Pac-12 preview: Influx of talent should result in an improved product

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

There’s no sugarcoating the fact that the last three seasons have been rough for the Pac-12. While Larry Scott’s conference has seen a team reach the Elite 8 recently (Arizona in 2011), in the three years since earning six spots in the 2009 NCAA tournament the Pac-12 has snagged a grand total of  eight bids. But with the freshmen and transfers entering the conference, Pac-12 supporters are hopeful that the on-court performance will improve in 2012-13.

Two of the top five recruiting hauls in the country were produced by Pac-12 teams, with Arizona counting on its three elite big men to assist Angelo Chol in the paint and push conference Player of the Year candidate Solomon Hill to his more comfortable spot on the wing. And then there’s UCLA, which landed four recruits headlined by Kyle Anderson and Shabazz Muhammad. Those two can have a major impact on the Pac-12 and national discussions…provided they get cleared by the NCAA.

But to think that the work of the Wildcats and Bruins makes this a two-team race would be a big mistake, as both reigning Pac-12 tournament champion Colorado and Stanford have a good mix of established returnees and talented newcomers to rely on. The Oregon schools, California, Washington and even USC should all be a part of the fight for a spot in the top half of the league standings. Here’s a look at the Pac-12 in 2012-13.

Five Things to Know

1. Arizona picked up two valuable point guards in the transfer market this offseason and both played in the Atlantic 10 last year. Senior Mark Lyons is expected to be the answer for the Wildcats this season while Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell has to sit out 2012-13 per NCAA transfer rules. To say the least this is an upgrade over the enigmatic Josiah Turner, and junior Jordin Mayes should earn minutes as well.

2. Washington State was one of seven Pac-12 teams to take an offseason trip, going to Australia to play four games. But some of the progress made may have been undone by senior point guard Reggie Moore getting dismissed from the team. The Cougars now have a major question to answer at the point, but the also have one of the league’s best players in senior forward Brock Motum.

3. After a tough season away from Pauley Pavilion UCLA gets to return home, and expectations are high in Westwood for Ben Howland’s team. In addition to Anderson and Muhammad the Bruins add Jordan Adams and Tony Parker, but just as important will be the play of veterans such as the Wear twins (David and Travis) and Joshua Smith.

4. Two Pac-12 programs added players from a Rice program decimated by transfers. Omar Oraby is now a USC Trojan while first team All-Conference USA forward Arsalan Kazemi is at Oregon. There’s hope in Eugene that Kazemi will be granted immediately eligibility, and if that happens the Ducks can surprise some folks.

5. California loses the Pac-12 Player of the Year (Jorge Gutierrez) and forward Harper Kamp, but the Golden Bears welcome back junior forward Richard Solomon. Solomon was academically ineligible for the second half of last season, but a positive in the form of freshman David Kravish getting more minutes could pay dividends for Mike Montgomery’s team in 2012-13. Oh, they also return guards Justin Cobbs, Allen Crabbe and Brandon Smith.

Impact Newcomers

F Brandon Ashley, F Grant Jerrett and C Kaleb Tarczewski (Arizona)
If Arizona is to accomplish anything either within the Pac-12 or nationally they’ll need these three to be factors. Ashley is the most versatile of the three as he can be productive with his back to the basket or in a face-up role, “Zeus” is the power in the middle and Jerrett is a player who some believe has the highest upside of the trio.

F Kyle Anderson and G Shabazz Muhammad (UCLA)
This one obviously comes with the “if they’re cleared” caveat, but assuming that they are Anderson and Muhammad are vital to UCLA’s Pac-12 hopes. Anderson, who can play the role of a facilitator offensively, reportedly meshed well with North Carolina transfer Larry Drew II on their offseason trip to China. Muhammad didn’t make the trip but the explosive wing is capable of being one of the best players in college basketball the moment he steps on the floor.

G Jahii Carson (Arizona State) 
For Sun Devil fans it probably feels like it’s been an eternity since Carson enrolled, as he had to sit out last season for academic reasons. Arizona State needed help at the point desperately, and with the addition of Carson they have a player who is a threat to make something happen as soon as he touches the ball.

