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Pac-12 Conference Reset: Get caught up on all of the league’s offseason wheelings and dealings

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The NBA Draft’s Early Entry Deadline has come and gone. Just about every elite recruit has decided where they will be playing their college ball next season. The coaching carousel, which ended up spinning a bit faster than initially expected, has come to a close. The transfer market is slowly winding down.

In other words, by now, we have a pretty good feel for what college basketball is going to look like during the 2017-18 season. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what has happened — and what will happen — in the Pac-12 over the next six months.

OFFSEASON STORYLINES 

1. Will this end up being Sean Miller’s best team at Arizona?: The Wildcats are loaded in a way that the teams that generally traffic in one-and-done players are not accustomed to. Let’s start with the returnees; specifically, Allonzo Trier, who returned from a 19-game suspension for a positive PED to become Arizona’s leading scorer a season ago. He opted to return to school for his junior campaign, meaning that Miller will have a back court anchored by a potential National Player of the Year.

Then there is Rawle Alkins, who had a chance to be drafted as a one-and-done this year if he had left but he decided to return to school. Dusan Ristic and Parker Jackson-Cartwright are back in the mix as well, while Arizona adds a monster recruiting class headlined by Deandre Ayton, who is one of the top five prospects in the class. There are some question marks with this team — namely, if their point guard play is good enough, whether or not they will defend and the consistency that Ayton will play with — but given the lack of a great team anywhere else in college basketball, it’s fair to say that this group is the most likely to end Sean Miller’s streak of failing to get to a Final Four.

Is it his best team?

I don’t think so. You’ll have a hard time convincing me that Miller’s best team didn’t lose to Frank Kaminsky at some point in the NCAA tournament.

But if it finally gets that monkey off of his back, will he care?

UCLA head coach Steve Alford (AP Photo/Michael Baker)

2. How does UCLA handle losing so much talent?: The Bruins are essentially rebuilding their entire roster, as five of their top seven players are off to the professional ranks. That includes Lonzo Ball as well as fellow one-and-doners, T.J. Leaf and Ike Anigbogu. There is still talent on this roster, however, as Aaron Holiday, Thomas Welsh and G.G. Goloman return to a team that landed a six-man recruiting class, including five-stars Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes. To be frank, the biggest issue isn’t going to be the pieces they lost, it’s going to be replacing the unselfishness that came with having a team led by Lonzo. He changed the culture of that program, but will that change be nothing more than a one-year blip on the radar?

The interesting battle to watch will be at the point guard spot. Hands is the star recruit that was pitched on being Ball’s replacement, but Holiday is a former four-star prospect in his own right. After spending a year sacrificing as UCLA’s sixth-man, will he believe this is the season that UCLA is his team?

3. More importantly, how will LaVar Ball take it if LiAngelo isn’t a star?: Because he’s not. I don’t see how the second Ball brother finds his way into UCLA’s starting lineup, not with the likes of Holiday, Hands, Ali and Wilkes ahead of him in the perimeter rotation. Most people have accepted this as gospel: Lonzo has the chance to be a star in the NBA and LaMelo has some promising skills if he ever figures out how to play basketball like a normal person while LiAngelo is destined to end up as a four-year role player whose bread and butter is as a catch-and-shoot floor-spacer.

LaVar has been quite vocal in the past about his desire for all three of his sons to be one-and-done players. What happens when it becomes clear that’s not exactly in LiAngelo’s future? Will the whole ‘LaVar Ball never comes into the UCLA basketall offices‘ deal still hold true?

USC’s Chimezie Metu (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

4. Is this the year that USC finally competes for a Pac-12 title?: With the obvious exception of Michigan State, who somehow managed to convince a potential top ten pick to return to school for his sophomore year, you’d have a hard time finding any program that had better luck with players declaring — well, not declaring — for the NBA Draft. USC returns Chimezie Metu, Bennie Boatwright, Deanthony Melton, Elijah Stewart and Shaqquan Aaron, all of whom flirted with the idea of leaving school.

The best part? That list doesn’t include their most important player, point guard Jordan McLaughlin. I’m not sure there are five teams in all of college basketball that are more talented this season that the Trojans. Andy Enfield will finally, for the first time in his tenure with USC, coach a player that spent four years as a member of the program. Does that mean this is the year they finally turn a corner?

