Pac-12 Senior Days: UCLA’s Norman Powell

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 4th, 2015

I sat down to write a post about Norman Powell and had no idea what to say. After 10 minutes of staring at a blank Word document, I started to think about taking the easy way out and just throwing a bunch of links to videos and Vines of Powell attacking the rim and finishing in a variety of spellbinding ways. But that would be taking the easy way out, something Powell never did in his four years at UCLA. So instead of getting to spend a few minutes geeking out on dunks and twisting, merry-go-round finishes, you’ve got to read my blather for a few hundred words. And you’ve got Powell to thank for that.

Norman Powell Has Been UCLA's Heart and Soul For Four Years (Associated Press)

Norman Powell Has Been UCLA’s Heart and Soul For Four Years. (Associated Press)

Think back on your favorite Bruins in the past decade or so, whether you count yourself as a UCLA fan or just a fan of college basketball. Guys like Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams, Darren Collison, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, Arron Afflalo, Jordan Farmar, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute are the names that likely come to mind. One thing all those players have in common is that none ever saw their own Senior Day. Now, let’s be clear; I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. But there is something special about a senior’s growth that occurs over four years — about the dedication and drive you need to begin something as difficult as being a student-athlete and seeing it through to the very end. And there is something special about seeing a guy like Powell come down the stretch and lift his game to a higher level in pursuit of righteously closing out that career.

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Checking In On… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 4th, 2015

Team of the Week

Boise State – I just wrote a couple thousand words about the Broncos, so go read that piece if you want any longwinded explanations of why they’re the obvious pick here. In breaking San Diego State’s 29-game home winning streak, the Broncos put themselves in the driver’s seat for the conference championship and the #1 seed in the conference tournament. There was no other reasonable option.

Those Around The Boise State Basketball Program Have Plenty of Reason To Smile (Matt Cilley, AP Photo)

Those Around The Boise State Basketball Program Have Plenty of Reason To Smile. (Matt Cilley, AP Photo)

Player of the Week

Derrick Marks, Sr, Boise State – I thought for a second about getting creative and going with Marvelle Harris, and Utah State put together a couple good wins. But let’s not be crazy here. While Marks’ performance against San Diego State was a little rugged offensively, that’s to be expected against such a fearsome defense. And still, check out these numbers for the week: 24.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 3.0 APG, 2.0 SPG, and a 50% eFG. All told, this week was about Marks getting his team over the hump and into position to win a conference title. Along the way, he probably sewed up the Player of the Year award, although odds are good that wasn’t his main goal.

 

Derrick Marks, Sr, Boise State – I thought for a second about getting creative and going with Marvelle Harris. Utah State put together a couple good wins and I thought about going with an Aggie, but picking one meant ignoring the others. And really, let’s not be crazy here. While Marks’ performance against San Diego State was a little rugged offensively, such is to be expected against such a fearsome defense. And still, for the week, check out these numbers: 24 PPG, 5 RPG, 3 APG, 2 SPG, and a 50 eFG%. All told, this week was about Marks getting his team over the hump and into position to win a conference title. Along the way, he probably sewed up the Player of the Year. But odds are good, that wasn’t his main goal.

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Pac-12 Weekly Honors: Week 15

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 4th, 2015

Each week the Pac-12 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, which typically will include a Team, Player and Newcomer of the Week, along with our weekly Power Rankings.

Team of the Week: Arizona

Arizona Earned Another Conference Title On The Strength Of A Full Team Effort (USA Today)

Arizona Earned Another Conference Title On The Strength Of A Full Team Effort. (USA Today)

Two teams in the conference went on the road and came away with sweeps last week. Alas, we can only pick one in this space, so we leave Oregon – and their likely NCAA Tournament-clinching week aside – to go with the team that locked up a share of the conference title by knocking off upstart Utah in Salt Lake City. After blowing out Colorado in a dominant performance with everybody contributing, Saturday night’s game was all about toughness. The Wildcats started fast and closed fast, taking home the Pac-12 title largely on the strength of their calling card, defense. In a one-point game down the stretch, the Wildcats held Utah without a point in their final four possessions to pull out the title-clinching win.

