Halloween has come and gone and November is upon us. Preseason rankings are being released. Experts are starting to make their Final Four predictions. This can only mean one thing: It's college basketball season, folks!
So, over the next week and a half, I will give a rundown of what Arizona fans should know about each of their Pac-12 foes.
We'll start with the team I expect to finish in the conference basement this year: The Washington State Cougars.
Ernie Kent is entering his second season as the head man for Wazzu. This is a man Pac-12 fans are quite familiar with. After all, he's got a Pac-10 Coach of the Year award under his belt, a Pac-10 Regular Season Championship, and even two Pac-10 Conference Tournament Championships. The underlying theme about all those accomplishments is that those were all under the Pac-10 banner, as he did most of those things over a decade ago for Oregon.
It's 2015 now and Ernie Kent is coaching a program that hasn't seen the NCAA Tournament since 2008. 2008 was also the last time Kent had a winning season. In Kent's first year with Washington State, they managed a respectable seven conference wins and proved that Beasley Coliseum is not an easy place to play for opponents. But with a team that ranked 313th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency (according to KenPom.com) and the loss of their top scorer of a year ago, neither of those streaks dating back to '08 should be expected to change this year.
There's not a lot of top talent on this team, but junior forward Josh Hawkinson will make up for some of that. He averaged 14.7 points, 10.8 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game for the Cougars last season. Losing last year's top scorer, DaVonte Lacy, to graduation, will mean an uptick in shots for Hawkinson. That shouldn't be a problem as Hawkinson's efficiency is fantastic. He shot 50% last season and just over 85% from the line. According to pointafter.com, nearly 50% of Hawkinson's shots come right at the rim and he made 60% of those last season. More of that this year and Hawkinson could find himself with some Pac-12 awards at season's end.
Games versus Arizona...
Jan. 16 @ McKale Center
Feb. 3 @ Beasley Coliseum
The Projected Starting 5...
C Conor Clifford
F Josh Hawkinson
F Junior Longrus
G Charles Callison
G Ike Iroegbu
Juniors, Hawkinson and Iroegbu, are the only returning starters. Senior forward, Longrus, moves from the bench to the starting lineup and JUCO transfers, Clifford and Callison, are the new faces on the team expected to get starter's minutes.
The Best Case Scenario...
If the Cougs can shore up their defense, get the ball to Hawkinson down low, and get some scoring help from junior guard, Ike Iroegbu, they have a shot at winning some games. At best, I can see them jumping to 8th in the conference, perhaps landing in the NIT and causing some chaos for teams with more talent when they come up to Pullman.
While I think they'll steal some home games and think Hawkinson is a legitimate All-Pac-12 First Team contender, I think this team finishes last in the conference, with a Pac-12 record of 4-14.