Pac-12 Preview: Expect a tight race at the top

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Beginning in October and running up through November 13th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2015-2016 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Pac-12.

Sean Miller’s Arizona Wildcats were expected to win the Pac-12 in 2014-15 and that’s exactly how things played out, with Arizona winning the league’s regular season and tournament titles while leading the way in both offensive and defensive efficiency. But with four starters from that 34-4 team having moved on, the Wildcats will have a much different look this season even with the amount of talent added by Miller and his staff. That opens the door for other contenders, with multiple teams having the combination of returnees and newcomers needed to make a run at the Pac-12 crown.

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. Two decisions within a four-week span changed California’s expectations in a big way: With Tyrone Wallace, Jordan Mathews and Jabari Bird back and Georgetown transfer Stephen Domingo eligible to play, California was in a position to rebound from a tough 2014-15 season. But things changed when five-star prospects Ivan Rabb and Jaylen Brown committed within a four-week period to play for Cuonzo Martin. Now the Golden Bears are a team many have pegged as capable of not only winning the Pac-12 but making waves nationally as well.

2. Arizona reloads with a combination of transfers and highly touted freshmen: With T.J. McConnell being a senior and Stanley Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Brandon Ashley expected to be headed to the pro ranks, Arizona prepared for the likelihood that they’d have a lot of holes to fill in their roster. So Arizona added a quartet of quality freshmen led by guard Allonzo Trier, a grad student in former San Francisco combo forward Mark Tollefsen, and two transfers who sat out last season in Kadeem Allen (redshirted after arriving from Hutchinson CC) and Ryan Anderson (Boston College). This group will join returnees led by senior center Kaleb Tarczewski in hopes of keeping the Wildcats on top of the Pac-12.

3. Bobby Hurley takes over at Arizona State: There was just one coaching change in the Pac-12, with Arizona State moving on from Herb Sendek and bringing in one of the greatest point guards in college basketball history. Hurley may have only two years of college head coaching experience under his belt but they were a productive two years, as he led Buffalo to 19 wins in 2013-14 and an NCAA tournament appearance last season. A tough non-conference schedule will test the Sun Devils before Pac-12 play begins, but Hurley can call upon players such as guards Tra Holder and Gerry Blakes and forward Savon Goodman in his debut in Tempe.

4. Just two first team All Pac-12 selections from last season return: Only the aforementioned Wallace, who’s an early frontrunner for Pac-12 Player of the Year, and Oregon State senior guard Gary Payton II (who, amidst some controversy, won Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year) return to campus this season. And of the five players who earned second team all-conference honors only two (Oregon forward Elgin Cook and Utah guard Brandon Taylor) are back. That opens up a lot of slots for those two teams, especially with the conference placing ten players on its first team.

5. Oregon State added one of the best recruiting classes in program history: Much of the focus on this group will be on Tres Tinkle and Stephen Thompson Jr., due not only to their talent but also the fact that their fathers are on staff at OSU. Head coach Wayne Tinkle landed a six-member freshman class expected to give the program the additional depth and talent they missed a season ago. Oregon State won 17 games in Tinkle’s debut, and with all five starters back (led by Payton) they could make a run at the program’s first NCAA bid since 1990.

MORE: 2015-16 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

COACH’S TAKE:

  • Favorite: “Nine of the 12 teams are returning at least three starters, so most of the teams are returning a lot of experience and a lot of those teams had good seasons on top of that. I think the league’s going to be deeper than it was last year, and I thought it was good last year. I expect Arizona, Cal, UCLA, Utah and Oregon that either return a lot or are bringing in a lot of heralded players. So I think those are the teams people are expecting to have really strong seasons.”
  • Best player: “I think Tyrone Wallace is poised to have a really good year. He’s a senior, and all the experience he’s gained I expect him to have a big year. Jakob Poeltl’s poised to have a really good sophomore season as he’s really talented, and I think Josh Scott too. The injuries really slowed his (junior) year down, and you could tell he just wasn’t right. If he’s healthy he’s formidable as well.”
  • Most underrated player: “A player who to me doesn’t get the respect he really deserves is Bryce Alford. I think the expectations on him are so high, and having competed against him and watching his game I think he’s an underrated player.”

