Earlier this week I knocked out the first half of the newly expanded Pac-12, and the six teams below will complete my first look at all of the major conference teams. Have no fear ”mid-major” fans, I am compiling a list of other top teams to profile prior to the 2011-12 season.
As I mentioned in Volume I, there is a fairly wide gap between the top four teams in the Pac-12 and the rest of the league. Arizona and Cal, who I profiled last time, are half of that upper echelon. The other two are revealed below along with who I believe will finish in the Pac-12 basement.
The Cardinal lost just one player from last season’s team, but unfortunately that was leading scorer and top shooter Jeremy Green, who left early to enter the NBA Draft but subsequently went undrafted.
Still, there are plenty of experienced players returning for Stanford as they look to replace their go-to scorer. Senior Josh Owens led the team with 6.5 rebounds per game and hit 58.0 percent of his shots. He provides a physical presence inside and should improve upon on his 11.6 points per game.
Owens is joined up front by Dwight Powell who had a productive freshman season. In 24 minutes of action, he posted 8.1 points and 5.2 rebounds. An offseason in the weight room will do him good and lead to more double-digit scoring efforts as a sophomore.
On the wing, Anthony Brown improved his game as the season went along with nearly all of his top performances coming against conference foes. Like Powell, Brown is due for a solid sophomore season and rounds out a talented frontcourt trio.
After leading the team with 4.2 assists per game, Jarrett Mann will serve as the team’s starting point guard. With Green gone, he’ll need to find new recipients of his dimes, but don’t count on a huge uptick in his scoring given some ugly shooting percentages over the course of his career.
Aaron Bright also returns to the backcourt, but he is more suited for the backup point guard role. His 5-foot-11 size doesn’t exactly leave him well-suited to play two-guard.
As for reserves, John Gage, Jack Trotter, Andrew Zimmerman, and Josh Huestis provide depth inside. All have decent size, but none of them scored over four points per game last season. Look for them to help out primarily on the boards. In the backcourt, Gabriel Harris is back after playing sparingly last year.
The lone freshman is guard Chasson Randle, who can attack defenses off the dribble and score in a variety of ways. His jumper is improving, and he’s working toward becoming a true point guard.
Stanford has more height than a lot of teams in the Pac-12, although it’s unclear who can really play outside of Owens and Powell. In the backcourt, there are virtually no options at shooting guard, which doesn’t bode well for a team looking to replace its leading scorer. Look for the Cardinal to finish in the middle of the pack this season.
Had both Malcolm Lee and Tyler Honeycutt returned the school, the Bruins would have returned their entire roster from last season and been among the highest rated teams in the country. As it stands, there are still a number of key pieces returning, primarily in the frontcourt.
Forward Reeves Nelson led the team in both scoring and rebounding last season. He posted 14 double-doubles and shot 56.7 percent from the field. Nelson has a great motor and should continue to excel as a junior.
Joining him up front is big man Josh Smith. His size and conditioning limited him to fewer than 22 minutes per game, but he still managed to post 10.9 points and 6.3 boards. His consistency and overall productivity improved as the season went along, and an offseason of conditioning should have him poised for an impressive sophomore season.
Even without Lee, there is some experience in the backcourt. Lazeric Jones led the squad with 3.6 assists per game to go along with 9.1 points. His scoring dropped off once conference play began with only two double-digit scoring games in February and March. Jerime Anderson chipped in with 2.6 assists of his own while knocking down 38.7 percent from beyond the arc. After a disappointing freshman year, Tyler Lamb will be looking to improve upon his poor shooting performance.
Up front, the Wear twins, Travis and David, will be eligible after transferring from North Carolina. Both averaged around 10 minutes in their lone season as Tar Heels, with neither scoring over 3.5 points. They were highly rated recruits and should provide solid depth at the very least.
