Wrapping Up Pac-12 Performance in Thanksgiving Week Tournaments

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on December 3rd, 2013

The early season exempt tournaments are a great opportunity for teams to get in several games over the course of a few days, often against pretty good competition. By the time these events are over, we begin to have a good idea about the overall quality of teams, how their resume is shaping up, and what they will need to do from here on out. Pac-12 teams had some mixed results over the past week, but below we will take a quick look at how some of the teams from the conference fared in their events.

Arizona – The Wildcats are the one Pac-12 team that had an unquestionably great event. They swept through four games against increasingly tough competition in the NIT Season Tip-Off, capping it off by scoring an impressive win over Duke at Madison Square Garden on Friday. Sean Miller’s club has done everything you want a young team to do early in the year: improve every game, compete hard, and maintain focus, all while piling up the wins. As a result of last week’s performance, Arizona now finds itself at #2 in both major national polls, with two #1 votes in the AP and a single #1 vote in the Coaches poll.

Arizona Got Balanced Scoring And Great Defense In A Big Win Over Duke (USATSI)

Arizona Got Balanced Scoring And Great Defense In A Big Win Over Duke (USATSI)

Arizona State – While their in-state rival had a great tournament, the Sun Devils’ weekend at the Wooden Legacy was disastrous. Getting blown out in the opening game against Creighton is one thing; certainly not ideal, but at least against a good team. The problem was that put Arizona State in the consolation bracket with a bunch of teams that would provide little benefit if beaten, but a major strike if defeated by. After knocking off College of Charleston on Friday night and looking solid in the first half against Miami on Sunday, it looked like the Sun Devils would get out of Orange County with just disappointment rather than disaster. But then Jahii Carson turned it over three times and went 0-for-9 in the second half, including a couple of missed layups in the final minute, and Arizona State fell to Miami. Now, with no remaining non-conference games that will do anything to improve their resume, the Sun Devils will head into Pac-12 play with a win over Marquette last week as the lone victory against a team in KenPom’s top 100.

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Rushed Reaction: Creighton 88, Arizona State 60

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on November 29th, 2013

rushedreactions

Andrew Murawa is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after tonight’s Wooden Legacy quarterfinal between Creighton and Arizona State.

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Devin Brooks is a Wildcard. Tonight, the junior college transfer was transcendent, scoring 23 spectacular points in just 19 minutes of action. The book on him is “great athlete, great off the bounce, but prone to getting a little out of control, average defensively and with an inconsistent jumper.” All those positives showed through tonight as he was able to beat his man off the dribble with regularity and score at the rim. But all those negatives? Non-existent. He knocked down all four of his three-point attempts (he was 0-for-2 from deep previously), did a quality job defensively, and played like a veteran all night. While Creighton certainly isn’t a team that needed an extra boost offensively, Brooks does give them an athletic and confident scorer unlike anyone else on the roster.

    Devin Brooks Was A Revelation On Thanksgiving Night, Dropping 23 Spectacular Points (WBR, Mike Spomer)

    Devin Brooks Was A Revelation On Thanksgiving Night, Dropping 23 Spectacular Points (WBR, Mike Spomer)

  2. Creighton: Defensive Powerhouse. Arizona State is a very good offensive team, and Creighton, somehow, held the Sun Devils to fewer than 0.9 points per possession. Jahii Carson got 15 points, but it took 12 shots for him to do that and he turned the ball over five times in the process. The game plan for Creighton was simple: Hound Carson with a quick guard like Brooks or Austin Chatman relentlessly, and keep several other sets of eyes on him at all times. And once Carson gave it up, make him work real hard in order to get the ball back and force other guys to beat them. It worked flawlessly, as the rest of the ASU squad shot a combined 17-of-46 (36.9%) from the field. The key for the Bluejays going forward will be to keep the type of defensive intensity they showed tonight on a nightly basis, not something they have proven capable of doing in the past.
  3. Lost Weekend for Arizona State. With the loss to Creighton, the remainder of this weekend for Herb Sendek’s team is about improving as a team; there are no other chances for good wins remaining for the Sun Devils in Orange County. They’ll play Charleston tomorrow and then likely Miami (FL) on Sunday. And god forbid they have a hangover after this game and drop one of those. Sendek will get a chance to see how his team bounces back from its first loss of the season and first taste of adversity this year, but he’ll also want to see his team work on a few weaknesses that were exposed tonight.

