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Thursday’s Things To Know: AAC stays tied, Lagerald Vick steps aside and Pac-12 troubles magnify

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There weren’t many surprising results from the top-25 teams in action across the country on Thursday night, but there was significant news from both Kansas and Gonzaga (Killian Tillie can’t catch a break) while the AAC gets a dream matchup Sunday and the Pac-12 continues to be a nightmare. Here’s what you need to know”:

HOUSTON AND CINCINNATI BOTH WIN ROAD TESTS

It could have been an interesting night in the American. No. 12 Houston and No. 25 Cincinnati, both sporting matching one-loss conference records, were on the road against potentially tricky opponents in UCF and Memphis, respectively. It would have been easy to envision one losing, adding some tension into the league race or having them both taking Ls, injecting chaos into a league that’s been pretty orderly.

Both, though, won and continued to separate themselves from the rest of the conference and setup a monster showdown Sunday.

The Cougars had no trouble with the Knights, claiming a 77-68 victory, while the Bearcats held off the Tigers, 69-64.

Corey Davis, Jr.  had a big game for Houston, going for 26 points, five assists and three rebounds It was Jarron Cumberland unsurprisingly starring for Cincy with 17 points, six assists and six rebounds in a game the Bearcats had to really compete down the stretch to finally finish off.

Now, let’s talk about this weekend.

The first matchup between the two AAC frontrunners comes Sunday, with the Bearcats visiting Houston in what should be one of the marquee games of the weekend and the first of two bouts between these two teams.

It’ll be an interesting matchup with neither team sporting elite offenses, but strong defenses and deliberates paces. Cincy’s best bet will likely be to try to turn defense into offense as it has been solid in creating turnovers while that’s one of the areas the Houston offense hasn’t excelled. The way for most teams to attack Mick Cronin’s defense is at the 3-point line, but that’s not the strength of the Cougars, who instead rely on their offensive rebounding and the fact they don’t really have to score that much with how good their defense has been.

KANSAS LOSES A STARTER

It was just last week I used this space to muse about the vulnerability of Kansas’ Big 12 title streak. Sure, things looked less than great for the Jayhawks, but we’d seen that plenty over the course of the last 14 years only to then see Bill Self’s team ultimately on top of the conference standings.

But now it feels like bad is getting increasingly worse for the Jayhawks.

The school announced Thursday that starting guard Lagerald Vick will be taking a leave of absence from the team to deal with personal issues while his mother told the Kansas City Star he was needed back home in Memphis “for a couple weeks.”

Vick has been wildly inconsistent this season – and his playing time has been lately as well – but he’s a player that the Jayhawks are going to sorely miss for however long his absence runs. The margin of error for Kansas was already shrinking with a 6-4 league record and Iowa State, Kansas State, Texas Tech and Baylor all looking like threats, and now losing a player like Vick, even with his flaws, only tightens that window. Dedric Lawson is now likely to see even more aggressive double teams with Kansas’ best 3-point threat off the floor and no clear player capable of replacing his 45.5 percent shooting from deep. It’s more than just losing a starter for Kansas, it’s losing a player that was providing a skill that Kansas has in short supply and allows its best player – Lawson – to be better.

Maybe Self figures this out or maybe Vick’s time away is short, but with the cascading bad news for Kansas, it feels like things are more likely to get worse than better.

THE PAC-12 IS REALLY TRYING TO BE A ONE-BID LEAGUE

Yes, it’s easy to pile on the Pac-12 for being awful this season. Sure, it’s probably been covered plenty this year that the league is down, even by its recent pedestrian standards.

But, I mean, c’mon. The conference just never seems to help itself.

Washington stayed perfect by beating Arizona in Tucson while Arizona State took a HORRIBLE loss at home to Washington State.

The Wildcats have now lost four-straight and five of their last six while Arizona State loss 91-70 to a Cougars team that was 8-14 overall and 1-8 in the Pac-12 in its home gym. I repeat, the Sun Devils lost by 21 POINTS to a team that previously had only managed to WIN A SINGLE GAME IN A HISTORICALLY TERRIBLE CONFERENCE. Bobby Hurley’s squad ain’t lookin’ so good right now.

