Pac-12 Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

Arizona hasn’t won the Pac-12 tournament since 2002 (AP Photo)

For the second consecutive season the Arizona Wildcats convincingly won the Pac-12 regular season title, beating Oregon and Utah by three games. Sean Miller’s team is poised to play well into March and maybe even the first weekend of April, as they have all the qualities that a championship-caliber team possesses. The biggest boosts of the last month have been the improved play of center Kaleb Tarczewski and the bench scoring of Gabe York.

READ MORE: NBC Sports’ latest Bracketology

With leading contributors such as point guard T.J. McConnell and wings Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson, Arizona has the tools needed to win their first Pac-12 tournament title since 2002. The Wildcats will be the clear favorite in Las Vegas, but there are multiple teams that harbor thoughts of winning the title themselves. Utah has one of the nation’s best players in Delon Wright, and Oregon’s headliner is senior guard Joseph Young. Like Arizona, the Utes and Ducks will hear their names called Selection Sunday.

That brings us to the team that’s under the greatest pressure when it comes to the NCAA tournament: UCLA. While the Bruins are the four-seed there’s still work to be done when it comes to their at-large resume, and that’s what makes this week so important for them. Stanford, at one point considered to be a safe bet to return to the NCAA tournament, is now in a spot where they likely need the automatic bid to do so.

While every team has hopes of cutting down the nets Saturday night, there’s a clear favorite to accomplish that. But with Arizona not having the best fortune in this event, it wouldn’t be wise to rule out the field.



MORE:’s 2015 Conference Tournament Previews

When: March 11-14

Where: MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas

Final: March 14, 11:00 p.m. (ESPN)

Favorite: Arizona

The last time Arizona won this event was in 2002, one year after their most recent Final Four appearance. If any motivation was needed for the Pac-12 tournament the conference’s coaches likely supplied that in their choices for the league’s top individual honors. Point guard T.J. McConnell, the heart and soul of this team, missed out on Pac-12 Player of the Year (Young won that) and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson wasn’t named Defensive Player of the Year (Oregon State’s Gary Payton II won). Those two along with Stanley Johnson, Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski make up one of the most talented starting units in the country and they’ve received solid contributions from the bench as well.

And if they lose?: Utah

Of Utah’s 13 conference wins just one was by fewer than ten points (at Washington State), but they didn’t finish the regular season playing their best basketball. Larry Krystkowiak’s Runnin’ Utes dropped three of their last five games, and they need junior guard Brandon Taylor to get back on track offensively. This is a group with depth and versatility, and with freshman Jakob Poeltl in the middle there’s skill in the post as well.

Other Contenders:

  • Oregon: Picked to finish eighth the Ducks are the two-seed in Las Vegas, and despite questions about the depth Dana Altman’s received contributions from a number of players. Joseph Young leads the way, but fellow vet Elgin Cook’s been good as have freshmen Jordan Bell and Dillon Brooks.
  • UCLA: Tony Parker’s been their barometer throughout Pac-12 play; when he’s engaged and productive inside the Bruins can be a handful. Norman Parker’s been outstanding and Kevon Looney is one of the best freshmen in the country. The key for UCLA’s guards this week: shot selection. When they remain under control and work the ball inside, good things tend to happen.

Sleeper: Arizona State

Given the number of new pieces it took some time for Herb Sendek’s team to mesh, but they arrive in Las Vegas having won five of their last seven. Tra Holder’s been good at the point as a freshman, and Gerry Blakes, Shaquielle McKissic and Savon Goodman are the leading scorers. They don’t match up particularly well with Utah, which won both meetings comfortably, but they lost two games to Oregon by a total of four points and have wins over Both Arizona and UCLA.

Deeper Sleeper: Stanford

Having lost three in a row and five of their last seven, the Cardinal stagger into Las Vegas. But they have experience in seniors Chasson Randle, Anthony Brown and Stefan Nastic, and Marcus Allen has earned more minutes as the season’s progressed. If Stanford is to have any hope of making a run they need Randle to shoot at a higher clip than the 39.3 percent he’s making for the entire season.

Pac-12 Player of the Year: Delon Wright, Utah

Wright’s one of the most versatile players in the country, as he’s averaging 14.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 2.1 steals per game game. And despite dealing with defenses that tend to dare him to shoot the three, Wright’s still shooting 52.2 percent from the field.

Pac-12 Coach of the Year: Dana Altman, Oregon

Oregon was picked to finish eighth and wound up tied for second, so from that angle this is an easy choice. And with their resume being what it was in early February, Altman’s Ducks arrive in Las Vegas as a lock to return to the NCAA tournament.

