardt, Jovanovic, sophomore Julian Jacobs and Charlotte-transfer Darion Clark –who have averaged as much as 15 minutes per game at the Division I level – and each of those players has only done it once. This team is going to have to learn on the fly; but then again, “on the fly” says a lot about how Enfield will want his team to play.

Non-conference Tests. After a couple home warm-up games against Portland State and Tennessee Tech, we’ll get a good glimpse of USC against legitimate competition in the second week of the season, where they’ll open with Akron in the Charleston Classic, then face either Miami or Drexel on day two, and then a beatable opponent in their final game. Honestly, USC has as much of a chance to win that tournament as anybody else invited. Their biggest test during the rest of non-conference play will likely come when the Trojans travel to New Mexico on the final day of November, but even that is a winnable game against a team that lost most of last year’s top contributors. Later on, there’s a trip to Boston College just before Christmas. But, really, USC plays 12 very winnable games prior to conference play. Anything less than a 9-3 record will be disappointing, even for a young team.

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Pac-12 M5: 10.16.14 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 16th, 2014

pac12_morning5

  1. The most intriguing thing about preseason preview time in college basketball is finding out about all the new faces you’re about to get to know and trying to make sense of how they’re going to fit in with their new teams. We more or less know what to expect of guys like Chasson Randle and Kaleb Tarczewski and Askia Booker, but in this first Morning Five of the new season, we’ll take a quick five-stop tour around the conference to meet some of the new guys. First stop: Eugene, where Dana Altman welcomes in six new faces (four freshmen and two junior college transfers), but five-star guard JaQuan Lyle is not among them. Lyle’s struggled with academic eligibility questions all summer, questions that were apparently answered when he did not enroll at Oregon for the fall semester. Similarly, freshman forward Ray Kasongo was denied admission to Oregon and is now at Southern Idaho. Still, after a tumultuous offseason, the Ducks are happy to be back on the court and look forward to contributions from all of their newcomers. Freshmen Casey Benson and Ahmaad Rorie will share duties at point guard, while freshmen Jordan Bell and Dillon Brooks should expect time there as well. Likewise, JuCo transfer Dwayne Benjamin appears to be in for a big role, while the other JuCo transfer, Michael Chandler, is dealing with knee problems early that have prevented him from getting in much work.
  2. Like the Ducks, Arizona State is also going to be dealing with a number of fresh faces, as seven newcomers have chances to earn playing time for head coach Herb Sendek. And, as Connor Pelton of The House of Sparky writes, despite new faces in the backcourt, Sendek appears primed to stick with the more up-tempo offense we saw during the last two seasons. Point guard Tra Holder and off-guard Kodi Justice are a pair of freshmen who have a good chance to jump right into the meat of the Sun Devils’ backcourt rotation, with JuCo transfer Gerry Blakes in the mix as well. And given that Sendek says that this team is the fastest and most athletic team he’s coached in his time in Tempe, that up-tempo style could fit them well.
  3. As USC heads into its second season under head coach Andy Enfield, even the most die-hard USC basketball fan probably wouldn’t recognize any of the players on this year’s squad if they walked by on campus. But while the talent level on this squad is still in need of an upgrade, this team is slowly but surely starting to fit Enfield’s vision. Last year, Enfield inherited some players whose style did not fit his, but with freshman point guard Jordan McLaughlin – whose services Enfield beat out cross-town suitors UCLA for – leading the way, this year’s Trojans should at the very least play the type of pace that the second-year head coach is looking for.
  4. While there are plenty of familiar faces on the Arizona squad, freshman point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright is a new one with a lot to prove. You see, not only is Jackson-Cartwright a 5’10” player in a sport dominated by giants and a point guard in a program known for the consistent excellence of their point guards, but he is a young man looking to bounce back from a rough senior season in high school. You see, in the middle of the season, he left his high school because of an academic misconduct investigation and spent the remainder of the year finishing up his prep education at a different school without the benefit of basketball to fall back on. In the process, Jackson-Cartwright may have proven his maturity for the way he handled the situation.
  5. Rounding out our Morning Five by landing back in Central Oregon again, new head coach Wayne Tinkle may not have a ton of true newcomers on his first Oregon State team, but they will largely be new faces even to the most dedicated Pac-12 basketball fan. The most experienced player on his roster – Langston Morris-Walker – averaged just 18 minutes per game last season. Nobody on this roster can rightfully dodge the “unproven” tag, so they’re all embracing it and hoping to use this year — and the opportunities for playing time that come with an unproven roster — to do some proving. Check back later today for RTC’s Oregon State team preview.
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Pac-12 Offseason Wrap-Up

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 14th, 2014

With basketball season now officially a speck on the horizon, it is time to dig back in and begin the trek that will eventually drop us off at the Final Four in Indianapolis on the first weekend of April. If you, like us, have been away enjoying your summer and you need a refresher on what’s going on in the world of Pac-12 basketball, we’ll get you jump started by trying to sum up every Pac-12 team’s offseason and their big questions for this season in a short paragraph.

Washington State – The Cougars’ big offseason story was etched in stone way back on March 18 when they fired head coach Ken Bone after five increasingly less successful seasons in Pullman. After a tidy two-week search, former Oregon head coach Ernie Kent was named as Bone’s successor. Kent’s got his work cut out for him at the toughest job in the conference, but he’s shown an ability to recruit on the fly, putting together a tidy four-man 2014 class that will at least give the Cougs a chance to surround star senior guard DaVonte Lacy with some decent parts.

