Archive for: December 2012

Arizona State Football: Grading All 22 Starters from the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl

Ezra Shaw-Getty Images

Ezra Shaw-Getty Images

The Arizona State football team won more than just a game on Saturday in San Francisco—it won respect.

Being a team that has been mired in mediocrity for more than a decade, the tide is changing and the Sun Devils are plotting their return to greatness. Saturday’s 62-28 victory over Navy was just the tip of the iceberg of things to come for coach Todd Graham and the Arizona State Sun Devils.

I will drop grades on each starter and how they were able to manage not only the most points ever by a Pac-12 team in a bowl game but also the most total touchdowns, rushing touchdowns and first downs.

Four players also set or tied Pac-12 bowl records. Jump in to see who they were and what they did—it might just surprise you.

Marion Grice: Offensive MVP

griceThis was Marion Grice’s day.

After spending time away from the team to be with his family grieving the death of his brother, the week before Christmas, Grice returned to the team and gave the performance of his life.

Grice had a career-high 159 yards rushing and two touchdowns including a 39-yard scamper for his second TD in the third quarter. He also added 19 yards of receiving on two receptions.

He finished the year with 11 rushing touchdowns and eight receiving, the most by a running back in 2012. His 19 total touchdowns was tied with Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and ranked third in the conference and 12th in the country.

Grade: A+ 

Will Sutton: Defensive MVP

Will Sutton once again came to feast on the opposing quarterback and he left the game full. Sutton had a phenomenal day with five tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss of 28 yards including 2.5 sacks.

Sutton was continually in the backfield as the the star of the Arizona State defensive line and proved once again that he is a veracious force to be reckoned with.

He finished the season with 13 sacks, a mere one-half sack behind the leader in the FBS and his 96 yards on sacks ranks him fourth in the nation.

Grade: A+ 

Taylor Kelly: Quarterback

asu qbsTaylor Kelly had one of his best days as a quarterback and proved to be the quarterback for the future. He finished the day with 268 yards on 17-of-19 passing and four touchdowns. His completion rate of 89.5 was the best of his career as was the 277.4 rating.

He was the teams second leading rusher on a team that is stacked with great running backs. He finished the day with 81 yards on seven attempts and even scored his first rushing TD of his career.

Kelly showed great arm strength with two of his scores to Rashad Ross of 50+ yards and also found junior Alonzo Agwuenu in the end zone for his first career touchdown.

Kelly finished the year with 29 touchdowns, one short of Andrew Walter’s record of 30. He led the Sun Devils to several Pac-12 bowl records including most first downs and highest yard-average per play. Strangely enough, both previous records were held by Arizona State and Rudy Carpenter in their last bowl victory over Rutgers in the 2005 Insight Bowl.

Grade: A 

Rashad Ross: Wide Receiver

Senior Rashad Ross waited until his final game in a Sun Devil uniform to have his best outing—and he went out with a bang.

Ross was the Sun Devils leading receiver with 139 yards, his first 100-yard game of his career. His three touchdowns on the day replicated his entire 2012 production. He also tied the Pac-12 bowl record for most TD receptions in a game with four others.

He finished the year as the leading receiver on the team with a 16.5 yard average and was second with six total touchdowns. His 610 total yards and 46.9 yards per game average placed him second for the year behind tight end Chris Coyle.

Grade: A

Cameron Marshall: Running Back

cam KFHSenior Cameron Marshall returned to his previous form and lit up the Navy defense. He finished the day with two touchdowns on nine rushes for 59 yards including a 33-yard score in the Sun Devils 28-point 3rd quarter.

Marshall averaged 6.4 yards per carry and added a 20-yard reception to give him 79 all-purpose yards to finish off his Sun Devil career in style.

His name and numbers litter the Arizona State record books and he will long be remembered as one of the best running backs in Sun Devil history.

Grade: A

Offensive Line

One of the best performances to date for senior Andrew Sampson and crew. When your team amasses the most first downs ever by a Pac-12 team in their bowl game and allows your team to average 7.8 yards per carry, that isn’t good—that’s amazing.

When you add to the mix that quarterback Taylor Kelly had his best completion and best QB rating ever, it has a lot to do not only with good reads but having a lot of time in the pocket to perfect his craft.

The numbers are sensational, 648 total yards of offense, 9.4 average yards per play, no interceptions and no sacks. The offensive line of Sampson, Evan Finkenberg, Jamil Douglas, Brice Schwab and center Koby Koebensky not only deserve the highest grade possible, but also the love and admiration of Sun Devil nation.

Grade: A+ 

Linebackers

asu LBSophomore linebacker Carl Bradford started the game off strong with a big sack of Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds and spent a lot of time in the Navy backfield with three tackles-for-loss. He finished the day with eight tackles, seven of them solo.

Senior linebacker Brandon Magee also had a big day and retired his Sun Devil career in style. He led the team with nine tackles including one for a loss.

Junior Grandville Taylor also had a grand day with eight tackles including one for a loss. Junior Steffon Martin got in on the action with two tackles, one for a loss of three yards.

Grade: B+

Secondary

Navy came back from the halftime intermission and looked to move away from the triple option. Reynolds ran for seven yards and then quickly threw an interception to junior DB Robert Nelson. The Sun Devil offense scored a touchdown less than a minute later.

Safety Alden Darby was burned early in the game by Navy’s Gee Gee Greene on a 4th-and-7 play but luckily for Darby and the Sun Devils, Greene couldn’t hold on in the end zone.Darby finished the game with eight tackles, four solo.

It seemed as though safeties Chris Young and Keelan Johnson were all over the field making key tackles and stopping the dreaded triple option from spreading. They finished the game with seven tackles apiece. Reserve safety Kevin Ayers compiled three tackles including one for a loss.

Corners Deveron Carr and Osahon Irabor were not called into much action as Navy QB Keenan Reynolds only threw 11 passes, completing five to his team and one to ASU. Irabor finished with two tackles and Carr had one for the day.

Grade: B

Defensive Line

asu dlOther than previously mentioned Will Sutton, the Sun Devils defensive line was monstrous in maintaining Navy’s dreaded triple option from getting anywhere.

Junior Davon Coleman bookended the solid line with All-American Sutton. Coleman received credit for one-half sack with Sutton and a total of nine tackles on the day. Jaxon Hood proved that he belonged on the line as a true freshman by compiling three tackles of his own—all solo.

If I am grading the Defensive Line without Sutton, I would give them a solid B.

Grade: B 

Special Teams

The Special Teams didn’t really make an impact on the game, but I will grade the players accordingly.

