Pac-12 Roundup: Week 15

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) & Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on February 26th, 2014

Out of the country? Living under a rock? Here’s what you missed in the 15th week of Pac-12 basketball. 

Power Rankings (as voted upon by Connor Pelton, Andrew Murawa, and Adam Butler)

Arizona is once again the unanimous number one in our weekly power rankings, but no team except the Wildcats and last place USC were completely agreed upon. Check the results below to see the jumbled mess that is the Pac-12.

Nick Johnson Led Arizona To A Huge Sweep In The Rockies Last Week

Nick Johnson Led Arizona To A Huge Sweep In The Rockies Last Week

  1. Arizona (25-2, 3 Points)
  2. UCLA (21-6, 7 Points)
  3. Stanford (18-8, 8 Points)
  4. California (18-9, 15 Points)
  5. Colorado (20-8, 18 Points)
  6. Arizona State (19-8, 19 Points)
  7. Utah (18-9, 21 Points)
  8. Oregon (18-8, 22 Points)
  9. Washington (15-13, 26 Points)
  10. Oregon State (14-12, 27 Points)
  11. Washington State (9-18, 33 Points)
  12. USC (10-17, 36 Points)

Best Game – Arizona at Utah: This baby ended up being much better than the more-hyped game between Arizona and Colorado that was played three days later in Boulder. Desperate for a resume-boosting win, Utah fought the Wildcats for 45 minutes as hard as anyone has all season. The visitors led by as many as 12 in the second half before the Utes came storming back. Sophomore forward Jordan Loveridge split a pair of free throws with 30 seconds left in regulation to tie the game at 56, and the two teams went to overtime when Wildcat guard T.J. McConnell missed a jumper at the buzzer. Fourth-ranked Arizona would survive in the extra period, making five free throws in the final 20 seconds to win, 67-63. Sean Miller‘s team all but locked up a one seed in the NCAA Tournament with the sweep of Utah and Colorado. The Utes kept their slim at-large hopes alive by blowing out Arizona State on Sunday, but they likely still need to win their final three regular season games thanks to a low RPI.

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Pac-12 M5: 02.26.14 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on February 26th, 2014

pac12_morning5

  1. It’s been another rough season on the Palouse for Washington State and head coach Ken Bone. Last year, Bone’s job was saved after a disappointing season in part because of a large buyout. But this time around, expectations are that athletic director Bill Moos is going to have to move on from Bone and bring in a new head coach. The question is, who? Vince Grippi of The Spokesman-Review suggests a plan is already in place, but it remains to be seen if it will be a retread coach (Ben Howland makes a lot of sense in a lot of ways), an assistant from some big-time job earning his first head spot, or a mid-major guy taking a big step up.
  2. Oregon is still very much alive in terms of their chances to earn their way back onto the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble. But, according to Steve Mims of the Eugene Register-Guard, various people from around the conference peg the Ducks as a strong candidate to repeat as the Pac-12 Tournament champions and earn the conference’s automatic bid. Both Ernie Kent –an analyst with the Pac-12 Networks – and Mike Montgomery note that Oregon’s ability to get hot and score in bunches could be a major advantage when it comes to having to win four games in four days.
  3. While nothing is official yet, it appears that sophomore guard Damyean Dotson will play for Oregon on Thursday night when the Ducks travel to UCLA. Dotson, who missed Sunday’s game against Washington State after being cited for using a fake ID at a Eugene Bar, had started the previous 60 games for the Ducks. Head coach Dana Altman reports that no decision has been made yet, but that the situation is “moving in the direction” of Dotson being available to play against the Bruins.
  4. After a weekend where junior point guard T.J. McConnell had 16 assists and no turnovers while leading his team to a pair of road wins, there were hopes around Tucson that he would wind up with the Pac-12 Player of the Week award. That was not to be, but head coach Sean Miller made it clear on Monday how much he values McConnell’s contributions to the team, praising not only his effectiveness at running the offense, but also his defensive prowess.
  5. As for the Wildcats’ in-state rival Arizona State, despite getting swept last week by the schools in the Rockies, the Sun Devils are still in good shape to make the NCAA Tournament, according to Doug Haller of AZCentral.com. Their RPI is still rock solid, they’ve got three wins against teams in the top 50 of the RPI and, given the struggles other teams in contention for NCAA Tournament consideration have gone through, they’re pretty comfortably in the field. But, Haller points out five areas where the Sun Devils need to improve between now and Tournament time: urgency, shooting, leadership, consistency and… Jahii Carson. Much as we talked about most recently on Monday, while Carson has been good this season, he hasn’t approached the elite level of play he turned in regularly during his sparkling freshman season.
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Arizona and Arizona State: Heading In Different Directions?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 19th, 2014

