Otskey’s Observations: Episode XI

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 5th, 2014

Each week throughout the season, RTC columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) will run down his observations from the previous week of college basketball.

Early Returns on Chris Collins Look Great

When former Duke associate head coach Chris Collins was hired at Northwestern this past spring, many felt it was only a matter of time before the local guy from Northbrook, Illinois, would build up the program to a level where it could achieve its first-ever NCAA Tournament bid. After a 7-9 (0-3 Big Ten) start to the season, Collins and Northwestern have righted the ship with wins in five of their past seven games. Most impressive have been the three consecutive wins away from Evanston: at Indiana, Wisconsin and Minnesota. How have the Wildcats done it? Collins has done what any good coach would do — analyze the strengths and weaknesses of his team and implement a style of play that showcases the strengths while minimizing the weaknesses. Northwestern obviously does not have the same talent level as most other teams in the Big Ten so the way to win games is to slow it down, muck it up and play great defense in low possession games. And that is exactly what the Wildcats have done.

Chris Collins is starting to get it done in Evanston.

Chris Collins is starting to get it done in Evanston.

Collins has gotten this team to buy in defensively as Northwestern is currently ranked No. 10 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. In Big Ten play, the Wildcats lead the conference with a 44.6 percent defensive effective field goal percentage. Since allowing 93 points in a loss at Iowa on January 9, Northwestern has allowed only one opponent (also Iowa) to score more than 56 points in regulation time (Purdue scored 60 in a double-overtime loss to the Wildcats but posted just 46 points in regulation). Northwestern’s games in Big Ten play have averaged only 61.2 possessions with an average possession length of 20.4 seconds, both statistics ranking as the slowest in the Big Ten. Last year’s Northwestern team was dead last in defensive efficiency (in league play) under Bill Carmody which shows you how absolutely remarkable it is that Collins has gotten this group to defend at a high level in such a short period of time. While you never want to get ahead of yourself, at this point it would be a surprise if Northwestern doesn’t make the NCAA Tournament over the next five years when you also consider how well Collins is already doing on the recruiting trail.

Syracuse and Duke Exceeds the Hype

Syracuse’s thrilling overtime victory over Duke last Saturday was one of the best regular season college basketball games I can remember in quite some time. It had everything you would want in a big game: a terrific atmosphere with over 35,000 fans in attendance; two Hall of Fame coaches; league title implications (Syracuse entered the game at 7-0, Duke at 6-2); tons of talent on the floor; and an extremely high level of play. Consider this: Syracuse won an overtime game by two points on its home floor and posted an outrageously high offensive efficiency of 1.34 points per possession. It took that good of an offensive performance to stave off the Blue Devils, which posted 1.31 PPP themselves. It is going to be very difficult to top that game but I am very excited for the rematch at Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 22. Duke and North Carolina will always be the best rivalry in the ACC and arguably in all of college basketball, but Duke and Syracuse appear to be on their way to another terrific rivalry in what has become a bloated ACC. This new rivalry has the potential to exceed what Duke and Maryland had going for some time as a secondary ACC rivalry now that Maryland will be moving on to the Big Ten next season.

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Brandon Ashley’s Foot Injury and the Long-Term Impact on Arizona

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 2nd, 2014

Arizona lost late Saturday night at California; you probably know that by now. With Syracuse’s win over Duke that kept the Orange undefeated, the Wildcats will likely drop out of the top spot in the national polls for the first time in months (a move which is fated even if it isn’t necessarily mandatory – we’ll get to this point briefly at the bottom of the post). But a single tough road conference loss on the first weekend in February is absolutely nothing to worry about. What is very much something to worry about is the fact that the Wildcats played the final 38 minutes of that game on Saturday night without Brandon Ashley. According to postgame comments by head coach Sean Miller, Ashley landed awkwardly on his foot and things do not look good. Expectations are that x-rays will reveal it is broken, with the severity of the break the only difference between Ashley certainly being done for the year or possibly back in action at less than 100 percent sometime in March. Much like Spencer Dinwiddie’s injury last month, this sucks.

