Morning Five: 05.02.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on May 2nd, 2013

morning5

  1. Over the past five years or so, the college basketball puppet-masters have made heroic if not completely successful attempts to spice up the early November opening of the season. Between the ESPN 24 Hours of Hoops Marathon, the Champions Classic, the Armed Forces Classic and the various aircraft carrier games, there have been some hits and some misses, but if nothing else these events suck a small percentage of the oxygen out of a sports media universe dominated by the pigskin at the time. According to ESPN.com‘s Jason King, there may be another entry into a crowded opening week on the horizon. bd Global is reportedly putting together the final touches on a multi-game event that would take place in Dallas’ American Airlines Arena, just 20 minutes away from Cowboys Stadium, the site of next year’s Final Four. The concept, of course, is that this event — which would include some prominent semi-local Big 12 schools and other national programs — would bookend the 2013-14 season in exciting fashion, while calling attention to the site of next year’s (and future years’) championship weekend. We’re all for it, but is it too much to ask that the event organizers hold this on the actual opening day of college basketball?
  2. There were a couple of prominent transfers Wednesday, with the announcements that Kansas State’s Angel Rodriguez will land at Miami (FL), and Arizona’s Angelo Chol is leaving Sean Miller’s program. There was some speculation originally that Rodriguez may follow his former coach Frank Martin to Columbia, South Carolina, but because of a family health issue, he sought a location relatively close to his home in Puerto Rico and Miami is about as close as he can get. Rodriguez also played his prep basketball in South Florida, so he’s already familiar with the area. If he manages to receive an NCAA family health waiver to suit up next season, he can step right in at the point guard slot vacated by Shane Larkin and would immediately become the team’s best player. Chol found himself in a big man logjam last season in Tucson, averaging a couple points and rebounds per game in only about nine minutes per outing. Even with Grant Jerrett’s decision to leave for the pros factored into next year’s playing time calculus, the addition of top five prospect Aaron Gordon meant that things were unlikely to improve much for Chol in that regard. The San Diego native is likely to give San Diego State a good, hard look as a possible destination.
  3. With everyone providing their post-draft deadline Top 25s for next season, CBSSports.com‘s Gary Parrish and Jeff Goodman went one step further with their predictions of how the preseason All-America teams are likely to look in November. Keeping in mind that players who are consensus locks in the preseason sometimes have a tendency to fall completely off the list by March, their selections generally make good sense at this time. Marcus Smart, Doug McDermott and Russ Smith are easy selections, and Mitch McGary probably is a good choice for a fourth. Their wildcard selection, however, is where you just never know… Andrew Wiggins is everyone’s rising superstar du jour, but it wasn’t that long ago that Harrison Barnes was a two-time lock for First Team All-American (he made zero major AA teams at UNC) and Anthony Davis was on a clear track to become the next Bill Russell (Damian Lillard instead was the NBA’s consensus Rookie of the Year). We say this not to point out specific mistakes because everyone makes them, but really to highlight the extreme fallibility of predictions such as these (by anyone).
  4. If that’s not enough to get you hyped for next season, ESPN.com‘s Dana O’Neil backs these guys up with her argument that the 2013-14 season, with a tremendous group of returnees buttressed by an equally impressive group of newcomers, is shaping up to be something special. Frankly, it’s a really tough argument to make. The 2011-12 season trotted out the same argument with the returns of rising stars Harrison Barnes, Perry Jones and Terrence Jones, to name a few, but that season was mostly marked by a clear delineation that Kentucky and North Carolina, when fully healthy, were the best two teams in America. For our money, a season like 2012-13 was actually more exciting simply because there were more legitimate contenders to the crown — Indiana, Gonzaga, Michigan, Duke, Kansas, Florida and even Miami (FL) looked like they had the chops at one time or another — before Louisville crowned an exciting NCAA Tournament with a storybook run to the title with a likable group of players. Hey, we’re ready for next season right now — let’s tip it off regardless of who is around to play the games — but we for one don’t think parity in college hoops is at all a bad thing. It works for the NFL, why not us?
  5. When RTC was just getting started several years ago, we had a somewhat quaint notion that if we asked nicely and didn’t show up looking like Russell Brand on a 72-hour bender, we might be able to convince a few schools to allow us to cover games as members of the credentialed media. The first school that gave us such an opportunity was Boston College, and the SID who allowed it to occur was Dick Kelley. This week SI.com‘s Pete Thamel wrote a tremendous story describing the unbelievable depth of positive impact that Kelley has had on a school’s athletic department in so many more ways than simply handling media requests. For the last two years, Kelley has been battling Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and at the time of Thamel’s piece, he has lost the use of both his arms and legs and can no longer speak. Yet he still attended basketball practices and all but one of BC’s home games this season. The story is an inspirational one, and sometimes it’s difficult to get emotionally attached to someone most readers have never met. But for us, not only was he willing to give a couple of part-time bloggers a chance to become legit, he also helped open the door for RTC (and so many others in our wake) to cover high-level Division I games in a professional way. Literally hundreds of games, dozens of conference tourneys, and three full NCAA Tournaments later, we will always remember how we were initially treated by a class act in every sense of the phrase. Take care, Dick.
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Arizona Post-Mortem

