Pac-12 M5: 01.06.14 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on January 6th, 2014

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  1. As Drew reported last week, Oregon State decided junior forward Eric Moreland was eligible to return from his 14-game suspension two games early, meaning that he could appear in the Beavers’ Pac-12 opener last Thursday at Colorado. His return sparked some energy into a team that has had an up-and-down non-conference slate, using his lengthy frame to force bad shots and his athletic ability to grab 10 rebounds. Head coach Craig Robinson ended up misunderstanding the terms of the big man’s suspension that was handed down last summer, thinking that it was for half of all games played, when it was actually measured by days of the season. Moreland came back down to earth on Saturday at Utah, only playing 19 minutes as he, along with the entirety of the Oregon State starting lineup, lacked energy. The result was a forgettable one-rebound, four-point performance in an 80-69 loss to the Utes. The return of the junior was expected to lift the Beavers to at least an NIT run, but if the first weekend of conference play is any indication, it could be another long winter in Corvallis.
  2. The nation is now down to six undefeated teams — and the Pac-12 to just one — after Colorado exploded for a 100-point performance against previously undefeated Oregon on Sunday afternoon in Boulder. The Ducks were able to survive despite giving up 105 points to Mississippi and 96 to BYU earlier in the season, but the Buffaloes in their home building proved too much to handle. They now sit at 13-1 and are likely to drop out of the top 10 when the national rankings are released later today.
  3. The USC-UCLA crosstown basketball rivalry wrote another chapter yesterday, with the Bruins throttling USC for a 107-73 win. The 107 points scored by UCLA ties the record for the most points from a winning team in the history of the rivalry. Both teams are of course led by first year coaches, Andy Enfield with the Trojans, and Steve Alford with the Bruins, and it was just the fourth time ever that each entered conference play with new coaches at the same time. Enfield has quickly learned in his stint with at USC that anything and everything he says about the team in Westwood will be reported and scrutinized, and they are surely already looking forward to a rematch at the Galen Center on February 8. UCLA improved to 12-2 with the win, while SC fell to 9-5. Both teams get to stay home this week and will host the difficult Arizona schools.
  4. Sticking with UCLA, Bruins Nation rates the full Bruins’ lineup after non-conference play. The UCLA roster is loaded with talent, but it’s tough to know just how far the team could go in March when it dropped its only two challenging non-conference games. Sophomore guard Jordan Adams leads the team in scoring with 18.5 PPG, while wing Kyle Anderson is contributing at a 14.5 PPG clip and leading UCLA in rebounds with 8.7 boards a game. Next up for the Bruins is what a lot of people assumed would be the Pac-12 game of the year before the season began, a visit from top-ranked Arizona on Thursday at 6:00 PM. This will be the only time that the Bruins and Wildcats will meet in the regular season.
  5. We close today with some recruiting news, as Arizona has emerged as a major player in the courting of class of 2015 power forward Carlton Bragg. Head coach Sean Miller is working hard in preparing for the future, as his talented Wildcat frontline featuring Kaleb Tarczewski, Aaron Gordon and Brandon Ashley won’t be around Tucson forever. Bragg would be a huge addition to the program, a five-star player who already has offers from Michigan State, Indiana, and UCLA, to name a few.
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Pac-12 M5: 12.27.13 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on December 27th, 2013

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  1. With St. Katherine, a community college based out of Vallejo, California, in town on Saturday, what is worrying Utah head coach Larry Krystowiak the most this holiday week? How much his players are eating while home for four days on Christmas break. “I’m trusting them to do the things that they need to do to stay in good basketball shape,” Krystkowiak said. Also discussed in the linked piece is the quandary of whether to redshirt junior center Marko Kovacevic, who has just recently been cleared to practice following a broken wrist. The last time Kovacevic saw on-court competition was the 2011-12 season, when he averaged 11.7 PPG for Western Nebraska CC. The Utes would like another go-to option outside of sophomore Jordan Loveridge in the post when senior big man Renan Lenz gets into foul trouble.
  2. Arizona made it official on Monday night with its 33-point shellacking of in-state foe Northern Arizona. The Wildcats made it through non-conference play unscathed for a second consecutive season, entering Pac-12 play with a 13-0 record and as the top-ranked team in the nation. Next up is league play, which features the toughest Pac-12 top-to-bottom in quite a long time. They do, however, get a brief reprieve, facing arguably the two easiest teams in the league to open the Pac-12 slate: Washington State and Washington.
  3. Staying in Tucson, Wildcats center Kaleb Tarczewski is hoping that his right ankle is able to heal fully by that aforementioned game against the Cougars on January 2. Head coach Sean Miller hopes to have him close to 100 percent by then, all thanks to a rigorous regimen undertaken during Christmas vacation. The sophomore has been logging up to eight hours of rehabilitation work per day under trainer Justin Kokoskie’s guidance. This week will be spent focusing more on basketball-specific things and getting stability in the area surrounding the injured muscle. As Kokoskie points out, though, everybody can point to a different body part that’s sore at this point in the season. The break couldn’t have come at a better time, giving the guys a chance to recharge and get healthy.
  4. Seven Pac-12 teams making the NCAA Tournament? Just two seasons after only placing one team into the round of 64? It’s certainly possible. The Cats, along with Oregon, UCLA, and Colorado, all seem to be locks at this point, while strong performances in conference play by Arizona State, Stanford, and probably one of either Utah or California could all send that group dancing as well. Times are changing on the west coast, and boy is it going to be a fun next three months.
  5. Sticking with the same theme, Tony Jones wonders if the Pac-12 is the best basketball conference in the country. The league had a terrific showing against teams from other conferences, posting notable wins over the likes of Duke, Marquette, Kansas and Connecticut, to name a few. We also, of course, boast the current top team in the country in Arizona, and even two of the worst teams in the league have boasted wins over Maryland and Purdue, some 3,000 miles away from home.
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Pac-12 M5: 12.23.13 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on December 23rd, 2013

