Pac-12 Report Card: Volume IIPosted by AMurawa on January 16th, 2013
Professor Pac is back to break down and evaluate each team’s performances in the past week. With three pet pupils atop the leaderboard still without a loss, it’s no surprise who is earning the As thus far.
Washington – A
After winning a conference road game over an intrastate rival last week, the Huskies decided to one-up themselves this week, taking down two more road games, this time over slightly more significant competition, to begin the season with a surprising three-game road winning streak.
Focus on: Andrew Andrews. The stats this week weren’t anywhere near mind-blowing for the redshirt freshman (9 PPG, 4 RPG, 0.5 APG), but he brings an energy and athleticism to a Husky backcourt that definitely needed it. Offensively, he is a threat to get to the paint and create opportunities on any possession, and on defense, as his four steals against Stanford on Saturday showed, he is capable of wreaking havoc on the opposition. He’s still green, but look for his role to continue to expand this season.
Looking ahead: For a team with a history of struggling on the road, the Huskies have taken care of business there in recent weeks. Now they have to prove they can win at home, something they have failed to do three separate times in the non-conference schedule. Colorado is the first test tonight with Utah visiting on Sunday.
Oregon – A
If you wanted to pick one weakness on this Ducks team, it might be the lack of a proven go-to scorer at this point. This week, for instance, in each of their two home wins over the Arizona schools, four of the five starters scored in double figures, with nobody scoring more than 14 points. In fact, only four times all season has a Duck scored 20 or more (Damyean Dotson twice, Arsalan Kazemi once, and E.J. Singler once). I’m not one who thinks this is always necessarily a problem – if you have plenty of good offensive options and you wind up with balanced scoring that way, it certainly keeps the defense guessing – but I think in the Ducks’ case, they have a bunch of good players, none of whom are completely polished offensive options. And against Arizona down the stretch, the possibility of that being a problem raised its head. Part of it has to do with the decision to milk the clock way too early, but at some point they probably need somebody (the best candidate is Dotson) to become the go-to guy down the stretch.
Focus on: E.J. Singler. The senior had a great all-around game in the win over Arizona, going for 14 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, and three steals, while knocking down some key free throws late, but then once again disappeared for the most part against Arizona State, hitting just one of nine field goal attempts and grabbing only one board in 36 minutes of play. That’s been the M.O. for the most part this season for a guy expected to be an all-conference caliber guy: inconsistency.
Looking ahead: The Ducks leave the state of Oregon for the first time in almost a month and just the third game all year when they head down Los Angeles way. They will be the opponent for Bob Cantu’s debut with USC tomorrow night before headlining the Pac-12 schedule on Saturday with a visit to Pauley Pavilion and UCLA for the first conference match-up between Top 25 teams since 2009.
UCLA – A
After struggling to put away Utah on Thursday night, the Bruins were locked in a back and forth struggle with Colorado for about 28 minutes on Saturday. What broke the game open? Defense. Seriously. Over the course of 14 possession from the under-16 timeout to the under-eight timeout, UCLA held Colorado to one made field goal and six total points in that span, and over that time turned a two-point game into a 13-point lead. In four conference games, they are allowing just 0.93 points per possession. We know they can score, but if they can keep up the defensive improvement that puts them in the solid category, they just may be the Pac-12 favorite.
Focus on: Travis Wear. I’ll be honest. Even after watching, I don’t know, at least a half dozen UCLA games in person last year and probably another dozen or more on TV, I still couldn’t tell any difference between the Wear brothers’ games. Recently, however, the difference is becoming clearer, as Travis has been earning more minutes and has been more aggressive offensively in those minutes. Since the Missouri game, Travis is averaging 34 minutes, 14.6 points, and 12.6 field goal attempts per game, while his brother’s numbers are just 18.6 minutes, 6.4 points, and 5.2 FGAs per game. But still, if you look at the tempo-free numbers, David is actually the more efficient player and takes roughly the same percentage of shots as Travis while on the floor. Really, the only distinguishing tempo-free numbers between the two are block percentage (Travis swats more shots), turnover percentage (Travis also turns it over more) and free throw rate (Travis gets to the line more often, but still not a whole lot). For some reason, however, Travis has earned the edge over his brother in the rotation and, really, their games are such that, keeping just one Wear on the floor at a time is usually a pretty good idea.