Posted by AMurawa on April 11th, 2013

Now that we are officially in the offseason, it’s time to take a look back and evaluate each team’s 2012-13 performance. Next on our list: Arizona.

What Went Right

You know, after all is said and done, after all the chatter about his strengths and weaknesses, you gotta say that the Mark Lyons experiment turned out pretty well. Yes, the end of the season and a not-quite-buzzer-beating loss to Ohio State in the Sweet Sixteen is disappointing, and a fourth-place Pac-12 finish isn’t what was expected, but down the stretch, this team was clicking pretty well behind Lyons. With a dearth of other create-for-themselves offensive players (outside of Solomon Hill), Lyons was a pretty good fit here. He never materialized as the distributing floor general some had hoped, but he was a good version of himself — scoring efficiently, playing hard and zipping people up defensively.

Despite Some Ups And Downs, You've Got To Call The Mark Lyons Experiment A Success, Right?

Despite Some Ups And Downs, You’ve Got To Call The Mark Lyons Experiment A Success, Right?

What Went Wrong

For a team with three hardened veterans among the seven-man rotation, this was a surprisingly inconsistent team. Much of that can be chalked up to three freshmen occupying the rotation at the four and five spots. As talented as Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett are, they were still freshmen growing into their bodies and into their games. There were blown assignments, soft defense and the handful of boneheaded plays. But, the bright side is all three of these guys got tremendous experience, displayed their major upside and are expected to return next season.

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Pac-12 Report Card, Volume VI: The Delinquents

Posted by AMurawa on February 13th, 2013

These four teams will need to be spending time extra time this week hitting the books.

Arizona – D+

Over the course of 80 minutes against the Bay Area schools, the Wildcats looked like a top-10 team for about, what, eight minutes? Four minutes at the end of the Stanford game and four minutes in the middle of the first half against Cal? But then again, this Wildcats team has made a season out of playing poorly for long stretches and still coming away with wins, even against good teams. Against the Golden Bears, however, that wasn’t the case. And, long-term, that type of play is not going to be enough to max out this team’s ability. Sure, the freshman bigs still have room to grow, but with the core of this team a veteran bunch, at some point you have to take this team at face value; maybe these ‘Cats are destined to underachieve. Then again, I’m also saying this about a team with only three losses in the middle of February.

With Other Arizona Bigs Limited By Circumstance, Angelo Chol Stepped Up Against Stanford (Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star)

With Other Arizona Bigs Limited By Circumstance, Angelo Chol Stepped Up Against Stanford (Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star)

Focus on: Angelo Chol. On Thursday night, with Grant Jerrett out with injury, Brandon Ashley fouled out in 13 minutes and Kaleb Tarczewski ineffective, the sophomore big man earned 24 minutes, the most in his career. And, he came through in a pinch, grabbing eight boards and scoring six points over that stretch. He slid back to just six minutes of action against Cal on Sunday, but it must be comforting to know that he’s available to produce when needed.

Looking ahead: Thursday night, the Wildcats head to Colorado and enter a lion’s den, where the Buffaloes have the chance they’ve been looking forward to for more than a month — to gain revenge for the Debacle in the Desert. But for the Wildcats, they have the opportunity to rip the hearts out of an opponent. We’ll see if they have the killer instinct to do so.

