• Peter D. Bouloukos

Pac-12 Men's Basketball 2019-2020 Preview & Analysis


Arizona State University 2019-2020 Men's Basketball Analysis Pac-12 Conference Preview and Predictions

For the majority of the 2018-2019 season the national pundits labeled the Conference of Champions as "Soft." In February they predicted the Pac-12 might become the first Power Conference to send just one school to the NCAA Tournament since the Big Dance expanded to 64 teams. The University of Washington was ranked 25th in the Nation in the early season before losses to Auburn and Minnesota. Washington was also plastered by Oregon in the Pac-12 Conference Tournament 68-48, before knocking off a solid Utah State team in the Big Dance 78-61. That was followed by an 81-59 drubbing by North Carolina in the Round of 32. The highly touted University of Oregon Ducks were ranked 13th in the country before losing to Iowa 77-69 on November 15th, 2018. The Ducks dropped games to Texas Southern, Houston and Baylor before Pac-12 Conference play began, where they proceeded to lose two-in-a-row to Oregon State and then UCLA. Oregon went on a late season run. In the Big Dance they knocked off No. 5 Wisconsin, No. 13 UC Irvine before losing to eventual champions the University of Virginia Cavaliers 53-49 in the Sweet 16. Oregon finished with a 25-13 record, a disappointment despite a nice tournament showing. The Arizona State University Sun Devils were ranked 17th in the country after beating the Kansas Jayhawks on December 22, 2019 at The Bank in Tempe 80-76. The Sun Devils then laid eggs against Princeton and in the Pac-12 season opener against Utah to completely drop out of the national rankings for the season. Arizona State did not receive an automatic bid into the Big Dance, yet again being forced to “play-in.” Bobby Hurley has yet to receive a direct bid into the NCAA Tournament as coach of the Sun Devils. ASU beat St. John’s amidst sloppy play, and in the round of 64 got embarrassed by Buffalo 91-74 and it was never close. No Pac-12 Conference Men’s Basketball team was ranked when the 2018-2019 season was said-and-done so perhaps the pundits were correct...

But this is 2019-2020: This is Now! Men's Basketball in the Pac 12 will look quite a bit different in 2019-2020 season. The Arizona Wildcats are widely expected to make a huge comeback from the programs worst effort since 1983-1984. UCLA parted ways with head coach Steve Alford mid-seasons and was able to grab Mick Cronin away from Cincinnati. Washington State hired Kyle Smith from the University of San Francisco Dons. The University of California-Berkeley Bears nabbed Mark Fox who knows the West Coast well having coached prior at Nevada. Will Sean Miller’s Wildcat squad be able to return to a perennial Top-20 nationally ranked team or will they simply improve that 8-10 Pac-12 Conference record? Will Bobby Hurley’s Sun Devil squad be able to navigate Rider, Princeton, Saint Mary’s, San Francisco, Georgia, let alone Colorado (November 8, 2019 from Shanghai, China 7:30pm PST ESPN2), the University of Arizona, Oregon, Oregon State and Washington with rising talent and high expectations? Next March will Hurley finally win a game in the Field of 64 after also receiving an automatic bid?

Now, Washington appears to be the Pac-12 program with the greatest amount of stability, but will Mike Hopkins remain in the Conference if he has another big year? Dominating the league last year only got the Huskies a nine-seed and a 22-point thrashing by the North Carolina Tar Heels in a laugher. Is the Huskies defensive system enough to win the Pac-12 this year let alone beat National Powers out of Conference? Next, in thirteen seasons at Cincinnati, Mick Cronin took the Bearcats to just one Sweet 16, never making it to an NCAA Regional Final. Alford’s postseason track record was similar, will things actually change at Pauley Pavilion, an arena most recently known for empty seats? Former Georgia coach Mark Fox is the new man at California Berkeley, but was fired on March 10, 2018 after a disappointing 18-15 (7-11 SEC) for the Bulldogs. Fox has an interesting resume, but is 2-5 in the Big Dance and only won 55 percent of his games at Georgia. Is this hire just a name or an elite-level coach and recruiter who can bring big names to Berkeley, California? Does anyone abroad want to live in Berkeley or anywhere in the Bay area? Kyle Smith at Washington State is intriguing to say the least after winning 61 percent of his games at San Francisco. Last season the Don’s defeated Stanford 74-65 and played Buffalo far better than our Sun Devils, losing 85-81 December 1, 2018 on the road. Kyle Smith is a “nerd-ball” guy, he plays the game via statistical probability which can look equally brilliant as much as it can become totally chaotic. Never Too Early Speculation: First, and foremost, any of the Top 7 Teams listed in this Pac-12 Conference Basketball Preview could win the regular season and at least five will qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Number 12: California Golden Bears

