College Basketball Nation: Arizona State Sun Devils

Courtstorm Central: ASU joins the party

February, 7, 2015
Feb 7
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There is no East Coast bias at Courtstorm Central. This afternoon, we shared with you what storming the court looked like from the students' perspective at Oklahoma State and St. Bonaventure.

A few hours later, a previously struggling Arizona State team stunned archrival and sixth-ranked Arizona 81-78, and the ASU students -- who know a thing or two about partying -- rushed the Wells Fargo Arena court. Here's a snapshot of the revelry, including videos from the students who did the storming. First, from those who stayed in the stands...


#ASU

A video posted by Arizonas Finest Mixtapes (@arizonasfinestmixtapes) on

Go Devils #ASU #upsetalert

A photo posted by Sam (@samg00d) on


And now a few of the chaos from the court itself...

#ASU #win #beatuofa #goDevils great win

A video posted by Zachary Rutkin (@zach_rutkin) on



ASU ALL DAY BABY!!!!!!!!

A video posted by Paul Petrel (@paulyyy_p) on

Just beat U of A and rushed the court! #Top5Upset #UpsetCity #Forkem

A video posted by Kendall Andrews (@kenveggies) on


Even the school's quarterback was right in the middle of the mayhem. Television cameras caught Mike Bercovici mobbing an ASU player right after the buzzer sounded and he stuck around to take selfie after selfie with Sun Devil students. First photo via @bmoffatphotos.
In recent years, college students have made an art out of free-throw distraction -- with celebrity Fatheads and spinning pinwheels and occasionally large men taking off their shirts.

But we might have our new favorite, thanks to Arizona State's "942 Crew" at Wells Fargo Arena. The creative types in that student section have invented a "Curtain of Distraction" to help mess with opposing free-throw shooters. Some of the crew's best antics from last season can be found here.

And here's a collection of crazy from Saturday's matchup against Colorado and a few other recent games.

And don't think Arizona State coach Herb Sendek hasn't noticed. (How he could not?) After Saturday's win over the Buffaloes, during which CU shot just 59 percent from the line (10-of-17), Sendek showered praise upon the eccentric student distractions.

3-point shot: Return pays off for Napier

June, 27, 2014
6/27/14
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In today's 3-point shot, Andy Katz reports on how returning to school for another year could have boosted the draft stock of Jahii Carson and James Michael McAdoo the way it did for Shabazz Napier, who was taken in the first round of the 2014 NBA draft.

Video: Rivalry Week -- Arizona vs. ASU

February, 14, 2014
2/14/14
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Andy Katz and Seth Greenberg preview Friday's rivalry game between No. 2 Arizona and Arizona State.

Brennan's Wooden Watch: Week 3

December, 5, 2013
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The third week of Wooden Watch (or as I like to call it, "Wooden Watch 3: The Watchening") brings with it more tumult than its preceding editions.

From sheer math alone, this makes sense. The Thanksgiving schedule pushed last week's Watch up to Tuesday, which has given us a nine-day stretch of uninterrupted basketball on which to base our way-too-early national player of the year prospectus. But pound-for-pound, those nine days were, I'd argue, every bit as good and every bit as tumultuous as any stretch that came before. Word to North Carolina.

The losses suffered by top teams -- and players on the POY contention short list -- do shake things up a bit, but it's important not to go too far. One loss does not a Wooden campaign ruin. (You're thinking of the Heisman.) We've been couching these early rankings with all sorts of disclaimers about just how early in the season it is, and that remains true -- even as we barrel headfirst into December. Let's see where we are, shall we?

Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State: After a brilliant start, Smart's first regression of the season came in Kissimmee, Fla., at the Old Spice Classic last weekend. Smart had 17 points and eight rebounds in a shaky 69-67 semifinal win over Butler, but the five turnovers he committed on Friday foreshadowed the five he would commit Sunday. That game, against Memphis, saw Smart stifled by a suddenly coherent Tigers perimeter scheme, and while Smart finished with 12 points and eight rebounds, he missed all five of his 3-point attempts. And yet, he retains his spot atop this list. Why? For one, Smart was clearly sick. I'm not offering excuses (nor taking credit away from Memphis, because the Tigers were great), but I am acknowledging realities. Second, well, it's one game. It's fine. Dude's really good. Moving on.

Russ Smith, Louisville: The North Carolina loss might have thrown people off Louisville's scent, but now that Michigan State is the latest to get a front-row seat to the Tar Heels' ongoing Jekyll and Hyde performance piece, let's go ahead and remind everyone that Louisville is playing top-10 offense and top-three defense, and that Smith, while maintaining his high usage and shot rates, has thus far pumped his assist rate to 37.5 percent (from 21.1 a year ago), shot 58.2 percent from 2-point range and kept his steals rate (4.1 percent) totally steady.

Doug McDermott, Creighton: I'm not willing to get too worked up about McDermott's one loss, either. Yes, I know Creighton fell to San Diego State and George Washington this week, but only one of those losses should be an indictment. Against San Diego State, Creighton was, well, Creighton: McDermott scored 30 points and shot 6-of-10 from 2 and 5-of-8 from 3, and the Bluejays' porous defense cost them the game anyway. Three years on, that's what you sign up for with the Bluejays -- same as it ever was. George Washington was a different story: McDermott was stifled by the Colonials in wholly unexpected fashion (seven points, 2-of-12 from the field, a tidy 54.0 offensive rating -- yikes). But, well, it's one game. It's fine. Dude's really good. Moving on.

Jabari Parker, Duke: I downgraded Parker's status last week because of Duke's putrid defense, but now that the Blue Devils have submitted two slightly better defensive performances -- one in a 72-66 loss to Arizona on Friday, the other in a 79-69 win (in 67 possessions) against Michigan on Tuesday -- it's time to elevate Parker once more. The ironic part? These last two games have been his worst offensively, the first two in which he failed to score at least 20 points (and less efficiently, too). But Parker is gobbling up defensive rebounds for a team that desperately needs him to be a stud on both ends of the floor, and he'll get his points, rest assured.

Julius Randle, Kentucky: Randle hasn't been quite as efficient as he was at the start of the season, but he is still plugging along, dominating unsuspecting helpless interior defenses and gobbling double-doubles like some sort of mystical Norse basketball god. UK's 79-65 win over Providence on Sunday was Randle's first game of the season -- eight games in -- without a double-double. He had 12 points and eight boards. Even Thor must rest sometimes.

Shabazz Napier, Connecticut: The nice thing about Napier's player of the year candidacy is that it need not rest on a fuzzy term like "clutch" alone. Napier has been ruthless late in games, to be sure: His late winner against Florida on Monday required plenty of luck, but you knew he was going to ice that second chance as soon as the ball bounced to him. But you can also build Napier's case on the breadth of his point guard play, which has been as comprehensive as any guard's to date.

