Get to Know Cuonzo Martin: Cal’s New Head Coach

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 16th, 2014

With the sudden announcement on Tuesday that California had hired Cuonzo Martin – last seen taking Tennessee to the Sweet Sixteen – as their new head coach, the Pac-12 coaching carousel appears to be done for the year, barring a major surprise. After names like Chris Mooney, Chris Mack, Russell Turner, Eric Musselman and, last season’s associate head coach under Mike Montgomery, Travis DeCuire, were brought up and discarded, landing a talented young coach like Martin is a strong hire for Cal and its athletic director, Sandy Barbour. And Martin isn’t headed to Berkeley alone, as before he was even officially announced as the new guy, 7’1” recruit Kingsley Okoroh released the news that he would be changing his commitment from Tennessee to California. There’s a lot to get to, so let’s jump right in.

Cuonzo Martin's Name Came Out Of Nowhere As California's Choice For Head Coach (msn.foxsports.com).

Cuonzo Martin’s Name Came Out Of Nowhere As California’s Choice For Head Coach (msn.foxsports.com).

First, Martin hadn’t really even been on the radar for the Cal job until Tuesday morning, as the hot name had been primarily Mooney. But he was anxious to get away from Tennessee, where he was never embraced despite good success there: In three seasons, he logged three postseason appearances including one NCAA Tournament appearance (in which his team advanced to the Sweet Sixteen), and one year where the Volunteers were the first team left out of the Big Dance, all while taking over a program that Bruce Pearl had left in something of a mess. Still, Volunteers fans started an online petition (with 36,000+ signees) before the season was over to fire him and bring back Pearl, so his ducking out the door despite recently pledging his commitment to the program is no big surprise. In fact, the players who battled for Martin this season came out to publicly support his decision to move on. For Martin, really, this is a no-brainer. With the Vols losing seniors Jordan McRae, Jeronne Maymon and Antonio Barton, and with Jarnell Stokes heading to the NBA a year early, Martin gets out of town, signs a new, secure contract and gets a minimum of three or four years to prove that he is worthy of an extension at Cal.

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Pac-12 Post-Mortems: Utah

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 15th, 2014

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll go through each Pac-12 team one by one and recount the season that has just completed and begin to turn the page to what we might see next season. Today, Utah.

What Went Right

For the first time since Larry Krystkowiak took over a shell of a program from Jim Boylen, Utah basketball fans had a team that they knew could be competitive night in and night out. Of the Utes’ 12 losses this season, seven were by a single possession. The talent level is clearly back to the point where the Utes can be competitive in the Pac-12, defense has become a priority, and the future appears bright.

In His Third Season In Salt Lake City, Larry Krystkowiak's Squad Began To Turn The Corner (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

In His Third Season In Salt Lake City, Larry Krystkowiak’s Squad Began To Turn The Corner (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

What Went Wrong

So, those seven losses by a single possession? Well, that’s not good, is it? Time and time again, the Utes had chances to win close games down the stretch, and time and time again they wound up with losses in those games. Their record in games decided by a single possession was 0-7. They lost all three of their overtime games. And only six times all season did they win games decided by fewer than 10 points. In other words, unless the Utes were blowing out their opponent, odds were good that they were losing. Chalk some of that up to bad luck, another portion to a young team still learning to win games, and more to some coaching breakdowns. But the good news is that if next year’s Utes can find some ways to win those close games, they should be looking at a very good record.

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Pac-12 Post-Mortems: Washington State

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 14th, 2014

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll go through each Pac-12 team one by one and recount the season that has just completed and begin to turn the page to what we might see next season. Today, Washington State.

What Went Wrong

Lots. The Cougars finished the season 140th in the nation in defensive efficiency, and they were far better on the defensive end of the court than they were on the offensive end. If you just look through the Washington State KenPom page and sort through all the stats, the only place where you see any type of green (which means good) is in its defensive rebounding numbers. Everywhere else it is red. Shooting the ball; keeping the other team from shooting ball well; turning it over; getting to the foul line; not fouling defensively; shooting the three; shooting the two; shooting the one; blocking shots; creating steals. In none of these areas (and more) were the Cougars even an average basketball team. Thus, it should be no surprise that they lost 17 of their final 21 games and Ken Bone is now the former head coach at Washington State.

