2011-2012 Pac-12 preview: The league is wide-open

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AWARDS

Player of the Year: Jorge Gutierrez, Sr., Cal

Jorge Gutierrez might be the best player in the country that you’ve never seen play. And that’s assuming you’ve even heard of him. Gutierrez is a tough-as-nails, 6’3″ combo-guard from Cal that is the kind of player that doesn’t have a weakness in his game. He can put the ball on the floor and get to the rim. He can drive, draw a defender and find the open man — he was second to only Isaiah Thomas in assists in the conference last season. He has three point range. He rebounds the ball. He quite possibly in the best perimeter defender in the country. And, most importantly, he is the heart and soul of a Cal team with a chance to sneak up on a lot of people this season. Gutierrez likely won’t lead the Bears in scoring this season (that will be Allen Crabbe), but I am not sure if there is another player in the conference that I take before him if I am building a team.

And a close second goes to…: Terrence Ross, So., Washington

Ross has gotten quite a bit of publicity this offseason, and rightfully so. That tends to happen when a coach that has seen the likes of Isaiah Thomas and Quincy Pondexter go through his program in the last five years says that a kid can be “one of the great ones“, or when a former all-american like Thomas says that Ross the most talented player he played with in college. Based on those two reviews, I think it is safe to say that Ross has quite a bit of talent. He will also be playing on a team where the top two scorers and the top two players at his position are now gone. UW needs a go-to player, and Ross appears to be the guy that will be taking over that role. If he is successful, expect big numbers. And if he is posting big numbers while Washington is winning games, expect him to be heavily involved in the Player of the Year conversation.

Breakout Star: Andre Roberson, So., Colorado

Roberson wax an unheralded recruit coming out of high school, but at 6’7″ with long arms and terrific athleticism, Roberson quickly proved his value to Big 12 opponents. Playing just 22.3 mpg, Roberson averaged 7.8 rpg, finishing in the top 25 of both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. He was also a terror on the defensive end, where he was among the Big 12 leaders in steals and blocks. Right now, Roberson’s strength lies in the things he can do without the ball — rebound, defend, cut to the basket — but with Colorado losing so much talent from last season, there will be plenty of opportunities for him to score this season. Here’s to hoping Roberson put in the work this summer on his offensive arsenal.

All-Conference First-Team:

POY: Jorge Gutierrez, Sr., Cal
G: Jared Cunningham, Jr., Oregon State
G: Terrence Ross, So., Washington
G: Allen Crabbe, So., Cal
F: Reeves Nelson, Jr., UCLA
C: Josh Owens, Sr., Stanford

All-Conference Second-Team:

G: Reggie Moore, Jr., Washington State
G: Trent Lockett, Jr., Arizona State
F: Andre Roberson, So., Colorado
F: EJ Singler, Jr., Oregon
C: Harper Kamp, Sr., Cal

Newcomer of the Year: Jabari Brown, Fr., Oregon

Depending on how things shake out, Brown may not even end up being the Newcomer of the Year on Oregon. That said, Brown has an ideal situation set up for him in Eugene. A big-time shooter and scorer in high school, Brown is joining a team that has a shot to be pretty good that also happens to have quite a few shots available in the back court. If Brown averages 12 ppg and starts as Oregon finishes in the top half of the Pac-12 — none of which is too much of a stretch — than he should end up winning the league’s Newcomer of the Year award.

All-Freshmen Team:

G: Jahii Carson, Arizona State*
G: Josiah Turner, Arizona
G: Jabari Brown, Oregon
G: Norman Powell, UCLA
C: Dewayne Dedmon, USC (he’s a sophomore)

*(If Carson doesn’t get eligible [see below] plug in Chasson Randle from Stanford.)

Five summer storylines

– Kevin Parrom shooting: In one of the scarier off-season storylines we cam across, Arizona junior Kevin Parrom was the victim of an attack by a jealous boyfriend. Parrom had a girl visiting him, but when the girl’s boyfriend showed up, he was none too pleased. Two attackers kicked down Parrom’s door and shot him twice, although neither bullet did much serious damage. Parrom is alive and in one piece, and the man that shot him is current facing a life sentence.

– Oregon transfers: The trend started well before the offseason began, as Devoe Joseph announced his intentions to join the Ducks after leaving Minnesota midway through his junior season. Joseph will be eligible in December, but the other two transfers that Dana Altman added will be ready to play immediately. Olu Ashaolu transferred in from Louisiana Tech, where he nearly averaged a double-double last season. Ashaolu will be joined on the front line by Wake Forest cast-off Tony Woods. Altman’s decision to bring in Woods was a controversial one, as the former top 20 recruit was kicked off the Wake Forest team for a particularly bad domestic violence incident.

– Will Jahii Carson play this season?: There is no question that a player of Carson’s ability will be a major boost to an Arizona State program that struggled last season. But Carson has not yet been academically cleared. The issue appears to be a class he took online at a summer school in Colorado, who has yet to release his transcript. While Carson appears to remain optimistic, those close to Carson are saying things like “No news is, well, not what we want.” This may end up being a story line that extends into the season.

– Roberto Nelson brings down a rim: Maybe he should have listened when they told him no dunking:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=4ubIe34ZgD0]

– The Pac-16?: Texas and Oklahoma. Will they or won’t they? At different points during the summer months, it seemed a given that both the Longhorns and the Sooners — along with Texas Tech and Oklahoma State — would be headed west. At other times, just the Oklahoma schools were ready to leave the Big 12. In the end, each side — Texas, Oklahoma, and the Pac-12 — had much less interest in moving than the media did in looking for a story.

Five storylines heading into the season

– Can Utah and Colorado compete?: This is a question that will take much longer than one season to answer. Heading into the year, however, don’t expect much out of the Utes. New head coach Larry Krystkowiak will be essentially starting from scratch this year, as a full 13 players have left the Utah program the past two years, and that doesn’t include former head coach Jim Boylen. Colorado, on the other hand, appears to be well on their way towards making a statement in the Pac-12. Tad Boyle is already cleaning up on the recruiting trail, and with a guy like Andre Roberson to build a program around, there’s no reason the Buffaloes can’t be competing near the top of the conference in a couple of years.

