What Pac-12 Programs Should Be Thankful For TodayPosted by AMurawa on November 22nd, 2012
For college basketball fans, Thanksgiving has quietly become a smorgasbord of fun. It wasn’t all that long ago where Thanksgiving week maybe meant the Preseason NIT, the Maui Invitation, the Great Alaska Shootout and a couple of other one-off games interspersed throughout the schedule. Nowadays, from Monday to Sunday, the whole week is jampacked with wall-to-wall hoops, from the Bahamas to Alaska and plenty of fun places in between. As we gorge ourselves on all the meaty matchups around the land, we here at the Pac-12 microsite take some time to list just what each program around the conference should be most thankful for this holiday weekend.
Arizona – When Lute Olson’s storied tenure in the desert came to a stilted and surprising end, the Arizona basketball program stumbled along for a couple of seasons in search of its new direction. But now, in the fourth season of the Sean Miller era, it is clear that UA has their next great coach to be thankful for. Even in the midst of missing out on the NCAA Tournament twice in three seasons, he’s kept the fan base engaged, he’s killed it on the recruiting trail and he looks like he’s got the Wildcats back to where they expect to be: contending for Pac-12 titles and deep March runs on a regular basis.
Arizona State – Okay, the Sun Devils probably aren’t very good right now. But with Jahii Carson running the point for the team and with head coach Herb Sendek turning him loose, this is a team that is going to be fun to watch all year long. Though not big in stature, Carson’s elite speed and athleticism make him huge for the ASU program. Last year while Carson looked on, the team struggled without a true point guard on the roster. But now it’s his team and he’s more than capable of leading it. His presence makes the rest of the guys around him better and when everything else breaks down, he’s more than capable of getting his own, something ASU fans and his embattled head coach will be thankful for throughout the year.
California – There’s the old line attributed to Al McGuire about how the best thing about freshmen is they become sophomores. While that’s not always true these days in college basketball, it gets even better when kids stick around for junior and senior years. This season the Golden Bears have every reason for be thankful for veteran guards, on whom their season will rely. Between junior off-guard Allen Crabbe and senior point guard Justin Cobbs, Mike Montgomery will lean heavily on his experienced backcourt. Crabbe’s the more celebrated of the two, with a long history of filling it up in Berkeley, but Cobbs is every bit as important to this team, helping get guys like Crabbe open looks while keeping defenses honest by being able to create for himself as well.
Colorado – For a program without a ton of history, the ever-growing legion of fans of the Colorado basketball program have shown that they’re thankful for head coach Tad Boyle. It’s just his third season in Boulder, but he’s turned the Buffaloes from an afterthought basketball-wise into one of the fastest rising programs in the country. Last year when CU ripped through the Pac-12 Tournament on the way to that title, then made the NCAA Tournament and even won a game, that was a major accomplishment for the program. But now, with a newly engaged fanbase, a significant home court advantage and a buzz around the program, the expectation is continued success and advancement. Roll Tad, indeed.
Oregon – Duck coaches, administrators, fans, and players, especially senior forward Arsalan Kazemi, should all get together and send the NCAA and its inconsistent transfer waiver rulings a gift basket or cornucopia of thanks. When it was first announced that Kazemi had chosen Eugene as his landing spot after transferring from Rice, I thought it was a nice pickup for Dana Altman that would help his program tremendously – next year. But somehow Kazemi and the Ducks (not to mention Kazemi’s Rice teammate Omar Oraby, who landed at USC) convinced the NCAA that he should be eligible this season. Coupled with returning starters Tony Woods and E.J. Singler up front, UO now has an imposing frontline that should make this an NCAA-caliber squad.
