Pac-12 stock report: UCLA’s on-court opportunity (and challenges), Arizona’s setback and a notable retirement

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Commentary on Pac-12 developments on and off the field, and court …

Rising: Pac-12 basketball.

A moment of full disclosure: The Hotline submitted its preseason top-25 ballot to the Associated Press on Wednesday night and had UCLA on the No. 1 line.

The Bruins are loaded like few Pac-12 teams in the expansion era.

Not only do they return all the key pieces from the Final Four run, including point guard Tyger Campbell and wings Johnny Juzang and Jaime Jaquez, they’re also filling two holes:

Rutgers transfer Myles Johnson should provide the rim protection UCLA lacked last season, while freshman Peyton Watson injects Lottery Pick talent to the rotation.

The Pac-12 desperately needs to build on the momentum gained last March with a first-class showing in the resume-shaping months of November and December.

It couldn’t ask for a better situation than to have the 11-time national champions near (at?) the top of the AP preseason poll with a stocked roster and marquee matchups against Gonzaga, Villanova and North Carolina.

The Bruins don’t need a three-game sweep; two-out-of-three would do the trick for the conference.

(Note: My AP ballot will be published early next week, in advance of the release of the preseason poll.)

Rising: UCLA’s challenge.

That said, team dynamics change from year to year even if the roster core does not.

How will the players react to the role of preseason favorite instead of postseason underdog?

How many players will have one eye on the NBA Draft?

How many might be distracted by endorsement opportunities?

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The NCAA run the result of a harmonious convergence of fortune, coaching and chemistry.

The roster is better, sure. But that won’t get UCLA back to the Final Four.

“It takes talent to get to the top and character the stay there,” Bill Walton told the Hotline earlier this week.

“When teams reach a level of accomplishment, what factors into sustainability? Health, obviously. And a selfless commitment to the team’s goals. Those are the elements you need to deal with adversity.”

Because one way or another, adversity is coming.

Falling: Arizona football

Just when it looked like the Wildcats had found a quarterback they could build on, he’s gone: Jordan McCloud is out for the year with leg injuries suffered in the fourth quarter of the loss to UCLA.

And so it goes for the Wildcats, who have not won since Oct. 2019.

In an ideal world, first-year coach Jedd Fisch would have delivered a tangible sign of hope by this point in the season — an upside surprise to serve as the launch point for future success.

Despite the brutal start and humiliating loss to Northern Arizona, McCloud embodied that hope.

The USF transfer was the third stringer to start the season. When other options (Gunner Cruz and Will Plummer) failed to materialize, he rose to the starting role and helped the Wildcats stay competitive with Oregon for three quarters.

Without McCloud, there is little chance of the Fisch era gaining traction this season. One or two victories isn’t enough for real momentum.

It’s merely a different level of bad.

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To secure the foundation for a true resurgence, the Wildcats need five …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Sports


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