Best of the West: Ranking the Top 20 Teams West of the Rockies

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 17th, 2014

We’re a little more than a quarter of the way through the season now, so it is time to roll out our first edition of Best in the West. We’re going to take all the schools west of the Rockies (and we’re going to be a bit generous with our geography here – basically we’re looking at schools from the Pac-12, Mountain West, WCC and Big West, and then some of the schools from the Big Sky and WAC) and give you the top 20 teams as of today. But rather than just ranking schools #1 though #20, we’re going to divide them up into tiers, mostly because I don’t think putting Gonzaga at #2 when they played Arizona into overtime in Tucson feels right to anybody.

Here are our Top 20 teams in the West (their overall ranking is in parentheses), with descriptions of what the teams in each tier have in common as well as brief comments on each school.

The Best of the Best  – In a league of their own.

  • Arizona (#1 overall, Pac-12 #1) – There have been some growing pains for the Wildcats, but with an unblemished record and wins over Kansas State, San Diego State, Gonzaga and Michigan, they’ve still got a ways to go before they tap out on their potential.
Arizona and Gonzaga Played A Fun One A Week Back, Proving Themselves Nearly Equal

Arizona and Gonzaga Played A Fun One A Week Back, Proving Themselves Nearly Equal. (AP)

  • Gonzaga (#2 overall, WCC #1) – Really, the Zags are more of a #1A in this tier. An overtime loss at Arizona in which they didn’t play all that well and let some good chances slip away bodes well for their upside. Read the rest of this entry »
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Oregon Showing Signs of Life

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 15th, 2014

It’s very much still football season for Oregon fans, but the basketball team offered Ducks’ faithful a reason Saturday night to also pay attention to them. While Marcus Mariota was busy accepting college football’s highest individual honor at the Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York City, Dana Altman’s band of Ducks was carving out their best win of the season against a solid Illinois team playing in its home state. The end result in Chicago – a 77-70 Oregon victory – had to generate minimal buzz back in Eugene (the school’s first Heisman winner casts a substantial shadow), but it represented an important first step for a young team. Nobody should expect the Ducks to become any more predictable than they have been over the course of an up-and-down first month of the season, but consider Oregon’s upside flashed. The good news is that in this year’s wide-open Pac 12 – a league with no proven teams outside of Arizona and Utah — a little potential might go a long way.

Joseph Young Is Known As A Scorer, But His 2014 Assist Rate Of 26.2 Also Reveals An Able And Willing Passer

Joseph Young Is Known As A Scorer, But His 2014 Assist Rate Of 26.2% Also Reveals An Able And Willing Passer

It’s always been about offense in Eugene. Whether discussing the gridiron or the hardwood, Oregon’s success has classically been predicated on dynamic offenses. The recipe should remain the same for the Ducks this season. They haven’t been terrible on the offensive end (51st nationally in offensive efficiency), but both Dana Altman and John Groce agreed that Saturday featured their crispest execution to date. Altman said that decisions to pass up good shots for great ones on three early second-half possessions set the tone for a selflessly efficient half of basketball. Joseph Young (who didn’t start due to a violation of team rules) garnered praise from Groce for his passing, while Dillon Brooks scored an effortless 24 points to lead the Ducks. The freshman will be a key player moving forward. Young is willing and able to shoulder the bulk of the offensive load, but finding a capable second option is imperative. Brooks has yet to display the consistency needed to fill that full-time role, but the stocky forward’s inside (10.1% offensive rebound percentage)-outside (45% three-point) game could make him a nice complement to a gunner like Young.

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Surveying Feast Week Carnage Around the Pac-12

Posted by AMurawa on December 1st, 2014

Feast Week around the Pac-12 didn’t bring a whole lot of comfort to the conference. Seven teams around the league played in tournament-style events and only two even made it out of their first game and into the championship side of the bracket, with four of the remaining five teams taking two losses on the week. There was good news, however, as Arizona won the Maui Invitational with a workmanlike win over San Diego State and Washington earned the Wooden Legacy title with solid wins over an underwhelming field. And the teams that did not participate in tournaments this week (including Utah, who hosted a round robin event against overmatched opponents) combined to post a 10-1 record. Of course, that “1” on the right side of the record was an inexplicable Stanford loss to DePaul. Below, we’ll take a quick spin around the conference and get you caught up.

