College basketball’s spring – which is just as eventful as the regular season for some teams – is virtually over. We know now who’s departed for the NBA, who’s transferring out (not to belabor you, Arizona State), and pretty much, what each roster should look like in the fall.
No recourse here, then, but to forecast the league for 2012-13 (gulp). It should be a year of renewed national interest in programs like UCLA and Arizona, and some regained respect for the Pac-12 after its confounding season of 2011-12.
1. UCLA. Ben Howland, meet John Calipari. Just when they were absorbing bullets from all angles, including a controversial Sports Illustrated story in late February, the Bruins went out and completed what some outlets are calling the No. 1 recruiting class in the country.
All they got is dynamic 6-6 scorer Shabazz Muhammad of Las Vegas; playmaking 6-8 forward Kyle Anderson of Jersey City; stud shooter Jordan Adams of Oak Hill Academy; and 6-9, 280-pound Tony Parker of Lithonia, Ga.
Now the question is, can Howland, a la Calipari, mold this group into the tour de force the recruiting ratings suggest? Will Howland make them spend the first three weeks of drills diving on loose balls before they’re allowed to take a jump shot? Color me a bit skeptical about how all this is going to work, but . . . how will the newbies take to Howland? Where does Larry Drew II, the North Carolina transfer, fit in? Is there enough playing time for the Wear twins, Parker and Josh Smith? (And will Smith spend more time in the gym than at In-and-Out Burger this summer?)
If nothing else, the talent haul is so formidable, it’s hard to rate the Bruins anywhere but No. 1.
2. Arizona. I gave much thought to putting the Wildcats on top but succumbed to the avalanche of press clippings that accompany the UCLA recruits. Not that Arizona did badly in recruiting, either; its class is consensus-ranked No. 2 or 3, and in particular, ‘Zona should get help inside, where it needs it, from seven-foot Kaleb Tarczewski and 6-9 Grant Jerrett.
One of the most interesting off-season acquisitions is that of Mark Lyons, the guard who comes west from Xavier, so UA coach Sean Miller is familiar with him. Lyons has a rap as a bit of a chemistry-killer, but if anybody ought to know what he’s getting, it’s Miller. (Then again, Miller wasn’t exactly spot-on when he signed Sidiki Johnson and Josiah Turner, who split Tucson early.)
Solomon Hill and Angelo Chol are back up front, and so are Nick Johnson and Jordin Mayes in the backcourt. If Kevin Parrom can rebound from his personal and physical misfortunes of last season, ‘Zona will be a load.
3. Stanford. Johnny Dawkins may finally be figuring it out at Stanford. And, you could say he better, since the Cardinal hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since Trent Johnson left. The Cardinal won the NIT, but as I pointed out in a blog late in March, success the year after being prominent in the NIT is a bit of a myth; of the 24 finalists in the NIT from 2000-11, only five won one or more games in the NCAA tournament the following year.
But Stanford won’t have many excuses. It returns five of its top six scorers, missing only Josh Owens (11.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg). The key seems to be whether forward Dwight Powell fills out his potential and how quickly promising recruit Grant Verhoeven is a factor. The Nos. 1-2 scorers, guards Chasson Randle and Aaron Bright of Bellevue, shot .438 and .436, respectively, on threes. Cardinal will find out early how good it is, playing over Thanksgiving weekend in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas alongside Duke, Louisville, Memphis, Minnesota and Missouri.
4. Washington. Here’s where it gets interesting: Colorado? Cal? Oregon State? Oregon? I’ll fall in with the Huskies, primarily on this theory: It’s sometimes a trap to obsess over what a team lost – Terrence Ross, Tony Wroten – and overlook what it has coming back. That, and this is a program with some history of winning. The Huskies certainly aren’t barren, with Abdul Gaddy, C.J. Wilcox, Aziz N’Diaye and a returning Scott Suggs. Wilcox, remember, was the No. 7 scorer in the league at 14.2 and two years ago, Suggs was the third-leading three-point scorer in the Pac-10 at 45 percent.
The Huskies signed 6-6 Inglemoor and Tacoma CC product Mark McLaughlin, but, even though he was the leading JC scorer in the country (28.4) that seems more luxury item than the answer to a crying need. The big issue is some consistent scoring inside, and I’m not sure the Huskies have that. Time is running out on N’Diaye. If not him, then it’s Desmond Simmons, Shawn Kemp Jr., redshirt Jernard Jarreau or Martin Breunig.
A stat you don’t hear much coming out of Montlake: The Huskies have now missed the NCAA tournament three of the past six years.
5. California. Downgrade the Bears at your own peril. Mike Montgomery, the coach, hasn’t finished below fourth with any of his Stanford or Cal teams since 1995 (he was away from college coaching for four years). He’s going to miss Jorge Gutierrez dearly, but there are some valuable returning pieces, like off-guard Allen Crabbe (15.2 ppg), point Justin Cobbs (12.6) and hustling forward David Kravish. The Bears expect grade-shy (in 2012) big man Richard Solomon back, and the likely fifth starter is Missouri transfer Ricky Kreklow, another shooting guard who practiced with them all season. Cal also signed Danish big man Sami Eleraky (6-11) when it came up second to Gonzaga for Polish seven-footer Przemek Karnowski.
