A Spin Around The Pac-12Posted by AMurawa on November 28th, 2012
Now that we’ve got games coming fast and furious, every team around the conference has a story to tell, and often we don’t have time to get to them all. So, in the interest of checking in semi-regularly with every team, we’re going to take a quick spin around the conference and check the temperature of each team, beginning with the spots that have gone the most terribly wrong and working backwards to the success stories.
UCLA – More or less a co-favorite heading into the season, the Bruins are likely the biggest story going in the Pac-12 right now – and not for anything good. Sunday night’s blown 18-point second-half lead en route to a loss to Cal Poly is one (terrible, horrible, atrocious) thing, but the fact that this team is doing this kind of thing with a the level of talent they’ve got is unforgivable. If Ben Howland is going to stick with more or less this personnel in his rotation (you know, the Wear twins, Larry Drew and a pair of wings), he’s gotta just break down and play a ton of zone. Really, this will do two good things: (1) minimize the effect of this team’s low level of overall athleticism, and (2) give them plenty of work on their zone offense in practice, something they desperately need. The other thing that absolutely has to happen for UCLA to even get within shouting distance of its potential ceiling is to find a way to get Kyle Anderson comfortable in this offense, and really that means putting the ball in his hands and letting him create, at least in the halfcourt. Drew has been excellent running the show and in no way should be scapegoated for UCLA’s struggles, but this team needs Anderson to be a factor and, while he’s shown his versatility, his defense has been bad, his shooting has been worse, and he hasn’t done enough elsewhere to make up for those serious drawbacks. There is still plenty of time for this team to turn things around, but UCLA fans have rightly run out of patience with Howland and are demanding immediate success. If this team doesn’t get drastically better, the big story come March will be whether UCLA’s legacy will be enough to pull either Shaka Smart or Brad Stevens away from their current jobs.
Washington – The thinking at the start of the year was that maybe, minus a pair of talented but conflicted wings, the Huskies could be a textbook example of addition by subtraction. Minus Terrence Ross and especially Tony Wroten Jr., the remaining members of the team would know and accept their roles better. Well, somebody forgot to tell guys like Desmond Simmons, Jernard Jarreau and Martin Breunig that a big part of their roles would be to clean the defensive glass. While the Huskies have more or less won the battle of the boards against lesser teams, versus Ohio State and Colorado State they were dominated – in fact, against the Rams, the Huskies actually grabbed fewer defensive rebounds than CSU grabbed offensive boards. Sure, it sucks that Shawn Kemp Jr. went down with an injury just before the start of the year, but either Jarreau or Breuning needs to be ready to step in and do some of the dirty work, lest they be not asked back next season.
Washington State –We knew prior to the season that the Cougars wouldn’t be very good, what with kicking their only point guard off the team prior to the year. But losing to Pepperdine? Yikes. Since getting to the line 40 times in their opener against Eastern Washington, the Cougs have only been back to the line 55 times over the last five games, indicative of the team’s inability to get good offense started and put their guys in position to make plays attacking the basket. Throw in their weak offensive rebounding numbers (really, part of Ken Bone’s M.O. over the last three years) and you see a team getting nothing done in the paint. And, since they’re not skilled enough to win games around the perimeter, you’re looking at a team with a coach who is the first around the conference to be labeled a dead man walking. Don’t worry though, Coach Bone. You’ll have company before the year is done.
USC – After scoring 87 points in the season opener against an admittedly poor Coppin State team, it was easy to buy into the Trojans as a significantly improved offensive team. After all, only once all season did USC score more than 66 and only six times did they score more than 60. Well, to be sure, they’re better than last year (then again, I stepped in something this morning that was better than USC last year), but it isn’t quite clear yet if they’re any good. Jio Fontan, supposedly the savior for this program, has been just terrible at the point, making SC fans pine for the shot selection and leadership of Maurice Jones. But, there’s no reason to suspect he’ll continue to be this bad. And, he’s got some players around him. Eric Wise has been everything that was expected of him and more. Omar Oraby is living up to the praise heaped upon him by Kevin O’Neill. Dewayne Dedmon has made significant progress on all fronts. And J.T. Terrell, though certainly not a guy that’s going to be invited to the basketball equivalent of Mensa, is a prolific scorer at the two guard. O’Neill’s probably got to trim his rotation a bit and rein in some of Terrell’s, um, “enthusiasm,” but if Fontan comes around, these Trojans should be fine.
