UCLA Week: Evaluating the Recent Past

Posted by AMurawa on August 13th, 2012

There are no two ways around it, so we might as well get right to the punch: The past three seasons at UCLA, even with an NCAA Tournament appearance and win in 2010-11, is in the conversation for the worst stretch of three consecutive seasons in the history of the storied program. Aside from the transition at the end of the Steve Lavin era to the beginning of the Ben Howland era, you have to go back to Wilbur Johns in the World War II era for a string of three such poor seasons in Westwood. All that is bad enough, but if you consider where this program was at the end of the 2007-08 season, coming off three consecutive Final Fours and welcoming in the nation’s #1 recruiting class, such a precipitous fall was highly unlikely.

Kevin Love, UCLA

It Has Been Four Unsatisfying Seasons Since Kevin Love Helped UCLA Last Advance to A Final Four (Mark J. Terril, AP Photo)

So how did Howland and the Bruins go from being on the verge of ushering another great era of UCLA basketball to missing the NCAA Tournament in two out of three seasons? Much of it has to do with underachievement from that 2008 recruiting class. In the 2008-09 season, after future pros like Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute departed early (a certain byproduct of the type of success the Bruins were having), the Bruins rode gutsy performances by veterans like Darren Collison, Josh Shipp and Alfred Aboya to a solid 26-9 overall record, but failed to win the Pac-10 for the first time in three years and were bounced from the NCAA Tournament in resounding fashion by a Villanova team that outhustled and outfought the Bruins. More ominous for UCLA was the fact that none of the highly-regarded freshman class made much of an impact that season. And despite point guard Jrue Holiday’s struggles as a frosh, he couldn’t get out of Westwood fast enough, declaring for the NBA Draft while averaging just eight points and four assists in his lone season.

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Baby Bruins v.2: Comparing UCLA’s Situation Now to Top-Ranked Class of 2008

Posted by EJacoby on April 25th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.

With the news on Monday that top unsigned big man Tony Parker is headed to UCLA next season, the Bruins now have a super-stacked recruiting class for next year that should give Ben Howland’s squad a great chance to become elite right away. Recall that last week we discussed that bringing in an elite recruiting class doesn’t necessarily result in program success, with one of the highlight examples being Ben Howland’s #1 class of 2008 Bruins. That UCLA team brought in the top recruiting class and also had some returning veteran talent, but the team badly failed to meet expectations (some of the roots of UCLA’s transgressions were recently highlighted in a popular Sports Illustrated article in late February). Fair or unfair, the 2012 class and next year’s team is going to have to deal with comparisons to those 2008 Baby Bruins, at least until it starts to win. This time around, though, their coach’s job is on the line too. Let’s take a quick look at how the two classes and situations match up, and why UCLA fans should have no reason to expect a repeat performance this time around.

Now That Tony Parker Signed with UCLA, the Bruins Have Huge Expectations Again (Photo: Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Back in 2008, UCLA was coming off of three straight Final Four appearances, one of the best runs of team success of the past decade for any program. Bringing in the top recruiting class that offseason was no surprise, and that group of freshmen was expected to continue the long tradition of winning in Westwood. Jrue Holiday, Malcolm Lee, and Drew Gordon were part of a group of five top-50 recruits who were quickly dubbed the Baby Bruins, players who “were famous before they played a game,” as the SI report claims. The freshmen also got to play alongside some returning veterans, most notably senior All-American Darren Collison. But UCLA was unable to win with this group right away that season nor during the next four years. Instead of stacking up Ws and bringing home banners like the previous groups led by Jordan Farmar, Arron Afflalo and Kevin Love, the Baby Bruins never made the Sweet Sixteen in four years and failed to make the NCAA Tournament twice. The disastrous chemistry on the team throughout this period led to players fighting and transferring, and it all ended up in far more losses than anyone expected. UCLA entered this offseason really in need of a talent (and attitude) infusion.

