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Pac 12 Conference Preview

Thu, 11/08/2012 - 8:42pm

The Pac 12 has been down for a few years now, but last year was historically bad. Only two teams (Cal and Colorado) made the NCAA tournament with both being double digit seeds. And for the first time ever, the conference regular season champ (Washington) was not invited. The out of conference portion of the schedules produced nothing worth noting in terms of big wins. Colorado did pull off an upset win in the tourney and Stanford did save some face by winning the NIT. But overall, last year there was little reason for anyone outside of the West Coast to pay attention to what was going on in the Pac.

But that should change this upcoming college season. Conference mainstays UCLA and Arizona each brought in top 3 ranked recruiting classes while also returning plenty of talent. Both should factor into the national picture having potential for top 10 seasons nationally. Of course, for UCLA, that depends greatly on the eligibility of perhaps the most impactful incoming freshman in America in wing supreme Shabazz Muhammad who is currently in the discussion for the number one overall pick in next years NBA draft. He will surely be one to watch for basketball fans everywhere. His eligibility is still up in the air as of this writing and these predictions are made with the expectation that the NCAA will clear him to play.

There is also some solid depth out West this year with a handful of teams believing they have the chance for tournament runs. Teams 3 through 9 all could easily be sorted in various order in these rankings depending on one’s personal take.

It is pivotal for the Conference’s reputation that things turn around this year, and there is reason to believe that will be the case.

1. UCLA Bruins
2011-12 record: 19-14

Shabazz MuhammadShabazz MuhammadThe Bruins bring in an excellent recruiting class that features the dynamic Shabazz Muhammad. A 6-6 wing who attacks the rim with aggression and has an excellent mid range game where he can absorb contact and finish, something aided greatly by his mature frame. He also gets after it on defense and should provide a number of highlight reel plays to get the fans at Pauley Pavilion excited. He will be joined by fellow top 5 recruit Kyle Andersen. Kyle is a versatile 6-8 wing who can play all three perimeter positions. He showed his versatility during UCLA’s summer trip to China where he posted averages of 11 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists. He will be given the opportunity to play some point guard where he certainly has the passing ability and playmaking mentality, but lacks the quickness to consistently beat pressure and stay in front of opposing pg’s. The lead guard spot will be manned by Former UNC transfer Larry Drew. He is a pass first playmaker who struggles shooting the ball and won’t put up big scoring numbers. But his senior leadership will be crucial for a squad lacking depth at the position. Junior SG Tyler Lamb was a crucial part of last years team as he played over 30 minutes a game. He brings the ability to slash and get into the paint and create offense, although he lacks consistency. Sophomore Norman Powell and freshman Jordan Adams are both 6-5 wings who can shoot the long ball, and word out of practices is that Powell has been extremely impressive. They will fight each other for the backup minutes left available behind Muhammad and Andersen with Norman having the defensive advantage playing in his favor, while Adams can really fill it up from outside.

The frontcourt is arguably just as strong as the perimeter for UCLA. Travis Wear is a skilled 6-10 big who can face the basket and has soft touch in the paint. He was the team's most impressive performer during the summer trip to China where he posted averages of 19 points and 8 rebounds. His twin brother David is very similar in style of play. David is a little tougher on the boards but not quite as polished on the offensive end. One of the big mysteries for the Bruins, as has been the case each of the last two seasons, is what to expect from talented big man Joshua Smith. Smith should likely start at center, but unless he proves he can commit himself to getting in shape, its doubtful whether he can be counted on to be on the court for more then 20 minutes a game. It appears that he has made strides during the summer to get into better condition and cut some pounds, but time will tell how that translates to the court. Freshman Tony Parker is another talented big body that will provide depth and be ready to snatch up minutes if Smith's conditioning problems continue.

Ben Howland has to feel good going into the season. He turned in a great recruiting class and will once again have home games this year after Pauley Pavilion was closed last year due to a 130 million dollar restoration project. Expectations are high and if the team struggles this year, Ben Howland’s seat might go from hot to boiling and potentially get handed over to someone else. But if things click, the pieces are there for a return trip to the Final Four.