Looking ahead: The Oregon schools come calling. The Beavers’ offensive rebounding ability could have challenged one of the Bruins’ real weaknesses, but with Eric Moreland still suspended for the Thursday night game, it is doubtful that Oregon State should pose too much of a challenge. Oregon, on Saturday, however, should be very different.
Arizona State – B+
With two minutes left against Oregon on Sunday night, the Sun Devils held a one-point advantage and a 4-0 start to conference play right in their sights. But a wild Jordan Bachynski post move, a host of made Oregon free throws and an insistent clock left them three points short of their first road sweep in conference since the last weekend of 2011, when they did the deed to the same Oregon schools.
Focus on: Carrick Felix. In all the hubbub over Jahii Carson’s impressive debut season, the improvement that Felix has made in his game has probably been too often overlooked. Suffice it to say that, were it not for Mason Plumlee and Russ Smith, he would be in the conversation for the most improved player in the country. And really, since Felix’s baseline was probably lower than either of those two, the argument could be made that Felix takes the cake. Certainly, some of that has to do with the impact of a real point guard on Felix, but he has made great strides in his own right, with his three-point percentage up, his two-point percentages through the roof, and his rebounding and defensive abilities major keys for Herb Sendek’s gameplan.
Looking ahead: Last year, on the final day of the regular season, Arizona State hosted Arizona and played its best offensive game of the year, scoring 87 points (at a clip of 1.3 points per possession) and effectively knocking their in-state rival out of NCAA at-large consideration. When they meet Saturday in Tempe, the stakes will probably be highest for Arizona State; a win would be their best win on the season and would vault them into legitimate at-large talk, albeit with quite a bit of work left before Selection Sunday.
Arizona – B-
With all the near-misses the Wildcats have endured this season, the fact that they finally struck out against Oregon on Thursday doesn’t come as a huge crushing blow. Let’s be honest: They were quite fortunate to have a zero in the loss column to begin with. And the fact that they again rallied from a big second half deficit (they were down 12 at the three-minute mark) to get within three with 53 seconds left certainly shows heart. But at some point, you have to question what Arizona can do to avoid getting into the recurring situation where they need to make insane late comebacks.
Focus on: Brandon Ashley. Ever since watching Ashley and his 7’1” wingspan display his coordination, skill set and phenomenal athletic ability in early season games against lesser competition, I have been waiting for him to put on a display against more highly regarded players. While I’m still waiting for that big breakout game that I know will come, Saturday against Oregon State was probably his best outing since way back against Long Beach State on November 19. Ashley had 12 points and seven rebounds, made a spectacular blocked shot, and showed a convincing glimpse of his great potential. When he and the rest of those freshman bigs really get going, that’s when Arizona will become scary.
Looking ahead: While the trip to Arizona State is a tougher game than was probably expected, make no mistake, the ‘Cats still have the significant talent advantage here.
USC – Incomplete
If we are giving a grade to the Trojan basketball team for the effort since we last did this, we’d probably give them a B. A solid effort before succumbing to Colorado on the road is nothing to be ashamed of, and their first road win in 15 tries against Utah is a significant accomplishment, especially considering they played arguably their best game in at least two months and maybe closer to two years. But, if we’re giving a grade to the entire Trojan basketball program, we definitely have mixed feelings after athletic director Pat Haden decided to fire head coach Kevin O’Neill following that effort. It may be the right decision in the long term, but the timing just feels wrong. So, we are going to give these guys an extension. Trojans, come visit me during my office hours.
