Pac-12 M5: 10.21.14 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 21st, 2014

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  1. There are a handful of things concerning Pac-12 basketball that are beyond debate. One is that Arizona is the heavy favorite to win the conference regular season title this year, and another is that their fans are the most passionate in the conference. Both of those things were very much on display on Saturday as Wildcats fans got a first look at their team at the annual Red-Blue game. More than 10,000 people turned out to the McKale Center to watch Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon’s names get unveiled in the Ring of Honor inside the arena, Stanley Johnson take home the pre-scrimmage dunk contest, followed by a pair of 12-minute halves. Some takeaways from those who were on hand: (1) Kaleb Tarczewski may be the Wildcats’ most improved player, and yet he had his hands full with freshman center Dusan Ristic, who scored 14 points in the scrimmage; (2) Stanley Johnson may have taken a step up in competition, but he is still a physical freak on the basketball court even when compared with more talented players; and (3) while there are plenty of veterans at Sean Miller’s disposal, two other freshmen – Craig Victor and 5’10” point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwrightappear headed for significant roles on this squad.
  2. Lorenzo Romar’s recruiting roll for Washington’s 2015 class continued on Monday as 6’10” junior college center Malik Dime chose the Huskies over other suitors such as Arkansas, Iowa State and Rutgers, while 6’9” high school senior Devin Duruisseau found Washington more appealing than San Jose State. Dime is a super-athletic big man who can come in an immediately provide minutes as a rebounder and defender next year, while Duruisseau is more of a project. For the class, that means Romar has six commitments for 2015, including a pair of top 100 recruits in Dejounte Murray and Marquese Chriss, putting the Huskies in the top 10 class rankings for next season, according to ESPN. Of course, that leaves Washington with 15 committed scholarships for the 2015-16 season, meaning there will be some shuffling of the roster between now and then. But, all things considered, that’s a pretty good problem to have.
  3. Sports Illustrated had a powerful feature last week, detailing the plight of homeless young athletes in high school and college. The Pac-12’s own Shaquielle McKissic of Arizona State is no stranger to such problems, having spent his share of time without a home, among other terrible hardships. Now a senior with the Sun Devils, McKissic is telling his story in a documentary that will be released on Halloween, the four-year anniversary of the death of one of his best friends. House of Sparky has the low-down on the documentary, as well as a clip from the film, which was produced by McKissic’s brother David.
  4. Another gripping story about a Pac-12 player focuses on Colorado sophomore Dustin Thomas. Thomas struggled to make an impact as a freshman with the Buffaloes, but his story is a telling one. Above and beyond his parents’ divorce and his father’s time in prison, the death of his 13-year-old sister Shonda to a rare disease (microscopic polyangiitis) when Thomas was 11 is heartbreaking. But, while the story is tragic, Thomas’ strength and positivity in the face of such a calamity is a terrific example of humanity persevering in the face of disaster.
  5. We’ll finish up today’s five with happier news, as CBS Sports recently released its Pac-12 preview. Non-notable predictions include Arizona as the pick to win the conference (if anyone sees a Pac-12 preview that doesn’t have the Wildcats #1, that would be news), Stanley Johnson to take home the Freshman of the Year award, and Oregon State to bring up the rear. More notable picks include Utah‘s Delon Wright as the Player of the Year (the choice for the league’s top player is far more debatable than the choice of its top team), Colorado as the team with the best chance to challenge Arizona, and Matt Norlander for some reason picking Oregon State to finish 10th in the conference. But perhaps of bigger concern for fans around the conference is the idea that, outside of Arizona, nobody else should be considered a lock to make the NCAA Tournament and the idea from one anonymous coach that this conference seems more like a four-bid conference than the seven-bid conference it was last year.
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Pac-12 M5: 10.16.14 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 16th, 2014

