It’s a simple question: With their resume, does Virginia have the resume to bypass the seemingly endless amount of other teams on the proverbial Bubble and make it into the field?
Consider me as one of those who thinks yes, without question. And it all has to do with their quality wins.
According to RealTimeRPI.com (the site I swear by when it comes time to look at such things) the Cavaliers have seven wins over Top 100 RPI teams. Four of them are against the Top 50 in North Carolina State, North Carolina, Wisconsin and now, Duke. The three Top 100 wins are Florida State*, Tennessee and Maryland.
(*Yes, somehow Florida State is still a Top 100 team.)
So we have the wins out of the way. Now, we have to look at the other side of things, the part that might actually weigh on the Wahoo’s NCAA Tournament chances more than anything. The bad losses.
And man, they’re awful. In fact, you could make a case that everything I’m writing is total crap, and these should keep them out.
On the season, Tony Bennett’s team is 20-8. Of those eight losses, six are against teams outside the RPI Top 150, including what could turn out to be the shot to the jugular to their Big Dance chances, the 63-61 loss to a dreadful Old Dominion team that ranks 323rd in the RPI*.
(*I understand there are other ways of determining what Virginia’s chances are. But the RPI is the main factor by which the NCAA Tournament Committee decides, so by that rationale, one has to think like the committee thinks.)
In fact, before back-to-back losses to North Carolina (20th) and Miami (3rd) on Feb. 16 and 19, all of the Cavaliers’ losses were to teams outside the Top 150.
So yea, one might see exactly why the case can be made that Virginia has some work to do, possibly even needing a decent run in the ACC Tournament.
But here’s my main argument, with the numbers all laid out: Those disgusting losses early in the season to bad teams, all of which were in the CAA (George Mason, Old Dominion, Delaware), don’t mean as much as getting four wins over sure-fire tournament teams in Wisconsin, North Carolina, North Carolina State and Duke.
Had the conference wins come in a lesser power conference such as the SEC or Big 12, which range from “bad” to “a bit down” this season, I’d say otherwise. But this a season in which even Miami, who isn’t traditionally a power in the conference, is dominant, and the ACC has shown to be up there with the B1G this season as a best-of-the-best conference (though I believe the B1G to be the best overall, the ACC a slight second).
So the Selection Committee has to ask itself: What do we value more? Good wins or bad losses? When it comes to Virginia, the answer to that question will decide whether they’re celebrating or sulking on national television during the Selection Show in a few weeks.
Follow David Harten on Twitter at @David_Harten
Watching tonight’s game between Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, I wanted to see one thing: Marshall Henderson.
All season, I’ve yet to see the Rebels’ redshirt junior play a full game, be it because I was busy or another game was more interesting. I finally got to see it, and wasn’t disappointed.
What’s beyond this link is why (credit to Matt Norlander for the video).
The scary thing is that Henderson squared his feet from 35-feet and leaned only slightly forward to get the leverage to shoot that ball. It was nearly a textbook jumper for a guy who earns his scholarship chunking it from three.
As a fan, that’s tons of fun to watch. A guy that you see in your normal rec league game, playing Division I basketball, only he’s tons more talented. He shoots in bunches and coach Andy Kennedy said he’s given Henderson the green light to shoot numerous times. It’s worked. The Hurst, Texas native leads the Southeastern Conference at 18.6 points per game.
What’s it take to do what Marshall Henderson is doing? Also, how is he limiting himself, offensively? Glad you asked. Even if you didn’t, you can find out below.
Square feet - The great shooters always do it. Lately, it’s become somewhat of a lost art. Something I like to call the “Pigeon Toe” effect is what makes Henderson great. When he sets his feet, his toes point inward, so that when he jumps, his feet — and as a result, his shoulders — are square to the bucket. It will always get the ball going in the right direction.
Defensive energy - Most offensive machines aren’t known for great defense. Henderson is by no means a Russ Smith or Aaron Craft, but he’s one of the more underrated perimeter defenders in the SEC. In his 41 minutes on the court, Henderson got his hands (deflection or steal) on 11 balls, all on the perimeter. He’s 6-2, and even though he averages 1.4 steals per game, he’s not going to do too much when a guard penetrates, but he has active hands, and legs. Four times in the second half alone, even if it was ill-advised, Henderson ran from the top of the key to the deep wing or baseline to chase down a shooter. For better or worse, Henderson likes the play the perimeter on both sides of the ball.
