Archive for: November 2013

NIT Season Tip-off Final: Arizona vs. Duke Complete Game Preview

Zona

The No. 4 Arizona Wildcats and No. 6 Duke Blue Devils, two of the country’s top college basketball programs, will meet in the NIT Season Tip-Off final on Friday, and both teams are fortunate to be there.

Both teams showed signs of weakness against lesser teams earlier in the tournament but also showed their mettle by overcoming said weaknesses by winning when all hope looked to be lost.

Date: Friday, Nov. 29

Time: 6:05 p.m. ET

Location: Madison Square Garden, New York, N.Y.

Television: ESPN

RadioArizona IMG Sports NetworkBlue Devil IMG Sports Network

 

The Wildcats (6-0, 0-0 Pac-12) opened up against Drexel on Wednesday night listless and uninspired. Trailing 27-8 in the first 13 minutes, they would go on to win 66-62 in a game that nobody thought would be as tight as it was.

”I think the story line for this game may be that Arizona was overlooking Drexel but that’s the furthest thing from the truth,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said, according to arizonawildcats.com. ”We watched every tape and invested a lot of time and it became apparent to me we were in for a handful.”

The Blue Devils (6-1, 0-0 ACC) have had a tougher road to the final scraping by a 1-4 Vermont team, 91-90, at Cameron Indoor before a 74-64 squeaker over Alabama (3-1) in Madison Square Garden.

Duke looked horrible at home against a far inferior opponent, giving up 90 points at home, which had the Cameron Crazies and the rest of Blue Devil Nation crying foul.

“Well, they were terrific and we were awful, and being terrific made us look worse,”said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski during a press conference. “As a unit that is all of us. This was an unacceptable performance, and we were lucky to win.

jabariThe 74-64 victory over Alabama was closer than the score shows. The Blue Devils held the Crimson Tide to only 22 first-half points but then allowed them to come roaring back with a 12-0 run to pull within six points to begin the second half.

Freshman phenom Jabari Parker stopped the bleeding with a layup and one at the 11:45 mark and put on a one-man show, scoring 10 of the next 12 Duke points. The Tide rolled again, pulling back within six with under three minutes remaining. They would close the game out on a 10-6 run, but their defensive lapses were glaring.

“Since Kansas, we haven’t been playing like a Duke team defensively,” said sophomore forward Rodney Hood, per The News & Observer. “It’s a program game, it’s about fighting for the program.”

Regardless of how they got there, Both teams are in, and the hype machine is in full effect. The matchup of freshman sensations Jabari Parker and Aaron Gordon is reaching a fever pitch on Twitter.

 

 

The front page of ESPN’s Men’s College Basketball page has their faces prominently displayed with the title “Everybody’s Looking at You.”

“Boy, college basketball fans are in for a Black Friday treat,” wrote ESPN.com’sKieran Darcy. “Two weeks after that fantastic Champions Classic doubleheader in Chicago, we get another top-10 clash—No. 4 Arizona versus No. 6 Duke, at Madison Square Garden, no less.”

The former No. 2-ranked Parker and No. 4-ranked Gordon are living up to the hype. Parker has begun his collegiate career scoring 20 or more points in each of his seven games this season. Parker is only the second player in Division I history to accomplish the feat along with a little-known player out of the University of Texas—Kevin Durant.

gordonAaron Gordon hasn’t been lights out in the scoring department but has shown more strength as an all-around player, averaging 12.5 points as well as 9.7 rebounds per game. He is also second on the team in blocks with nine.

This game isn’t only about the freshmen but also about the coaches and storied programs.

Arizona is 21-2 all-time in the NIT Season Tip-Off, including an 8-1 record at Madison Square Garden, while Duke has won 15 straight NIT Season Tip-Off games with their last loss coming 17 years ago to Indiana. Coach K and the Blue Devils are 23-7 in all games played at Madison Square Garden.

Arizona has won the tournament three times, second only to Duke’s four tournament titles. A battle for the ages is indeed in store for everybody, so enjoy this holiday treat as I assume this will be the last time we see Parker and Gordon match up in the regular season at the collegiate level.

3 Games That Will Define the Future of the Sun Devil Program

Go Devils

The Arizona State Sun Devils were once again invited to the college football “adult table,” and this time they didn’t embarrass themselves. I guess the third time really is the charm.

The Sun Devils’ two prior trips under the national spotlight ended up in losses to Stanford and Notre Dame, and it looked as if they might continue that trend late in the game in the Rose Bowl Saturday night.

No. 17 Arizona State (9-2, 7-1 Pac-12) traveled to Pasadena and defeated No. 17 UCLA (8-3, 5-3 Pac-12) 38-33 on the back of a strong offensive showing in the first half and a consistent defensive presence throughout the game.

What lies ahead for the Sun Devils is destiny.