Neither is the Pac-12, which continues to flirt with being a one-bid league.

Be sure to read Bubble Banter to get the in-depth look at what Thursday night meant, not only to the Pac-12, but the rest of the country trying to position itself heading into the regular season’s final month.

Pac-12 Reset: League is embarrassingly bad

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College basketball’s non-conference season is finally coming to a close.

To help you shake off post-holiday haze and the hangover of losing in your fantasy football playoffs, we’ll be providing you with some midseason recaps to get you caught up on all the nation’s most important conferences.

Who has been the best player in the biggest leagues?

Who is on track to get an NCAA tournament bid?

What have we learned about the conference hierarchy?

What is still left for us to figure out?

We break it all down here.

Today, we’ll be taking a look at the Pac-12.

MIDSEASON PAC-12 PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Tres Tinkle, Oregon State

The Pac-12 doesn’t have a ton of great teams and star power this season. But the 6-foot-8 Tinkle has been the league’s best and most consistent player to this point.

Averaging 19.8 points, 8.7 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.4 steals per game, Tinkle rates in the top seven among Pac-12 players in all of those categories. While Tinkle is a noted scorer and double-double threat, his passing has improved over the course of his college career as he’s smart enough to find the open man when opposing defenses collapse.

Consistency has also been a huge part of Tinkle’s year. Only once has Tinkle played less than 33 minutes in a game this season while 12 points is his season low.

(Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

THE ALL PAC 12 FIRST TEAM

  • Tres Tinkle, Oregon State
  • Luguentz Dort, Arizona State: Surprising many with his play as a true freshman, Dort narrowly missed mid season Player of the Year honors. Dort is putting up 18.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game, but he’s struggled over the past few weeks to find his offense.
  • Robert Franks, Washington State: The Pac-12’s leading scorer is putting together a solid senior season. Franks is averaging 22.1 points, 7.9 rebounds per game while shooting 52 percent from the floor. Clearly Washington State’s best player, the Cougars recently lost multiple games while Franks dealt with a hip issue.
  • Bol Bol, Oregon: Much like Dort, this freshman big man would in the thick of the league’s POY race if he was healthy. Bol is averaging 21.0 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game, but he’s been sidelined with a foot injury since mid-December.
  • Jaylen Nowell, Washington: The sophomore has blossomed into one of the league’s best all-around guards. Nowell is putting up solid numbers as he’s at 17.1 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game for the season while shooting 52 percent from the floor and 38 percent from three.

POSTSEASON PREDICTIONS

  • NCAA: Arizona State, Oregon
  • NIT: Arizona, Washington, Colorado, Oregon State
  • OTHER/NO POSTSEASON: UCLA, USC, Stanford, Washington State, Utah, Cal

THREE THINGS WE’VE LEARNED

1. The Pac-12 is dreadful

It’s a new year, so I’ll try to be as nice as possible while describing the atrocity that is Pac-12 basketball. But this league is horrendous, so that is going to be tough.

At this point, the Pac-12 currently has no top-25 teams in the AP or Coaches Poll. There is no Pac-12 player even listed as honorable mention for Rob Dauster’s freshly-released Player of the Year Power Rankings. And the conference just finished a December that went down as the worst a major conference had in the last 20 years.

There are numerous other metrics that point to the Pac-12’s overall awfulness. The eye test is probably all you need. Every Pac-12 team has at least three losses, with a sizable chunk of those losses coming in buy games. They are, as a league, 4-31 in Quadrant 1 games. They are 7-10 against the WCC. Nine teams have beaten two Pac-12 teams already this season. Among them: San Francisco (Stanford, Cal), Santa Clara (USC, Washington State), San Diego (Colorado, Washington State), Seattle (Washington State, Cal) and Hawaii (Colorado, Utah).

No team in the Pac-12 currently has more than a two-game winning streak. While I don’t believe the Pac-12 will end up a one-bid league this season (more on that below), it’s definitely a conversation we might still be having in March.

