O26 Game of the Week: Gonzaga in Tucson, UTEP-Colorado State, More…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 3rd, 2014

Each week the O26 microsite will run down the biggest upcoming game of the week as well as a handful of others to keep an eye on.

Gonzaga (7-0) at Arizona (6-0) – 5:15 PM ET, ESPN, Saturday

Following the Wildcats defeat of San Diego State in the Maui Invitational, this weekend’s Gonzaga-Arizona matchup might now be the unofficial showdown for ‘Best in the West’ – the outcome of which could go a long way in determining the region’s top-seed come Selection Sunday.

Gonzaga-Arizona should be one of the best non-conference matchups in 2014-15. (thesportspost.com)

Gonzaga-Arizona should be one of the best non-conference matchups in 2014-15. (thesportspost.com)

Both teams have notched impressive early-season victories – SMU and St. John’s for the Bulldogs, Kansas State and SDSU for the Wildcats – both possess seven-plus-foot frontcourt players, athletic wings and veteran point guards, and each squad is led by a coach who’s won a bunch of games over the past decade. Sean Miller’s group pounded Gonzaga in last year’s NCAA Tournament, but the Bulldogs are a much different, much deeper unit in 2014-15; Kevin Pangos is back to full-health and Mark Few added transfers Byron Wesley and Kyle Wiltjer in the offseason, along with impact-freshman Domantas Sabonis (12.3 PPG, 6.7 RPG). As a result, it seems doubtful the Zags will turn the ball over 21 times like they did in March, nor are they likely to be as overwhelmed athletically. Then again, this year’s iteration does take place in Tuscon, against a Wildcat team thanks to the return of 6’8’’ forward Brandon Ashley (Arizona has not lost with him in the lineup since 2012-13) and the addition of an eventual lottery pick, freshman wing Stanley Johnson (13.5 PPG, 6.2 RPG). Considering the individual talent on both rosters, it’s hard to say exactly who or what will dictate the outcome – does the frontcourt battle between Przemek Karnowski and Kaleb Tarczewski decide things? Or will it be Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s energy, or Pangos’ hot-shooting? – but regardless, the game is sure to be among the biggest and most impactful non-conference tilts this season.

More to Watch

  1. Wichita State (4-0) at Utah (5-1) – 11:00 PM ET, ESPN2, Wednesday. Does Wichita State’s 35-game regular season winning streak end in Salt Lake City? The Shockers have not looked prone to defeat so far in 2014-15, having drubbed New Mexico State, Memphis and Tulsa by an average of 17 points per game, but knocking off Utah on its home floor should prove much more difficult. The Utes boast one of the best all-around guards in America, 6’5’’ junior Delon Wright, and are markedly tougher in the Huntsman Center – they were a couple of two-point, overtime losses against Oregon and Arizona from going undefeated at home in 2013-14. Luckily, Gregg Marshall has a pair of experienced, All-America type guards in his own right – Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker – who should hold their own in the hostile environment. KenPom has this one pegged as one a near-coin flip (54% in the Wichita State’s favor), and if the Shockers can emerge victorious, their impressive streak might persist well into the New Year.
  2. UTEP (5-1) at Colorado State (6-0) – 9:00 PM ET, Wednesday. Colorado State won the Great Alaska Shootout and UTEP nearly won the Wooden Legacy over the holiday weekend, punctuating a very good month of November for both units. Even with the Miners falling to Washington on Sunday night, each group appears talented and capable enough to be in the at-large discussion by season’s end – making Wednesday’s game in Fort Collins an important opportunity for both. The Rams, led by senior point guard Daniel Bejarano (13.8 PPG, 7.3 RPG) and forward J.J. Avila (14.5 PPG, 7.7 RPG), have been very proficient from deep so far in 2014-15 (40.5% 3PT) and are the fifth-most experienced team in the country, while UTEP – paced by athletic, versatile forward Vince Hunter (five straight double-doubles to begin 2014-15) – boasts one of college basketball’s largest front lines.
  3. Wyoming (7-0) at SMU (4-3) – 7:00 PM ET, ESPNews, Friday. This is an important bellweather game for Wyoming, which has gotten off to an excellent start in 2014-15 – including a dominant victory over Colorado – but has yet to play a game outside of Laramie. The Mustangs, despite a rocky start without their best player, Markus Kennedy, are a good, well-rounded team that’s always tough inside Moody Coliseum. The Cowboys have found great looks near the basket this season (66.2% 2PT; second-best in NCAA) and SMU’s interior defense has been less dominant without Kennedy, so Wyoming’s ability to patiently run its sets in a road environment might be the key to success.
  4. Virginia (7-0) at Virginia Commonwealth (5-2) – 2:00 PM ET, ESPNU, Saturday. VCU edged Illinois State on Tuesday night, but the Rams still seek a marquee victory after two disappointing losses last week. This home contest against newfound in-state rival Virginia provides that opportunity. In what should be an exercise in contrasting styles – VCU plays frenzied, uptempo basketball, whereas the Cavaliers like to grind on both ends of the court – the outcome may depend on whether Shaka Smart’s group can force Virginia into turnovers with any kind of regularity. If not, the preseason Atlantic 10 favorites – who already struggle to score in the half-court – could be in for a long night against Tony Bennett’s defense [See: Rutgers game].
  5. San Diego State (5-1) at Washington (6-0) – 9:00 PM ET, Pac-12 Network, Sunday. In another very good west coast showdown, the Aztecs will have to play without guard Aqeel Quinn (9.7 PPG), who broke his finger against Arizona last week. The Huskies have the advantage at point guard with Nigel Williams-Goss (14.7 PPG, 7.5 RPG) – important against an aggressive defensive unit like SDSU – but the Aztecs have more athletic wings, and both squads possess plenty of size underneath. Should be close.