2. Arizona Wildcats
2011-12 record: 23-12

Sean Miller’s crew is as deep as any in the Pac 12 and has the talent to take the top spot not only out West, but make a run at the top spot in the country. In particular, the Wildcats have a group of young big men that should be a nightmare for teams trying to play small ball. It starts with returning all conference performer and senior leader Solomon Hill. Hill is a versatile 6-7 forward who has spent most his first 3 seasons playing at the PF spot but will be asked to slide over to sf this year. That shouldn’t be a problem as he has already proven himself capable of knocking down threes and handling the ball. He can pick and chose when he wants to step outside or go to work down low. The incoming freshman class includes 3 top 25 recruits in 7 foot center Kaleb Tarczewski, 6-9 PF Grant Jerrett and 6-8 PF Brandon Ashley. Kaleb is a true center who brings a physical presence around the paint. Jerrett who has won the starting PF position, has the ability to step outside and knock down jumpers and is a gifted finisher in the paint despite lacking strength. Ashley was actually the most impressive of the three during the team's summer trip to the Bahamas where he averaged 14 points and 10 rebounds and looked to be the most ready to contribute right away. All 3 of these guys can really get out and run and are solid athletes. Not to be counted out is returning sophomore big man Angelo Chol who played limited minutes last year but is a very promising big man with offensive touch in the mid range area. He will compete with the freshman for minutes.

The perimeter for the Wildcats is just as loaded and deep as the frontcourt. Returning wing man Kevin Parrom struggled shooting the ball last year but reports are that he is looking good in practice and he lit it up in the Bahamas tour tying for the team lead in points with 19 a game and getting high praise from coach Miller. Returning starting SG Nick Johnson was inconsistent last year as he faded in and out of games, but the skills are there. He is an excellent athlete who gets a lot of elevation on his jumper and has feathery smooth stroke out to NBA range. Combo guard Jordin Mayes is a score first PG who is not one to turn down open looks. He can get hot in a hurry but will occasionally leave his coach shaking his head when he neglects running the offense in favor of going for his own play. Possibly the most important to the whole team will be incoming Xavier transfer Mark lyons who averaged 15 points for the Musketeers last season and will be immediately eligible to play this year for Arizona. He is a scorer who can light it up from deep. He will put pressure on opposing defenses and be in charge of initiating the offense. Freshman Gabe York will have to compete for minutes at the pg spot behind Lyons and Mayes.

Look for Arizona to use a 10 man rotation that includes solid pieces at every position and tremendous speed and athleticism. Sean Miller will have to get the young pieces up to pace quickly, but he has proven he is an excellent manager of talent of which he will have plenty this year.

3. Stanford Cardinal
2011-12 record: 26-11

The Cardinal had an interesting year last season as they went an impressive 15-2 out of conference, including advancing to the championships of the preseason NIT tournament where they blew a late lead to Syracuse losing a nail biter, then finished the year right back in Madison Square Garden where they won the post season NIT in a 24 point rout over Minnesota. Yet despite the impressive non conference slate, they struggled mightily in the down Pac 12 and watched any hopes of a tournament birth disappear with their 7th place finish. They do return most of their pieces from last year including 5 of their top 6 contributors and should pick right up where they left off last season.

The graduation of big man Josh Owens will assuredly leave some big shoes to fill in the front court for the Cardinal. Owens was the teams toughest interior presence. Junior Dwight Powell has long been considered a unique talent with NBA potential but has yet to live up to the expectations. He did play through injuries last year that hurt his cause but is said to be 100% and ready to go this year. Coach Johnny Dawkins has gushed over the 6-10 pf’s increased confidence this off season and suggests he will be ready to step up as a go to player for the team. Josh Huestis will be relied on to continue to show his toughness both on defense and on the glass where he is the teams leader in both departments. Center Stefan Nastic is a solid 6-11 and 245 pounds and will have the opportunity to play a key role, possibly even as a starter. Freshman Roscoe Allen is the team's top recruit and can step outside at 6-9 but is still more potential then polish at this point, but could be a gem. John Gage is a tough rebounder who does the dirty work.

It’s the backcourt where the Cardinal truly shine. Point guard Aaron Bright is a natural team leader with a pass first mentality who knows how to run a squad and handle pressure situations. His backcourt mate at SG, the explosive scoring Chasson Randle, likes to shoot the long ball where he occasionally falls too in love. But he does have the ball handling and speed to get into the paint and should look to expand his game this year. He could emerge not only as the leading scorer for his team, but into one of the top scoring talents in the Pac 12. Junior wing Anthony Brown is a shooter with good size and the upside to be a go to guy, but hasn’t shown the confidence to take the reigns as of yet. Senior Gabriel Harris will provide depth.