Ball-screen awareness - Any shooter worth his salt knows how to properly come off a screen, especially off the ball in a catch-and-shoot situation. What sets Henderson apart is his ability to know when to come off the screen. He’s great at coming off the shoulder of the screener. But, for example, five minutes into the game against Vanderbilt on Tuesday night, Marshall started on the right baseline, hesitated when he saw the ball get to the top of the key, and instead of coming off the screen of Reginald Buckner immediately, put enough of a stutter-step up to freeze the defender, Kedren Johnson to get the space he needed to go wide off the screen, wrap around, catch and shoot from 25 feet. It’s the fact that he knows how to do this that gets Henderson space.
There’s obviously, always a downside to giving a player free-reign to pull whenever he wants. There are definitely things Henderson could work on.
Overconfidence - Henderson has no fear. That’s fine. He’s got the tools to always believe he’s going to drop 30 in a game. But some nights, it’s not going to be his night. Henderson’s got the shooting part down, but the percentages suggest there’s night when they wont fall. He’s hitting 36.1-percent from three and 39.7-percent overall. All hoopers have that night. When that comes, Henderson has a tendency to rely on jacking up threes to regain the swagger he shows — and pisses a ton of people off with. He had to learn to defer to teammates. His ability to pull the defense deep outside the perimeter can open a ton of mid-range looks for Reginald Buckner and Nick Williams.
Perimeter floating - Henderson is a bomber. He’s thrown up an mind-numbing 158 threes this season already. With that, home is on the perimeter. That can make any shooter complacent. There wasn’t much crashing the boards when it mattered for Henderson and a ton of cherry-picking. This can be a good thing on outlet plays, but to rely on it against a team like, say, Kentucky, could end in a lot of athletic guards like Archie Goodwin getting some offensive rebounds.
Henderson falls into the category that guys like Jimmer Fredette and J.J. Redick did in college. Gunner. Deep range with no conscience. I can dig that. So can a lot of fans. And it’ll help Ole Miss a bunch this season. To break down Henderson’s game is lesson in controlled chaos. Beautiful chaos. It’s what happens when that chaos starts to hinder the team’s gameplan that will determine if this is Kennedy’s year to take the Rebels to the NCAA Tournament.
Yes, Marshall Henderson is that important.
Last season might as well served as Quinn Cook’s redshirt season. The then-Duke freshman averaged 4.4 points, 1.9 assists and shot 25-percent in 11.7 minutes per game in 2011-12 and after all the hype surrounding him, looked well on his way to being a bust. Which doesn’t happen much with Mike Krzyzewski’s recruits.
This season, we’re finally seeing exactly why Coach K wanted Cook.
The sophomore point guard is averaging 11.4 points. 6.1 assists and 3.9 boards to accompany his 1.9 steals per game and has taken firm hold of the reins of the Blue Devils’ offense. He serves as the facilitator for national player of the year candidate Mason Plumlee.
But I guess the question is, how?
The obvious answer is hard work, but what’s different?
Let’s examine? (And we’re throwing out “experience” here, that’s a given).
Increased Offensive Role
This might as well be called “the departure of Austin Rivers”. Rivers was not only the point guard — even if his skill set screamed shooting guard — but was the lead scoring threat. When essentially both guard spots were spoken for by one player, that makes it hard to pick a role for Cook. This season, with Rivers gone to the NBA, he can do what he does best, whatever he wants. That starts with being the point man. He gets everyone involved. Along with his 6.1 dimes, four other players besides Cook are averaging double-figures in points. He spreads it out. With Ryan Kelly out with a foot injury, he’ll have to get another starter involved as well.
The Rise of Rasheed Sulaimon
When the freshman Sulaimon got to campus this season, no one saw what they’re currently getting from their starting two-guard. He’s taken on an unexpected scoring load (11.3 points, 41.3-percent shooting) and when both guards spots were question marks coming into the season, this makes things easier for Cook to not only be selective with his shots — he’s 45.3-percent on the season with fifth-most shots attempted on the team — but has another reliable three-point shooter with Sulaimon taking the second-most three’s on the team, behind the obviously lead gun Seth Curry, at 56. Sulaimon has made 21 on the season, for a 37.5-percent clip.