Ernie Kent, Now At Washington State, Is One Of Three New Pac-12 Head Coaches (Geoff Crimmins, AP Photo)

Ernie Kent, Now At Washington State, Is One Of Three New Pac-12 Head Coaches (Geoff Crimmins, AP Photo)

California – Likewise, the Golden Bears’ offseason story revolves around a coaching change, what with Mike Montgomery putting an end to his Hall of Fame career following last year’s disappointing season. Athletic director Sandy Barbour wound up with an intriguing hire when he pulled Cuonzo Martin away from Tennessee following his March run from the First Four to the Sweet Sixteen. Martin’s first year in Berkeley will be marked by a short bench, and he’s yet to have any success on the recruiting trail. Furthermore, replacing a fixture like Montgomery is never going to be easy. But Martin immediately gives Cal a completely different feel on the sidelines. Stay tuned.

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Pac-12 Post-Mortems: USC

Posted by Andrew Murawa on May 6th, 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, USC.

What Went Wrong

The problems of USC basketball in 2013-14 can largely – but not entirely – be attributed to previous administrations and the changing of the guard. New head coach Andy Enfield was, for the most part, left with a roster of ne’er-do-wells and misfits thrown together into a system in which few of them fit. Almost nobody on the roster would have been a guy that Enfield would have thought would fit perfectly into his system, and among the handful of guys who did, there wasn’t a ton of buy-in. Let’s put it this way: The team’s two captains were senior J.T. Terrell and junior Byron Wesley, who between the two of them were suspended for a total of 10 games and couldn’t get out of the program fast enough once the season ended.

J.T. Terrell Wearing A "C" On His Right Shoulder: Never A Good Sign

J.T. Terrell Wearing A “C” On His Right Shoulder: Never A Good Sign

What Went Right

Well, on Wednesday March 12, the Trojans took a three-point loss against Colorado in the Pac-12 Tournament, a game which served as a mercy killing of the USC season. Better days likely await the program under Enfield, but man, this season needs to be put in the past right quick. Beyond that snarky answer, Enfield really did begin to implement the type of basketball he would like this Trojans team to play in the future. They got up and down the court, found transition offense on 30 percent of all possessions, and averaged offensive possessions of just 16 seconds, good for 26th in the nation. Once Enfield can begin to fill roster spots with players who will better fit into his scheme, we’ll get a better idea of how the Enfield era will work at USC.

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Your Way-Too-Early 2014-15 Pac-12 Power Rankings

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on April 9th, 2014

Another season in the books; another Pac-12 disappointment. We’ve got plenty of time to look back on the 2013-14 season, but it is onward and upward from here as we briefly look ahead to next year. We’re still not entirely sure exactly which of the players we watched this year will move on to greener pastures, and there are sure to be some surprise transfers (both incoming and outgoing) ahead of us, but in the days after the national championship, it is time to start dreaming about the 2015 NCAA Tournament. Below are our way-too-early Pac-12 power rankings.

Arizona's Back In The Familiar Spot of A 1-Seed And An NCAA Favorite (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

McConnell, Hollis-Jefferson, and Tarczewski, Among Others, Make Arizona The Pac-12 Favorite Again (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

  1. Arizona – Sure, Aaron Gordon’s stay in Tucson was brief. And yeah, Pac-12 Player of the Year Nick Johnson may join him in the NBA. But barring some surprises, five of the following six players are going to be comprising Sean Miller’s starting lineup next season: T.J. McConnell, Gabe York, Stanley Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Brandon Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski. Goodness gracious sakes alive, that is a lot of talent. And, the West Regional will not be held in Anaheim next season, so let’s go ahead and pencil Miller and his Wildcats into his first-ever Final Four.
  2. Stanford – Johnny Dawkins and company broke through this year with their first NCAA Tournament appearance under the current regime. And while some important players move on, a returning nucleus of combo guard Chasson Randle, wing Anthony Brown and big man Stefan Nastic is solid. Throw in a recruiting class with four different four-star recruits (as ranked by ESPN) and a bevy of talented returning youngsters and we’ll make the Cardinal the best bet in the league to challenge the Wildcats. Read the rest of this entry »
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Pac-12 M5: 11.15.13 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 15th, 2013

pac12_morning5

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

Posted by AMurawa on October 9th, 2013

Coaching changes are rarely easy. Aside from the typical human stresses of finding a new home and getting to know your new surroundings, for a head coach at a major college basketball program, there are a bunch of young adults in both high school and college for whom you have to account. More than one new head coach’s job has been made much more difficult by the immediate transfers of key players or decommitments from recruits. And when you’re someone like Steve Alford, walking into a high profile job like UCLA as something other than the program’s first choice, the initial impression can be very important.

Steve Alford, UCLA

Steve Alford’s First Offseason As UCLA Head Coach Has Not Gone Smoothly (Damian Dovarganes/AP)

And, to put it plainly, the first few months of the Alford era in Westwood have been a mixed bag, at best. From the moment the news of the hire came down on the Saturday of last year’s Elite Eight, the wisdom of the decision was questioned. This was a guy just over a week past getting run out of the NCAA Tournament by heavy underdog Harvard, a loss that continued to leave him without a single Sweet Sixteen appearance since 1999. Not long after the hire was announced, many were reliving the questionable decisions Alford made in defending his former player Pierre Pierce against sexual assault charges while both were at Iowa. Alford eventually issued an apology, but it came almost two weeks after he was hired at UCLA and more than 11 years after the initial incident.

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