4. California Golden Bears
2011-12 record: 24-10

Cal loses last season’s Pac 12 player of the year award winner Jorge Gutierrez. He was a leader both on and off the court and left it out there defensively where he led by example with his energy and effort. That type of piece is always hard to replace because it really is more then just numbers that the squad loses. Talent wise, Cal is not taking steps backwards at all. And coach Mike Montgomery will be looking to lead this team back to the NCAA tournament after a disappointing fist round exit last March.

For the Bears, it all starts with the guard tandem of Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs. Crabbe averaged 15 points per game last year and is an elite shooter who continues to show the type of scoring ability that might have him playing in the NBA soon. Crabbe did not quite break out as many had expected a year ago battling injuries, but much like last season, I am again going to proclaim Allen a potential 18-20 point a game scorer. The PG spot is manned by the pleasantly surprising Justin Cobbs who had a better freshman season then many had anticipated as he immediately stepped into a leading role averaging 13 points and 5 assists while shooting a very solid 47% from the field and 41% from three. He has excellent one on one playmaking ability where he can create his own shot. UCLA coach Ben Howland during the conference media day called the Crabbe/Cobbs duo the best backcourt in the conference. Senior pg Brandon Smith was a key piece last season and could potentially start where he would help with breaking down defensive pressure with ball handling ability. Missouri transfer swingman Ricky Kreklow and incoming freshman sg Tyrone Wallace are both expected to play minutes immediately.

The inside will be without the contributions of Harper Kamp who graduated. But in his place, sophomore David Kravish should emerge as a go to inside presence who has soft touch and good finishing skills around the basket. He has the ability to face up out to 15 feet and does a nice job reading defenses not panicking or rushing plays. He has gained 25 lbs of muscle this off season and could be a breakout performer. Richard Solomon was leading the team with 6 boards a game last year to go with 6 points before being ruled academically ineligible in January. His absence really hurt the Bears stretch run as Solomon is the squad's best big man defender and a good athlete who could keep pace with the guards up-tempo style. His return is big for Coach Montgomery, particularly with the amount of talented bigs making their way out West this year. Bak Bak and Robert Thurman are both returning contributors down low who can come in and provide rebounding and defense.

5. Colorado Buffaloes
2011-12 record: 24-12

Andre RobersonAndre RobersonA year ago, the Colorado Buffaloes were predicted to finish 11th in their new home, the Pac 12, according to the media as well as by yours truly. However, as it turned out, the Buffs had a little more talent than was expected while the rest of the conference a lot less. The Buffaloes won the wide open conference tourney and the kept the Pac 12 from going completely unaccounted for in the NCAA tournament by upsetting the higher seeded UNLV Runin Rebels in the first round before bowing out to the Baylor Bears. Well now Colorado and coach Tad Boyle feel a little disrespected again as they are not being taken all too seriously in the race for the Pac 12 championship. Can they make it 2 for 2 in proving the doubters wrong and showing they are legit candidates to win the conference?

The biggest weakness for the Buffaloes a year ago was lack of size. 6-7 “center” Austin Dufault was asked to compete and bang down low while being outsized on a nightly basis. Austin more then held his own and will be missed dearly. The team is hoping that having a true big man in 6-10” incoming freshman Josh Scott will be what gets them even further this year. Scott needs to add muscle to his frame but did show his ability to impact games immediately during Colorado’s European summer tour as he averaged 17 points and 7 rebounds. And if Scott struggles, he has possibly the best defensive player in the conference watching his back in 6-7 forward Andre Roberson. Roberson is a legit candidate for Conference Player of the Year and one of it’s best NBA prospects. He is asked to play primarily around the paint where he averages around 2 blocks a game to go with his over 11 boards per which is truly phenomenal considering his size which suggests he is better suited for the small forward position. Roberson is still developing his perimeter skill set where ball handling and shooting remain a weakness, but he does so many other things that make him often times the most influential player on the court for either team. Xavier Johnson is another front court player that will play immediately on the wing. Johnson turned down offers from just about every other pac 12 school including the opportunity to be a part of the vaunted UCLA and Arizona classes. There is still not much depth in terms of size for Tad Boyle’s group though.