With the upset of the Oregon Ducks at the hands of their rival Arizona Wildcats, the Sun Devils now have the rare opportunity to not only exact revenge on the team that handed them their lone conference loss, but also against a team that spoiled their perfect season in the Rose Bowl 17 years ago.

November 30: Arizona Wildcats

Christian Petersen-Getty Images

Christian Petersen-Getty Images

One cup to rule them all.

The Territorial Cup is certified as college football’s oldest trophy awarded to Tempe Normal School on November 30, 1899. Now 114 years later, to the day, the teams will meet once again for the honor of the Cup.

After the initial victory for the “Normals,” the University of Arizona would dominate the series in the early years. The teams played sporadically until 1946, when it became an annual match. Arizona leads the series 47-38-1 on the backs of a 20-2 start to the series. Arizona was so dominant in the early years, it won by shutout in 12 of the first 22 meetings.

Arizona State would improve and later make the rivalry one-sided on its behalf, winning nine straight and 16 of 19 from 1963-1981. The rivalry then shifted back to Arizona as the Sun Devils would go winless for nine straight seasons including the Cup’s only tie in 1987.

Over the past two decades, the series is dead even with each team winning 10 games apiece, but the real story is that the home team is 8-12 in those matchups and only 4-9 in this century.

The Arizona Wildcats (7-4, 4-4 Pac-12) are looking to play spoiler once again riding the momentum of the upset of No. 5 Oregon Ducks. If the Sun Devils defeat the Wildcats at home, they will host the Pac-12 Championship Game in Tempe where they haven’t lost a game since October 27—of last year.

Prediction: Arizona 31, Arizona State 42

December 7: Pac-12 Championship Game

Arizona State v Stanford

The No. 9 Stanford Cardinal (9-2, 7-2 Pac-12) have shown flashes of brilliance this year with two wins over top-10 ranked teams. They have also shown signs of weakness with two losses to unranked teams on the road.

The Cardinal embarrassed Arizona State in Week 4 of the regular season, taking a 29-0 halftime lead at “The Farm.” The Sun Devils would eventually wake up and score 21 points in the fourth quarter, but it would be too little, too late for Coach Graham’s Arizona State squad as they lost 42-28.

The lone blemish on Arizona State’s conference record stings, but that is an issue that will have to be addressed after the huge game against Arizona.

If the Sun Devils can prevail over Arizona, they will host their first ever Pac-12 Championship Game and welcome Stanford into their house, a daunting task for any team, but for a Stanford team that has lost two of their past three road games, it will be a near impossibility.

Prediction: Stanford 24, Arizona State 31

January 1: The Rose Bowl

The Granddaddy of Them All.

This is it, sports fans, what every Sun Devil football player dreams of. The ultimate goal, the pinnacle of perfection, the promised land.

NCAA Football: Colorado at UCLA

As of this writing, it is safe to say that No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Florida State will be facing in the National Championship Game, at the Rose Bowl on January 6. Barring any setbacks against the Michigan schools in the next two weeks, the Ohio State Buckeyes (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten) will return to Pasadena for their 15th Rose Bowl appearance.

The Sun Devils have considerably less experience in playing on New Year’s Day, sporting a 1-1 Rose Bowl record. That one loss is what is stuck in the craw of so many Sun Devil fans, players and coaches.

The 1996 Sun Devils (11-0) led by Jake Plummer and a defense anchored by Pat Tillman were the consensus No. 2 ranked team in the country and a victory in the Rose Bowl would secure the schools’ first National Championship due to No. 3 Florida defeating No. 1 Florida State in the Sugar Bowl. The only thing in their way was the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes (10-1).

The Sun Devils trailed 14-10 heading into the fourth quarter and stepped up big time by blocking a Buckeye field goal attempt in the final five minutes. Jake Plummer once again worked his late-game magic by scrambling 11 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.

The Buckeyes’ final drive of the game led by Joe Germaine will forever be tainted in Sun Devil faithful minds by the two pass interference calls that led to the fateful pass to David Boston with 19 seconds left in the game. The Buckeyes’ 20-17 victory would dash the hopes and dreams of everybody in the Sun Devil family and Arizona State would return to mediocrity.

Could this game happen? Can the Sun Devils finally even the score with the Buckeyes and lay the 17-year-old loss to rest? Although it won’t be for a national championship, a Rose Bowl victory over Ohio State will forever change the course of this football program, elevating the team into the elite of college football.

Early Takeaways from Sun Devils’ 2013-14 Season

Richie

The Arizona State Sun Devils (3-0) decimated their third straight opponent, the Idaho State Bengals (1-2), Friday night at Wells Fargo Arena in front of a raucous student section and the hilarious “Curtain of Distraction.”