Stanley Johnson Is Turning Into A Disruptive Defensive Force (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

Stanley Johnson Is Turning Into A Disruptive Defensive Force (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

Arizona – The Wildcats have not yet looked spectacular this season, in racing out to a 6-0 start. But as they showed against the Aztecs on Wednesday, this is a team with chemistry and toughness, traits that should help them weather the storm as they work towards living up to their incredible upside. Things are coming along slowly but surely, Stanley Johnson is getting comfortable offensively and turning showing his ability to disrupt things defensively and everybody is feeling each other out. It will come all in due time; they’ve still got three months to dial things in before March rolls around. But in the meantime, even as we can pick apart little faults, the ‘Cats have confirmed what we already thought: Sean Miller’s team is the class of the conference. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Teams and Feast Week

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 24th, 2014

It’s Feast Week, an ESPN creation that began with the Maui Invitational and the Preseason NIT back in the mid-80s and has morphed into a month-long parade of mini-tournaments that serves as college basketball’s introduction. Pac-12 schools kicked off their involvement in these exempt events last week with middling success, as the Bay Area schools each notched one impressive victory followed by a sobering loss in a championship game against a top 10 team. This week, Arizona and UCLA represent the conference in what have become the premier events of their kind: the venerable Maui Invitational and the new kid on the block, the Battle 4 Atlantis. Below, we’ll take a look at the Wildcats’ and the Bruins’ draws in their events, along with Washington’s appearance in the Wooden Legacy and Oregon’s presence in the Legends Classic.

Maui Invitational: Arizona

Opening Game: vs. Missouri (11/24, 2PM PST, ESPN2). The Wildcats get started against a Missouri team that got off to a rough start under new head coach Kim Anderson, with a loss to UMKC on the opening night of the season. With last year’s top three leading scorers now gone, the Tigers are relying on sophomore point guard Wes Clark, freshman scorer Montaque Gill-Caesar, frontcourt specimen Jonathan Williams III and Hawaii transfer Keith Shamburger to provide offense. If Clark, Gill-Caesar and Shamburger can get hot from deep, the Tigers could stick around for awhile, but Arizona’s overall athleticism should give the Wildcats a significant advantage.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson And The Crew Will See An Increased Level Of Competition In Maui (Mike Christy, Arizona Daily Star)

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson And The Crew Will See An Increased Level Of Competition In Maui (Mike Christy, Arizona Daily Star)

Please God Let Us See: Arizona vs. San Diego State in the Championship Game

Let’s face it — this is by no means a classic Maui field. But if these two teams advance to the title game as expected, we could have a real West Coast classic on Thanksgiving Eve. A budding geographic rivalry, a match-up on West Maui would be something to be thankful for indeed. These teams faced each other twice last season with the Wildcats dispatching the Aztecs both times, including a Sweet Sixteen battle royale in Anaheim. With Steve Fisher needing to replace leading scorer – and just plain old leader – Xavier Thames, the Aztecs probably aren’t quite as far along as the Wildcats are, but they’ve got the length and athleticism to make guys like Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson compete against guys of similar ability.

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Pac-12 Opening Weekend: What To Watch For

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 14th, 2014

We waited all these many months for opening weekend of the college basketball season and we’re rewarded with… Mount St. Mary’s at Arizona, Montana State at UCLA, and South Dakota at Stanford? Well, no matter, I’m still excited. Below we’ll take a look at some things to keep an eye on as all of the Pac-12 teams tip off their seasons this weekend.

  • Arizona: vs. Mount Saint Mary’s on Friday, vs. Cal State Northridge on Sunday (both on Pac-12 Networks): The Wildcats shouldn’t be challenged in either contest (although CSUN at least has some interesting athletes, including Landon Drew, brother of former UCLA point guard Larry Drew II), but that’s no reason not to tune in to see just how Sean Miller intends to pour all of his talent on to the court at the same time. Plus, the over/under on thunderous dunks from the duo of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson is set at 10 for the weekend.