No Need to Be the Leader
In the past, this hasn’t been the case for most star guards at Duke. From Jason Williams to Kyrie Irving to Rivers, the point guard has always been the guy to star, by way of scoring and passing. Cook is fourth on the team in scoring and, as previously mentioned, fifth on the team in field goal attempts. He’s not asked to score. And while Krzyzewski hasn’t demanded a bulk of the scoring load, he has demanded a bulk of the leadership come from the guard spot, at least on the court. With Plumlee, Kelly and Curry all seniors pacing the team in the huddle, Cook is asked only to make sure to minimize mistakes while making plays when the opportunities are presented.
Watching tape of Cook this season, compared to last, is like night-and-day. A number of pundits believed he just didn’t get the system, I’d say that, looking back, the coaching staff was just saving him, grooming him, even. He played 387 minutes all of last season, so far in 2012-13, he’s already clocked 492.
Cook has made 0ne of the largest improvements from last season to this season, and the reasons are equal-parts patience and opportunity.
Think hard. Really hard. What’s the one thing that Bo Ryan’s good Wisconsin teams have always had?
I’ll give you a hit. Alando Tucker. Need another? Jordan Taylor.
Yea, smart point guards.
With Josh Gasser out for the season with a torn ACL and Taylor exhausting his eligibility, the Badgers don’t have that smart point guard. It showed in a 74-56 thrashing at the hands of Florida on Wednesday night. And the game wasn’t even that close.
The numbers aren’t staggeringly bad. Through two games, Wisconsin has 18 turnovers against 26 assists. But it was clear in an admittedly hostile arena like the O’Connell Center, you need a calming presence. Gasser was that. Taylor was that. Without it, a team can give up 74.
Gasser, Tucker and Taylor were also incredibly good on-ball defenders. Taylor averaged a steal per game while Gasser was at 0.7 per game last season. Tucker averaged a little under a steal per game for his career. When you don’t have that, the opposing teams’ guards does his thing. Dre Evans scored 13 for Southeastern Louisiana in the season opener and Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario combined for 25 points in the Gators’ win.
It’s not like the Badger could do anything about this. Gasser suffered the injury on Oct. 27. But the point is, they have no choice. Find a replacement, or the closest thing to it, or have fun losing a few games you should win.
Florida is by-and-large a good team. With proven scorers like Rosario, Boynton and Erik Murphy (24 in the win), along with a serious banger like Patric Young, they are a tough match-up for anyone.
But one thing that Bo Ryan’s best teams have had is a great point guard who can control the team in the half-court and one that can hold down the perimeter defensively. Gasser can’t be that guy this year and it’s going to have tragic consequences in B1G play if Ryan can’t find someone to replace him to some extent. Whether individually or by-committee.
Over the next day or so, we’re bring you a few superlatives we believe will pan out, or not. The choice is yours to believe. Over the weekend, we’ll have our “Superlatives of the Ridiculous” up.
For now, four serious topics, with four totally subjective answers.
Doug McDermott, Creighton – Shocker, right? The leading returning scorer in the nation at 22.9 points per game has so much in his arsenal that it’s not fair. He can score on the inside (60.1 percent from the field), the perimeter (48.6 percent from three), can get ot the foul line (79.6 percent) and can move without the ball to get open. It’s frankly not even a tough decision. He’s a future NBA lottery pick whenever he chooses to come out for the draft and with the team he has around him, it’s fair to say the Bluejays will have no problem running the Missouri Valley Conference and a deep run in the NCAA Tournament isn’t out of the question. And we all know being on a good team just helps your cause.
Most likely to lead the nation in scoring
Frank Gaines, IPFW – WHO!? That’s the general reaction I get when I tell people this. But this dude can pour it in. He averaged 21.2 last season for the Mastadons (best mascot in sports) and has been the focal point of the Fort Wayne offensive attack for the past two seasons and knows how to handle double-teams and every team’s best defender. He’s a fifth-year senior who will contend with South Dakota State’s Nate Wolters for Summit League Player of the Year honors. Though he’s not as complete at Wolters. But he has to score to help IPFW, so score he will.
Kris Davis, SIU-Edwardsville – Again, WHO!?!? This one is actually easier than you would think. Davis led the nation in 3-point percentage last season but didn’t have the amount of shots to qualify at 59.8 percent (58-of-97). This season, he’s got some eyes on him, even if he does play for one of the worst teams in the Ohio Valley Conference. He’s going to get the green light on a team that doesn’t have a ton of scoring — Davis is their third-leading returning scorer at 11.6 ppg — so expect the volume to come, but does the percentage follow? I think so.
