Pac-12 Burning Questions: Which Non-Conference Trends Are Here To Stay?Posted by AMurawa on January 4th, 2013
Conference play is underway, and it’s time to take what we’ve learned from a couple months of uneven schedules and evolving lineups and try to project that forward to a couple grueling months of the conference meat grinder. To wit:
“What trends that we’ve seen developing in the non-conference do you see continuing or changing as we head into the final 18?”
Connor Pelton: Going into the season, if I had told you Oregon would be 11-2 going into Pac-12 play, most would have said E.J. Singler would either be leading the team in scoring or a close second behind Arsalan Kazemi. Instead, Singler has fallen into a role as more of a distributor, now passing up shots he had to take last year. With options like Tony Woods and Carlos Emory in the post, and capable scorers Damyean Dotson and Dominic Artis on the perimeter, I see no reason why the Ducks wouldn’t be able to keep up their success sustained thus far. This is a much more balanced team than in years past, so much so that Singler has been able to sit out nearly four more minutes a game than in 2011-12. With all of this said, the senior has to be able to hit big shots when needed. In Oregon’s triple-overtime loss at UTEP last month, Singler was a complete non-factor in the three extra periods. Not only that, he only hit one shot all game long. If the freshmen up top are freezing in big games late in the year, it’ll be Singler who gets the call. I think he answers it, giving the Ducks a great shot at reaching their first NCAA Tournament in five years.
Adam Butler: I foresee the improvement of Stanford’s Dwight Powell to continue. Here’s a guy who’s long had the physical tools to be good and in the preseason (both this and last year), we discussed just how good he could be. A season ago he played through injury and, frankly, awkwardness; a hint of a baby giraffe out there. This year he’s begun to assert himself, catapulting his usage numbers into the realm of team leader. He’s put up some insanely impressive games and those have been the one’s he’s sought to be the man. And that’s the trend I expect to see continue. When he’s on, he makes Randle and Bright better. Consistency will be the name of the game for this Canadian and I really think that the routine of a Pac-12 season (Thursday, Saturday, Thursday, Saturday…) can really help these guys get into comfort zones the non-conference slate doesn’t always afford. For Powell, 10 to 15 shots per game will be his sweet spot. It’d also be sweet if he didn’t foul people. He has a tendency to do such. Powell is still improving, which is a scary thought considering he went for 23/8 against CJ Leslie and N.C. State. One other thing I expect to continue is Shabazz Muhammad playing well. And that’s horrifying if you’re not wearing powder blue.
Parker Baruh: As for continuing trends going into conference play, I’d have to say that USC will still continue to disappoint. J.T. Terrell and Jio Fontan were supposed to help this team get back to relevance, but it just hasn’t happened. You can point to the non-conference schedule being tremendously difficult, but a home loss to UC Irvine is unacceptable and although harder opponents factor into poor field goal percentages, Fontan and Terrell are each shooting a brutal 29 percent from the field this year. USC is going to have to come together quickly to turn their season around and I just don’t see that happening.
On the other hand, I’d say that a changing trend will be UCLA no longer being disappointing. I know this seems like the easy call to make after their wins against Missouri and California, but this team is still coached by Ben Howland, and that means it could all plummet south at anytime. As long as Shabazz Muhammad, Jordan Adams, and Kyle Anderson get the most touches, UCLA should be able to compete with Arizona for the Pac-12 title. They still are not going to come close to winning games with their defense, but the stellar offensive play should continue and that will mean the end of UCLA as a middle-tier team in the Pac-12 like they were last year.
Andrew Murawa: I’ll admit I’m cheating a bit, writing this after we’ve already had four games, three of which came down to the wire and two of those which needed an extra five minutes to get settled, but the overriding trend that I see continuing throughout conference play is parity. Yeah, I think there are going to be times when teams like Arizona or UCLA wind up absolutely running their opponents out of the gym. And yeah, there will probably be times that USC or Utah, for instance, shoots 30% from the field, struggles to get to 40 points, and bores everyone to death on the way to an impotent loss. But by and large, especially after, say, the top four teams in the conference, there are just an awful lot of very even teams in this conference. It appears Arizona, UCLA, Oregon and Colorado are a step ahead of the other eight teams, but would anyone be surprised if any of the other eight teams took any one of those teams down to the wire at any point this year? And, more to the point, if any of those bottom eight teams are matched up, would anybody be particularly surprised by any outcome? Just randomly, pick Oregon State and Washington State out of a hat. Put them on a court in Corvallis, or Pullman, or Vegas, or Timbuktu, and let them play 100 times and, what, maybe one of the teams wins 51 times? The point is, that kind of wacky stuff that happened in Tempe on Wednesday, or Tucson last night, or in the Galen Center? Yeah, get used to it. We’re just getting started.