Casey Prather, Florida: In March, Billy Donovan may look back at the Gators' injury-riddled November and thank his lucky stars, for that was the month that Prather turned into a star. Prather makes his first appearance here this week, but it probably should have come sooner. In eight games to date, he's registered a 121.5 offensive rating while using 30.1 percent of his team's possessions; he's shot nearly 64 percent from the field; and he's rebounded 10.6 percent of Florida's available misses. Watching Prather, a three-year glue guy, slice defenses with Euro-steps and quick-twitch offensive rebounds has been an alternately confusing and thrilling process. Either way, he doesn't look like he's slowing down.

Nick Johnson, Arizona: Aaron Gordon gets all the attention, and he'll surely be on this list more than any Wildcat this season. But Arizona feels as much like an ensemble cast as any elite team in the country, and Nick Johnson is perhaps their most indispensable player -- the lone true shoot, drive or pull-up, all-court-style threat who makes Arizona more than a collection of impressive bigs.

Keith Appling, Michigan State: Appling can stay, despite Wednesday night's home loss to UNC, because, well, again: It's one game. Before Wednesday, Appling had been peerless, and he wasn't that bad Wednesday night, either. The current line is 57.1 percent from 2, 48.3 percent from 3, a 28.4 assist rate to just 13.0 turnover percentage, and more generally, an engaged, comfortable and balanced player on both ends of the floor.

Jahii Carson, Arizona State: Carson had his first comedown of the season at Miami on Sunday, when he somehow went 0-for-10 from inside the arc. That, plus Arizona State's sub-Duke defense, is reason for slight downgrade this week. (If this were a list of the most entertaining players, Carson would probably be No. 1 every week. He's fun to watch miss.)

Honorable mentions: Marcus Paige (UNC), Tyler Ennis (Syracuse), C.J. Fair (Syracuse), Gary Harris (Michigan State), Joseph Young (Oregon), Anthony Drmic (Boise State), Chaz Williams (UMass), Melvin Ejim (Iowa State), Tim Frazier (Penn State), Jordan Adams (UCLA), Roberto Nelson (Oregon State), Kendall Williams (New Mexico), Caris LeVert (Michigan), Cleanthony Early (Wichita State), LaQuinton Ross (Ohio State), T.J. Warren (NC State)

3-point shot: Changes help Boise State

November, 27, 2013
11/27/13
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Andy Katz discusses how the recent changes have helped Boise State and Arizona State, along with FIU losing a key player.

Brennan's Wooden Watch: Week 2

November, 26, 2013
11/26/13
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Happy holidays, and happy early Wooden Watch. This Tuesday edition of what will for the rest of the season be a Thursday update is brought to you by pumpkin pie, stuffing and the rest of our quirky turkey traditions. You'll be eating and watching football Thursday. So will I, if the weather cooperates. So let's check in on the running Wooden list a couple of days early.

What's changed in five days? Honestly ... not a whole lot. That goes for last week's disclaimer, too: Since we're just now rounding the corner into December, the order of the list below is not really of primary concern. This is a window to the landscape, not a definitive hierarchy, for at least the next few weeks. And with that said:

Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State: If the season ended today, Marcus Smart would be my 2013-14 national player of the year. You likely saw what he did to Memphis last week; you've no doubt heard the ever-more-impressive stories about his leadership and work ethic. But my favorite Smart moment may have come Monday night at South Florida, when he and the Cowboys utterly eviscerated the Bulls with a gusto typically reserved for games against Kansas. Smart scored 25 points with four assists and four steals. He finished inverse post alley-oops, set up Cowboys wings for thundering finishes and even splashed down a 65-foot-or-so buzzer-beater at halftime. It looked like someone in the South Florida crowd had said something to Smart along the way: He was unusually talkative, and even threw up a "shush" sign. And, well, a word to wise fans on the Cowboys' road schedule: Don't do that.

Doug McDermott, Creighton: Another week, another chapter in my book, "Doug McDermott is hilariously efficient," available at all reputable bookstores (note: not really). McDermott has posted a 124.1 offensive rating on 31.9 percent usage and a 37.9 shot rate, the second highest in the country. He's hitting 50 percent from 3, drawing fouls at the usual rate and rebounding the defensive glass as steadily as ever. (Oh, and last week's catch-shoot winner at St. Joe's, which I criminally failed to mention Thursday, is worth watching over and over and over.)

[+] EnlargeJabari Parker
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastJabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins are two of four freshmen to make our Wooden Watch top 10 this week.
Andrew Wiggins, Kansas: After the Nov. 19 86-66 win over Iona, one Iona player -- who will remain nameless here, because am I not merciful? -- called Wiggins overrated. Bold words after a 20-point loss, and also incorrect: Wiggins may not be a pure scorer, but he is good at everything and great at more things than not.

Julius Randle, Kentucky: Randle had his first "off" night against Cleveland State on Monday night, but he still finished with 15 points and 15 rebounds, and his passing out of the block was key to the last-ditch 3-point flurry that helped the Wildcats escape with a win. Good teams will double and triple Randle until UK proves it can knock down 3s consistently, but even if that never happens, he is as dominant a force as any in the game.

Jahii Carson, Arizona State: Save Marcus Smart, no guard has had a better start to the season than Carson, who followed up last week's 40-point effort in a win at UNLV with Monday's 23-point, five-assist performance in ASU's thrilling win against Marquette. There might be two or three defenders in the country capable of keeping Carson out of the lane. If that.

Jabari Parker, Duke: The order of this list isn't a big deal right now, remember, but I went ahead and downgraded Parker a bit this week anyway. But why? Isn't he still pouring in points? Yes. And thrillingly so. But Parker and Rodney Hood's issues on the defensive end for Duke have contributed to the Blue Devils' No. 176-ranked efficiency defense, and Duke gave up 90 points in 65 possessions to Vermont at home Sunday.

Russ Smith, Louisville: Louisville took a tough and totally surprising loss to North Carolina on Sunday afternoon; the Tar Heels, especially guard Marcus Paige, looked better than anyone could have expected. But it's hardly time to panic on Smith. He was great individually Sunday, and he'll be great in the weeks to come, too.

Keith Appling, Michigan State: Gary Harris' spot last week is now occupied by Appling, and that says far more about Appling's performance than it does Harris'. The Michigan State point guard has done everything right as a senior thus far: He's shooting far less, and more accurately (57.1 percent from 3, 55.3 percent from 2); he's assisting teammates on nearly 30 percent of his possessions; and he isn't turning it over -- or suffering the long, disengaged stretches of a season ago. What a start.

Aaron Gordon, Arizona: Arizona's team is so balanced, and playing so much more unselfishly on the perimeter with the addition of T.J. McConnell, that it's tempting to give some love to one of the other Wildcats -- McConnell himself, perhaps, or peerless senior shooting guard Nick Johnson. But Gordon remains the focal point on offense, and his athleticism is just flabbergasting.

Shabazz Napier, Connecticut: Early in his fourth season at UConn, Napier officially has every tool in the tool box. Tom Crean talked about this at length after Indiana's close loss to UConn in New York last weekend, and it's totally true: Napier is lights-out on the perimeter whether catching and shooting or off the dribble; he puts defenders in blenders with his ball-handling and versatility; and he keeps the ball moving and his teammates involved. Oh, and he's a blast to watch. A+++ -- would DVR again.

