2013-14 Conference Previews: Pac-12
Coming off a Sweet Sixteen season and 27 wins, Sean Miller may have an even better team, though his two leading scorers have graduated. Part of what held Arizona back last year was the lack of a true point guard. Mark Lyons handled the position well, but scoring was his strength. Duquesne transfer TJ McConnell is now eligible and will give the Wildcats a point guard who thrives on finding his teammates in position to score. He will be joined in the backcourt by returning starter Nick Johnson, who continues to improve on offense while also being one of the Pac-12’s best perimeter defenders. Grant Jerrett, one of Arizona’s young bigs, inexplicably turned pro, but Miller still has two young developing bigs in Kaleb Tarczewski and fellow sophomore Brandon Ashley. Tarczewski showed little his freshman season and seemed lost at times even around the basket. Ashley is a stretch 4 who can knock down the mid-range jumper. Both players will need to do a better job on the defensive boards.
What to Watch For – Miller has two of the top freshmen in the country coming in in Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Gordon is freakishly athletic and a beast around the basket. With Ashley and Tarczewski in the lineup, he will be shifted to the perimeter, where he isn’t as comfortable yet. Hollis-Jefferson is an athletic wing who likes to attack the basket, but he will sit behind Gordon at the 3. How quickly Gordon adjusts to playing primarily on the perimeter will be worth watching, especially early in the season.
After two dismal seasons, Herb Sendek’s Sun Devils turned things around last year with 22 wins and a .500 conference record. This season should find the team in the hunt for an NCAA Tournament bid, led by one of the top point guards in the country, Jahii Carson. Carson’s return for his sophomore year was probably one of the most important decisions of the off-season, and he will look to build on a year where he rode his speed and ability to get into the defense to over 18 points and 5 assists per game. Gone are backcourt mates Carrick Felix (NBA) and Evan Gordon (transfer to Indiana), but Sendek has his own transfers ready to step in. Jermaine Marshall, a Penn State transfer, will give the Sun Devils a versatile shooting guard who should see better shots with Carson breaking down defenses. Also, Michigan State transfer Brandan Kearney will be eligible for the 2nd semester. Adding to the wing position will be Valparaiso transfer Richie Edwards, who average 9 points and shot 38% from 3 in limited minutes at Valpo. The frontcourt is in good shape with junior Jonathan Gilling and 7’2 center Jordan Bachynski. Gilling hit 84 3’s last season for the Sun Devils, though he should raise his 37% shooting from behind the arc. Bachynski’s offense came along last season, but it’s his over 3 blocked shots per game which Arizona State relies on.
What to Watch For – The depth on the wing is outlined above, but there is very little depth at other positions, especially behind Carson and Bachynski. If either of these players get hurt or into foul trouble, the options are very limited. Freshman Chance Murray is more of a scorer, but so in many is Carson. Behind Bachynski is sophomore Eric Jacobsen who showed very little in limited minutes last year.
Mike Montgomery’s Golden Bears are coming off their 4th NCAA Tournament appearance in the last 5 seasons, and they have talent to make it again, even with the loss of leading scorer Allen Crabbe. It starts in the backcourt where Montgomery has one of the top point guards in the country leading the way in Justin Cobbs. Cobbs does a great job setting his teammates up, but when scoring is needed, he finds ways to get it done. He is joined by sophomore Tyrone Wallace who became a starter for conference play last year. Wallace’s playing time was earned by his defense, but he will need to become a much more consistent scorer this season, especially with Ricky Kreklow healthy to play this year. Returning in the frontcourt are junior forward David Kravish and senior center Richard Solomon. Both were physical post defenders, but they could help more on the boards.
What to Watch For – Add California to the list of schools who are bringing in impressive recruiting classes with players who will compete right away for playing time. One who will likely start from Day 1 – Jabari Bird. Bird has good size at the shooting guard position and he isn’t afraid to let shots fly. Center Kameron Rooks is a big-framed 7-footer who is skilled in the low post. Roger Moute a Bidias, has the same defensive intensity as his brother Luc Mbah a Moute. More scoring is available off the bench with freshmen Sam Singer and Jordan Mathews. If these freshmen can be relied on consistently, the Golden Bears may surprise the top part of the Pac-12.
