Pac-12 Report Card: Volume IVPosted by AMurawa on January 30th, 2013
Another week of classes, another week of grades from Professor Pac. As midterms approach, only Oregon is on pace for a A this semester.
Arizona State – A
Way back in June, Herb Sendek was talking about how his new Sun Devil team was going to get out and run and be as uptempo as anybody in the Pac-12. But, since getting run off the court by an athletic DePaul team back in early December, Arizona State had gone eight straight games without getting 70 possessions in a ball game. This past week when they hosted USC and UCLA and came away 2-0, they went over 70 possessions in both games and averaged 76 possessions – and 88 points – for the week. Sure, the USC game was aided by an extra five minutes of play, but the Sun Devils still played with more pace this past week than they have done in some time.
Focus on: Jonathan Gilling. We’ve talked a ton about Jahii Carson and Jordan Bachynski, we’ve touched on Carrick Felix and Evan Gordon on a regular basis, but Gilling is the fifth member of the starting unit, and criminally underrated. While his shooting percentages have dipped compared with his freshman campaign, Gilling is doing everything else better this season. He’s turned into an exceedingly effective rebounder and an underrated passer. He’s one of just two players in the conference to average seven rebounds and three assists per game (the other is Kyle Anderson) and as you could see by this week’s performance when he has 14 dimes, he finds exceedingly good looks for his teammates. Of those 14 assists, eight led to either layups or dunks, while four more ended in threes. And he’s an equal-opportunity distributor; Felix, Bachynski, and Gordon were each on the receiving end of four of Gilling’s assists.
Looking ahead: The Sun Devils are the toast of the conference this week, but with a road trip up north to the Washington schools ahead, things can go south in a hurry. The Cougars and Huskies may not be the most intimidating opponents, but they’re more than capable of knocking off the Sun Devils.
Colorado – A
Don’t look now, but after an extended hangover effect following the debacle in the desert, the Buffaloes have won three straight by an average of 13 points and are back to .500 in the conference. And while the offense has been steadily improving, they’ve been doing it with defense. They’ve held their three opponents in that win streak to a 40.5 eFG%.
Focus on: Xavier Johnson. Doomed to play roughly the same position as the nation’s leading rebounder, Andre Roberson, Johnson has been lurking in the shadows somewhat most of the year. But on Sunday, when Roberson was limited to just two first half minutes due to foul trouble, Johnson had his breakout game, notching his first double-double of his career and scoring 18 points on just ten field goal attempts. In fact, over the course of this Buff winning streak, Johnson has been a major contributor. He’s scored in double figures in every game and has been hyper-efficient; he’s averaging 14.3 points per game and shooting a 74 eFG%.
Looking ahead: The Buffs have a short week, with only a trip to Salt Lake City to face a Utah team coming off its worst performance of the season. If the Buffs don’t have a four-game win streak at this point next week, they may be the recipient of the year’s first F.
Oregon – A-
So, the big question here has got to be: “What’s with that minus?” Here’s a team that shook off their first major injury of the season and still maintained an unbeaten conference record by knocking off the Washington schools in Eugene this week. Well, the short answer is, their turnovers concern me. This week they coughed the ball up 37 times (an end to better than 25% of their possessions) against a couple of teams that aren’t particularly adept at forcing turnovers. Maybe docking the Ducks a piece of a grade is more of an effort to get an apt pupil’s attention on one weakness, because in the long run, this team is pretty strong in most other statistical metrics.
Focus on: Waverly Austin. Last week we put the spotlight on Jonathan Loyd, a reserve who was about to take on a much bigger role. This week we look at another deep reserve for the Ducks, a 6’11” JuCo transfer who has been getting about ten minutes per game for Dana Altman. There is little doubt the big man has a deep reserve of talent, but he has had some trouble harnessing it. He plays a little wild at times, commits too many fouls and lacks polish offensively. But, he’s definitely improving. This week, especially against Washington, he was a defensive force in the post, blocking three shots, swiping three steals and grabbing a couple of boards as he earned his most minutes since the second game of the year.
Looking ahead: The Ducks haven’t swept the Bay Area swing in my lifetime and in that span have 20 times been swept themselves in their trip to Stanford and Cal. In other words, as the Ducks head to the Bay Area, either they lose their first game of the conference slate, or they get a huge monkey off their backs this weekend.
