2013-2014 Pac-12 Conference Preview: League’s on the way back after rough three-year stretch

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

After placing six teams in the 2009 NCAA tournament the Pac-12 hit a rough patch. A really rough patch, receiving a total of eight bids to the Big Dance from 2010-12. Prior to the start of the 2012-13 campaign many expected more futility, but while the league still wasn’t at the level fans expect the fact of the matter is that the Pac-12 displayed signs of improvement. Look for more of the same in 2013-14, with there being eight programs who enter the season with realistic hopes of contending for the league crown. After going through a rough stretch on the court, look for the Pac-12 to reassert itself as a power conference in 2013-14.

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. New additions will make Arizona a much better perimeter defensive team: Losing Mark Lyons and Solomon Hill shouldn’t be overlooked but the arrival of Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and transfer T.J. McConnell now being eligible will make Sean Miller’s team a better defensive squad. After ranking among the nation’s best in defending the three for two consecutive seasons the Wildcats struggled in that department last season. Adding McConnell, an Atlantic 10 All-Defensive Team selection at Duquesne, will help in this regard.

2. Colorado and Washington both have rebounding issues to address: Both the Buffaloes and Huskies need to account for the loss of their leading rebounders from a season ago, with CU’s Andre Roberson in the NBA and Washington’s Aziz N’Diaye out of eligibility. Who steps up? For Colorado, redshirt freshman Wesley Gordon and sophomores Xavier Johnson and Josh Scott will be key. As for the Huskies, who led the conference in rebounding margin, San Francisco transfer Perris Blackwell, Shawn Kemp Jr. and Desmond Simmons are some of the options.

3. Larry Drew II was more valuable to UCLA than many wanted to admit: The butt of many people’s jokes due to the way in which he left North Carolina, Drew ended up leading the Pac-12 in both assists and assist-to-turnover ratio last season. With him gone, who will run the show for Steve Alford? Two of the three possibilities are freshmen (Bryce Alford and Zach LaVine), but the best option may be 6-8 sophomore Kyle Anderson. The right answer to this question will make the Bruins a threat to repeat as Pac-12 regular season champions.

4. Andy Enfield takes over at USC: After leading FGCU to the Sweet 16 Enfield took over at USC, and he’ll have his work cut out for him given the Trojans’ personnel losses from a season ago. Two transfers (guard Pe’Shon Howard and center D.J. Haley) will be asked to contribute immediately, and the same can be said for freshmen Julian Jacobs and Roschon Prince. But teams better get their shots in early, because with the strides the Trojans have made on the recruiting trail they likely won’t be down for long.

5. Oregon looks to continue its recent run of success with transfers: Dana Altman’s Ducks will once again be a factor in the Pac-12 thanks in large part to the return of guards Dominic Artis, Damyean Dotson and Johnathan Loyd. Add in transfers Joseph Young (Houston) and Jason Calliste (Detroit), and Oregon is loaded on the perimeter. But if they’re to truly contend for a Pac-12 title a big season will be needed from Mike Moser, who’s immediately eligible after transferring in from UNLV. Injuries played a major role in Moser’s struggles at UNLV last season, and a less cluttered interior rotation should give him the room needed to return to the form he displayed in 2011-12 (14.0 ppg, 10.4 rpg).

PRESEASON PAC-12 PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jahii Carson (Arizona State)

Arizona State insisted that they’d play at a higher tempo last season due in large part to the addition of Carson, and the point guard certainly didn’t disappoint as he led the nation’s freshmen in scoring (18.5 ppg) while also dishing out 5.1 assists per game. Now that the Sun Devils want to play even faster, Carson should be even more dangerous in his sophomore campaign. The question: can he lead Arizona State to its first NCAA tournament appearance than 2009?

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THE REST OF THE PAC-12 FIRST TEAM:

  • G Spencer Dinwiddie (Colorado): Dinwiddie’s one of the best perimeter defenders in the country, and his size (6-foot-6) makes the Los Angeles native a tough matchup at the point.
  • G C.J. Wilcox (Washington): Wilcox averaged 16.8 points and 4.3 rebounds per game for the Huskies last season. With Abdul Gaddy and Scott Suggs gone, he may have to score even more as a senior.
  • F Aaron Gordon (Arizona): Incredibly athletic, the McDonald’s All-American will likely be a factor at both forward spots for the Wildcats. How much time he spends at the three will likely depend on how well he defends the position.
  • F Dwight Powell (Stanford): After averaging 14.9 points and 8.4 rebounds per game Powell earned first-team All-Pac 12 honors and the league’s Most Improved Player award. He’s a serious threat to win Pac-12 Player of the Year this season.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • G T.J. McConnell (Arizona)
  • F Xavier Johnson (Colorado)
  • G/F Damyean Dotson (Oregon)
  • G Justin Cobbs (California)
  • C Jordan Bachynski (Arizona State)