First Team All-Pac-12:

  • Wright
  • T.J. McConnell, Arizona: Competitor. Leader. Winner. McConnell averaged 6.3 assists per game and without him a very talented Arizona team isn’t as good as it currently is.
  • Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona: Averaging 11.2 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, Hollis-Jefferson is right there with Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein when it comes to the nation’s best (and most versatile) defender).
  • Joseph Young, Oregon: Young was the Pac-12’s leading scorer, averaging 19.8 points per game in addition to 4.5 rebounds and 3.7 assists.
  • Stanley Johnson, Arizona: The conference’s top freshman is averaging 13.9 points and 6.6 rebounds per game, leading the Wildcats in both categories.

Second Team All-Pac-12:

  • Tyrone Wallace, California
  • Norman Powell, UCLA
  • Anthony Brown, Stanford 
  • Gary Payton II, Oregon State 
  • Kevon Looney, UCLA 

Defining moment of the season: Gabe York’s offensive rebound in Arizona’s win at Utah

York was at the line for two free throws with Arizona trailing 57-55 with 1:39 remaining, less than 20 seconds after a Brandon Taylor free throw gave the Runnin’ Utes the lead. After making the first free throw, York followed his own miss to give the Wildcats a lead they would not relinquish. That sealed the game and another Pac-12 title for the Wildcats.

CBT Prediction: The motivated Wildcats win their first Pac-12 tournament title since 2002, beating Utah in the final.

Mulkey, LSU women rally in Final Four, reach first title game

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

DALLAS – Kim Mulkey is back in another national championship game, this time taking the flagship university from her home state there for the first time.

It took LSU only two seasons to get there with the feisty and flamboyantly dressed coach, and a big comeback in the national semifinal game that was quite an undercard Friday night.

Alexis Morris scored 27 points and had two of her misses in the fourth quarter turned into putback baskets by Angel Reese in a big run as LSU rallied to beat top-seeded Virginia Tech 79-72 in the first semifinal game.

“I’m never satisfied. I’m super-excited that we won, but I’m hungry,” said Morris, who jumped on a courtside table and fired up LSU fans after the game. “Like, I’m greedy. I want to win it all so I can complete the story.”

Reese finished with 24 points and 12 rebounds for LSU (33-2), which will play in the national title game Sunday against the winner of the highly anticipated matchup between Southeastern Conference foe South Carolina or Iowa in the other semifinal.

“It’s like a dream. It still hasn’t hit me that I’m at the Final Four,” said Reese, the transfer from Maryland who carries the nickname, ”Bayou Barbie.” “I’m just not even believing this right now. It’s crazy how much my life has changed in one year.”

Mulkey – in a carnation pink top this time – won three national titles in four Final Four appearances over her 21 seasons at Baylor. She is only the second coach to take two different teams to the national championship game. The other is C. Vivian Stringer, who did it with Cheyney in the inaugural 1982 women’s tournament and Rutgers in 2007.

“I came home for lots of reasons,” Mulkey said. “One, to some day hang a championship banner in the PMAC (Pete Maravich Assembly Center). Never, ever do you think you’re going to do something like this in two years.”

LSU made five national semifinal games in a row from 2004-08 – the only times the Tigers had made it this far. They lost each of those years.

The Tigers had to dig deep for this one, with neither team backing down.

Trailing 59-50 after three quarters, LSU went ahead with a 15-0 run over a five-minute span. The Tigers led for the first time since late in the first half when Falu’jae Johnson had a steal and drove for a layup to make it 64-62.

Reese had six points in that game-turning spurt, including a basket after Morris’ attempted 3-pointer clanked off the front rim. Reese had a second-effort follow of her own miss after rebounding another shot by Morris.

Elizabeth Kitley, the 6-foot-6 senior, had 18 points and 12 rebounds for Virginia Tech (31-5), the Atlantic Coast Conference champion that was in the Final Four for the first time. Georgia Amoore and Kayana Traylor each had 17 points, while Cayla King had 14.

Amoore set a record for the most 3-pointers in a single NCAA Tournament with 24, though she had a tough night shooting – 4 of 17 overall, including 4 of 15 from beyond the arc. She passed Kia Nurse’s record 22 set in the 2017 tourney for UConn, which lost in the national semifinals on the same court. Arizona’s Aari McDonald had 22 in six NCAA tourney games two years ago.

The big run for LSU came right after Amoore made her last 3-pointer with 7:52 left for a 62-57 lead. The Hokies didn’t make another basket until King’s 3 with 1:19 left.