Early honorable mentions: C.J. Fair (Syracuse), Gary Harris (Michigan State), Joseph Young (Oregon), Adreian Payne (Michigan State), Anthony Drmic (Boise State), Chaz Williams (UMass), Yogi Ferrell, (Indiana), Melvin Ejim (Iowa State), Tim Frazier (Penn State), Jordan Adams (UCLA), Roberto Nelson (Oregon State), Kendall Williams (New Mexico), Caris LeVert (Michigan), Cleanthony Early (Wichita State), Marcus Paige (North Carolina) and Casey Prather (Florida)

Nonconference schedule analysis: Pac-12

September, 11, 2013
9/11/13
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This week, ESPN.com has been breaking down the nonconference schedules of each team in nine of the nation's top leagues. Next up: the Pac-12.

ARIZONA

Toughest: at San Diego State (Nov. 14), NIT Season Tip-Off (Nov. 27-29 in New York), at Michigan (Dec. 14)
Next toughest: UNLV (Dec. 7)
The rest: Cal Poly (Nov. 8), Long Beach State (Nov. 11), New Mexico State (Dec. 11), Southern (Dec. 19), Northern Arizona (Dec. 23)

Toughness scale: 9 -- The Wildcats will go to one of the toughest spots in the Big Ten and in the Mountain West within a month of each other. The NIT Season Tip-Off is on the top line because it seems Arizona and Duke have a pretty clear path to the NIT final at MSG. If that occurs, then the Cats would have three premier games away from home. Playing UNLV and NMSU in Tucson will hardly be a cakewalk, either. This team can handle the chore, though, since it's got top-10 talent.

ARIZONA STATE

Toughest: at UNLV (Nov. 19), Marquette (Nov. 25), Wooden Legacy (Nov. 28-Dec. 1 in Fullerton and Anaheim, Calif.)
Next toughest: at DePaul (Dec. 5)
The rest: UMBC (Nov. 8), Miami-Ohio (Nov. 12), Idaho State (Nov. 15), Bradley (Nov. 22), Grambling (Dec. 14), Texas Tech (Dec. 21), UC Irvine (Dec. 28).

Toughness scale: 7 -- The Sun Devils play a number of teams that might not move the meter but are all high-level NCAA-bound squads. Marquette will be as tough a team to face as any on the slate and going to UNLV will be one of the hardest road stops. Opening with Creighton in the Wooden Legacy should be one of the top first-round games of any tournament (and with a win, San Diego State likely awaits). The road game at DePaul has to be taken seriously after the Blue Demons stunned the Sun Devils last season in Tempe. This is a quality schedule for a team that has NCAA expectations.

CALIFORNIA

Toughest: Maui Invitational (Nov. 25-27), at Creighton (Dec. 22)
Next toughest: at UC Santa Barbara (Dec. 6)
The rest: Coppin State (Nov. 8), Denver (Nov. 12), Oakland (Nov. 15), Southern Utah (Nov. 18), UC Irvine (Dec. 2), Nevada (Dec. 10), Fresno State (Dec. 14), Furman (Dec. 28)

Toughness scale: 5 -- The game at Creighton is by far the toughest for the Bears. The question is who does Cal eventually get in Maui? If the Bears get past Arkansas, Syracuse is next and the schedule toughness goes up. If the draw is Minnesota, then it’s not as bad. Playing Baylor or Gonzaga on Day 3 would also help the schedule strength. This is a Bears' team that will get ripe with age in the season, so not overloading it early was the smart move.

COLORADO

Toughest: vs. Baylor (Nov. 8 in Dallas), Harvard (Nov. 24), Kansas (Dec. 7), vs. Oklahoma State (Dec. 21 in Las Vegas)
Next toughest: Wyoming (Nov. 13), at Air Force (Nov. 30), at Colorado State (Dec. 3), Georgia (Dec. 28)
The rest: UT Martin (Nov. 10), Jackson State (Nov. 16), Arkansas State (Nov. 18), UCSB (Nov. 21), Elon (Dec. 13)

Toughness scale: 9 -- The Buffaloes get major props for going out and scheduling one of the most difficult slates of any potential NCAA team. The toughest category above has four teams that should take turns in the top 25 and in the case of KU and OSU in the top five. Going to CSU is as tough a rivalry game as anyone will play. There are two more quality rivalry games at Air Force and against Wyoming and an improving Georgia coming west. Colorado might be more ready than any other Pac-12 team for conference play.

OREGON

Toughest: vs. Georgetown (Nov. 8 in South Korea), at Ole Miss (Dec. 8), vs. Illinois (Dec. 14 in Portland)
Next toughest: BYU (Dec. 21)
The rest: Arkansas-Pine Bluff (Nov. 13), Utah Valley (Nov. 19), San Francisco (Nov. 24), Pacific (Nov. 29), North Dakota (Nov. 30), Cal Poly (Dec. 1), Morgan State (Dec. 29).

Toughness scale: 7 -- The Ducks will test themselves with the trip to Camp Humphreys in Seoul and Georgetown is a tough team to play no matter the location. But this will be a hard game to deal with, based on the location and logistics. The Rebels will likely be at full strength when the Ducks come calling in December. Illinois is rebuilding a bit but is always a tough out, even in a Duck-leaning site in Portland. BYU is a sleeper game on this schedule with the Cougars owning a legitimate shot to pull off the upset.

OREGON STATE

Toughest: at Maryland (Nov. 17), Diamond Head Classic (Dec. 22-25)
Next toughest: at DePaul (Dec. 1), Towson (Dec. 18)
The rest: Coppin State (Nov. 10), Portland (Nov. 13), SIU Edwardsville (Nov. 26), Arkansas-Pine Bluff (Dec. 7), Maryland Eastern Shore (Dec. 15), Quinnipiac (Dec. 29)

Toughness scale: 4 -- The Beavers are still dealing with the suspensions of Eric Moreland and Devon Collier. So a schedule that is too tough wouldn't have made sense for them. Going on the road to Maryland early in the season could be a wake-up call. A road game at DePaul is hardly going to be easy for the Beavers. The Diamond Head Classic could be intriguing if the Beavers beat Akron and get Iowa State on Day 2.

STANFORD

Toughest: at UConn (Dec. 18), vs. Michigan (Dec. 21 in Brooklyn, N.Y.)
Next toughest: BYU (Nov. 11), Legends Classic (Nov. 25-26 in New York)
The rest: Bucknell (Nov. 8), Northwestern (Nov. 14), at Denver (Nov. 17), Texas Southern (Nov. 21), South Dakota State (Dec. 1), UC Davis (Dec. 14), Cal Poly (Dec. 29)

Toughness scale: 6 -- The Cardinal get plenty of credit for going east -- twice. Stanford will be ready for the road in the Pac-12 after November and December. The UConn-Michigan swing in the tri-state area is as tough a nonconference road trip as any team has from the West Coast. Washington tried this two years ago with Marquette and Duke in New York City and went home winless. The Legends Classic could turn out to be Stanford's event if the Cardinal can get by Houston and then an anticipated matchup with Pitt. BYU in the opener will wake up this team, too.

