Pac-12 M5: 03.03.14 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on March 3rd, 2014

pac12_morning5

  1. Welcome to March. Jerry Palm’s latest NCAA Tournament projections were released yesterday and Arizona has all but solidified that #1 seed in the West region after taking care of California and Stanford. UCLA follows as a #7 seed, while Arizona State and Stanford are also safely in the field on the eight and nine lines, respectively. We then hit the bubble, where we find Oregon making its way back into the field as a #10 seed after picking up a pair of big wins in Los Angeles. Colorado and California follow as #11 seeds, with the Golden Bears being sent to Dayton to play in the “First Four”, a punishment for dropping three of its last four, with the losses coming by an average of 22 points. According to ESPN‘s Joe Lunardi, Utah is also on the bubble, sitting as the 11th team out of the field at the moment.
  2. Arizona locked up an unshared regular season conference title yesterday (and the all-important NIT automatic bid, if they choose to use it) with a 79-66 win against Stanford at the McKale Center. The Wildcats led by as many as 22 with six minutes remaining and ended up cruising to the championship. Josh Huestis actually led all scorers with 22 points, while freshman forward Aaron Gordon scored 19 to pace the Wildcats.
  3. Head coach Sean Miller decided to give guard Jordin Mayes the start on Senior Night in Tucson, and while Mayes was held scoreless, he did play a season high 15 minutes. Mayes has been with the Wildcats for four seasons, a dwindling feat nowadays in this sport. After starting as a sophomore he has seen his minutes decline and almost completely disappear. Mayes has suffered through multiple stress fracture injuries but has stuck it out, staying committed to his team and coach. Kevin Zimmerman shares a cool story about a young Mayes in this piece and the impact that he has had while at Arizona. Here’s hoping his perseverance is rewarded with a trip to Arlington for the Final Four later this month.
  4. If you’re looking for some hardcore statistical analysis, this post is for you. Our friend Adam Butler over at Pachoops breaks down the facilitating ability of Wildcat junior T.J. McConnell, the program’s first, true pass-first point guard in five years. So far this season he has accounted for the second highest percentage of rim scores in the conference behind Delon Wright, a huge boost for a team who’s one fault can be going significant periods of time without scoring.
  5. UCLA is ratcheting up its defense just in time for the stretch run of the season, and head coach Steve Alford is encouraged by the recent play. The Bruins forced Oregon to shoot at a 38.1 % clip from the field on Thursday, a performance that Alford declared “arguably one of the best of the year.” The Ducks went most of the night without gaining any easy buckets, and the Bruins held them to just two points in the first overtime period. Oregon is one of the best transition teams in the nation and UCLA only allowed four fastbreak points, perhaps the stat that makes Alford most proud. Continued pressure on the defensive end of the floor will be crucial if it looks to avoid the dreaded eight or nine seeds in the NCAA Tournament.
Share this story

Pac-12 M5: 2.12.14 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 12th, 2014

pac12_morning5

  1. So, after a week without Brandon Ashley, one thing has become pretty clear for Arizona: Odds are good that the injured big man will be back for his junior campaign in the desert. He told ESPN’s Jeff Goodman recently that it is very likely he’ll be back in Tucson next season instead of pursuing an NBA career, but for head coach Sean Miller, a guy who has seen his fair share of players leave early, he’s not taking anything for granted. The coach, player and his family plan on gathering together after the season to discuss the big man’s future, however, and the decision then may turn out differently.
  2. One interesting bit out of the Wildcats’ Sunday evening win over Oregon State was the contribution of little-used senior guard Jordin Mayes, who earned just five minutes of action but may have put in his application for future minutes with a nine-point outburst in that limited time. With Miller claiming to already trust Mayes defensively and that seventh and/or eighth spot in the rotation available, it’s possible that the stretch run of Mayes’ Wildcats career could be more impactful than previous results had led us to believe.
  3. Utah also has a player who was formerly on the outs now competing for a bigger role in junior wing Princeton Onwas. After his friend and position-mate Ahmad Fields began to earn a bigger role at the expense of his minutes, Onwas returned to practice with a new focus and set about regaining a larger role. Early results are good, as he earned 25 minutes against Washington and harassed C.J. Wilcox into an off night followed by a highly efficient 10 points on seven field goal attempts in 13 minutes against Washington State on Saturday night.
  4. Tomorrow night Colorado visits UCLA and head coach Tad Boyle is particularly concerned about Bruins junior guard Norman Powellwho had a big second half in UCLA’s win over USC on Saturday night. Powell is the team’s best perimeter defender, its most ferocious dunker, and an emerging all-around offensive force. Boyle recognizes that without the Buffs’ best perimeter defender in Spencer Dinwiddie, Powell’s athleticism and skill will make him someone of whom his team is going to need to pay extra attention.
  5. Another UCLA wing who has raised eyebrows this season is freshman Zach LaVine. But after a fantastic start to the season that had some calling him an immediate lottery pick, the exciting wing has settled back to earth. His three-point shot is beginning to fall a little less frequently (he’s 2-of-11 in the past two weeks); teams are realizing he’s not much of a threat off the bounce; and he’s even started to blow some occasional dunks. Is it still a surefire certainty that he’s NBA-bound after a single season in Westwood? On upside alone, you’ve got to figure he’s gone. But in a year with a deep draft, maybe LaVine wants to return to work on his handle, half-court game and other weaknesses in order to ensure a lottery pick next year? Possibly, but the smart money is still on a rather brief stay with the Bruins.
Share this story

