Pac-12 Teams and Feast Week

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 24th, 2014

It’s Feast Week, an ESPN creation that began with the Maui Invitational and the Preseason NIT back in the mid-80s and has morphed into a month-long parade of mini-tournaments that serves as college basketball’s introduction. Pac-12 schools kicked off their involvement in these exempt events last week with middling success, as the Bay Area schools each notched one impressive victory followed by a sobering loss in a championship game against a top 10 team. This week, Arizona and UCLA represent the conference in what have become the premier events of their kind: the venerable Maui Invitational and the new kid on the block, the Battle 4 Atlantis. Below, we’ll take a look at the Wildcats’ and the Bruins’ draws in their events, along with Washington’s appearance in the Wooden Legacy and Oregon’s presence in the Legends Classic.

Maui Invitational: Arizona

Opening Game: vs. Missouri (11/24, 2PM PST, ESPN2). The Wildcats get started against a Missouri team that got off to a rough start under new head coach Kim Anderson, with a loss to UMKC on the opening night of the season. With last year’s top three leading scorers now gone, the Tigers are relying on sophomore point guard Wes Clark, freshman scorer Montaque Gill-Caesar, frontcourt specimen Jonathan Williams III and Hawaii transfer Keith Shamburger to provide offense. If Clark, Gill-Caesar and Shamburger can get hot from deep, the Tigers could stick around for awhile, but Arizona’s overall athleticism should give the Wildcats a significant advantage.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson And The Crew Will See An Increased Level Of Competition In Maui (Mike Christy, Arizona Daily Star)

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson And The Crew Will See An Increased Level Of Competition In Maui (Mike Christy, Arizona Daily Star)

Please God Let Us See: Arizona vs. San Diego State in the Championship Game

Let’s face it — this is by no means a classic Maui field. But if these two teams advance to the title game as expected, we could have a real West Coast classic on Thanksgiving Eve. A budding geographic rivalry, a match-up on West Maui would be something to be thankful for indeed. These teams faced each other twice last season with the Wildcats dispatching the Aztecs both times, including a Sweet Sixteen battle royale in Anaheim. With Steve Fisher needing to replace leading scorer – and just plain old leader – Xavier Thames, the Aztecs probably aren’t quite as far along as the Wildcats are, but they’ve got the length and athleticism to make guys like Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson compete against guys of similar ability.

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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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Ranking the AAC Non-Conference Schedules: Part I

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 10th, 2014

It might seem that ranking non-conference schedules at this early juncture is a fruitless endeavor, and we understand that sentiment. Smart college basketball fans think they know who will be good and who won’t, but it’s all just educated guesswork until the season starts. That doesn’t mean evaluating non-conference schedules is foolish. Some teams will surprise and others disappoint, but the variance between preseason expectations and season-long success isn’t usually big enough to make schedule analysis worthless. In fact, given the weighty importance the Selection Committee places on non-conference scheduling when it determines the field of 68, analyzing schedules now may lead to clues about which AAC bubble teams could actually get in. We ranked all 11 team’s non-conference schedules from worst to first below, with the first installment featuring teams ranked #11-#6 today. All preseason rankings are courtesy of KenPom.com.

11. Houston Cougars

Sampson's Rebuild Took a Hit With the Loss of LJ Rose to Injury

Kelvin Sampson is Likely Smiling Because Of All The Bad Teams The Cougars Play.

The sky is blue, the sun rises in the east, and the Houston Cougars play an aggressively terrible non-conference schedule – those are the only three things anyone can truly count on. After three seasons in a row of playing one of the worst such schedules in the country, nothing has changed in that regard. The Cougars play six opponents ranked #294 and lower, including such luminaries as Abilene Christian and Houston Baptist. Early games against Murray State and Harvard present important opportunities to notch good wins, but it’s a good thing the Cougars aren’t expected to contend for an NCAA Tournament berth because the committee might laugh this non-conference resume out of the building.

