Pac-12 Report Card: Volume IIIPosted by AMurawa on January 23rd, 2013
Just about one-third of the way through our semester, Oregon is the favorite pupil, having earned all As in their exams. Join Professor Pac as we once again break down our class and see who’s joining the Ducks at the front of the class and who’s in the corner with the dunce cap.
Oregon – A
Before we give props to the Ducks for their 5-0 conference start and vault to the favorite position in the conference, let’s take a minute to mourn the loss of the full 18-game home-and-away round-robin of the Pac-10. You see, with UO’s win at UCLA this week and home win against Arizona last week, the Ducks have wrapped up this seasons’ meeting with those two teams. Neither the Wildcats nor the Bruins will get a chance for revenge, at least until and unless they meet up in Vegas come mid-March. But, that’s not the Ducks fault. No, they’ve done what they’ve needed to do early and they’ve set themselves up well. Now, they’ve still got more than two-thirds of the conference schedule remaining, but here are their remaining road games in conference play: Stanford, Cal, Washington, Washington State, Colorado and Utah. They’ll be favorites in all of those games, as well as all of their home games. Sure, there are probably a couple of losses in the mix there somewhere, but barring some significant slide that Dana Altman-coached teams are not known for, the Ducks are a heavy favorite to be the #1 seed in the Pac-12 tournament.
Focus on: Jonathan Loyd. Freshman point guard Dominic Artis is the rightful recipient of plenty of positive buzz regarding his play, but the diminutive junior backup deserves some credit for accepting his decreased minutes and filling his role. Sure, he can’t shoot a lick. And his turnovers are through the roof this season. But you can see that his defensive intensity has carried over to his freshman pupil and he always brings energy aplenty when he’s on the court. And, consider this: a 5’8” he swatted away a Larry Drew II fastbreak layup tattempt this weekend
Looking ahead: The Ducks host the Washington schools this week and Ken Pomeroy puts the chances that they win each game somewhere north of 85%. Beware the letdown, Ducks.
Arizona – A-
For three quarters of their battle with in-state rival Arizona State on Saturday, the ‘Cats had a battle on their hands, played basically to a draw. But over the last 10 minutes, a time that coincided almost exactly with Mark Lyons coming back in the game (and, with Lyons drawing the fourth foul on Jahii Carson), they outscored the Sun Devils by 15 and equaled the biggest defeat ASU has suffered this season. Over those ten minutes, Lyons repeatedly got to the hoop, scoring 12 points and handing out three assists in likely his best 10-minute stretch as the UA point guard. The problem is the previous 30 minutes, wherein Lyons had 12 points on 11 field goal attempts, zero assists and four turnovers. Sure, he’s one heck of a closer, but as the season ramps up come March, the ‘Cats will need a more complete performance.
Focus on: Kaleb Tarczewski. Are we expecting too much of the freshman bigs? We knew Tarczewski was somewhat unpolished offensively, but just look at what he is doing well. He’s one of the best rebounders on the block in the conference, he provides a tough obstacle for opposing low-post players and he uses his fouls wisely. Given that the ‘Cats already have plenty of other guys that can score, does it matter that Tarczewski has only scored in double figures once?
Looking ahead: The ‘Cats host UCLA on Thursday night and USC on Saturday. Ever since UCLA and Arizona put the finishing touches on their recruiting classes last spring, we’ve been waiting for these matchups. At first glance, the Wildcats look like they should be able to destroy UCLA on the boards, and I’m not sure I see Lyons being slowed by the UCLA perimeter defense.
Stanford – A-
The Cardinal got a win over Bay Area rival Cal, got their fourth straight solid set of performances from both Chasson Randle and Dwight Powell and have, at least somewhat, righted a ship that was one the verge of running aground following the Los Angeles trip. But, after three straight at home, Stanford needs to go back out on the road and prove they can get some wins away from Maples Pavilion; they lost five of their seven games away from home this season.
Focus on: John Gage. Gage went for a career-high 14 points against Cal, knocking down all four of his attempts behind the arc and earning 19 minutes. His run has been all over the map this year, earning minutes in the teens and twenties amidst games where he barely works up a sweat. Given that three-point shooting is his specialty, and given that three-point shooting is often a product of rhythm, it is no surprise that Gage has been far more effective shooting the ball when he gets good minutes. In the nine games where he has earned ten or more minutes (a total of 168 minutes combined), he has made 19 of his 39 three-point attempts (48.7%, with an average of one attempt from deep every eight minutes). In the nine games where he’s earned less than ten minutes (a total of 45 minutes combined), he’s made just one of his seven attempts (14.3%, with an average of one attempt ever six minutes.
