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Pac-12 Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

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In what has been a tumultuous season for the Pac-12, beginning with the still-ongoing FBI probe and some misbehavior in China, the league’s 12 teams meet in Las Vegas to determine who will earn the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

Arizona, the preseason favorite, won the conference by two games and after an eventful week will arrive at T-Mobile Arena at full strength. Sean Miller’s Wildcats will be favored to win the tournament for the third time in the last four years, but it won’t be easy due to the desperation many teams will be playing with.

UCLA, USC and Washington still have varying amounts of work to do depending upon who’s doing the prognosticating, Arizona State may need wins when it comes to their NCAA tournament seeding, and then there are dangerous teams such as Stanford, Utah and Oregon that need the automatic bid if they’re to play in the Big Dance.

That should all make for an entertaining four days in Las Vegas. Here’s a look at the 2018 Pac-12 Tournament.

THE FAVORITE

It’s Arizona. The Wildcats went 15-3 in conference play, which is quite the achievement given the turmoil surrounding the program. Sean Miller and Allonzo Trier are back after missing both games of the Oregon trip for far different reasons, and in DeAndre Ayton the Wildcats have the conference’s best talent. Add in the likes of Rawle Alkins and Dusan Ristic, and this group has the pieces needed to win three games in as many days. Arizona may not defend as well as past Miller-coached teams have, but the Wildcats are still the best that the Pac-12 has to offer.

THE CONTENDERS

There will be no shortage of contenders in Las Vegas, beginning with UCLA and USC. While the Bruins are the four-seed this week, they’ve got one of the conference’s best players in point guard Aaron Holiday and contributors such as Thomas Welsh and Kris Wilkes aren’t slouches, either. The key for UCLA will be the health of Jaylen Hands, who missed Saturday’s win at USC with a sprained ankle. The Bruins can win without Hands, but to play three games in as many days they’ll need all hands on deck.

As for USC, the Trojans are still a force to be reckoned with despite losing Bennie Boatwright to a season-ending knee injury last month. Jordan McLaughlin and Chimezie Metu form one of the conference’s best inside/out tandems, and the Trojans have talented options throughout the rotation. And it should also be noted that USC finished conference play second in defensive efficiency (conference games only) per Ken Pomeroy’s numbers. Utah, which surprised more than a few people by finishing third, and a Stanford team that’s whole after seeing multiple players miss time due to injury, should not be ignored either.

WHO NEEDS A WIN THE MOST?

Both L.A. schools are in a position where they would be well-served to pick up at least one win in Las Vegas. But the pick here is Washington, which will begin its tournament with Oregon State in Wednesday’s first round. Mike Hopkins’ Huskies have wins over Kansas (in Kansas City) and Arizona that will certainly help their cause, and with just one Quadrant 3/4 loss (at Oregon State in double overtime) they’ve avoided the kinds of losses that stick out in a negative way. Taking care of the Beavers would set up a matchup with USC, a team the Huskies beat in Los Angeles during the opening weekend of conference play.

WHO IS ON THE BUBBLE?

The L.A. schools and Washington enter this tournament on the bubble, and as mentioned above the Huskies begin with a matchup against Oregon State that would be damaging to their profile should they lose. Both UCLA and USC have first round byes, and should the games play out according to seed the Bruins would draw a tough matchup in Stanford while the Trojans would get Washington. Arizona State should be safely in the field, but taking care of Colorado and at the very least showing well against Arizona would likely ensure that they’ll wear home uniforms in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

THE SLEEPER

Stanford as the 5-seed may classify as a sleeper, and it should be noted that with Reid Travis leading the way this is a group with the talent needed to make a run in Las Vegas. With Travis, Michael Humphrey and Dorian Pickens the Cardinal don’t lack for experience, and they’ve also got some young talented contributors as well with Daejon Davis and Oscar da Silva being two of the noteworthy underclassmen. Also, Arizona State as the 9-seed makes the Sun Devils a candidate for sleeper status. Bobby Hurley’s backcourt ranks among the best in the country, with Tra Holder leading the way, and they’ve got some big wins to their credit. But in order to make a run, the Sun Devils will have to tighten things up defensively and on the glass.