– Josh Smith’s weight: Smith’s conditioning might be the single most important player attribute in the entire conference. Why? Because if Smith is able to get himself into shape — to get into the kind of condition where he can play 32 minutes every game — than he is an all-american. He’s a monster in the paint. With a soft touch around the rim, terrific footwork on the block and the size to make it impossible to dislodge him once he gets position, Smith is an unstoppable force. Not only would Smith form one of the best front lines in the country between him and Reeves Nelson, but his presence on the block would force opponents to pay him more attention, opening up the perimeter and taking some pressure off of the young and inexperienced guys on UCLA’s perimeter.

– Washington up front?: There is little doubt in my mind that Washington is going to, once again, have one of the best perimeter attacks in the country. With Abdul Gaddy and Tony Wroten Jr splitting time as the primary ball-handler and guys like Terrence Ross, CJ Wilcox and Scott Suggs joining them on the perimeter, Washington has plenty of talent. Their issue isn’t going to be replacing the likes of Justin Holiday and Isaiah Thomas, its going to be replacing Matthew Bryan-Amaning. Is Darnell Gant willing to mix-it-up on the block? Can Aziz N’Diaye find a consistent touch around the rim? Will anyone the youngsters step up?

– Can Cal actually win the Pac-12?: Frankly, there is no reason they can’t. They have arguably the best 1-2-3 punch in the conference with Allen Crabbe, Jorge Gutierrez and Harper Kamp. They have two solid point guards and a couple of young wings on the bench. The key will be in the front court. Who brings the toughness that Markhuri Sanders-Frison provided last year? Who brings that physicality in the paint? Can it be Bak Bak? Will Richard Solomon be strong enough and physical enough this season to battle inside? Perhaps the best news? Outside of UCLA, there aren’t a lot of strong, experienced front lines in the conference.

– Arizona vs. UCLA recruiting: Both the Bruins and the Wildcats have been absolutely phenomenal on the recruiting trail. The Wildcats have already put together a recruiting class in 2012 that will allow them to compete for a national title. The Bruins, on the other hand, have picked up Kyle Anderson, the No. 2 recruit in the country. Will they be able to land Shabazz Muhammad as well?

Power Rankings

1. Arizona: Coming off of a 2009-2010 season where the Wildcats missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time since I’ve been alive, Arizona was expected to be improved last season. But few people would have predicted just how far Sean Miller’s club was going to go, particularly with their less-than-auspicious start to the season. Arizona got smacked by BYU, hung their non-conference hats on a win over NC State, and kicked off Pac-10 play with a loss to Oregon State and a shellacking at the hands of Washington. But Arizona bounced back, won eight straight games and ended up with the conference regular season title. After losing to Washington in the conference tournament title on this shot from Isaiah Thomas, the Wildcats made it all the way to the Elite 8 — including an upset of No. 1 seed Duke — where they came within a pair of missed threes of reaching the Final Four.

The bad news for Arizona is that they will lose a number of talented players from that squad, including their all-american Derrick Williams, who only needed two years to go from USC castoff to the No. 2 pick in the NBA Draft. With Momo Jones and Jamelle Horne also departing, there will be a number of voids to fill this season. That won’t be as difficult as it may appear, however, as Miller has cleaned up on the recruiting trail in his short time in Tucson, meaning there is still plenty of talent in this program. The back court will be deep for the Wildcats. It starts with Kyle Fogg, a senior that is the team’s leading returning scorer and one of their best three-point threats. He’ll likely be joined on the wing by junior Solomon Hill, who is more of a slasher. Junior Kevin Parrom, a do-it-all small forward, will probably be the first wing off the bench. Stud freshman Nick Johnson will also see plenty of minutes, and may even have a shot to start over Fogg.

The point guard spot will be a battle. Sophomore Jordin Mayes had a couple of impressive games as a freshman, but newcomer Josiah Turner will make a strong push for the starting job. While the question marks in Arizona’s back court involve who will be forced to come off the bench, the front court will be more of a question mark overall. Jesse Perry — a scrappy, blue-collar forward — started by the end of last season. Kryrl Natyazhko is also back for his senior year, although he is more of a big body than anything else. What will be interesting to see is if freshmen Angelo Chol and Sidiki Johnson, both highly-regarded power forward recruits, will be ready to provide a scoring pop inside. They will both be playing significant minutes immediately. Arizona should be an early-favorite in the conference.

2. Cal: Mike Montgomery over-scheduled during non-conference play in 2010-2011, and he freely admitted it during the season. Heading into the year with a team that lost four starters, the Bears played the likes of Kansas, San Diego State, New Mexico, Temple and Notre Dame before they hit Pac-10 play. And while they won a couple of those games, they also took a couple of hearty whoopings, heading into league play at 7-5. After dropping their first Pac-10 game by 14 at Stanford, freshman point guard Gary Franklin, who had started all but two games, decided to transfer. It was a newsworthy move, although not in the way many expected — Cal got better. Brandon Smith proved to be a capable point guard, Allen Crabbe embraced the role of the go-to scorer offensively and Cal went on to win 10 league games and finish tied for fourth place in the conference.

The Bears bring back basically everyone from last year, with the only player they lost being Markhuri Sanders-Frison. Crabbe will, in all likelihood, end up being the leading scorer for this team. A 6’6″ wing and the reigning Freshman of the Year in the conference, Crabbe upped his scoring from 8.4 ppg in the first 13 games to 16.9 ppg after Franklin left the team. That scoring boost should continue into next season. The heart and soul of this team will be senior Jorge Gutierrez, who may be the best player you’ve never seen play. He can shoot, he can get to the rim, he is one of the best perimeter defenders in the country and he plays his heart out every second he is on the court. Brandon Smith proved to be quite capable handling the point guard duties in Franklin’s absence, although he will be competing for the starting spot with Minnesota transfer Justin Cobbs. I’d expect them to split minutes. Freshman Alex Rossi, who missed last season with an injury, and sophomore Jeff Powers will also see minutes in the back court.