(Also receiving votes: Oregon)

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Boise State’s Big Win Proves This Team Is Different

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 3rd, 2015

It’s Saturday night, 30 minutes after Boise State put the finishing touches on a road win at San Diego State, breaking the Aztecs’ 29-game home winning streak. Broncos’ head coach Leon Rice is in the tunnel at Viejas Arena talking about his team’s accomplishments for the day, the month, the season. And he’s looking around at the empty red seats in Viejas, his face a mixture of amazement and accomplishment. “My guys are deserving of respect,” said Rice. “They’ve won, what, 12 of their last 13 games now? In this league, that’s tough to do because of the places you have to go. Nobody beats these guys [San Diego State] here. What was it, 29 games in a row here? I mean, nobody wins here.”

Derrick Marks and Kevin Allen Celebrate The Broncos Win At San Diego State (Lenny Ignelzi, AP Photo)

Derrick Marks and Kevin Allen Celebrate The Broncos Win At San Diego State (Lenny Ignelzi, AP Photo)

And yet, that’s exactly what the Broncos did, even after getting off to a dreadfully slow start, scoring just eight points on their first 19 possessions (13:30 game time). Part of the slow start could certainly be chalked up to the length, athleticism, activity and intelligence of the San Diego State defense, but you can bet the intimidation factor in playing in Viejas was also a part of it. After a pregame routine featuring The Show professing its belief that its team would win; after lineup introductions that would make many NBA teams blush; after the Aztecs came out with the swagger of having played in and won countless meaningful Mountain West games in this very venue; a little nervousness was expected, especially for a team without that same prior history of success. But this Broncos team has proven themselves to be very different from their predecessors. “It’s funny, this is a team of new accomplishments,” Rice bragged, while making sure to give full credit to his players and his staff. “I mean, before this year, we’d never won at New Mexico; we’d never won at Utah State. We’d never won here. And I know how tough this place is. We have a ton of respect for this team and these fans. I mean, I come out before the game and get goosebumps looking around this place. For me to come in here and see this place and see what Coach Fisher has done here, it’s pretty fantastic. And we have so much respect for San Diego State, the win here means a lot to us.”

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Pac-12 Basketball Programs as Craft Breweries

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 2nd, 2015

I really like college hoops. I really like craft beer. I have no idea why I never had this idea before, but here’s a simple, fun game: go through each Pac-12 program and find the brewery most simpatico in style, substance, history and quality. Now, I’ve had my fair share of beers in fine establishments all over the West, but living in California with the sheer number of excellent breweries in this state, we’re going to wind up with plenty of choices from the Golden State on this list. It would be nice to pick more geographically-fitting breweries, but for instance, while there are plenty of fine Arizona breweries, none can match the quality and national importance of the home Wildcats, so we’ll have to go elsewhere for that comparison. And by no means have I got the finger on the pulse of every single craft brewery that has arisen. So, if you’ve got better comparisons in mind, I’m interested in hearing them, especially true toward the bottom of the list where I admittedly ran out of steam. Enough nonsense, let’s get to the list!

Much like the ubiquitious Lagunitas Brewing Company, Arizona fans are a national presence. (AP)

Much like the ubiquitous Lagunitas Brewing Company, Arizona fans are a national presence. (AP)

  • Arizona: Lagunitas Brewing. My first instinct was to go Russian River here, but comparatively speaking, Russian River is a niche brewer. It’s legendary and excellent, but it’s also pretty small. Lagunitas, by comparison, is a national power. It’s the fifth-largest craft brewer in the nation (and the 11th biggest brewery overall, even on a list with the big boys) and ubiquitous, yet it still manages to crank out superbly high quality beers without fail. And if you’ve ever done the brewery tour, you know that Lagunitas is definitely A Player’s Program. The only significant problem I find with this selection is that Lagunitas’ mascot is a dog.
  • UCLA: Sierra Nevada. If Arizona is Lagunitas, the Bruins have to be somebody equally as big, so we’ll go with the Chico mainstay. Sierra Nevada is an old school classic. This brewery has been around forever; it has great history; it’s still committed to quality. But let’s be honest, it’s also been bypassed by a handful of other institutions, and although they still shoot for the stars, sometimes it disappoints. Here’s one thing Sierra has over UCLA, though — unlike Pauley Pavilion, their tap room is never whisper quiet.
  • Utah: Epic Brewing. I have some reservations about comparing a basketball program with the history of the Utes to a Beehive State-based microbrewery given the lack of history that the state has with sensible alcohol laws. But I’ll rationalize this choice by saying that Epic, a brewery that formed after Utah slightly modernized its regulations over the last decade, is making history of its own. Plus, like the current Utes squad, the beers that Epic makes are big and bold.