PLAYER TO WATCH

Aaron Holiday, UCLA. Ayton is the league’s best player and could very well be the first player selected in this summer’s NBA Draft. But given the stakes, not to mention the way in which he’s played throughout the season, Holiday is the one to watch. After ending the regular season with a 34-point, seven-assist, five-rebound masterclass against USC, Holiday is more than capable of carrying the Bruins on a run that would ensure them of an NCAA tournament bid.

X-FACTORS

Arizona vs. Everybody. While the Wildcats won the regular season title, this has not been a smooth run by any stretch of the imagination. This team’s mindset going in, especially if they can properly turn the outside noise into positive fuel, will be something worth keeping an eye on.
Oregon. The Ducks don’t lack for talent, and it could be argued that their portion of the bracket (Washington State, then Utah if they win) sets up well for a run. But it should be noted that the Ducks lost to Wazzu in Pullman last week.
Utah’s defense. The Runnin’ Utes finished seventh in the conference in defensive efficiency (league games only), but they have been better on that end of the floor. And with first team all-conference guard Justin Bibbins and a quality big man in David Collette leading the way, if they can continue that progress it wouldn’t be a shock if Utah managed to reach Saturday night’s final.

NBC SPORTS PAC-12 POSTSEASON HONORS

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: DeAndre Ayton, Arizona

COACH OF THE YEAR: Mike Hopkins, Washington

FIRST TEAM ALL PAC-12

  • Tra Holder, Arizona State
  • Aaron Holiday, UCLA
  • Allonzo Trier, Arizona
  • Chimezie Metu, USC
  • DeAndre Ayton, Arizona

SECOND TEAM ALL PAC-12

  • Justin Bibbins, Utah
  • Jordan McLaughlin, USC
  • Tres Tinkle, Oregon State
  • Mathysse Thybulle, Washington
  • Reid Travis, Stanford

2019 NBA Mock Draft

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With the 2018 NBA Draft in the books, it is time for us to take a look at the 2019 NBA Draft, one in which NBA scouts are not all that enthusiastic about the players at the top. 

One thing to note here is that there are quite a few players in the Class of 2019 that are old enough to reclassify. Ashton Hagans and Charles Bassey have already done it. There may be a few more than follow in the footsteps of Marvin Bagley III and enroll in August. 

Here is a quick mock of the 2019 lottery:

1. R.J. BARRETT, Duke

Barrett seems like he is ready to follow in the footsteps of Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins before him, becoming the third Canadian youngster to get picked No. 1 in the draft. Before we get into stats and projections, it must be noted: Barrett was phenomenal at the U19 World Cup last summer, as he led the Canadians to a gold medal. That included a semifinal win over Team USA where Barrett put up 38 points, 13 boards and five assists on an American team that included the likes of P.J. Washington, Cam Reddish, Carsen Edwards and first round picks Josh Okogie and Kevin Huerter.

There is an awful lot to like about Barrett and the way that he projects at the NBA level. He stands 6-foot-6. He already has a solid build. He can play on the ball given his passing ability and has the athleticism to play as a wing and a slasher off the ball. He should be able to guard multiple positions. His ceiling will be determined by how well his jumper develops, but he’s already spent time working with the Three-Point Whisperer, Drew Hanlen.

2. NASSIR LITTLE, North Carolina

Little’s college career got off to something of a rocky start before it even started. He found himself ensnared in the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball when shoe company executives were caught on wiretaps talking about a bidding war between Nike and Adidas and whether they’d funnel him to Arizona or Miami. That turned out well for North Carolina, because he fell into their lap and could end up being the highest Tar Heel picked in the draft since Marvin Williams went No. 2 in 2005.

Little was one of the biggest risers in this recruiting class, going from being a four-star recruit to a top five player in the class. He was the MVP of the McDonalds game. He’s added strength and continuously played with a motor that he hasn’t always shown. His size (6-foot-7), length (7-foot-1 wingspan) and athletic ability makes him an ideal switchable wing, and if his jumper continues to progress, he’ll have a chance to play for a long time in the NBA.