Star of the GameDevin Brooks, Creighton. A 23-point night on 9-of-11 shooting, including 4-of-4 from deep, all in just 19 minutes. Yeah, that’ll work. But the bigger story was his confidence in doing so. A New York City guard with the type of game that phrase evokes, Brooks showed no hesitation under the bright lights. He broke down his defenders off the bounce early and finished well at the rim. And then, once he had his mojo going, he drilled three after three despite a scouting report that said to lay back on him and let him take jumpers. Even his own head coach, Greg McDermott, admitted that he cringed the first time Brooks jacked up a three. While the kind of production he laid down tonight isn’t maintainable, if he can be a consistent force on both end of the court, this Bluejays team just got a whole lot scarier.

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Feast Week Mission Briefing: Arizona State in the Wooden Legacy

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on November 27th, 2013

With Feast Week already in high gear, we’re outlining the roads ahead for prominent Pac-12 teams involved in neutral site events this week.

What They’ve Done So Far: Don’t look now, but Arizona State may have, to date, the best resume in the Pac-12. They’ve taken care of business against the dregs of their schedule; they scored a solid road win over an underachieving UNLV team; and they grabbed a good win over Marquette earlier this week. With Jahii Carson and Jermaine Marshall making for a great one-two punch in the backcourt and with nearly everybody else on the roster performing better than average thus far, this is one fearsome offensive team.

Jahii Carson And Arizona State Should Have A Wildly Entertaining Thanksgiving Night (Jeff Gross, Getty Images)

Jahii Carson And Arizona State Should Have A Wildly Entertaining Thanksgiving Night (Jeff Gross, Getty Images)

First Round Preview: Fittingly, the Sun Devils kick off play in Fullerton on Thanksgiving Day against arguably the most fearsome offensive team in the nation, Doug McDermott’s Creighton squad. Now in his senior year and even with opponents going out of their way to game plan for him, McDermott just keeps marching along — knocking down threes, scoring in the paint, getting to the line and just generally making buckets — he’s scored more than 30 points in half of his games this season and is averaging 27.5 PPG on the season. But while McDermott is clearly the straw the stirs the Bluejays’ drink, there are plenty of other options to keep opponents honest. Fellow senior Ethan Wragge has drilled 14 of his 25 (56%) attempts from behind the arc. Junior point guard Austin Chatman has knocked down 58.3 percent of his threes and is third on the team in scoring with an 11.0 PPG average despite mostly looking to get teammates involved. And senior Grant Gibbs is once again the glue guy for this squad, averaging just four points a game but handing out almost six assists per night and providing the best individual defense on the team. However, we’ve seen this story from Creighton before: great O, poor D. For the Bluejays to really be considered a threat on the national stage, they’ve got to step it up defensively, and in this area the Sun Devils will give them quite a test. Ideally, as a college basketball fan, you’d want to see this game turn into a second half shootout, with McDermott and Carson trading blows on opposite ends of the floor. But from a coaching perspective, both Greg McDermott and Herb Sendek will be more interested in how their respective defenses compete against elite offensive competition. Either way, avoid the turkey hangover to tune in for the nightcap on Thursday evening.

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Pac-12 Roundup: Week Two

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) and Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on November 26th, 2013

Out of the country? Living under a rock? Here’s what you missed in the second week of Pac-12 basketball.

Power Rankings (As voted upon by Connor Pelton, Andrew Murawa, and Adam Butler):  

  1. Arizona
  2. Oregon
  3. UCLA
  4. Arizona State
  5. Colorado
  6. California
  7. Stanford
  8. Oregon State
  9. Utah
  10. USC
  11. Washington
  12. Washington State
Jahii Carson Went Off On Tuesday In Las Vegas (Joe Nicholson)

Jahii Carson Went Off On Tuesday In Las Vegas. (Joe Nicholson)

Best Game – Arizona State @ UNLV: In a week where Harvard-Colorado was probably the second best Pac-12 game, Arizona State and UNLV provided greater drama. Intensity was high from the outset as both teams battled back and forth in the first 20 minutes. Neither team led by more than four points in the first half, and that was the margin when junior Deville Smith hit a jumper as time expired to put UNLV up by a score of 38-34. The crowd of over 12,000 was quieted with about five minutes remaining when the Sun Devils went on a critical 8-2 run to lead by seven, and Jahii Carson made sure the Devils stayed in front with a clutch jumper and two key free throws. When all was said and done, Carson had finished with 40 points and seven assists, a performance you may not see topped this year in conference play, and Arizona State left the Thomas & Mack Center with an 86-80 win to remain undefeated. The 5’10” sophomore also made 14 of his 16 buckets from the field at the rim, a ridiculous stat for someone of his stature.