Up front, Cal will be anchored by Harper Kamp. A 6’8″ senior, Kamp always seems to be a bit undersized and overmatched athletically, but he’s skilled and fundamental on the block. He knows how to get position, he’s got some crafty moves on the block and he finishes the chances he gets. He’ll need to be more of a banger inside this year to replace Sanders-Frison. Who joins Kamp up front will be a bit of a question mark. Sophomore Richard Solomon seems like the favorite, but he needs to put on some weight before he can be effective in the paint in the Pac-12. Junior Bak Bak is going to have to provide some more minutes, and incoming freshmen David Kravish and Christian Behrens will be counted on to play like veterans. Cal is a sleeper in my mind. I can see them making a run at the title if all the pieces fall into place, although I think finishing somewhere between second and fourth is more likely.

3. UCLA: As they have been the past couple of seasons, UCLA was a weird team in 2010-2011. They struggled quite a bit early in the season, as a four-game losing streak that culminated with a loss to Montana dropped the Bruins to 3-4 overall. But UCLA rebounded, winning 16 of their next 19 games, finishing all alone in second place in the Pac-10 and winning a game in the NCAA Tournament. But the Bruins struggled on the perimeter, as their point guard play was sub-bar for much of the season and their three-point shooters couldn’t find the consistency to keep the paint spaced.

That’s a problem that is only going to get worse for the Bruins next season as both Malcolm Lee and Tyler Honeycutt declared for the NBA Draft early, leaving the Bruins dreadfully thin on the perimeter. At the point, Lazeric Jones figures to once again be the starter. A JuCo transfer last season, Jones had his moments for the Bruins, but as a whole he struggled with consistency and at times failed to embrace the role of distributer. Jerime Anderson split minutes with Jones once he returns from a suspension, but Anderson has never proven to have the ability to be a impact point guard at this level. On the wing, there is a lot of unknown. Sophomore Tyler Lamb and freshman Norman Powell were both highly-regarded recruits, but both have question marks. Lamb struggled with his shot last season and was at the back end of the rotation. Powell, on the other hand, has been rumored to be upset at UCLA already and is currently dealing with the effects of a concussion. JuCo transfer De’End Parker will also see significant minutes on the wing.

The front court is where the real strength of this team lies. It starts with junior Reeves Nelson, a fiery, 6’8″ workhorse that is a terror on the glass and is slowly developing into a threat as a combo-forward. He’ll be joined up front by Joshua Smith, who has the potential to be the best low-post player in the country this side of Jared Sullinger. To do so, Smith needs to shed that baby-fat and get into good condition — which is unlikely to happen this year as early reports indicate he has actually gained weight during the summer. If he does, Smith will control the block for the Bruins, giving UCLA arguably the best front line out west. They are deep as well. The Wear twins, former McDonald all-americans that transferred in from UCLA, are eligible this year, and Anthony Stover and Brendan Lane were both capable role players last season. There are question marks with this team’s perimeter attack — enough so that there has been speculation the Wear’s may end up playing some minutes at the three — which limits this team’s upside a bit. But UCLA should still be competing for the league title.

4. Washington: The Huskies are slowly turning into one of those programs that is consistently inconsistent. They looked dominating in some of their non-conference games last season, but then lost to Kentucky, Michigan State and Texas A&M while being held under 71 points. They went on the road early in conference play and swept USC and UCLA, but lost five of their last seven road games in league play. After finishing third in the league standings, U-Dub went down into LA and rolled through the conference tournament, earning a tournament trip where they won their opening game for the fifth consecutive time.

The Huskies are going to have quite a bit of talent to replace heading into next season, however, as they lose Isaiah Thomas, Matthew Bryan-Amaning, Justin Holiday and Venoy Overton. That said, Washington has quite a bit of talent returning. It starts with the perimeter. Junior Abdul Gaddy, who was the second-best point guard recruit in John Wall’s class, will hopefully bea healthy after having last season cut short with a torn acl suffered in early January. I’d expect Gaddy to get the first shot at the point, although stud freshman Tony Wroten Jr. has that same play-making flair as Thomas did. Sophomore CJ Wilcox and senior Scott Suggs should be able to provide an offensive pop off the bench with their ability to shoot the ball from the perimeter, but the rising star in this program will most likely end up being Terrence Ross. The sophomore wing has had quite a bit of hype throughout the off-season and could end up being a first-team all-conference performer if he lives up to those expectations. Hikeem Stewart, another freshman, will also likely see some minutes.

The front court will be a bigger issue, as the loss of Bryan-Amaning will be worse than people expect it to be. MBA provided so much for the Huskies inside — defense, rebounding and, most importantly, scoring in the paint. He allowed Washington to be somewhat balanced last year, feasting off of Isaiah Thomas’ ability off the pick-and-roll. Who fills that role? Will senior Darnell Gant, who has developed into more of a jump-shooter, take on the role? Can Aziz N’Diaye improve his hands enough to be more than a shot-blocker? Will any of the newcomers on the front line — freshmen Martin Breunig, Shawn Kemp Jr, Jernard Jarreau and Desmond Simmons — have an impact immediately? Washington will be competing for the league title this year, and they certainly have the talent to win it. But if they do depends a lot on this crop of freshmen. Will the risk payoff?

5. Oregon: It may sound hard to believe, but Oregon’s 2010-2011 season in which the Ducks finished below .500 in the regular season and in Pac-10 play can probably be considered a success. That’s what happens when you head into the year with mass exodus leading into the hiring of a new head coach. But that hire — Dana Altman, who was previously at Creighton — ended up leading Oregon to seven league wins, a trip to the conference tournament semifinals and the CBI title. And while Altman will lose a number of key pieces heading into the season, he brings in some new talent to pair with some of his returning role players.

The strength of the Ducks next season will be their front court. They bring back EJ Singler, the team’s second-leading scorer a year ago and the younger brother of former Dukie Kyle. EJ is a poor man’s version of his brother, a face-up four with three-point range. Jeremy Jacob, who should be healthy, and Tyrone Nared are also both back for the Ducks. Jacob has been productive when he is able to stay on the court, while Nared is a terrific athlete that can make plays on the defensive end of the floor. But the real strength is going to be the front court newcomers. Olu Ashaolu averaged 14.2 ppg and 9.4 rpg for Louisiana Tech last season, but he will be eligible immediately for the Ducks because he earned his degree. Tony Woods will also be eligible immediately and should help make up for the loss of bulk with Joevan Catrons’s graduation. JuCo transfers Chris Larson and Carlos Emory and freshman Austin Kuemper will also compete for minutes.