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Pac-12 Senior Days: Stanford Says Goodbye to Accomplished Senior Class

Posted by Kevin Danna on March 1st, 2015

Today’s game against Oregon will be Stanford’s last at Maples Pavilion in the 2014-15 campaign (at least, Stanford hopes that it’s the last game at Maples this year), meaning it’s Senior Day for Stanford’s Big Three of Chasson Randle, Anthony Brown and Stefan Nastic.

Obviously Johnny Dawkins and staff knew what they were doing when they recruited the Rock Island stud, but the first hint I got that Chasson Randle was going to be special was in the summer before his freshman season. On the first day of summer school, Randle was in the gym working out at 7:00 AM. This wasn’t for some scheduled workout, mind you; he just wanted to come in on his own and get shots up. And gotten shots up he has. 1,632 of ‘em, in fact, by far more than anybody in Stanford history. Sure, he isn’t the most efficient player, and yeah, you’d like to see your head man shoot better than 40 percent from the field. And most definitely, you’d like to see a guy at his size distribute the rock a little more.

Chasson Randle: Bulldog.

Chasson Randle: Bulldog.

But Randle is what so few Stanford basketball players over the years have been. He’s a dog, and I mean that in the most positive way possible. You want a bucket? Chasson’s your guy. He might not always make it, but he’s never scared of the moment. And that’s what I’ve always appreciated about him — he wants the basketball; he has never shied away from taking the big shot. It hasn’t always worked out, and he has certainly done things that have cost Stanford games in the past (fouling a half-court shooter as time expired in a tie game against Minnesota in the Bahamas is something I won’t soon forget) but not too many people have the gumption to challenge the nation’s leading shot-blocker with the game on the line (see: Stanford’s overtime win against Washington when Robert Upshaw was still lacing ‘em up). He made that one.

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Previewing the Pac-12 Game of the Year: Arizona at Utah

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 28th, 2015

It’s the game of the year in the Pac-12, a battle between the top two teams — Arizona and Utah — with only a game separating them in the standings and a week to play. It’s also on the short list of the biggest games ever played in the Huntsman Center, quite a statement for a building with its long and illustrious history. Both teams have legitimate Final Four aspirations. Both teams have every expectation of being top three seeds when the brackets are announced on Selection Sunday. As many as four players in this game could hear their name called in the first round of the NBA Draft in June, each of those players with lottery potential. In short, on the final day of February, we’ll be treated to full-on March basketball. Let’s break it down, with three keys to tonight’s game.

Odds Are Good That Little Will Come Easy In Tonight's Collision in Salt Lake City

Odds Are Good That Little Will Come Easy In Tonight’s Collision in Salt Lake City

  • Home court advantage. Playing at just under 5,000 feet in Salt Lake City, the Utes enjoy quite a home court advantage at the Huntsman Center. They’ve won all 17 of their games there this season by an average of 24 points per outing. They’re outscoring teams there by an average of 0.40 points per possession. Only one team (Wichita State) has managed to keep within 14 of the Utes. And the MUSS will be rabid tonight. Despite all those considerations, the Wildcats are no slouches on the road. All three of their losses this season have come  in games where maybe they overlooked their opponents. Understand that there is no chance that the ‘Cats will overlook the Utes today. Still, the Utes will come out riding a wave of momentum following Senior Day ceremonies for Delon Wright and Dallin Bachynski. Their home fans will be load and raucous. Whenever Utah needs a shot of adrenaline in the middle of the game, the Huntsman Center will have its back. And perhaps most importantly against an Arizona team that really only wants to play six players, maybe that elevation could be a deciding factor down the stretch. We’ve certainly seen short-benched Arizona teams struggle against the Rocky Mountain schools in the past.

