Pac-12 Roundup for June 14th 2011

Jun 14, 2011, 7:46 PM

One of my consistent thoughts (A.K.A. rants) is that the Pac-12 is underrated by the national pundits. It is a trend that has been a yearly occurrence really and is in no small way due to the type of coverage that ESPN has given the conference over the past ten years or so.

In an age when cable TV and more recently the internet is where all things college basketball reside, ESPN journalistically is the king. Their analysts, who have a firm platform on broadcasts and all related coverage year round and on, set the tone for the opinion of the journalistic community at large.

That is both a compliment and an indictment. The network does a great job of promoting the sport and shows the most commitment financially, but when it comes to the Pac-10 in the past, they always seem to give the league the short end of the stick. Following the money almost always works and if you do you find that ESPN has not had many Pac-10 games on TV.

That is because they have not had the contract for them, so it will be interesting to A/B the network’s coverage in the past to after the new mufti-billion dollar joint contract with Fox. One thing that seems to keep happening with ESPN and
subsequently the mainstream media at large is that the conference’s players are continually ignored and underrated.

This year, the general opinion of the Pac-12 is that all of the guys going to the NBA leaves the conference devoid of top end talent. I contend that though there has been a lot of top producers that have moved on, the league has a lot of high
level talent. Playing time is the reason why some have not shown, but with the loss of the big names, that will change.

Rivals last Tuesday did a feature on the “Most underrated players” going into next year nationally and three Pac-12 guys were included. USC sophomore guard Maurice Jones, UCLA junior post Reeves Nelson and Cal senior post Harper Kamp were listed. I know you can’t name everyone, but this list could have easily included nearly ten times as many players.

The league itself is so underrated that literally 25-30 or more returning players who deserve similar mention. ASU junior guard Trent Lockett, Arizona junior forwards Solomon Hill and Kevin Parron, plus senior guard Kyle Fogg and all on that level, as are UCLA senior point guards Jerime Anderson and Lazeric Jones. USC senior guard Jio Fontan is certainly also.

Cal sophomore guard Allen Crabbe and senior guard Jorge Gutierrez are probably too well talked about to be underrated, but sophomore post Richard Solomon is a player that could be a prime time contributor this season. Cal itself should be a
prime time team this season. Bleacher Report on Tuesday listed the Bears in their “5 teams ready to dance” feature.

Stanford’s Josh Owens should be considered as underrated, if Kamp is, while barely noticed soph wing Josh Huestis is primed to blow up. Though sophomore Dwight Powell was a hugely talked about recruit, senior guard Jarrett Mann and soph guard Aaron Bright are two players that could make big strides on an improved and maturing squad.

Oregon junior wing E.J. Singler is way better than the publicity that I’ve seen on him nationally, while senior post Tyrone Nared, though he is more of a role player was a huge factor last year and should have a great senior year. Senior Duck guard Garrett Sim is also a player that could shoot onto the national scene this year.

Oregon State is full of names that are not on the national radar, but should be. Jared Cunningham is, based on some high wire dunks and other accolades, but sophomore guard Roberto Nelson, sophomore post Devon Collier, junior post Joe Burton and (much like Maurice Jones) sophomore guard Ahmad Starks, are all guys whose lights could switch to bright this year.

At Utah, there are just no player left over from last season to compete for the “most underrated” moniker, but Colorado’s Andre Roberson is certainly a player that has gotten enough national attention. WSU senior guard Faisal Aden can really score, while senior guard Marcus Capers can really scrap and defend. junior guard Reggie Moore is also underrated.

Moore has a spotty sophomore season, but could bounce back big in 2011-2012. Junior post Brock Motum also seems primed for a break out year. The big Australian has gotten better steadily and there is no reason to think that next year will be different. Even senior post Abe Lodwick could receive a big bounce, with added PT from the loss of DeAngelo Casto.

All five of those Cougars have not gotten much national pub and at Washington there are at least as many under the radar kids. Sophomore guard Terrence Ross is the first that comes to mind, though he seems to be mentioned quite a bit by ESPN
and draft sites a like. Post Darnell Gant is a player that is almost a sure bet to make big noise as a senior.

Junior post Aziz N’Diaye is a guy that those in the national media wrote off too quickly. N’Diaye is the kind of guy that could be a much bigger story in 2011-12. Senior guard Scott Suggs and sophomore guard C.J. Wilcox are both players that
easily could find their stride this season, while junior guard Abdul Gaddy was on the verge of doing it last year.

