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

Diallo withdrawing from draft, returning to Kentucky

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It took plenty of time for the news to make its way public, but it was a wait that proved welcome for Kentucky fans.

Wildcat freshman Hamidou Diallo will withdraw his name from the NBA Draft and return to Kentucky, the school announced

Diallo’s situation was one of the more interesting in college basketball as he became an incredibly intriguing pro prospect despite being on a college roster and never playing a minute.

The five-star recruit enrolled at Kentucky in January after attending a semester of prep school with the plan to redshirt the season and then play for the Wildcats in 2017-18. There were rumblings and rumors about Diallo potentially playing for John Calipari’s group last year, but ultimately they stuck to the plan to keep him on the bench and preserve his eligibility. Throughout it all, there was always the specter that Diallo could just decide to go the professional route anyway.

That possibility moved fully into the forefront earlier this month when Diallo showed off a 44.5-inch vertical leap at the NBA Draft combine in Chicago. The 6-foot-5 guard also recorded a wingspan that nearly measured 7-feet. With those types of physical traits, he makes for an awfully interesting professional prospect, regardless of refinement or experience.

Given Diallo’s lack of high-level experience, though, there was no guarantee he’d be a first-round selection as teams would be wary of drafting solely on potential, rather than the mostly they typically do.

“I hope to play in the NBA one day — just not this season,” Diallo said in a statement. “Based on the information I received by testing the waters, I believe it’s in my best interests to return to school. Although I was a part of the team last season and trained with my teammates, I never fulfilled another one of my dreams, which was to play for a major college program and win a national title.

“I am excited about returning to Kentucky for the 2017-18 season. I can’t wait to play in a Kentucky jersey for the first time.”

Going back to Lexington to play college basketball gives Diallo a chance to showcase his skills against competition the NBA will be able to evaluate him against. It also makes Kentucky – surprise, surprise – extremely formidable this season as they, once again, restock the roster with potential lottery- and first-round picks. With Diallo officially in the fold, Kentucky is a no-doubt top-five team that will be among the favorites to cut down the nets in April 2018.

“I’m really proud of Hami,” Calipari said in a statement. “He took in all the information, asked a lot of questions, including questions to the NBA teams. I love the fact that he wants to put himself in a better position and help lead this new team to a championship.
“I can’t wait to get him on the court and have all of you fans see what I know.  He’s a special player and a special person.”

LaVar Ball selling “Stay In Yo Lane” shirts

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Create controversy. Profit from controversy.

It’s not an especially new or original strategy, but it’s one that LaVar Ball continues to try to exploit.

The infamous basketball dad is at it again, looking to capitalize on the uproar/kerfuffle/news cycle/debate/ickiness he created when he belittled FS1’s Kristine Leahy, telling her to “stay in your lane” on multiple occasions when claiming the Big Baller Brand didn’t need to market to women.

Well, they are now, with a nod to Ball’s proclamation, selling “STAY IN YO LANE” tees, for both men and women.

Marketing misogyny. Isn’t that nice.

It’s clear that LaVar Ball isn’t going to shy away from the public spotlight anytime soon, especially with eldest son Lonzo looking destined for the Lakers and middle son LiAngelo set to join UCLA, and he’s going to do his best to use that light to push the BBB franchise that scared away the world’s biggest apparel companies.

This plan has no mystery, subtlety or taste. Which might as well be the Big Baller Brand slogan.

Mykhailiuk returning to Kansas for senior season

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Kansas’ attempt for a 14th consecutive Big 12 title, and run for Bill Self’s second national title, got a shot in the arm Wednesday.

Svi Mykhailiuk announced that he will return to Lawrence for his final season of eligibility. “Senior year going to be fun,” he wrote on his Instagram page.

Senior year gonna be fun😈👌🏼🤘🏼 #KUCMB

A post shared by Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (@sviat_10) on

The Jayhawks were already going to be loaded this season with Devonte Graham, a potential All-American, returning for his senior season and Udoka Azubuike healthy after missing last year due to injury along with Malik Newman becoming eligible after a transfer from Mississippi State and recruits Billy Preston and Marcus Garrett bolstering the ranks. The return of Mykhailiuk, though, only solidifies Kansas’ place not only atop the Big 12, but in the country.

Mykhailiuk, a 6-foot-8 forward, had something of a breakthrough season as a junior, posting career highs nearly across the board, including shooting 39.8 percent on nearly five 3-point shot attempts per game. With his size and shooting ability, Mykhailiuk was sure to garner professional interest, even though it would have been more likely than not he would been drafted in the second round of next month’s draft.

Mykhailiuk’s situation is certainly a unique one for college basketball as the Ukraine native enrolled at Kansas in 2014 just after his 17th birthday. He won’t turn 20 until next month, making him the same age as many sophomores and more likely to be viewed by NBA teams in the future as having upside, rather than a typical 22- or 23-year-old senior who scouts look at as having come close to reaching their ceiling.

Mykhailiuk wasn’t going to be the linchpin of Kansas’ success next season, but his decision to return shouldn’t be underestimated. His size, experience, skill and versatility provide the Jayhawks with a real weapon that will help alleviate pressure and expectations from other players up and down the roster. He’s very much a difference-maker for a team that will be contending for a spot in the Final Four.

Caleb Swanigan to stay in NBA draft

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Caleb Swanigan is leaving Purdue and staying in the NBA draft.

The Boilermaker big man held as much sway on the college basketball landscape with his decision as nearly any player who declared for the draft without an agent. After a season in which he became a double-double machine and averaged 18.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game, Swanigan would have been one of – if not the – favorites for National Player of the Year while also making Purdue right at the top of the Big Ten with Michigan State.

Instead, he’ll end his collegiate career after a pair of seasons and one Sweet 16 appearance in West Lafayette. As a professional prospect, Swanigan is an interesting case. He was as productive of player as college basketball has seen in recent years as a sophomore, putting up 20-20 games with ridiculous consistency. He’s got some range, but limited quickness and athleticism. The question will be how his game – and frame – will translate into the new NBA that prioritizes versatility, shooting and athleticism. Right now, not many have him pegged as a sure-fire first-round pick.

The loss for Purdue is hard to overstate given just how good “Biggie” was. There’s just no replacing that type of production in the lineup. Still, Matt Painter and the Boilermakers still have an intriguing group, with Isaac Haas and Vince Edwards both electing to return to school after dipping their toes in the NBA waters. There’s some other intriguing young pieces there that will keep Purdue interesting in the Big Ten race.

Florida State picks up late commit from McDonald’s All-American

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The losses sustained by Florida State have been numerous and significant. Three players declared early for the NBA Draft. Another two contributors were lost to graduation. All in all, the Seminoles haven’t had the greatest of springs.

Wednesday, though, they got some good news.

McDonald’s All-American wing M.J. Walker committed Leonard Hamilton’s program to give Florida State a late, and important, addition to its 2017 recruiting class, beating the likes of Ohio State, Georgia Tech and UCLA.

Walker, a 6-foot-5 guard, gives the Seminoles yet another five-star prospect after landing Dwayne Bacon and Jonathan Isaac in the last two recruiting classes. Walker will help Hamilton and Co. reboot after both Bacon and Isaac, along with Xavier Rathan-Mayes, all left school to pursue professional careers after the Seminoles’ 26-9 season that saw them advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Walker becomes the sixth member of Hamilton’s 2017 recruiting class that was previously headlined by four-star 7-footer Ikechukwu Obiagu. That group will be tasked to retool a team losing not only major NBA-level talent, but also major production. The Seminoles won’t return a single player who averaged double-digit points per-game last year and just one who played at least 20 minutes per night.