With Friday night’s defeat to its intrastate rival, Arizona has now lost two of its last four games, not to mention one on their best players to injury for the season. Meanwhile, Arizona State has won six of its last seven; the Sun Devils are another good week away from probably being ranked in the Top 25; and they have senior center Jordan Bachynski playing the best ball of his career with a great second scoring option in Jermaine Marshall. So, the story is easy then, right? Arizona State appears to be ready to peak just in time for March, while Arizona is dead in the water. Is there any truth to both of those easy takeaways? The short answer is “not necessarily, but…” We’ll get to the longer answers below.

Jordan Bachynski, Arizona State

Not Only Is Jordan Bachynski An Elite Rim Protector, But He’s Developed Into A Fine Offensive Center. (US Presswire)

By virtue of its big win on Friday, Arizona State has earned the right to have its status assessed first. Let’s start with the reasons to be suspicious of the Sun Devils. The main reason is certainly one you would not have expected at the start of the season, but it is the play of sophomore point guard Jahii Carson, which has been… sketchy, to say the least. He’s a serious baller capable of being the best point guard in the nation, but right now the Arizona State offense — especially in important possessions at the end of close games — consists of Carson dribbling away the majority of the shot clock on empty forays before creating something very late. The Sun Devils’ attempt at the end of regulation when Carson wasted the entire clock, then jumped in the air to seemingly attempt a jumper, only to decide better of it and toss the ball to Marshall for an even worse look, was just the latest in Carson’s late-game one-on-one antics. There is no reason for this. Certainly you want to give him some opportunities to create off the bounce because he can be spectacular when he does so, but priority one in the half-court (important distinction, because the Sun Devils should always be looking to force tempo and get transition hoops when Carson is in the game) should be finding good offense, either working inside-out through Bachynski, or running Marshall and Jonathan Gilling off screens around the perimeter. Until Carson’s hero-ball tendencies get shelved for the season, there will be some reason to remain suspicious of the Sun Devils.

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Pac-12 Weekend Round-Up: Arizona, Justin Cobbs, Hallice Cooke and More…

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 3rd, 2014

What a great sports weekend, am I right? There were 10 Pac-12 basketball games since last Wednesday and eight of them were decided by two possessions or fewer. The #1 team in the nation went down. Outside of the Pac-12, the #2 team survived by the skin of its teeth in overtime. Wichita State and San Diego State continued highly successful (and improbable) seasons. I’m sure there were even some sporting events that didn’t involve basketball, too. Maybe. But before we let the weekend get behind us, let’s spend some time to look back at several of the important things we learned in this week of Pac-12 basketball. Because if you hold a blink a beat too long, the next time you open your eyes, we’re going to be in the middle of conference tournaments. Yes, this season is getting away from us. It’s now February, and every conference school has finished half of its conference slate. And despite all that, we’ve still got more questions than ever.

Brandon Ashley Is Done For the Year, But Arizona Still Has Plenty Of Talent (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

Brandon Ashley Is Done For the Year, But Arizona Still Has Plenty Of Talent (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

  • First, Arizona. The Wildcats took their first loss on Saturday night to Cal (and in the process assured that the 1972-73 UCLA squad will remain the last team to go through conference play without a loss), then took an even worse loss on Sunday when it was confirmed that sophomore power forward Brandon Ashley is done for the season with a broken foot. That doesn’t make things any rosier for the Wildcats’ long-term outlook, but there were more than a handful of things from Saturday night’s game that should give Arizona fans plenty of hope. First, as much as junior point guard T.J. McConnell has earned props for his ability to run an offense, contribute defensively and just intangible his way into Arizona fans’ hearts, he hadn’t displayed much of an ability to help out by putting the ball through the hoop. But in a couple of close recent games, he averaged 12 points per night and showed a willingness to get his own when it was appropriate. Hopefully fans across the nation are starting to see just how good this guy is. He’s like Aaron Craft-lite with perhaps a bit more offense. Read the rest of this entry »
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The Annotated Bill Walton: Arizona at Stanford Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 30th, 2014