After a sluggish start that had the teams knotted at 15 at the second media timeout with 11:22 remaining in the first half, freshman guard Chance Murray nailed a three-pointer and the Devils never looked back, taking a 16-point lead into the halftime intermission.

The Sun Devils hit the first four three-point baskets that they attempted but cooled off missing the next nine from beyond the arc. They would finish 12-of-29 on the night hitting 41 percent including a perfect 3-of-3 from super soph Jahii Carson.

After watching ASU’s games up close and personal, here are some takeaways for those that couldn’t make it to Tempe or Wells Fargo Arena.

Jahii Carson Drives This Souped-Up Offense

jahii isuThey are flying higher and moving faster than previous seasons when they failed to be selected to the NCAA tournament. After three games last season, they had a similar 3-0 record but only averaged 80 points a game and their average margin of victory was just over 16 points. This year they are averaging 91.3 points per game and their margin of victory is 33 points.

For the third time in as many games, Jahii Carson was the leading scorer. However, unlike the first two games, this time the honor was not shared with backcourt mate Jermaine Marshall. Carson missed out on the 20-point plateau yet again with 19 points on 6-of-11 shooting. He was equally impressive knocking down 4-of-5 from the charity stripe. He added two assists, two rebounds and a steal for good measure.

Carson now leads the team in scoring with 18.7 points and assists with five per game. Carson is also averaging 29 minutes per game after playing over 37 minutes per game last year. While his minutes are decreasing, his numbers are not.

Herb Sendek Is Mixing Up the Lineup

Head coach Herb Sendek started with the same starting five for the third straight game but allowed 13 players to get court time including senior Jarett Upchurch, who made his first appearance of the season. The biggest surprises coming off the bench are freshman guards Egor Koulechov and Chance Murray.

Murray is averaging 17.3 minutes per game netting seven points, four rebounds and just over two assists per game. Murray is solid from beyond the arc shooting 57 percent, better than his 50-percent shooting from two-point territory.

At 6’5″ and 205 pounds, Koulechov could also play at the small forward position. He is the same size as current starting forward Shaquielle McKissic and is right behind him in scoring with 19 total points to McKissic’s 20.

McKissic does hold a commanding lead over Koulechov in rebounds doubling his output, 18-9. If Koulechov continues his dominant play, he recorded five rebounds and four steals on Friday night, we could see him on the starting roster sooner rather than later.

JB ISUJordan Bachynski Is Increasing His Draft Stock

Senior center Jordan Bachynski has quietly stole the spotlight from the Oscar Robertson Trophy-nominated Carson with his consistent play.

Friday night against Idaho State was no different.

Bachynski became the all-time blocks leader in program history with 194 and has moved up to sixth place in the conference. He added 10 points and 10 boards to notch his third consecutive double-double after only reaching the feat five times in the three seasons prior.

Bachynski led the Pac-12 in blocks last season and finished at No. 5 in the nation averaging 3.5 per game. A Pac-12 All-Defensive Team selection, Bachynski also led the team in field-goal percentage last year and is back in the lead this season hitting 14-of-22 for 63.6 percent. His 11.7 rebounds per game also lead the team by a wide margin.

Jonathan Gilling Needs to Return to Form

Jonathan Gilling is a fan favorite but has evoked more moans than applause in this short season. He is averaging a mere seven points and four rebounds per game—a far cry from his 9.7 points and 6.1 rebounds per game last year.

Gilling has seen a decrease in shooting, averaging only five shot attempts per game, with the bulk of them coming from three-point territory. Gilling has hit 5-of-11 from the outer ring while being nearly perfect (3-of-4) from inside the arc.

Gilling has yet to record a steal when he averaged a steal per game last season. He needs to start hitting from long range with more consistency to regain his confidence. Then his defensive prowess will return and he will be back in the hearts and minds of the Sun Devil faithful in no time.

This Team Is Poised to Make a Deep Run

shaqThere are several new faces on Coach Sendek’s roster including two starters in senior guard Jermaine Marshall and senior forward Shaquielle McKissic. The influx of senior leadership combined with the two freshmen, Murray andKoulechov, perfectly complement the core of Carson, Bachynski and Gilling.

Sendek and the players are all well aware of the limited time they have together and will make the most of it leaving their blood, sweat and tears on the court as they strive toward a common goal—the NCAA tournament. Once there, it is an entirely new season where anything can and most of the time, does happen.

The Sun Devils have some tough nonconference road games including their next game at UNLV. Then they will be off to Fullerton, Calif. to face Creighton in the first round of the Wooden Legacy Tournament followed by a game against either College of Charleston or San Diego State. They finish off the nonconference road schedule with a trip to Chicago to face the DePaul Blue Demons who embarrassed the Sun Devils in Tempe last year.

Those games will test their mettle and improve their bonds of brotherhood and teamwork for the long two-month Pac-12 push into March where their dreams will be realized.