One of the primary reasons Colorado was a stronger team last year then expected was the excellent play of freshman guards Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie. They will combine as versatile sophomores to make up a very strong backcourt. Booker is the pg and he has exceptional speed and can be a one man offensive terror for stretches. He will need to improve his efficiency (40% from the field) and point guard distribution duties (1.2apg) from last season. But his strength and role is scoring and pushing the pace which he should have plenty of freedom to do this year. Spencer Dinwiddie is able to play lead guard and is also a very capable scorer who shot 44% from three last year en route to averaging 10 points per contest. He is a very selective player at the offensive end rarely forcing the issue as he allows the game to come to him. He will be needed to be a little more aggressive, particularly with wing Carlon Brown and his occasional offensive outbursts now gone. Senior Sabatino Chen is regarded by his teammates as the leader of the team off the court and a true glue guy on it. He will be counted on for his leadership and ability to settle things down when the team runs into difficulty getting into their offensive sets. Kevin Nelson provides depth and should find minutes right away.

6. Washington Huskies
2011-12 record: 24-11

Coach Lorenzo Romar, as well as pretty much everyone with ties to the Pac 12, viewed the omission of Washington from the NCAA tournament last year as the epitomic example of the lack of respect given to the Conference. Washington went 14-4 in conference taking the regular season championship. All 10 of their losses at that point were vs. winning programs including 8 vs opponents that were considered by many as NCAA tournament quality. To summarize it, the Huskies felt like they were slapped in the face by the selection committee. Now they have to regroup and move forward minus their two most talented pieces from a year ago in Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten who were both first round NBA draft selections. There isn’t a real strong recruiting class to come in and fill in the void of those two, so improvement from within will be required if they are to once again put themselves into position to make a run at post-season play next March.

The strength here is the perimeter which features 3 proven veterans for the Husky program. Point guard Abdul Gaddy is now a senior and in complete and undeniable charge of this team after sharing ball handling duties his first 3 seasons with the likes of guys like Isaiah Thomas and Tony Wroten. Now it's his team and they will go as far as he takes them. Gaddy has always been a solid PG with natural instincts to get teammates involved over looking for his own shot. But now he might be needed to step up his aggression level a bit as this years Huskies group lacks the proven scorers of year's past. There is one proven gunner still in town who can put up numbers in a hurry, and that’s swing man CJ Wilcox. Wilcox is one of the best three ball shooters in the country with effortless range out to well past the college line. He hasn’t had to be much more then a shooting specialist with the likes of the aforementioned Ross and Wroten in town. But now he will have the opportunity to showcase a more diversified offensive game in hopes that he can impress NBA scouts that he is more then just a specialist. The third key piece to the perimeter is senior SF Scott Suggs. Suggs redshirted last season due to injury after averaging a solid 7 points in limited action two seasons ago on a blistering 48% from the field and even more impressive 45% from down town. With Wilcox and Suggs, Gaddy will have two long range gunners to look for to pad his assist numbers. Back up minutes on the perimeter will be up for grabs with Austin Jenkins and Martin Breunig amongst the returnees likely to be given early opportunities.

The front court for Romar’s squad is not going to intimidate too many opponents. They do have Senior [player: Aziz N’Diaye] who is a returning starter that averaged 8 points and 7 rebounds last season. At 7 feet tall and 260 pounds, he has pro size and potential at the defensive end of the court. However, he is still a bit awkward at the offensive end is little more then a last second dump off finisher in terms of go to abilities. With the expected additional minutes, coupled with the team's reliance on him being on the court, it will be vital that he plays smart and avoids early foul trouble. The power forward spot is likely to be manned by 6-7 sophomore Desmond Simmons. Simmons is a scrappy player who will battle on the boards and at the defensive end. Offensively he has an excellent stroke out to the college three point line and has the green light if left open. Shawn Kemp Jr was given opportunities early on last season to carve out a role, but he struggled to showcase the ability necessary to be relied on extensively. But the guy certainly has a good combination of size and skills and will once again be given every opportunity to become more then just the man with the famous name and blood line and establish himself on the court. Freshman Jernard Jarreau is a 6-10 athlete that has a ton of potential. He continued to develop his body while redshirting last season with hopes of being able to provide defense and cover ground on the help side.

