The Race For The Pac-12 Title

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on February 24th, 2016

Tonight kicks off the second-to-last week of the Pac-12 regular season. One third of the conference has three games remaining on their schedule; everybody else has four. And even at this late date, nothing much is really decided. Sure, we know Washington State is going to be the 12-seed in the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas. Arizona State is probably going to be a (relatively) dangerous 11. The current conference leaders – Arizona and Oregon, tied at 10-4 – seem destined for opening round byes, although things are tight enough that even that isn’t assured. So let’s get caught up on where we stand as March draws nearer, with an eye towards the race for the regular season title.

As The Season Winds Down, It's A Fight At The Top Of The Standings (Rick Scuteri, AP Photo)

As The Season Winds Down, It’s A Fight At The Top Of The Standings (Rick Scuteri, AP Photo)

Officially, there are seven teams still mathematically alive for the conference title. Realistically, however, Colorado and Washington would need to win out and have everything else break perfectly for their conference title lottery ticket to pay off. Likewise, USC finds itself two games in back of the leaders and would need good fortune to bring the crown back to Los Angeles. Given those disqualifications, odds are very strong that our eventual champion(s) will come from this quartet of teams: Oregon, Arizona, Utah and California.

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Pac-12 Bubble and Bracket Breakdown

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on February 17th, 2016

We’re now less than four weeks from Selection Sunday and there are three weeks remaining in Pac-12 play. With 11 lof our 12-pack of teams currently ranked in the RPI top 100, now’s as good a time as any to review where all the conference teams stand and what they need to do between now and March 13 to make sure they hear Jim Nantz call out their names that afternoon. Let’s jump in.

The Leaders

Even Following A Lost Weekend By The Bay, The Ducks Are In Good NCAA Position (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)

Even Following A Lost Weekend By The Bay, The Ducks Are In Good NCAA Position (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)

  • Oregon (20-6, 9-4, RPI #4, KenPom #20) – What a difference a week makes. After backing up a road sweep of the Arizona schools with a confident home sweep of the mountain schools, the Ducks seemingly had command of the Pac-12 regular season race. But a trip to the Bay Area last weekend resulted in a pair of losses that have put the Ducks into a tie with Arizona atop the conference. With a collection of solid wins both in and out of conference play under its belt, Oregon is still the team that is best positioned for a happy outcome on Selection Sunday. The Bay Area meltdown probably removes any chance of a #1 seed, but the Ducks have a manageable schedule remaining (at home against Oregon State and the Washington schools before a tough final weekend trip to Los Angeles). Where things will really get tricky is when the conference tournament convenes in Las Vegas, because in a season full of parity, even the top seed is going to face a very capable and battle-tested team right out of the gates. Barring a disaster, the Ducks seem headed for Spokane in the opening weekend with a chance at a #2 or #3 seed out West.
  • Arizona (21-5, 9-4, RPI #23, Ken Pom #16) – It’s been a challenging season in Tucson. After losing tons of experienced and early-entry talent from last year’s team, the Wildcats have dealt with injuries and growing pains from day one this year. But here we are at the turn into the backstretch of February and the ‘Cats are as healthy as they’re going to get and appear to be dialing into March. They’re never going to have the top-end ceiling of the last couple teams, but you can bet that Sean Miller is going to get the most out of his group. The first goal is a third consecutive Pac-12 regular season title, and they’ve got a slightly more difficult path ahead than the Ducks, with home games against Arizona State and then Cal and Stanford sandwiched around a roadie to the altitude schools. Their non-conference schedule didn’t provide them with many chances for high-value scalps, so wins over Gonzaga and USC are about the best resume-enhancers they have. But if they can do something crazy like only lose once more between this spot and Selection Sunday, they could sneak into the conversation for a #2 seed if things go haywire elsewhere. A #3 or #4 seed is more realistically within range, with geographical favoritism (Denver followed by Anaheim) a goal. That said, considering Arizona’s recent history in Anaheim, maybe the Wildcats would be better off with a change of scenery this March.
Sean Miller Is Again Tourney-Bound, But Maybe Not So Much On The Anaheim Thing? (Christian Peterson, Getty Images)

