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.

Player Of The Year Power Rankings: Devonte’ Graham, Jock Landale need more attention

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1. TRAE YOUNG, Oklahoma: Trae Young finished with 48 points and eight assists in an overtime loss at Oklahoma State on Saturday, and it has sent the internet into a tizzy because Young finished with 39 shots on the night, only making 14 of them.

And that is frustrating to me, mainly because I think that people are getting on Young for all of the wrong things.

Young’s performance last week against Kansas State was problematic because the way he was playing didn’t work. He was forcing offense, he was turning the ball over and he wasn’t making the right reads. That how he ended up with 12 turnovers — the most by a high-major player in this millennium — on a night where the Sooners lost by 18 points. I wrote all about that here.

On Saturday, however, I thought Young looked like himself. The problem was that his teammates didn’t carry the weight. If you’re going to criticize Young for shooting 14-for-39 from the floor, you need to also acknowledge that his teammates shot 14-for-43 from the floor. Many of those were open looks that Young created. We discussed that on the podcast this week:

That happens sometimes. The result was Young going into takeover mode, and it almost worked.

The real issue with his performance had nothing to do with turnovers or tough threes or taking too many shots; it’s that he shot 6-for-19 from inside the arc. Many of those shots he missed were makable floaters or layups that were considered but could — even should — have been finished. It looked a lot like these:

On the season, Young is shooting just 45 percent around the rim and ranks in the 33rd percentile in PPP on those shots.

That is what should concern Oklahoma fans and the people that think Trae Young can be Steph Curry.

Not a night where he had to put the team on his back because his supporting cast had an off-night.

2. JALEN BRUNSON, Villanova: Brunson’s efficiency is still at an unheard of level, and there’s an argument to be made that what he is doing on his usage is more impressive than what Young is doing with his usage, particularly given how things have gone since league play began. Here is a complete list of players with an offensive rating of better than 130 on KenPom with a usage rate above 22.9 since the 2003-2004 season:

3. MARVIN BAGLEY III, Duke
4. DEANDRE AYTON, Arizona

5. DEVONTE’ GRAHAM, Kansas: There were a lot of question marks about whether or not Devonte’ Graham was going to be able to handle taking over for Frank Mason II as the star guard in the Kansas back court. With just over half of the season gone by, Graham is averaging 18.1 points, 7.3 assists and 2.0 steals while shooting 43.5 percent from three on 7.3 attempts per game with an assist-to-turnover ratio that’s clocking in at 2.6:1. He’s shooting a higher percentage from three this year than he did last year while taking more and playing as a point guard, meaning he’s getting fewer catch-and-shoot rhythm threes.

Oh, and should I mention that he is doing this for a Kansas team that is currently sitting all alone in first place by two full games in the loaded Big 12 despite getting exactly zero minutes from Billy Preston this season and needing to enroll a backup big man early just so that they don’t have to play a 6-foot-3 walk-on at center?

Since Big 12 play started, Graham has come off the floor for a grand total of 10 minutes in seven games.

If he isn’t a first-team all-american for you at this point in the season you need to have your voting privileges revoked.

6. JOCK LANDALE, Saint Mary’s: Landale is averaging 22.4 points, 10.2 boards and 2.0 assists for a Saint Mary’s team that is one bad weekend at the Wooden Legacy away from being undefeated with a win at Gonzaga under their belt. Landale is not just a big guy overwhelming mid-majors opponents. All of these highlights come from that win in Spokane as Landale showed the entire arsenal while carrying SMC to a win. It’s worth noting that the guy guarding him here, Johnathan Williams III, is considered an above-average to very good defender, and Landale makes light work of him.

If you love big men with dainty feet and a soft touch, this clip will be basketball porn for you:

7. KEITA BATES-DIOP, Ohio State
8. JEVON CARTER, West Virginia
9. CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue
10. TREVON BLUIETT, Xavier

ALSO CONSIDERED: MIKAL BRIDGES, Villanova; MILES BRIDGES, Michigan State; KEENAN EVANS, Texas Tech; TRA HOLDER, Arizona State; CHANDLER HUTCHISON, Boise State; CALEB MARTIN, Nevada; YANTE MATEN, Georgia; LUKE MAYE, North Carolina; SHAKE MILTON, SMU; ALLONZO TRIER, Arizona

VIDEO: Buzz Williams forgets when TV timeouts happen

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There was a funny moment in the second half of Virginia Tech’s win over No. 10 North Carolina on Monday night.

With the Hokies leading the Tar Heels and less than 12 minutes left on the clock, VT head coach Buzz Williams strolled on the court to high-five his players after a foul was called. There was just one problem: It wasn’t actually a TV timeout.

Everyone was confused.

The mixups seems to stem from referee Michael Stephens, who apparently told Buzz that the TV timeout would be taking place on that whistle.

It doesn’t make the moment Buzz realized what was happening any less funny:

Bubble Banter: Kansas State, Virginia Tech add crucial wins to help overcome poor schedules

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As we will do every day throughout the rest of the season, here is a look at how college basketball’s bubble teams fared on Monday night.

It’s worth reminding you here that the way winning are labeled have changed this season. Instead of looking at all top 50 wins equally, the selection committee will be using criteria that breaks wins down into four quadrants, using the RPI:

  • Quadrant 1: Home vs. 1-30, Neutral vs. 1-50, Road vs. 1-75
  • Quadrant 2: Home vs. 31-75, Neutral vs. 51-100, Road vs. 76-135
  • Quadrant 3: Home vs. 76-160, Neutral vs. 101-200, Road vs. 136-240
  • Quadrant 4: Home vs. 161 plus, Neutral vs. 201 plus, Road vs. 240 plus

The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here.