First and foremost, the kickoff team allowed Navy’s Gee Gee Greene to burn them for a 95-yard score and Alex Garroutte missed a PAT—unacceptable.

On to better news, Garroutte tied a Pac-12 bowl record for most PAT’s converted in a game with eight, finishing off a near perfect year of 59-of-60 extra points.

The Conference’s leading punter, Josh Hubner was seen nodding off on the sidelines as the Sun Devils scored touchdowns on their first nine drives and the final two drives ended on downs and a fumble. Place kicker Jon Mora was used as much as Hubner, good thing they weren’t playing poker in the clubhouse.

asu kfhSenior wide receiver Jamal Miles took on the punt and kick return duties and performed admirably. He returned a punt 37 yards and a kickoff for 41 yards. With so many others seeming to score at will, I was truly hoping for Miles to get one final touchdown in his season. He finished the day with 124 return yards and allowed Deveron Carr to take a kickoff for 17 yards as well.

Grade: B- 

Overall Grade

I am truly excited for the upcoming season and can’t wait to see what new recruits will come to Arizona State thanks to the new regime of discipline and accountability under coach Todd Graham.

Tempe, Arizona is one of the hottest cities in the country and the future looks, oh so bright.

Grade: A

Arizona Basketball: What It Will Take for the Wildcats to Be Ranked No.1

Marco Garcia-USA Today Sports

Marco Garcia-USA Today Sports

The Arizona Wildcats are now 12-0 and off to their best start in 25 years.

It seems that the Wildcats are being overlooked, as they are ranked No. 3 in the AP Poll and No. 4 in the USA Today/Coaches Poll behind a one-loss Louisville team.

After Arizona won the Diamond Head Classic by besting the No. 16 San Diego State in dramatic fashion, the Wildcat faithful have a team to believe in.

I guess the question now remains—with Duke also at 12-0, Michigan at 13-0 and Louisville at 12-1—can the ‘Cats make up any ground and, more importantly, what will it take for them to overtake such perennial powerhouses?

Their RPI Needs to Improve

Arizona has now played and beaten two Top 20 teams—by one point each. By the same token, the current No. 1 Duke Blue Devils have beaten three Top Five teams by at least five points each.

When Duke played No. 3 Kentucky, Arizona played Charleston Southern. When Duke played back-to-back games vs. No. 2 Louisville and No. 4 Ohio State, Arizona played Long Beach St. and Northern Arizona in that same time frame.

It’s true that Arizona has a decent RPI, coming in at No. 8, but their strength-of-schedule rank is a miserable 52. Wyoming is also 12-0 with a convincing seven-point victory over No. 19 Colorado, yet they aren’t ranked in either poll.

The Cowboys’ RPI is in the Top 25 due to their 4-0 record against RPI Top 50 teams, but their SoS Rank is a horrid 214, as they’ve played schools that I didn’t know had basketball teams.

If Wyoming can play and beat four teams in the RPI Top 50, why is it that Arizona has only played two?

They Need to Dominate Lesser Teams

az so missIt is common knowledge that ranked teams will play weaker teams in the non-conference schedule to build team morale or to get some some playing time for bench players.

The one caveat of playing lesser teams is that you need to beat them and do it with authority. Arizona trailed Charleston Southern 11-3, and the Buccaneers kept within five points up until there were five minutes left in the game. They Wildcats were also down seven points at halftime versus Southern Mississippi and didn’t take control of the game, once again, until the final five minutes.

This alarming trend needs to stop, as teams such as Colorado, UCLA and even Arizona State will not allow Arizona to claw back into the game in the final minutes. Once they smell blood from the Wildcats, they will keep the dominant pressure on and finish the task at hand.

The Turnovers Need to Be Curtailed

The Southern Miss game was a perfect example of sloppy play, as Arizona committed a season-high 27 turnovers. Conversely, when the Wildcats beat No. 16 San Diego State, they only committed eight turnovers, and when they beat No. 5 Florida, they only turned it over 10 times.

Arizona’s 174 total turnovers and average of 14.5 per game is tied for the most among current Top 10 teams. Michigan has 50 fewer turnovers with one more game under its belt. Duke has 136 and Ohio State has 125—these are the marks of quality, disciplined teams that have gone deep into the NCAA tournament on several occasions.

I would like to say that the turnovers are a result of the four new freshmen playing in Sean Miller’s rotation, but I can’t. The leading offender—by a large margin—is senior transfer student Mark Lyons. With 35 total turnovers, he is averaging nearly three per game. He is also the team’s leading scorer and assist-grabber, so I am not doubting his ability as a player; I’m just stating that he needs a better handle on the ball.

Hope for Big Upsets

az gatorsThe Wildcats have already upset Florida in the biggest game on their schedule. Now they have to just wait and see what the other big teams will do with their schedules.

We have seen Temple beat Syracuse and Butler topple Indiana in an overtime thriller, so it is possible for the ‘Cats to overtake Duke and Michigan if they maintain their spotless record.

Much like Arizona, but on a much larger scale, the No. 1 Duke Blue Devils have made it through the toughest part of their schedule, beating three Top Five teams in the month of November. The Atlantic Coast Conference, once labeled as the toughest in the nation, is suffering from mediocrity, with only one other team in the Top 25 polls.

North Carolina State is ranked No. 23 in the AP Poll at 10-2, and the Blue Devils’ biggest rival, the North Carolina Tar Heels, are now 10-3 after upsetting No. 20 UNLV on Saturday. The Tar Heels could see a number in front of their name going into conference play.

Michigan has a much tougher road to navigate, as it enters conference play with five teams in the Big Ten currently ranked in the Top 25. The Wolverines face back-to-back showdowns on the road at No. 10 Ohio State and No. 11 Minnesota in mid-January. It will not get any easier, as they will later face a 10-day stretch in which they have to play at No. 5 Indiana and at in-state rival No. 19 Michigan State.

If the Wolverines can escape conference play unscathed, they deserve the No. 1 ranking regardless of what any other team does.

The good news for Wildcat fans is that it seems nearly impossible.

Win the Conference

It may sound simple, but it is a fact. The Wildcats are entering Pac-12 Conference play on Saturday night where they left off last season—against Colorado.

This time, the game will be at home in the comfy confines of McKale Center. Coach Sean Miller and the Wildcats have had this day circled on their calendars since losing the inaugural Pac-12 Conference Tournament to the newcomer.