2. Arizona State has a chance to be pretty good thanks to freshman Luguentz Dort’s breakout start

Arizona State freshman guard Luguentz Dort has been perhaps the Pac-12’s most positive surprise through the first part of the season. Although Dort was regarded as a consensus four-star prospect and top-50 type of talent, not many envisioned that Dort would immediately be this good.

Over the last several weeks, however, Dort has seen his blistering start slow down. The past four games, Dort is only shooting 9-for-45 from the field as his high point total is 13 over that span. Arizona State is still talented enough to knock off Kansas while Dort was in the midst of his funk. The Sun Devils were also bad enough to drop a home game to Princeton during Dort’s worst outing of the season.

So what happened to Dort these last few weeks and how will it impact Arizona State going forward? Was it merely a hot start? Are opposing defenses catching on to Dort’s tendencies and slowing him down? If Dort plays at the level he displayed to start the season, then the Sun Devils should have no issues making the NCAA tournament. But it remains to be seen how Dort will handle conference play and how he breaks out of this slump.

3. Younger players will determine the outcome of this league

College basketball has increasingly become an underclass game at the high-major level as the years have rolled along.

But this year’s Pac-12 is particularly young. Many of the league’s best players thus far have been freshmen and sophomores. And most of the teams hoping to make the NCAA tournament will have to rely on those same players to come through and take them to March.

Given the shaky start of the league this season, that’s not guaranteed to happen. Some talented young teams like UCLA have already fizzled out. Others like Oregon need to get healthy. Many of these teams are going to depend on freshmen for the rest of the season and it’s going to come with mixed results.

(David Becker/Getty Images)

THREE STORYLINES TO FOLLOW

1. Can the Pac-12 rebound and get multiple teams in the NCAA tournament?

So, we already know the Pac-12 is really bad. Can the league still rebound and salvage the season?

It will likely take a few of the top teams like Arizona State, Oregon, Arizona and Washington pooling together and beating up on the other teams in the conference to create a lead pack. As things currently stand, those are the only four programs rated in the top 75 on KenPom with any sort of chance at making an at-large bid.

As long as those four teams don’t suffer horrible losses to teams like Cal, while winning some games against each other, the Pac-12 will have plenty of chances to improve its at-large status before March.

2. Can Arizona get over the hump and make it back to the tournament?

This season was always going to be a difficult one for Sean Miller and Arizona. The FBI’s college basketball corruption scandal hit the Wildcats hard.

It led to many of Arizona’s top recruiting targets going elsewhere. Yet Arizona still finds itself at 9-4 and in good position to make at least some kind of postseason. Whether that’s the NCAA tournament or not remains to be seen.

Arizona finally had its seven-year non-conference home winning streak snapped this season. They haven’t defeated anyone of note besides for Iowa State and UConn. But there’s just something about this team that’s intriguing for some reason. The Wildcats usually defend at a high level. Miller is still one of the best coaches in the country. The three-point shooting has been dreadful at times, but Arizona has still managed. If the Wildcats can figure out some things on offense, then they could be a dangerous team in a down conference.

3. The health of Oregon

Oregon has a chance to figure things out and be pretty good. It all starts with getting healthy.

Freshman Bol Bol has been sidelined with a left foot injury since mid-December as he’s missed the past four games for the Ducks. Head coach Dana Altman has been pretty vague about Bol’s injury, so there’s some uncertainty as to when he might return to the team.

Big man Kenny Wooten will also be sidelined four-to-six months after suffering a broken jaw. And another highly-touted freshman, Louis King, is still working himself back into proper game shape after missing the first several weeks of the season.

If Oregon is able to get fully healthy, they have the weapons to be the best team in the Pac-12. But for right now, that’s a major question mark

(Elsa/Getty Images)

THREE PREDICTIONS

1. The Pac-12 goes winless in the NCAA tournament after getting two teams in

The Pac-12 went 0-3 in the 2018 NCAA tournament. And two of those teams were featured in First Four games.

While I don’t think the Pac-12 is so bad that it’s only a one-bid league this season, things are certainly trending in a negative direction once again. Even if the Pac-12 gets multiple teams into the Field of 68, none of its teams are going to have a desirable enough profile to merit a great seed. The entire process is going to be an uphill battle.