PRESEASON PAC-12 PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Tyrone Wallace, California

Wallace returns to Berkeley as one of the top point guards (and players, period) in the country. As a junior the Bakersfield native averaged 17.1 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game, and he was named a finalist for the Bob Cousy Award as a result. With the amount of talent around him, Wallace will be able to continue to be a playmaker while not having as much pressure on him to score.

THE REST OF THE ALL PAC-12 FIRST TEAM:

  • Gary Payton II, Oregon State: Payton ranked first on his team in scoring, rebounding and steals and second in assists and blocks last season.
  • Jaylen Brown, California: In a conference that won’t lack for talented freshmen, this Georgia native may be the best of the bunch. He’ll play multiple positions for the Golden Bears.
  • Elgin Cook, Oregon: One could argue that teammate Dillon Brooks would be a good choice here. But don’t overlook Cook, who averaged 13.0 points and 5.2 rebounds per game last season.
  • Jakob Poeltl, Utah: Poeltl (9.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg) didn’t land on either all-conference team last season, but he’s added some weight and has the tools needed to make sure that doesn’t happen this time around.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Ryan Anderson and Ray Smith, Arizona
  • Bryce Alford and Jonah Bolden, UCLA
  • Brandon Taylor, Utah
  • Tyler Dorsey, Oregon
  • Ivan Rabb, California

BREAKOUT STAR: Dillon Brooks, Oregon

Brooks was one of the top freshmen in the Pac-12 last season, averaging 11.5 points and 4.9 rebounds per contest. He, like teammate Tyler Dorsey (Greece), made a positive impression at the FIBA U19 World Championships (18.8 ppg) this summer and earned a spot on Canada’s silver medal squad at the Pan-American games as well. With Joseph Young in the NBA the Ducks will need Brooks to step forward as a scorer, and he’s capable of doing so.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Lorenzo Romar, Washington

The Huskies haven’t reached the NCAA tournament since 2011 and they missed out on postseason play in each of the last two years. What works in Romar’s favor is the fact that they’ve recruited well in the 2015 class, and they’ve got a five-star prospect in Markelle Fultz coming in next season. The Huskies will be very young this year, which may provide a buffer of sorts for the coaching staff.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : can any of these team’s end the Pac-12’s Final Four dry spell?

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT : the race for the Pac-12 title, which should be tight throughout.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • December 3, Kentucky at UCLA
  • December 4, Oregon vs. UNLV (at MGM Grand, Las Vegas)
  • December 5, Arizona at Gonzaga
  • December 19, Utah vs. Duke (in New York)
  • December 22, California at Virginia