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Jahii Carson and Joseph Young Showing Early Improvement

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 21st, 2013

Coming into the year, we knew Jahii Carson was going to be among the best guards in the conference, if not one of the best guards in the entire country. But, there was a reason he came back to school instead of trying his hand at an NBA career immediately after his delayed freshman campaign at Arizona State. Meanwhile, up in Oregon, once Joseph Young was declared immediately eligible after transferring in from Houston, we knew he was going to be an excellent shooter, something he has repeatedly proven over his basketball career. But we weren’t sure how complete of a guard he could be. There are still four months of basketball left this year for both of these guys to show who they really are, but today, we’ll look at the early returns.

Jahii Carson's Improved Jumper Makes Him Next To Unstoppable (Harry How, Getty Images)

Jahii Carson’s Improved Jumper Makes Him Next To Unstoppable (Harry How, Getty Images)

There wasn’t a whole lot to complain about in Carson’s freshman year in Tempe. He led the Sun Devils in scoring and assists, played relatively under control and got his teammates involved, but still left plenty of room in the game to find his own shot. He was also solid defensively and therefore it was no coincidence that ASU went from a 10-win squad in the year he was watching from the bench to a 22-win outfit last year. Still, despite all his tremendous quickness and athleticism, this was a 5’10” point guard whose jump shot was best described as “streaky.” Sure, he could knock it down – he dropped in five of nine attempts over the course of three impressive games in the Pac-12 Tournament, for example – but it was erratic, to the tune of just 32 percent over the course of the year. He spent the offseason dedicated to, among others things, tightening up that jumper.

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Marching To Vegas: Are Elite Pac-12 Guards Using Officiating Changes to Their Advantage?

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) on November 15th, 2013

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. 

As soon as Bobby Dibler told us we were going to have “more whistles” this season, I had two thoughts: 1) Ughhhhhhhhhhhhhhh; 2) Are Spencer Dinwiddie and Jahii Carson going to shoot a gajillion free throws? The rule changes Dibler helped roll out would have more fouls called on the perimeter, hand-checking to be penalized, giving a great advantage to those with the ball in their hands. Sweet moves translated into a whistle. Dinwiddie had already demonstrated a propensity to draw fouls (a 76.7 FT rate which was 19th in the nation last year, while drawing 6.2 fouls per 40 minutes). Carson, meanwhile, is riquickulous and could cause some significant foul trouble in the lane and on the perimeter. Last year his FT rate was 42.4 (405th nationally), while drawing 5.5 fouls per 40 minutes. Yes, my mind wandered here with Dibler on stage. And before we dive too deep into these outstanding Pac-12 guards, let’s take a gander at the state of the whistles, one week into its season.

Statistic

2013

2014

% Difference
FT

20.4

23.3

14.22%

FT Rate

35.9

43.1

20.06%

FT % (shooting)

69.4

68.4

-1.44%

TO %

20

18.1

-9.50%

Steal %

9.9

8.7

-12.12%

These are the D-I averages according to Ken Pomeroy’s website. To synopsize and analyze, we’re seeing a lot more free throws at a wild rate with fewer of them being made. Meanwhile, defenses are forcing fewer turnovers as a result of likely more fouls or timidity. Davante Gardner of Marquette is drawing nearly 17 fouls per 40 minutes. This game happened. Is Herb Sendek right when he declared these rule changes “revolutionary?” Pretty close. There certainly are some elements to these changes that have affected the game. I mean, anything that shifts an average by 20 percent is significant. The free throw rate change between 2012 and 2013 was just -1.37 percent. It stayed about the same. The game is changing, there have been 152 free throws shot in two Oregon Duck basketball games this season. REVOLUTION! (?)

