NCAA Game Analysis: Elite Eight Saturday

Posted by Andrew Murawa & Walker Carey on March 28th, 2015

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The Elite Eight is here. Two games that have a chance to become classics. Let’s break them down.

#1 Wisconsin vs. #2 Arizona – West Regional Final (at Los Angeles, CA) – at 6:09 PM ET on CBS.

Wisconsin Seeks Its Second Straight Final Four Appearance (USA Today Images)

Wisconsin Seeks Its Second Straight Final Four Appearance (USA Today Images)

Three-hundred-and-sixty-four days ago, about 40 miles away (by Los Angeles-area freeways), the Badgers and the Wildcats engaged in an epic 45-minute battle to decide the West Region’s entrant into the 2014 Final Four. For the final 18 minutes of the game, no more than a single possession separated the two teams. On the final possession of regulation, Traevon Jackson missed a jumper that would have won it for Wisconsin. Arizona had two possessions in the final 30 seconds of the game and strung together a T.J. McConnell miss, a Nick Johnson offensive foul and, on the final possession, Johnson unable to get a shot off before the final buzzer. The Badgers danced. Roughly a month ago, the possibility of this very rematch began to rear its head. And now, here it is. Sub out Ben Brust, Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson. Sub in Stanley Johnson and Brandon Ashley. Bump up Bronson Koenig, bump back Traevon Jackson. Other than that, this thing should look awfully familiar. A year ago, Frank Kaminsky scored 28 points on 11/20 shooting with three threes and recorded just his second-ever double-double. Also, Bo Ryan’s team held the Wildcats without a single fastbreak point. And on the other side of the court, McConnell was limited to 2/10 shooting with just two assists and couple turnovers. Those three things right there are the areas Arizona needs to change in order to have a chance to flip the script today. Let’s start with Kaminsky. Junior center Kaleb Tarczewski will be the guy mostly charged with checking Frank the Tank. And in the post, Tarczewski will hold his own. However, Kaminsky’s ability to drag a big guy out to the perimeter and either knock in shots out there or get to the rim off the bounce will present problems. Let’s put it this way: if Kaminsky is again able to knock in three threes against the Wildcats like he did last season, that may force Sean Miller’s hand into an adjustment. The other area where the Arizona needs to adjust slightly is in making a priority of getting out in transition and getting some easy hoops. They’ve struggled with their halfcourt offense in their past two games, mostly against zone defenses. While Wisconsin won’t zone them, it would be a major boon to Arizona’s confidence if they could see the ball go in the basket early on some relatively easy transition looks. Lastly, there’s McConnell, the Wildcats’ senior leader. In that game a year ago, he had an offensive rating of 88. Since that time, in the 37 games that Arizona has played, McConnell has only three times had that poor of an offensive game. McConnell will certainly want to make up for his performance a year ago, but he needs to play within himself, make the smart play on offense, the tough play on defense and let the game come to him. If Wisconsin can get him out of his game, Arizona doesn’t stand much of a chance. But if the Wildcats’ leader is the same T.J. McConnell we’ve come to know this season, that could be enough to flip the final score.

The RTC Certified Pick: Arizona

#1 Kentucky vs. #3 Notre Dame – Midwest Region Elite Eight (from Cleveland, OH) – at 8:49 PM EST on TBS.

Notre Dame Seeks Its First Final Four Appearance in 36 Years (USA Today Images)

Notre Dame Seeks Its First Final Four Appearance in 36 Years (USA Today Images)

Kentucky and Notre Dame advanced to the Elite Eight after both teams put together very impressive performances Thursday night. The Wildcats completely outclassed West Virginia on their way to a thoroughly dominant 78-39 victory. Notre Dame displayed its incredible offensive efficiency throughout its 81-70 victory over a Wichita State squad that had built much of its reputation on the defensive end of the court. Saturday night is going to be a different story for Mike Brey’s group. The Irish use a four guard line-up and have been using 6’5″ senior swingman Pat Connaughton as their power forward all season. While Notre Dame lacks a lot of size, unbeaten Kentucky’s size might just be its greatest strength. The Wildcats start three mammoth forwards in freshmen Trey Lyles and Karl-Anthony Towns and junior Willie Cauley-Stein. John Calipari also has the luxury of having two additional gargantuan forwards that he can bring off the bench in sophomore forwards Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee. Kentucky’s massive frontline might be its greatest asset, but it should be noted that its backcourt is also pretty stellar. Sophomores Aaron Harrison and Andrew Harrison and freshmen Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis provide the Wildcats with strong shooting and ball distribution skills. For Notre Dame to stand a fighting chance in this one, it is going to need its strong backcourt of sophomores Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia and seniors Connaughton and Jerian Grant to hit shots at an extremely efficient clip. The Irish are second in the country in field goal percentage at 51%. They will need to shoot at least that against the Wildcats if they want to be in it late in the game. Expect Notre Dame to hit some shots and for this one to be pretty close for the first 30 minutes, but Kentucky’s size and sheer talent advantage will take over in the final 10 minutes. The Wildcats will end up winning by a fairly comfortable margin as they will move to 38-0 on the season and advance to next weekend’s Final Four in Indianapolis.

