Monday Rewind: Where does Arizona belong in Pac-12 title picture after offseason reload?
Welcome back to the Monday Rewind. Hope you enjoyed the weekend. Let’s dive in.
Tommy Lloyd’s remodel
Arizona’s athletic department is having a pretty nice start to the 2022 calendar year.
The men’s basketball team swept the Pac-12 regular-season and conference tournament titles, earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and is set to have a lottery pick and as many as three first-round selections in the 2022 NBA Draft. The women’s basketball team won 20 games for the fourth straight season. Baseball made it to the Coral Gables Regional final after knocking out nationally-seeded and regional host Miami. Softball made it to the Women’s College World Series. Football signed a top-25 recruiting class (per the 247 Composite) for the first time since 2006.
Of course, football is the money-mover and Arizona is undoubtedly hoping for a better season than what 2021 provided, but the poster child for excellence within this athletic department right now is once again the men’s hoops program.
Tommy Lloyd is the face.
And what a job he has done in the last 12 months.
After borderline unprecedented success as a first-time head coach, Lloyd went into the offseason knowing that his second roster could look significantly different from his first. With Dalen Terry sticking in the NBA Draft, that fact was confirmed. The Wildcats are losing the Pac-12 Player of the Year in Bennedict Mathurin, the Pac-12 Defender of the Year in Christian Koloko, and one of the Pac-12’s most underrated stars in Terry. Add to that the graduation of backup point Justin Kier and you have the makings of a major reload in Tucson.
So far, I think Lloyd has handled it brilliantly.
Getting Terry to stay would have been a massive coup. I wrote at the time of his draft declaration he was the exact kind of prospect who would shoot up draft boards once he got in front of NBA teams and, sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. If he didn’t feel good about being a first-rounder, he wouldn’t still be in the player pool. If he’s not a first-round selection, I’ll be shocked. And that means Lloyd doesn’t get knocked for being unable to keep him around for another year.
Instead, he gets kudos for going out and finding the kind of players who can immediately fit what he wants to do.
Start with Henderson, a 6-foot-6 guard who can really play 2 through 4 while handling the ball and facilitating for teammates. For his career, Henderson averages 17 points, six rebounds, two assists, a steal, and a block (two stocks for the fantasy junkies, great value) per 40 minutes. He owns a career PER of 19.8 and a career true shooting percentage of 59.7%. As far as replacements to slot into the Terry role, it doesn’t get much better. No, he’s not going to walk in and be a carbon copy of Terry, but Lloyd’s offense worked really, really well with multiple guys on the floor who could create and Henderson can absolutely do that. Plus, he’s got the skill to be effective in transition either as the distributor or the finisher.
I really like his game.
Ramey is another guard with size (6-foot-3) who can knock down the 3-ball with precision. In 2020-21—his last season with former Texas coach Shaka Smart and a season that’s more indicative of how he’ll be used at Arizona—Ramey averaged 12.2 points and 3.2 assists in 33 minutes a night while shooting 41% from the 3-point line. He and Kerr Kriisa can play together and should be a pretty nice fit on the court.
The big thing both guys give is defense.
It was clear once the NCAA Tournament got rolling that Arizona was one perimeter defender short. So Lloyd went out and got two. Ramey was one of the better defenders in the Big 12. Henderson’s résumé speaks for itself.
Lloyd has recruited well overseas so far (don’t forget about Henri Veesaar) but these two portal gets felt a little akin to Lloyd flexing as the contract extension and pay raise came through the proverbial fax machine. Lloyd pulled legitimate impact transfers from the portal. He didn’t reach. Both of the guards UA added last week feel like seamless fits into his style of play and the roster as currently constructed.
Given what Arizona has lost, it’s more than fair to consider someone else (UCLA) the favorites heading into next year. But, man, is it tough to find anything wrong with what Lloyd has done since taking over this program. This is looking like it’ll once again be a really, really good basketball team. And that’s because it looks like it has one of the best coaches in the sport running the show.
The SEC narrative
Lincoln Riley sat down for a wide-ranging and exclusive interview with CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd last week. Perhaps the most interesting (to me) material to come out of that conversation was Riley acknowledging and (kind of?) dismissing the narrative that he was running from the SEC.
