Marching to Vegas: And Down the Stretch They Come…

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoops) on February 21st, 2014

Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) of Pachoops again will be joining us all year, providing us with his weekly take on our favorite conference, as we begin the March to Las Vegas.

I think we’re on the home stretch. I don’t really know when it begins, it’s pretty loosely defined. It’s a term derived from horse racing when the horses enter the final straightaway en route to the finish line. When did the Pac-12 make it’s final turn into the home stretch? I’m not sure. It’s certainly up for debate. But what’s certain in this situation is that Vegas is just three weeks away. We play an 18-game schedule and less than a third remains. And with so few games remaining (the home stretch?), I feel pretty strongly that this is shaping into a two-team race. There are a few teams that have a fighter’s chance (boxing) at making a play for the top spot, but right now it’s just UCLA and Arizona, a two-horse race. So let’s look at them! Or, more specifically, their respective current state of affairs and their forthcoming competition on the schedule.

Where Once 12 Came Out Of The Gate, There Are Now Two Horses With A Chance In the Pac-12 (Lawrence K. Ho, Los Angeles Times)

Where Once 12 Came Out Of The Gate, There Are Now Two Horses With A Chance In the Pac-12. (Lawrence K. Ho, Los Angeles Times)

We’ll begin in Westwood where Steve Alford has his team peaking at the right time. Which is an interesting fact because Alford has never coached a team like this before. He’s only once had a team rank in the top-100 in adjusted tempo (his 2004 Iowa team ranked 66th at 70.3) and is at the helm of a squad taking more than 27 percent of their offense in transition. Hoop-math only goes back to 2011-12 but seeing as how the two New Mexico teams accounted for never grabbed more than 20 percent of their offense in transition, I’m comfortable assuming Alford has rarely, if ever, had a team run this much. And they do it well. They’re running up the list of best offensive teams in the country and the Alford mark is beginning to make an imprint, too. He’s lauded most regularly as a defensive guy and the Bruins hovered above average for parts of the season. Read the rest of this entry »

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One Game In: Doom and Gloom For the New Arizona?

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on February 7th, 2014

It was Arizona’s first night without Brandon Ashley. While the rest of these Wildcats have spent three months playing with each other, make no mistake — this is the equivalent of a brand new team out there. Minus Ashley, the overwhelming frontcourt advantage that Arizona sported has been lessened; the defensive philosophy has changed; the end-game scenarios now feature as many negatives as positives; and the whole chemistry of the team is different. Really, this is back to exhibition season for the Wildcats; these guys are starting all over.

The New Arizona Team is 1-0, But There Are Concerns (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

The New Arizona Team is 1-0, But There Are Concerns (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

First, while we originally thought guys like Jordin Mayes and Matt Korcheck would see increased roles, neither player took off his warm-ups against Oregon; rather, it was freshman Elliott Pitts who stepped in and played 12 generally solid minutes. Prior to last night, Pitts had played a grand total of six minutes in Pac-12 play: three in mop-up duty in a blowout over Arizona State, and then three more against Cal on Saturday night. His inclusion in the seven-man rotation signals a shift in style; where once this team was predicated on dominating the front line, now you’re going to see Arizona play more three-guard lineups. Pitts brings good energy and what looks like a confident three-point stroke, but at this point in his career, he’s a replacement-level player. Another ripple from the Ashley injury is that it appears Gabe York – a fine player, yes – will shift from a guy earning minute totals somewhere in the mid-teens to the mid-20s. Nothing against York at all, but he’s a significant step down from Ashley’s production. Both of these guys are going to improve and Arizona is going to get used to playing with them in their rotation, but basically it boils down to this: Brandon Ashley’s 28 minutes per game are going to be shifted to about 12 minutes per game for Pitts, maybe eight extra minutes for York, and then eight extra minutes split between Kaleb Tarczewski and Aaron Gordon.

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Otskey’s Observations: Episode XI

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 5th, 2014

Each week throughout the season, RTC columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) will run down his observations from the previous week of college basketball.