Looking ahead: The Rocky Mountain swing awaits, with Colorado the first stop on Thursday evening. Last year, Stanford was the only Pac-12 team to go into the Coors Event Center and knock off the Buffaloes, blowing them out by 24 points. A repeat of that performance is just what the doctors ordered.
USC – B-
In Bob Cantu’s first week as a head coach, the Trojans gave Pac-12 leader Oregon everything they could handle before missing four shots on the final possession (including at least a couple of the point-blank variety) and coming up two points short. Then, a couple days later, after an atrocious first half on both sides, they built up a 13-point second half lead over Oregon State, only to give it all back via repeated Jio Fontan turnovers (he had ten turnovers on the game). But, give them credit – down the stretch they answered every Beaver play with one of their own and were fortunate enough to survive a game in which the lead changed hands eight times in the final three minutes.
Focus on: J.T. Terrell. It’s no secret that Terrell’s USC career got off to a bumpy start. In part due to poor shot selection and occasional lapses in effort, Terrell found his way into Kevin O’Neill’s dog house. The Minnesota game was perhaps the low point, as Terrell’s failure to get back on defense in lieu of complaining to the refs earned him a spot on the pine for the entire second half and just one minute of action in the Trojans’ next game. But, since not getting off the bench again against Cal, Terrell has earned steady minutes in the last four games and has produced four straight double-digit scoring efforts, averaging 14.5 points per game and posting a 52.2 eFG% over that stretch. As the best pure scorer on the roster, his emergence adds some punch to an otherwise toothless offense.
Looking ahead: The Trojans head off on what is now widely regarded as the toughest 1-2 punch of a road trip in this year’s Pac-12, a visit to the Arizona schools. They’ll start off with Arizona State on Thursday where priority number one will be finding somebody to slow Jahii Carson; the bet here is that Fontan is not the guy to do it.
Utah – C+
A 1-1 road trip on which the Utes earned their first conference win of the year (over previously undefeated Washington) is enough to earn a solid grade, but allowing Washington State to shoot a 61.5 eFG% against them in the loss keeps this grade from being anything to write home about. Still, Jason Washburn and Jordan Loveridge are turning into a formidable duo up front, and Larry Krystkowiak is starting to get some good production out of freshman guards Brandon Taylor and Justin Seymour. In fact, Taylor earned our RTC Pac-12 Player of the Week.
Focus on: Justin Seymour. While classmate Taylor posted the bigger numbers this week, Seymour was quite impressive in his attempt to flip momentum in the second half of the WSU game. After the Cougars had run the lead out to 16, Seymour knocked down a three, then on the next play filled the lane on a break, finished through contact and completed the three-point play. Two possessions later, it was a nice post feed to Washburn that led to the UU deficit getting sliced in half. Now, he’s not a complete player yet – he had some sloppy possessions later that helped doom that comeback attempt – but he’s a big athletic wing who could grow into a regular contributor for the Utes.
Looking ahead: The Utes host Cal and Stanford back at the Huntsman Center this week and, provided the Ute backcourt can get after it defensively, the Washburn/Loveridge combo could do so damage up front.
Arizona State – C
After a 17-point loss to in-state rival Arizona, you’d expect a lower grade for the Sun Devils. But, despite that final tally, the Sun Devils were right there with the Wildcats, down two with just ten minutes to go in the game, despite the fact that second-leading scorer Carrick Felix was mired in his worst game of the year and nobody else had really stepped up to fill in his missing production. Of course, then Jahii Carson picked up his fourth foul on a dumb reach-in, went to the pine for a couple of minutes, and by the time he got back in the deficit was 11 and on its way out of reach. It also didn’t help matters that backup point guard Chris Colvin was suspended for the game for a violation of team rules, meaning Evan Gordon was forced to slide over to the one when Carson went out. Long story short, the Sun Devils need things to go right in order to compete with UA, and the combination of Colvin’s absence, Carson’s foul trouble and Felix’s poor game doomed them.
Focus on: Evan Gordon. Expected to be a key offensive force for the Sun Devils, Gordon got off to a terrible start this year, shooting just 26.5% from the field in his first five games. Since then, he’s found his range more often than note, but has still struggled with inconsistency (he was zero-for-six from the field in his first 45 minutes of Pac-12 play). Still, he’s shown the ability to be a solid defender at the two, he did a decent job sliding over to the one for a few minutes this past weekend and, so long as his jumper is falling, he’s a good asset for this squad.
