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.

USC lands four-star 2018 guard Elijah Weaver

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USC landed an important commitment for its future on Monday night as four-star Class of 2018 guard Elijah Weaver.

Regarded as the No. 35 overall prospect in the Rivals’ national Class of 2018 rankings, the 6-foot-5 Weaver gives the Trojans a floor leader to build around for the future as he provides great size in the backcourt. Capable of playing multiple guard spots, Weaver has a lot of upside for a program that has done a very solid job of developing backcourt talent under head coach Andy Enfield.

Weaver’s commitment is also important for the Trojans because it comes despite the looming FBI investigation that the program is dealing with thanks to former assistant coach Tony Bland. USC had recently lost a four-star commitment from forward J’Raan Brooks, so the commitment of Weaver is a huge momentum boost for them as they get right back on track in the Class of 2018.

With Weaver in the mix, USC now owns three four-star pledges in the 2018 class as he joins four-star forward Taeshon Cherry and four-star guard Kevin Porter.

Jim Larranaga believes he’s ‘Coach-3’ in FBI investigation

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Despite losing key contributors Davon Reed and Kamari Murphy from last season’s NCAA tournament team, the Miami Hurricanes are expected to be a player both within the ACC and nationally this season. But instead of having the focus solely on the likes of JaQuan Newton, Bruce Brown and Lonnie Walker, Jim Larrañaga’s program is also having to deal with the impact of the ongoing FBI investigation into corruption and fraud in college basketball.

While no one connected to the Miami men’s basketball program was arrested last month, the program is referenced in the FBI report. On Monday, Larrañaga stated during a press conference that he believes that he is “Coach-3” in the FBI report. Larrañaga also maintained his innocence, saying that he had done nothing wrong while also being thankful that none of his assistant coaches were involved.

“It’s been a strain, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually,” Larrañaga said according to the Palm Beach Post. “It’s something that’s there. I have to deal with it. I have the support of my wife and a wonderful family. I have the support of the university, my staff and players.”

According to the FBI report, “Coach-3” requested that payments totaling $150,000 be funneled to “Player-12” in order to ensure his commitment to their university. It has been reported that “Player-12” was 2018 five-star prospect Nassir Little, who has also stated that he had done nothing wrong. Two of the schools recruiting Little at the time, Arizona and Miami, have been entangled in the FBI investigation to varying degrees.

While Miami has not had anyone connected to its program arrested, Arizona assistant coach Emmanuel “Book” Richardson was one of the four Division I coaches were were indicted. As a result Little removed both Arizona and Miami from consideration before ultimately committing to North Carolina earlier this month.

There’s no telling what the FBI investigation will ultimately uncover, which for the schools involved could take a heavy toll not only for the 2017-18 season but for future years as well. The FBI case has been comparatively quiet since the first set of indictments, with future moves likely to be influenced by what authorities learn from the ten individuals named in the first announcement.

Miles Bridges discusses being offered money during recruiting process

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With the FBI launching an investigation into corruption and fraud in college basketball last month, the entire sport has found itself under the microscope. Ten people, including four Division I assistant coaches, were arrested and there’s no telling just how long the FBI’s investigation will last or what information it will produce.

Michigan State forward Miles Bridges is considered by many to be the leading candidate for national Player of the Yeah honors, and he had the opportunity to turn pro after a good freshman season. But Bridges made the decision to return to East Lansing, and with that comes questions as to why he would do that as opposed to cashing in on his NBA potential as soon as possible.

In an interview with Brendan Quinn of The Athletic (subscription required) Bridges discussed a host of issues, including being offered money by people while going through the recruiting process.

“I mean, if you get caught, that might be the end of your career. I wanted to play in college really bad,” Bridges told Quinn. “I don’t know — materialistic things, they don’t really get to me. So when people were offering me money, I would say no right away, because I wanted to be able to live out my college experience. But really, I don’t know, it is hard, especially because I was so young at the time — 17.”