1 Prediction for Each Arizona Wildcats Starter

1 prediction

The Arizona Wildcats have put together one of the deepest lineups in program history. While many teams struggle and shuffle the starting roster looking for the perfect combination, head coach Sean Miller is fortunate to have a different problem—his 10-player rotation.

With a 16-man roster, Miller has had two different starting lineups in as many games. However, it is his 10-man rotation where the true logjam lies. With seven “starters” averaging 19 minutes or more per game, there are seven more averaging under 10 minutes per game.

The schedule is looking to get a little tougher, and playing time will be at a premium. Those who prove their worth will be rewarded with valuable court time.

Let’s take a closer look at the cream of the Wildcat roster and delve headlong into predictions, shall we?

Honorable Mention

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Gabe York are averaging more minutes per game than sophomore center Kaleb Tarczewski, so I’ll give them both an honorable mention because Coach Miller has shown them respect as well.

Gabe York

Year: Sophomore

Position: Guard

Height: 6’3″

Weight: 180

York started the first game of his career on Friday night and didn’t disappoint. In only 26 minutes of playing time, he finished second on the team in scoring with 12 points. He also added five rebounds and an assist to his stat line.

PredictionI said it last season, but it took a little longer than expected. York has moved ahead of Jordin Mayes in the rotation, and he will definitely get another start this season.

RHJ

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

Year: Freshman

Position: Forward

Height: 6’7″

Weight: 215

I was hot on Hollis-Jefferson coming into the season, but I have cooled to him in just two games. He has only snagged five rebounds so far and is barely over 50 percent from the charity stripe, hitting nine of 15. If Arizona has as many close games as they did last year, free throws will be crucial.

Prediction: Hollis-Jefferson will lead the team in steals. While his free-throw shooting is suspect, his dogged defense is not. Hollis-Jefferson had three steals against Long Beach State and will continue the trend.

Aaron Gordon

Year: Freshman

Position: Forward

Height: 6’9″

Weight: 225

Gordon is everything he was expected to be. In his first two games, he has notched back-to-back double-doubles with no sign of letting up. Gordon is currently tied with frontcourt mate Brandon Ashley for the team lead in points, averaging 13.5 per game. He also leads the team in rebounds and blocks, but is Shaq-esque from the free-throw line, hitting a paltry three of eight.

Prediction: Gordon will lead the team in scoring, rebounds and blocks before declaring for the NBA draft.

Brandon Ashley

NCAA Basketball: Long Beach State at ArizonaYear: Sophomore

Position: Forward

Height: 6’8″

Weight: 230

Ashley is learning a lot from Coach Miller. After overtaking fellow freshman frontcourt mate Grant Jerrett after only two games last season, Ashley was entrenched in some intense on-the-job training. He would, however, eventually lose his starting role to surging senior Kevin Parrom. With Jarrett and Parrom both gone (and neither on an NBA roster, by the way), Ashley will learn all he can from the Arizona coaching squad.

Prediction: Ashley will start every game this season and become the star of the team next season.

 

Kaleb Tarczewski

Year: Sophomore

Position: Center

Height: 7’0″

Weight: 235

“Zeus,” along with most of Tucson, was surprised by Sean Miller’s choice to start a “small” lineup on opening night. He did however, make the most of his 19 minutes, scoring 11 points on 3-of-5 shooting from the field and 5-of-6 from the line. When he started against Long Beach State, his shooting was similar, but he pulled down 10 rebounds compared to zero in the season opener. Was he showing distaste for his starting snub? One can only speculate.

Prediction: Tarczewski will not develop as a player as hoped and will lose out to the “small” or three-forward lineup on more than one occasion this season.

 

NCAA Basketball: Long Beach State at ArizonaT.J. McConnell

Year: Junior

Position: Guard

Height: 6’1″

Weight: 195

McConnell has inherited one of the most coveted point guard positions in the NCAA with a frontcourt chock-full of McDonald’s All-Americans. The “pass-first” transfer student from Duquesne practiced all season with starters Ashley, Tarczewski and guard Nick Johnson. The court general is averaging seven assists per game compared to only four points. Although he has the pass-first mentality, he needs to work on his free-throw shooting. He has yet to drain a freebie, going 0-of-5 so far this season.

Prediction: McConnell will lead the Pac-12 in assists and finish in the top 10 nationally.

 

Nick Johnson

Year: Junior

Position: Guard

Height: 6’3″

Weight: 200

Johnson is the heart and soul of this team, the only upperclassman who knows the ins and outs of Coach Miller’s offense and defense. Johnson led the team last year with 68 steals while finishing fourth in rebounds—at 6’3″. In this short season, he has been a perfect 4-of-4 from the charity stripe and places fourth on the team in scoring, averaging 12.5 points per game.