7. Oregon State Beavers
2011-12 record: 21-15

In a conference full of change, coach Craig Robinson has a great deal of familiarity to work with this upcoming season as the Beavers return the highest percentage of scoring, rebounding, assists, blocked shots and steals in the conference. And that’s despite the loss of leading scorer Jarred Cunningham who departed early for the NBA where he was a first round pick. It doesn’t hurt that all this returning talent comes from one of the most successful Oregon State squads in decades. The Beavers cracked the 20 win plateau for the first time last season since Gary Payton was running things. In fact Craig Robinson suggested during the conference pre-season media gathering that this is the best team he has ever coached. It will certainly be interesting to see if the Beavers can crack the top half the conference standings after many years of being the annual push over team that had to fight just to remain competitive

Size and skill is a greatly appreciated combination for any basketball program and Oregon State has more then it’s fair share of it this season. Senior big man Angus Brandt averaged 9 points and 3 boards last season but if you listen to coach Robinson, he has improved greatly and will be expected to be the leader of this year's squad. Brandt led the team's summer European trip with 16 points and 9 rebounds per game. The talk around Corvallis is that Brandt is ready to emerge as a dominant Conference player in his senior season. He will be accompanied down low by combo forward Devon Collier who put up 13 points and 5 rebounds while shooting 62% from the field. Collier is an excellent athlete who recorded over a steal and block per contest. He can run the court as a quick power forward or play SF where his length causes mismatch problems. Joe Burton is a 6-7 300 pound center who averaged 8 and 5 last year. He spends most his time playing in the high post where he is an excellent passer and plays a bit of de facto PG of sorts while the guards work off screens to get open. The fourth big man on this impressive list is 6-10 forward Eric Moreland. Eric averaged 5 points and 7 rebounds last season and led the conference in blocks with 2 a game in just 21 minutes of action. He is a great defender and good athlete who will deter many a wing from driving the lane while he’s on the court.

Ahmad Starks returns at the point guard position where his presence might be as important to the Beaver’s success as anyone on the teams. Starks is an excellent scorer with deep range on his jumper. He is capable of almost single handedly making up for the loss of Cunningham in the scoring department but it will be ideal if he shows more restraint and looks to run the offense with some more discipline this season. Starks is also an excellent defender. The starting shooting guard should be talented junior Roberto Nelson. Nelson averaged 9 points a game last season off the bench. He is a skilled one on one offensive player who can hit tough contested shot from anywhere on the court. Like Starks, he needs to play a higher IQ game and improve his efficiency from the field. The Beavers have two talented freshman wings who are likely to see the court in Langston Morris Walker and Jarmal Reid. Walker is more polished offensively and should have a solid role with the team while Reid has the potential to see the court based on his defense.

8. USC Trojans
2011-12 record: 6-26

The Trojans only return 3 players from last year's squad and thus are very difficult to predict. Normally, only having three returning pieces is a bad thing that reflects lack of cohesion, however considering that USC went a miserable 6-26 last season, it's possible the less returnees the better. However, do not mistake the amount of newcomers with lack of experience as numerous transfer students are climbing on board with extensive D1 experience , as well as a redshirt Jio Fontan returning from injury that kept him out last year. Kevin O’Neill has had a rough start to his tenure in Trojan land, but there have been so many extenuating circumstances hindering the team's ability to get things going that it’s hard to really judge his performance to date. The start to this season has been no different as leading scorer from last year, Maurice Jones, was ruled academically ineligible and has since left the team.

Senior PG Jio Fontan was the team's second best player two years ago alongside big man, and eventual NBA pick, Nikola Vucevic. And with Vucevic’s early departure prior to last season it appeared it would become Fontan's team. Fontan averaged 29 points per game in summer touring play before suffering a season ending injury that erased his 2011-12 season before it began. Now that he’s back and at full strength (his words), O’Neill says Jio is the best PG in the conference. Of course O’Neills’ praise for his own players has to be taken with a bit of hesitance after he claimed big man DeWayne Dedmon a surefire star prior to last season. But Fontan has proven himself and should be in the conference player of the year discussion. Byron Wesley put up 9 points per last season and will start at sg. He is a slasher who can play in transition but must improve his perimeter shooting. Freshman Chass Bryan is an unheralded prospect who has surprised the coaching staff during the summer and practice sessions and could contribute immediately. Ari Stewart is a 6-7 sf transfer from Wake Forest that spends his time around the perimeter and should start immediately. Another Wake Forest transfer is JT Terrell who averaged 11 points a game for Deacons two years ago before playing at a juco last season where he was ranked in numerous reports as one of the top juco players in the nation. He is a 6-3 guard that has a pure stroke from outside and will help stretch opposing defenses.

