When to Fire Your Head Coach?

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 15th, 2016

Mixed in here with the end of the regular season and the start of the postseason is another far less festive time of the college basketball season: firing season. Johnny Dawkins, Joe Scott, Trent Johnson, Donnie Jones, Bruiser Flint, and Kerry Keating are among the names that have already received pink slips, while fans in various locales across the country are hoping against hope that their current coach joins such the list sooner than later. Sure, it’s a pretty macabre pastime to speculate on the status of a person’s livelihood and hope that he suffers a terrible indignity in a very public fashion. But somehow, such a thing has become a fundamental part of the sports landscape. As sports have increased in ubiquity and attention across the country, the level of patience granted to head coaches in all sports has drastically shrunk.

John Wooden, UCLA

Given Today’s Standards, John Wooden May Have Been Fired A Full Decade Before His First National Title.

Need proof? Remember that John Wooden didn’t win his first NCAA title until his 16th season at UCLA and won just three conference titles in his first 13. Given today’s standards for coaches at the same institution, Wooden would have likely been fired in 1954 after a second straight year in which he didn’t even win the Pacific Coast Conference’s four-team southern division (the Bruins finished third of four teams in 1953 and second in 1954). Dean Smith? He didn’t win an ACC title until his sixth season at North Carolina and likely would have been fired in today’s environment after a 6-8 conference record in his third season. If he had somehow survived that, he certainly would have been crucified for making five Final Fours in the next 11 seasons but failing to win a single title; “can’t win the big one” would have been the lame complaint. Mike Krzyzewski? Duke’s head coach was very lucky to survive a bumpy start to his ACC career in which his second and third seasons resulted in combined records of 21-34 overall and 7-21 in conference play. He also came away empty in his first four Final Four appearances, and you probably know the rest.

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Bracket Prep: West Region

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 14th, 2016

bracketprep22

On Monday and Tuesday we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: Monday (East and West); Tuesday (South and Midwest). Here, Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) breaks down the West Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC West Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCwestregion).

Region: West

Courtesy of SI.com

Courtesy of SI.com

Favorite: Oregon, #1, 28-6. Maybe there are college basketball fans back east that go to sleep early and haven’t seen the Ducks this season. And maybe some fans out west have chosen to ignore the Pac-12 Network. Because there are some people who are surprised that the Ducks are a #1 seed. But news for the uninformed: Oregon is really, really good. KenPom ranks Oregon as the fifth-most efficient offensive team in college basketball. It’s a squad built around a seven-man rotation that is dedicated to truly positionless basketball. Everybody on the team can handle and pass; just about everyone can take their defender off the bounce; most are capable of knocking in jumpers at a high rate. But where the Ducks have morphed from a good team into a great one is on the defensive end. With two elite shot-blockers in Chris Boucher and Jordan Bell anchoring the back line, quick and aggressive athletes swarming the perimeter and offering help defense, and a savvy defensive tactician on the sideline in Dana Altman, Oregon is capable of taking away a team’s best options, forcing turnovers (on better than 20 percent of opponents’ offensive possessions) and converting easy (and often spectacular) transition opportunities. There are without a doubt teams in this region that can beat Oregon, but the Ducks should be favored in every game between now and Houston.

These Ducks Are Strong (John Locher, AP)

These Ducks Are Strong. (John Locher, AP)

Should They Falter: Oklahoma, #2, 31-3. If your team has a National Player of the Year candidate like Buddy Hield, shoots 42.6 percent (second in the nation) from three-point range, plays solid defense and also has one of the nation’s best coaches in Lon Kruger, it has a chance to go very far in this NCAA Tournament. After starting the season 15-1 (with the only loss a triple-overtime epic to Kansas), the Sooners have cooled by going 10-6 down the stretch against strong Big 12 competition. But when things are going good for Oklahoma (and they are often going good), the Sooners can play with any team in the country. Hield, Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard are the flashy names, but big men Kadeem Lattin and Ryan Spangler do the dirty work that can help win tight games in March.

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Pac-12 Tournament: Is Bigger Better?