The back court will be a little more of a question mark. Johnathan Loyd is back for his sophomore season, and while he had a couple of big games as a freshman, his role was limited due to the presence of Malcolm Armstead and Jay-R Strowbridge, both of whom are now gone. He should get first crack at starting at the point, at least until Minnesota transfer Devoe Joseph gets eligible in December. Garrett Sim will likely be starting at the off-guard once again, although it will be nice if he improves his consistency from long-range. The x-factor for this team may end up being freshman Jabari Brown. Brown was a big-time scorer in high school with deep range on his jumper. How quickly will that develop into something that can be effective at the college level? There are a lot of new pieces for the Ducks this season. I’m not sure how it all fits together, but they got a head start on the season with the chance to practice and play on their trip to Italy. It was clear on the trip the team still has kinks to work out, however, particularly getting the players healthy. There is the potential here for a .500 or better finish in the league, but potential doesn’t always equal success.

6. Oregon State: Craig Robinson’s tenure as the head coach of the Beavers started out so promisingly, but after going 18-18 in 2008-2009, OSU has seen their record get worse with each successive season. Last year, the Beavers were, frankly, atrocious at times. They lost to Seattle, Utah Valley, Texas Southern and Montana in non-conference play, managing to scrape together just five wins during Pac-10 play. One of the issues that Robinson faced during the year was that his group of seniors had seemingly all-but checked out, as did some of his under-classmen. Five players were suspended for the final game of the regular season at Arizona State for missing curfew.

The good news for the Beavers is that there is some reason to be hopeful for the future. Robinson does have some talented pieces on the roster, and the only senior on scholarship is a former walk-on. It starts on the perimeter for the Beavers, as Jared Cunningham and Roberto Nelson will combine to form one of the more underrated perimeter duos in the country. Cunningham is a high-flying, high-scoring off-guard that is a terror in the passing lanes and terrific at getting to the rim. If he gets his jumper more consistent, he’ll be one of the best players in the conference. Don’t be surprised to see Nelson have a breakout year. He was a highly-regarded recruit coming in that had to deal with eligibility issues his first year with the program. He struggled to find consistent minutes and shots as a freshman, but scored 34 points against Arizona State when he got the playing time in the last game of the year. Sophomore point guard Ahmad Starks came on strong late in the year as well, averaging 13.8 ppg in his final five games. He’ll likely inherit the starting point guard role.

The front court will have quite a few bodies. The cornerstones for the future will be junior Joe Burton and sophomore Devon Collier. Neither player overwhelmed with their performance last season, but there plenty of promise. Burton is a stocky, 6’7″ low-post presence that has some pretty moves on the block while Collier is a lankier, more athletic power forward that will use his 6’8″ to be a playmaker on both ends. After those two, the Beavers will have a battle for minutes up front. Both senior Kevin McShane and junior Angus Brandt started a couple of games last year. Eric Moreland, who originally signed with UTEP, will be healthy after playing just four games due to a shoulder injury last season. Freshman Daniel Gomis has some hype coming out of Oak Hill Academy. The biggest issue for Robinson will be getting his team to buy in this season. If he can sell them on the future, there is potential on this roster. I would not be surprised to see them make a run similar to the 2008-2009 season.

7. USC: The Trojans surprised quite a few folks last season. Coming off of a 2009-2010 season that saw USC banned from postseason play, the Trojans managed to steal a couple of games during non-conference play and finish in a tie for fourth place in the conference despite playing much of the season with a roster that went about six or seven deep after Bryce Jones decided to transfer. USC even snuck their way into the NCAA Tournament — after getting eliminated from the Pac-10 tournament in a game that head coach Kevin O’Neil was suspended for due to a late-night altercation with an Arizona booster — where they were the appetizer for VCU’s Final Four run.

The team that Trojan fans see take the floor this season will look much different from the one that played in the NCAA Tournament last year. Nikola Vucevic decided to enter the draft and Jio Fontan tore his acl, meaning that Maurice Jones and Garrett Jackson are the only returnees from last season’s rotation. Jones may end up being the key piece for this team. Standing just 5’7″, Jones showed the potential to be a dynamic scorer in the Pac-12 this season. Jackson showed some flashes last season. At 6’7″, he’s an athletic forward with a solid perimeter touch that finishes around the basket well.

O’Neill does bring in a slew of newcomers. The guy that he is the most excited about is Dewayne Dedmon, a JuCo transfer that O’Neill has touted as a future lottery pick and a double-double force at the college level. We’ll see if Dedmon, who has limited organized basketball experience, can live up to those expectations. Aaron Fuller, a 6’6″ forward who is transferring in from Iowa, averaged 9.7 ppg and 6.2 rpg as a sophomore with the Hawkeyes. He was named honorable mention all-Big Ten. James Blasczyk is the third front court transfer. He originally attended Texas A&M. Expect Curtis Washington and Evan Smith to also see front court minutes. Joining Jones in the back court will be freshmen Byron Wesley and Alexa Moore and JuCo transfer Greg Allen. Danilo Dragovic, the younger brother of former UCLA big man Nikola, also entered the program as a freshman. Someone from that group is going to have to step up and become a knock-down jump-shooter and quality defender for USC to find success. Without knowing how good Dedmon is and without seeing what happens when he is paired up with Fuller and Jones, its tough to judge what the Trojans are capable of this season. Hoping for more than last year’s results — 10 league wins and a trip to the NCAA Tournament — is probably too much.

8. Stanford: The Cardinal were a tough team to peg in 2010-2011. They were a very young team, with six freshmen playing significant roles. That is never an easy thing to deal with, regardless of the talent level of those freshmen. But the Cardinal were also one of the worst teams in the conference on the offensive end of the floor, struggling to find any kind of a rhythm when Jeremy Green was off, which was far too often. Stanford did notch a couple of nice victories — beating Washington and winning at Washington State — but they also lost to Oregon State twice in the last three weeks of the season, including in the Pac-10 tournament after the Cardinal shot 4-34 in the first half.

