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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Arizona Post-Mortem

Posted by AMurawa on April 11th, 2013

Now that we are officially in the offseason, it’s time to take a look back and evaluate each team’s 2012-13 performance. Next on our list: Arizona.

What Went Right

You know, after all is said and done, after all the chatter about his strengths and weaknesses, you gotta say that the Mark Lyons experiment turned out pretty well. Yes, the end of the season and a not-quite-buzzer-beating loss to Ohio State in the Sweet Sixteen is disappointing, and a fourth-place Pac-12 finish isn’t what was expected, but down the stretch, this team was clicking pretty well behind Lyons. With a dearth of other create-for-themselves offensive players (outside of Solomon Hill), Lyons was a pretty good fit here. He never materialized as the distributing floor general some had hoped, but he was a good version of himself — scoring efficiently, playing hard and zipping people up defensively.

Despite Some Ups And Downs, You've Got To Call The Mark Lyons Experiment A Success, Right?

Despite Some Ups And Downs, You’ve Got To Call The Mark Lyons Experiment A Success, Right?

What Went Wrong

For a team with three hardened veterans among the seven-man rotation, this was a surprisingly inconsistent team. Much of that can be chalked up to three freshmen occupying the rotation at the four and five spots. As talented as Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett are, they were still freshmen growing into their bodies and into their games. There were blown assignments, soft defense and the handful of boneheaded plays. But, the bright side is all three of these guys got tremendous experience, displayed their major upside and are expected to return next season.

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How Far Can Arizona Go?

Posted by AMurawa on March 28th, 2013

Three weeks ago, coming off an 0-2 road trip to Los Angeles, Arizona was just about ready to be left for dead. It’s not that a pair of conference road losses – one to a team in the middle of a 6-2 streak, the other to the eventual conference champion – were egregious, it’s that they were playing uninspired ball and none of the pieces were showing great cohesion. Mark Lyons was 6-of-24 that weekend with three assists while getting outplayed by Jio Fontan and Larry Drew II; Nick Johnson was in the midst of his regularly scheduled mid-season downturn; and Sean Miller could seemingly never get more than one of his freshman bigs – Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett – to play well at any given time.

Sean Miller, Arizona

Sean Miller Has His Wildcats In The Sweet Sixteen, But How Much Further Can They Go?

Flash forward to the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Against a pair of physically overmatched opponents, Lyons was among the best players in the nation, going for 25 points per game in a highly efficient manner. Johnson is now in the midst of a string of unbelievably good defensive performances (dating back to the season finale against Arizona State) and looks to have regained his confidence in his jumper. The freshman bigs have suddenly shown strides to the point where it looks like at least two out of the three can be counted on in any given game. In other words, Miller’s got this team coalescing at precisely the right time. But still, like we said, those two tournament wins were against seriously overmatched teams. Just how far can this Wildcats team go now that the strength of the opponents are about to undergo a serious uptick?

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Rushed Reactions: #6 Arizona 74 #14 Harvard 51

Posted by AMurawa on March 23rd, 2013

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Andrew Murawa is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from the Round of 32 game between #6 Arizona and #14 Harvard at the Salt Lake City pod this afternoon.

Three Key Takeaways.

It Was Great While It Lasted...

It Was Great While It Lasted…

  1. Physical Mismatch. It was clear just a couple of minutes into the game that Harvard was going to need to catch a lot of breaks to keep up in this game. As good as Wesley Saunders has been all year, he had no chance guarding Solomon Hill in the post. Harvard’s Kenyatta Smith was tough on Thursday against the New Mexico bigs, Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley were a whole different ball game. Freshman point guard Siyani Chambers looked overmatched and intimidated early by Mark Lyons, while Nick Johnson and Hill largely stuck with the Crimson’s shooters Laurent Rivard and Christian Webster, using their length, athleticism and confidence in the rest of their team’s defense to limit any good looks. In short, barring some seriously strange goings-on, Harvard never really had a chance in this one.
  2. Is Arizona Playing Well?. At times, as the lead hovered somewhere around 20 for the final three-quarters of the game, the Wildcats lost focus and let up some. Kevin Parrom wound up inexplicably fouling out in just 14 minutes of action. Grant Jerrett bruised an elbow early in the first half and never returned. Johnson attempted just three field goals in the 34 minutes of action (to be fair, he made two threes in those attempts). Ashley again showed glimpses of excellence intermingled with frustrating decision-making. But in a game where the talent mismatch was so apparent, it was really hard to gauge just how well this team was playing as a whole. But, give them credit for doing to Harvard exactly what a team with this size and talent should have done to Harvard.
  3. New Mexico Redux. If anybody associated with the New Mexico program watched this game, from Steve Alford on down to the lowliest Lobo fan, they had to be going absolutely crazy. A Harvard team that shot a 61.9 eFG% on Thursday night shot 31.9% tonight. The Lobos definitely didn’t have quite the athletic advantage that Arizona did, but it was pretty close. But, the Lobos failed to close out on shooters, couldn’t stop Chambers’ dribble penetration and never found a guard who could make an impact against inferior defenders. Can’t feel too bad for the Lobos.