Washington State – D

Against USC on Thursday night, the Cougars played the Trojans to a draw for about 35 minutes before fading down the stretch. At UCLA on Saturday night, they weren’t even that lucky, going more than 10 minutes in the first half without a field goal, not scoring their first two-point field goal for more than 16 minutes, and never really finding themselves in the game. With a four-game losing streak in progress and Ken Bone’s first losing season on the Paloose a distinct possibility, WSU fans are relegated to discussing the head coach’s future with the university.

Focus on: D.J. Shelton. A 6’10” athletic power forward putting up 9.5 rebounds per game? Sure. Nothing unusual about that. But that same guy handing out 11 assists over the course of a pair of games? That’s intriguing. Shelton still can’t put the ball in the basket on a regular basis anywhere around the key, a disturbing trend for a big guy, but he is the team’s most accurate three-point shooter, knocking down 41% of his 39 three-point attempts this year.

Looking ahead: Hosting Oregon State and Oregon this week (albeit in front of a largely empty Beasley Coliseum) likely presents the Cougars with their last best chance at a home sweep this year.

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Pac-12 M5: 01.28.13 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on January 28th, 2013

pac12_morning5

  1. The biggest breaking news over the weekend came out of Eugene late Friday night when Bob Clark of the Register-Guard reported that Dominic Artis would be out indefinitely with a foot injury of undetermined severity. Oregon still managed to knock off Washington on Saturday evening (in the first sellout at Matthew Knight Arena in almost two years) with Artis watching from the bench in a walking boot. Junior Jonathan Loyd got the start and was solid, getting to the line 10 times in 31 minutes of action and scoring nine points, but he did turn the ball over five times to go along with his five assists. The other guy who earned some of the Artis’ minutes was freshman Willie Moore, who earned nine minutes, his most since before Christmas, but he too struggled with turnovers. With no timetable announced for Artis’ return, the Ducks will have to rely on those two to step up as they go to the Bay Area schools next week.
  2. The other injury of note over the past week was to UCLA’s Travis Wear, whose concussion suffered in the first half against Arizona on Thursday night kept him out of Saturday’s visit to Arizona State. But, Travis Wear or no Travis Wear, the Bruins were going down hard on Saturday. They struggled with the Sun Devils’ athleticism, size and energy, but mostly, they just weren’t engaged in the game after Thursday night’s big win. ASU outhustled UCLA from the opening tip to the closing buzzer, with Jordan Bachynski, Carrick Felix and Evan Gordon having big games and Jahii Carson, despite struggling from the field, conducting a masterful performance at the point.
  3. Last night in front of a sparse crowd limited by blizzard conditions in Salt Lake City, Stanford’s offense got back on track in a big way against Utah, scoring 46 first-half points, 87 points for the game, and looking for the first time in a long time like the explosive team that ran to last year’s NIT title. On the Utah side of the court, sophomore transfer Dallin Bachynski did not suit up for the game and his future at the school is in doubt. After getting double-figure minutes in his first 12 games as a Ute, he hasn’t seen anywhere near that run in Pac-12 play and has lost his starting job to senior Jason Washburn. Bachynski met with head coach Larry Krystkowiak on Friday to discuss his future with the program, and while there are no immediate answers as to his long-term status, the fact that he did still sit on the bench with the team (although he didn’t dress out), indicates that he isn’t going away permanently quite yet.
  4. Arizona bounced back from its disappointing loss on Thursday by jumping out to a commanding early lead against USC and never looking back. The Wildcats held USC to nine points on its first 23 possessions, forcing seven turnovers and 2-of-19 shooting. Aside from the crispness with which the ‘Cats played, another aspect of the game that pleased head coach Sean Miller was the fact that it gave him a chance to extend his bench and find some minutes for guys like Angelo Chol and Gabe York. After playing in the first 14 games of the year, Chol has slid back to take the ninth-man spot in an eight-man rotation, but he played with energy in his eight minutes against the Trojans, grabbing a couple boards and blocking a shot. York, a high-flying freshman, has now played in nine games this year, but the USC game was his first appearance in Pac-12 play and he followed Miller’s advice by being very aggressive in looking for his shot. York played eight minutes and yet found room for five three-point attempts, knocking down a couple. Miller has talked with both guys about their playing time and has come away impressed with their maturity even when the minutes haven’t been there.
  5. Colorado took it to California on Sunday and did so without the services of Andre Roberson for much of the first half. Despite losing the nation’s leading rebounder to foul trouble, the Buffs rode some hot shooting to a 34-18 halftime lead and never looked back. After the game, Cal head coach Mike Montgomery had plenty of questions about his team, including whether the team even thought it could win the game and what type of mindset it now has. With conference leader Oregon due in Haas Pavilion next weekend and any distant hopes of an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament receding into the sunset, the Bears need to get it together, and quick. One good bit of news: senior guard Brandon Smith returned to action this weekend after six games lost due to the effects of a concussion.