Gaddy’s injury defined UW’s season, more than any one factor. Whether Gaddy comes on strong this season, based on his ability to rebound from his knee injury or needs another full year to recover will say a lot about the type of team UW puts on the court and the Dawgs fate in the new Pac-12, but Abdul is certainly not an “underrated player” based on his staus as a McDonald’s All-American.

The conference lost a couple of big names and a handful of future pros, but also gained a number of prime prospects to go with easily 30 underrated players. When your conference is underrated, it is because it is filled with teams, players and coaches that are as well.

Many of the outstanding group of newcomers are transfers like Oregon post Ola Ashaolu, Duck JC post Carlos Emory, Oregon PG Devoe Joseph, WSU guard Mike Ladd, Cal guard Justin Cobbs, USC post Aaron Fuller, UCLA JC guard, De’End Parker, the Wear twins, USC post Dewayne Dedmon and Colorado transfer wing Carlon Brown, but just as many are incoming freshmen.

USC’s class of JC transfers alone, was listed as the 8th best class of JC players among D1 programs for 2011 by last Tuesday. ‘SC’s class also includes shooting guard Greg Allen and post James Blasczyk. ASU also scored a potential money player in JC guard Chris Colvin and WSU found a sorely needed athletic JC post in D.J. Shelton. Shelton was the subject of an impressive highlight reel on the as well on Tuesday.

The Pac-12 class of 2011 was the subject of a feature in Rivals on Friday and it pointed out a rich class of guards, especially highly important PG’s. It is also worth mentioning that there are some great frosh shooting guards coming into the league as well.

Buffalo PG Spencer Dinwiddie wasn’t even mentioned and he will make some noise in the Pac-12, but post Damiene Cain was named the top low post scorer of the class by Rivals. Husky signee Tony Wroten was named both best passer and most versatile and UW guard Hikeem Stewart was named the biggest sleeper.

That speaks well for UW’s class as fellow signee post Jernard Jarreau was mentioned by some as the best sleeper nationally by a number of analysts. Oregon guard Jabari Brown was named best in the clutch, perimeter scorer and impact player, while Duck signee Brett Kingma was named the best shooter in the class.

That speaks well for the Ducks future ability to shoot the rock. The possibility that Pepperdine senior guard and likely pro Keion Bell is considering a graduated senior transfer to Oregon could put the Ducks firmly into title contender discussions. Oregon State post signee and underrated prospect Daniel Gomis was named best shot blocker.

Brown was named as best at his position, but all four members of ‘Zona’s class took up the other spots and the ‘Cats Sidiki Johnson was named best rebounder. ‘Zona guards Nick Johnson and Josiah Turner were named best defender and best pro prospect respectively. Rivals Jerry Meyer talked glowingly about the potential of ‘Zona’s class on Monday.

“Johnson and Turner will be future professional players but Chol and Sidiki Johnson could be a pleasant surprise this upcoming season for Arizona, they should win their second straight league championship in the new look Pac-12.”

I’m not so sure that any freshmen will do all of that, but Meyer is a recruitnik which may shade his opinion. UCLA should be the favorite this year. Bruin guard Norman Powell was named best motor, while ASU guard Jahii Carson was said to have the best speed. What is also worth mention is that this class should fit a number of Pac-12 teams’ needs, as well as add high level talent.

Carson replaces a senior PG and adds firepower lost by the departure of All Pac-10 guard Ty Abbott. The ‘Zona class helps ease the pain from the loss of money man Derrick Williams and side-kick guard Lamont “Momo” Jones. Jones transferred to Iona, according to Zagsblog on Wednesday.

As expected, “Momo” will appeal to the NCAA for a Family Hardship Waiver, which would allow him to play in 2011-2011 if granted. When he transferred he talked about his ailing grandmother and if it is verified that she is severely ill he should be granted the waiver.

A player that was not mention in Rivals article on the Pac-12 class of 2011, but should have been, was USC wing Byron Wesley, who fills a dire need at the wing and will get huge minutes. Powell will help tremendously with replacing Malcolm Lee and Tyler Honeycutt, along with Parker and sophomore Tyler Lamb.