5. How does Dana Altman manage the roster turnover?: There’s no way around it: Losing Chris Boucher, Jordan Bell, Tyler Dorsey and Dillon Brooks — the latter three with eligibility remaining — is a massive blow to the Ducks, enough to keep them out of the conversation for preseason top 25. But with a team that includes five-star prospect Troy Brown, a four-star redshirt freshman in MJ Cage, transfers Paul White (Georgetown) and Elijah Brown (New Mexico) as well as the return of Payton Pritchard, this team has the makings of one that Dana Altman will be able to figure out. How? Well, that will be interesting to follow.

IMPORTANT ADDITIONS

  • Deandre Ayton, Arizona: Ayton has long been thought of as the player with the most raw talent in the Class of 2017. At 7-feet he has the skillset and the physical tools to play as a small-ball four alongside Dusan Ristic, which is a scary proposition. When Ayton is engaged, he is an absolute monster. The big question with him is how often he is, you know, engaged.
  • Troy Brown, Oregon: Brown, a top 15 recruit, is the perfect player for Altman to have at his disposal. He’s a well-rounded 6-foot-6 athlete that should be able to fill the Dillon Brooks mold pretty nicely.
  • Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands, UCLA: These are the two biggest names in UCLA’s recruiting class, as Steve Alford looks to find a way to continue the success that he had during Lonzo Ball’s freshman season. This will be the chance for him to prove that it was his coaching, not simply the presence of Ball, that led to last year’s 31-win season.
  • Derryck Thornton, USC: Remember him? Thornton was a five-star point guard prospect in the Class of 2015 that was tabbed as Tyus Jones’ successor at Duke, only he found himself coming off the bench and playing limited minutes for a team that desperately needed point guard play. So he left, sat out last season and returned to California, where he’ll likely spend this season coming off the bench again. That’s a nice luxury for Enfield to have.

SURPRISING DEPARTURES

  • Tyler Dorsey and Jordan Bell, Oregon: It wasn’t really a surprise that Dillon Brooks left school. He was a junior and a two-time all-american dealing with foot issues. He needed to get paid while he can. Dorsey and Bell were more surprising, as both had the look of four-year talents. But after their unbelievable run in the NCAA tournament — as they morphed into Steph Curry and Ben Wallace, respectively — it was time.
  • Ike Anigbogu, UCLA: Anigbogu was the member of UCLA’s recruiting class that no one had heard of, but after showcasing next-level athleticism and physicality in limited minutes that did not expose his flaws, cashing in was the smart move.
  • Kyle Kuzma, Utah: The Utes were better than you probably realize last season, winning 11 games in the Pac-12, but they’ll lose Kuzma to the NBA, a decision that is crushing. Kuzma had a shot at being an all-american next season, but as a redshirt junior with his degree in hand, it made sense for him to go.

COACHING CHANGES

  • Wyking Jones, Cal: Cal’s recruiting search was bizarre. They were involved with a handful of names that were somewhere between head-scratching and unrealistic before finally settling on Jones, a first-time head coach that had spent time on Rick Pitino’s staff before joining up with Cuonzo Martin in Berkeley. He’ll have about as bare of a cupboard as you’ll find for any new head coach, but he does have former Kentucky forward Marcus Lee in the mix and he has landed a couple of top 100 recruits for next season.
  • Mike Hopkins, Washington: Hop finally jumped ship from Syracuse. After years of hearing about how he was the next in line to replace Jim Boeheim when Boeheim finally retired, it became clear that he was done waiting for something that may never happen. So Hop took the job at Washington, a rebuild that is not going to be easy to do. The Huskies won just nine games last season despite having Markelle Fultz on their roster. I hesitate to call this a homerun — like I said, it’s hard to judge any first-year head coach — but it certainly could have gone much worse.

WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-CONFERENCE PREDICTIONS

Allonzo Trier, Arizona(Player of the Year)
Jordan McLaughlin, USC
Chimezie Metu, USC
Reid Travis, Stanford
Deandre Ayton, Arizona

Deandre Ayton, Jon Lopez/Nike

WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS

  1. Arizona: This will be Sean Miller’s best chance of getting to a Final Four to date, as he has the perfect combination of quality veterans (Allonzo Trier, Rawle Alkins, Parker Jackson-Cartwright) and talented freshmen. Will they defend enough to win a title?
  2. USC: On paper, this should be the best team that Andy Enfield has ever coached. No one had a better early entry deadline than the Trojans, as they return everyone of note from a group that won 24 games last year.
  3. UCLA: The Bruins are the x-factor in the league once again. They’re talented enough to get to a Final Four with enough youth and defensive question marks to end up going .500 in Pac-12 play. Is it Aaron Holiday’s year?
  4. Oregon: The Ducks lost so many key pieces off of last year’s team, but with Dana Altman at the helm, it’s hard to imagine anything other than another trip to the NCAA tournament for Oregon. He always finds a way.
  5. Stanford: The Cardinal are going to sneak up on some people this season. Reid Travis returns, as does Dorian Pickens, while Jerod Haase brings in a promising recruiting class. That said, it feels like we’ve been saying ‘this is the year’ for Stanford for years.
  6. Utah: With Kyle Kuzma leaving early and Lorenzo Bonam graduating, the Utes have a lot to replace. There are some pieces here, but the biggest one is Larry Krystkowiak. His presence on the sideline is worth two spots in my Pac-12 preseason poll.
  7. Oregon State: The Beavers are my sleeper pick in the Pac-12. I don’t think it’s crazy to think they can sneak their way into the NCAA tournament after a 1-17 Pac-12 performance a year ago. Tres Tinkle is back, the young talent on their roster all returned and Ethan Thompson is going to surprise some people.
  8. Arizona State: The Sun Devils are going to have some holes to fill in their front line, but a back court that includes Tra Holder and Shannon Evans is going to be tough to handle.
  9. Colorado: The Buffaloes are going to take a pretty big hit, as they will lose four redshirt seniors, one of whom — Derrick White — was arguably the most under-appreciated player in the Pac-12.
  10. Washington State: The Cougars actually won six Pac-12 games last season, which probably says more about the bottom of the Pac-12 than it does Wazzu. Anyway, they bring back a solid piece in PG Malachi Flynn, but there is a lot of turnover on that roster.
  11. Washington: The Huskies went 9-22 last season despite having Markelle Fultz on the roster. It’s going to be a long first season for new head coach Mike Hopkins.
  12. Cal: The Golden Bears lose essentially everyone from a team that missed out on the 2017 NCAA tournament, including head coach Cuonzo Martin. It will basically be Kentucky transfer Marcus Lee carrying a team coached by Wyking Jones in his first season running a program. Fun!

Five-star 2018 recruit Anfernee Simons could test NBA Draft process

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Five-star Class of 2018 guard Anfernee Simons is interested in potentially entering the 2018 NBA Draft.

According to a report from Jonathan Givony of ESPN, the former Louisville commit will likely be eligible to jump to the NBA straight out of high school since he graduated high school last year while turning 19 next June. The 6-foot-4 Simons, considered the No. 16 overall prospect in the Rivals’ Class of 2018 national rankings, is playing a post-grad season at IMG Academy for 2017-18 after reclassifying as a sophomore.

If Simons opts to go pro than college basketball loses a potential star as he’s been shooting up the national rankings over the past year. Simons was committed to the Cardinals since the beginning of his junior year but he opened things up once former head coach Rick Pitino lost his job in a fallout from the FBI investigation on college basketball.

Simons started his season at the National Prep Showcase this weekend as six NBA teams sent people to watch him play, according to Givony’s report.

It’ll be fascinating to see what happens in this situation as Simons hasn’t done much with the recruiting process over the last several months. Now that NBA teams are already watching him play, Simons could follow in Thon Maker’s footsteps and turn pro right away.

LaVar Ball on Trump’s involvement in bringing son home: ‘Who?’

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The war of words none of us wanted is now upon us.

LaVar Ball downplayed the impact that Donald Trump had in ensuring that his son, LiAngelo, along with two other UCLA players were released from custody and returned to the United States following a shoplifting incident on the team’s trip to China.