BREAKOUT STAR: F Xavier Johnson (Colorado)

As the 2012-13 season wore on the Mater Dei product became even more of a factor for the Buffaloes, who made their second consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. With Andre Roberson off to the next level, Johnson (8.9 ppg, 4.8 rpg) will be needed to step up alongside guards Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker if the Buffs are to contend for the Pac-12 crown.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Johnny Dawkins (Stanford)

The conference has a few options for this selection, including Ken Bone (Washington State), Craig Robinson (Oregon State) and Herb Sendek (Arizona State). But the choice here is Dawkins, whose team is the best equipped of the four to reach the NCAA tournament. Anthony Brown’s back after missing all of last season, forward Dwight Powell is a league Player of the Year candidate and guards Aaron Bright and Chasson Randle should be productive as well. One can’t forget about Josh Huestis either, as he’s one of the Pac-12’s best defenders.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : The Pac-12 is back to where it should be.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT: The amount of young talent in the Pac-12, with multiple players being pieces their respective programs can build around.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • December 14: Arizona at Michigan
  • November 8: Colorado vs. Baylor (in Dallas)
  • November 8: Oregon vs. Georgetown (Camp Humphries, South Korea)
  • December 19: UCLA vs. Duke (in New York)
  • December 18: Stanford at UConn (in Hartford)

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Arizona: The Wildcats will be better defensively thanks to the presence of McConnell, Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. But who makes jump shots on a consistent basis? Find a suitable answer (or answers) and this group can get to Jerry World.
2. Oregon: With four of their top five scorers gone the Ducks are sure glad they added transfers Jason Calliste, Mike Moser and Joseph Young. And that sophomore tandem of Dominic Artis & Damyean Dotson has the potential to be special.
3. Colorado: Andre Roberson’s a big loss, especially as a defender and rebounder, but Tad Boyle’s built himself a program that can be a consistent Pac-12 contender.
4. UCLA: Steve Alford won’t lack for talent in his first season in Westwood, but who takes over at the point for Larry Drew II? If freshmen Bryce Alford and Zach LaVine are ready, the Bruins will be fine.
5. California: Losing Allen Crabbe hurts but there’s still plenty of talent in Berkeley. If Richard Solomon is fully engaged in the action night in and night out, the Golden Bears will contend for the league title.
6. Stanford: Look for Dwight Powell to become a household name nationally, and if Rosco Allen’s European experience (Hungary’s U-20 team) put some “dog” in him he could break out as a sophomore.
7. Arizona State: Adding Jermaine Marshall and Shaquielle McKissic to the equation certainly helps matters, and ASU will be deeper than they were last season. But who has the intangibles that the departed Carrick Felix provided?
8. Washington: The Huskies have some questions to answer in the paint, but there should be no doubting the long-term impact that Nigel Williams-Goss will have on the program. One word: winner.
9. Utah: Things are beginning to look up in Salt Lake City, and Jordan Loveridge should be even better as a sophomore. But there’s still much work to do be done before the Utes are a factor in the Pac-12.
10. Oregon State: Angus Brandt returns after suffering a torn ACL in November, which will help Devon Collier and Eric Moreland inside. With Roberton Nelson providing scoring punch on the perimeter OSU can move up if they commit defensively. Which has been said in each of the two seasons prior to this one.
11. USC: Given the roster turnover from last season USC’s newcomers will have plenty of opportunities as Andy Enfield looks to build an uptempo system like the one he had at FGCU.
12. Washington State: With the addition of Ike Ireogbu the Cougars have an option at the point they sorely lacked last season. But losing Brock Motum and Mike Ladd is kind of a big deal.

N.C. State adds grad transfer Sam Hunt

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N.C. State added its fourth transfer this offseason. Like ex-Baylor guard Al Freeman, the latest one is eligible to play next season.

Sam Hunt, a double-digit scorer the past two seasons at North Carolina A&T, officially enrolled at North Carolina State on Monday morning.

“Sam is a great young man and will bring much needed depth to our backcourt,” N.C. State head coach Kevin Keatts said in a statement. “I want guys who are excited about being a part of our program and Sam really wants to be here.

“Sam is a combo guard that can space the floor with his ability to shoot the basketball. He is a good fit for the system and will bring a wealth of experience to our roster.”

Hunt, the 6-foot-2 guard, averaged 12.7 points per game last season, a dip from the 15.4 points per game he posted for the Aggies as a redshirt sophomore.

Hunt joins a roster that lost its three leading scorers from a season ago, one that ended 15-17 (4-14 ACC). Dennis Smith Jr. is a member of the Dallas Mavericks. Maverick Rowan also pursued a professional career and Terry Henderson was denied an additional year from the NCAA.

The Wolf Pack bring back forwards Abdul-Malik Abu and Omer Yurtseven as well as Torin Dorn.