Early Returns on Chris Collins Look Great

When former Duke associate head coach Chris Collins was hired at Northwestern this past spring, many felt it was only a matter of time before the local guy from Northbrook, Illinois, would build up the program to a level where it could achieve its first-ever NCAA Tournament bid. After a 7-9 (0-3 Big Ten) start to the season, Collins and Northwestern have righted the ship with wins in five of their past seven games. Most impressive have been the three consecutive wins away from Evanston: at Indiana, Wisconsin and Minnesota. How have the Wildcats done it? Collins has done what any good coach would do — analyze the strengths and weaknesses of his team and implement a style of play that showcases the strengths while minimizing the weaknesses. Northwestern obviously does not have the same talent level as most other teams in the Big Ten so the way to win games is to slow it down, muck it up and play great defense in low possession games. And that is exactly what the Wildcats have done.

Chris Collins is starting to get it done in Evanston.

Chris Collins is starting to get it done in Evanston.

Collins has gotten this team to buy in defensively as Northwestern is currently ranked No. 10 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. In Big Ten play, the Wildcats lead the conference with a 44.6 percent defensive effective field goal percentage. Since allowing 93 points in a loss at Iowa on January 9, Northwestern has allowed only one opponent (also Iowa) to score more than 56 points in regulation time (Purdue scored 60 in a double-overtime loss to the Wildcats but posted just 46 points in regulation). Northwestern’s games in Big Ten play have averaged only 61.2 possessions with an average possession length of 20.4 seconds, both statistics ranking as the slowest in the Big Ten. Last year’s Northwestern team was dead last in defensive efficiency (in league play) under Bill Carmody which shows you how absolutely remarkable it is that Collins has gotten this group to defend at a high level in such a short period of time. While you never want to get ahead of yourself, at this point it would be a surprise if Northwestern doesn’t make the NCAA Tournament over the next five years when you also consider how well Collins is already doing on the recruiting trail.

Syracuse and Duke Exceeds the Hype

Syracuse’s thrilling overtime victory over Duke last Saturday was one of the best regular season college basketball games I can remember in quite some time. It had everything you would want in a big game: a terrific atmosphere with over 35,000 fans in attendance; two Hall of Fame coaches; league title implications (Syracuse entered the game at 7-0, Duke at 6-2); tons of talent on the floor; and an extremely high level of play. Consider this: Syracuse won an overtime game by two points on its home floor and posted an outrageously high offensive efficiency of 1.34 points per possession. It took that good of an offensive performance to stave off the Blue Devils, which posted 1.31 PPP themselves. It is going to be very difficult to top that game but I am very excited for the rematch at Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 22. Duke and North Carolina will always be the best rivalry in the ACC and arguably in all of college basketball, but Duke and Syracuse appear to be on their way to another terrific rivalry in what has become a bloated ACC. This new rivalry has the potential to exceed what Duke and Maryland had going for some time as a secondary ACC rivalry now that Maryland will be moving on to the Big Ten next season.

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Brandon Ashley’s Foot Injury and the Long-Term Impact on Arizona

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 2nd, 2014

Arizona lost late Saturday night at California; you probably know that by now. With Syracuse’s win over Duke that kept the Orange undefeated, the Wildcats will likely drop out of the top spot in the national polls for the first time in months (a move which is fated even if it isn’t necessarily mandatory – we’ll get to this point briefly at the bottom of the post). But a single tough road conference loss on the first weekend in February is absolutely nothing to worry about. What is very much something to worry about is the fact that the Wildcats played the final 38 minutes of that game on Saturday night without Brandon Ashley. According to postgame comments by head coach Sean Miller, Ashley landed awkwardly on his foot and things do not look good. Expectations are that x-rays will reveal it is broken, with the severity of the break the only difference between Ashley certainly being done for the year or possibly back in action at less than 100 percent sometime in March. Much like Spencer Dinwiddie’s injury last month, this sucks.

Official Word Is Still Pending, But Brandon Ashley May Be Done For the Year

Official Word Is Still Pending, But Brandon Ashley May Be Done For the Year

Ashley is the team’s third-leading scorer and rebounder, the starting forward who, down the stretch of tight games, has proven himself to be the team’s second-best option to get hoops. He can score in and around the paint; he can step out and hit the mid-range jumper; he’s a good and willing passer; he’s a load on the screen-and-roll or pick-and-pop; and he’s good at drawing fouls and a capable shooter once there, stroking better than 75 percent from the line. And all of that is without even getting into his defense. His long arms and quick feet help Arizona switch on just about everything; he can bang with big guys down low or harass wings on the perimeter. In short, this is not the type of guy you can replace on the fly in the middle of the season. And given the fact that Miller has more or less been rolling out a seven-man rotation all season, it’s not like there is experienced depth ready to slide into his spot.