pac12_morning5

  1. The most intriguing thing about preseason preview time in college basketball is finding out about all the new faces you’re about to get to know and trying to make sense of how they’re going to fit in with their new teams. We more or less know what to expect of guys like Chasson Randle and Kaleb Tarczewski and Askia Booker, but in this first Morning Five of the new season, we’ll take a quick five-stop tour around the conference to meet some of the new guys. First stop: Eugene, where Dana Altman welcomes in six new faces (four freshmen and two junior college transfers), but five-star guard JaQuan Lyle is not among them. Lyle’s struggled with academic eligibility questions all summer, questions that were apparently answered when he did not enroll at Oregon for the fall semester. Similarly, freshman forward Ray Kasongo was denied admission to Oregon and is now at Southern Idaho. Still, after a tumultuous offseason, the Ducks are happy to be back on the court and look forward to contributions from all of their newcomers. Freshmen Casey Benson and Ahmaad Rorie will share duties at point guard, while freshmen Jordan Bell and Dillon Brooks should expect time there as well. Likewise, JuCo transfer Dwayne Benjamin appears to be in for a big role, while the other JuCo transfer, Michael Chandler, is dealing with knee problems early that have prevented him from getting in much work.
  2. Like the Ducks, Arizona State is also going to be dealing with a number of fresh faces, as seven newcomers have chances to earn playing time for head coach Herb Sendek. And, as Connor Pelton of The House of Sparky writes, despite new faces in the backcourt, Sendek appears primed to stick with the more up-tempo offense we saw during the last two seasons. Point guard Tra Holder and off-guard Kodi Justice are a pair of freshmen who have a good chance to jump right into the meat of the Sun Devils’ backcourt rotation, with JuCo transfer Gerry Blakes in the mix as well. And given that Sendek says that this team is the fastest and most athletic team he’s coached in his time in Tempe, that up-tempo style could fit them well.
  3. As USC heads into its second season under head coach Andy Enfield, even the most die-hard USC basketball fan probably wouldn’t recognize any of the players on this year’s squad if they walked by on campus. But while the talent level on this squad is still in need of an upgrade, this team is slowly but surely starting to fit Enfield’s vision. Last year, Enfield inherited some players whose style did not fit his, but with freshman point guard Jordan McLaughlin – whose services Enfield beat out cross-town suitors UCLA for – leading the way, this year’s Trojans should at the very least play the type of pace that the second-year head coach is looking for.
  4. While there are plenty of familiar faces on the Arizona squad, freshman point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright is a new one with a lot to prove. You see, not only is Jackson-Cartwright a 5’10” player in a sport dominated by giants and a point guard in a program known for the consistent excellence of their point guards, but he is a young man looking to bounce back from a rough senior season in high school. You see, in the middle of the season, he left his high school because of an academic misconduct investigation and spent the remainder of the year finishing up his prep education at a different school without the benefit of basketball to fall back on. In the process, Jackson-Cartwright may have proven his maturity for the way he handled the situation.
  5. Rounding out our Morning Five by landing back in Central Oregon again, new head coach Wayne Tinkle may not have a ton of true newcomers on his first Oregon State team, but they will largely be new faces even to the most dedicated Pac-12 basketball fan. The most experienced player on his roster – Langston Morris-Walker – averaged just 18 minutes per game last season. Nobody on this roster can rightfully dodge the “unproven” tag, so they’re all embracing it and hoping to use this year — and the opportunities for playing time that come with an unproven roster — to do some proving. Check back later today for RTC’s Oregon State team preview.
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Pac-12 Season Preview: Arizona Wildcats

Posted by Tracy McDannald on October 14th, 2014

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

Arizona Wildcats

Strengths: For a team that lost the Pac-12’s Player of the Year (Nick Johnson) and top freshman (Aaron Gordon), head coach Sean Miller sure has a lot of depth around him. The reigning regular season champions will return three of its five starters from last season — including junior forward Brandon Ashley, who missed the final 16 games of the year with a foot injury. The Wildcats potentially have the ability to go two-deep at each position thanks to another top-five recruiting class, headlined by freshman forward Stanley Johnson. A defensive-minded team, Arizona is equipped with loads of size and versatility once again.

Sean Miller, Arizona

Head coach Sean Miller has reloaded the defending Pac-12 Conference regular-season champion Arizona Wildcats. reloaded (AP Photo)

Weaknesses: Expect last year’s questions regarding the team’s outside shooting to be at the forefront again. Nobody on the Wildcats cracked the 40 percent mark from the three-point line last season, and like the previous year, the top two shooters — Elliott Pitts (39.3 percent) and Gabe York (38.5 percent) — are competing for similar minutes off the bench at the same position. But this is where Ashley’s return may help keep defenses honest, as he connected on 11 of 29 long-range attempts with a more refined jump shot as a sophomore. The next-closest criticism of this team may be at the free throw line, where no returnee shot better than 75 percent and most of the roster failed to crack the 70s. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Post-Mortems: Arizona

Posted by AMurawa on April 25th, 2014

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll go through each Pac-12 team one by one and recount the season that has just completed and begin to turn the page to what we might see next season. Today, Arizona.