Looking ahead: The Sun Devils host the Los Angeles schools this week and we’ll get to again test the hypothesis that ASU is going to benefit from being Arizona’s traveling partner. While USC would be wise to not be looking forward to their weekend matchup with the Wildcats, you can help but think that regardless of the outcome on Thursday night, ASU is going to catch UCLA in a bit of a letdown situation. And the fact that Carson could be a nightmare matchup for the UCLA guards means the Sun Devils could be in for a big Saturday.
Colorado – C
After going into Hec Ed Pavilion on Wednesday night and opening up the weekend with a completely uninspired performance against the Huskies, the fact that the Buffs come away with a gentleman’s C is noteworthy. Yeah, we would like to see this team turn it on and start stringing together some wins against some of the mediocrity of the middle of this conference. But, first things first, we’re not even all that sure that this CU team isn’t part of that mediocrity. And, considering that this is a team that went 3-6 in conference play last year on the road, simply getting their first away win of the conference season is enough to grudgingly give these guys a decent grade. But don’t expect a grad school recommendation, Buffs, unless you start turning things around.
Focus on: Josh Scott. Not all that long ago, perhaps in this very same spot, we recommended that one of the keys to the Buffs turning it up down the stretch of the season would be their talented freshman center. But, after a really nice week against the Los Angeles schools (16 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 66.7 FG%), the youngster was almost invisible in the Evergreen State this past weekend. This is a 6’10’ guy who grabbed six total rebounds over the course of 61 minutes of action. Not surprisingly, the Buffs were outrebounded in both games (and flat-out dominated on the glass by the Huskies). For a freshman going on the road in the middle of the conference grind, these things happen now and then, but hopefully for the Buffs, this was a mere blip on the radar.
Looking ahead: The Buffs host the Bay Area schools and hope to reestablish the vaunted homecourt advantage that helped them make a splash in last year’s conference play.
Washington State – C-
When you’re in the back of the Pac, a home split that includes a loss to a team considered to be near the top of the conference is sort of acceptable. After all, prior to this week, there was a big fat oh-fer sitting in the left-hand column of WSU’s conference record. The fact that they were able to handle Utah on Wednesday night earns them at least a passing grade.
Focus on: DaVonte Lacy. When Lacy returned from a four-game absence due to injury and dropped 22 against Gonzaga, we figured that Ken Bone had found his number two option, and we expected big things from the sophomore. And, despite a little backslide against Fresno State, he wound up scoring in double figures in five out of six games. But, since then, he’s been hurting. In conference play he is averaging just 5.6 points and is shooting 26.5% from the field and is just two-of-17 from the field. While Mike Ladd has done a great job picking up after Lacy, the Cougs really need him to come around.
Looking ahead: The Oregon schools await a visit from the Cougs. WSU showed it can play with just about anybody when they took Gonzaga to the last second, so the possibility that they put a scare into Oregon is always there, but realistically, their best chance at a win this week comes Saturday when they visit Oregon State.
Washington – C-
Prior to last week, despite the Huskies’ 3-0 conference record, pretty much everybody was still unsold on UW. Then, after they took it to Colorado and advanced to 4-0, it seems like people started to reassess them and think of reasons why this team could actually compete for a title: their veteran leadership, their great team chemistry, and most of all, their stellar defense. And, just as quickly, and somewhat predictably, they went and pulled the rug out from under us all again, dropping a game to Utah while allowing the offensively challenged team to post a 63.5 eFG%. Yup. Those are the Huskies we’ve come to know and love.
Focus on: Abdul Gaddy. Early in the year, while teammates were struggling and the team was dropping games to teams like Albany and Nevada, it looked like the senior point guard was going to be the one guy who was going to bring it night in and night out. He scored ten or more in ten of the Huskies’ first twelve games and, despite higher than normal turnover numbers, was playing perhaps the best basketball of his career. But, slowly but surely, that rebuilt left knee has seemed to wear down. Gaddy looks like he’s lost a step and at times has been noticeably dragging that leg around out there. In the last six games, coinciding nicely with Andrew Andrews’ bump in minutes and production, he’s averaging just 6.8 points and shooting just better than a 30 eFG%. While he’s battling his way to better than 30 minutes a game, that injury from two years back is still limiting his play.