“Who?” the eldest Ball told ESPN on Friday night when asked about Trump’s involvement. “What was he over there for? Don’t tell me nothing. Everybody wants to make it seem like he helped me out.”

When the players arrived back in Los Angeles, and before they had a chance to speak publicly, Trump had already taken to twitter to complain about the fact that the trio had not yet thanked him. Trump happened to be in China at the same time and, in a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, he reportedly asked for his counterpart’s help in assuring an expedited legal process.

Trump got the thank you that he so desperately needed when UCLA held a press conference announcing that the three players would be suspended indefinitely, but LaVar was not going to let the President have the last word. And you can bet that Trump is not going to let this be the end of it, either, which means that two men that have risen to prominence through their willingness to say the audacious whenever the spotlight is on them will have the floor.

And unless someone has managed to change the passcode on Trump’s cellphone, you can rest assured that this will not be the end of it.

Bridges perfect from 3, No. 5 Villanova blows out Lafayette

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ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Mikal Bridges set a school record by hitting all six of his 3-point shots and scored a career-high 24 points in No. 5 Villanova’s 104-57 rout of Lafayette on Friday night.

Jalen Brunson added 22 points and hit 4 of 6 3s in another dominant performance by the Wildcats (3-0), who made 16 of 30 from long range.

Three nights after setting a school record with 13 blocked shots in a blowout of Nicholls, the versatile and deep Wildcats showed another strength and overwhelmed the Leopards (0-3).

Led by Bridges’ 4 of 4 long-distance shooting, Villanova hit 11 of its first 14 3s in racing to a 39-16 lead. The Wildcats had a stretch of nine straight baskets being 3s en route to a 56-23 halftime lead.

Matt Klinewski had 16 points and six rebounds for Lafayette, which was 7 of 29 from 3-point range.

Bridges finished 9 of 10 from the field before he sat out the final 10 minutes. The junior bested his previous career-high by one point set Tuesday.

While it was a Villanova home game, it was played about 50 miles from campus at the PPL Center, home of minor league hockey’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms. It was a 20-mile drive for Lafayette, but the Wildcats sure seemed at home.

Villanova spent much of the second half going inside to score. Omari Spellman had 15 points and nine rebounds and Eric Paschall had 14 points and eight boards.

BIG PICTURE

Lafayette: Try as a Patriot League school squaring off against one of the best teams in the nation and watching the opponent shoot like that, Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon’s alma mater never had a chance.

Villanova: The Wildcats have perimeter shooting, depth inside and play good defense. They’ve been dominant against inferior competition, and will finally get tested next week.

SO MANY 3-POINTERS

Bridges surpassed Doug West in 1988 and John Celestand in 1999, each of whom went 5 of 5 from long range. Villanova finished one shy of the school record of 17 3s set against Lehigh on Nov. 27, 2005.

NO LUCK

Lafayette coach Fran O’Hanlon fell to 0-6 against his alma mater. O’Hanlon still holds the Villanova record for assists in a game with 16 set against Toledo on Feb. 24, 1970.

Only six Division I coaches have been at their schools longer than O’Hanlon, in his 23rd season.

UP NEXT

Lafayette visits Princeton on Wednesday.

Villanova faces Western Kentucky on Wednesday in the first of three games at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas. No. 19 Purdue and No. 3 Arizona are possible opponents the following two days.

Mykhailiuk helps No. 4 Kansas rout South Dakota State, 98-64

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LAWRENCE, Kan. — Svi Mykhailiuk scored a career-high 27 points, Lagerald Vick finished with 22 and fourth-ranked Kansas routed Summit League favorite South Dakota State 98-64 on Friday night.

Udoka Azubuike added 17 points and Malik Newman had 13 for the Jayhawks (3-0), who shot 60 percent from the field and didn’t commit a turnover until midway through the second half.

By that point, the Jackrabbits (3-1) were staring at a 30-point deficit.

Mike Daum led South Dakota State with 21 points and 11 rebounds. Tevin King contributed 12 points and David Jenkins Jr. scored 10 off the bench.