Sean Miller Is Again Tourney-Bound, But Maybe Not So Much On The Anaheim Thing? (Christian Peterson, Getty Images)

Playing For Position

  • USC (18-7, 7-5, RPI #22, KenPom #27) – Losing at Arizona State is really not that terrible of a thing. Bobby Hurley has a good squad that has experienced some bad luck, and Wells Fargo Arena is on the upswing as a home venue. But the worst part of losing at Arizona State is then having to visit Arizona following that loss. The Trojans played better against the Wildcats (at least for stretches), but still came away with an 0-2 road trip, putting them a game and a half back of the leaders in the conference race. The bad news for Andy Enfield’s team is that its remaining schedule is brutal. They get four home games but each of those (Colorado, Utah, Oregon State, Oregon) are losable, while the road trip to the Bay Area will be very difficult too. Still, barring a complete collapse, the Trojans will be dancing. With quality non-conference wins over Monmouth, Yale and a short-handed Wichita State club, coupled with a home win over Arizona, USC has a nice resume and a chance to add to it down the stretch. An optimistic scenario is something like a 4-2 finish, a run to the title game in Las Vegas and a seed in the #4-#6 range. If the wheels completely fall off in the next few weeks, however, the Trojans could drop down the bracket and give a high-seed a nightmare game in the first and second round.
  • Utah (18-7, 8-5, RPI #16, KenPom #40) – The Utes sit just a game back of the conference leaders but their final two road games of the season at the Los Angeles schools this weekend will tell us a lot about how they are regarded on Selection Sunday. Three wins against the RPI top 25 and six against the RPI top 50 mean the Utes are already golden with chances against highly-ranked teams like USC, Arizona and Colorado still remaining, Utah (along with its traveling partner, Colorado) has a great opportunity to jump up the seed lines with a few more victories. Right now something in the #6 or #7 range seems most likely, but a strong finish could push them up to the #4 line with a potential opening weekend in Denver.
  • Colorado (18-7, 8-5, RPI #25, KenPom #63) – While the Buffaloes sport the same record as their conference-mandated rival, there’s definitely not the same quality of meat on their bones. Their best non-conference win is over a BYU team that will likely be on the outside looking in although wins over Oregon and Cal will pay dividends. Right now, the Buffs are somewhere in the #7-#9 seed range with a chance for a big finish. Of more importance to the team’s overall chances, however, is the concern over Josh Scott’s ankle injury. If Colorado is going to score quality wins down the stretch over teams like USC, Arizona and Utah, it will need the senior big man in action.
Colorado Will Need Josh Scott To Live Up To Their Potential (Kai Casey, CU Independent)

Colorado Will Need Josh Scott To Live Up To Their Potential (Kai Casey, CU Independent)

  • California (17-8, 7-5, RPI #24, KenPom #32) – Let’s start by breaking down that 7-5 conference record a bit. The Golden Bears’ seven wins have all come in Haas Pavilion, while their five losses have all come on the road. Their sole win this season outside of Berkeley came at Wyoming (#178 in KenPom) in overtime. Now, none of that is necessarily a seed killer, but the Bears have four road games remaining. If form holds and Cal can’t get its act together at the Washington schools or the Arizona schools, they will have issues in terms of placement. Still, this team is going to be dancing and if it can pick up even just the low-hanging fruit on the remaining road schedule, the Bears are primed for a good seed on the basis of four win against the RPI top 25 with cracks at USC and Arizona still ahead. Currently they’re somewhere in the neighborhood of a #6-#8 seed, a spot at which they can give some opposing high seeds serious problems.

