Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on December 9th, 2013
The last time I wrote about Georgetown, I described Josh Smithas slow and uninterested on defense against Wright State. Nearly a month later, when I watched the Hoyas blow out High Point late last week, Smith was much more energetic on both ends of the floor. He was forceful in the paint, putting down a rim-shaking dunk early in the game, finishing the night with 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting. He made a couple of standout defensive plays too – registering a steal by intercepting a lob pass in the paint, and putting a nasty block on a High Point player’s attempted layup. The problem was that Smith was also in foul trouble the entire night and played a total of only 18 minutes. It was a similar story on Saturday in a win against Colgate — 14 points and five rebounds in 20 minutes of action. The opportunity cost of Smith unable to play starter’s minutes remains the narrative for the talented but enigmatic junior — not just for this pair of games, but for his entire playing career.
Josh Smith is playing great offense but more minutes remains a challenge. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
By all accounts, the transfer big man is having his best start to a season so far and might be the best offensive player for the Hoyas. He is averaging a career-high 13.6 PPG while shooting 70 percent from the field, easily the best such mark on the team. If we look at the more advanced statistics, his numbers are just as impressive. Smith has an offensive player efficiency rating of 121.9 — second on the team only to D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera at 125.1 — and an average plus-minus of +10.8 points per game – trailing Smith-Rivera by only 0.2 points with significantly less time. But as previously mentioned, the issue is not Smith’s effectiveness for the minutes that he’s on the court; it’s getting him on the court and keeping him there. Whether the issue is foul trouble (he averages 7.7 fouls per 40 minutes, and has fouled out of two games) or his stamina, Smith has only managed to average 19.4 MPG through the Hoya’s first eight contests. This begs the obvious question: How much is Georgetown missing in production by not having Smith play starter’s minutes?
Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on November 14th, 2013
Alex Moscoso is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Georgetown-Wright State game on Wednesday evening.
The Georgetown Hoyas are dealing with some changes this season. For starters, they are in a ”new” Big East conference. While they still play many of the same opponents, the Hoyas will have new teams and a round-robin format to adjust to. Secondly and more significantly, they are trying to replace superstar Otto Porter, who left early to become the third overall pick in last summer’s NBA Draft. Porter led the team in points (16.2 PPG) and rebounds (7.5 RPG) last season, and helped them win a share of the Big East Championship. Now, with Porter gone, they are in search of a new identity. It was thought that Greg Whittington would be the next player in line to take the reins. But Whittington tore his ACL over the summer and will most likely not play this season. After two games, Joshua Smith, D’Vauntes Rivera-Smith and Markel Starks have emerged as the candidates most likely to fill Porter’s shoes, even if by committee. In order to do so, they will need to foster enough chemistry between them to become a consistently effective offense.
D’Vauntes Rivera-Smith will be part of a triumvirate leading the Hoyas offense this season.
In his first game for the Hoyas, a loss to Oregon in South Korea, Smith made his presence known on the block by erupting for 25 points on 10-of-13 shooting. But in last night’s game against Wright State, Smith looked more like his old UCLA self — slow and uninterested. He ended his night with only six points. What may be more worrisome is that in both contests he only managed to grab four rebounds per game and was a liability on defense. Rivera-Smith, on the other hand, had the inverse problem. Against Oregon, his shooting was ice-cold as he went 2-of-10 from the field and 0-of-5 from deep. Last night, he was simply unconscious. Smith-Rivera scored 25 points by shooting 8-of-12 from the field including three bombs from deep. However, it has been the senior point guard Starks who has been the Hoyas’ steady hand. Starks has scored 16 and 23 points and dished out four and six assists in both games, respectively.
The loss of Whittington and Smith’s weaknesses on the defensive end means this team will have to rely on their offense to win games. This should not be a problem as the trio complements each other well. Smith’s soft touch and great hands not only make him effective on the block, but they also make him a superb passer for a big man. When he is double-teamed, he is easily able to kick the ball out to Smith-Rivera in the perimeter or hit Starks running the baseline from the weak side. If these three can find their timing and rhythm with one another to the point where they’re all consistently producing in the scoring column, they have enough pieces around them to get John Thompson III his fourth Big East title this season.
