After three incredibly lean seasons, the Pac-12 has looked more formidable for much of the 2013-14 season. For some that may not be easy to see, as there’s just one conference team (No. 4 Arizona) ranked in the national polls. But the conference has improved, as evidenced by just how much is on the line in Las Vegas. The top three seeds, Arizona, UCLA and Arizona State, will certainly hear their names called on Selection Sunday and Oregon’s well on its way after knocking off the Wildcats last Saturday.
The question that will be asked quite often at the MGM Grand Garden Arena: how much work do the Pac-12 bubble teams have to do in order to ensure themselves of a spot in the NCAA tournament? Fans of California, Colorado and Stanford will ask this question, and it’s anyone guess what the right answer is. And they won’t be alone in this mission, as Utah can earn another shot at Arizona with a win over Washington in the first round. Larry Krystkowiak’s team reached the semifinals of last year’s event and played the Wildcats tough in both meetings, but thanks to their non-conference strength of schedule the Utes have the steepest climb of the Pac-12’s bubble teams.
Outside of Arizona, which will be a one-seed in the NCAA tournament, there’s a lot to be decided in Las Vegas. And even though these teams aren’t in the at-large discussion, both Washington (C.J. Wilcox) and Oregon State (Roberto Nelson) have guards capable of getting scalding hot from the field. Instead of hoping to get two or three teams into the NCAA tournament field as they have in recent years, the Pac-12 finds itself working to get (at least) half of its teams into the Big Dance. And that will make for an incredible four days at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Sean Miller’s team finished three games ahead of the pack, and their defense was a big reason why. The nation’s best defense from an efficiency standpoint, Arizona limited conference foes to 39.5% shooting from the field and 33.0% shooting from beyond the arc. Simply put there are times when the Wildcats simply decide that the opponent isn’t scoring, no matter how hard they try. With their length, athleticism and effort, Arizona’s controlled multiple games in which they haven’t put up eye-popping offensive numbers.
As for that offense, this was the area in which Arizona had the biggest adjustment to make in the aftermath of Brandon Ashley’s season-ending injury but they were still third in the conference in offensive efficiency. T.J. McConnell has been a great fit at the point, combining with Pac-12 Player of the Year Nick Johnson to form one of the nation’s best perimeter tandems. Aaron Gordon and Kaleb Tarczewski lead the way in the front court, and Arizona’s ability to hit the offensive glass (35.1% offensive rebounding percentage) factored into their efficiency rating. If Johnson and Gabe York can hit perimeter shots at a decent clip, look out.
And if they lose?: Oregon
Shocked to see the 7-seed in this spot, huh? Well, that position on the bracket says more about Oregon’s 3-8 start to conference play than their current seven-game win streak. Dana Altman seems to have a perimeter rotation he’s comfortable with, as Johnathan Loyd, Joseph Young and Jason Calliste have emerged as the primary options. In the front court Elgin Cook’s earned more playing time and Mike Moser’s playing his best basketball of the season. They’ll have to win four games in as many days to repeat as tournament champions, but given the way Oregon’s playing right now it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Ducks pulled it off.
UCLA: With first team All-Pac-12 selections Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson being the headlines, Steve Alford has more than enough perimeter talent to win this event. The question is the front court, with the Wear twins (David and Travis) and Tony Parker needing to be consistent on both ends. This trio doesn’t have to be world-beaters, but UCLA can’t afford to have all three struggling if they’re to win the title.
Arizona State: Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Jordan Bachynski and first team All-Pac-12 guard Jahii Carson have led the way all season long for the Sun Devils, who are the three-seed in the tournament. And if Jermaine Marshall and Shaquielle McKissic can continue to give Herb Sendek quality minutes, Arizona State can win three straight games.
The Golden Bears lost three straight before beating Colorado in overtime on Saturday, providing Mike Montgomery’s team with a much-needed confidence boost before the conference tournament. Justin Cobbs will lead the way, and if their young guards (Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews) can be productive in supplementary roles, Cal will be a team to keep an eye on.