Many preseason polls predicted the Wildcats and the UCLA Bruins to be neck-and-neck throughout the season and favorites to face off in the conference championship. Save for the Bruins’ upset win in overtime against Missouri, they have been quite lackluster, with losses to Georgetown, Cal Poly and San Diego State.

wilburWhile the Bruins have been surprisingly bad, the Arizona State Sun Devils and Oregon Ducks have been surprisingly good. The Sun Devils are 11-2 going into conference play, with losses to No. 14 Creighton and DePaul, while Oregon is 10-2 with a loss to No. 22 Cincinnati and a triple-overtime loss to UTEP.

Arizona will visit the Ducks on Jan. 10 for only its third game in enemy territory. The Wildcats travel to Tempe to take on the Sun Devils on the 19th for what will surely be a raucous affair.

If the Wildcats can run the Pac-12 table and Michigan and Duke lose games along the way, maybe, just maybe, the voters will see it fit to put a Pac-12 team at No. 1.

Don’t hold your breath.

Complete Arizona State vs. Navy Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl Preview

KFHBanner

 

The Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl returns to downtown San Francisco and the Bay Area is all abuzz. Breaking away from the traditional New Year’s Eve matchup for a Saturday afternoon game may set new attendance records.

For the 11th straight year, AT&T Park in downtown San Francisco will be the site for the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. The baseball park that is home to the San Francisco Giants has done an admirable job of hosting the postseason game, but the bowl game will be moving into its brand-new home in nearby Santa Clara starting in the 2014 season.

The Navy Midshipmen were the first team to receive bowl eligibility on Nov. 3 and accepted the bid to return to San Francisco. The Middies beat the New Mexico Lobos 34-19 on New Year’s Eve to close out 2004.

While Navy knew for a long time where they would be headed in the postseason, the Arizona State Sun Devils did not find out until Selection Sunday. This will be the first-ever meeting of the two teams, and they could’t be any more different—on or off the field.

There is the perception of Arizona State’s laid-back, party-all-the-time lifestyle compared to the Naval Academy’s hardcore lifestyle of discipline and service. On the field, the Sun Devils are a high-octane, quick-scoring offense with a bruising defense. The Midshipmen run a more controlled, even-keeled offense with a rarely seen triple option out of the backfield.

This is going to be a clash of two very different schools who have had a successful year and earned the right to play in this game. Here is everything that you need to know about the matchup.

The Skinny

devils KFH

  • When: Saturday, Dec. 29, 4 p.m. ET
  • Where: AT&T Park, San Francisco, Calif.
  • Watch: ESPN2
  • Listen: 92.3-FM KTAR in the Phoenix area and across the state on the Sun Devil IMG Sports Network
  • Betting Line: Arizona State  -14.0(via Bovada.lv)

The Arizona State Sun Devils are favored heavily in this matchup after closing out the regular season with big wins over Washington State and on the road against the No. 24 Arizona Wildcats. This should not be difficult at all for the Sun Devils as they are 21st in the nation in scoring with an average of more than 36 points per game.

The running game for the Midshipmen is phenomenal, the sixth-best in the FBS, averaging more than 275 rushing yards per game. Unfortunately, all the rushing yards in the world don’t matter if they don’t convert into points on the scoreboard. The Midshipmen are ranked 86th in scoring with only 24.8 points per game.

The Injuries

Arizona State RB Marion Grice has returned to the team after spending a week with family grieving the death of his brother prior to Christmas. Grice is expected to play and practiced Wednesday and Thursday.

Defensive tackle Will Sutton is listed as probable; he is dealing with a toe injury and will make a big impact in this game.

The others listed on the injury report (via USA Today):

Arizona State Sun Devils

  • Kyle Middlebrooks, WR, Knee: Out
  • Villiami Moeakiola, S, Hamstring: Out
  • Corey Adams, DT, Back: Out
  • Rashad Wadood, CB, Shoulder: Out
  • Carlos Mendoza, LB, Shoulder: Out

Navy Midshipmen

  • Bradyn Heap, C, Leg: Out
  • John Howell, SB, Leg: Out
  • Chris Johnson, OL, Knee: Out
  • Evan Campbell, T, Ankle: Out

The Player to Watch for Navy: Gee Gee Greene

The senior running back from Columbia, S.C., leads the team in both rushing and receiving yards and is a threat whenever he is on the field. He averages an astounding 7.1 yards per rush, good enough for sixth-best in the country. Coming out of the backfield, he averages 17.8 yards per reception.

Although QB Keenan Reynolds has scored a third of all Navy’s rushing touchdowns this season, Greene is tied at second-most on the team with five (three rushing and two receiving).

Greene has blistered teams with a team-high 59-yard rushing touchdown as well as a 41-yard receiving touchdown. He is the real deal and will put the hurt on when you least expect it.

The Player to Watch for Arizona State: Will Sutton

suttonWill Sutton is a defensive monster.

Following in the footsteps of former Arizona State linebacker, Terrell Suggs, Sutton is a consensus All-American and wreaks havoc on every quarterback he faces.

Sutton anchors a defense that is No. 2 in the country with 49 sacks and No. 6 with 20 interceptions. Sutton collected a team-high 10.5 sacks, good enough for third-best in the Pac-12 and No. 16 in the nation. He also led the conference in tackles for loss and placed fifth in the nation with a staggering 1.82 per game.

He was named the Pat Tillman Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, awarded the Morris Trophy for Most Outstanding Lineman in the Conference and All-American by six different associations and publications.

For a team that struggles to score as much as Navy does, I feel that Will Sutton and the Sun Devil defense are going to be out for a field day.

The Prediction

FootballB1024x768I believe that Navy’s use of the triple option can be difficult to defend against unless you have a month to prepare for it.

Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly needs to come out firing on all cylinders and put the Midshipmen on their heels early on in the game. Kelly has an amazing 25 touchdowns on the season with only nine picks.

Kelly’s potent backfield consists of a three-headed monster in senior Cameron Marshall, junior Marion Grice and freshman sensation D.J. Foster. Grice leads all running backs in the nation with eight receiving touchdowns and is tied at No.14 in the country for overall touchdowns at 17.

There should be no problem airing out the football for ASU QB Kelly as his favorite target, tight end Chris Coyle, finished the regular season as the third-best tight end in the nation for receptions and his total yards are fourth-best.

With so many offensive weapons in Todd Graham’s arsenal and a limited game plan for Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo, the Sun Devils should put up big numbers against this Navy team.