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Pac-12 Morning Five: 01.03.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on January 3rd, 2012

  1. The Pac-12 announced its Player of the Week on Monday, and no surprise, Washington’s Tony Wroten took home the honors for the first and perhaps not last time after averaging 21.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists in his first weekend of conference play. What was a surprise, however, was teammate C.J. Wilcox not even being nominated for the award. Wilcox had a fine weekend of his own (19.5 PPG and seven threes), but it was Aaron Bright, Jorge Gutierrez, Jesse Perry, Andre Roberson and E.J. Singler who showed up in the “Also Nominated” mention.
  2. Speaking of Wilcox, he got sent to the bench this weekend after starting the first 11 games of the season for the Huskies. When junior center Aziz N’Diaye went down with a knee injury in the second half of the Huskies’ game against Duke, Wroten came in and earned a starting spot with his play down the stretch, and since then has been the go-to player offensively for UW. But, when N’Diaye was ready to return to the starting five, head coach Lorenzo Romar had to decide who would be the odd man out. The choice was Wilcox, but he took the change in stride, not only finding his shot this weekend, but also turning in two great defensive performances. With his ability to get hot quick and his experience coming off the bench last season, Wilcox is perfectly fine with his new role.
  3. In Salt Lake City, more bad news for the struggling Utes, as Cedric Martin is struggling with plantar fasciitis and may have to miss games in the future due to the injury. Martin, who is second in the team in minutes and is one of just two players to start every game, has been limited in practice and head coach Larry Krystkowiak acknowledges that he may need to get a week or more of rest in order to push through the injury.
  4. Arizona head coach Sean Miller already has a stellar 2012 recruiting class lined up, and now he’s working on lining up players for future years, with 2013 wing Jabari Bird (ranked #11 by ESPNU) near the top of the list. Bird lists Arizona, Washington and California as his top three schools and is intrigued by the possibility of playing in the Wildcats’ system, saying that Miller has told him that he would have the ability to be a ball-handling forward at UA. Bird and classmate Aaron Gordon, another Arizona target, play AAU ball for the Oakland Soldiers, the same team that produced current Wildcat players Josiah Turner and Nick Johnson.
  5. Lastly, UCLA fans spent their fair share of time last offseason lamenting the early departures of Tyler Honeycutt and Malcolm Lee to the NBA Draft. Checking in with those players, Honeycutt was just assigned by the Sacramento Kings to the NBDL after appearing for four minutes in his one appearance thus far this season, while Lee, who actually signed a guaranteed contract with the Timberwolves despite being drafted in the second round, had to undergo knee surgery and will miss at least the next six weeks.
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Is Ben Howland’s Job in Jeopardy?

Posted by AMurawa on November 18th, 2011

The UCLA basketball program is 0-2 for the first time since Steve Lavin’s final disastrous year in Westwood. An 0-2 record isn’t necessarily the end of the world, but the Bruins haven’t exactly come by their record in the same way that Belmont did (with losses to college hoops powers Duke and Memphis). The Bruins have lost their opening two games to Loyola Marymount and Middle Tennessee State – and not in particularly compelling fashion either. Along the way, last year’s leading scorer and Sports Illustrated cover boy Reeves Nelson was suspended for behavioral problems, sophomore center Joshua Smith tweeted out an immature response following the LMU loss and senior point guard Jerime Anderson served the last half of his very light punishment for stealing a laptop over the summer with a suspension against LMU before coming back to underwhelm against MTSU. In short, the UCLA basketball program is a hot mess right now, a dumpster fire, a train wreck. Worse yet, it is all of those things for the second time in three years.

All of which begs the question, does head coach Ben Howland have reason to fear for his job? It’s not all that long ago that such a question would have been absurd. Remember, Howland had his Bruins in the Final Four three straight times between 2006 and 2008. Between the 2005-06 season and the 2008-09 season, he posted an astounding 123-26 (82.6%) record, with a 65-16 (80.2%) record in the Pac-10, including conference tournament games. Furthermore, Howland was absolutely killing it on the recruiting trail.