UCLA

Toughest: at Missouri (Dec. 7), vs. Duke (Dec. 19 in New York)
Next toughest: vs. Northwestern (Nov. 29 in Las Vegas), Alabama (Dec. 28)
The rest: Drexel (Nov. 8), Oakland (Nov. 12), Sacramento State (Nov. 18), Morehead State (Nov. 22), Chattanooga (Nov. 24), vs. Nevada (Nov. 28 in Las Vegas), UCSB (Dec. 3), Prairie View A&M (Dec. 14), Weber State (Dec. 22)

Toughness scale: 6 -- The Bruins didn't hide from playing Duke in New York City, a virtual home game for the Blue Devils. The return game at Mizzou will be as rocking a road game for UCLA as it will have during the season. The rest of the slate is more than manageable. There is always room to stumble and the Bruins have at home recently. So let's see if Steve Alford wins the games he's supposed to at Pauley.

USC

Toughest: at Utah State (Nov. 8), Battle 4 Atlantis (Nov. 28-30 in the Bahamas)
Next toughest: Boston College (Dec. 8), at Long Beach State (Dec. 19), at Dayton (Dec. 22)
The rest: Cal State Northridge (Nov. 12), Northern Arizona (Nov. 15), Cal State Fullerton (Nov. 19), West Alabama (Nov. 21), CSU Bakersfield (Dec. 15), Howard (Dec. 29)

Toughness scale: 7 -- The Trojans are going to places few Pac-12 schools would choose to go. No teams from power conferences, outside of Mississippi State this season, go to Utah State. The trip to Logan to open the season will be a bear for new coach Andy Enfield. The Atlantis tournament might not be kind to the Trojans, either, with a possible second-round game against Kansas (after opening with Villanova). BC is much improved and will test USC at home. The road games to Long Beach State and Dayton are two other stops not normally found on a high-major nonconference road schedule.

UTAH

Toughest: at Boise State (Dec. 3), BYU (Dec. 14)
Next toughest: Fresno State (Dec. 7)
The rest: Evergreen State (Nov. 8), UC Davis (Nov. 15), Grand Canyon (Nov. 21), Lamar (Nov. 22), Savannah State (Nov. 23), Ball State (Nov. 27), Idaho State (Dec. 10), Texas State (Dec. 19), St. Katherine (Dec. 28)

Toughness scale: 3 -- The Utes play one true road game in the nonconference. Boise State should be the second pick in the Mountain West, so that will be a tough one. The BYU rivalry game is at home this season, a plus for the Utes. But the rest of the schedule is weak. That's OK, considering Utah is trying to rebuild under Larry Krystkowiak. But they can't expect much of a postseason chance off this schedule.

WASHINGTON

Toughest: 2K Sports Classic (Nov. 21-22 in New York), at San Diego State (Dec. 8), UConn (Dec. 22)
Next toughest: N/A
The rest: Seattle (Nov. 10), UC Irvine (Nov. 14), Eastern Washington (Nov. 17), Montana (Nov. 26), Long Beach State (Nov. 30), Idaho State (Dec. 14), at Tulane (Dec. 17), Mississippi Valley (Dec. 27), Hartford (Dec. 29)

Toughness scale: 6 -- Washington has some renewed energy and is a team that should be on the radar as a possible NCAA tourney squad. That means the games against the Aztecs, home against UConn and then in New York against Indiana and either BC or UConn will carry significant weight as to how UW is judged as tourney worthy or not in March. I like this schedule as a legitimate prep for the Pac-12 to gauge where the Huskies will be later in the season.

WASHINGTON STATE

Toughest: at Gonzaga (Nov. 21), Old Spice Classic (Nov. 28-Dec. 1 in Orlando)
Next toughest: TCU (Nov. 24), UTEP (Dec. 21)
The rest: CSU Bakersfield (Nov. 8), Lamar (Nov. 16), Pepperdine (Dec. 15), at Idaho (Dec. 7), vs. San Francisco State (Dec. 18 in Kennewick, Wash.), Mississippi Valley State (Dec. 28)

Toughness scale: 4 -- The Cougars play two of their rivalry games on the road at the Zags and in Moscow, Idaho. The Old Spice Classic could be a breakthrough for Wazzu with a rebuilding Butler team in the first round. Get that win and it's a likely shot at Oklahoma State in Round 2. The TCU home game could be a sneaky spot on the schedule, wedged in between Gonzaga and the Orlando trip.

3-point shot: Summer school for hoops

August, 29, 2013
8/29/13
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Following up on more August trips, here is what three teams learned.

1. Arizona State: The Sun Devils went to China and according to the staff had a tremendous cultural bonding experience. The post-trip buzz was about how well the three freshmen played, according to associate head coach Eric Musselman. That means ASU expects to get production out of wing Egor Koulechov, Chance Murray and Calaen Robinson, who is listed as a sophomore but didn't play last season. The Sun Devils were in search of a backup point guard on the trip and likely found two in Murray and Robinson. ASU desperately needs more options and depth to be an NCAA tournament team. The Sun Devils figured out they've got to incorporate more touches for JC transfer Shaquielle McKissic and Penn State transfer Jermaine Marshall. They will be led by point guard Jahii Carson (with an assist from forward Jordan Bachynski), but Carson can’t do it alone. Musselman said the staff was impressed by the young core, but "Carson has stepped up his game both on and off the court skill-wise and with leadership.''

2. Wisconsin: Coach Bo Ryan said he realized "Canadian basketball is much better than people realized, better than it's been.'' He said the Badgers learned how to play with more tempo and movement. The freshmen picked up the drills and the style in which the Badgers will play. He said the management of Josh Gasser's minutes was critical, since the point guard who sat out last season with a torn ACL must be ready to go for the start of the season. Gasser will share the position with Traevon Jackson. "Josh is still tentative and that's to be understood. He's not quite there yet,'' said Ryan. "But he shot it pretty well. This trip gave him a chance to do a lot of shooting.'' Ryan said the Badgers showed they have more depth on the perimeter. He said working with a 24-second shot clock was beneficial to handle late-game situations. The Badgers definitely played to the fast-paced game, giving up 95 points in a loss to Carleton to start the trip and 92 in a win over Ottawa. Expect those defensive scoring numbers to be much lower once the Badgers get into the season with a traditional 35-second shot clock. Wisconsin has to get the defensive numbers down with a brutal nonconference schedule with games against St. John's in South Dakota, Florida, at Green Bay, Saint Louis (and then ODU or West Virginia) in Cancun, at Virginia and Marquette. The Badgers did get a Big Ten "break" with three of the first five conference games at home.

3. Clemson: Coach Brad Brownell said the Tigers will shoot much better this season than last after the 10-day trip to Italy. Clemson averaged 95 points on the four-game trip. "We still don't know how our young post players will react under real pressure,'' said Brownell. The only two posts who played on the trip were Landry Nnoko (11 blocks and 11.5 rebounds) and Josh Smith (13 boards a game). Jaron Blossomgame still wasn't healthy enough to play after offseason surgery and JC transfer Ibrahim Djambo and freshman big man Sidy Djitte of Senegal didn't go on the trip. "Everyone on the perimeter is a year older and just better than last year,'' said Brownell. That helps. This team will still rely heavily on K.J. McDaniels, who was scoring at a clip of 15 points, grabbing nine boards and blocking a total of 12 shots. McDaniels had to play more because of the thinning forward crew. Spokesperson Philip Sikes had a complete report on the trip and noted the improved play of Damarcus Harrison, who was in shape, Jordan Roper for his consistency and Devin Coleman for getting through the games and travel after returning from a torn Achilles.

