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Pac-12 Conference Catchup: Will the league earn six NCAA bids again?

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After some lean years the Pac-12 took some positive steps forward in 2013-14, with regular season champion Arizona leading the charge. Sean Miller’s Wildcats reached the Elite Eight despite losing starting forward Brandon Ashley in early February to a broken bone in his foot, with Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky essentially being the difference between a painful conclusion to the season and a trip to the Final Four.

And while the Wildcats will have to account for the early departures of Pac-12 Player of the Year Nick Johnson and forward Aaron Gordon, with the latter being a likely lottery selection in next month’s NBA Draft, the program has reached the point where it simply reloads on the recruiting trail.

RELATED: Read through all of our Conference Catchups here

Arizona returns the rest of their rotation, including point guard T.J. McConnell and Ashley, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Kaleb Tarczewski in the front court, and they add one of the nation’s best recruiting classes. Stanley Johnson is the obvious headliner, but keep an eye on junior college transfer Kadeem Allen as well. With the combination of returnees, newcomers and coaching staff Arizona will once again be the favorite to win the Pac-12. As for the rest of the conference, the view isn’t as clear thanks to a combination of departures and an off-court scandal at Oregon that led to the dismissal of three players.

UCLA, winners of the conference tournament, lost three perimeter players from last season’s Sweet 16 team (Jordan Adams, Kyle Anderson and Zach LaVine) and with the Wear twins gone as well the Bruins will be young in the front court. But they will be talented, with Kevon Looney and Thomas Welsh being McDonald’s All-Americans, and Isaac Hamilton will help Norman Powell on the perimeter. Joining UCLA in the race to challenge Arizona are programs such as Stanford, Utah and Colorado with the Cardinal coming off of a Sweet 16 appearance.

As for Oregon the return of Joseph Young and the arrival of JaQuan Lyle will help Dana Altman, but you have to wonder how much of an impact this tumultuous spring will have on the program moving forward. Six Pac-12 teams reached the NCAA tournament last season, and the Pac-12 may very well match that number in 2014-15 with Arizona leading the way.

THREE UP

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Utah: When the Utes first joined the Pac-12 they didn’t have the look of a program capable of competing with the league’s best programs. That isn’t the case now thanks to the hard work Larry Krystkowiak had his staff have put in. Jordan Loveridge and Delon Wright are expected to once again lead the way for Utah, which also adds a solid recruiting class that includes forwards Kyle Kuzma (he practiced during the spring semester) and Brekott Chapman. The question for the Utes is how they’ll deal with the expectations, given the fact that they haven’t been in this position as a member of the Pac-12.

Stanford: Last fall the general consensus was that Johnny Dawkins needed to lead the Cardinal to the NCAA tournament in order to remain in Palo Alto. That happened, and after wins over New Mexico and Kansas the question for 2014-15 is what can Stanford do for an encore. Losing Josh Huestis and Dwight Powell in the front court is a big deal, but with Chasson Randle and Anthony Brown leading the way the Cardinal should be an NCAA tournament team again. Stanford brings in one of the conference’s best recruiting classes, led by Reid Travis, and Rosco Allen’s healthy after playing in just one game due to injury. Contender? That’s likely.

USC: Andy Enfield’s first season at USC didn’t go smoothly, with the Trojans winning just two conference games and finishing last in the Pac-12. But what the Trojans have done on the recruiting trail can’t be ignored, with guards Jordan McLaughlin and Elijah Stewart being two of the talented newcomers. USC also adds two transfers in guard Katin Reinhardt (UNLV) and Darion Clark (Charlotte), and the return of rising sophomores Julian Jacobs and Nikola Jovanovic will help as well. The Trojans are unlikely to be an NCAA tournament team given their youth, but the talent level has improved. Conference foes better get their licks in now, because it won’t be so easy in the years to come.

THREE DOWN

Oregon: The Ducks incurred some important personnel losses at the end of the 2013-14 season, with Mike Moser and Jason Calliste both out of eligibility. But there was also the dismissal of Dominic Artis, Damyean Dotson and Brandon Austin, and while there may be some debate with regards to the impact on the court this was a bad way to go into the offseason. The Ducks return high-scoring guard Joseph Young and forward Elgin Cook, but a lot will be asked of their newcomers. JaQuan Lyle and Casey Benson will help on the perimeter, but the interior depth could be a concern. Ray Kasongo will be a key figure in this area. Oregon will still have a shot at reaching the NCAA tournament, but there look to be more questions than answers at this time.