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Pac-12 Senior Days: David Kravish, No Longer a Skinny Freshman

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 28th, 2015

When David Kravish first stepped on the California campus as a student back in 2011, the freshman was listed at 6’9” and 207 pounds. In an ideal world, maybe the raw and impossibly skinny recruit out of Lee’s Summit, Missouri, would have had a chance to wear a redshirt, spend a year hitting the training table and prepping for wars on the block against Pac-12 bigs with some time on the scout team. But with senior Harper Kamp the only battle-tested big man on the roster, Richard Solomon’s maturity problems and Kravish’s willingness to scrap and a serviceable little 10-foot jumper, he was welcomed right into 24 minutes per night against high-major competition. This meant that skin-and-bones Kravish was forced to go toe to toe around the league with upperclassmen like Brock Motum (230 pounds), Jason Washburn (245), Tony Woods (250), Aziz N’Diaye (260) and Joe Burton (280). All Kravish did that season was what little he was asked to do: rebound the ball; bust his butt on defense; set some picks; and make the simple plays. When it was all said and done, he averaged 6.9 points and 5.6 boards per game, and posted a 118.4 offensive rating while shooting a 59.4% eFG, good for 60th in the nation.

David Kravish As A Freshman, Playing The Part Of A Skeleton

David Kravish as a Freshman, Playing The Part of a Skeleton

Kravish’s four years of collegiate eligibility have now mostly come and gone and his body now pays great testament to all the hard work and dedication he’s put into it. He’s now listed at 6’10” and 240 pounds, and young pups around the league with any number of body types can look at Kravish as great proof of what four years of hard work can do. Now he’s the upperclassman bully. He put in his time, stuffing his face with all manner of food in order to pack the pounds on an unwilling body after hours on conditioning or weight training. And – get this – he did all of this while on pace to graduate in four years from Berkeley with a pre-med degree. Stud. Kravish will be sent off on Sunday afternoon to a rousing ovation as the California community will celebrate his career on a well-earned Senior Day.

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Marching to Vegas: On Dana Altman’s Young Ducks

Posted by Adam Butler on February 27th, 2015

Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) of Pachoops will again be joining us all year, providing us with his weekly take on our favorite conference as we begin the March to Vegas.

On two separate occasions this year, Sean Miller has noted the work of Dana Altman. In December he said Altman was the Coach of the Year and this week he “marveled” at Altman’s work. The praise is warranted. Altman’s team projects to make its third consecutive NCAA Tournament despite 10 newcomers and a tumultuous offseason. One of my favorite Altman facts – which notably does not pertain to this season – is that in back-to-back years (2013 and 2014) he coached the 10th-best defense followed by the 11th-best offense. The fact alone is impressive enough on its own, and then you consider his coaching adjustments for the well-documented personnel turnover, and everything really begins to make sense. In 2015, his Oregon team was meant to fly under the radar. And perhaps they have. It’s not often we heap our focus on a volume shooter and a bunch of freshmen who were 5-4 at the turn of conference play. But it’s time we really start paying attention. The Ducks certainly got Utah’s attention and as they head to The Farm this weekend for what seems to be a Dance-or-die battle with the Cardinal, it’s probably worth understanding just what makes these Ducks tick.

Dana Altman's Ability To Get The Most Out of New Faces Is Nearly Unparalleled (credit: Alex Brandon)

Dana Altman’s Ability To Get The Most Out of New Faces Is Nearly Unparalleled. (Alex Brandon/AP)

If we’re to do so in a word, the most appropriate one would be: YOUNG. You guys, it’s a pun. Because this team runs four young freshmen as supplemental parts to the Joseph Young scoring machine. Double meaning. Let’s begin our conversation focusing on the former. Dillon Brooks, Jordan Bell, Casey Benson and Ahmaad Rorie have been more than a pleasant surprise for Altman. But the interesting case is that – after four years of consistent turnover and seemingly brand new rosters – is this really a surprise? This was the 22nd-best class in America, according to Scout.com, and the fourth-best in the Pac-12. Impressive but not overwhelming. Florida had the 11th-best class and the Gators stink. So too does USC (12th-best class) and Michigan (16th), and Missouri (19th). Now look at how this group stacks up against qualifying freshmen in the Pac-12 with regards to Offensive Rating:

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On the Rise Of Utah Basketball

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on February 26th, 2015

On Saturday, Arizona will travel to Utah for a game with major implications to the Pac-12 regular season title picture. Any casual basketball fan knows the general story of Sean Miller and his refresh of the Wildcats program – a program with a proud history returned to elite status following the bumpy ending of the Lute Olson era. What many may not recognize is that the Utes are following a similar path. Following the stability and excellence of the 14 years of the Rick Majerus era (which featured no losing records, 10 seasons with at least 24 wins, a Final Four and 11 NCAA Tournament appearances), the Utes burned through two coaches in seven years and suffered four losing seasons over that volatile stretch. Compared with Arizona’s post-Olson struggles, Utah’s downturn was far more pronounced. But through the combination of the right hire, rampant roster revamping and, let’s face it, some good luck, the Utes have come out the other side of their dark period as a member of a power conference and back to national contention.