Other Notables

  •  Northeastern (5-1) at Harvard (4-1) – 7:00 PM ET, Wednesday.
  •  Long Beach State (4-4) at Stephen F. Austin (4-3) – 8:00PM, Friday.
  •  Boise State (4-2) at Saint Mary’s (5-0) – 11:30 PM ET, ESPNU, Saturday.
  •  Florida Gulf Coast (6-1) *at Massachusetts (5-3) – 2:00 PM ET, Sunday (*Springfield, MA).

Upset Special

Can Yale hang around with Connecticut on Friday night? (The Providence Journal/Glenn Osmundson)

Can Yale hang around with Connecticut on Friday night? (The Providence Journal/Glenn Osmundson)

Yale (6-2) at Connecticut (3-2) – 7:00 PM ET, ESPN3, Friday. There are plenty of reasons why this upset can’t happen – I mean, we are talking about the defending National Champions…playing at home – so how about one reason why it can: Huskies guard Ryan Boatright might miss the contest with a sprained ankle. If he does sit out, Connecticut will be without the guy who leads it in scoring (20.8 PPG), assists (4 APG) and steals (1.6 SPG), who  plays virtually every minute of every game, who shoots almost one-third of the team’s shots while on the floor, and who racks up fouls in bunches. Yale, which looked good in a hard-fought loss to Providence last weekend, has bodies to bang with Connecticut on the glass and should do a better job taking care of the ball (turnovers have been a problem) against the Boatright-less Huskies. If Javier Duren, Jack Montague and Armani Cotton get hot from behind the arc and Justin Sears (15.1 PPG, 9.1 RPG) stays out of foul trouble, the Bulldogs have a chance.