Arizona State: The Sun Devils took the step forward they were expected to in 2013-14, reaching the NCAA tournament with Jahii Carson, Jordan Bachynski and Jermaine Marshall leading the way. Now Herb Sendek’s program will look to build on that, but with one big problem: all three of those players are gone. Contributors Jonathan Gilling and Shaquielle McKissic return, but a lot will be asked of a seven-member recruiting class that boasts four junior college transfers. The most important of those transfers may be point guard Gerry Blakes given the fact that Carson played 35.4 minutes per game in 2013-14.

UCLA: This has more to do with the production UCLA lost than the players they still have, because the Bruins will be good once again. Four of UCLA’s five newcomers (counting Isaac Hamilton) are front court players, and they’ll add depth to an area that at present time has just Tony Parker and Wanaah Bail. Parker’s shown flashes of the skill that made him one of the best players in the 2012 class; the key heading into his junior season is consistency. Hamilton, Bryce Alford and Norman Powell will have to lead the way on the perimeter, and their productivity will be key. UCLA will be in the mix of contenders, but will they be Arizona’s biggest threat? That isn’t as clear-cut as it was in 2013-14.

FIVE NEW FACES

Stanley Johnson, Arizona: Of the five players Arizona’s added to the program (not counting Boston College transfer Ryan Anderson) it’s Johnson who’s expected to have the biggest impact. He’s a physical wing who can score from anywhere on the floor, and the Mater Dei product will likely slide into the hole left by the departure of Nick Johnson. Stanley’s a tenacious competitor as well, so he’ll be a valuable asset to Sean Miller’s program. If Johnson produces at the level he’s capable of, he can help Arizona at the very least reach the Final Four.

Kevon Looney, UCLA: UCLA’s adding some very good front court players (Thomas Welsh and Jonah Bolden both being four-star prospects) but Looney’s the best of the bunch. The Milwaukee native averaged 27.9 points, 12.7 rebounds and 8.0 blocks per game at Hamilton HS, and he’ll have every opportunity to earn a starring role in the paint for UCLA. The good news for Steve Alford and his staff: Looney’s talented enough to do so, and better yet he brings the consistent effort that’s expected of an elite prospect.

JaQuan Lyle, Oregon: Lyle’s recruitment was an interesting one, with his at one point in time being a verbal commitment to attend Louisville. His final choice of Oregon is a big deal for the Ducks, who lost both Johnathan Loyd and Jason Calliste from their backcourt, not to mention Damyean Dotson and Dominic Artis. Joseph Young’s going to need help, and the talented Lyle is capable of providing that assistance. Lyle played at Huntington Prep last year, and his size (6-foot-5) makes for a tough matchup for many opponents.

Cuonzo Martin, California: Martin’s one of three new head coaches in the Pac-12, with Ernie Kent (Washington State) and Wayne Tinkle (Oregon State) being the others. And of the three Martin’s the one with the roster best equipped to make a run at finishing in the top half of the Pac-12 in 2014-15. Jabari Bird, David Kravish, Jordan Mathews and Tyrone Wallace all return for Cal, who will have to account for the losses of point guard Justin Cobbs and center Richard Solomon. And Martin made a big addition to his coaching staff, hiring Yanni Hufnagel as one of his assistants and that will help with the program’s recruiting efforts.

Jernard Jarreau, Washington: Jarreau’s obviously played in the Pac-12, as he saw action in 31 games in 2012-13. But thanks to a torn ACL the New Orleans native played in just one game last season, and his absence was a big deal for a team that lacked front court depth. Jarreau’s return will be big for the Huskies, especially when taking into consideration the graduation of both guard C.J. Wilcox and forward Perris Blackwell. Fresno State transfer Robert Upshaw will be key as well, but Jarreau was a player expected to be a quality member of the rotation before getting hurt.

Way Too Early Power Rankings

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

Prosecutors detail allegations against Creighton’s Watson

OMAHA, NE - JANUARY 21: Maurice Watson Jr. #10 of the Creighton Bluejays receives and ovation before their game against the Marquette Golden Eagles at CenturyLink Center on January 21, 2017 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
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Former Creighton star Maurice Watson appeared in front of a Douglas County judge Monday after turning himself into authorities Sunday following the issuance of a warrant for his arrest Thursday on the charge of first-degree sexual assault.

Watson’s bail was set at $750,000, which he would have to produce 10 percent of to be released from jail.

Prosecutors also detailed some of the allegations against Watson from the night of Feb. 3, when a 19-year-old woman alleges he raped her. Graphic details of the prosecution’s allegations can found here.

Watson’s attorneys said he denies the allegations.

Creighton said Sunday that Watson is barred from campus and not enrolled as a student, according to the Omaha World-Herald.  The Bluejays announced last week that Watson, who has been sidelined since tearing his ACL last month, had been suspended.