It Was A Rough Season For Ken Bone And The Cougars, And The Washington State Program Will Now Move On Without Him (AP)

It Was A Rough Season For Ken Bone And The Cougars, And The Washington State Program Will Now Move On Without Him (AP)

What Went Right

Not much. Above we mentioned that the one area where Washington State was very good was defensive rebounding, in large part due to the efforts of senior center D.J. Shelton (third in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage). So there was that. Beyond that, the only other bright spot is something we’ll get to in our next bullet point.

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Pac-12 Post-Mortems: Arizona State

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 10th, 2014

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll go through each Pac-12 team one by one and recount the season that has just completed and begin to turn the page to what we might see next season. Up first, Arizona State.

What Went Right

Jermaine Marshall and Shaquielle McKissic were largely excellent in their only seasons in Tempe (McKissic will be petitioning the NCAA for an additional season of eligibility). Jordan Bachynski capped his stellar Sun Devils career with his best season and an all-time conference record for career blocked shots. And Herb Sendek and the Sun Devils earned their first NCAA Tournament appearance since James Harden was on campus.

Arizona State

Arizona State Went Dancing, But It Ended With a Heartbreaking Putback by Texas

What Went Wrong

Still, despite that major accomplishment, you’ve got to feel that this team left money on the table at the end of the year. First, just the way they lost their NCAA Tournament game, falling to Texas on a buzzer-beater when the Longhorns’ last two buckets came on offensive rebounds after airballs – ouch! And Jahii Carson, the team’s best player and arguably a more talented player than what he showed, struggled through a rough season, with questions about his game confirmed and others about his leadership raised anew. Sendek did a solid job with this team, a squad that had some obvious holes in it. But still, this feels like a team that had an NCAA Tournament win (or two) in them but failed to get the job done.

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Farewell, and Thank You, to Pac-12 Writer Connor Pelton

Posted by AMurawa on April 9th, 2014

As the 2013-14 season wraps up, so too does the third season of the Rush the Court Pac-12 microsite. And, as we put a bow on another great college basketball season, we also have reached an end of an era here in our own small little corner of the college hoops universe, as my right-hand man here for the past three seasons, Connor Pelton, will be moving on to greener pastures. Connor and I have had more than a little help manning the RTC Pac-12 beat (dap to Parker Baruh, Adam Butler, Kenny Ocker, and others), but by and large, if you’ve read much about Pac-12 basketball at Rush the Court the past three years, it’s likely been the two of us you’ve been reading. Along the way, we’ve spent time disagreeing about Tony Wroten, Jahii Carson and Joseph Young, etc., bemoaning the failures of the conference we write about, and generally having a lot of fun. While Connor’s input here will be greatly missed, we wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors. And you can bet we’ll be bugging him on the regular to send us over a guest post every now and then.

As for the offseason plans, we’ve got team-by-team post-mortems planned for the near future and posts as events warrant them, so be sure to check back in between now and next season as we continue to keep you up to date on the trials and tribulations of the Pac-12 conference.

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Your Way-Too-Early 2014-15 Pac-12 Power Rankings

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on April 9th, 2014

Another season in the books; another Pac-12 disappointment. We’ve got plenty of time to look back on the 2013-14 season, but it is onward and upward from here as we briefly look ahead to next year. We’re still not entirely sure exactly which of the players we watched this year will move on to greener pastures, and there are sure to be some surprise transfers (both incoming and outgoing) ahead of us, but in the days after the national championship, it is time to start dreaming about the 2015 NCAA Tournament. Below are our way-too-early Pac-12 power rankings.

Arizona's Back In The Familiar Spot of A 1-Seed And An NCAA Favorite (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

McConnell, Hollis-Jefferson, and Tarczewski, Among Others, Make Arizona The Pac-12 Favorite Again (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

  1. Arizona – Sure, Aaron Gordon’s stay in Tucson was brief. And yeah, Pac-12 Player of the Year Nick Johnson may join him in the NBA. But barring some surprises, five of the following six players are going to be comprising Sean Miller’s starting lineup next season: T.J. McConnell, Gabe York, Stanley Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Brandon Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski. Goodness gracious sakes alive, that is a lot of talent. And, the West Regional will not be held in Anaheim next season, so let’s go ahead and pencil Miller and his Wildcats into his first-ever Final Four.
  2. Stanford – Johnny Dawkins and company broke through this year with their first NCAA Tournament appearance under the current regime. And while some important players move on, a returning nucleus of combo guard Chasson Randle, wing Anthony Brown and big man Stefan Nastic is solid. Throw in a recruiting class with four different four-star recruits (as ranked by ESPN) and a bevy of talented returning youngsters and we’ll make the Cardinal the best bet in the league to challenge the Wildcats. Read the rest of this entry »
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Final Four Previews In-Depth: Wisconsin Badgers

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 3rd, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

As part of our ongoing NCAA Tournament coverage, RTC is unveiling a detailed look at each of the Final Four teams throughout the week. Kentucky and UConn have already released. Today: Wisconsin.