Focus on: Dewayne Dedmon. Perhaps the most exciting development in USC basketball is the awakening of Dedmon. We have all seen the talent brimming through this kid, but his limited experience with the game has understandably left him behind the curve. Well, he’s beginning to catch up now. After getting shut out in just 12 minutes of action against Georgia, he has now scored in double figures in five straight games, averaging 10.8 points, 8.4 rebounds and 3 blocks in just 24 minutes per game. Things are starting to click for the big fella and he may yet live up to O’Neill’s heady projections for him.
Looking ahead: The Trojans kick off what is expected to be a very short Bob Cantu era when they host Oregon tomorrow night. It’s always interesting to see how a team responds to a change in coaches, and given that the Ducks may be riding a bit high after sneaking into the AP Top 25 this week and potentially looking forward to their match-up with UCLA, perhaps the Trojans can spring the mild upset.
Utah – C
It’s not often I would even consider giving this high of a grade to a team coming off of two home losses, including a 17-point loss to a team that decided to fire its coach immediately afterward. But, really, we are grading on a curve here with the Utes. They did, after all, lose 25 games last season. No, the Utes took UCLA right down to the wire on Thursday night and have proven their ability to stick with good teams. I’m sure Utah fans aren’t pleased with the losses, but hopefully they recognize that significant progress is being made.
Focus on: Glen Dean. Dean came to Utah from Eastern Washington with the reputation of a scoring point guard, but somewhere around Thanksgiving his jumper went off to eat some turkey and never came back. Since scoring in double figures for his fourth consecutive game to start his Utah career on the day after Thanksgiving, he’s only scored in double figures once and he’s shooting a 44.1% eFG. This past week, he hit rock bottom, making just 2-of-15 shots from the field, with 13 of those attempts (and both the makes) coming from deep.
Looking ahead: While the road trip to the Washington schools is always tough simply because of the venues, both of the Utes’ upcoming games in the Evergreen State are winnable ones.
Washington State – D+
Even tempered expectations couldn’t add up to a halfway decent grade. This isn’t a great team and really, nobody thought they’d win one of these games. But it is concerning that they couldn’t even make one interesting, losing to some mediocre Bay Area teams by an average of 12 points.
Focus on: Royce Woolridge. Last week in this spot we sorta ran down the athletic sophomore – and probably rightly so. I’m pleased to report that this week he turned it around very nicely, displaying an athletic but under control offensive game and averaging 11 points and a couple of assists to go with five steals per game on the week. We’d like to see him get to the line on a more regular basis (he earned just one free throw attempt this week), but at least he flashed some of that offensive ability that we saw earlier in the year.
Looking ahead: The Cougars host the Rocky Mountain schools this week, with Utah coming in tonight, a prime opportunity for conference win #1.
Stanford – D+
Last week we predicted big weeks for guards Aaron Bright and Chasson Randle in this space. How did we do on that one? Randle was good all week (16 PPG, 71.1% eFG), despite showing up late to a pre-game meeting prior to Saturday’s game and getting bench to start, but really, we expected more from him, especially in the play-making department (just 1.5 assists per game). We are starting to get the feeling that Randle’s not exactly in a great space mentally on this team. As for Bright, wow, he started out playing great, going for 21 points on seven field goal attempts while handing out three assists against Washington State. But then, the box score says he played against Washington, but damned if I remember seeing him out there (0-of-5 from the field, one rebound, one steal, one turnover, no assists in 33 minutes).
Focus on: Dwight Powell. Despite the guards’ struggles, Powell just keeps chugging along. He has really developed into one of the league’s best players, despite little to no help from a play-making point guard, and he’s still got plenty of upside. This week it was a relatively unimpressive 35 points, 16 boards, and four blocks over the course of two games. It would sure help if that backcourt picked up the pace to take some of the pressure, and some of the double teams, off of the big guy.
