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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Men’s hoops guide: Who will win the Pac-12?

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Wally Skalij
UCLA's Joshua Smith, center, is harassed by Richmond's Derrick Williams, left, and Cedrick Lindsay in first half action at the Sports Arena in Los Angeles, December 23, 2011. This year Smith has been working harder to battle weight problems and will be key to the teams success. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

Shabazz Muhammad is a stud. The UCLA freshman and future top-five NBA draft pick will miss a portion of the season — likely 10 games — due to recruiting violations, but the minute he steps on the court he might already be the best scorer in the Pac-12, and possibly the nation.

Freshman Kyle Anderson is a matchup nightmare — he’s 6-foot-9 and has the ability to run the point.

Anderson, Muhammad, Jordan Adams and Tony Parker comprise the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation, and they join a roster that already includes North Carolina transfer Larry Drew II, Tyler Lamb, David and Travis Wear and the talented, albeit overweight, Joshua Smith.

UCLA is good, but they won’t win the Pac-12. Arizona will.

Even if, for some reason, Muhammad didn’t wind up playing, the Bruins are still primed for an NCAA tournament appearance. With Muhammad, UCLA is a probably Final Four contender.

But Arizona will finish at the top of the Pac-12, largely because UCLA is unproven.

Solomon Hill, Kevin Parrom and Jordin Mayes have all been to an Elite Eight. Mark Lyons has been to three Sweet 16’s. Lyons and Hill have already proven themselves at the collegiate level with a combined 2,202 points, and Lyons’s scoring ability surpasses that of any guard on UCLA, and most in the conference overall.

UCLA is one of the few teams that come close to matching up with the UA in terms of size. UCLA’s Smith and the Wear twins are 6-foot-10, while Parker is 6-foot-9. Arizona’s Brandon Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski, Grant Jerrett and Angelo Chol range from 6-foot-8 to 7-feet.

However, Smith is a rotund 310 pounds and the Wear twins snared an average of 12.2 rebounds per game.

It helps that the Wildcats non-conference schedule is easier. Now, that doesn’t necessarily affect the Pac-12 standings, but the only troubling game for the UA leading into conference play is against Florida, and maybe Clemson or Long Beach State. UCLA will take on San Diego State, Georgetown, Texas and Missouri. And the majority of those matchups might come without Muhammad. Arizona will have the momentum going into Pac-12 play.

Head-to-head, the games will certainly be close, but in the grand scheme of things Arizona will do better in Pac-12 play.

How that translates into the NCAA tournament remains to be seen, but with or without Muhammad, the Wildcats are still in line for a Pac-12 title.

— Zack Rosenblatt is the sports editor. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu or on Twitter via @ZackBlatt

A lot of the hype and expectations in Tucson are built around Arizona’s impressive recruiting class, but over in Los Angeles, Ben Howland and his Bruins are bringing in a crop of even more talented freshmen.

UCLA captured the No. 1 overall recruiting class, according to ESPN.com, headlined by top-five recruits Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson. With the size the Bruins bring back this year, plus the influx of young talent, UCLA should be the favorite to win the Pac-12.

The Wildcats have fewer question marks, but also a lower ceiling than UCLA, especially if Muhammad, Anderson and center Joshua Smith can round into shape — literally for Smith, who again returned to campus a little too doughy this year. There is a catch to the Bruins return to prominence, and it revolves solely around the eligibility of Muhammad.

Muhammad, the nation’s No. 2 overall prospect, is ineligible for the start of the season for violating the NCAA amateurism rules, and according to the Los Angeles Times, the freshman small forward could miss the first 10 games of the season. The number may either go up or down depending on any new information, but without him, the Bruins aren’t the same dangerous team.

His absence will hurt UCLA early on, and with some tough non-conference games that could be an issue. The question is about the Pac-12 and by the time conference play rolls around, Muhammad should be back and the Bruins will become one of the nation’s best teams.

The Bruins return to a newly renovated Pauley Pavilion with the country’s top recruiting class, a talented returning group and, if some of the questions around the team can be answered, Howland should be off the hot seat and have his Final Four swagger back.

Lazeric Jones, the Bruins’ top scorer with 16.6 points per game last season, is gone, along with guard Jerime Anderson. But the Wear twins return to the middle, David Wear scored 10.2 points per game and Travis Wear 11.5 last season, and junior guard Tyler Lamb also returns.

The real meat of this team is the newcomers, though, as well as the potential of Smith. Along with Muhammad and Anderson, top-50 recruits Tony Parker and Jordan Adams bring some needed firepower and depth. Also, North Carolina transfer Larry Drew II brings a stabilizing senior presence at point guard, very similar to the role fulfilled by Arizona’s Mark Lyons.

On paper, both Arizona and UCLA seem fairly equal, which is why they were ranked right next to each other in the AP preseason poll, No. 12 and No. 13 respectively.

But Muhammad is the difference-maker. If he can play, he’s already NBA-ready and should dominate immediately. A lot of the same arguments can be made for Arizona, but the bigs for the Wildcats will need time to adjust to the college game.

— Kyle Johnson is a journalism junior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu or on Twitter via @KyleJohnsonUA

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