Coaches Poll: Gonzaga drops to fourth

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Gonzaga feel from first to fourth in the latest Coaches Poll after suffering its first loss of the season over the weekend.

Kansas moves into the top spot with UCLA and Villanova tied at No. 2.

The Bulldogs lost 79-71 to BYU at home after winning the first 29 games of the season.

The Jayhawks have won six-straight heading into Monday’s tilt with Oklahoma.

Here’s the full poll:

1. Kansas (23)

2. UCLA (3)

2. Villanova (5)

4. Gonzaga (1)

5. North Carolina

6. Oregon

7. Louisville

8. Arizona

9. Kentucky

10. West Virginia

11. Baylor

12. Florida

13. Notre Dame

14. Duke

15. Butler

16. Purdue

17. Florida State

18. Saint Mary’s

19. SMU

20. Cincinnati

21. Wisconsin

22. Wichita State

23. Virginia

24. Iowa State

25. Miami

AP Poll: Kansas moves to No. 1, Villanova 2nd, UCLA 3rd

LAWRENCE, KS - JANUARY 14:  Josh Jackson #11 of the Kansas Jayhawks reacts after a foul during the game against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at Allen Fieldhouse on January 14, 2017 in Lawrence, Kansas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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Kansas is the new No. 1 in The Associated Press college basketball poll.

The Jayhawks (26-3) moved up two places to the top spot, receiving 58 first-place votes Monday from the 65-member national media panel.

Kansas is the sixth school to be No. 1 this season. The Jayhawks were on top last season for five weeks, including the final three polls of the season.

Villanova (27-3) remained second despite losing to Butler last week. The Wildcats were No. 1 on two ballots. UCLA (26-3), which was No. 1 on three ballots, moved up from fifth to third after its win over Arizona on Saturday.

Gonzaga (29-1) fell to fourth after losing its first game of the season, an upset by BYU on Saturday. The Zags, who had been No. 1 for the last four polls, received two first-place votes.

North Carolina moved from eighth to fifth and was followed by Oregon, Arizona, Louisville, Kentucky and West Virginia.

Here’s the full top 25″

  1. Kansas (58)
  2. Villanova (2)
  3. UCLA (3)
  4. Gonzaga (2)
  5. North Carolina
  6. Oregon
  7. Arizona
  8. Louisville
  9. Kentucky
  10. West Virginia
  11. Baylor
  12. Florida
  13. Butler
  14. SMU
  15. Florida State
  16. Purdue
  17. Duke
  18. Cincinnati
  19. Notre Dame
  20. St. Mary’s
  21. Wichita State
  22. Wisconsin
  23. Virginia
  24. Iowa State
  25. Miami

NBC announces the launch of TOMBOY, a documentary project on gender in sports

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Earlier this month, NBC announced the launch of TOMBOY, a multi-platform documentary project that aims to elevate the conversation about gender in sports told through the voices of many of the world’s most prominent female athletes, broadcasters and sports executives. The first-of-its-kind integrated initiative culminates with a special one-hour documentary, also titled TOMBOY, which will air across all NBC Sports Regional Networks, nationally distributed NBCSN, and select NBC Owned Television Stations in March.

You can view the trailer for the project above, and browse through the myriad of pieces that have already been released over the course of the last two weeks here.

“We are excited to share the stories of some of the most remarkable female athletes in the world,” said Ted Griggs, President, Group and Strategic Production & Programming Leader for NBC Sports Regional Networks. “TOMBOY aims to elevate, invigorate and inspire the conversation about gender in sports, and we’re proud to create a platform for open, candid discussion featuring a variety of perspectives.”

Bracketology: Gonzaga holds on to No. 1 Seed

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 9: #5 Nigel Williams-Goss of the Gonzaga Bulldogs drives past #10 Brandon Brown and #15 Stefan Jovanovic of the Loyola Marymount Lions, on his way to the basket at Gersten Pavilion on February 9, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images)
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Yes, Gonzaga lost a home game to BYU.  Although somewhat surprising, it doesn’t yet knock the once-beaten Bulldogs from their No. 1 Seed in the West Region.  What it does do, however, is open to door for the Pac-12 champion (or someone else) to overtake the Zags,  especially if they slip again in the West Coast Conference tournament.  As an example … should Oregon win out and claim the Pac-12 tournament, the Committee would have to determine the hierarchy between the Ducks and the Zags.

Championship Week is upon us.  The next two weeks are important for both the top and bottom of the bracket.

Bubble Notes:

By sheer volume, the number of teams in play for at-large berths with double-digit losses is quite rare.  Thus, the math for several bubble teams is becoming increasingly tough to manage.  On the flip side, it’s potentially good news for teams like Wichita State, Illinois State, and Middle Tennessee State should they fall a game short in their conference tournaments.  We’ll just have to see where we stand on selection weekend.

