Pac-12 Report Card: Volume IPosted by AMurawa on January 9th, 2013
Starting this week and continuing through the rest of the season, we’ll take a moment in between games to run down every team in the conference, grade their previous week’s performance, highlight the performance of one of their players (either for good or for bad) and look ahead briefly to their upcoming schedule.
Arizona State: A
The Sun Devils put aside concerns that their 11-2 record going into the week was built mostly on wins over bad teams by giving the home folks a healthy dose of optimism to start the conference season.
Focus on: Jahii Carson. While Jordan Bachynski was dominating in Sunday’s win over Colorado, I was most intrigued by Carson’s performance. With CU’s Spencer Dinwiddie keeping him locked down most of the night, Carson didn’t force things, got the ball in the hands of his teammates with better match-ups and kept ASU on point, even while being limited to his lowest number of field goal attempts this season. This proves that he doesn’t need to always score to be a positive force for his team.
Looking ahead: The Sun Devils have shown their improvement, but if we’re to believe that this team’s postseason aspirations should be any higher than the CBI, we’ll need to see them win on the road. A trip to Oregon State on Thursday looks like a possible chance, while getting Oregon following its game with Arizona could mean ASU catches the Ducks in a trap game. Speaking of which, ASU could benefit mightily this year from having the ‘Cats as a traveling partner, as teams could be either looking forward to or recovering from their game with U of A.
Any win in conference play is good. Any road win in conference play is great. Any road win in conference play in a rivalry game is a reason for outright celebration. Check all three boxes for the Ducks after one game.
Focus on: Arsalan Kazemi. In his first game back from a concussion, the senior Kazemi temporarily relinquished his starting spot to Carlos Emory and saw limited action. But, even in just 21 minutes, he was an impactful player, making four of his five field goal attempts, grabbing eight boards, handing out a couple assists and, per usual, coming up with a couple steals due to his relentlessly quick hands.
Looking ahead: The consensus, around here at least, is that the Ducks are going to be legitimate factors in the Pac-12 race. They get a chance to prove that this week when they host Arizona in a battle of contrasting strengths. While Zona has been through the ringer a time or two this season, these Ducks feature a pair of freshman guards ready for their first big spotlight. Meanwhile, the Ducks’ frontcourt features plenty of veterans, while the ‘Cats mix their three freshman with senior Solomon Hill.
For a team that was all too recently on the verge of helping their coach get run out of town, the Bruins are suddenly hot. Certainly home cooking helps that (the Bruins have won seven games in a row, including six straight at home), but more to the point, the seven-man rotation that features four newcomers and three second-year guys seems to be getting very comfortable with each other.
Focus on: Norman Powell. Sort of the forgotten man in the seven-man rotation, Powell earned high praise for his defensive effort against the Northern California teams last week, hounding Allen Crabbe into a miserable first half on Thursday, then helping to nudge Chasson Randle and Aaron Bright towards a combined 8-of-23 effort. The fact that he is a solid three-point shooter and a terrific talent on the break is a bonus to his work without the ball.
Looking ahead: The Bruins take to the road for the first time in more than a month, and if they look past Utah to their big match-up with Colorado on Saturday afternoon, they may be in for an unpleasant surprise. Just ask Arizona what the Utes can do. Expect Jason Washburn and Jordan Loveridge to give the soft underbelly of the Bruins quite a test, even in advance of the challenge Andre Roberson, Josh Scott and Xavier Johnson will provide.
See the first paragraph of the Oregon capsule. Replace “Ducks” with “Huskies.”
Focus on: Aziz N’Diaye. The big senior center had arguably his best game of the season in the win over Washington State, and I don’t think we’ve mentioned his name yet this week on the microsite. Consider that oversight resolved. N’Diaye went for 14 points and 10 rebounds on 7-of-9 shooting, while blocking a couple shots, and is quietly having a real good season. So far he’s scored in double figures in 11 games (equaling that number from last season) and posted five double-doubles (besting last season’s mark by two games).
Looking ahead: Beating the Cougars in Pullman is no joke, but the Huskies are that unfortunate team that gets to start the conference slate with three consecutive road games. Even if they come out of their Bay Area trip with nothing to show for themselves, they’ll still be ahead of the game due to the road win already in their pocket. But, both of these games are scalps that UW can take. However, in order to do that, they’ll need to show a defensive toughness, especially on the perimeter, that hasn’t yet been readily apparent.
