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Pac-12 Offseason Reset: Arizona favored or bracing for wrath of NCAA?

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The grad transfer market is still in full swing, but for the most part, we know what the meaningful parts for the majority of the teams around the country will be.

That means that it is time to start talking about what is coming instead of what was.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at key personnel changes, the impact of the coaching carousel and the most important storylines heading into the 2019-20 season for each of college basketball’s top seven conferences.

Today, we are talking Pac-12.

KEY OFFSEASON STORYLINES

WHO IS GETTING HIT WITH NCAA SANCTIONS?: As much as Arizona and USC will have been hoping that this season would be all about basketball with the FBI’s investigation into college basketball now done and dusted, the truth is that it is just beginning for the schools themselves.

That’s because the NCAA is only just now getting involved.

According to a report last month from Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports, at least six basketball programs are going to receive a notice of allegations from the NCAA regarding Level I violations before the summer is over, and that there are at least two “high-profile” programs that could receive them by early July.

As of today, it is early July.

Which means that Arizona, and, to a point, USC, have as much to worry about as anyone in college basketball.

By now, you should know all about the involvement of those two programs. A pair of former assistants — Arizona’s Book Richardson and USC’s Tony Bland — plead guilty during the trials. Sean Miller’s name has been brought as much as anyone that wasn’t actually charged with a crime. Why does this matter? Because the NCAA is allowed to use any and all information that was dug up by the FBI and made public by these trials to punish the programs that were involved.

Andy Enfield (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

And the NCAA will have plenty of incentive to punish these programs, because unlike the scandals that came out of North Carolina and Penn State, a wannabe agent making under-the-table payments to assistant coaches is exactly the kind of cheating that sits in NCAA enforcement’s wheelhouse.

Richardson and Bland plead guilty to crimes that double as NCAA violations.

Head coaches are responsible for any violations that are committed by the people that work for them. Just yesterday, Kevin Ollie was given a three-year show-cause penalty for violations that were committed while he was the head coach at UConn. Part of that show-cause was the result of lying to the NCAA investigators, but he was charged with violating head coach responsibility rules. There is reason for Sean Miller and Andy Enfield to be worried.

The question, if we’re being frank, has more to do with how harsh will the punishments be, not whether or not the NCAA is going to be able to find something to punish.

WILL ANYONE PULL A SYRACUSE OR A LOUISVILLE?: In February of 2015, with an investigation staring them straight in the face, Syracuse self-imposed a postseason ban for that season. Louisville did the same the following year. It’s an easy way to try and get into the NCAA’s good graces and avoid a harsher, longer-term punishment — why create the recruiting disincentive by putting off a postseason ban that can be put into effect with the players already on the roster?

Will either USC or Arizona opt to go down that path this season?

HOW WILL MICK CRONIN’S COACHING STYLE FIT IN SOCAL?: Mick Cronin was not the first pick for UCLA this spring. In fact, the Bruins rolled through five, if not more, candidates before they landed on the former Cincinnati head coach, but don’t, for a second, think that that has anything to do with Cronin’s coaching acumen.

Cronin built the Bearcats back into a program that was, for the last nine years, an annual lock to get an NCAA tournament bid. They were always a threat to win whatever league they were in, and in the years where they did not enter the season in the top 25, they were, at the very least, under consideration. That’s not an easy thing to do at a school like that. Cronin knows how to win.

But what makes UCLA’s decision to hire him to replace Steve Alford such an interesting storyline is that he is the polar opposite of the kind of coach that you would think the flagship program in Southern California would need to hire. Cronin is tough, he’s no-nonsense, he’s intense and he preaches a brand of basketball that resembles rugby more than it does the pace-and-space era. He’s Ben Howland, only shorter and angrier, and Howland was run out of Westwood despite reaching three Final Four in ten years and winning the Pac-12 the year that he was fired.

It won’t be easy for Cronin to make the transition to the west coast, but it wasn’t easy to be the guy to try and rebuild Cincinnati after Bob Huggins.

(Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

JUST HOW GOOD WILL JADEN MCDANIELS BE THIS YEAR?: Washington is the x-factor in the Pac-12 race this season. Mike Hopkins lost a number of key pieces off of last season’s roster, but there is a ton of length and athleticism at his disposal, not to mention the two top ten prospects that are entering the program.

That would be Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels. Stewart, at this point, is more of a known commodity. At 6-foot-9 and 245 pounds, he should more than make up for the loss of Noah Dickerson to graduation, and there are some that believe he will be the most productive freshman in all of college basketball, more than James Wiseman or Cole Anthony.

McDaniels is a bit more of a question mark. His potential is through the roof. He’s 6-foot-11 with high level perimeter skills. He can handle, he can shoot and his ceiling is legitimately as high as anyone in the class of 2019. But he is a long way from being a finished product. He isn’t quite 200 pounds. He’s a guy that can make shots more than a shooter at this point in his development. He has the potential to be a big time shot-creator, but he’s still somewhat inconsistent and can be bothered by smaller players that climb up under him.

The reason that Washington is being picked as one of the teams that can win the Pac-12 this season is because they have two potential top five picks on a roster that is littered with solid role players. Whether or not they actually win the league, however, will likely come down to just how close McDaniels’ production as a one-and-done is to his potential.

WHAT HAPPENS IF MCKINLEY WRIGHT CAN MAKE IT THROUGH THE SEASON HEALTHY?: The best player in the Pac-12 that you have never heard of is Colorado point guard McKinley Wright. He’s spent the last two seasons putting up all-league numbers without getting the kind of attention or acclaim that players at bigger or more relevant programs have gotten. The Buffaloes bring back the just about every notable piece off of last year’s roster, and that includes Wright, who played much of last season with a shoulder injury that had to be surgically repaired this offseason. If he’s healthy, are the Buffs the biggest sleeper in the conference?

WHAT TRICKS DOES DANA ALTMAN HAVE UP HIS SLEEVE?: Altman is one of the few coaches who I trust to be able to find a way to make his team relevant regardless of what is actually on his roster, but he is going to have to make some magic happen this season if the Ducks are going to make it back to the NCAA tournament this season. He lost Louis King, Kenny Wooten and Bol Bol off of last year’s roster. He does return potential Pac-12 Player of the Year Payton Pritchard, as well as Will Richardson, who has a chance to be the league’s breakout star. There are also a number of key additions for this group — Anthony Mathis, C.J. Walker, Chandler Lawson, Chris Duarte — but overall, this does not exactly look like a team that is going to push Arizona and Washington for a league title.

McKinley Wright IV (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

WHO’S GONE

  • LOUIS KING and KENNY WOOTEN, Oregon: The Ducks may be bringing back a potential Pac-12 Player of the Year in Payton Pritchard, but it is hard to ignore what they are losing in King and Wooten. Wooten might be the bigger loss, because his combination of athleticism and rim protection anchored Oregon’s defense down the stretch of last season and mimics what Jordan Bell provided during their 2019 Final Four run. King’s loss will be felt as he was the perfect floor-spacing small-ball four for Altman’s offense. Combined, these two left five years of eligibility on the table. Both went undrafted.
  • LU DORT, Arizona State: Speaking on undrafted players, Dort spent the majority of the season drawing comparisons to Marcus Smart before he failed to hear his named called on June 20th. The Sun Devils not only lose Dort, but they will also saw Zylan Cheatam graduate. There are still plenty of talented pieces at Bobby Hurley’s disposal, but his life certainly would have been easier with Dort in the fold.
  • JAYLEN HANDS, KRIS WILKES and MOSES BROWN, UCLA: Everything about UCLA is going to look different next season. New head coach. New style of play. A new top three scorers. There will be a changing of the guard in Westwood, and based on the culture that enveloped that program in recent years, that may not be a bad thing.
  • KZ OKPALA, Stanford: Okpala was one of last year’s biggest risers, from a draft prospect perspective, but it didn’t turn into wins for the Cardinal. What that means is that for the second straight season, Jerod Haase will lose his best player despite that player still having eligibility remaining.