A pair of other new faces should be in the rotation. Freshman Norman Powell uses a quick first step to get to the rim or free himself for mid-range jumpers. He’s also solid on defense thanks to his length, but he needs to improve his ballhandling and shooting. Juco transfer De’End Parker did a little of every at the City College of San Francisco, and his versatility should earn him major minutes this season.
There is plenty of size along the front line for the Bruins, which is a luxury many other Pac-12 teams don’t have. If the Wear twins prove to be legit, look out. There are questions in the backcourt in terms of who can pick up the scoring slack left by Lee’s departure. Parker should help there, and a bounce back year from Lamb isn’t out of the question. Expect UCLA to be among the league leaders throughout the season.
The Trojans snuck into the tournament last season and subsequently became VCU’s first conquest on their way to the Final Four. With just three players back who logged over four minutes per game, a return trip to the Big Dance seems unlikely.
The backcourt is in good shape with the return of Jio Fontan and Maurice Jones. Fontan, the Fordham transfer who became eligible at mid-season last year, posted 10.5 points per game along with a team-high 3.9 assists. His scoring was inconsistent, with just half of his games in double figures. His shooting percentage was improved from his days at Fordham, but it’s still not where you’d like it to be for someone who takes so many shots.
Jones finished just behind Fontan with 9.9 points and 3.2 assists as a freshman. The diminutive guard also had his share of ups and downs from a scoring standpoint, but he logged consistent minutes and gained valuable experience. The duo gives USC a solid foundation in the backcourt, but with both guys 6-feet tall or under, their size is less than ideal.
The third returnee of note is wing player Garrett Jackson. He saw his playing time fluctuate rather wildly during his freshman year, but he is guaranteed to log more minutes this year due to a lack of depth. Jackson shot an impressive 55.6 percent from the field and 45.0 percent from deep, albeit in limited attempts.
The newcomer most likely to make an immediate impact is Iowa transfer Aaron Fuller. He was one of few bright spots for the Hawkeyes in 2009-10 with 9.7 points and 6.2 rebounds in just over 24 minutes. At 6-foot-6, he’s undersized for a power forward, but this team isn’t blessed with much height. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Fuller lead the team in scoring.
Evan Smith is back at forward after redshirting last year, but he posted fewer than two points and two rebounds a couple years ago. Curtis Washington brings decent size up front , but he’s a complete unknown after playing just three games last season.
Another intriguing prospect is center DeWayne Dedmon who redshirted last year. He didn’t start playing the game until he was 18, so obviously he is extremely raw. You can’t teach size though, and his 7-foot frame brings an added element to the team. He posted 6.6 points and 7.8 rebounds in his only year playing at junior college.
With so few proven players returning, newcomers will factor into the rotation for Kevin O’Neill’s club. Small forward Byron Wesley is athletic with a quick first step. He uses his strength well, but his jumper needs some work. Juco guard Greg Allen gives the team another good shooter from the outside after converting nearly 40 percent of his triples at Navarro College. They get help inside with 7-foot-1 center James Blasczyk, who started his career at Texas A&M but never suited up for the Aggies.
Obviously with so few returning players, there are tons of questions, particularly in the quest to replace the frontcourt duo of Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson. There are just three players over 6-foot-7 on the roster, but none are proven. That begs the question as to who rebounds for this team, and while there is some strength at the point, there aren’t many reliable long-range shooters to extend opposing defenses. A finish in the top half of the league would be surprising.
At first glance, the Utes and new coach Larry Krystkowiak are in for a long first year in the Pac-12. They return just four guys who played at all last season and lose five of their top six scorers, their top two rebounders, and their top assist man. Consequently, there are a whole lot of new faces on the roster and a myriad of questions heading into the season.
Senior guard Josh Watkins is the team’s top returnee after averaging 14.5 points and a team-high 3.5 assists last year. He scored in double figures in 24 of 31 games and got to the free throw line nearly six times per contest. The red flag for Watkins is the fact that he had 104 turnovers compared to 109 assists, which doesn’t bode well for such an inexperienced squad.
