Assessing the Pac-12 After One Month

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on December 12th, 2013

We’re a month into the season, something basically approaching the quarter-pole of this race, so it seems like a good time to take a look back at what’s happened so far, prognosticate a bit into the future, and reset the season as we move forward.

Overall, coming into the year, we regarded Arizona as the clear-cut favorite in the conference. A month in, the Wildcats have done nothing to dissuade us of that notion; in fact, if anything, they’re probably even a bigger favorite than they were in early November. Seeing the improvement the sophomores have made, the cohesiveness of this team defensively from the get-go, and contemplating the improvement that can still be made – especially on the offensive end – the ‘Cats remain the big boys in the Pac-12. That being said, Oregon, UCLA and Colorado have all established themselves as Top 25 caliber teams with plenty of upside. With the Wildcats needing to make road trips to visit every one of those teams, there will be plenty of chances for Arizona to slip up in conference play.

In The First Month, Arizona Has Solidified Its Reputation As The Pac-12 Favorites (Casey Sapio, USA Today Sports)

In The First Month, Arizona Has Solidified Its Reputation As The Pac-12 Favorites (Casey Sapio, USA Today Sports)

Beyond that group at the top, California sort of sits in a tier by itself; it would be a serious surprise if the Golden Bears compete for a conference title, but at the same time, it would be a stretch to picture this team on the outside looking in on Selection Sunday. However, after the Bears, there are plenty of question marks. Arizona State started off strong, but a couple of slip-ups in the Wooden Legacy damaged their early hopes. Stanford’s got plenty of talent, but this team has done little to give any but the most myopic Cardinal fan hopes of serious change. And while Utah has looked exciting at times, that is a team that is going to be up and down over the course of the year; yes, they may sneak up and bite unsuspecting visitors to Salt Lake City in the butt, but they’ll also turn in a couple stinkers of their own. Beyond that, however, USC, Washington, Washington State and Oregon State are a good bet to make up the bottom third of the standings come March. Below, we’ll take a look at each of those top eight teams and talk about what we’ve learned over the first month and what needs to change going forward. Read the rest of this entry »

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One Month In: Where Are All the Great Teams?

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 9th, 2013

This week will see a new team take its turn at the top of the polls, but like their predecessors in the rankings’ top slot, the Arizona Wildcats will seize the reins just days after a performance in which they hardly resembled the best team in the country. The pesky Columbia Lions — also known as the team that nearly ended Michigan State’s reign atop the polls before it even began — may be significantly less talented than the UNLV outfit that gave Arizona fits at the McKale Center on Saturday afternoon, but that shouldn’t provide Sean Miller’s team a free pass on their underwhelming effort. The Runnin’ Rebels, disappointing as they have been, really aren’t that bad (temporarily forgetting the 21-point home loss to UCSB as I write that), and close losses do happen, but there is a presumption that the #1 team in the country will take care of business in a manner befitting an elite unit. Upcoming games against New Mexico State and Michigan will offer the Wildcats a quick chance to validate their lofty ranking, but even with a pair of victories this week, are we really ready to call Arizona truly elite? And if we aren’t ready to offer that declaration for the #1 team in the polls, might we be faced with a college basketball season devoid of a profoundly great unit?

T.J. McConnell And The Wildcats Are The Nation's New #1, But The Wildcats Still Have Plenty To Prove

T.J. McConnell And The Wildcats Are The Nation’s New #1, But Like Many Other Top Teams, The Wildcats Still Have Plenty To Prove

To the point, Arizona’s ascent to the top spot in the polls has had as much to do with the failings of the five preseason teams ahead of them as it has the Wildcats’ own success. True, that preseason top-five grouping has been a bit cannibalistic (Kentucky fell to Michigan State; Duke dropped one to Kansas), but no member of the quintet has yet shown an ability to be consistently great. The new pieces have struggled to fit at Kentucky and Kansas — each team has two losses; while Louisville and Michigan State failed to do something that Belmont and UAB accomplished – beat North Carolina. And Duke, vanquished by the pollsters newest #1 team 10 days ago at the Garden, just picked up its first quality win of the season when the Blue Devils defeated Michigan last week at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

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It’s a Love/Hate Relationship: Volume III

Posted by Jesse Baumgartner on December 4th, 2013

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC columnist. His Love/Hate column will publish each week throughout the season. In this piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball.