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) on March 14th, 2016

The teams have been selected and our favorite tournament is about to begin. The Pac-12 scope is about to broaden far beyond our western view and in my opinion the nation needs to be on high Oregon Ducks alert. It’s also my opinion that we should all be thankful that the Pac-12 logo doesn’t look like the Big Ten’s. But before we dive too deeply into the 68-team version of college basketball, some thoughts on the Pac-12 Tournament that just wrapped. It was the fifth Las Vegas iteration and when Oregon was celebrated as its champion, confetti and other things we didn’t have to clean up were shot all over. It made for a great photo but also felt like a farewell of sorts. Last Friday the Pac-12 announced it will be moving its wildly successful men’s tournament to the T-Mobile Arena nearby. A few bullets on the T-Mobile Arena to be absorbed as fact and not leading comments:

The MGM Grand Has Been Good to the Pac-12 Tournament (USA Today Images)

The MGM Grand Has Been Good to the Pac-12 Tournament (USA Today Images)

  • It will open April 6, 2016.
  • It cost $375 million to construct.
  • It seats 18,800 basketball fans.

The Arena isn’t off the strip (or at least no further off the strip than the MGM Grand Garden Arena) and is going to be an upgrade in facilities. If Vegas does anything well it is build more and more lavishly and I suspect this new venture will fulfill that pattern. My gut says the T-Mobile Arena is going to be incredible. The experience will not be lacking and if Friday night’s semifinals are any indication of the direction of Pac-12 basketball, we won’t soon be lacking for excitement even if the games are played at a local park in Henderson. But my gut also says that we (Pac-12 fans) will struggle to fill those 18,800 seats. That the atmosphere could be amiss in such a ferociously grand upgrade. And don’t get me wrong, I’m all for change in the spirit of improvement. I question, however, for a conference not known for its superb attendance, what are we solving for in broadening that denominator? Because right now the tournament is perfectly filled (carried by Arizona fans) in an arena that fits just right. Saturday’s championship game flirted with capacity even into the final moments of a lopsided contest. Read the rest of this entry »

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Best and Worst Case Scenarios For the Pac-12’s Top Four

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 13th, 2016

If you’re a Pac-12 fan feeling nervous about Selection Sunday, here are two words of advice: don’t fret! We’re here to tell you that everything is going to work out: Seven conference teams (Oregon, Utah, California, Arizona, Colorado, USC and Oregon State) will get invitations to the Big Dance. Those first four will likely be placed among the top six seed lines, while the last three should be assigned to tougher sledding somewhere in the #7-#11 range. Washington fans? Sorry, but hopefully you’ll be able to enjoy a home NIT game. Colorado, USC, Oregon State: Be happy that you’re dancing and your teams should believe they can at least win that opener, but anything beyond that will be pure gravy. Those first four teams (Oregon, Utah, California, Arizona), however, should have higher expectations. While there are plenty of fans all over the country with unreasonably lofty hopes at this time of year, none of those four teams are insane to think about a Final Four appearance so long as everything breaks just right. What is “everything” for this quartet? And what are the scenarios that could trip them up prematurely? Let’s dig into best and worst case scenarios for each of the Pac-12’s top four teams.

Oregon

The Ducks Are The Pac-12's Most Final Four-Ready Team (Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

The Ducks Are The Pac-12’s Most Final Four-Ready Team (Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

Final Four Team If: Hey, getting to the Final Four is a ridiculously difficult task (just ask Arizona fans about Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker) even if you have a once-in-a-generation team like these Ducks have. But Oregon is the perfect example of modern-day position-less basketball. In a seven-man rotation, they havve one true point guard type, one true big-man type, then five versatile guys who are just, you know, basketball players. They can guard almost any position, share the ball, hit jumpers, and attack the rim off the bounce. They’re also so well coached that if an opponent has a defensive weakness, you can bet the Ducks will exploit it. Offensively, they’re elite. Defensively, they’re just now rounding into a form that belies their season-long numbers. The sky is the limit here. Read the rest of this entry »

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Fresno State Dances While San Diego State Worries

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 13th, 2016

America, meet Marvelle Harris and Fresno State. On the strength of a 68-63 win over perennial Mountain West power San Diego State in the conference’s championship game on Saturday afternoon, the Bulldogs will be dancing for just the sixth time in program history and the first since 2001 (back when Jerry Tarkanian was still chewing towels on the sidelines). Harris poured in 18 confident points en route to the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award, backing up league coaches’ decision to name him the Mountain West Player of the Year. There is no doubt that Harris is the type of talent that can carry his team to some success in an NCAA Tournament game. He’s a versatile senior scorer (20.7 PPG) who can hit from deep (witness his 25-footer to end the first half on Saturday), score at the rim (62.9% FG on his 175 attempts at the rim this year), or draw defenders and create for his teammates (assists on 26.1% of his teammates’ field goals while on the floor). On a team with six upperclassmen among the eight players who saw significant minutes on Saturday, there’s enough experience joining Harris to making the Bulldogs’ NCAA Tournament stay extend beyond Friday.