Bubblicious

  • Washington (15-10, 7-6, RPI #61, KenPom #69) – The Huskies have lost three straight and five of their last seven games. Those numbers hurt. Dig a little deeper, though, and you find a home loss in overtime to Utah, a road loss to USC, a five-point home loss to Arizona, an eight-point road loss to Utah and a one-point road loss to Colorado — five losses to top 25 RPI teams by an average of less than six points. Still, unless the young pups can string together several wins to close out the season, those justifications may never even get on the committee’s radar. If Washington just wins their three remaining home games (Cal, Stanford, Washington State), they will be at 10-8 in the conference. At that point, they’d probably need to avoid an opening round Pac-12 Tournament loss, but they’d probably still be on the right side of the bubble, even if it meant a trip to Dayton.
  • Oregon State (14-9, 6-7, RPI #38, KenPom #70) – The Beavers are a game under .500 in conference play and they’ve got one more road game than home game remaining. That’s fine, though, because any equation that earns this program its first NCAA invitation since 1990 involves getting a road win at either Oregon or USC while taking care of business in Gill Coliseum against the Washington schools. That would put the Beavs at .500 in conference play and would give them a chance to add another scalp to what is already five wins over top 25 RPI teams. Do that and Oregon State dances. Anything less and it gets hairier, but wins over Oregon, Cal, USC, Utah and Colorado (not to mention another good one against Tulsa) will give this team a chance.
  • UCLA (14-11, 5-7, RPI #68, KenPom #54) – Don’t bury the Bruins just yet. Wins over Kentucky and Arizona show that they can play with the best, but losses to teams like Wake Forest and Washington State may be their eventual undoing. For Steve Alford’s squad to have a prayer on Selection Sunday, they’ve got to get back to .500 in conference play. Not only does that number just look a lot better, but it would also mean that UCLA added some quality wins to its resume with home games against Utah, Colorado, Oregon and Oregon State to come coupled with a road trip to the Bay Area. The bad news is that the only times the Bruins have won four times in six games was when their opponents included teams like Pepperdine, Cal State-Northridge and McNeese State. Odds are good that UCLA is NIT bound, at best.

I Need A Miracle

  • Stanford (11-11, 5-7, RPI #75, KenPom #110)
  • Arizona State (14-12, 4-9, RPI #82, KenPom #77)
  • Washington State (8-16, 1-12, RPI #188, KenPom #164)
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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on February 9th, 2016

It’s a week of callbacks in the Mountain West check-in because a lot of the things we talked about last week at this time proved particularly relevant in the interim. Before we jump into team-by-team breakdowns, however, let’s hit the big story: San Diego State going a long way toward wrapping up at least a share of the regular season title for the fifth time in the last six seasons. The Aztecs knocked off New Mexico on Saturday night, bumping their conference record to 11-0 and establishing a three-game lead over the Lobos in the loss column with seven games remaining. It wasn’t a dominant win and the Aztecs needed a fortunate (but not egregious) call with 12.9 seconds left to have a chance to tie the game. But, credit to Steve Fisher’s bunch, they made the most of the second chance by nailing a three from Malik Pope to send the game to overtime and then taking care of business from there. With the win, San Diego State continued its ascension up to #44 in the RPI and #64 in KenPom. What this all means is that there is some lingering hope around the conference that a second NCAA Tournament bid is possible. That would of course have to mean some team will knock off the Aztecs in the conference tournament, but six of those 11 conference wins have been decided by only one possession. In other words, if the luck factor in close games reverts to the mean, the Aztecs will have some losses coming between now and Selection Sunday.

With Saturday Night's Win, The Aztecs Again Have Full Control In The Mountain West (USA Today)

With Saturday Night’s Win, The Aztecs Again Have Full Control In The Mountain West (USA Today)

Power Rankings

  • San Diego State (18-6, 9-0) – Last week we dug into the Aztecs’ ongoing streak of what was then 159 straight wins (and 224 out of 225) when leading games with five minutes left to play. Since that post, the Aztecs found themselves ahead two more times with five minutes left, and in both games, with the outcome with a minute to go was severely in doubt. Against Colorado State, it was the Rams turning it over on three consecutive possessions and a contested layup at the buzzer that came up short. Against New Mexico it was a poorly executed in-bounds and a technically incorrect (but completely understandable) call. But here we stand with the streak now at 161 games. It’s not exactly on par with UCLA’s 88-game winning streak. Or DiMaggio’s hitting streak. But it is sort of mind-boggling. And I’ll certainly take it over the Globetrotters. One other note from the week: big men Skylar Spencer and Angelo Chol combined to play 85 minutes and between them went 10-of-13 from the field, scored 20 points, grabbed 21 boards and blocked five shots. However, despite 13 feet and five inches of frontcourt goodness, the pair earned exactly zero free throw attempts.

