Pac-12 Roundup for September 13th 2011 (Part One)

Sep 13, 2011, 3:11 PM | Updated: 4:13 pm

What about the Pac-16? According to billionaire Oklahoma State booster T. Boone Pickens on September 4th, there is a real chance that it could happen and very soon. Pickens was paraphrased by ESPN in that piece.

“He doesn’t think the Big 12 will exist in five years and believes the Cowboys will end up in what’s now the Pac-12 Conference.”

The article went on to say that Texas has a major conflict with moving to the Pac-12 because of it’s TV deal with ESPN, but that something could be worked out, accordng to sources. On September 6th Jason King of Yahoo speculated that Kansas would be a better fit for a potential Pac-16 than Texas Tech, who have been more commonly discussed as possible. On Friday Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said to the AP that he would rather leave things the way they are.

“Our hope is that there is no expansions and all conferences that are at 12 stay at 12. That would be our vote. We’re very happy where we’re at and we’ve got a lot to do over the next year.”

On Monday Andy Katz of ESPN brought up the question, as to how happy would former Pac-10 schools be if this new Pac-16 kept them from playing in Los Angeles CA, a major factor in recruiting and media exposure.

“The scheduling inequities would continue in four 16-team conferences. Can you imagine the complaining of the schools that are in the Duke-UNC grouping in an expanded ACC? Or how about in the Pac-16 for the schools that don’t get to play
in L.A.?”

There really are a lot of problems with changing things any more than they already have changed, especially in light of the biggest TV deal in college sports being complete. The Pac-12 is sitting pretty well. Adding Oklahoma, Oklahoma State,
Texas, Texas Tech, Kansas, Kansas State or any other group of schools from the Mountain West or elsewhere is possible. But is it really to the league’s advantage at this point? Sure I’d love to see traditional hoops powers like Kansas, Okie State (how could I shorten Oregon State then?) or UNLV join the Pac-12, but I can also see Katz’ point. The conference must retain some of it’s tradition. Larry Scott is dealing from a position of strength and he needs to be very careful. The plot thickened on Monday, when a source who “spoke on condition of anonymity because the individual isn’t authorized to speak publicly about the meeting”, said to ESPN that it is Oklahoma’s intention to join the Pac-12.

“Texas expressed its desire to keep the Big 12 together, while OU made it clear it plans to pursue membership in the Pac-12. But according to an OU athletic department source, Sooner officials agreed to wait as Texas works through its
next move. It’s OU’s preference to go to the Pac-12 with the Longhorns, the source said, and OU is willing to wait for a short period of time while that remains a possibility before acting on its own.”

This pot seems to want to boil a bit longer, but something seems bound to break one way or another. From a basketball standpoint, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, with Kansas and Kansas State would be a better fit than Texas and say Texas
Tech. It sounds to me because of TV deals that this might work out better as well. Splitting up Texas and Oklahoma would be hard, as it is one of the all-time biggest football rivalries, but they could still conceivably schedule an annual game, much like USC and Notre Dame do. How you would realign the Pac-12 to accommodate OK, OSU, KU and KSU is another story. Perhaps the league could stick with the North and South divisions, but move Utah (because of it being closer) and one of either USC or UCLA into the North, so that those teams would have equal access to the LA market. The South would have the feel of the plains states and east of the mountains (other than close by WSU), with the lone exception ‘SC.

But back to reality, recruiting is in high gear through out the country and certainly up and down the conference. For all of the talk from the national media every year about how weak the league is, the current Pac-12 is filled with great talent evaluators and the region is a hot bed of high level and often underrated talent. The numbers of it’s players in the NBA is the best barometer as to how good it is in the Pac-12, as far as finding talent, developing it and having plenty of regional talent to choose from. On September 1st Percy Allen of the Seattle Times listed all of the “commits” that Pac-12 teams have so far in the class of 2012 that I felt was accurate. Last Monday the Beavers received a commit from combo forward Jarmal Reid of Georgia, as coach Craig Robinson continues to rebuild the once mighty OSU program in Corvallis OR. On Friday contact period started and ESPN’s Dave Telep gave a good assessment around the nation as to what coaches were doing that included a number of Pac-12 staffs, including Arizona, ASU, Cal, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA and Washington. Also on Friday Rivals ran an in-depth visitors list from around the nation, including Pac-12 schools. Since then, more commits have come in the door for Pac-12 teams, including Bay Area wing Langston Morris-Walker for OSU on Monday and Serbian post Strahinja Gavrilovic on Sunday to USC. Morris-Walker is a very good athlete who should fit in well with Robinson’s group of bouncy and physical athletes, as is Reid. I’m not sure how the Beavs are going to fit all of these 2012 guys in. Oregon post Maika Ostling has also committed, but if you look at the Beaver’s roster, there is only one senior this season in former walk-on post Kevin McShane. After this year the Beavs would have two spots including Kevin’s and one other open spot, so someone else must be leaving somehow.

