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Arizona picked by media to win Pac-12 men's basketball conference

Arizona picked by media to win Pac-12 men's basketball conference
Arizona's Nick Johnson answers questions during the Pac-12 NCAA college basketball media day on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - As the Pac-12 Conference begins its overhauled men's basketball officiating program, each official will receive an update at some point during the course of the season on how he or she is grading out from a team of evaluators appointed to critique every call made and those that aren't.

New Pac-12 and Mountain West officiating coordinator Bobby Dibler was hired in June as the conferences formed an alliance in the wake of the Pac-12's officiating coming under scrutiny during the conference tournament in March at Las Vegas. Former officiating coordinator Ed Rush had offered bounties - $5,000 or a trip to Mexico - for any official who disciplined Arizona coach Sean Miller. While Rush has said he wasn't serious and was "jokingly" trying to "lighten the mood" in the locker room, he resigned April 4.

Dibler is ready for everyone to move on and make progress. He called each of the Pac-12 coaches after his hiring over the summer, and has met with others in person.

"I'm a guy who lives his life going forward," Dibler said Thursday at Pac-12 media day.

Dibler has formed a three-person leadership team of veteran officials Brian Shelley, Mark Reischling and Donnie Nunez to focus their efforts on evaluating, training and technology. Officials will be evaluated again at the end of the season.

"With few exceptions we will be evaluating every call made in the Pac-12 this year as a correct call, a call incorrect, a no call correct and a no call incorrect," Dibler said. "What we're trying to do here is help our officials get better, we're looking at any trends that we may have as it pertains to the staff, we're looking for any trends we have that pertain to a particular official. They all want to improve, they all want to be held accountable."

Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott swiftly took action on the issue of officiating, calling for a broad approach to upgrading the conference's officiating program. He fined Miller $25,000 for a rant - he was hit with a technical - during and after the Wildcats' two-point semifinal loss to UCLA in the conference tournament. The conference said Miller confronted an official on the floor, among other inappropriate actions.

Findings of an independent review by Indianapolis-based law firm Ice Miller LLP supported the conference's handling of the situation last spring.

Last week, Dibler ran an extensive three-day training camp in Phoenix. He said it included breakout sessions drilling the basics of "screening, traveling, block-charge, positioning."

"I had a number of the lead officials come up to me and said, 'I learned several things,' Dibler said.

Dibler also merged the officiating crews for the Pac-12 and Mountain West to form a regular 100-person pool.

"Since I've blended the two staffs together there will be unfamiliar faces officiating games in both conferences this year," Dibler said. "I will make sure we have a face familiar to both coaches participating in that game (during the conference season)."

He noted the more inexperienced officials will get much of their work during the preseason, while the veterans will draw regular work during the conference season.

"The assignments are the most critical piece of what I do," Dibler said. "I'm a one-man game when it comes to assignments."

With hand-checking among the NCAA rules changes for this season, Dibler expects more fouls to be called at least initially.

"There's going to be an adjustment across the NCAA in how to guard the ball especially," Washington State coach Ken Bone said.

In the Pac-12 preseason media poll released Thursday at the Pac-12 Networks television headquarters, Arizona was picked to win the conference.

The Wildcats received 21 first-place votes, followed by UCLA chosen to finish second and Colorado third with one first-place vote apiece. Arizona finished 27-8 last season and advanced to the NCAA tournament round of 16 before losing to Ohio State, and fifth-year coach Sean Miller has several experienced players returning this year.

Rounding out the order were defending Pac-12 tournament champion Oregon at fourth followed by California, Stanford, Arizona State, Washington, Utah, Oregon State, Southern California and Washington State.

Oregon State coach Craig Robinson, the brother of First Lady Michelle Obama, good-naturedly responded when the end to the government shutdown came up Thursday morning.

"You see what I have to put up with?" he said, chuckling. "I didn't have anything to do with getting them to come together as a team, by the way."
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