Marvelle Harris And Fresno State Are Heading To The NCAA Tourney (AP Photo/David Becker)

Marvelle Harris And Fresno State Are Heading To The NCAA Tourney (AP Photo/David Becker)

It’s been a rough road for head coach Rodney Terry in his first head coaching job after nine seasons as an assistant at Texas. His first season at Fresno was the school’s final season in the WAC, a year in which the Bulldogs won just three conference games. His first full recruiting class (which led into the program’s first year in the Mountain West) was highlighted by the addition of prominent recruits like Robert Upshaw and Braeden Anderson, but it turned out that Harris was the only player in the class able to make a lasting positive contribution. From there, Terry mined his Big 12 roots and pulled in players like Cezar Guerrero (transfer from Oklahoma State), Julien Lewis (transfer from Texas) and Karachi Edo (a high school recruit from Texas). The Bulldogs have improved in each of Terry’s five years at the helm: five wins in the first year in the Mountain West; a .500 record in 2013-14; an additional conference win last year; and now this season a surprising 13 league wins, a second place regular season finish, and the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

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Two Angles on Last Night’s Oregon/Arizona Classic

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) and Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 12th, 2016

On Friday night in Las Vegas, Oregon outlasted Arizona in stunning fashion, withstanding a furious comeback to win in overtime. Below are two perspectives on the outcome, coming from each team’s perspective.

On Arizona

What Arizona has leaned on all season long is its distinct advantage in the frontcourt. It’s a traditional looking lineup the Wildcats roll out there, which is neither right nor wrong; it’s what they have. Against Oregon, that might not cut it. Because to contextualize what the Ducks have all over its roster, they have innumerable small forwards. Arizona has none (or a few who are limited). When considering matchups, this is a tough one, arguably, for both teams. But Ryan Anderson was neutralized, Kaleb Tarczewski isn’t an offensive threat, and the rest of the team could be bullied by the mismatches. It’s what allowed Oregon to effectively win the game in the final minutes of the first half.

Mark Tollefsen Missed Just One Shot On Friday Night, But He's Probably Still Thinking About That One (Daily Wildcat)

Mark Tollefsen Missed Just One Shot On Friday Night, But He’s Probably Still Thinking About That One (Daily Wildcat)

So naturally: what a ball game! We can exhaust the narrative of MARCH MADNESS but there’s a reason the damn line stands. Mark Tollefesen had two free throws with 0.4 seconds remaining to win the contest. To win the game. He didn’t win the game. And consider the box score. The Wildcats had 27 offensive rebounds and 27 second chance points. The Ducks had 24 points off of 15 (not a terrible number) Arizona turnovers. The Wildcats were a free throw make by an 83 percent foul shooter from winning a game in which – at that point – they had abysmal performances from  Anderson and Gabe York.

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Pac-12 Bubble Watch and Semifinals Preview

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 11th, 2016

Eight games are in the books at the Pac-12 Tournament and the higher seeds have advanced in each one, setting up a terrific set of semifinals tonight. Before we preview those games, let’s break down postseason expectations for the four teams that were eliminated from the Pac-12 Tournament on Thursday.

Colorado

The Buffaloes are going dancing. Their RPI is a sparkling #30 and they own home wins over Oregon, California, Arizona and Oregon State. In a year such as this one, that should be enough to put them safely above the cut line. With very little else on their resume, though, don’t expect a great seed for the Buffs. Somewhere in the #8-#10 range sounds about right, which means Colorado’s stay in the NCAA Tournament is unlikely to extend beyond next weekend.

Despite A Quarterfinal Loss, Tad Boyle And The Buffs Should Be Comfortably In On Selection Sunday

Despite A Quarterfinal Loss, Tad Boyle And The Buffs Should Be Comfortably In On Selection Sunday

Oregon State

Coming into the weekend, the popular wisdom put Oregon State squarely on the bubble with USC appearing safe. Upon closer review, however, the Beavers may have the superior resume. They have the higher RPI, three wins over top 25 RPI teams (Oregon, California, Utah) and three more victories over teams in the RPI #26-#50 range (Tulsa, Colorado, USC). With no bad losses, that’s a terrific resume, even if all of those quality wins came at home. An argument could even be made that Oregon State’s resume is every bit as good as that of Colorado. This team should definitely be dancing for the first time since 1990.