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Thoughts on Arizona’s Big Road Win at UCLA

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on January 10th, 2014

This is the early conference game that both Arizona and UCLA fans had likely been looking forward to for a couple weeks. It’s the biggest historic rivalry in the conference and it was Arizona’s first road test in Pac-12 play . But really, as people were imagining what this game would look like, this is probably not what they foresaw. UCLA holding its own on the glass, despite almost no help from its pair of senior frontcourt starters? Arizona the team with the deadly outside shooting? Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams struggling, yet the Bruins keeping this close for 40 minutes? Let’s look at each of those things below.

Gabe York's Perimeter Shooting Was a Big Key For Arizona On Thursday Night (Mamta Popat, Arizona Daily Star)

Gabe York’s Perimeter Shooting Was a Big Key For Arizona On Thursday Night (Mamta Popat, Arizona Daily Star)

  • The Wildcats came into the game eighth in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage and 13th in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage, while UCLA is a middling rebounding team with a ton of question marks up front. Therefore the expectation was that Arizona would dominate the glass. While the Cats did make some hay on the offensive boards and wound up dominating the interior on the offensive end (Arizona outscored UCLA 42-22 in the paint), UCLA stayed in the game in large part because it was able to create second chance opportunities of its own. This was a surprise even to Arizona head coach Sean Miller, who pointed to that as one of the keys of the game by saying “They really hurt us on the offensive glass. That was a surprise to us, because we’ve done very well there, and isn’t necessarily a strength of theirs but last night it was. If we had done a better job defensive rebounding, the game wouldn’t have come down to the final plays. One of the reasons that they were in it was because of the number of second shots they got.” Even more surprising, the Bruins did their damage on the glass without much of a contribution from the Wear twins, who combined to grab just four total boards. Read the rest of this entry »
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Takeaways From the Pac-12′s Weekend Games

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on January 7th, 2014

It was a busy Pac-12 weekend around the conference. Here are some thoughts on each of the weekend’s five games.

Colorado 100, Oregon 91

  • It was a game that largely lived up to the hype, with both teams looking good for long stretches. But over the last 10 minutes of the game, it was – get this – Colorado’s guard play that was the deciding factor in the game. It was supposed to be the undefeated Ducks with the bevy of play-making guards that had the advantage on the perimeter, while the Buffaloes were going to need to take advantage of a weak Oregon frontcourt in order to win this game at home. Instead, over the final quarter of the game, Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie combined for 25 of Colorado’s 39 points, sophomore guard Xavier Talton chipped in six more, and Jaron Hopkins was the guy to get everything started with a three off a Dinwiddie dime. All told, the five Colorado guards outscored Oregon’s by a total of 66-52.

    Askia Booker, Colorado

    Big Game Askia? Who Knew? (Patrick Ghidossi, BuffaloSportsNews)

  • Meanwhile up front the Ducks were just okay against that tough Colorado frontcourt. On the offensive end, they were great, grabbing better than 41 percent of their own misses and getting a terrific 24-point performance out of Mike Moser. But the bigger concern is their ability to defend on the interior, and here they were exposed a bit, allowing Colorado to grab better than 46 percent of their misses, leading to lots of easy putbacks for the Buffs. Oregon’s guards are going to keep them in a lot of games, but they need to clean up their frontcourt issues in order to reach their potential.
  • For some of the surprises in this game, the most expected angle proved completely true: Colorado is going to be really, really tough at home. With a strong seven-man rotation plus a couple other guys ready to provide spot minutes, the Buffs are deep, athletic, big, strong and – most importantly – good. And the Coors Events Center is a great homecourt advatange. KenPom.com has the Buffs expected to win their next six games at home by an average of just under 10 points per game, but that only takes us to February 22 when they’ll host Arizona in their last home game of the season. Right now that KenPom projection is Arizona, 68-65, but in what could be Dinwiddie’s final home game, the early inclination is to lean Buffs. Not that trying to project a game seven weeks out is good practice.