The RTC Certified Pick: Kentucky

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.27.15 Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on March 27th, 2015

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March Madness is finally upon us, and we here at RTC are here to make everything a little bit easier for you. From the First Four until One Shining Moment, we’ll be dropping daily tidbits of knowledge regarding the teams in each region.

Midwest Region

These guys absolutely rule the college basketball world at the moment. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

These guys absolutely rule the college basketball world at the moment. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

  • West Virginia’s Daxter Miles talked the talk but it was Kentucky that walked the walk. After Miles declared that Kentucky would be “36-1″ after playing the Mountaineers, the Wildcats proceeded to beat his team into submission by 39 points. The Kentucky players had some responses to share with the world via Twitter.
  • Last night, Kentucky showed what it could do when you make the Wildcats angry. After a historic Sweet Sixteen  beatdown of West Virginia, Ben Cohen asks the question we’ve been asking all year long: Can anyone beat Kentucky?
  • Not only did Daxter Miles‘ team lose the game despite guaranteeing victory, but he finished with no points and just one rebound. Tough day.
  • Notre Dame gained control early and took every punch Wichita State threw at it en route to an 11-point victory last night.
  • Notre Dame could have the offensive firepower to keep up with Kentucky if the Irish are able to hit their threes. But will it be enough to give the Wildcats’ their only loss of the season?
  • Could Gregg Marshall have just coached his last game at Wichita State? Having done wonders for the Shockers’ program over the last several years, will Marshall leave for a bigger job this off-season?

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Bracket Prep: West Region Analysis

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 17th, 2015

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Throughout Tuesday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (10:00 AM), South (11:00 AM), Midwest (1:00 PM), West (2:00 PM). Here, Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) breaks down the West Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC West Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCwestregion).

West Region

Stanley Johnson And His Arizona Teammates Have To Be Considered Co-Favorites In The West Region

Stanley Johnson And His Arizona Teammates Have To Be Considered Co-Favorites In The West Region. (Getty)

Favorite: Arizona, #2, 31-3. Wisconsin fans won’t like this, so let me first cover my butt: The Wildcats are the second-best team nationally according to KenPom and the Badgers are the third-best. Still, for my money, they’re co-favorites and the spread will likely not be larger than a point if they meet in the regional final. The other advantage that the Wildcats will have in a potential meeting with the Badgers is that their fans will make the easy drive from Tucson to Los Angeles and pack the Staples Center, giving Arizona a relative home court advantage. And then there’s this: Arizona is very, very good. Senior point guard T.J. McConnell is Aaron Craft with an offensive game. Junior power forward Brandon Ashley is finally back at the top of his game after breaking his foot last year. Freshman phenom Stanley Johnson is among the best first-year guys in the nation and is a grown man physically. And his fellow wing Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is a dynamic individual defender capable of taking even the best offensive players – from point guards to power forwards – out of their games. If the Wildcats have a weakness, it is that they can at times go for long stretches at a time without scoring. UCLA held them without a single point for six minutes at the start of their matchup in mid-February. It’s certainly true that the Wildcats have improved since then, and even given that handful of struggles, they are still rated as the 11th-most efficient offensive team in the nation. It will take a near-Herculean effort for anybody in Arizona’s half of the bracket to beat them prior to the regional final. But assuming the two favorites get there, it is a toss-up.