After A Rough Transition Post-Majerus, Utah Basketball Is Back In Its Rightful Place (Utah Athletics)

After A Rough Transition Post-Majerus, Utah Basketball Is Back In Its Rightful Place. (Utah Athletics)

The 2010-11 season was a great example of mixed emotions around the Utah basketball program. There was the excitement that the Utes were headed to a new conference – the newly named Pac-12 – in the following season. But at the same time, the current edition of the team was struggling to a tie for sixth place in the Mountain West as head coach Jim Boylen wrapped up his four-year stint with a third losing conference record. The program was coming off a season in which five players (including some guy named Marshall Henderson, and another one named Carlon Brown – who went on to be a Pac-12 Tournament MVP in leading Colorado to an NCAA bid in 2012) had transferred out of the program. Boylen was subsequently fired, and after a search that included St. Mary’s Randy Bennett and former Alabama head coach Mark Gottfried as candidates, Montana’s Larry Krystkowiak was named the new head coach on April 2, 2011.

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Pac-12 Weekly Honors: Week 14

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 25th, 2015

Each week the Pac-12 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, which typically will include a Team, Player and Newcomer of the Week, along with our weekly Power Rankings.

Team of the Week: Oregon

A Big Conference Win On Senior Day Had The Knight Arena Crowd Rushing The Court (Andy Nelson, AP Photo)

A Big Conference Win on Senior Day Had the Knight Arena Crowd Rushing the Court (Andy Nelson, AP Photo)

Road wins are great. In conference play, you go out on the road and you beat anybody in conference, even if it’s the worst team, that qualifies as an accomplishment. Home wins tend to get swept under the rug from time to time. But, if, like the Ducks, you make a habit of taking care of most of your business at home AND sneak in a home win over a national top 10 team, you are very much in the mix for an NCAA Tournament bid. Oregon checked both of those boxes this week, turning in a workmanlike win over Colorado on Wednesday night and then backing that up with a prime-time performance on Sunday in taking care of Utah at Matthew Knight Arena. Dana Altman got good back-to-back performances this week from all eight guys in his normal rotation, and with a home sweep, the Ducks are in good position to earn an NCAA Tournament bid – provided, that is, that they can got out on the road over the final two weeks of the year and at least dig out a win.

(Also receiving votes: Arizona)

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 24th, 2015

Team of the Week

San Diego State – It’s been a couple weeks since we did this because we took last week to compile our Best in the West list, so this award encompasses not only the Aztecs’ two by-the-book wins over New Mexico and San Jose State, but also the wins from the previous week over Wyoming and Colorado State that put them atop the Mountain West standings. The San Diego State offense is starting to come around (it’s now played four straight games where it scored better than a point per possession); the Aztecs’ defense is still downright scary; and if they can find a way on Saturday to get revenge on Boise State for a beat-down earlier this month, they’ll be headed into March on quite a roll.

Winston Shepard and the Aztecs Are Rolling (AP)

Winston Shepard and the Aztecs Are Rolling (AP)

Player of the Week

Winston Shepard, Jr, San Diego State – From the moment he stepped on the court for the Aztecs, it has been clear that Shepard has voluminous skills on the basketball court. His long frame and athleticism help make him a terrific defensive threat. He’s a willing and alert passer. He’s got a nice handle and the ability to use it to get into the lane and make plays. There is really only about one thing he hasn’t been particularly good at, and it’s a pretty important one: shooting the ball. However, over the past couple of weeks, the endless work that Shepard has put in in trying to improve that aspect of his game has begun to pay dividends. A career 24.5 percent three-point shooter, Shepard has made five of his last 10 shots from deep and 14 of 20 from the free throw line, and as a result, he’s averaging nearly 16 points per game over the past two weeks.

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