And while Arizona State knocked off Kansas, there haven’t been a lot of marquee wins against quality competition for the Pac-12 this season. Even if the Pac-12 is fortunate enough to get multiple teams into the tournament, I don’t have confidence that they’ll win any games once they get there.

2. Arizona State wins the Pac-12

To this point in the season, Arizona State has defeated two top-25 teams. The rest of the Pac-12 combined has one top-25 win.

And while Arizona State has shown plenty of flaws in some recent losses — particularly some woeful stretches of poor shooting — they have the talent to compete with any team in the country. Dort has looked like a go-to player at times this season and he’s flanked by three more double-figure scorers in Remy Martin, Kimani Lawrence and Zylan Cheatham. The Sun Devils currently have a top-50 defense.

In a league that doesn’t have any truly good teams it says something when Arizona State knocks off a national title contender like the Jayhawks. Unless Oregon gets healthy and figures it all out, the Sun Devils look like the favorite in the league at this point.

3. The UCLA coaching search becomes more interesting than the on-court action

Let’s be honest, with the Pac-12 being as bad as it is on the court this year, the off-court movement of the UCLA coaching search is going to be more fun to watch (or hear about).

The Bruins likely won’t be able to start conducting serious interviews until the end of the season — since most of their presumed targets are currently coaching. But if UCLA decides to make some early moves on an out-of-work coach like Fred Hoiberg or Earl Watson then things could get really interesting.

To be clear, UCLA is not making a change for this current season. But the framework will be put in place for the coaching search, as we’ll start to hear names trickle out of the Westwood over the next several months. The UCLA job isn’t what it used to be. It’s still an elite program with an unmatched history conducting a coaching search with big names being thrown around in the middle of the season. That sort of thing rarely, if ever, happens in college hoops.

Pac-12 Conference Reset: Can the league rebound from a bad 2017-18?

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The NBA Draft’s Early Entry Deadline has come and gone, and there are a dozen or so truly impactful decisions that are left to be made.

Just about every elite recruit has decided where they will be playing their college ball next season.

The coaching carousel has come to a close.

The transfer market is slowly winding down.

In other words, by now, we have a pretty good feel for what college basketball is going to look like during the 2018-19 season.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at what has happened — and what will happen — in the Pac-12 over the next six months.

KEY OFFSEASON STORYLINES

THE LEAGUE LOOKS TO REBOUND FROM A BAD 2017-18 SEASON: When the 68-team field for the NCAA tournament was announced the Pac-12 received some bad news, with only three teams getting the call. Two of those three teams, UCLA and Arizona State, were sent to Dayton for the First Four while Arizona drew a Buffalo squad that may have been underestimated due to the way in which the Wildcats ran through the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas. All three teams lost their openers, giving the conference a total of three NCAA tournament units.

A season that appeared to have promise, as both Arizona and USC were in the national conversation, took a bad turn in late September thanks to the FBI investigation that saw two former Pac-12 assistants arrested (Tony Bland and Book Richardson) and a player in sophomore De’Anthony Melton declared ineligible. While that case didn’t ensnare the entire Pac-12, there’s no escaping the fact that this is a league that can really use a good run through non-conference play in 2018-19.

While there won’t be a lack of teams that could win the Pac-12 next season, are there any teams that can become fixtures in the national title conversation?

OREGON, UCLA AND ARIZONA STATE BRING IN HIGHLY-REGARDED RECRUITING CLASSES: One way in which a conference can rebound from a bad season is to add quality talent, and that’s what the Pac-12 has managed to do with three programs adding Top 10 recruiting classes (per 247Sports.com). Oregon (third), UCLA (sixth) and Arizona State (tenth) are all bringing in good recruiting classes, with the Ducks’ haul including Bol Bol and Louis King, UCLA’s crop being headlined by McDonald’s All-American Moses Brown and Arizona State boasting a group led by former USC commit Taeshon Cherry.