Star of the GameMark Lyons, Arizona. The much-maligned Wildcat point guard had perhaps the best game of his time in Tucson today, getting past Harvard defenders with ease, knocking down threes whenever the mood struck him and zipping up Chambers defensively. With Aaron Craft potentially looming next week in Los Angeles, things are about to get much more difficult, but Lyons has certainly picked a perfect time to peak.

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Rushed Reactions: #6 Arizona 81, #11 Belmont 64

Posted by AMurawa on March 21st, 2013

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Andrew Murawa is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Round of 64 NCAA Tournament game between #6 Arizona and #11 Belmont in Salt Lake City.

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. First Half Domination. It’s the same old song and dance for Belmont: great season, plenty of love on Selection Sunday as a possible Cinderella, then they come out and lay an egg in the tournament against a bigger and more athletic opponent. The Bruins turned in perhaps their worst half of the season on Thursday evening, grabbing just 9.1% of their own misses and only 50% of their opponents misses, while also getting outshot 52.2% to 29.6% in effective field goal percentage. While senior Ian Clark cobbled together enough offense to tally 11 points, the rest of his team combined to make just 2-of-17 field goal attempts. All of which combined to equal a 32-20 halftime deficit. Belmont played Arizona pretty tight in the second half, but the first-half damage was done.

    Mark Lyon was the star of the game for Arizona. (AP)

    Mark Lyon was the star of the game for Arizona. (AP)

  2. Too Much Size and Athleticism. With the tallest guy on Belmont checking in at just 6’7” and with Arizona featuring four rotation guys along the frontline at least that tall, not to mention significantly more athletic, you probably should have seen this coming to some extent. But the sheer level of the domination along the frontline was startling. Brandon Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski and Grant Jerrett have been improving slowly but surely all year and today, after getting through the grind of the Pac-12 and similar level athletes, they seemed to get a lot of joy out of beating up on overmatched opponents. And Mark Lyons? After seeing guys like Jahii Carson and Larry Drew II and Dominic Artis and Spencer Dinwiddie, he seemed to know he could get by whichever Belmont guard was checking him and get into the lane with ease. Credit the Wildcats for exploiting mismatches and advancing, but things are about to get much more difficult.
  3. Pac-12. Underrated? On a day when the Pac-12 went 3-0 in the Tournament you’ve got to start to wonder just how good this conference is. They haven’t had much of a chance to prove it outside of the league since December, consider what Oregon did to Oklahoma State today. And consider that Arizona, for instance, has wins against teams like Miami, Florida, San Diego State and now Belmont in their undefeated non-conference slate, but struggled to seven losses against Pac-12 competition. Maybe the Pac-12 is better than we thought?

Star of the Game. Mark Lyons, Arizona. Look, Lyons is never going to be the type of distributing point guard that would fit in so well on this Arizona team. But tonight at the very least he was the guy Mark Lyons is really good at being. He attacked off the bounce and seemed to get to the rack just about whenever he wanted. And when the ball found its way to him around the perimeter in the halfcourt game, he stepped up and drilled catch-and-shoot jumpers. And, especially in the first half, he harassed Kerron Johnson and got inside his head, limiting Belmont’s second-leading scorer to just four first-half points.

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Pac-12 Burning Questions: Most Memorable Moment?

Posted by AMurawa on March 9th, 2013

As we get ready for out last weekend of the regular season, we start with a quick look back at the last few months before we get ready to look ahead to the bulk of March. As such, we asked a simple question:

What has been your favorite moment this season?

