Complete 2013-14 Pac-12 NCAA Basketball Primer Heading into Conference Play
Arizona stands as NCAA basketball’s top-ranked team, but the Pac-12 has a lot more going for it this season than just the Wildcats. With conference play just a few days away, it’s time to take a look at all the contenders (and the pretenders) in a league that’s absolutely loaded with offensive stars.
One of the most impressive of them has been Arizona State’s Jahii Carson. The little point guard with the big scoring punch has the Sun Devils on track for a return to the Big Dance this spring.
Read on for a look at Carson and all the players, teams and can’t-miss games that will make the conference season sizzle on the West Coast.
Arizona State 11-2
Oregon State 7-4
Washington State 7-5
Biggest Lessons Learned from Nonconference Play
To the offenses go the spoils
UCLA is scoring 85.5 points per game, 13th-best in the country...and third-best in its own conference. Even by the wide-open standards of this league, it’s going to take serious offensive firepower to succeed this season.
Andy Enfield needs more time
USC has obviously improved under new head coach Andy Enfield, as shown especially by a neutral-site win over Xavier. However, the Trojans (led by hard-working swingman Byron Wesley) aren’t ready to go from a losing record to the Big Dance this season.
Utah’s improvement is no mirage
Although the Utes’ impressive win total includes two victories over Division II squads, they also held mighty BYU to just 64 points in a win in Salt Lake City. Hard-charging sophomore Jordan Loveridge has gotten major support from a pair of ex-JUCO standouts, point guard Delon Wright and power forward Renan Lenz.
Top Storylines to Watch
How long will Arizona’s undefeated run last?
The top-ranked Wildcats may be the favorites here, but they’re far from unbeatable. There’s far more size in the league than usual, making even middle-of-the-pack squads such as Stanford and California serious threats to upset towering Arizona if the front-runners have an off-night.
How many teams can stay in NCAA tournament contention?
The sheer number of promising teams in the conference means that Selection Sunday snubs are a virtual guarantee. The talent margin between third place and seventh place in the standings will be razor-thin, but the former team will be looking at a respectable seed and the latter will be sweating it out on the bubble.
How will defenses adjust to the point forwards?
Both UCLA (Kyle Anderson) and Stanford (Dwight Powell) are getting their leading assist totals from players 6’9” or taller. Teams used to pressuring the ball with quick-handed point guards are going to be in for a major reality check in those matchups.
Is Oregon as good as its record?
The 12-0 Ducks have several quality wins—Georgetown, Illinois, BYU—but they’re still ranked just 12th in the country. A fearsome opening road trip (at Utah, at Colorado) will give them an early chance to prove they belong in the discussion of Final Four contenders.
Rivalry Games and Can’t-Miss Matchups
Arizona at Oregon (March 8)
The two top favorites for the league title close out the regular year with a showdown in Eugene. Beating the Ducks on their home floor isn’t an easy task for any opponent, so the Wildcats will have to earn a title if they’re still in first place nine weeks from now.
Arizona State at Arizona (Jan. 16)
The Wildcats held Jahii Carson in check on this floor last season, so he’ll be fired up for one of the league’s best rivalries. The battle in the pivot—7’2”, 248-pound ASU shot-blocker Jordan Bachynski against 7’0”, 235-pound Kaleb Tarczewski—will be even tougher to win than it is to spell.
USC at UCLA (Jan. 5)
The Trojans embarrassed the archrival Bruins on their home floor last season, and this year’s USC squad is far more talented. Andy Enfield would love to open his Pac-12 coaching career with an upset at Pauley Pavilion.
Stanford at California (Feb. 5)
Of all the great rivalry games in this league, none looks more like a play-in game for the Big Dance. Both the Golden Bears and the Cardinal have played like bubble teams in the early going, and Cal’s low-post tandem of Richard Solomon and David Kravish will make life tough for Stanford leader Dwight Powell.
Freshmen to Watch
Aaron Gordon, Arizona
Even in a crowded Wildcats frontcourt, Aaron Gordon has distinguished himself with his energy and reliable rebounding. He’s got a nice shooting touch, too.
Jabari Bird, California
A sprained ankle has him on the shelf at the moment, but Jabari Bird has been a sensational scorer when healthy. He’s also one of the best three-point shooters of any freshman in the country.
Zach LaVine, UCLA
Few sixth men in the nation have made the impact that Zach LaVine has with his scoring. The explosive combo guard adds another 6’5” body to the rangy Bruins backcourt.
Nigel Williams-Goss, Washington
One of the only bright spots in Seattle this season has been versatile point guard Nigel Williams-Goss. He’s scoring more than expected while still racking up assists, steals and rebounds (at 6’3”) for the struggling Huskies.
Top Pac-12 POY Candidates
Aaron Gordon, Arizona
The Wildcats’ early-season dominance has been a team effort, but freshman Aaron Gordon has been the one piling up headlines.
Kyle Anderson, UCLA
Multi-threat Kyle Anderson is putting up numbers for the Bruins that may remind L.A. fans of another local star, Magic Johnson.
Jahii Carson, Arizona State
Jahii Carson is an electrifying scorer who’s also one of the conference’s best distributors.
Joseph Young, Oregon
Houston transfer Joseph Young has carried the top-ranked Oregon offense so far, especially with his lethal three-point shooting.
Jordan Adams, UCLA
UCLA’s top scoring threat, Jordan Adams, also ranks third nationally in steals.
Spencer Dinwiddie, Colorado
Spencer Dinwiddie is the heart of the Pac-12’s most dangerous defense, not to mention Colorado’s leading scorer and a much-improved point guard.
Predicting the 2013-14 Pac-12 Awards
Freshman of the Year: Aaron Gordon, Arizona
In a crowded field, Aaron Gordon has been the most consistent performer. Arizona’s success will certainly help his cause, too.
Coach of the Year: Dana Altman, Oregon
While many teams in the preseason rankings have tumbled, Dana Altman’s Ducks have jumped seven spots to No. 12. His dexterity on the transfer market, landing Joseph Young and Mike Moser, has rescued a team that lost its entire frontcourt from last year’s No. 12 seed.
Player of the Year: Joseph Young, Oregon
Gordon and UCLA’s Kyle Anderson face steep competition from their own teammates, but Joseph Young is the undisputed best player on an offense that leads the nation in scoring and could easily stay on top all year.
Pac-12 Favorite and Dark Horse
Even Oregon, impressive as it’s been, can’t match the Wildcats for depth or size. Sean Miller’s team doesn’t have a star on Joseph Young’s level, but it has very good players at every position, often two deep.
Dark Horse: Arizona State
The Sun Devils haven’t yet cracked the Top 25, but it will be a surprise if they stay unranked much longer. Jahii Carson and Jordan Bachynski are two of the conference’s top individual talents, a fact that will make Tempe a miserable place for visiting teams this season.
Who Makes the NCAA Tournament?
Shoo-ins: Arizona, Oregon, Colorado
The Buffaloes’ home win over Kansas is a tremendous bonus for Selection Sunday.
Hopefuls: UCLA, Arizona State, Stanford
The Cardinal will have the toughest time winning in conference play out of this trio, but they also have the biggest win so far (on the road over UConn).
Long shots: California, Utah
The much-improved Utes will struggle with the interior muscle of their conference rivals, while injuries look set to derail a promising Cal squad.
Predicting the 2013-14 Pac-12 Standings
5. Arizona State
11. Oregon State
12. Washington State