Perhaps the biggest news of the offseason for Stanford was that Jeremy Green, last year’s leading scorer, opted to leave school and play professionally than to return, a major blow for a team that struggled to score the ball a season ago. Without Green, plenty of pressure is going to be put on leading returning scorer Josh Owens, who was finally cleared to play last season after being forced to sit out the 2009-2010 season due to an undisclosed illness. Owens was much better as a junior than he was as a sophomore, but he’ll need to make a similar jump this season. Stanford will also be looking for improvement out of Owens’ front court mate Dwight Powell. Powell entered the program with quite a bit of hype, but suffered the typical freshman growing pains of inconsistency and tentative confidence. Seniors Andrew Zimmermann and Jack Trotter, junior Andy Brown (who has dealt with acl tears in the same knee three times in 18 months), and sophomores John Gage and Josh Huestis will battle for the bench minutes.

The back court will have just as many question marks as the front court. At the point, both senior Jarrett Mann and sophomore Aaron Bright return. That said, point guard play was one of the biggest issues for the Cardinal a season ago, so don’t be surprised to see highly-regarded freshmen Chasson Randle get plenty of chances to take over control of the team. Anthony Brown, who was the team’s third-leading scorer last season, will be back for his sophomore season and he should be in line for a bump in production. But it will be interesting to see who else gets time in Stanford’s back court. Will freshmen Jack Ryan or sophomore Gabriel Harris show they deserve minutes on the perimeter. If they do, they will have to prove they can fill some of the three-point shooting void left by Jeremy Green leaving. Stanford does have some promising youngsters on their roster, but I don’t think they have enough talent to make a run at the top half of the league.

9. Colorado: The Buffaloes were a bit of a surprising snub from the NCAA Tournament in 2011. After a slow start to the year that saw them lost three of their first five non-conference games — all of which came on the road — Colorado proceeded to win 12 of their next 13, including a 3-0 start in the Big 12 with wins over Kansas State and Missouri. They would lose six of their next seven games, but with two more wins over Kansas State and an upset victory over Texas at home, the Buffs looked like they had a very good shot at dancing.

Unfortunately for Tad Boyle’s club, their first season in the Pac-12 likely won’t net them better results as three of their top four scorers graduated and their leading scorer, Alec Burks, bolted for the NBA. What is left is a lot of question marks. If there is a certainty for Colorado next season, its that sophomore wing Andre Roberson is their most interesting player heading into the season. Roberson, who stands 6’7″, is officially listed as a guard, but he led the team in rebounding at 7.8 rpg despite coming off the bench and averaged 22.8 mpg. In fact, Roberson ranked in the top 25 nationally in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. He also was a playmaker on the defensive end of the floor. If he can develop his offensive arsenal, with the number of shots coming available this season, there is plenty of reason why Roberson is getting mentioned on NBA Draft websites.

After Roberson, its unclear exactly what happens with this team. Seniors Trey Eckloff and Austin Dufault and sophomore Ben Mills are all back up front, but none of the three did much to impress last season. Sophomore Shane Harris-Tunks is back from a torn acl. Dufault is the best offensive weapon of the group, and he will be counted on to provide some balance to a roster that is once again perimeter oriented with Damiene Cain’s decision not to play basketball. Transfers Carlon Brown and Jeremy Adams will give Colorado some pop on the perimeter. Brown is an athletic wing that started for Utah while Adams is a well-regarded JuCo with a reputation for being able to score. The point guard spot may be one that is up for grabs. Senior Nate Tomlinson started last season, but sophomore Shannon Sharpe and freshmen Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker will be looking for playing time. I have a hard time seeing how Colorado will be able to compete at the top of the conference.

10. Washington State: The Cougars had an up-and-down season in 2010-2011. They were a popular pick as a sleeper in the Pac-10 heading into the season and played like it during the non-conference. They came into league play with a 10-2 record, but proceeded to drop their first two games and struggle to a 9-9 finish in the league. After missing on an NCAA Tournament berth, the Cougars accepted a bid to the NIT, where they made a run and ended up making the semifinals. All of this happened while Wazzu’s three stars — Klay Thompson, DeAngelo Casto and Reggie Moore — were getting busted for weed (in three separate incidents, nonetheless). Unfortunately for Cougar head coach Ken Bone, both Thompson and Casto ended their collegiate careers with one season of eligibility left.

Having said that, the Cougars do bring back three starters and their most important player off the bench. This season, its going to start with the back court play for Wazzu. Reggie Moore, a talented point guard out of the Seattle area, has always been forced to play third and fourth fiddle to some of his teammates. With the focus and the hopes of this Cougar team falling squarely on his shoulders, it will be interesting to see what kind of season Moore has. He will be joined in the back court by Faisal Aden, a JuCo transfer whose numbers — scoring and three-point shooting — nose-dived after a very impressive start to the season. Marcus Capers, the defensive specialist, will return to his spot in the starting lineup while Mike Ladd, who started and averaged double figures for Fresno State is 2009-2010, will likely get the first crack at the role of the sixth-man. Four newcomers join the Wazzu back court, headlined by Davonte Lacy.

The front court will be a bit more of an issue. Abe Lodwick and Brock Motum both return, but neither of them can really handle banging in the post. Lodwick is more of a perimeter player as it is, and while Motum can be an effective scorer, he’s far from a great rebounder. Sophomore Patrick Simon, who was at the back end of the Cougar rotation last year, will return while DJ Shelton, a 6’10” redshirt sophomore that signed with Cal State Fullerton out of high school. Beyond that, Wazzu’s front court will be in trouble. I love Reggie Moore’s game and I think he can overcome a lot of adversity, but I just simply don’t see this Cougar team winning too many games in the Pac-12.