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Pac-12 M5:11.08.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on November 8th, 2012

  1. Pac-12 basketball exhibition games are generally meaningless affairs where a big school beats up on an overmatched foe while the former’s head coach tinkers around with different lineups and different styles. Usually the Pac-12 team wins going away and no one loses too much sleep about the result one way or the other. Still, valuable information can be gleaned from some of these games: Which returnee has made the biggest strides, which of the newcomers can make an impact early in their careers, and who is getting passed up for playing time? For Arizona, with three new and talented freshman big men, sophomore forward Angelo Chol is battling for a spot in the lineup and he’s had some struggles in the team’s two exhibitions. He’s missed some point-blank shots and has lost some confidence, but head coach Sean Miller is still relying on him to earn minutes while senior leader Solomon Hill is doing his best to keep Chol’s head in the game. Hill, on the other hand, was nearly flawless in his latest outing against Chico State (an Arizona win, 98-60) , with only a late missed free throw and a single turnover as blemishes on his performance.
  2. We’ve all got our favorite Pac-12 blogs, but one of my personal favorites is Coug Center. There are times when it seems like you’ve got to hunt down information about Washington State, and over the years I’ve found Coug Center to be by far the best place to keep up to date with all things WSU. While football is still king there (and a lot of other places) for the time being, Kyle Sherwood, Jeff Nusser and Craig Powers did a great job running down their thoughts on the upcoming season. In light of the Reggie Moore dismissal, topic number one was who will play point guard and they’ve got no better answer than anyone else, other than the fact that Royce Woolridge, DaVonte Lacy and Mike Ladd are going to be forced into a lot of minutes and a point guard-by-committee situation. Who knows, it could work, but just remembering Arizona State last year without any real point guard leaves plenty of room for doubt.
  3. We’ve talked in the past about Utah’s complete remaking of its roster, and there is little doubt that Larry Krystkowiak has upped the talent level there. But with many other programs around the conference improved as well, the question remains whether his new roster will result in additional wins. Based on a ridiculously week non-conference schedule, one would hope the Utes would be able to notch at least six wins prior to conference play, but can they improve on last year’s three Pac-12 wins? Many around the conference are picking Utah at the back of the pack — they were 12th in the preseason Pac-12 poll — but with capable offensive players like Jarred DuBois, Aaron Dotson and Jordan Loveridge as well as a deeper bench than the Utes have had in a couple of years, you can probably expect their improved talent to be reflected in their final record, even if they’re still almost certainly doomed to a lower-division finish.
  4. Back on the recruiting trail, UCLA landed three-star wing Noah Allen in the Class of 2013 on Tuesday. A one-time Harvard commitment, Allen certainly isn’t the type of player that head coach Ben Howland landed last year — Scout.com recruiting guru Evan Daniels calls him “a four-year guy” who is more of a long-term project than an immediate impact player. Interestingly enough, apparently Howland made the offer without ever having seen Allen play in person. We’re guessing that there won’t be any eligibility concerns with this prospect roughly a year from now.
  5. Lastly, we’ll hop across town where USC head coach Kevin O’Neill has named junior J.T. Terrell as the starter at the two-guard, beating out returning starter Byron Wesley for the job. Wesley is still expected to get plenty of run, both in relief of Terrell and at the other wing spot, but, man, sometimes the things that O’Neill says just makes you shake your head in disbelief. “He’s finally starting to play hard,” said O’Neill, inferring that for the longest time, Terrell wasn’t playing hard. O’Neill then went on to say that Terrell is “more intelligent than I thought he was.” Goodness. It makes you wonder if O’Neill thought he was complimenting the transfer player, or if he was going out of his way to get a few jabs in his ribs. Terrell’s certainly a talented offensive player, but you know in order to play for K.O.’s Trojans, you’ve got to be committed to give good effort on the defensive end. I would suspect Terrell’s defensive intensity, or lack thereof, is where these latest back-handed compliments stem from.
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Pac-12 Team Previews: Arizona Wildcats