3. CAM REDDISH, Duke

Like Little and Barrett, Reddish is a fluid, 6-foot-7 wing with a long wingspan and the kind of athleticism that would lead you to believe he can play and defend multiple positions. Unlike Barrett and Little, Reddish is further along on the offensive side of the ball than on the defensive side. He’s a better shooter than the two guys listed in front of him, but his growth will come as he learns to be tougher and improves defensively.

But that skill-set he has offensively is really intriguing, and there are some that believe that, given what his ceiling is as a scorer, he could end up being the best player in this class if it all comes together for him.

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4. DE’ANDRE HUNTER, Virginia

Hunter is going to be an interesting draft prospect to monitor. For the most part, Tony Bennett has done a phenomenal job at turning relatively average — from an NBA perspective — prospect into quality pros. Mike Scott is still in the NBA. Malcolm Brogdon won Rookie of the Year and looks like a steal of a second round pick. Joe Harris. Justin Anderson. Even Klay Thompson is a Tony Bennett product from the Washington State days.

But Hunter, who averaged 9.2 points and 3.5 boards last season, is different. Given his physical tools and skill-set, he fits the mold of a wing in the modern NBA perfectly. He has the size at 6-foot-7, the wingspan, the defensive versatility. He can makes threes and attack closeouts. He has some ability to create his own shot. How will he develop in a system that is so … well, Virginia?

5. QUENTIN GRIMES, Kansas

Grimes is stepping into a situation at Kansas that is going to be somewhat strange. On the one hand, with four starters gone — including the entire perimeter — the Jayhawks are going to have shots available. On the other hand, Kansas had three players, including all-american Dedric Lawson, sitting out as transfers. Rarely has a new roster ever been so experienced.

Grimes should fit in just fine. At 6-foot-5, he has the size and ability to play on or off the ball. He can shoot it, he can operate in ball-screens and he has a feel for the game. He’s just a good, solid basketball player that has some upside and should provide Bill Self — who he spent July playing for with the U18 team — with some immediate backcourt relief.

6. SEKOU DOUMBOUYA, France

I’m not going to pretend like I’ve watched a ton of video on Doumbouya, but people I trust are high on him. The native of Guinea checks all the boxes for what NBA teams are looking for: Long, athletic, versatile defensively. Read this profile on him to get a feel.

(AP Photo/Michael Woods)

7. DANIEL GAFFORD, Arkansas

Gafford was arguably the biggest surprise in this draft class, as he turned down a chance to sneak into the back-end of the lottery to return to Arkansas for his sophomore season. At 6-foot-11, Gafford, who posted 11.8 points, 6.2 boards and 2.2 blocks as a freshman in the SEC, is an absolute freak of an athlete with solid length, some defensive instincts and quite a bit of potential.

To me, Gafford is built in the mold of of the rim-running, lob-catching, paint-protecting big with the potential to be switchable on the perimeter. We’ll see if his jumper ever comes around, but even if it doesn’t, he’s giving off some strong Clint Capela vibes, and that’s something that everyone is going to be looking for.

8. ROMEO LANGFORD, Indiana

Langford has all the hype. An Indiana high school basketball legend that chased another Indiana high school basketball legend’s state scoring record, never left the state and opted to play his college ball for the Hoosiers. There’s a reason this kid spent an hour signing autographs for fans after his high school games.

He’s going to be an even bigger star for the Hoosiers next season, who I think will be in the NCAA tournament. Langford, a 6-foot-5 scorer and big-time athlete with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, could end up averaging 18 points next season. “He’s a bucket.”

9. LOUIS KING, Oregon

Bol Bol, the 7-foot-3 son of Manute Bol who spends all day shooting threes, is the Oregon player that is inevitably going to get the most hype, but for my money it’s Louis King that will end up being the best pro. At 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot wingspan, King is the kind of fluid, skilled wing that is en vogue in the modern NBA.