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Burning Questions: Pac’s Next Best Team

Posted by Mike Lemaire (@Mike_Lemaire), Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) and Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on February 4th, 2016

Oregon sits alone atop the conference with a one-game lead at the halfway mark over four second-place teams. Considering the Ducks already have a win at the McKale Center (one of their six wins over top 50 teams) and a conference-best KenPom rating of #15, we’ve got a consensus of contributors willing to call Dana Altman’s group the best team in the Pac. So that brings us to the obvious next question: If the Ducks go down, which will be the team to do it? Our answers are below.

Even Sitting A Couple Games Back, Sean Miller And The Wildcats Are In Striking Position

Even Sitting A Couple Games Back, Sean Miller And The Wildcats Are In Striking Position

Mike Lemaire: Depleted as they may be, Arizona is still the next best team in the conference. All three of its road losses were by three points or fewer (and one of those went into quadruple-overtime), and although Oregon exposed the Wildcats as a flawed team (especially without the services of Allonzo Trier), it is still the most well-rounded team in the league outside of Eugene. But this pick is as much about the uninspiring resumes of the other contenders as it is about Arizona. Utah’s best win is at Colorado; the Buffaloes beat Oregon at home but haven’t posted many other victories of note; USC needed four overtimes to beat the Wildcats in the Galen Center. Behind Oregon, the Pac-12 is a conference littered with “good but not great” teams. Arizona has the best coach, the most talent and the most upside. I’ll take the ‘Cats head-to-head on a neutral floor against any other team in the conference. Read the rest of this entry »

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Making Sense Of The Tightly-Packed PAC at the Turn

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on February 3rd, 2016

Every Pac-12 team is now halfway through its conference schedule, and to say that this conference is tight is quite the understatement. There are currently five teams within a game of first place, and conference stalwarts Arizona and UCLA are not among that group. Let’s take a spin around the league and evaluate where the league stands as it makes the turn for the home stretch.

Legitimate Contenders For Regular Season Championship

Chris Boucher, Casey Benson And The Ducks Are Halfway Home To A Pac-12 Title (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)

Chris Boucher, Casey Benson And The Ducks Are Halfway Home To A Pac-12 Title (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)

Hey, this is easy, right? You just take those five teams sitting at 6-3 or better and boom, we’re done, right? No, that’s too easy. We’ve got to take a stand. So, let’s take a stand and name Oregon, Utah and USC as the biggest threats to take the title. The Ducks, conference leaders at 7-2, are the obvious one. I’m personally interested in bragging about the fact that I’ve had them as the conference favorite since I first looked at the league back in mid-summer, but Dana Altman’s got a combination of experience, upside, athleticism, intelligence, quickness and length that is the Platonic ideal of a college basketball team (little known fact: Plato was a huge hoop-head). As for Utah, it took some early lumps but has taken advantage of a lull in the schedule to reel off five straight wins. They’ve still got tough roadies ahead to the Oregon and Los Angeles schools, but Brandon Taylor is starting to knock in shots and there are few players in the conference who can handle Jakob Poeltl in the post. The final true contender is USC, and that isn’t a phrase that anybody expected to be written this February. But it’s for real. Andy Enfield’s squad is undeniably talented and beginning to figure out how to win. The Trojans’ schedule down the stretch is insane (vs. UCLA, at the Arizona schools, home against Utah and Colorado, at Cal and Stanford, finishing at home against the Oregon schools), but this team has already shown it can play with anybody in the league. Notably missing in this space is two-time defending champion Arizona. The Wildcats aren’t out of it at just two games back, but this year’s group just doesn’t measure up to the type of Wildcats we’ve grown accustomed to.