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW@pachoopsab

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Arizona: The newcomers may be the focus, but mainstays such as Tarczewski, Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Gabe York will be just as important for this group.
2. Oregon: Losing Joseph Young hurts, but their returnees don’t lack for talent and the additions have given them needed depth on the perimeter (Dorsey, Dylan Ennis) and in the paint (Chris Boucher).
3. California: The talent is most certainly there for a Pac-12 title run. But do the Golden Bears have the interior depth (Kameron Rooks missed last season with a torn ACL) they need to get it done?
4. Utah: The one starter who didn’t return (Delon Wright) was a huge factor, but the Runnin’ Utes have enough back to make this prediction look conservative come March.
5. UCLA: The additions of Aaron Holiday and Jonah Bolden certainly help as the Bruins look to account for the loss of NBA draft pick Norman Parker.
6. Oregon State: Is this the year that Oregon State’s NCAA tournament drought ends? It could be, depending upon how the newcomers and returnees mesh.
7. Arizona State: Four of the team’s top five scorers from last season return, and South Plains JC transfer gives them another perimeter scoring option.
8. Colorado: Josh Scott’s one of the top post players in the Pac-12. But the Buffaloes will need breakthrough seasons from Dominique Collier and George King in light of Xavier Johnson’s Achilles injury.
9. USC: The Trojans are young but they won’t lack for talent, especially with freshman forwards Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu in the fold. They need Jordan McLaughlin to stay healthy though.
10. Stanford: The triumvirate of Chasson Randle, Anthony Brown and Stefan Nastic have moved on, leaving Johnny Dawkins with a young team that includes sophomores Robert Cartwright, Reid Travis and Michael Humphrey.
11. Washington: Senior guard Andrew Andrews will lead an incredibly young team, with freshmen such as Dejounte Murray, Marquese Chriss and Noah Dickerson among those who will compete for minutes.
12. Washington State: Josh Hawkinson, the league’s most improved player last season, is back as are two other starters. But the loss of DaVonte’ Lacy leaves a big void for Ernie Kent to account for.

No. 16 Xavier beats No. 17 Providence 85-83 in OT thriller

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CINCINNATI — Jack Nunge had 23 points and 14 rebounds as No. 16 Xavier held off No. 17 Providence 85-83 in an overtime thriller Wednesday night.

Colby Jones and Souley Boum each scored 20 for the Musketeers, who won a first-place showdown in the Big East without injured forward Zach Freemantle.

Noah Locke had 22 points and Ed Croswell added 21 for Providence (17-6, 9-3), which had beaten Xavier three straight times.

A layup by Boum put the Musketeers (18-5, 10-2) ahead 82-79 with 51 seconds remaining in overtime. A turnover by the Musketeers led to a layup by Devin Carter that cut Xavier’s lead to one with 24 seconds left.

Boum hit one of two free throws, and Jared Bynum’s 3-point attempt from the left corner rimmed out at the buzzer as the Musketeers held on.

Xavier played its first game without Freemantle, the team’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer. He is expected to miss four weeks with a left foot injury, the same foot that required surgery in 2021.

Jerome Hunter, who has excelled off the bench for the Musketeers, made his first start of the season and scored nine points with eight rebounds. Xavier had used the same starting lineup in each of its previous 11 Big East games.

Things started well for the Musketeers. who went on a 12-1 run to build a 25-11 lead.

With Boum on the bench with two fouls, the Musketeers didn’t have a field goal in the final 4:18 of the first half and the Friars pulled to 39-35 at halftime.

Providence outscored Xavier 8-2 to start the second half and took its first lead, 43-41, with 17:41 left.

There was a frantic finish to the second half, with Adam Kunkel’s 3-pointer putting Xavier ahead 76-73 with 55 seconds left. But then Bynum banked in a tying 3 and Boum missed two long shots to send the game to overtime.

BIG PICTURE

Providence: The Friars, who won their first Big East regular-season title last year, entered the night tied atop the conference standings with Xavier and No. 14 Marquette, which hosted Villanova later. Providence was picked fifth in the preseason.

Xavier: Hunter, who averages 14 minutes, left with three minutes remaining in OT with an apparent cramp in his right leg. With Freemantle out, Hunter played 36 minutes.

UP NEXT

Providence: Hosts last-place Georgetown on Wednesday.

Xavier: Will host St. John’s on Saturday.

Florida upends No. 2 Tennessee 67-54 behind Colin Castleton

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Colin Castleton had 20 points and nine rebounds, Kyle Lofton added 14 points and Florida used a 13-0 run late in the second half to upend No. 2 Tennessee 67-54 on Wednesday night.

The Volunteers, playing with their highest ranking in four years, lost for the first time in five games. They had won nine of 10.

Tennessee (18-4, 7-2 Southeastern Conference) looked like it had taken control midway through the second half. They outscored Florida by 10 points in the early going to take a six-point lead.

