Here is the last part of my mega-preview, inspecting the basketball teams in the great big state of Arizona.
Head Coach: Sean Miller (1st year, career 120-47)
Wow, what an offseason for Arizona! They landed a great coach in Sean Miller, and for a bonus they also landed all of Xavier's recruits (almost true!). Will Miller replicate his golden-boy successes in the big bad Pac 10? From a neutral point of view, this could be the most interesting team in the conference.
Chase Budinger, Jordan Hill,
Nic Wise (SR, 15.7 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 4.6 apg, 1.5 spg, .452 FG, .415 3PT, .848 FT)
Wise was named to the All-Pac-10 2nd Team last year, and for good reason. He is a big time scorer and distributor and I think he's even better than he gets credit for. He's the second highest returning scorer in the league (Randle is 1st). He's quick, strong, durable, and tenacious. He should help Coach Miller have a successful 1st year and be a bridge to the next generation of Wildcat stars.
Jamelle Horne (JR, 6.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg)
Horne has been a solid role player for Arizona the last couple years but he is going to be a big factor for them this year, whether he's ready or not. He had an excellent game against Kansas last year (19 points, 13 rebounds) but often disappeared the rest of the year.Miller has high hopes for him, saying "I think he can be much better than he has been in the past." In a conference devoid of dominant low post players, Horne could have an excellent season if he improves as much as Miller thinks he will.
Solomon Hill (FR, 16.2 ppg, 11.7 rpg, 5.1 apg, Fairfax HS/Los Angeles) looks likely to force his way into a starting position. He's a typical Xavier recruit, the athletic wing with a variety of talents. I don't know if he's a good shooter yet but he can play solid defense and break defenders down off the dribble.
Kevin Parrom (FR, 13.0 ppg, 7.2 rpg, South Kent HS/South Kent, Conn.) could be the gem of
Xavier's Arizona's recruiting class. Another versatile wing, Parrom can get out and run in transition and pass well out of the low post. Expect to see this guy dunking on you regularly. Hopefully (for us) he won't be comfortable when forced into a halfcourt game.
Blue Ribbon Outlook:
Miller is more familiar with his freshmen than he is with UA's returning players. "The challenge in the summer is just that you're relegated by NCAA rules to how much contact you can have," Miller said. "And when they're here in summer school, you're out in the whole month of July recruiting. How familiar we get and how much they trust what we're doing will be a very important factor."
It's not unfathomable to believe the Wildcats could finish as high as third in the league in Miller's first season. Now, you can be sure that's not something he's going to say. He's doing his level best to temper expectations. "We want to let the players become part of this program. Nic Wise is on his fourth coach in four years. They don't know what it's like to be part of a program where from one month to the next, it's the same. I'm hoping more than anything you see us coming closer together. To what level that gets us, I can't answer.
Head Coach: Herb Sendek (4th year, 54-45 at ASU)
Sendek will be returning to the type of ASU squad he first had when he moved from NC State. Harden and Pendergraph are gone, and Sendek admits replacing his stars will be a challenge. Harden often made everyone else on the team look like role players, but Sendek's excellent zone defense and methodical offense will keep ASU close when they shouldn't be and win some games they shouldn't win.
James Harden, Jeff Pendergraph
Derek Glasser (SR, 8.8 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 4.8 apg, .413 3PT, .832 FT)
Glasser absolutely caught fire at the end of last year, largely overshadowing the mysteriously languid Harden in the Pac 10 and NCAA tournament. He finished the year 2nd in assists, putting in a 3:1 assist to turnover ratio in the Pac 10 tournament. Oh, he also can shoot. Slowing him down is probably the key to beating the Sun Devils, but don't forget that their zone helps hide defensive deficiencies. This kid can flat out light you up on offense, so I say we stick Casto on him like we did to Harden last year!
Rihards Kuksiks (JR, 10.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg, .443 3PT)
Kuksiks is another dangerous shooter, though perhaps less able than Glasser to create shots either for himself or others. He'll have to mature for the Sun Devils to not lose a step on offense. Adding some post moves or a pull-up jumper would go a long way towards making himself a vital part of the offense. He'll also need to prove he can make the smart passes in order to prevent opposing defenses from keying in on Glasser.
Victor Rudd (FR, 16.6 ppg, 8.6 rpg, Findlay Prep/Henderson, Nev.) is a 6-7, 200-pound power forward. He's extremely athletic, apparently comparable to Ike Diogu (how scary is that?). Word out of Tempe is that he is as athletic as anyone to come through the program in recent years. He'll go through the normal freshman adjustments but could become a starter early in the season. I don't know if he can actually shoot or if he racked up those points off of outrunning / outjumping the other players in high school.
Jamelle McMillan (JR, 4.8 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 1.8 apg, 19.2 mpg, .386 3PT). Okay, we know about McMillan. I guess he's not quite a "rising star" but he could see a huge upswing in minutes for games where Sendek favors a three-guard lineup. He passes decently, shoots decently, rebounds decently... A strong season from him could be the difference between NIT and NCAA.
Blue Ribbon Outlook:
To mask athletic deficiencies on his roster upon his arrival at ASU, Sendek installed a zone. Three years later and he's still using it, honing it, and the players have responded to it and grown more comfortable. It's primarily a 3-2, and last year it allowed the Sun Devils to rank second in the conference in scoring defense and third in field-goal percentage defense. If solid defense can keep them in games and the freshmen come along, the Sun Devils have a chance for an upper-division finish in the Pac-10.
Both these teams have realistic shots at making the tournament. Arizona probably would be favored because they brought in a great coach in Sean Miller, and he brought in all his Xavier recruits. They should be a fun team to watch, though not to play against. They don't have the continuity to really challenge for the Pac 10 title but it would not be surprising to see them extend their bogus (oh snap, I went there) streak of NCAA tourney appearances. Nic Wise is a great player and if he steps solidly into the leadership role this will be a team that can play with anyone. In some ways it is a shame for him that he's graduating, because if next year was his Senior season they'd probably be challenging for the Pac 10 title.
ASU always has a punchers chance, and we won't have to wait long to see how well they've coped with losing Harden and Pendergraph. They'll be favored to reach the Preseason NIT semifinal against Duke on November 25th, a tough early season test to be sure. They have a pretty decent team of role players returning, but will they up their games enough to finish in the top half of the Pac 10? I see them as being a consistently solid team, finishing somewhere from 4th to 6th and right in the middle of that tournament bubble.