Pac-12 Summer Roundup: Fresh talent could upgrade West Coast
Pac-12 pulled in an impressive array of freshman, transfer talent this offseason
Will Shabazz Muhammad be docked by the NCAA for possible extra benefits?
Look for Arizona and Stanford to give chase to projected Pac-12 leader UCLA
Feel like you're out of the college hoops loop? No problem. SI.com recaps everything you need to know as summer recruiting season winds to a close and a new crop of college players get ready to take the floor. Today Frank Burlison takes a look at the Pac-12.
All systems are "Go!" for a more rewarding "Selection Sunday".
Staying put: For the second consecutive spring, there were no changes among the conference's head coaches. The same isn't likely to be the case almost as soon as the upcoming season comes to a close -- especially if the paltry total of one at-large selection to the NCAA tournament (all the conference landed, via Cal, last spring) isn't considerably healthier in March.
In like a Lyon ... : After three tumultuous seasons in Cincinnati, Mark Lyons decided to leave his days as a Musketeer behind him. Having visited a number of hoops heavyweights including Kansas and Kentucky, the former Xavier shooting guard ultimately made the offseason leap to the Pac-12. But a change in team isn't the only adjustment the Schenectady, N.Y.-native will likely have to make. Will he be able to live up to the expectations of a point guard role with Arizona?
Around the world: Seven programs -- Arizona, Colorado, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA, Washington and Washington State -- took overseas trips in the summer. As coaches are fond of pronouncing, one of the very best things about the off-season trips is that NCAA regulations permit 10 full practices prior to takeoff. That may be, in fact, more beneficial than the games they actually play.
UCLA and Arizona (which, collectively, signed five of the 24 members of the 2012 McDonald's All-American team) landed two of the three or four best classes of freshmen, nationally. The Ben Howland-led Bruins pulled in top recruits Tony Parker, Shabazz Muhammad, Zach LaVine, Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams, while Arizona scored Brandon Ashley, Grant Jerrett, Kaleb Tarczewski and Gabe York. This injection of talent into its ranks, could very likely make a downtrodden Pac-12 a contender on the national stage.
Stanford also had a quite strong (albeit underrated by a lot of national recruiting pundits) freshmen haul, as did Colorado. And Utah and USC -- 11th and 12th, respectively, in the conference standings last March -- will rely heavily on strong groups of transfers and players who missed all or most of last season due to injury.
The most significant newcomer among the bunch, though, may be Phoenix-native Jahii Carson, who was academically ineligible to play as a freshman last season. Carson is immediately both the quickest and most dynamic point guard in the conference and will give the Arizona State Sun Devils' offense a much-needed playmaker.
The biggest off-season storyline is one that may bleed into the regular season, depending upon how quickly the NCAA makes its decision. UCLA decided to keep Shabazz Muhammad -- the 2012 unanimous National Player of the Year out of Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas -- home while Ben Howland's crew left for its trip to China. The NCAA is investigating possible "extra benefits" he may have received while a prep (possibly in the way of "unofficial" visits he took to various colleges during the recruiting process).
The consensus of opinion in the coaching community is that Muhammad is going to be docked games by the NCAA. The only difference in opinion is in how many? If that proves the case, then how long will he be sitting on the bench wearing street clothes in the "new Pauley Pavilion"? Inquiring minds -- mostly Muhammad's, Howland's and the other 11 conference head coaches' -- anxiously anticipate the ruling.
1. UCLA: If Shabazz Muhammad is cleared by the NCAA before the start of Pac-12 play, then the Bruins will be the firm favorites. He and fellow freshmen Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams (the best deep jump shooter in the program) and Tony Parker (especially if Joshua Smith isn't in his best-ever shape), along with the returnees -- most notably the Wear twins -- are capable of winning the conference and a couple of NCAA tournament games, as well.
2. Arizona: The Wildcats have the best senior and leader in the conference in Solomon Hill, a first-team all-conference choice as a junior and a member of a very short list of 2013 Pac-12 Player of the Year candidates. Even with a bunch of quality returnees and the aforementioned exceptional class of freshmen, the key element to coach Sean Miller's team's run for a title will be the play of instantly eligible Mark Lyons at the point -- a position he wasn't asked to play much with the Musketeers.
3. Stanford: Johnny Dawkins, in his fifth season at Stanford's helm, returns three starters from a 26-win, NIT-championship team. He'll have one of the nation's best (if also most under-appreciated) backcourts in junior Aaron Bright (the NIT MVP) and sophomore Chasson Randle.