The Bill Walton Experience has become a regular happening during Pac-12 conference games over the past two seasons. And, while the brash and talkative legend can run some people the wrong way, his commentary during games contains references to classical and pop history, the collected wisdom of one of the handful of the greatest basketball players of all time, and more than a couple off-handed Grateful Dead references – along with a handful of other comments that defy reasonable explanation. For those of you who may not get many of his references, below we’ll take a look at some of Walton’s best comments from Wednesday night’s Arizona/Stanford game and give some backstory to them, when needed.

Bill Walton's Pac-12 Commentary Has Become Must-Watch TV (Earl Wilson, The New York Times)

Bill Walton’s Pac-12 Commentary Has Become Must-Watch TV (Earl Wilson, The New York Times)

For your listening pleasure while reading, I suggest a little Grateful Dead accompaniment, such as the only time the Dead played at Maples Pavilion: 2/9/73, a classic in Grateful Dead lore. While you can’t go wrong anywhere here, maybe skip ahead to Playin’ in the Band or China Cat Sunflower->I Know You Rider.

First half:

18:32 – “This is a really good team. If they had been able to beat UCLA 10 days ago in a game that they just got pushed around in Pauley Pavilion, it would have been outstanding for Johnny Dawkins.”

Comment: Not a great start for Grateful Red. “If ifs and buts were candies and nuts…”

16:20 – In response to straight man Dave Pasch’s questions about what he did yesterday: “I had a grand time. I went to church – Memorial Church yesterday and prayed for your salvation.”

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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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Pac-12 POY and FrOY Odds After One Month

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on December 11th, 2013

We’re a month into the season, something basically approaching the quarter-pole of the year. Let’s take a little time over the next couple days to recount what we’ve seen so far and prognosticate a bit about the rest of this year’s race. We begin with setting odds for both Pac-12 Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year.

Player of the Year Odds

  • Jahii Carson, Sophomore, Arizona State; Odds 4-1 – Let’s be honest: as good as Allen Crabbe was last season for Cal, it is sort of a crime that he won the conference POY award over Carson. So, with that in the back of voter’s minds, if it is even close come March, give Carson the benefit of the doubt. He’s struggled lately in part due to an ankle injury (he’s still averaging better than 20 points per game, however), but he is a singular talent in the conference, capable of scoring almost at will while still keeping his teammates involved. If ASU is going to make the NCAA Tournament, it is going to be because Carson was transcendent. And luckily for Herb Sendek, Carson is more than capable of transcendence.
After Missing Out Last Year, Jahii Carson is The Odds-On Favorite To Be Player of the Year in The Pac-12 This Season (Joe Nicholson, USA Today Sports)

After Missing Out Last Year, Jahii Carson is The Odds-On Favorite To Be Player of the Year in The Pac-12 This Season (Joe Nicholson, USA Today Sports)

  • Joseph Young, Junior, Oregon; Odds 5-1– Twenty points per game, sparkling shooting percentages across the board, an offensive efficiency rating through the roof, a surprising commitment to defensive intensity, and a quiet leadership on a squad littered with newcomers. If the Ducks are in the mix for the Pac-12 title, Young will be a big reason why.
  • Kyle Anderson, Sophomore, UCLA; Odds 6-1 – The most versatile player in the conference, Anderson is also one of the most exciting. A visionary passer, strong rebounder, capable scorer and a team leader, if Anderson continues to average something in the neighborhood of 13 points, nine boards and seven assists, he’ll be in the conversation for sure.

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One Month In: Where Are All the Great Teams?