Five Things I Loved This Week

I LOVED…. Arizona‘s balance. So far, this year has been all about the fantastic freshmen and the individual talents that have really driven early-season interest in the college game. But I have yet to see a team that looked as consistently balanced across the floor as the Wildcats did against Duke last Friday night, particularly down low with stud freshman Aaron Gordon and veterans Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski. That tripod of length, skill and athleticism spells two things — high quality shots in the paint, and rebounds galore. And it’s really cleaning the glass that will be toughest on opponents in March and April, as we saw with Louisville’s run last season.

I LOVED…. a reasonable contract extension. Dana Altman has done a great job at Oregon, no question about it — he’s brought the Ducks back into the national picture, won NCAA Tournament games, and really put an exciting roster on the floor in Eugene (and hey, let’s just assume for argument’s sake that he had absolutely nothing to do with that horrific floor design). But while it seems like we see so many contracts these days that give out too much money/years on just a season or two of success, Altman’s three-year extension seems just right. Good job, here’s a cookie, and more to come as the program keeps growing.

Dana Altman Remains One of the Most Quietly Effective Coaches in the Country

I LOVED…. UMass back in the AP rankings for the first time in 15 years. You know, just another one of those programs John Calipari hit and ran on. Somewhere, someplace, Dr. J is smiling.

I LOVED…. seeing Villanova put in a solid performance in the Bahamas to outlast Kansas. I’ve always liked Jay Wright as a coach, and it seems like he’s nearing the point where he needs a solid NCAA Tournament run to reinforce that the program isn’t too far removed from the 2009 Final Four squad. For Kansas, that game seems to just reaffirm what is true for so many of these uber-talented, uber-young teams — any given night they can go down.

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Pac-12 M5: Thanksgiving Day Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 28th, 2013

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  1. Things didn’t start out great for the Pac-12 on Wednesday night, as Arizona spotted Drexel 19 early points in the first half of their NIT Season Tip-Off Semifinal, and, make no mistake, Arizona looked completely awful in that first half. The Wildcats recorded zero assists in 20 minutes, their frontcourt looked overmatched against a smaller Dragons frontcourt and in no way, shape or form, did the Wildcats look like a Top 25 team, much less the top five team that both the most recent AP and RTC polls declared that they were. But, after what was likely a blistering halftime locker room speech, Kaleb Tarczewski, Nick Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, in particular, were impressive in leading their squad back from the brink to earn the much-sought-after match-up with Duke in the championship game on Friday evening. Must-see-TV, indeed. Oh, and those of you who wrote off UCLA after a similarly tough battle with Drexel, do you care to re-assess? Likely not.
  2. At roughly the same time as the Wildcats were struggling with the Dragons, California was in the process of getting pretty well handled by Dayton. Certainly, the fact that the Golden Bears were again playing without one of their best players in Richard Solomon — out due to a corneal abrasion — didn’t do much to help their cause. But, aside from senior point guard Justin Cobbs, who scored Cal’s first 12 points of the second half and wound up with 31 on the night, and David Kravish (12 points, 14 rebounds, five blocks), Mike Montgomery got almost zero production out of the rest of the gang. After an intriguing start to the Maui Invitational, with that win over a tough match-up in Arkansas, Golden Bears fans are left wondering what could have been had Solomon been able to go.
  3. Utah had quite a bit more success on Wednesday night, albeit against lesser competition. Still, if you haven’t gotten around to taking a peek at Ute junior college transfer point guard Delon Wright, it is about time you avail yourself of that opportunity. Once again, Wright proved himself to be a versatile, jack-of-all-trades guy for head coach Larry Krystkowiak, scoring 23 points, handing out seven assists, swiping seven steals, snatching four boards and even swatting a shot. And, for good measure, he made a statement about the supposed weakness in his game: his outside shot. Wright knocked down both of his two attempts from beyond the three-point arc as well in the Utes 19-point win over Ball State.
  4. We take a step away from the court to mention that Oregon head coach Dana Altman was awarded with a three-year contract extension by his university on Wednesday. After the extension, his current contact keeps him in Eugene through 2020, dialing in his compensation at $1.8 million. Given the highs to which  Altman has led the Ducks in his three-plus years on campus so far, this formality is a no-brainer. It wouldn’t be a complete surprise if Altman, by the time his tenure at Oregon is up, has vaulted the Duck basketball program to the levels that Chip Kelly, et al., have launched the Oregon football progam.
  5. And, while we don’t actually have any football games in conference until the day after Thanksgiving, just in case we don’t get a chance to assemble a Morning Five tomorrow night, due to some combination of turkey, stuffing, beer and Arizona State/Creighton (not necessarily – but likely – in that order), we thought Connor and I would unveil our picks for the football weekend herewith. Last week, again, both of us went 3-3 on the week, bringing our totals on the year to 64-21 for Connor and 63-22 for me. In case you need a little help with those numbers (believe me, I can relate), that puts me a game back. With this the last big weekend of football, it is fitting that Connor and I have enough differences of opinion in our picks this weekend to make this interesting. We’ve selected USC/UCLA as our game of the week, even though it is as meaningless as any other game this weekend in the grand scheme of things. But, really, in a week with USC/UCLA, Oregon/Oregon State, Washington/Washington State and Arizona/Arizona State, there clearly ain’t anything approaching a meaningless game on the slate. Anyway, our picks:pickem-rivarlyweek
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Four Thoughts on Arizona’s Season Opener