    Rondae Hollis-Jefferson And Company Could Feel Some Rim Rash After This Weekend (Getty)

    Rondae Hollis-Jefferson And Company Could Feel Some Rim Rash After This Weekend. (Getty)

  • Arizona State: vs. Chicago State on Friday (Pac-12 Networks): Do you have the scouting report on Tra Holder, Willie Atwood and Roosevelt Scott down pat? No? Me neither, which is why I’ll be making sure to get a peak at the Sun Devils this weekend to see how Herb Sendek folds in the new talent with veterans like Shaquielle McKissic and Jonathan Gilling.
  • California: vs. Alcorn State on Friday, vs. Kennesaw State on Sunday (both on Pac-12 Networks): The Golden Bears should get through this weekend just fine and be undefeated when they face Syracuse in the 2K Classic next Thursday. Tune in this weekend to check out Cal’s high-flying wings in Cuonzo Martin‘s system and learn how Sam Singer is coming along at the point.

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Pac-12 Preseason Poll and Preview Wrap-Up

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 14th, 2014

And then there was basketball. Starting tonight, if you play your cards right, you can watch college basketball straight through for the next four months, maybe taking a Friday night off here and there to recharge the batteries. Hopefully we’ve done a good job here at the RTC Pac-12 microsite getting you ready for the season. As our last hurrah before we have actual games to talk and write about, we’d like to unveil the results of our five-man preseason poll (Adam Butler, Andrew Murawa, Connor Pelton, Kevin Danna and Tracy McDannald), linking to our team previews for each of the 12 teams in this conference. Below that we also link to our preseason All-Conference teams for one handy spot to return come March to figure out all the places we screwed up. Besides that, the recommendation from these parts is just to sit back, enjoy a tasty snack or enticing beverage, and enjoy some hoops tonight. Happy New Year everybody.

preseasonpoll

  1. Arizona. The Wildcats are our unanimous choice for first place and, all things considered, we mark them and point guard T.J. McConnell as the team to beat by a wide margin.

    T.J. McConnell and The Wildcats Are The Runaway Favorites In The Pac-12 (Lance King, Getty Images)

    T.J. McConnell and The Wildcats Are The Runaway Favorites In The Pac-12 (Lance King, Getty Images)

  2. Utah. The Utes still have a lot to prove, especially in close games, but with All-America candidate Delon Wright leading the way, their talent wins out for our voters.
  3. Stanford. The Cardinal are coming off a thrilling Sweet Sixteen run, and if the Johnny Dawkins can find a few breakout players they could be the team to challenge the Wildcats.
  4. Colorado. Tad Boyle’s squad returns all of his familiar faces, save one. One of their point guards will have to step up for the Buffaloes to sneak up the standings.
  5. UCLA. The Bruins are the conference’s blue blood, but they’ll need Isaac Hamilton to have an impactful freshman season to get much higher than this.
  6. Cal. Cuonzo Martin’s first year in the Bay Area will be a lot easier if Sam Singer steps up and earns the point guard spot.
  7. Washington. The last time the Huskies made the NCAA Tournament, Isaiah Thomas was their point guard. If they’re going to break that streak, Robert Upshaw needs to begin to live up to his promise.
  8. Oregon. Joseph Young is the team’s star, but newcomers like Dwayne Benjamin are going to have to contribute for the Ducks to have a chance.
  9. Arizona State. Guys like Jahii Carson and Jordan Bachynski are gone, meaning newcomers like Willie Atwood are feeling the pressure to produce.
  10. USC. In Andy Enfield’s second season, the Trojans are starting to look like the team he has in mind, but Jordan McLaughlin and company might need a little more experience to move up the standings.
  11. Washington State. Ernie Kent is ready to change the culture in Pullman, but in the short-term, DaVonte Lacy is the Cougars’ best bet.
  12. Oregon State. The Beavers are ready to bring in a talented recruiting class next season, but in his first year, Wayne Tinkle has to hope Gary Payton II plays a lot like his father.