This Weekend’s Lede. It started somewhat unceremoniously with a nondescript game between Air Force and Army in something called the All-Military Classic in Lexington, Virginia. But after seven long months of quiet, the early afternoon tip between two of the military academies in a tiny gym on the campus of VMI represented the reappearance of the sport we call college basketball. For years we’ve clamored for an Opening Night with the appropriate pomp and fanfare that the game deserves upon its November arrival, and with the excitement around social media and the number of good games available on the various networks, we’re getting there. Some 225 other games involving D-I teams came throughout the weekend, and even though there were no aircraft carrier games scattered about the land, there was still plenty to get juiced about.
Your Watercooler Moment. The Triumphant Return of Joshua Smith.
Joshua Smith Showed Off His Dominant Post Game in the Armed Forces Classic
Approximately one year ago, the last time any of us saw Joshua Smith, we were subjected to this embarrassing crime against basketball. After a transfer year when he traveled cross-country to Georgetown and received a waiver from the NCAA to play immediately, it was hard to say what to expect this time around. We’ve always known that the 6’10″, 300+ pound center has soft hands, quick feet that belie his size and great touch around the basket, but his weight, and correspondingly, his stamina, have remained problematic. He simply couldn’t stay on the floor at UCLA, averaging only 19.3 minutes per game in a little over two seasons. But on Friday, for at least one night, Smith appeared to be a different player. Although Georgetown lost the Armed Forces Classic game to Oregon, the burly center logged 27 fruitful minutes, shot 10-of-13 from the field, and looked downright unstoppable inside on his way to 25 points. The Hoyas wouldn’t have been within 15 points of the Ducks were it not for Smith’s production, and it begs the question: Has the change of scenery allowed Smith to turn the corner in his development? If so, and what we saw this weekend is any indication, Georgetown has found itself with one of the most talented big men in the nation.
Sights & Sounds. Plenty of great stuff from Friday night, so check out the separate post we put together on Saturday to store it all. The top dunks, buzzer-beaters and some other notable videos and images are all over there, but we saved the best buzzer-beater of the weekend for here. Dayton was down two points as IPFW looked to inbound the ball to ice the big road upset. Then, this happened…
Brutal. And in case you’re too lazy to click through, here’s the best dunk of the weekend for good measure. Michael Qualls!
Top Storyline. Four Freshman Phenoms. We’ve been talking about them all offseason, and the debuts of some of the nation’s top rookies was everything we had hoped it would be. On Friday night, Kentucky’s Julius Randle, Duke’s Jabari Parker and Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins were all playing at the same time, and none disappointed. In a dominant win over Davidson, Parker went for 22/6 on 8-of-10 shooting from the floor that included a silky-smooth 3-of-3 from deep. Randle did Parker one better with a 23/15 performance against UNC-Asheville that included an impressive 11-of-13 from the foul line. He followed that up with another 22/14/3 assts against Northern Kentucky on Sunday, becoming the first freshman to go for consecutive double-doubles in his first two collegiate games since Michael Beasley pulled the trick six years ago. Wiggins didn’t have a dominant performance in Kansas’ win over Louisiana-Monroe, tallying 16/3/3 stls in 34 minutes of action. The trio will all be on display tomorrow night at the Champions Classic, and so far, so good. We also shouldn’t forget Arizona’s star freshman, Aaron Gordon, who put up a 13/10/4 blks double-double himself in the Wildcats’ win over Cal Poly.
Four More Weekend Storylines.
These Games Are Foul. Well, some of them are, at least. There was an awful lot of preseason discussion given to the new hand-checking rules and how coaches, players and officials would have to adjust on the fly. Results have been mixed. One team that many pundits thought would be most impacted, Louisville, only had 14 total fouls in a 62-possession game against Charleston. On the other hand, a Seton Hall-Niagara game on Saturday resulted in a dreadful 73 fouls in an 81-possession game. In fact, there were more free throw attempts (102) than field goal attempts (101) in that game, which two hours and 28 minutes to complete. A total of 24 teams were called for 30 or more fouls over the weekend, while 18 were called for fewer than 15. The national average last season was 17.7 fouls per team per game (or 35.4 fouls per game), so this is definitely a trend worth watching.