Only in today’s age of one-and-done -- and, perhaps, only at Kentucky -- could a team go from losing to Robert Morris in the first round of the NIT to winning the NCAA title the following season.

But that will be the expectation in Lexington.

And considering the Wildcats’ top-ranked recruiting class, it’s hardly far-fetched.

No other team in the country is expected to make as big of a leap in 2013-14 as the Wildcats, but there are still plenty of squads who are projected to be considerably improved when the season tips off in November.

Here’s a list of the programs I think will make the biggest strides. And remember, this ranking is based on how significantly a team will improve, not on how good it’s expected to be, how many games it will win or how far it may go in the postseason. For instance, do I think SMU will be able to beat Oklahoma State? No, but I think the upgrades the Mustangs make will be more dramatic than the ones we see in Stillwater, where the Cowboys made the NCAA tournament last season.

Get the drift? Great. Here’s the list:

10 (tie). Arizona State: A year ago at this time, Sun Devils coach Herb Sendek was rumored to be on the hot seat. That’s hardly the case these days, though, as Arizona State is primed for its best season since the days of James Harden. The biggest reason for optimism in Tempe is point guard Jahii Carson, who bypassed the NBA draft to return for his sophomore season. Carson averaged 18.5 points and 5.1 assists in 2012-13 and likely would’ve won national freshman-of-the-year honors if Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart hadn’t had such an impressive season. Also back for ASU is 7-foot-2 center Jordan Bachynski (3.4 blocks) and forward Jonathan Gilling (9.7 points, 6.1 rebounds). The Sun Devils took a hit during the offseason when guard Evan Gordon transferred to Indiana. But they countered that by adding Jermaine Marshall, who will be eligible immediately after averaging 15.3 points at Penn State last season.

10 (tie). Boise State: The Broncos finished 21-11 last season and lost to LaSalle in the NCAA tournament's First Four. Still, the tourney appearance -- Boise State’s first since 2008 -- was a huge step for the program, and even better things could be in store in 2013-14. Eight of the Broncos’ top nine players return. That includes leading scorers Anthony Drmic (17.7 points) and Derrick Marks (16.3). Marks shot 42 percent from 3-point range and averaged nearly 4 assists. Mikey Thompson (7.9 points) is also back along with top rebounder Ryan Watkins. With a handful of the Mountain West Conference's top teams expected to take minor steps back, this could be a special season for the Broncos.

9. Connecticut: The Huskies weren’t eligible for the postseason in 2013, so somewhat overshadowed was the excellent job first-year coach Kevin Ollie did under incredibly difficult circumstances after taking over for Jim Calhoun. Connecticut had nothing to play for but still managed to go 20-10. Considering they return nearly all of their key pieces, the Huskies should be even better in 2013-14. The backcourt of Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier should be one of the best in the country. The twosome combined to average 32.5 points and 9 assists last season. And remember, Napier was a starter on UConn’s 2011 NCAA championship team. Small forward DeAndre Daniels made huge strides as a sophomore, when he upped his scoring average by nearly 10 points per game. Connecticut ranked second-to-last in the Big East in rebounding last season, so Ollie’s team must get better in the paint, where it often appeared undermanned.

8. Oklahoma State: Three months later, I’m still stunned that standout guard Marcus Smart bypassed an opportunity to be a top-five draft pick to return for his sophomore season. Smart’s decision -- coupled with the return of Le'Bryan Nash, another NBA prospect -- means that the Cowboys will be a legitimate threat to end Kansas’ string of nine consecutive Big 12 titles. Some might even consider Travis Ford’s squad the league favorite. Smart is one of the toughest, most versatile players in all of college basketball. As a freshman, he led Oklahoma State in points, assists and steals and ranked second in rebounds. Still, while Smart is the face of the program, he’s just one of many threats on the Cowboys roster. Nash, a small forward, averaged 14 points per game last season, while wing Markel Brown chipped in 15.3. In some ways, Brown strikes just as much fear into opponents as Nash and Smart. Phil Forte and Michael Cobbins cannot be taken lightly.

7. Harvard: The Crimson might seem out of place this list. After all, Tommy Amaker’s squad was pretty darn good last season, when it won the Ivy League title before knocking off No. 3 seed New Mexico in the second round of the NCAA tournament. What made those feats so impressive was that Harvard played the entire season without its two top players. If Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey return as expected, the Crimson will likely have their best team in recent history. Wesley Saunders, Siyani Chambers and Laurent Rivard were all double-figure scorers last season, and Curry and Casey will likely post similar or better point totals in 2013-14. If Harvard makes a tourney run this season it won’t be nearly as big of a surprise. This is a top-25-caliber team.

6. LSU: The Tigers have been to the NCAA tournament just once since 2006, but could make an appearance in 2014 thanks to the return of several key players and a huge addition down low. LSU brings back leading scorer and rebounder Johnny O'Bryant (13.6 points, 8.7 boards) along with standout guard Anthony Hickey, who ranked second in the country in steals (2.9) while chipping in a team-high 3.8 assists and 11.2 points. The Tigers also add a standout forward in Jarrell Martin, the No. 11-ranked player in the class of 2013. Johnny Jones’ squad took a hit when high-profile recruit Jordan Mickey was declared ineligible, but there are still enough parts here to make the upcoming campaign a successful one. LSU went 19-12 last season and won nine of its final 14 games.

5. Iowa: Even though they missed the NCAA tournament, the Hawkeyes still had to feel good about the strides they made last season. Iowa finished 9-9 in the Big Ten, the nation’s toughest conference, and made it to the NIT championship game, where it lost to a deeper, more athletic Baylor squad. Don’t be surprised if 2013-14 is the season when Iowa really turns the corner. Every key player returns from last year’s 25-13 squad. Included in that mix are leading scorers Roy Devyn Marble (15 points) and Aaron White (12.8), who also averaged a team-high 6.2 rebounds. The Hawkeyes also have an excellent -- and, in my opinion, underrated -- coach in Fran McCaffrey, who appears to have this program on an upswing. With Indiana, Minnesota, Illinois and Wisconsin all losing a number of key players, I wouldn’t be surprised if Iowa finished as high as third in the Big Ten while earning its first NCAA tournament berth since 2006.

4. Tennessee: The Volunteers barely missed out on the NCAA tournament last season -- mainly because of some key losses early in SEC play, where they dropped four of their first six games. By March, though, Cuonzo Martin’s squad was one of the most improved teams in the conference, and there are plenty of reasons to think the Vols will build on that momentum. The frontcourt should be loaded with Jarnell Stokes, who averaged 12.4 points per game last year, and Jeronne Maymon, who averaged 12.7 points and 8.1 rebounds two years ago before missing last season with an injury. Incoming freshman Robert Hubbs should give the Vols a boost at small forward, and leading scorer Jordan McRae (15.7 PPG) returns at shooting guard. Point guard Trae Golden was dismissed from the team during the offseason, but Tennessee should be fine at that position with either Antonio Barton, a Memphis transfer, or freshman Darius Thompson.

