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Conference Catchup: Arizona at the head of the class in Pac-12

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Conference play is right around the corner, so to help you get out of that post-holiday haze, we’ll be catching you up on all the happenings in the country’s top 12 conferences. Here’s our Pac-12 Conference Catchup:

Favorite: Arizona 

This one is pretty simple, as Sean Miller’s Wildcats have the conference’s best resume to date and are ranked 3rd in the country. The debate as to whether or not Mark Lyons is a “true” point guard rages on, but the fact of the matter is that the senior is exactly what the Wildcats need from the position this season. Nick Johnson has been Arizona’s most consistent player this season and wings Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom have been factors as well. None of those three are “take charge” figures when it comes to scoring, meaning that the Wildcats need an attack-minded player like Lyons to run the show.

But there are two big questions for Arizona as they enter conference play: can they cut down on the turnovers, and will those three talented freshmen inside mature to the point where they can be consistent factors on both ends of the floor? Before tallying just eight turnovers in their win over San Diego State on Christmas night Arizona racked up at least 16 turnovers in three straight games, and there’s also that 27-turnover outing in their win over Southern Miss. If the turnovers are cut down and Brandon Ashley, Grant Jerrett and Kaleb Tarczewski continue to develop, Arizona can get to Atlanta.

Contenders: Colorado, Oregon and UCLA

The Wildcats are the clear favorites but that doesn’t mean there aren’t capable challengers. UCLA has the highly regarded freshmen, with Jordan Adams and Shabazz Muhammad leading the way offensively. Senior Larry Drew II has been good at the point, but the Bruins are going to need to improve a great deal of the defensive end if they’re to win the Pac-12. Colorado has the league’s best rebounder in Andre Roberson and sophomores Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie are very good guards. The key for the Buffaloes: the progression of freshman Josh Scott inside. And Oregon has an experienced front court (Arsalan Kazemi, Tony Woods) and talented freshmen Dominic Artis, Ben Carter and Damyean Dotson.

Biggest surprise: Washington State 

Arizona State is an improved team thanks in large part to the addition of point guard Jahii Carson, but the Cougars being 9-4 heading into conference play is the biggest surprise. Why? Their lone point guard, Reggie Moore, was kicked off the team before the season began and left Ken Bone searching for answers. Mike Ladd and Royce Woolridge are combining to average 5.4 assists per game, and sophomore DaVonte Lacy is talented enough to play both on and off the basketball. Brock Motum leads the way for the Cougars, and with the middle of the Pac-12 being what it is maybe Washington State can win enough games to return to postseason play (reached the CBI finals last season).

Biggest disappointment: USC 

The talented transfers and returnees have yet to mesh, leaving the Trojans as the Pac-12’s only team below .500 (5-8). One issue for Kevin O’Neil’s team has been their play on the defensive end, as USC ranks 11th in the conference in field goal percentage defense and 12th in three-point percentage defense. And while their crosstown rivals have gotten away with their defensive issues USC hasn’t been as fortunate, due to the fact that they’re also having a hard time offensively (11th in the Pac-12 in field goal percentage and 9th in three-point percentage). Eric Wise is leading the way with an average of 11.4 points per game, but he’s the lone Trojan in double figures. There is talent but is USC capable of turning things around? Not too sure right now.

Player of the Year: F Brock Motum (Washington State) 

This one’s tough because the league’s best team (Arizona) has done it with balance as opposed to having one or two stars commanding games. That could open the door for a consistent veteran like Motum (or even a freshman like Muhammad) grabbing Player of the Year honors come season’s end. Averaging 19.7 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, Motum’s scored 14 points or more in each of Washington State’s games despite being the first line in every opponent’s scouting report. The Australian had a stretch of five straight games of 23 points or more beginning in late November, and given the Cougars’ scoring issues (DaVonte Lacy the only other player averaging double figures) Motum will need to continue to put up points.