Deeper Sleeper: Colorado
Tad Boyle’s Buffaloes had some major adjustments to make when Spencer Dinwiddie was lost for the season with a torn ACL in January. The two players who have stepped up the most in his absence are guard Askia Booker and forward Josh Scott, with the latter earning first-team All-Pac-12 honors. If Xavier Johnson can consistently produce on the offensive end, Colorado can make some noise in Vegas.
Studs you haven’t heard about:
Josh Huestis, Stanford: Dwight Powell was the first team All-Pac-12 selection but it’s the versatile Huestis who is one of the league’s best defenders.
Delon Wright, Utah: Wright is one of the most versatile players around, as he led the Utes in points and assists and is second on the team in rebounds.
DaVonte’ Lacy, Washington State: The Cougars’ lack of team success is one reason why Lacy doesn’t receive more attention. He’s averaging 19.1 points and 4.3 rebounds per game.
Roberto Nelson, Oregon State: A first team All-Pac-12 performer, Nelson’s scoring a conference-best 20.6 points per game along with 3.7 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game.
CBT Prediction: No. 4 Arizona wins its first conference tournament title since 2002.
Best Pac-10/12 Tournament Memory: Isaiah Thomas + Gus Johnson = Magic (2011)
Transfers have become a controversial topic in college basketball, with a record number of players seeking new teams every offseason. Graduate transfers and the more traditional variety that forces players to sit a season before playing are now both a huge part of roster construction and many of the best programs in the country are turning to transfers every offseason to help give them a boost.
With so many new faces in new places, here’s a look at some impact players that will be playing for a new program this season. Some of these players are good enough to make our NBCSports.com Preseason All-American Team while others could be that extra spark off the bench that comes up big in March.
1. Austin Nichols, Virginia (via Memphis): The Cavaliers are trying to replace Mike Tobey and Anthony Gill and getting Nichols is going to be huge in that equation. After sitting out a season, Nichols will be asked to anchor Virginia’s famous pack-line defense and he’ll be equipped to do so after being third in the nation in blocks (3.4 a game) as a sophomore at Memphis. But Nichols can also score and rebound and he could be in for a monster season. NBCSports.com has faith that Nichols will be a huge impact for the ‘Hoos as he sits as a second-team Preseason All-American.
2. Nigel Williams-Goss, Jonathan Williams and Jordan Mathews, Gonzaga(via Washington, Missouri and Cal): Gonzaga utilized transfers as well as any team in the country to help build its roster this season as they get Williams-Goss and Williams coming off of a season of sitting out while Mathews can come in and provide another perimeter scorer right away. Williams should be a frontcourt impact for the Zags, but it’s Williams-Goss and his all-around efforts at lead guard that could net him All-American honors with a strong season. All three are hoping to lift Gonzaga to its first ever Final Four.
3. Marcus Foster, Creighton (via Kansas State): We saw two different versions of Marcus Foster during his two seasons at Kansas State and the Bluejays are hoping for the version that tore up the Big 12 as one of the premier freshmen in the country. After sitting out last season, Foster will be paired with talented point guard Mo Watson Jr. to form one of the nation’s best backcourts. Good luck defending both of these guys if they get rolling. Also with the potential to be a great defender, Foster could be an All-Big East selection if he returns to his freshman form.
4. Kyle Washington, Cincinnati (via N.C. State): With a lot of starts under his belt in the ACC, Washington should make an immediate impact for the Bearcats in replacing Octavius Ellis. With two more years of eligibility, Washington could be a huge boost to Cincinnati’s interior efforts as he can protect the rim a bit while also rebounding and scoring in the post. This summer among the college counselors at the Under Armour All-American Camp, Washington was one of the better players on the floor, so it’ll be interesting to see if that translates to success at his new school.
5. Andrew White, Syracuse (via Nebraska): One of the latest to commit as a graduate transfer this offseason, White gives the Orange a proven wing scorer who should be able to step in and help offset some of the loss of Malachi Richardson and Michael Gbinije. White isn’t the playmaker that Gbinije was, but he gives Jim Boeheim’s offense a double-figure scorer who could be valuable near the end of a possession if they’re looking for something from the perimeter.