What Went Right

With freshmen Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson stepping into roles as big-time contributors right away, with Nick Johnson taking his game to a higher – and more consistent – level, with sophomores Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley and Gabe York making huge strides in their second seasons, and with T.J. McConnell tying everything together as the team’s consummate floor general, this vintage of the Wildcats came together about as well as Sean Miller could have hoped. Sure, there was plenty of talent on this team. But what made this group a great unit is their ability to function together seamlessly. Defensively, they always had one another’s backs, combining to form the year’s most fearsome defensive squad. And on the offensive end, everybody bought into their roles and found ways to complement each other. Indeed, this 2013-14 group of Wildcats exemplified the word “team” as well as any college basketball squad in the country.

The 2013-14 Wildcats Exemplified The Word Team (Christian Petersen, Getty Images)

The 2013-14 Wildcats Exemplified The Word Team (Christian Petersen, Getty Images)

What Went Wrong

A whole lot went right in Tucson this season, but if we wanted to pinpoint one thing that went wrong, we’d jump straight to February 1st in Haas Pavilion, where in the opening minutes of a clash with California, Ashley landed awkwardly following a shot and wound up with a broken foot that ended his season. While Miller was able to rejigger his lineup on the fly and keep the Wildcats among the best teams in the nation, there will forever be questions about what could have been without that simple twist of fate in Berkeley.

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Arizona: King of the Hill In the Pac-12

Posted by AMurawa on October 8th, 2013

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

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

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

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

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Pac-12 M5: 02.25.13 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on February 25th, 2013

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  1. Last week saw Washington State lose a dramatic game when an underclassman made a poor decision in the waning moments of the game. This week, Oregon State lost a tight one in part due to a poor decision made by an underclassmen in pregame warm-ups. You see, there’s this fairly ridiculous rule that makes dunking in the layup line prior to the game worthy of earning a technical foul against your team. Beavers freshman Olaf Schaftenaar, a guy well-known for his wide variety of aerial acrobatics (note to editors: please use the sarcasm font for that phrase), just couldn’t help himself and threw one down prior to the game. The refs caught the egregious act, penalized OSU with a technical foul, Allen Crabbe knocked down one of two free throws prior to the game, and the Beavers went on to, you know, lose by one. For a Beavers team that Ken Pomeroy currently has ranked as the third-least lucky team in the nation, Saturday’s bad luck reached ridiculous new lows.
  2. Arizona scored a couple of wins this weekend. First, on Saturday they coasted to victory over Washington State behind terrific shooting from senior Kevin Parrom, although head coach Sean Miller wasn’t entirely thrilled with his team’s effort. Then, on Sunday, Miller got a commitment from five-star recruit in the 2014 class, 5’7” point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright. The recruiting coup is not only a big score for what it brings to Tucson, it is also big because the Wildcats beat out Pac-12 rival UCLA for the Los Angeles-area product. Jackson-Cartwright will first play in the 2014-15 season at the same time that Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell plays his senior season in Tucson.
  3. Speaking of UCLA, junior forward Travis Wear missed Sunday afternoon’s battle with USC after spraining his right foot at the start of practice on Saturday. His brother David Wear got the start in place of him, while freshman Tony Parker saw a big increase in minutes and production as a result as well. Travis wore a walking boot on the foot during the game but was ambulatory without crutches and Ben Howland said after the game that he is considered day-to-day. Unfortunately, if the Bruins are going to get him back for their next game, he’ll have to be a quick healer, as they’ll host Arizona State in Westwood on Wednesday night.
  4. For some time now Arizona State has been right on the anticipated border between NCAA Tournament team and NIT participant, but the consensus was that the Sun Devils needed to finish strong in order to maintain that positioning. While they’ve still got cracks on the road at UCLA and Arizona, Saturday’s home loss to Washington may leave Herb Sendek’s team needing to win the Pac-12 Tournament in order to earn an NCAA Tournament bid. Freshman point guard Jahii Carson turned in one of his worst games of his young career, senior Carrick Felix was largely – and surprisingly – ineffective in his senior night, and once again, the poor free throw shooting from the Sun Devils helped conspire to leave them on the wrong side of the ledger at the final horn.
  5. The race for the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year award is well under way, with Arizona State’s Carrick Felix and Colorado’s Andre Roberson near the top of the list of contenders. Buffaloes head coach Tad Boyle has begun making the case for his guy, by not only listing him as the top defender in the conference, but calling him the best defender in the nation. With guys like Aaron Craft, Victor Oladipo, Russ Smith and Jeff Withey already established and well-recognized as great defenders, there is little doubt that Roberson would fail to medal on the national stage, but in the Pac-12, his rebounding and his ability to guard multiple positions and make insanely athletic plays certainly has him on the short list for the conference award.
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Pac-12 Morning Five: 12.28.11 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on December 28th, 2011