The interior of this team returns two starters in Aaron Fuller and Dewayne Dedmon. Fuller is a physical big who can shoot face up jumpers and brings a great combination of physical presence and deft offensive touch where he finishes well around the paint. Dedmon is a guy that many pro scouts are interested in watching after his coach proclaimed him a sure fire first round pick. Fact is Dedmon is a 7 foot athletic big man with intriguing skills that could potentially blossom this year after an injury plagued 2011-12 that saw him in and out of the lineup in the first half the season before they called it a wrap for him for good in late January. If he reaches his potential, he can be a monster defensive presence that makes up for many mistakes and can get out and run with the teams preferred fast up-tempo style. Renaldo Woolridge is a Tennessee transfer who averaged 4 points and 3 boards for the Volunteers last season. He can step outside and stroke the three which is a skill highlighted by his 5-5 from three first half performance against Kentucky last season where he helped the Volunteers pull off the upset. Eric Wise is yet another transfer that Kevin O’Neill pillaged from the college landscape. Wise put up 16 points and 8 boards per game last season as a 6-6 PF for UC Irvine and will be one of the first guys off the bench for the Trojans this year.

9. Oregon Ducks
2011-12 record: 24-10

The Ducks lose a good bit of talent from last years 24 win squad that was on the bubble of an NCAA tourney berth. All conference first teamer Devoe Joseph who led the team in both scoring and assists has graduated and will be sorely missed. Coach Dana Altman does have talented senior combo forward EJ Singler back who averaged 14 points and 6 boards last year to lead this years team. And some nice newcomers will certainly add some life to the still relatively new Mathew Knight Arena with its unique hardwood décor. But will the team be good enough to compete in an improved Pac 12 and steal some attention away from the grid iron fans post college football bowl games?

The backcourt will be led by incoming freshman guard Dominic Artis who was formerly a UCLA commit who changed his mind and headed to the Northwest. He has been terrific in practice according to the coaching staff and should be ready to showcase himself as a pg to be reckoned with for opponents for the next four years. He certainly has some talent around him in the backcourt to work with. Jonathan Lloyd played 17 minutes per game last year and is pass first pg with speed. Carlos Emory is a 6-5 sf who isn’t afraid to mix it up under the basket and brings experience. Damyean Dotson is a freshman sg who coach Altman has endorsed as an immediate contributor off the bench.

EJ Singler is the lesser known younger brother of former Duke standout Kyle. EJ has a similar style of game where at 6-6 he can step out on the perimeter or mix it up inside where he has decent post up skills and grabbed almost 6 boards per game last year. He will be relied upon as a leader for the team to create offensive when things boggle down. He has been resting this preseason with some injury issues that are not expected to keep him from game action though. Tony Woods is a 6-11 center who has fallen short of expectations since graduating from high school. He is however, a fantastic shot blocker and rim protector who can finish around the paint on offense. He should be the team's best legit big man and play close to thirty minutes a game. The biggest wildcard on the Ducks roster is the eligibility of Iranian big man Arsalan Kazemi who has been fantastic in practice and dominating the glass. He is the teams most physical presence and if he is eligible, which at the moment is considered highly unlikely, he could single handedly push this ducks team up a few spots. Juco transfer Waverly Austin is a highly regarded piece to the puzzle that will push Woods and find his way on the court and help the front line down low.

10. Arizona State Sun Devils
2011-12 record: 10-21

The Sun devils went through a difficult season last year that started with the announcement of incoming freshman Jahii Carson’s academic ineligibility and continued when the teams easily two best pieces in combo guard Keala King and small forward Trent Lockett both left the team, King will transfer to Long Beach State while Locket chose Marquette for his next destination. The team never got things rolling with the preferred method of slow half court offensive sets and strict zone defense to keep the game low scoring and allowing them to stay within striking range of more talented opposition. Instead they just looked out of place and couldn’t keep pace with the rest the conference.

