Utah: Ugly Performance, Still Plenty of Upside

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 19th, 2014

Okay, right to the point: Utah fans, back away from the ledge. The Utes lost Tuesday afternoon at #16 San Diego State as part of the ESPN Hoops Marathon and they looked pretty offensively inept in doing so. But here’s the big picture. Utah’s best two players – Delon Wright and Jordan Loveridge – combined to make just four of their 20 field goal attempts, and still, the Utes went on the road to one of the toughest places to play in the west and lost by just four. Better yet, there are a lot of fixable things that happened in this game that could flip the script the next time the Utes find themselves matched up with a nationally-respected team.

Chris Reyes, Along With Jakob Poeltl and Brekkot Chapman Stood Out For The Utes (Chris Detrick, Salt Lake Tribune)

Chris Reyes, Along With Jakob Poeltl and Brekkot Chapman Stood Out For The Utes (Chris Detrick, Salt Lake Tribune)

First, the good. And believe it or not, there was plenty of good. The Utes were the better team on the glass against the long Aztecs in part because the pair of frontcourt newcomers – seven-foot freshman Jakob Poeltl and 6’7” sophomore Chris Reyes – proved themselves ready to be difference-makers at this level. Poeltl, in his first match-up against big and talented players at this level, pulled down five offensive boards (plus two on the defensive end) and blocked seven shots. He only was able to attempt three field goals (in part because the Utes did not prioritize feeding the post against the long Aztecs defense), but he did get to the line six times (although free throw shooting is still a work in progress). Reyes, meanwhile, was terrific in his own part in his debut on a national stage. In just 21 minutes, Reyes grabbed six offensive boards, was perhaps the most adept Ute at feeding the post, and showed a motor and intensity that was sorely needed. He’s an asset for this team, but it will be interesting to see if his minutes remain steady as freshman power forward Brekkot Chapman emerges. Chapman, for his part, was also mighty impressive, scoring eight points on four field goal attempts in 15 minutes. As the year goes on, expect that trio to share frontcourt minutes, with senior Dallin Bachynski’s role limited to that of a fourth big. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 First Weekend Notebook

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 17th, 2014

After a single weekend of games against generally lesser competition, I feel like I could write a book about all the different things I saw this weekend around the Pac-12. But, we’ll let these teams get a few more games – preferably against better competition – before we make any grand proclamations. Still, you have to come away from this weekend pretty impressed with the level of play out of the gates. We saw a lot of teams look better than we had any reason to expect. And we also had USC. Below, we’ll take a look at a few of the bigger non-Arizona takeaways from the first weekend of play around the conference.

Utah

Let’s save a more in-depth look at the Utes until after they play San Diego State on Tuesday afternoon, but a couple new names to keep an eye on in that game: First, freshman Jakob Poeltl is going to be a huge factor for the Utes this year. He’s an active and skilled seven-footer who, frankly, is not long for the college game. Because he runs the floor well and is aggressive and confident, he is going to be a challenge for opposing defenses all year long. Then there’s his frontcourt starting partner, JuCo transfer Chris Reyes, a strong and active power forward who is a great combination of skill, athleticism and motor. A lot of the reason people were high on the Utes coming into this year were returnees and maybe freshman Brekkot Chapman, but Poeltl and Reyes are a couple of new elements that may push Utah over the top. And Jordan Loveridge? His body looks better than it ever has before; he’s quicker than he’s been in his first two seasons; and he looks far more comfortable in his role. Let’s put it this way: If I were filling in a Top 25 poll right now, I’d probably have the Utes in the top 15. I think a lot of people are going to have their eyes opened tomorrow afternoon.

Jakob Poeltl's Double-Double Debut Should Raise Eyebrows Across the Conference (Utah Basketball)

Jakob Poeltl’s Double-Double Debut Should Raise Eyebrows Across the Conference (Utah Basketball)