Ben Howland, UCLA

Ben Howland Has Had Some Great Successes At UCLA, But His Program Is Currently Struggling

After a two-man 2007 recruiting class ranked #10 in the nation by ESPNU, largely on the strength of Kevin Love, the #1 recruit in the nation (the class also included current UNLV senior Chace Stanback), Howland had then inked the #1 class in the nation for 2008, highlighted by point guard Jrue Holiday, with guys like Drew Gordon, J’Mison Morgan, Malcolm Lee and Anderson expected to make major impacts during their time in Westwood. The following year Howland added another five players (Tyler Honeycutt, Mike Moser, Brendan Lane, Nelson and Anthony Stover) for the #13 class in the nation. Of those 12 players in those three classes, six played either one season at UCLA or left the program prior to completing a second season. Four of them transferred out to other Division I schools with varying degress of success at their new destinations. The 2008 class goes down in history as a strong contender for the most disappointing recruiting class ever, with only Lee and Anderson making significant extended contributions to the program, and even those two players considered as serious underachievers compared to their incoming reputations.

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NBA Draft Thoughts From a College Perspective

Posted by rtmsf on June 27th, 2011

The NBA Draft has come and gone with one of the most boring evenings in its televised history.  Maybe it was the arena setting, maybe it was the lack of marquee names, maybe it was the fact that none of the draftees wore anything particularly ridiculous, but the league’s capstone summer event was so uninspiring that even Bill Simmons’ usually-hilarious draft diary felt trite and mailed in.  Still, the draft represents to every major college basketball player the culmination of a lifelong dream to hear one’s name called by David Stern, and it’s worth a quick reflection on how things went last Thursday for many of the players we’ve been watching and tracking for years.

The 1-and-Dones Did Well in This Year's Draft (AP)

The 1-and-Dones.  Generally speaking, the NBA Draft went well for the seven 1-and-done players who declared after their freshman season.  Excluding Enes Kanter, who never played a minute at Kentucky, from the discussion, six of the seven players who left school after one season were drafted, and five of those went in the first round.  Duke’s Kyrie Irving, Texas’ Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph, Kentucky’s Brandon Knight, and Tennessee’s Tobias Harris were chosen in the first thirty selections, while Kansas’ Josh Selby was taken in the next thirty picks.  The lone holdout was Illinois’ Jereme Richmond, a player who clearly had a much higher opinion of himself than did NBA general managers (although if you listen to his uncle, delusions of grandeur may extend beyond Richmond to his extended family).  Whether any of the others are “ready” for the NBA is an irrelevant notion in this day and age, but seeing Thompson jumping up to the #4 selection despite not being able to shoot the ball, and Joseph going at #29 despite averaging only 10.4 PPG as a “scorer” has us raising our eyebrows. 

Sneaking Into the First Round... Not Exactly.  We heard time and time again in April that the impetus behind numerous marginal players deciding to enter the NBA Draft this year was because players like Harrison Barnes, Jared Sullinger, Perry Jones and Terrence Jones were not coming out.  The logic was that their staying in school opened up more first round spots for lesser talents, a statement certainly true in theory but in no way a sane justification for a dozen additional players to declare for the draft.  Four doesn’t equal twelve the last time we checked.  Interestingly, three of the four beneficiaries to earn guaranteed first round money were college seniors: Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson, Cleveland State’s Norris Cole, and Marquette’s Jimmy Butler (Texas freshman Cory Joseph was the fourth player to benefit).  As for the players who came out early in an attempt to sneak into the first round of this year’s weaker draft, it didn’t really work out for them.  We’re looking at second rounders like Shelvin Mack (Butler), Jordan Williams (Maryland), Trey Thompkins (Georgia), Darius Morris (Michigan), Malcolm Lee (UCLA), Travis Leslie (Georgia), DeAndre Liggins (Kentucky), and Isaiah Thomas (Washington), as well as undrafted guys like Scotty Hopson (Tennessee), Jeremy Green (Stanford), Terrence Jennings (Louisville), Greg Smith (Fresno State) and Carleton Scott (Notre Dame).  What’s going to be awesome is in future years when underclassmen have roughly two weeks to gauge their draft prospects before having to commit to the draft or heading back to school — we’re sure this will result in nothing but great decisions.