Stars Aligned: Great Individual Match-Ups

  • Green Bay’s Kiefer Sykes at Georgia State’s Ryan Harrow – 7:00 PM ET, Thursday. Both Sykes (18.5 PPG) and Harrow (20.3 PPG) are small, explosive point guards who thrive on their quickness and ability to penetrate. They also happen to be two of college basketball’s best players, on two of the better teams at the mid-major level. You won’t want to miss this battle.
  • William & Mary’s Marcus Thornton at Richmond’s Kendall Anthony – 7:00 PM ET, Wednesday. Another pair of talented scoring guards go at it tonight, as Thornton (17 PPG) and Anthony (15.3 PPG) square off in Richmond. At just 5’8’’, Anthony gives up a full eight inches to his William & Mary counterpart, so it seems doubtful they will actually wind up guarding each other. Either way, expect a bevy of points from these two guys and a hard-fought game between quality intra-state foes.
  • Valparaiso’s Alec Peters vs. someone(s) on Eastern Kentucky – 7:00 PM ET, Wednesday. This game is projected to be a toss-up, but I’m not sure who on the Colonels is going to stop Peters. The 6’9’’ forward has been nothing short of exceptional so far this season, averaging 19.3 PPG and shooting 55% 3PT. With that combination of size and shooting ability, Eastern Kentucky’s best hope might be to exploit Valpo’s weakness at point guard, turn the Crusaders over and limit Peters’ touches as much as possible.
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Rushed Reactions: #3 Arizona 61, #15 San Diego State 59

Posted by rtmsf on November 27th, 2014

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

Arizona the 2014 Maui champs. #mauihoops

A photo posted by RTC (@rushthecourt) on

  1. San Diego State Needed This More Than Arizona. And they weren’t able to get it, in large part because of the same old bugaboo that has limited Steve Fisher’s teams the last few seasons: offensive production. From the 9:17 to the 0:18 mark of the second half, the Aztecs scored a grand total of three points on a Skylar Spencer free throw and a Trey Kell jumper. What will cause Steve Fisher to lose even more sleep over this loss tonight is that Arizona only moderately took advantage of the drought (going from a one-point deficit to a six-point lead) — opportunities were there, and Fisher mentioned as much in the postgame press conference. But far too often, the Aztecs simply don’t know what to do with the basketball on the offensive end other than to give it to Winston Shepard (14 points, six rebounds) and ask him to create something. There’s more on a possible remedy to that problem below, but the bigger takeaway here is that this was a winnable game that could have really bolstered the Aztecs’ seed line in March when they have another gaudy record that people are uncertain about. Arizona, on the other hand, will play Gonzaga and Michigan in coming weeks to bolster its bona fides as the Wildcats position themselves for another #1 seed in the West Region.
  2. Stanley Johnson is the Real Deal. I’m not sure if I was more impressed with the all-around abilities of Johnson in his Tournament MVP performance, or his relative nonchalance while dominating the action here in Maui. With four California state titles under his belt, Johnson was as well-decorated as they come heading into college. But his demeanor on the floor is so unflappable that, incessant chewing of the mouth guard aside, it belies his relative inexperience in a college uniform. In what was easily the poorest shooting night of his young career (4-14 FG), he still found plenty of ways to impact the game beyond scoring (which he made up for at the line): nine rebounds, including five offensive; three big steals; a block; an assist. Sean Miller said after the game that Johnson has only recently — the last month or so — started to understand what it takes to be successful at this level: “He couldn’t have won Tournament MVP a month ago.” God help us all once he puts it all together. He’s a game-changer in the best possible way.
  3. The Offensive Development of Trey Kell Will Make or Break the Aztecs. San Diego State will beat a bunch of teams with its defense alone, but in order for this group to break through and realistically become a Final Four contender, Fisher needs Trey Kell to become his second reliable scoring threat. Dwayne Polee is a nice third guy in an offense — the kind of player who is best served when defenses aren’t designed to specifically stop him — but Kell showed through three games in Maui that he is more than capable of putting up nice numbers (14.7 PPG on 60% FG and 76% FT) for a team that ranks among the slowest-paced 20 percent of all Division I teams. The question is really whether he can do it reliably. Shepard, as talented and versatile of a player as he is, needs a teammate who can take the offensive pressure off of him, and the freshman clearly has the stones (hitting the big four-point play to give SDSU its final life with 18 seconds remaining) to make a run at it. Mark this down: If Kell becomes an all-Mountain West caliber player this season, San Diego State will play in the NCAA’s second weekend and have a favorable match-up’s chance at the program’s first Final Four.