10. East Carolina. Aside from the unlikely chance that the Pirates walk into Chapel Hill and upset North Carolina, there are few opportunities for the team to get any other wins worth noting. East Carolina will ease into its new conference playing an inspired non-conference schedule that includes perennial powerhouses like North Carolina Wesleyan and Virginia-Lynchburg. They will play in the Gulf Coast Showcase, pitting them against a tough Green Bay team and perhaps Fresno State if they win, but the rest of this schedule is littered with opponents that won’t be relevant by the middle of December.

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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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Assessing Ken Pomeroy’s Pac-12 Ratings

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 31st, 2014

There once was a time, back in the day, when college basketball fans would eagerly anticipate the initial AP Poll as a harbinger of the coming season. Or maybe you were the kind of fan who took the Street & Smith’s magazine appearing at your local newsstand as the sign from the basketball gods that it was time to dig into the impending season. Nowadays, Street & Smith’s preseason magazines are long gone. The AP Poll may as well be. But with the rise of advanced metrics, college hoops junkies with a love for statistics can bask in the unveiling of Ken Pomeroy’s preseason ratings with the same joy that those old print-era milestones used to impart.

Steve Alford and UCLA check in much higher than expected. (AP)

Steve Alford and UCLA check in much higher than expected. (AP)

The 2015 ratings over at KenPom.com were unveiled earlier this week, and with now only two remaining weeks before action tips off, there is plenty to dig into in Pomeroy’s Pac-12 picks. Below, key takeaways:

UCLA Gets (Too Much?) Respect – The plan all along was to start at the top and work my way down the Pac-12 rankings. But immediately, the #2 Pac-12 team in Pomeroy’s rankings jumps out, as UCLA not only shows up as the clear-cut choice to challenge Arizona for conference supremacy, but also checks in at #13 nationally. This for a team that lost five big-time contributors from last season’s team, including three of those guys to the NBA Draft’s First Round? What gives? Well, first let’s let Pomeroy explain the basis, pulling out some choice relevant quotes from his blog post unveiling his rankings.

“People always want to know why a team is ranked in an unexpected spot. Think of the ratings formula as [team baseline + personnel]. The personnel portion is looking at who is returning from last season’s roster, how much the returnees played, what kind of role each returnee had, and what class they are in.”

“The system does not give any special consideration to new players entering the program. There is some credit given for high-profile recruits, but the poor performances in 2012-13 of UCLA and Kentucky, among others, in recent years have tended to mute the impact of recruits in the model.”

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Washington’s Most Important Player: Robert Upshaw

Posted by Tracy McDannald on October 31st, 2014

Potential can be a tricky hope to bank on. Some players shine immediately; others blossom late; and those who were once an afterthought can perform well above what any high school ranking projected. In the case of Washington center Robert Upshaw, the 7-footer is looking to fulfill untapped potential. In 2012, Upshaw was a four-star prospect as one of the top prep big men in California. He had scholarship offers to attend Louisville and Georgetown as well as interest from around the Pac-12, and he even committed to play at Kansas State before re-opening his recruitment in the spring of his senior year. He ended up at Fresno State, where he was slowed by a knee injury early and then couldn’t get out of his own way during his one year there, averaging just 5.3 points and 3.8 rebounds in 16.4 minutes per game over 22 contests. The program dismissed him in August 2013 after a third violation of team rules.

Robert Upshaw Is A Terrific Pick-up For Fresno State.

Robert Upshaw, a 7-foot transfer from Fresno State, could make Washington’s frontline imposing this season.

Upshaw transferred to Washington and sat out last season, per NCAA rules. But trouble continued to follow him, and at one point there was uncertainty where he stood with head coach Lorenzo Romar and there was significant doubt in March whether he would still be on the roster this season. By September, however, Upshaw was participating in team activities and all appears to be clear for his Huskies career to begin. Although the red flags have already accumulated, the gamble could prove to be worth the risk for Romar. This could be the type of addition that helps the Huskies emerge from what is looking like a crapshoot in the middle-to-bottom half of the league.