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Pac-12 M5: 11.14.13 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on November 14th, 2013

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  1. Let’s jump right into the bad news, something that we have suspected for a few days now: Jernard Jarreau’s 2013-14 season lasted less than two minutes. Jarreau, a 6’10″ sophomore forward from whom Washington was expecting big things, was helped off the court early on Sunday night in the Huskies season-opener against Seattle with an apparent knee injury. He had to wait a couple days to undergo an MRI and then we had to wait an additional day for confirmation, but the results are in, and are no fun: torn ACL. Jarreau will be out for the year, although he will be eligible for a medical redshirt. With the Huskies already down Desmond Simmons, who is out for about another month with a knee injury of his own, and Perris Blackwell, who may return as early as tonight following a concussion, a once deep Husky frontcourt is now perilously thin.
  2. Colorado, meanwhile, had a very nice Wednesday. Aside from ending a six-game losing streak against border rival Wyoming, head coach Tad Boyle also got his first pair of commitments for his 2014 recruiting class. ESPN Top 100 recruit Dominique Collier is the headliner, a four-star point guard is a Denver product, and his signing continues Boyle’s recent history of locking up the best recruits from the home state (Josh Scott, Wesley Gordon and Xavier Talton being other recent examples). If junior point guard Spencer Dinwiddie decides that he’s off to the NBA after this season, Collier will probably be the favorite to start at the one for the Buffs next year. The other signee is three-star power forward Tory Miller, a 255-pound force in the middle who will help add beef to a relatively thin front line.
  3. Meanwhile, more big recruiting news is due on Friday when Stanley Johnson, one of the elite recruits in the 2014 class will decide between Arizona, USC, and Kentucky. Now, sure, John Calipari isn’t really in the habit of losing out in his pursuit of elite recruits, but the scuttlebutt is that the two leaders for Johnson’s services are the two Pac-12 schools. Sean Miller and the Wildcats have long been considered the favorite, but Andy Enfield and the Trojans are making a big push. With a couple of four-star recruits already committed, a signing from Johnson would again push Arizona up near the top of the recruits rankings, while a choice in favor of USC would cement Enfield’s credentials as a difference-maker. Editorial comment: make Arizona the even money favorite, with Kentucky at 2-1 and USC the longshot at 5-1. Place your bets, but leave me the juice.
  4.  At Utah, junior college transfer Delon Wright is already making a big impact for the Runnin’ Utes, coming up three assists and three steals shy of the first-ever recorded quadruple-double in program history with a line of 17 points, ten boards, seven assists and seven steals. Wright has already made it known that he hopes to dial up what would be just the third-ever recorded triple-double from a Ute player, with Andre Miller and Alex Jensen the other two to have accomplished that feat.
  5. Lastly, the preseason watchlist for the Wooden Award was announced on Tuesday, and among those included on the 50-player list are six Pac-12 players. UCLA leads the way in the conference as one of only 11 schools with more than two players included, namely sophomores Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams, while Arizona freshman Aaron Gordon (this is the first year the preseason watchlist can include freshmen and transfers), Arizona State sophomore Jahii Carson, Colorado junior Spencer Dinwiddie and Stanford senior Dwight Powell rounding out the conference’s selections.
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Pac-12 M5: Veteran’s Day Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 11th, 2013