Prediction: Johnson will test the NBA waters but will return for his senior season, thus improving his draft stock.

Complete Season Preview for 2013-14 Arizona State Basketball

jahii frontArizona State men’s basketball opened the 2013-14 season Friday night in Tempe, the earliest start to a season in program history, with a bang.

The 96-61 victory over Maryland-Baltimore County was the fifth-most points scored under coach Herb Sendek, and the 35-point win was also the largest scoring margin in four years.

The Sun Devils welcomed several new faces, including two in the starting lineup in seniors Shaquielle McKissic and Jermaine Marshall.

Much has been said in the media about sophomore Jahii Carson playing his final season for the Sun Devils, so it is high time for him to shine early and often while the spotlight is brightest.

Here is the breakdown for the Sun Devils upcoming season, ready or not.

Key Newcomers

 

Big Ten Basketball Tournament - First Round -  Penn State v MichiganJermaine Marshall

Position: Guard

Height: 6’4″

Weight: 215

Year: Senior

The backcourt for Arizona State got a shot in the arm with the transfer of Penn State guard Jermaine Marshall. Coming from a big-time Big Ten program like Penn State and performing as well as he did against ranked teams proves that he is indeed a baller.

Marshall averaged 15.3 points game last year, sixth in the Big Ten, and would have been tied for fifth in the Pac-12 with Jordan Adams from UCLA and Spencer Dinwiddie from Colorado. His stat line from last year also includes shooting 75.9 percent from the free-throw line, 4.6 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. He has recorded nine 20-point games, and they have all came against ranked teams.

Marshall played 27 minutes in the season opener, scoring 19 points on 5-of-11 shooting from the field and 3-of-7 from beyond the arc. He also nailed all six free throws he attempted and led the team with four steals.

 

Shaquielle McKissic

Position: Forward

Height: 6’5″

Weight: 200

Year: Senior

The ultra-athletic McKissic will be filling some pretty big shoes at the wing position vacated by Carrick Felix, who is now a member of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers. McKissic is a junior college transfer from Edmonds Community College and has one year of eligibility remaining.

McKissic has had to endure several trials and tribulations in his young life, including losing his financial aid, seeing his best friend killed and living out of a friend’s car for a month. He eventually returned to the basketball court last season and played extremely well. It was through his tireless dedication and work ethic that he has earned the starting role for Sendek’s Sun Devils.

McKissic impressed everybody during the Maroon and Gold scrimmage with 33 points and several acrobatic dunks and long-range three-pointers. In 28 minutes against UMBC, he tallied 11 points, six rebounds and a couple of steals and assists.

Key Returners

jahii black

 

Jahii Carson

Position: Guard

Height: 5’10”

Weight: 180

Year: Sophomore

The spark plug in a small package returns this year with one goal—to lead the Sun Devils back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009. The Pac-12 Co-Freshman of the Year permanently etched his name into the Pac-12 Conference and Arizona State record books alongside former and current NBA stars James Harden, Jason Kidd and Gary Payton.

He notched three 30-point games, which all rank in the top five all-time scoring performances for Sun Devil freshmen. He also tallied 15 20-point games, including four against ranked teams. He led the team in points scored (18.5) and assists per game (5.1), while finishing second in free-throw percentage (.734) and third in total steals (41).

Carson set Sun Devil freshman records for total points (647), field goals attempted (488) and made (231). His 1,033 minutes played and 177 total assists are also freshman Sun Devil records. Look for Carson to leave his mark in several non-freshman categories in the Sun Devil and Pac-12 record books this year.

Friday night’s opener saw Carson score a team-tying 19 points along with five assists and a steal. The sophomore was named to the Oscar Robertson Trophy watch list by the United States Basketball Writers Association. Carson is one of only 15 players named to the list that is awarded to the College Basketball Player of the Year.

 

jordanJordan Bachynski

Position: Center

Height: 7’2″

Weight: 248

Year: Senior

One of only three returning seniors, along with three transfer students, with one year of eligibility remaining, Bachynski is the heart and soul of this team. He has grown and matured under the tutelage of Coach Sendek and is on pace for his best season yet.

That is saying a lot as his junior season was phenomenal, being selected to the Pac-12 All-Defensive Team. He led the team and the Conference in blocks and finished in the Top Five in the nation averaging 3.5 per game.

He also led the team in field-goal percentage hitting 134-of-230 for 58.3 percent, a number that placed him second in the conference. Bachynski averaged just under 10 points per game, while reeling in just under six boards per game.

In 27 minutes on Friday night, Bachynski added three blocks to move his career total to 184, only one shy of the No. 10 spot in the Pac-12 record books. He matched his career high in rebounds, pulling down 15 and notching his fifth career double-double adding 12 points.