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Three Thoughts on Arizona’s Win at Michigan

Posted by AMurawa on December 15th, 2013

Imagine this scenario: you’re one of the youngest teams in the nation. You’ve just assumed the number one spot in the polls, and the following weekend, you’re hearding across country to play the equivalent of a 9:00 AM game at the home of the team that was the runner-up for the national championship last year. An opponent that, while talented, has underachieved so far this season despite the presence of one of the best X-and-O coaches in the nation. Worse yet, early in the second half, you look up and figure out you’ve got a 13-point deficit in front of you. Combine all of those factors together and you’ve got the makings of a brief stay at the #1 spot, right? You could easily imagine getting run out of that gym, yes? Instead, Arizona went to Ann Arbor, took a really good shot from Michigan, then rededicated itself to exploiting its advantages and proved again that, not only is this a team that is very much worthy of its current ranking, but it is a team that will likely be within shouting distance of this ranking for the rest of the year. Barring a major surprise, these Wildcats will likely be 15-0 when they head to UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion on January 9. In light of all of this, let’s take a look at a few things we learned about Arizona during its big comeback win on Saturday.

Losing A Tough Game At The Road Would Have Been Understandable For A Young Team, But Arizona Pulled Out A Great Win At Michigan

Losing A Tough Game At The Road Would Have Been Understandable For A Young Team, But Arizona Pulled Out A Great Win At Michigan

  1. There’s just under two minutes left. Arizona is down a point. Sean Miller calls a timeout and what happened from there on answered any questions we might have had about who the go-to guys are on this Wildcats team. On the first possession, the Wildcats get the ball to Nick Johnson with Aaron Gordon setting a screen to get Johnson on the same side of the court as Brandon Ashley, where Ashley sets a pick and rolls down the baseline. Johnson then finds him there and lets him go to work; he slides past three Wolverine defenders, including his man Mitch McGary, for a nice bucket and the lead. The next time down, after T.J. McConnell recovered his own miss, Johnson backed things out, settled his team down, and again set up a two-man game for himself and Ashley, waving freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson off before driving, picking up a (questionable) foul and getting to the line where he made two free throws to give his squad a lead it would never relinquish. While freshmen Gordon and Jefferson are hyper-talented players, Johnson and Ashley are the more complete players, especially considering the fact that if either of them gets sent to the free throw line in a close game, Wildcat fans will rightly be confident. But even without that consideration, Johnson and Ashley offer more versatility in the half-court with an ability to take their opponents off the bounce or hit the jumper. Johnson and Ashley may not be the first guys you think of when you think of Arizona this season, but they’re Miller’s go-to guys when it counts. Read the rest of this entry »
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A Recap Of Opening Weekend in the Pac-12

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on November 11th, 2013

The Pac-12 opened the 2013-14 season with a big splash in South Korea and ended with a head-scratching upset in Corvallis. Let’s take a closer look at how the conference fared through the first three days of the regular season.

Young, A Transfer Out Of Houston, Made His Case For Newcomer Of The Year In The Pac-12 After A Stellar Opening Night Performance Against Georgetown. (credit: Lee Jim-man)

Young, A Transfer Out Of Houston, Made His Case For Newcomer Of The Year In The Pac-12 After A Stellar Opening Night Performance Against Georgetown. (credit: Lee Jim-man)

Best Game – Oregon vs Georgetown: The stage couldn’t have been bigger. A top 20 Oregon team, missing two of its starters after receiving suspensions earlier in the week, against a good Georgetown club, being played in South Korea on ESPN at the Armed Forces Classic. The Ducks jumped out to a 19-9 lead on the Hoyas before they finally found their offense, but Georgetown eventually settled down and got a Mikael Hopkins jumper with 10 seconds remaining in the first half to pull within three. Oregon held onto a lead for the final 15 minutes of the game, but each time it looked as if it would pull away, Georgetown would come up with a big stop to stay within striking distance. The dagger came with two and a half minutes to play, as senior Richard Amardi slammed home a dunk to end a mini-Hoya run, putting the Ducks up 73-68. Junior guard Joseph Young led Oregon with 24 points and five rebounds.