ACC Darling Boston College Struggling. BC was a chic pick to make some noise in the ACC this season, and certainly there’s a lot of time left for the Eagles to get things going. But two losses over the weekend revealed that the same issues that Steve Donahue’s team had last season haven’t been solved. They still can’t guard anybody. In losses against Providence and Massachusetts, Boston College gave up 1.04 and 1.20 points per possession, respectively, and an average of 84 points per game. Furthermore, Bryce Cotton (28 points) and Cady Lalanne (27 points) lit their defense up, getting the shots they wanted whenever they wanted. Last season the Eagles finished 192nd in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency; if they don’t figure out a way to limit easy looks from the opposition, they’ll be staring another .500 season in the face not matter how good their offense becomes.
Mr. Robinson May Need a New Neighborhood. It was no secret that Oregon State head coach Craig Robinson came into this season on the hot seat. After yet another embarrassing home loss to a low-major team Sunday night, he may want to go ahead and start picking out his moving company. MEAC teams were 1-89 in the last two seasons against power conference schools (the one victory was Norfolk State over Missouri in the 2012 NCAA Tournament), and they were 0-5 so far this season. That is, until Coppin State went into Oregon State’s Gill Coliseum and used its athleticism and timely three-point shooting to lead for much of the game before walking out with a Pac-12 scalp. Robinson has had a history of these types of awful home losses, and adding another one to his resume surely doesn’t help things for him in Corvallis.
Other Weekend Upsets. Virginia Tech and Miami (FL) suffered tough home losses over the weekend (to USC Upstate and St. Francis (NY), respectively), but both of those programs were expected to be rebuilding this season. The biggest upset of the weekend instead had to have been Kansas State’s shocking home loss to Northern Colorado on Friday night. The jokes about Bruce Weber losing with some of his own players started in earnest immediately after the game, but it was two holdovers from last season’s Big 12 co-champions in Shane Southwell and Will Spradling who were largely responsible for this one. The duo combined to shoot a miserable 4-of-22 from the field and 2-of-12 from behind the arc.
Your Weekend All-Americans.
Julius Randle, Kentucky (NPOY). Consecutive double-doubles to start a collegiate career for the first time since Michael Beasley did it in 2007-08 makes this an easy choice. Through three days of action, he’s the NPOY.
Jabari Parker, Duke. Parker didn’t board like Randle but he scored more efficiently, missing only two shots in his debut.
Joshua Smith, Georgetown. As mentioned above, Smith’s 25/4 on 10-of-13 shooting was his best game in nearly two years.
TJ Warren, NC State. Warren went off for 27/8/3 assts as the Wolfpack beat Appalachian State to start a season of very low expectations.
From the moment it was first rumored, the relocation of the conference tournament to Las Vegas has created quite a buzz among Pac-12 basketball fans.Adam Butler (@pachoopsAB) of PacHoops will be here every week as he offers his unique perspective along our March to Vegas.
With news of Josh Smith’s departure earlier this week, UCLA’s departure numbers since their 2008 Final Four has reached 11 players. Just a week earlier, teammate Tyler Lamb left the team as well. Now I’m not going to turn this into a “UCLA has transfer issues” column. There are thousands of those across the interwebs for three years now. No, college basketball has a transfer issue and the spotlight just shines brightly on UCLA because they’re arguably the greatest program in the history of the game. For that reason, the spotlight shines brighter and it’s quickly turning into an interrogation lamp as Ben Howland has to answer spicier and spicier questions about his spiraling program. I know I’ve already spent an M2V piece examining the state of this program but these days it appears about as volatile and complex as Paula Broadwell’s “unprecedented access.”
