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Conference Catchups: Arizona, Oregon lead way in much-improved Pac-12

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College basketball is now almost two months old. League play will be kicking off in the next week. Let’s get you caught up on all you need to know with some of the country’s best conferences. 

To read through the rest of our Conference Catchups, click here.

Midseason Player of the Year: Kyle Anderson (UCLA)

This was a tough pick, with a number of players in the Pac-12 off to fantastic starts. Jahii Carson (Arizona State) and Roberto Nelson (Oregon State) are two of the players with credible arguments, and there are a few guys who didn’t even make the all-conference list below who also have claims. But the pick here is Anderson, because he’s proven to be the clear answer to that “who will run the point for UCLA” question that many of us asked during the summer. Anderson’s averaging 14.5 points, 8.7 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game, leading the Bruins in both rebounding and assists (he also leads the conference in assists). Just like the teams themselves, the Player of the Year race is going to be fun to watch unfold in league play.

First Team All-Pac-12:

  • Jahii Carson, Arizona State
  • Nick Johnson, Arizona
  • Roberto Nelson, Oregon State
  • Kyle Anderson, UCLA
  • Jordan Loveridge, Utah

Midseason Coach of the Year: Sean Miller, Arizona

One of the big reasons for the Pac-12’s national resurgence has been the performance of Miller’s Wildcats, who currently sit atop both major national polls. T.J. McConnell’s been as solid as advertised at the point, Brandon Ashley is one of the nation’s most improved players and freshmen Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson have been key contributors as well. Add in Nick Johnson and Kaleb Tarczewski and you’ve got a rotation capable of beating anyone.

Favorite: Arizona Wildcats

Arizona’s still the favorite due to what they’ve accomplished (wins over San Diego State and Duke, and that win at Michigan shouldn’t be discounted either) and what they’re capable of doing down the line. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t concerns, most notably the need for a bench player other than Hollis-Jefferson to emerge and earn consistent playing time. Gabe York’s the most likely option, and his progression could be the difference between simply earning a high NCAA tournament seed and winding up in the Final Four.

And three more contenders:

  • Oregon head coach Dana Altman has once again worked his magic touch when it comes to transfers, with guards Jason Calliste and Joseph Young and forwards Elgin Cook and Mike Moser all off to good starts. Dominic Artis is back, and in senior guard Johnathan Loyd this group has the stable leader needed to win a Pac-12 title.
  • Tad Boyle’s Colorado squad will also be heard from in league play, with guards Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker being the primary offensive options. Add in a post player in Josh Scott who’s shown marked improvement from a season ago (even if some may not realize it) and the Buffs will a team to be reckoned with.
  • Steve Alford’s first run at UCLA is off to a pretty good start, with sophomores Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams being the best players. And freshman Zach LaVine…he’s good. But keep an eye on the big men when it comes to their hopes of repeating as Pac-12 champs. Tony Parker’s better and the Wear twins have experience, and that will be key when it comes to rebounding.

Most Surprising Team: Utah

Say what you want about the Utes’ strength of schedule (349th per realtimerpi.com), but watch this team play and it’s obvious that Larry Krystkowiak’s team has made strides. Jordan Loveridge is playing in a more comfortable role (and playing weight), and junior college transfer Delon Wright has been outstanding. How well the Utes perform in conference play could come down the painted area, with Dallin Bachynski and Renan Lenz needing to build on the progress made in non-conference play.

Most Disappointing Team: California

Injuries. Only way to put it for the Golden Bears, with Jabari Bird (ankle), Ricky Kreklow (hand) and Richard Solomon (eye) all missing time at various points this season. Solomon’s back on the floor but Bird and Kreklow aren’t resulting in the team still working to find the chemistry needed to make a return trip to the NCAA tournament. But with point guard Justin Cobbs leading the way, the Golden Bears will be able to find their way.

Most Important Player (in league play): Jahii Carson, Arizona State

Can Arizona State make a return to the NCAA tournament? They’re certainly headed in the right direction, with the electric Carson being a key reason why. But why can’t Herb Sendek’s team look to achieve more than simply hearing their name called on Selection Sunday? Penn State transfer Jermaine Marshall gives them another perimeter scoring option and center Jordan Bachynski is the anchor in the middle. Ultimately how far this team goes depends on Carson, and they could be a Pac-12 dark horse as a result.

Who will slide?: Utah

The Utes open Pac-12 play against Oregon on Thursday night with an 11-1 record, and despite their improved play it’s difficult to see them maintaining that pace. Why? The conference is far better than it has been in recent years, and that center spot is still a question mark of sorts.

Who is the sleeper?: California

Eventually this team will get healthy, with the McDonald’s All-American Bird giving the Golden Bears another perimeter scoring option. And with Cobbs, Solomon, David Kravish and Tyrone Wallace all being double-digit scorers, Mike Montgomery’s team has enough skill to factor into the league title race when healthy. Arizona State and Stanford, which won at UConn earlier this season, are also possible sleepers.