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Arizona Post-Mortem

Posted by AMurawa on April 11th, 2013

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

What Went Right

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

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

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

What Went Wrong

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

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Rushed Reactions: #6 Arizona 74 #14 Harvard 51

Posted by AMurawa on March 23rd, 2013

RTC_final4_atlanta

Andrew Murawa is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from the Round of 32 game between #6 Arizona and #14 Harvard at the Salt Lake City pod this afternoon.

Three Key Takeaways.

It Was Great While It Lasted...

It Was Great While It Lasted…

  1. Physical Mismatch. It was clear just a couple of minutes into the game that Harvard was going to need to catch a lot of breaks to keep up in this game. As good as Wesley Saunders has been all year, he had no chance guarding Solomon Hill in the post. Harvard’s Kenyatta Smith was tough on Thursday against the New Mexico bigs, Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley were a whole different ball game. Freshman point guard Siyani Chambers looked overmatched and intimidated early by Mark Lyons, while Nick Johnson and Hill largely stuck with the Crimson’s shooters Laurent Rivard and Christian Webster, using their length, athleticism and confidence in the rest of their team’s defense to limit any good looks. In short, barring some seriously strange goings-on, Harvard never really had a chance in this one.
  2. Is Arizona Playing Well?. At times, as the lead hovered somewhere around 20 for the final three-quarters of the game, the Wildcats lost focus and let up some. Kevin Parrom wound up inexplicably fouling out in just 14 minutes of action. Grant Jerrett bruised an elbow early in the first half and never returned. Johnson attempted just three field goals in the 34 minutes of action (to be fair, he made two threes in those attempts). Ashley again showed glimpses of excellence intermingled with frustrating decision-making. But in a game where the talent mismatch was so apparent, it was really hard to gauge just how well this team was playing as a whole. But, give them credit for doing to Harvard exactly what a team with this size and talent should have done to Harvard.
  3. New Mexico Redux. If anybody associated with the New Mexico program watched this game, from Steve Alford on down to the lowliest Lobo fan, they had to be going absolutely crazy. A Harvard team that shot a 61.9 eFG% on Thursday night shot 31.9% tonight. The Lobos definitely didn’t have quite the athletic advantage that Arizona did, but it was pretty close. But, the Lobos failed to close out on shooters, couldn’t stop Chambers’ dribble penetration and never found a guard who could make an impact against inferior defenders. Can’t feel too bad for the Lobos.

Star of the GameMark Lyons, Arizona. The much-maligned Wildcat point guard had perhaps the best game of his time in Tucson today, getting past Harvard defenders with ease, knocking down threes whenever the mood struck him and zipping up Chambers defensively. With Aaron Craft potentially looming next week in Los Angeles, things are about to get much more difficult, but Lyons has certainly picked a perfect time to peak.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Pac-12 M5: 03.21.13 Edition