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Another Golden Age of Washington Basketball Under Lorenzo Romar?

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on February 2nd, 2016

First, a brief history of Washington basketball. The first reported record of the team was 1-1 way back in 1896. In 1902, the Huskies went 7-0. In 1911, Warner Williams coached them to an 11-1 record in the Northwest Intercollegiate Conference. In 1921, Hec Edmundson took over and three years in, earned the first of his 12 conference titles in 27 years as coach of the program while it was in the Pacific Coast Conference (the first amphibian on land in the long evolution of what is now the Pac-12). Of course, the Huskies now play in the Hec Edmundson Pavilion, a building that opened in 1927 but was renamed in 1948 at the end of the long-time coach’s career. However, six years later in 1953, it was Tippy Dye who took the Huskies to the only Final Four in program history. That was the end of the First Golden Age of Washington Basketball, as the team suffered through an NCAA Tournament drought of over 20 years after that Final Four run. There were obvious external reasons for the malaise (the emergence of UCLA and an era where only conference champions were deemed worthy of NCAA Tournament appearance), but Washington basketball slipped off the radar for a long time.

Hec Edmundson: Jim Tressel's Great-Uncle, And The Bricklayer of the Washington Basketball Program

Hec Edmundson: Jim Tressel’s Great-Uncle, And The Bricklayer of the Washington Basketball Program

The Second (Brief) Golden Age of Washington Basketball came in the mid-80s, where the Huskies made three NCAA Tournaments in three seasons, with Marv Harshman taking Detlef Schrempf and Christian Welp (RIP) to the Sweet 16 in 1984 (where they lost to a Cinderella #10 Dayton squad in that regional semifinal – sound familiar?). The next two seasons saw the Huskies bow out in the 5/12 game in the first round, once as the #5 seed, once as the #12; the former under Harshman, the latter under first-year head coach Andy Russo. Three more seasons under Russo, three seasons with no Tournament. Four seasons of Lynn Nance also resulted in NCAA misses. Bob Bender was hired in 1993-94 and took a team that went 5-22 in his first season to the first of back-to-back NITs in March of ’96, then back-to-back NCAA Tournaments in ’98 and ’99. The ’98 squad was the Todd MacCulloch/Donald Watts/Deon Luton team that lost a heart-ripper to eventual champion UConn and Richard Hamilton. We’ll go so far as to call that team a part of the Bronze Age of Washington Basketball, but the following three years saw the Huskies finish eighth or worse in the Pac-10, paving the way for Lorenzo Romar, a former two-year player (1978-80) for the Huskies, to be hired in spring 2002.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on February 2nd, 2016

Its been too darn long since we’ve done one of these, so let’s do this right and get caught up on the Mountain West. We’re basically halfway through conference play with eight of the 11 teams having played at least nine conference games, and San Diego State has clearly established itself as the conference’s best team — off to a 9-0 start that gives them a game-and-a-half lead over two-loss New Mexico. Before we get into the team-by-team rundowns, let’s take a moment to congratulate the conference on the fact that, in an era of the horrors of unbalanced scheduling in large conferences, its brass made sure that the league’s top four teams (San Diego State, New Mexico, Boise State, UNLV) play each other twice. Sure, it’s easier to set that up when the league only has 11 teams (where you only miss a home-and-away schedule against two conference foes), but regardless of how, that part of the schedule is right this year.

Power Rankings

  • San Diego State (16-6, 9-0) – I wrote plenty about the Aztecs yesterday, so go read that article first. But, there’s also the matter of San Diego State’s 17 million straight wins when leading with five minutes remaining in a game (actually, the number now stands at 159 straight). Now, that number sounds impressive, and it is (Mark Zeigler noted three weeks ago that the next longest streak in the conference is at 14 wins). But even more impressively, that time 160 games ago when the Aztecs lost a game after leading at the five-minute mark was when Wyoming hit six threes in the final 4:12 to outscore the Aztecs 24-8 over that stretch. Even crazier: That loss broke another long 65-game Aztec streak of winning games when they were ahead at the five-minute mark. By my math, San Diego State is 224-1 in the last 225 games where it led at the five-minute mark. Go read that excellent Zeigler article about the streak. There’s a lot more great stuff in there too.
San Diego State's History Of Winning Games When Ahead At The Five-Minute Mark Is Insane (San Diego State University)

