Surveying Feast Week Carnage Around the Pac-12

Posted by AMurawa on December 1st, 2014

Feast Week around the Pac-12 didn’t bring a whole lot of comfort to the conference. Seven teams around the league played in tournament-style events and only two even made it out of their first game and into the championship side of the bracket, with four of the remaining five teams taking two losses on the week. There was good news, however, as Arizona won the Maui Invitational with a workmanlike win over San Diego State and Washington earned the Wooden Legacy title with solid wins over an underwhelming field. And the teams that did not participate in tournaments this week (including Utah, who hosted a round robin event against overmatched opponents) combined to post a 10-1 record. Of course, that “1” on the right side of the record was an inexplicable Stanford loss to DePaul. Below, we’ll take a quick spin around the conference and get you caught up.

Stanley Johnson Is Turning Into A Disruptive Defensive Force (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

Stanley Johnson Is Turning Into A Disruptive Defensive Force (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

Arizona – The Wildcats have not yet looked spectacular this season, in racing out to a 6-0 start. But as they showed against the Aztecs on Wednesday, this is a team with chemistry and toughness, traits that should help them weather the storm as they work towards living up to their incredible upside. Things are coming along slowly but surely, Stanley Johnson is getting comfortable offensively and turning showing his ability to disrupt things defensively and everybody is feeling each other out. It will come all in due time; they’ve still got three months to dial things in before March rolls around. But in the meantime, even as we can pick apart little faults, the ‘Cats have confirmed what we already thought: Sean Miller’s team is the class of the conference.

Arizona State – The Sun Devils’ trip to Kansas City was incredibly disappointing, especially in hindsight. In the semifinal round against Maryland, they had a two-point lead with under 90 seconds to go and then failed to score again. Against Alabama in the consolation game, they came out flat, then roared back to take an eight-point lead to the under 12 timeout, then quit playing defense, allowing 41 points in the Tide’s final 25 possessions (1.64 PPP). Kodi Justice earned his first big minutes of the year (he played 54 minutes in the two games in Kansas City, then sat out a win against Colgate with a back injury) and showed some savvy, but the point guard situation in Tempe is still up in the air. But keep an eye on junior guard Gerry Blakes who blew up this week, averaging just shy of 20 PPG in the Sun Devils’ three games.

Nation: Meet Arizona State's Junior Wing Gerry Blakes (Ed Zurga, AP)

Nation: Meet Arizona State’s Junior Wing Gerry Blakes (Ed Zurga, AP)

California – Bouncing back from a 16-point loss to Texas, the Golden Bears returned to California and took care of business against Cal Poly and at Fresno State. Tyrone Wallace averaged 18 points, eight boards and three assists in the wins, but he’s still a point guard that is best at creating for himself and neglects including his teammates at times in lieu of launching a questionable shot. Still, god knows where this team would be without him. When he’s out, the Bears struggle to initiate good offense, and he’s certainly one of very few guys on this team (Jordan Mathews may be the one other) that can go get his own shot at the end of the clock. Wyoming and Wisconsin are the big games remaining on the Cal non-conference schedule.

Colorado – After that disgusting nine-point second half against Wyoming last weekend, the Buffaloes bounced back by taking care of business against Air Force and Lipscomb in relatively unimpressive fashion. Josh Scott looked great again, but the point guard position in Boulder is even cloudier, now that freshman Dominique Collier is in the mix. The Buffs still have two tough non-conference games (at Georgia, home against Colorado State) on their slate before they head to Hawaii for the Diamond Head Classic over Christmas week, so we should have more answers before conference play starts.

Oregon – At the under-four timeout in the second half against Michigan in the Legends Classic, the Ducks trailed by just a point and looked every bit the equal of the top-25 Wolverines. They never scored another field goal, only stopped Michigan from scoring at least two points on one of the Wolverines’ final seven possessions and lost by seven. Against VCU the following night, they fought back from a disastrous start to within six at the 5:30 mark, and got outscored 16-8 down the stretch from there. With do-everything glue-guy Dwayne Benjamin sitting out the end of the Michigan game and the entirety of the VCU game with an ankle injury and thereby limiting the Ducks to only seven players, it is fair to ask if the Ducks have earned their first losses of the season due to their lack of depth. Benjamin will be back soon enough, but JuCo transfer Michael Chandler is still dealing with a knee injury that has pushed back his Duck debut. There’s a lot of young talent here, but the margin for error with such a small bench is razor thin.