Joshua Smith’s Mid-season Departure Again Shines The Spotlight On Ben Howland And Begs The Question, “What’s Going On?” (Gary A. Vasquez, U.S. Presswire)
So with Smith’s departure we’re disappointed. I wrote about it on my blog, how Josh Smith is our selfish tragedy because we choose to believe we’d never let that happen to us. Me? Squander innate NBA talents? Never! But that’s the thing: Leaders are there to lead and while success is driven from within, great leadership helps you find that desire deep inside your gut. Thus the question is now perpetually being brought up – Bruins Nation kills it – as to what’s going on in Westwood? Stemming from the theories proposed by Bruins Nation, the one that strikes me as most poignant is that it is well-documented that playing for Ben Howland is joyless. Now this didn’t come to me as a tremendous surprise, A) I’ve watched Howland teams for years now and see it myself, and B) I’ve heard rumblings of such. Not a shocker. But Josh Smith’s transfer, among so many of the others, really brought to light the fact that this is a significant concern. Winning masks most everything but at the end of the day, this is a game being played, shouldn’t it be fun? Go ahead and call me an idealist because I most certainly am. I choose to believe my superstars are playing for championships not contracts and kids stay in school a year longer because they love the experience. That’s how I see sport.
UCLA lost its second player in just four days on Wednesday when it was announced that junior center Joshua Smith had left the team. After not practicing on Tuesday due to weight issues and to mull over his future with the program, it was revealed mid-day Wednesday that Smith was gone for good. As we mentioned above, Tyler Lamb left the program on Sunday, just another example of players leaving in droves, something that has become all too familiar the past few seasons in Westwood. Smith said he was departing Ben Howland’s team for “personal reasons.” So, what does UCLA lose in the big man? Smith was a decent rebounder for his size, averaging 4.2 RPG so far in 2012-13; however, his inability to stay on the court for long periods of time resulted in dwindling minutes, and when he was on the floor he wasn’t exactly Mr. Productive for the Bruins’ offensive game. Freshman forward/center Tony Parker will see an increase of about five minutes per game in the coming weeks with Smith’s departure.
Oregon State received bad news as well when it was revealed that freshman center Daniel Gomis would need season-ending surgery on his left leg. Gomis is the second Beaver center to be lost in just over two weeks, as senior Angus Brandttore his ACL against Purdue on November 16. This is actually Gomis’ second year in Corvallis, but he was lost for all of the 2011-12 season with a broken leg. Expect to see a continued increase in freshman Jarmal Reid’s minutes without Gomis.
Former Oregon head coach Ernie Kent will call nine Duck games for the Pac-12 Networks in 2012-13, six of which to be played in the arena he helped build. And when Oregon meets Texas-San Antonio tonight at Matthew Knight Arena, it will be only the second time Kent’s been inside Oregon’s posh new palace. His return home will hopefully be marked by many chants from the Pit Crew and a long standing ovation; after all, while the ending of his time in Eugene may have been ugly, this is the coach that led the resurgence of Oregon basketball. Kent, who doesn’t know whether he’ll ever coach again, was a finalist for the Colorado State job last spring before it went to Larry Eustachy. What we do know is that he looks pretty comfortable, and is also very good at his new job as a commentator and studio analyst with the Pac-12.
We close with something new for our Pac-12 microsite as we introduce a Pac-12 Hoops Pick’em that will run from now up until Championship Week. Between Adam, Parker, Drew, and I, the four of us will post our picks for the weekend basketball games and keep track of our records as we go along. Also included will be a national and conference game of the week, where we will include our score prediction. For the opener, we have selected Thursday’s Kentucky-Notre Dame match-up and Saturday’s UCLA-San Diego State showdown in Anaheim for those respective games.
The announcement that Louisville is heading to the ACC should not come as too much of a surprise given how far the Big East has fallen, but it is still huge news when one of the top 10 programs historically in college basketball and a top 25 program in college football (for now) moves conferences. The loss of Maryland to the Big Ten will have an impact on the conference (mainly the loss of the Duke-Maryland rivalry even if some members do not view it as much of a rivalry), but we cannot really view this as anything other than a major upgrade on the playing fields for the ACC. With the reported size of the Big Ten’s upcoming football contract it makes you wonder why they wouldn’t go after Louisville instead of Maryland (we think the impact of the D.C. media market is highly overrated).