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  1. Sophomore center Kaleb Tarczewski will likely miss his second straight game tonight when Arizona meets in-state foe Northern Arizona on the Pac-12 Networks. Tarczewski is sidelined with a sprained right ankle after landing on a Michigan player’s foot nine days ago in Ann Arbor. “We’re going to take it slow. We want to make sure he’s at his best for the Pac-12,” head coach Sean Miller said about the situation. As was the case against Southern University on Thursday, the top-ranked Wildcats had no problem without the sophomore’s services, and things are likely to be the same against the 3-7 Lumberjacks. Tarczewski is currently averaging 10.1 PPG, and with conference play beginning in 10 days, taking tonight off seems like a good call.
  2. Coming into Sunday afternoon’s meeting with #10 Connecticut, Washington was looking for its third consecutive victory, which would have been a season high. And for the first 14 minutes of the game, it looked as if the Huskies might just pull off the upset, which would have been UConn’s second straight loss to a Pac-12 opponent. Washington jumped out to a 33-22 advantage in front of a small but loud gathering at Hec Ed, but the top 10 AAC team showed why they were just that, going on a 27-6 binge to take a lead it would never relinquish. Washington dropped to 6-5 with the loss and will need to at least split its final two non-conference games in order to enter Pac-12 play above the .500 mark.
  3. Former UCLA head coach Ben Howland, who led the Bruins to three Final Fours during a decade in Westwood, was featured in the LA Times over the weekend. Howland is still keeping an eye on his former program, rooting on his players and agreeing that his successor, Steve Alford, has done a good job so far. What is he doing with his time off? A whole lot of fly-fishing, bike riding, and hoops watching. And while he’s enjoying those things immensely, the 56-year old is itching to get back onto the sideline. He’ll land somewhere, likely sometime this spring, because as Dick Vitale said during the UCLA-Duke game last week, Howland would be a great fit at a lot of schools around the country.
  4. Late last week, the guys over at California Golden Blogs met in roundtable form and discussed whether California had a shot at competing for the Pac-12 championship. That’s looking a lot less likely after yesterday’s result in Omaha, when the Golden Bears were dominated on both ends of the court in a 68-54 loss to #16 Creighton.
  5. These stories never get old. This video is from last week, so you may have already seen it, but even if so, it’s worth another view. Air Force Master Sergeant Chris Campbell was reunited with his family at the midway point during the first half of Thursday’s Arizona-Southern game, bringing smiles and some tears to everyone on hand. Each time the Pac-12 Network cameras showed Campbell the rest of the night, he was surrounded by and being thanked by the Wildcats’ fans in attendance. Commentators Roxy Bernstein and Matt Muehlebach joked that, while they were sure he appreciated it, Campbell didn’t get to take in nearly enough of the game as he probably liked. Happy holidays to everyone and to the Campbell family, especially.
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Marching to Vegas: On Accusations of Softness

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) on December 20th, 2013

Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) of Pachoops again will be joining us all year, providing us with his weekly take on our favorite conference, as we begin the March to Las Vegas.