pac12_morning5

  1. Washington knocked off a game Seattle squad on Sunday night in its season opener, but the win may turn out to be something of a Pyrrhic victory as sophomore forward Jernard Jarreau left with a knee injury just two minutes into the season. As of this writing, there is no news on the severity of the injury, but Jarreau is expected to undergo an MRI today. With senior center Perris Blackwell already out after suffering a concussion in their exhibition game last Wednesday, and with junior Desmond Simmons out for up to two months following knee surgery, the Huskies were forced to even turn to sophomore center Gilles Dierickx (sure, just when I figured out how to spell Krystkowiak without thinking twice, you break out this name on me) for frontcourt depth. But, it was mostly newcomer wings like 6’5” JuCo transfer Mike Anderson and 6’4” freshman Darin Johnson who helped the Huskies compete on the glass, as they grabbed 15 rebounds between them.
  2. While the Huskies evaded a potential upset on Sunday night despite being shorthanded, Oregon State wasn’t so lucky. Playing without suspended forwards Devon Collier and Eric Moreland, the Beavers fell to Coppin State despite a career-high 36 points from senior guard Roberto Nelson. Given that the MEAC, Coppin State’s conference, is a mere 1-89 against power conference teams in the last two seasons, this is not a good sign for head coach Craig Robinson in his quest to keep his job. Luckily, Collier will be back in the next game, but Moreland won’t be back until conference play kicks off. Coppin State comes out of a brief weekend as an honorary member of the Pac-12 with a 1-1 record, after California handled them on Friday night.
  3. Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins got excellent news on Friday afternoon when 6’7” 2014 recruit Reid Travis committed to the Cardinal early in the day. He’s a bit undersized for a frontcourt prospect, but he can score in the post and hit the face-up jumper. He’s presently the highlight of a three-man Stanford recruiting class that consists entirely of players ranked in the top 100 in ESPN’s 2014 rankings. Now, all Dawkins needs to do is get his team into the NCAA Tournament in order to earn the right to coach those guys next season; if his team fails to make the Dance this season, expectations are that this will be his last season on The Farm. The Cardinal got off to a sketchy start on Friday night, needing to hold off a pesky Bucknell team on the way to a four-point win, but will have a chance  to earn a solid non-conference win tonight at home against BYU.
  4. Aaron Gordon officially began his career at Arizona on Friday night, and we’ll have some thoughts about his and the Wildcats’ performance later today. But, in the meantime, Anthony Gimino of the Tucson Citizen has a timeline of Gordon’s first game with the Wildcats. While he did plenty of things very well, let me just give you a hint that the form on his shot causes me quite a bit of distress.
  5. Lastly, while there weren’t a ton of blowouts on behalf of Pac-12 teams this weekend, Arizona State did crush its first bit of competition, as they handed UMBC a 35-point defeat on Friday night. Jahii Carson led the way with 19 points and five boards, but the highlight was the fact that everybody in the Sun Devil starting lineup got into double figures, while the bench added an additional 25 points. We’ll see how much this remains a theme as the season goes on, but the Sun Devils drew 30 foul calls from their opponent, getting to the line for 44 free throw attempts. With a guy like Carson, nobody really expects to be able to guard him at all, but with fouls actually being called now, his offensive effectiveness could skyrocket.
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Introducing the Pac-12 All-Conference Teams

Posted by Andrew (@amurawa) on November 8th, 2013

Later today, maybe even by the time you get around to reading this, there will be real live full-fledged regular season basketball to watch. It’s a beautiful thing. As our last little bit of preview before we get into five months of madness (don’t let the marketing geniuses fool you into thinking that only happens in March), we’ll roll out three teams strong (and just five players per team – please take note conferences of all stripes) of All-Pac-12 personnel.

Here goes nothing:

First Team

Arizona State Sophomore Jahii Carson Is A Unanimous Choice As Pac-12 Preseason Player of the Year Among RTC Voters. (USA Today)

Arizona State Sophomore Jahii Carson Is A Unanimous Choice As Pac-12 Preseason Player of the Year Among RTC Voters. (USA Today)

  • Jahii Carson, Sophomore, Arizona State – Carson is a unanimous selection among our voters as the best player in the conference, topping all three ballots submitted. After averaging 18 points and five assists as a freshman, Carson is hoping an improved jumper, a faster tempo and a deeper roster will help the Sun Devils’ star wrap up his time in Tempe with an NCAA Tournament appearance.
  • Spencer Dinwiddie, Junior, Colorado – Dinwiddie’s three-point percentage dipped precipitously as a sophomore, but his aggressiveness and overall effectiveness increased, as he turned into a significantly better finisher and play-maker in his role as lead guard. If his jumper from range returns to anywhere near his freshman year levels, watch out.
  • Jordan Adams, Sophomore, UCLA – Even though Adams was clearly overshadowed by two, if not all three of his UCLA classmates prior to last year, the wing out of Atlanta was arguably the best of the group. He was second on the team in scoring, with 15.3 points per game, but brought along a game varied enough to have a positive impact even when he wasn’t scoring.

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The RTC Interview Series: Pac-12 Preview with Don MacLean and Miles Simon

Posted by Walker Carey on November 6th, 2013


Rush The Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you periodically throughout the offseason. If you have any specific interview requests or want us to interview you, shoot us an email at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. To read through the entire 2013-14 preseason interview series, click here. As part of our national preview with the Pac-12, RTC correspondent Walker Carey recently had the pleasure of speaking with two Pac-12 experts in Pac-12 Network analyst and former UCLA star, Don MacLean, and ESPN analyst and former Arizona star, Miles Simon. (Ed. note – we spoke to each individual separately, but for the sake of expediency, combining their answers into a round table format made the most sense.)

