Arizona, UCLA lead the way in the Pac-12 preseason media poll

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With the recruiting hauls pulled in by both Arizona and UCLA, many expect these two proud programs to give the Pac-12 a noticeable boost in 2012-13.

That includes the media who cover the conference apparently, as they’ve pegged the Wildcats and Bruins as the top two teams in the Pac-12 preseason media poll.

Arizona was their pick to win the conference, finishing with 15 first-place votes and 403 total points. But it was UCLA, who came in second with 402 points, that led the way in first-place votes with 16.

Following those two are the two Bay Area schools, as California was picked to finish third and Stanford fourth. Defending regular season champion Washington (fifth) and defending Pac-12 tournament champion Colorado (sixth) round out the top half of the poll.

    Team                                          Pts.
1. Arizona (15)                              403
2. UCLA (16)                                 402
3. California (3)                             325
4. Stanford                                     296
5. Washington (2)                         278
6. Colorado                                    262
7. Oregon                                       217
8. Oregon State                             166
9. USC                                            163
10. Washington State                   111
11. Arizona State                           107
12. Utah                                           78
First place votes in parentheses

Two picks stick out in regards to being too low come March: Colorado and USC (ninth). The Buffaloes will have to rely on a young front court alongside junior forward Andre Roberson, but players such as forward Josh Scott, wing Xavier Johnson and guard Xavier Talton are talented.

As for USC, the Trojans were hit hard by injuries last season, and they’ll be helped by the return of Jio Fontan (torn ACL) and the addition of skilled transfers such as Ari Stewart, J.T. Terrell (both began their careers at Wake Forest) and Eric Wise (UC Irvine).

It can also be argued that Arizona State, picked to finish 11th, should be slotted ahead of a Washington State team (picked 10th) that may return Brock Motum but has a major question to answer at the point due to the dismissal of Reggie Moore.

Six Pac-12 teams open regular season play on November 9, including the reopening of Pauley Pavilion (Indiana State at UCLA) and Stanford taking on San Francisco at Oracle Arena in Oakland.

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

POSTERIZED: Wyoming’s Josh Adams takes flight

Josh Adams
Associated Press
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Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.

After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.

Video credit: Wyoming Athletics

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Monte Morris
Associated Press
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Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.