Adam Butler: The best moment is one of my favorite questions. Certainly at a time of year (I think I’ve used that as a lead like 200 times thus far in just one week of March) when just a single moment can define so much. But across the course of about thirty games per team, over wins and losses, ups and downs, there have been so many. Cobbs, Gordon, and Drew II have all beat the buzzer. Chen tried to. The conference had its first matchup of ranked opponents since March 2009. Game Day visited the Conference and Bill Walton grabbed the torch (or bullhorn) of touting the Pac’s return. There’s been so much to enjoy all the season long and, to be completely honest, the year’s most memorable moment is yet to come. Something is going to happen inside the MGM, or someone is going to do something in the Dance we’ll talk about for years to come, “Remember when…” But to that effect, I’m going to make the homer pick. Because as Arizona had the improbable opportunity to take the lead at home against Florida, I was squatting on top of my couch. I had two friends locked in arms to my left and an air of tension thicker than Kaleb Tarczewski. The Lyons floater fell and we (in my apartment and in Tucson) went controllably wild. And then the backboard went red and we went uncontrollably wild. My kinda moment.

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So Shabazz Is Leaving, But Who Else?

Posted by AMurawa on March 4th, 2013

Saturday night following UCLA’s win over Arizona, Ben Howland admitted that, yes, Shabazz Muhammad had, barring some strange unforeseen circumstances, played his last game at Pauley Pavilion, thus sharing a secret that everybody already knew. One of the nation’s top recruits, Muhammad will be a lottery pick in June’s NBA Draft and his time in Westwood will be limited to just this one season. It’s no surprise, and certainly not worth spilling many pixels on. But, it is a good jumping off point to look around the rest of the Pac-12 and project the collegiate futures of other talented underclassmen and ask a couple different questions: First, will they declare for the NBA Draft after this season and, more subjectively, should they? Certainly every player’s own personal situation will have a say in the decision, and far be it from me to tell kids what they should and should not do with their potentially multi-million dollar futures, but it is that time of year when we start thinking about what some of these teams are going to look like next season. So, here’s a look at the players around the conference most likely to be weighing their options when the season ends, with Draft Express’ opinion on where these guys would be slated to go.

  • Allen Crabbe, Junior, California – Crabbe’s gone. The 6’6” wing has taken on a slightly bigger role each season in Berkeley and is one of the purest shooters in the draft. A solid defender as well, he’s got an NBA-ready game and could be a late first-round pick, although Draft Express currently projects him as the #11 pick in the second round. It is doubtful that another year in college would improve his draft stock substantially as Crabbe is mostly a completed player.
Allen Crabbe, California

Allen Crabbe’s Long Frame and Golden Jumper Have A Spot Waiting For Him In The NBA

  • Andre Roberson, Junior, Colorado – Odds are probably good that Roberson will leave after this season, but while he uses his long frame to great effect defensively and on the glass, he’s still a work in progress offensively. He’s a decent enough three-point shooter (35% for his career on limited attempts), but he is a poor free throw shooter, has a questionable handle, and has an unpolished offensive game anywhere inside of the three-point line. Draft Express has him as the seventh pick in the second round of this year’s draft, but I have a hard time projecting this guy’s game to the NBA when he sees players with more size and length and just as much athleticism competing with him for rebounds.

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Pac-12 Report Card, Volume VI: The Delinquents

Posted by AMurawa on February 13th, 2013

These four teams will need to be spending time extra time this week hitting the books.

Arizona – D+

Over the course of 80 minutes against the Bay Area schools, the Wildcats looked like a top-10 team for about, what, eight minutes? Four minutes at the end of the Stanford game and four minutes in the middle of the first half against Cal? But then again, this Wildcats team has made a season out of playing poorly for long stretches and still coming away with wins, even against good teams. Against the Golden Bears, however, that wasn’t the case. And, long-term, that type of play is not going to be enough to max out this team’s ability. Sure, the freshman bigs still have room to grow, but with the core of this team a veteran bunch, at some point you have to take this team at face value; maybe these ‘Cats are destined to underachieve. Then again, I’m also saying this about a team with only three losses in the middle of February.

With Other Arizona Bigs Limited By Circumstance, Angelo Chol Stepped Up Against Stanford (Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star)

With Other Arizona Bigs Limited By Circumstance, Angelo Chol Stepped Up Against Stanford (Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star)

Focus on: Angelo Chol. On Thursday night, with Grant Jerrett out with injury, Brandon Ashley fouled out in 13 minutes and Kaleb Tarczewski ineffective, the sophomore big man earned 24 minutes, the most in his career. And, he came through in a pinch, grabbing eight boards and scoring six points over that stretch. He slid back to just six minutes of action against Cal on Sunday, but it must be comforting to know that he’s available to produce when needed.