Most likely to lead the nation in rebounding
Dennis Tinnion, Marshall – Not so much of an unknown name. Tinnion averaged 10.2 points and 10.0 rebounds last season in his first year of Division I basketball. With DeAndre Kane back, he won’t be the focal point again and he’s got the athleticism, even at 6-8, 232 pounds, to get to balls that seem impossible. Most of rebounding is positioning and Tinnon lives under the basket. He’ll make his living cleaning glass this year.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF: Creighton University; SIU-Edwardsville
San Diego State and UNLV had players who were awarded preseason player of the year (Jamaal Franklin, SDSU), newcomer of the year (Dwyane Polee II, SDSU; Bryce DeJean-Jones, UNLV), freshman of the year (Anthony Bennett, UNLV) and put three of the five on the all-conference team.
So there we have it, right? Nah, it’s a bit deeper than that.
Early on, it’s a totally reasonable thought to think it’s just two four-letter schools have a shot, but taking a look, this could turn into a three-team affair.
UNLV- Dave Rice just has this team ready. A great leader in Mike Moser. Quality transfers in Bryce DeJean-Jones and Khem Birch. Role players who have been in the system like Quintrell Thomas and Justin Hawkins. A serious freshman haul in Anthony Bennett and Savon Goodman. It’s all coming together on The Strip.
San Diego State – Jamaal Franklin makes this team go. But don’t sleep on guys like shooter Chase Tapley, who poured in 15.8 points per game in 2011-12 and hit 43.3-percent from three-point range. Xavier Thames returns and his 10.1 points per game returns as well. Dwyane Polee II makes his debut after coming over from St. John’s.
New Mexico – No one is talking about this team. It might come back to bite some people later on down the road. Kendall Williams paces the Lobos and coach Steve Alford. Hugh Greenwood provides depth at the guard spot. In the post, a thin line is anchored by 7-footer Alex Kirk and Tony Snell. Someone is going to have to provide more depth there.
Nevada – The Wolf Pack (yep, two words) will go as far as Deonte Burton will take them. Burton was a preseason all-conference member after averaging 14.8 points last season. Nevada also gets back 6-5 Malik Story and his 14.1 ppg from last season. Someone will have to replace Olek Czyz down low, along with Dario Hunt’s 10.3 points and 9.7 rebounds per. That might be a job for Kevin Panzer.
Colorado State – Larry Eustachy goes from a program that he could be mediocre with and keep his job, to the same kind of team in a bigger, better conference. Fortunately for the Rams, Eustachy doesn’t do mediocre. He resurrected his own career along with the program at Southern Miss. Now he takes a solid roster left by Time Miles and can go as far as he will take them. I do, however, have questions about the contrast in playing styles from last season to this one.
Mike Moser, UNLV – He’s by far the best player in the league with Drew Gordon gone. Moser can score (14.7 points) and rebound (10.5 boards) and can get his teammates involved (80 assists). He also led the Rebels with 68 steals last season. He’s a stat stuffer and should be a first round NBA pick after this season, barring something catastrophic.
Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State – Another recent product of coach Steve Fisher’s uptempo system. He could’ve come out after last season, maybe, and taken his chances in the NBA Draft. He averaged 17.4 points and 7.9 rebounds last season, taking complete control of the team after the graduation of Kwahi Leonard.
Kendall Williams, New Mexico – Probably the best distributor in the MWC. He led the team with 142 assists (4.1 per game) and a lot of that last season was to one or two guys. This season, he’s got a more wide-open system with more free-flowing offensive structure. He should lead the conference in assists and add on to his 12.1 points per game.
Leonard Washington, Wyoming – If he wasn’t so good at getting in trouble, Washington would get more love. I don’t overlook guys like Washington. The former USC transfer averaged 12.9 points and 6.1 boards for the Cowboys in 2011-12, but was recently suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. He also led the MWC in blocks at 1.1 per game. He was brought back and the all-MWC second team pick can have the first-team all-conference season he’s capable of if he can keep his nose clean.