Posted by PBaruh on October 29th, 2012

Throughout the preseason, the Pac-12 microsite will be rolling out these featured breakdowns of each of the 12 league schools. Today’s release is the Arizona Wildcats.

Strengths: Sean Miller finally has all his pieces down in Tucson. This Wildcat team is talented, filled with depth, and has some serious athleticism. With all Miller teams, great defense is expected and this squad is no different. Offensively, these Wildcats can score, they can get out and run, and execute their offense efficiently in the half-court. With the backcourt stacked with transfer Mark Lyons and returning guards in Nick Johnson, Kevin Parrom and Jordin Mayes, the Wildcats will be fresh for all 40 minutes and be very hard to stop. Lyons is a much better facilitator than Josiah Turner was, and is very comfortable transferring over from Xavier having been recruited by Sean Miller there. On the front line, Solomon Hill can score down low or stretch the floor with a good mid-range game as well as hit the occasional shot from beyond the arc. To help Hill out, Miller brought in the second best recruiting class overall featuring bigs Brandon Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski, and Grant Jerrett. All are expected to contribute right away, but nothing is ever certain with freshman. However, it’s pretty safe to say that based on their talent level the three combined will be able to replace Jesse Perry’s production. Additionally, Angelo Chol returns with another year of experience, and although he is still raw offensively, he can defend and rebound well for his position. Sean Miller is now in his fourth year at Arizona and this team has the potential to become elite.

Solomon Hill could cause multiple matchup problems at the small forward spot this year for opponents.

Weaknesses: It’s hard to point out any weaknesses on this team. But, as of now, the Wildcats don’t have a proven player who can really take over a game — there’s no Derrick Williams here. Yet, at least. Also, they are relying on freshman in the post to help carry some of the scoring burden. And most importantly, while Lyons is certainly a talented ballplayer, he has not yet proven his ability to handle the point guard position full-time. If everything comes together as Arizona fans hope, this Wildcat team may not have many noticeable weaknesses, but there are plenty of questions that need to be answered between now and then.

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Pac-12 M5: 10.16.12 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton on October 16th, 2012