USC and Arizona, programs impacted by the aforementioned FBI scandal, also bring in quality recruiting classes, and Stanford also did well for itself. In the case of Arizona, the Wildcats also hit the graduate transfer market hard with the additions of Justin Coleman and Ryan Luther. The question now: will the infusion of talent help the Pac-12 take a step forward nationally after falling back last season?

THE NBA DRAFT DEADLINE DELIVERS A SURPRISE: It’s rare to see a player withdraw his name from the NBA draft and then make the decision to transfer, but that’s exactly what former Stanford forward and first team all-conference selection Reid Travis decided to do on the day of the NCAA’s withdrawal deadline. As a grad transfer, and a productive one at that, Travis won’t lack for suitors as he looks for a place to play his final season of college basketball. As for Stanford, the loss of Travis is a tough blow to absorb for a team that doesn’t lack for young talent especially on the perimeter and the wing.

Daejon Davis, Kezie Okpala and Oscar Da Silva are among the returnees who will lead the way for Jerod Haase’s team, with an interior rotation that includes Josh Sharma, Trevor Stanback and freshman Lukas Kisunas needing to step forward. With competition for a spot in the top half of the conference expected to be fierce with there not being much to separate many of those teams, how much Stanford’s front court improves in the aftermath of Travis’ departure will have a big impact on whether or not the Cardinal can make a run at an NCAA tournament bid.

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WHO’S GONE?

  • Deandre Ayton, Arizona: Ayton’s departure, along with those of Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins, comes as no surprise at all. The Pac-12 Player of the Year, Ayton led Arizona in both scoring and rebounding and helped led the team to Pac-12 regular season and tournament titles. Ayton’s got a very good chance of being the top overall pick in June’s NBA draft, and whether his departure was expected or not “replacing” a player of Ayton’s caliber is a difficult thing to do. The losses of Ayton and Dusan Ristic will put more pressure on Duke transfer Chase Jeter and rising sophomore Ira Lee to produce immediately inside, making for what should be an interesting season in Tucson.
  • Aaron Holiday, UCLA: Had Ayton not been the league player of the year it’s likely that Holiday, who led UCLA in scoring, assists and steals, would have been the choice. After averaging 20.3 points, 5.8 assists and 1.3 steals per game, Holiday made the decision to forego his final season of eligibility. As is the case with Ayton this move wasn’t a surprise, and it opens the door for rising sophomore Jaylen Hands to run the show for Steve Alford in 2018-19. Holiday is one of two significant personnel losses the Bruins will have to account for if they’re to contend in the Pac-12, with big man Thomas Welsh being the other.
  • Jordan McLaughlin, USC: USC, which just missed out on an NCAA tournament berth last season, will have to account for the loss of three starters as they prepare for the 2018-19 season with one being McLaughlin. The four-year starter at the point was an incredibly important figure in Andy Enfield’s program, running the show as USC transitioned from Pac-12 bottom feeder to a program expected to consistently earn postseason bids. Of course the losses of Chimezie Metu and Elijah Stewart hurt as well, but for all that McLaughlin did in his four seasons at USC this is the beginning of a new era at the Galen Center.
  • Tra Holder, Arizona State: Holder was a key cog in the senior class that led the Sun Devil program to its first NCAA tournament appearance in four years, and he — along with Shannon Evans and Kodi Justice — will be tough to replace. Holder had the look of a Pac-12 POY favorite during a non-conference run in which Arizona State played its way into the Top 5 of the national polls, and he would go on to earn first team all-conference honors at season’s end. With Holder gone a lot of the responsibility at the point falls upon the shoulders of Remy Martin, who as a freshman was Pac-12 Co-Sixth Man of the Year.
  • Reid Travis, Stanford: While the top four players on this list are all off to pay for play, that isn’t the case for Travis. After entering the NBA draft the first team all-conference forward made the decision to transfer, and he won’t lack for choices as he looks for a new home as a grad transfer. Travis averaged 19.5 points and 8.7 rebounds per game last season, and without him the Cardinal will need Josh Sharma and Trevor Stanback to take a big step forward if they’re to be an NCAA tournament team in 2019.
(Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

WHO’S BACK?

