ARIZONA Last Season: 23-12 (12-6), NIT. Who’s Back? The discussion has to start with Solomon Hill. Hill spent most of last season having to play the power forward position, but now should be back to his more comfortable spot on the wing. The do-it-all player averaged 12.9 points and 7.7 boards a game for the Wildcats while shooting 50% from the field. Expect those numbers to go up this year as he finally has some help, and there’s a decent chance that he’ll be in the running for conference player of the year honors. The Cats also get starting guard Nick Johnson back this year. Johnson was primarily a SG but did fill in at the point at times this season. Joining Hill & Johnson on the wing is Kevin Parrom. He’ll probably be a sixth man for the Cats this season, but he should put up good numbers. He struggled with a drama filled season last year (he had health issues and also had to deal with the death of his mother), but with that behind him he should be able to cause lots of problems for teams that can’t compete with Arizona’s depth. Who’s Gone? The Josiah Turner experiment in Tucson is over. The PG who has been described as “enigmatic”, “erratic” and “completely unpredictable” was finally dismissed from the team and the Wildcats are moving on without him. Also gone from last year’s team are Kyle Fogg and Jesse Perry, and unlike Turner they will be missed. Fogg was a solid shooter for the Cats, nailing 44% of his 3’s last year and shooting an eFG% of 52.9%. Perry was an undersized big for Arizona who provided key rebounds for them all season. Both players were pretty efficient on offense, and they will be missed. Who’s New? When you have a top 3 recruiting class, you have to be feeling good. But when you have a top 3 recruiting class and you bring in a high profile transfer to play PG for you, you have to be ecstatic – and that’s exactly what Arizona did. Mark Lyons transferred in from Xavier (where he played under Miller) and while there are some concerns on if he can handle being a “true” PG, he’ll easily be an upgrade over Turner. Joining Lyons in Tucson this year are three big men who should provide nightmares for Arizona’s opponents in Brandon Ashley, Grant Jerrett and Kaleb Tarczewski. Tarczewski is a “traditional” center who should hold the fort down for the Wildcats while Jerrett and Ashley are better suited for the power forward position. Ashley has a bit more of a face up game than Jerrett, so expect Ashley to start with Jerrett coming off of the bench for the Cats. Best Case Scenario: The Wildcats use their size all year to dominate the Pac-12 while Lyons runs the point to perfection. Ashley, Parrom and Hill provide enough shooting to open up room down low for Tarczewski and Jerrett to work. Sean Miller’s cough goes away long enough for him to figure out how to manage his timeouts and the Wildcats are back in the Final Four. Worst Case Scenario: Lyons never gets the hang of the point and the offense tends to not gel most games. The freshmen bigs struggle to get used to the speed & power of Pac-12 basketball, and Hill never is able to get going because teams are able to focus all of their energy on stopping him. Miller snaps and decapitates a ref when he denies him the chance to call a sixth timeout 5 minutes into a game and the Cats end up losing in the play-in game of the NCAA Tournament. JGIsland’s Stat You Should Know: Sean Miller is known for his man-to-man pack line defense. One area that the pack line defense can be exploited is the three point line. Defenders don’t deny the first pass; rather they lay off looking to help stop the penetration. In 2011/12 the Arizona Wildcats did a great job in closing out on the three point shooters, letting opposing teams shoot only 28.5% from three (3rd best in the nation) while only blocking 1% of three point shots. PacHoops’ Take: This team has Mark Lyons on it – need I say more? We’re all too familiar with the Josiah Turner debacle and do you really think Sean Miller would take another reckless chance on an enigmatic point guard? Maybe. But here’s a spoiler alert: that’s not how this one shakes out. Lyons is on his last legs as a collegian playing for his first coach and with everything to prove. Then I’ll just lay this out there: California HS Player of the Year, three former four stars, and career 38% three point shooter. That’s Arizona’s second five in Grant Jerrett, Kevin Parrom, Angelo Chol, Gabe York, and Jordin Mayes or as some of us like to call it: depth. Goose’s Pick: First in Pac-12, Sweet 16. ARIZONA STATE Last Season: 10-21 (6-12) Who’s Back? Leading the way back for the Sun Devils is senior Carrick Felix, who averaged 10.5 points and 4.0 rebounds a game last year for ASU. Felix has struggled at times, but with ASU planning on going more up-tempo this season, it should benefit his game. Also helping will be senior PG Chris Colvin who had an interesting season. He was suspended twice during the year for conduct detrimental to the team, and had a hard time fitting in in his first season in Tempe. Ultimately though, the biggest returning player for ASU is center Jordan Bachynski. The 7-foot-2, 257 pound junior started to find his groove a bit by the end of the season, averaging 10.2 points and 5.2 rebounds a game over his last 11 games. If he can continue like that, it’ll open things up for the rest of the team. Who’s Gone? The Sun Devils were bad last year and they won’t be returning their top two scorers. Guard Keala King was dismissed off of the team last January after averaging 13.7 ppg and then this off-season they lost Trent Lockett (13 ppg) as he decided to transfer to Marquette where he will be eligible immediately. Who’s New? Jahii Carson – otherwise known as ASU’s best source of optimism for this season. The redshirt freshman was a top 40 recruit in