11. Arizona State: Arizona State put together their worst season since Herb Sendek’s inaugural campaign in Tempe. After a decent non-conference slate in which the Sun Devils went 7-4 with no bad losses and wins over UAB and Long Beach State, ASU kicked off Pac-12 play with a 22 point loss at Oregon State, and things only went downhill from there. The Sun Devils were a team built around the three ball, at times using four guards around a player most naturally suited to be a combo-forward. As you would expect, they struggled to compete with teams in the paint, but as they also struggled to consistently shoot it from deep, ASU ended up losing 13 of their next 15 Pac-10 games.

Things don’t exactly appear to be changing next year as Sendek is still going to be dealing with a lack of size on the interior. Sophomore power forward Kyle Cain’s freshman season started out very promising, as he posted some impressive scoring and rebounding numbers early in the year. But Cain, who stands 6’7″, never cracked double figures in points or rebounds after Christmas, eventually losing his spot in the starting lineup. Carrick Felix, a 6’6″ small forward that is more of a wing player, had some of the same issues, although he hot stretch happened in the middle of the season. After getting moved into the starting lineup in January, Felix had a five game stretch where he averaged 13.6 ppg. He only hit double figures once outside of those five games. There are only a couple of other big men on the roster. Jordan Bachynski and Ruslan Pateev are both seven-footers with a way to go before they are strong enough to play at this level. Will Jonathan Gilling and Dave Whitmore provide any kind of help up front?

For as bad as their front court is, Arizona State should actually have a pretty good back court depending on the status of Jahii Carson (see above). Carson is arguably the most exciting incoming freshman in the country, a 5’11” point guard that hit a three, break an ankle with a crossover, and put a weakside defender on a poster. He’s also developed his point guard game, which is a good thing because there is some talent alongside him in the back court. Trent Lockett is one of the more underrated guards in the country. A big, athletic slasher, Lockett will have a chance to be an NBA wing if he can ever get his jump shot more consistent. Sophomore Keala King came in with some hype, but it seemed like Sendek had some trouble figuring out how to use King, a wing with a fairly unique skillset. Freshman Chris Colvin and sophomore Chanse Creekmur should also see minutes on the perimeter. There are talented players on this ASU team, but there were talented players last season as well. If Carson is eligible and the front court is competitive, Arizona State may be able to put together a quality season. If not, look for a repeat of last year.

12. Utah: The Utes basketball program is a mess right now. Five players transferred out after the 2009-2010 season. After last season, not only did eight players associated with the Utah program abandon ship — including one player, Josh Sharp, transferring to BYU — but the program also changed head coaches. What that means is that Larry Krystkowiak, in his first season at Utah and their first season in the Pac-12, will be coaching a team that returns all of four players from a year ago.

So what is Utah left with? In the back court, Josh Watkins is a playmaking point guard — he led the team in assists last year and finished as the second leading scorer — while Chris Hines is a capable spot-up shooter on the perimeter who will see a major bump in minutes. Krystowiak will also be bringing back his center duo of David Foster, the NCAA’s leading shotblocker who happens to block more shots than he does score points, and Jason Washburn, who is the better offensive option in the middle. The first of the roster will be newcomers. Freshman George Matthews is touted as a scorer and will likely get a chance to showcase that ability early in the season. Javon Dawson, a JuCo transfer that missed last season with an injury, should also slide into the starting lineup. Freshman Anthony Odunsi and Kareem Storey and JUCO transfers Dijon Farr and Cedric Martin should see time off the bench. Frankly, that is all speculation. Minutes are going to be earned in the first month of practice for the Utes. As far as the season in concerned, I am not expecting many victories in Pac-12 play out of this group.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

South Carolina tops women’s AP Top 25; Ohio State tumbles

Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports
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It was a rough week for Ohio State, which lost all three of its games and tumbled down the AP Top 25 as a result.

The previously unbeaten Buckeyes fell from second to 10th in The Associated Press women’s basketball poll released Monday after losing to Iowa and Indiana, two top 10 teams, as well as Purdue. Ohio State fell two games back in the Big Ten Conference standings.

South Carolina remained No. 1 for the 32nd consecutive week. The Gamecocks, who were again a unanimous choice from the 28-member national media panel, have the fourth-longest streak ever atop the poll. Only UConn (51 and 34 weeks) and Louisiana Tech (36) have had longer runs at No. 1.

Stanford moved back up to No. 2 in the poll and the Cardinal were followed by LSU, Indiana and UConn in the top five. LSU is the only other undefeated team in women’s basketball besides South Carolina, which visits UConn for a top-five showdown on Sunday.

Iowa jumped out four spots to sixth with Utah, Maryland and Notre Dame coming in ahead of Ohio State. The Hawkeyes started the season No. 4 in the poll.

The Fighting Irish split a pair of games last week against ranked opponents, routing Florida State before falling to N.C. State.

“There’s a lot of parity right now, which is great, great for the game,” Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey said. “The game is growing, which is what you want. But yeah, I mean, every night, especially the ACC, the ACC is the strongest league and, you know, we have just a tough stretch every night.”

One week after falling out of the rankings, Texas re-entered the poll at No. 24. The Longhorns routed then-No. 14 Oklahoma and Oklahoma State last week. South Florida also came in at No. 25. Colorado and Illinois fell out of the poll.

RISING BULLS

No. 25 South Florida continued its streak of being ranked for at least one week every season since the Bulls entered the poll for the first time in 2015.

“For us not being in a so-called football five conference, that’s a huge accomplishment,” South Florida coach Jose Fernandez said. His team has won 10 consecutive games and has 20 victories this season. The team’s four losses have all come against ranked opponents (Michigan, Villanova, Ohio State and N.C. State).

“This group has been fun to coach. We always play a great non(equals)conference schedule,” Fernandez said. “We won on the road at Texas, beat Alabama, beat Arkansas. We challenged ourselves in November and December.”

RECORD PERFORMANCES

Cameron Brink carried Stanford to a win over Oregon with a triple-double that included 10 blocks. It was the first triple-double in NCAA Division I women’s basketball featuring double-digit blocks since Tamari Key did it for Tennessee in an overtime win against Texas on Nov. 21, 2021.