San Diego State’s History Of Winning Games When Ahead At The Five-Minute Mark Is Insane (San Diego State University)

  • New Mexico (13-8, 6-2) – After getting handled by the Runnin’ Rebels in UNLV’s first game post-Dave Rice a couple weeks back, the Lobos came back and got surprised by Wyoming in The Pit. It was easy to write New Mexico off at that time, and wins at San Jose State and at home against Air Force did nothing to change that idea. But Saturday night in Boise changed this up indeed. Behind a 30 points from Elijah Brown and 21 from Tim Williams, the Lobos had a terrific offensive night, kept their turnovers in check and served notice that despite some early season bumps and bruises, they were going to stick around for awhile. In that loss to Wyoming, sophomore point guard Cullen Neal suffered a concussion and missed the win over San Jose State, but in the two games since then, Neal played his best back-to-back games of the season, averaging 11.5 efficient points and a combined six assists to three turnovers.

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San Diego State Succeeding Despite Its Inept Offense

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

On Saturday evening, San Diego State completed a perfect first half of conference play by going into the Thomas & Mack Center and coming away with a comfortable 15-point win over UNLV. As usual, the Aztecs earned the win not on the basis of amazing offense, but on athletic, grinding, demoralizing defense. Steve Fisher‘s team blocked seven shots, challenged seemingly every jumper and held UNLV to a mere 0.83 points per possession. The Aztecs played slowly (34.7 percent of their possessions ended with five seconds or fewer on the shot clock), deliberate and, yes, maybe a little ugly. But none of this is new. Fisher’s heyday on Montezuma Mesa has been marked by defense-first teams, and increasingly, a slow tempo has corresponded with that. Perhaps unbelievably given how defensively-oriented his teams have been, this year’s group is more reliant on that defensive identity than any previous team in the Fisher era.

Steve Fisher, San Diego State

San Diego State Under Steve Fisher Has Been A Defense-First Program (AP Photo/Gus Ruelas)

First, let’s look at the history. In each of the Aztecs’ last 10 seasons, the team has ranked higher nationally in defensive efficiency than offensive efficiency (per KenPom). Furthermore, the Aztecs have been among the top 10 defensive teams nationally four times, and their adjusted defensive efficiency has checked in below 90 points per 100 possessions three times (including this season). In seven of those 10 years, the Aztecs have played at a bottom-half tempo nationally. As a result of all these numbers, San Diego State has gone 250-85 (74.6%) overall, 113-42 (72.9%) in the Mountain West, taken six trips to the NCAA Tournament, notched the only five NCAA wins in program history while there, and earned two Sweet Sixteen appearances.

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Burning Questions: Pac-12’s Best Coach

Posted by Mike Lemaire (@Mike_Lemaire), Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) and Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on January 28th, 2016

In recent weeks, we’ve gone through the best point guards, big men and wings in the conference. But why stop there? We need to fill in the entirety of the program. So, today, we asked our contributors to name the conference’s best head coach. As you can probably imagine, one name came up quite often. We’ll spare you the suspense by getting right to the point with our first response: clearly it is Johnny Dawkins, right? No, but read along.

Is Johnny Dawkins The Pac's Best Coach? No, Silly, But He's Sure Consistent (credit: Harry How)

Is Johnny Dawkins The Pac’s Best Coach? No, Silly, But He Is Consistent (credit: Harry How)