the nation two seasons ago but was declared ineligible by the NCAA before the season (are you paying close attention UCLA?). He’ll also get some help from transfer Evan Gordon (brother of the New Orleans Hornets Eric Gordon), a guard who was Liberty’s leading scorer two years ago before transferring to Tempe. With Colvin, Carson and Gordon, expect the Devils to be a lot faster paced team than what they were last year. Best Case Scenario: Carson is as good as everyone expects and Sendek recovers the coaching ability that he had at NC State, leading the Sun Devils to a bit of a revival and a post-season tournament. The Devils are so exciting that even PacHoops starts following Sendek on twitter. Worst Case Scenario: Carson doesn’t gel and gets tired of watching his passes bounce off of incompetent teammates’ hands. Sendek looks lost during games and eventually is fired for accidentally tweeting out compromising photos of him with an ASU co-ed. JGIsland’s Stat You Should Know: Only three teams turned it over on a higher percentage of possessions (25.7%) than Arizona St. did last year (Texas Tech, Maryland Eastern Shore and Towson). But is help on the way or is it going to be more of the same in Tempe? Jahii Carson is finally eligible to suit up for the Sun Devils after failing to academically qualify for his freshman campaign. The former top-100 and 4 start recruit has a tendency to over-handle it and has often plays too fast, so while the talent level at ASU certainly increases, the turnovers may as well. PacHoops’ Take: Well we can at least say they finally got their savior. Jahii Carson arrives and it only took him one additional year to qualify which is rather impressive by ASU standards. But joking aside, this kid can play. He’s can jump out of the gym and is about as quick as they come. He’s leading a team alongside some good lineage in Evan Gordon, brother of Eric Gordon. Evan can fill the tin and should give the Devils a tough backcourt to deal with. Then you toss in the maturing play of Jordan Bachynski and the senior savvy of Carrick Felix and this team just might win twelve-instead-of-ten-games. Goose’s Pick: Last in Pac-12. UTAH Last Season: 6-25 (3-15) Who’s Back? No one. Seriously, of last season’s rotation regulars, only two players return – senior center Jason Washburn (11.4 points, 6.2 rebounds per game) and senior wing Cedric Martin (7.4 points, 3.2 rebounds a game). That's it. Who’s Gone? Everyone else. Josh Watkins, their starting PG, was dismissed off of the team last February. His replacement in Kareem Storey decided to transfer to Drake (taking wing Chris Hines with him there). Dijon Farr, Javon Dawson, George Matthews and Anthony Odunsi all transferred as well. Along with all of this, forward Blake Wilkinson decided to go on a Mormon mission and won’t be back for two seasons. Who’s New? Utah has eight new players. Rather than go through the list, let’s just look at the ones that are likely to contribute this year. Leading the way is freshman Jordan Loveridge. The Utah high school product was a target of the Buffs for a while, but decided to stay home. Loveridge was coach Larry Krystowiak’s #1 priority since he was hired, and after putting up 22.9 points and 13.1 rebounds a game in his senior year, it was easy to see why. Loveridge led the Utes in scoring and rebounding on their trip to Brazil this summer. The Utes also get two big men returning from missionary work in Dallin Bachynski and Jeremy Olsen. Neither have played in three seasons, but bother are 6’10” or taller and could help the Utes in the interior. Joining them up front is JuCo big man Renan Lenz. As you can tell, the Utes have quite a bit of size in the frontcourt, and that alone gives them reason to be slightly more optimistic. The question is, can they get anything from their guards. If so, Utah could catch a few teams sleeping this year. Best Case Scenario: Things finally start to click. Krystowiak gets the players to rally around him and while they’re still a bad team, they show signs of life. Loveridge is a stud and leads the team in points and rebounds per game, and gives Utah a genuine building block for the future. No one transfers out, and they build upon their 10th place finish in conference and become known as “the team that started the turnaround”. Worst Case Scenario: Things go exactly as most expect. Krystowiak still looks lost out there, and Loveridge is frustrated as he realizes that he had more talented teammates during high school and on the AAU circuit. Loveridge decides that maybe a fresh start would be a good idea, and along with 8 of his teammates decides to transfer as soon as the season is over, setting Utah even further back on their rebuilding efforts. JGIsland’s Stat You Should Know: Much like USC they were near the bottom of every offensive statistical category (Adj Efficiency 314th, eFG% 288th, TO% 283rd, Off Reb% 342nd and the list goes on). Unlike USC however they don’t have a plethora of talented incoming transfers or players returning from injury, it is going to be another painful year of hoops in SLC. PacHoops’ Take: All I’ve heard are rave reviews of Jordan Loveridge, the crown jewel of Larry K’s recruiting class. Additionally, the only reviews of Utah basketball that I’ve seen in the recent past are ones regarding their consistent personnel turnover. Last season it was something like fourteen newcomers and this year’s roster touts ten newcomers. Nothing about the word “turnover” is good in basketball unless it involves a toxic coach but that’s not the case in Salt Lake. Look, the Utes do return three seniors and I do love seniors. The last-year-crew is highlighted by Jason Washburn (14/6/1) who ain’t too shabby. But we need to get serious: it’s likely another long year for Utah. Goose’s Pick: 11th in Pac-12.