No. 20 Oklahoma’s Taylor Robertson set the all-time NCAA women’s career record for 3-pointers when she hit her 498th in a loss to Iowa State on Saturday. Robertson has 503 entering this week. The all-time NCAA record, men or women, is held by Antoine Davis of Detroit Mercy, who has 534 and counting.

Purdue a unanimous No. 1 in AP Top 25; Vols up to No. 2

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
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Purdue became this season’s first unanimous No. 1 team in the AP Top 25 men’s college basketball poll Monday after wins over Michigan and Michigan State last week as chaos ensued behind the Boilermakers among other ranked teams.

More than half of Top 25 teams lost, including second-ranked Alabama, which was routed by Oklahoma in the Big 12-SEC Challenge. That allowed Purdue to grab the remaining No. 1 votes and tighten its grip atop the poll, while Tennessee jumped two spots to second and Houston held onto third in voting by 62 national media members.

The Boilermakers (21-1) have won eight straight since a one-point loss to Rutgers on Jan. 2.

“We’re the No. 1 team in the country because of how unselfish we are as a team,” Purdue guard David Jenkins Jr. said. “We had a lot of people doubting us in the beginning because, you know, we may not be the most talented team or whatever, but we’re close on the court and off the court and it’s really translating to how we’re winning.”

The Volunteers climbed to their highest perch since reaching No. 1 for four weeks during the 2018-19 season. They routed Georgia before becoming one of three SEC teams to beat Big 12 opponents on Saturday, knocking off No. 10 Texas 82-71 for their fifth consecutive win over a top-10 team.

Perhaps this is the year Rick Barnes finally gets the Vols through the Sweet 16 for the first time as their coach.

“We have a chance to be as good as we want to be,” he said. “It’s up to one thing: Are we tough enough to embrace the daily grind? And not worry about going to the Final Four or worry about going to the NCAA Tournament, but can we build a team that can be successful that time of year? It starts with truly embracing the grind.”

The Crimson Tide dropped to fourth after the blowout loss to the Sooners, when Alabama fell behind by 17 at halftime in an eventual 93-69 defeat. The Tide edged fifth-ranked Arizona by just two points in this week’s poll.

“It doesn’t have any effect on SEC standings, which is the only good thing to come out of this,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said of the lopsided loss. “Hopefully we’ll recover from a loss out of conference, but you know, it’s not good.”

Virginia was sixth and Kansas State, which rebounded from a narrow loss at No. 13 Iowa State by pummeling Florida on Saturday, fell two spots to seventh; the Wildcats face eighth-ranked Kansas in a top-10 showdown Tuesday night.

UCLA dropped to ninth after losing to Southern California and Texas rounded out the top 10.

Baylor continued its climb from unranked to No. 11 following wins over the Jayhawks and Arkansas. The Bears were followed by Gonzaga, Iowa State, Marquette and league rival TCU – the sixth Big 12 team in the top 15.

Xavier, Providence, Saint Mary’s, Florida Atlantic and Clemson completed the top 20, while poll returners Indiana and San Diego State joined Miami, UConn and Auburn in rounding out the Top 25.

RISING AND FALLING

The No. 11 Bears and No. 17 Providence made the biggest leaps, each climbing six spots from last week.

“I think our defense is better. Our turnovers are better. When you don’t give people easy transition baskets, now its five-on-five in the half court,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew, whose team had a date with the Longhorns on Monday night.

“We execute at a pretty high rate,” Drew said. “It really comes down to taking care of the ball, making sure we get shots up and when you don’t make them, you’ve got to get rebounds. And our guys are buying into that.”

Auburn took the biggest hit of those still in the poll, dropping 10 places after losses to unranked Texas A&M and West Virginia.

IN AND OUT

The Hoosiers returned to the poll at No. 21 and the Aztecs rejoined it right behind them. They took the place of Charleston, which fell out from No. 18 after losing to Hofstra, and New Mexico, which lost to Nevada in double overtime last week.

CONFERENCE CALL

The Big 12’s dominance of the SEC in the final year of their head-to-head challenge was rewarded in the poll, where the league led the way with six ranked teams and all of them in the top 15. The Big East has four teams in the poll but none higher than No. 14 Marquette, while the SEC and ACC have three teams apiece.

College basketball broadcaster Billy Packer dies at 82

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Billy Packer, an Emmy award-winning college basketball broadcaster who covered 34 Final Fours for NBC and CBS, died Thursday. He was 82.

Packer’s son, Mark, told The Associated Press that his father had been hospitalized in Charlotte for the past three weeks and had several medical issues, and ultimately succumbed to kidney failure.

Packer’s broadcasting career coincided with the growth of college basketball. He worked as analyst or color commentator on every Final Four from 1975 to 2008. He received a Sports Emmy for Outstanding Sports Personality, Studio and Sports Analyst in 1993.

“He really enjoyed doing the Final Fours,” Mark Packer said. “He timed it right. Everything in life is about timing. The ability to get involved in something that, frankly, he was going to watch anyway, was a joy to him. And then college basketball just sort of took off with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird and that became, I think, the catalyst for college basketball fans to just go crazy with March Madness.”

Packer played three seasons at Wake Forest, and helped lead the Demon Deacons to the Final Four in 1962, but it was his work as an analyst that brought him the most acclaim.

He joined NBC in 1974 and called his first Final Four in 1975. UCLA beat Kentucky in the title game that year in what was John Wooden’s final game as coach.

Packer was also part of the broadcast in 1979 with Dick Enberg and Al McGuire when Magic Johnson’s Michigan State team beat Larry Bird’s Indiana State squad in the title game. That remains highest-rated game in basketball history with a 24.1 Nielsen rating, which is an estimated 35.1 million viewers.

Packer went to CBS in the fall of 1981, when the network acquired the rights to the NCAA Tournament. He remained the network’s main analyst until the 2008 Final Four.

In 1996 at CBS, Packer was involved in controversy when he used the term “tough monkey? to describe then-Georgetown star Allen Iverson during a game. Packer later said he “was not apologizing for what I said, because what I said has no implications in my mind whatsoever to do with Allen Iverson’s race.?

Sean McManus, the chairman of CBS Sports, said Packer was “synonymous with college basketball for more than three decades and set the standard of excellence as the voice of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.”