With the power conferences fighting over the marquee programs and the losing conferences pillaging the lower conferences for their top programs, the lower-tier conferences are often forced to do what essentially amounts to dumpster diving. Such is the case of Conference USA, which is reportedly set to add Florida Atlantic and Middle Tennessee State in 2014 to offset the losses of East Carolina and Tulane to the Big East. From a basketball standpoint this could be a slight win for Conference USA given the strength of the Middle Tennessee State program right now, but from an overall financial standpoint it is a considerable downgrade. Given all the movement we have seen in the past few days we would not be surprised to see much more in the near future.
There has been so much going on with conference realignment and the NCAA’s investigations into incoming freshmen that we had almost forgot that Myck Kabongo was still sitting out until we heard that the NCAA is expected to release a statement about his eligibility later today with the likely punishment being a 10-game suspension. Kabongo’s eligibility issues stem from a trip he took to Cleveland earlier this year that was reportedly financed by a professional agent. If Kabongo is given the 10-game suspension he would not be able to return until the team’s game on December 19 at home against North Carolina and would allow him to play the entire conference schedule, but would mean he would miss the team’s upcoming games against Georgetown and UCLA.
Normally we would have plenty of jokes about Joshua Smith, who has decided to stop playing for UCLA, but with all that has been going on with the Bruins lately we are seriously questioning whether Ben Howland has any control over this program. Outside of the recent ugly losses, this is the second high-profile departure from the program in the past week (Tyler Lamb was the other). Smith has apparently not decided whether he will stay at UCLA or transfer to another school to finish up his basketball career. If this is in fact the last that we have seen of Smith on the basketball court, this sequence will be his enduring legacy.
We didn’t expect Clemson to be very good this year and their hopes of surprising us and other analysts took a hit when senior guard and leading scorer Milton Jennings was arrested for possession of marijuana early yesterday morning and he was suspended by the team for the third time in the past 13 months. From the details we have seen (he was arrested after police noticed the smell of marijuana when responding to a call about someone removing a smoke detector), it sounds like a relatively small violation in comparison to some of the other drug arrests that we see, but since it is Jennings’ third suspension in just over a year we are inclined to believe that this may be the last that we have seen of Jennings in a Clemson uniform.
With the newly eligible Shabazz Muhammad joining the rotation, it was unclear exactly how Ben Howland would fold the highly-regarded freshman into a wing-heavy lineup. Fellow freshman Jordan Adams had established himself in the first three games as the team’s best pure scorer. Sophomore Norman Powell had earned the starting two-guard spot, while last year’s incumbent Tyler Lamb was recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery. And then there’s freshman Kyle Anderson, a man without a position who is mostly a point guard (or point forward, or just a point) on the offensive end and some sort of wing player defensively. With David Wear going down with injury at the end of the semifinal game in the Legends Classic against Georgetown, the consolation game against Georgia provided a glimpse into Howland’s estimate of the strengths of his team and where the priorities may lie in his rotation. Would clear interior guys like junior Joshua Smith and freshman Tony Parker slide up the depth chart to fill the departed Wear’s spot, or would Howland find room for all his talented perimeter guys to work together.
With David Wear Out Following An Injury. Ben Howland Was Forced To Tip His Hand On His Rotation
The answer was clearly the latter, although it is open to evolve based on improvement and opposition. While Travis Wear earned 32 minutes of action, Smith and Parker combined for 19 minutes, meaning there were 11 minutes of action where UCLA had a pair of big guys on the floor. Larry Drew II is clearly locked in at the point guard, with his 5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and solid defense providing plenty of ammunition for that decision, while Anderson, Muhammad, Powell and Adams are in the mix for the minutes at the two through four spots. It remains likely that Howland will opt for two big guys (meaning some combination of two of the Wears, Smith and Parker) for the majority of minutes, although last night’s game provides some precedent for going with the four-out, one-in model (not that this conglomeration of players would make for the traditional example of that style). The biggest concern brought to light by the results of last night’s game were the rebounding numbers, where Georgia made an impact on the offensive glass, especially in the second half, and the relatively undersized Bruin front line failed to regularly secure defensive rebounds.