Coaches love to talk about playing hard. It’s generally not quantifiable and it sometimes doesn’t really mean much. They also evidently like to talk about their wives’ abilities, but leadership in and of itself is a fascinating topic we can cover another time. I broached the subject this week with regards to the Utah Utes and their coach, Larry Krystkowiak’s comments from earlier this season. He believed that playing hard is a talent and I wonder what playing hard really looks like? Is it something we just say to support a moral victory? Let inferior teams feel better about themselves? I didn’t like Larry’s comments but I do appreciate the sentiment. Alas, what’s sending me down the path we’re about to walk down was a comment on a different post I wrote (I swear this isn’t a bunch of plugs for Pac Hoops or Adam Butler). The premise of the comment was that Kaleb Tarczewski, Arizona’s seven-foot center, was soft. Otherwise known as the type of player who perhaps doesn’t play hard. And so full circle we come, what does it mean to play hard?

Does This Guy Look Soft To You? (USATSI)

Does This Guy Look Soft To You? (USATSI)

To examine this I want to use this perception that Tarczewski is soft. After all, this was not the first time I’d heard this thought. I’m also going to toss Colorado’s big Josh Scott into this glimpse of softness because I’ve heard similar about him. His nickname is Jelly. What’s more, it would seem that big men often get labeled as soft more than others. They’re the ones expected to bang in the paint and to be labeled such is to say they’re not doing their job. Are Josh Scott and Kaleb Tarczewski indeed soft? Let’s do this.

Here are two large gentlemen tasked with manning the paint for their respective teams. In Scott’s case, he’s left somewhat alone down there in the absence of Andre Roberson, whereas Tarczewski has some other solid post help; but he’s the only one among the Arizona lot that’s spending the bulk of his time down low (the others have jumpers or are Aaron Gordon). That should do for introductions of these perceived softies. Now first of all, I’d like to note that both players, as compared to their freshman campaigns, are committing fewer fouls per 40 minutes this season. I think this is an interesting statistic in that fouls can be considered an element of “hard,” but they’re also detrimental to one’s playing time. It’s a double-edged sword for bigs in that they’re soft if they don’t foul, otherwise if they don’t. Interestingly enough, both players this season have managed to improve their block percentages while lowering their number of committed fouls.

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Three Thoughts on Arizona’s Win at Michigan

Posted by AMurawa on December 15th, 2013

Imagine this scenario: you’re one of the youngest teams in the nation. You’ve just assumed the number one spot in the polls, and the following weekend, you’re hearding across country to play the equivalent of a 9:00 AM game at the home of the team that was the runner-up for the national championship last year. An opponent that, while talented, has underachieved so far this season despite the presence of one of the best X-and-O coaches in the nation. Worse yet, early in the second half, you look up and figure out you’ve got a 13-point deficit in front of you. Combine all of those factors together and you’ve got the makings of a brief stay at the #1 spot, right? You could easily imagine getting run out of that gym, yes? Instead, Arizona went to Ann Arbor, took a really good shot from Michigan, then rededicated itself to exploiting its advantages and proved again that, not only is this a team that is very much worthy of its current ranking, but it is a team that will likely be within shouting distance of this ranking for the rest of the year. Barring a major surprise, these Wildcats will likely be 15-0 when they head to UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion on January 9. In light of all of this, let’s take a look at a few things we learned about Arizona during its big comeback win on Saturday.

Losing A Tough Game At The Road Would Have Been Understandable For A Young Team, But Arizona Pulled Out A Great Win At Michigan

Losing A Tough Game At The Road Would Have Been Understandable For A Young Team, But Arizona Pulled Out A Great Win At Michigan

  1. There’s just under two minutes left. Arizona is down a point. Sean Miller calls a timeout and what happened from there on answered any questions we might have had about who the go-to guys are on this Wildcats team. On the first possession, the Wildcats get the ball to Nick Johnson with Aaron Gordon setting a screen to get Johnson on the same side of the court as Brandon Ashley, where Ashley sets a pick and rolls down the baseline. Johnson then finds him there and lets him go to work; he slides past three Wolverine defenders, including his man Mitch McGary, for a nice bucket and the lead. The next time down, after T.J. McConnell recovered his own miss, Johnson backed things out, settled his team down, and again set up a two-man game for himself and Ashley, waving freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson off before driving, picking up a (questionable) foul and getting to the line where he made two free throws to give his squad a lead it would never relinquish. While freshmen Gordon and Jefferson are hyper-talented players, Johnson and Ashley are the more complete players, especially considering the fact that if either of them gets sent to the free throw line in a close game, Wildcat fans will rightly be confident. But even without that consideration, Johnson and Ashley offer more versatility in the half-court with an ability to take their opponents off the bounce or hit the jumper. Johnson and Ashley may not be the first guys you think of when you think of Arizona this season, but they’re Miller’s go-to guys when it counts. Read the rest of this entry »
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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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