Checking In On… the Pac-12Posted by AMurawa on December 15th, 2011
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-12 and Mountain West conferences. He is also a Pac-12 microsite staffer.
- Personnel Problems – Certainly every team around the country has to deal with some personnel problems of their own. Players get hurt, kids decide to transfer, suspensions get handed out. But, wow. Is it just me or does it seem like an already under-talented conference has been hammered by a string of issues that have robbed them of even more talent? The Reeves Nelson situation at UCLA has been run into the ground, while the Jabari Brown transfer (followed by Bruce Barron’s transfer) is old news in Oregon. Mike Montgomery at California had to suspended forward Richard Solomon just before they traveled to San Diego State, then on the day he was to be reinstated, he and roommate Allen Crabbe overslept and were late to a morning shootaround and began that game on the bench. Josiah Turner has suffered through a benching and a suspension for his inability to get to practices on time (and he potentially cost Arizona a win at Florida in the process). Sean Miller has also had to dismiss freshman Sidiki Johnson, while Utah’s leading scorer Josh Watkins was suspended for a game. Arizona State’s freshman point guard Jahii Carson, who head coach Herb Sendek figured would be the Sun Devils’ starter from day one, was declared ineligible for his freshman season following an insufficient ACT score.
- Then there are the injuries – Washington State’s Abe Lodwick has yet to play this season, while Faisal Aden and Mychal Ladd have battled their own injuries in recent weeks. USC is without senior point guard Jio Fontan for the season, while sophomore center DeWayne Dedmon has had his development stunted by a couple injuries that he has played through. This week, just a day after Washington announced that senior Scott Suggs would take a redshirt year after struggling with his recovery from foot surgery, their center Aziz N’Diaye sprained his knee and will miss at least the next four games. Back in Eugene, Tyrone Nared had a knee sprain of his own and is out until conference play. And the above is just a partial list cut short for (relative) simplicity’s sake. Now, none of the above is meant to imply that without the above maladies the Pac-12 would be a great conference, just that on a list of all of the possible things that could have gone wrong for Pac-12 teams so far, the teams have seemingly gone out of their way to check off most of them.
- One Bit of Good News – Dana Altman at least had a bit of good news this week as Devoe Joseph, a senior transfer from Minnesota, played his first games in a Duck uniform and immediately proved his worth. Not only did Joseph lead Oregon in scoring in his first game out against Fresno State, he made a couple of huge momentum changing threes in the second half that helped spur the Ducks to victory. Not to be outdone, he came back on Monday in his second game in Eugene and helped preserve a win as he scored his team’s last eight points after Portland State had closed to within three with 90 seconds left. With Altman now basically trading a freshman (Brown) for the senior Joseph in the backcourt, this Duck team is loaded with veterans and could still make waves in conference play.
- Very Few, If Any, Resume Wins – Starting right about now and reaching a crescendo in the early days of March, you’re going to hear a lot about who potential NCAA Tournament teams beat and where they beat them as a major criteria for an invitation to the Big Dance. That fact should have the Pac-12 shaking in its boots. To this point it looks like the best win by a Pac-12 team was Oregon State’s neutral-site victory over a Texas team that (1) was playing in its third game with a completely remade roster, and (2) hasn’t beaten anyone of note yet. Beyond that, what are the other wins the teams in this conference hope to hang their tournament resumes on? Cal knocking off a bad Georgia team? Arizona over a middling Clemson team? Stanford against Oklahoma State or North Carolina State? Worse yet, there just aren’t a whole lot of chances left on the schedule for teams to pick up defining wins in the non-conference. Zona goes to Seattle to play Gonzaga and Oregon hosts Virginia this weekend, while Cal travels to UNLV just before Christmas, and that’s it. The rest of the season is, more or less, flawed Pac-12 teams beating up on other flawed Pac-12 teams. In the end, a team like Washington had better either perform one hell of a lot better in road conference games than they have in the past few years OR make sure they win the Pac-12 Tournament, lest they be making NIT plans come March.
Player of the Year Watch
- While no one has yet to step up and grab a lead in this race, Washington State’s Brock Motum did establish himself, albeit against lesser competition, as a legitimate horse in this race. The Cougs are in the midst of a four-game winning streak and Motum has averaged 16.3 points and 6.5 rebounds over that stretch. And Motum remains one of two Pac-12 players to score in double figures in each of his team’s games this season. The other? Washington’s Terrence Ross, who not only has proven himself to be a consistent scorer, but also a versatile talent capable of filling the stats sheet. On the season, Ross is averaging 16.5 points, 7 rebounds, 2.1 assists, a couple of threes and a block per night.
- Elsewhere Allen Crabbe has continued to be an efficient scorer on a nightly basis for the Golden Bears (15.8 PPG on the season while shooting over 46% from deep), while teammate Jorge Gutierrez continues to lead the conference in intangibles while contributing solid tangible stats to boot (12.9 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 3.9 APG). As for dark horse candidates who are just now beginning to go to the whip? Oregon State’s Roberto Nelson has averaged 15 points a contest over his last four, just barely starting to scratch the surface of his potential, while the aforementioned Devoe Joseph could get in the conversation with a strong showing in conference play.
Newcomer of the Year Watch
- Tony Wroten creating a lot of buzz is by no means a new thing. But this week, following a 23-point performance against Duke that included a stirring 14 points in the last ten minutes to bring the Huskies back from the dead to at least make the final score look reasonably respectable, Wroten’s name seems to be on the tongue of every U-Dub fan, hoping he is the savior that rescues this team from a mediocre beginning. Wroten certainly has plenty of talent, but he’s got plenty of holes in his game that need to be shored up along his path, but he may be just good enough to be the best of the new in the Pac-12. Chasson Randle, Nick Johnson and Spencer Dinwiddie remain strong contenders here, while Devoe Joseph is a late entry to keep an eye on.
- There isn’t a lot of movement in this week’s Power Rankings, although teams continue to settle. Washington State is the biggest climber, as it moves from ninth to seventh, but Stanford remains the surprise team atop our rankings. The question still remains though, is this team for real? With little of any import remaining on their non-conference schedule (wow, is it really that easy to dismiss a team that has been the national runner-up two year’s running?), and with the Los Angeles schools visiting in the first week of Pac-12 play, it may be a while before we get a good answer.
- It was a decidedly Washington week when we handed out our honors, with Brock Motum and Washington State taking down the player and team honors, while Tony Wroten grabbed the newcomer award. After five weeks of handing out these awards, we have only one repeat winner: Stanford has won the Team of the Week award twice, in weeks three and four.
Plays of the Week
- Oh, Nick Johnson. Cease your relentless attacks on the poor rims of America. Not only are you in danger of causing damage to the most essential object on a basketball court, but your blatant flaunting of the laws of gravity is bound to earn you a moving violation. And your embarrassment of 7’2” Catalin Baciu? Simply unacceptable. I’m not even going to bring your vicious rejection of Milton Jennings in to this (okay, I am – jump to the 1:30 mark), but you’re on notice young man. Nothing but layups and jumpers from here on out.