F Josh Scott (Colorado) 
Austin Dufault didn’t receive the accolades that Andre Roberson did last season, but he big fella was a key figure in Colorado’s rotation. With Dufault gone Scott will likely assume his role in the middle, and as one of the best front court prospects in the western United State it’s expected that the Colorado native will be productive. If Scott can be a factor in the paint Colorado can win the Pac-12 title.

G J.T. Terrell (USC) 
Terrell began his college career at Wake Forest before transferring to Peninsula JC for his sophomore season, where he averaged 24.4 points per game and shot 47% from the field last season. USC was the worst offensive team in the Pac-12 from an efficiency standpoint, and the addition of Terrell can help change that.

Other newcomers of note: G Andrew Andrews (Washington), G Dominic Artis (Oregon), F Jordan Loveridge (Utah), G/F Victor Robbins (Oregon State), G Tyrone Wallace (California).

Breakout Players

G Kevin Parrom (Arizona) 
To say that the senior from the Bronx had a tough season last year would be an understatement, as he struggled with both his health and the death of his mother. Now healthy, Parrom will likely slide into a 6th man role for the Wildcats, and with classmate Solomon Hill could form the best wing tandem in the Pac-12.

C Stefan Nastic (Stanford) 
The Postseason NIT champions were one of five Pac-12 teams that didn’t take an offseason trip overseas, but Nastic picked up some international experience as a member of Serbia’s U-20 national team (they finished 4th in the U-20 European Championships). With Josh Owens graduating the Cardinal will need a big man to step up if they’re to contend for the conference title, and Nastic is capable of doing so.

G C.J. Wilcox (Washington) 
Last season it was Terrence Ross who went from being a wing with potential to a first round draft pick. With Ross and Tony Wroten Jr. gone there won’t be time for Wilcox to play the background offensively; Washington needs him to be aggressive from the start if they’re to earn an NCAA bid.

G DaVonte’ Lacy (Washington State)
An honorable mention Pac-12 All-Freshman selection, Lacy averaged 8.5 points per game on 38.9% shooting as a freshman. With teams focusing much of their efforts on Brock Motum, Lacey’s going to need to step up if Ken Bone’s team is to return to postseason play.

F Eric Moreland (Oregon State)
Moreland’s (5.2 ppg) 2010-11 season ended after just four games due to a shoulder injury, but he made up for lost time by ranking fifth in the conference in rebounding last season with an average of 6.8 rebounds per game. Moreland also broke the school record for blocks in a season, and if the Beavers are to improve defensively he’ll need to produce even more.

Player of the Year: F Solomon Hill (Arizona)
Hill (12.9 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 50% FG), one of the conference’s most versatile players, can do just about anything that’s required of him on the floor. With the newcomers in the front court Hill gets to move back to the three, and he played that role during Arizona’s summer trip to the Bahamas. Look for the Los Angeles native to finish his career with a bang.

Coach under pressure: Herb Sendek (Arizona State)
After three seasons of 21 or more victories Arizona State has won just 22 games in the last two seasons combined. With a reshuffling of the coaching staff (Eric Musselman and Larry Greer were officially hired in early September) and a new boss in Steve Patterson (hired in late March), this is an important season for Sendek. The good news is that Jahii Carson is eligible, but will Arizona State have enough scoring punch to move up the Pac-12 standings?

All-Conference Team (* – Player of the Year)

G Chasson Randle (Stanford)
G Allen Crabbe (California)
F Solomon Hill (Arizona)*
F Andre Roberson (Colorado)
F Brock Motum (Washington State)