In the days between Selection Sunday and the actual start of the NCAA Tournament, Wisconsin flew under the radar. In a West Region lacking the punch of, say, the loaded Midwest Region, the #2 seed was picked by just 20 percent of ESPN.com‘s bracket entrants to advance to the Final Four, while nearly half of those brackets instead favoring Arizona. But after riding the a little home-cooking through the Milwaukee pod in the first weekend then taking care of business in Anaheim against two of the hottest teams in the nation (Baylor and Arizona), it is the Badgers that are left standing, delivering the first Division I Final Four in Bo Ryan‘s successful career.

Wisconsin Earned Its Third Final Four Appearance With A Dramatic Win Over Arizona On Saturday (Jae C. Hong, AP Photo)

Wisconsin Earned Its Third Final Four Appearance With A Dramatic Win Over Arizona On Saturday (Jae C. Hong, AP Photo)

Pre-NCAA Tournament Capsule. Coming into the season, expectations were somewhat measured for the Badgers. With last year’s frontcourt stalwarts Ryan Evans, Jarred Berggren and Mike Bruesewitz all having used up their collegiate eligibility, Ryan was going to have to rely more on his veteran backcourt of sophomore Sam Dekker and some additional to-be-determined frontcourt players. Very early in the season, we got a big hint as to which of those candidates had the most potential, as junior seven-footer Frank Kaminsky, after scoring only 10 points in his first two games, dropped 43 points on just 19 field goal attempts in the Badgers’ fourth game of the season. From that point forward, Kaminsky regularly scored in double-figures for Wisconsin, and he did so in a highly-efficient manner. Meanwhile, in fewer minutes, freshman big man Nigel Hayes was also establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with, turning a preseason question mark into a serious strength for Ryan’s club.  With the backcourt of Traevon Jackson, Ben Brust and Josh Gasser locked into their roles and Dekker taking the obvious next step in his development, Wisconsin got off to a great start, winning its first 16 games of the season and jumping into the national top five. Playing with more pace and offensive punch than they had in previous years under Ryan, the Badgers were recognized roundly as maybe the coach’s best bet at a Final Four.

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2013-14 All-Americans by the (Jersey) Numbers

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 2nd, 2014

When it comes to wrapping up a college basketball season, I have a hard time doing an All-American team, because, for one, it just seems hard to narrow down four and a half months of basketball to just five names (or even 10 or 15 if you add a second or third team). Instead, in the interests of recognizing more of the players that filled up my brain this season, what I’ll do here today is take all 37 possible uniform numbers (only the digits zero through five are possible uniform numbers in NCAA basketball, to aid referees in calling fouls), and pick one player for each number. Note that I am not always going to pick just the best player here. My own prejudices and likes/dislikes will factor in, plus I want to be able to pick a guy that I will remember most from this season. In the case of a tie, a senior will get the nod. Here is my list of Players of the Year by jersey numbers.

0 – Ryan Watkins, Sr, Boise – His team didn’t even make the NCAA Tournament, but Watkins’ senior season was one to remember. The nation’s best offensive rebounder for the second year in a row, Watkins’ efficient offense and tough defense was a constant for a Broncos team that underachieved elsewhere.

00 – Royce O’Neale, Jr, Baylor – As far as the scorekeeper is concerned, a single zero and a double zero are the same number, but what fun is that? The transfer from Denver was anything but a big zero for the Bears this season, playing a big role for Scott Drew as an inside-outside threat and another big body in the Baylor zone.

Jabari Parker May Leave Duke Without So Much As A Single NCAA Tournament Win, But He Was Spectacular Offensively For The Blue Devils This Year (Photo: Ethan Hyman)

Jabari Parker May Leave Duke Without So Much As A Single NCAA Tournament Win, But He Was Spectacular Offensively For The Blue Devils This Year
(Photo: Ethan Hyman)

1 – Jabari Parker, Fr, Duke – After a quick nod to George Washington’s guard Maurice Creek, who bounced back from a career severely hampered by numerous injuries to turn in an inspiring senior season, we’ll acknowledge the fact that when we look back on 2013-14, Parker will be the guy who wore a #1 that we’ll remember most vividly. In what will likely be his lone season in Durham, he put his vast array of skills on display, leading his team in points, rebounds, blocks and sheer number of spectacular plays.