  1. Washington picked up the second commitment of its 2013 recruiting class on Sunday, adding shooting guard Darin Johnson out of Sacramento. The Sheldon High School (CA) product chose the Huskies over UCLA, San Diego State, and Gonzaga, among others. Johnson’s style is very much up-tempo, if only because he’s a prolific scorer and the more touches he gets, the more come with it. As the article points out, the in-state Aztecs would have been a very tempting choice considering head man Steve Fisher just landed a pair of Johnson’s AAU teammates. But with Abdul Gaddy and Scott Suggs graduating after the 2012-13 campaign, the minutes will be there immediately for Johnson in Seattle. Johnson joins Findlay Prep (NV) point guard Nigel Williams-Goss as the Huskies’ second Class of 2013 commitment. With the backcourt complete, coach Lorenzo Romar will now turn his attention to five-star power forward Aaron Gordon.
  2. Coming off a 19-14 season that was downright embarrassing at times, UCLA’s summer exhibition trip to China might have come at just the right time. It was there that the new-look Bruins, featuring one of the top recruiting classes in the country, bonded together and dominated their games. They did that without the services of freshmen Tony Parker and Shabazz Muhammad, who sat out the trip due to an injury and eligibility concerns. Parker is now healthy, but it’s scary to think how good Ben Howland’s bunch can be this season if Muhammad is cleared by the NCAA. With a pair of five- and four-stars now residing to Los Angeles, the Bruins should not only compete with Arizona for the Pac-12 championship, but are a likely candidate to make at least the Sweet Sixteen come March.
  3. We showed you a few weeks back how many men’s non-conference games would be televised by the new Pac-12 Networks (89, in fact), so it was good news for those that also like to see the women ball when conference commissioner Larry Scott announced that 61 women’s games would be televised on the networks this season. Needless to say, there’s going to be more than enough Pac-12 basketball for the average and even addicted fan to enjoy this season. If your television provider doesn’t carry the Pac-12 Networks, you can let your voice be heard here.
  4. With the start of practice comes projections of all sorts, and in this Daily Wildcat piece, Zack Rosenblatt breaks down the 10-man Arizona rotation. Newcomers Grant Jerrett and Mark Lyons make up two-fifths of the starting five, but Solomon Hill will be required to carry most of the load with the departure of Jesse Perry. Rosenblatt projects sophomore Angelo Chol to get the start at center over highly touted freshman Kaleb Tarczewski, but notes that “having a talented 7-footer like Tarczewski come off the bench is a nice problem to have.” Most of the “key reserve” list is either filled with freshman or bench players who rarely started last season. Junior guard Jordin Mayes is the exception, whose starts were mostly based off whether he was hot or not coming into a game.
  5. Building on the thing that helped keep Utah competitive toward the end of 2011-12, head coach Larry Krystkowiak is devoting 80% of practice to the defensive facet of the game. Already believing that his team has a “scoring punch” (which may be a bit of a stretch, but we’ll reserve judgement until games start), the Utes want to work on help-side defense and stopping attacks at the rim. A lack of discipline and quickness last year would lead to many back-door attacks on the Ute defense, commonly resulting in finishes at the rim. Taking that away and forcing teams to shoot from outside will keep them in games longer, and the longer they are in those contests, the more of a chance something good will happen for the Utes. After all, jump shots are typically tougher to put down than slam dunks.
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Arizona Week: What to Expect in 2012-13

Posted by AMurawa on June 29th, 2012

We’ve spent the week with the Wildcats, and if you’ve followed along, you’ve likely got your own opinions about what the 2011-12 season will hold in store for Arizona. Can Mark Lyons strike the right balance between distributor and scorer at the point? How quickly can the three freshmen bigs make an impact? Which, if any, of Nick Johnson, Kevin Parrom or Angelo Chol will have a breakout year? And can this Wildcat team lay the foundation for another long run of consecutive NCAA Tournaments? If you’re anything like us, I’m sure you can’t wait to find out the answers, but for now we’re going to have to settle for a glance into RTC’s quite imperfect crystal ball. From what I can glean, here’s how the Arizona season plays out.

Nick Johnson, Arizona

Nick Johnson Could Be The Wildcat Most Poised For A Breakout Season (Willy Low, AP)

  • UA’s Leading ScorerMark Lyons. It’s possible the Xavier-transfer could blow up and average 20 points a game this season, but that probably wouldn’t be good for Arizona’s team goals or Lyons’ personal goals. Still, he’s a guy who can get his own shot at will, either off the bounce or from deep. And, he’ll have the ball in his hands enough to score plenty. Still, with all the talent on this team, the guess is that this roster winds up producing pretty balanced scoring, with four different players scoring in double figures.
  • UA’s MVPSolomon Hill. Hill’s numbers may take a slight dip as he carves out a new role for himself on a talented roster, but he’ll still be asked to makes plays for himself and for teammates in the halfcourt, get on the glass with abandon, and check big name opponents, with guys like Shabazz Muhammad, Andre Roberson and Dwight Powell among who he’ll likely be asked to guard. And, as the most experienced senior on a team with five newcomers and a couple of sophomores, he’ll be the spiritual leader, called on to be an example for the rest of his team. He’ll likely thrive in such a role. Read the rest of this entry »
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Arizona Week: Q&A With Pachoops’ Adam Butler

Posted by AMurawa on June 29th, 2012

As we head toward closing out our coverage of the Arizona basketball program in our third of a summer-long series of in-depth looks at Pac-12 schools, we’re inviting Adam Butler of Pachoops back in to give us his thoughts on the big questions facing the Wildcats in 2012-13. Adam gave us a hand yesterday with our Burning Question of the week, and we hope to have him back from time to time to add his unique perspective. Without further ado, here’s what we came up with:

RTC: Let’s dig right in here Adam, starting from the top of the program. So, in 29 seasons since Lute Olson took over the Wildcat program, the team has missed the NCAA Tournament exactly three times: Olson’s first year, and then two of the three years under current head coach Sean Miller. Yet, it seems there is a confidence around the program that not only do they have the right coach, but that big things are on the verge of happening again in Tucson. Do you hold that view as well? And why or why not?