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 11th, 2013

Arizona opened its season in ho-hum fashion on Friday night with an 11-point win over a middling Cal Poly team. While the final margin wasn’t necessarily impressive, the Wildcats did show off some things that should have their fans excited. Let’s take a look at four of them:

Defensive Upside. Against Cal Poly on Friday night, you saw it in spurts. With freak athletes like Aaron Gordon and Brandon Ashley able to switch onto smaller opponents with ease, and with excellent veteran perimeter defenders like T.J. McConnell and Nick Johnson, the Wildcats have the ability to be a ridiculously good defensive squad this season. Back in his final season at Xavier, Sean Miller’s team was rated 12th in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency behind players like Derrick Brown, B.J. Raymond and C.J. Anderson. But in his time in Tucson, while he’s put good defensive teams on the court, the Wildcats have never been elite, topping out in the 40s the last three seasons. This team has the defensive capability to creep into the teens this season, and maybe even the top 10. Perimeter defenders, athletic versatile bigs and an ability to clean the glass with abandon: Despite having some offensive struggles in their opener (which is completely overstating it, since they averaged 1.19 points per possession), this is a Wildcat team that can rely on their defense when things get rough shooting the ball.

Aaron Gordon Had An Impressive Debut, But Much Like An Eclipse, You Shouldn't Watch His Jumper Directly (AP).

Aaron Gordon Had An Impressive Debut, But Much Like An Eclipse, You Shouldn’t Watch His Jumper Directly (AP).

Aaron Gordon’s Jumper Makes Baby Jesus Cry. The consensus is that one of the biggest concerns for the Wildcats this season will be their outside shooting. While Johnson and McConnell are pretty dialed in from deep, newcomers Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are seen as having jumpers that are kindly called works in progress. Well, in their first close-up, it appears that Hollis-Jefferson has made significant progress on that work while Gordon’s work has yet to begin. Honestly, his shot from any kind of range needs to be completely torn down and rebuilt. He was 2-of-6 from the free throw line, and that was with the benefit of getting to concentrate on his form. When shooting from any range further than – oh, I don’t know, about a dunk or closer – his form was awful. Gordon can (and will) still be a major factor for the Wildcats, but my god, that jumper makes my eyes burn. And yet, somehow he jacked up a couple threes – and actually hit one! Any success produced by the jump shot is purely accidental. Meanwhile, just to end this section on a positive note, Hollis-Jefferson’s jumper looks solid; he’ll just need to continue to work on it.