Oregon State – Among other things, the Beavers are thankful for Mitt Romney’s inept presidential campaign, giving the OSU basketball team the inside track at four more Thanksgiving dinners at the White House. It’s probably never been reported before, but little-known fact, head coach Craig Robinson is President Obama’s brother-in-law. What’s that? You’ve heard that before? Repeatedly? Well then, one more time won’t hurt. While Robinson has in the past successfully made plans to play at least one game a year in the Washington D.C. area over the holiday weekend, this year he couldn’t find any takers. So, instead, the team will just take a flight east for the big dinner. Turkey and cranberry sauce in the White House? That’s something to be thankful for. A Thanksgiving night practice following a trip back across the country? Well, at least they get to sleep off that dinner on the plane.
Stanford – Cardinal fans are not alone in the fact that they should be thankful for Andy Brown; fans of college basketball, and really, humans anywhere should be very appreciative of the type of heart and determination that Brown has shown in his young life. Not once, not twice, but three separate times, Brown has torn his left ACL. And not once, not twice, but three times, Brown has fought his way back from the injury. He’s now in his fourth year on the Stanford campus, but just now earning his first significant playing time. And aside from being an inspiration and an example of a guy overcoming trials and tribulations, he’s shown he can make an impact on the floor. On this day of Thanksgiving, save a little time for hope as well, hoping that Brown’s number of ACL tears remains constant at three.
UCLA – The first instinct here is something on the order of being grateful to the NCAA for clearing Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson. But the correct answer here for now and for always is John Wooden. He’s the guy who built the program, who made playing in Pauley Pavilion something special, who put all but one of the banners in the rafters there, who laid the groundwork for all the great players that have come through that program and who did so with such grace and class. It’s always about Wooden with UCLA. And the best part about it is UCLA fans know it and are indeed grateful.
USC – The best thing the USC basketball program has going for it is the storied history of the Trojan football program. First, the history of SC football has established the university’s brand. Is there any better infomercial to make an elite athlete of any sport to consider matriculating at USC than a sunny Southern California autumn afternoon at the Coliseum with a consistent winner of a program mauling its opposition while the song girls look on? That’s a great start for a recruiting trip, just as a stroll through Heritage Hall past all those Heisman trophies casts a glow on the underachieving basketball program. But the best part about the football success at USC is that it takes all the spotlight and all the pressure and lets the Trojan basketball program toil away in relative anonymity – at least until they experience some type of success once football season is over.
Utah – In a time of drought in the Ute basketball program, head coach Larry Krystkowiak should be very thankful for freshman Jordan Loveridge. A top-100 recruit and the Utah high school player of the year last season, Loveridge stuck with his commitment to the UU program despite last year’s epically bad year. Not only does his decision show trust in the future of the program under the guidance of Coach K, it shows that it is okay for recruits to choose Salt Lake City despite their recent struggles. And, more directly, he’s a heck of a good player who is going to be a major four-year producer for the Utes.
Washington – It hasn’t been the type of career in Seattle that Husky fans anticipated when he was graded the second best point guard in the 2009 recruiting class, but they should be very thankful that they have senior Abdul Gaddy leading this team. He’s seen it all. He’s been through an underwhelming freshman campaign, a sophomore season ended early by a torn ACL and last year’s talented by underachieving disappointment. While this may be the least talented collection of players around him in his four years on campus, Gaddy is a level-headed leader who is an extension of head coach Lorenzo Romar on the court. Even in the Huskies’ loss to Albany last week, Gaddy left it all out there for his team, putting UW in a position to win the game late by hustling down a missed free throw attempt and getting the go-ahead bucket late just prior to giving up the final deciding basket. Expect Gaddy to put this team on his back as much as he can and help Romar get the most out of his roster.
Washington State – At this point, there’s not a lot to be thankful for around the Cougar basketball program. With no point guard and a lame duck head coach, there is the very really possibility that the long eastern Washington winter could be a miserable slog for the WSU hoops team. But senior forward Brock Motum at least gives fans of the program something to look forward to. Last year he exploded on the Pac-12 scene to the tune of 18 highly efficient points and six rebounds per night; this year, early returns are that he’s improved his game from there. The numbers may not reflect it, because there’s a dearth of talent around him, but Motum is capable of scoring in the post, knocking down jumpers or even putting it on the floor and going by a defender. At least Coug fans have more Motum to look forward to.