Upsets – Only one, but it was a biggie. Coppin State, who was picked to finish ninth in the MEAC, went into Corvallis without its best player and topped Oregon State, 78-73. The Beavers, of course, were without two of their starting forwards, Devon Collier and Eric Moreland, so the loss may not be held against Craig Robinson‘s team if they are in the mix for an NCAA bid come March (assuming they’re in the mix at all). But regardless, this was a pathetic performance turned in by the Beavers. Except for a brief spurt of points from center Angus Brandt late in the second half, the only source of offense came from senior Roberto Nelson, who scored a career-high 36 points.

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Four Thoughts on Arizona’s Season Opener

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 11th, 2013

Arizona opened its season in ho-hum fashion on Friday night with an 11-point win over a middling Cal Poly team. While the final margin wasn’t necessarily impressive, the Wildcats did show off some things that should have their fans excited. Let’s take a look at four of them:

Defensive Upside. Against Cal Poly on Friday night, you saw it in spurts. With freak athletes like Aaron Gordon and Brandon Ashley able to switch onto smaller opponents with ease, and with excellent veteran perimeter defenders like T.J. McConnell and Nick Johnson, the Wildcats have the ability to be a ridiculously good defensive squad this season. Back in his final season at Xavier, Sean Miller’s team was rated 12th in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency behind players like Derrick Brown, B.J. Raymond and C.J. Anderson. But in his time in Tucson, while he’s put good defensive teams on the court, the Wildcats have never been elite, topping out in the 40s the last three seasons. This team has the defensive capability to creep into the teens this season, and maybe even the top 10. Perimeter defenders, athletic versatile bigs and an ability to clean the glass with abandon: Despite having some offensive struggles in their opener (which is completely overstating it, since they averaged 1.19 points per possession), this is a Wildcat team that can rely on their defense when things get rough shooting the ball.

Aaron Gordon Had An Impressive Debut, But Much Like An Eclipse, You Shouldn't Watch His Jumper Directly (AP).

Aaron Gordon Had An Impressive Debut, But Much Like An Eclipse, You Shouldn’t Watch His Jumper Directly (AP).

Aaron Gordon’s Jumper Makes Baby Jesus Cry. The consensus is that one of the biggest concerns for the Wildcats this season will be their outside shooting. While Johnson and McConnell are pretty dialed in from deep, newcomers Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are seen as having jumpers that are kindly called works in progress. Well, in their first close-up, it appears that Hollis-Jefferson has made significant progress on that work while Gordon’s work has yet to begin. Honestly, his shot from any kind of range needs to be completely torn down and rebuilt. He was 2-of-6 from the free throw line, and that was with the benefit of getting to concentrate on his form. When shooting from any range further than – oh, I don’t know, about a dunk or closer – his form was awful. Gordon can (and will) still be a major factor for the Wildcats, but my god, that jumper makes my eyes burn. And yet, somehow he jacked up a couple threes – and actually hit one! Any success produced by the jump shot is purely accidental. Meanwhile, just to end this section on a positive note, Hollis-Jefferson’s jumper looks solid; he’ll just need to continue to work on it.

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Pac-12 M5: 11.07.13 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on November 7th, 2013

