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Trojans undaunted by unflattering Pac-12 prediction

Trojans undaunted by unflattering Pac-12 prediction
USC guard Elijah Stewart fields questions during Pac-12 media day on Friday. (Eric Risberg / Associated Press)

Elijah Stewart isn't big on predictions.

Informed USC was picked by the media to finish seventh in the Pac-12 Conference men's basketball standings, the junior guard said the prognostication was essentially meaningless.

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"Oh. You know, if people could tell the future, I feel like they should probably work for the government," Stewart said Friday at Pac-12 media day. "That's a very useful skill."

Stewart might have a point. The Trojans were picked to finish 10th last season before climbing into a tie for sixth with Oregon State during a season that ended in the NCAA tournament.

Defending conference champion Oregon was the media's pick to win the Pac-12 for the first time in the 28-year history of the conference's preseason poll, receiving 23 first-place votes and 320 points. Arizona was second, with four first-place votes and 298 points, and UCLA was third, with no first-place votes and 259 points.

California (209 points) was picked fourth, followed by Colorado (199), Washington (167), USC (163), Utah (142), Oregon State (122), Stanford (119), Arizona State (78) and Washington State (30).

USC's placement was undoubtedly influenced by the transfers of four players, including part-time starter Katin Reinhardt, and the early departures of point guard Julian Jacobs and forward Nikola Jovanovic to the NBA. Neither player was drafted or stuck with the teams they later signed with for training camp.

That leaves plenty of opportunities for returners Stewart, Jordan McLaughlin, Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu, plus four freshmen and three transfers.

"We made a big jump last year and we expect our players to keep the upward trajectory," USC Coach Andy Enfield said, "but we also understand we play in one of the toughest leagues in the country, so nothing's going to be easy."

Hey, Dad!

UCLA's Steve and Bryce Alford are not the only father-son combo in the Pac-12. That distinction also goes to Oregon State Coach Wayne Tinkle and son Tres, the Beavers' sophomore forward and returning leading scorer.

Tres Tinkle said there was an uneasy transition knowing when to use the words "Dad" and "Coach."

"It was tough for me just to know who I'm talking to," Tres said. "Once that got figured out, it made things way easier and we've just been growing from there. Obviously we have days where some are better than others."

Said Wayne Tinkle: "Well, all the days are good in my book."

Watch that elbow

Bobby Dibler, the Pac-12's officiating coordinator, said there would be an emphasis on curtailing physicality to improve the flow of games. That means officials will closely monitor hand checking, body bumping, post-play screening, defending players without the ball, rebounding and offense-created contact.

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"All of us that have been involved in the game for many years have all been part of letting our game get more physical over the last 15 to 20 years, and the rules committee finally said, 'OK, we've got to take the physicality out of the game,' " Dibler said. "We all know if we can get a game with a better flow, we're going to have a better game."

Dibler said a special emphasis would also be placed on making traveling calls, particularly on post-play moves such as the drop step.

Quick hits

Arizona Coach Sean Miller would not comment on the absence of sophomore guard Allonzo Trier, who was originally scheduled to attend the event before being replaced by teammate Kadeem Allen.  Trier faces questions about his eligibility. … Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott announced that the Pac-12 Networks would be carried on Charter in Los Angeles through its new Spectrum service.

Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch

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