It all starts with putting up a couple of quick scores and rattling the freshman quarterback, Keenan Reynolds. The combination of both these will lead Navy to get impatient and abandon the triple option and go to the air. Navy averages only 110 yards of passing per game—yes, per game. Ranked 121st in the FBS is not where you want to be, especially going up against a team that has the sixth-most interceptions in the country.

Arizona State 45, Navy 17

ASU Football’s Biggest Recruits and Their Probability of Signing

todd

Christian Petersen-Getty Images

 

Arizona State football is riding high in the past month with a 46-7 shellacking of Washington State and a dramatic come-from-behind victory over in-state rival Arizona, 41-34 on the day after Thanksgiving. Coach Todd Graham has had a couple weeks to soak it all in and is gearing up for the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl on Dec. 29. The next big undertaking is focusing on the 2013 season by getting more commitments and getting his current commitments signed.

I wrote earlier in the week about the holes on the Sun Devils roster and I will now focus on filling those holes as well as adding much needed depth elsewhere.

Christian Westerman

Let’s start with the big news first, and I do mean big. Christian Westerman is a 6’4″, 298-lb monster that can fill an immediate need on the Sun Devil roster.

The 4-star offensive lineman signed last year with Auburn and saw action in three games this season. The Tigers had their worst season in a long time and ended with the firing of head coach Gene Chizik a mere two years removed from winning the National Championship.

Westerman held all the accolades coming out of Hamilton High School in Chandler in 2011. He was the No. 1 recruit in the state, ahead of UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley, the No. 27 recruit in the country as well as the third-best at his position by Rivals.

Scout ranked him the No.1 offensive guard and 17th best overall recruit in the country.

He had offers from Notre Dame, Michigan, Oregon as well as the three in-state universities but signed with Auburn a month after visiting the campus. Here it is a year later and Westerman is coming home.

It is possible that he may even be able to play in the upcoming season if Auburn is hit with NCAA sanctions.

Chans Cox

Chans CoxStaying at home once again, in the state of Arizona at least, is the 4-star linebacker from Blue Ridge High School in Lakeside, Arizona. Lakeside is a sleepy little town just over three hours northeast of Tempe and Arizona State University.

Cox committed to Arizona State on June 13 of this year and will be graduating high school at the mid-year break. Cox is ranked as the No. 3 recruit in the state, the No. 13 at his position and No. 150 nationally.

Cox received offers from Oklahoma, Notre Dame and Nebraska before deciding to stay in Arizona. Although Cox has yet to sign his letter of intent, Brad Cesmat of Pros2Preps.com says that Cox will be moving onto campus on Jan 7.

Viliami & A.J. Latu

Viliami Latu and his twin brother Alani (A.J.) committed to Arizona State in October and visited the school for the game against Washington St. on Nov. 17.

Viliami is a 4-star linebacker out of Rancho Cucamonga, CA, who is currently ranked the 37th best recruit in talent-rich California and the No. 14 linebacker in the country according to Rivals. The 6’2″, 225-pound Latu is the bigger of the two and recently received his fourth star from Rivals, who had this to say about him:

 

“He and his brother are outstanding in the front seven for Rancho Cucamonga, but Viliami has that extra to bump him to four stars. He really puts his body on the line every play and hits hard, drives through people and plays that way on every down.”

A.J. Latu is a 3-star linebacker who ranks the 78th best recruit in California and 50th best linebacker nationally (via Rivals). A.J. is considerably smaller at 6’1″ and 205 lbs, but I’m not going to say he is small.

The Latu twins are cousins of a former Arizona State defensive lineman, Paul ‘Unga, and attended home games at Arizona State and dreamed of one day playing here themselves, so I’d say the chances of them signing their letters of intent are nearly 100 percent.

Ronald Lewis

lewisThe Sun Devils received disheartening news this week about missing out on two 4-star recruits to fill out their receiving corps in Beau Sandland and Eldridge Massington. Sandland committed to Miami, (FL) and Massington switched his commitment from USC to UCLA.

Fortunately, for Arizona State, they have already received a commitment from Ronald Lewis out of West Jefferson High School outside of New Orleans, La. The 3-star recruit was the No. 26 player from Louisiana and the 56th best receiver in the nation (via Rivals). Lewis received offers from Ole Miss, Nebraska and Texas A&M prior to committing to ASU on Sept. 5.

At 6’0″ and 185 lbs., he is a good size to make an impact for coach Todd Graham and the Sun Devils. His 4.45 speed in the 40 will be a mismatch for many linebackers and safeties and his breakaway speed will make for a great replacement for Ross and Miles returning punts and kickoffs.

Filling the tight end spot is another local product in Scottsdale’s Grant Martinez, who received offers from Oregon St., Cal and Utah.

Joshua Dobbs

Heading into the 2012 season, there was a three-way race for the quarterback position. Coach Todd Graham went with redshirt sophomore Taylor Kelly, and he has shined. There are three other quarterbacks on the roster, but it never hurts to bring on another one, especially one of Dobbs’ caliber.

The 3-star quarterback out of Alpharetta, Ga. is the 40th ranked recruit in Georgia and the No. 23 ranked quarterback in the country (via Rivals). The 6’3″, 190-lb. signal-caller is tall, mobile and a great athlete.

Dobbs received offers from Maryland, TCU and Arkansas as well as three Ivy League schools before committing to Arizona St. back in June.

Dobbs has continued to impress and will push backup QBs Taylor Cohan and Mike Bercovici in the future.

Josh Tremblay & Nick Kelly: Signed

tremblayWhen American River Community College in Sacramento, Ca. disbanded its football program, local high school standouts were distraught. Soon afterward, two big men who played at ARCC signed their letters-of-intent this week to play at Arizona State. The three-star linemen are guard Josh Tremblay and center Nick Kelly. Tremblay is 6’5″ and 285 lbs of mass that could bulk up a little to fit in with the other 300-lb linemen. Kelly is 6’3″ and 275 lbs and is looking to make his mark as a long snapper.

Tremblay’s Rivals rating of 5.7 is tied for third-highest of all 2013 recruits on the Sun Devils’ roster and will look to learn under coach Graham and current O-Line superstar Evan Finkenberg.

Are the Wildcats Really This Good or Are They Overrated?

cathoops

Christian Petersen-Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats are now 9-0 and ranked No. 4 in the AP Poll and No. 5 in the USA Today/Coaches Poll. The Coaches Poll has them behind a 1-loss Louisville team, which got me to thinking— “Are the Wildcats really this good or are they just using smoke and mirrors?”