Should They Falter: Wisconsin, #1, 31-3. Let’s throw out the Badgers’ head-scratching loss to Rutgers without National Player of the Year favorite Frank Kaminsky in the lineup. Aside from that, the Badgers lost at home to Duke (another #1 seed) and at Maryland in late February. On Sunday, they were taken to overtime in the Big Ten championship game by Michigan State before turning it on in the extra period and taking out the Spartans. Beyond that, they’ve been on cruise control throughout most of this season. Kaminsky has put together one of the most stupendous offensive seasons in recent history. Nigel Hayes and Sam Dekker have taken huge leaps forward. And even after losing senior point guard Traevon Jackson to a foot injury in that same mid-January loss to Rutgers, sophomore Bronson Koenig stepped in and may have even improved upon Jackson’s level of play. The senior could be back for the Badgers as early as their opening round matchup with Coastal Carolina, providing quality veteran depth. But even if that never happens, this is the best offensive team in the nation and a group, as Michigan State learned on Sunday, very capable of turning into a very tough defensive team at the drop of a hat as well.

Grossly Overseeded: Oklahoma State, #9, 17-13. Okay, the RPI is flawed, that’s a given. But the Selection Committee uses it. And at #48 in the RPI with an 8-11 record against top 100 teams that includes losses to sub-100 RPI teams in both TCU and Texas Tech, the Cowboys are one of several examples of major conference teams with lousy records getting in over mid-major teams. Sure, the fact that the Cowboys were able to sweep Baylor and handle Kansas at Gallagher-Iba Arena means that they’re still a team that probably deserved to be in this NCAA Tournament. But their resume looks a lot more like a team that should have been headed to Dayton rather than in an #8/#9 game with a very favorable geographical placement.

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Pac-12 Burning Questions: How Great Was That Pac-12 Tournament?

Posted by Andrew Murawa & Adam Butler on March 16th, 2015

Another March to Vegas has concluded and now the Pac-12 conference takes its talents to a national stage. But, before we dig deeper into what’s coming in this year’s NCAA Tournament, Adam Butler and Andrew Murawa discuss what went down at the MGM over the weekend with a series of important questions.

Q: Brandon Ashley was named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament. He shot 19-of-26 across three games and clearly deserved the award. After the junior, however, there were some other great performances. Who was your non-Ashley Most Outstanding Player?

At Precisely The Right Moment, Brandon Ashley Is Playing His Best Ball (Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports)

At Precisely The Right Moment, Brandon Ashley Is Playing His Best Ball. (Casey Sapio/USA TODAY Sports)

Adam Butler: I would like the record to show that I said Brandon Ashley was fantastic. After him, the guy I’d most like to call out is UCLA’s Norman Powell. He scored 35 points on 47 percent shooting. Solid numbers, yes, but I’d most like to highlight his effort against Arizona. As the nation questions UCLA’s qualifications as an NCAA-worthy team, the committee alluded to the Bruins passing the eyeball test. If you had eyeballs on the UCLA-Arizona game, specifically. For large portions of that game he got his and his effort was similar throughout the last month of the year.

Andrew Murawa: The funny thing is that, as well as Brandon Ashley played, I could easily make a case for at least three of his teammates. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was a defensive dynamo and T.J. McConnell is above reproach. But Stanley Johnson remains an absolute freak (16.0 PPG, 6.3 RPG). And in the one game over the weekend where the ‘Cats actually had a chance to lose, it was Johnson who stepped into a three-pointer and effectively sealed the game. Sure, at times he gets caught somewhere between over-exuberance and offensive-foul-induced passivity. But when Johnson is making jumpers like he did at the MGM, the Wildcats are darn near impossible to beat. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Championship with All Eyes on Vegas

Posted by Adam Butler on March 14th, 2015

It’s a championship game. One for all the marbles and the last nationally relevant game of the day. All eyes, if they’re not asleep, will be on Vegas. Because at 8:00 PM the Arizona Wildcats will play the Oregon Ducks for the third time this season. We don’t necessarily need a preview. As I noted in yesterdays historical recap of UCLA and Arizona, the scouting reports are out the window. I mean, Isaac Hamilton scored 36 points in a game. How can you prepare for March basketball? Undoubtedly you saw this:

But that’s the best part. It is March basketball and that means – more than any of the months prior – these games mean things. In tonight’s case it could mean a #1 seed for the Wildcats. Duke and Virginia both fell in the ACC semifinals, opening the door for Arizona to earn one of the big dance’s top four billings. It would be the second consecutive #1 seed for the ‘Cats but the important part would be their status in the West. That part they seemed to have locked up already. But think about this: Arizona and Wisconsin could potentially both be 31-3 with outright conference regular season and tournament championships and still be #2 seeds. If you need evidence of this year’s Dance being top heavy, there it is. Furthermore it’s Arizona’s fourth attempt at winning this thing in the last five years. Sean Miller told us to not even bother asking about what that feels like.