The number of quality big men throughout the Pac-12 this season has been well-documented. The Huskies now have the ability to pair 6’10” junior forward Jernard Jarreau and 6’9” senior Shawn Kemp Jr., alongside Upshaw, with 240 pounds and up of bulk in each of the three. In his short time at Fresno State, Upshaw showed off an ability for rim protection with 39 blocked shots. The possibilities for him at Washington look promising, and the redshirt sophomore’s presence could be the difference in fielding a formidable frontcourt, or just a frontcourt with depth. Now, Upshaw just needs to allow for his opportunity to unfold.

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Pac-12 Season Preview: Washington Huskies

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 29th, 2014

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

Washington Huskies

Strengths. Historically, Lorenzo Romar’s teams in Seattle have been teams adept at getting up and down the court and scoring in an efficient manner. In his 12 seasons with the Huskies, his teams have ranked in the top 75 in adjusted tempo in all but one year. Likewise, his teams have ranked in the top 90 in adjusted offensive efficiency (all of these numbers are courtesy of KenPom.com) in every year except his first season as head coach there. With point guard Nigel Williams-Goss back for his sophomore campaign, joined by junior Andrew Andrews, Romar has the beginnings of the type of high-octane, backcourt-led offensive juggernaut that has been a hallmark of his best teams. Of course, Romar will have to replace his two most efficient players from last season in C.J. Wilcox and Perris Blackwell, but if Jernard Jarreau comes back from an ACL tear that cost him all but a couple minutes of last season, he’s the type of skilled forward who could be a holy terror running the floor with that pair of guards. Throw in a couple of athletic wings in Mike Anderson and Darin Johnson (who really came on at the end of his freshman campaign) and mercurial former McDonald’s All-American transfer Robert Upshaw in the middle, and if things come together, the Huskies could be fairly potent with the ball in their hands.

Nigel WIlliams-Goss and Andrew Andrews Give The Huskies A Head Start On A Potent Offense

Nigel WIlliams-Goss and Andrew Andrews Give The Huskies A Head Start On A Potent Offense

Weaknesses. So, if I’m going out of my way to praise the Huskies’ offense as a strength, I’ll give you one good guess what I think their weakness could be this season. Back in 2008-09, as Washington was running out to a #4 seed in the NCAA Tournament behind the likes of Jon Brockman, Quincy Pondexter and freshman Isaiah Thomas, Romar’s group gave the 10th most efficient defensive performance in the nation. Every year since then, the Huskies have been worse on defense than the previous year, culminating in last season’s dumpster fire. The Huskies gave up an adjusted total of 104.5 points per 100 offensive possessions, good for a dreadful 163rd in the nation and 11th in the Pac-12. Look no further for your primary reason why the Huskies were lucky to finish 9-9 in conference play. This year, if Upshaw can become something of a rim-protector in the middle and get some help from Jarreau, the Huskies should be better by default. But – let’s be blunt – Williams-Goss and Andrews are not the type of defensive-minded guards around which to build a great defensive team.

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Buy, Sell or Hold at Pac-12 Media Day

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 27th, 2014

The concept here is simple and completely stolen borrowed from Seth Davis of CBS Sports. We’re going to take a look at the poll of media members conducted at the Pac-12 Media Day last week and tell you whether we think each team is going to exceed, fall short of, or match the expectations expressed in that poll. And when all this is said and done roughly five months from now, we’ll look back and see how we did. So, without further ado, let’s jump right in.

pac-12poll

Arizona: Hold. The fact is that when you’re picked first in your conference and earn 31 of the 32 possible first-place votes in the preseason poll, there is only so much higher you can go. Given that Arizona is going to be routinely chosen among the top four teams in the nation in just about every national preseason poll that appears, the stakes are pretty clear: Final Four or bust. Given the fact that Sean Miller has yet to reach such a lofty goal in his time in the desert and the fact that the Wildcats lost arguably their two most importance pieces from last season, I’m a least a little skeptical. Given such a high risk, buying this stock is out of the question. But with all the talent compiled in Tucson, we have to at least keep a little piece of the action here. When we come back to re-evaluate this, let’s consider an appearance in the Final Four the barrier, with anything less being considered a letdown and anything more a home run.