Sean Miller, Arizona

Arizona Has Missed The NCAA Tournament In Two Of Sean Miller’s Three Seasons In The Desert, But Arizona Fans Still Have Faith In Their Head Coach (AP Photo)

AB: Oh the Lute years were sweet. Arizona was no worse than a five-seed for 16 straight tournaments. Do you realize how awful March 2010 was for me? I literally fled the country. But I’ve digressed. Yes, I think Sean Miller is on the verge of very big things. He’s a phenomenal coach and has already demonstrated such in very short order. He took a bare cupboard and turned that into an Elite Eight; and before we get too far down the road talking about how that 2009 class fell into his lap, it did fall into his lap and those kids could’ve gone anywhere. But they chose Miller for a reason. And my impression of that reason is that he’s piecing together a very special something in the desert. I like to use Indiana’s rebuilding as a barometer and if you look at where they are following Kelvin Sampson bottoming them out, Tom Crean is in year five with the top team in the country in the preseason. Last season – year four – was their first taste of big success again. Arizona has essentially followed the same trajectory (2010-11 was a glorious anomaly), and finds itself with a very sound roster here in Miller year four and project to have a filthy year five. Here, let me pass you the Kool-Aid.

RTC: While the 2012-13 version of the Wildcats will have five returnees from last season, all of whom should get some run, it is a group of four highly touted freshmen and incoming transfer Mark Lyons who give the program the most cause for optimism. Let’s start with Lyons. He’s not a true point, is more of a shoot-first guy and his most recent head coach, Chris Mack, didn’t seem all that sad to see him transfer. Can he really be the type of point guard to help meld together some talented returnees with a frontcourt-heavy freshman class?

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Arizona Week: Running Down the Returnees

Posted by AMurawa on June 27th, 2012

The Wildcats return five players who earned 10 or more minutes last season and it is a good bet that each of those players will have at least as big a role in 2012-13, with a couple different players perhaps poised for breakout seasons. Today we’ll take a look at each of them, by order of last year’s scoring average, and try to peer into the near future for each of these guys.

  • Solomon Hill, Senior, Small Forward (13.0 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 2.6 APG) – In 2011-12, Hill led the Wildcats in rebounding and assists, was second in scoring, posted the highest field goal percentage and defensive rebound percentage, used the most possessions of anyone on the team, knocked down 37 three-pointers at a 39% clip, and did all of that in a highly efficient manner. In other words, the dude’s versatile. And, in a year where Arizona will be breaking in a one-season tire-patch of a point guard in Mark Lyons, a guy who has been known to fall in love with his own shot, Hill’s ability to play the point-forward position could be vital. Further, with a bunch of talented freshman bigs getting ready to make an impact in Tucson, Hill could be pushed out of the paint more, setting up camp more on the perimeter and at the elbows. If he can continue to improve his jumper as he has done, he could prove to be a matchup nightmare, capable of stepping out to hit the three, knocking down the pull-up off a couple dribbles, using a power move to get to the hoop, or feeding the bigs out of the high post. Really, while Hill definitely shone in his junior year, he could be primed to step it up even another notch in his final collegiate campaign. Throw in his ability as a vocal leader on a team with plenty of youngsters (he could, in particular, be a mentor for freshman big Grant Jerrett, who has some of the same skills that Hill possesses) and Hill could be one of the most important players to his team in the entire country.
Solomon Hill, Arizona

Solomon Hill is Arizona’s Most Versatile Player, And Could Be The Team’s Emotional Leader This Season (Ronald Martinez, Getty Images)

