What We Learned This Week In The Pac-12Posted by PBaruh on January 30th, 2013
Here are some takeaways from the week that was in the Pac-12.
Arizona State Isn’t Going Away
The Sun Devils were impressive once again in another week of Pac-12 action by going 2-0 and continuing to win games they weren’t expected to win. First, Arizona State beat USC 98-93 in overtime by holding off a valiant effort from the Trojans. Then, they picked up their biggest win of the season as they were victorious over UCLA. Yes, UCLA was coming off a huge win against Arizona itself and might not have been particularly excited to play the Sun Devils two days later. Even without the presence of Travis Wear, the Bruins still have a lot of talent but that didn’t stop Arizona State from dominating the entire game. The great play of Jahii Carson has obviously been key in Arizona State’s success, but Carrick Felix’s improvement has been important as well. Felix was named ESPN’s National Player of the Week for his 16-point, 1o-rebound effort against USC and his 23-point, 11-rebound effort against UCLA. He is also second on the team in scoring at 15.2 points per game and first in rebounding with 8.2 boards per contest. Without the maturity and improvement of Carrick Felix, the Sun Devils would not be where they are at right now.
Felix and Carson have had the largest impacts, but Arizona State has also been helped out by the strong play of Jordan Bachnyski. The 7’2″ center has been phenomenal on defense in rejecting 4.3 shots per game and blocking 15.6 percent of the shots taken while he is on the floor. He’s also been great at limiting his fouls as he’s only picked up more than three fouls once in conference play thus far and has yet to foul out all season. And he had his most impressive performance of the year against UCLA, with 22 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks in the Sun Devils’ big win.
After two consecutive dismal years in the Pac-12 where Herb Sendek’s team only managed 22 total wins, they’ve finally turned it around. Jahii Carson has been incredible, and Carrick Felix and Jordan Bachnyski deserve a majority of the credit as well. Many thought Arizona State would prove that their strong record before conference play was due to an easy schedule, but the Sun Devils are proving their legitimacy with wins over Colorado and UCLA. Up next, Arizona State is on the road against Washington and Washington State. If they can sweep, Arizona State might no longer be on the bubble and could be looking at a great shot to make the NCAA Tournament and contend for a bye in the Pac-12 Tournament.
Arizona might have the most talent in the Pac-12, but when matched up against the Pac-12′s elite, they haven’t fared as well. The Wildcats have lost to Oregon and UCLA, and were a tenth of a second away from losing to Colorado at home. Their most recent blunder against UCLA was their most disappointing performance of the year. Despite having the size advantage over UCLA, they were outrebounded by the Bruins, 45-33. They had a raucous crowd at McKale and it was the “whiteout game”, but they let UCLA get out to an early 16-point lead. They had the personnel to match up well with Shabazz Muhammad using Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom, but he scored 23 points on 50 percent shooting. Arizona simply had no answers. Maybe this should be more of a testament to UCLA and how good Muhammad and company have become. Oregon might have the best record in the league, but both Arizona and UCLA are more talented teams and it seems like this was the game that would prove who was the best in the Pac-12. As of now, it’s easy to call Arizona overrated and label them as #3 in the Pac-12. Whatever the case may be, it doesn’t change the fact that Sean Miller’s team still has the most potential out of teams in the Pac-12 to make the most noise come March and you know that the Wildcats will be itching to get back at the Bruins later when they play in Los Angeles.
Bay Area Teams Struggling
We’re nearly halfway through the Pac-12 season and Stanford and Cal are sitting in the bottom half of the conference. No one expected these teams to be competing for the Pac-12 title, but with both now at 3-4, it sure has been discouraging in the Bay Area. It’s not like Stanford or Cal has had a rough schedule that would point to their less than stellar records. Both of these teams have won against Utah and Washington State, teams that have combined for three wins in the Pac-12, and neither has an impressive third win as Cal beat USC and Stanford beat Cal. As far as the losses go, they’ve both failed at home against Washington and have been no match for UCLA and Colorado.
Going forward, things could get better as they both can make up a lot of ground in the conference as they still play Oregon twice, Arizona and Arizona State on the road, and UCLA and Colorado at home. On the other hand, there’s nothing these two teams have done thus far to make you believe they’re capable of beating any of these teams. Cal hasn’t found production out of anyone besides Justin Cobbs and Allen Crabbe, who are combining for over 34 points a game. Stanford has the talent, but Johnny Dawkins doesn’t have the track record that shows his teams have the resiliency to respond to early struggles. And it’s not like Maples or Haas has been a rocking environment where road teams can’t win this year. Washington could fall below both Stanford and Cal, but it looks like barring anything out of the ordinary, neither of these teams will finish above sixth place this season. After high expectations for both of these teams to start the year, they’re likely going to be irrelevant in the postseason once again, which could leave Johnny Dawkins unemployed and Mike Montgomery on the hot seat come April.