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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Handing Out Pac-12 Superlatives

Posted by Mike Lemaire (@Mike_Lemaire) & Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 8th, 2016

With another Pac-12 season now in the books, it’s time to put a bow on the regular season before we all head to the various pool parties and blackjack tables in Vegas (cue Bill Walton: “Please. Las Vegas!). Let’s hand out all the traditional awards below, listing the top candidates followed by the rationale for our picks. Let’s get right to it.

Player of the Year

  • Ryan Anderson, Sr, Arizona: 15.8 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 118.5 ORtg, 24.8% of possessions, 56.9 eFG%
  • Dillon Brooks, Soph, Oregon: 16.7 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.2 SPG, 111.5 ORtg, 26.3% of poss, 51.4 eFG%
  • Gary Payton II, Sr, Oregon State: 15.9 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 5.3 APG, 2.4 SPG, 111.5 ORtg, 27.0% of poss, 50.8 eFG%
  • Jakob Poeltl, Soph, Utah: 17.5 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.6 BPG, 127.1 ORtg, 25.9% of poss, 65.3 eFG%
  • Josh Scott, Sr, Colorado: 16.5 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.7 BPG, 121.5 ORtg, 23.5% of poss, 53.6 eFG%

 

Jakob Poeltl's Excellence At Both Ends Of The Court Makes Him The Clear Cut Pac-12 POY (Charlie Riedel, AP)

Jakob Poeltl’s Excellence At Both Ends Of The Court Makes Him The Clear Cut Pac-12 POY (Charlie Riedel, AP)

Andrew Murawa: That’s a pretty solid five-man first team (with guys like Jaylen Brown, Andrew Andrews and Chris Boucher also having arguments for inclusion). But there is one player from this group who stands above the rest, as Jakob Poeltl has been the best offensive player in this conference, ranks among the handful of best defensive players, and has been a rock in leading the Utes to a second-place finish.

Mike Lemaire: My heart wants to pick Gary Payton II, but my head knows the right pick here is Poeltl. The big man has put together a season that rivals that of any Pac center in the past two decades. He is among the league leaders in nearly every statistical category and is the focal point of the Utes’ game plan on both ends of the floor. It isn’t a coincidence that Poeltl is playing his best basketball of the season as Utah has gotten hot.

Coach of the Year

  • Dana Altman, Oregon: 25-6, 14-4
  • Larry Krystkowiak, Utah: 24-7, 13-5
  • Cuonzo Martin, California: 22-9, 12-6
  • Sean Miller, Arizona: 24-7, 12-6

AM: Last year, Dana Altman received the official Pac-12 COY award in somewhat controversial (hey, Tucson) fashion, earning the nod over Sean Miller despite finishing behind him in the standings. This year, arguments can be made for any of the four coaches at the top of the league, but this award should belong to Altman. While yours truly has ranked Oregon as the Best in the West since August, the Ducks were picked fourth by the media. And that was before would-be senior point guard Dylan Ennis missed all but 21 minutes this season because of a foot injury. Altman patched together a seven-man rotation from disparate sources and coached them up to become the best team in the conference. Winning 14 games in such a competitive league this season is commendable.

ML: There are many different ways to evaluate Coach of the Year, but I prefer to pick one based on how his team performed relative to expectations. Parity in the conference meant there was no such coach this season, so, with apologies to Lorenzo Romar, this award should go to the coach of the best team: Dana Altman. He is the architect of one of the better two-way teams in the country and has done so while breaking in a new starting lineup. He is both the most deserving and a semi-obvious choice.

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Three Ways to Fill an All-Pac-12 Team

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 8th, 2016

Sometime earlier this year, we spelled out four different ways to create a Top 25 list or conference power rankings: (1) based on resume; (2) based on how teams are playing at that exact moment; (3) based on how you expect teams to be playing when it really matters; or (4) some improvisatory combination of the other three parts. Likewise, there are a bunch of different ways to put together all-conference teams. Below, we’ll give you three(-ish) different — and all entirely reasonable (says the guy who’s writing it) — ways to draw up an all-Pac-12 Team this season.

Note to the Pac-12 and other conferences that should know better: Basketball teams allow five players on the floor at a single time. Thus, all-conference teams should feature just five players. If you want to recognize additional players, that’s what Second Teams, Third Teams and Honorable Mentions are for.

Regardless Of How You Put Together An All-Conference Team, Jakob Poeltl Deserves A Spot (Godofredo Vasquez, USA Today)

Regardless Of How You Put Together An All-Conference Team, Jakob Poeltl Deserves A Spot (Godofredo Vasquez, USA Today)

Five Best Players

This one is simple. Don’t think too hard. Just go down the list and determine which players in the conference put together the five best seasons. Sure, determining “best” is completely subjective, but at least the concept is clear. Using this methodology in this year’s Pac-12, we would probably wind up with one true guard surrounded by three bigs and a swingman. Something like a team of Jakob Poeltl, Josh Scott, Ryan Anderson, Dillon Brooks and Gary Payton II. Maybe you would make an argument for Chris Boucher or Jaylen Brown over Brooks or Anderson. But either way, you wind up with a team that looks great on paper but probably would have some on-court problems — ask Purdue or Maryland about this — where they’ve got a lot of appealing pieces that do not fit together quite so well.