Don MacLean and Miles Simon Shared Their Pac-12 Thoughts With Us

Don MacLean and Miles Simon Shared Their Pac-12 Thoughts With Us

Rush the Court: Arizona is the overwhelming preseason favorite in the league. What is it about Sean Miller’s team that has expectations so high in Tucson?

Don MacLean: The talent level there is very high. Sean Miller has brought in some very high-level recruits. Aaron Gordon brings another dimension for the team with his great athleticism and versatility to play inside and on the perimeter. T.J. McConnell is going to be great for the team. I worked the exhibition game last week and I was really impressed by McConnell. I think he is really good. He is the first true point guard that Sean Miller has had since he has been at Arizona. When you have all that talent, you need a pass-first guy to spread the ball around. From what I have seen, McConnell seems to be that guy. Sean Miller is also a great coach. With this roster, the depth that the team has, and Miller’s coaching, I think it is warranted to put Arizona as the best team in the league right now.

Miles Simon: Sean Miller obviously brought in a tremendous recruiting class. Getting Aaron Gordon, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Elliott Pitts to come in is a good place to start with this team. Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell is going to be an excellent addition for the team at point guard. When you look at this team, it is just so long and athletic. I think defensively, this might be the best group that Sean Miller has had since he has been at Arizona. There are just so many positives with this team going into the season.

RTC: Oregon made a surprise trip to the Sweet Sixteen last March after pulling off upsets over Oklahoma State and Saint Louis. Gone from last season’s team are Arsalan Kazemi and E.J. Singler, but the Ducks did secure the services of UNLV transfer Mike Moser. With Moser joining a team that has the talented backcourt of Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson returning, should Dana Altman’s squad take a step forward in the Pac-12 this season and should another NCAA Tournament run be expected?

MacLean: You can never expect an NCAA Tournament run, but I think the team should be just as good. Do not forget that Oregon also added Joseph Young, the transfer from Houston. Adding Mike Moser as a fifth-year guy is an important piece and Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson will be better as second-year players. With what Dana Altman does with his style of play and the way he changes up defenses, I think the Ducks will be as good as they were last season.

Simon: I think Oregon will get back to the NCAA Tournament. It really has some nice pieces, but when you lose guys like Arsalan Kazemi, E.J. Singler, Tony Woods and Carlos Emory, you are losing what was the heart and soul of your team. A lot of leadership and toughness left with those guys. If Mike Moser is able to return to where he was with UNLV two years ago, he will be excellent. The backcourt of Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson should be explosive and one of the best in the league. Johnathan Loyd is the third guard and he has some experience because he had to play a lot when Artis was injured last season. When you consider these pieces, this is a team that should get back to the NCAA Tournament and finish in the top half of the Pac-12.

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2013-14 RTC Preseason All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on November 5th, 2013

seasonpreview-11

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

First Team All-America

team1Andrew Wiggins, Kansas (unanimous) – Wiggins begins his career in Lawrence as one of the more ballyhooed freshmen in recent memory. The 6’8″ swingman, who was unanimously considered the top player in the Class of 2013, committed to Kansas in April following a recruiting process that was primarily kept close to the vest. While some of the hype surrounding the dynamic freshman may be a bit overblown, it is impossible to deny Wiggins’ credentials, as he was named 2013 Naismith Prep Player of the Year, 2013 Gatorade National Player of the Year, and Mr. Basketball USA. Wiggins has already acknowledged that he would like to be a one-and-done and enter the 2014 NBA Draft, so it is logical to see why expectations are so high in Lawrence this season.

Factoid: It is not exactly a surprise that Wiggins is a top-flight athlete when you consider the fact that his father, Mitchell Wiggins, had a lengthy professional basketball career and his mother, Marita Payne-Wiggins, won two silver medals for Canada as a sprinter in the 1984 Summer Olympic Games.

Doug McDermott, Creighton (unanimous) – McDermott’s ability to score from anywhere on the court makes him one of the most feared offensive players in the country. It is rare for a two-time First Team All-American to return to school, but that is the case with McDermott, who spurned the NBA to return for his senior season in Omaha. With Creighton making the big move from the Missouri Valley to the Big East this season, the Bluejays are going to be counting on him to fill the stat line each night out – and McDermott is good enough to come through for them.