“He had a tremendous impact on the growth and popularity of the sport.” McManus said. “In true Billy fashion, he analyzed the game with his own unique style, perspective and opinions, yet always kept the focus on the game. As passionate as he was about basketball, at his heart Billy was a family man. He leaves part of his legacy at CBS Sports, across college basketball and, most importantly, as a beloved husband, father and grandfather. He will be deeply missed by all.”

Packer was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008.

ESPN broadcaster Dick Vitale took to Twitter as word of Packer’s death spread. “So sad to learn of the passing of Billy Packer who had such a passion for college basketball,” Vitale tweeted. “My (prayers) go out to Billy’s son Mark & the entire Packer family. Always had great RESPECT for Billy & his partners Dick Enberg & Al McGuire-they were super. May Billy RIP.”

College basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla tweeted: “We fell in love (with) college basketball because of you. Your voice will remain in my head forever.”

Packer was viewed as a controversial figure during his broadcasting days, often drawing the ire of college basketball fans, particularly on North Carolina’s “Tobacco Road.”

“As a kid, I was a big NC State fan growing up, and I would watch a game and the next day I’d be like, `Boy you sure have it out for NC State, don’t you?’ And he would just laugh,” Mark Packer said.

The younger Packer, who is the host of ACC PM on the ACC Network, said it didn’t matter what school – most fans felt the same way about his father.

“He would cover North Carolina game and Tar Heels fans would be like, `you hate North Carolina,”‘ Mark Packer said. “Wake (Forest) fans would be like, `you hate us.’ And Billy just sort of got a kick out of that.”

Mark Packer said that while most fans will remember his father as a broadcaster, he’ll remember him even more for his business acumen. He said his father was a big real estate investor, and also owned a vape company, among other ventures.

“Billy was always a bit of a hustler – he was always looking for that next business deal,” Packer said.

Clemson starter Galloway will miss time after surgery

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CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson starter Brevin Galloway is expected to miss games for the 24th-ranked Tigers after having surgery on his groin area Thursday.

The 6-foot-3 Galloway has started 20 of 21 games after transferring from Boston College this past offseason.

Galloway posted on social media that he’d had the surgery. Clemson coach Brad Brownell confirmed in a text to The Associated Press that Galloway had the operation.

Galloway said in his post he will be in uniform soon. He is not expected to play at Florida State on Saturday.

A fifth-year player, Galloway has averaged 10.6 points a game this season. He’s second on the Tigers with 55 assists and 18 steals.

The Tigers (17-4) lead the Atlantic Coast Conference at 9-1 in league play.

Clemson is already down two experienced players due to injury.

Point guard Chase Hunter, who started the team’s first 18 games, has missed the past three with a foot injury.

Guard Alex Hemenway, in his fourth season, has missed the past nine games with a foot injury. Hemenway was the team’s leading 3-point shooter (27 of 54) before getting hurt.

Zach Edey has 19 points, No. 1 Purdue beats Michigan 75-70

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Junfu Han/USA TODAY NETWORK
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Zach Edey had 15 of his 19 points in the first half and Fletcher Loyer finished with 17 points to help No. 1 Purdue hold off Michigan 75-70 on Thursday night.

The Boilermakers (20-1, 9-1 Big Ten) had a 15-0 run to go ahead 41-28 lead in the first half after there were 10 lead changes and four ties, but they couldn’t pull away.

The Wolverines (11-9, 5-4) were without standout freshman Jett Howard, who missed the game with an ankle injury, and still hung around until the final seconds.

Joey Baker made a 3-pointer – off the glass – with 5.9 seconds left to pull Michigan within three points, but Purdue’s Brandon Newman sealed the victory with two free throws.

Purdue coach Matt Painter said Michigan slowed down Edey in the second half by pushing him away from the basket.

“They got him out a little more, and got him bottled up,” Painter said.

The 7-foot-4 Edey, though, was too tough to stop early in the game.

“He’s one of the best in the country for a reason,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “He’s very effective, especially if he’s 8 feet and in.”

With size and skills such as a hook shot, the junior center from Toronto scored Purdue’s first seven points and finished the first half 7 of 12 from the field and 1 of 2 at the line.

“He did a great job in the first half, going to his right shoulder and using his left hand,” Painter said. “He made four baskets with his left hand which is huge.”

Freshman Braden Smith had 10 points for the Boilermakers.

Purdue’s defense ultimately denied Michigan’s comeback hopes, holding a 22nd straight opponent to 70 or fewer points.

Hunter Dickinson scored 21, Kobe Bufkin had 16 points and Baker added 11 points for the Wolverines, who have lost four of their last six games.

Dickinson, a 7-1 center, matched up with Edey defensively and pulled him out of the lane offensively by making 3 of 7 3-pointers.

“Half his shots were from the 3, and that’s a little different,” Painter said. “His meat and potatoes are on that block. He’s the real deal.”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Boilermakers got the top spot in the AP Top 25 this week after winning six games, a stretch that followed a loss to Rutgers on Jan. 3 that dropped them from No. 1 in the poll. Purdue improved to 7-2 as the top-ranked team.

BIG PICTURE

Purdue: Edey can’t beat teams by himself and he’s surrounded by a lot of role players and a potential standout in Loyer. The 6-4 guard was the Big Ten player of the week earlier this month, become the first Boilermaker freshman to win the award since Robbie Hummel in 2008.

“Fletcher is somebody who has played better in the second half, and on the road,” Painter said.

Michigan: Jett Howard’s health is a critical factor for the Wolverines, who will have some work to do over the second half of the Big Ten season to avoid missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015. Howard averages 14.6 points and is the most dynamic player on his father’s team.

ROAD WARRIORS

The Boilermakers were away from home for 12 of 23 days, winning all five of their road games. They won at Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan for the first time since the 1997-98 season and beat the Spartans and Wolverines on their home court in the same season for the first time in 12 years.

UP NEXT

Purdue: Hosts Michigan State on Sunday, nearly two weeks after the Boilermakers beat the Spartans by a point on Edey’s shot with 2.2 seconds left.

Michigan: Plays at Penn State on Sunday.