But the Gators (13-9, 6-3) stormed back behind Castleton, who scored 11 of 14 points as Florida rallied. The senior had a dunk, two free throws, a three-point play, a layup and a short jumper – essentially putting the team on his back down the stretch.

Myreon Jones and Will Richard chipped in nine points apiece for the Gators.

Zakai Ziegler led the Vols with 15 points on 6-of-19 shooting. Olivier Nkamhoua added 11 points and nine rebounds for the vistors, who also got 11 points and eight boards from Vescovi Santiago.

Florida led 27-21 at halftime, just the fifth time the Volunteers has trailed at the break this season. Tennessee rallied to win three of the previous four.

The Gators were red hot to start, making six of their first eight shots – including all three from 3-point range – while building a 17-4 advantage. But they quickly cooled against the nation’s best defense, missing nine of their next 11 as Tennessee made cut it to 22-21.

The Vols had it going coming out of the locker room, with Ziegler getting into the paint and making things happen. But it was short-lived – thanks mostly to Castleton.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Tennessee surely will drop a few spots in next week’s AP Top 25 college basketball poll.

BIG PICTURE

Tennessee: The Volunteers gave up 10 points in the opening four minutes of the games, a rare sluggish start for the nation’s best defense. Tennessee had held four of its first eight SEC opponents scoreless at the first media timeout, roughly the first four minutes of games. It was a sign of things to come.

Florida: The Gators have been resilient much of the season, and this was arguably the most impressive comeback of the season for coach Todd Golden’s team. The Gators squandered a 13-point lead early and a six-point advantage in the second half. But they rallied when it mattered.

IN THE HOUSE

Football coach Billy Napier watched the game from a few rows behind Florida’s bench alongside his two sons and receiver Ricky Pearsall. Former Florida tennis star Ben Shelton, the NCAA singles champion in 2022, also was in attendance. So was former Gators and NFL quarterback Doug Johnson.

UP NEXT

Tennessee hosts No. 25 Auburn and former coach Bruce Pearl on Saturday.

Florida plays at Kentucky on Saturday. The Gators have lost seven of eight in the series.

No. 8 Kansas avenges earlier loss to No. 7 Kansas State, 90-78

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LAWRENCE, Kan. — Jalen Wilson had 20 points, Kevin McCullar Jr. added 16 points and 13 rebounds, and No. 8 Kansas avenged a loss to Kansas State just a couple of weeks ago with a 90-78 victory over the seventh-ranked Wildcats.

Dajuan Harris Jr. scored 18 for the Jayhawks (18-4, 6-3 Big 12), who built a 12-point halftime lead before coasting to their 17th straight home win over the Wildcats in the 10th matchup of top-10 teams in series history.

Kansas has rebounded nicely from a rare three-game skid that included the overtime loss to Kansas State, and made sure to avoid taking back-to-back losses in its storied home for the first time since the 1988-89 season.

Markquis Nowell scored 23 points and Keyontae Johnson had 22 to lead the Wildcats (18-4, 6-3), who were trying for their first regular-season sweep of their biggest rival in four decades. Nae’Qwan Tomlin added 11 points and David N’Guessan had 10.

In their first meeting on Jan. 17, the Wildcats raced to a big early lead and controlled the game until late in the second half, when the Jayhawks forced overtime — only for Kansas State to win on Johnson’s alley-oop dunk.

It was the Jayhawks who controlled the rematch.

They used a 16-7 run in the first half that included a technical foul on Kansas State coach Jerome Tang to build a 32-19 lead. And when Johnson answered with eight straight points for the Wildcats, and the lead was eventually trimmed to four, the reigning national champs pulled away again down the stretch.

It was 37-32 when Wilson hit back-to-back 3-pointers and Zach Clemence added one of his own. And by the time Wilson made two foul shots with about 10 seconds left, Kansas had built a 49-37 lead that it took to the break.