Adam Butler: A few years back I tried to take a look at tempo variance and its possible correlation to coaches getting fired. The hypothesis was that a coach would drastically change his style in a year in which he kinda knew what was up. He’d grasp for any means to try and win a handful of games to stick around. I was mostly right. But it also didn’t suggest that the best coaches never varied. Coach K (the Duke version) was all over the place with tempo and he’s got a bunch of titles and success. Interestingly, Johnny Dawkins was one of the most consistent coaches in the conference. Consequently (I think that’s the right word to use here but probably not), Dawkins’ win totals in his seven full Pac-12 seasons reads: 20, 14, 15, 26, 19, 23, 24. That’s mostly pretty consistent. How about these conference win totals? 6, 7, 7, 10, 9, 10, and 9. And this season is no different. Is Dawkins the best coach in the Pac-12? Absolutely not. Is he in the conversation? No. But I’ve introduced him as a fascinating look at coaching in the college world. Consider a 7-year average win total of 20 (without extremes of 10 and 30 wins) in Corvallis or Pullman? That might be celebrated. For the most part it’s also celebrated (celebratable) in Palo Alto. But that’s the curse of consistency. It’s no longer exciting. Kansas fans are no longer impressed with a Big-12 title. But ask them what they think of Bill Self when he finally drops one. Alas, I never should have mentioned Bill Self in a Johnny Dawkins blurb. It’s unfair to the former. Dawkins is not the Pac-12’s best coach, but he might be the most consistent for his now second-most-conference-tenured-role.

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Best in the West: The 20 Best Teams West Of The Rockies

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on January 26th, 2016

Here’s something we occasionally do: group all of the teams west of the Rockies (you know, the only part of the country, save Austin, New Orleans, Memphis and maybe New York City worth a damn) together, mix them up and see what order they shake out in. This means we’ve got all of the teams in the Pac-12, Mountain West, WCC and Big West Conferences, plus some of the schools in the WAC and Big Sky. And normally, instead of just ranking teams the traditional way, we divide them up into tiers. The idea is that there may be two great teams that have serious Final Four dreams and then a significant fall off when talking about team number three. This year in the West? Not so much. Apropos of the rest of the nation, there are no elite teams. And on any given Saturday (or Thursday, or Wednesday), there’s a good chance whoever checks in a half-page down this list can play with the first team we mention. But still, here’s a best effort at placing the best in the West into tiers.

The Best of the Best: Legitmate Top 25 teams

  • Oregon (#1 overall, Pac-12 #1) – Since back in the middle of the summer, I’ve had the Ducks at the top of the Pac-12. With Villanova transfer Dylan Ennis added to the mix, the Ducks have long had the prospect of being, a deep, veteran, long, balanced squad. Some of those strengths (depth and experience, mainly) have been diminished with the season that wasn’t for Ennis (out for season with broken foot), but Dana Altman’s presence at the helm of a talented group should mean that this team’s best days are ahead of it. With the shot-blocking combination of Jordan Bell and Chris Boucher along the backline and the perimeter defenders like Casey Benson, Dwayne Benjamin and Tyler Dorsey, this team still has a ways to go before it reaches it’s defensive potential, as it is just 69th in the nation in defensive efficiency. The defense has to improve, but if it does, the Ducks’ offense is diverse and explosive enough to drag them a long ways into March.
Hey, Did You Know That Bell Boucher Is A Type Of Banjo? And A Great Shotblocking Combo?

Bell-Boucher: Both A Banjo And A Great Shot-blocking Combo!

  • Arizona (#2 overall, Pac-12 #2) – A one-point loss at California qualifies as a good result in a West that mimics the national landscape by not having any one dominant team. Every one of the Wildcats’ losses has been a tightly fought contest, with a four-point neutral-court loss against Providence to join three conference road losses that came by an average of two points (and four total overtimes). In short, Arizona is, on January 23rd, six possessions away from a perfect 20-0 record, despite the absence of senior Kaleb Tarczewski for eight games, freshman Allonzo Trier for the last four games and junior Elliott Pitts for the last 13 games. While this is by no mean a vintage Arizona team, Sean Miller is the best coach in the West and you can count on him getting the absolute most out of a flawed roster.