pac12_morning5

  1. Big news out of Eugene broke late Tuesday when Campus Insiders reported that two Oregon starters, Dominic Artis and Ben Carter, were suspended by the NCAA for selling team shoes provided to them by the university. The pair could miss anywhere from nine to 12 games for the self-reported violation, but expect the final decision to be nine since former Duck Willie Moore (who was also caught selling his custom Nike shoes along with former players Carlos Emory and Fred Richardson), was benched for Miami’s (OH) first nine games by the NCAA last night. Looking ahead, that means the point guard and center will be out for notable neutral site games against Georgetown and Illinois, a home meeting with San Francisco, and a road game at Mississippi. Oregon learned of the violation in early October, at which time both it and the NCAA began investigating. Both players will have to pay back the money made from selling the shoes to a charity, with a payment plan set up to ease the process. Senior Johnathan Loyd will take over at the one while Artis is out, and while you never want to lose a player of his caliber, Loyd gained valuable experience last winter when Artis missed significant time with a foot injury. Carter’s absence could be much more problematic as head coach Dana Altman loses a capable scorer who balances out the team on the offensive end of the floor.
  2. Things didn’t go much better down the road in Corvallis on Tuesday night either. Oregon State trailed NAIA opponent Concordia by eight with 16 minutes remaining before the Beavers finally began to rebound and convert offensively. Oregon State ended up pulling ahead to win the game, 104-94, but neither team left Gill Coliseum feeling great after a sloppy, foul-filled final five and a half minutes that uglied up the game.
  3. The biggest surprise in Arizona‘s lone exhibition game, an 84-52 victory over Augustana, was sophomore Gabe York‘s 14-point outburst. York only played 5.8 MPG during his freshman season, so a year spent observing and gaining weight has given Sean Miller another viable option in the backcourt. York will see most of his action when the Cats go big, which will open up the perimeter for him to find shots. He is now a confident and reliable shooter who could play big minutes for the Cats late in games. Arizona enters the season ranked sixth in the AP and fifth in the USA Today polls. It opens the season Friday against Cal Poly at the McKale Center.
  4. USC unveiled its two new basketball mascots yesterday, and they are, um, interesting. Tommy, the new men’s mascot, appears to be an updated version of a Trojan from biblical times. And Traveler, the women’s version, looks like a fictitious horse-like animal created by PBS. We’ll see how Trojan fans react at the team’s home opener next week, but it doesn’t sound like the reaction will be great.
  5. Last week Drew dominated our weekly pick’em contest, sweeping the four games against my 2-2 record. That puts me at 54-14 on the season, with Drew one game back at a 53-15 clip. This week we come to you on a Thursday morning since the national game of the week will be played tonight on the Farm, pitting undefeated and third-ranked Oregon against a one-loss Stanford team that still has a shot at the North division title. Elsewhere around the league, UCLA visits Arizona in a pivotal South division game, and Arizona State travels to Utah. Our picks are below, with a score provided for Oregon-Stanford.
    Game Connor’s Pick Drew’s Pick
    Oregon at Stanford Oregon 41, Stanford 38 Oregon 38, Stanford 20
    USC at California USC USC
    Arizona State at Utah Arizona State Utah
    Colorado at Washington Washington Washington
    UCLA at Arizona Arizona UCLA
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Pac-12 Team Preview: Arizona Wildcats

Posted by AMurawa on November 6th, 2013

We continue unveiling our team-by-team breakdowns, in roughly the reverse order of where we expect these teams to finish in the conference standings. 

Arizona Wildcats

Strengths. Arizona has the most pure talent in the Pac-12. The roster is littered with McDonald’s All-Americans and five-star recruits and future pros. And for the first time in Sean Miller’s tenure in Tucson, he’s got a true point guard in Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell. But the one spot where this team really has a chance to be elite is on the defensive end, as McConnell’s defense has been raved about in the weeks of practice leading up to the season. Nick Johnson is already among the best perimeter defenders in the conference, if not the country. Throw in freshmen Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson as elite athletes who can guard multiple positions, Brandon Ashley who is long and athletic up front, and a big pounder like Kaleb Tarczewski in the middle, and this Wildcat team could be good enough to ride its defense if the offense struggles out of the gate.

T.J. McConnell Is The Type Of Scrappy, Pass-First Point Guard That Has Been Missing At Arizona (Arizona Athletics)

T.J. McConnell Is The Type Of Scrappy, Pass-First Point Guard That Has Been Missing At Arizona (Arizona Athletics)

Weaknesses. The most common complaint when people look for areas to pick this team apart is its questionable outside shooting. It’s a fair enough point, in that guys like Gordon and Hollis-Jefferson, in particular, still have jumpers that are most kindly described as “works in progress.” Still, Johnson shot 39.3 percent from three last season, McConnell hit 43.2 percent from deep in 2011-12 at Duquesne, and guys like Gabe York and Jordin Mayes off the pine are quality three-point shooters as well. Having a handful of guys who can stroke the three doesn’t necessarily mean that this team’s ability to shoot the ball isn’t up for debate. For instance, while Gordon and Hollis-Jefferson won’t take many threes, they do have to be able to knock down 12-footers with regularity, lest their opponents pack it in and clog up the lane for the two freshmen plus Tarczewski and Ashley.

