Joseph Young Makes a Statement at Pac-12 Tournament

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 14th, 2015

When it was announced on Monday that Joseph Young had earned the votes of the majority of the Pac-12 coaches and had been named the conference’s Player of the Year, the news was met with surprise around much of the conference. In Salt Lake City and Tucson, it was met with derision. Despite leading the conference in scoring, carrying his inexperienced Oregon club to a surprising second place conference finish, and revising his game to further the goals of the team, Utah and Arizona fans thought that their senior guards – namely, Delon Wright and T.J. McConnell – had stronger claims on that title. They viewed the conference tournament this weekend in Las Vegas as an opportunity to make such statements.

Young made his own statement to the assembled crowd at the MGM Grand Arena on Thursday, scoring 20 of his game-high 30 points in the second half as his Ducks soared past Colorado. Last night, he took that statement nationwide, drilling a 30-foot three-point game-winner as time expired to send the Ducks to the championship game against Arizona. It’s the kind of play that will be shown time and again in future years in Pac-12 Tournament clips, and it is the kind of play that will re-introduce Young to the casual college basketball fans. I’ve already seen it four times on ESPN in the 20 minutes since I’ve gotten back to my hotel room.

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Rushed Reactions: Arizona 70, UCLA 64

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 13th, 2015

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

When Arizona and UCLA Match Up, Especially In March, Great Things Are Bound To Happen (Mamta Popat, Arizona Daily Star)

When Arizona and UCLA Match Up, Especially In March, Great Things Are Bound To Happen (Mamta Popat, Arizona Daily Star)

  1. This Rivalry Never Disappoints. The six-point final margin doesn’t begin to hint at the sustained intensity in the MGM Grand Arena over the course of 40 minutes of another great college basketball game. Over the past three seasons, the Bruins and the Wildcats have met three times in this very arena in the Pac-12 Tournament, and each of those games has been an instant classic. While the Pac-12 Conference has yet to see fit to make sure that these guys are scheduled to play each other twice every season, the basketball gods have stepped in and seen fit to getting these two together in March. And the classics have had plenty of similarities. As Adam Butler pointed out, the game was tied at 68 with 43 seconds remaining last year when Jordan Adams hit a big three to propel UCLA to the win. Tonight, it was Stanley Johnson with a three with 39 seconds remaining to bump the Arizona lead up to 66-61 and effectively seal the game. The big takeaway is quite simply this: When these two teams play, especially in March, it is required viewing.
  2. One Big Run. Midway through the second half, a slashing Norman Powell layup in the middle of the Arizona defense put UCLA up 47-40, prompting a Sean Miller timeout. Over the next five minutes, Arizona reeled off 15 straight points to flip the script. They never trailed again. So, what goes into a run? How about three T.J. McConnell assists and a layup, five team offensive rebounds, a forced turnover and limiting UCLA’s other five possessions to five missed jumpers and an immediate defensive rebound?
  3. Rebounding. UCLA can probably come up with plenty of excuses: Kevon Looney’s facial injury and resultant mask; Tony Parker’s early foul trouble; having to play zone defense for much of the game. But Arizona’s ability to get on the glass and get putbacks was a key here. The Wildcats’ came away with 40 percent of their own missed shots, turning those into 12 points, a key in a close game. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who struggled offensively, had five of those offensive boards by himself. If UCLA had been as good cleaning the defensive glass today (against admittedly above-average competition) as they have been all year long, maybe they’d still be playing on Saturday.

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Dunk Town Laramie: America’s Most Likable Team?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 13th, 2015

About four minutes into their quarterfinal win over Utah State on Thursday afternoon, Wyoming’s Larry Nance unsuccessfully attempted to throw down a dunk over his back in traffic. The next time down the court, it was a tomahawk attempt (again unsuccessful) over a couple of Utah State defenders. They were spectacularly entertaining misses. The Cowboys did, however, have more success in their attacks on the rim in the second half, throwing down four increasingly spectacular dunks as they fought back from a seven-point second half deficit to come away with the season-sustaining win. There is a reason this team has earned the moniker of Dunk Town.