UPDATED:  February 27, 2017

Regarding bracketing principles, can read them for yourself at http://www.ncaa.com. For example: teams from the same conference may now meet before a Regional final, even if fewer than eight teams are selected. The goal is to keep as many teams as possible on their actual seed line.

RELATED: Player of the Week | Team of the Week | Takeaways | Top 25

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FIRST FOUR PAIRINGS – Dayton (First Round)

  • Seton Hall vs. USC | South Region
  • Rhode Island vs. California Midwest Region
  • MT. ST. MARY’S vs. NC-CENTRAL | East Region
  • UC-IRVINE vs. NEW ORLEANS | Midwest Region

BRACKET PROJECTION …

MIDWEST – Kansas City            EAST New York 
Tulsa Buffalo
1) KANSAS 1) VILLANOVA
16) NEW ORLEANS / UC-IRVINE 16) NC CENTRAL / MT ST. MARY’S
8) South Carolina 8) DAYTON
9) Northwestern 9) Michigan State
Milwaukee Orlando
5) Virginia 5) Notre Dame
12) ILLINOIS STATE 12) NC-WILMINGTON
4) PURDUE 4) Florida
13) VALPARAISO 13) MONMOUTH
Orlando Tulsa
6) Wisconsin 6) SMU
11) California / Rhode Island 11) Syracuse
3) Florida State 3) Baylor
14) EAST TENNESSEE ST 14) WINTHROP
Salt Lake City Indianapolis
7) Creighton 7) Maryland
10) Wichita State 10) Xavier
2) Arizona 2) Louisville
15) SOUTH DAKOTA 15) FLA GULF COAST
WEST – San Jose SOUTH – Memphis
Salt Lake City Greenville
1) GONZAGA 1) NORTH CAROLINA
16) NORTH DAKOTA 16) TX-SOUTHERN
8) Virginia Tech 8) Michigan 
9) VCU 9) Arkansas
Greenville Buffalo
5) Minnesota 5) Cincinnati
12) NEVADA 12) UT-ARLINGTON
4) Duke 4) West Virginia
13) PRINCETON 13) VERMONT
Milwaukee Indianapolis
6) Iowa State 6) Oklahoma State
11) MID TENNESSEE ST 11) USC / Seton Hall
3) Butler 3) KENTUCKY
14) AKRON 14) BELMONT
Sacramento Sacramento
7) Miami-FL 7) Saint Mary’s
10) Marquette 10) Providence
2) OREGON 2) UCLA
15) CSU-BAKERSFIELD 15) BUCKNELL

NOTES on the BRACKET: Kansas is the No. 1 overall seed, followed by Villanova, North Carolina, and Gonzaga.

Last Four Byes (at large): Wichita State, Providence, Marquette, Syracuse

Last Four IN (at large): USC, Seton Hall, California, Rhode Island

First Four OUT (at large): Wake Forest, Vanderbilt, Kansas State, Illinois

Next four teams OUT (at large): TCU, Houston, Indiana, Georgia

Breakdown by Conference …

ACC (9): NORTH CAROLINA, Louisville, Florida State, Duke, Notre Dame, Virginia, Miami-FL, Virginia Tech, Syracuse

Big 10 (7): PURDUE, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern

Big East (7): VILLANOVA, Butler, Creighton, Xavier, Providence, Marquette, Seton Hall

Big 12 (5): KANSAS, Baylor, West Virginia, Iowa State, Oklahoma State

Pac 12 (5): OREGON, Arizona, UCLA, USC, California

SEC (4): FLORIDA, Kentucky, South Carolina, Arkansas

Atlantic 10 (2): DAYTON, VCU, Rhode Island

American (2): SMU, Cincinnati

West Coast (2): GONZAGA, Saint Mary’s

Missouri Valley (1): ILLINOIS STATE, Wichita State

Mountain West (1): NEVADA

ONE BID LEAGUES: Monmouth (MAAC), Middle Tennessee State (C-USA), UT-Arlington (SBELT), Princeton (IVY), North Dakota (BSKY), Valparaiso (HORIZON), New Orleans (SLND), East Tennessee State (STHN), UC-Irvine (BWEST), Akron (MAC), Florida Gulf Coast (ASUN), Belmont (OVC), UNC-Wilmington (CAA), Winthrop (BSO), NC-Central (MEAC), North Dakota State (SUM), CSU-Bakersfield (WAC), Vermont (AEAST), Bucknell (PAT), Mount St. Mary’s (NEC), Texas-Southern (SWAC)