Non-Conference Tests. Miller has put together a solid non-conference schedule with several chances at solid resume wins. The highlight of their early season slate is the NIT Season Tip-Off, which could provide an Arizona/Duke match-up in the final round, provided both teams can take care of early round action. And honestly, the Cats should get to the final game: They’ll open with Fairleigh Dickinson, then likely get Rhode Island before possibly facing Rutgers in the semifinals. The other big highlight on the schedule is a mid-December trip to Michigan for a national televised game in Ann Arbor. The other two prime games on the schedule are a mid-week trip to San Diego State during the second week of the season, and a visit from UNLV in early December.

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Pac-12 M5: 10.16.13 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 16th, 2013

pac12_morning5

  1. After a stretch of several months where most of the news coming out of Westwood was of the bad variety, UCLA finally found some good news waiting for them on Tuesday when forward Wanaah Bail was granted eligibility to play immediately for the Bruins after transferring out of the Texas Tech program. While Bail is still recovering from offseason knee surgery, if and when he is healthy enough to go, he’ll be expected to provide much-needed depth in the frontcourt behind the senior Wear twins and sophomore center Tony Parker. Still, despite the good news, some Bruin followers have chosen to paint this as, somehow, another strike against new head coach Steve Alford before the guy has even gotten to the plate. Seriously though, Alford had the temerity to answer a question about comparing John Wooden to his former college head coach, Bobby Knight. I mean, get a rope, right?
  2. Turning back to UCLA’s biggest rival in the conference, Arizona is considered the prohibitive favorite by most prognosticators, but the one weakness most people look to nitpick is the team’s possible lack of outside shooting. The team loses four of their top five three-point shooters from last season and their most ballyhooed newcomers, namely freshmen Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, are known for just about anything on the basketball court except long-range shooting. Nevertheless, newly eligible transfer T.J. McConnell is a 41.6% three-point shooter for his career, junior guard Nick Johnson improved to a 39.3% three-point shooter last season, and guys like sophomore Gabe York (despite his one-for-nine shooting in the Red-Blue game) and Kansas transfer Zach Peters are expected to chip in from range. Meanwhile, even sophomore Brandon Ashley has worked to expand his range out toward the three-point line.
  3. Speaking of T.J. McConnell, while anyone who never saw him play in his first two seasons of collegiate eligibility at Duquesne can look at the numbers and see a guy who can knock down the three as well as drop a dime (KenPom, paywall) with the best of them, Arizona head coach Sean Miller has been talking up McConnell’s ability to get after it on defense. The Wildcats’ defensive efficiency has improved every season under Miller (again, KenPom, paywall), but if McConnell can live up to Miller’s hype, he’s definitely got a versatile enough frontcourt to match up with just about any opponent, what with Kaleb Tarczewski’s ability to out-physical true posts, Ashley’s length and athleticism advantage over  most fours, Gordon’s ability to guard any number of positions, and Jefferson’s toughness and length. Throw in the already established Nick Johnson, whose ability to annoy the heck out of opposing ball-handlers far away from the hoop can be disruptive enough on its own, and this Wildcat squad is a good bet to improve on the team’s defensive numbers from a year ago.
  4. For some reason, we haven’t talked a lot about Colorado so far these past couple of weeks (something we will remedy soon enough), but the Buffaloes are one of the handful of teams who can legitimately challenge Arizona for conference supremacy. Things will be a bit easier for the Buffs this season, especially around Boulder, as season tickets for the Coors Event Center have sold out for the first time in CU history. With a student section that has evolved into one of the best in the conference, and now the full Boulder community also committed to supporting the team, expect the Rocky Mountain swing to be one of the least welcoming road trips on the Pac-12 schedule.
  5. We’ll wrap up the morning by pointing you to a thorough rundown on the Washington basketball roster by Ben Knibbe (follow him now) at the UW Dawg Pound. Yesterday he took you through the high post players Jernard Jarreau and Desmond Simmons (and offered the saddest of lines for a Husky fan: “Aaron Gordon would have been…”). Last week he broke down wings C.J. Wilcox, Hikeem Stewart, Darin Johnson and Mike Anderson. And the week before that he filled you in on point guard options Andrew Andrews, Nigel Williams-Goss and Jahmel Taylor. Certainly, we’ll get the breakdown on low posts Perris Blackwell and Shawn Kemp in the near future, but you’ll need to keep up with Ben (seriously, follow him now) in order to get the best position-by-position rundown you’ll find around the Pac-12 team blogs.
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