6. Manu Lecomte, Baylor (via Miami): The Bears get a perimeter threat in Lecomte as he shot 45.8 percent from three-point range as a sophomore. Potentially taking the reigns at lead guard, Lecomte could be one of Baylor’s most important players this season.
7. Cullen Neal and Deandre Burnett, Ole Miss (via New Mexico and Miami): Playing for his father at New Mexico didn’t work out and Neal’s three-point ability should fit in nicely in Ole Miss’ free-flowing offense. Burnett has a chance to be a major contributor as a scorer to help offset the loss of Stefan Moody.
8. Josh Newkirk, Indiana(via Pittsburgh): With the loss of point guard Yogi Ferrell, Newkirk gives Indiana an experienced guard who can really push the pace in Tom Crean’s uptempo system.
9. Shaqquan Aaron, USC(via Louisville): There is no doubting the talent of the former top-50 prospect, but Aaron hasn’t played a full season in nearly two years. It will be interesting to see if he’s ready to start on the wing for a USC team that lost a lot of talented players.
10. Josh Cunningham, Dayton (via Bradley): The former four-star prospect could be a major contributor to the Flyers as he rebounds well and can also play multiple spots in the frontcourt thanks to some versatility.
11. Eric Paschall, Villanova(via Fordham): The former A-10 Rookie of the Year gives the defending national champs another talented forward this season as he’s a capable scorer who can also provide some help on the glass.
12. RaShid Gaston, Xavier (via Norfolk State): After sitting out a season, Gaston should help fill some of the production after James Farr and Jalen Reynolds both departed. Gaston averaged 15.5 points and 9.6 rebounds per game two seasons ago and could see major minutes.
MORE NAMES TO KNOW
Spike Albrecht, Purdue(via Michigan): Health will be the major question for the former Michigan point guard — as he’s coming off of dual hip surgeries that all but eliminated his final season at Michigan — but he could provide Purdue with a steady lead guard that they’ve been craving.
Sedrick Barefield and David Collette, Utah (via SMU, Utah State): Another program experiencing a lot of roster turnover, the Utes could ask for major minutes from both of these guys when they’re eligible after first semester. Barefield could be a ball handler who helps Lorenzo Bonam in the backcourt while Collette is more proven than most on the roster in the frontcourt.
Canyon Barry, Florida(via Charleston): The son of Rick Barry gives the Gators an additional scorer as he had at least 20 points in seven of 13 games last season. You should also keep an eye out for Barry’s under-handed free throws, which he took from his father’s game.
Darrell Bowie and Merrill Holden, Iowa State(via Northern Illinois and Louisiana Tech): Continuing in Fred Hoiberg’s tradition of bringing in talented transfers, Steve Prohm brought in two experienced and productive mid-major options who could receive major minutes.
Elijah Bryant and L.J. Rose, BYU(via Elon and Houston): With Dave Rose’s love of three-guard lineups, expect plenty of minutes from these two this season. Bryant was a major contributor for Elon as a freshman (14.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg) while Rose is an experienced guard who can play multiple spots.
Jordan Caroline, Leland King and Marcus Marshall, Nevada (via Southern Illinois, Brown and Missouri State). Head coach Eric Musselman took three talented transfers who are now eligible as King and Marshall are proven double-digit scorers and Caroline is a productive forward who can score and rebound.
Corban Collins and Nick King, Alabama(via Morehead State and Memphis): Returning to the SEC after starting his career at LSU, Collins could start at point guard for the Crimson Tide after making second-team All-OVC honors last season. King is a former top-100 prospect who can fill it up from the perimeter when he’s feeling it.
Junior Etou, Tulsa(via Rutgers): Tulsa’s roster is loaded with newcomers and the forward will be expected to contribute right away after showing solid production at Rutgers.
Shannon Evans, Arizona State (via Buffalo): Bobby Hurley gets his former Buffalo guard in the fold this season and Evans could start alongside Tra Holder to form a two-point guard lineup. Evans is a former second-team All-MAC selection who helped the Bulls to the NCAA tournament with Hurley as coach.