Colorado

Given the level of competition they were playing against (Drexel is a pretty solid mid-major), what the Buffaloes did to the Dragons was impressive. Josh Scott looks like he took another step forward in his development during the offseason, looking stronger and more aggressive on the glass and on defense while showing more comfort with the face-up jumper (he even hit a three). Pairing him alongside Wesley Gordon in the middle makes for an intimidating one-two punch. Head coach Tad Boyle went with a strange starting lineup due to some disciplinary measures, and Xavier Johnson and Askia Booker as a result never really got in the flow when they entered the game, with Booker in particular looking pretty bad with a 2-of-14 effort. As far as the big question about the point guard spot, one guy that we routinely overlooked in trying to come up with an answer there was junior Xavier Talton. For now, at least, he appears to be the leader for that job. He’s a facilitator who isn’t going to wow anybody with his athleticism or play-making ability, but he’s very good at making the easy play, keeping the offense moving, and playing solid defense. Whether he’ll lock down that spot for good remains to be seen, but he’ll be a big part of the Colorado rotation all year long. Freshman Tory Miller also deserves a mention. His body and athleticism are already Pac-12 ready and as the game slows down for him, he’s got a good chance to become a solid defender and rebounder off the pine this year, with upside for the rest of his career in Boulder as his offensive game develops.

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Tip-Off Marathon: The O26 Menu

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 17th, 2014

Tonight kicks off ESPN’s Tip-Off Marathon, a jam-packed, 24-plus hour slate of basketball featuring numerous mouthwatering options for O26 fans. And with many of these games serving as important resume-building opportunities, you better come hungry. Let’s check out the menu.

Appetizers/Starters

R.J. Hunter and the Panthers take on Iowa State in Hilton Coliseum. (AP Photo | Gerry Broome)

R.J. Hunter and the Panthers take on Iowa State in Hilton Coliseum. (AP Photo | Gerry Broome)

  • UC Santa Barbara at Florida Gulf Coast – 7:00 PM ET, ESPN3, Tonight. We are not even sure if this is formally part of the Marathon, but what better way to whet your appetite than by watching Alan Williams take on Dunk City? After logging 22 points and 13 rebounds against Kansas on Friday, UC Santa Barbara’s 6’8’’ center gets a shot at the Atlantic Sun favorites in Fort Myers – the first of two contests between the Gauchos and Eagles this season. Florida Gulf Coast’s Brett Comer is among the better point guards in the country, while his running mate, Bernard Thompson, is a conference Player of the Year candidate. Both squads could wind up dancing in March.
  • Georgia State at #14 Iowa State – 9:00 PM ET, ESPNU, Tonight. Certain to be one of the most popular appetizers on the menu, this game features a loaded underdog taking on a top-15 team in one of college basketball’s best environments. The Cyclones better be prepared for Georgia State, which boasts a pair of Bluegrass State transfers – Ryan Harrow (Kentucky) and Kevin Ware (Louisville) – and arguably the Sun Belt’s best player, guard R.J. Hunter (18.3 PPG in 2013-14). Hilton Coliseum will be rocking, as always, but perhaps maybe its magic will work in the Panthers favor, instead of the other way of around.
  • #22 SMU at #13 Gonzaga – 11:00 PM ET, ESPN, Tonight. This is one of those fill-you-up-before-the-entrée type items, a hearty match-up of Top 25 units with high expectations. SMU took a serious hit when forward Markus Kennedy, the team’s best player, was ruled academically ineligible for the first semester, so Gonzaga is in great position playing at home. Still, even though Mark Few’s bunch looked utterly dominant in its opener against Sacramento State (with newcomers Byron Wesley, Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis combining for 44 points), the Bulldogs must come out and execute against Larry Brown’s defensively-tough Mustangs. Kevin Pangos vs. Nic Moore is one of the best point guard match-ups of the young season.

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Pac-12 Opening Weekend: What To Watch For

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 14th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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Pac-12 Preseason Poll and Preview Wrap-Up

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 14th, 2014

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

preseasonpoll

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

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

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

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

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

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The 25 Non-Conference Pac-12 Games to Watch

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 13th, 2014

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

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

The Show – And The Aztecs – Will Test Utah Early

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

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The RTC Podblast: Pac-12 Preview Edition

Posted by rtmsf on November 12th, 2014

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

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

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

  • 0:00-10:37 – Arizona
  • 10:37-16:36 – Searching for a Second Team
  • 16:36-23:39 – Potential Surprises and Disappointments
  • 23:39-26:47 – Player of the Year and Breakout Players
  • 26:47-28:26 – Worst Team in the League
  • 28:26-30:41 – Randy’s New Favorite Team
  • 30:41-33:44 – Bold Predictions
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Pac-12 Season Previews: Utah Utes