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Pac-12 Team Preview: Arizona Wildcats

Posted by AMurawa on November 6th, 2013

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

Arizona Wildcats

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

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

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

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

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

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Pac-12 M5: 11.06.13 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on November 6th, 2013

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  1. Arizona received a big boost Tuesday when sophomore stretch forward Zach Peters was cleared by medical personnel to begin practicing with the Wildcats. Peters transferred from Kansas last November before playing a game with the Jayhawks but was sill waiting on clearance after suffering multiple concussions while in Lawrence. The addition is an important one for head coach Sean Miller. Peters is a big body that has the ability to shoot the ball from the outside, and he’ll likely be called upon to fill the absence left by Grant Jerrett. Arizona is losing its top four three-point shooters from the 2012-13 campaign, so there is certainly more than enough room for another shooter on the roster. Peters will open the season behind Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley, and Aaron Gordon on the depth chart, but expect him to play solid minutes once he gets a couple weeks of practice in with the Cats. They open the season Friday night at home against Cal Poly in a game to be televised by the Pac-12 Networks.
  2. The guys over at Building the Dam met in roundtable form last weekend to discuss what excites them, worries them, and their expectations heading into Craig Robinson‘s sixth season at Oregon State. The return of senior center Angus Brandt is definitely high on the list for excitement in Corvallis after the Aussie missed the majority of last season with a torn ACL suffered against Purdue. As RVM points out, however, there are plenty of question marks with this team, beginning with the fact that there is no proven point guard on the roster.
  3. Andy Enfield takes over at USC after the Trojans finished last year with a 14-18 record, its second straight losing season. Conquest Chronicles previews the 2013-14 team in this piece, focusing on the biggest offensive threats and the keys to getting back to relevance out west. All signs from preseason camp seem to point to the Trojans adjusting well to Enfield’s up tempo, high-flying system, but producing results early on against a challenging non-conference schedule will be difficult. They open the season Friday night at Utah State, and before the month ends they will face Villanova, and possibly, #5 Kansas, in the Bahamas. Keying the offense will be senior guard J.T. Terrell, whose ability to take, and make, tough shots will be of great value for Enfield and company. Expectations are small for this team, but I wouldn’t count a coach like Enfield out at any time.
  4. UCLA put a bow on its exhibition season Monday with a 109-79 win over Cal State San Marcos. Everything went through a slimmer and quicker forward/center Tony Parker as the sophomore finished with 17 points and 16 rebounds. Parker dropped about 20 pounds over the summer and is playing with more confidence, and if the early signs prove to hold true throughout the season, he is a legit post threat in the Pac-12. The Cougars held tough with UCLA for about 12 minutes, and actually only trailed by two just over halfway through the first half. A quick scoring burst later in the half put any thoughts of an upset to bed, and Steve Alford‘s team ended up cruising to the 30-point win. Next up for them is a visit from Drexel late Friday night to start the regular season.
  5. Sophomore Jahii Carson and Penn State transfer Jermaine Marshall will be the leaders of Arizona State‘s deep backcourt unit this season. That much you probably know. But there are four other guards on the roster that will don the maroon and gold this season, and House of Sparky breaks down that depth in this preview. Redshirt freshman Calean Robinson will run the offense when Carson leaves the court, and he may be the most intriguing Sun Devil behind Carson. Arizona State meets Maryland Baltimore County to open the season Sunday evening at Wells Fargo Arena.
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Pac-12 M5: 10.16.13 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 16th, 2013