Colton Iverson, Colorado State – This guy is a total wild card, but I love his game. He’s a fifth-year senior with this being his only season with the Rams, but he averaged 5.4 points and 5.0 rebounds in the Big Ten (ok, I just want to call it B1G) last season at Minnesota, so I think the 6-10, 261-pounder can do some damage in the Mountain West. I can see an 11-and-10 season from him, enough to give him the nod. Though no one ever accused me of being smart.
MOST UNDERVALUED TEAM
New Mexico – In my writings on the Lobos, I got bombarded by fans of the program that I was foolish to think the team wouldn’t compete with the league’s elite. They have a point. The Lobos have guard depth to spare with Williams and his 12.4 points per game at the point and Hugh Greenwood’s 83 assists last season. Jamal Fenton comes back after a three-game suspension in late November. The only problem might be post depth. With Drew Gordon gone, Tony Snell (10.5 ppg) and company will need to step up.
MOST OVERRATED TEAM
Colorado State – Tim Miles did what not many before him could do: make a football school with limited resources in basketball, relevant. Larry Eustachy taking over gives the Rams great coach to work with, but his and Miles’ styles (rhymes!) are totally different. Miles loves to slow it down, Eustachy loves to shoot and run. Miles thrived on defense, and while Eustachy definitely doesn’t poo-poo the defensive side of the ball, he puts more emphasis on scoring (Southern Miss gave up and average of 65.1 points per game, 111th in Division I last season, while scoring 71.4, 89th in the nation).
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Mike Moser, UNLV – The former UCLA transfer gets his year. He took a few people by surprise with 14.0 points and 10.5 rebounds last season, but he’s possibly the best wing in the nation and could be spending his final season in college. A 17-and-12 season from him certainly isn’t out of the question.
COACH OF THE YEAR
Dave Rice, UNLV – Lon Kruger left a decent nucleus for the former UNLV role player to work with, but Rice has done a phenomenal job with this team. They’re the favorite to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, and with good reason. Expect a lot from this squad now and in the future. Mike Moser, one of the most important transfers in Khem Birch who gets eligible at the semester break, not to mention Bryce DeJean-Jones, this team has been pieced together methodically, and Rice has done it in a way that would make Tark proud.
PHOTOS: GETTY IMAGES/MOUNTAIN WEST CONFERENCE
Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.
When someone asks you who you like in the Big 12 this season, go ahead and find the Big 12 standings from five years ago, or any year since, and tell them whoever is on top of them, is your team that you think will win. Because that will be Kansas. It’s a tale as old as Hug Hefner. Who still is doing better than all of us.
BIG-12 PRESEASON POWER RANKINGS
1.) Kansas - This seems too easy, but I’m not one to look off a sure thing. Withey is back. Travis Releford at the point with Elijah Johnston in the backcourt. Perry Ellis is going to make a name for himself while Bill Self continues to prove he’s an elite coach even though he’s probably the most overlooked coach with a national title, in all of America.
2.) Baylor - It’s really a two-team race in the Big 12. Scott Drew has brought the Bears out of the depths of college basketball and continuously hauls in top recruiting classes. This season, Isaiah Austin will compliment Pierre Jackson and Brady Heslip on the perimeter. Look at Duece Bello and A.J. Walton to have better season defensively for a Baylor team that really needs to disrupt passing lanes to stay competitive.
3.) West Virginia - We all keep forgetting that the Mountaineers have made the move to the Big 12. Coach Bob Huggins doesn’t mind. West Virginia has two key transfers eligible this season in LaSalle defector Aaric Murray and Juwan Staten from Dayton. Jabarie Hinds (7.4 ppg, team-leading 108 assists) and Deniz Kilicli (10.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg) return and as long as WVU can make up for the losses of Kevin Jones’ 19.9 ppg and 10.9 rpg and Darryl “Truck” Bryant’s 16.9 ppg — which will probably happen by-committee — they should compete in their first year in the league.
4.) Kansas State - The Wildcats enter the Bruce Weber era with the promise of a team still coached by Frank Martin. I guess that’s a good thing. Jordan Henriquez and Angel Rodriguez return, and what’s more, the leading-scorer Rodney MacGruder’s 15.8 points and 5.2 boards and 50 made three’s return, as does Will Spradling’s 9.3 points and 47 made three’s also makes its way back to Bramlage Coliseum. If the team can get even the gist of Weber’s system early-on, expect fireworks and deep run into March for K-State.