Point guard Jahii Carson was one of the highest recruits the University locked up in decades (Harden). He was expected to combine in and run the show immediately. His grades got in the way of all that, but now Jahii is ready to go and should emerge on the scene as one of the premier young gaurds in the Pac 12. Carson was a 32 point per game his senior year of high school and according to all accounts has looked like he hasn’t missed a beat in practice seesions with the team where he has been running the show. While there not be any standout’s surrounding Carson on the perimeter, there is certainly a good bit off talent all capable of contributing. Jonathan Gilling is a 6-7 SF who averaged 9 points per game last year as a freshman and did so while shooting 42% from three point land. In fact, 130 of his 165 field goal attempts last year were from beyond the arc so you can expect more of the same from him but with maybe even cleaner looks now that he has a legit pg to break defenses down. PG Chris Colvin is a senior who averaged 7 points and 4 assists per game and finished last season strong once he took over the reigns of the team from the departing King. He will potentially start at sg. Carrick Felix is a 6-6 sf who is one of the premier athletes in the conference and scored 11 a game last season. He is a lock down defender who can make plays on either end with his aggressive style and manner he brings to the floor where he attacks the rim with reckless abandon and gets under opponents skin with his ball hawking defensive pressure. Evan Gordon from Liberty and Bo Barnes from Hawaii were both solid players for their former teams and will now call Tempe there home where they will be asked to provide offense off the bench in the backcourt.

The front court for Herb Sendek’s crew doesn’t have quite as many pieces to feel optimistic about. Jordan Bachynski is a legit 7’2 big man who finished last season scoring double figures in 9 of the last 13 contests showing promise as a go to force on offense. He finished the year with averages of 6 points and 4 rebounds but could see those numbers double this season. Ruslan Pateev is a 7 foot senior from Moscow who saw 17 minutes of action per contest a year ago. He is a bit of a stiff big man but can obviously cause problems down low with his size, particularly in the zone defensive schemes where he will be asked to protect the basket. The aforementioned Kyle Cain will also see work down low where his length and quickness will allow him to cause some havoc for opponents looking to get to the basket.

11. Washington State Cougars
2011-12 record: 19-18

It appears that this will be a rebuilding season in Pullman Washington for Ken Bone’s group. Key starters Faisal Aiden and Marcus Capers are both gone to graduation. Would be senior point guard Reggie Moore was dismissed from the team in September for off the court issues. Moore had started at point each of his first three seasons, and while he never lived up to the lofty expectations after a promising freshman campaign saw him finish runner up to Arizona’s Derrick Williams for conference newcomer of the year, he was still going to be relied heavily upon to run the team. His absence will hurt plenty for a team lacking a true point guard. There is one shining star in power forward Brock Motum, but he will need some help from unexpected places if he is to go out on a winning team.

Let’s start with the frontcourt where Brock Motum is capable of single handidly keeping this team in games. Halfway through last season, after then leading scorer Faisal Aiden went down with a season ending injury, Brock was the one who stepped up his game and averaged 23 points per contest over the final 13 games to finish the season at 18 a night. He is a nimble big man who can stretch the floor with his three point shooting and does a great job slashing to the paint to make himself available for dump off passes when his teammates get into the paint. The 6-10 junior DJ Shelton played a solid bench role last year and has good size for a college big man. He can take the contact down low and knows his role as a physical presence. Junior Longrus is a freshman from Oakland that was a standout all bay area player who started every year of high school. He will contribute immediately off the bench. Sophomore James Hunter is another big body who will fight for minutes.

There is some depth and talent at the wing positions led by returning starter DaVonte Lacy who averaged 9 points per contest last year as freshman. He is a good athlete and defender who will get first crack at stepping up as a go to playmaker this season. Dexter Kernith Drew was not able to crack the rotation last season as a freshman, but he is deadly outside shooter who will stretch the floor and at 6-6, the Australian native has good size for the shooting guard position. Royce Woolridge is a transfer from Kansas that really brings it at the defensive end and will earn his minutes by guarding the other teams best guard nightly. 5th year senior Mike Ladd is an excellent athlete and brings experience to the squad. However, what coach Ken Bone must figure out is who will take Reggie Moore’s spot at point guard and run the team as none of the above mentioned have much experience at the lead position.

12. Utah Utes
2011-12 record: 6-25

Larry Krystowiak’s Utes team were not given a warm welcome to the Pac 12 conference as it was apparent from the get go that the talent level was lacking. Point guard Josh Watkins was leading the way as a one man show for the most part before he was dismissed from the team about half way through the season. After that, it was anyone’s guess who was going to step up from game to game and often the case was no one as the team had trouble staying in games. With all that said, the team is clearly better this year then last season and there is every reason to anticipate the program heading in the right direction at the moment. But this probably won’t be the year that Utah makes it mark in its new conference.