The Wildcats briefly got within six in the second half before the Jayhawks stretched their lead to as many as 16.

OFFICIATING OOPS

Johnson had to sit with two fouls just 2 1/2 minutes into the game. Only problem? The crew of John Higgins, Kip Kissinger and Marques Pettigrew gave one to the wrong player. By the time they corrected their mistake, the Wildcats’ leading scorer had unnecessarily ridden the bench for several minutes.

SELLOUT … AND THEN SOME

For the first time in more than 15 years, more Kansas students redeemed tickets than there was space available inside Allen Fieldhouse. The overflow had to watch the game on screens in the adjacent Horejsi Family Athletics Center, where the Jayhawks play volleyball games. Those students also got refunds and concessions vouchers.

BIG PICTURE

Kansas State’s three losses in league play have been to ranked teams on the road: TCU, Iowa State and Kansas. And with a more forgiving second half to the Big 12 schedule, the Wildcats remain firmly in the conference title hunt.

Kansas got its mojo back with its win over Kentucky last weekend. This victory over another bunch of Wildcats was crucial because the road doesn’t get any easier for the Jayhawks, who are in the midst of three straight games against teams ranked 13th or better.

UP NEXT

Kansas State returns home for another top-10 showdown Saturday against No. 10 Texas.

Kansas hits the road for the third time in four games against No. 13 Iowa State on Saturday.

BC beats No. 20 Clemson 62-54; Tigers fall into ACC tie

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BOSTON — Makai Ashton-Langford had two key driving baskets in the closing two minutes and finished with 15 points to help Boston College beat No. 20 Clemson 62-54 on Tuesday night.

Jaeden Zackery added 13 points for the Eagles (11-12, 5-7 Atlantic Coast Conference). BC held Clemson to one field goal — and that came with 18 seconds left — in the final 13:16.

Hunter Tyson led Clemson (18-5, 10-2) with 22 points and Chase Hunter had 12. The Tigers fell into a first-place tie atop the ACC with No. 6 Virginia.

The Eagles used a 5-0 spurt — with T.J. Bickerstaff hitting a free throw and getting a driving layup — to pull ahead 50-45 with just over five minutes to play.

Clemson sliced it to 50-47 before Aston-Langford made his two big baskets. He followed that by making two free throws with 32 seconds left.

Trailing by 10 midway into the second half, the Tigers went on a 10-0 spree, tying it at 45 when RJ Godfrey hit both ends of a 1-and-1.

The Eagles had opened a double-digit lead twice in the opening six minutes of the second half, the later 45-35 on Prince Aligbe’s foul-line jumper with 14:12 to play.

BIG PICTURE

Clemson: Off to a solid start in conference play, the Tigers were tested on the road for the second straight game after edging Florida State by a point on Saturday. It hasn’t been easy for them away from home with a 4-3 record and with three away matchups against North Carolina, North Carolina State and Virginia to go, they’ll need to get it straightened out of they’re going to won the ACC regular-season title.

Boston College: The Eagles proved when they play defense that they’re a tough out in coach Earl Grant’s second season. A little more offense could make them very dangerous for top ACC teams to play.

ARRIVING LATE

In the first half, Clemson’s man-to-man defense smothered the Eagles’ offense for the opening 10 minutes, holding them in single digits in scoring until just about the same time the student section finished filling up late, bringing some energy to a very quiet building.

BC’s players then responded, closing the half with a 22-4 spree that turned an 11-point deficit to a 30-23 halftime edge.

SIDELINED

Both teams were missing key players. Guard Brevin Galloway, Clemson’s fourth leading scorer at 10.6 points per game, was sidelined with an abdominal injury. For BC, guard DeMarr Langford Jr., who logs big minutes at the point, was out with a knee injury.

UP NEXT

Clemson: Hosts No. 23 Miami on Saturday.

Boston College: Hosts Syracuse on Saturday.

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

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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.