Predicted Finish

1. Arizona (How well the Wildcats perform will depend on two areas: Xavier transfer Mark Lyons at the point and their young big men)
2. Stanford (Chasson Randle and Aaron Bright lead a rotation that is better than many are giving them credit for, even with the loss of Josh Owens)
3. UCLA (What happens with Anderson and Muhammad? Have the returnees improved enough to be factors? Is Joshua Smith focused? There’s both talent and question marks in Westwood)
4. Colorado (Even with Andre Roberson, Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie back, the Buffs’ Pac-12 title hopes may depend on freshman Josh Scott’s impact)
5. California (Richard Solomon returns after missing the spring semester due to academics, and guards Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs form one of the best tandems in the conference)
6. USC (The Trojans have their health and some talented transfers, but chemistry will be critical)
7. Washington (Abdul Gaddy and C.J. Wilcox are going to need help from players such as redshirt freshman Andrew Andrews)
8. Oregon (E.J. Singler is one of the Pac-12’s most versatile players, and if Rice transfer Arsalan Kazemi is cleared to play immediately this spot may be too low)
9. Oregon State (Offensively the Beavers are a talented bunch, but can they defend? That was a big issue last season)
10. Arizona State (Carson and Gordon will help the likes of Chris Colvin and Carrick Felix, but how much?)
11. Washington State (The preseason dismissal of senior point guard Reggie Moore puts the Cougs in a very tough spot)
12. Utah (That non-conference slate will result in an improvement on their six wins last season, but Larry Krystkowiak has a lot of work to do in Salt Lake City)

Raphielle is also the assistant editor at CollegeHoops.net and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Sweet 16 Preview: Thursday’s picks, predictions, betting lines and channels

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The Sweet 16 kicks off on Thursday night, and the games are going to be terrific.

Oregon-Michigan should be thrilling, Gonzaga-West Virginia is a fascinating contrast of styles and Kansas-Purdue features arguably the two best players in college basketball.

Oh, and then there’s Arizona-Xavier, with Sean Miller and Chris Mack doing battle.

For an in-depth look at each region, check these out:

SWEET 16 PREVIEW: Midwest | West | South | East

No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 7 Michigan (-1.5), 7:09 p.m. (CBS): So this run that Michigan on, is it a fluke?

Frankly, I don’t think that it is. Derrick Walton has been awesome for the better part of two months while Michigan’s perimeter shooters have always been shooters and the duo of D.J. Wilson and Mo Wagner are legit. I honestly do not believe that the Wolverines are a team of destiny after the plane crash. They are just really good and a perfect roster for John Beilein to tinker with.

That’s why they’re favored on Thursday night. But here’s the thing … Oregon is pretty good themselves. Dillon Brooks is going to be guarded by a big man, which should be a matchup that Brooks can take advantage of, and Tyler Dorsey has been playing terrific basketball since the start of the Pac-12 tournament.

If you like small-ball, spread-the-court basketball, you’ll love this game.

PREDICTION: Michigan (-1.5)

No. 1 Gonzaga (-3) vs. No. 4 West Virginia, 7:39 p.m. (TBS): On paper, I think Gonzaga should win this game. They have a good back court in Nigel Williams-Goss and Josh Perkins, a pair of talented point guards that have won a lot of games in their career. Gonzaga is also the best defensive team in the country. So if they don’t turn the ball over against West Virginia’s press and they make it difficult for West Virginia to score in the half court and get into their press, they should be able to win this thing, right?

Well, maybe not.

My concern with Gonzaga is game-pressure. They didn’t handle it well down the stretch against BYU in their one loss of the season, and I’m not convinced that they win that second round game against Northwestern if the officials don’t blow the goaltending call. How are they going to handle an endless wave of Mountaineers in their face?

PREDICTION: Gonzaga (-3)

No. 1 Kansas (-5) vs. No. 4 Purdue, 9:39 p.m. (CBS): More than any other game this weekend, I’m fascinated to see how these two teams decide to try and play each other. Kansas has, essentially, one big man that Bill Self can trust, and he’s going up against a Player of the Year candidate in Caleb Swanigan and one of the best big men in the country at drawing fouls in Isaac Haas. Will Self double-team Swanigan knowing that Purdue may be more effective offensively when Swanigan can find shooters out of the double-team, or will he risk Lucas getting in foul trouble by trying to guard Swanigan one-on-one?

Then, at the other end of the floor, how will Purdue deal with the Kansas back court? Frank Mason III, the NBC Sports National Player of the Year, and Devonte’ Graham are a nightmare for anyone to deal with, let alone a team that struggles against penetrating guards and that lacks rim protection. It should be a fascinating coaching battle.