Larry Nance And The Cowboys Have Earned The Moniker Of "Dunk Town" (Ryan Dorgan, Star-Tribune)

Larry Nance And The Cowboys Have Earned The Moniker Of “Dunk Town” (Ryan Dorgan, Star-Tribune)

“We love it,” said junior guard Josh Adams, author of the Cowboys’ most emphatic dunk on Thursday, when asked about the nickname after the game. “We fully embrace that nickname. And our fans have too.” And so has head coach Larry Shyatt. “It’s a pretty good percentage shot,” he said, a master of understatement. “I sort of like seeing [Derek Cooke’s] elbows above the rim when they drop it off to him.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Key Individual Matchups in Pac-12 Quarterfinals

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 12th, 2015

It’s quarterfinal day in Las Vegas, with the Pac’s four top teams facing the upstarts who survived yesterday’s mayhem. Below, by way of previewing today’s games, we’ll look at one of the key matchups in each game that will help determine the eventual winner.

Arizona/California

Stanley Johnson vs. Jabari Bird. Now, I don’t know that this is necessarily going to be the matchup that the Golden Bears go with on Johnson, but I know that there is not really an obvious solution for them. They’re going to have to put some size on the floor in order to match up with the Arizona bigs, so somebody out of Jordan Mathews, Tyrone Wallace or Bird is going to have to try to check Johnson. And Bird is the Bear with the physical tools that give him the best chance to check the Wildcat’s physical specimen. Johnson’s ability to bully Bird in the post or off the bounce give him a big advantage, but Bird’s got some impressive ability of his own, even if it only has come in fits and starts so far. But the sophomore has started to emerge recently, averaging 13.9 points in the Bears’ last seven games. If he can keep Johnson busy when the Bears have the ball, it will serve a dual good. Because really, for a undermanned Cal team against the elite Wildcats, just about everything is going to have to go right.

Can Cal Find Anyone To Slow Stanley Johnson?

Can Cal Find Anyone To Slow Stanley Johnson?

UCLA/USC

Norman Powell vs. Elijah Stewart. After scoring in double figures just twice in the first three months of the season, Stewart has reached the mark in each of the last three games, including a career-high 27 in USC’s come-from-behind victory over Arizona State in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament. But it will be a whole different challenge should the Bruins sic their best individual defender in Powell on him. Powell may instead be charged with slowing the penetration of Trojan point guard Julian Jacobs, but regardless, if Powell can limit the effectiveness of either of those key offensive players for SC, the Trojans’ already difficult task will be enhanced. And on the defensive end, while Stewart does have 35 blocks on the season, he hasn’t yet shown the defensive consistency that will be required to slow Powell’s slashing style. Read the rest of this entry »

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Mountain West Superlatives and Tournament Preview

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 11th, 2015

With the Mountain West Tournament tipping off today in Las Vegas, let’s get warmed up by offering our season superlatives and previewing what to expect this week in the desert.

Player of the Year

Derrick Marks, Senior, Boise State – Marks averaged better than 20 points per night in conference play, leading his Broncos to their first-ever Mountain West regular season title despite the loss of co-pilot Anthony Drmic prior to conference play. Turning into a prolific and efficient three-point threat in his senior campaign, Marks was not only the conference’s top scorer, but he did a little of everything for the Broncos — turning up his game defensively; acting as a valuable conduit for the team’s offense; performing as a locker room leader.