5.) Oklahoma State - How does a team that went 15-18 last season make the Top 5? They return everyone but their leading scorer, at least all the guys that matter. And really, that’s one guy: LeBryan Nash and his 13.3 points per game. Marcus Smart hits Gallagher-Iba Arena and Markel Brown brings his numbers back. Travis Ford has a legitimate NCAA Tournament team on his hands. The only question is depth.
8.) Iowa State
10.) Texas Tech
Pierre Jackson, Baylor – Junior college players in big-time college basketball are normally quick-fix guys. Jackson is one of those exceptions. He averaged 13.8 points and 5.9 assists for the Bears last season and with the addition of Isaiah Austin, the lobs should still be aplenty. He’s quick, defends the perimeter well — leading the team with 68 steals — and has total control of the offense under coach Scott Drew. He’s headed for the Cousy Award.
Jeff Withey, Kansas – Seems like he’s been around forever, right? The talented shot-blocker for the Jayhawks is ready to take leadership with the departure of Thomas Robinson to the NBA. He averaged 9 points, 6.3 boards and had 140 blocks in 2011-12 and this season he’ll need more of the same now that he’s the sole guy in the post. Perry Ellis will take some of the burden off Withey, but it won’t stop him from being a human bruise.
Myck Kabongo, Texas – The sophomore has no choice. Kabongo learned for one season under J’Covan Brown and now school is out — on the court, at least — for the point guard. There isn’t a ton of hype on this team going into the season, so they’ve got that going for them. But that’s because the number of high-profile players is at one: Kabongo. More that likely, this will be it for him as a collegian, because this kid can lead the nation in assists (averaged 5.1 assists per game last season) if he minimizes the turnovers (102 in 2011-12).
LaBryan Nash – He’ll be the top offensive weapon for the Cowboys. He’ll be spelled by Markel Brown and Marcus Smart, but he’s the epicenter of this half-court-centric attack that commands discipline in the post. Nash has it after some freshman season bumps. This will more-than-likely be his final season in Stillwater, so leaving the program with an NCAA Tournament berth will be on his mind. A double-double year isn’t out of the question.
Jordan Tolbert, Texas Tech – The bright spot on an otherwise horrible team. Blame Billy Gillispie. Tolbert quietly had a serious season for the Red Raiders in BCG’s lone season, and now he’ll have to do the same under interim coach Chris Walker. He averaged 11.5 ppg and 5.7 rpg for the 8-23 Red Raiders and I expect him to do more now that he’s not being chain-whipped in practice by BCG (KIDDING!). Expect an 18-and-8 year from him, because he has to do it for Texas Tech to even sniff a .500 record.
MOST UNDERVALUED TEAM
Texas – No, this isn’t supposed to be below in the “overrated team” category. Rick Barnes is one of the best at getting average out of great talent. This season, he’s giving Myck Kabongo the keys to the system, and hoping that he does something right. This team lacks talent, and strangely, that’s why this team will do well. Prince Ibeh is the prize incoming recruit, and the Longhorns return Sheldon McClellan (11.3 ppg) and Julien Lewis (7.8 ppg) in terms of scoring to go along with Kabongo’s 9.6 ppg. They also bring back Jonathan Holmes’ 4.8 rebounds per game. If Kabongo can be the man that J’Covan Brown was last season, this team could shock the Big 12.
MOST OVERRATED TEAM
Kansas State – Forgive me, Bruce Weber. One of the nicest guys in the business inherits great talents in Jordan Henriquez and Angel Rodriguez, and he’ll get to the NCAA Tournament in his first season. But I think a lot of people overvalue Weber’s buffer time between getting his team to adjust to his style of play. Weber utilizes more zone than Frank Martin did, and that’s a lot tougher to get used to that one would imagine. It’s not going to be a bad first year for Wildcat fans under Weber, just not a great one.
SLEEPER IMPACT PLAYER
Romero Osby, Oklahoma – He’s not that traditional sleeper. Osby was third on the Sooners in scoring (12.9 ppg) in his first season since transferring in from Mississippi State in 2011-12. He also led the team in rebounding at 7.3 per game. The sleeper part of it is that he was on a 15-16 team. The Sooners should be better this season, but if that team is going to be good, Osby is going to be the reason why. Wouldn’t be surprised to see a double-double out of this guy.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Pierre Jackson, Baylor- I’m one of the most skeptical people when it comes to junior college players making the jump to Division I. The ones that make it normally are the ones that didn’t qualify out of high school, and even those have a tough time keeping it together for two/three years in D-I. Jackson is one of the exceptions. He’s got the speed and court vision and has commanded control of the Bears on the court since Day 1. He’s going to make some late-first-round team very happy in the 2013 NBA Draft.