Beyond all of that content, below you’ll find the rest of our preview pieces. Feel free to make fun of us for our misses, and congratulate us for our hits, when all is said and done a few months from now.

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The 25 Non-Conference Pac-12 Games to Watch

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 13th, 2014

Hey look! Basketball! Well, maybe don’t look all that quickly because, frankly, unless you’re a die-hard, there isn’t a game that a Pac-12 team plays this weekend that is worth a whole heck of a lot. Oh, we’ll still be watching, of course, because, well, we’ve been waiting to see these teams for months now. But, if you’re a busy person and a discriminating basketball fan, don’t burn your precious basketball-watching minutes right away this season. Instead, put these 25 non-conference games on your calendar and you’ll get a chance to check out every team in this league from the comfort of your own couch. Is 25 games not enough for you? Don’t worry, I’m not even including the games in one of the many early-season exempt tournaments (11 of the 12 conference teams compete in such a tournament this season) in this list; more on those later. Here’s your list of the best games involving Pac-12 teams over the next couple of months.

  • 11/18 Utah @ San Diego State (ESPN) – Part of the behemoth in Bristol’s 24 hours of hoops kickoff, this is on the very short list of best Pac-12 non-conference games of the year. We’ll get an early look at the Utes going on the road to face a Top 25-caliber team with a chance to breathlessly overreact to whatever happens there on Tuesday afternoon.
The Show - And The Aztecs - Will Test Utah Early

The Show – And The Aztecs – Will Test Utah Early

  • 11/22 Colorado @ Wyoming (ESPN3) – The only game on this list that you won’t see on national television, this will not only represent a chance to check out the status of the Buffaloes’ point guard situation, but a look at Wyoming’s Larry Nance on his way back from a torn ACL.
  • 11/26 California @ Fresno State (CBSSN) – It’s not the sexiest looking game, but an early road game against an improving intrastate foe is a game the Golden Bears could lose if they aren’t locked in early for Cuonzo Martin.
  • 11/30 USC @ New Mexico (CBSSN) – The Trojans visiting one of the toughest places to play in the sport on Thanksgiving Sunday; sounds fun to me. The Lobos will be breaking in new players almost everywhere, though, so Andy Enfield’s young bunch has at least a puncher’s chance.

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The RTC Podblast: Pac-12 Preview Edition

Posted by rtmsf on November 12th, 2014

Welcome to conference preview season. In this, our sixth of eight conference preview RTC Podblasts that we’ll be rolling out before the dawn of the season, Pac-12 microsite columnist Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) joins us to discuss the key storylines, teams and players to watch among the 12 teams of the Pac-12. As always, Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114) hosts the podblast, and the full rundown of topics is below. Make sure to tweet at us (@rushthecourt) if you have any opinion on which team should be the gang’s new favorite heading into the 2014-15 season.

You can find the entire series of 2014-15 Preseason Conference Podblasts here.

Make sure to add the RTC Podcast to your iTunes lineup so that you’ll automatically upload it on your listening device after we record. And don’t forget to check out our 2014-15 Preseason Storylines Podcast, and feel free to contact us through Twitter or email — we’re listening.

  • 0:00-10:37 – Arizona
  • 10:37-16:36 – Searching for a Second Team
  • 16:36-23:39 – Potential Surprises and Disappointments
  • 23:39-26:47 – Player of the Year and Breakout Players
  • 26:47-28:26 – Worst Team in the League
  • 28:26-30:41 – Randy’s New Favorite Team
  • 30:41-33:44 – Bold Predictions
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Oregon’s Second-Most Important Player: Dwayne Benjamin

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 11th, 2014

Let’s not get too cute here or anything: Joseph Young is Oregon’s best and most important player. He knows that; Dana Altman knows that; I know that; you know that; and, all of the teams the Ducks will face this year know that. So, I’m not gonna waste my time or yours pretending to convince you that somebody else is more important to the success of this team. Young is going to get the bulk of Oregon’s shots; he’s going to get the opposing defense’s full attention; and still he is probably going to score 20 points per game in an incredibly efficient fashion — knocking in somewhere in the neighborhood of 90 percent of his team-high free throw attempts, 40-plus percent of his shots from behind the arc, and 50-some percent of the rest of his shots.