  • Tres Tinkle, Oregon State: After appearing in just six games during the 2016-17 season due to a broken wrist Tinkle appeared in all 32 games for the Beavers last season, averaging 17.6 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game as he earned first team all-conference honors. Along with the Thompson brothers (Stevie and Ethan), Tinkle will lead the way for an Oregon State team looking to rebound from a season in which the Beavers finished tenth in the Pac-12.
  • McKinley Wright IV, Colorado: Wright was one of the conference’s best freshmen a season ago, averaging 14.2 points, 4.7 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game. He’ll begin the 2018-19 season as one of the best point guards in the Pac-12, and his development will be key for a Colorado team that will look to end the program’s two-year NCAA tournament drought.
  • Matisse Thybulle, Washington: The reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year made the decision early in the offseason that he would be back for his senior year, not even looking to test the NBA draft waters. Thybulle’s defensive abilities are well-known; can he take a step forward offensively on a team that should be a Pac-12 title contender in Mike Hopkins’ second season in charge? If so, Thybulle could find himself in the mix for Pac-12 Player of the Year.
  • Kenny Wooten, Oregon: With Jordan Bell and Chris Boucher both having moved on, the question for the Ducks entering last season was who would serve as the team’s rim protector? Enter Wooten, who as a freshman averaged 2.6 blocks per game despite averaging just under 20 minutes per night. The minutes will increase for Wooten, who will be joined in the front court by fellow returnee Paul White and two highly-regarded freshmen in Bol Bol and Miles Norris. If you’re looking for someone to make a run at the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year award currently held by Thybulle, look no further than Wooten.
  • Jaylen Hands, UCLA: Hands was one of three UCLA freshmen to test the NBA draft waters, with he, Kris Wilkes and Cody Riley (who was suspended for all of last season) all deciding to return to Westwood. Hands’ decision is a critical one, as with Aaron Holiday off to the NBA he’ll be the one entrusted with running the show for Steve Alford’s team. UCLA also adds Tyger Campbell to the mix, but Hands’ development will be key if the Bruins are to make a run at the Pac-12 title.

WHO’S COMING?

  • Bol Bol and Louis King, Oregon: Dana Altman and his staff landed the Pac-12’s best recruiting class, with the son of the late Manute Bol being the crown jewel. The 7-foot-2 Bol, who played at Findlay Prep last season, can be an impact addition on both ends of the floor and getting into a college strength and conditioning program will help him as well. As for the 6-foot-8 King, the Hudson Catholic (New Jersey) product is one of the best wings in the 2018 recruiting class and his arrival gives Oregon another versatile perimeter talent.
  • Moses Brown, UCLA: Right there with Oregon for the top recruiting class in the Pac-12 is UCLA, which landed a total of six freshmen. One of those players is the 7-foot-1 Brown, an Archbishop Malloy (Queens, New York) product considered to be one of the top centers in the 2018 class. Also in UCLA’s recruiting class are point guard Tyger Campbell, wings Jules Bernard and David Singleton, power forward Shareef O’Neal (the son of Shaquille O’Neal) and center Kenny Nwaba. This group will have the opportunity to earn significant minutes immediately.
  • Kevin Porter Jr., USC: While USC did lose some key contributors on the perimeter as Jordan McLaughlin and Elijah Stewart both graduated, the Trojans will not lack for talent next season. Joining the mix is Seattle native Kevin Porter, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard with the size and skill needed to compete for minutes immediately. He and fellow 6-foot-5 frosh Elijah Weaver join a rotation that includes Derryck Thornton Jr., Shaqquan Aaron and Charles O’Bannon Jr. and this group is one reason why the Trojans should contend.
  • Brandon Williams, Arizona: Williams was one of Arizona’s first commits in the 2018 class, and then he made the decision to reopen his recruitment in the aftermath of the FBI scandal. Williams ultimately decided that Tucson is the best place for him, and in Williams the Wildcats add an impact freshman who ranks among the top incoming freshman point guards in the country. Look for Williams and Samford grad transfer Justin Coleman to be key cogs in Arizona’s perimeter attack.
(Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL PAC-12 TEAM

Matisse Thybulle, Washington (POY)
McKinley Wright IV, Colorado
Payton Pritchard, Oregon
Tres Tinkle, Oregon State
Noah Dickerson, Washington

WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS

1. Oregon: The Ducks did lose three double-figure scorers, but they welcome back last year’s leading scorer in Payton Pritchard, and forwards Paul White and Kenny Wooten are back as well. Add in one of the nation’s top recruiting classes, and Oregon has the look of the early favorite to win the Pac-12.