Once again without heralded freshman Billy Preston, the Jayhawks were forced to use the same reduced rotation that managed to top seventh-ranked Kentucky on Tuesday night. But their perilous lack of depth became crippling in the first half when Azubuike and Mitch Lightfoot picked up two fouls each.

That forced coach Bill Self to use walk-on Clay Young in the post.

The 6-foot-5 senior turned out to be a bright spot, too, keeping the ball moving on offense and handling the 6-9 Daum inside. The Jackrabbits’ leading scorer at more than 21 points per game had eight on 2-for-8 shooting in the first half, when Young spent a good chunk of time covering him.

Nobody could cover Mykhailiuk, though.

The senior from the Ukraine hit his first three shots — the Jayhawks made eight of their first nine — while getting into an easy rhythm. Even on the seemingly rare occasion that his jumper didn’t splash the net, it often rattled around the rim and dropped through to a thunderous ovation.

Several of his baskets came on feeds from Devonte Graham, who didn’t hit a field goal until deep in the second half. He finished with eight points but also had 11 assists and five boards.

PRESTON SITS

Preston went through early warmups but remained on the bench as Kansas investigates an on-campus incident that raised questions about the “financial picture” of the car he was driving. Self declined to discuss the situation other than to say “we’re definitely going to hold him out until we get to the bottom of this.” Self did say he expects a resolution soon.

BIG PICTURE

South Dakota State can recover from its thumping in paradise with a trip to the Cayman Islands Classic up next. But their next trip to the Sunflower State figures to be just as tough: They visit No. 6 Wichita State on Dec. 5.

Kansas cruised despite a shortened lineup again, and help is only a month away. Arizona State transfer Sam Cunliffe becomes eligible for a trip to Nebraska on Dec. 16, and there is a chance five-star prospect Silvio De Sousa from Florida’s IMG Academy enrolls at the semester break.

UP NEXT

South Dakota State plays Wyoming on Monday in George Town, Cayman Islands.

Kansas continues a four-game home stand against Texas Southern on Tuesday night.

No. 18 Louisville hangs on over Omaha 87-78

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Ray Spalding had a career-high 19 points and 11 rebounds, Deng Adel had a game-high 21 points and Anas Mahmoud had eight of his team’s 15 blocked shots as No. 18 Louisville outlasted Omaha 87-78 on Friday night.

Spalding scored 14 points after halftime, and Adel made 7 of 8 shots from both the field and the free-throw line to pace the offense for the Cardinals (2-0), who led by 20 early in the second half but didn’t make a field for the last 4:36 of the game.

Omaha (0-4) was competitive in facing its highest-ranked opponent since becoming an NCAA Division I program in the 2011-12 season. The Mavericks hung around with a 12-0 second-half run and got within 71-64 on KJ Robinson’s 3-pointer with 5:45 left, but Louisville answered with seven straight points to keep the lead large enough to stay unbeaten under interim coach David Padgett.

Louisville’s three primary big men — Spalding (6-foot-10), Mahmoud (7-0) and Malik Williams (6-11) — bothered Omaha with their length around the rim. Mahmoud flirted with a triple-double, posting 10 points and eight rebounds to go with his blocks. Williams, a former five-star recruit who made his first career start in place of Mahmoud, had eight points, four rebounds and three blocks. Spalding blocked three shots, too.

Daniel Norl led five Omaha scorers in double figures with 16 points and eight rebounds.

BIG PICTURE

Omaha: The Mavericks averaged 83.9 points in their first three games but dug a hole in the first half when they shot only 24.4 percent to go down 40-25 at halftime. Louisville finished the first half on an 18-7 run, and Omaha made only one of its final nine shots before the break.

Louisville: Adel, who scored 20 points in the season-opening win over George Mason, continues to impress with his slicing drives and up-tempo play and shapes up as one of the top wings in the Atlantic Coast Conference. He made his first seven shots and added eight rebounds.

UP NEXT

Omaha plays at TCU on Monday as part of the Emerald Coast Classic, the fourth of seven straight games away from home to start the season while the Mavericks’ home arena hosts the U.S. Olympic Curling Trials.

Louisville has home games against Southern Illinois on Tuesday and Saint Francis next Friday before traveling to Purdue on Nov. 28 for the Big 10/ACC Challenge.