Sean Miller, Arizona

Is This The Year Sean Miller and The Wildcats Cut Down The Nets? (AP Photo)

Utah: Sell. Sell, sell, sell. And I like Utah. But let’s remember that this is a squad that went 9-9 in conference play last season. And while they’ve got some fun new pieces (Brekkot Chapman, Chris Reyes, Isaiah Wright, Jakob Poeltl and Kyle Kuzma all have the opportunity to earn playing time), second place in this league is some heady stuff. The Utes will have to prove that they can win games when they’ve got a target on their chest, that they can win close games (they were 3-8 in games decided by two possessions or fewer), and that they can win away from the Huntsman Center (they were 2-9 in true road games) before they’re worthy of blue-chip status.

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Pac-12 Media Day Roundup: Part One

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 in San Francisco on Thursday. Check back later in the day for his notes on the conference’s other six teams.

In Case You Needed A Reminder, Pac-12 Media Day Means Actual Basketball Games Are Just Around the Corner

In Case You Needed A Reminder, Pac-12 Media Day Means Actual Basketball Games Are Just Around the Corner

USC

Coach Andy Enfield took the stage with his starting power forward (or center, Enfield noted both), Nikola Jovanovic, and provided opening remarks lasting about as long as a USC possession: 16 seconds. It was swift and brief. He was complimentary of his fellow, on-stage Trojan, and left the rest to us. Which is probably indicative of the program he’s building. It is just year two and arguably the least interesting season during a rebuild. It’s neither new and exciting nor developed enough to garner much attention. His team is picked to finish 10th, but he likes what he’s building, “We have more athleticism, better shooting. We have an elite freshman point guard (Jordan McLaughlin) we recruited,” said Enfield. These components, he notes, are and will become major parts of what we presume is the Enfield system, aka Dunk City, aka Galen Dunk Center. The addition of McLaughlin is huge, and, without directly saying it, Enfield knows how important he is to their future, “We’re expecting big things from him. I think he came to USC for that opportunity, to be relied upon as a freshman. He’ll have that opportunity. We’re excited for him.” Which is great because I am, too! I’ll be closely following McLaughlin’s progress as his commitment to USC, rather than UCLA when the Bruins were in dire need for a 2014 point guard, is a fascinating storyline to this season. USC might play in flashes and make swift opening remarks, but they just might be a program to stick around awhile.

Washington State

Easily the most charismatic of the coaches, Ernie Kent considered himself back from sabbatical: “Any coach that has coached 30-plus years needs a sabbatical. I’m just amazed at what it’s done for me in terms of your energy, your spirt.” Energy and spirit he provided. He was colorful and funny, even having a slight back-and-forth with his accompanying star, DaVonte Lacy. The two seemed to understand the challenges ahead considering the roster in Pullman and the depth of the conference. But Lacy believes they have the unique opportunity to come together, build on chemistry and do something special. It’s something he learned in his short stint with the Pac-12 All-Star team while in China and it’s something he expanded upon when I asked him about leadership, “Being someone that’s been through the fire already, preparing [newcomers] to go through it, that’s how I’m approaching leadership.” Lacy hopes to galvanize this group, building chemistry and subsequently surprising a few people with what the Cougars can do. And speaking of surprises, can you imagine a “lost” Ernie Kent knocking on your door looking for directions? “Hi, I’m lost. I’m also your new basketball coach.” It’s something Kent has been doing in trying to energize the Cougars fan base, “I’ve tried to make myself available as much as possible… it’s been fun getting out and meeting people in Pullman.” Like I said, the most charismatic of the 12 lead gentlemen.

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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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