Official Word Is Still Pending, But Brandon Ashley May Be Done For the Year

Official Word Is Still Pending, But Brandon Ashley May Be Done For the Year

Ashley is the team’s third-leading scorer and rebounder, the starting forward who, down the stretch of tight games, has proven himself to be the team’s second-best option to get hoops. He can score in and around the paint; he can step out and hit the mid-range jumper; he’s a good and willing passer; he’s a load on the screen-and-roll or pick-and-pop; and he’s good at drawing fouls and a capable shooter once there, stroking better than 75 percent from the line. And all of that is without even getting into his defense. His long arms and quick feet help Arizona switch on just about everything; he can bang with big guys down low or harass wings on the perimeter. In short, this is not the type of guy you can replace on the fly in the middle of the season. And given the fact that Miller has more or less been rolling out a seven-man rotation all season, it’s not like there is experienced depth ready to slide into his spot.

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Three Thoughts on Arizona’s Win at Michigan

Posted by AMurawa on December 15th, 2013

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

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

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

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

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on November 30th, 2013

Brian Otskey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from Friday night’s NIT Season Tip-Off championship game at Madison Square Garden where Arizona toppled Duke.

After most early-season games, especially in November, head coaches and players are very hesitant to make bold statements in public about what heights their team can reach by the end of the season. You’ll usually hear statements like, “we’re a work in progress; I like some things about our team; I’m proud of our guys; etc.” After his team’s impressive 72-66 win over Duke at Madison Square Garden last night, Arizona head coach Sean Miller was anything but conservative when discussing the potential of his 7-0 Wildcats. “I think we can be special, no question,” Miller said. “We have to be an elite defensive team. We have to be able to get stops. We have to be able to use our size rebounding.”

Arizona Came East and Proved Its Worth on Friday Night

Arizona Came East and Proved Its Worth on Friday Night

Special may be an understatement. It’s ironic because what Miller said they need to do to be special is exactly what the Wildcats did last night. Arizona took control of the game in the second half after trailing by three points at the break. Using its significant height advantage and defensive pressure, the Wildcats held the Blue Devils to 17 points over the first 17+ minutes of the second half to put the game away. It was a fantastic defensive performance against a team that entered the game averaging 90 PPG in seven games played. Freshman phenom Jabari Parker scored 19 points for Duke but Arizona limited him to the tune of a 7-of-21 shooting night, including an 0-of-5 mark from beyond the arc. Miller had his freshman star Aaron Gordon as well as Rondae Hollis-Jefferson take turns guarding Parker and it worked, keeping the 6’8” freshman out of sync all game long. “When you think about our team being versatile, two players really stand out, Rondae and Aaron, our two freshmen, because they are so interchangeable. But we can get better,” said Miller.

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Pac-12 M5: Thanksgiving Day Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 28th, 2013