Joseph Young Is Mighty Indeed (AP Photo)

Joseph Young Is Mighty Indeed. (AP Photo)

But this is basketball, a team sport. And unless there is a rule change that I missed, the Ducks are required to run five guys out on the floor every time the ball is in play. We may not have great familiarity with who four of those five guys will be, or in what configuration they’re going to be run out there, but this cannot be an exclusively one-man show if the Ducks hope to have any type of success this season. The question then becomes: Who will be the Robin to Young’s Batman? Perhaps the only other name Pac-12 fans will remember from last season’s team is that of Elgin Cook, he of the high-flying dunks and the shoplifting arrest. He’ll certainly play a huge role for Altman this year, not only scoring the ball but also getting on the glass and being a disruptive defensive presence. It’s likely that he will be the team’s second leading scorer, and maybe its top rebounder. But on a roster chock-full of new names, Cook counts as a known entity. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Season Preview: Oregon Ducks

Posted by Tracy McDannald on November 11th, 2014

The Pac-12 microsite will preview each of its league teams over the next few weeks, continuing today with Oregon.

Oregon Ducks

Strengths: The given is fifth-year guard Joseph Young, the dynamic leading scorer and rare returner (or so it seems these days in Eugene) for head coach Dana Altman. Young will be the do-everything playmaker tasked with keeping the Ducks’ heads above water. A distant second is a pair of freshmen, Jordan Bell and Casey Benson, who will have plenty of opportunity on a roster that tacked on five extras after October to make it appear like Oregon had a full team.

Joseph Young Will Have To Be Mr. Everything for Oregon in 2014-15. (Ryan Kang, Daily Emerald)

Joseph Young Will Have To Be Mr. Everything for Oregon in 2014-15. (Ryan Kang, Daily Emerald)

Weaknesses: Judging by the exodus in the offseason, self-discipline is high on the list. On the court, there will not be much size. Junior center Michael Chandler, a JuCo transfer from Northwest Florida State and the projected starter, is the tallest player at 6’10” but has yet to practice because of a lingering knee injury that doesn’t have a timetable for recovery. Chandler did not play in the Ducks’ exhibition opener last Tuesday. Playing the role of Captain Obvious, chemistry also will be an issue on a roster that lost 10 letterwinners.

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One on One: A Pac-12 Preview With Jon Wilner

Posted by Walker Carey on November 7th, 2014

RTC interviews one on one

Rush the Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you throughout the preseason with previews of each of the major conferences.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview with the Pac-12, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking with a Pac-12 expert in San Jose Mercury News college basketball scribe, Jon Wilner (@wilnerhotline).

Rush the Court: Even with losing Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon from last season’s squad, Arizona is once again loaded. What makes the Wildcats so well rounded, and do you see them as one of the favorites to take home the national title?

Wilner: They certainly have to be in the very top tier of contenders for the national title. I that that their depth again is their biggest strength. They have so many good players that they are not just reliant on one or two guys. I think they are going to have more options to score this year. They should be a little bit better on offense. There might be a slight drop-off on the defensive end of the court, but it will not be enough to really hurt them. They should be right in the mix nationally. Sean Miller does a great job of getting his guys to play hard all the time. They have a huge homecourt advantage and they have a lot of experience of being able to go win on the road. A lot of success comes from the ability to go win on the road and this group has done just that.

Arizona (Casey Sapio, USA Today Sports)

Arizona Brings Back Enough Talent to Win a National Title This Year (Casey Sapio, USA Today Sports)

RTC: Colorado brings back a lot of experience from last season’s NCAA Tournament squad. With key players Josh Scott, Xavier Johnson, and Askia Booker returning for the Buffaloes, can Tad Boyle make it three NCAA Tournaments in three years?