pac12_morning5

  1. After a stretch of several months where most of the news coming out of Westwood was of the bad variety, UCLA finally found some good news waiting for them on Tuesday when forward Wanaah Bail was granted eligibility to play immediately for the Bruins after transferring out of the Texas Tech program. While Bail is still recovering from offseason knee surgery, if and when he is healthy enough to go, he’ll be expected to provide much-needed depth in the frontcourt behind the senior Wear twins and sophomore center Tony Parker. Still, despite the good news, some Bruin followers have chosen to paint this as, somehow, another strike against new head coach Steve Alford before the guy has even gotten to the plate. Seriously though, Alford had the temerity to answer a question about comparing John Wooden to his former college head coach, Bobby Knight. I mean, get a rope, right?
  2. Turning back to UCLA’s biggest rival in the conference, Arizona is considered the prohibitive favorite by most prognosticators, but the one weakness most people look to nitpick is the team’s possible lack of outside shooting. The team loses four of their top five three-point shooters from last season and their most ballyhooed newcomers, namely freshmen Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, are known for just about anything on the basketball court except long-range shooting. Nevertheless, newly eligible transfer T.J. McConnell is a 41.6% three-point shooter for his career, junior guard Nick Johnson improved to a 39.3% three-point shooter last season, and guys like sophomore Gabe York (despite his one-for-nine shooting in the Red-Blue game) and Kansas transfer Zach Peters are expected to chip in from range. Meanwhile, even sophomore Brandon Ashley has worked to expand his range out toward the three-point line.
  3. Speaking of T.J. McConnell, while anyone who never saw him play in his first two seasons of collegiate eligibility at Duquesne can look at the numbers and see a guy who can knock down the three as well as drop a dime (KenPom, paywall) with the best of them, Arizona head coach Sean Miller has been talking up McConnell’s ability to get after it on defense. The Wildcats’ defensive efficiency has improved every season under Miller (again, KenPom, paywall), but if McConnell can live up to Miller’s hype, he’s definitely got a versatile enough frontcourt to match up with just about any opponent, what with Kaleb Tarczewski’s ability to out-physical true posts, Ashley’s length and athleticism advantage over  most fours, Gordon’s ability to guard any number of positions, and Jefferson’s toughness and length. Throw in the already established Nick Johnson, whose ability to annoy the heck out of opposing ball-handlers far away from the hoop can be disruptive enough on its own, and this Wildcat squad is a good bet to improve on the team’s defensive numbers from a year ago.
  4. For some reason, we haven’t talked a lot about Colorado so far these past couple of weeks (something we will remedy soon enough), but the Buffaloes are one of the handful of teams who can legitimately challenge Arizona for conference supremacy. Things will be a bit easier for the Buffs this season, especially around Boulder, as season tickets for the Coors Event Center have sold out for the first time in CU history. With a student section that has evolved into one of the best in the conference, and now the full Boulder community also committed to supporting the team, expect the Rocky Mountain swing to be one of the least welcoming road trips on the Pac-12 schedule.
  5. We’ll wrap up the morning by pointing you to a thorough rundown on the Washington basketball roster by Ben Knibbe (follow him now) at the UW Dawg Pound. Yesterday he took you through the high post players Jernard Jarreau and Desmond Simmons (and offered the saddest of lines for a Husky fan: “Aaron Gordon would have been…”). Last week he broke down wings C.J. Wilcox, Hikeem Stewart, Darin Johnson and Mike Anderson. And the week before that he filled you in on point guard options Andrew Andrews, Nigel Williams-Goss and Jahmel Taylor. Certainly, we’ll get the breakdown on low posts Perris Blackwell and Shawn Kemp in the near future, but you’ll need to keep up with Ben (seriously, follow him now) in order to get the best position-by-position rundown you’ll find around the Pac-12 team blogs.
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Pac-12 M5: 10.14.13 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 14th, 2013