Such is the state of college hoops, especially in the light of Jim Calhoun and UConn, who bounced a player that most teams would do flips over in post Michael Bradley. Bradley announced on the eve of his first day of school that he would
walk-on so that the number one player in the class of 2012 could enroll in post Andre Drummond. There is so much wrong with that entire situation that I don’t know where to start, but on Monday CBS blogger Matt Nordlander did a good job of breaking it down. I believe that Robinson is not going to behave like Calhoun, but something is up there. I’m sure that Craig will deal with it well though. Nice guys don’t finish last always, but Robinson is going to have to do something to bring the Beavers up a notch at some point. His recruiting success has bought him a lot of time though in Corvallis in my opinion. OSU will face Texas and either highly ranked Vanderbilt or North Carolina State on November 19th-21st at the TicketCity Legends Classic in East Rutherford NJ. This is the only challenge that Robinson and the Beavs really have until Pac-12 play and it will be very interesting to see how they perform. If they even get one win, I would consider that a success.Yahoo’s Jason King did a run-down of most of the big “pre-conference tournaments” on Sunday that was informative. King projected UCLA as getting to the finals in Maui to face Duke, which speaks well for the Bruins. King then deflated ‘Zona while back-handing the Pac-12 in regards to a potential match-up with Mississippi State in NYC on November 18th at the 2K Sports Classic.

“Arizona may not have answer for Renardo Sidney and Arnett Moultrie in the paint, and senior Dee Bost is one of the nation’s most underrated guards. The Wildcats won’t face many – if any – teams in the Pac-12 with this much talent.”

Jason hasn’t been the best at understanding the west coast and this is another great example of that. King then strangely chose Cal to win the O’Reily Auto Parts CBE Classic in Kansas City MO on November 22nd over a senior laden Missouri team
that will be virtually playing a home game. King also projected a USC loss to UNLV in the opening round of the Las Vegas Invitational on November 25th and another 1st game loss by Colorado to Wichita State in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off on November 17th, both of which are not bad predictions, but I also think they could both go either way. King is kind of prejudiced against the Pac-12, though he makes exceptions which is a start. After not even mentioning a thing about WSU’s 1st round match-up with Oklahoma at the 76 Classic in Anaheim CA on November 24th, he also had nothing to say about the Beavs potential match-ups in East Rutherford, but I guess you can’t mention everybody. It always seems though that any little thing that ‘Zona and UCLA do ends up in the headlines at Yahoo, ESPN, etc. even though the supposedly lowly Cougs and Beavers have somehow beaten the ‘Cats, the supposedly so much better Dawgs, Bears and Bruins more than a few times recently. ‘Zona and UCLA fans though are much more guilty of promoting the notion of their own inherent superiority, regardless to actual success on the court. 97cats.com is a new blog by a ‘Zona fan and I was surprised at how much the idea of being like John Calipari and Kentucky was so appealing in a blog post on Thursday.

“This will be the third top 10 recruiting class in three years for Sean Miller. The ‘Kentucky impact’, as a good friend calls it, is now in effect at Arizona. Players are beginning to seek out the Wildcats, not the other way around. Arizona is the hottest program on the trail, and seemingly is pulling whatever player they want. Patience is the name of the game for Arizona now. Only the best players, who are better people, will have the honor of playing for Sean Miller at Arizona. The future is indeed very bright.”

This is sad and I hope that voices within the ‘Zona fan base take exception with this. I believe Calipari and Calhoun to be horrid influences on the college game or at least symptoms of a very big systemic problem. To aspire to and celebrate that has got to be worse than what I believe is wide spread denial that bad things are going on Tucson to begin with. On September 4th the Washington Post reported that Maryland AD Kevin Anderson said that when he interviewed ‘Zona coach Sean Miller about the Terp job that it was a deal breaker when he denied that his school would allow “Special admits”.

“That’s a term for special admission to a university, a way for a coach to secure more talented players — most of whom are African American, from inner cities — without strictly conforming to exact NCAA standards. It’s what many successful
coaches feel they need to compete against other schools that give talented, academically challenged kids a break that other student-athletes don’t receive. It’s what Miller wanted to coach at Maryland, according to two people familiar with the conversation.”