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Pac-12 M5: 11.20.14 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 20th, 2014

pac12_morning5

  1. Arizona just keeps on rolling, and not just because the Wildcats knocked off Big West favorite UC Irvine in Tucson on Wednesday night, but because Sean Miller keeps dialing in elite recruiting classes. He’s already got four signees locked up and is working on adding more to next year’s class , and he’s already gotten a head start on a strong 2016 class with a verbal commitment from San Diego-area power forward T.J. Leaf. Leaf is a 6’9” combo forward with the size to play the four and the skill set to play the three. In fact, he cited Miller’s history of allowing his forwards to display a wide variety of skill sets as a big reason why he chose Arizona over other big-time schools like UCLA and Florida.
  2. Tad Boyle is getting to ready to welcome some young talent into his rotation, as freshman point guard Dominique Collier may see his first action in a Colorado uniform against Wyoming this weekend. Collier was suspended for the Buffaloes’ first two games of the season and has been dealing with a nagging ankle injury on top of that, but he’s finally practicing at full speed and ready to contribute. With Xavier Talton acquitting himself nicely in the early going, don’t expect Collier to jump into a huge role in the rotation right away. But the two-time Colorado Mr. Basketball is another talent who should make Boyle’s already deep bench even stronger.
  3. UCLA freshman Kevon Looney is another youngster that you’ll get to know a lot about this season. Through two games of his college career, the former McDonald’s All-American from Milwaukee is averaging 19.5 points and 11.5 boards per game for the Bruins, albeit against overmatched competition. Looney’s 7’5” wingspan certainly accounts for some of his naturally-gifted rebounding ability, and the fact that he’s so athletic factors in there too. According to his teammates, thought, what makes Looney so good on the glass are his simple instincts.
  4. Oregon State is off to its first 2-0 start since 2000-01, but with wins over the likes of Rice and Corban, it is not advisable to get too excited about this young team. Still, as Gary Horowitz of the Statesman Journal notes, this Beavers program is at least worth watching. With a bevy of athletic wings who can handle the ball, versatile legacy Gary Payton II and a few surprisingly skilled bigs, Wayne Tinkle has his team playing an entertaining brand of ball while laying the foundation for future success. Sure, there are plenty of losses on the team’s immediate horizon, but with a strong recruiting class due next season, this is at the very least a basketball program with a chance at a fairly bright future. One word of warning, however: It is going to get worse before it gets better.
  5. There’s another new head coach in the conference who is also in the midst of trying to turn a program around with very little talent. Ernie Kent has sweet-talked all the locals around the Washington State program, but an 0-2 start to the season with losses by an average of 20 points in a mini-tour of middle-of-the-road (at best) Texas schools quickly put a damper on any buzz around this year’s squad. Just watch how the tenor of tweets from the CougCenter contributors went downhill quickly as the Cougars’ 27-point loss to TCU progressed.
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Three Opinions on Arizona’s Opening Weekend

Posted by Andrew Murawa, Tracy McDannald & Adam Butler on November 17th, 2014

With no single must-watch game in the conference this weekend, we tasked our guys with getting a good look at Arizona’s pair of games and coming away with some first impressions on the conference’s heavy favorite. In a pair of wins over lesser opponents, here’s what caught our eyes.

Adam Butler: I don’t doubt that Rondae Hollis-Jefferson tweaked his shoulder. But I also don’t know how a tweaked shoulder would keep him out of the starting lineup and off the court for just the first few minutes. For both games the lengthy defender came off the bench just like he did last year. Is this the route Sean Miller is going to take for the whole season? There are a ton of weapons at Miller’s disposal and he seems to be using these lesser opponents as a testing ground for different lineups. Rondae certainly gets starter minutes and is/will play in all crunch situations, but his starting on the bench is an interesting twist following the benching of Stanley Johnson for Arizona’s exhibition game. RHJ certainly is comfortable coming off the bench, but I’m curious if this helps Gabe York feel more comfortable as a starter.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson Started The Season as A Reserve Due To A "Tweaked" Shoulder (Mike Christy, Arizona Daily Star)

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson Started The Season as A Reserve Due To A “Tweaked” Shoulder (Mike Christy, Arizona Daily Star)

One other thing that I noticed was the play of Parker Jackson-Cartwright. Much has been made of Miller’s point guards since becoming the coach at Arizona. Now it seems he has both a true point guard and a quality backup as well. PJC scored 15 points and dished five assists over the weekend and — perhaps most importantly — looked the part. He was cool and confident on the floor. I don’t imagine he’s going to play a ton this season, but these early successes will bode well in the limited role he’ll see as this season gets into more significant games.