Best freshman: Jahii Carson (Arizona State)  

Jordan Adams has been outstanding for UCLA and there are other freshmen who have played well during the non-conference portion of the schedule (Shabazz Muhammad’s been on a roll of late), but Carson is the pick here. Why? Herb Sendek tossing the freshman point guard the keys to the car has turned Arizona State into a team that enters Pac-12 play with an 11-2 record. Carson’s averaging 17.7 points, 5.4 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game, and with him running the show the Sun Devils have played at a tempo not seen at any point during the Sendek era in Tempe. His presence has led to improved play from the likes of Carrick Felix and Jordan Bachynski, which makes ASU a team more dangerous than anticipated during the preseason.

Three Predictions

– Four teams will reach the NCAA tournament. To say the least the Pac-12 has been a disappointment over the last three seasons in this regard, as the conference has received a grand total of eight bids. With Arizona leading the way, look for the Pac-12 to have four teams in the field of 68. Could the conference earn five bids? Stanford’s “worst” loss was a home defeat at the hands of Belmont, so they may be better positioned than either Cal or Oregon State when it comes to the non-conference resume.

– Arizona at UCLA on March 2 will determine the regular season champion. When the Bruins had their issues early in the season (and no one knew when Shabazz Muhammad would be cleared) there were many, myself included, who predicted doom for Ben Howland’s team. Obviously their work on the defensive end has to improve, but UCLA will play well enough in conference play to ensure that this Saturday night affair means a great deal to both teams.

– Shabazz Muhammad will win Pac-12 Rookie of the Year. That Carson pick is made to reflect what happened throughout the non-conference slate. But come March it will be the Bishop Gorman product who wins the hardware. Over his last four games Muhammad is averaging 25.0 points per game and shooting 54.5% from the field. The rust is gone, and given UCLA’s need for more scoring given their issues on the defensive end of the floor, Muhammad’s going to have plenty of chances to put up points.

Power Rankings (* – NCAA tournament team) 

1. Arizona *
2. Colorado *
3. Oregon *
4. UCLA*
5. Stanford
6. California
7. Arizona State
8. Oregon State
9. Washington
10. Washington State
11. Utah
12. USC

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Michigan’s Chatman transferring

Michigan  guard/forward Kameron Chatman (3) passes against Northwestern during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game on Tuesday, March 3, 2015, in Evanston, Ill. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)
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Kameron Chatman is leaving the Michigan program after two seasons, the school announced Tuesday.

The 6-foot-8 forward will transfer following a sophomore season in which his minutes were halved from his freshman campaign.

“I am incredibly grateful for my two years at Michigan,” Chatman said in a statement released by Michigan. “I would like to thank coach (John) Beilein and his entire staff for taking a chance on a small town kid out of Portland. I know my experience has inspired others as I will take all of my lessons learned to continue my pursuit of becoming the best man and player I can.”

Chatman is now the fourth Wolverine to transfer this spring, as Spike Albrecht (Purdue), Aubrey Dawkins (Central Florida) and Ricky Doyle have already departed. The Wolverines, who still have not announced replacements for assistant coaches LaVall Jordan (Milwaukee) and Bacari Alexander (Detroit), have been active in graduate transfer market as they look to rebuild much of their depth on the perimeter.

Chatman, who was a top-50 recruit out of high school, averaged 3.2 points and 2.0 rebounds per game for Michigan. He made 15 starts as a freshman, but only two as a sophomore.

Gilmore leaving VCU

Will Wade (AP Photo)
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Sophomore forward Michael Gilmore is transferring from VCU, the school announced Tuesday.

Gilmore started 18 games and appeared in 55 total for the Rams, but never carved out more than a marginal role, averaging 11.5 minutes per game as a sophomore after 6.3 his freshman season. He averaged 3.2 points and 2.8 rebounds per game this past year as he saw his role dwindle down the stretch for the Rams.

His departure will take away some interior depth for VCU, but coach Will Wade will still be returning the bulk of the team that tested eventual Final Four participant Oklahoma in the Round of 32 a month ago.

For Gilmore, he’ll likely have plenty of suitors despite the pedestrian numbers he posted over the last two years as 6-foot-10 forwards who have shown the ability to space the floor don’t hit the transfer market with great regularity.He was a consensus four-star recruit in the Class of 2014.