Looking ahead: Thursday night, the Wildcats head to Colorado and enter a lion’s den, where the Buffaloes have the chance they’ve been looking forward to for more than a month — to gain revenge for the Debacle in the Desert. But for the Wildcats, they have the opportunity to rip the hearts out of an opponent. We’ll see if they have the killer instinct to do so.

Washington State – D

Against USC on Thursday night, the Cougars played the Trojans to a draw for about 35 minutes before fading down the stretch. At UCLA on Saturday night, they weren’t even that lucky, going more than 10 minutes in the first half without a field goal, not scoring their first two-point field goal for more than 16 minutes, and never really finding themselves in the game. With a four-game losing streak in progress and Ken Bone’s first losing season on the Paloose a distinct possibility, WSU fans are relegated to discussing the head coach’s future with the university.

Focus on: D.J. Shelton. A 6’10” athletic power forward putting up 9.5 rebounds per game? Sure. Nothing unusual about that. But that same guy handing out 11 assists over the course of a pair of games? That’s intriguing. Shelton still can’t put the ball in the basket on a regular basis anywhere around the key, a disturbing trend for a big guy, but he is the team’s most accurate three-point shooter, knocking down 41% of his 39 three-point attempts this year.

Looking ahead: Hosting Oregon State and Oregon this week (albeit in front of a largely empty Beasley Coliseum) likely presents the Cougars with their last best chance at a home sweep this year.

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Pac-12 M5: 02.07.13 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on February 7th, 2013

pac12_morning5

  1. The Pac-12 week got started last night with a couple games, the headliner of which was the conference’s hottest team, Stanford, heading to Tucson to face the conference’s highest ranked team, Arizona. In advance of the game, the Wildcats got some bad news when it was announced that freshman forward Grant Jerrett would sit out the game as a precautionary measure due to some foot pain. Almost unbelievably, in sitting out, he became Arizona’s first player to miss a game this season due to injury. As for the game, the ‘Cats got away with running their thin front court out there, even as fellow freshmen Brandon Ashley fouled out in just 13 minutes and Kaleb Tarczewski was ineffective in 13 minutes of his own. In place of the three freshmen, sophomore big Angelo Chol got his most run of the year, playing 24 very effective minutes and grabbing a career-high eight boards as the Wildcats pulled away from a game Stanford team late. Chol probably earned himself some more minutes in the future, although Jerrett should be available to play on Sunday, per Sean Miller.
  2. The other game Wednesday night took place in Corvallis as Oregon State took out some of their frustrations on Utah in an 18-point win as Roberto Nelson and Joe Burton each continued their streaks of strong offensive basketball of late. But even with that win, Oregon State’s now 2-7 conference mark has some people claiming that head coach Craig Robinson is on the hot seat. While I would agree that now there are legitimate questions as to whether Robinson is the right guy to take this program to the next level, something drastic would have to happen for Robinson to not be coaching the Beavers next season. And, regardless of the current floundering state of the program, Robinson has given this program an identity that it didn’t have when he took over for Jay John. At some point, that’s going to have to translate into wins and a competitive Pac-12 team, but Robinson is in no immediate danger.
  3. As for Utah, as Pachoops’ Adam Butler wrote, despite their struggles this season and the occasional blowout, this is one of the unluckiest teams in the country, an idea substantiated by Ken Pomeroy’s luck measurement. While the Utes’ 10-12 record isn’t going to impress anybody, consider the fact that, putting aside their three blowout losses in conference, they’ve lost the remainder of their conference games by an average of less than a single old-fashioned two-point field goal. If and when the Utes’ begin to make better luck for themselves or get the fortunate bounce here or there that turns a one-point loss into a one-point win, the Utes could be in position to make some noise.
  4. Circling back around to that Arizona/Stanford game again, the Bill Walton Pac-12 bus tour dropped Grateful Red off in Arizona this week where he, among other thing, tipped off ESPN viewers to a little known basketball rule whereupon, if you hit anybody on the court in the face with the ball, he owes you a six-pack. I’m personally going to see how that flies on the playground this weekend. Elsewhere in the Grand Canyon State these past few days, Walton spent some time talking to students at both Arizona State on Tuesday and Arizona on Wednesday. And, at Arizona State, he spent about an hour talking to the Sun Devil basketball team and then later spent time talking to Jahii Carson and Jordan Bachynski one-on-one.
  5. Lastly, in recognition of national signing day in college football yesterday, we take a look at USC’s current recruiting status in… basketball? Actually, despite the fact that the Trojans are currently a team without a coach, USC’s presently has enough commitments to rank in the top 40 nationally in recruiting. However, that could still change because their top recruit, Kendal Yancy-Harris, the #77 player in ESPN’s top 100 list, has eased off of his commitment somewhat and is now considering ten other teams. Yancy-Harris may yet wind up in South L.A., but we won’t be sure until USC decides who their next coach is.
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Pac-12 Report Card, Volume V: The Honor Roll