2018-2019 Record: (8-23, 3-15) 2018-2019 Pac-12 Finish: 12th Last season was ugly. Simply stated, they couldn’t play defense nor consistently score. The 2018-2019 Cal Bears could have been one of the worst teams since James Naismith invented the game of basketball in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1891. In two seasons, former coach Wyking Jones’ was 16-47 winning twenty-five percent of his games. Late in the season they gave Arizona State everything they could handle before losing 69-59 at The Bank. The Bears proceeded to win 3-in-a-row against Washington, Washington State and Stanford before dropping game 1 of the Conference Tournament to Colorado 56-51.

Unfortunately for Coach Fox, promising leading scorers Justice Sueing (Ohio State) and Darius McNeill (SMU) opted to transfer out of the program. Returning starter, Senior PG Paris Austin and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Graduate Transfer Kareem South will be relied on heavily as the Bears look to win more than eight games for the first time since the 2016-2017 season (21-13; 10-8 Pac-12).

Number 11: Washington State Cougars

2018-19 Record: (11-21, 4-14)

2018-19 Pac-12 Finish: 11th

Kyle Smith inherits promising Forward C.J. Elleby (14.7 ppg. 7.1 rpg.) who will get more looks now that Robert Franks has graduated. The Washington State Cougars have experience and promising transfers, but Smith’s “nerd-approach” to coaching relies on statistical probability which like everything else in life, has flaws in that the least likely thing that could go wrong, could go wrong 50 times in a row. #math The Cougar schedule has six early games against teams finishing 2018-2019 lower than 313 in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings out of 353 teams. That could help the cohesiveness of the Cougars in Smiths offense, but the only test before Conference play for WSU is Nebraska. This will be a streaky and sometimes dangerous team but the Pac-12 schedule is tough and will be difficult for Kyle Smith to guide the Cougars into the top-ten of the Conference in year one.

Number 10: Stanford Cardinal

2018-19 Record: (15-16, 8-10)

2018-19 Pac-12 Finish: T-8th Jerod Haase needs to do better than the 48-49 record he has amassed over his first 3-seasons in Palo Alto. KZ Okpala left two-years early (Miami Heat) and 6’5” Freshman Guard Cormac Ryan transferred as a promising starter. Ryan now at another Catholic University, Notre Dame, averaged 28.5 minutes per game for the Cardinal as a true freshman, putting up 8.7 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. Stanford does have Guard Daejon Davis and Forward Oscar Da Silva returning, but 2020-2021 looks much better than this campaign with lots of young athletes getting playing time this year. The question will be if Stanford gives Haase a fifth year at the helm.

Number 9: Utah Utes

2018-19 Record: (17-14, 11-7)

2018-19 Pac-12 Finish: 3rd

The Utes lost four of their top six scorers from a solid 2018-19 squad. But Larry Krystkowiak is the Wizard of Salt Lake City and one of the great basketball minds along the West Coast. The Utes are young, but not short on size or talent. The Utes landed the two best bigs from the State of Utah, and both could make a nice impact immediately. Look for 7’4” true Freshman Center Matt Van Komen to plug up the paint and another true-Freshman in four-star rated 7’0” Forward Branden Carlson who can play inside and out to fill in gaps and create tough-match-ups for undersized Pac-12 teams. Utah also has 6’10” 220 pound redshirt-Freshman Lahat Thioune from Dakar, Senegal helping to patrol the paint. Adding more size and athleticism, Coach K has talented 6’8” 220 pound Forward Mikael Jantunen who can fill it up from all over the court entering Utah as another true-Freshman. Look for Larry Krystkowiak to have a pesky-bunch this year. Expect some upsets from Krystkowiak’s crew, especially at home where the Jon M. Huntsman Center sits at 4,657 feet above sea level.

Number 8. Oregon State Beavers

2018-19 Record: (18-13, 10-8)

2018-19 Pac-12 Finish: T-4th

Tres Tinkle (20.8 ppg, 8.1 rpg) returns after opting out of the NBA, and is going to have a monster year for the Beavers as an all-conference Pac-12 selection. Tinkle’s return plus Junior Guard Ethan Thompson (13.7 ppg, 3.9 apg) gives OSU a nice punch. With Tinkle fundamentally breaking down opponents, and his father’s great coaching, this Beaver team may potentially be a bubble team finding their way back into the NCAA tournament, where they haven’t won a game since 1982!

