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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.

Arizona lands first commitment in 2017 class

Alex Barcello (Jon Lopez/Nike)
(Jon Lopez/Nike)
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Arizona landed their first commitment in the Class of 2017 on Friday night as point guard Alex Barcello pledged to Sean Miller and the Wildcats.

Barcello is a 6-foot-2 point guard from Tempe who plays his high school ball for Corona del Sol. He committed to the Wildcats on an official visit to the Tucson campus.

Barcello is a borderline top 100 prospect who sits at No. 123 in the Rivals top 150. He’s known for his ability to shoot, and he’s more of a combo-guard — i.e. shoot-first — than a point guard at times, but he’s a nice pickup and projects as a solid four-year player for the Wildcats.

Virginia, Indiana, Stanford and Butler were the other four schools on Barcello’s list.

Duke lands first commitment in 2017 class

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Alex O’Connell knew exactly where he wanted to play his college ball, which is why, just two days after picking up an offer from Coach K and the Blue Devils, he became Duke’s first recruit in the Class of 2017.

O’Connell announced the on twitter on Friday afternoon:

O’Connell is a four-star prospect from Georgia that had a terrific summer, going from being a borderline top 75 prospect to a player that caught the interest of Duke, who, along with Kentucky, sit atop the college recruiting hierarchy. He’s an explosively athletic and lanky 6-foot-6 wing with three-point range on his jumper. He needs to add some weight and some strength — he’s listed as a crisp 175 pounds — but he has the tools, and the swagger, to develop into a very effective player in the ACC.

Is he a one-and-done prospect?

Probably not. In fact, since 2010, Duke has landed just two players that were rated lower than O’Connell: Antonio Vrankovic and Jack White. If you know who both of them are, you’re probably either Jon Scheyer or lying.

But what O’Connell is is a kid who put in the work to get better this past year and who has the skill set, the physical tools and work ethic to continue to improve. He may not be on Grayson Allen’s trajectory, but O’Connell has the makings of being an impact player for the Blue Devils for three or four years.

Alex O'Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)
Alex O’Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)

Shaka Smart lands contract extension at Texas

Texas head coach Shaka Smart instructs his team in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
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Shaka Smart has already landed himself a contract extension at Texas.

The school, according to the Austin American-Statesman, has given Shaka a one-year extension — through the 2022-23 season — and bumped his salary up to a cool $3 million, a raise of $100,000 annually.

Smart’s Longhorns went 20-13 last season and lost on a half court buzzer beater from Northern Iowa’s Paul Jespersen. It will be tough for Smart to match the success that he had last season, specifically because he lost senior point guard Isaiah Taylor to the professional ranks.

That said, the former VCU head man has been reeling in quite a bit of talent from the state of Texas — namely, Andrew Jones and Jarrett Allen — and is not all that far from turning the Longhorns back into a relevant member of the Big 12 title race.

Arizona and Texas headline Lone Star Shootout

PROVIDENCE, RI - MARCH 17:  Head coach Sean Miller of the Arizona Wildcats reacts in the first half against the Wichita State Shockers during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 17, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
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Another marquee, early season event is on the books for the college basketball season as four potential tournament teams will be squaring off at the Toyota Center in Houston on Dec. 17th.

The highlight of the double-header, which has been dubbed the Lone Star Shootout, will probably end up being Arizona vs. Texas A&M. The Wildcats are a Pac-12 contender and a borderline top 10 team as we enter the season, and while the Aggies will have work to do replacing the seniors they lost off of last season’s roster, they’re a borderline top 25 team.

The other matchup will feature a pair of former Southwest Conference rivals facing off in Texas and Arkansas. Texas will be talented but young while Arkansas may actually have the best player on the floor in Moses Kingsley. What will make this matchup interesting is that both Mike Anderson and Shaka Smart are known for being coaches that prefer a full court pressing system.

“We are extremely excited about the opportunity to play in front of our fans at the Toyota Center in Houston,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said in a statement. “It is one of the most important areas in this state as it relates to our recruiting and fan base.

Five-star 2017 guard Lonnie Walker cuts list to five schools

Men's U18 trials head shots and team photo on 6.15.16
Bart Young/USA Basketball
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Five-star shooting guard Lonnie Walker is coming off of a very good summer as he trimmed his list to five schools on Thursday night.

The 6-foot-4 native of Reading, Pennsylvania is still considering Arizona, Kentucky, Miami, Syracuse and Villanova, he announced on Twitter.

Regarded as the No. 26 overall prospect in the Class of 2017, Walker played with Team Final in the Nike EYBL this spring and summer as he averaged 16.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. Walker shot 45 percent from the field, 39 percent from three-point range and 72 percent from the free-throw line.

An efficient scorer who is learning to drive with both hands, Walker is very talented and the type of guard who might also be able to handle a bit as well.