Arizona coach Sean Miller is in his fourth season at the University of Arizona and ushers in his highest ranking at the helm. This is also the first time that the Wildcats have been in the top five in both polls since Jan. 5, 2004 when they finished the season 20-10 and lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Does this year’s team have what it takes to go deep into the NCAA Tournament or will they nosedive much like the 2003-04 team that went on to a dismal 11-9 in Pac-10 Conference play?

I will break it all down with reasons that this team is different than that squad and attempt to predict the future—much like the Mayans did oh, so many years ago.

Sean Miller

seanMDon’t get me wrong, I am not saying that Sean Miller is a better coach than the legendary Lute Olson…yet.

Miller is in his ninth season as a head coach and his twentieth as a college basketball coach. He was a point guard at Pitt and went on to coach at Miami of Ohio, Pittsburgh and North Carolina State as an assistant before he went on to become associate head coach at Xavier.

After three years of coaching under Thad Matta, Miller was rewarded with the head coaching position when Matta left for Ohio State. Miller turned a 17-12 team into a team that won three consecutive regular season Atlantic Ten championships and four NCAA Tournament appearances in his five years including a Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight appearance. He was also named the Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year after his 30-win season in 2008.

He did much the same when he came to Arizona, turning a 16-15 team into a 30-win team that won the Pac-10 regular season and reached the Elite Eight. His 17-0 record at home in addition to the 30 wins and deep tournament run were enough to earn him the John Wooden Pac-10 Coach of the Year award in 2011.

After a disappointing 2011-12 season, Miller vowed to make good on his promise to return Arizona basketball to its previous heights and recruited like no other. He garnered the No. 1 recruiting class with three players in the top nine on the ESPNU 100.

Sean Miller knows basketball; since becoming a head coach, six of his eight teams have been to the postseason and nine of his 11 seasons as an assistant ended in the postseason.

Mark Lyons and Nick Johnson

This backcourt is sick.

The teams two leading scorers are both averaging over 13 points and three assists per game and are anchors to the leading scoring team in the Pac-12 Conference.

Senior transfer Mark Lyons has been money from the field hitting just under 50 percent including 42 percent from three-point territory.

Where Lyons shines, Johnson burns with the light of a thousand stars. He leads the team in steals with and assists. His 27 total steals and average of three per game is second in the conference and his average of 3.6 assists per game rank seventh in the conference.

The backcourt of the 2003-2004 team—Mustafa Shakur and Salim Stoudamire.

Freshman Class

az froshThere are five freshmen on this Arizona Wildcat team, three have started and the other two have seen limited action.

7′ center Kaleb Tarczewski has started all nine games this year at center and averages 22 minutes per contest. He is a monster underneath the boards and averages 5.6 rebounds per game and has tallied nine blocks.

The shining star of the class is Brandon Ashley, who has started the last seven games in replacement of fellow frosh Grant Jerrett. Ashley leads the team in rebounds and blocks and field goal percentage, hitting 60 percent of his shots.

Highly touted forward Grant Jerrett started the first two games and has since taken a back seat to Ashley. Jerrett averages just over 17 minutes per games and had a breakout performance Tuesday night against Oral Roberts. He finished with a season-high 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting including a perfect 3-of-3 from downtown.

Guards Gabe York and Jacob Hazzard have played sparingly with York averaging 6.7 minutes per games and Hazzard at two.

Solid Seniors

Seniors Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom are true leaders on and off the bench. Hill has started all nine games this year and Parrom has been the prototypical sixth man.

Hill is the do-it-all player for the Arizona Wildcats, second on the team in assists and steals while placing third in scoring and rebounds. Additionally, he places in the top 10 in the conference in assists and steals. He reached his career-best in both categories last Tuesday versus Oral Roberts and will continue building this year.

Parrom is the glue that holds the team together, averaging over 20 minutes per contest and leading the team in free-throw percentage. The swingman subs in whenever and wherever he is needed. He averages eight points per game, just under five rebounds and 2.3 assists per contest.

Final Analysis

cholThis team is good and is only going to get better. With the signing of two top-notch recruits in Rondae Jefferson and Elliott Pitts to go along with transfer students T.J. McConnell and Matt Korcheck, they could be unstoppable next year.

There is no single superstar on the team, yet they are in the top 15 in field-goal percentage, free-throw percentage and three-point percentage. This tells me that as a team, they are dead-on and don’t take many bad shots.

They are 25th in the league in scoring and 26th in assists, so it is also evident that they are passing the ball around a lot and scoring even more.

These are all signs of a quality team that has a strength-of-schedule ranking of 38 and has only played two teams in the RPI Top 100. They are currently ranked No. 8 on the RPI Index with a .6817 percentage.

Pac-12 foe Colorado, although unranked at 8-2, comes in at No. 2 on the RPI Index with a .7021 percentage and the fifth-hardest strength-of-schedule, playing six teams in the RPI Top 100.

As we all know, Colorado defeated Arizona in the inaugural Pac-12 Conference Tournament earlier this year and the two will face off in their conference opener Jan.3 in Tucson. Moving deeper into the Pac-12 Conference schedule the Arizona Wildcats face Utah, Oregon, Oregon St. and Arizona State.

Those teams are a combined 32-10 with Oregon having the highest RPI ranking of 33—going 3-1 against RPI Top 100 teams and Utah going 3-2. They should not pose a problem for the Wildcats, but that’s what everybody thought in 2004 as well.

5 Biggest Holes in the Roster the Sun Devils Must Fill

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Christian Petersen-Getty Images

Arizona State Football celebrated the 2012 regular season with the return of the traditional Awards Banquet and Ring of Honor Dinner.

Head coach Todd Graham and Vice President of University Athletics Steve Patterson welcomed donors and members of the Arizona State football community. The voice of the Sun Devils, Tim Healey, awarded 13 postseason awards and bid a fond farewell to 17 seniors that made a huge impact in their time in the desert.

Those 17 seniors will play their final game in a Sun Devil uniform against the United States Naval Academy in a little under two weeks in San Francisco and they will leave some pretty big holes in the roster. Here are the five biggest areas that need to be filled by current players or new drafts in the 2013 season.

*This article is being written with the assumption that junior defensive end Will Sutton returns for his senior season.

Honorable Mention: Cameron Marshall and the Running Game

CamThe running game at Arizona State did a great job this year with the triple-threat of Marion Grice, D.J. Foster and Cameron Marshall—who has led the team in rushing the past three seasons.

With the addition of Grice and Foster, I can hardly say that the Sun Devils need help in the running game, but Marshall’s productivity will definitely be missed.