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  1. As we ease back into college basketball again, we’re back to Morning Fives every weekday from here until the end of the season. And we picked a good day to start these back up, because there is plenty of news to run down. Since the main preseason storyline is Arizona as the heavy favorite to win the league, we might as well start out with them, as the Wildcats had their annual Red-Blue Game on Saturday, an intrasquad scrimmage that serves as the introduction of the team to the supportive McKale Center crowd. Stud freshman Aaron Gordon put on quite a show, winning the dunk contest and backing that up with 13 points and 12 boards in the scrimmage. His classmate Rondae Hollis-Jefferson also looked good in his first appearance, pouring in 18 points on just 12 shots, and sophomore center Kaleb Tarczewski showed improvement, notching 18 points of his own.
  2. The day before Arizona’s showcase, its in-state rival had its own intrasquad scrimmage up the road, as Arizona State got its season underway. Jahii Carson is always going to be the showcase player on this team, and he was as good as usual, scoring 22 points and showing an improved jumper. But the big story came from newcomer Shaquielle McKissic, who poured in 33 points and made a big impression in his first appearance with the Sun Devils. He showed an immediate rapport with Carson on the fast break, displayed an ability to knock down the three, and impressed defensively, forcing turnovers that led to breaks. In the competition to earn some of the minutes vacated by departing senior Carrick Felix, McKissic looks to be out in front.
  3. The news wasn’t as positive everywhere around the conference this weekend, as on Friday Washington State announced that point guard Danny Lawhorn, a junior college transfer expected to slide right into the lead guard role, had left the school. Lawhorn had already been suspended two weeks ago, not that it matters at this point. Minus Lawhorn, it looks like junior Royce Wooldridge, who had hoped to move back off the ball after he helped fill in at the one last year, will once again need to contribute at the point, while DaVonte Lacy (another guy better suited to playing the two) and freshman point Ike Oroegbu also in the mix.
  4. Minus Lawhorn, head coach Ken Bone’s chances of keeping his job inched down a little, and, as Pachoops’ Adam Butler noted, there are quite a few coaches around the league whose jobs may be in trouble. A main part of the reason why those coaches may be looking for work in the near future is their inability to keep local recruits at home. Butler points to four top-75 2014 recruits from the West Coast who have already committed to play basketball in places other than Pac-12 institutions. While the conference as a whole may be on a bit of an upswing, the failure to lock up your own state’s recruits is never a good sign of future prosperity.
  5. Lastly, way back at the end of last year, the big off-the-court story was Pac-12 coordinator of officials Ed Rush putting out a bounty – whether in jest or not – on Arizona head coach Sean Miller, a “joke” that was made seriously unfunny (well, at least Miller’s post-game comments were funny – how long has it been since you’ve watched the “He Touched the Ball” clip?) after Miller got run in suspicious fashion immediately thereafter. The conference’s immediate response (or lack thereof) to the situation was unfulfilling. But, some steps were made over the offseason to improve the officiating situation in the conference, as the Pac-12 has entered into a partnership with the Mountain West to oversee its officiating, and hired Bobby Dibler as the new coordinator of officials. One of Dibler’s first tasks is to make sure that Miller gets treated as fairly as every other coach in the conference.
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Arizona: King of the Hill In the Pac-12

Posted by AMurawa on October 8th, 2013

Still a month away from actual games and a marathon away from March, there are plenty of questions to be asked and answered about the Pac-12. But one thing is beyond debate: Arizona is not only the clear-cut favorite in the conference this year, but they are the strongest program in the conference these days. Maybe by a long shot. Since Lute Olson turned Arizona into a national power with four Final Four appearances and one national title between 1988 and 2001, the conventional wisdom has been that the power in the conference was fairly evenly divided between Tucson and Westwood, what with UCLA’s 11 banners and all. But while three consecutive Final Four appearances are not that far in the rear view mirror for the Bruins, for the time being at least, Arizona is the power conference beacon out west.

Aaron Gordon Is Just The Latest High Profile Recruit To Choose Arizona Under Head Coach Sean Miller (Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports)

Aaron Gordon Is Just The Latest High Profile Recruit To Choose Arizona Under Head Coach Sean Miller (Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports)

Looking up and down the roster, it is easy to see why, as this year’s vintage of the Wildcats will feature three McDonald’s All-Americans (Aaron Gordon, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Brandon Ashley) and and no fewer than four guys (Gordon, Ashley, Nick Johnson and Kaleb Tarczewski) projected by DraftExpress as selections in either this year’s or next year’s NBA Draft. Throw in a polished point guard in T.J. McConnell, newly eligible after a transfer season, and a talented supporting cast, and not only is Arizona picked to win the Pac-12 this year (unanimously here, according to CBS’ cast of characters), but they’re on the short list of teams with a chance to cut down the nets in early April.

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2013-14 RTC Class Schedule: Arizona Wildcats

Posted by BHayes on September 26th, 2013

Bennet Hayes is an RTC columnist. He can be reached @HoopsTraveler. Periodically throughout the preseason, RTC will take an in-depth look at the schedules of some of the more prominent teams in college basketball.