Chris Hines also returns to the backcourt. He showed some flashes with seven double-digit scoring games, but he was held scoreless plenty of times as well. Hines also had twice as many turnovers as assists, but he’ll see extended minutes this season out of necessity.
The two players coming back inside are Jason Washburn and David Foster. The 7-foot-1 Washburn made 61.8 percent from the field and posted 6.0 points and 4.1 rebounds in less than 20 minutes of action. He also blocked better than one shot per game and should see a bump in his production with additional playing time. Foster has great size of his own at 7-foot-3, but even in 20 minutes per game, he was unable to average better than three points. He did chip in with 5.2 rebounds and blocked an impressive 3.2 shots per ball game. Foster simply has to be more of a force offensively for the Utes.
Six new players join the team, and with so little experience, there are plenty of opportunities for these newcomers to earn significant playing time. The most likely contributors will be the three junior college transfers.
Forward Javon Dawson averaged 8.1 points and 7.3 rebounds as a freshman at Gulf Coast Community College before missing last season with a knee injury. With limited power forward options, he seems poised to start. Fellow forward Dijon Farr posted 9.6 points and 5.4 rebounds at Indian Hills Community College last year. He also led the team in steals and blocked shots on his way to First-Team All-Region 11 honors. The final juco addition is guard Cedric Martin who was the team captain at Lee College last year. He’s expected to be one of the team’s top outside shooters.
Three freshmen will also be in the mix for minutes. Guard Anthony Odunsi is a slasher and scorer who originally committed to Iowa State. Krystkowiak has raved about his versatility, which should give Odunsi a role off the bench. Wing scorer George Matthews brings additional versatility to the table. He’s a “polished scorer” but needs to improve his consistency. The final piece is point guard Kareem Storey, who has been lauded for his playmaking skills, but he needs to improve his decision-making to excel as a lead guard.
Even in a relatively weak conference, the Utes will struggle this year. There was a huge amount of roster turnover, and it will take time to build up the overall talent level. There is very little experience and proven scoring on the squad, and the team’s assist-to-turnover ratio last year gives additional reason for concern. Expect the Utes to finish in the Pac-12 basement.
My lasting memory of the Huskies last season was their tournament loss to North Carolina. Not because it was a good game (although it was), but because a Washington win would have really helped out my bracket. Luckily, I don’t hold a grudge…much.
Lorenzo Romar heads into the season with the daunting task of replacing his top three scorers, his leading rebounder, and three of his top four assist men. Still, six players return who averaged at least 4.6 points and played at least 15 minutes per game thanks to a deep rotation and uptempo offense.
A big key will be the health of Abdul Gaddy who played just 13 games last season before tearing his ACL. He was on his way to a solid sophomore season with 8.5 points and 3.8 dimes per game. In limited attempts, his three-point stroke appeared to have improved as well. His return would provide the team with stability at the point guard spot.
Two guys I’ll be watching closely are C.J. Wilcox and Terrence Ross. Wilcox was instant offense last season with 8.1 points in just 15.8 minutes. He knocked down better than 40 percent from beyond the arc and played some of his best basketball over the last two months. Ross put up similar scoring numbers as a freshman and scored at least 13 points in four of the final five contests. Both guys have good size and should a sharp increase in playing time this year.
Scott Suggs provides additional size and depth at guard. He made 45 percent from deep as a junior and gives the team yet another scorer.
Inside, Darnell Gant and Aziz N’Diaye will look to fill the void left by Matthew Bryan-Amaning. Gant showed the ability to step out and hit three-pointers last season and chipped in with nearly four rebounds per game. N’Diaye finished second on the team in blocks and rebounds while hitting nearly 58 percent of his field goal attempts. He notched three double-doubles but will need to be more of a contributor in the scoring column this season.
After redshirting last year, Desmond Simmons joins the rotation. Coaches see him as a “power wing” in the mold of former Husky Quincy Pondexter.