PREDICTION: Kansas (-5)

No. 2 Arizona (-7.5) vs. No. 11 Xavier, 10:09 p.m. (TBS): On paper, Arizona should be able to handle a Xavier team that doesn’t have Edmond Sumner or Myles Davis. That said, as we all know, Chris Mack and Sean Miller are very close and used to work together. Mack knows everything that Miller is going to do and vice versa. I think this game will be a low-scoring, grind-it-out affair that comes down to the final minutes.

PREDICTION: Xavier (+7.5)

Shayok and Reuter transferring from Virginia

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Virginia announced the departure of two players Wednesday.

Marial Shayok and Jerred Shayok will both transfer out of the program, the school said.

“Marial and Jarred informed me today that they are leaving the Virginia basketball program and are looking to transfer to other schools,” Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett said in a statement released by the school. “I thank Marial and Jarred for their hard work and contributions to our program, and wish them success in the future.”

Shayok, a a 6-foot-5 junior, played 20.9 minutes per game last season for the Cavaliers, averaging 8.9 points and 2.4 rebounds per game while shooting 44.5 percent from the floor. The Ottawa native started 23 games in three seasons with Virginia.

Reuter played a minimal role for the Cavaliers, averaging just 10.8 minutes and 3.8 rebounds per game.

Wake’s Collins declares for NBA draft without hiring agent

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) Wake Forest’s John Collins is entering the NBA draft but will not hire an agent and is keeping open the option of returning to school for his junior season.

In a statement Wednesday announcing the decision, Collins said he wants “to make an informed decision about what is best for my future.”

Collins is a 6-foot-10 forward who as a sophomore blossomed into one of the best big men in the Atlantic Coast Conference and was voted to the Associated Press all-ACC team.

He averaged 19.2 points and 9.8 rebounds, putting together a string of 12 consecutive 20-point games late in the season.

His progression was a big reason why the Demon Deacons earned their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2010. Kansas State beat Wake Forest in the First Four.

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org

Porter, Jr. will ask for Washington release

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There may be an overwhelming assumption on where Michael Porter, Jr. – and his father – will ultimately end up, but the five-star recruit is said publicly that he see his re-recruitment process through.

Porter, Jr. said in a teleconference Wednesday that he will ask for his release from Washington, and his father, a former Huskies assistant, has been offered a job at Missouri by new Tigers coach Cuonzo Martin.

“Right now I’m just trying to take it slow with my family and weigh my options,” Porter Jr. said, according to the Kansas City Star. “I plan to get my (national letter of intent) from Washington back and just go from there, not saying that I’m not going to Washington anymore, but I just want to get it back and weigh my options.”

The prevailing thought has been that the Porters will ultimately land in Columbia, where they have significant history.

Still, it would appear at least publicly that Porter, Jr., a potential No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA draft, will weigh his options in at least the short-term.

Calipari signs two-year extension with Kentucky

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Kentucky continues to take care of John Calipari.

The Wildcats coach has received a two-year extension, keeping him under contract in Lexington through the 2024 season, the school announced Wednesday.

The contract will pay Calipari $7.75 million next season and increase to $8 million per season thereafter.

“John has achieved consistent championship-level performance at Kentucky,” Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement. “No one in America is better suited for everything that comes with being the coach here. Not only has he attained incredible success on the court, he is also a leader in our community and in college basketball.

“We have been blessed to have him and Ellen here for the last eight years and we are blessed they will continue to call Kentucky home.”

Not only does the deal extend Calipari, but it continues to keep Kentucky competitive with the NBA, which would seem to be the only outlet that would even potentially tempt Calipari away from Kentucky. An NBA franchise would have to make him among the highest-paid coaches in the league to even match Kentucky financially.

Of course, given that Calipari has spurned interest from the league since returning to college in 2000, it seems unlikely that financial considerations would be the lone or heaviest variable in making a decision to move on.

Certainly, Calipari has an excellent thing going at Kentucky as the premier recruiting program in the country that has enjoyed serious success on the court, culminating in a 2012 national title and a 38-0 start to the 2015 season before a loss in the Final Four.

“The last eight years at the University of Kentucky have been a terrific ride,” Calipari said in a statement. “This extension shows our full commitment to each other. I believe this school is the gold standard and I’m so thankful and blessed that this university has given me this opportunity at this point in my career.”

The Wildcats face UCLA in the Sweet 16 on Friday.