The thing that’s intriguing about him is that he has some skill offensively. He’s more of a combo-forward than he is a natural wing, but he can do some things off the dribble, has shown flashes of being a playmaker and has developed into a guy that is threat from beyond the arc. He should thrive in Dana Altman’s system at Oregon.

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10. RUI HACHIMURA, Gonzaga

Rui’s potential is off the charts, and I still get the sense that the 6-foot-8 Beninese-Japanese Gonzaga product doesn’t totally have a feel for how the game is played here just yet. I fully believe that Rui is going to get buckets for the Zags next season, but if he is going to develop into a top ten pick, there are some things that he needs to improve on.

Shooting is an issue for him — he’s shot just 9-for-40 from three in two seasons in Spokane. He is also going to need to continue to develop on the defensive end of the floor, where he is fairly unproductive for a player with his physical tools. But the potential is there, and he’ll spend plenty of time on national television; Gonzaga is No. 2 in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

11. DARIUS GARLAND, Vanderbilt

For me, Garland is the best NBA prospect of the point guards in the 2018 recruiting class. As competitive as Ashton Hagans is and as much of a proven winner as Tre Jones is, Garland’s game seems to fit the best at the next level. The NBA is a league where skill-level is becoming more and more important, which is why you saw Trae Young end up the No. 5 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft despite his warts.

For my money, Garland is the most skilled of the point guards. He’s probably the best shooter, he can operate in ball-screens and he’s a passer. He’ll be asked to shoulder plenty of the load for Vandy next season, so he should be fun to track.

12. CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue

I think Edwards is going to have a monstrous season as a junior for the Boilermakers. He averaged 18.5 points and 2.8 assists this season while shooting 40.6 percent from three despite playing on a team with four seniors, three of whom were all-league players.

Next year, Purdue will be his team, and I think we’ll get a better look at just how dynamic he can be. The key for Edwards will be his passing ability. He’s always been something of a score-first guard, and there’s a place for that in the NBA, but if he is going to end up being picked this high, he needs to showcase a better ability to get teammates involved.

(Elsa/Getty Images)

13. HERB JONES, Alabama

All the talk about Alabama’s recruiting class last season centered on Collin Sexton and, to a lesser extent, John Petty, but there is reason to believe that Jones could end up being the best of the bunch. At 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot wingspan, he was the guy that Avery Johnson tasked with slowing down Trae Young when the Crimson Tide faced Alabama this season. He has all the tools that you need to be a terrific defender in the NBA.

The issue is the other side of the ball. He averaged just 4.2 points last season, and his jumper was … let’s just say not great. But he played as a secondary ball-handler at times and initiated some offense, and he seems to have a decent feel of how to play. This is a big summer for him. With Sexton gone, someone is going to need to fill that void, and Jones could be the guy.

14. ZION WILLIAMSON, Duke

The hype-train for Zion, one of the single-most explosive athletes that I have ever seen, went totally off the rails during his senior season in high school, as the 6-foot-5, 275-pound forward went viral on a nightly basis with his in-game aerial antics. And look, I’m all the way here for the dunks, but I can’t help but wonder just how he impacts a basketball game beyond that.

In my mind, stardom for Williamson comes if he turns into Draymond Green, a small-ball five that fully embraces being a defensive stopper that can guard any position, protects the rim and is a threat to grab-and-go in transition. But Green is a terrific passer that played as a de facto point guard in college, and I’m not sure Williamson is that. Maybe he’s Julius Randle, who seems to be just good enough for the Lakers to have to resign but not quite good enough to have much trade value. That success, however, lies in accepting that he’s closer to being a five than a three. We’ll see how it plays out, I guess.

Buffalo trolls Deandre Ayton with savage tweet

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Today very well could be the best day of Deandre Ayton’s life.

The Arizona product was selected No. 1 overall by the Phoenix Suns in the NBA draft, fulfilling a dream very few basketball players ever realize. It’s a moment that is truly special and demands savoring.

Buffalo, though, took the opportunity to do some grade-A trash talk.

The Bulls tweeted congratulations with an edge to Ayton, reminding him of the Wildcats’ first-round NCAA tournament exit at their hands just a few months ago.