Stanford – Taking the 1-2 record over the weekend at the Battle 4 Atlantis at face value, it is easy to just say that the Cardinal ran into their ceiling; they can beat some good teams, but they can’t play with the big boys. But, that may be a little too simplistic. Junior point guard Aaron Bright may be as important to this team as anybody (including talented backcourt mate Chasson Randle) and the Cardinal spent the weekend with Bright watching from the sideline with an ankle injury. You certainly can’t just throw out the results from the Bahamas, but Stanford playing Missouri tight and playing Minnesota basically to a draw without their lead guard is a promising result. It doesn’t make Johnny Dawkins any happier about the losses, nor does it cool his seat at all, but you gotta think that once Stanford is back at full strength, they’ll be just fine. Awful timing on that injury, though.
Oregon State – Nothing good happened for Oregon State on its trip to New York for the 2K Sports Classic. They fumbled away a game against Alabama in a flurry of mistakes one night, then lost senior center Angus Brandt to a torn ACL the next night. But, there is still plenty of reason to think the Beavers are going to be an improved team this season. While Devon Collier makes some head-slappingly bad plays at times, they’re often overshadowed by wow moments and Eric Moreland and Joe Burton give OSU other good options at the big spots, even in the absence of Brandt. But just how far this team goes will be determined by the guard play. At this point, you probably can’t ever expect Ahmad Starks to turn into a play-making and distributing point guard, but he is more than capable of finding his own shots. Roberto Nelson’s game would be best served by playing next to a true point, but that isn’t gonna happen, so he’ll need to find a way to be an effective scorer with what he’s got. The good news is, minus some of the cheating Jared Cunningham did on the defensive end last year, this has the capability to be a much-improved defensive team that could be a middle-of-the-Pac finisher with postseason plans (of some sort) in its future.
Utah – It is no secret that Utah isn’t going to be all that good this year, so we’ll skip the complaint about the loss to Sacramento State and focus on some positives, namely freshman Jordan Loveridge and sophomore Dallin Bachynski, both of whom have the appearances of key cogs in this program for the future. Loveridge’s foul trouble against Sacramento State was one of the primary reasons behind the outcome (he fouled out in 18 minutes), but aside from that game, he’s been really good for a kid in his first few games in college (13.8 PPG, 10 RPG, if you toss out the SSU loss). Meanwhile, Bachynski has been better than anybody had the right to expect, especially given the fact that it took his brother, Jordan (more on him in the next paragraph), a couple of years to get his legs back under him following his LDS Mission. Dallin is more athletic than his brother in that despite checking in at 7’0″ and being more effective away from the hoop on the offensive end, he’s been very productive for the Utes. He’s their best rebounder, he knocks down open looks, and he competes hard. While there may be some struggles ahead of Utah this year, they’re already on the doorstep of eclipsing last year’s win total and Larry Krystkowiak has done a nice job of laying the foundation for future success.