pac12_morning5

  1. Things didn’t start out great for the Pac-12 on Wednesday night, as Arizona spotted Drexel 19 early points in the first half of their NIT Season Tip-Off Semifinal, and, make no mistake, Arizona looked completely awful in that first half. The Wildcats recorded zero assists in 20 minutes, their frontcourt looked overmatched against a smaller Dragons frontcourt and in no way, shape or form, did the Wildcats look like a Top 25 team, much less the top five team that both the most recent AP and RTC polls declared that they were. But, after what was likely a blistering halftime locker room speech, Kaleb Tarczewski, Nick Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, in particular, were impressive in leading their squad back from the brink to earn the much-sought-after match-up with Duke in the championship game on Friday evening. Must-see-TV, indeed. Oh, and those of you who wrote off UCLA after a similarly tough battle with Drexel, do you care to re-assess? Likely not.
  2. At roughly the same time as the Wildcats were struggling with the Dragons, California was in the process of getting pretty well handled by Dayton. Certainly, the fact that the Golden Bears were again playing without one of their best players in Richard Solomon — out due to a corneal abrasion — didn’t do much to help their cause. But, aside from senior point guard Justin Cobbs, who scored Cal’s first 12 points of the second half and wound up with 31 on the night, and David Kravish (12 points, 14 rebounds, five blocks), Mike Montgomery got almost zero production out of the rest of the gang. After an intriguing start to the Maui Invitational, with that win over a tough match-up in Arkansas, Golden Bears fans are left wondering what could have been had Solomon been able to go.
  3. Utah had quite a bit more success on Wednesday night, albeit against lesser competition. Still, if you haven’t gotten around to taking a peek at Ute junior college transfer point guard Delon Wright, it is about time you avail yourself of that opportunity. Once again, Wright proved himself to be a versatile, jack-of-all-trades guy for head coach Larry Krystkowiak, scoring 23 points, handing out seven assists, swiping seven steals, snatching four boards and even swatting a shot. And, for good measure, he made a statement about the supposed weakness in his game: his outside shot. Wright knocked down both of his two attempts from beyond the three-point arc as well in the Utes 19-point win over Ball State.
  4. We take a step away from the court to mention that Oregon head coach Dana Altman was awarded with a three-year contract extension by his university on Wednesday. After the extension, his current contact keeps him in Eugene through 2020, dialing in his compensation at $1.8 million. Given the highs to which  Altman has led the Ducks in his three-plus years on campus so far, this formality is a no-brainer. It wouldn’t be a complete surprise if Altman, by the time his tenure at Oregon is up, has vaulted the Duck basketball program to the levels that Chip Kelly, et al., have launched the Oregon football progam.
  5. And, while we don’t actually have any football games in conference until the day after Thanksgiving, just in case we don’t get a chance to assemble a Morning Five tomorrow night, due to some combination of turkey, stuffing, beer and Arizona State/Creighton (not necessarily – but likely – in that order), we thought Connor and I would unveil our picks for the football weekend herewith. Last week, again, both of us went 3-3 on the week, bringing our totals on the year to 64-21 for Connor and 63-22 for me. In case you need a little help with those numbers (believe me, I can relate), that puts me a game back. With this the last big weekend of football, it is fitting that Connor and I have enough differences of opinion in our picks this weekend to make this interesting. We’ve selected USC/UCLA as our game of the week, even though it is as meaningless as any other game this weekend in the grand scheme of things. But, really, in a week with USC/UCLA, Oregon/Oregon State, Washington/Washington State and Arizona/Arizona State, there clearly ain’t anything approaching a meaningless game on the slate. Anyway, our picks:pickem-rivarlyweek
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Four Thoughts on Arizona’s Season Opener

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 11th, 2013

Arizona opened its season in ho-hum fashion on Friday night with an 11-point win over a middling Cal Poly team. While the final margin wasn’t necessarily impressive, the Wildcats did show off some things that should have their fans excited. Let’s take a look at four of them:

Defensive Upside. Against Cal Poly on Friday night, you saw it in spurts. With freak athletes like Aaron Gordon and Brandon Ashley able to switch onto smaller opponents with ease, and with excellent veteran perimeter defenders like T.J. McConnell and Nick Johnson, the Wildcats have the ability to be a ridiculously good defensive squad this season. Back in his final season at Xavier, Sean Miller’s team was rated 12th in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency behind players like Derrick Brown, B.J. Raymond and C.J. Anderson. But in his time in Tucson, while he’s put good defensive teams on the court, the Wildcats have never been elite, topping out in the 40s the last three seasons. This team has the defensive capability to creep into the teens this season, and maybe even the top 10. Perimeter defenders, athletic versatile bigs and an ability to clean the glass with abandon: Despite having some offensive struggles in their opener (which is completely overstating it, since they averaged 1.19 points per possession), this is a Wildcat team that can rely on their defense when things get rough shooting the ball.

Aaron Gordon Had An Impressive Debut, But Much Like An Eclipse, You Shouldn't Watch His Jumper Directly (AP).

Aaron Gordon Had An Impressive Debut, But Much Like An Eclipse, You Shouldn’t Watch His Jumper Directly (AP).