This tweet is great for a couple reasons. First off, it’s legitimately solid trolling. Second, it’s a great way for the Bulls to extract a little more value from one of, if not the, biggest wins in program history.

Great idea. Great execution.

Arizona State will have more size, lineup options this season

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TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona State was one of college basketball’s biggest surprises during the 2017-18 season, rising to No. 3 in the AP Top 25 and making the NCAA Tournament for the first time in four years.

The Sun Devils’ run came a year ahead of their coach’s schedule.

“I looked at it like this was going to be the year,” Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley said Wednesday. “Maybe before last season, I had a pretty good suspicion we would exceed expectations of what people thought, but really deep down this was the year with having the size in the front court and having a high-level recruiting class.”

Led by senior guards Tra Holder, Shannon Evans II and Kodi Justice, Arizona State knocked off Kansas and Xavier while putting together the first undefeated non-conference schedule in school history. The Sun Devils had a little more trouble when the Pac-12 season started, but their resume was good enough to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament, where they lost to Syracuse in the first round.

The senior trio is gone to graduation, but there’s plenty left in the cupboard at Arizona State.

Dynamic point guard Remy Martin is back after a stellar freshman season, ready to take the reins of Arizona State’s offense. The big men who complemented the senior guards also return, led by Romello White and De’Quon Lake. The Sun Devils also will have forwards Mickey Mitchell and Kimani Lawrence for the entire season.

Arizona State should get a big boost from transfers Zylan Cheatham (San Diego State) and Rob Edwards (Cleveland State), who know Hurley’s system after practicing with the team while sitting out last season.

Add to it a stellar recruiting class by Hurley, led by five-star forward Taeshon Cherry, and the Sun Devils should be in position for the program’s first consecutive NCAA Tournaments since 1978-80.

“We lose three guys that were critical to what we did, very key players to what we’re building, but we’re replacing them with six guys that are very capable,” Hurley said. “Last year we were under the radar, especially initially … but the secret’s out. We have good players, we had a great season last year and we’ve got to make sure we’re ready to do it again.”

Out of necessity, Hurley played a guard-oriented style his first few years in Tempe, often with four guards on the court at the same time. It worked when Holder, Evans and Justice were making shots, but a lack of size inside limited what the Sun Devils could do and led to matchup problems.

The additions of White and Lake last season helped even things up for Arizona State inside, but there were still size issues once the Pac-12 season started.

Next season’s roster will give Hurley more lineup options.

The Sun Devils will be bigger, not just inside, but at the guard spots. Martin is 6-foot, but Edwards and Canadian freshman Luguentz Dort are 6-4, and Finnish freshman Elias Valtonen is 6-6. And Uros Plavsic, an active 7-footer from Serbia, gives Arizona State the type of inside presence it hasn’t had in years.

“The way our roster is constructed and built this year, we’re going to be bigger even at the guard positions,” Hurley said. “We have real good size at the wing positions. We’re just going have more options, more depth.”

With that size may come a change in the way the Sun Devils play.

Holder, Evans, Justice and Martin played a high-energy, sharpshooting game, so Hurley tailored the offense to their skills. Arizona State took 41 percent of its shots from 3-point range, making 36 percent.

Now that the Sun Devils have size inside, Hurley may go to more of an inside-out offense rather than the other way around.

“This year’s roster gives me a ton of options to play a lot of different ways,” Hurley said. “I could see scenarios where there’s five guys 6-7 or bigger, which I’ve never had.”

The Sun Devils will have a new look, but appear to be ready to take another step in Hurley’s rebuilding project.

Former UConn assistant levies serious accusations at Kevin Ollie

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On Thursday, after a Freedom Of Information Act request filed by local newspapers, UConn released more than 1,000 pages of documents pertaining to the investigation that led to the decision to fire of Kevin Ollie.

In those documents were the fairly innocuous NCAA violations that were allegedly committed by Ollie that UConn used as “just cause” for firing him and digging themselves out of the $10 million that he was owed on that contract.