New Power Rankings 

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

Cal and San Diego State set three-game series

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 10:  Jarmal Reid #32 of the Oregon State Beavers tries to steal the ball from Ivan Rabb #1 of the California Golden Bears during a quarterfinal game of the Pac-12 Basketball Tournament at MGM Grand Garden Arena on March 10, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. California won 76-68.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Cal and San Diego State played last season in the Las Vegas Invitational and decided to play more often.

According to multiple reports, the two teams will play each other the next three seasons, starting with a neutral-court matchup in Sacramento on Nov. 21. The game in Sacramento will be unique in a couple of ways, as it will be the first college basketball game in the Sacramento Kings’ brand-new home arena. It will also be Cal’s first game in Sacramento since 1947.

After the Sacramento game during the 2016-17 season, San Diego State will host the Golden Bears the next season and Cal will host the Aztecs the following year to close out the three-game deal.

With both Cal and San Diego State returning plenty of talent from last season, this season’s contest should be one of the more intriguing non-conference games between schools out west and it should be fun for the players as they get to take the floor in a new NBA arena.

Report: Creighton’s Zach Hanson to miss a few months following knee surgery

OMAHA, NE - MARCH 3: Zach Hanson #40 of the Creighton Bluejays fights for position with Daniel Ochefu #23 of the Villanova Wildcats  during their game at CenturyLink Center March 3, 2015 in Omaha, Nebraska.   (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
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Creighton will be without a key big man for the start of practice as senior Zach Hanson will be out after having knee surgery.

According to a report from Marjie Ducey of the Omaha World-Herald, the 6-foot-9 Hanson will likely be out for eight to 12 weeks. Creighton head coach Greg McDermott told Ducey that Hanson will hopefully be available when Creighton opens its regular season in November.

As a junior, Hanson was a key rotation big man for the Bluejays as he put up 6.8 points and 3.1 rebounds per game, making one start on the season. As McDermott noted in Ducey’s story, he’s not concerned about Hanson missing practice time from a learning curve standpoint but he is a bit worried about his conditioning. Before the knee surgery, Hanson was also nursing some ankle injuries that he was dealing with during the season, so he hasn’t had a great chance to get in proper condition.

This loss will definitely hurt Creighton as they have a ton of backcourt pieces for next season, but not as many in the front court. Hanson’s an experienced player who will help once he returns but it will something worth monitoring to see what kind of condition he’s in during the early season.

VIDEO: Mixtape of the Under Armour Association

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Now that summer basketball is nearly finished, a lot of good mixtapes are beginning to pop up from this spring and summer’s action.

Ball is Life just dropped some highlights from all of the Under Armour Association events from this spring and summer in one mixtape and it’s loaded with high-level players making tremendous plays.

Some of the top Class of 2017 prospects included in the video include Trevon Duval, Kris Wilkes, Ira Lee, M.J. Walker and North Carolina commit Jalek Felton.

Judge to review surveillance video in Appling gun case

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 30:  Keith Appling #11 of the Michigan State Spartans reacts against the Connecticut Huskies during the East Regional Final of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Madison Square Garden on March 30, 2014 in New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) A Michigan judge will review surveillance footage from the night former Michigan State basketball player Keith Appling was arrested outside a strip club on weapons and drug charges.

Appling’s defense attorney presented the footage at Friday’s preliminary examination. It includes security videos from the Pantheon Club parking lot and video from police dashboard cameras.

The hearing was adjourned until Aug. 5 to allow Judge William Hultgren time to review the footage.

The 24-year-old Appling played for the Spartans from 2010-2014 and had two 10-day contracts with the Orlando Magic this season.

He was arrested in May after two guns and suspected marijuana were found in a vehicle he was in.

Appling also faces a trial in Detroit where he was charged in June with carrying a concealed weapon.

Arkansas hoping for more backcourt depth and stronger press in 2016-17

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 27: Dusty Hannahs #3 of the Arkansas Razorbacks drives to the basket against Michael Humphrey #10 of the Stanford Cardinal  at Barclays Center on November 27, 2015 in Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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Arkansas is coming off of a disappointing 16-16 season in which they missed the postseason.

The Razorbacks lost two key guards in Anthlon Bell and Jabril Durham — who both exhausted their eligibility — but they’re hoping a couple of additions will bolster the depth of their backcourt and make their trademark press stronger.

In a story from Tom Murphy of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the Razorbacks are excited about the possibilities of their new backcourt.

Although Arkansas lost two talented seniors and a transfer in Jimmy Whitt, they return Dusty Hannahs, Manny Watkins and Anton Beard while also getting two of the best junior college guards in the country. Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon come in highly touted for next season and both junior college guards garnered a lot of praise from their play last season.

With Arkansas also bringing in some freshman guards like C.J. Jones and RJ Glasper, head coach Mike Anderson is hoping to have enough bodies to play fast and use his press. The team appears to be optimistic as well.

“I think we’ll have a lot more toughness at the guard position, and depth,” Watkins said to Murphy. “We’ve got a lot of guys. When we’re pressing and stuff, we’ve got bodies we can bring in.”

Arkansas also returns an SEC Player of the Year candidate in big man Moses Kingsley and they could be an intriguing team to track this season if Barford and Macon are as good as advertised. They’ll certainly have more bodies to throw at opposing guards and that should help Arkansas play faster than they did last season.