Davonte Fitzgerald, Reggie Lynch and Akeem Springs, Minnesota(via Texas A&M, Illinois State, Milwaukee): All three of these transfers have a chance for big minutes at Minnesota. Fitzgerald is a versatile wing, Lynch is a major shot blocker and rebounder down low and Springs is a double-figure scorer who is physical enough to handle the Big Ten.
Anton Gill, Nebraska(via Louisville): Tim Miles has done a great job with transfer guards and Gill is hoping to play a larger role after his time at Louisville. While sitting out last season, Gill proved in practice that he could be a major scorer for the Huskers this season.
L.G. Gill, Maryland(via Duquesne): Maryland was crushed by roster turnover and Gill gives them an experienced forward who can step in and provide some production on the glass and scoring inside.
Montaque Gill-Caesar, San DiegoState (via Missouri): Showing some promise at Mizzou, this former four-star recruit gives the Aztecs more lineup flexibility as he could force Steve Fisher to play more three-guard lineups. Gill-Caesar gives San Diego State a nice matchup problem.
John Gillon, Syracuse(via Colorado State): A tempo-pushing guard who can score, Gillon will be asked to help run some point for the Orange, but he’s most comfortable playing in attack mode and finding his own offense.
J.C. Hampton, Texas A&M (via Lipscomb): Texas A&M lost Anthony Collins and Alex Caruso and freshman J.J. Caldwell is ineligible this season so Hampton becomes a huge addition after earning All-Atlantic Sun honors last season. Hampton will push for minutes at point guard after putting up 15.4 ppg last season.
Tony Hicks, Louisville (via Penn): Louisville was successful with transfers last season and they’re hoping Hicks can be another boost. Although not as talented as Damion Lee and Trey Lewis, Hicks is a proven scorer who should be a key role player.
Que Johnson, Junior Lomomba, Pancake Thomas, Western Kentucky (via Washington State, Providence, Hartford): New head coach Rick Stansbury aggressively hit the transfer market and came away with two double-figure scorers in Johnson and Thomas and a rugged and experienced defender in Lomomba.
Christian Kessee, Memphis(via Coppin State): Memphis is looking for any kind of help they can find in the backcourt and Kessee averaged 14.6 points and shot 39.5 percent from three-point range last season. He should provide a floor spacer and could start at either guard spot.
Terry Larrier, UConn(via VCU): A talented and versatile wing forward, Larrier should be a nice frontcourt addition to the Huskies that gives them a scoring boost as he has a lot of upside to be a major contributor the next few seasons.
Anthony Livingston, Texas Tech(via Arkansas State): Chris Beard did a great job with transfers at Little Rock and Livingston gives the Red Raiders a talented offensive threat after he put up 15.5 points and 9.4 rebounds last season.
Shelton Mitchell, Marquise Reed and Elijah Thomas, Clemson(via Wake Forest, Robert Morris, Texas A&M): Clemson’s backcourt was shaky last season and Mitchell and Reed — the former NEC Rookie of the Year — should help. Thomas is eligible after first semester and he’ll give the Tigers a potential post scoring threat who can rebound.
Semi Ojeleye, SMU (via Duke): Never a huge part of the rotation at Duke, this former four-star forward could be asked to play a huge role in SMU’s frontcourt as Ojeleye will help replace Markus Kennedy and Jordan Tolbert.
Rodney Pryor, Georgetown(via Robert Morris): One of the most productive low-major players in the country the last few seasons, Pryor gets to see how he fares in the Big East after putting up 18 points and 8 rebounds per game last season.
Katin Reinhardt and Andrew Rowsey, Marquette(via USC and UNC Asheville): Marquette struggled to hit perimeter shots last season and they’re hoping this duo provides them a major lift in that department. Reinhardt is a former top-100 prospect while Rowsey put up 19.7 points per game in two seasons at Asheville.
Alex Robinson, TCU (via Texas A&M): Jamie Dixon could count on this former four-star prospect to be a primary ball handler early as Robinson gives the Horned Frogs a steady lead guard to play with talented freshman Jaylen Fisher.