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 11th, 2014

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

Utah Utes

Strengths. If you’re reading this microsite, there is a good chance you already know about the Utes’ stars such as Delon Wright and Jordan Loveridge, but just about every team in this conference has a star it can point to. Rather, what makes this team a sexy choice as the second-best team in this conference is not merely those two stars, but the quality of depth throughout this roster. Veterans like Brandon Taylor, Dallin Bachynski, Dakarai Tucker and Jeremy Olsen are all accustomed to big roles on this team. Add in a talented batch of newcomers, including four-star power forward Brekkot Chapman, talented JuCo transfer Chris Reyes, international recruit Jakob Poetl, three-point specialist Kyle Kuzma and floor general Isaiah Wright, and Larry Krystkowiak is swimming in talented options up and down his roster.

Larry Krystkowiak and The Utes Will Have To Deal With The Pressure Of Expectations For The First Time (Utah Basketball)

Larry Krystkowiak and The Utes Will Have To Deal With The Pressure Of Expectations For The First Time. (Utah Athletics)

Weaknesses. We’re not even going to pick nits with the roster. There are some weaknesses here which will become apparent as the season wears on, but where this squad really has to prove itself is in its ability to win games. The Utes lost all seven of their games decided by a single possession last season and, given a serious uptick in the quality of their non-conference schedule, their mettle will be tested early and often this year. Utah has plenty of guys who have been through plenty of battles, but until they can prove their ability to pull out their best effort when the chips are down, there will remain questions about the ceiling of this team.

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The Pac-12’s Biggest Questions: Askia Booker, UCLA Point Guards & Arizona Shooters

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 7th, 2014

Little story, probably not all that interesting. With the college basketball season due to tip off a week from today, we here around the RTC Pac-12 microsite are finalizing our preseason rankings and all-conference teams and whatnot. So, in compiling those things, I sent out a poll to our writers and friends of the microsite. Tucked away at the very end of the poll was something of an afterthought; it read, simply “Biggest Question Marks – use any criteria.” Now, when I wrote that and when I filled out my own poll, I was thinking of just individual players and I came up with a list that included Robert Upshaw, Sam Singer, Tra Holder, Bryce Alford and Jordan Loveridge. And then when I looked at everybody else’s ballots, I saw more big picture question marks: Oregon’s mental state, new coaches around the league, Utah playing with expectations. And I thought those were some damn good questions myself. Never one to pass up a good topic to write on that I can easily cherry-pick, I’m going to go through some of the biggest questions that my colleagues came up with and ponder their answers as much as I can.

Askia Booker, Colorado

Question Number One For The Buffaloes Is Whether Askia Booker and Company Can Follow Spencer Dinwiddie’s Example (Patrick Ghidossi, BuffaloSportsNews)

Askia Booker and Life After the Mayor

Adam Butler of Pachoops.com listed this as his biggest question mark and it is no surprise. First, Butler absolutely loves writing about Booker (seriously Adam, how many more columns do you think you can get out of ‘Ski in his remaining collegiate eligibility?). Second, if Tad Boyle can find a coherent answer at the point guard position post-Spencer Dinwiddie, the Buffs are maybe the team with the best chance to challenge conference-favorite Arizona. But after Dinwiddie fell from a torn ACL last year, Colorado went 9-10 down the stretch and got run out of the NCAA Tournament in embarrassing fashion. As Butler loves to point out, Booker began to shelve his freewheeling, bad-shot hoisting, basketball-purist infuriating ways and embrace his inner point guard. Still, for the Buffaloes to live up to their ceiling, he needs to play off the ball on a regular basis and become a high-octane scorer. This means guys like sophomore Jaron Hopkins and freshman Dominique Collier will have to prove themselves worthy of earning the majority of those on-ball minutes. The facts that Hopkins struggled in his first season and that Collier is battling ankle problems do not bode well for positive answers on those fronts. In other words, the Booker point guard experiment (a role the 6’2” guard will probably have to embrace if he hopes to earn a long professional career) may continue.

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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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Preseason Questions: Is Utah’s Delon Wright Ready For Stardom?