WINNERS

KANSAS STATE (RPI: 55, KenPom: 37, NBC seed: Play-in): The Wildcats went and added two — potentially three — Quadrant 1 wins in their last three games, beating Oklahoma and TCU at home last week before picking off Baylor (currently 76th in the RPI, but I’d guess they’re top 75 to end the year) on Monday night. A home loss to Tulsa (RPI 112) is going to stick out, as will a non-conference SOS that ranks 344th. Those two things means that the Wildcats have a very small margin for error, but with the way they are playing, I think that they’ll do enough to get in with a seed that seems too low for them.

VIRGINIA TECH (RPI: , KenPom: 54, NBC seed: Out): The Hokies did quite a bit to change their NCAA tournament chances on Monday by knocking off North Carolina at home. It’s easily the best win on their résumé, and given that their only other Quadrant 1 win came on a neutral against a Washington team ranked 50th in the RPI, it is easily their most important win. A Nov. 16th loss to Saint Louis (RPI 147) looks really bad, but VT still has Miami twice, Duke twice, Virginia, Louisville and Clemson left on their schedule. Those are all potential top 20 wins. They’ll need them to overcome a non-conference schedule that ranked 319th.

TEXAS (RPI: 42, KenPom: 43, NBC seed: 9): The Longhorns did what they needed to do against Iowa State at home, picking up a win to help shake off the whooping they took at West Virginia on Saturday. Believe it or not, but Texas currently has four Quadrant 1 wins to their name without anything worse than a high Quadrant 2 loss — at Baylor, at Oklahoma State, Gonzaga on a neutral, Michigan at home.

LOSERS

MARYLAND (RPI: 47, KenPom: 38, NBC seed: Next four out): The Terps picked up their worst loss of the season, falling at Indiana. In a year where Mark Turgeon’s club has already lost Justin Jackson and where it seems like they suffer a new injury just about every week, a tournament berth seems increasingly unlikely. Their next two games are at home against Michigan State and at Purdue. They might beed to win both.

NEBRASKA (RPI: 64, KenPom: 67, NBC seed: Out): The Cornhuskers missed out on a golden opportunity to add a marquee win to their résumé as they lost by five at Ohio State, a top 15 team in the RPI. The Cornhuskers currently do not have a Quadrant 1 win to their name — their best win comes at home against Michigan — and the only chance they’ll have to add one the rest of the regular season comes at Minnesota, who could very well drop off that level. There are only two teams left on Nebraska’s schedule that are in the top 100 of the RPI.

BAYLOR (RPI: 76, KenPom: 39, NBC seed: First four out): Baylor lost at home to Kansas State on Monday night. They’re now lost six of eight to start Big 12 play and their next two games are at Florida and at Oklahoma, both of which would be marquee wins the Bears currently lack.

VIDEO: Kenrich Williams posterizes West Virginia

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I am not sure what was more impressive tonight, Kenrich Williams going for 14 boards and six assists against No. 7 West Virginia, the fact that he played the point for them against that press … or this dunk:

It was the dunk.

Definitely.

Alex Robinson leads TCU past No. 7 West Virginia

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You’d be forgiven if you thought that TCU’s season was done and dusted when starting point guard Jaylen Fisher went down with a knee injury that will cost him the rest of the season.

Fisher was the team’s third-leading scorer at 12.3 points and ranked second in assists. He was shooting 43.9 percent from the floor. More importantly, he was backcourt defensive presence that doesn’t exist elsewhere on the TCU roster.

When the Horned Frogs lost Fisher, they were coming off of their second loss to Oklahoma in the span of two weeks and their fourth loss in the first five games of league play. With two games against both West Virginia and Texas Tech, and a trip to Allen Fieldhouse, left on their schedule, this had all the warning signs of a season in danger of sliding into oblivion.

On Monday night, in TCU’s third game without Fisher, Jame Dixon’s club put together their best performance of the season. They held No. 7 West Virginia to 33.3 percent shooting from the floor and led by as many as 20 points in an 82-73 win in Fort Worth, a win that puts an entirely knew feel on where this season can and will go.

The biggest reason for that may be Alex Robinson.

A 6-foot-1 hometown kid and a redshirt junior that transferred into the program from Texas A&M, Robinson has seemingly always been overlooked in this TCU program. Part of that is because he’s not a great scorer or shooter. Part of that is because he isn’t really a defender. And part of is, frankly, is because he never quite got his chance.

And now, with Fisher out, Robinson is not only getting his chance, but he is making the most of it.

TCU is 2-1 in their three games without Fisher, and Robinson has been the star, averaging 12.3 points, 4.7 boards and 10.7 assists. Against West Virginia, one of the nation’s most difficult defenses to deal with, Robinson finished with 17 points, nine assists and seven boards despite barely stepping foot off of the court. He got some help from Kenrich Williams, TCU’s best player, a 6-foot-7 forward that was a high school point guard and did the heavy-lifting when it came to breaking that press.

But that shouldn’t put a damper on how Robinson played on Monday.

And it shouldn’t take away from what he has been able to do with Fisher out.

Suddenly, TCU looks like a team that found themselves on the wrong side of lucky through the first seven games of Big 12 play. They lost five games during that stretch by an average of 3.3 points. Two of those losses came when the Horned Frogs missed game-winning shots at the buzzer.

They were and have been a top 25 team that found out the hard way how tough it is to win close games in this league.

And at this point it is probably fair to say that hasn’t changed despite having a new player running the point.