So I guess the “better people” don’t include the best students for a team that is supposedly a reflection of an institution of higher learning. What is Arizona’s stock in trade then, merit badges? This is clearly not the case. Miller is looking solely, as is Calipari, at cornering the market on the best “one and done” and other types of recruits any way he can. That is fine, if what you are doing is fair and square, but I’m not buying that. Yes, the ‘Cats had a national championship 15 years ago and a lot of NBA alumni. The way things are going though, even if you don’t have the insight that I have from sources, including numerous first hand accounts, it would seem a little too good to be true. Whatever Miller does on the recruiting trail, he and the ‘Cats will have to prove it on the court and many feel that he will this season once again. Last year ‘Zona rode the coat tails of NBA 2nd pick Derrick Williams, to the Elite-8 and one shot against eventual champ UConn. This season, Miller must replace Williams and side-kick guard Lamont “Momo” Jones. Last week Sporting News chose the ‘Cats as the 12th best team nationally in their preseason top-25, saying that the back court will be “much better”. Seriously, the ‘Cats are really talented, but the way that Williams played, often literally putting the team on his back in the last minute or seconds is not an easy thing to replace. I wonder if these preseason predictions by big corporate publications are more about promoting “brands” than actually breaking down the season. ‘Zona sells a lot of hats, jerseys, etc. and what better way to promote those than Magazines in the same shopping malls. To me ‘Zona is one of 4-5 teams that will compete for the Pac-12 title and not much more. One reason that is given by most in th3e media is freshman guard Josiah Turner. While Turner is a legit NBA prospect, immediately assuming that he can replace or even approximate the production that Williams brought to the table is crazy. I think that ‘Zona will probably get back to the NCAA tournament and what happens then depends a lot on seeding. Despite all of the off-season hype about Turner, Bleacher Report named him as one of “15 Under-the-Radar Players Who Could Be All-Americans” on September 2nd. I find it amusing that they built up Turner by putting down the veterans and a large group of solid newcomers in the league at the guard positions, especially point guard.

“With few established point guards to contend with, the 6’3” freshman’s lack of experience will mean less than his considerable talent.”

We’ll see how juniors like Jared Cunnningham (who was also mentioned in the article and who actually deserves the term) of OSU, Abdul Gaddy and Tony Wroten of UW, Reggie Moore of WSU, Brandon Smith of Cal, Minnesota transfers Devoe Joseph (Oregon) and Justin Cobbs (Cal) and two senior PG’s at both UCLA and Colorado feel about this freshman. Other freshmen like Wroten, Chasson Randle of Stanford and Jahii Carson of ASU will also have something to say. Freshmen like Williams come around once in a blue moon and his freshman year ‘Zona was denied the NCAA’s. As a sophomore Derrick was all-world, but Turner was probably one of those “Special admits” that Miller needed and will be “one and done”. Turner is very good, make no mistake, but there are an unusual number of frosh guards coming into the league this season. ESPN’s Diamond Leung on Monday posted on how two of these great new guards in Randle and Oregon shooting guard Jabari Brown have looked on European tours in the past few weeks. Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins talked about Randle in Spain.

“He handled the ball with poise and also finished in traffic and through contact. He’s growing up. You’re going to have ups and downs being a young player. Watching the last three games, I can see him getting better and better, and also
conditioned to playing this style of basketball.”

What’s funny about being one of the most underrated players on September 2nd is that Bleacher Report named Turner one of the best PG’s of any class on September 1st, despite having never played a D1 game. If BR were the only publication that
has been hyping Turner like this, I’d kind of understand that, but this is not the case. If that wasn’t enough, on Tuesday Turner was named the preseason freshman of the year in the Pac-12 by BR. Turner has been in the news constantly, since his commitment to ‘Zona and prior to that. Josiah deserves plenty of recognition for his talent, but his academic past is checkered at best. He left his high school in Sacramento CA mid-way through the hoops season this past year, suiting up within one week for Quality Education Academy in NC. There was little or no time spent evaluating his grades or checking his performance in the class room, before giving him the ball and telling him to put it in the hoop. QEA was under investigation by the NCAA, according to the NY Daily News to determine it’s academic competence. Turner was ruled eligible by the NCAA to play for ‘Zona and I’m not sure why there was never any explanation as to why QEA was found to be credible and Turner’s credits were found to be acceptable. We’ll see if he can back up his rep on the court soon enough. I wonder what he is going to do in Tucson academically? It would be nice to know, just ’cause. ‘Zona will do well, but not just because Turner is the next Williams. With promising Jordin Mayes to compete with for minutes, the ‘Cats have solid depth at PG, to go with good balance every where else. Shooting guard Kyle Fogg appears primed for a great senior year. While junior forwards Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom could have breakout years. Center is a question mark, but freshman Angelo Chol is a strong shot blocker that I believe will end up being the top guy there and he’ll have strong support from junior Kyryl Natyazhko and freshman Sidiki Johnson. The ‘Cats will be very good, but the Pac-12 is also going to be good and I don’t believe that there is anyone named Williams, Jones or Horne (departed senior and former McDonald’s All-American Jamelle) on the roster anymore.