Washington State – B
The Cougars earned their first road win of the conference slate on Saturday by dominating Oregon State on the boards and coming back from a halftime deficit to win a tight one in Corvallis. Coupled with a strong first half (and a predictable second half fade), I’ve got no problem giving the Cougars their best grade of the season.
Focus on: Dexter Kernich-Drew. After an up-and-down freshman campaign that ended with the young Aussie getting just 17 total minutes in the Cougs six games in the CBI, Kernich-Drew has been a rock-solid option off the bench. Head coach Ken Bone has given him a role and stuck with it. In conference play, he’s never played less than 14 minutes and only once (Saturday’s game against Oregon State) more than 18, but he’s been producing in the minutes he’s played. He lends a hand to the point guard committee, he’s a decent three-point shooter and his length and athleticism makes him a valuable asset defensively.
Looking ahead: Visits from Arizona State and Arizona loom. I have a hard time seeing the Cougs hanging with Arizona’s size and athleticism, but maybe, just maybe, if they slow Arizona State way down and catch the Sun Devils feeling cocksure, Washington State could spring an upset tomorrow night.
UCLA – C+
The Bruins get the benefit of the doubt with the plus sign instead of the minus sign, in part because that Arizona State fiasco had all the hallmarks of a trap game. That doesn’t excuse if, by any means, but the best guess is that the performance Thursday night against the Wildcats was more indicative of UCLA’s talent level than was the game on Saturday afternoon (although, to be entirely fair, odds are good that, somehow, Arizona didn’t give their best effort either). Still, the complete and total absence of anything approaching coherent fundamental basketball on either end of the court against Arizona State has got to be concerning.
Focus on: David Wear. A couple weeks ago in this space I was writing about how, despite brother Travis earning significantly more minutes, the Wears were actually pretty indistinguishable in terms of their tempo-free numbers. Well, with Travis being limited to just 11 minutes on the Arizona trip due to a concussion, David had a chance to make me look smart. Against Arizona, he stepped in admirably and played 31 pretty decent minutes, although there were a couple of wild, horrendous field goal attempts that gave one pause. Against Arizona State, that pause turned to a full on stop. Please stop. At one point in Wear’s 34 minutes of awfulness (two-of-12 from the field, three turnovers), Wear missed an uncontested two-footer by at least two feet (man, I so wanted to drop some hyperbole there, but the reality is bad enough that it wasn’t needed). In the two weeks since I wrote the above about how similar the Wears numbers were, David has gone 13-of-41 from the field and his offensive efficiency numbers have dropped precipitously. Well, maybe there is a difference between the two twins after all.
Looking ahead: The Bruins hope to get back on track tonight when they host USC at Pauley Pavilion while unveiling some new uniforms. While USC has been underwhelming, the do have the size and strength up front to give UCLA some problems on the glass.
California – C
The Golden Bears split their road trip to the Rockies, but there is just a lot missing here. First and foremost, aside from Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs, there is precious little offensive pop on this team. To make matters worse, it appears from the outside that neither of those guys (especially Crabbe) is much of a team leader. Between the two of them, I’m not sure there’s a more talented duo of guards in the conference (and that’s actually saying a lot), but they’ve been unable to help make things easier for their less experienced and less gifted teammates. And both players have stretches where their on-court body language is absolutely awful.
Focus on: David Kravish. While by no means a polished scorer, Kravish has been a solid frontcourt effort guy for the Bears this season. But, limited by a nagging injury this past weekend, Kravish’s minutes took a nosedive, as did his production 5.5 points and three rebounds in 23 minutes of action per game. Worse yet, while Robert Thurman did his part to pick up for Kravish, Richard Solomon supplied perhaps his worst pair of games since back in early November.
Looking ahead: The Bears host Oregon State and Oregon this week. While they can’t afford to look past the Beavers, we can, as we ask how do the Bears beat the Ducks? It all starts with Cobbs and Crabbe handling the Oregon pressure well (they’ll get help from Brandon Smith, who is back from six games missed due to concussion, and Tyrone Wallace) and looking to score from the get-go. In recent weeks, Cobbs and Crabbe have gotten off to slow starts, only to somehow build up halfway decent stats once they’ve already let the game get away from them. But even if that happens, Cal will need Kravish, Solomon and Thurman to turn in one of their better performances of the season, keeping guys like Tony Woods and Arsalan Kazemi off of the offensive glass.