Factoid: Due to Creighton guard Grant Gibbs receiving a rare sixth-year of eligibility from the NCAA (and thus, needing a scholarship), McDermott will be an extremely talented walk-on for the 2013-14 season.

Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State – The reigning Big 12 Player of the Year shocked the basketball world when he announced in mid-April that he would return to Stillwater for his sophomore season. The Flower Mound, Texas, native is widely considered the best returning player in all of college basketball. Smart brings a little bit of everything to the floor. His 6’4″ frame is elite for the point guard position and he uses that size as well as any perimeter player in the country. The leadership and intangibles that Smart provides are also second to none. After Oklahoma State finished third in the Big 12 during Smart’s freshman season, it is projected to contend with perennial powerhouse Kansas for the conference crown this season.

Factoid: Making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2010, Oklahoma State’s stay in the 2013 event was a short one. The Cowboys, a five-seed, were upset in the Round of 64 by 12-seed Oregon. This loss affected Smart’s decision to return to school, as the setback helped him realize he was not ready to be one-and-done in a Cowboy uniform.

Russ Smith, Louisville – Smith returns to Louisville for his senior season looking to lead the Cardinals to a repeat as national champions. “Russdiculous” is coming off a season that saw him average 18.7 points per game and take home the Most Outstanding Player of the Midwest Regional. While Smith gets a majority of his attention for his performance on the offensive end of the court, he is also a defensive stalwart who keys the relentless full court pressure of the Cardinals. Even though Smith certainly figures to be Louisville’s most explosive player this season, you better believe he will still at times do some things on the court that will drive Rick Pitino crazy.

Factoid: Smith spent his fall interning with WHAS-TV in Louisville, working local high school football games on some Friday nights.

Julius Randle, Kentucky – Kentucky coach John Calipari brought in one of the best recruiting hauls in history for this season and the star of the class is the ultra-athletic Randle. The Plano, Texas, native arrived in Lexington as the second-best prospect in the Class of 2013 – only behind Andrew Wiggins – and early returns on Randle as a Wildcat forward have been overwhelmingly positive. Randle’s talent level is so elite that ESPN‘s Jeff Goodman declared in late September that he would take Randle over Wiggins with the first pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.

Factoid: Randle missed three months of his senior season at Prestonwood Christian due to a fractured foot, but he was able to return in time to lead the school to a Texas state championship.

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Marching to Vegas: The Pac is Back

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) on November 1st, 2013

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.

Have you ever seen that Dodge commercial? It’s the one narrated by Dexter for the Durango re-release. And don’t fear – not yet at least – I’m not about to go full Grantland on you. I’m just curious if you’ve seen the commercial? Anyhow, it’s got me thinking about Pac-12 basketball. Now in the interest of full disclosure, few things don’t lead me back to that subject. We can dismiss that evidence. But back to the commercial, here it is. Michael C. Hall opens it by telling us it’s 2011. “Wonder where the Durango’s been for the last two years?” Dexter asks. He goes on to explain how the SUV left to improve itself and how, but to be honest I hadn’t given the Durango much thought. The Pac-12 on the other hand? I’ve been curious about where it had gone. It’s how I opened last season, running through the elite programs of the conference and why their disappearance lowered the bar for the others. In our most recent version of Pac-12 basketball, both Arizona and UCLA were included in the field of 68; along with three other Pac-12 schools. Five of 12 ain’t bad coming off a year in which the conference champion was not invited to dance; begging the question: Is the Pac Back?

How Is Pac-12 Basketball Like The Dodge Durango? Geez, How Isn't It?

How Is Pac-12 Basketball Like The Dodge Durango? Let Us Count The Ways.

If we look at predictive measurements, the answer may be a resounding NO. KenPom doesn’t rate a Pac-12 team until his 23rd slot (Arizona) and has three squads rated outside the top 100 (Washington State, USC, and Utah). Conference by conference, the Pac settles in at number five behind the B1G, the new Big East, the ACC and the AAC (please note that I believe this is the first time I’ve ever written AAC, for whatever that is worth). For comparison’s sake, the Pac-12 finished eighth among conferences in 2012 and third in 2013. Perhaps the Pac returned last March? But these 2014 numbers suggest that the conference is still among the latter half of the big kid conferences. And isn’t this the beauty of predictive stats? They help us tell the story, but cannot become the story. Because if that were the case, you could have stopped a lot closer to “Dodge Durango” (and I thank you for not).

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