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 9th, 2013

This week will see a new team take its turn at the top of the polls, but like their predecessors in the rankings’ top slot, the Arizona Wildcats will seize the reins just days after a performance in which they hardly resembled the best team in the country. The pesky Columbia Lions — also known as the team that nearly ended Michigan State’s reign atop the polls before it even began — may be significantly less talented than the UNLV outfit that gave Arizona fits at the McKale Center on Saturday afternoon, but that shouldn’t provide Sean Miller’s team a free pass on their underwhelming effort. The Runnin’ Rebels, disappointing as they have been, really aren’t that bad (temporarily forgetting the 21-point home loss to UCSB as I write that), and close losses do happen, but there is a presumption that the #1 team in the country will take care of business in a manner befitting an elite unit. Upcoming games against New Mexico State and Michigan will offer the Wildcats a quick chance to validate their lofty ranking, but even with a pair of victories this week, are we really ready to call Arizona truly elite? And if we aren’t ready to offer that declaration for the #1 team in the polls, might we be faced with a college basketball season devoid of a profoundly great unit?

T.J. McConnell And The Wildcats Are The Nation's New #1, But The Wildcats Still Have Plenty To Prove

T.J. McConnell And The Wildcats Are The Nation’s New #1, But Like Many Other Top Teams, The Wildcats Still Have Plenty To Prove

To the point, Arizona’s ascent to the top spot in the polls has had as much to do with the failings of the five preseason teams ahead of them as it has the Wildcats’ own success. True, that preseason top-five grouping has been a bit cannibalistic (Kentucky fell to Michigan State; Duke dropped one to Kansas), but no member of the quintet has yet shown an ability to be consistently great. The new pieces have struggled to fit at Kentucky and Kansas — each team has two losses; while Louisville and Michigan State failed to do something that Belmont and UAB accomplished – beat North Carolina. And Duke, vanquished by the pollsters newest #1 team 10 days ago at the Garden, just picked up its first quality win of the season when the Blue Devils defeated Michigan last week at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

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Pac-12 M5: 12.03.13 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on December 3rd, 2013

pac12_morning5

  1. California Golden Blogs meets in roundtable form to discuss some leftovers (get it?) from California‘s recent trip to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational. Included is some projections as to how the Golden Bears would have fared with senior forward Richard Solomon playing in the final two games, as well as the impression David Kravish made on everyone during the trip. While the tournament ended on a bit of a downer thanks to an 18-point loss against Dayton, Monday’s victory over Arkansas was huge as it not only gave the Cal an extra notch in the win column but also put it in the winner’s bracket and match-ups with a pair of solid RPI-enhancing opponents. Where the Golden Bears go from their performance in Maui before conference play is very important. Finishing 10-3 against the non-conference slate is definitely possible, but Mike Montgomery has to make sure the team avoids slip-ups against intrastate rivals UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara, and Fresno State.
  2. UCLA‘s Steve Alford has led the Bruins to a 7-0 start this season, and believe it or not, that is a record among first-year coaches in Westwood. And while critics will be quick to point out that the best UCLA win has probably come against Drexel or Northwestern, 7-0 is still 7-0. This article takes a look at other Bruin head coaches and how each started their careers. The Bruins will go for their eighth consecutive victory tonight against UC Santa Barbara.
  3. Arizona joined the 7-0 club on Friday with its NIT Season Tip-Off Championship victory over Duke, and the Wildcats climbed to number two in the week five AP poll as a result. The poll can be found in full here, where you’ll see the Cats also earned two first place votes. A couple of other 7-0 Pac-12 teams, Oregon and UCLA, checked in at #13 and #18, respectively. If you go down to the “Also Receiving Votes” category you’ll find 7-1 Colorado garnering enough votes to put itself at #36. Arizona State remains without a vote despite having already won seven games, including a victory at UNLV and at home against Marquette.
  4. Sticking in Tucson, USA Today‘s Nicole Auerbach says Arizona is in midseason form three weeks into the season. Head coach Sean Miller didn’t back away from high expectations back in October, and for good reason, because with a true point guard in junior T.J. McConnell and a do-everything scorer in shooting guard Nick Johnson, the Wildcats are winning games and looking good while doing it. A second straight undefeated non-conference season is possible if Arizona can get past Michigan on December 14.
  5. We close with this feature on Utah guard Parker Van Dyke. Van Dyke, a freshman from Salt Lake City, was planning on a two-year church mission immediately after graduating from high school, but decided that his best opportunity for playing time for the Utes would come this season. The mission was put on hold, and the decision has paid off in spades. Van Dyke is typically one of the first guards off the bench for coach Larry Krystkowiak and has already emerged as one of the top shooters on the undefeated Utes.
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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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