Aaron Gordon’s Jumper Makes Baby Jesus Cry. The consensus is that one of the biggest concerns for the Wildcats this season will be their outside shooting. While Johnson and McConnell are pretty dialed in from deep, newcomers Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are seen as having jumpers that are kindly called works in progress. Well, in their first close-up, it appears that Hollis-Jefferson has made significant progress on that work while Gordon’s work has yet to begin. Honestly, his shot from any kind of range needs to be completely torn down and rebuilt. He was 2-of-6 from the free throw line, and that was with the benefit of getting to concentrate on his form. When shooting from any range further than – oh, I don’t know, about a dunk or closer – his form was awful. Gordon can (and will) still be a major factor for the Wildcats, but my god, that jumper makes my eyes burn. And yet, somehow he jacked up a couple threes – and actually hit one! Any success produced by the jump shot is purely accidental. Meanwhile, just to end this section on a positive note, Hollis-Jefferson’s jumper looks solid; he’ll just need to continue to work on it.

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Pac-12 All-Freshmen and All-Transfer Teams

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on November 7th, 2013

It’s become a new era in college sports, especially in basketball. The fortunes of a program can change almost overnight, not only with the addition of big-time one-and-done freshmen, but also with proven entities transferring from one program to another with immediate eligibility. In recent years, it has become almost mandatory for coaches to not only pound the pavement in search of high school recruits, but to also keep their nose to the ground with the possibility of landing some immediate impact transfers. In our fair conference, some coaches, most prominently Dana Altman at Oregon, have turned into a welcome landing spot for those quality transfers. So, in the interest of recognizing that, as we unveil our official RTC Pac-12 All-Freshman Team, we’ll also turn you on to our All-Transfer team as well.

Arizona's Aaron Gordon Was A Unanimous Freshman Of The Year Selection

Arizona’s Aaron Gordon Was A Unanimous Freshman Of The Year Selection

All-Freshman Team

  • Aaron Gordon, forward, Arizona – Gordon is the unanimous selection as our preseason Freshman of the Year in the Pac-12. A five-star recruit out of the Bay Area, he is expected to be the primary offensive weapon for Sean Miller’s Wildcats. Right now he’s dealing with a “nagging groin strain” which will likely limit his outstanding athleticism early, but once he gets healthy, watch out.
  • Jabari Bird, guard, California – The Golden Bears lose last year’s Pac-12 Player of the Year in Allen Crabbe and are fortunate enough to be able to plug four-star freshman guard Bird right into his place. He may not have quite as sweet a stroke as Crabbe did, but he is more athletic and should be able to an contribute big things right away.
  • Nigel Williams-Goss, guard, Washington – A five-star point guard out of Findlay Prep, Williams-Goss is expected to take over the vacant Husky lead guard spot from day one. He’s big and heady and if he can handle the pressure, he’ll make the Huskies a contender right away.

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Pac-12 Team Preview: Arizona Wildcats

Posted by AMurawa on November 6th, 2013

We continue unveiling our team-by-team breakdowns, in roughly the reverse order of where we expect these teams to finish in the conference standings. 

Arizona Wildcats

Strengths. Arizona has the most pure talent in the Pac-12. The roster is littered with McDonald’s All-Americans and five-star recruits and future pros. And for the first time in Sean Miller’s tenure in Tucson, he’s got a true point guard in Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell. But the one spot where this team really has a chance to be elite is on the defensive end, as McConnell’s defense has been raved about in the weeks of practice leading up to the season. Nick Johnson is already among the best perimeter defenders in the conference, if not the country. Throw in freshmen Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson as elite athletes who can guard multiple positions, Brandon Ashley who is long and athletic up front, and a big pounder like Kaleb Tarczewski in the middle, and this Wildcat team could be good enough to ride its defense if the offense struggles out of the gate.

T.J. McConnell Is The Type Of Scrappy, Pass-First Point Guard That Has Been Missing At Arizona (Arizona Athletics)

T.J. McConnell Is The Type Of Scrappy, Pass-First Point Guard That Has Been Missing At Arizona (Arizona Athletics)

Weaknesses. The most common complaint when people look for areas to pick this team apart is its questionable outside shooting. It’s a fair enough point, in that guys like Gordon and Hollis-Jefferson, in particular, still have jumpers that are most kindly described as “works in progress.” Still, Johnson shot 39.3 percent from three last season, McConnell hit 43.2 percent from deep in 2011-12 at Duquesne, and guys like Gabe York and Jordin Mayes off the pine are quality three-point shooters as well. Having a handful of guys who can stroke the three doesn’t necessarily mean that this team’s ability to shoot the ball isn’t up for debate. For instance, while Gordon and Hollis-Jefferson won’t take many threes, they do have to be able to knock down 12-footers with regularity, lest their opponents pack it in and clog up the lane for the two freshmen plus Tarczewski and Ashley.