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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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A Player’s Program in Name Only: Sean Miller Runs This Show

Posted by Tracy McDannald on November 14th, 2014

Whatever you think you know about Pac-12 runaway favorite Arizona in advance of tonight’s season opener, head coach Sean Miller can always provide the media with another line of thinking. He is no different with his own players, but what they know is that Miller will not sugarcoat the truth to spare their feelings. That brings us to the Wildcats’ exhibition contest against Cal Poly Pomona last Sunday. Typically there’s little to take away from anything on the court in such a mismatch. Preseason observations can be flawed, misleading and not meaningful. But there sat JuCo transfer Kadeem Allen, who never got off the Arizona bench for the entire 40 minutes of action. Afterward, Miller said the combo guard has welcomed the idea of a voluntary redshirt. The only surprise of any sort was that Miller revealed that much publicly. He is the same coach who last season went back and forth over what Elliott Pitts’ role as a freshman would be. Brandon Ashley’s season-ending injury changed everything, of course, but digging a bit deeper, it’s tough to recall a time when Miller ever wasted words on nonsense. Everything he says, and especially the things he doesn’t say with a sly read-between-the-lines smirk on his face, has a purpose.

Why Is This Man Smiling? Maybe Because He Has the Best Team in the League.

Arizona head coach Sean Miller can smile when he has the option of stashing away talent to make managing minutes a bit easier. (Getty)

That brings us to the top prize in Arizona’s 2014 recruiting class, freshman Stanley Johnson. The forward, a unanimous preseason choice for Pac-12 freshman of the year on this site and the same pick for just about anyone else with a clue, came off the bench to produce 12 points in 24 minutes in that game. It was junior Gabe York who earned the start, and those around the program got the feeling that strategy will trickle into the start of the regular season before Johnson inevitably takes over. Miller hinted at as much with that playful smile in his postgame media session, adding, “It doesn’t matter if he’s happy; it really only matters if I’m happy.” Miller also said the starting five on opening night isn’t in cement for the entire season. That’s his way of making sure the players aren’t too comfortable with their status when it comes to competing in practice.

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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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Pac-12 Media Day Roundup: Part Two

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) on October 24th, 2014

Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) of Pachoops.com is back for another go-round on his March to Vegas. He covered the Pac-12 Media Day on Thursday. Part I of this two-part series, which covered USC, Washington State, Oregon State, California, Washington and Utah, is located here.

Arizona State

Senior Jonathan Gilling Had Head Coach Herb Sendek Speaking In Glowing Terms (Pac-12 Conference)

Senior Jonathan Gilling Had Head Coach Herb Sendek Speaking In Glowing Terms (Pac-12 Conference)

If nothing else, you have to love Herb Sendek’s enthusiasm. He’s a very positive dude and, at Media Day, has so many great things to say about everything. This year in particular he came out, positivity guns-a-blazing, about his senior wing, Jonathan Gilling. “He basically has been a four-year starter except for the fact last year he discovered he loves to come off the bench. He’s our best sixth man… I think he’s had the best offseason and preseason since he’s been at Arizona State.” Jon Gilling, as it were, seems to be killing it, perhaps even Gilling it, if you’ll allow me. But with the level of turnover and the new faces in Tempe, it’s going to take a lot more than a sixth man’s effort for the Devils to be successful. Fear not, positive Herb would have you know! Newcomers like Willie Atwood, Gerry Blakes, and Roosevelt Scott will be providing wing skills and combo-guard talents that will greatly help Arizona State. Tra Holder, their freshman point guard, will be distributing to these wings and the three-raining Gilling. The Devils can maintain their year-over-year emphasis on tempo with this personnel. This isn’t your Jahii Carson or James Harden Sun Devils, but it just might be a collective effort that leads this group beyond expectations. Particularly considering Sendek’s thoughts on how the conference’s final standings could – literally – shake out: “You could probably put everybody in a hat, shake it up, have just as good a chance at predicting the order of finish as we are able to do sitting here today… So how anybody short of Nostradamus could sit here today and predict like there really is a difference between ninth and tenth or eighth and ninth just is unreasonable.” Here’s a hat, Herb, shake it up.