Stanford Robinson, Rhode Island(via Indiana): Things didn’t work out for the former top-100 prospect at Indiana but Robinson provides a valuable rotation piece for the Rams who play multiple spots on the floor. With star E.C. Matthews coming off an ACL injury, Robinson is huge from a depth perspective.
Kethan Savage, Butler (via George Washington): The athletic guard averaged double figures during his two seasons in D.C. but he’s coming off of shoulder surgery. Along with Memphis grad transfer Avery Woodson, Savage should help fill in for Roosevelt Jones.
Jaren Sina, George Washington (via Seton Hall): With plenty of Big East experience under his belt, Sina should help the Colonials as a playmaking guard who can score or distribute. If Sina’s perimeter shot becomes more consistent he could be a really nice pickup.
LaRon Smith, Auburn (via Bethune-Cookman): The addition of Smith boosts the Auburn frontcourt as he was sixth in the nation with 96 blocked shots last season. With talented forward Horace Spencer frequently getting in foul trouble, Smith could see a lot of minutes and might even be a starter.
Geno Thorpe, South Florida(via Penn State): Thorpe showed some scoring punch at Penn State and he gives the Bulls another perimeter weapon to help draw attention away from AAC All-Rookie selection Jahmal McMurray.
Keyshawn Woods, Wake Forest (via Charlotte): The Demon Deacons will get a perimeter boost with the addition of Woods as he shot 46.6 percent from three-point range as a freshman with the 49ers. Woods could start immediately this season.
2016-17 Season Preview: Programs on the Rise, Decline
Almost every program in the country begins the season with optimism and an idea of how the season might break their way, but the reality is that only some schools are destined to meet or exceed expectations and others are fated to fail to reach their goals.
Here’s a look at where we see 10 programs headed in the future, five that are on the rise and five that may never reach their peak again.
Virginia Tech: It hasn’t been the smoothest transition for Buzz Williams in Blacksburg, but it looks as though the Hokies are now ready to take the next step forward. They’re returning the bulk of last year’s team — namely Seth Allen and Zach LeDay — that went 10-8 in the ACC, won its last five regular-season games and knocked off Florida State in the conference tournament. They also picked off a pair of top ten teams during the year in Miami and North Carolina. No one can motivate a group of players that feel disrespected for being overlooked the way that Buzz can, and that’s what he has this year.
Memphis: I don’t think anyone is expecting Tubby Smith to add to his national championship count with the Tigers, but Smith proved at Texas Tech that he’s still capable of winning more than 40 years into his career. He got the Red Raiders into the NCAA tournament, and the job in Lubbock is significantly more difficult than it is in Memphis, albeit with lower expectations. Still, expect Smith to consistently get the Tigers into the Dance and out of the malaise of the last few years of the Josh Pastner era. His public reputation is negative — part of the fallout from his split with Kentucky a decade ago — but Smith has outperformed expectations at every job that he has had throughout his career.
TCU: The Horned Frogs are dumping money into hoops to climb out of the Big 12 cellar, and early returns suggest its working. They upgraded their facilities in a big way with a $72-million arena renovation and, more importantly, went and got alum Jamie Dixon to leave a stagnant – yet successful – situation at Pitt. Dixon is a proven winner and already is pulling in four-star recruits. The dividends may not be paid in full this season, but the Frogs are on the come up in a big way.
Western Kentucky: The Hilltoppers have had plenty of success in their history, but it appears that first-year coach Rick Stansbury is setting things up for a major upgrade. First, he brought one-time Texas A&M Class of 2017 five-star commit Mitchell Robinson over with him and then added top-60, four-star guard Josh Anderson. There’s not a program in C-USA that can even come close to matching that kind of talent. And while the future is incredibly bright, he’s also added a number of transfers — including Providence’s Junior Lomomba and Washington State’s Que Johnson, both of whom are eligible this season — to bolster the roster this season.
Rhode Island: Last year was supposed to be a breakthrough for the Rams, but the torn ACL of E.C. Matthews derailed those dreams and stuck Rhode Island in mediocrity. Given Matthews’ talent and an almost bonus year of experience from the rest of the roster, things seem to be coalescing for Rhode Island to have a memorable – if not better – season under Dan Hurley. Their back court (Matthews, Jarvis Garrett, Jared Terrell, Stanford Robinson) is one of the best in the country.