Sean Miller’s fifth season in Tuscon could easily turn out to be his best. Despite the graduation of key seniors Solomon Hill (a first round pick in the 2013 NBA Draft), Mark Lyons, and Kevin Parrom – in addition to the surprising departure of freshman Grant Jerrett to the professional ranks, Miller has assembled the most talented roster that Arizona has seen in quite some time. A solid Pac-12 conference and challenging non-conference schedule will challenge the Cats’, but a nice blend of returnees and newcomers should give the man at the helm ample leeway to steer this storied program deep into March.

Nick Johnson will be asked to do more -- both on and off the court -- for this young but talented Wildcat team

Nick Johnson will be asked to do more — both on and off the court — for this young but talented Wildcat team

  • Team Outlook: This will be a new-look Arizona team, as last year’s squad was built around departed seniors Lyons and Hill. Some familiar faces will be back and poised to fill leadership roles this time around, with junior Nick Johnson (11.5 PPG, 3.2 APG, 1.9 SPG) most prominent among them. The athletic two-guard shot the ball better from three-point range as a sophomore (39% after 32% as a freshman), and should also serve as the Cats’ best perimeter defender in 2013-14. Sophomores Kaleb Tarczewski (6.6 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 22.2 MPG) and Brandon Ashley (7.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 20.5 MPG) return to anchor the frontcourt, with each likely seeing a slight minutes increase, despite the arrival of a duo of freshman studs in the same frontcourt. Both Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson were McDonald’s All-Americans last spring, and immense immediate contributions from both freshmen would surprise no one. Gordon especially shapes up as a good candidate for a jump to the NBA after a season of stardom in Tuscon, as he is currently projected as a Top-20 pick in the 2014 draft on NBADraft.net. Gordon’s production will be one of the keys to this Wildcat season, but he may not be Sean Miller’s most important player. Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell (11.4 PPG, 5.5 APG, 2.8 SPG in 2011-12) will be filling Lyons’ shoes and running the show in Tucson this season. McConnell was an efficient lead guard in the Atlantic-10 and should quickly acclimate to the Pac-12, but the absence of proven ball-handlers elsewhere on the roster means his transition has to be a smooth one for Arizona to be successful. He will be a welcomed change-of-pace for teammates used to the shoot-first Lyons dominating the ball, and his steal % of 4.7 (12th best in the nation in 2012) is ample indication of a dedication to both ends. The talented youngsters around him will keep expectations low for McConnell individually, but don’t be shocked if he emerges as the leader of this club. Read the rest of this entry »
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RTC 2013-14 Post-NBA Draft Deadline Top 25

Posted by KDoyle on April 30th, 2013

Although we are less than a month removed from Louisville’s win over Michigan in the National Championship game, it certainly isn’t too soon to look ahead to what the 2013-14 season has in store. With this past Sunday the deadline to declare for the June NBA Draft, we now have a much better idea who the top teams in the country should be once the ball is tipped again in November. In looking at the top of our Post-NBA Draft Deadline Top 25, there are three teams bunched together separated by just three votes — in fact, Louisville and Michigan State are knotted together at the top. It isn’t all too often that a team wins it all, graduates its starting point guard, has its best frontcourt player leave for the NBA, and is still perhaps the top team in the nation, but that’s the case for Rick Pitino and his Cardinals. With Russ Smith and Chane Behanan returning, Louisville will be the early favorites to win the AAC — the ACC, keep in mind, doesn’t come for UofL until 2014. Michigan State received good news on Sunday when Adreian Payne announced he would be returning to East Lansing for his senior season. Payne’s return, coupled with the return of Gary Harris — the Big Ten Freshman of the Year — and Keith Appling, make the Spartans a legitimate championship contender next season. Lastly, there’s Kentucky. Did you really think Cal & Co. weren’t going to be up there? They may not be ranked #1 at this point, but with a downright scary recruiting class incoming boasted by the Harrison twins and Julius Randle — perhaps the top Class of 2013 recruit — the Wildcats’ expectations are sky high. Despite not finishing in the Top 25 and losing at Robert Morris in the NIT, Kentucky will enter 2013-14 as a top three team in the RTC .

The usual Quick ‘n Dirty after the jump…

2013-14 RTC Top 25

Quick n’ Dirty:

Whether it is through an exceptional recruiting class, or an impressive finish to the 2012-13 season coupled with a strong nucleus returning, the following four teams surged upward — and for good reason.

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