Arizona – C-
The way the Wildcats looked in Thursday night’s loss to UCLA – disinterested and unprepared are the two adjectives that come most readily to mind – is very concerning. The talk is, and was even before the game, that the Wildcats didn’t consider their match-up with the Bruins to be a “big game.” And the fact is, their play mirrored that sentiment. While that may be an excuse for their performance, that’s an awful excuse for any loss, especially in conference play where every game is a big game. The ‘Cats salvaged a home split by destroying USC on Saturday, but teams that take nights off not only don’t earn sparkling grades, they also don’t win conference titles.
Focus on: Nick Johnson. Perhaps the one guy that came to play from wire-to-wire against UCLA, Johnson has the attitude of a grizzled veteran as just a sophomore in Tucson. While he’s a pretty complete player, once his jumper catches up with his athleticism, defensive effort and maturity (all of which are stellar), Johnson could be on the short list for Pac-12 Player of the Year.
Looking ahead: The Wildcats travel to the Washington schools this weekend, with their battle with the Huskies kicking off the festivities tomorrow night. While this won’t be the type of classic Dogs/Cats match-up we’ve seen in recent years, UA better come into this one with the mentality of being ready to play a “big game.”
Oregon State – C-
Given that we haven’t given the Beavers a better weekly grade this season than a D, we were inclined to drop a C or a C+ on OSU for a home split. But, giving up a halftime lead and coming up just short at home against a team like Washington State who, no offense to the Cougs, is a team the Beavers should beat at home, left me feeling little mercy for Craig Robinson and company. Good on the Beavs for getting their first conference win of the season against Washington, but a more focused second-half performance against Washington State was expected.
Focus on: Ahmad Starks. A week removed from Robinson considering shelving Starks in lieu of handing the starting point guard spot to Challe Barton, Starks responded with far and away his best game as a distributing point guard this season and his highest assist total in his career. Yeah, Starks’ attempt at a tying three-pointer at the buzzer was awry, but there’s no way the Beavers were in the game against Washington State without Cougars – nothing like putting the fear of a lost starting spot into a player to get a good performance out of a veteran. Props to Starks for responding positively: 17 points on seven-of-13 shooting, with eight assists and three steals.
Looking ahead: The Beavers head to the Bay Area schools in tandem with the conference-leading Ducks. Now that it is no secret that UO is the favorite in the conference, will Oregon State get the benefit of their opposition spending time focusing on their traveling partner rather than on them?
Stanford – C-
The Cardinal come out of the weekend feeling pretty good about themselves after turning in perhaps their best performance of the year on Saturday night in a 31-point blowout of Utah in Salt Lake City. But let’s not be tricked by that fool’s gold. Beating up on the worst team in the league is one thing, but it doesn’t erase a 21-point loss at Colorado earlier in the week, a game in which nobody on the Stanford team posted an in-game offensive rating over 95. Beating up on the dregs of the conference is fine – that’s what you’re supposed to do – but we have to see Stanford play with a decent team before we have any reason to believe that the Cardinal are back.
Focus on: Chasson Randle. As Randle goes, so goes the Cardinal? This week was the tale of two Randles. Against Colorado, Randle was awful, hitting just two-of-15 shots from two-point range (his three-for-six effort from three did not go far enough to redeem those numbers) while turning it over three times against zero assists for an offensive rating of 71. Against Utah, he was did a 180, scoring 17 points on 14 field goal attempts, grabbing eight boards, handing out three assists, snatching three steals and turning it over just once on his way to an O-Rtg of 131. In the Cardinal’s eight losses, Randle has had an ORtg above 100 (considered just about average) just twice. Conversely, in their 12 wins, only three times has he had an ORtg below 100, and one of those was a 99 against Seattle. In other words, Johnny Dawkins desperately needs and offensively effective Randle in order to regularly win ballgames.
Looking ahead: With Oregon and Oregon State next on the docket, Randle has a chance to get right. Oregon will throw both Jonathan Loyd and Damyean Dotson at the sophomore, while he’ll mostly be matched up against Roberto Nelson against the Beavers. If he can carry over his masterful performance against Utah into the new week, things could be looking good for Stanford.
