Originally Published: November 8, 2012

Nonconference Losses Have Impact In March

By Jason King
ESPN.com
SAN FRANCISCO -- The Washington Huskies won 24 games last season and claimed the Pac-12 championship for the second straight year.

It didn't matter.

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Jason Szenes/Getty ImagesLorenzo Romar's Washington team had two close nonconference losses last season.

When the 68-team bracket for the NCAA tournament was unveiled in March, Lorenzo Romar's squad wasn't included.

"It hurt, it stung," guard Abdul Gaddy said. "But we did it to ourselves."

The refrain was a familiar one among Pac-12 teams in 2011-12, when only two teams (Colorado, the automatic qualifier, and Cal) received NCAA tournament berths.

Most of the league's top teams missed out on the fun in March because of a failure to perform in November and December.

Some schools played nonconference slates so weak that their resumes likely didn't get a sniff from the NCAA tournament selection committee. And the few teams that did schedule tough nonleague games couldn't win any of them.

Washington, for example, dropped a 76-73 overtime decision against Nevada and lost 79-77 to Marquette.

"We were a 2-point win or a 3-point win away from the NCAA tournament," Gaddy said. "Coach [Romar] talked about it all offseason. He was like, 'Man, those games count, too.' It may not seem like it in November or December, but they really do."

Having just two teams in the NCAA tournament did further damage to a conference whose reputation has taken a major hit the past two seasons. Pac-12 coaches know the only way to regain national credibility is to perform better in nonconference games.

"It's a really important nonconference year for us as a league," USC coach Kevin O'Neill said. "We've got to get back in the national picture, and I'm convinced we'll have the opportunities to do that."

O'Neill and UCLA coach Ben Howland have always scheduled formidable opponents early in the season. Along with competing in the Maui Invitational, USC will take on Minnesota, New Mexico and San Diego State. UCLA will likely face Georgetown and preseason No. 1 Indiana in the Legends Classic and also has tilts with Texas and Missouri.

"We've got tough games," O'Neill said. "Now we just have to win a few of them."

Although no Pac-12 docket comes close to topping USC's or UCLA's, other schools have scheduled more aggressively.

Stanford will open against Missouri in the Battle 4 Atlantis, which also features Louisville, Duke and Memphis. The Cardinal also have a road game at North Carolina State. Cal will play top 25 teams UNLV, Creighton and Wisconsin while Washington travels to Connecticut.

Even Oregon State has enhanced its schedule with a bout against Kansas in Kansas City and potential games against Purdue and Villanova in the 2K Sports Classic at Madison Square Garden. The Beavers, who return four starters, are seeking their first NCAA tournament berth since 1990.

"We would have scheduled like this sooner, but we just weren't ready," Oregon State coach Craig Robinson said. "The scheduling part of this business is the most insidious. Nobody sticks to what they say. But we had planned on being good this year. We wanted to ramp it up."

Arizona's top nonconference game is a home matchup against Florida. Beneficial as it would be for the Wildcats to win that game, coach Sean Miller said he's equally concerned about losing to a lesser opponent.

"A Florida game is going to have more national significance and will impact our season on a greater level," Miller said. "But every game in nonconference is crucial. If you drop one of them, the price is equal."

UCLA's Hopes Depend On Top Prospect's Status

By Kyle Bonagura
Special To ESPN.com
SAN FRANCISCO -- With a revamped Pauley Pavilion and UCLA expected to challenge for the Pac-12 title, everything feels right in Westwood, where coach Ben Howland has potentially his best team since 2007-08 when the Bruins advanced to the Final Four.

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AP Photo/Damian DovarganesShabazz Muhammad was the key part of UCLA's stellar recruiting class.

Just how good UCLA can be stems on the eligibility of freshman G/F Shabazz Muhammad, who was ESPN.com's No. 2-ranked high school player in the country last season. The NCAA is currently conducting an investigation regarding his amateur status.

"The NCAA review is something that we have been very patient with and continue to be. We have been as cooperative as possible with the NCAA," Howland said. "I can't tell you how long or when, I don't know that. … But again, these are great kids and I'm very confident that things are going to work out."

Muhammad was the crown jewel of the nation's top-ranked recruiting class, which also included a talented trio in G Kyle Anderson, F/C Tony Parker and G Jordan Adams.

The Bruins also added North Carolina transfer Larry Drew II to the rotation after the guard sat out last season.

Howland compared playing Anderson and Drew together in the backcourt to when he paired Darren Collison with Jordan Farmar, Jrue Holiday and Russell Westbrook.

"Kyle and Larry played together during the summer and including our trip to China, and it's really good when they're in there together," Howland said. "You have two very good facilitators that really see the ball. I've always loved having two point guards on the floor."

The prime beneficiaries in having Anderson and Drew are twin brothers Travis and David Wear, who made an immediate impact last season after transferring from North Carolina. Travis is the team's top returning scorer (11.5 ppg) and David was the team's leading rebounder (6.3 rpg) last season.

The influx of talent has also allowed UCLA to become more versatile in several areas.

"Practice has been very competitive, which is ultimately going to help our team out a lot," David Wear said. "It's something that, this year, we're trying to push the ball a lot more and take it out early and really work on [our fast-break offense]."

Roberson Finds Home At Colorado

By Jason King
ESPN.com
SAN FRANCISCO -- The most telling moment of Andre Roberson's basketball career thus far occurred nearly two years ago, midway through his freshman season at Colorado.

The Buffaloes had just rallied from a 23-point deficit to upset Texas, which is located less than an hour from Roberson's San Antonio home. As Roberson celebrated among the sea of fans who had stormed the court in Boulder, a rather unlikely well-wisher tapped him on the shoulder.