“I think we had a few crucial turnovers as well as missed box-outs where they scored on second-chance opportunities,” Traylor said. “I think that’s just what it came down to really.”

Morris had opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer for LSU, then had a driving layup before Reese had a layup after a steal by Johnson. That quick 7-0 run prompted a timeout by Hokies coach Kenny Brooks.

“They hit a couple of shots, gave them a little bit of momentum. They hit a 3 right off the bat … kind of changed the momentum,” Brooks said. “They were aggressive in the passing lanes. But they also were a little bit more aggressive down low.”

Virginia Tech had ended the first half with its own 11-0 run to lead for the first time, at 34-32 on Traylor’s driving layup with 53 seconds left.

But it was the Tigers who led for 17:55 of the first half with the Hokies getting off to a slow start shooting – they missed eight of their first nine shots – that an LSU cheerleader had an assist even before they officially had a shot.

King was charged with a turnover on a ball that hit the rim and bounced over the top of the backboard and got stuck there. With encouragement from officials and others at that end, a male cheerleader lifted up a female cheerleader, who knocked the ball down.

Gradey Dick to leave Kansas for NBA draft after one season

Amy Kontras-USA TODAY Sports

LAWRENCE, Kan. – Kansas sharpshooter Gradey Dick is entering the NBA draft after one season with the Jayhawks.

The 6-foot-8 guard announced his decision in a social media post Friday.

Dick started all 36 games for the Jayhawks and averaged 14.1 points while shooting better than 40% from 3-point range. He made 83 3-pointers, a program record for a freshman.

Kansas lost to Arkansas in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, with Dick scoring just seven points in his finale.

Marquette’s Shaka Smart voted men’s AP coach of the year

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Shaka Smart has packed an entire career’s worth of experiences into 14 years as a college head coach. He led VCU to an improbable Final Four as a 30-something wunderkind in 2011, guided mighty Texas to a Big 12 Tournament title during six otherwise tepid years in Austin, and now has turned Marquette into a Big East beast.

It’s sometimes easy to forget he’s still just 45 years old.

Yet his work with the Golden Eagles this season might have been his best: Picked ninth in the 11-team league by its coaches, they won the regular-season title going away, then beat Xavier to win their first Big East Tournament championship.

That earned Smart the AP coach of the year award Friday. He garnered 24 of 58 votes from a national media panel to edge Kansas State’s Jerome Tang, who received 13 votes before guiding the Wildcats to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, and Houston’s Kelvin Sampson, who earned 10 before taking the Cougars to the Sweet 16.

Voting opened after the regular season and closed at the start of the NCAA Tournament, where the No. 2 seed Golden Eagles were knocked out in the second round by Michigan State and Smart’s longtime mentor, Tom Izzo.

“I’m very grateful to win this award,” said Smart, the second Marquette coach to take it home after Hall of Famer Al McGuire in 1971, “but obviously it always comes back to the guys you have on your team.

“Early on,” Smart said, “we had a real sense the guys had genuine care and concern for one another, and we had a very good foundation for relationships that we could continue to build on. And over the course of seasons, you go through so many different experiences as a team. And those experiences either bring you closer together or further apart. Our guys did a great job, even through adverse experiences, even through challenges, becoming closer together.”

It’s hardly surprising such cohesion is what Smart would choose to remember most from a most memorable season.

The native of Madison, Wisconsin, who holds a master’s degree in social science from California University of Pennsylvania, long ago earned a reputation for building close bonds with players and a tight-knit camaraderie within his teams.

No matter how high or low the Golden Eagles were this season, those traits carried them through.

“Everything that we go through, whether it be the retreat that we went on before the season, all the workouts in the summer, he’s preaching his culture,” said Tyler Kolek, a third-team All-American. “And he’s showing his leadership every single day, and just trying to impart that on us, and kind of put it in our DNA. Because it’s definitely in his DNA.”

That’s reflected in the way Smart, who accepted the Marquette job two years ago after an often bumpy tenure at Texas, has rebuilt the Golden Eagles program after it had begun to languish under Steve Wojciechowski.

Sure, Smart landed his share of transfers – Kolek among them – in an era in which the portal has become so prevalent. But he largely built a team that finished 29-7 this season around high school recruits, eschewing a quick fix in the hopes of long-term stability. Among those prospects were Kam Jones, their leading scorer, and do-everything forward David Joplin.

“He teaches us lots of things about the importance of each other,” Joplin said. “He lets us know, time and time again, that we can’t do anything without each other, but together we can do anything.”

That sounds like a decidedly old-school approach to building a college basketball program.

One embraced by a still-youthful head coach.