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Marching to Vegas: The Year Of The Bigs

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) on January 22nd, 2016

The following is far from scientific but interesting nonetheless. It became an exercise in qualification as opposed to quantification, visualizing the results of the experiment rather than discovering specific measures of validity. The question at hand wasn’t so much a question as it was a feeling, a healthy topic of conversation: sure seems there’s a lot of really good Pac-12 bigs this year. Feels a lot like that exhaustive list of great guards we had in 2014. Do you remember two years ago? That was the year Nick Johnson won the conference’s player of the year award while Joe Young and Jason Calliste lit things up from Eugene, Jahii Carson single-handedly changed how Herb Sendek coached, UCLA featured Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson and neither was the highest drafted Bruin guard, CJ Wilcox became a first rounder, and we were introduced to a young man named Delon Wright. Guard play, in the 2014 Pac-12 season, was phenomenal. And this year it seems, in a league long and spread on talent, that skill has centralized in the front court. Don’t get me wrong, there are some great guards, but that 2014 list (wildly incomplete above) seems to have given way to a big heavy (not redundant) 2016. Here’s that unscientific list:

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I told you it wasn’t scientific. And I’m not going to measure the number of primary guards (greens) versus bigs (red) in this list of top offensive efficiencies in the Pac-12. There are also so many different ways to qualify “good.” But isn’t this kinda interesting, right? The conference is front court top heavy right now. We aren’t cementing anything, because this is but one “available” measure. Jakob Poeltl might be the best Pac big since Kevin Love.

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Burning Questions: Pac-12’s Best Wing

Posted by Mike Lemaire (@Mike_Lemaire), Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) and Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on January 22nd, 2016

We started out by assessing the Pac-12 point guards. Last week we moved onto the big men. This week we’re looking at the slashers and shooters (sounds dangerous) manning the wing in the conference. We asked three of our guys: who’s the best wing in the Pac, and unlike those first two questions (where Payton and Poeltl were heavy favorites), this one is wide open. Answers below.

Adam Butler: I always struggle with whether or not to call the college basketball season a sprint or a marathon. It’s easy to equate it to both, knowing that November losses can be meaningless with a strong sprint to the finish. Conversely, sprinting out of the gate (i.e. Washington last season) doesn’t alway suggest super success. This, of course, is a lead to consider that so long as you can endure the marathon and garner an invitation to the sprint (March Madness) your team is best suited by having the best players. I don’t care about your efficiencies, team chemistry, peaking, drowning, front court, back court, history — if you have the best players in the NCAA tournament you have a chance. Jaylen Brown might be the best player. His shooting stroke leaves something to be desired (28% isn’t good from three), but as the game trends towards the rim, so too does Brown’s. The 6’7″ power wing is connecting on 72% of his attempts at the rim. Furthermore, 45% of all his attempts are at the rim. Ipso facto, as math would suggest, Brown is getting lots of easy buckets. And if they’re not easy buckets, they’re free throws (10th highest FT rate in the conference). For some context surrounding his rim abilities, Stanley Johnson — a similarly sized power wing — took just 29% of his shots at the rim, connecting on only 53% of those attempts. I’d like to see him curb his turnovers and hit a few more jumpers if we’re considering his NBA prospects, but when it comes to bullying NCAA players, Brown might be my first pick.

Jaylen Brown's Ability To Bully Smaller Players Gets Him One Vote (USA Today)

Jaylen Brown’s Ability To Bully Smaller Players Gets Him One Vote. (USA Today)

Mike Lemaire: In terms of potential and ability, California’s Jaylen Brown is probably the easy answer. But in terms of production and importance to his team’s success, it is a close race between UCLA’s Bryce Alford and Oregon’s Dillon Brooks. Alford is fifth in the conference in scoring (16.9 PPG); he is tied for second in assists per game (5.2 APG); and he leads the conference in free-throw percentage. Brooks is ninth in the conference in scoring (15.5 PPG); he is 14th in the conference in rebounding (6.6 RPG); and he is right behind Alford at second in free-throw percentage. Also, both guys play more than 30 minutes per game and have similar usage rates. It comes down to Brooks’ vastly superior defense vs. Alford’s vastly superior shooting. In a pinch, the pick here is Brooks because he has a big impact on the game at both ends of the floor. Read the rest of this entry »

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