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

VIDEO: Michigan celebrates plane crash survivor Austin Hatch’s Senior Day

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If you don’t know the story of Michigan senior Austin Hatch, you should.

He’s survived two plane crashes in his life. The first, in 2003, robbed him of his mother, 11-year old sister and five-year old brother. In 2011, to celebrate his commitment to the Wolverines, Hatch’s father flew them up to the family’s vacation home, but the plane crashed into a garage killing Hatch’s dad and his stepmom and leaving Austin critically injured.

He had a severe brain trauma, a punctured lung, broken ribs and a broken collarbone, and in order to manage the swelling in his brain, he was put into a medically-induced coma for eight months.

He managed to return and even played for the Wolverines during the 2014-15 season, but he eventually made the decision to retire from basketball at the end of the year. He did, however, remain a part of the program and on Sunday, during Michigan’s Senior Day, he warmed up with the team and was introduced to the crowd as a starter and no, I’m not crying, YOU’RE crying:

Bubble Banter: All of Sunday’s bubble action in one place

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As we will do every day throughout the rest of the season, here is a look at how college basketball’s bubble teams fared on Sunday.

It’s worth reminding you here that the way winning are labeled have changed this season. Instead of looking at all top 50 wins equally, the selection committee will be using criteria that breaks wins down into four quadrants, using the RPI:

  • Quadrant 1: Home vs. 1-30, Neutral vs. 1-50, Road vs. 1-75
  • Quadrant 2: Home vs. 31-75, Neutral vs. 51-100, Road vs. 76-135
  • Quadrant 3: Home vs. 76-160, Neutral vs. 101-200, Road vs. 136-240
  • Quadrant 4: Home vs. 161 plus, Neutral vs. 201 plus, Road vs. 240 plus

The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here.

YET TO PLAY

SETON HALL
NEBRASKA
HOUSTON
TEMPLE
PENN STATE

Gamecocks reserve guard Kory Holden leaves team

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COLUMBIA, S.C. — Injured South Carolina guard Kory Holden has left the team.

Gamecocks coach Frank Martin announced Holden’s decision Saturday, before South Carolina took on No. 10 Auburn at home.

Holden is a 6-foot-1 fourth-year junior who had sat out last season for the Gamecocks after transferring from Delaware. He was expected to be a big part of South Carolina’s backcourt this season with the departures of guards Sindarius Thornwell, Duane Notice, P.J. Dozier and Justin McKie from last year’s Final Four team.

Instead, Holden played just 14 games off the bench and missed the past 11 games with a hamstring strain. He had averaged about 11 minutes and 3.4 points per game this season.

Saturday Recap: Kansas, Villanova earn big wins, Michigan State matches largest comeback win of last decade

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PLAYER OF THE DAY

What’s the best way to shake off a 3-for-18 day that included a 1-for-13 showing from three-point range? By making nine straight three-pointers the next game.

That’s exactly what Notre Dame senior point guard Matt Farrell pulled off in a Saturday afternoon ACC road win at Boston College. With the Irish desperately needing wins to stay in the NCAA tournament picture, Farrell let it fly for 37 points while going 10-for-12 from three-point range.

Farrell also added seven assists and only turned the ball over twice even though he navigated Notre Dame’s high-octane offense through the full 40 minutes.

RELATED: All of Saturday’s Bubble Banter in one place

THE REST OF SATURDAY’S STARS

  • MIKAL BRIDGES AND DONTE DIVINCENZO, Villanova: With Jalen Brunson having a slow afternoon, these two picked up the slack for Villanova. Bridges knocked down four first-half three-pointers on the way to 25 points for the Wildcats. DiVincenzo helped extinguish a Xavier second-half run with some big three-pointers, finishing with 21 points, nine rebounds and nine assists.
  • CALEB AND CODY MARTIN, Nevada: Playing its first game without starting point guard Lindsey Drew, the Martin twins stepped up in a road win at Utah State. Cody played point guard and dropped 30 points on 13-for-18 shooting while adding nine rebounds, four assists and two steals. Caleb added 23 points and six rebounds.
  • JOEL BERRY II, North Carolina: The senior point guard put together a solid overall game in a road win for the Tar Heels over Louisville. Berry finished with 23 points, eight rebounds and five assists while knocking down five three-pointers.
  • FLETCHER MCGEE, Wofford: You might remember the junior guard for his performance in helping the Terriers stun North Carolina earlier this season. McGee had a monster outing to top that game in a win over Chattanooga. Knocking in a school-record 11 three-pointers, McGee had 45 points on 17-for-26 shooting.

TEAM OF THE DAY

Mark this one down as a tie. Kansas and Villanova both picked off fellow top-25 teams. More importantly, they both end Saturday tied for first place in their respective leagues after entering the day in second place.

Although the Jayhawks needed some help and got it with Baylor’s huge upset win over No. 7 Texas Tech, Kansas deserves credit on its own for its second-half, double-digit comeback win over No. 20 West Virginia. Now tied atop the Big 12 with the Red Raiders, Kansas will get a crack at Texas Tech in Lubbock next Saturday.

As for the Wildcats, they continued their domination of No. 4 Xavier with a convincing road win over the Musketeers. While Villanova has struggled with perimeter shooting the past few games, they had no such issues in this one as 11 first-half threes helped them gain control.