Roster and Projected Rotation

2009 Arizona @ ASU Men's BasketballThe Sun Devils welcomed a slew of new players in the past year with over half of those in uniform who didn’t suit up for Sendek last season. With such an influx of new players, I have listed the roster below direct from the official website.

Projected Starters

  • Forward—Jonathan Gilling, junior
  • Forward—Shaquielle McKissic, senior
  • Center—Jordan Bachynski, senior
  • Guard—Jahii Carson, sophomore
  • Guard—Jermaine Marshall, senior

 

Key Reserves

  • Forward—Richie Edwards, graduate
  • Forward—Eric Jacobsen, sophomore
  • Guard—Chance Murray, freshman
  • Guard/Forward—Egor Koulechov, freshman

Others

  • Guard—Jarett Upchurch, senior
  • Forward—Dave Whitmore, senior
  • Forward—Bo Barnes, junior
  • Forward—Brandan Kearney, jumior
  • Guard—Calaen Robinson, sophomore
  • Forward—Sai Tummala, sophomore

Biggest X-Factors

gilling 3

 

Jonathan Gilling

The junior forward from Rungsted Kyst, Denmark, does it all for Sendek and the Sun Devils. Last season, he led the Sun Devils in three-point attempts, made and percentage. Those numbers were also tops in the Pac-12, and the 84 three-pointers made ranks fourth in program history.

Being a sharpshooter is not his only redeeming quality; at only 6’7″, Gilling finished second on the team in rebounds, averaging 6.2 per game. On Friday, he picked up where he left off last season, hitting two shots from beyond the arc and grabbing six boards.

 

Richie Edwards

The transfer student from Valparaiso sat out last season but practiced all year with the Sun Devils. The 6’7″, 220-pound forward will sub in nicely for Gilling and has the ability to be a big playmaker.

Edwards averaged 9.4 points per game in his final season at Valpo and hit double digits a dozen times, including two 20-point games. He will be a force under the boards pulling down rebounds, and his ability to create turnovers will be a huge plus for the Sun Devils.

Best and Worst Case Scenarios

sendek

 

This is it for the Sun Devils.

With four of the starting five leaving the program after this season, Herb Sendek’s seat couldn’t be any hotter. I believe that this team is also one of the better teams in program history that has seen the likes of James Harden, Eddie House, Ike Diogu and Jeff Pendergraph play here.

A difficult non-conference schedule, including Marquette, Creighton and UNLV, will set the tone for the Sun Devils heading into the new year and an always-difficult conference schedule.

The addition of Jermaine Marshall to the backcourt will be just the thing for Sendek and the Devils moving forward as he fills the role that Evan Gordon failed to do last season. If Friday night’s game is any indication, this team will be as high-octane as Coach Graham’s football squad.

Jahii Carson thrives on competition, be it from an opponent or backcourt mate. Both players finished the game with 19 points, while taking nearly the same number of shots.

Best-case scenario is returning to the NCAA Tournament with an at-large bid.

Worst-case scenario would be returning to the NIT once again. While there are worse fates than going to the NIT, I strongly doubt that they will play poorly enough to miss out on it.

2013-14 Prediction

 

Prediction: 23-10 (11-7), At-Large Bid, NCAA Tournament Second Round

The Sun Devils already have a win under their belt with the 96-61 shellacking of Maryland-Baltimore County, and they will continue that winning trend until they welcome No. 17 Marquette to Wells Fargo Arena.

Arizona State v UCLAThe Wooden Legacy Tournament in Southern California on Thanksgiving weekend could also give the Devils fits as they open up against Creighton who handed them their first loss last year, 87-73, in Las Vegas. Their next game would be against two perennial postseason contenders in College of Charleston and San Diego State. Needless to say, the Sun Devils will be thankful when the weekend is over.

They will play tough at home and will get some good wins over Colorado and UCLA but will drop heart-breakers to Arizona and Oregon. Going on the road is never easy, and it’s even tougher in the Pac-12. They will get big wins in tough places like Utah, Colorado and USC and earn a No. 4 seed going into the Pac-12 Tournament.

Tough play will get the Sun Devils into the semifinals and earn them a 10 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where they will win their first Tournament game in five years but ultimately lose in the second round.

Jahii Carson and crew will bid adieu to Coach Sendek and Arizona State, and the desert dwellers in Tempe will wonder where the next phenom will come from and how long it will take for him to be known. Will it be the Great Dane Jonathan Gilling, or will the new guys Chance Murray and Egor Koulechov step up?

I can’t say for certain, but one thing I do know is that this season, like this article, begins and ends with Jahii Carson.

Complete Season Preview for 2013-14 Wildcats Basketball

UA MBBArizona Basketball tips off Friday night against Cal Poly, and the Old Pueblo is breathless with anticipation to see what the 2013-14 season has to offer.