6. USC. Let’s face it, I don’t know who’s going to be taking the floor for the Trojans, you don’t, and Kevin O’Neill, the coach, may not be sure, either. But you have to figure the Trojans will be luckier this year, and O’Neill is rarely caught short of talent (as for turmoil, now that’s another matter). He’s due to have his Nos. 1-4 scorers back (Maurice Jones, Aaron Fuller, Byron Wesley and Dewayne Dedmon). Then there are Wake Forest transfers Ari Stewart (a forward who’s supposed to be on track after a marijuana bust) and J.T. Terrell (a guard who played at Peninsula JC last winter), as well as Cal-Irvine expatriate Eric Wise, a bullish 6-6 forward who averaged 16.3 ppg in 2010-11. Oh yeah, the latest transfer is Tennessee grad Renaldo Woolridge (6-9), who drained 5 of 6 threes for 17 points at Kentucky over the winter.
7. Oregon. The Ducks’ Dana Altman is sort of Mike Montgomery Lite. They lose a ton – Devoe Joseph, Garrett Sim, Olu Ashaolu, et al – but I wouldn’t bet against Altman assembling a salty team. E.J. Singler (6-6) is a good place to start, and there’s also (6-6 as well) Carlos Emory, plus big man Tony Woods. Oregon expects early help from point guard Dominic Artis and JC off-guard Devon Branch. While the Ducks are coming together, they can be regaled by recruiting stories from Cincinnati high school combo-guard signee Willie Moore (6-3). He signed with Duquesne, but was released when the Dukes fired Ron Everhart. On the rebound, Moore was on campus visiting Virginia Tech – when Tech announced Seth Greenberg’s firing, which is pretty much the meaning of recruiting buzzkill.
8. Washington State. The Cougars have been busily scooping up big-man prospects lately – 6-10 Aussie big man James Hunter, 6-11 Iowa State transfer Jordan Railey – and it has something to do with the fact their 6-10 November signee, Richard Peters, didn’t make it into school. Now they’re awaiting Peters’ teammate, 6-4 shooter Demarquise Johnson, who’s supposed to be close to qualifying. Brock Motum was the league’s revelation last year, leading it in scoring (18 ppg), and the Cougars have lots of perimeter in Reggie Moore, DaVonte Lacy and Mike Ladd. They’re also optimistic about the future of Kansas guard transfer Royce Woolridge. Moore needs to improve his scoring (he shot only .361), and they need to develop some team consistency – addressing their annual siesta at Arizona State would be a start – or coach Ken Bone’s tush is going to be toasty.
9. Colorado. There’s no doubt Tad Boyle’s program is going to be a force in the Pac-12. It already is; it became the only school in the league to win an NCAA-tournament game in March. But I foresee some slippage with the loss of three key seniors – Carlon Brown, Nate Tomlinson and Austin Dufault. In particular, Brown was a marvelous shotmaker in the Pac-12 tournament. But the Buffs will argue otherwise with double-double machine Andre Roberson, plus a recruiting class Scout.com ranks No. 20. Included is 6-9 Josh Scott, touted as the most promising state-of-Colorado prospect since Chauncey Billups.
10. Oregon State. I’m going to look really stupid next March when the Beavers crash the Elite Eight and their NCAA-tournament games are delayed so crowds can be properly secured as President Obama is attending. But until that happens, I’m not buying on the Beavers, for whom something perennially seems to be missing. They have their Nos. 2-8 scorers returning, but with the top one, Jared Cunningham, there last season, the Beavers turned in a 7-11 Pac-12 record, in one of the weakest leagues in history. To rectify that, they might start with a defense that allowed .455 shooting. It says here that Roberto Nelson needs to have more of an imprint on this team.
11. Utah. Larry Krystkowiak, whose basketball background is heavy on the NBA, struggled through a messy maiden season in Salt Lake City, so he did the only logical thing – he hit the waiver wire. Actually, he did the collegiate form of it, and no team will look more different in 2012-13 than Utah, which has eight signees, including guard Jarred Dubois, who scored 1,139 points at Loyola Marymount before bailing. That doesn’t even include Seattle products Glen Dean (ex-Eastern Washington) and Aaron Dotson (LSU), who redshirted after transferring. The Utes are trying to put behind them the puzzling story of forward Josh Hearlihy, a southern California signee whose injuries – apparently before and after he threw in with Utah – caused Krystkowiak and Co. to pull out of the scholarship (Hearlihy acceded to the move).
12. Arizona State. What can you say about Herb Sendek’s regime that hasn’t already been said? I’m not going to beat up on Sendek other than to say, if the Sun Devils finish anywhere but the bottom three of the league, ASU ought to award him a lifetime supply of strawberry margaritas and a parcel of land on Camelback Mountain. Trent Lockett has transferred out to Marquette. Much-awaited point guard Jahii Carson is finally eligible, but he can’t do it alone. There’s also 6-3 transfer Evan Gordon, who last averaged 14.4 points at Liberty, and holdover forward Carrick Felix.