Orris transferring to South Dakota State

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Northern Illinois point guard Michael Orris will finish his career at South Dakota State as a graduate transfer, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

Orris, who began his career at Kansas State before transferring after his freshman season, played 21.7 minutes per game last season for the Huskies, averaging 2.7 points and 3.0 assists.

His addition will bring experience to the Jackrabbits, who will be looking to get back to the NCAA tournament under first year coach T.J. Otzelberger, who took over for Scott Nagy when the longtime South Dakota State coach left for Wright State after taking South Dakota State to three NCAA tournaments in five years. As an Iowa State assistant, Otzelberger recruited another Northern Illinois graduate transfer, Darrell Bowie, to the Cyclones earlier this year.

While the commitment of Orris won’t be a game-changer for the Jackrabbits, he is a former high-major player and evidence that Otzelberger, who spent three years watching Fred Hoiberg turn Iowa State into Transfer U, and South Dakota State will be mining the transfer market as a means to sustain what Nagy built in Brookings.

Cazmon Hayes’ departure leaves Delaware with five scholarship players

Delaware's Cazmon Hayes (22) tries to get a shot past Villanova's Daniel Ochefu (23) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014, in Philadelphia. Villanova won 78-47. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
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You might think that new UNLV head coach Marvin Menzies has the toughest rebuilding job of anyone in college basketball this season, and you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong.

He took over a program that had all of two players left on scholarship at the time, that was broke, that has so much in-fighting between the athletic director and the board that approved his contract that Menzies was left in limbo waiting to hear if they were actually going to pay him what they said they would pay him.

They eventually did, Menzies eventually got some more players and he’s on his way to trying to make the Runnin’ Rebels relevant again.

That’s a bad spot to be in, but whoever ends up getting the Delaware job — the only job in the country that’s yet to be filled — may in a tougher spot.

Because we’re already into May, and not only are the Blue Hens still without a head coach, they haven’t even hired an AD to hire the head coach yet. That’s a problem because, as of this very moment, Delaware has just five scholarship players left on the roster and no guarantee that the departures are overwith.

Four players have transferred out of the program, including the team’s leading scorer Kory Holden and, as of today, their third-leading scorer Cazmon Hayes. Their leading returning scorer right now is Anthony Mosely, who averaged just 9.7 points last season.

And this is for a team that went 2-16 in a down-CAA and won just seven games all year long.

Whoever eventually ends up with the Delaware job is going to have their work cut out for them.

Gavitt Games schedule released, but not much to get excited about

NCAA Men's Final Four - National Championship - Villanova v North Carolina
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The schedule for the 2016 Gavitt Tipoff  Games were announced on Tuesday afternoon.

The Gavitt Games are an event that we be held annually featuring eight made-for-TV matchup between Big East programs and Big Ten programs. It’s similar to the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, only it takes place during the first week of the regular season.

Last year’s Games were highlighted by a matchup between Maryland and Georgetown, a local rivalry that hadn’t been played in three decades. And while those two programs will face-off once again this season, the level of intrigue in this year’s event is not quite what it was last year.

The marquee matchup will probably be reigning champs Villanova, who should be a top five team in the preseason, playing at Purdue, who should once again be competitive in the Big Ten. And so long as Nigel Hayes returns to Wisconsin, the Badgers trip to Creighton should feature two NCAA tournament teams. There will be some hype given the rivalry between Maryland and Georgetown, but both of those teams are on a downward trend.

And beyond that?

Yuck. Rutgers vs. DePaul and St. John’s vs. Minnesota are … well, let’s just say you won’t be taking time out of your week to tune in.

Here’s the full schedule:

Monday, Nov. 14th:

Villanova at Purdue

Tuesday, Nov. 15th:

Maryland at Georgetown
Wisconsin at Creighton

Wednesday, Nov. 16th:

Northwestern at Butler

Thursday, Nov. 17th:

Seton Hall at Iowa
Providence at Ohio State
Rutgers at DePaul

Friday, Nov. 18th:

St. John’s at Minnesota