Oregon State – Back before the season started, the Beavers were a popular choice for worst major-conference team this season. Early on, you could pretty confidently say, they’re not even the worst team in their own conference. Oregon State lost their two games as part of the MGM Grand Main Event in Las Vegas (to Oklahoma State and Auburn), but they were at least competitive. It took a 22-9 run for the Cowboys in the final ten minutes of the first game to kill off the Beavs and Auburn needed a few calls and a few missed bunnies to earn their consolation win. Still, the Beavers have shown they’ve got a few things going for them, namely new head coach Wayne Tinkle and a handful of exciting athletes, led by junior Gary Payton II, who averaged 15 points and nine boards in Sin City this week.

Stanford – Ever the classy program, the Cardinal did senior point guard Chasson Randle a solid and scheduled a game back in his hometown area with a trip to DePaul. The outcome was supposed to be a formality, but no such luck as the Blue Demons posted a 60.5 eFG% and scored 1.19 points per possession against a Stanford team that got only 22 total minutes (and just three points, two boards and two turnovers) out of its bench. Maybe write this off as another example of non-conference defensive amnesia, such as the case that struck the Cardinal against BYU and Pittsburgh last year. But keep Stanford’s defensive struggles on your radar for the time being. And it sure would be nice to get some sort of lift off the bench.

Chasson Randle's Chicago Homecoming Did Not Go As Expected (Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP Photo)

Chasson Randle’s Chicago Homecoming Did Not Go As Expected (Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP Photo)

UCLA – So, the Bruins get outscored 26-8 over the final nine minutes against Oklahoma in the opener in the Battle 4 Atlantis? So what? At that point, you’ve still got a chance to play North Carolina. And then, if you win that, you get a crack at Florida. On Thanksgiving morning, that still had a chance to be a productive week for Steve Alford’s team. Instead, as Seth Davis opined as UCLA played in the seventh-place game, the team just quit against North Carolina and got blown out by 22. Free throws stand out as a major weakness for UCLA (they shot 55.6% in the two losses and are 66% on the year). And the depth thing will be an issue all year. But, as for complaints about the team’s defense? They allowed 1.03 PPP to two very good offensive teams in Oklahoma and North Carolina this week. It wasn’t their defense that failed this week, it was their offense.

USC – After their opening game loss to Portland State, it was easy enough to write off the Trojans. A 20-point loss to Akron in Charleston seemed to verify that first impression. Since then, things have settled down a little. And on Sunday, they went to New Mexico and scored a good road win, against an admittedly average and short-handed Lobo team. Katin Reinhardt continues to look just ridiculously awful, more a detriment to his team than an asset. But, every game Jordan McLaughlin plays, the more comfortable he appears. And he’s got some talented pieces around him. Andy Enfield just needs to find a way to get the right pieces in the right places. This team is going to beat some good teams sometime this season.

Utah – Three opponents this week for the Utes, the best of which was Alabama State, ranked 282nd in the nation by KenPom, a game that Utah won by a 31-point margin. So, considering that level of competition, and considering the fact that they’ll be inviting Wichita State into the Huntsman Center on Wednesday, we’ll just skip right over Utah today. We’ll have a chance to check in on their progress this week.

Washington – The Huskies beat San Jose State, Long Beach State and UTEP en route to a Wooden Legacy title this weekend. Solid wins over solid teams (at least in those last two instances), but the wins themselves are nothing to get overly excited about. That doesn’t mean there isn’t reason for excitement. Nigel Williams-Goss averaged 16.7 points, 8.7 assists and 5.3 boards over the course of the tournament, and those numbers don’t really begin to show how good he was, how much he kept his team under control. With wingman Andrew Andrews having developed into a potent scorer from all over the court and with defensive game changers like Robert Upshaw (10 PPG, 6 RPG, 4.7 BPG, 14/19 from field in Orange County this weekend), Mike Anderson and Jernard Jarreau, these Huskies look balanced and tough. They’ll get a challenge Saturday when they welcome in San Diego State, but there is plenty of reason to believe these Huskies can give the Aztecs all they want.

Washington State – The Cougars trip to the Great Alaska Shootout started disastrously, with a 12-point half against UC Santa Barbara, leading to a 34-12 halftime deficit. DaVonte Lacy was awful with a 1-8 night from the field and four turnovers in 20 minutes. Lacy and his teammates bounced back with two wins in the consolation bracket in which their star averaged 23 points per game. The breakout star for Ernie Kent has been sophomore big Josh Hawkinson, who has averaged 15 points and 10 boards thus far; who, aside from maybe Mrs. Hawkinson, saw that one coming? Still, WSU has played three top-80 teams (all between 73 and 78 in KenPom’s rankings as of Sunday afternoon) in their six games, and lost those three by an average of just 22.7 points.

AMurawa (999 Posts)

Andrew Murawa Likes Basketball.

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