2 – Russ Smith, Sr, Louisville – A deep number with candidates ranging from big guys Sim Bhullar and Khem Birch to guards like Xavier Thames and Briante Weber, the nod here is a no-brainer. Smith’s career under Rick Pitino has been a whirlwind. After barely playing his freshman year, he earned big minutes as a sophomore only to show himself as a inveterate gunner who never saw a shot he didn’t like. But in his junior and senior seasons, he actually turned into a – gasp! – highly efficient offensive player. His three-point shooting improved every year and his game off the bounce was always explosive. And defensively? For the past two years, he’s been the best perimeter defender in America. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Coaching Turnover: Montgomery Out; Kent In; Robinson Holds

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on April 1st, 2014

At the end of the Pac-12 Tournament, it seemed like we would get through this offseason with just one Pac-12 head coaching change – Washington State, where Ken Bone’s five-year run in Pullman was coming to an end. There was some smoke around the status of Oregon State head coach Craig Robinson, but conference commissioner Larry Scott seemed to put a damper on that notion prior to the Pac-12 title game when he announced that Robinson and his staff would be coaching a team of barnstorming Pac-12 stars in China later this year. Elsewhere around the conference, it seemed like continuity was the rule of the day.

In 32 Seasons as a Division I Head Coach, Montgomery Had Just One Losing Season (Ben Margot, AP)

In 32 Seasons as a Division I Head Coach, Montgomery Had Just One Losing Season (Ben Margot, AP)

Then on Sunday, as college basketball fans were enjoying a day of great Elite Eight competition, word snuck out that the dean of Pac-12 coaches, Mike Montgomery, was weighing the possibility of stepping down from his position at California. That possibility became a fact on Monday when Montgomery announced his retirement. His accomplishments are legion, including 32 seasons of Division I basketball coaching and winning records in 31 of those campaigns. In 1986, he took over a Stanford program that hadn’t been to an NCAA Tournament in 45 years and was coming off a 23-loss season and turned it into an NCAA Tournament team in just his third season there. All told, there were 12 NCAA Tournament bids at Stanford (including at least one NCAA win in his last 10 seasons on The Farm), one trip to the Final Four (1998, behind Arthur Lee, Kris Weems, Peter Sauer, Mark Madsen and Tim Young), an Elite Eight, and 677 career wins. He coached in the Pac-12 for 24 years and ranks third on the all-time wins list in conference play behind only Lute Olson and John Wooden. He retires as the best coach in Stanford basketball history and the best coach at Berkeley since the legendary Pete Newell.

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Disappointing Endings For Arizona, UCLA, and Stanford, But The Future Is Bright

Posted by AMurawa on March 31st, 2014

Six NCAA Tournament teams, three Sweet Sixteen seasons, one Elite Eight appearance and yet when the final quartet of teams still standing show up at the Final Four next weekend in North Texas, there will not be a Pac-12 team among them. This will now mark the sixth consecutive season (dating back to the last of UCLA’s three straight last decade) where college basketball’s premier weekend will dance away without a Pac-12 partner. So, yeah, Pac-12 fans, in a year where the hope was that the Pac was back, you’re right to feel some disappointment.

Worse yet, along with outgoing seniors like Roberto Nelson and Justin Cobbs and Mike Moser and C.J. Wilcox, the conference has also seen the last of guys like Kyle Anderson and Aaron Gordon and Jahii Carson and Zach LaVine with guys like Nick Johnson, Jordan Adams, Joseph Young, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson still weighing their options. But you know what? These are good things. It hurts to see guys like these go, but such is the nature of the beast. And in the long run, a program like Arizona providing an appealing and welcoming temporary landing spot for a player the caliber of Gordon will make it more likely that future Aaron Gordons will wind up playing for Sean Miller as well. And, in the great circle of life that is college athletics, out goes Gordon, in comes Stanley Johnson; rinse and repeat.

While Aaron Gordon's Time In Tucson Is Short, His Success Will Pay Dividends For the Arizona Program

While Aaron Gordon’s Time In Tucson Is Short, His Success Will Pay Dividends For the Arizona Program

Below, three quick thoughts on the status of the three Pac-12 schools whose seasons ended this past weekend in the NCAA Tournament.