Non-Conference Tests. Miller has put together a solid non-conference schedule with several chances at solid resume wins. The highlight of their early season slate is the NIT Season Tip-Off, which could provide an Arizona/Duke match-up in the final round, provided both teams can take care of early round action. And honestly, the Cats should get to the final game: They’ll open with Fairleigh Dickinson, then likely get Rhode Island before possibly facing Rutgers in the semifinals. The other big highlight on the schedule is a mid-December trip to Michigan for a national televised game in Ann Arbor. The other two prime games on the schedule are a mid-week trip to San Diego State during the second week of the season, and a visit from UNLV in early December.

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Pac-12 M5: 10.16.13 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 16th, 2013

pac12_morning5

  1. After a stretch of several months where most of the news coming out of Westwood was of the bad variety, UCLA finally found some good news waiting for them on Tuesday when forward Wanaah Bail was granted eligibility to play immediately for the Bruins after transferring out of the Texas Tech program. While Bail is still recovering from offseason knee surgery, if and when he is healthy enough to go, he’ll be expected to provide much-needed depth in the frontcourt behind the senior Wear twins and sophomore center Tony Parker. Still, despite the good news, some Bruin followers have chosen to paint this as, somehow, another strike against new head coach Steve Alford before the guy has even gotten to the plate. Seriously though, Alford had the temerity to answer a question about comparing John Wooden to his former college head coach, Bobby Knight. I mean, get a rope, right?
  2. Turning back to UCLA’s biggest rival in the conference, Arizona is considered the prohibitive favorite by most prognosticators, but the one weakness most people look to nitpick is the team’s possible lack of outside shooting. The team loses four of their top five three-point shooters from last season and their most ballyhooed newcomers, namely freshmen Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, are known for just about anything on the basketball court except long-range shooting. Nevertheless, newly eligible transfer T.J. McConnell is a 41.6% three-point shooter for his career, junior guard Nick Johnson improved to a 39.3% three-point shooter last season, and guys like sophomore Gabe York (despite his one-for-nine shooting in the Red-Blue game) and Kansas transfer Zach Peters are expected to chip in from range. Meanwhile, even sophomore Brandon Ashley has worked to expand his range out toward the three-point line.
  3. Speaking of T.J. McConnell, while anyone who never saw him play in his first two seasons of collegiate eligibility at Duquesne can look at the numbers and see a guy who can knock down the three as well as drop a dime (KenPom, paywall) with the best of them, Arizona head coach Sean Miller has been talking up McConnell’s ability to get after it on defense. The Wildcats’ defensive efficiency has improved every season under Miller (again, KenPom, paywall), but if McConnell can live up to Miller’s hype, he’s definitely got a versatile enough frontcourt to match up with just about any opponent, what with Kaleb Tarczewski’s ability to out-physical true posts, Ashley’s length and athleticism advantage over  most fours, Gordon’s ability to guard any number of positions, and Jefferson’s toughness and length. Throw in the already established Nick Johnson, whose ability to annoy the heck out of opposing ball-handlers far away from the hoop can be disruptive enough on its own, and this Wildcat squad is a good bet to improve on the team’s defensive numbers from a year ago.
  4. For some reason, we haven’t talked a lot about Colorado so far these past couple of weeks (something we will remedy soon enough), but the Buffaloes are one of the handful of teams who can legitimately challenge Arizona for conference supremacy. Things will be a bit easier for the Buffs this season, especially around Boulder, as season tickets for the Coors Event Center have sold out for the first time in CU history. With a student section that has evolved into one of the best in the conference, and now the full Boulder community also committed to supporting the team, expect the Rocky Mountain swing to be one of the least welcoming road trips on the Pac-12 schedule.
  5. We’ll wrap up the morning by pointing you to a thorough rundown on the Washington basketball roster by Ben Knibbe (follow him now) at the UW Dawg Pound. Yesterday he took you through the high post players Jernard Jarreau and Desmond Simmons (and offered the saddest of lines for a Husky fan: “Aaron Gordon would have been…”). Last week he broke down wings C.J. Wilcox, Hikeem Stewart, Darin Johnson and Mike Anderson. And the week before that he filled you in on point guard options Andrew Andrews, Nigel Williams-Goss and Jahmel Taylor. Certainly, we’ll get the breakdown on low posts Perris Blackwell and Shawn Kemp in the near future, but you’ll need to keep up with Ben (seriously, follow him now) in order to get the best position-by-position rundown you’ll find around the Pac-12 team blogs.
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Pac-12 M5: 10.14.13 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 14th, 2013