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Reviewing Day One at the Pac-12 Tournament

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 10th, 2016

The Pac-12 Tournament got underway on Wednesday in Las Vegas. Four games; three total blowouts; one marginal blowout. Still, lots went down. Let’s dig in quickly below.

Washington 91, Stanford 68

Are Johnny Dawkins' Days At Stanford Numbered? (AP)

Are Johnny Dawkins’ Days At Stanford Numbered? (AP)

After losing six of its final eight games in conference play, Washington looked great on Wednesday in jumping out to an early lead, turning on a press against the point-guard-less Cardinal late in the first half and cruising to a rematch with Oregon (who just beat them by 13 in Eugene two weeks ago) in style. We’ll find out plenty more about the Huskies today, but the bigger story out of this game may be at Stanford, where Johnny Dawkins is again in trouble. The Cardinal finish the season on a three-game losing streak; with eight seasons now in the books for Dawkins in Palo Alto, there has still been just one NCAA Tournament appearance. If this is indeed the end for Dawkins, it’s hard to argue it was the wrong decision in light of that fact. The irony, though, is that Dawkins probably just turned in his best season-long coaching performance. This is a Stanford team that lost their only real point guard, Robert Cartwright, to a broken arm just a week before the start of the season. Power forward Reid Travis went down eith a stress fracture after playing just eight games this year. Finally, converted point guard Christian Sanders was suspended indefinitely a week ago for the dreaded “violation of team rules.” And yet still Dawkins, with what was arguably the second-worst roster in the league, got drastic improvement out of guys like Rosco Allen, Dorian Pickens and Michael Humphrey — enough to earn eight conference wins. After a year like this one, bringing Dawkins back for another year wouldn’t be insane. That being said, it’s also true that any recruiting momentum Dawkins once had has now stalled. It may be time to get a fresh start.

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Gonzaga And Saint Mary’s: Excitement and Disappointment

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 9th, 2016

In one way, it was the most predictable thing ever: Gonzaga appeared in its 19th consecutive West Coast Conference Tournament championship game and came away with a win to seal its 18th straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament. But in another way, it was very different. For the first time since 2007, the Bulldogs’ flimsy resume meant that they absolutely needed to win the league’s automatic bid in order to ensure a trip back to the Big Dance (they ended up as a #11 seed that year and would have probably dropped to the NIT had they lost).

Domantas Sabonis Has The Zags Swinging Into Their 18th-Straight NCAA Tournament (Robert Johnson/Icon Sportswire)

Domantas Sabonis Has The Zags Swinging Into Their 18th-Straight NCAA Tournament (Robert Johnson/Icon Sportswire)

The 2007 team went on to get run out of the NCAA Tournament against Indiana. But in a season without a bevy of elite teams, this year’s squad has great potential as a nightmare matchup for a higher seed. The veteran Zags frontcourt combination of Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis is as talented a duo inside as any other in the country, while backcourt players Eric McClellan and Josh Perkins are playing the best basketball of their careers. The Bulldogs aren’t a deep team but they’re strong offensively, well-coached, and have significant postseason experience.

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Pac-12 Tournament Preview

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 9th, 2016

We’ve spent the last several months marching to Vegas, so let’s tip things off a bit later today with our Pac-12 Tournament preview.

Bracket

p12bracket

Favorite: Oregon

This may not be the very best version of the Pac-12 Conference in its illustrious history, but it is a certainty that this has been a strong and deep conference. For Oregon to win 14 games this year against an unbalanced in-conference schedule tougher than that of either Utah or Arizona is impressive. While the Ducks’ lack of depth (310th in the nation in bench minutes) is concerning in a three-game/three-night scenario, they’ve done enough to prove that they’re the best team in this conference until proven otherwise.

Next Best Chance: Utah

The Utes opened conference play by getting swept at the Bay Area schools followed shortly thereafter by an 18-point loss to Oregon at the Huntsman Center. Since that loss, the Utes have won 12 of 14 games (with another loss to Oregon among those two) and the issues that were apparent in January — Brandon Taylor struggling; Lorenzo Bonam learning; a soft front line; chemistry questions — have all been addressed. The Utes still need to prove that they can play with Oregon, but they are rolling right now and could use a strong Pac-12 Tournament performance as a springboard into next week.

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