Number 7: UCLA Bruins

2018-19 Record: (17-16, 9-9)

2018-19 Pac-12 Finish: 7th

Kris Wilkes, Jaylen Hands and Moses Brown departed for NBA fame, but everyone else from last season’s team is back for 2019-20. Redshirt senior Prince Ali is the top returning scorer. Ali missed the final seven games of last season but averaged 9.6 points, 2.7 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.3 steals in 26 starts. Jules Bernard could be the most intriguing returner in Westwood. As a Freshman, he played 17.2 minutes but was fifth on the team in scoring with 7.6 points per game on 46.9% shooting. Bernard dropped 20 points against a surging Oregon Duck team in February, showing his potential to be a top scorer against top-tier athletes.

The Bruins have experienced talent as well as a pair of highly-touted newcomers Point Guard Tyger Campbell and Center Shareef O’Neal. Mick Cronin’s Cincinnati teams were infamous for low-scoring defensive games, playing a somewhat boring brand of basketball in today’s Twitter, Instagram and Snap-chat world of flash. He inherited a group of kids who like to score, and has all of the pieces to make an NCAA tournament run right now. Does Mick Cronin convince scorers to burn calories on the defensive side of the ball? UCLA plays Notre Dame and North Carolina back-to-back in December after a bunch of warm-up games. Both teams will command UCLA play on both sides of the ball.

Number 6: University of Southern California

2018-19 Record: (16-17, 8-10)

2018-19 Pac-12 Finish: T-8th Again, the Trojans are as talented as any top-tier team in the Conference of Champions, and has the athletes to run with anyone in the Country. But that was true last season and USC ended it with a losing record. Center Nick Rakocevic is a 6’11” 225-pound Senior Forward who is a versatile scorer and strong presence on the boards will have a monster season. He enters the year 35 points away from 1,000 career points. He also ranks 15th on USC’s all-time rebound list with 665.

Five-star Freshman Isaiah Mobley and grad transfers Quinton Adlesh and Daniel Utomi provide the Trojans experience, talent, and much-needed new perspectives potentially helping USC turn the page for the better. Look for early match-ups against San Diego State. Nevada and in December LSU to be measuring sticks for the Trojans.

Number 5: Washington Huskies

2018-19 Record: (27-9, 15-3)

2018-19 Pac-12 Finish: 1st

Washington ran away with the Pac-12’s regular season title last season, winning its first 10 conference games and finishing 3 games ahead of second-place Arizona State. The top four scorers from that team have departed, but there are still plenty of reasons to believe Mike Hopkins can keep the Huskies in the mix to compete for a Pac-12 Conference Championship.

The Huskies bring in 2 of the top eight players in the 2019 National Recruiting Class with five-star Guard Jaden McDaniels and 6’9” 245-pound Center Isaiah Stewart. They’ll add another former five-star talent in December when Kentucky transfer guard Quade Green becomes eligible. Junior guard Nahziah Carter got lost in the shuffle last season but has the talent to wreak havoc in any match-up. The signature of Hopkins teams have been the Boeheim 2-3 match-up zone, but the Pac-12 is stacked with talent, size and experience. The zone is no mystery, just ask Syracuse since the late 1980’s and 1990’s! By the way, who is playing a 2-3 zone in the NBA in a Pac-12 Conference stacked with future NBA talent? With a back-line of McDaniels, Stewart, and Wright the Huskies have length, and should be great cleaning up the glass. On offense the question is how crowded will the key become, and how consistent can the two 5-star Freshmen be as well as where will the shooting come from? If the Huskies don’t score, they won't run away with the Conference this year. Washington was 256th out of 353 teams in scoring average last season (69.8) and struggled against athletic teams that could score in volume (and play defense).