Coming into the season ranked No. 6 in the Associated Press poll and No. 5 in the USA Today basketball coaches poll, it’s safe to say that expectations in Tucson have reached a fever pitch.

Friday night’s 8:06 p.m. MT tipoff will officially usher in the Aaron Gordon era, but how long said era will last is unknown.

It was a decade ago when the ‘Cats came into the 2003-04 season with their highest-ever ranking in the AP poll at No. 4. The roster was stacked with future NBA stars in Andre Igodaula and Channing Frye with Hassan Adams, Salim Stoudamire and Mustafa Shakur pitching in. Head coach Lute Olson’s squad went on to a disappointing season at 20-10 and 11-7 in the Pac-10. They were the No. 9 seed in the NCAA Tournament and lost in the first round to Seton Hall.

The 2003-04 season is a cautionary tale of how irrelevant the preseason rankings can be and what Sean Miller and company will need to do to avoid the same fate of that squad.

Without further ado, here is the complete breakdown of what to expect in the coming season from the Wildcats’ 2013-14 men’s basketball team.

Key Newcomers

 

Head coach Sean Miller has a knack for this recruiting thing. The Wildcats welcomed their third consecutive top-10 recruiting class to campus, including two McDonald’s All-Americans.

With the addition of six incoming freshmen and four transfer students, one might find themselves looking at the program a lot more than usual. The one number that everybody will be looking for and watching will be No. 11.

Aaron Gordon

aaron gordon dunkThe 6’9″, 225-pound forward from San Jose, Calif. will be anchoring the front court with returning sophomores Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski. The accolades for Gordon have already started to roll in having been named to both the Oscar Robertson and Wayman Tisdale Award watch lists by the United States Basketball Writers Association (USBWA).

The Robertson Trophy is presented to the National Player of the Year, and the Tisdale Award is for the nation’s top freshman. Speaking of freshmen, Gordon is one of only four incoming freshmen on the 15-man Robertson watch list and the only Pac-12 freshman on the 10-man Tisdale watch list.

T.J. McConnell

Junior point guard T.J. McConnell enters the 2013-14 season with a heavy load to carry—court general for one of the best frontcourts in the country. Replacing Mark Lyons, McConnell will look to replicate Lyons’ 2012-13 campaign—without all the turnovers. In his first game for the Wildcats in an exhibition against Augustana, McConnell tallied 12 points, eight assists and zero turnovers.

mcconnellDue to NCAA transfer regulations, McConnell sat out last season but practiced with the Wildcats and learned the offensive scheme and how Coach Miller likes to run the game. The “pass-first” point guard averaged 4.9 assists per game in two seasons at Duquesne. He is a master thief, finishing in the top five nationally in steals in his first two seasons. McConnell was named to the watch list for the Bob Cousy Award for the nation’s top point guard awarded by the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

Prior to the Gordon announcement earlier this year, the Wildcat faithful were crazy about Hollis-Jefferson. The 6’7″, 215-pound forward from Chester, Penn. committed last year to Coach Miller and was looking to start right away.  A consensus top-25 recruit, Hollis-Jefferson will be the perfect candidate to fill the spot vacated by Kevin Parrom.

Hollis-Jefferson played in both the McDonald’s All-American Game and the Jordan Brand Classic earlier this year. He has been invited to play with USA Basketball for the past three seasons and holds both a gold and silver medal.

Key Returners

 

With only one returning senior, Sean Miller will rely heavily on his junior and sophomore classes. Senior Jordin Mayes saw playing time in every game last year, spelling Mark Lyons at the point guard position. Mayes averaged a paltry 2.8 points per games and carried the lowest field-goal and three-point percentages on the team. That is not the veteran leadership that Miller can rely on.

Nick Johnson

nickJThe 6’3″, 200-pound junior from Gilbert, Ariz. returns to Miller’s starting lineup with a familiar face on the bench—his older brother, Chris. The elder Johnson joined the team this year as a walk-on after playing for Grand Canyon University and Cal State San Bernardino. Both Johnson brothers have two years of eligibility remaining.

Johnson leads all major categories among active Arizona players and needs only 285 points to be the 48th in program history to reach the 1,000-point plateau. Johnson led all Wildcats last year with 68 steals and is currently in second place among active players in the conference with 94. He started all 35 games last year and finished second on the team in minutes played and third in points, averaging 11.5 per game.

Brandon Ashley

As part of the much-heralded big three recruits to play for Miller in 2012-13, Ashley was on a rollercoaster ride his freshman year. He started the season coming off the bench before replacing Grant Jerrett after two games. He then gave way to senior Kevin Parrom, who started the final 12 games.

With Jerrett and Parrom both gone, Ashley is the projected starter alongside phenom Aaron Gordon, but only time will tell if he holds on to the starting role or relinquishes it to incoming freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.