Keatts, who took over the program after leading UNC Wilmington to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments, has already built for the future. UNC Wilmington transfer C.J. Bryce, 17.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game for the Seahawks, has followed him to Raleigh. Utah transfer Devon Daniels committed to the Wolf Pack the same day as Bryce. Both will have to sit out next season due to NCAA transfer rules. Bryce will have two years of eligibility while Daniels will have three.

LaVar Ball stars in an uncomfortably entertaining segment on WWE’s Raw

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LaVar Ball’s statements and antics over this past year always seemed better suited a professional wrestling ring.

It was only natural that the patriarch of the Ball family — and the head of the Big Baller Brand — made an appearance on WWE’s Monday Night Raw at the Staples Center for an awkwardly entertaining segment with WWE Intercontinental Champion The Miz.

With sons, Lonzo — in his first appearance in the Staples Center as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers — and LaMelo looking on, LaVar was the center of attention. When The Miz mentioned something about a partnership between the two, the scripted interview went south. It resulted in LaVar saying nonsensical things like, “There’s only two dudes better than me, and I’m both of ’em!” before later taking off his shirt. When Dean Ambrose, a WWE superstar feuding with The Miz came out on to the ramp, LaVar didn’t quite grasp the concept that that was his cue to stop talking.

This segment was somehow entertaining and cringeworthy at the same time.

Now that Lonzo is beginning his NBA career, maybe it’s time LaVar try something different. A manager in the WWE may just be his true calling. He’s certainly had plenty of practice.

Maryland lands commitment from five-star 2018 forward

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Maryland added to its 2018 recruiting class with its second commit, the newest addition being a five-star in-state product.

Jalen Smith, a 6-foot-9 forward from Baltimore powerhouse Mount St. Joseph, committed to the Terrapins, making the announcement on Twitter.

“I believe that I can academically and athletically achieve my goals at home through my commitment to the University of Maryland … Go Terps,” he tweeted as part of a long passage.

Smith is listed as the No. 13 overall recruit in the Class of 2013 by Rivals. He joins four-star swingman Aaron Wiggins in Mark Turgeon’s current recruiting class.

Playing for Team Takeover on the Nike EYBL circuit, Smith is averaging 10.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.0 blocks per game.

Recent grad’s joyride reportedly did $100,000 of damages to Mizzou Arena

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A recent graduate and temporary employee of the University of Missouri took an early morning joy ride that reportedly could rack up around $100,000 to Mizzou Arena.

According to Dave Mater of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nathaniel J. Contant, 23, who graduated from the school in December 2016, drove his Volkswagen Passat through a gate and eventually on to the floor of the 15,000-seat on-campus arena.

At 7:15 a.m. Sunday, MU police were dispatched to Mizzou Arena for a report of property damage. Officers determined that around 4 a.m., the suspect drove his vehicle through a closed gate on the south side of the arena. He ran through a garage door and drove into a dock area where he damaged several golf carts that were stored in the area. He also drove his car onto the basketball court. The man couldn’t leave through the area he used to enter the building, so he drove through the arena’s press gate.

Contant, unsurprisingly, is no longer an employee of the university. He’s being charged with second-degree burglary and first-degree property damage, both of which are felonies. He was released on a $4,500 bond.

The motive for this early-morning joyride remains unclear.

Despite the hype surrounding the upcoming Mizzou season — one that includes the debut of new head coach Cuonzo Martin and the projected No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft Michael Porter, Jr. — Twitter users couldn’t help but poke fun at the dismal recent history the Tigers have had.

(h/t Kansas City Star)

Vance Jackson transfers to New Mexico

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With more than a handful of departures this offseason, New Mexico is set to have a new-look roster for the 2017-18 season. On Monday, Paul Weir, now at the helm of the program, landed a player who should make an impact in the three remaining seasons of eligibility he has left.

Vance Jackson, who spent this past season at UConn, decided to make the move from Storrs to Albuquerque, picking the Lobos over Rutgers, San Diego State, TCU, and Washington.

The 6-foot-8 rising sophomore will have to sit out next year due to NCAA transfer rules before resuming his collegiate career in the fall of 2018.

“The coaches — they trust in me,” Jackson told Geoff Grammer of the Albuquerque Journal last month during his official campus visit. “We’re on the same page. They see a vision.”

Weir, who led New Mexico State this past season to a NCAA Tournament appearance in his one and only season as head coach, succeeded Craig Neal in April.

This offseason has been headlined by transfers, though, those mostly were about players leaving the program. Jackson is the second transfer to land at UNM with Akron’s Antino Jackson electing to use his final season of eligibility with the Lobos. Antino Jackson is a graduate transfer, allowing him to play immediately next season.

Vance Jackson, who was rated as the No. 80 overall player in the Class of 2016 by Rivals, averaged 8.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game while shooting just under 40 percent from three for the Huskies as a freshman.