COACH OF THE YEAR
Travis Ford, Oklahoma State – The Cowboys had the roughest of rough years in 2011-12. This year, a huge recruiting haul for Ford including point guard Marcus Smart could create a deadly one-two punch with LeBryan Nash. Back comes Nash’s 13.3 ppg and 5 rpg along with Markel Brown’s 10.5 and 5.1 per. Don’t forget Jean-Paul Olukemi (9.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg) and Brian Williams (9.6 ppg) making a return. Smart will be this team’s starting point guard with Brown moving to the two. If Michael Cobbins and Phillip Jurick (97 combined blocks) can improve their defensive presence, Ford could be a surprise 12-seed in the NCAA Tournament.
PHOTO: BIG 12 CONFERENCE
The Pac-12. After a number of, well, let’s just call it like it was, laughable, years, it’s back on the rise. There are 4-5 legitimate NCAA Tournament teams and definite enough impact players to make this league noticeable on a the national stage again, and they don’t just play for UCLA.
PAC-12 PRESEASON RANKINGS
1.) Stanford - Johnny Dawkins is about to take the Cardinal to the NCAA Tournament. Chasson Randle returns, as does Aaron Bright (11.7 ppg, 3.7 apg) and three of their top four rebounders. Standford made a charge to the NIT championship last season and have a bulk of that team back. Four-star forward Roscoe Allen comes to campus, as does fellow four-star Grant Verhoeven. Dawkins proves he can do more that back up Mike Krzyzewski.
2.) Arizona - The Wildcats have a ton of talent and not any real question marks. Solomon Hill and his 12.9 points and 7.7 rebounds are back, as is Nick Johnson, even if his play was sporadic at times. Their biggest improvement will be in the additions they made. First, the transfer of Mark Lyons from Xavier into the program gives the guard play an instant shot of intensity. Then the freshman recruiting class was a consensus Top 3 for 2012, headlined by three five-stars including 7-footer Kaleb Tarczewski. Look for Kevin Parrom to have a big year on the boards, too.
3.) UCLA - This is the make-or-break season for Ben Howland. He’s clearly thrown all his weight into the 2012 recruiting class with Kyle Anderson, Shabazz Muhammad , Tony Parker and Jordan Adams, three five-stars and a four-star, and Muhammad hasn’t been cleared by the NCAA yet. If this class can co-exist with the likes of twins David (10.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg) and Travis Wear (11.5 and 5.9) and Joshua Smith can keep the weight off and improve on his 9.9 points per game last season, this team could be a Final Four team. There’s not going to be a middle ground. Either they thrive or collapse.
4.) Colorado - There’s really only one name you need to know on the Buffaloes roster, Andre Roberson. Everyone else has memorized it. Roberson’s 11.6 points and 11.1 rebounds per game last season could’ve allowed him to take his game pro, but he opted to return for his junior season. He does have a solid cast of role players around him in Spencer Dinwiddie (10 ppg) and Askie Booker (9.1 ppg, 40.2 percent from the field). The big boost is supposedly coming from a six-man recruiting class, lead by three four-star recruits, including the likes of Xavier Johnson and Wesley Gordon. Tad Boyle is aiming for a second-straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
5.) California - Don’t look now, but there’s a stout program in NoCal. The Golden Bears return leading scorer Allen Crabbe (15.2 ppg) as well as top facilitator Justin Cobbs and his 5 assists per game. It’s not beyond the imagination for people to believe that Cal could make a run to the Pac-12 tournament title in March. There’s a lot of talent coming into this program (more on that lower in this post) and there’s something about Mike Montgomery that makes you think he can get the best out of an unexpected situation.
9.) Oregon State
10.) Washington State
11.) Arizona State
Andre Roberson, Colorado – It’s almost an unwritten rule: If you average a double-double and return for another season, you should be on any all-conference team. Roberson is the best player on an improving Buffaloes team that is poised for a big jump in the Pac-12.