Arizona State – This little blurb is going to be a lot like the one above. It features a drastically improved team whose coach has laid the foundation for the future of the program, and it features a Bachynski. Jordan Bachynski has largely continued the effectiveness he displayed at the tail end of last year and even taken it a step further. While there is probably no future where he’s going to be a dominant offensive force, he’s shown an ability to change the game on the defensive end (he had 26 blocks in his first four games, before struggling against Creighton and Greg Echenique) while being a competent player offensively. But the real story for the Sun Devils is Jahii Carson and Herb Sendek. We’ve heard for more than year now about how Carson was going to be a game-changer at the point. And, well, he’s very much lived up to the hype. Sendek deserves a ton of credit for turning him loose. We were skeptical when Sendek told us back in June that he expected that his team would play as fast as anybody in the Pac-12, and ASU’s pace certainly hasn’t reached those levels, but the Sun Devils are getting about four more possessions per game these days and they are definitely getting out and exploring their options in transition. If shots ever start falling for wing Evan Gordon, and if the Sun Devils can find somebody – anybody – to help Bachynski out in the paint, these guys can challenge for a postseason invitation.
Oregon – Last year the Pac-12 didn’t score a win over a Top 25 team all season. Last weekend when the Ducks knocked off UNLV at the Thomas & Mack Arena, they scored the second such win for the conference this season. And, Oregon has a ton of room for improvement. Dominic Artis has gladly taken over the reins at the point for Dana Altman, but he is struggling with turnovers and shot selection. Still, he appears ready and willing to learn and will get better. Arsalan Kazemi’s brief Oregon career is now underway, but he still adapting to his new role. Waverly Austin has been a walking turnover, but he is a physical force in the middle who should provide good minutes off the bench. And Damyean Dotson? Well, there are no ifs, ands, or buts about that kid. He’s going to be a superstar in the conference. He loves the spotlight, makes heady plays, gives great effort, and has a ton of tools. I’m very much looking forward to seeing how this team develops.
Colorado – It had been smooth sailing so far for the Buffaloes, as they’ve played such classic opponents as Wofford and Air Force in front of capacity crowds at the Coors Events Center. Yup, while other teams around the conference were playing in front of home crowds that you can seemingly count during a TV timeout, CU is cranking out 10,000+ attendance numbers on a regular basis. You could say there is some buzz around this team. But last night, somehow Texas Southern took the Buffs to double overtime before finally succumbing. The SWAC program that has limped out of the gates (albeit against a loaded schedule) to a 1-6 record matched CU blow for blow on the boards, harassed the Buffs’ starting backcourt into a 7-for-27 night from the field and had plenty of chances to take down a nice scalp. This is potentially just a blip on the radar for Colorado as they head into a border war with Wyoming followed by Colorado State and Kansas in the next week, but color us Pac-12 guys skittish enough that a close call like this raises some eyebrows.
California – I just got done writing about the Golden Bears’ performance at the DirecTV Classic, so I won’t spend a lot of time on them here, except to mention the upside of freshman Tyrone Wallace. With Justin Cobbs and Brandon Smith handling most of the playmaking for Mike Montgomery, Wallace won’t need to take on that role this year for Cal, but he’s more than capable of doing it, just as he is capable of playing the athletic slashing wing, or the spot-up shooter, or the weakside rebounder, or the shutdown defender. In short, you’re going to hear a lot about this kid over the next three and a half seasons in Berkeley.
Arizona – It’s been a slow start for the Wildcats in that three weeks into the season they’ve only so far played three games against middling competition. But, credit where credit is due, UA has done what they are supposed to do to those teams, winning by an average of better than 17 points per game. Unless you’ve gone out of your way to take a look at this team, you have probably found more competitive college hoops to watch — but if you’ve found time to check out these freshman bigs, you’ve also probably been impressed. Grant Jerrett has had his troubles putting the ball in the basket, but he’s gonna be a terror on defense and rebounds with authority, while Kaleb Tarczewski is a physical force on the block who runs the floor like a deer. But the most impressive of the bunch to my eyes has been Brandon Ashley: absurdly long arms, phenomenal athletic ability, superb rebounder, great coordination for a guy his size, nice stroke, imaginative finisher around the rim. This guy is a baller. But, being realistic, we don’t know a whole lot about Arizona quite yet as they haven’t really been pushed by a team of similar talent. With Clemson (who has looked surprisingly good) and Florida coming up in the middle of December, we’ll find out about this team soon enough.