2. Washington: The Huskies have as good an argument as any team for the top spot, as the team’s top seven scorers return from a team that nearly reached the NCAA tournament in Mike Hopkins’ first season. Matisse Thybulle, Noah Dickerson and the rest of the gang is back in Seattle, and the additions of Bryan Penn-Johnson and Nate Roberts will add depth inside.

3. UCLA: Everyone who tested the NBA draft waters made the decision to return, and that combined with a highly regarded recruiting class gives the Bruins a good shot at both contending in the Pac-12 and playing more than just one game in the NCAA tournament. The key: how Jaylen Hands and Tyger Campbell fare in filling the hole left at the point by Aaron Holiday’s departure.

4. USC: The Trojans lost some key pieces but the cupboard is anything but bare. Derryck Thornton Jr., Jordan McLaughlin’s backup last season, moves into the starting point guard spot, and the additions of Kevin Porter Jr. and Elijah Weaver will add depth and talent on the perimeter. The Trojans will need Bennie Boatwright, whose season ended in mid February due to a knee injury, back at full strength if they’re to be a title contender.

5. Colorado: Even with the graduation of George King, the Buffaloes return McKinley Wright IV and Namon Wright on the perimeter, and Tyler Bey and Lucas Siewert are among the contributors in the front court. Also, Colorado added a junior college All-America to the mix in guard Shane Gatling, and 4-star freshman guard Daylen Kountz should be in the mix for minutes as well.

6. Arizona: Arizona lost its entire starting five from a season ago, and while Sean Miller and his staff managed to put together a good recruiting class there are a lot of new pieces that will need time to jell together. Among those additions are two grad transfers in point guard Justin Coleman and power forward Ryan Luther (Pittsburgh), and Duke transfer Chase Jeter is eligible after sitting out last season.

7. Stanford: With Reid Travis’ decision to transfer the Cardinal will have to account for the loss of three of the team’s top five scorers from last season. That being said there’s some good talent on the roster, including guard Daejon Davis and wings Kezie Okpala and Oscar Da Silva. Stanford’s hopes may hinge on the progress made by Josh Sharma and Trevor Stanback in the front court, with both being on the outskirts of the Stanford rotation last season.

8. Arizona State: The Sun Devils lost some very important seniors at the end of last season, but the return of players such as guard Remy Martin and forwards Romello White, Kimani Lawrence and De’Quon Lake will help Bobby Hurley deal with those losses. San Diego State transfer Zylan Cheatham will be available, and ASU also adds a solid recruiting class headlined by forward Taeshon Cherry.

9. Utah: The Runnin’ Utes lost three of the top four scorers from a team that won 23 games and reached the Postseason NIT title game last season. Sedrick Barefield, who tested the NBA draft waters, is back as are forward Donnie Tillman and center Jayce Johnson and a quality recruiting class enters the fold as well. Obviously there are questions to answer for this group, but keep in mind that Larry Krystkowiak has led the program to five straight 20-win seasons.

10. Oregon State: The Beavers had the appearance of a possible sleeper heading into last season but things did not work out that way, as the lack of a clear answer at the point had an impact on their effectiveness. Losing Drew Eubanks in the post hurts, but with Tres Tinkle and the Thompson brothers back there’s talent at the other spots. The question, once again, is the point. Can either incoming freshman, Jordan Campbell or Antoine Vernon, step forward and be the answer? That will be the key for Wayne Tinkle’s squad.

11. Washington State: The good news for Washington State is that leading scorer Robert Franks made the decision to return for his senior season. The bad news: Malachi Flynn transferred to San Diego State. Franks, Viont’e Daniels and Carter Skaggs are the leading returning scorers, with Ernie Kent adding multiple junior college transfers including point guard Jervae Robinson and forward Isaiah Wade.