Derrick Marks' Game Blew Up In His Senior Year (AP Photo)

Derrick Marks’ Game Blew Up In His Senior Year (AP Photo)

All-Mountain West

First Team

  • G Derrick Marks, Sr, Boise State (19.6 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.9 SPG) – If you’re Player of the Year, you’re on the all-conference team, right?
  • G Marvelle Harris, Jr, Fresno State (16.8 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 3.8 RPG, 2.1 SPG) – Playing away from the spotlight in the California’s Central Valley, Harris was a versatile scorer for the Bulldogs.
  • F J.J. Avila, Sr, Colorado State (16.9 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 2.0 SPG, 57.5 eFG%) – The Rams’ leader in the frontcourt, a physical interior threat with a surprising skill set.
  • F Larry Nance Jr., Sr, Wyoming (16.1 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.2 BPG, 1.3 SPG, 53.4 eFG%) – For the second straight season, midseason health problems cost the versatile Cowboy a run at conference POY.
  • F Christian Wood, So, UNLV (15.2 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 2.8 BPG) – Eighteen double-doubles and an enhanced offensive game earn Wood a first-team spot despite a lack of team success.

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BYU Season: A Possession Short?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 11th, 2015

Lesson number one that we’ve learned over the enlightened years of basketball analytics is that hoops is a game of possessions. Keeping possession, extending possessions, ending opponents’ possessions and making the most of every last possession can be the difference between a win and a loss. Maximizing your possessions makes all the difference. When the Selection Committee sits down to discuss the NCAA Tournament fates of teams around the country this week, a single possession otherwise forgotten to history may well be the difference between a dance and a disappointment.

One Possession Matters

One Possession Matters

Enter BYU. As the Cougars faded down the stretch against Gonzaga in the WCC Championship game last night in Las Vegas, the discussion turned to their NCAA Tournament resume: an RPI of 38; a big win at Gonzaga on the final weekend of the season; not a whole lot else. Dig a little deeper and you find that they played San Diego State to double-overtime on a neutral court and then two nights later played Purdue to a single-overtime on that same neutral court. Later in their non-conference slate, BYU lost at home to Utah by four points. Any one of those wins – three losses decided by four total possessions – could have been the difference between the Cougars leaving Orleans Arena on Tuesday night confident about their NCAA Tournament hopes or, as they actually did, mourning their way through a postgame press conference. Another few dashes of salt for that BYU wound – their four WCC losses came by a total of 27 points, with only their loss to Gonzaga in Provo coming by more than two possessions.

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NCAA Tourney Best & Worst Cases for Pac-12 Teams

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 10th, 2015

Believe it or not, another Pac-12 regular season is behind us. The final standings are in, the conference tournament bracket is set, and as I type this, we’re less than a week away from finding out which teams get sent where on Selection Sunday. We’ll have much more on this front throughout the week, but below we’ll review the Pac-12’s most likely NCAA Tournament suspects and figure out where they stand with only conference tournament play remaining before the field is set.

Arizona

As Long As Arizona Gets Good Geographical Placement, Either A One or A Two-Seed Will Do

As Long As Arizona Gets Good Geographical Placement, Either a #1 or #2 Seed Will Do. (Getty)

  • Outlook: The Wildcats were the class of the conference this season, running through the Pac-12 with a 16-2 record a full three games better than runners-up Utah and Oregon. What’s more, their 28-3 overall record and #7 RPI rating puts the Wildcats squarely in the conversation for a #1 seed. Kentucky’s got one of those four spots locked up. It’s hard to foresee Virginia and Duke failing to get two others, leaving Arizona in a battle with Villanova, Wisconsin and even Kansas for the final top seed. In the grand scheme of things, though, it doesn’t matter if the ‘Cats get a #1 or a #2 seed so long as they stay out west and away from Kentucky for as long as possible, preferably in the Los Angeles regional. Right now it appears that Wisconsin and Villanova are slightly ahead of Arizona in overall resume, so even if the Wildcats win the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas this week, Arizona may be locked into a #2 regardless. All of which paints the specter of a possible Arizona/Wisconsin regional final as an intriguing possibility.
  • Best case: #1 seed in the West.
  • Worst case: #2 seed anywhere but the West.