3. SMU: I’m not ready to say the Mustangs will end an NCAA tournament drought that dates back to 1993, but I definitely think they’ll at least be on the bubble in late February and early March. That’d be a huge jump for a program that finished 15-17 in Larry Brown’s first season, but SMU has added enough quality pieces to make it possible. Illinois State transfer Nic Moore, who redshirted last season, was named to the Missouri Valley Conference all-freshman team in 2011-12. Signee Yanick Moreira was the top-ranked junior college big man in the nation, and incoming freshman Keith Frazier will become the first McDonald’s All American ever to suit up for SMU, which also returns three double-digit scorers in Nick Russell, Jalen Jones and Ryan Manuel. If Brown gets this group to jell quickly, this could be the best season for Mustangs basketball in decades.

2. St. John’s: Sportswriters are expected to make bold predictions from time to time, so here’s mine: St. John’s will spend most of the upcoming season ranked in the Top 25 and will challenge Marquette and Creighton for the Big East title. This team is loaded. Jakarr Sampson was one of the country’s most underrated freshmen in 2012-13, when he averaged 14.9 points and 6.6 rebounds. Imagine how much better he’ll be this season after bypassing the NBA draft. I’m also expecting even more out of D'Angelo Harrison, who was averaging a team-high 17.8 points before being suspended at the end of last season for disciplinary reasons. Chris Obekpa, who ranked second in the country with 4.0 blocks per game, is back along with bruising forward God'sgift Achiuwa, who redshirted last season. Two other important pieces will be incoming freshman Rysheed Jordan, the No. 3-ranked point guard in the class of 2013, and Orlando Sanchez, a 24-year-old forward who wasn’t deemed eligible by the NCAA until late February. He’ll be able to compete for only one season, but Sanchez could end up being the top player on the Red Storm roster.

1. Kentucky: John Calipari has been regarded for years now as the top recruiter in college basketball. But he might have outdone himself this time, as Kentucky welcomes what may be the greatest signing class in college basketball history. The haul includes five players (Andrew and Aaron Harrison, Julius Randle, Dakari Johnson and James Young) ranked among the nation’s top-10 prospects by ESPN.com. The question is whether the young Wildcats will jell and, if so, how quickly. Calipari is the best in the country at coaching players who only plan to spend a year or two in college. Kentucky, which also returns potential lottery picks Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein, will likely open the season as the No. 1-ranked team in America. That’s a lot of pressure for any squad, especially one with so much youth. Last year’s Wildcats crumbled under the spotlight. Kentucky’s latest batch of freshmen, though, are rumored to be much tougher, both on the court and between the ears. We’ll find out soon enough.
College basketball’s players, coaches and observers don’t obsess over speed the way it is scrutinized in college football.

But it’s still interesting to discuss the short list of players who might own the “fastest player in college basketball” title.

Per Doug Haller of AZCentral.com, Arizona State’s Jahii Carson might own that belt:
Not long ago, I was at the Weatherup Center, talking with Arizona State coach Herb Sendek about point guard Jahii Carson. “We have the fastest point guard in college basketball,” Sendek said. “Who’s faster than him?”

“Do you remember that play last season at Oregon State,” I asked. “When he went the length of the court off a made free throw?”

Said Sendek: “Oh, I’ll never forget it.”

Carson starts sprinting after taking the inbounds near the opposing free throw line. And then … Usain Bolt. He’s gone. Just 3.4 seconds later, he scores on a layup.

It does look like Carson has elite speed. But the fastest point guard in the game? Maybe. He’s certainly in a small group.

We can’t forget Oregon’s Johnathan Loyd, who returned five kicks for touchdowns as a senior return man at his high school in Nevada. And then there’s Memphis point guard Joe Jackson. Penn State's Tim Frazier was definitely on this list prior to his ACL injury. If he’s healthy, he’ll be a headache for perimeter defenders all season.

If I’m picking one player, however, to go coast to coast in college basketball, there’s really no debate. It has to be Louisville’s Russ Smith. I think Smith is the fastest player in college basketball and I’m not sure it’s even close. But he’s not a true point guard.

Again, this isn’t college football so speed isn’t measured the same way. But it’s still an interesting debate.

Bracket reveal: Wooden Legacy

July, 17, 2013
7/17/13
10:40
AM ET
Editor's note: Over two days, we're releasing the brackets/matchups for 11 of the top early-season events. A thread of previews and info for all 11 tourneys can be found here.

Tournament bracket for the Wooden Legacy.

When and where: Nov. 28-29 at Titan Gym in Fullerton, Calif.; Dec. 1 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.

Initial thoughts: What used to be the 76 Classic and the Anaheim Classic has produced a field the Wizard would approve of. This field crisscrosses the country for teams, mixes in high-profile name brands with others on the rise and features a player that Wooden would certainly adore -- Creighton’s Doug McDermott. The interesting part about the field? No one is a given. The top draw teams -- Marquette, Creighton, San Diego State and Miami -- all have holes to fill, some more than others, but all have the potential to become very good by season’s end.

[+] EnlargeCarson
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsPoint guard Jahii Carson used his speed to shine last season at Arizona State.
Matchup I can’t wait to see: Creighton-Arizona State. The Bluejays got some unexpected good news this offseason when the NCAA granted guard Grant Gibbs an extra year of eligibility. He’s not the same type of player that Jahii Carson is -- with the luxury of playing setup man thanks to McDermott whereas Carson is more a one-man wrecking crew -- but he’s every bit as important. Herb Sendek’s squad keeps nosing at the bar. Can the Sun Devils get an early breakthrough with a win here?

Potential matchup I’d like to see: Marquette-Miami, a rematch of last year’s Sweet 16 matchup. Let’s be honest. A lot of people want to know if the Hurricanes of last season were merely a flash in the pan or if Jim Larranaga has something brewing in South Florida. This would be a good gauge. Unlike Miami, Marquette has plenty of talent back and is adding more to the fold in the form of JaJuan Johnson. Plus, when was the last time it was smart to count out the Golden Eagles?

Five players to watch

Doug McDermott, Creighton: McDermott is the single best walk-on in college basketball, accepting that role after Gibbs was granted an extra year. Already a two-time All-American, he gave the sport a boost when he opted to return for his senior year. Now we all get to enjoy it.

Jahii Carson, Arizona State: He may be the best player many people haven’t heard of. The Pac-12 co-freshman of the year, Carson is a dynamic point guard who can score and dish with equal efficiency. A good showing would be like an overdue debut for the Sun Devil.

Davante Gardner, Marquette: The Big East’s Sixth Man of the Year was rock solid last season but will be expected to do even more this year now that Vander Blue is gone. He’s more than capable, as he’s proved in the past.

Xavier Thames, San Diego State: Now that Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley are gone, it’s Thames’ turn. He played much of last season with a bad back and still managed to be an adept floor manager. But the challenge is greater without Franklin and Tapley to feed.

