What We Learned Last Week in the Pac-12Posted by PBaruh on January 8th, 2013
The first week of Pac-12 conference play wrapped up on Sunday and here are some takeaways from the first two games of action for each team.
Coming into conference play, it seemed like third place would come down to Colorado and Oregon. After their performance in Corvallis against Oregon State, the Ducks are unquestionably the third best team in the conference and have a legitimate shot to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008. Dana Altman‘s team went on the road and outplayed a good Oregon State team for 40 minutes and did all of this with its freshman backcourt leading the way, most notably with the performance of Damyean Dotson, who scored a career high 21 points and also added six rebounds. A pressing question for the Ducks heading into the conference season was whether E.J. Singler would break out out of his season-long slump. He certainly looked liked the player that helped the Ducks tremendously last year against the Beavers as he had 15 points, nine rebounds, and three steals in 37 minutes. Singler is still averaging only 10.2 points per game after averaging 13.7 last year, but 15 points was Singler’s second highest scoring total on the season and could prove that the senior is ready to turn his season around. As of now, it looks like Arizona and UCLA are still the top two teams in the conference, but the Oregon Ducks are looming just behind them.
Andrew Murawa mentioned this yesterday, but it bears repeating: Colorado needs to get more production out of its bench this year. But after viewing the first week of conference play, it just might not happen. There are fixable problems on this Colorado team like their horrid free throw shooting and too many turnovers, but the bench is another story. Besides Xavier Johnson, who has had major problems with foul trouble thus far, Tad Boyle doesn’t have anyone else available whom he feels he can go to on his bench. Shane Harris-Tunks, the only true big man among the reserves, has been used sparingly, registering only 8.7 minutes per game and only 1.6 rebounds per game despite his 6’11” stature. Freshmen guards Eli Stalzer and Xavier Talton have looked scared whenever they have played a team with physical guards, and, besides the occasional three from Stalzer, neither has shown an ability to score, averaging a combined 3.3 points per game on the year.
Having no bench would be a problem for any team but it could turn into a bigger problem for the Buffaloes if they continue to get inefficient shooting nights from Askia Booker. Booker has taken 58 more shots than anyone on the team this year and is also shooting at the worst clip out of all the starters at 41 percent from the field. Boyle had a similar situation last year with leading scorer Carlon Brown, a player who struggled mightily near the end of conference play. However, the head coach was able to replace him with, ironically, sixth man Askia Booker. This year, Boyle simply does not have that option. If Colorado wants to stay near the top of the conference throughout the rest of the season, Boyle might not have any other choice than to play his normal starting lineup and Xavier Johnson for almost the entire game. It doesn’t seem like the ideal situation, but at this point, a fatigued yet talented starting five might be better than a bench that simply cannot compete with most teams in the Pac-12.
The bottom of the conference is vastly improved from last year. Last year, Utah and USC, who finished 11th and 12th in the Pac-12, respectively, combined to go a dismal 4-32 in conference play. That shouldn’t be the case this year. Although Utah did go winless this weekend on the road against Arizona State and Arizona, they played both games down to the wire before losing to Arizona State in overtime and had a chance to win the game in the last 20 seconds against Arizona. The Utes will still be a mainstay in the bottom third of the conference all season long, but they are going to be competitive in every game, which is something you couldn’t say last year. And with continued strong play from Jason Washburn and Jordan Loveridge, Utah should even be able to pull off some upsets at home. As far as USC goes, they went 1-1 on the weekend playing both games at home against Stanford and Cal. The Trojans have already matched their conference win total from last year after the first weekend and despite their loss to Cal, they never trailed by more than eight points to the Golden Bears and it’s safe to say that the Trojans likely won’t be going 1-8 at home in conference play again.