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Around The Blogosphere: June 9, 2011

Posted by nvr1983 on June 9th, 2011

If you are interested in participating in our ATB2 feature, send in your submissions to rushthecourt@gmail.com. We will add to this post throughout the day as the submissions come in so keep on sending them.

General News

  • DeAndre Daniels commits to UConn: “DeAndre Daniels, a four-star power forward from Woodland Hills, California has committed to play at UConn this fall.” (The UConn Blog)
  • Daniels: Calhoun told me he’ll be back: The star recruit reportedly signed with the Huskies after Jim Calhoun told him that he would be there to coach him. (The UConn Blog)
  • Rick Pitino press conference highlights: A handful of interesting points from the recent press conference. (Card Chronicle)
  • St. John’s recruit Amir Garrett drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in 22nd round: Garrett faces a difficult decision on which path to pursue. (Rumble in the Garden)
  • Jordan Williams Speaks on Decision to Enter NBA Draft: Some interesting quotes from the former Terrapin. (Testudo Times)
  • UCLA Basketball Hires New Assistant Coach: “UCLA Basketball Coach Ben Howland rounded out his coaching staff today with the hire of Korey McCray.” (Bruins Nation)
  • Scoop Jardine Headed To 2011 USA Basketball Men’s World University Games Tryouts: The rising senior guard will be attempting to make the team after being cut last season. (Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician)

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Around The Blogosphere: June 7, 2011

Posted by nvr1983 on June 7th, 2011

If you are interested in participating in our ATB2 feature, send in your submissions to rushthecourt@gmail.com. We will add to this post throughout the day as the submissions come in so keep on sending them.

General News

  • Big Ten tournament to rotate between Chicago, Indianapolis: “When Indianapolis’ five-year contract as the host of the Big Ten men’s basketball tournament expires in 2012, the event will begin rotating between the United Center in Chicago and Conseco Fieldhouse.” (Inside the Hall)
  • Pat Chambers: From Wildcat to Lion: The former Boston University coach and Villanova assistant takes over at Penn State. (VU Hoops)
  • Dre Winston Jr. Transferring From WSU, Ken Bone Searching For Backup Point Guard Tree: The rising sophomore guard has decided to transfer. (Coug Center)

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Ten Offseason Scribbles

Posted by zhayes9 on June 1st, 2011

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.

It was easy to get energized about Vanderbilt’s chances next season once the somewhat surprising news was announced that versatile swingman Jeffery Taylor would return for his senior campaign. Taylor joining forces with an experienced and talented guard tandem of John Jenkins and Brad Tinsley, along with efficient big man Festus Ezeli and quite a bit of depth, immediately gave folks in Nashville reason to believe they could contend with the powerhouse roster Kentucky assembled in the SEC. While those are four legitimate reasons for excitement – it’s awfully rare a team without a brand name like Duke, Carolina, Kentucky or UCLA returns their top four scorers (including three possible first round picks) from a top-15 efficient offense in the one-and-done era – I won’t be completely sold on Vanderbilt’s chances to usurp the Wildcats, or even fend off Florida, if their team defense doesn’t improve dramatically. The ‘Dores ranked a meager 88th in the nation in defensive efficiency last season, a mark good for tenth in the SEC, well behind the likes of both Kentucky and Florida. Their inadequacies on defense were a major reason why those of us tantalized by Vandy’s talent last season was so dumbfounded when they couldn’t quite put it all together on a sustained basis and why they ultimately dropped their final two games of the season to Florida and to #12 seed Richmond. The most confusing part: Vandy seemingly has the ancillary parts to be a strong defensive club. Taylor is regarded by NBA scouts as a premier stopper on the perimeter and Ezeli ranked 16th in block percentage in 2010-11.