  1. Looking ahead to conference play, we’re getting picks from up and down the conference as to who is now the favorite in the Pac-12. Connor and I have our own ideas which we’ll share with you tomorrow, but for today, have a look at what Bud Withers of The Seattle Times and Bob Clark of The Register-Guard think. Both guys pick California as the favorite, and somewhat surprisingly, both guys pick UCLA to finish in the top half of the conference, with Clark being bold enough to pick them second. Also noteworthy is that both writers place Arizona, California, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA and Washington in the top six in some order. Where it looked like we had a top tier of four teams (Arizona, Cal, UCLA and Washington) prior to the season, we now seem to have six teams in that top tier, with none of the lot looking like serious contenders to make a push in the NCAA Tournament.
  2. Colorado may be a lower division pick in both of the above projections, but they are something of a sleeper in the conference. With Andre Roberson, Carlon Brown and Spencer Dinwiddie at least in the discussion for all-conference performers, there is no lack of talent on this team, and with six players in their rotation either freshmen or sophomores, there is plenty of upside. And head coach Tad Boyle sees one obvious thing that the Buffaloes need to do in order to improve during conference season: play hard for 40 minutes. The young Buffs have been capable of putting together strong halves, but have yet to really put it all together for a full game.
  3. For UCLA to have any chance of competing for a Pac-12 title (and color me, for one, unconvinced that they can), they’ll need to have a full complement of players, especially in a shorthanded backcourt. The fact that both senior guard Lazeric Jones and freshman guard Norman Powell suffered sprained ankles on Monday is cause for serious concern. Both players are questionable for UCLA’s conference-opening visit to Stanford on Thursday night, and if both are somehow unable to go, the Bruins would have Jerime Anderson, Tyler Lamb and Kenny Jones (14 total minutes in four seasons in Westwood) as their only scholarship guards available.
  4. The UCLA game at Stanford will be a huge test for both teams, and it is our RTC Pac-12 Game of the Week, which we will preview in depth tomorrow. However, Oregon State’s visit to Washington on Thursday night may be equally important to figuring out this Pac-12 landscape. Oregon State has a 10-2 record, tied for best in the conference with the Cardinal, while Washington has limped to a 6-5 record minus any type of quality non-conference wins. And yet it is OSU that has the most to prove in this game, going on the road against arguably the most talented roster in the conference. However, head coach Craig Robinson sees his Beavers as a confident bunch, ready to take a figurative swing at anybody in the conference. It should be an exciting game between the two most up-tempo teams in the league, with each team averaging over 70 possessions per game.
  5. Lastly, Washington and head coach Lorenzo Romar have been very quiet on the recruiting front for the 2012 class with nobody signed for next year yet. However, that doesn’t mean they’re not active elsewhere, as they’ve already offered to at least three players in the 2014 class, with Justin Jackson, a possible top 10 recruit in his class, the latest to receive an offer from the Huskies. Jackson is a 6’6” wing from Houston who has earned interest from elite programs across the country, ranging from Texas, Texas A&M and Baylor in his home state, to Ohio State and now Washington, with other elite schools still in the mix. The other two players Romar has offered in 2014 are Parker Jackson-Cartwright, who has the interest of schools like UCLA, USC and Arizona State as well, and Josh Martin.
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