Ok. Let’s get the “yeah, but…” out of the way. Yeah, UCLA dominated. But, it was just James Madison, the last team to get its 2012-13 season underway. I could tell you about how the Dukes were starting four seniors after an injury-plagued year last season, and I could tell you about the how this team has a chance to make some noise in CAA play later this year, but, yeah, it’s just James Madison. Yeah, this was only the third time UCLA has hit the century mark in the Ben Howland era. But yeah, this was just James Madison.
Jordan Adams Became The First UCLA Freshman To Score 20 Or More Points In Three Consecutive Games (Jeff Gross, Getty Images)
But, way back in April when Howland was putting the finishing touches on the nation’s #1 rated class, this is the kind of game that Bruin fans and college basketball aficionados had in mind. Led by point guards Larry Drew II and Kyle Anderson, the Bruins were out in transition early and often, with players such as Norman Powell and the history-making Jordan Adams running the wings and alternately knocking down threes or slamming home tomahawk jams on the break. When it came to the halfcourt game, the Wear Twins and big guys Joshua Smith and Tony Parker dominated the smaller JMU team, scoring in the paint and causing trouble on the defensive end. Not only were the Bruins playing very effective basketball, but they were doing it in a very exciting manner. Really, there was very little to nitpick about the UCLA performance in the first half. And, by halftime it was all but over. But, let’s pick out a handful of Bruins (apologies to Drew, the Wears and Parker for the omission) and break down the mostly good and little bit of bad tonight, with a heavy emphasis on the dominating first half.
Kyle Anderson: Let’s start with the one Bruin who struggled a bit offensively tonight. Sure, Anderson wound up with 12 boards and four assists, but he had his struggles from the field. On multiple occasions, Anderson made great moves to worm his way into the lane, only to put up weak attempts at the hoop. The fact that he plays mostly below the rim and is not adept at using his body to get separation from defenders is going to be a detriment to him in traffic throughout the year. He’s got excellent body control (in fact, the one first half field goal he made was on a beautiful double-clutch up-and-under layup) and great instincts, but he’s got a find a way to start making the point-blank looks in traffic. Beyond that, wow, is he good. He’s got a nose for the ball and an innate court vision that cannot be taught. Read the rest of this entry »
While Big East basketball is always a spectacle, this conference season has even more added juice with the impending departures of Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and (eventually) Notre Dame. However, before we get to conference games, the Big East is involved in some really intriguing non-conference games this season. Big East teams will be playing all over the United States, Germany, and on a few aircraft carriers. Let’s take a look at the best that the Big East has to offer in the non-conference slate this season.
Syracuse and San Diego State tip off the season on the deck of the USS Midway this Sunday (AP)
25. Pittsburgh v. Oakland, November 17, 7 PM
The Panthers have a rather light non-conference slate this season, but don’t expect them to look past the Golden Grizzlies. Oakland has a history of playing tough schedules, and won’t be intimidated by the Zoo. Oakland is coming off of a bit of a down year in 2011-12 when they finished 20-16 (11-7), but made the NCAA Tournament in both 2009-10, when they were knocked out in the first round by Pittsburgh, and 2010-11.
24. DePaul @ Auburn, November 30, 9 PM
Look for DePaul to try to do the conference proud when they head down to take on the Auburn Tigers as part of the SEC-Big East Challenge. This DePaul squad should be better than it has been in years past, returning dynamic forward Cleveland Melvin and dangerous guard Brandon Young. Auburn is coming off of a poor 15-16 season, and could be ripe for a big non-conference road win for the Blue Demons.
23. Rutgers v. Iona, Madison Square Garden, December 8, 9:30 PM
One of these New York metropolitan-area teams is coming off of a great season that ended in a heartbreaking NCAA tournament loss to BYU. The other is continually striving to build its program, and aspires to have such success. It almost seems backwards that Iona is the more accomplished team at the moment, but isn’t that what makes college basketball so great? A big performance by the Scarlet Knights at the Garden could go a long way in setting the tone for a run at a tournament berth in the Big East.