Posted by Bennet Hayes on November 7th, 2014

Many college basketball fans still may not know who Delon Wright is – he remains a trendy selection for the “criminally underrated” superlative – but 12 months ago, no college basketball fan knew who Delon Wright was. The younger brother of NBA veteran Dorell Wright was a late bloomer who garnered little recruiting attention out of high school. He was a more coveted quantity by the time his two years at the City College of San Francisco had expired, but even then, Wright arrived on Utah’s campus with little fanfare.

Delon Wright Was A Pleasant Surprise Last Year; Are Bigger Things In Store For The Utah Senior This Season?

Delon Wright Was A Pleasant Surprise Last Year; Are Bigger Things In Store For The Utah Senior This Season?

What a difference a year can make. The efficiency tour de force that was Wright’s first D-I season has turned him into a preseason contender for Pac-12 Player of the Year and made his team a good bet to crash its first NCAA Tournament in a half-decade. Utah was picked second in the Pac-12 preseason poll, and for the first time in a long time, there are real expectations in Salt Lake City. Whether those hopes are fulfilled will partially be decided by how stirring an encore (and finale) Wright can deliver. The now-senior was brilliant last season, but also disappeared for critical stretches of a Utah season that ended in the NIT. Fans crave a different sort of postseason this year, but a critical question has yet to be answered: Is Delon Wright ready for stardom?

Statistically speaking, Wright kept everyone happy last year. Old school per-game enthusiasts were satiated by a nightly average of 15.5 PPG/6.8 RPG/5.8 APG across the board, while efficiency hounds marveled at Wright’s disruptive defensive habits (4.0% steal percentage, 3.5% block percentage) and a squeaky clean 119.2 offensive rating. His efficient offense was propelled by an eye-popping 62 percent two-point field goal percentage, an outrageous rate of conversion for a guard from inside the arc. By contrast, Louisville’s preseason All-America big man Montrezl Harrell had 97 dunks a season ago and still failed to match Wright’s gaudy two-point range percentage.

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Pac-12 Burning Questions: Most Interesting Team & Player

Posted by AMurawa on November 4th, 2014

What’s that smell? Hey, is it getting a little warm in here? Call the fire department, because it is time for Pac-12 Burning Questions, where we ask our Pac-12 writers for their answers to what we’re dying to know. This week:

Burning Questions: Which team are you most excited to watch this season? And which player are you most interested to see?

Adam Butler: I won’t shy away from being a homer: I’m most excited to see the Arizona Wildcats. This is Sean Miller’s crown jewel, the team he aimed to build when he first came to Tucson. Which is maybe what last year’s team was, but at this point the expectations have aligned with the realities and it’s his year. The Wildcats have coupled Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson into the most dynamic wing/backcourt/hybrid/power force in the country. I want to see that operate. The question will be asked if they can play defense as well as they did last year, and while I don’t think they can, I think they’ll be that much more offensively effective that it will negate the lapse (I use the term relatively considering Arizona was leaps and bounds the best defensive team last year). I want to see that operate.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson And The Wildcats Have Hoops Fans Intrigued (Mike Christy, Arizona Daily Star)

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson And The Wildcats Have Hoops Fans Intrigued (Mike Christy, Arizona Daily Star)

As for players, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is the guy I’m most excited to see. He’s had what seems to be a meteoric rise from sixth man to preseason All-American. Hype-be-damned, Jefferson already has demonstrated he can defend up and down a lineup. With any semblance of a jump shot, he has the skills (ones he’s already displayed) to absolutely fulfill those All-American accolades. There are a lot of pieces on that lineup, but what Jefferson will let the Wildcats do defensively, and his ability to create going at the rim, will make them the offensive threat they might have missed a season ago.

Kevin Danna: The team I’m most excited to watch this year is Utah. While I think we can all agree that this team looks primed to make its first NCAA Tournament appearance in six years, there’s a reasonable chance that the Runnin’ Utes will be 7-5 heading into conference play. They were criticized for their non-league slate last year, something that won’t happen this time around with games against San Diego State, Wichita State, Kansas, BYU and UNLV on the docket. Obviously, though, that could come back to bite them – how many of those games can Utah pull out? What happens if the Utes lose all five – what will this team’s resolve be like heading into Pac-12 play? If Utah can win three of those contests (say Wichita State, BYU and UNLV), then 10-2 looks really good and a winning conference record should be enough to get them into March Madness (depending on how the rest of the Pac-12 stacks up in November and December).

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