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Rushed Reaction: #2 Wisconsin 64, #1 Arizona 63 (OT)

Posted by AMurawa on March 29th, 2014

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Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) is the NCAA Tournament’s West Region correspondent. He filed this report from Anaheim after #2 Wisconsin’s 64-63 overtime win over #1 Arizona. RTC will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of the Elite Eight and Final Four. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Celebrate Bo Ryan - you are finally going to the Final Four. (Getty)

Celebrate Bo Ryan – you are finally going to the Final Four. (Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Late-Game Controversy. The officiating was a topic of conversation throughout the game, but it all boiled to a head in the final seconds of overtime. With under five seconds left and Arizona down a bucket, Nick Johnson drove to the hoop, looking to get a shot up. Contact was made between Johnson and Josh Gasser, the official blew the whistle and … charge. Reasonable minds can – and have – differed on whether it was the right call, whether a call should have been made at all, but without a doubt, there was going to be controversy of some sort on that play, regardless of what the official did. The officiating was put on focus again on the next play, as the Wisconsin in-bound pass was challenged by Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and knocked out of bounds. The officials went to the monitor for minutes on end, and despite what appeared to be inconclusive evidence, the refs gave the ball back to Arizona, setting up Johnson for redemption. But after inbounding the ball with 2.3 seconds remaining, Johnson took three dribbles and the buzzer went off and the clock expired before launching the shot.
  2. Wisconsin’s Pace. The game was definitely played at the pace the Badgers were comfortable. Arizona went without a single fast-break point throughout, the Badgers fought the Wildcats to a draw on the glass and Wisconsin was plenty happy to slow the game down when they had the ball, using an average of 24 seconds on their possessions.
  3. Toughness. The Badgers, for all the things they do well, are not a stunningly athletic team. While Arizona’s got guys like Aaron Gordon and Johnson and Hollis-Jefferson who can leave your jaw on the floor with athletic above-the-rim plays, Wisconsin is not blessed with those types of players. So, in turn, they had to impose their will on this game. That included slowing the game down, limiting fast-break opportunities, and finding ways to manufacture points on the offensive glass. Sean Miller made a point on Thursday night to acknowledge that the perception that the Wildcats are a great rebounding team may not be true anymore since the Brandon Ashley injury. It became apparent that the Badgers sensed a little blood in the water, as Wisconsin does not normally dedicate a lot of resources to offensive rebounding (they were 280th in the nation in offensive rebounding this season), but tonight, they made additional effort to hit the offensive glass, grabbing 42.1% of offensive rebound opportunities in the first half and 33.3% over the course of the game. Read the rest of this entry »
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Zach LaVine: One-And-Done at UCLA

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 28th, 2014

Not only did UCLA fall to Florida on Thursday night, but Friday morning the news broke that freshman guard Zach LaVine would be joining sophomore point guard Kyle Anderson in leaving school early. Anderson was a lock to leave all along, as he had a spectacular season and is in the discussion for a lottery pick in this June’s NBA Draft. LaVine, however, was more of a borderline case. He’s clearly not ready to make an immediate impact in the NBA, but his length, athleticism and deep shooting range have intrigued scouts since November when he made a big splash early in the season. He’ll need to get stronger, develop a game off the bounce, and improve his defense, and these things will likely require time in the NBA’s Developmental League. But you can bet that LaVine’s upside will earn the attention of somebody at some point in the first round of this year’s draft, meaning a guaranteed contract and time to develop. Sure, selfishly, we would have liked to see LaVine’s high-flying game take the next step at the collegiate level, but that became a pipe dream over the course of the year.

Zach LaVine's Athleticism And Shooting Accuracy Have NBA Scouts Intrigued

Zach LaVine’s Athleticism And Shooting Accuracy Have NBA Scouts Intrigued

LaVine’s departure leaves some big questions for UCLA. First, with Anderson and LaVine both gone and with Jordan Adams potentially mulling a similar jump to the NBA, a deep and impactful Bruins backcourt could turn into a weakness next season. Norman Powell will be back for his senior season, and he’s definitely developed into a fine asset for UCLA. Bryce Alford appears to be the point guard in waiting, and he’s a fine player with plenty of upside even if he appears further and further from winning over the UCLA fan base with every game. And four-star combo guard Isaac Hamilton will be eligible next season and figures to have the ball in his hands a lot. Even if Adams doesn’t return, that group of three is solid, even if the Bruins will likely need to go sign another guard for depth. But clearly, the strength of the team will need to shift to the frontcourt, where Tony Parker will return for his junior season and be joined by four incoming freshmen, highlighted by five-star power forward Kevon Looney and a pair of four-star bigs (Thomas Welsh and Jonah Bolden).

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