Taylor needs to coax his teammates into playing stronger defense

The near-unanimous reaction following the NBA Draft declaration deadline was that Texas was the big loser. This isn’t necessarily false, but were we all that surprised Jordan Hamilton and Tristan Thompson bolted for the pros, especially once it was known Thompson would be a lottery selection? Playing with a fellow Canadian in Myck Kabongo may seem enticing until millions of dollars are staring you in the face. Hamilton was never suited for a structured college game, either, and could really take off in the pros as a polished, explosive scorer capable of putting up points in bunches. The most shocking decision was that of Cory Joseph, who opted to leave school primarily on the basis of one workout just prior to the deadline, a decision that very few saw coming from an undersized point guard without mature floor instincts. Joseph likely saw the writing on the wall – that he’d be playing primarily as a two-guard opposite Kabongo and this move would devastate his draft stock even more – and ditched while he had a chance at the first round. Ben Howland must have been even more crushed than Rick Barnes, though. With Derrick Williams and Momo Jones out in Tucson, the opportunity was there to re-establish UCLA’s status as the premier Pac-10 representative after two tumultuous seasons. Tyler Honeycutt and Malcolm Lee are far from locks to have their name called in the first round, yet both made the abrupt decision to forgo their remaining eligibility and take their talents to the NBA. With Honeycutt and Lee joining forces with Reeves Nelson, Josh Smith, Lazeric Jones, Jerime Anderson, Tyler Lamb and incoming two-guard Norman Powell in the fray, UCLA had a top-10 roster had the parts stayed together. It’s a shame, really.

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RTC NBA Draft Profiles: Malcolm Lee

Posted by rtmsf on May 17th, 2011

Over the course of the next month until the NBA Draft on June 23, RTC will be rolling out comprehensive profiles of the 30-35 collegians we feel have the best chance to hear their names called by David Stern in the first round that night.  There won’t be any particular order to the list, but you can scroll back through all the finished profiles by clicking here.  

Player Name: Malcolm Lee

School: UCLA

Height/Weight: 6’5/175 lbs.

NBA Position: SG

Projected Draft Range: Late first round/Early second round

Overview: Malcolm Lee is one of a handful of early entry candidates who are looking to take advantage of a weak draft (made weaker by the surprising return to school of some lottery-level players) and sneak into the back end of the first round. And given the success of recent UCLA guards in the NBA, he’ll likely be worth a flyer late in the first thirty selections. Lee came to Westwood as a highly regarded wing and was a solid contributor for the Bruins the last two seasons, finishing second on the team in scoring in both years. However, the two years were very different. As a sophomore, Lee was called on by head coach Ben Howland to take on much of the point guard duties as the Bruins struggled out of the gate. He stepped up and did a fine job, averaging over three assists per game and adding 4.4 rebounds per outing while still providing a scoring punch. As a junior, Lee was called on much more for his defensive abilities, as he was repeatedly charged with checking the opponent’s best scorer – guys ranging from Klay Thompson to Jimmer Fredette – and partly as a result, the Bruin defense bounced back from a bad year in 2009-10 to lead the Pac-10 in defensive efficiency last season. While Bruins fans would have liked to see Lee come back for one more season and improve his offensive game, he does leave UCLA after spending the last two of his three years doing whatever was asked of him by the coaching staff.

Lee Molded Himself into a Typical Howland Guard at UCLA

Will Translate to the NBA: Defense. Lee bought into the role of UCLA’s defensive stopper as a junior, and that’s the strength upon which he’ll hang his hat in the NBA. His combination of length and quickness will allow him to match up with both guard positions at the next level although he still needs to add some bulk and strength. While Lee doesn’t post huge steal (or block) numbers, he is an instinctive team defender who doesn’t back away from a challenge and doesn’t need to have his offensive game going whole hog in order to play with energy and emotion on the defensive end.

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Early Entry Winners & Losers

Posted by rtmsf on May 9th, 2011

Now that the NBA Draft early entry withdrawal has passed (Midnight ET on Sunday night), it’s time to take a look at who the winners and losers were from this year’s process.  Of the nearly 70 players who declared as early entrants for this year’s NBA Draft, we count a dozen or so who will return and make their teams significantly better next year.  The biggest impact will be felt at the following places…