Stanford

For the first time in his six seasons at Stanford, Johnny Dawkins took the podium as an NCAA Tournament coach. That’s huge. Had that not been the case it’s very likely that he wouldn’t have been joining us at Media Day. Nevertheless, that wasn’t the case and he wasn’t going to miss his opportunity. JD gave the longest and most insightful opening remarks of any of the coaches. He touched on last season and the experience they had as well as whom they lost. Dawkins transitioned into his excitement for this season and the schedule they’ve pieced together, its challenges. He praised his stage-mate, Chasson Randle, and noted that the Cardinal’s game in Chicago is an opportunity for Chasson to return home. Johnny Dawkins was excited to be here just as I imagine he was excited to have made last year’s Sweet Sixteen. I asked him about it and loved what he had to say: “It’s about standards, you know. Last year we were able to set the bar… You have to have standards to meet or exceed what you’ve accomplished.” These were some of my favorite quotes of the day and certainly the most encouraging I’ve heard from Dawkins before. Last year he told me his 9-9 conference team, returning almost completely intact, was going to “Think about things differently.” I wasn’t sold and they managed 10-8. But now that bar has been set. The hurdle has been jumped and the program knows that it can make the Tournament. And be loud there. The experience of Randle, Anthony Brown and Stefan Nastic is not just games played but actual NCAA Tournament wins. That speaks volumes to the newcomers filling the gaps left by Josh Huestis, Dwight Powell, and John Gage. Collectively, this group doesn’t just believe, they don’t think about doing it anymore. They now know.

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Pac-12 M5: 10.21.14 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 21st, 2014

pac12_morning5

  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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Arizona’s Most Important Player: T.J. McConnell

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 17th, 2014

There’s no argument that Arizona is the most talented team in the conference, and there are probably at least four players with NBA futures on this squad. Freshman forward Stanley Johnson is already projected as a lottery pick in next June’s NBA Draft and could step right in as the leading scorer for a national championship contender this season. In all likelihood, if it isn’t Johnson who leads the Wildcats in scoring, it will be sophomore Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, whom DraftExpress also sees as a first round pick after the season. Beyond those two stud wings, perhaps the biggest strength that Arizona has is in its power and size up front, as junior center Kaleb Tarczewski and power forward Brandon Ashley also seem to have the NBA in their sights sooner rather than later (both are projected as second round picks). And yet, while cases could easily be made for any of those four guys as Arizona’s most important player, the pick here is a senior whose chances to earn an NBA paycheck are considerably less clear.

"Senior Point Guard;" How Sweet That Sound (Lance King, Getty Images)

“Senior Point Guard;” How Sweet That Sound (Lance King, Getty Images)

The fact is that there are few phrases more magical in college basketball than “senior point guard.” It’s even better when you can modify that with other phrases, like “four-year starter” or “experienced veteran” or “rock-solid decision-maker.” On this embarrassment of riches that Sean Miller calls a basketball team, rock-solid decision-maker T.J. McConnell is in his fourth year starting at point at a major Division I college (his first two years of eligibility were spent at Duquesne). On last year’s Elite Eight squad, McConnell played the role of level-headed distributor, finding ways to get the ball to explosive talents like Nick Johnson, Aaron Gordon and some of the returnees mentioned in the first paragraph above. On an elite defensive team, McConnell didn’t always have the onus of checking the other team’s best backcourt player, but he still held his own among more naturally athletic talents.

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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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