Number 4: Colorado Buffaloes

2018-19 Record: (23-13, 10-8)

2018-19 Pac-12 Finish: T-4th

The Buffaloes haven’t won more than a single game in the NCAA tournament since 1955. Tad Boyle has a roster with the experience and talent to change that. After a rough start in Pac-12 Conference play, Colorado finished last year’s regular season winning 10 of its final 13 games. The Buffaloes then had a pair of NIT wins before falling to eventual Tournament champion Texas in the quarterfinals. Point Guard McKinley Wright (13.0 ppg, 4.8 apg) and big man Tyler Bey (13.6 ppg, 9.9 rpg) present a formidable one-two punch, and Colorado just may start all upper-classmen on a team that only allowed 67.5 points per contest last year. Brazilian Senior Forward, 6’10” 230-pound Lucas Siewert enters this years campaign as the most experienced Buffalo, with 98 games played. Siewart has made 91 of 238 3-point field goals and at 38.2 percent and can extend defenses opening the middle for Tyler Bey. Colorado is as good as any team in the Conference, with that being said, unless their true bigs can contribute meaningful minutes in the paint, Colorado is going to struggle against length on the road. But like Salt Lake City, Boulder sits at 5,328 feet above sea level, a tough rise for the beach and desert schools in the Pac-12. Number 3: Arizona State Sun Devils

2018-19 Record: (23-11, 12-6)

2018-19 Pac-12 Finish: 2nd Let’s be honest Devil Fans, last year Arizona State trailed off-course after one-and-done Freshman Luguentz Dort revealed himself to be an inconsistent volume scorer who shot 29 percent from 3-point land in-conference and swallowed up 430 total shot attempts from the field. Not to of course stoke any emotional fire here, but Dort had a 98 Offensive Rating and was Bobby Hurley’s highest-usage player! The lack of efficiency was telling in Conference let-downs and a thorough beating at the hands of Buffalo in the NCAA Tournament’s first round. Against Vanderbilt, Luguentz was 3-13 from the field on 1-9 from 3-point range. Arizona State was embarrassed by Vanderbilt 81-65, a team who finished with only 9 wins and a fired coach in Bryce Drew. Against Ivy League Princeton, Luguentz shot 12.5 percent from the field on 1-6 from beyond and 0-2 inside the arc, a game ASU lost by 1-point. This year Arizona State Men’s Basketball will be far-more-efficient, and with more quality and depth, the Sun Devils go 10 deep, I would play all twelve in spots! Junior Guard, and Pac-12 Conference First Team Selection Remy Martin is going to make a name for himself nationally. Any self-proclaimed hoops fan should dial-in to Sun Devil Basketball just to watch Remy “share the sugar” and fill it up whenever his team needs some points. 6’3” 170 pound Junior College transfer, Alonzo Verge will be attacking and scoring in the paint. Look for returning Shooting Guards, Rob Edwards and Taeshon Cherry both to benefit from some of Dort’s now-available 176 long-range shots (54-176 30.7%) and 1072 minutes played. 6’9” 210-pound Junior College Transfer Khalid Thomas possesses a fundamentally sound long-range jumper but he also thrives in the paint with a soft touch. I think of Thomas as I do Robert Frank’s, last years leading scorer in the Pac-12 and now on a two-way contract with the Charlotte Hornets. Another Junior College Transfer 6’9” 210-pound Forward Andre Allen will help fill the void left by current New Orleans Pelican and DieHard favorite, Zylan “Yes Sir” Cheatham. Andre can run the floor and explode around the rim. ASU returns “The Big Fundamental” in Romello White who has yet another year in the weight room and with coaches working on footwork and touch. At 6’7” and 235-pounds, he is easily a vital component of Arizona State’s success as an undersized Center. His playing experience and leadership will keep everyone focused in tight spots. Another “X-Factor” will be the health of Senior Mickey Mitchell who can play guard, forward and dare I suggest on the block? If his back is healthy, Mickey will do whatever Hurley needs him to do on any stage at any time. Mitchell can score 20 any night of the week, but as needed might just grab 10 boards and drop 10 points as the ultimate team player. If Remy Martin and Sun Devil Point-Guards consistently move the ball around, look for ASU to improve 3-point efficiency and push into the Top-25 nationally in scoring. Talented Freshmen Jaelen House, Sophomore Elias Valtonen and Junior Kimani Lawrence will also make noise at The Bank and in key spots in Pac-12 play. Kimani will have a breakout year, and last year should have swallowed up some of Dort’s erratic minutes in my humble observation. The Question for Bobby Hurley? When will that East Coast Mentality Defense arrive in Tempe?

