Pac-12 Summer Reset: Arizona, Cal look for chemistry with new rosters
With spring recruiting having closed and nearly every transfer player in place, SI.com is here to catch you up on the state of each conference heading into the summer. So far we’ve covered the AAC, ACC, A-10, Big East, Big 10, Big 12 and Mountain West. Now, the Pac-12:
State of the champs: Arizona
It’s been an off-season of change for the Wildcats, who said goodbye to their best pro prospect (forward Stanley Johnson), best defender (wing Rondae Hollis-Jefferson) and glue guy (center Brandon Ashley)—as well as the catalyst (point guard T.J. McConnell) who helped lead them to back-to-back Elite Eights. In most basketball communities, this would be cause for mourning. In Tucson, they’re readying the locker room for one of the nation’s best recruiting class. Surely the additions of Allonzo Trier (6’5", 190-pound shooting guard), Ray Smith (6’8", 180-pound small forward), Justin Simon (6’5", 185-pound combo guard) and Chance Comanche (6’10", 205-pound power forward) will ease the pain of those veteran losses.
Arizona will also benefit from adding graduate transfer Mark Tollefsen, a former San Francisco standout known for his versatility on the perimeter. At 6’9" and 200 pounds, Tollefsen will fit in perfectly with the defensive-minded Wildcats. Like Hollis-Jefferson before him, Tollefsen has the ability to guard inside and out. Boston College transfer Ryan Anderson, a two-time All-ACC selection, is eligible and should transition well back onto the court after playing with the scout team last year. With Tollefsen and Anderson, plus the return of 7-footers Kaleb Tarczewski and Dusan Ristic, Arizona will again have an imposing front line. Freshman Smith will add depth to that group, but he missed his senior year of high school because of a torn ACL, so he might need extra time to adjust.
Sophomore Parker Jackson-Cartwright has been the point-guard-in-waiting behind McConnell and will likely run the offense (he handed out 60 assists last season and turned it over just 23 times) and combo guard Kadeem Allen, a junior, could become the Wildcats’ go-to option in the clutch. But 6’3" senior Gabe York, who made 40% of his threes last year and has a habit of draining big shots, could also become this team's star.
Also of note: Head coach Sean Miller will coach the USA U-19 team, which will leave him less time to bond with Arizona’s incoming freshmen. Coaching for the national team is a huge honor, obviously, but comes with a lot of (often exhausting) travel. Still, he’s likely to pick up a few things from assistants Ed Cooley of Providence and his brother, Archie Miller of Dayton. Fresh coaching perspective always helps. Also absent this summer is former assistant coach Damon Stoudamire, a Wildcats alum, who left to work at Memphis.
Notable newcomer: Bobby Hurley
One of the best point guards in college basketball history—Hurley is the NCAA's all-time assists leader—gets his shot at a Power Five job, taking over a program that’s been to the NCAA tournament just five times in the last 33 years. A two-time NCAA champion while playing at Duke under legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski, Hurley is considered an up-and-comer in college hoops. His rise to a high-major job has been remarkably quick; he started coaching collegiately just five years ago, joining his brother Danny Hurley, at Wagner in 2010.
Bobby went 42-20 in two seasons at Buffalo, leading the Bulls to the 2015 NCAA tournament (they lost in the second round to West Virginia). His hiring gives the Sun Devils instant credibility, and should help ASU immensely on the recruiting trail. He wants an uptempo offense but has said ASU will be a defensive-minded team first (the Sun Devils allowed opponents to shoot 45.1% in 2014-15, second worst in the Pac-12). Hurley has talent to work with, led by 6’6”, 215-pound junior forward Savon Goodman, who averaged 11.2 points and 7.6 rebounds last season while shooting 57.8% from the field. ASU could feature as many as four 2013-14 starters in its core group this season.
Notable departures: Joseph Young, Oregon; Delon Wright, Utah
How to pick which one we’ll miss more? One was the conference player of the year (Young), the other an All-American (Wright). Both had a tendency to go off (Young scored 87 points in a three-game stretch in February; Wright had 18 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in a 67-59 win at Washington State on March 5) and both led their teams to the postseason (Utah got to the Sweet 16, Oregon lost in the Round of 32 to Wisconsin). Big-time scorers who could also drive and dish, Young and Wright were the pulse of their teams. Their numbers were remarkable considering they each played just two years in the Pac-12. Young finished his Oregon career with 1,388 points, the highest two-year total in program’s history, and Wright ranks third all-time at Utah in steals with 155. They were fun to watch against each other, too: In the Pac-12 tournament semifinals, Wright had 16 points, nine rebounds and five assists but Young scored 25 points and drained a 30-footer with 1.1 seconds to go to give the Ducks a 67-64 win.