WHO’S BACK

  • MCKINLEY WRIGHT, Colorado: The best player out west that you don’t know about. He’s a darkhorse Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate, and the biggest reason that the Buffaloes are going to find themselves in the mix for an NCAA tournament bid.
  • PAYTON PRITCHARD, Oregon: If the Ducks are going to have any chance to make it back to the NCAA tournament next season, it is going to be because Pritchard is one of the best point guards in the sport. He’ll keep them relevant after the departure of Kenny Wooten and Louis King.
  • TRES TINKLE, Oregon State: He doesn’t get the recognition because he plays for Oregon State, but Tinkle is one of the best scorers in college hoops. He put up 20.8 points to go along with 8.1 boards and 3.8 assists as a junior, and he’ll return to a team that does have some interesting pieces next season.
  • LOTS OF TALENT, UCLA: Here’s the thing about this UCLA program — there are still some really good players in the mix. Tyger Campbell and Shareef O’Neeal will be healthy. Cody Riley and Jalen Hill are back. Chris Smith will have a chance to spread his wings, as will Jules Bernard and David Singleton. Even redshirt senior Prince Ali (fabulous he, Ali Ababwa) was a top 30 recruit coming out of high school. Whether or not those guys fit Cronin’s style of play or will be willing to buy in with a new coach in town is up for debate, but the cupboard isn’t bare.

WHO’S COMING

  • NICO MANNION and JOSH GREEN, Arizona: Remember when you thought that Arizona wouldn’t be able to recruit because of everything happening with the FBI investigation? All Sean Miller did was go out and land two five-star prospects that could end up giving the Wildcats one of the best backcourts in the country. Mannion and Green are the reason Arizona looks like the favorite to win the league this season.
  • ISAIAH STEWART and JADEN MCDANIELS, Washington: We discussed McDaniels earlier, so let’s talk about Stewart here. He’s an absolute man-child on the block, a low-post scorer that seems a pretty good bet to lead the conference in rebounding. I would not be surprised to look up in February and see Stewart averaging 15 points, 10 boards and 2.5 blocks for a top 20 team.
  • ONYEKA OKONGWU and ISAIAH MOBLEY, USC: The Trojans are going to look an awful lot like Dunk City West again this season. Okongwu and Mobley are both top 25 recruits that will share time in the frontcourt with Nick Rakocevic. There are a lot of really, really good big men on this roster.
Tres Tinkle (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-PAC-12 TEAM

TRES TINKLE, Oregon State (Preseason Player of the Year)
PAYTON PRITCHARD, Oregon
MCKINLEY WRIGHT, Colorado
NICO MANNION, Arizona
NICK RAKOCEVIC, USC

WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS

1. ARIZONA: There’s a reason that the Arizona administration is going to stand by Sean Miller for as long as they can, and that’s because the man knows how to build a basketball team. Arizona completely restocked a depleted roster that finished eighth in last year’s Pac-12, headlined by the addition of Nico Mannion and Josh Green. With UC Irvine grad transfer Max Hazzard, the return of Chase Jeter and Brandon Williams and a pair of sneaky-good freshmen bigs in Zeke Nnaji and Christian Koloko, the Wildcats have a nice combination of talent and depth.

2. WASHINGTON: The Huskies are losing five of their top six scorers from last season, but there is a chance that they could end up being better next season than they were this past season. Mike Hopkins will have a nice combination of young star power — Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels — and good, veteran role players that can do a job in their system — Hameir Wright, Nahziah Carter and Quade Green. If they’re going to win the league, the Huskies will need a few of their youngsters to grow into supporting roles, but they have a chance.

3. COLORADO: McKinley Wright is the name that you need to know, but the Buffs are more than just a one man team. They bring back basically everyone of consequence, including another all-conference player in Tyler Bey, giving them a balanced, experienced and talented roster in a conference where that isn’t all that common.