Last year, Marshall was the first 1,000-yard rusher since 2006 and his 18 touchdowns tied Terry Battle and Woody Green with most touchdowns in a season. He is currently second all-time for the Sun Devils with 35 career rushing touchdowns.

His 2,620 career rushing yards place him 10th all-time for Sun Devil running backs as well as his 4.8 yards per carry. He saw a decrease in production with the help of Grice and Foster in the backfield and he leaves knowing that the running game will be in capable hands.

The Secondary

The biggest hole that will be left to fill is in the secondary. Safety Keelan Johnson and cornerback Deveron Carr, two local products, are ending their college careers.

Johnson had five interceptions this year. This led the team, was third in the conference and tied for ninth-best in the FBS. He finished the year second on the team with 81 tackles—60 of them solo. He also had a team-high 13 passes defended and eight pass breakups.

Deveron Carr had a team-leading two fumbles recovered along with an interception, a tackle-for-loss, nine passes defended and eight pass breakups.

Juniors Alden Darby and Osahon Irabor have been great in the secondary and need to mentor the new guys filling those holes.

Punting Game

Josh Hubner has been spectacular this year for the Sun Devils, making it so much more difficult to fill his shoes.

He is the nation’s third-best punter with an average of 47.1 yards per punt. Hubner also claimed the top spot in Sun Devil history in average yards per punt. He finished the year with 22 punts over 50 yards, including a 73-yard punt against UCLA.

Hubner was named to the Pac-12  All-Conference team as a second team specialist for his punting prowess. He also garnered a second-team place on Phil Steele’s All-Pac-12 team and an honorable mention for Sports Illustrated’s All-American team.

He didn’t have a single punt blocked this year and has pinned 20 punts within the 20-yard line the past two years.

There are five remaining players on the squad that are listed as a kicker or placekicker, but I feel that coach Todd Graham is happy with his tandem of Alex Garoutte and Hubner doing the kicking. The punting could fall on any of the remaining players or they need to scout a new punter.

Return Game

jamalThis hole on the roster is also huge. The return game at Arizona State has been dominated and perfected by two seniors this year.

Wide receivers Rashad Ross and Jamal Miles have split up the punt and kickoff return duties and have both been remarkable.

Ross was named an honorable mention for the Pac-12 All-Conference team and was one of only four players in the conference to return a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. His 384 total yards and 25.6 average yards per return rank him third in the conference.

Miles began the season returning both punts and kickoffs but relinquished the kickoff duties to Ross. In his 13 kickoff returns, he averaged just under 21 yards and had a long return of 31 yards. He has taken the lion’s share of the punt return duties returning 24 of the 31 punts this season for a total of 183 yards and a long of 25.

Look for freshman receiver Richard Smith and junior Kyle Middlebrooks to step up next season in replacement of Ross and Miles.

Offensive Line

Three seniors are leaving the O-line this year, two of them are starters— Brice Schwab and Andrew Sampson (pictured). Sampson is a team captain who played in 46 career games and started in 32 of them. He missed three games this year due to injury but returned to anchor the offensive line.

Schwab has started all 12 games this year and Kyle Johnson saw action in all 12 games, but nothing consistent.

The onus will be on Evan Finkenberg to take the offensive line to new heights and he has done a great job this year receiving an All-Pac-12 honorable mention.

Linebackers

mageeThree senior linebackers will be leaving the Sun Devils this year, but only one starter in Brandon Magee. Magee was a profile in courage after sitting out the entire 2011 season with an injury. He came back big with an interception returned for a touchdown in the first game of the year against Northern Arizona.

Magee was named to the All-Pac-12 second-team defense and led the team in tackles with 104—including 11.5 for a loss of 63 yards. He finished second in the conference with 9.5 tackles per game and .59 sacks per game.

Brandon Johnson saw action in 10 games this year and compiled five tackles, including a sack. Charles Beatty didn’t record any stats this year, so that won’t be difficult to replace.

Magee’s production, however, will be difficult to replace. The team has a great linebacker in Carl Bradford to mentor and teach those looking to fill Brandon’s spot.

Arizona State Basketball: Does Carrick Felix Have the Talent to Make the NBA?

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USA Today Sports

Arizona State swingman Carrick Felix is having his best year at the best time possible—his senior year.

Felix graduated in the Spring with a B.S. in Communications and was accepted into the Masters of Liberal Studies program, beginning classes this summer. With such a massive improvement over the past year, Felix may be looking into forgoing his studies to pursue a career in basketball.

Felix said the following in the post-game press conference after beating Cal State Northridge:

 

There’s most definitely a sense of urgency. Since this is my last year, I definitely have a lot to play for. I always feel like I have a little chip on my shoulder. I try to be the energy guy for the team and make hustle plays. When it comes down to it, it’s going to be the little plays in the game like the tipped balls, the loose rebounds, and offensive rebounds, so we try to do that.

He has been on a tear after a slow start in the season opener. He is averaging 15.1 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. He is shooting 66-of-114 from the floor and leads the team in three-point shooting with 14-of-36 for 38 percent.

His most recent outing marked career-bests with 14 rebounds and five blocks. It also marked his third double-double in six games—he had a grand total of zero in his first two seasons at Arizona State.

Felix added three steals to his total and is leading the Sun Devils with 12.  Also, his monster rebounding game put him in a three-way tie with Jordan Bachynski and Jonathan Gilling, who are both taller than him.

He added in the press conference that he truly loves playing defense, as it allows him to showcase his offense:

The steals were the best. Defense is probably one of my favorite things to do when it comes to basketball. The steals luckily led to some nice dunks.

He was named Pac-12 Player of the Week on Dec. 2 after back-to-back 21-point games against Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Sacramento St. He has eight career 20-point games and three of them came within a 10-day stretch from Nov. 23 to Dec.1 of this year.

The energy and tempo have definitely increased in Wells Fargo Arena with the addition of freshman phenom Jahii Carson and transfer student Evan Gordon.

When you throw two new assistant coaches in Eric Musselman and Larry Greer into the mix, you not only have a new Carrick Felix, you might even have a NBA player.

Arizona State Football: Does Will Sutton Return to the Sun Devils in 2013?

Will Sutton

Will Sutton, the Arizona State All-Everything player has been racking up the awards in the postseason, and he is far and away the best player on this year’s squad.

Although Sutton missed nearly all of the Oregon game and the entire UCLA game and was at a reportedly 65-70-percent shape against Oregon State, Sutton finished the year with 10.5 sacks. This was good enough to be ranked third-best in the Pac-12 Conference and 16th in the nation—tied with teammate Carl Bradford.