GAME OF THE DAY

As if this season hasn’t produced enough insane outcomes to begin with, things got even crazier on Saturday when No. 2 Michigan State rallied to beat Northwestern for a Big Ten road win.

The Spartans found themselves down by 27 points and still came back to win. It matches the largest comeback from the last decade of college basketball. The Big Ten has never had a bigger men’s basketball comeback.

It was a strange game in which the Spartans didn’t even need star sophomore Miles Bridges to have a big game to win one of the biggest comebacks in college basketball history.

WTF???? OF THE DAY

This win probability chart from Michigan State’s unlikely victory over Northwestern is ridiculous. We all understand how you feel, Chris Collins.

WHAT ELSE DO YOU NEED TO KNOW?

We went this long without talking about Trae Young, so here’s the mandatory update. Texas actually came out of this one as the big story thanks to a huge Big 12 road win over Oklahoma. Dylan Osetkowski paced the Longhorns with 21 points while Young finished with 26 points on 7-for-21 shooting. This one really helps the bubble case for Texas.

Syracuse and Baylor were among the other teams earning huge bubble wins on Saturday as the Orange beat Miami and the Bears knocked off No. 7 Texas Tech. The Red Raiders also lost Keenan Evans to injury in that one as another this is yet another subplot to keep an eye on in the hectic Big 12 race.

Another wild day in the SEC as three ranked teams lost to unranked teams. South Carolina took down No. 10 Auburn but the biggest news in that one could be the Tigers’ loss of leading shot blocker Anfernee McLemore to injuryGeorgia raced past No. 18 Tennessee behind a big effort from Yante MatenAnd Arkansas earned another important resume win by handling No. 21 Texas A&M.

Of course, you can’t talk SEC with Kentucky as the Wildcats had some positive news. They snapped a four-game losing streak as Kentucky took down Alabama.

In the ACC, No. 14 North Carolina won its first game at Louisville as they knocked off the Cardinals.

Williams leads No. 9 Gonzaga over Pepperdine 81-67

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SPOKANE, Wash. — Pepperdine had closed within two points with more than seven minutes left, and forwards Johnathan Williams and Killian Tillie of No. 9 Gonzaga rose to meet the challenge.

Williams had two dunks and a block, and Tillie hit a couple of 3-pointers, to sink the Waves 81-67 on Saturday night.

“I’m playing with confidence,” said Williams, who had 18 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks for his sixth consecutive double-double. It’s rebound first. Points will come second. It’s been working for me.”

Coach Mark Few said Williams’ exceptional play during February was not a surprise.

“When he plays assertively, athletically … he’s a handful,” Few said. “He’s cutting loose a little bit.”

Tillie and Josh Perkins each scored 15 points for Gonzaga (25-4, 15-1 West Coast), which has won nine consecutive games and remains in first place in the West Coast Conference.

Colbey Ross scored 21 points for Pepperdine (4-24, 1-15), which has lost seven straight.

“Give them credit,” Williams said about Pepperdine. “They played a hell of a game out there. It was gut-check time.”

Gonzaga has won 35 straight games against Pepperdine dating to 2002. The Waves have not won in Spokane since 1998.

“They dialed it up defensively late in the game and got on a run,” Pepperdine coach Marty Wilson said of Gonzaga.

“We talked about not letting the crowd get in our heads, but it did,” Wilson said. “They went on a couple runs and the more the crowd was in the game, the better they played.”

Gonzaga hit four 3-pointers during an early 20-6 run to take a 26-12 lead.

Gonzaga began missing and Pepperdine clawed back to trail just 34-28 late in the first.

The Zags led 39-32 at halftime, after holding the Waves to 41 percent shooting.

Three 3-pointers in the opening minutes of the second half lifted the Bulldogs to a 54-40 lead.

But the Waves came back and a basket by Trae Berhow cut Gonzaga’s lead to 66-64 with 7:32 left. Tillie hit a 3-pointer and Williams dunked to push Gonzaga’s lead back to seven.

The Waves were scoreless for more than six minutes, missing seven shots, as the Zags built a 77-64 lead.

“In the end we were solid in the last four minutes,” Few said. “We were making plays at the end. We started the game well, but we couldn’t quite put them away (until the closing minutes).”

WEIRD SHOOTING

Gonzaga shot nearly 57 percent from 3-point range (13 of 23), but just 53 percent from the free throw line (8 of 15). Pepperdine shot 41.4 percent in each half.

TWENTY FIVE WINS

Gonzaga has won at least 25 games for 11 consecutive seasons, trailing only Kansas’ streak of 12. “That’s really significant,” Few said. “Those are hard to come by. I don’t take them for granted.”

BIG PICTURE

Pepperdine: The school announced earlier this week that Coach Marty Wilson, in his seventh season, will not return next year. “I was blessed to be able to coach at my alma mater for seven years,” Wilson said. “Not many people get that opportunity.” Few said the close game was a sign of how much Wilson’s players respect him. Nine of the Waves have missed games with injuries this season. Ross leads all WCC freshmen in scoring at 14.3 points per game.

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs and No. 3 Villanova are the only teams in the nation that have six players averaging at least 10 points per game. The Zags are seeking a 20th consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament. This was senior night for Williams and Silas Melson.

UP NEXT

Pepperdine plays at No. 15 Saint Mary’s next Thursday.

Gonzaga, which wrapped up its home season on Saturday, plays at San Diego next Thursday.