Posted by PBaruh on March 21st, 2013

pac12_morning5

  1. Oregon guard Dominic Artis says he’s now 100 percent healthy and will be ready for today’s game against Oklahoma State. The freshman guard has more than his health to worry about, however. Artis is a Bay Area native and as the game will be played at HP Pavilion in San Jose, he has been trying to get tickets for his friends and family noting that it’s like high school all over again. As far as conditioning goes, he said he’s finally up to full speed and is excited and ready for today’s game.
  2. Sean Miller has always been an intense competitor and that continues to be apparent as the head coach of Arizona. His fire and passion for the game led him to walk on at Pittsburgh in college and he accomplished much more than a typical walk-on usually does. Miller ended up starting at point guard as a freshman and although he never had a basketball playing career after college, it was clear that his drive would lead him to coaching. At only 44 years old, Miller has become a prominent recruiter and successful motivator and his teams have been mainstays in the NCAA Tournament. He may agitate others with his animated antics on the sideline — most recently after his loss to UCLA in the Pac-12 Tournament — but that’s what separates the Pennsylvania native from others and is a major reason for his continued success.
  3. Cal is coming off back-to-back losses to end the season, so getting off to a good start will be key for the Bears when they square off with UNLV today. The Bears have struggled in starting games with soft defense and stagnant offense, but at other times Mike Montgomery’s team has proved that they are a determined bunch. When they were thought to be finished in the Pac-12 race at 3-4, they then rolled off seven straight victories. This was due largely to tougher defense as the Bears held their opponents to just 33 percent shooting during their run. As they get ready for a rematch against UNLV, Justin Cobbs said their NCAA First Four blowout loss last year to South Florida is still fresh in their minds. Count on the Bears to be ready to get back on the court and play 40 strong minutes of basketball.
  4. The Pac-12 certainly isn’t the best conference in college basketball, but it is a league filled with parity.  Just take a look at regular season champion UCLA. They lost to Arizona State, USC, and Washington State. Oregon lost to Stanford and Utah. Arizona fell to USC. Colorado lost to Utah and Oregon State. Additionally, almost every game that these teams played in the conference season came down to the wire. Because of this, Pac-12 teams playing today and tomorrow could benefit as they’ll be ready to play and are no stranger to close finishes.
  5. Arizona junior Jordin Mayes is playing his best basketball at the right time of the year. Prior to the Wildcats’ loss to UCLA in the Pac-12 Tournament, Mayes had scored 22 points in his past three games and showed his willingness to shoot from behind the arc. Arizona will need all it can get from its key bench player today and the junior has experienced some success in the NCAA Tournament. Back in March 2011, Mayes hit four three-pointers against Texas and also provided key minutes in Arizona’s upset of Duke that led to an Elite Eight appearance that season.
Share this story

Pac-12 M5: 02.20.13 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on February 20th, 2013

pac12_morning5

  1. One side effect of the parity in the conference this season has been a lot of intensity as we head into the stretch run. We saw this most glaringly on Sunday night with Mike Montgomery’s now infamous “shove” of Allen Crabbe, but elsewhere around the conference there were more incidents. In Pullman, Oregon center Tony Woods was ejected for throwing an elbow to the head of Washington State’s Brock Motum. The Pac-12 reviewed the play and decided Woods would face no further suspension. Another pair of bigs got tangled up in Boulder on Saturday when Jordan Bachynski and Josh Scott fell to the floor in pursuit of a rebound. Scott wound up banging his head against the hardwood and sustaining a concussion from which he is still recovering. Colorado head coach Tad Boyle called that game the most physical game he has ever been involved in.
  2. It’s been a tumultuous season for UCLA freshman Shabazz Muhammad, with an NCAA investigation delaying his debut and the flu catching up with him prior to the USC game back in January. Now, and again in advance of a USC game, Muhammad is dealing with pinkeye, which kept him out of practice on Tuesday. However, this issue isn’t expected to have any impact on Muhammad’s availability for Sunday’s game.
  3. Arizona State has compiled an 8-5 conference record largely on the strength of its starting five. Senior Carrick Felix leads the conference in minutes (38.3 minutes per night), while Jahii Carson and Jonathan Gilling both top out at over 36 minutes per game and are among the top five players in the conference in minutes. While head coach Herb Sendek admits that his heavy reliance on a small number of players is “a concern,” he doesn’t expect much to change for the rest of the year.
  4. Meanwhile, down south a little, Arizona head coach Sean Miller has been increasingly relying on a smaller number of players as well. And with his confidence in Jordin Mayes dwindling, Mark Lyons and Nick Johnson are becoming the only options in the backcourt for the Wildcats. However, unlike Sendek up the road, Miller may be ready for a change and could turn to freshman guard Gabe York for some spot minutes on the perimeter. York earned 16 minutes over the course of three games back at the turn of the month into February, but since then York has never left the bench in the last four games.
  5. Continuing the theme, Lorenzo Romar returned to freshman Jernard Jarreau this past weekend as an option off the bench. Jarreau won the starting power forward spot in preseason practice, but was ineffective while starting the first seven games of the season. Since then his role almost completely evaporated to the point where he played just 17 minutes over the course of six games prior to his emergence against Oregon State on Saturday. And Romar says Jarreau has earned a right to continue getting minutes in the hopes of building up his game to the point where he can be a contributor for the next three seasons.
Share this story