Up the road at ASU, the Sun Devils released their 2011-12 schedule on Monday and it looks as if they will not have too many really tough games out of conference. ASU will host a Wake Forest team that appears to me rebuilding on November 25th, if both teams make the 2nd round of the Old Spice Classic. Overall the field is really weak. ASU must beat mighty Fairfield in the 1st round and if they beat Wake, the best team on the other side of the bracket is probably Minnesota, though all are teams projected low this season nationally. It’s a fun ride for coach Herb Sendek in Orlando FL, but ASU fans should not be too excited if they beat any of these teams. Prior to the tournament ASU will host New Mexico on November 18th, in which they have to be considered underdogs, but at least they are at home. Other than that Nevada (also at home) is pretty decent, but really that is about it before Pac-12 play. ASU will win some games this year, but as I’ve stressed before, post play will be the key. They were awful last year in the paint, so if Sendek can figure it out they may be a middle of the pack type of club in the conference at best. More than likely though they will not be that improved with basically the same big guys and stay behind almost everyone else, though one step ahead of Utah who are having to rebuild the entire program.

Cal completed their trip to Scandinavia on August 20th and 21st with two wins over the Danish National Team to end their tour 4-1 against teams from Denmark, Norway and Sweden. The news was not all good though. According to ibabuzz.com, senior post Harper Kamp was, “Severely limited by what Monty called ‘a balky knee.'” If Kamp is slowed by his knee, an already thin front court (by conference contender standards) becomes very suspect. The good news seems to be that walk-on post Robert Thurman was effective on the trip, but that may be misleading. Cal Coach Mike Montgomery also said, “The teams we played were not big and physical” and “Most of them wanted to play five out”. Cal is going to have a great team this season, but the front line will be the story one way or the other. Cal was also ranked in the Sporting News preseason top-25 at 23rd. Much of the optimism for Cal seems to be based and rightfully so on the track record of “Monty”

“He turned Stanford into a major power, which seemed inconceivable upon his arrival. However, it doesn’t take magic at Cal, only players, and he has a terrific returning core in forward Harper Kamp, guard Allen Crabbe and swing man Jorge
Gutierrez, whom Montgomery transformed from a versatile hustler into a legitimate star. Yep, Montgomery still has the touch.”

The problem that I see is that Mike is not recruiting as well as some of his predecessors at Cal. Cal fans should be less concerned about their team getting effective play from off the radar recruits then actually landing more to replace a
solid senior core in Kamp and Gutierrez, let alone if super soph Allen Crabbe should choose to leave early for the NBA. So far Cal has a commitment from Colorado forward Kaileb Rodriguez, who is not considered a great prospect by any major recruiting analyst. That said, “Monty” seems to find a way to grab great unknown players, like Gutierrez who was his 1st recruit. With the top level talent in the area, you would think that Cal would have better luck getting bigger names. Cal won the Pac-10 two years ago with Mike at the helm and was surprisingly good this past year despite losing almost the entire team. This year the Bears should be solid contenders, if the big guys hold up, but Montgomery has to find some new players to groom all over again and so far things are pretty slow in that department. It’s still early though sort of. Montgomery has a reputation in recruiting circles as a guy that lets the institution recruit itself. That worked at Stanford, but he may need to change his style a bit to better take advantage of the talent pool that the Bears draw from. If Mike is able to attract the Jason Kidd’s of the world to Cal, watch out, but so it’s been mostly sleepers. Sleepers are risky, no matter how much talent they have under the surface. Like one and done “prima donnas” who end up doing very little while they are actually on campus, sleepers can sometimes not wake up.

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Pac-12 Roundup for September 13th 2011 (Part One)