The Winners

Jones Fills Out a Ridiculous UK Lineup in 2011-12

  • Kentucky.  How do we figure that a team that ends up losing its best scorer and best perimeter defender is a winner?  Because of who they didn’t lose.  Terrence Jones will team with Kentucky’s fabulous duo of incoming forwards — Michael Gilchrist and Anthony Davis — to produce the most dynamic and talented front line college basketball has seen in some time.  As good as Brandon Knight was in a Kentucky uniform, his loss to the draft also ensures that there’s no question as to who lead this team next year, as incoming superstar Marquis Teague will take over the reins from day one.  The loss of DeAndre Liggins was surprising and will hurt, but on balance, the player UK most needed to return did.
  • The Big East.  With the notable exception of NPOY candidate and Final Four MOP Kemba Walker and the somewhat shocking departures of Notre Dame’s Carleton Scott and Louisville’s Terrence Jennings, the Big East avoided losing three of its better returning players for the 2011-12 season.  Georgetown’s Hollis Thompson, Pittsburgh’s Ashton Gibbs and West Virginia’s Kevin Jones will all return to teams that could not afford to lose them; with so many talented seniors leaving the Big East, it was imperative for the league’s overall health that these talented upperclassmen come back.
  • Missouri.  A very early Christmas came for new Tigers head coach Frank Haith as two of his best returnees, Kim English and Laurence Bowers, made smart decisions to return to Columbia for their senior seasons.  With leading scorer Marcus Denmon already back in the fold, Haith is walking into a situation where his top six players will be back next year.  So long as he can enable his more methodical system with a group that loves to run and press, Mizzou fans should be excited for the possibility of something special in 2011-12.
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Dissecting the Law of Unintended Consequences, Early Entry Style

Posted by rtmsf on May 9th, 2011

Welcome to the law of unintended consequences, folks.

Starting with Jared Sullinger’s surprising decision to return to school in the aftermath of #1 Ohio State’s upset loss at the hands of Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament last month, a number of projected top draft picks have similarly shocked the world by deciding to stick around their college campuses for another season.  Subsequent to Sullinger, Baylor’s Perry Jones — another top five pick — followed that up with his own shocker.  Next, UNC’s Harrison Barnes and John Henson — both projected lottery picks this June — each decided that another year in Chapel Hill was to their liking.  On Saturday, Kentucky’s Terrence Jones was the latest projected lottery pick to spurn guaranteed millions in favor of playing as an amateur for another season (ok, stop your snickering about the word “amateur”).

Counting up the number of lottery pick slots that opened up in the June draft, we come up with a total of five (of 14) and certainly the following early entrants will be this summer’s beneficiaries: Arizona’s Derrick Williams, Duke’s Kyrie Irving, Kentucky’s Brandon Knight, UConn’s Kemba Walker, and Kansas’ Marcus Morris.  Five additional slots in the first round, though, isn’t the same as a floodgate opening, and we fear that the oft-repeated mantra of “weak draft” combined with a lack of an opportunity for players to get good evaluation feedback (thanks, ACC coaches!) has led to a bunch of poor decisions at the back end this year.  Like we said, the law of unintended consequences.

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Conference Report Card: Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 13th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West conferences. We will be publishing a series of conference report cards over the next week for conferences that received multiple NCAA bids to recap the conference, grade the teams, and look at the future for the conference.

Conference Recap:

After an awful 2009-10 season in which the Pac-10 had to limp into a second NCAA Tournament bid when Washington hit the gas pedal down the stretch, the four tournament bids the conference received this year was a huge improvement. With Arizona advancing to the Elite Eight, the Pac-10 advanced a team beyond the Sweet 16 for the first time in three seasons, and the conference was a much deeper collection of teams than last year. And without a doubt, that came as a result of the enhanced talent level across the conference. Coming into the season, there were just 17 seniors on rosters across the conference, and the youngsters showed vast  improvement this year, notably Derrick Williams (an All-American and national player of the year candidate), Isaiah Thomas, Tyler Honeycutt, and Klay Thompson with several other players making big strides in their games. While the Pac-10 still struggled to gain national respect, it was clear to fans that the level of play is on the rebound from its 2009-2010 nadir.

The Pac-10 was Derrick Williams' personal playground in 2011, and the Wildcats displayed perhaps the most impressive performance of the NCAA Tournament in their dismantling of Duke. (AZ Daily Star/M. Popat)

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