Ashley was a sharpshooter from the field, finishing No. 2 on the team in field-goal percentage and was a perfect 3-of-3 from beyond the arc.

Kaleb Tarczewski

The 7’0″, 235-pound center that goes by “Zeus” started every game (35) his freshman year, a feat that went into Arizona Wildcats history for most starts for a freshman. He led the Wildcats in field-goal percentage at 53.8 percent and rebounds with 6.1 per game.

Roster and Projected Rotation

 

With only seven returning players, four of them who received regular playing time, the roster looks quite different than last year. Aside from losing starters Mark Lyons, Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom, others left to pursue their basketball career elsewhere.

Here is the current roster:

kalebProjected Starters

  • Forward—Aaron Gordon – freshman
  • Forward—Brandon Ashley – sophomore
  • Center—Kaleb Tarczewski – sophomore
  • Guard—T.J. McConnell – junior
  • Guard—Nick Johnson – junior

Active Reserves

  • Forward—Rondae Hollis-Jefferson – freshman
  • Guard—Jordin Mayes – senior
  • Guard—Gabe York – sophomore
  • Forward—Matt Korcheck – junior
  • Forward—Elliott Pitts – freshman

Others

  • Forward—Chris Johnson – junior
  • Forward—Drew Mellon – junior
  • Guard—Jacob Hazzard – sophomore
  • Forward—Zach Peters – redshirt freshman
  • Forward—Eric Conklin – freshman
  • Guard—Trey Mason – freshman

Biggest X-Factors

 

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

RondaeKevin Parrom perfected the sixth man position for the Wildcats last year. So much so that he earned the starting spot for the final 12 games of the season. He averaged more minutes per game coming off the bench than starting center Kaleb Tarczewski and made the most of his playing time.

Sean Miller will look to freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to fill the role of sixth man, making all his minutes count. With three of the highest-ranked recruits in the nation over the past two years in Arizona’s frontcourt, Hollis-Jefferson will need to work that much harder to prove that he belongs in the same breath as Gordon, Tarczewski and Ashley.

Gabe York

The sophomore York saw limited time as a freshman with starting guards Mark Lyons and Nick Johnson both averaging over 30 minutes per game.

He scored 14 points in the exhibition game against Augustana on 6-of-9 shooting from the field. He averaged 2.4 points per game, seeing action in 15 games. Look for York to overtake the senior Jordin Mayes for playing time, especially if Mayes’ shooting is as bad as it was last season.

Best- and Worst-Case Scenarios

 

The day was March 31, 1997, a day that is etched in the minds and hearts of all Arizona Wildcats basketball fans.

The scrappy group of Mike Bibby, Jason Terry, Miles Simon, Michael Dickerson and Josh Pastner finished the regular season with a pedestrian 11-7 conference record yet still managed a NCAA No. 4 seed.

luteThe 1997 Wildcats defeated three No. 1 seeds (Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky) en route to their first National Championship.

It has been a long 16-year stretch since that fateful day, with only one return to the Championship Game in 2001—a 10-point loss to Duke.

Will this be the year when they win it all for Sean Miller?

The nonconference schedule is ranked by ESPN.com as the seventh-toughest schedule with games on the road against Michigan and San Diego State. Conference foes UCLA, Oregon and Colorado also look to trip up the ‘Cats.

With the Big Three up front, McConnell and Johnson in the backcourt and Hollis-Jefferson and others coming off the bench, this team has the talent to win it all for Coach Miller.

However, there is such a thing as too much talent—too many chiefs and not enough indians. With such big personalities, there is the possibility that the team won’t gel as a unit. In the worst-case scenario, their egos will be too big for their gym shorts, and they will suffer another embarrassing first-round loss reminiscent of the 1993 NCAA Tournament when they lost to 15-seed Santa Clara.

2013-14 Prediction

 

Prediction: 27-4 (15-3), At-Large Bid, NCAA Tournament Sweet 16

Arizona v BelmontThe Wildcats will have another stellar regular season but will fail to close in on the brass ring, losing in the Sweet 16 for the fourth time since winning it all in 1997.

They will open the season on a tear, winning the first 10 games before falling to Michigan in Ann Arbor. The McKale Center crowd will be very pleased as the ‘Cats will be a perfect 18-0 at home.

I see them losing a few heart-breakers along the way on the road to UCLA, Oregon and Colorado while making quick work of in-state rival Arizona State and the rest of the conference.

They will be awarded with a No. 2 seed and will have little trouble advancing out of the first two rounds to the Sweet 16. Unfortunately, that will be the final game of the Aaron Gordon era, and Hollis-Jefferson will have no problem filling the void in the future.

Once again, the people of Tucson will be left wanting more and wondering what it will take to return to NCAA elite.