To take a little swerve off of this method of putting together a team, we can also move away from the players who had the “best seasons” in favor of just picking the five best players. In this scenario, California’s Brown likely moves up a notch. Judged on performance on the floor from November to early March, the freshman didn’t match what guys like Boucher, Brooks and Anderson did. But judged on performance heading into postseason play, it’s relatively easy to make the argument that Brown (or Allonzo Trier for that matter) deserves to be mentioned among the top five players in the conference.

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Assessing The Pac-12 With One Week Left

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 1st, 2016

Way back in early November, when Pac-12 prognosticators were looking ahead to the season, there were four teams almost universally considered as contenders to win the regular season title – Arizona, California, Oregon and Utah. We’ve had all sorts of twists and turns over the past four months: USC and Washington emerging earlier than expected; California and Utah taking some time to find their stride; and of course, the assorted injuries, hot streaks, cold patches and upsets that change expectations along the way. But here we are, heading into the final week of the regular season, and those four preseason contenders are still exactly that. There’s a lot still left to be decided in the final week and into the conference tournament, so let’s go team by team and break down what’s to play for on the way in.

Dillon Brooks And The Ducks Are One Win Away From Clinching At Least Part Of A Pac-12 Title (John Locher, USA Today)

Dillon Brooks And The Ducks Are One Win Away From Clinching At Least Part Of A Pac-12 Title. (John Locher, USA Today)

Oregon – For at least a month now, anyone with a Pac-12 schedule could look at Oregon’s road trip to Los Angeles in the final week of the regular season and know it would have major ramifications on the regular season title. What nobody could really see at the start of February was both of the Los Angeles schools falling off a cliff. More on them later, but the situation is simple for the Ducks. Win one in LA and earn at least a share of the conference title. Win them both (now, suddenly possible, if not even likely) and they’ve got their first regular season title since 2002 (and only the program’s second since World War II ended). They are likely to be favored in both games — because the season is trending in the wrong direction for both opponents — and a couple of wins could see the Ducks break into two-seed territory come Selection Sunday.

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Five Thoughts From Colorado’s Win Over Arizona

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 25th, 2016

After another wacky game between Colorado and Arizona in the wacky conference known as the Pac-12, here are five thoughts coming out of last night’s battle.

  1. Josh Scott. I’ve been watching Pac-12 basketball very closely for about 32 of my 40 years, and I’ve covered this conference comprehensively well in this spot for something like six or seven years. And in terms of true post players, Scott’s senior season is the second-best I’ve seen since Kevin Love’s 2007-08 season at UCLA. The problem is that it also happens to come in the same year as the bestseason I’ve seen out of a Pac post player during that span. Scott’s not going to win conference player of the year, but he’s a lock for first-team all-conference (even if this conference cannot correctly count the number of players allowed on a basketball court for one team at the same time). And with his performance on Wednesday night, he virtually assured his program a third NCAA Tournament appearance in his four seasons in Boulder. He’s always had that great back-to-the-basket post-up game, but he’s also developed a pretty face-up game off the bounce. Back off of him and he’s fully capable of knocking in a jumper. Bang him too hard on the blocks and he’ll earn a whistle and convert from the free throw line. He’s an absolutely terrific straight-up post defender and has developed into a quality help defender as well. If there is any legitimate criticism of him, it is that he is not selfish enough on the offensive end of the floor. Whether he is at the level of former Buffaloes stars like Chauncey Billups, Spencer Dinwiddie, Alec Burks or even Scott Wedman is up for someone else to decide. But when Scott plays his final home game at the Coors Event Center on Sunday afternoon, here’s hoping (and fully expecting) that Colorado fans give Scott the rousing senior sendoff that he richly deserves.

    Josh Scott: Second-Best Pac-12 Big In Recent History? (Kai Casey, CU Independent)

    Josh Scott: Second-Best Pac-12 Big In Recent History? (Kai Casey, CU Independent)

  2. Replay Review Is Terrible. We experienced this situation twice in the final minutes of last night’s game. With Arizona already out of timeouts, the game was stopped for a replay review that allowed Sean Miller to gather his troops for strategy discussions just as if it were another timeout. In a game of 137 offensive possessions, that means there were somewhere in the neighborhood of 92 bad or missed calls. Why, in the final minutes of a tight and otherwise enjoyable game, would you want to put that on pause in order for a bunch of old dudes to stand around and watch TV for a few minutes? Why are the 87th and 92nd bad or missed calls any more important than the 12th or 42nd? And why, for the love of god, if you’re incapable of getting the call correct, are you wasting my time? Oh, and full credit to UCLA. Read the rest of this entry »
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