A 2-0 start in conference play is nothing to sneeze at, but given the fact that they got an assist from the refs and all that they could handle from Utah, the ‘Cats looked nothing like a top five team in the nation. But, again, 2-0.
Focus on: Kevin Parrom. Fellow seniors Mark Lyons and Solomon Hill have gotten plenty of attention, but Parrom has maybe been just as important to his team’s success. From his work in the middle of the zone against Florida to his three-point shooting against San Diego State to his rebounding and defensive effort this past week, it is likely that the ‘Cats have multiple losses without the contributions of Parrom.
Looking ahead: Everybody in the conference is looking forward to their crack at the Wildcats, so they’d best get ready for a grueling schedule. This week the Oregon schools will provide the tests, but you can bet Sean Miller will use last week’s close calls as a reminder that anybody can rise up and end their perfect season if they lose focus.
They didn’t look great doing it, but the Golden Bears came out of their swing through the Southland with a road win in their back pocket. They had a significant slump in their three-point shooting, but with gunners like Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs, expect the Bears’ shooting to begin to revert back to form.
Focus on: Allen Crabbe. After a 2-of-9 start to last week’s road trip, Crabbe his 17 of his final 24 shots in the Los Angeles area, winding up with a 24-point average. And, after mostly living on the perimeter against UCLA, Crabbe was more aggressive against the Trojans, getting to the line eight times and challenging his defenders off the bounce.
Looking ahead: With the Washington schools coming to town, Cal has a chance to get healthy, but guys like Brock Motum and Aziz N’Diaye will provide a stiff challenge to a frontcourt that still needs to prove itself.
It’s an 0-2 record to start conference play and still a passing grade? Huh? Well, consider that last year’s season-opening road trip resulted in a 40-point loss at Colorado. A pair of losses against the Arizona schools by a combined total of four points? That’s some serious progress.
Focus on: Jarred DuBois. DuBois is the Utes’ leading scorer, he hands out the most assists, and he’s got a confidence that can be infectious. So, that’s the good. As for the bad, look no further than the Utes’ second to last possession against Arizona. With Utah down one and with the ball and about 10 seconds on the shot clock (16 on the game clock) coming out of a timeout, DuBois launched a running three-pointer almost immediately out of the inbounds pass that called to mind his previous struggles with shot selection. His tying attempt moments later at the buzzer hit the front rim (and then all sorts of other equipment on and around the backboard) before falling to the floor.
Looking ahead: The home folks get a chance to see the Utes, and they’ll get a good look at a rapidly improving UCLA team as well. The Bruins have the horses to run Utah out of the gym, but expect Larry Krystkowiak to have his team try to slow things down, keep UCLA out of transition, and win the game the glass.
From here on out, we’ve got students in need of some special attention after their most recent performances. The Trojans managed to earn one win at home, but despite committing just six turnovers and winning the battle on the glass, they couldn’t hit enough shots against Cal, either from the field or from the free throw line.
Focus on: Jio Fontan. The senior attempting to bounce back from last year’s lost campaign to an ACL tear, got this season off to a miserable start, turning the ball over at a regular clip, shooting erratically, and generally failing to live up to his coach-on-the-floor reputation. But, since the Dayton game, we’ve started to see Fontan regain some of the explosiveness he had prior to the injury, and we’ve seen a toughness, especially late in games, that could be promising. This past weekend he averaged 13 points, five assists and just one turnover in the NorCal doubleheader.
Looking ahead: Normally you might think that the Trojans could catch Colorado looking ahead to its match-up with UCLA on Saturday. But, I expect that CU’s two losses have snapped them to attention right quick. If the Trojans expect to earn a road win to make amends for their home loss to Cal, Utah might be their best bet. And if they’re going to beat Utah, they’ll need big guys Omar Oraby and Dewayne Dedmon to come to play.
Washington State: D+
Playing in front of their home crowd against their in-state rival, the Cougars forgot to set their alarm clock. By the time they woke up, five minutes of the game were gone and the Huskies were up 9-0. Five minutes later it was 21-4. Give credit to WSU for getting their act together and taking the lead back late in the second half, but then they failed to close.