Given the ongoing investigation, high-profile players and teams will be on the receiving end of increased scrutiny even if they aren’t part of the FBI probe. It’s an unfair situation for a player like Bridges to deal with, as even in the actual cases of alleged wrongdoing the players themselves are essentially commodities whose services are being auctioned as opposed to the main characters looking to cash in.

Unfortunately, due to recent events a decision like the one made by Bridges will result in some questioning whether or not the player received something from the school or another entity/individual. And that’s a tough — and unfair — thing for a young player to have to deal with.

Broken hand sidelines North Carolina PG Joel Berry II

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North Carolina’s defense of its national title will likely begin without its most important player, as it was announced on Monday that senior point guard Joel Berry II will miss approximately four weeks due to a broken bone in his right hand.

Berry started at the point each of the last two seasons, earning Most Outstanding Player honors in April as the Tar Heels defeated Gonzaga to win the national title. As a junior, Berry averaged 14.7 points, 3.6 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game and started 37 of the 38 games in which he played. Berry shot 42.6 percent from the field and 38.3 percent from three, with the latter percentage being the best on team amongst players who attempted at least two three-pointers per game.

Berry was named an NBC Sports Preseason Third-Team All-American in late September.

With Berry out of the lineup, North Carolina loses its floor general as well as one of their top perimeter shooters. Sophomore Seventh Woods and freshman Jalek Felton become more important options at the point as a result of Berry’s injury, and the team doesn’t lack for perimeter shooters either with Cameron Johnson, Brandon Robinson, Kenny Williams and freshman Andrew Platek all being capable of helping to pick up the slack.

North Carolina opens its regular season on November 10 against Northern Iowa.

Bill Self’s stance on Kansas/Missouri series remains unchanged

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Sunday afternoon in Kansas City, bitter rivals Kansas and Missouri got together on the basketball court for the first time since 2012, with the Showdown for Relief raising $1.75 million for recent hurricane victims. In what was an entertaining game, the Jayhawks won by the final score of 93-87 with point guard Devonté Graham leading the way for the winners with 25 points and ten rebounds.

Kansas finished the game with five players in double figures, including Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman (17 points) and center Udoka Azubuike (16). On the other side freshman Michael Porter Jr. paced four Tigers in double figures with 21 points while younger brother Jontay grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds off the bench.

However despite the excitement for the two rivals being on the same court in any capacity, Sunday’s meeting was different given the circumstances. Following the game Kansas head coach Bill Self was asked about the possibility of the two teams meeting in a regular season game, and he maintained the stance he’s held since Missouri left the Big 12 for the SEC.

“I’m not going to say never, but I don’t think there’s been any change in our position as far as the university goes,” Self said following Sunday’s exhibition. “I’m the spokesman, I guess, on this but trust me, I’m not the only one that feels that way.”

While it would certainly benefit college basketball if Kansas and Missouri were to renew acquaintances down the line, it is understandable that Self — and maybe some others on the Kansas side of things — would have reservations. The programs, even with the arrival of Cuonzo Martin in Columbia and the freshman class led by the aforementioned Michael Porter Jr., are in different places right now.

The Jayhawks have their sights set on a 14th consecutive Big 12 title and a run at their first national title since 2008, Missouri is looking to fast-track a rebuilding process after struggling mightily under former head coach Kim Anderson. Yet with that being said, the state of the two athletic departments during realignment likely has more to do with the teams not playing each other.

Missouri was a school with options earlier this decade before joining the SEC, but that was not the case for Kansas. Had the Big 12 broken up as some believed would be the case, where would the Jayhawks have landed? Fortunately for the school the Big 12 survived the realignment craze, losing four schools (Missouri and Texas A&M to the SEC, Colorado to the Pac-12 and Nebraska to the Big Ten) and adding TCU and West Virginia to get their membership number to ten.

Given that, the best bet for college basketball fans who want to see this rivalry played during the regular season may be to hope for the programs wind up in the same in-season tournament. Even better, how about the same NCAA tournament region?