Wilner: I think so. I expect them to be an NCAA Tournament team. I think Colorado is the best bet to finish second behind Arizona in the conference standings. It might be three or four games behind Arizona, but second place is second place. Tad Boyle is a terrific coach. He is as good as there is in the league. I think the fact that they played so much of last season without Spencer Dinwiddie will help them now that he is officially gone. There is not going to be the transition that you would normally find with a team that loses its best player to the NBA because Colorado did not have Dinwiddie for the last couple months of last season.

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Pac-12 M5: 11.04.14 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on November 4th, 2014

pac12_morning5

  1. You know, this week is the last one without college basketball until April. Life is good and the season is nearly upon us. But for Lorenzo Romar and Washington, this is something of a season at the crossroads. Once a fixture near the top of the conference standings and a program that really seemed to reload on the recruiting trail every year, now the Huskies have gone three seasons without an NCAA Tournament appearance. And as is the case all over these days in the sports world, head coaches don’t get all that much rope. Even with a talented recruiting class coming in next season, Romar doesn’t have time to wait. The good news, as Mike Rutherford of SBNation.com points out, is that Romar seems excited about the under-the-radar team he’s put together in Seattle. With a pair of talented and experienced guards leading the way, if the Huskies can sneak into the Big Dance, they’ll be ahead of the game and definitely cool off the pressure mounting around the longtime head coach.
  2. Sean Miller has no such worries, although he has different pressures of his own. Still, Miller’s got it rolling so strong down in Tucson that he loses players early to the NBA and just files in a new round of elite players. For instance, as Bruce Pascoe points out, even with Arizona already over their scholarship maximum for next season by two, Miller is still out there looking for more talent. It’s like this: The scholarship max is 13, which is where the Wildcats are right now. Two seniors will graduate, but Miller has four players ready to sign later this month. So, no biggie — you figure Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are NBA-bound after this season, right? That puts the ‘Cats right back at 13 scholarships for next year. But Miller says he’s still looking for a couple more players? It doesn’t take a mindreader to figure out that Miller expects that other guys like juniors Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski could be considering forgoing their final year of eligibility also. Well, that and the fact that Miller’s probably already anticipating that there will be some players on a talented team unhappy with their playing time who might consider transferring between now and next year.
  3. Over the offseason, we all sort of figured that Colorado freshman point guard Dominique Collier would become a part of the rotation for the Buffaloes; he may not wind up starting, but he’d be in the mix. However, here we are a week and a half before the season tips off and Collier has spent the last three weeks dealing with an ankle injury that has limited his ability to get meaningful reps during practice. Collier’s frustrated; Tad Boyle is frustrated; and the calendar keeps chugging along while chances for much-needed experience go by. Given the fact that Boyle seems very concerned about turnovers, not only in practice but in a scrimmage against Denver this weekend, getting Collier up to speed could be vital for the Buffs.
  4. Another very important Pac-12 injury to keep an eye on has to do with Oregon’s JuCo transfer center Michael Chandler. Chandler is “nursing a knee,” according to Dana Altman, but the head coach is hopeful he’ll be ready to practice in a week or two. Matt Prehm of DuckTerritory.com says Chandler isn’t expected to miss any game action, but a week ago Jon Rothstein reported that Chandler hadn’t practiced, was “way behind on conditioning,” and was still learning the Ducks’ sets. With Oregon’s first game now 10 days away, put me on board with the notion of Chandler definitely missing some game action. In other words, guys like Jordan Bell, Dwayne Benjamin and Elgin Cook are going to have their work cut out for them up front.
  5. Lastly, again on something of an injury, Oregon State freshman guard Chai Baker has spent his time on a basketball court since practice began just watching. But for a guy that had a “cardiac incident” back in the middle of August that ended with an ambulance trip to the hospital and a pacemaker implanted in his chest, just being able to watch basketball from the sidelines is a good thing. Still, the 6’3” guard from Florida is hoping that a series of medical exams will get him cleared and that he’ll be back on the court again at some point soon.
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