4. USC: I’m actually buying the talent on this USC roster. Their frontline of Nick Rakocevic, Isaiah Mobley and Onyeka Okongwu will be as long and athletic as anyone. They added a bunch of shooting with a trio of grad transfers as well. The big question is going to be point guard play, but given what is going on in the rest of this league, I think they have enough to make a run at finishing top four.

5. OREGON: Losing Wooten is a major blow, as it will cost them defensively, but I do think that there will be enough scoring on this roster to keep them relevant with Dana Altman calling the shots. We know wht Payton Pritchard will be. The big question for me is going to be Will Richardson’s development, C.J. Walker’s impact and just how effective Anthony Mathis is as a shooter moving up a level.

6. UCLA: We’ve written plenty about UCLA in this preview, so I’ll leave it at this: I think the Bruins have NCAA tournament upside, but I would not bet on it happening this year.

7. ARIZONA STATE: Bobby Hurley has gotten a ton of hype over the last two seasons thanks to some impressive wins that his Sun Devils have been able to cobble together in non-conference play. But they’re a combined 43-23 in those two seasons, with a 20-16 record in league play and two NCAA tournament trips that produced last year’s play-in game win over St. John’s. There is some talent on this roster, but I’m going to have to see it to buy into it.

8. OREGON STATE: Tres Tinkle might actually have some help this season. Ethan Thompson returned to school, as did Kylor Kelley, while Payton Dastrup will be getting eligible. It would be a shame if a player as good as Tinkle had another All-American caliber season wasted.

9. UTAH: I am very much a believer in Larry Krystkowiak’s coaching ability, but this version of the Utes is going to be really, really young. Losing Donnie Tillman didn’t help matters. As it stands, the only upperclassmen on the roster is going to be a JuCo transfer.

10. STANFORD: Every year I manage to talk myself into the talent on Stanford’s roster and every year I find myself regretting it. There are some intriguing pieces in Palo Alto this season even with K.Z. Okpala in the NBA, but I’m not going to predict them to do much of anything until, you know, they actually do it.

11. WASHINGTON STATE: Everyone is going to talk about how difficult Mark Fox’s rebuilding job at Cal is going to be, but at least he’s not Kyle Smith at Washington State.

12. CAL: The Golden Bears went 16-47 overall and just 5-31 in the Pac-12 the last two seasons, and they now have a new head coach and lost most of their best players this offseason. Good luck, Mark Fox.

BYU guard Nick Emery announces retirement from basketball

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PROVO, Utah (AP) — BYU guard Nick Emery said Tuesday he is retiring from basketball following a college career that began with high expectations but that ended with him at the center of an NCAA investigation.

Emery used social media to announce he is stepping away with a year of eligibility still remaining.

“My time here has been rocky at times, but the good times definitely outweighed the bad,” Emery wrote in an Instagram post also shared to his Twitter account. “I’ve learned so many life lessons and this journey has been so rewarding. I am at a point in life where I am happy with what I’ve accomplished with basketball and I’m ready to start the next chapter of my life with my wife and son.”

The school confirmed the retirement.

“We are excited for Nick as he begins this next stage of his life,” BYU head coach Mark Pope said in a news release. “He has great things ahead.”

Emery made a splash right away at BYU, averaging a career-best 16.3 points per game during his first season and setting a BYU freshman record with 97 3-pointers. He helped the Cougars reach the semifinals of the 2016 NIT.

After playing for two years, he withdrew from school for the 2017-18 season, citing personal reasons. The 6-foot-2 guard returned to the program in 2018 and he began his third and final season serving a nine-game suspension following the NCAA investigation.

The NCAA last year placed the men’s basketball program on probation for two years and said it must vacate 47 wins from Emery’s freshman and sophomore seasons.

The NCAA said Emery received more than $12,000 in benefits from four boosters, including travel to concerts and an amusement park and the use of a new car. The NCAA also accepted the university’s self-imposed penalties of reducing one scholarship, disassociation of one of its boosters and a $5,000 fine. The NCAA didn’t identify Emery by name but the university said the case involved him.