They won’t be missed by defenders, but fans of the conference and the game will wish they were coming back. Debating who deserved which honor (conference player of the year, All-America, etc.) was a great way to get through agonizingly long timeouts. Players who can take over games are rare, and the Pac-12 had two in 2014-15. Can any pair top them in 2015-16?
Arizona: It’ll be tough to replicate the bench production the Wildcats got last season: Arizona was 26-1 when its bench outscored the opponents', and averaged 20.7 points per game from its subs. But capable backups need to establish themselves now so they can help the Wildcats come November.
Arizona State: How quickly can the Sun Devils, led by Goodman and sophomore point guard Tra Holder (7.0 points, 3.6 assists per game in 2014-15) adjust to Hurley’s uptempo offense and hard-nosed defense? And can they get better from the free-throw line, where they shot a paltry 67%?
California: The Bears have the pieces to contend for a national championship, with three marquee returners (Tyrone Wallace, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews) and two five-star freshmen (Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb), so figuring out how to gel will be key. A trip to Australia in mid-August should expedite that process, but staying healthy and rested into March could be challenging.
Colorado: After a disappointing 2014-15 campaign—the Buffaloes’ streak of three consecutive NCAA tourney trips came to an end—Colorado needs to improve on pretty much everything except rebounding, where it was one of the best in the conference. The Buffs ranked eighth or worse in 11 of the 16 team statistical categories tracked by the Pac-12. That kind of widespread mediocrity earns trips to the CBI, not the Big Dance.
Oregon: Dana Altman has made his living off transfers, and summer integration will continue this off-season. The Ducks will add graduate transfer Dylan Ennis from Villanova (9.9 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game last season for the Big East champs) and Chris Boucher, the national junior college player of the year who averaged 22.5 points, 11.8 rebounds, 4.7 blocks and shot 58.0% from the field and 44.4% from three at Northwest College in Powell, Wyoming.
Oregon State: The Beavers have to figure out how to mesh new talent—four incoming freshmen who comprise a top 25 recruiting class have been hailed as saviors of a downtrodden program before even stepping foot on campus—with old. OSU went a surprising 17-14 in 2014-15 but won't have a chance to sneak up on opponents this season.
Stanford: How To Be a Reliable Scorer 101 is on the schedule for every returning member of the Cardinal this off-season, because coach Johnny Dawkins lost his top three scorers (they combined for 47.8 of the Cardinal’s 72.3 points per game) from an underachieving team. Alas, the graduted Chasson Randle, who led the team in scoring each of the past two years, is not available to teach.
UCLA: Debate season is over. Whether they deserved it or not, the Bruins got into the 2015 NCAA tournament, so everyone needs to move on. That includes UCLA, which needs to find another reliable scoring option besides guard Bryce Alford (15.4 points per game last season).
Utah: Sending off an All-America talent like Delon Wright is never fun. Finding his replacement—senior guard Brandon Taylor or wing Jordan Loveridge are the most obvious candidates—can be even worse. But that’s on the Utes’ to-do list if they want to continue their rise in the conference. Bringing back a projected lottery pick (center Jakob Poeltl) should help.
USC: Third-year coach Andy Enfield has the core of his team back ... but that’s not saying much considering that group went 12-20 last season. And that was only a one-win improvement from the previous season. This roster needs to learn how to win—and a trip to Italy in mid-August could help make that a habit.
Washington: The ninth-ranked recruiting class in the country better help UW, which feels like a program in transition. Three players transferred out after a miserable 16-15 campaign, and there are rumors that if longtime coach Lorenzo Romar doesn’t get the Huskies back to their first NCAA tournament since 2011 soon, he’ll be looking for a new job. Washington's seven freshmen better transition quickly.
Washington State: It would behoove the Cougars to study history. Perhaps if they read up on great defenders of the past they’d have a better understanding of how to protect their territory ... and not lose at home to teams like Idaho. WSU gave up a conference-worst 76.5 points per game last season, and that has to improve.