USC – D+
After Thursday night’s 45-minute battle with Arizona State that will go down as one of this year’s most entertaining conference games, I was all ready to give the Trojans the benefit of the doubt when assigning this week’s grade. Then they came out against Arizona and started the game two-for-19 from the field with seven turnovers mixed in there, and were effectively done less than ten minutes into the game.
Focus on: Jio Fontan. Thursday night, Fontan had possibly his best game as a Trojan, scoring 25 efficient points, knocking down five increasingly improbable threes and, along with J.T. Terrell, willing his team back into the game to force overtime. But, as we’ve seen all year long, even when good things happen to this team, they’re not sustainable. On Saturday Fontan was two-of-nine from the field with four turnovers and one assist. I heard the opinion last week that, while yes, Fontan has largely been awful offensively this season, he’s been good enough defensively to limit his opposing number. I still need to be convinced of that idea, as this weekend, Fontan’s defensive game did little to impress me.
Looking ahead: The Trojans head uptown tonight to face UCLA at Pauley. The Bruins have been known to struggle against guards capable of dribble penetration, so Fontan has an opportunity to make a big splash tonight.
Washington – D+
An 0-2 road trip to Oregon is not the most damning thing in the conference, but the way the Huskies came out against Oregon State on Wednesday certainly did not get them off to a great start. Just days after coming off their first conference loss in an uninspired performance against Utah, the Huskies came out flat on the road at Oregon State, digging themselves an early double-digit hole. They were able to bounce back and make a game of it, but then faltered down the stretch. Against Oregon, again they were rattled early. Abdul Gaddy had two quick turnovers. Then Aziz N’Diaye followed with three straight. And then everybody caught the bug. They had eight turnovers in the first ten minutes and 23 for the game, almost literally giving this game away.
Focus on: Scott Suggs. Offensively, Suggs is not the type of player I’d often be drawn to; he’s mostly a jump shooter, and not a very efficient one at that. But defensively, Suggs can lock up an opponent by limiting his touches and good looks, as Roberto Nelson and Damyean Dotson regularly saw this weekend. Nelson posted his second-worst offensive rating in the past two months while Dotson posted his second-worst offensive rating of the season, both largely against Suggs.
Looking ahead: UW hosts the Arizona schools this weekend. Where’s Isaiah Thomas when you need him? Cold blooded.
Utah – D-
The only things saving the Utes from our first straight F of the season is a pretty good effort against Cal in the first game of the 0-2 homestand last week and, let’s be honest, some merciful grading. Because not only was Utah really bad this week, they also apparently forgot to even show up and give some effort on Sunday evening against Stanford. It’s no surprise that Stanford won that game, but it is surprising that the Utes actually made the Cardinal look like a polished offensive team for the first time, maybe since last year’s NIT run. The Utes allowed Stanford to do just about whatever they wanted offensively, and outside of some flashes from deep bench players in the second half, were just awful hard to watch when they had the ball in their hands. Throw in so discord in the locker room and where once we had nearly chiseled it in stone that this year’s team was better than last year’s, we’re now wondering if these Utes will even get to the 3-15 conference record they posted last season.
Focus on: Renan Lenz. Way back before actual games began, when we found out that David Foster would not be playing this year, we read the tea leaves of Larry Krystkowiak’s comments and the combined that with some outcomes from the Utes’ foreign trip and figured that Lenz might be in line for a big role up front. But, then Dallin Bachynski grabbed a starting spot and later Jason Washburn tore off on a run and all the while Jordan Loveridge has been earning significant run as a freshman and Lenz has been left as something of a forgotten man. Well, now with Bachynski out of the picture and the Loveridge/Wasburn combination settling back to earth, maybe now is the time for the JuCo transfer out of Brazil? Against Stanford, he was one of the few bright spots, posting season highs in minutes played (23), rebounds (8), blocks (3) and steals (2), to go along with eight points on four-of-five shooting. All year long Lenz has produced in the relatively few minutes he’s played, but now he may have put in an application for more playing time.
Looking ahead: The Utes have all week to practice, and according to Krystkowiak’s comments following the Stanford debacle, this isn’t exactly going to be a fun week of practice for the team. But, come Saturday when they host Colorado, you can expect a much better effort out of this team, if for no other reason, than because the head coach seems committed to only playing the guys who are going to give the best effort going forward.