12. California: While there were no head coaching moves in the Pac-12 this offseason, Wyking Jones’ addition of David Grace to his coaching staff could be a big move for the Golden Bears. Don Coleman’s decision to transfer left the Golden Bears without their leading scorer from a season ago, but in sophomores Justice Sueing and Darius McNeill they’ve got two promising young talents to build around. And keep an eye on freshmen Matt Bradley and Jacobi Gordon.

Malachi Flynn transferring to San Diego State

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San Diego State landed one of the top players remaining on the transfer market.

Malachi Flynn, a 6-foot-1 transfer from Washington State, pledged Monday to the Aztecs, giving coach Brian Dutcher a high-scoring guard with two years of eligibility remaining.

“After much prayer and thoughtful consideration, I am blessed and thankful to announce that I will be transferring to San Diego State University to further my education and basketball career,” Flynn wrote on social media. “I want to thank every school and coach that recruited and showed interest in me during this process and each of you that supported me during this transition as well,

“I’m excited for this next chapter and look forward to being a part of the Aztec family.”

Flynn averaged 15.8 points while shooting 41.3 percent from the floor and 33.8 percent from 3-point range. He also posted 4.3 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game for the Cougars. Flynn will have to sit out the 2018-19 season under NCAA transfer rules, but then will have two seasons left to compete. He picked the Aztecs over the likes of Creighton, Baylor and Gonzaga.

Report: Izundu’s San Diego State transfer ban rescinded

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Washington State transfer Valentine Izundu will be visiting San Diego State after all.

Coach Ernie Kent has rescinded his restriction on the 6-foot-10 graduate transfer from visiting the Aztecs, according to a report from the Spokesman-Review, citing an anonymous source. Izundu will also be reportedly visiting Fresno State and UNLV.

Izundu had previously been barred from considering the Aztecs by Kent because of suspcisions of tampering. Izundu vigorously denied that was the case as at the center of the dispute was a trip he made to San Diego for spring break. He publicly said he did not have any contact with the SDSU coaching staff , though he attended an Aztecs NIT game.

Kent, though, appears to have relented, as many coaches who have similarly faces public pressure in such situations before him have. In this era where so much attention is being paid to player rights and welfare, there only seems to be growing public sentiment against programs restricting transfers beyond the absolute bare minimum is rarely going to go over well. It may make things more difficult for coaches and programs, but it’s the deck is largely already stacked in their favor in most every other instance.

NC State, Ole Miss among eight teams in 2016 Paradise Jam

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While the 2015-16 season has yet to get underway, some in-season tournaments have already begun the process of finalizing teams for the 2016-17 campaign. Wednesday evening the Paradise Jam revealed its eight-team field for the 2016 edition of the event, which is scheduled to be played November 18-21, 2016 at the University of the Virgin Islands.

NC State, which has reached the NCAA tournament in each of the last four seasons under head coach Mark Gottfried, is part of the event as are Andy Kennedy’s Ole Miss Rebels. Completing the field are Creighton, Loyola-Chicago, Oral Roberts, Montana, Saint Joseph’s and Washington State.

Of the eight teams just two have made prior appearances at the Paradise Jam. Phil Martelli’s Saint Joseph’s team finished fifth in 2009, with Ole Miss finishing third two years later. Washington State may have the most interesting connection to this tournament, however.

The father of forward Josh Hawkinson, who was the Pac-12’s Most Improved Player last season and will be a senior in 2016-17, created the Paradise Jam back in 2000. That should make for a fun return to the Virgin Islands for Josh next November. Nels Hawkinson is the executive director of Basketball Travelers, a company some may be familiar with as they’ve set up foreign tours for many college basketball programs over the years.

While NC State and Ole Miss are the lone teams in this field to reach the NCAA tournament last season, Montana is one of the favorites in the Big Sky entering the 2015-16 season and ORU is expected to be a factor in the Summit League. Scott Sutton’s Golden Eagles were picked to finish third in the Summit League preseason coaches poll.