For Oregon, the Ducks too are playing for seeding. Now locked into the Dance, could they elevate themselves onto the #5 line? With each win their resume swells but that’s probably not the focus, right? This is a championship game. In noting that Arizona hasn’t won this thing, Dana Altman conversely has. The Ducks will be playing for their second title in three years. Clearly there are things at stake for each of these programs independent of their opponent, but this matchup itself offers intrigue beyond just the exciting hyperbole of March basketball. It’s really got something for everyone.

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Rushed Reactions: Arizona 70, UCLA 64

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 13th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

When Arizona and UCLA Match Up, Especially In March, Great Things Are Bound To Happen (Mamta Popat, Arizona Daily Star)

When Arizona and UCLA Match Up, Especially In March, Great Things Are Bound To Happen (Mamta Popat, Arizona Daily Star)

  1. This Rivalry Never Disappoints. The six-point final margin doesn’t begin to hint at the sustained intensity in the MGM Grand Arena over the course of 40 minutes of another great college basketball game. Over the past three seasons, the Bruins and the Wildcats have met three times in this very arena in the Pac-12 Tournament, and each of those games has been an instant classic. While the Pac-12 Conference has yet to see fit to make sure that these guys are scheduled to play each other twice every season, the basketball gods have stepped in and seen fit to getting these two together in March. And the classics have had plenty of similarities. As Adam Butler pointed out, the game was tied at 68 with 43 seconds remaining last year when Jordan Adams hit a big three to propel UCLA to the win. Tonight, it was Stanley Johnson with a three with 39 seconds remaining to bump the Arizona lead up to 66-61 and effectively seal the game. The big takeaway is quite simply this: When these two teams play, especially in March, it is required viewing.
  2. One Big Run. Midway through the second half, a slashing Norman Powell layup in the middle of the Arizona defense put UCLA up 47-40, prompting a Sean Miller timeout. Over the next five minutes, Arizona reeled off 15 straight points to flip the script. They never trailed again. So, what goes into a run? How about three T.J. McConnell assists and a layup, five team offensive rebounds, a forced turnover and limiting UCLA’s other five possessions to five missed jumpers and an immediate defensive rebound?
  3. Rebounding. UCLA can probably come up with plenty of excuses: Kevon Looney’s facial injury and resultant mask; Tony Parker’s early foul trouble; having to play zone defense for much of the game. But Arizona’s ability to get on the glass and get putbacks was a key here. The Wildcats’ came away with 40 percent of their own missed shots, turning those into 12 points, a key in a close game. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who struggled offensively, had five of those offensive boards by himself. If UCLA had been as good cleaning the defensive glass today (against admittedly above-average competition) as they have been all year long, maybe they’d still be playing on Saturday.

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Pac-12 Season Superlatives

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 9th, 2015

The regular season has ended and Pac-12 fans are looking forward to the postseason. Before we all descend on Las Vegas for a fun four days of action, let’s run down our Pac-12 superlatives for the 2014-15 campaign.

Player of the Year

Delon Wright, Sr, Utah – It came down to a three-man race for POY between Wright, Arizona’s T.J. McConnell and Oregon’s Joseph Young (who won the official Pac-12 award). McConnell was the senior leader on the conference’s best team and the glue that brought the Wildcats together, but he mustered only two second-place votes in our four-man vote. Young, the conference’s best scoring guard and an underrated playmaker, also earned two second-place votes. In the end, though, it was Wright who earned the first-place vote on all four of our ballots. As the Utes’ primary playmaker and the only player capable of creating his own offense, Wright was the best player on the floor in most of the games he played this season. Whether looking at traditional or advanced stats, Wright’s numbers across the stat sheet are very impressive.

Delon Wright: The Real Pac-12 Player of the Year (Rick Egan, The Salt Lake Tribune)

Delon Wright: The Real Pac-12 Player of the Year (Rick Egan, The Salt Lake Tribune)

All-Conference

First Team

  • Delon Wright, Sr, Utah (14.7 PPG, 5.3 APG, 4.7 RPG. 2.1 SPG) – The RTC Pac-12 Player of the Year.
  • Joseph Young, Sr, Oregon (19.8 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.7 APG) – The conference’s best shooter and scorer does so much more than put the ball in the hoop.
  • TJ McConnell, Sr, Arizona (9.6 PPG, 6.3 APG, 3.8 RPG, 2.1 SPG) – The consummate point guard and senior leader, McConnell’s impact cannot be summed up in numbers.
  • Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Soph, Arizona (11.2 PPG, 6.5 RPG) – The conference’s best defender made strides on the offensive end during his second year.
  • Stanley Johnson, Fr, Arizona (13.9 PPG, 6.8 RPG) – The Wildcats’ leading scorer is the third member of the squad on our first team.