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Pac-12 Season Superlatives

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 9th, 2015

The regular season has ended and Pac-12 fans are looking forward to the postseason. Before we all descend on Las Vegas for a fun four days of action, let’s run down our Pac-12 superlatives for the 2014-15 campaign.

Player of the Year

Delon Wright, Sr, Utah – It came down to a three-man race for POY between Wright, Arizona’s T.J. McConnell and Oregon’s Joseph Young (who won the official Pac-12 award). McConnell was the senior leader on the conference’s best team and the glue that brought the Wildcats together, but he mustered only two second-place votes in our four-man vote. Young, the conference’s best scoring guard and an underrated playmaker, also earned two second-place votes. In the end, though, it was Wright who earned the first-place vote on all four of our ballots. As the Utes’ primary playmaker and the only player capable of creating his own offense, Wright was the best player on the floor in most of the games he played this season. Whether looking at traditional or advanced stats, Wright’s numbers across the stat sheet are very impressive.

Delon Wright: The Real Pac-12 Player of the Year (Rick Egan, The Salt Lake Tribune)

Delon Wright: The Real Pac-12 Player of the Year (Rick Egan, The Salt Lake Tribune)

All-Conference

First Team

  • Delon Wright, Sr, Utah (14.7 PPG, 5.3 APG, 4.7 RPG. 2.1 SPG) – The RTC Pac-12 Player of the Year.
  • Joseph Young, Sr, Oregon (19.8 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.7 APG) – The conference’s best shooter and scorer does so much more than put the ball in the hoop.
  • TJ McConnell, Sr, Arizona (9.6 PPG, 6.3 APG, 3.8 RPG, 2.1 SPG) – The consummate point guard and senior leader, McConnell’s impact cannot be summed up in numbers.
  • Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Soph, Arizona (11.2 PPG, 6.5 RPG) – The conference’s best defender made strides on the offensive end during his second year.
  • Stanley Johnson, Fr, Arizona (13.9 PPG, 6.8 RPG) – The Wildcats’ leading scorer is the third member of the squad on our first team.

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Pac-12 Senior Days: T.J. McConnell

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) on March 6th, 2015

On November 9, 2011, the #16 Arizona Wildcats committed 21 turnovers. They would go on to win that basketball game by eight despite their starting backcourt combining for a mere two assists and eight turnovers. Including guard efforts off the bench, the backcourt numbers ballooned to five assists and 11 miscues. That was the last game that that TJ McConnell would lose in the McKale Center. At the time, he was a sophomore guard for Duquesne and six months later he would transfer to the University of Arizona.

In A Program Defined By Point Guards, T.J. McConnell Is Merely The Latest Arizona Great (Lance King, Getty Images)

In A Program Defined By Point Guards, T.J. McConnell Is Merely The Latest Arizona Great (Lance King, Getty Images)

Let’s begin by contextualizing McConnell within the annals of Arizona basketball and the state of current hoop. Saturday is his final game on his undefeated hardwood and while context may not be requisite to celebrate what McConnell has accomplished in Tucson, it serves as a great complement (and compliment) to what he has and will. The brevity of a college career, particularly one we’ve only known for two seasons, cannot be lost in the deep history of everything around it. Because since becoming a Wildcat, McConnell hasn’t lost much of anything. With games still to play, the senior has the highest winning percentage over a two-year stretch of any Arizona point guard in its illustrious history. Ever. As refresher, Arizona basketball history includes guards like Kerr*, Stoudamire, Bibby*, Terry*, and Gardner (* indicates retired jersey). Already he’s won more games than any of them (I understand the changing landscape of scheduling and preseason events, but winning remains the coolest statistic one can compile). With a sweep of the Bay schools, he will tie Steve Kerr for the best two-year conference mark by an Arizona point guard (in 1988 and 1989 there were two different point guards, Kerr followed by Kenny Lofton, each of whom would go 17-1). Winning speaks volumes.

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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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