22. St. John’s v. Detroit, November 13, 2 PM
The Johnnies tip off their season against a very dangerous Detroit squad led by superstar Ray McCallum. St. John’s has a number of impressive young players themselves, and head coach Steve Lavin will return to the sideline after battling cancer last season. While many look forward to what should be a fun match-up between McCallum and D’Angelo Harrison, the St. John’s star was recently benched in the team’s final exhibition for disciplinary reasons. If Lavin continues to have issues with his top guard, it could prove very problematic for the Red Storm next week.
From the moment it was first rumored, the relocation of the conference tournament to Las Vegas has created quite a buzz among Pac-12 basketball fans.Adam Butler (@pachoopsAB) of PacHoops will be here every week as he offers his unique perspective along our March to Vegas.
Midnight’s madness has come and gone and so it begins. Or something like that. There still aren’t games or standings but there’s optimism and the knowing that those eternally glorious things are soon to come. And with season’s beginning there’s new dialogue. From transfers to healed wounds to recruiting classes and seniors, the Pac-12 dialogue hasn’t necessarily centered on last season’s monstrosity but rather the potential for a return to glory. Or at least something resembling such.
Howland Has Loads of Talent Now, But Is It His Kind of Talent? (credit: LA Times)
The unfortunate twist is the immense questioning of the prognosticated success in Westwood. Here is a program that needs no introduction but gross amounts of explanation and dissection when examining their current state. I could rattle off the tribulations of the recent past but that’d feel like piling on which I’d feel is unfair considering the optimism surrounding this program in light of their 2012 recruiting haul.
[Enter: ominous cloud]
But that’s right, we’re all too familiar with the investigative cloud hovering over new Pauley and the once glowing forecast of the 2012-13 Bruins. Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson continue to be investigated by the NCAA. You don’t need me to tell you that this is not good news considering much of UCLA’s projected success was centering on these young talents, particularly Muhammad. As the investigation drags on (ask Jahii Carson about timelines on such matters), the ominous cloud grows darker. How long will Anderson (he who faces the less stiff allegations) be held out? Is Muhammad done for the year? How big of a distraction is this to the team? Then of course we could question just how good the current, confirmed roster is. Has Larry Drew II matured? Will Josh Smith ever realize his potential? What sort of progress have Tyler Lamb (now injured) and Norman Powell made? Are the twins capable of being difference makers or are they role players?
Throughout the preseason, the Pac-12 microsite will be rolling out these featured breakdowns of each of the 12 league schools. Today’s release is the UCLA Bruins.
Strengths. Talent. The Bruins feature seven former McDonald’s All-Americans on their roster, including three from last year’s game. The argument could be made that this roster has more raw talent than any other team in the country. The challenge for head coach Ben Howland is going to be harnessing this talent, as some players on this roster – most notably junior center Joshua Smith and senior point guard Larry Drew II – have yet to live up to those expectations. Still, the talent is there, and what’s more it is big, with four guys in the rotation checking in a 6’9” or better and an additional group of five different wings standing between 6’4” and 6’9”.
Joshua Smith’s Talent Is Undeniable, But He Has Still Yet To Live Up To His Potential
Weaknesses. Despite all that talent, it remains to be seen just how the roles get distributed on this team. For instance, with freshman small forward Shabazz Muhammad expected to see the beginning of his likely brief college career delayed by an NCAA investigation, and with junior wing Tyler Lamb already laid up after getting his knee scoped, the Bruins find themselves mighty thin at the three. What’s more, with Smith, the Wear twins and freshman center Tony Parker all best suited for either the four or the five, there is quite a wait for playing time at those positions. Then there are the question marks at the point; Drew is expected to take the reins there from the get-go, but his performance and leadership at his previous stop in Chapel Hill leaves some dubious as to his ability to run this team. Meanwhile, freshman wing Kyle Anderson has all the offensive skills necessary to be an elite playmaker for the team, but could be a liability if forced to guard smaller, quicker lead guards.