But that is just the beginning of where this thing gets interesting, because there are more accusations levied at Ollie than what UConn was able to confirm.

Let’s start with this one: Former assistant coach Glen Miller said that Ollie paid $30,000 to the mother of a recruit to allow her to afford an apartment and move to Connecticut to be closer to her son. He didn’t have any first-hand information — his wife had befriended the mother of the player and opened up about it while they were on a road trip together — but that’s not the only bomb that Miller tried to drop. He also alleged that Ollie fired his former agent because he wouldn’t help him to recruit, which Miller implies is the agent paying players to go to UConn.

Again, none of these allegations are corroborated. This is Miller, a long-time UConn assistant that was fired — and is clearly still bitter about it — passing along things that he had heard second-hand. One story was from his wife, the other was from one of the most powerful agents in the business. There’s no proof those conversations actually happened, let alone that what was discussed is actually true.

But this is a good example of just how ugly this thing has a chance to get.

There is $10 million on the line for a school and a state that is not exactly overflowing in cash, but is there a larger cost that could be associated with this decision? Could fighting to save that $10 million eventually turn up major violations within the UConn program?

As it stands, Ollie has not technically been fired by UConn yet. He is only suspended with pay as of now. The process to fire him included a hearing with athletic director David Benedict in April and a hearing with school president Susan Herbst last month. Both Benedict and, as of yesterday, Herbst supported the decision to fire Ollie with cause, meaning that he will now be forced to face arbitration. If that ruling goes against him, he will have the option to take UConn to court, which, it seems, he will be willing to do.

Which is where the headache for UConn comes into play.

Do they really want to have a case that has already had these accusations come to light get discussed in a court of law? If this is what a FOIA turns up, what happens during depositions? For a program that has already dealt with their share of NCAA scandals — which, mind you, did not get Jim Calhoun fired — is it really worth the money to risk having even more turn up?

The worst kept secret in college basketball is that UConn is grasping at straws with this decision. They want anything they can find that will allow them to get out from underneath what, in hindsight, was a terrible contract.

And in the end, that could cost them more than just money.

Report: Alleged NCAA violations against former UConn coach Kevin Ollie revealed

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Fired former UConn head coach Kevin Ollie allegedly committed multiple NCAA violations that led to his dismissal last spring, according to a report released Wednesday by the Hartford Courant.

Ollie was dismissed from the position after a disappointing 2017-18 campaign as he’s been in a battle with the school over the remaining $10 million on his contract. Since Ollie was fired for just cause, the school is trying to withhold that remaining money as the case will proceed to arbitration. UConn president Susan Herbst upheld the school’s decision to terminate Ollie for just cause on Tuesday as he is still, technically, suspended without pay.

According to documents obtained by The Courant under a Freedom of Information Act request, Ollie and his staff committed multiple violations, including an impermissible phone call between Huskies legend Ray Allen and a recruit. Multiple UConn players were also sent to work with an outside trainer on campus, and later, in Atlanta. Another violation occurred when Ollie shot baskets with recruit James Akinjo during an official visit as the video was posted by Akinjo’s guardian on Twitter. The video was later deleted.

Among the 1,355 pages of documents that The Courant obtained, it includes the NCAA’s transcripts from their investigation as well as UConn’s case to terminate Ollie as head coach.

Perhaps the worst violation includes the alleged involvement of the trainer, as Ollie allegedly had a friendship with Derrek Hamilton. During the 2015-16 season, Hamilton allegedly worked out UConn players after hours during on-campus workouts as well as off-campus workouts. Three players also allegedly traveled to Atlanta to train with Hamilton as the players were fed, transported and housed for free — all of which are NCAA violations.

The NCAA has yet to proceed with any action against UConn as 900 pages of the report were based on the NCAA’s interviews and findings. Former UConn coach Glen Miller was also granted immunity in exchange for his testimony to the NCAA regarding the violations.

These alleged violations are a new step in the Ollie case, as the case does not look great for him to receive the remaining $10 million on the contract. Ollie and UConn still have to go through arbitration, but the release of these documents, and alleged violations, is very hurtful to Ollie’s case.