Pac-12 Report Card, Volume VI: Honor RollPosted by AMurawa on February 12th, 2013
Professor Pac is back, trying to break down the mess that is the Pac-12, a task harder than you might think. This week’s Honor Roll is highlighted by Colorado, a team that bounced back from an awful week last time around to earn this week’s highest grade.
Colorado – A
A week ago, the Buffaloes earned the only F we’ve handed out this season. You can tell a lot about how a team responds to absolute failure. After losing to Utah while earning a 22-point deficit at one point, their F was well-earned. Likewise, this week’s A is appropriate. Colorado wasn’t mind-blowingly effective this week, but they were tough. They played two tight games and, contrary to what they’d done earlier in the year, they finished strong. With an important week ahead (and a chance at revenge against the Utes the following week), the Buffs have an opportunity now to make their case for a continued presence near the top of the Pac-12 standings.
Focus on: Josh Scott. After scoring in double figures in 13 of his first 16 games as a Buff, Scott hit something of a freshman wall in mid-January. His average of 14.5 points per game over those first 16 games has fallen to fewer than eight points per game over the next five, while also contributing just three rebounds per night. While he was merely average against Oregon (seven points, two boards), and while he did little to chip in on the boards against Oregon State (four boards in 32 minutes as his team was outrebounded by a relatively poor rebounding OSU team), he did wake up offensively, scoring 17 points while making 7-of-10 field goals. That type of success needs to continue, preferably with some additional rebounding mixed in there.
Looking ahead: The Buffaloes have been pointing to Valentine’s night ever since the final buzzer sounded in their controversial overtime loss to Arizona on the opening night of conference play. If CU can take care of business at home against the Wildcats and put the demons of the Debacle in the Desert to rest, it could be a springboard for continued success down the stretch. If they get outplayed by a talented Arizona team, that disappointment could snowball, especially with a tough and hungry Arizona State squad waiting on Saturday.
USC – A
For the second straight week, the Trojans earn an A. Once forgotten, this team is now a prized student and a team that could make a mess of things come the second week in March in Las Vegas. The Trojans have now won three in a row, they’re at 6-5 in the conference, and, seemingly like 17 other teams in the Pac-12, they sit within two games of first place.
Focus on: DeWayne Dedmon. After scoring in double figures in five straight games stretching from the end of 2012 to a couple weeks into 2013, it looked like the light had finally come on for the talented junior. Averaging nearly 11 points and more than eight rebounds per night over that stretch, Dedmon was a force. In the five games following that, however, he averaged as many fouls per games as he did rebounds (3.6 RPG), and his scoring average barely beat that number. But this week, he broke back out of his slump. He only averaged six points per night, but he did so on 54.5% shooting and he added 9.5 boards and three blocks per night while, perhaps most importantly, staying out of foul trouble. With guys like Jio Fontan, J.T. Terrell and Eric Wise picking up a lot of the offensive slack, Bob Cantu doesn’t necessarily need a lot of scoring out of the big man, but if he can hit the glass and patrol the paint like he did this week, that’s a big positive for the Trojans.
Looking ahead: With trips to Stanford (Thursday) and California (Sunday) ahead this week, we’ve got a chance to see some separation occur in the middle of the Pac. In both of those games, the Trojans will need guys like Dedmon and Omar Oraby to come through, as SC can take advantage of some soft interiors from the Bay Area teams.
UCLA – B+
It was a 2-0 week at home, but you can’t say it was a great week for the Bruins. Their win over Washington on Thursday night, despite an exciting game-winner out of Larry Drew II, was one of the eight least-inspiring games in Ben Howland’s tenure as UCLA head coach. And, while what happened on the court was bad, what happened courtside was damning too, as one of the greatest college basketball players ever and a proud UCLA alumnus, Bill Walton, spent two hours ripping Howland’s program and questioning his leadership. As those comments aligned with possession after possession of horrid offensive basketball, you could see Howland’s grip on his current job slipping away. To make matters worse, even the final game-winning play — where Drew saved the day for the Bruins with a great fall-away buzzer beater — was overshadowed by controversy as freshman Shabazz Muhammad made a heel of himself by pouting over not getting a chance to take the final shot (despite his recent struggles in that area), and not joining his teammates in the celebration.
Focus on: Shabazz Muhammad. Speaking of Muhammad, ESPN’s Peter Yoon had a great post following that Washington game detailing how, while Muhammad is certainly a capable scorer, he doesn’t provide a whole lot of production anywhere else on the court. Including the blowout win over Washington State, Muhammad now has just a paltry 19 assists in 21 games. Despite his immense physical gifts, he’s grabbing just five rebounds a game (and considering there aren’t a whole lot of other strong rebounders on this team, it isn’t like somebody else on his squad is beating him to those balls). And defensively, he has just 15 steals and one block this season. Yeah, he’s a high-usage, high-efficiency scorer, he rarely turns the ball over, and he’s a surprisingly good three-point shooter, but at some point he needs to chip in elsewhere on the floor.
Looking ahead: Like the Trojans, it’s a Bay Area weekend for the Bruins, with Cal and Stanford on deck. The Bruins handled both teams with relative ease at Pauley earlier in the year, but those teams are playing a lot better ball these days.