Emery averaged 12.6 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.4 steals per game over his three seasons with the Cougars.

With grad transfer Jake Toolson joining BYU from Utah Valley for the upcoming season, Emery’s role with the Cougars would likely have been greatly reduced this fall. Toolson earned WAC Player of the Year honors as a junior after averaging 15.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.3 assists for Utah Valley.

NCAA punishes DePaul for basketball recruiting violation

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CHICAGO (AP) — The NCAA suspended DePaul men’s basketball coach Dave Leitao for the first three games of the regular season Tuesday, saying he should have done more to prevent recruiting violations by his staff.

The NCAA also put the Big East program on three years of probation, issued a $5,000 fine and said an undetermined number of games will be vacated because DePaul put an ineligible player on the floor. An unidentified former associate head coach is also facing a three-year show cause order for his role in the violations.

According to an NCAA infractions committee decision, in the Spring of 2016, the associate head coach arranged for the assistant director of basketball operations to live with a prospect to help ensure the player did the work necessary to meet NCAA eligibility requirements. That arrangement violated recruiting rules. At the time, Rick Carter was DePaul’s associate head coach and Baba Diallo was the program’s assistant director of basketball operations.

“The head coach did not promote an atmosphere of compliance because three men’s basketball staff members knew about the arrangement but did not report the violation or question whether it was allowable,” the NCAA said. “Even more troubling to the committee was the director of basketball operations stated he knew the contact was a violation but did not report it because he did not want to be disloyal, cause tension, get in the way of the associate head coach or otherwise hurt his career. … According to the committee, a culture of silence pervaded the program.”

Leitao was hired in 2015 and has pushed to return the Blue Demons to respectability in his second stint as head coach at DePaul. After a pair of nine-win seasons under Leitao, DePaul went 11-20 two years ago before going 19-17 and reaching the College Basketball Invitational championship last season, falling to South Florida in three games.

Leitao is also a former head coach at Virginia and his assistant stops include Connecticut, Missouri and Tulsa.

“The head coach did not monitor his staff when he did not actively look for red flags or ask questions about the assistant director of basketball operations’ two-week absence,” the NCAA said. “The committee recognized the head coach’s efforts to require staff attendance at compliance meetings and communicate with compliance officials, but it said he needed to do more.”

DePaul said it would not challenge the decision, but called it “disappointing.”

“This infraction was an isolated incident directed and then concealed by a former staff member that resulted in, at most, a limited recruiting advantage relative to one former student-athlete,” the university said. “Since our self-report in January 2018, DePaul has cooperated with the NCAA enforcement staff to proactively pursue the resolution of this matter and has reviewed and further strengthened related protocol and practice. … Coach Leitao is a man of character and integrity, who has the support of the administration in leading our men’s basketball program.”

DePaul was among several schools mentioned at a recent federal trial involving corruption in college basketball.

Brian Bowen Sr., father of a top recruit, testified in October that DePaul assistant coach Shane Heirman paid him $2,000 a month to send his son to an Indiana high school where Heirman coached at the time. The school responded by saying it had done its due diligence on the matter and had previously investigated the allegations.

Zion Williamson signs with Jordan Brand

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Zion Williamson may not be the next Michael Jordan, but he will be the next NBA player to don the Jumpman logo.

On Tuesday afternoon, Zion announced that he has signed with Jordan Brand, ending speculation about where the Duke product and biggest brand to enter the NBA in years, if not ever, will sign his endorsement deal.

Where Zion ended up signing was never the most interesting part of this process – although the fact that he ended up under the Swoosh’s umbrella after a Nike shoe blew out on him and nearly cost him his left knee. What we all want to know, and what is yet to be reported, are the terms of this deal.

Outside of LeBron and Jordan, I’m not sure there is a more marketable player in the NBA right now. Think about it like this: When I say Zion, even non-basketball know exactly who I’m talking about. There are only a handful of basketball players that is true for, and the only active ones are LeBron and Steph with KD and Kyrie potentially thrown in that mix.

