What role will Duke's Amile Jefferson have this season? (USATSI)
LOS ANGELES - UCLA's Aaron Holiday is not getting the same amount of media coverage as some of the other elite freshman in the Pac-12, but that doesn't mean that he isn't going to have a major role for the conference's most storied program.
The brother of current NBA and former UCLA star Jrue Holiday, this 6-foot point guard is going to have a major role for the Bruins - immediately. Armed with the ability to be an absolute menace on the ball defensively, Aaron Holiday is going to harass opposing point guards each time he takes the floor and should allow UCLA more of an opportunity to keep Bryce Alford fresher for offense. A ball mover with a high IQ and terrific feel, Holiday is a potential starter for UCLA as a freshman.
“Aaron is one of those guys who gives us a different dimension, ” Bruins coach Steve Alford told CBS Sports following a practice last week at Pauley Pavilion. “He can pick you up for 94-feet and cause a lot problems defensively. He's also really skilled." Don't be shocked if UCLA goes with a three point-guard look to start games this season with Holiday, Bryce Alford, and Isaac Hamilton.
The makeup of Duke's frontcourt is difficult to project
When you study the Blue Devils' roster the first thing that jumps out is a deep surplus of wings. Mike Krzyzewski's squad returns two key contributors from last year's national championship team in Grayson Allen and Matt Jones while adding two highly touted freshman in Luke Kennard and Brandon Ingram. First-year point guard Derryck Thornton is another perimeter player that is certain to play a significant amount of minutes early.
But what about Duke's frontcourt? That's where things get interesting. The Blue Devils bring in a highly touted freshman in Chase Jeter while Amile Jefferson, Marshall Plumlee, and Sean Obi (Rice) are all proud veterans who know Duke's system inside and out.
But will two of those four players be on the court at the same time? That's to be determined. Krzyzewski has never been somebody to put labels on players and always has been an advocate to put the best people on the floor regardless of position. The question is can one of Duke's wings slide down to power forward and man the four spot the same way Justise Winslow did last season which allowed this team to flourish in late February and into March? Ingram would be an initial candidate for that because of his size at 6-9, but he doesn't possess the bulk or strength that Winslow did as a freshman.
It will be interesting how things are molded for this team up front as Krzyzewski attempts to find a way to get guys like Allen, Jones, Kennard, and Ingram the most amount of minutes as he possibly can.
The Pac-12 should be significantly more balanced than last season
After a year in which Arizona and Utah separated themselves from the rest of this conference, the Pac-12 looks destined for a season where several teams should have a chance to reach the top of the league standings.
Sean Miller's squad has two starters back in Gabe York and Kaleb Tarczewski, but lacks the type of star power that was on display when the Wildcats reached back-to-back Elite Eights in each of the past two years. Utah will again be formidable without Delon Wright and teams like Cal, Oregon, and UCLA should all enter the season feeling as if they have a legitimate chance to compete for a conference regular season title. Add to that an improved talent base at Oregon State, an underrated club at Colorado with a first-team all-league player in Josh Scott as well as a veteran team at Arizona State and you've got a league that looks significantly more even across the board than it was a year ago.
Another thing to keep in mind - teams picked at the bottom of the league - USC, Washington, and Washington State - all feel significantly better about the outlook of their respective teams than they did last season.
Bradley Hayes is all of a sudden Georgetown's unsung presence
Can a player that's only played a combined 144 minutes in his first three seasons have a major role on a team that's expected to contend for a Big East title? Absolutely. With Louisville transfer Akoy Agau now done for the season due to an ACL tear, the 7-foot Hayes now becomes a major key for the Hoyas if Georgetown is going to unseat Villanova at the top of the Big East.
Many people including myself immediately labeled Jessie Govan as the Hoyas' most impactful post player this season and that may very well still wind up happening. But Govan is still just a freshman and is going to need time to adjust to the college game - he's going to have good days and bad days. Hayes has been itching for this opportunity and is on the heels of an eight-point, six-rebound performance in 10 minutes of work during an NCAA Tournament win over Eastern Washington last March.
There was a growing hope within Georgetown's program over the summer that Hayes had the ability to have a strong year for the Hoyas, but that hope has now become a necessity. With Agau sidelined, Georgetown needs Hayes to produce and produce regularly if it hopes to challenge for a Big East regular season title and earn a high seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Auburn's non-conference schedule could provide some early bumps
November and December are not going to be smooth months for the Tigers.
Bruce Pearl has always scheduled aggressively throughout his coaching career and his second year at Auburn is going to be no different. This team will play a minimum of four squads that reached the NCAA Tournament last March - Xavier, Coastal Carolina, UAB, Oklahoma State - and seven teams in total that played in the postseason when you include Colorado, Middle Tennessee and Mercer. That number could increase depending on how the Tigers fare in the Diamond Head Classic is December. Expect Auburn to be bruised and battered at the beginning of SEC play with the hope that an arduous early slate prepares them to play its best basketball in Ferbuary and March.