Quick story, as told by the lovely Tweeter machine: Lincoln Riley was an Oklahoma coach, through and through. The LSU talk was bogus because he’d never leave and was committed to setting OU up for its impending move from the Big 12 to the SEC. Then he left after a Bedlam loss, but actually it’s because he was scared of OU’s impending move from the Big 12 to the SEC and didn’t want to compete against SEC competition.
“I heard the whole SEC narrative,” Riley told CBS Sports. “To me, the SEC has nothing to do with it. It’s all about the program that you’re at and the position you think you can get to.
“… I’ve walked into four playoffs, and I’ve never had better than maybe the third-best roster (of the four teams). Every other year, we were four of four. We had really good rosters, but they weren’t the same. … I can’t imagine that there could be a setting that we could build a better roster than we can here.”
That’s pretty revelatory. More so than what I thought we’d get from Riley this offseason. It was about upward mobility, it seems.
Riley has said many times that USC sells itself, that USC can be a terror to its peers on the recruiting trail with the right man at the helm. Early returns suggest he’s right. USC has been a machine on the trail since Riley came aboard. The transfer portal wins came fast and furious during the previous cycle. Have you looked at the list of visitors coming to campus this upcoming weekend? That’s not a blip. That’ll continue under Riley, who recruited wherever he wanted to at Oklahoma with no natural talent base in his backyard.
Maybe the prospect of playing SEC competition had something to do with Riley’s calculus. Those conference realignment decisions are often made with input from football coaching staffs, but those guys rarely have much influence at the end of the day. If the president and the athletic director want it, it’ll happen. The department is going to benefit from all that SEC media money whether it wins eight games or 10 games. But in a results business, would Riley wonder, “What happens if my 10-plus-win seasons suddenly become eight? Do they run me out of here?” I think he would.
The part that’s getting me is the talk of program ceiling:
“It’s all about the program that you’re at and the position you think you can get to.”
USC in the Pac-12 has a higher ceiling than Oklahoma in the SEC. It wasn’t about the SEC, but it seems like it also kinda was.
And that’s perfectly OK.
Check the pulse in Tempe
The 2022 Athlon Sports college football preview magazine is out.
Sun Devil Source publisher Chris Karpman shared a snippet from the Arizona State section where opposing coaches scouted the Sun Devils with anonymity. The takes are… wild.
- “This is the biggest dumpster fire in college football. It is absolutely mind-blowing that Herm (Edwards) is still employed, at least in the mind of the college coaching community. Everyone knows it’s a ticking time bomb, but no one knows if it’s going off in a month or a year from now. They look like a mid-level SEC program when they get off the bus, and you start to see what they’ve been recruiting. Then you finish the game, and it’s like playing a MWC team. They’re wildly inconsistent, they turn the ball over, they make mental errors, it’s all stuff that screams no stability. We’ve played them when they’re locked in and physical, and we’ve played them when they’re just not interested in being there.”
- “It’s embarrassing he (Edwards) still has a job when some of those assistants are unemployed and bearing the brunt of things he directed.”
- “This program has the best chance of a total implosion midseason because there’s no consistency anywhere: not in the coaches, the head coach, or the roster. It’s a waste. This program is always good on paper but fails to every (sic) really win consistently, and this another example of it.”
Is Ray Anderson asleep at the wheel? Does he not care that the ASU program has become a punching bag for the rest of the country? Does university leadership care?
I actually think Arizona State can be pretty competent still this fall thanks in large part to what it has on defense, but this offseason has been one of constant negativity and you just have to wonder if, at some point, that starts to weigh on the locker room.
My colleague over at Saturday Down South, Connor O’Gara, had this idea and I thought it was brilliant, so I borrowed it: the All-Bang the Drum Team. One player, every Pac-12 school, no quarterbacks.
Shoutout of the Week
- Cooper Hjerpe, Oregon State pitcher: He was wonderful on the mound Sunday for the Beavers, helping Oregon State fend off elimination and force a Game 3 for a trip to Omaha. Five innings, three hits, six strikeouts to set the program record for a single season (161). Legend.