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The Only Thing Standing in the Way of Arizona’s Pac-12 Coronation is Arizona

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 24th, 2015

For the first half of Thursday night’s battle for first place in the Pac-12 against Stanford, Arizona looked like the team that could only muster 56 points in a losing effort against Oregon State. But in the second half, the Wildcats showed why there is no other team in the conference that can hang with them when they are at full strength and minimizing their mistakes. The Wildcats actually jumped out to an early lead as the Cardinal’s thin frontcourt had absolutely no answer for Brandon Ashley and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson inside. But Ashley also picked up three cheap fouls in the first 12 minutes of the game and teammate Stanley Johnson picked up two of his own, and when they left the court, things started to fall apart. Without their two biggest offensive mismatches on the floor, Arizona struggled to take advantage of its distinct size advantage and instead settled for contested jumpers. On the other end of the floor, the Wildcats’ stout defense made things difficult for Stanford, at least when they weren’t fouling Cardinal players. Stanford made 13 free throws in the first half and star guard Chasson Randle scored six of his 14 first half points from the charity stripe. As a result, a first half that any casual observer would think Arizona should have won ended with Stanford up two points.

Arizona Has the Look of a Team Figuring It Out (USA Today Images)

Arizona Has the Look of a Team Figuring It Out (USA Today Images)

Of course slow starts and early mistakes have become something of Arizona‘s modus operandi this season, and nobody expected the Wildcats to go away. Ashley and Johnson returned to the floor in the second half and immediately made an impact, combining for 10 points in the first six minutes as Arizona slowly but surely took the lead for good. Even more importantly, the Arizona defense decided to start moving its feet and quit picking up cheap fouls, and all of a sudden, their suffocating defense returned in earnest. Once Randle made a difficult layup to bring Stanford within three points with just under 10 minutes to play, the Wildcats’ put the clamps down and the Cardinal didn’t make another field goal for more than eight minutes. By that point, the game was well in hand and Arizona was on its way as the odds-on favorite to run away with the conference regular season title.

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Three Opinions on Arizona’s Opening Weekend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Tracy McDannald on November 14th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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RTC Pac-12 Preseason POY and All-Conference Teams

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 14th, 2014

It is Opening Day around college basketball nation, and that means that it is time to unveil our picks for our Pac-12 All-Conference teams. We asked five voters (Tracy McDannald, Adam Butler, Kevin Danna, Connor Pelton and myself) to list their 15 best players in the conference, in order of #1 to #15. What follows is our collective best guess at the 15 players most worth watching in the Pac-12 this season.

Pac-12 Preseason Co-Conference Players of the Year

Delon Wright, Sr, Utah and Chasson Randle, Sr, Stanford. Wright and Randle tied atop our poll and each player received two first-place votes among our five voters, so they’ll share this preseason honor. This first bit to note is that, in an era of star freshmen and one-and-dones and very few elite upperclassmen to speak of, not only do two seniors share our Preseason POY honor, but more than half of the 15 players on our three teams are seniors, with just three underclassmen (one freshman and two sophomores) on our list.

Delon Wright's Versatile And Efficient Game Has The Utes Pac-12 Contenders (Rick Egan, The Salt Lake Tribune)

Delon Wright’s Versatile And Efficient Game Has The Utes Pac-12 Contenders (Rick Egan, The Salt Lake Tribune)

But, let’s focus on our POYs for a second. First, Wright. After earning plaudits in the Utes’ early season practices last year, he announced his presence to the college basketball world by racking up ridiculous lines against overmatched opponents — witness the 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting, 10 boards, seven assists, seven steals and three blocks in the Utes’ opener last season; or the 12 points, nine boards, six assists and two blocks he followed that up with. Sure, those games were against Evergreen State and UC Davis, but as the season advanced, the story they told about him remained the same: a highly efficient player capable of positively affecting the game for his team in a variety of ways. Look at his final traditional numbers on the year: 36.4 MPG, 15.5 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 5.3 APG, 2.5 SPG, 1.3 BPG, 56.1% FG, 79.3% FT. The only glaring weakness was his inability to regularly knock in three-point shots (22.2% on 54 attempts). Oh, and there was that little issue about his team struggling in close games and missing the NCAA Tournament. That last bit? That’s the area Wright needs to change the most this season. For Wright to be in consideration for Pac-12 Player of the Year at the end of the season, we can forgive a little bit of a backslide on last year’s spectacular individual numbers so long as the talented Utes live up to their potential, push Arizona a little bit in the conference standings, and wind up dancing come March. Read the rest of this entry »

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Introducing the RTC Preseason All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on November 13th, 2014

With the season tipping off on Friday night, there’s no better time to roll out our preseason All-America Teams. More than anything, these three groups of outstanding players are here to foster and encourage discussion over the next four months. Our crack panel of seven national columnists provided ballots over the last week or so, and this is where we ended up.