Focus on: Royce Woolridge. One-for-seven from the field for three points, with one rebound and one assist mixed in there in 28 minutes. Unfortunately, for one of the Cougs’ most athletically gifted players, that type of line hasn’t been an aberration this season. In the past four games he is 2-of-18 for nine points, although at least he had games of seven and six assists mixed in there. Defensively, he’s capable of being a game changer, but if the other team doesn’t have to pay any attention to him on the offensive end, it can get awful hard to keep him out there.
Looking ahead: With trips to Stanford and Cal ahead of them this week, the Cougs are odds-on favorites to start the season 0-3. This looks like a job for battle-tested seniors like Brock Motum and Mike Ladd.
Let’s get this part out of the way right quick: That call at the end of regulation against Arizona was horrible. Unfortunately, so was the Buffaloes’ free-throw shooting and decision-making down the stretch in Tucson, as well as their overall effort in the final 30 minutes against Arizona State. CU fans can complain all they want about one egregiously bad call that cost them three points (although I guarantee you I can find a bad call or two that cost Arizona points of their own), but there are other weaknesses here that need to be addressed if the Buffs are going to live up to their potential. The good news is that potential is great and Colorado showed the ability to do some serious damage against a team as talented as Arizona.
Focus on: Askia Booker. Singling out Booker for abuse is perhaps unfair, as there is plenty of blame to go around, but his 10-of-31 performance this weekend (40.3% eFG) was, unfortunate. However, on a team without a ton of offensive pop, Booker is the one guy who can routinely create instant offense of his own for the Buffs – think of him as something of a Russ Smith-lite (if Smith is Russdiculous, is Booker Askinine?). Problem is, Booker doesn’t yet bring the consistent defensive disruptions that make Smith’s (admittedly increasingly fewer) wild shot selections more acceptable.
Looking ahead: You can bet the Foam Dome is going to be rocking this week as the Buffs get back to some home cooking. While Tad Boyle won’t allow the look-ahead to occur, we can’t wait for potential matchups like Andre Roberson/Shabazz Muhummad in the UCLA game on Saturday afternoon.
Oregon State: D
A 13-point home loss to their Civil War rival to open conference play after taking a six-point lead into the half. Yup, I’m a generous grader, because this very well could have been an F.
Focus on: Ahmad Starks. The point guard played 36 minutes and wound up with one assist, setting the tone for a team that handed out eight assists on 25 made field goals, with the other seven assists coming from frontcourt players. I get it that Starks is a scoring point guard, and a pretty good one at that, but if he’s not setting up teammates at least occasionally (only once all season has he had as many as five assists), he’s missing the boat.
Looking ahead: The Beavers were the lucky recipient of the three-game home stand to start conference play. Ideally, they need to find a way to sweep the Arizona schools, a phrase that is far easier written than accomplished — and man, let me tell you, that wasn’t even all that easy to write. A more reasonable expectation is a split with the Zona schools (and that’s not even a given), putting OSU well behind the eight-ball to start conference play.
Unless you’re a very good Pac-12 team, there’s a good chance that at some point during the season, you’re going to get swept on the road. Pretending the glass is half-full, let’s say the Cardinal got that out of the way right out of the gate. Looking at the half-empty side, man, if shots don’t start falling for Chasson Randle and Aaron Bright, in particular, this won’t be the last time this happens to this squad.
Focus on: Aaron Bright. Bright’s effective field goal percentage this season is a full 17 points worse than it was last season, when he posted a 54.4% eFG. His three-point shooting is in the toilet and against UCLA on Saturday, he only earned 14 minutes, with just four coming after the break. But, Johnny Dawkins told me after the game (and after an hour-long “back and forth” in the locker room after the game) that Bright’s absence against the Bruins was more a result of the match-ups, with the 5’11” junior not a great option against UCLA’s bigger wings and that “Aaron is very important for us, going forward.” For the Cardinal to approach the success their fans had hoped for coming into the year, Bright and backcourt-mate Randle are going to have to start approaching their production from the end of last year.
Looking ahead: The good news is, home games against the Washington schools are very winnable. And, perhaps just as importantly, they present the possibility of very good match-ups for the Stanford guards. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that either Bright or Randle will be in the discussion for Pac-12 Player of the Week come Sunday evening.