"Congratulations," Longhorns coach Rick Barnes said. "You're a great, great player. We made a mistake by not recruiting you."

Barnes isn't alone.

Roberson has spent the past two seasons making a lot of people look foolish.

The college coaches who failed to pursue him in high school … the opponents he's posterized on the court … the critics who said Colorado would never be a factor on the college basketball scene. Roberson has silenced them all.

A 6-foot-7 forward, Roberson ranked fourth in the country in rebounding last season, when he averaged 11.1 boards per game. With Roberson leading the way, Colorado reached the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2003, and the Buffaloes responded by defeating UNLV in their opening game before falling to Baylor.

All of a sudden, the player once shunned by schools in his home state is an All-American candidate who is projected to be a lottery pick in next summer's NBA draft. Roberson said he's hardly overwhelmed by the attention entering his junior season.

"It was a little surreal at first," he said. "I had all these people telling me what the mock drafts were saying. But since then I really haven't focused on it at all. I've just got to go out and kill it on the court and hope that things turn out all right."

It's not as if Roberson was a complete unknown coming out of Wagner High School. He visited the campuses at Tulsa, Wichita State and Penn State and drew interest from Texas Tech. For the most part, though, he was ignored by in-state programs and decided to wait until the spring of his senior year to sign a letter of intent.

He says a few Texas colleges contacted him after his final high school game, but by then it was Roberson who wasn't interested.

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Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US PresswireAndre Roberson is versatile enough he can guard anyone on the floor.

"They started coming in late," he said. "I was like, 'If you really wanted me, you would've come earlier.' It's something that was definitely a motivating factor. It still is to this day."

During a trip with his AAU team that spring, Roberson stopped by Northern Colorado for an impromptu visit. Head coach Tad Boyle immediately noticed Roberson's length and was shocked to learn a player of his abilities was still unsigned. Two days later after meeting Roberson, Boyle was hired at Colorado.

"My very first call was to Andre," Boyle said. "It was a short recruiting process. We were lucky."

Indeed, Roberson took an official visit to Boulder and also entertained an offer from Penn State. But he chose Colorado because it was in the Big 12, which meant his family could come to some of his games when the Buffaloes played in Texas.

Even though Colorado left for the Pac-12 one season later, Roberson's relatives still see plenty of him on television -- often on highlight reels.

Some of his dunks have become legendary in Boulder, and Roberson will enter the season regarded as one of the elite rebounders in the country. Opponents say Roberson's main strength is his athleticism, which is rare for someone his size. It's not unusual for him to wear down, blow past or out-leap bigger defenders.

"He's a mismatch nightmare," Arizona forward Solomon Hill said. "He plays the 4, but he's not really a 4. He has long arms, he can jump out of the gym and he makes 6-10 guys chase him all over the court. That's where he makes his money.

"He's a guy you have to watch a lot of film on. You have to teach guys how to play him. He can step out and play the 3 and he can bang with the bigs."

Boyle said he's glad Roberson is on his side.

"He has an innate ability to know where the ball is going to come off the rim," Boyle said. "It's like a sixth sense. If a ball is in a crowd, he's going to tip it into an area where he can get it himself. That's something you can't teach.

"And what sets him apart defensively is that he can guard all five positions on the court. He's just a really special player."

Colorado was picked to finish sixth in the Pac-12. But with Roberson returning and highly touted center Josh Scott added to the roster, no one will be surprised if the Buffaloes work their way into the title conversation along with UCLA and Arizona.

Roberson, who averaged 11.6 points as a sophomore, will need to have another great season for that to happen. Even as the expectations rise, he insists he isn't feeling any pressure.

"Going out there and trying to perform for other people really doesn't seem all that right to me," Roberson said. "If I just play my game and do what I'm supposed to do, I'll put myself and our team in a good situation."

Stanford's Hoping For A Bright Future

By Kyle Bonagura
Special To ESPN.com
In winning eight of its final 10 games and capturing the National Invitational Tournament to cap last season it was clear Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins had the team headed in the right direction.

"A lot of fun the way our team ended last season," Dawkins said. "We wished we could have kept playing games."

The wait is over and expectations are up as Dawkins enters his fifth year on The Farm.

For junior guard Aaron Bright, the goal is simple: "To win the Pac-12 and make the tournament."

Lofty? Yes. Obtainable? It's possible.

If Stanford does stay in the conference race, Bright figures to play a big role. The combination of Bright and sophomore Chasson Randle represents one of the conference's best backcourts and gives the Cardinal two reliable scoring threats.

A Pac-12 all-freshman team honoree, Randle was the team's leading scorer (13.8 ppg) a year ago when he became the first freshman to lead Stanford in minutes since Brevin Knight in 1993-94. In the Cardinal's win against Arizona State in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament, Randle set a conference tournament record with 27 first-half points.

"I think he has a future in the NBA," Dawkins said. "He has that type of potential, it just needs to be realized through a lot of hard work."

Stanford also needs to find suitable replacements for departed big men Josh Owens and Andrew Zimmermann.

The obvious candidate to see an increased role immediately is 6-foot-10 junior Dwight Powell, who started 11 games and averaged 5.8 points per game last year. He arrived as a celebrated prospect, but injuries slowed his development in his first two years.

Dawkins said Powell was "a shell of himself" last season, but those injury problems are behind him. Freshman Grant Verhoeven (6-9, 240) also has a chance to contribute right away, but needs to add some weight as he makes the transition to college.

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