Romar added a Top 25 recruiting class as well, led by point guard Tony Wroten, Jr. He brings terrific strength to the position, which allows him to finish effectively. He’s also an accomplished passer but needs to work on his jumper. Wroten certainly helps to ease the blow of losing Isaiah Thomas to the NBA. Backcourt mate Hikeem Stewart probably won’t see a ton of playing time due to the bevy of shooting guards on the roster.
Freshmen forwards Jernard Jarreau and Martin Breunig provide additional size inside. Jarreau uses his length to impact the game with his shot-blocking and rebounding, but he needs to get stronger. Breunig originally committed to Maryland but opened up his recruitment after the coaching change there. A late growth spurt means his post game is a bit less refined, but he has a variety of skills that should allow him to contribute early on.
Despite some key losses, Washington has a solid starting five who can excel in Romar’s system. The big question marks revolve around replacing Thomas at the point and Bryan-Amaning down low. If Gaddy is healthy and Wroten is as advertised, the point guard slot is solidified. The further development of Gant and N’Diaye are critical inside, but guys like Wilcox and Ross can fill it up. I’m not sure the Huskies can win the conference, but they should certainly be in the discussion.
Coach Ken Bone and the Cougars lost just two players from last season, but the duo of Klay Thompson and DeAngelo Casto represented two of the team’s top three scorers, its top two rebounders and shot-blockers, and its leader in steals and assists. The team made the NIT Semi-Finals with them. Without them, it could get ugly.
The top two returning scorers are both guards in Faisal Aden and Reggie Moore. Aden averaged 12.3 points, but his overall production was inconsistent following the first four games of the season where he tallied 93 points, albeit against limited competition. He’ll never be confused for Thompson as a shooter and posted more turnovers than assists. Without Thompson to attract defensive attention, Aden may see fewer clean looks.
Moore missed games last season due to drug-related issues off the court, and in many ways, he took a step back from his solid freshman season. His shooting percentage fell, as did his assist total. The talent is there though, as evidenced by one stretch last year where he scored at least 10 points in 12 of 13 games. He simply has to be more of a leader at the point.
Wazzu’s top returning frontcourt contributors are Brock Motum and Abe Lodwick. Motum is a 6-foot-10 Aussie who converted on nearly 60 percent of his shots last year, which he parlayed into 7.6 points per game. With extended minutes, he could easily reach double figures on a regular basis. Lodwick posted decent rebounding totals on the wing, but he took too many three-pointers for someone who shoots 32 percent from deep.
The other key returnee is Marcus Capers, who averaged 29.2 minutes last year. He mustered just 5.8 points though, with his biggest contribution coming on the glass. Capers did convert on 52.9 percent of his shots, nearly all of which came from inside the arc. Forward Patrick Simon is also in line for an expanded role in his sophomore season.
A couple players who sat out last season should be prominent members of the rotation. Mike Ladd put up 10.3 points and shot nearly 40 percent from three-point land at Fresno State in 2009-10. He gives the team another capable guard and may well be their top shooter. Aussie Dexter Kernich-Drew redshirted last season but was reportedly impressive during practice. At 6-foot-6, he should contribute on the wing.
The top newcomer is D.J. Shelton, who started his career at Cal State Fullerton. He moved on to Citrus College from there where he scored 12 points per game and grabbed nearly seven boards. Shelton made better than 65 percent from the field, so look for him to see plenty of playing time given the lack of interior size.
True freshmen Davonte Lacy and Greg Sequele also join the Cougars, although it’s unlikely either will play a major role this season.
Like so many other Pac-12 teams, there are major questions for Wazzu. Casto will be tough to replace inside for a team with limited size and even more limited experience at this level. Klay Thompson did everything for this team a year ago, and no one on the roster is remotely as dynamic on offense. Off-court issues and suspensions plagued the team a season ago, and with less talent, they appear destined to finish in the middle of the pack.
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* – Ben Howland photo credit: Daylife