Solomon Hill, Arizona - The best rebounder in the Pac-12 resides in Tuscon, and it’s not even close. Hill averaged 12.7 points and 7.7 boards and he might average a double-double if all the new faces within the Wildcats program give him the help he needs this season. The guy just flat makes plays down low and with another solid season he’ll have a legitimate shot at being an NBA lottery pick. He could also improve his already impressive assist numbers (2.6 per game) with the added weapons around him, if he learns to pass out of the post, which can be a lost art.
C.J. Wilcox, Washington – Hard to believe that a guy who averaged 14.2 and 3.4 rebounds per game was just honorable mention all Pac-12, but Wilcox, a rising junior, was. I can’t imagine that happens this season and if everything goes like it should, this will probably be Wilcox’s final season on campus. He’s a 6-5 shooter that looks like a prototypical NBA 2-guard.
Kyle Anderson, UCLA – I also said this in my Impact Freshman post on College Basketball Talk on NBCSports.com, but Anderson will be the most important piece to Ben Howland’s squad this season. He’s a pure passer that loves to facilitate and that’s been a staple of the UCLA team’s that have thrived under Howland — see: Farmar, Jordan or Collison, Darren. Also, if Shabazz Muhammad isn’t eligible? The Bruins will rely on Anderson even more on the perimeter, especially on defense.
Chasson Randle, Stanford - You can’t necessarily blame Randle for not getting any publicity as one of the nation’s best freshman in 2011-12. He played in a down Pac-12 on a team that played in the NIT (albeit an NIT TITLE team). But quietly, the 6-1 Randle averaged 13.8 points per game for the Cardinal, which led the team. The scoring may not spike, but look for the Rock Island, Ill. native’s rebounding and assist numbers to jump as teams will look to key on him as a scorer.
MOST UNDERVALUED TEAM – California
Mike Montgomery somehow makes it happen in Berkeley. Leading scorer Allen Crabbe and his 15.2 points per game return, as does Justin Cobbs (12.6 ppg, 5 apg) and David Kravish and his 5.6 boards per game. Couple that with a three-man recruiting class that includes four-star guard Tyrone Wallace, and the Golden Bears still have the wherewithal to stay at least on the bubble for an NCAA Tournament berth.
MOST OVERRATED TEAM – USC
I’ve just heard too much on this team. I understand they had to deal with injuries like the torn ACL of Jio Fontan and a lot of inexperience, but I can’t imagine that this season, given the amount of transfers they’re bringing in, that they magically jump from conference bottom-feeder to NCAA Tournament team. Orlando Woolridge is immediately eligible from Tennessee and they also get guys like UC-Irvine transfer Eric Wise. Even looking at all that, I can’t see Kevin O’Neill pulling a Fred Hoiberg. A 12-14 win season is a definite possibility, but I’m not putting them on any bracket as of now.
SLEEPER IMPACT PLAYER – Kevin Parrom, Arizona
Parrom isn’t really a sleeper. His story has been well-documented — his grandmother passed, he was shot and his mother passed from cancer all last year — and he’s rebounded incredibly from it. His averages from his junior season were modest — 4.9 points, 2.9 rebounds per game — but he also was battling all those unforeseeable challenges. I see a second-team all-Pac 12 season from the New York native. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see him lead the Wildcats in rebounding, he’s a 6-6 jumper, who averaged 4.2 rebounds as a freshman.
PAC-12 PLAYER OF THE YEAR - Andre Roberson, Colorado
I don’t bet against a player who finished with a double-double in a ‘Big 6′ conference and returned for another season, even if it is at Colorado. The Buffaloes got a huge boost when Roberson decided to return. There’s a lot of great players in the Pac-12, but none with the type of skill set Roberson has. Lots of points, lots of rebounds, lots of minutes. He barely edged out Hill for this, mainly because of all he can do for the Buffs.
PAC-12 COACH OF THE YEAR – Johnny Dawkins, Stanford
I don’t think a lot of people saw this coming. Dawkins lead the Cardinal to the NIT title last season and it’s a safe bet that with all the talent coming back, an NCAA Tournament berth is within reach. Some believed that after Dawkins left a long-time assistant job at Duke, it was a huge risk. Not many Coach K disciples have left the Cameron Indoor bench. However, Dawkins has done an outstanding job, despite the fact the Pac-12 has been down. The Cardinal should take a nice leap this season, and Dawkins work and system are a big reason.
PHOTOS: PAC-12 CONFERENCE/COLORADO UNIVERSITY/GOOGLE IMAGES