Arizona Week: Q&A With Pachoops’ Adam Butler

Posted by AMurawa on June 29th, 2012

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

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

Sean Miller, Arizona

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

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

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

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Arizona Week: Running Down the Returnees

Posted by AMurawa on June 27th, 2012

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

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

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

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

Mark Lyons Could Be the Missing Piece For Arizona

Posted by AMurawa on May 8th, 2012

Despite the fact that Sean Miller had inked a top-three recruiting class, his roster at Arizona was lacking in one key area: point guard. However, this weekend’s news that Xavier transfer Mark Lyons had committed to Miller (for the second time – it was Miller who had originally recruited Lyons to the Musketeers) goes a long way toward not only clearing up the picture in the Wildcat backcourt, but putting the Pac-12 back on the map for the 2012-13 season.

With elite recruits along the frontline like Kaleb Tarczewski, Grant Jerrett, and Brandon Ashley and a group of talented returnees, there was already plenty of reason for Cat fans to be excited going into next year, but the huge hole at point guard left by consecutive offseasons during which the incumbent point guard transferred out of the program (Momo Jones last summer, then Josiah Turner this season) threatened to limit the upside of the roster. But, despite the fact that Lyons is by no means a true point guard, and he butted heads with Chris Mack (resulting in Lyons’ decision to leave the program) the graduating senior could be the missing piece for a season as the program waits on Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell to gain his eligibility in 2013-14.

Mark Lyons

Mark Lyons Gives The Wildcats A Much-Needed Option At Point (Cincinnati Enquirer)

Lyons is a scoring combo guard who spent most of his three seasons at Xavier playing off of the ball. However, he’s got the handle and presence to man the point full-time for the Wildcats and, for a team with a lot of nice pieces but no real go-to scorer, he will be able to fill that need as well. Lyons’ junior season at Xavier was marred by his involvement in the infamous on-court brawl with Cincinnati early in the year, but all told, it was by far his best season. He averaged 15 points, shot nearly 40% from deep and posted the best offensive efficiency rating of his career while taking a higher percentage of his team’s shots than ever before. He excels at getting into the lane and scoring on offense, while he is a pestering on-ball defender. At Arizona, however, he will need to prove that he can play with the ball in his hands on a regular basis and get his new teammates involved. He will have plenty of help in the ballhandling area from guards like sophomore Nick Johnson (who had appeared to be the frontrunner to take over the point guard spot despite his struggles in his handful of chances at that position in his rookie campaign) and Jordin Mayes, as well as point forward Solomon Hill, who led the Wildcats in assists last season, but Lyons has an ability to create for himself and his teammates that those others do not have.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Pac-12 Comings and Goings: Shabazz Muhammad and Josiah Turner

Posted by AMurawa on April 12th, 2012

It was a big day of comings and goings in the Pac-12 on Wednesday as the picture surrounding the two historic basketball powers in the conference crystallized a bit. UCLA and its embattled head coach Ben Howland got a piece of great news as the nation’s #2 recruit – Shabazz Muhammad – announced his intentions to attend the school next year, while Arizona finally cleared up the status of freshman point guard Josiah Turner when it was announced he would be transferring out of the program.

Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA

Shabazz Muhammad Gives The Bruins Plenty Of Talent And Plenty Of Options

First, the Bruins. Despite UCLA’s struggles over the past three seasons (their 56-43 record since 2009-10 is the worst three-year record in program history since Wilbur Johns went 38-36 from 1945 to 1948 prior to the John Wooden era), Howland was able to add Muhammad to an already strong recruiting class that already featured the #5 recruit in the nation (according to ESPNU) – Kyle Anderson – and highly touted sharpshooter Jordan Adams. And, with the program still in hot pursuit of widebody Tony Parker, their haul could get even gaudier. Muhammad is an explosive offensive talent with the ability to throw down highlight-reel dunks with the best of them as well as knock down threes or score in a variety of ways in between. He will join a roster that features plenty of depth and versatility. Muhammad can play either the two or the three, and he is joined on the wings by returnees like Tyler Lamb and Norman Powell, a pair of nice pieces as well as Adams. Anderson as well can play the two or the three, but he is very adept with the ball in his hands and will play a part at the point, along with controversial North Carolina transfer Larry Drew Jr. And then up front, there are the Wear twins as well as big man Joshua Smith (although there is still a chance, somehow, that Smith could decide on his own or be encouraged to leave early), and perhaps Parker. In short, Howland has put together a ton of pieces in Westwood, but he’ll need to prove his ability to congeal those parts into a gestalt. Is Drew the answer at the point or can Anderson run the Bruin offense? Can Howland open up the offense enough to take advantage of Muhammad’s vast skills in the open court? Can Smith lose half a hundred pounds and be effective for 25 minutes a night? Can the Wear twins develop their offensive games and their defensive toughness? And can Lamb or Powell be counted on to knock down threes when called upon, or will Adams jump ahead of them in the rotation? There are plenty of questions to be answered at UCLA, but one thing is for certain: it should be fun to see it all play out.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Pac-12 Afternoon Five: Signing Day Edition

Posted by AMurawa on April 11th, 2012

  1. Today’s the big day in college basketball recruiting as the spring signing period officially opens. While most of the 2012 recruiting class is already accounted for, there are a couple teams around the conference today who are waiting on some big decisions. The biggest, of course, is the decision from Shabazz Muhammad – the number two prospect in the class – as to whether he will attend UCLA, Kentucky or Duke. However, he’s not the only unsigned recruit who has a Pac-12 school on his mind. Tony Parker, a 6’9” power forward out of Georgia, is also strongly considering UCLA, but he is not expected to make his announcement on Wednesday. Anthony Bennett, the number seven recruit in the country according to ESPNU is still considering Oregon, but he may be weeks away from making a final decision. ESPNU, for their part, listed the predictions from seven of their recruiting experts as to where each of these guys (and all the other elite unsigned recruits) will land, and they have Muhammad and Parker going to UCLA, with Bennett winding up in Florida.
  2. Arizona’s recruiting class for 2012 was thought to be done, but they added a junior college transferMatt Korcheck – who is expected to sign his commitment this week. Korcheck is a 6’9” forward who is jumping into a crowded frontcourt in Tucson, so he is expected to redshirt next season and retain two years of collegiate eligibility. More importantly for the future of the program, Sean Miller earned a commitment from Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell. McConnell could well be the point guard that Arizona has been lacking, but he’ll have to sit out next year before becoming eligible in 2013-14. The next big question for the Wildcats will be the future of freshman point guard Josiah Turner, who was suspended indefinitely prior to the Pac-12 tournament. With Turner and junior Jordin Mayes the only point guards on the Arizona roster, the fate of the mercurial lead guard could go a long way towards determining just how much should be expected of the Wildcats next season.
  3. Not all of the talk around the conference is of players coming in; at Oregon State, the big news is that junior guard Jared Cunningham will forego his final season of eligibility and enter his name into the NBA Draft. Cunningham was a first-team all-conference selection and averaged nearly 18 points per game, but his decision to remain in the draft is a bit of a head scratcher. Draft Express currently has him being picked towards the back of the second round of the draft, meaning he would not earn a guaranteed contract. He’s got plenty of physical skills, but his inability to consistently hit a jump shot and his gambling style on defense are just two traits that make him a questionable NBA prospect at this point.
  4. In Berkeley, Emerson Murray and Alex Rossi will be transferring out of Mike Montgomery’s program, joining graduates Harper Kamp and Jorge Gutierrez on the way out the door. Murray was unable to earn any significant minutes in his first two seasons on campus, so he’ll move north to play for Cameron Dollar at Seattle. Rossi struggled with health problems during his entire California career and leaves having played 16 minutes in two seasons on campus. A landing spot for Rossi is not yet known, and there is speculation that his hernia injury that limited his minutes with the Bears may limit his basketball playing future.
  5. Lastly, the Pac-12 All-Academic team was announced last week, and not surprisingly featured two Stanford players on the first team, two on the second team and four more among the honorable mentions. The first team was made up of Sabatino Chen from Colorado, Rhys Murphy from Oregon State, Trent Lockett from Arizona State and John Gage and Jack Trotter from the Cardinal. The team featured all 20 players in the conference who were not only regular players for their teams but also students who earned at least a 3.0 GPA. Arizona, Washington, USC and Utah were the only four schools to not have a player anywhere on the list. I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’.
Share this story