One thing Utah certainly does have is legit length in the front line. The 6-10 Jason Washburn is the teams leading returning scorer at 11 points per contest and he can alter shots down low and erases defensive mistakes from the perimeter players routinely. Dallin Bachynski is a 7 foot center from Canada who joins the team this season after a two year Mormon mission. He has been arguably the teams most impressive player during practices according to sources and could combine with Washburn to make one heck of a front line for the Utes. And if the opposition thought that was enough size, the team will actually get even longer when they bring the 7-3 David Foster off the bench who brings much needed experience back after playing 20 minutes a contest last season. There is expectations that highly touted incoming freshman Jordan Loveridge, who was considered by some as the number one player in the state of Utah, will earn a starting spot in the rotation as well either at pf if Bachynski losses out on the position or at sf. At 220 pounds, he has a mature body for the perimeter.

Now that we are done addressing the strengths of the frontcourt, we come to the backcourt which is lacking a consistent difference maker. The point guard position will be manned by Eastern Washington transfer Glen Dean who is an excellent three ball shooter. He was a double digit scorer two seasons ago at EW and will be relied upon to create plays when defenses lock down on the inside players. His backcourt running mate in the starting lineup will be another transfer student in the 6-3 Jarred DuBois who is a 5th year senior that started all 3 seasons he attended Loyola Marymount and scored in double figures each season there as well. Cedric Martin saw over 30 minutes per game of action and can play either wing spot. Martin spends a little too much time standing out on the perimeter and can hopefully diversify his game a little showing more aggression attacking the basket. Freshman Justin Seymour will provide depth in the backcourt.

All Conference First team

Shabazz Muhammad, G/F UCLA

Brock Motum, F Washington State

CJ Wilcox, G Washington

Allen Crabbe, G California

Andre Roberson, F Colorado

2nd team

Chasson Randle, G Stanford

Jio Fontan, G USC

EJ Singler, F Oregon

Mark Lyons, G Arizona

Jahii Carson, G Arizona State

3rd team

Abdul Gaddy, G Washington

Solomon Hill, F Arizona

Travis Wear, F UCLA

Justin Cobbs, G California

Grant Jerrett, F Arizona

Top 5 NBA prospects

Shabazz Muhammad.

Muhammad is an explosive scorer who loves to attack the paint where he uses his impressive size and strength for a wing to absorb and finish through contact. He has an excellent mid range pull up jumper when the lane closes for him to get all the way to the basket. He also brings a high level of intensity at the defensive end where he likes to get after his opponent with aggression. He forces his will at that end equally as much as he does the offensive end. There are some questions regarding his overall court awareness and ability to read defenses and make the correct play which often times involves making the extra pass and not looking for his own play.

CJ Wilcox.

Wilcox can flat out shoot the ball. He has a quick release with NBA range right now. On top of that, he is a solid athlete and stands 6-6 thus he isn’t going to feel out of his element versus NBA level bodies and athletes. Ball handling is a concern, but this year he will finally be given the opportunity to show some more playmaking skills at Washington.

Andre Roberson.

Roberson is a guy that you can stick on an NBA court right now, and he will be able to defend, rebound and more then hold his own as an athlete. Those qualities alone will get him drafted. Now if he can fine tune his jump shot to the point where he isn’t a complete liability, then he has the potential to be a special player. Think Shawn Marion minus the quirky shots.

Kyle Anderson.

A very unique wing player who plays the game at a slow constantly under control pace. He has excellent court vision and will routinely make the smart play. At 6-8, he has the length to be a factor in the post game as well. It will be fun watching Kyle develop as a talent because he is capable of doing so many things, but must not allow himself to become an after thought with his team first personality.

Chasson Randle.

Chasson is an under the radar prospect that really should garner more attention this upcoming season. He is currently being utilized as a scoring guard playing off the ball where he is an excellent shooter and showcases the ability to break down defenses and get all the way into the paint when he chooses to play aggressive. At some point, whether that happens at Stanford or the next level, Chasson will have to demonstrate point guard abilities as that is his pro position. Admittingly, this is a bit of a wildcard pick, but certainly a guy worth watching out for.

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