He also led the conference in tackles-for-loss and placed fifth in the FBS with 1.82 per game. He added five pass breakups and three forced fumbles to his resume.

Sutton became the Sun Devils’ first consensus All-American since Terrell Suggs in 2002. He was named to the first team of the Associated Press, the American Football Coaches Association and the Sporting News. He is the 14th player in Sun Devil history to reach such heights.

Sutton’s litany of awards didn’t stop there; he was also recognized as first team All-America by Lindy’s, CBSSports.com and Athlon Sports.

He was clearly the best defensive player in the Pac-12 Conference when he was awarded the Pat Tillman Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, the Morris Trophy for Most Outstanding Lineman in the conference, as well as CBSSports.com Defensive Player of the Year.

suttonAre all those accolades enough for Sutton to make a splash in the NFL?

Why then, did he only make it to second team for Walter Camp and FoxSports.net, and a mere semifinalist for the Bednarik Trophy?

There are two schools of thought when it comes to examining Sutton’s future. We can look at past players at Arizona State that have gone on to lucrative careers in the NFL in Terrell Suggs and Vontaze Burfict.

Suggs joined the NFL draft after his stellar junior year in which he was a consensus All-American and Morris trophy winner like Sutton, but he also had in his arsenal the Ted Hendricks, Bronko Nagurski, Rotary Lombardi and Bill Willis Trophies.

With all this going for Suggs, he was drafted No. 10 overall and went on to win two separate NFL Rookie of the Year awards.

Then there is the case of Vontaze Burfict—an absolute monster on the field, and unfortunately off the field, as well.

Burfict led the Sun Devils in his first two years and was selected to the 2009 Freshman All-American squad. His sophomore year led to a All-America nod from the Sporting News, as well as Pac-10 Defensive MVP. His junior season was just plain ugly. Burfictwas labeled a cancer in the locker room who was plagued by inconsistent play and a lack of discipline. He also skipped his senior season and made himself eligible for the draft where he went undrafted.

There is good news for Burfict because all he really needed was discipline and Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis was willing to take the chance on Burfict. He is now a starter and is second on the team in tackles including a team-high six for-loss.

willWill Sutton has already sent in his paperwork to an NFL advisory committee that helps players determine their value. According to ESPN analyst, Mel Kiper, Jr., there are a number of Defensive Tackles that are coming out in next year’s draft and it is the most stacked position of the draft with an amazing five going in the first round alone and three in the Top 10—Sutton ranks eighth on his list.

Kiper had this to say about Sutton:

I love the fact that he plays so hard. He’s got that leverage advantage, and he’s got that power, and he’s got the ability to go out and produce as he did when he was at full strength this year. The concern, obviously, is he doesn’t have great size in terms of being that 320-pound plugger. But at the end of day, right now, he’s the fourth-highest-rated junior defensive tackle behind some real good ones, all of whom are projected as first-round picks.

Sutton can take this either way; if he were to enter the draft, he would most likely go in the second or third round and could get some playing time, depending on where he went. Conversely, he could stay his senior season and be only the second repeat consensus All-American in Arizona State history, dominate the defensive landscape and win the Bednarik Award. This will surely guarantee a first-round pick in 2014, if not a Top 10 pick.

Given everything, I prefer the latter, plus heaven only knows where head coach Todd Graham can take the Sun Devils in his second year and with Sutton still in Maroon and Gold, the possibilities are endless.

Arizona State Basketball: 5 Keys to Sun Devils’ Red-Hot Start

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Rick Scuteri-USA Today Sports

The Sun Devils are 8-1 for the first time since James Harden left the building. They started the 2008-09 season 12-1 and finished the season 25-10 and were ranked all season long. They defeated Temple in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and lost to the No. 3 seeded Syracuse in the second round.

Prior to that, the Devils have only started better than 8-1 on three other occasions in the past 38 seasons. The 1974-75 team obtained an incredible 15-1 start en route to a 25-4 record and an Elite Eight appearance. This squad was coached by the legendary Ned Wulk and led by Lionel Hollins, the current Memphis Grizzlies head coach.

After facing DePaul on Wednesday night, the Sun Devils’ non-conference schedule has three games remaining against Dartmouth, at Texas Tech and Coppin State. Those teams have a combined record of 8-14. I firmly believe that the Sun Devils won’t have a problem in matching the 12-1 record set by Harden and company.

Their first conference game is against a struggling Utah team so it is ultimately possible that they could surpass the 12-1 record and have the second best start in school history. Their next game is against defending Pac-12 Champion, Colorado—when the season gets real.

Here are the five keys to why they have started so hot and how to maintain this level of play.

Jahii Carson

jahiiThe redshirt freshman phenom does it all for the Sun Devils.

Jahii Carson currently leads the team with 18.6 points per game and 5.3 assists per game. Those numbers are also good enough to rank him fourth in the conference in points and second in assists.

He has notched five 20-point games in nine tries including a 30-point effort versus a top-ranked Creighton team. Carson’s 18.6 points per game ranks him as the third-best freshman scorer in the nation and his 56 free-throws made are the best of any freshman.

He isn’t just the best freshman out there; this also ranks him ninth in the nation among all scorers.

In the past 40 years of Sun Devil basketball, only three players have had more 20-point games as a freshman than Carson, and the season isn’t even one-third completed.

His uptempo style of play is what has changed this team around, and coach Herb Sendek couldn’t be happier with the freshman, as many would be calling for Sendek’s job if this season would’ve followed past season’s misery.

Jordan Bachynski

Fresh off the first triple-double in Arizona State University history on Saturday, Jordan Bachynski is looking to add to his repertoire as he continues his climb deeper into the Sun Devils record books.

The feat by Bachynski marks the first triple-double by a Pac-10/12 team in five years when USC’s Daniel Hackett had the traditional triple with 22 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

His 12 blocks in the game propelled him to the top of the list for blocks in a game in Sun Devil history and second-most in Pac-10/12 history, tied with Stanford’s Brook Lopez.

The junior is seventh in career blocks in Sun Devil history with 111 total and still has nearly two years to get the 81 blocks needed to be the most prolific Sun Devil blocker of all time.

He currently leads the nation with 50 blocks and is second with 5.56 blocks per game. His 12 rebounds against Cal State Northridge propelled him to the most rebounds on the team with 70 total and 7.8 per game.

On the offensive side of the ball, he is a sharp-shooter that leads the team in field-goal percentage and places second in the conference with his .610 percentage.

Bachynski is a monster underneath whose offensive prowess is as deadly as his defense.