PROGRAMS ON THE DECLINE
UNLV: It’s not like the Runnin’ Rebels were exactly killing it under Dave Rice, but they were recruiting at a level new coach Marvin Menzies isn’t likely to match. Also, the process for replacing Rice shined a light on how coaches see the UNLV job and the situation at the school. The Rick Pitino rumors never materialized and then they couldn’t pry Mick Cronin from Cincinnati before agreeing to terms with first-year Arkansas-Little Rock coach Chris Beard, whose contract wasn’t approved until two weeks later after a contentious Board of Regents vote. Then Beard bounced for Texas Tech just a couple weeks later, leaving the Rebs with Menzies and a roster that had just two scholarship players on it. The rebuild won’t be impossible, but it will take some time.
Georgetown: After four-straight seasons of being at least a top-six seed in the NCAA tournament, the Hoyas have missed the dance in two of the last three years, finishing below .500 last season for the first time since a 13-15 mark got Craig Esherick fired in 2004. The Hoyas aren’t developing their talent like we’ve seen in the past, and they’re likely to finish in the middle of the Big East pack this season, a couple of red flags that the program isn’t exactly trending upward.
Missouri: This may not even be an accurate spot for the Tigers given they’ve had just 19 wins overall and six in the SEC during Kim Anderson’s first two years in Columbia, but considering Anderson’s 2016 recruiting class didn’t feature a player ranked in the top-200 of 247Sports’ composite rankings and only one returner averaged double-digit scoring last year, rock bottom may still be looming for Missouri.
Stephen F. Austin: This one is almost just by default given the success the Lumberjacks have enjoyed in recent years. Brad Underwood is at Oklahoma State and Thomas Walkup is in the pros, and Stephen F. Austin really can’t improve one what those two accomplished together. One league loss in three years and two Southland Player of the Year awards is basically impossible to match, let alone top. New coach Kyle Keller has a great resume and tons of experience recruiting Texas, but some sort of step back seems inevitable given the heights Underwood brought to the program.
Nebraska: Tim Miles arrived with a lot of enthusiasm four years ago and Nebraska opened a $180-million arena in 2013, but the Huskers have just one NCAA tournament appearance and three losing seasons to show for it. The late grad transfer of Andrew White is a major blow, and Nebraska simply doesn’t have a ton of talent or experience on the roster, nor do they appear to be making any major gains on the recruiting trail. Simply put, Miles is finding out what all his predecessors have – it’s very hard to win in Lincoln.
Vannatta, a junior from Upper Arlington, Ohio, started all 34 games for the Bulldogs last year, averaging 11.5 points and 4.2 rebounds per game while shooting 50.6 percent from the field and 37.8 percent from 3-point range. It looks, though , like he might be working on extending his range.
Northwestern has found a temporary home while its arena undergoes a nine-figure renovation.
The Wildcats will play the 2017-18 season at Allstate Arena, about 15 miles west of Evanston, Ill. in Rosemont, the school announced Tuesday.
“We are excited to partner with Allstate Arena to host Northwestern men’s basketball games during the 2017-18 season while Welsh-Ryan Arena is undergoing its renovation,” Northwestern vice president for athletics and recreation Jim Phillips said in a statement. “The venue has a rich college basketball tradition in the Chicagoland area. I know that our fans will enjoy cheering on our team at Allstate Arena during what will be an exciting season.”
Allstate Arena previously had been home to DePaul, which is moving into its own new building this year. Capacity is around 18,000 for basketball.
Northwestern had its best season under coach Chris Collins last year, going 20-12 overall and 8-10 in the Big Ten.
The renovation to Welsh-Ryan Arena will bring the building – which opened in 1952 and last renovated in 1983 – into the 21st century by replacing wood bleachers, widening concourses, adding concessions, improving arena technology and adding new locker rooms at the cost of at least $110 million.
Construction is slated to begin in spring of 2017 and be completed in the fall of 2018.