Looking ahead: The Huskies travel to the Oregon schools this week and hope to get revenge on Saturday against the Ducks for the 25-point destruction that went down the last time UW traveled to Matthew Knight Arena.
UCLA – D+
For the first 20 minutes on Saturday afternoon, the Bruins looked like the best team on the court against Oregon. Sure, there were the continued problems on the glass, but the Bruins were limiting dribble penetration on defense, and on offense were handling the Ducks’ press and zone defenses with as much efficiency as they were their man defense. But, in the second half, things took a turn for the ugly. They turned the ball over eight times, shot less than 40% from the field and allowed their opponents to shoot better than 60% after the break. And yet, after a pair of free throws following the under-four media timeout, they were down just a point. From there, however, confusion and collapse ruled the day as UCLA was outscored 14-6 down the stretch.
Focus on: Shabazz Muhammad. In the past month or so, one of the consistent themes we’ve heard around UCLA basketball was how Muhammad was a closer, a clutch performer down the stretch of big games. He’d hit big shots against Missouri in the waning moments of a back-and-forth affair, he’d staunched runs by Cal and Stanford with timely jumpers. But against Oregon, after a solid first half, Muhammad never scored again. He missed all four shots he took after the break and grabbed just two rebounds in his final 15 minutes of action. Just because he’s perhaps the biggest name in this year’s freshman class, doesn’t mean he isn’t still a freshman. While his struggles in the second half will surely be a learning experience for the youngster, he could be prone to forcing the issue more the next time he’s faced with a tight game down the stretch.
Looking ahead: The rivalry is renewed Thursday night when the Bruins head to Arizona, but the youngsters would be advised to not let up against an ASU team on Saturday that is more than capable of beating a team that isn’t focused on the task at hand.
Oregon State – D-
We’ve been doing this three weeks now, and have yet to hand out an outright F. We’re waiting for something truly awful to happen. But, that being said, with a D and two D-‘s on the Beavers’ hands, we’re having a hard time seeing Craig Robinson’s club getting out of this semester with a grade it can be proud of. One good thing we can say about OSU though is that it isn’t for the lack of trying. They fought back from a miserable first 25 minutes to make a game of it against USC on Saturday, and they probably thought they had the game won when Eric Moreland found Joe Burton for an easy go-ahead layup with 12 seconds left. But, the Beavs didn’t get back on defense quickly enough, J.T. Terrell found Aaron Fuller for a layup and just like that, it was an 0-5 start to conference play.
Focus on: Challe Barton. Down the stretch Saturday night, aside from a few seconds at the end of the game when Robinson wanted Ahmad Starks’ shot-making ability in there, it was Barton running the point. Sure, he wasn’t great (zero-for-three from the field with three assists and one turnover in 20 minutes, compared with Starks’ zero-for-one from the field with four assists and no turnovers), but if nothing else, this was a statement from Robinson to Starks. And, the fact of the matter is, the Beavers were better on both ends of the floor with Barton in the game than they have been in a long time with Starks out there. While I don’t expect that this is a changing of the guard, it does seem like there will be more of a partnership at the point going forward, probably a good thing for OSU.
Looking ahead: The Beavers host Washington and Washington State this week. If they can’t score at least one win over the next two games, we’re looking at Jay John circa 2008 territory. Which begs the question: how safe is Robinson’s job?
California – D-
For a team that knew all along it was going to have to rely on Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs for its scoring, things have sure gone downhill of late. Cobbs has looked lost in conference play, unable to strike a good balance between creating for himself and creating for teammates. His struggles have likely affected Crabbe. And third perimeter threat Tyrone Wallace? The freshman is on a wild roller coaster ride these days. The good news, if there is some, is that the frontcourt duo of David Kravish and Richard Solomon have actually been pretty good, with Solomon in particular showing good effort and production, albeit still in inconsistent bursts.
Focus on: Justin Cobbs. The junior is an ironman for Mike Montgomery – he’s played all 40 minutes in the last two games – but is struggling finding his spots. Against Washington State, the team’s bonafide #2 option didn’t attempt a field goal in the first half and wound up with just two for the day. Against Stanford, Cobbs was able to find his shots, he just wasn’t able to make any, going four-of-15 from the field. While he does a solid job getting to the line, Crabbe needs Cobbs to pull away some of the defensive attention in order to open up the court for both players.
Looking ahead: The Golden Bears have lost the last two times they have faced Colorado, including in last year’s Pac-12 semifinal game; they’ll try to get back on track against the Buffs on Sunday, after vising Utah on Thursday night.