Like the great Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson once said, “It’s preview season!” (alright, maybe they didn’t say exactly that). With the college basketball season greatly approaching, CHD is bringing you the most important, up-to-date information on your favorite NCAA basketball conferences. We’ll even throw in a little dash of nonsense and a heaping plate full of hype to go along with it (all for free!). Hunker down and strap it in folks, it’s almost time to Rise and Fire once again. Next up, the Pac-12.
The Drought in Arizona
I am not a weather man. I cannot read a forecast. When I see green blobby waves on my TV during the weather report, part of my childlike brain pretends the west passed gas on the east. If I hear someone talking about “the Thunder last night”, I automatically assume they’re talking about something Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook did. And twisters will forever make me think of Helen Hunt and that flying cow.
Again, not a weather man.
After attending college in the state of Iowa for four years, I do know about two things weather related: Floods (unfortunately) and droughts (corn-corn-corn-corn-corn-corn-corn).
Before I explain further, lets think back all the way to the year 2001 and the events that occurred: 9/11, Dale Earnhardt’s passing, Wikipedia started (found that out by wikipedia-ing Wikipedia), Apple released the iPod, Friends was still on TV, everybody really did love Raymond, Miami was still good at college football, Bjork wore a goose as a dress, Barry Bonds hit 73* home runs in a season, Jay-Z didn’t have a wife, and the future Mrs. Z was still one of Destiny’s children.
Why did we conduct this exercise?
Well, 2001 was also the last time Arizona made the Final Four.
That my friends is what Iowans would call a thirteen year drought.
See how I brought you full circle?
But that was last year. A distant dream. On to better things.
Now I also mentioned floods as part of my meteorology expertise a few paragraphs ago and don’t think it was for good reason…the storm is brewing over Tucson. It’s been rolling in ever since last years Arizona Wildcats team ultimately came two points short against Wisconsin of reaching the National Semifinals.
Don’t expect that to happen again.
Gone are the 2013-14 Pac-12 Player and Rookie of the year in Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon, but just like the Matrix, Sean Miller comes back reloaded, returning seven of the top nine scorers from last season including Brandon Ashley (returning from his broken foot), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, T.J. McConnell, and Kaleb Tarczewski. Miller also landed a recruiting class envied by the entire west coast.
Stanley Johnson is the big get as he is a 6’6″ small forward from California has an NBA frame, tremendous ball handling skills and has that “Kobe-Jordan” gene. Joining is power forward Craig Victor, a four star recruit from New Orleans who already has back-to-the-basket offensive moves. For most, that would be enough, but you don’t just land the sixth ranked class for nailing two signatures. Four star point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright and seven footer Dusan Ristic come into Tucson and should be instant impact players for the ‘Cats.
Offensively, this team should be slightly better than last years (20th in adjusted offense according to KenPom.com) with the return of Brandon Ashley and my expected contributions from the freshman. If Hollis-Jefferson can make any type of leap, it will ultimately be a cherry on top of this proverbial basket-making sundae. The real question is can the returners and four new freshman mesh together to play Miller’s intense man-to-man, switch-on-all-ball-screens defense with the same intensity as last years squad (first in adjusted defense according to KenPom)?
If Miller can continue to get young, athletically gifted kids to buy in on the defensive end, this team will need to build themselves a boat, because when it rains it pours. And when it pours, it tends to flood.
Boom! Full, FULL CIRCLE!
Best of the rest?
The Pac-12 after Arizona is going to be…well…not that fun. I like to think of the conference like they are the Chicago Cubs; amidst a rebuilding year:
Colorado returns Josh Scott and Askia Booker and will look to avenge their blow-out loss to Pittsburgh that still has so many of the “Marchers” (fans of March Madness that insist they know all there is to know about college basketball, yet they only just started watching during conference tournaments) wondering how they even got into last years tournament at all. The Buffalos also feature one of the best front courts not only in the Pac-12 but in the NCAA which should be a huge plus come tournament play. Storyline to watch: Who fills in for Spencer Dinwiddie for “Best Mustache in College Hoops”?
UCLA is still coached by Steve Alford and while the Bruins lost basically every important player from last years Sweet-16 team, betting on him to not some how get this young team into the tournament seems foolish. There are pieces here in Norman Powell (11.4 points last season), big Tony Parker, freshman Kevon Looney and Thomas Welsh that can at the very least push the Pac-12 on a nightly basis. They might not win a game come tournament time, but expect to still see them somewhere in your bracket.
Utah! Yes, Utah. I’m not going to pretend to know much about the Utes except that they have probably the best player in the conference in junior college transfer Delon Wright. Wright averaged 15.5 points per game, 6.8 rebounds and 5.3 assists last season as a junior (more on him in a bit). Storyline to watch: DELON WRIGHT, DELON WRIGHT and DELON WRIGHT. FIND HIM ON YOUR TV!
Stanford was one of last years tournament darlings, making it to the Sweet 16 as a ten seed (ultimately falling to the real Cinderella, Dayton) and knocking off New Mexico and Kansas in their wake. Johnny Dawkins brings in a top-15 recruiting class to fill in for Dwight Powell and Josh Huestis on the offensive end. Storyline to watch: How many time will Dawkins go on and off the hot seat with this young team (eight freshman/sophomores)?
I’m telling you, Delon Wright is the #truth. He has had quite the journey to get to Utah and he’s just one of those humble kids that you can’t help but root for. He is going to gut Pac-12 defenses in every way possible throughout the season. He played in 91.7% of the teams available minutes last year, was involved in 23.4% of the Utes possessions and still had a true shooting percentage of 63.3%. If that’s not enough to convince you of his talent, maybe Delon can:
Obligatory YouTube Freshman Hype Machine
Stanley Johnson- Arizona, F
If your jaw didn’t drop the second you saw the custom made Arizona Jordan 5’s, I really don’t understand how you live your life. For those of you that hollered like an And-1 Mixtape Tour MC at the site of those shoes and there after with every crossover, spin move, step back jumper that followed, remember, this dude is 6’6″ dribbling through defenses like Chris Paul, dunking like Blake Griffin and nailing jumpers like Jamal Crawford. This dude has one and done tattooed on his forehead in platinum ink, so soak in all that he has to offer to the college game now.
Kevin Looney-UCLA, F
This cat right here…this cat with the high top fade…oh, oh, oh, man this cat right here. Looney is honestly getting Kevin Durant comps and he hasn’t even played a game yet. But at 6’8″, 20o pounds, long arms, ability to score in the low post, high post and from outside the arc, they may not be wrong. One thing is for sure, points are going to come in bunches. BUNCHES.
Save the Date
On February 28 Arizona comes into the Jon M. Huntsman Center to play the Utes. This game will surely have Pac-12 Tournament seeding implications (for everyone but Arizona). But that’s really going to be every night in the Pac-12 as teams jockey up and down the ranks.
What makes this game so special?
It’s also the Utes senior night and final home game of the season. Do you know who is a senior this year? Delon Wright. Delon Wright on senior night, against what should be the best defense in the Pac-12, in his last game in front of his home crowd?
The only way I would enjoy this game more is if I watched it in Karl Malone’s man cave with Rick Majerus and Keith Van Horn.