Carrick Felix

carrickCarrick Felix electrified the crowd at Wells Fargo Arena last Saturday with an amazing display of dunks to add to his highlight reel.

The fifth-year player who graduated last year has seen many low points in his career at Arizona State and has turned it around this year.

He is second on the team with 15.7 points per game, and his field-goal percentage of .604 is third in the conference.

Felix is tied with teammate Evan Gordon for most steals on the team with 18 total and averaging two per game, which ranks them fifth-best in the conference.

He also leads the team in total field-goals made and three-point percentage which rank fourth and seventh in the conference.

This turnaround can be attributed to Sendek playing an up-tempo game where Felix thrives. I could tell that he was thoroughly enjoying playing the game on Saturday after nailing three circus-style dunks in a two-minute span.

Evan Gordon

The junior transfer student from Liberty University has started all nine games for the Sun Devils this year, even though it seemed as though it might have been a mistake.

Gordon started off slow—incredibly slow—in the first six games.He came alive against Sacramento St. with a career high 29 points off of 8-of-16 shooting, including 5-of-9 from beyond the arc and 8-of-9 from the charity stripe.

From that game forward, Gordon has found his stride and cemented his starting role at shooting guard. He is a tough, gritty player who leads the team in steals with 18 total and two per game, good enough for fifth in the conference.

He is second on the team with most three-pointers made and also second in assists behind Jonathan Gilling and Jahii Carson respectively. He started the season a miserable 7-of-34 from three-point territory but is 12-of-24 in the past three games.

It is comforting to see that Gordon is fitting in and becoming an electrifying player like his brother, New Orleans Hornet Eric Gordon.

Jonathan Gilling

gillingI know it’s shocking to some that I have mentioned all five starters as the keys to the Sun Devils’ success, but it’s true.

Coach Herb Sendek has started the same five players for all nine games this year, and it doesn’t look to be changing anytime in the future. Sendek had 12 different starting squads last year, trying in vain to find a group that worked well together—this year, he has found it.

Jonathan Gilling, the “Great Dane” from Rungsted Kyst, Denmark is fitting in nicely in his sophomore season. The 6’7″ power forward is the glue that keeps everything together on the team.

He leads the team in three-pointers made and free-throw percentage while coming in second in rebounds and steals. His 21 shots from three-point territory is third-best in the conference and his 68 rebounds ties him for ninth-best.

Much like Bachynski, Gilling is a monster on the boards, but unlike Jordan, who hasn’t attempted a shot beyond the arc, Gilling is a master marksman.

Bonus Key: Bench Play

This is as much of a surprise to me as it is to everybody else. The bench play of senior Chris Colvin and true freshman Eric Jacobsen has been incredible.

colvinColvin is averaging just over 20 minutes of playing time with 6.9 points and 3.9 rebounds per game. Colvin was told before the season started that he was going to be coming off the bench in a sixth-man capacity and Colvin has embraced the role. When you have a former starter coming off the bench, that is when you know you have a good, solid rotation.

Eric Jacobsen was recruited locally and there were a lot of nay-sayers in the community. They all saw why Sendek recruited him when he came off the bench for a struggling Bachynski and scored a career-high 16 points against Hartford.

Jacobsen is averaging 12 minutes a game and makes sure that his shots count, hitting 14-of-22 from the field. He also averages 4.8 points per games and 2.9 assists per game.

Arizona Basketball: Will 2013 Recruit Rondae Jefferson Be an Immediate Star?

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Evan Habeeb/USA Today Sports

The Arizona Wildcats are still undefeated at 7-0 and are ranked No. 8 in the country. After beating the UTEP Miners earlier this season, the Wildcats officially signed Rondae Jefferson, the 6’7″ small forward from Chester, Pennsylvania.

The five-star recruit was ranked No. 17 on the ESPN 100 and also ranked first in the state and fourth in the country at his position. While these numbers are great, the question lingers: Can he make an immediate impact on such a talented team?

Arizona has been relatively untested early in the year and have even struggled early against lesser opponents in Charleston Southern and Southern Mississippi. They are starting two seniors in Solomon Hill and Mark Lyons, and their dynamic sixth man, Kevin Parrom, is also a senior.

But don’t cry for the Wildcats. They already have two transfer students redshirting and practicing with the team in 6’10” forward Matt Korcheck from Cochise College and 6’1″ guard T.J. McConnell from Duquesne. They also signed four-star recruit Elliott Pitts out of Dublin, California.

Jefferson will fill in nicely for the departing Hill and might even exceed the current production of the starting forward. Jefferson has a dynamic range and can also play shooting guard as well as small forward if coach Sean Miller opts to not have him play the power forward position.

Miller told Bruce Pascoe of the Arizona Daily Star that he was ecstatic about the new recruits in Jefferson, and Miller said that Jefferson is a physical player and a winner from one of the most competitive regions in the country, where he has led his team to 58-straight victories. He also said this to say of Jefferson in comparison to Hill:

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Christian Petersen/Getty Images

He’s a warrior. He’s similar to Solomon in that he can do a lot of things. He can handle the ball, he has a chance to be a great defensive player, he’s almost 6-7 and long, very unselfish, can pass and I think he is a player who is a great teammate. He can be at a lot of different spots. His versatility is the greatest thing that he has going for him.

One of the main reasons that Jefferson selected Arizona over his second-choice Florida and hometown Temple was that he was told that he would have a chance to start right away. With the departure of Hill and Parrom, this big man will obviously have to impress coach Miller and prove that he is the better option than this year’s top recruit, Grant Jerrett.

Jerrett was the jewel in Miller’s 2012 recruiting class crown as the No. 9 overall player and the No. 2 power forward in the country. He started the first two games and has since been relegated to coming in off the bench. Jerrett is now 12-of-33 from the field, including 5-of-13 from beyond the arc, averaging just over five points per game.

Is Jerrett’s story a tale of woe or more of a cautionary tale? While all the pieces were in place for Jerrett to make a big splash at 6’10”, he was replaced on the starting lineup by scrappy 6’8″ Brandon Ashley. Ashley leads the team in field-goal percentage, is second in rebounds and third in scoring.

The lineup next year could be the best in the country with junior and leading scorer Nick Johnson, sophomores Ashley, Jerrett and Kaleb Tarczewski. The only questions are who will get the start in the backcourt with Johnson and will Jefferson outshine Ashley or Jerrett?

I predict Jefferson will get the chance to start next year with Ashley while Jerrett will be a great swingman/sixth-man much in the same vein as Kevin Parrom.