Maurice Creek, George Washington: The hard-luck senior spent the better part of his Indiana career rehabbing various injuries. For his final run, he decided to go close to home, transferring to GW, where -- since he already graduated -- he can play immediately. Once a red-hot recruit, if he can finally stay healthy and realize his potential, it could be big for the Colonials.

Title-game prediction: Creighton over Marquette.

This could be a preview of the first new Big East title game. Either the Bluejays, with McDermott back in the fold, or the Golden Eagles, hot off their Elite Eight run, ought to be favored to win the conference.

Who others are picking:

Eamonn Brennan: Marquette over Creighton
Jeff Goodman: Creighton over Marquette
Andy Katz: Creighton over Marquette
Jason King: Marquette over Creighton
Myron Medcalf: Marquette over Creighton
The Pac-12’s reputation has taken a bit of a hit the past few seasons. Overall, though, the league has been a mecca for topflight NBA talent. Need proof? Just skim some NBA rosters and you’ll find a former Pac-12 star on almost every team.

Here’s a look at the Pac-12 products who have enjoyed the most successful pro careers since 1989, the year the NBA draft was whittled to two rounds.

[+] EnlargeJason Kidd
Anthony Gruppuso/USA TODAY SportsCal product Jason Kidd Kidd played in 10 All-Star Games and was first-team All-NBA five times.
1. Jason Kidd, Cal: One of the greatest point guards of all time retired this spring as the NBA’s second all-time leader in assists and steals and third all time in 3-pointers. He averaged 8.7 assists in his 18-year career and led the league in that category five times. Kidd played in 10 NBA All-Star games and earned first-team All-NBA honors five times. In 2011 he won an NBA title as a member of the Dallas Mavericks. He also was named to the NBA’s first- or second-team all-defensive squad nine times. Kidd helped Team USA win a gold medal in the 2008 Olympics. He was named head coach of the Brooklyn Nets this month.

2. Gary Payton, Oregon State: Nicknamed “The Glove” for his defensive prowess, Payton is the only point guard to be named NBA Defensive Player of the Year. He was selected to the league’s all-defensive first team nine times and was a nine-time All-Star. Payton won an NBA title with the Miami Heat in 2006, but he’s best remembered for his 13-year stint with the Seattle SuperSonics. He holds franchise records for points, assists and steals. Payton’s menacing defense was hardly the only thing that made him valuable: He averaged 19 or more points for 10 straight seasons in a career that included 15 playoff seasons. He was elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013.

3. Kevin Love, UCLA: Since leaving UCLA after just one season in 2008, Love has blossomed into one of the most dominant power forwards in recent NBA history. He recorded 53 straight double-doubles with Minnesota in 2010-11, the longest streak since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976. He averaged a career-high 15.2 rebounds that season and 26 points and 13.3 boards the following season. Love won the NBA’s Most Improved Player award in 2011 and was named second-team all-league the following season. He was also a member of the 2012 Olympic team. An injury to his shooting hand limited Love to 18 games in 2012-13. He’s averaging 17.3 points and 12.2 rebounds for his career.

4. Russell Westbrook, UCLA: He’s played in the NBA just five seasons, yet already Westbrook is a three-time All-Star and a three-time second-team All-NBA selection. He’s averaged more than 21 points for Oklahoma City in each of the past three seasons, along with 5.5 or more assists. In 2012-13 he ranked sixth in the league in scoring (23.2 points) and seventh in assists (7.4). He suffered a knee injury in the first round of the playoffs and was forced to miss the remainder of the season. Westbrook was also a member of the 2012 Olympic squad that won the gold medal. After five NBA seasons, Westbrook is averaging 19.9 points and 6.9 assists.

5. Jason Terry, Arizona: The guard known as JET won the NBA Sixth Man of the Year award in 2009 before sparking the Dallas Mavericks to the NBA title two seasons later in 2011. That same year he tied an NBA playoff record by making nine 3-pointers in a game. He is known for performing his best in clutch situations. Terry has averaged double figures in all but one of his 14 NBA seasons and has a career mark of 15.7 points. He shoots 38 percent from beyond the arc. Terry recently completed his first season with the Boston Celtics after spending eight years with Dallas and five with Atlanta.

6. Gilbert Arenas, Arizona: A three-time All-Star, Arenas averaged 20.6 points in 11 NBA seasons, eight of which were spent with Washington. His best year came in 2005-06, when he averaged a career-high 29.3 points and 6.1 assists. He twice earned second-team All-NBA honors, and he was named the league’s Most Improved Player in 2003. Arenas was suspended for more than half of the 2009-10 season after it was discovered that he was storing firearms in his locker. He was traded to Orlando the following season. His NBA career ended the following year after he played just 17 games for Memphis. Arenas played the 2012-13 season in China.

7. James Harden, Arizona State: Harden recently completed the best season of his young career, averaging 25.9 points in his first season with the Houston Rockets. His efforts earned him third-team All-NBA honors and an appearance in the All-Star Game for the first time. The previous season he was named NBA Sixth Man of the Year after scoring 16.8 points per game for Oklahoma City. As good as he has been, Harden’s future appears even brighter, especially considering he’s a focal point in Houston’s offense instead of a secondary player like he was behind Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City.

8. Baron Davis, UCLA: The third overall pick in the 1999 NBA draft averaged double figures in all but two of his 13 NBA seasons. His best season came in 2003-04, when he averaged a career-high 22.9 points for New Orleans. He earned a spot on the All-Star team that season and was named third-team All-NBA. For his career, Davis averaged 16.1 points and 7.2 assists, and he averaged 18.8 points in 50 playoff games. In 2006-07, he led No. 8 seed Golden State to a playoff series upset of No. 1 seed Dallas.

9. Andre Iguodala, Arizona: Currently one of the NBA’s most versatile players, Iguodala has averaged 15.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 4.9 assists in his first nine years in the league. He played eight seasons with Philadelphia before being traded to Denver before last season. Iguodala was named to the NBA’s second-team all-defensive squad in 2011. His best season came in 2007-08, when he averaged career highs in points (19.9) and steals (2.1).

10. Sean Elliott, Arizona: Elliott averaged 14.2 points in 12 NBA seasons, all but one of which were spent with the San Antonio Spurs. His best season came in 1995-96, when he averaged a career-high 20 points per game. Elliott was an integral part of the Spurs’ 1999 NBA championship squad, averaging 11.2 points that season. The No. 3 overall pick in the 1989 draft, Elliott made the All-Star team in 1993 and 1996. He is the only Spurs player to rank among the franchise’s top 10 in six statistical categories. In 2000 he became the first player to return to the court after a kidney transplant. San Antonio retired Elliott’s number in 2005.

Ten more notables: All of these players have excelled in the NBA, including a few who almost cracked the top 10 (names in alphabetical order).

Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Cal
Arron Afflalo, UCLA
Mike Bibby, Arizona
Terrell Brandon, Oregon
Richard Jefferson, Arizona
Brook Lopez, Stanford
O.J. Mayo, USC
Nate Robinson, Washington
Brandon Roy, Washington
Damon Stoudamire, Arizona

Too soon to tell: These guys haven’t been in the league long enough to make the top 10, but all appear to have bright futures (names in alphabetical order).