That’s elite company, and none of those guys have the social media following or ability to go viral with the next generation of basketball fans like Zion does. He already has a global following, one which is only going to grow as he becomes more mainstream.

And while we’re on the subject, it’s worth mentioning this piece on how going to college made Zion a literal fortune. We’ll see if Nike’s investment in the 18-year old pays off.

Utah State star injures knee playing in FIBA U-20 event, reportedly not an ACL tear

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Update (11:58 ET) According to a report from SPORT TV Portugal, Neemias Queta sprained and dislocated his knee, but it doesn’t appear to be an ACL tear.

The star center for Utah State suffered a knee injury while playing for Portugal’s U-20 team in the FIBA European Championships over the weekend.

Queta landed awkwardly while trying to grab a rebound and immediately reached for his left knee. He had to be carried off the floor without putting any weight on the leg, although he was eventually able to walk through handshake lines – with an icepack on his knee – after the game.

Queta did not return for Sunday’s final, and he had his knee wrapped while using a cane while watching from the bench. Portugal won the B Division championship despite his absence.

This would be a massive loss for the Aggies, who are a top 15 team in the NBC Sports preseason rankings and the clear-cut favorite to win the Mountain West. The 6-foot-11 Queta averaged 11.8 points, 8.9 boards and 2.4 blocks while shooting 40 percent from three as a freshman.

According to reports out of Portugal, Queta is due to undergo an MRI Tuesday.

 

Ex-Tar Heel Woods comfortable back home in South Carolina

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina guard Seventh Woods can’t take a few steps around town these days without someone telling him it is good he came home. The former North Carolina player is happy with his latest choice, too.

“It’s been great,” Woods said Friday. “Family’s here, friends here. I’ve been getting along well with the players and the coaches.”

The 6-foot-2 Woods expected to be a collegiate force when he finished Hammond School in Columbia and picked the Tar Heels over Georgetown and South Carolina in 2016.

Instead, Woods was a backup during his time with the Tar Heels. He was part of North Carolina’s NCAA Tournament title team in 2017 but never averaged more than 11 minutes or three points a game during his three seasons in Chapel Hill . Woods missed 17 games with a broken foot during his sophomore season and averaged 2.5 points and 2.1 assists last season as backup to freshman Coby White.

In April, Woods posted on social media that it was time for a change. Woods will sit out next season per NCAA transfer rules and return to the court in 2020-21.

“I can focus on me getting into a groove,” Woods said. “Learning a new system and we didn’t want to rush anything.”

Woods, who turns 21 next month, gained attention during his middle school years for his ability to dunk and dominate opponents off the dribble at Hammond. He was a YouTube, basketball mixtape regular in the early 2010s, when ability like his was largely experienced in person watching youth games.

The buzz about Woods intensified the pressure for him to stay put and revive South Carolina. Woods felt differently.

“I just wanted to do what was best for me,” Woods said. “Going away was best for me at the time.”

Woods felt comfortable with the Tar Heels and believed it would be the best place for him to grow as a player and person.

“Only positives, all positive,” Woods said of his three years at North Carolina.

When Woods met with Martin to discuss is basketball future, the coach emphasized him taking some time away from games.

“Every time he dribbled, the crowd was sold out and every critic was out there criticizing everything he did wrong,” Martin said. “I have no idea how that young man has been able to keep the class he lives with under those circumstances.”

Woods looked at Gonzaga and Michigan before picking the Gamecocks this time. The relationship he built with Martin was rekindled the past few months and Woods was grateful to his new coach for this latest chance.

“I felt it was perfect timing just being able to come back home,” Woods said. “To come back to a coach who allowed me to come back home. That was big for me.”

Woods says he’ll spend his time improving his strength, consistency and outside shooting. He’ll be part of practices and knows that will help him develop chemistry with his future teammates.

His aspirations, as they were during middle school, are to play basketball professionally after college. He’s looking forward to a productive time off the court to recharge and improve.

“I feel like sitting out a year will be great for me and I’m going to try and use it to my advantage to make the most out of my senior year,” he said.