Chasson Randall, who was also not mentioned, could literally double the effectiveness of Stanford’s back court. Gomis could be a scary addition in orange and black to a couple of ball hawking defenders in Cunningham and Collier.

Brown will provide an outside to Ashaolu and Emory’s inside and Kingma and Jabari will team with Sim and Singler to give the Ducks a full compliment of shooters. Newly signed UW post Martin Breunig will help with the loss of 1st team All Pac-10 choice and most improved player Matthew Bryan-Amaning and late bloomer guard Andrew Andrews will provide PG depth.

If you ask me, the Pac-12 will have plenty of talent, especially to beat the expectations of those that for yet another year harp about how weak it will be. There are also a number of transfers coming in, with the possibility of more to come in Bell and potentially others. Some, like new WSU transfer Royce Woolridge will not be eligible until 2012-2013.

The WSU Athletic Department made Woolridge’s transfer official on Friday and though I doubt the two are related, it was announced on Thursday that sophomore would end up at Portland State. Winston announced that he would be transferring
Friday June 3rd before it was announced that Woolridge’s decision was down to WSU and one other school. Woolridge should help replace Aden and Capers in 2012-2013, with another outstanding 2011 freshman guard in Devonte Lacy of Tacoma WA.

UCLA also made news last week with the hiring of former Atlanta Celtics “CEO” Korey McCray. ESPN blogger Diamond Leung posted on Thursday about the rampant speculation that McCray was hired to provide access to AAU players. I think that it can not be limited to certain players, but stranger things have happened in recruiting.

I have heard a lot of things that are not positive about coach Ben Howland when it comes to recruiting, but he is a very good coach that plays to win. Unless McCray is bringing a player on the level of a “Magic” Johnson to Westwood, I doubt that this is the reason. What it is indicative of in my opinion is the need for help in navigating the AAU waters.

What better accomplice than McCray, who I believe is hip deep in the lexicon and Rolodex of the corrupt AAU system. McCray is an adidas guy for an adidas school to paraphrase Bo Schembechler’s ‘Michigan man for a Michigan team’ quip. In a feature from ESPN’s Dana O’Neill on Friday, the man who McCray replaced in Scott Duncan was mentioned heavily.

Duncan in O’Neill’s piece and a recent story in Sports Illustrated, sounds like a hard working career basketball guy that leaves no stone unturned and is the first to show up and the last to leave. Duncan left UCLA supposedly for Wyoming, by itself an enigma. What makes more sense is that he was not able to produce and his job went to a guy with more “sizzle”.

UCLA has a lot going for it. There is the legacy of the great John Wooden, the success of Howland’s players in the NBA, that warm California sun and the masses of agents that are based there. Still Howland’s reputation has been in decline, based on numerous reports that he is tough to deal with and perhaps misleading to players in recruiting.

We’ll see if McCray can reverse that perception around AAU circles or if the corruption that I believe exists around the UCLA program is finally exposed during Korey’s stay there. Winning and success tend to both change peoples perception
or distort their sense of reality and the continued success of Howland’s players in the NBA could help his current gang.

ESPN blogger Eamonn Brennan did a post on Wednesday on the success of UCLA players like “Jrue Holiday, Darren Collison, Arron Afflalo and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute” and how they have overachieved in the pros. If his players continue to win in the “league” and like I also feel his team starts winning on the court, it should help the public perception of Howland.

USC’s current NBA players is also impressive, but many of those were brought to ‘SC during the very suspect tenure of Tim Floyd. One that was brought in by Floyd, but stuck it out and really worked his way up the NBA draft ladder is post Nikola Vucevic, who was the subject of a nice piece on his growing draft prospects in ESPN on Monday.

One more note for those that feel that the Pac-12 is the worst of the power conferences and blah, blah, blah. Cal’s Jason Kidd, ‘Zona and Seattle’s Jason Terry and a once unknown German who was a Stanford lean before going straight to the NBA in Dirk Nowitzky beat the big, bad Miami Heat in six games to win the NBA championship on Sunday.

Oh yeah and former ‘Cat Mike Bibby was on the bench for the Heat and former ASU Sun Devil Eddie House played a key role off the bench for Miami. Pac-12 teams, coaches and players don’t get the ESPN coverage, but they have shown better in the NCAA tournament than expected and have fared better after school in the draft and the pros than generally predicted.

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