Quincy Pondexter, Washington
Terrence Ross, Washington
Isaiah Thomas, Washington
Klay Thompson, Washington State
Nikola Vucevic, USC
Derrick Williams, Arizona

*Note: Of the 26 players on these lists, eight are from Arizona, five are from Washington and four are from UCLA. Cal and USC boast two players each. Oregon State, Arizona State, Stanford, Oregon and Washington State each have one representative.
1. Arizona State's Jahii Carson would have been one of the top point guards at the NBA pre-draft combine in Chicago last week. Instead, Carson, who is a second-year freshman after being ineligible in his first season, is returning to school and will be one of a handful of preseason candidates for Pac-12 player of the year. The Sun Devils are already thinking of ways to push the tempo and prepare Carson for a jump to the league. Newly named associate head coach Eric Musselman said the Sun Devils have already been practicing with a 24-second shot clock and put only one 3-point line down on the court -- the NBA distance. "We're going to play faster next season,'' said Musselman. He added the NBA 3-point line is to get the players comfortable with the deep distance. The Sun Devils, though, have some holes with the abrupt departure of shooting guard Evan Gordon, who transferred to Indiana, and the known exit of senior forward Carrick Felix. The Sun Devils finished 9-9 in the Pac-12 but went to the NIT. ASU is trying to be innovative and certainly more interesting next season as a possible NCAA team that shoots with confidence from range and plays at a quick clip to get more possessions.

2. Murray State coach Steve Prohm was in Chicago at the pre-draft combine to watch Isaiah Canaan, his veteran point guard who is sure to be a first-round lock and has the potential to be the next Damian Lillard -- a lower-profile school gem who stars in the league. But Prohm said he has a replacement set -- Zay Jackson. The suspended guard is cleared to join the Racers and be the starting point guard next season. Jackson served 49 days in jail after hitting a man with his car in a Walmart parking lot on Sept. 10. Prohm said Jackson practiced with the team once he was released from jail. He said there wasn't a judicial review board and that the decision for Jackson to come back was made by the athletic department. Prohm said Jackson had a 2.75 grade-point average and has not been an issue since he returned. The Racers will have depth at the position with the eligibility in December of Clemson transfer T.J. Sapp. Prohm isn't pushing the schedule in this transition year and will simply play 29 games without a tournament.

3. Missouri has another solid schedule to sell with nonconference games against Illinois (St. Louis), UCLA, at NC State, West Virginia in the SEC-Big 12 Challenge and Long Beach State. They are also in a tournament in Las Vegas where Missouri has been promised, according to Haith, since it wouldn't face UCLA because the Bruins and Tigers are already scheduled. The other two teams are Nevada and Northwestern. If this were the case then the Las Vegas Invitational can easily manage this by having UCLA and Missouri play Northwestern and Nevada, just alternating.

UCLA establishes new tough identity

March, 14, 2013
3/14/13
8:12
PM ET
video
LAS VEGAS -- Long before they were champions of the Pac-12, the UCLA Bruins were dogs. Or at least that was one popular description.

Soft.

Spoiled.

Bums.

Busts.

Prima donnas.

Ben Howland figures his players heard it all in November and December, when a loss to Cal Poly and ugly wins over UC Irvine and Texas prompted fans and pundits to all but give up on the Bruins and their roster of future NBA draft picks. And their coach.

Three months later, look at UCLA now.

One week away from the NCAA tournament, Howland’s team has a new identity, and it’s a far cry from the one that hovered over UCLA’s program earlier this season. There’s a confidence in the locker room, a swagger on the court, a pride in the huddle. The Bruins have always been skilled.

[+] EnlargeBen Howland
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesBen Howland has led a resurgence in Westwood after a rough start to the season.
But now they’re defined by toughness, too.

Just ask Arizona State, which built a 15-point lead in the second half of Thursday’s Pac-12 tournament quarterfinal with UCLA, only to watch the Bruins storm back for an 80-75 victory. The win was the sixth in the past seven games for UCLA, which had five players score in double figures. The Bruins outrebounded Arizona State 36-28.

“We have to play physical to win,” Howland said, “and we did that today.”

So revved up were the Bruins that a few of them (Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson) even got into a little tussle with Arizona State’s Carrick Felix in the game’s closing seconds. Howland certainly won’t approve of any on-court altercations, but he had to have liked the fire.

Howland, who led UCLA to three Final Fours in his first nine seasons in Westwood, said he isn’t surprised by his team’s new-found toughness.

“I never worried about it,” Howland said. “Everybody’s got it that’s in our program. It was our job to bring it out of them.”

It seems almost amusing now that Howland had been rumored to be on the hot seat during a season in which his team won the outright Pac-12 title. UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero can’t fire Howland now.

Heck, he ought to give him an extension.

This is far from Howland’s best Bruins team. It may not even rank among his top five. Still, the job Howland has done with this bunch has been masterful considering how disjointed and lackadaisical UCLA looked in December and January. Long known as a strong defensive coach and game tactician, Howland is clearly a strong motivator, too.

“It’s all about evolving,” Howland said. “Their attitude has been tremendous. It’s always, 'What do we have to do to win, coach?' I haven’t had a better group of guys to coach in my 10 years at UCLA. It’s been absolutely fantastic. They’re coachable, they listen ... it’s been unbelievable. So fun.”

Indeed, there were certainly plenty of smiles following Thursday’s victory, which catapulted the Bruins into Friday’s semifinal against Arizona.

The Bruins grabbed 14 offensive rebounds that led to 15 second-chance points. Six of the offensive boards came from Muhammad, the future top-five draft pick who scored 16 points playing in front of hometown fans in his native Las Vegas.

“We were all just really composed,” Muhammad said. “That’s what happens when you’re composed and relaxed.”

UCLA doesn’t have a true center or a traditional big man, so rebounding is often a struggle. That’s why Howland was so pleased that his team won the battle of the boards against an Arizona State squad that features 7-foot-1 center Jordan Bachynski and standout four-man Felix, who combine to average 14.3 rebounds.

Most of Howland’s praise, however, was reserved for point guard Larry Drew II. A senior, Drew II was highly criticized when he left North Carolina -- where he was starting -- midway through the 2010-11 season and transferred to UCLA. The easy assumption was that Drew II would underachieve in Westwood just as he did in Chapel Hill.

Instead, Drew II has improved as much as any player in America. He scored 20 points on eight-of-10 shooting Thursday and also dished out four assists. Drew II leads the country in assist-to-turnover ratio.

“Larry Drew is so good,” Howland said. “He looks like he’s going to be playing at the next level.

“He’s the best passer in the history of UCLA basketball, including all of [John] Wooden’s teams. I’m talking about great players. He’s the best of all of them. That’s an incredible statement. I couldn’t be happier for the kid, as maligned as he was. He’s improved throughout the year and he’s playing his best basketball of the year.”

So, too, are the Bruins, who knew they had this in them all along. Even if no one else did.

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