“I think being a head coach has never been more complicated, never been more nuanced, and never more all-encompassing,” Smart told the AP in a wide-ranging interview last week. “Does that mean it’s harder? You could say that.

“What makes your job less hard,” Smart said, “is having a captive audience in your players, and guys that truly understand and own what goes into winning, and that’s what we had this past year. But those things just don’t happen. There are a lot of steps that have to occur on the part of a lot of people, not just the coach, to get to where you have a winning environment.”

Purdue’s Zach Edey named AP men’s player of the year

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Zach Edey spent the days following Purdue’s historic NCAA Tournament loss lying low, his phone turned off, along with the rest of the outside world.

The disappointing finish did little to diminish the season the Boilermakers big man had.

Dominating at both ends of the floor during the regular season, Edey was a near-unanimous choice as The Associated Press men’s college basketball player of the year. Edey received all but one vote from a 58-person media panel, with Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis getting the other.

“The season ended in disappointment, which really sucks, but it’s always nice to win individual accolades,” Edey said. “It kind of validates your work a little bit. The last three years I’ve played here, I’ve seen my game grow every year. AP player of the year is a great feeling, it just kind of stinks the way the season ended.”

That ending came in the NCAA Tournament’s first round, when Purdue lost to Fairleigh Dickinson, joining Virginia in 2018 as the only No. 1 seeds to lose to a No. 16.

Before that, Edey dominated.

The 7-foot-4 Canadian was named a unanimous AP All-American and the Big Ten player of the year after finishing sixth nationally in scoring (22.3), second in rebounding (12.8) and first in double-doubles (26).

Edey also shot 62% from the floor and averaged 2.1 blocked shots per game while leading Purdue to its first outright Big Ten regular-season title since 2017. He is the first player since Navy’s David Robinson in 1985-86 to have at least 750 points, 450 rebounds and 50 blocked shots in a season.

“He’s kind of a one of a kind,” Purdue guard David Jenkins Jr. said. “I’ve never played with someone like him, probably never will again.”

And to think, Edey didn’t want to play basketball when he was younger.

A hockey and baseball player growing up in Toronto, Edey resisted basketball at first. He was 6-2 by the sixth grade and the natural inclination by the adults was to push him toward basketball, where his size would be a massive advantage.

“It was something I kind avoided all my life.,” Edey said. “I didn’t like people telling me what I should be doing with my life and it felt like that’s what people were doing with basketball. When I started playing competitively, that’s when I really fell in love with the sport.”

Edey developed his game quickly. He played at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, and proved himself against some of the nation’s best high school players, drawing attention from college coaches. He ended up at Purdue, where coach Matt Painter had a proven track record of developing big men.

Edey had a limited role as a freshman, then averaged 14.4 points and 7.7 rebounds last season on a team that had talented big man Trevion Williams and future NBA lottery pick Jaden Ivey.

Already a tireless worker, Edey put in even more time during the offseason, spending extra time after practice and taking better care of his body. His already solid footwork got better, he added quickness and developed more patience with the constant double teams he faced – not to mention the barrage of physical play teams tried to employ against him.

“There’s not really any kind of cool, sexy answer,” Edey said. “I came in every day, I worked hard, I stayed after practice – stayed a long time after practice. I took care of my body and was able to steadily improve. There was nothing revolutionary I did. I just worked hard.”

It certainly paid off, even if the season ended with a huge disappointment.

George Mason Final Four star Tony Skinn hired as hoops coach

Doral Chenoweth/Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

FAIRFAX, Va. – Tony Skinn, who helped lead 11th-seeded George Mason to the Final Four during March Madness as a player in 2006, was hired Thursday to coach men’s basketball at the school.

Skinn replaces Kim English, who left George Mason for Providence after Ed Cooley departed Providence for Georgetown.

“Tony Skinn is the right man for this moment in Mason’s basketball program,” university President Gregory Washington said in the news release announcing the hiring. “His coaching style will galvanize our student-athletes and his connection to our finest hour on the court is sure to electrify our alumni and fans.”

Skinn was a starting guard for the Patriots 17 years ago when they picked up a series of surprising wins – including against UConn in the regional final in Washington, about 20 miles from campus – to make the semifinals at the NCAA Tournament.

George Mason’s coach at the time, Jim Larrañaga, is now at Miami and has the Hurricanes in this year’s Final Four.

Skinn was most recently an assistant coach at Maryland. He also has worked at Ohio State, Seton Hall and Louisiana Tech.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling to step back on campus,” Skinn said. “I’ve had some of my greatest memories here and I’m looking forward to making new ones with our fans and our community.”