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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

Auburn junior guard Kareem Canty to turn pro

Auburn guard Kareem Canty (1) screams in pain after being fouled during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016, in Auburn, Ala. Auburn won 75-70.  (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
AP Photo/Brynn Anderson
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Auburn junior point guard Kareem Canty, the team’s leader in both points and assists, has missed the Tigers’ last two games as a result of a suspension handed down by head coach Bruce Pearl for a violation of team rules. Thursday night Canty announced via Twitter that he will be turning pro, ending his Auburn career with less than one full season of play.

In 21 games this season Canty averaged 18.3 points and 5.3 assists per contest, shooting 40.1 percent from the field and 36.1 percent from three. Given Auburn’s lack of perimeter depth Canty had ample opportunities to score from the point guard position, but he struggled in the four games following standout performances in wins over Kentucky and Alabama.

Auburn’s lost six straight since beating the Crimson Tide, most recently falling 71-45 at Tennessee Tuesday night. Without Canty, Bruce Pearl called upon TJ Lang and Bryce Brown as the perimeter starters in that game with Patrick Keim and New Williams playing a combined 33 minutes off the bench. They’ll continue to see those minutes moving forward.

As for next season, Auburn brings in four-star point guard Jared Harper and currently injured point guard Tahj Shamsid-Deen will be available as well.

Canty began his college career at Marshall, playing the 2013-14 season for the Thundering Herd before deciding to transfer. Canty committed to Auburn in mid-April of 2014, only to change his mind in favor of USF before making the switch back to Auburn.

Canty’s name wasn’t showing up in early draft projections, and making this decision while in the midst of a suspension likely won’t help matters when it comes to getting selected.

BUBBLE BANTER: All of tonight’s bubbly action in one place

Fran Dunphy
(AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)
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This post will be updated as the games are completed.

You know what’s not going to be fun on Selection Sunday?

Trying to evaluate the profile that Temple (KenPom: 95, RPI: 69) eventually puts together.

The Owls are currently sitting tied for first place in the American at 9-3. They’ve swept UConn after coming from down 12 to beat the Huskies in Philly on Thursday. They’ve swept Cincinnati. They handed SMU their first loss of the season. They beat Tulsa. That’s four top 50 and six top 100 wins, which are good numbers in comparison to other bubble teams.

The problem?

They also lost at Memphis (yuck) and East Carolina (double yuck), have a non-conference strength of schedule that sits right around 200, lost to every good team they played out of conference and have thus far managed just six top 150 wins this season. The other issue? They’ve basically run out of quality opponents in the league. They do play at Tulsa (RPI: 50) and Houston (RPI: 91), which are basically must-wins at this point, and since every other opponent they play in the American has a sub-100 RPI, those are essentially can’t-lose games.

What that leaves us is the Villanova game. That will be played next week, and that’s as close to a must-win as you can get in mid-February.

WINNERS

  • Syracuse (KenPom: 39, RPI: 44): Syracuse landed their sixth top 50 win and eighth top 100 win of the season on Thursday. They also got word that the selection committee will factor in that Jim Boeheim missed time for the Orange. It may be time to take them off of this list, at least for the time being.

LOSERS

  • UConn (KenPom: 19, RPI: 46): On paper, UConn’s loss at Temple on Thursday isn’t all that bad. It’s a road loss to a top 100 opponent. Those happen in league play. Where it hurts is that the Owls have now not only swept UConn, but they did it by erasing a 12-point lead in the final five minutes. The Huskies fall to just 5-7 against the top 100 with just one top 50 win, albeit at Texas. With no bad losses and two shots left against SMU, UConn is still in decent shape.
  • Florida State (KenPom: 37, RPI: 38): The Seminoles missed a shot at landing a nice road win at Syracuse on Thursday. It doesn’t hurt their profile, and with three top 25, another top 50 and a top 100 opponent left on their schedule, there are still chances to play their way onto the bubble. The problem? All those games are losable as well.
  • VCU (KenPom: 32, RPI: 40): The Rams were on the wrong end of a brutal loss to UMass on Thursday night. It’s not the kind of loss that is going to eliminate VCU from the bubble conversation — not by any stretch — but one of the strengths of VCU’s résumé was that they didn’t have any bad losses to speak of. Now they have a loss to a sub-150 team. Their next four games are all potential landmines as well. Will Wade’s club would do well to avoid losing any of those four.

Games left to be played.

Arkansas-Little Rock (KenPom: 41, RPI: 63) at Louisiana Monroe, 8:00 p.m.
Northern Kentucky at Valparaiso (KenPom: 22, RPI: 48), 8:00 p.m.
No. 4 Iowa at Indiana (KenPom: 24, RPI: 51), 9:00 p.m.
No. 11 Oregon at Cal (KenPom: 44, RPI: 32), 9:00 p.m.
Washington State at Colorado (KenPom: 56, RPI: 29), 11:00 p.m.
Gonzaga (KenPom: 33, RPI: 66) at Portland, 11:00 p.m.
Pepperdine at Saint Mary’s (KenPom: 26, RPI: 52), 11:00 p.m.
Oregon State (KenPom: 81, RPI: 31) at Stanford (KenPom: 104, RPI: 71), 11:00 p.m.