First Team All-Americans

FirstTeam

  • Marcus Paige, North Carolina – Paige enters his junior season at North Carolina following a sophomore campaign when the guard take his game to new heights. After a fairly productive freshman season (8.2 PPG), the 6’1″ point guard took home the ACC’s Most Improved Player Award by upping that average to 17.5 PPG as he led the Tar Heels to the NCAA Tournament. Paige’s season was good enough for him to be the first North Carolina point guard to be named first-team All-ACC as a sophomore since Tar Heels’ legend Phil Ford in 1976. Expectations are high in Chapel Hill again this season, and with Paige running the show, it is easy to understand why. Factoid: In an informal poll of college coaches taken by CBSSports.com in August, Paige was named as one of the players the pollsters would most like to have on their team this season. Once coach said of the Tar Heel, “he really doesn’t get enough credit for what he did for North Carolina last season. Won’t surprise me if he’s National Player of the Year.”
  • Juwan Staten, West Virginia – Not many guards can fill up the stat sheet like Staten. The highly productive senior returns for the Mountaineers following a season when he become the first player in West Virginia history to score 500 points (598), grab 150 rebounds (186), and dish out 150 assists (193) in a season. With the offseason transfers of Eron Harris and Terry Henderson, Staten will almost definitely see those numbers rise during his final collegiate season in Morgantown. After a two-year hiatus from the NCAA Tournament, Staten appears primed to lead what one expert is calling an underrated Mountaineers squad back to the Big Dance. Factoid: Following Staten’s first season at West Virginia, Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins gave his guard the assignment of watching tape from two of the great point guards Huggins coached at Cincinnati – Nick Van Exel and Steve Logan.
  • Montrezl Harrell, Louisville – It was a bit of a surprise in April when Harrell announced that he would return to Louisville for his junior season rather than enter the NBA Draft. Cardinals coach Rick Pitino is undoubtedly pleased with his big man’s decision, as Louisville is set to begin its first season in the arduous ACC. With Russ Smith and Luke Hancock gone, Harrell seems to be the best bet to pick up the slack in Pitino’s up-tempo offense. The junior forward has reportedly added what he and his coach call a more consistent 14-to-16 foot jump shot to his offensive repertoire. While that development unquestionably has Louisville fans giddy, it should worry the Cards’ new conference foes. Factoid: Harrell originally committed to Virginia Tech out of high school, but he reopened his recruitment following Seth Greenberg’s abrupt dismissal. A few weeks later, Harrell signed with Louisville and the rest, as they say, is history.
  • Jahlil Okafor, Duke – The Chicago prep superstar-to-Duke pipeline continues as Okafor is set to begin his freshman season in Durham. The consensus number one high school player in the Class of 2014 enters his college career with a tremendous amount of hype. He has been described as “one of the most skilled and poised back to the basket centers to come along in some time.” Duke brought in a star-studded recruiting class to help offset the early departures of Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood, and there is no question that Okafor is the jewel of that class. If the big man turns in the type of season that many expect from him, there is no telling what the ceiling for the Blue Devils could be. Factoid: Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has already acknowledged that he expects Okafor to be a one-and-done: “We won’t have him long. We’ll have him this year and then he’ll be one of the top NBA picks.”
  • Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin – Kaminsky entered the 2013-14 season as a relative unknown after averaging just 4.2 points in 10.3 minutes per game as a sophomore. He did not remain an unknown for long, though, as the junior emerged as one of the top big men in the Big Ten, taking home consensus first-team All-Big Ten honors. While his regular season was outstanding, what really turned Kaminsky into a household name was his 28-point, 11 rebound effort against Arizona to send Wisconsin to the Final Four. The Badgers return four starters from that Final Four squad, but none are more important than the seven-foot senior. Factoid: Kaminsky was lightly-recruited coming out of Benet Academy in Lisle, Illinois. In fact, he was a Plan B for the Badgers after one of their top frontcourt targets, Nnanna Egwu, committed to Illinois.

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