Posted by AMurawa on February 5th, 2013

Professor Pac is back again this week with a progress report, but this time we’re going to try something new. Rather than go through all of the teams in one big ol’ honking post, we’re going to split these up into smaller bites: the honor roll (featuring the week’s best students), the solid students (the middle of the Pac), and the delinquents (those pupils that need to put in some extra work). Without further ado, let’s get things started with by checking in with the teacher’s pets.

Arizona – A

The Wildcats earned our team of the week honor by going on the road to Washington and coming away with the rare road sweep. While nothing the ‘Cats did as a team was insanely impressive, coupled with Oregon’s slip-ups in the Bay Area, Sean Miller and company are back into a tie for the conference lead and look like a team that could be about to turn it on.

With The 'Cats In Need Of An Interior Offensive Presence, "Zeus" Has Stepped Up Of Late (Dean Hare, AP Photo)

With The ‘Cats In Need Of An Interior Offensive Presence, “Zeus” Has Stepped Up Of Late (Dean Hare, AP Photo)

Focus on: Kaleb Tarczewski. There has been talk about the need for the Arizona big guys to step up and take on a bigger role, especially offensively. This week Tarczewski was arguably the most effective offensive player for the ‘Cats. On Thursday in a game in which most everybody struggled offensively, “Zeus” had the highest offensive rating (111.0) on his team as he scored 10 points and pulled down eight boards. Against Washington State, he bettered that, posting an ORtg of 131.0 while again scoring 10 points and grabbing four boards. While he’s not exactly polished yet, and he still finds his way into foul trouble more often than not, the big fella is beginning to help take some of the pressure of Arizona’s perimeter players.

Looking ahead: The immediate future could be perilous for the Wildcats, despite a return to the McKale Center. The Bay Area schools come to Tucson and each is capable of causing trouble. Then following that, on Valentine’s Day, they’ll have to visit Boulder and a Colorado team ready to enact revenge for the Debacle in the Desert.

Utah – A

Last we saw the Utes, they were laying an absolute egg in possibly the worst in-conference performance by any team this seasaon in a 31-point loss at Stanford. With a Colorado team coming into the Huntsman Center on something of a roll, expecting the Utes to come away with a win looked to be fantasy territory. But, there they were, three-quarters of the way through their match-up with the Buffs and they held a 22-point lead. Disregard for a second the fact that they seemingly went out of their way to give it all back (they did, after all, hold on for a three-point win) and give credit to a team with any postseason likelihoods long since passed, with their best player watching from the bench with a knee injury and with a locker room experiencing some dissension, for bringing this type of effort.

Focus on: Jeremy Olsen. In the freshman’s first 19 games in a Ute uniform, Olsen never took off his warm-ups in 10 of those. When he did get some run, it was for brief stretches (he played 44 minutes in those nine games) and to little effect (18 points in 44 minutes). But he has played hard and stayed focused and in the midst of the Stanford embarrassment, he kept plugging away even with the game out of reach. Such effort earned him 14 minutes of action against Colorado and he made the most of that time, scoring 12 points on eight field goal attempts and hauling in three boards. That type of performance is likely to earn Olsen a spot in the rotation even with Jordan Loveridge expected back soon.

Looking ahead: With a road stretch ahead, the Utes have a chance to actually turn this one win into a streak, as last place Oregon State is the first stop. And hey, if they get through that, who’s to say that a team that has played a lot of tight games this year couldn’t sneak up and surprise an Oregon team that may still be without freshman point guard Dominic Artis?

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