  • Nick Johnson, Sophomore, Shooting Guard (9.0 PPG, 3.2 RPG. 2.4 APG) – Johnson’s freshman season got off to a flashy start, with seven double-figure scoring efforts prior to New Year’s Day, copious amounts of highlight-reel dunks, solid defense, and a confident jumper. Unfortunately, once conference play rolled around, he struggled with his jumper (he shot 41.7% from three prior to January 1 and 28% afterward) and his confidence waned. Opponents began playing off him and daring him to shoot, and his entire game at both ends of the floor was negatively impacted by his shooting woes. Still, all things considered, it is hard to be anything but bullish about Johnson’s future. As athletic as any returning guard in the conference, Johnson’s got a strong first step, the ability to throw down a dunk in an opposing big man’s face, and a willingness to make the unselfish play when it presents itself. Add on the ability to be a lockdown defender and, so long as Johnson tightens up his jumper, he could be among the conference’s best players next year.
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Arizona: 2011-12 Post-Mortem

Posted by AMurawa on April 4th, 2012

Over the course of the next two weeks, the Pac-12 Microsite will break down each team’s season: what went well, what didn’t, and a look ahead at the future. Today’s subject: Arizona.

What Went Wrong

The Wildcats came into the season expecting to compete for a Pac-12 title and find their way back into the NCAA Tournament for the 27th time in 28 years. With a class of four highly regarded freshman coming in, it seemed that while Sean Miller might struggle a bit with inexperienced players, they would have enough talent to establish enough of a resume to earn a postseason invitation. Instead, one of those freshmen – Sidiki Johnson – played exactly nine minutes in his Arizona career before getting run off by Miller for behavioral problems. Another freshman – Josiah Turner – lost his starting job in the second game of the season for being late to a shoot around, blew his chance at regaining that spot by missing a practice and getting suspended just before the trip to Florida in December, then got suspended a second time in March leaving his future with the team in jeopardy and leaving his Wildcats on the outside looking in on Selection Sunday.

Josiah Turner, Arizona

Josiah Turner's Inability To Stay Out Of Trouble Left Arizona Without A Leader At The Point (Kelly Presnell, Arizona Daily Star)

What Went Right

Veterans like Kyle Fogg, Jesse Perry, and Solomon Hill all did their best to step up and lead the team, with each turning in their best season in the careers. Fogg was excellent during the conference season and ends his Wildcat career with several places in the program’s record book alongside Wildcat legends while Hill was at his versatile best leading the team in rebounds and assists while finishing second on the team in scoring. Between the three of them, they accounted for 56.1% of the scoring, 54% of the rebounding, and 44.3% of the assists. Plus, despite the struggles that Miller had with immaturity among his freshman class, the coach showed his willingness time and again to put discipline as a priority in his program, a decision that may have cost Arizona a game or two this season, but one that should pay dividends in the long run.

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Four Thoughts From the Pac-12 Final

Posted by bmulvihill on March 10th, 2012

Brendon Mulvihill is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday’s final round at the Pac-12 Tournament.

The Colorado Buffaloes won the Pac-12 Tournament in their first year as a member of the conference. Driven by strong inside play, senior leaders, a 2011 snub, and 50 of their most rabid fans, the Buffaloes are making an unlikely appearance in the 2012 NCAA Tournament.

1. Strong inside play and missed free throws - Prior to the game, the key match-ups were going to be in the paint. Arizona’s Solomon Hill, Jesse Perry, and Angelo Chol versus Colorado’s Andre Roberson, Austin Dufault, and Shane Harris-Trunks. The Buffs ended up dominating the glass with a 37-29 rebounding margin and 12-10 second chance point margin. The long arms of Roberson proved to be the difference on the glass. Additionally, Arizona’s inability to make free throws cost them the game. The Wildcats were 10-18 from the free throw line. With a tournament bid on the line, free throws are too important to miss in these tight games.

The 2012 Pac-12 Tournament Champions - Colorado Buffaloes

2. 2011 Bubble Motivation - After going 21-13 and 8-8 in the Big 12 in 2011, the Buffaloes sat squarely on the bubble. The Tournament selection committee did not end up giving them a bid and it has stuck with the team all season long. At the post-game press conference, coach Tad Boyle said he sent a text at 1:30AM to six of the players on that team last season and told them today’s game was for them. Boyle welled up with tears when asked what this win meant to him relative to the emotions he and his team went through last year. This win meant more to the Buffs than most of us could have imagined.

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