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  1. As we ease back into college basketball again, we’re back to Morning Fives every weekday from here until the end of the season. And we picked a good day to start these back up, because there is plenty of news to run down. Since the main preseason storyline is Arizona as the heavy favorite to win the league, we might as well start out with them, as the Wildcats had their annual Red-Blue Game on Saturday, an intrasquad scrimmage that serves as the introduction of the team to the supportive McKale Center crowd. Stud freshman Aaron Gordon put on quite a show, winning the dunk contest and backing that up with 13 points and 12 boards in the scrimmage. His classmate Rondae Hollis-Jefferson also looked good in his first appearance, pouring in 18 points on just 12 shots, and sophomore center Kaleb Tarczewski showed improvement, notching 18 points of his own.
  2. The day before Arizona’s showcase, its in-state rival had its own intrasquad scrimmage up the road, as Arizona State got its season underway. Jahii Carson is always going to be the showcase player on this team, and he was as good as usual, scoring 22 points and showing an improved jumper. But the big story came from newcomer Shaquielle McKissic, who poured in 33 points and made a big impression in his first appearance with the Sun Devils. He showed an immediate rapport with Carson on the fast break, displayed an ability to knock down the three, and impressed defensively, forcing turnovers that led to breaks. In the competition to earn some of the minutes vacated by departing senior Carrick Felix, McKissic looks to be out in front.
  3. The news wasn’t as positive everywhere around the conference this weekend, as on Friday Washington State announced that point guard Danny Lawhorn, a junior college transfer expected to slide right into the lead guard role, had left the school. Lawhorn had already been suspended two weeks ago, not that it matters at this point. Minus Lawhorn, it looks like junior Royce Wooldridge, who had hoped to move back off the ball after he helped fill in at the one last year, will once again need to contribute at the point, while DaVonte Lacy (another guy better suited to playing the two) and freshman point Ike Oroegbu also in the mix.
  4. Minus Lawhorn, head coach Ken Bone’s chances of keeping his job inched down a little, and, as Pachoops’ Adam Butler noted, there are quite a few coaches around the league whose jobs may be in trouble. A main part of the reason why those coaches may be looking for work in the near future is their inability to keep local recruits at home. Butler points to four top-75 2014 recruits from the West Coast who have already committed to play basketball in places other than Pac-12 institutions. While the conference as a whole may be on a bit of an upswing, the failure to lock up your own state’s recruits is never a good sign of future prosperity.
  5. Lastly, way back at the end of last year, the big off-the-court story was Pac-12 coordinator of officials Ed Rush putting out a bounty – whether in jest or not – on Arizona head coach Sean Miller, a “joke” that was made seriously unfunny (well, at least Miller’s post-game comments were funny – how long has it been since you’ve watched the “He Touched the Ball” clip?) after Miller got run in suspicious fashion immediately thereafter. The conference’s immediate response (or lack thereof) to the situation was unfulfilling. But, some steps were made over the offseason to improve the officiating situation in the conference, as the Pac-12 has entered into a partnership with the Mountain West to oversee its officiating, and hired Bobby Dibler as the new coordinator of officials. One of Dibler’s first tasks is to make sure that Miller gets treated as fairly as every other coach in the conference.
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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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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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