Number 2: Oregon Ducks

2018-19 Record: (25-13, 10-8)

2018-19 Pac-12 Finish: T-4th

Oregon lost Louis King, Kenny Wooten and Bol Bol to the professional ranks. Payton Pritchard even tested the waters before returning to the Ducks. Those defections took Oregon from being a Top 10 squad Nationally up to 25-32 in my opinion. Coach Dana Altman and company have appeared in and won at least one game in six of the last seven NCAA tournaments, and there are reasons to believe that trend will continue in 2020. The recipe for Altman is stout defense, in last years three-tournament games, opposing offenses scored 54 (Wisconsin), 54 (UC-Irvine) and 53 (National Champion Virginia). Payton Pritchard (12.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 4.6 apg) is a true headache to contend with and will run the point after a standout Junior campaign. Payton is a career 37-percent 3-point shooter for the Ducks. Pritchard will get plenty of help from the additions of five-star Freshman C.J. Walker and UNLV Graduate transfer Shakur Juiston (10.8 ppg, 8.8 rpg). The Pac-12 is going to have to deal with True Freshman Center, 6’11” 235-pound N'Faly Dante who can bring the thunder on the block, has a soft touch in the paint and can run the floor with any big in Conference. If Dante passes inside-out look for Oregon’s field goal percentage to improve, and they already shot 52-percent (35.1% 3-pt). Dana Altman will contend for Pac-12 Conference Coach of the Year with this crew.

Number 1: Arizona Wildcats

2018-19 Record: (17-15, 8-10)

2018-19 Pac-12 Finish: T-8th

Arizona fans are praying they never have to go through a season like 2018-19 again, both in terms of win/loss record and off-court drama. The Wildcats finished with their worst overall record in over three decades and many believed Sean Miller would be implicated in a pay-to-play scandal. The Wildcats lost a few key recruits on this front! The University of Arizona’s James E. Roger’s College of Law must be pretty solid. But don’t Pitty the Kitty in the abyss that is Tucson, Arizona. The Wildcats will be back in a big-way and pose a unique threat to every Pac-12 team, at every position, and they do so with depth.

Williams’ injury places the pressure on Point Guard Nico Mannion and Small Forward Josh Green, both Freshman who played High School hoops in the Valley of the Sun. Look for UC Irvine graduate transfer Max Hazzard, who fueled the Anteaters’ upset of fourth-seeded Kansas State in last year’s NCAA tournament. Hazzard is a solid 5-foot-10 combo guard who just so happens to be the younger brother of former UA walk-on Jacob Hazzard. Look for versatile Center, 6’11” Freshman Zeke Nnaji to mesh well with 6’10” 230-pound Senior Chase Jeter creating a powerful interior presence that will cause trouble for smaller Pac-12 Conference teams. Arizona State University Sun Devils Here & Now...

  1. ASU finished 23-11 and 12-6 in the Pac-12 in 2018-19, good enough for second in the league after being picked sixth in the preseason media poll.

  2. The Arizona State Sun Devils defeated No. 1 Kansas on Dec. 22, the first win over No. 1 at home in program history and the second all-time (also won at Oregon State in March of 1981).

  3. ASU notched its first NCAA Tournament win (First Four) since 2009 with a 74-65 victory over St. John's on March 20 in Dayton and posted 23 wins for just the eighth time in school history.

  4. Not many have been better early than the Sun Devils in the past two seasons, they are 20-5 in November under Coach Hurley in his four years including 12-0 the past two seasons. The 12 straight November wins is fourth-best in college basketball, behind only Virginia (25), Kansas (17) and Nevada (15).

  5. It could be “Jekyll & Hyde” but ASU has 21 halftime comeback wins under Coach Bobby Hurley in his four years, after posting 12 in the previous five seasons. That is tied for sixth-most among major conference teams (Kansas leads with 27) and is best in the Pac-12 (Washington has 19). It has 10 of those wins on the road, the best among all major conference teams (Providence has nine) and leads the Pac-12 (Oregon has six).

ASU NON-CONFERENCE REGULAR SEASON ROAD GAMES UNDER BOBBY HURLEY (5-2)

  1. ASU 79, Creighton 77 (Dec. 2, 2015)

  2. #5 Kentucky 72, ASU 58 (Dec. 5, 2015)

  3. ASU 66, UNLV 56 (Dec. 16, 2015)

  4. ASU 74, San Diego State 63 (Dec. 10, 2016)

  5. #16 ASU 95, #2 Kansas 85 (Dec. 10, 2017)

  6. #20 ASU 76, Georgia 74 (Dec. 15, 2019)

  7. Vanderbilt 81, #18 ASU 65 (Dec. 17, 2019)

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