It’s that time of year where various pundits and prognosticators are breaking out their predictions for what is going to happen this season. We’ll do it ourselves here at RTC in the coming weeks, but on Monday the guys at CBS unveiled a ton of predictions, including conference winners, Final Four teams (including the eventual champion), players, coaches, and freshmen of the year, and the top 100 players in America. Arizona fans are most in love with Doug Gottlieb’s picks at this point, as the newest member of the CBS college hoops crew not only picked the Wildcats to win the conference and advance to the Final Four, but to win the whole thing. Along the way, Gottlieb tabs Sean Miller as the coach of the year and Brandon Ashley as the freshman of the year. Of the five experts polled, three picked Arizona to win the conference, with the remaining two choosing UCLA, reaffirming what has been the consensus since April – it’s likely going to be a two-team race at the top of the conference.
Meanwhile, Rob Dauster of NBC Sports is definitely not in the UCLA camp this season. In unveiling his preseason top 25, the Bruins checked in at #25, possibly the lowest spot you’ll see them ranked prior to the season tip-off. His reasoning? Shabazz Muhammad hasn’t yet been cleared, Joshua Smith is still in poor condition and the situation at the point is still muddy – sound points all. Until we get word on Muhammad’s status and until we get a chance to see this team on the court a few times, the Bruins will remain one of the most controversial teams out there. The mere fact that there is such a wide range of potential extremes for the Bruins – this is a team that could be a Final Four team if things go well, or a underachieving mess if key questions fail to get answered sufficiently – will keep the spotlight squarely on the team from Westwood.
Athlon Sports, however, sort of splits the difference on Arizona and UCLA. In unveiling its top 20, the Wildcats and the Bruins are the lone Pac-12 entries, with the Bruins checking in at #12 and the Wildcats at #7. For Sean Miller’s team, Athlon sees Mark Lyons and Solomon Hill as more or less givens, with the development of the ‘Cats four frontcourt underclassmen – sophomore Angelo Chol and freshmen Kaleb Tarzewski, Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett – ultimately determining just how far the team can go. On the other side, Athlon sees the same questions marks for UCLA as Dauster does, they just have a slightly sunnier outlook for the Bruins. We’ll continue to check in with more predictions as they roll in.
Way back in June we had the opportunity to talk with Arizona State head coach Herb Sendek, and one of the interesting bits of information he dropped was that he expects his team to “play as fast as anyone” in the Pac-12. Given his track record (in the past decade he’s never been higher than 209th in the country in adjusted tempo), we were a bit skeptical. But, with speedy and athletic point guard Jahii Carson ready to make his long-awaited Sun Devil debut, all signs point to ASU being committed to an uptick in tempo. Does that mean you’re going to see ASU rip off something like 70 possessions a game as Washington regularly does? Probably not. But expect to see the Sun Devils try to turn defensive rebounds into opportunities for Carson and guys like Carrick Felix and Evan Gordon to get out into the open floor. But, if ASU is unable to score in transition, they may settle back into the type of halfcourt offense we’ve come to expect from Sendek, resulting in perhaps a couple more possessions per game than last season.
Way back in April, right around the time that UCLA was making news by landing Muhammad, Washington slid under the radar a bit by signing junior college transfer Mark McLaughlin, a two-guard who led all JuCo players in scoring last season with an average of 28.4 points per game. Hailed as a potential offensive spark for a Husky team losing quite a bit of firepower, he seemed primed to fit in perfectly with Lorenzo Romar’s attack. But then, early in August, McLaughlin announced he was leaving the team. Last week he reappeared, this time showing up at Central Washington, a Division II program. As Percy Allen details, this is the seventh college that McLaughlin has been tied to. The long, strange trip began when he committed to Washington State as a senior in high school, before de-committing and signing with Nevada. However, prior to going to college, he stopped off at a prep school for a year before backing out of his Nevada commitment and signing with Baylor. Then, prior to the season, he bailed on Baylor, transferred to Seattle University and actually spent two years there: a redshirt year and then an unimpressive (and delayed) freshman campaign. From there he headed off to his one year at Tacoma Community College (last year’s stop) before committing to Washington. Long, long, long story short: the Huskies are probably better off without the drama that McLaughlin was sure to bring.
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George Mason’s band director, Dr. Michael W. Nickens, has his swagger on. Pic via @davestipe on Twitter.