Tad Boyle has turned around the Colorado program, leading the team to 69 wins over the past 3 seasons, along with 2 straight NCAA Tournament berths. 4 starters return from last year’s team, though the defense and rebounding of Andre Roberson will be missed. Junior guard Spencer Dinwiddie has emerged as a solid option at the point where is 6’6 height allows him to see over the defense, and his long strides allow him to get into the lane, where he can dish or get to the basket. Along with that, Dinwiddie’s ability to get into the lane allows him to draw a large amount of fouls. Alongside Dinwiddie is Askia Booker, undersized for the 2, but a reliable scorer. Sophomore center Josh Scott was inconsistent and needs to get stronger, but he is athletic and skilled and should show improvement this season. Sophomore wing Xavier Johnson showed some scoring ability, especially in the lane, but needs to work on becoming a bigger threat from the perimeter. Sophomore Xavier Talton and freshman Jaron Hopkins will provide depth in the backcourt. Freshman Tre’Shaun Fletcher is a wing who likes to attack the basket, but can knock down the mid-range jumper.
What to Watch For – The loss of Roberson will be felt on the defensive end, especially rebounding. Scott will certainly need to step up and show more in this area, but the ley may be the play of redshirt freshman Wesley Gordon. Gordon has some of the same athletic traits that made Roberson effective, and though he certainly won’t equal Roberson’s numbers, he can definitely make up for a good portion of the loss.
The Ducks made it back to the NCAA Tournament last year for the first time since 2008 and coach Dana Altman is looking to build on that breakthrough. The sophomore backcourt of Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson are the only returning starters, but should be much more consistent with a year under their belts. Artis’ game is built on his speed, though he had trouble both scoring at the rim and on the perimeter. Dotson is at his best when he is attacking the basket or out in transition, but he needs to work on becoming a more consistent perimeter shooter. Luckily, Oregon has a pair of transfer guards who are very comfortable shooting from the perimeter, Jason Calliste and Joseph Young. Young, a Houston transfer who was just cleared to play immediately by the NCAA, may emerge as the Ducks’ best player by the end of the season. The frontcourt took a hit with the graduation of EJ Singler, Arsalan Kazemi and Tony Woods, but another transfer will help alleviate some of the loss. UNLV transfer Mike Moser will look to regain his form from 2 seasons ago when he emerged as one of the best rebounders in the country before injuries and personnel conflicts hampered last season. Senior center Waverly Austin will give the Ducks a big presence in the middle, but he will need to do a better job finishing around the basket, as well as keeping up with what will likely be a quick pace. Jonathan Loyd filled in at the point admirably last year when Artis was hurt, and he will give the Ducks a veteran backup at the position.
What to Watch For – The Ducks’ strength is in the backcourt this year, but there are question marks in the frontcourt. It is yet to be seen if Moser can show the same aggressiveness he did 2 seasons ago, especially among his 3rd set of new teammates in 5 years. Austin’s post presence is needed, though Altman may look to go with sophomore Ben Carter in a smaller, faster lineup often. JUCO transfer Richard Amardi could find himself in the mix as well, but overall, Altman may have to re-work his frontcourt rotation on a game-by-game basis depending on the opponent.
In 5 seasons under head coach Craig Robinson, the Beavers have seemed to have made little progress in breaking into the top half of the conference, and prospects aren’t much brighter this season. There is some good talent here, but Robinson has yet to find a way to utilize it well. Roberto Nelson has been one of the real bright spots for the Beavers, emerging as one of the leading scorers in the conference after Robinson started putting the ball in his hands more. Nelson will likely be joined in the backcourt by sophomore Challe Barton, who took over the point position from Ahmad Starks late last season. While Barton showed some flashes of playmaking ability, he will need to show much more this season in all facets of the game. The frontcourt was set to be in good shape coming into the year with the return of Devon Collier and Eric Moreland, as well as center Angus Brandt coming back from an injury which caused him to miss most of last season. However, Moreland, who is one of the top rebounders and defenders in the conference, will be suspended for the first 14 games of the season. Collier is athletic and skilled, but he needs to get the ball more consistently to make a bigger impact. Brandt has good size, but he is comfortable in the mid- and long-range game, though at 6’10, he really needs to work at being a better rebounder. Sophomores Victor Robbins and Olaf Schaftenaar should work in a rotation on the wing, though it’s likely to see Collier shift over to the 3 when Moreland returns from his suspension.
What to Watch For – Depth is still an issue for the Beavers, but the bigger problem is Robinson finding a way to turn the team into a cohesive unit on both ends of the floor. The team has 4 solid scoring options, but the offense has had trouble getting players optimal touches, though the growth of Barton at the point could help there. Defensively, Robinson has experimented with different zones and man, but the team still needs to pressure the ball better on the perimeter and force teams to work for good shots.