Looking ahead: I still keep expecting things to click into place for the Cardinal, and really, that’s probably my fault. But, for instance, this week when they host cross-town rival Cal on Saturday, they will have the best player on the floor (gimme Powell over Crabbe) and they will have the more talented roster.
California – D+
On Thursday night, the Golden Bears held Washington to a 38.2% eFG and 13 free throw attempts. And still lost by 15 at home. Why? Well, Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs combined to shoot 7-of-27 from the field and, if those two aren’t going to score, well then neither is anybody else. And that only begins to scratch the surface as the Huskies killed them on the glass and the Bears’ defense was so passive that it only forced six turnovers. Mike Montgomery slammed his team as “soft” after the game and it is hard to argue with him.
Focus on: Richard Solomon. While Solomon had a mediocre game against Washington, against the Cougars on Saturday he played one of the best halves of his career, even though his numbers wouldn’t necessarily indicate that (seven points, eight boards, six blocks, two steals for the game). Solomon was active, involved and, perhaps best of all, played smart. There is hope for this kid yet, and I think he’s going to be an excellent senior, but I’m sure Montgomery would sure like to see him begin his ascent now.
Looking ahead: Stanford on Saturday really provides a nice test for this squad. Their big guards should be able to toy around with the Cardinal’s smaller backcourt, but we’ll see who can hang with Powell and whether anybody else can chip in on the offensive end.
Colorado – D
After a soul-crushing week in Arizona, the Coors Event Center was supposed to be the balm that would nurse the Buffaloes back to health. But a 1-1 week, with the win being an unimpressive one over USC (really Colorado, you’re going to get brutalized on the boards by USC?) was not the sort of turnaround Buff fans were hoping for.
Focus on: Andre Roberson. Remember back before the season when there was talk of Roberson possibly rising up to become an NBA lottery pick? Seems like a long time ago now, as his draft stock has fallen precipitously over the course of an unimpressive year. Yeah, he’s still an excellent rebounder and a fine defender, but as he has looked to develop his game away from the hoop (in part with an eye towards making a living playing the three spot; in part because of the presence of Josh Scott), his offensive rebounding numbers have dropped and, correspondingly, his field goal percentage and his free throw rate have plummeted. And now, he’s in a bit of a funk offensively after some strong stretches in the non-conference. Since Pac-12 play began, Roberson has made just 11-of-31 shots from the field (40.3% eFG) and averaged just 7.5 points per game. Against USC, Roberson was benched to start the game (although he did play 32 minutes).
Looking ahead: If the Buffaloes have any hope of really competing for a conference title they need to go up to Washington this weekend and come away with a sweep. Well, they have plenty they need to do to seriously contend, but it all starts with a good performance this weekend.
Oregon State – D-
For 20 minutes against Arizona State, the Beavers were right there within a couple buckets of the Sun Devils and looking like every bit the equal of their competition. Then after a two-minute stretch with a blown layup, a turnover, a couple missed free throws and some blown defensive assignments, you looked up and it was a 13-point game early in the second half. They were able to make a charge late, but never got back within a bucket before succumbing by 10 points. Against Arizona, it was a poor stretch just before that half that turned a back-and-forth game into a comfortable Wildcats’ lead throughout the remainder of the game. Part of the problem centers around the fact that there is no true point guard here, thus no one to really initiate good offense on a regular basis, but part of it also comes down to guys just failing to make basic plays at times.
Focus on: Devon Collier. He has been terrific all season, but this past week in the absence of Eric Moreland due to suspension, Collier forced things in a way he normally does not. Sure, that may have helped result in 23 rebounds over the course of a couple of games, but he pressed offensively, turned the ball over and threw up some bad shots in an effort to help the team get over its offensive woes.
Looking ahead: Moreland won’t be back until Saturday against USC, meaning the Beavers will likely have to try to outscore the Bruins in a run-and-gun affair. Gimme UCLA in that one.