Long Beach State Takes Advantage of Rare Home Game vs. Power 5

Posted by Tracy McDannald on November 22nd, 2014

Non-conference scheduling can be a funny game in itself in college basketball, and a tough one if you are a quality mid-major program like Long Beach State. Head coach Dan Monson recalled how tough it has been to get schools in the Power 5 conferences to visit the Walter Pyramid in his eight seasons at the helm. In fact, before Friday night, just two other high-major programs — North Carolina in 2012 and USC in 2013 — have visited The Beach. So, Monson typically loads up the schedule with a Murderer’s Row gauntlet, compiling arguably the nation’s toughest road slate each year.

Dan Monson Has Long Beach State Playing Excellent Basketball

Dan Monson Was Grateful For Kansas State’s Willingness to Travel.

On the other end of that scheduling tango is a program like Kansas State, which faced the 49ers twice in games separated by just a week last season (once in Manhattan, Kansas and the other in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off) and came away with victories on both occasions. But the third time would be Long Beach State’s charm in a wire-to-wire, 69-60 decision in front of a jazzed up 4,256 fans.

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UCLA Guards Pass Early Eye Test

Posted by Tracy McDannald on November 17th, 2014

The game of basketball has evolved so much in recent years that it has become outdated to pigeonhole a player into the traditional role of his position. Big men routinely step out to the three-point line, with few true centers left to anchor the paint. Point guards are certainly not made like they once were, with more of a desire to distribute than produce baskets — now, it’s the combo guard, an offensive-minded “tweener” who has become the trendy mold.

Steve Alford Was More Than Pleased With His UCLA Backcourt In Friday Night's Opener. (UCLA Athletics)

Steve Alford Was More Than Pleased With His UCLA Backcourt In Friday Night’s Opener. (UCLA Athletics)

At UCLA, head coach Steve Alford has three such combo guards on his roster, and the trio had some questions to answer on Friday night at Pauley Pavilion. Although a bit out of control to start, senior Norman Powell and sophomores Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton set the tone early with an attacking, uptempo bravado in the Bruins’ 113-78 win over Montana State. From the tip, all three took a head-down, get-to-the-rim mindset that didn’t look like it would offer up much ball movement. As a result, there were not too many moments in the half-court offense that stood out, and there weren’t any possessions that went deep into the shot clock. Two nights later, an 84-71 win over Coastal Carolina wasn’t quite as easy as the first game, but there was still a lot to like from the trio of guards. While the jury is still out and team depth remains a question mark, one thing is for certain: Don’t let these Bruins get out and run.

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First Impressions From UCLA’s Opening Night

Posted by Tracy McDannald on November 15th, 2014

The start may have been sluggish Friday night, but UCLA’s season-opening 113-78 win over Montana State at Pauley Pavilion was simply a matter of when things would start to click. Boy, did the Bruins roll once they found that rhythm. UCLA senior guard Norman Powell led all scorers with 25 points and point guard Bryce Alford notched his first career double-double with 18 points and 12 assists. In all, six Bruins scored in double figures. Keeping in mind it was just one game against an opponent that came in as a 23.5-point underdog, here is what stood out:

Norman Powell's Athletic Play Has His Draft Stock Rising (Associated Press)

Norman Powell Led All Scorers With 25 Points in UCLA’s 113-78 Win Over Montana State. (Associated Press)

Guards of same feather flock together: Coming into the season, the question was how UCLA would perform at the point guard position with a backcourt that makes you think of its scoring first. Powell, Alford and now-eligible Isaac Hamilton combined for 26 of the contest’s first 35 points and finished with 58 while converting 19-of-31 shots — including 8-of-14 3-pointers. Look for more on the backcourt in a separate post, but there was plenty to like as the game went on with the trio’s ability to pick their spots and not make it look like they were just taking turns. Head coach Steve Alford “loved how the ball moved,” and it started with his son’s play.

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A Player’s Program in Name Only: Sean Miller Runs This Show

Posted by Tracy McDannald on November 14th, 2014

Whatever you think you know about Pac-12 runaway favorite Arizona in advance of tonight’s season opener, head coach Sean Miller can always provide the media with another line of thinking. He is no different with his own players, but what they know is that Miller will not sugarcoat the truth to spare their feelings. That brings us to the Wildcats’ exhibition contest against Cal Poly Pomona last Sunday. Typically there’s little to take away from anything on the court in such a mismatch. Preseason observations can be flawed, misleading and not meaningful. But there sat JuCo transfer Kadeem Allen, who never got off the Arizona bench for the entire 40 minutes of action. Afterward, Miller said the combo guard has welcomed the idea of a voluntary redshirt. The only surprise of any sort was that Miller revealed that much publicly. He is the same coach who last season went back and forth over what Elliott Pitts’ role as a freshman would be. Brandon Ashley’s season-ending injury changed everything, of course, but digging a bit deeper, it’s tough to recall a time when Miller ever wasted words on nonsense. Everything he says, and especially the things he doesn’t say with a sly read-between-the-lines smirk on his face, has a purpose.

Why Is This Man Smiling? Maybe Because He Has the Best Team in the League.

Arizona head coach Sean Miller can smile when he has the option of stashing away talent to make managing minutes a bit easier. (Getty)

That brings us to the top prize in Arizona’s 2014 recruiting class, freshman Stanley Johnson. The forward, a unanimous preseason choice for Pac-12 freshman of the year on this site and the same pick for just about anyone else with a clue, came off the bench to produce 12 points in 24 minutes in that game. It was junior Gabe York who earned the start, and those around the program got the feeling that strategy will trickle into the start of the regular season before Johnson inevitably takes over. Miller hinted at as much with that playful smile in his postgame media session, adding, “It doesn’t matter if he’s happy; it really only matters if I’m happy.” Miller also said the starting five on opening night isn’t in cement for the entire season. That’s his way of making sure the players aren’t too comfortable with their status when it comes to competing in practice.

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Pac-12 Season Preview: Colorado Buffaloes

Posted by Tracy McDannald on November 12th, 2014

The Pac-12 microsite will preview each of its league teams over the next few weeks, continuing today with Colorado.

Colorado Buffaloes

Strengths: Experience can carry Colorado a long way in a Pac-12 with so much turnover. Spencer Dinwiddie is out the door, but the Buffaloes got a head start on life without The Mayor after a midseason knee injury hastened the transition. A combined 157 starts from last season returns to this Tad Boyle‘s roster, headlined by senior guard Askia Booker and junior forward Josh Scott.

Josh Scott Was Snubbed It The Preseason In Favor Of More Hyped Players From Arizona and UCLA, But Has Been One Of The Leagues' Best Newcomers (US Presswire)

Josh Scott returns as the leading scorer on a Colorado team with plenty to like in the starting lineup. (US Presswire)

Weaknesses: While Dinwiddie’s injury caused Boyle to accelerate the future of the program at point guard, questions remain at the position. The team finished 11th in the league in assists (11.3 per game) and sported the worst assist-to-turnover ratio (0.85) in the conference. The narrative necessarily flips from the replacement of a missing star to a program looking for stability at the point. No excuses in Boulder this year.

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Pac-12 Season Preview: Oregon Ducks

Posted by Tracy McDannald on November 11th, 2014

The Pac-12 microsite will preview each of its league teams over the next few weeks, continuing today with Oregon.

Oregon Ducks

Strengths: The given is fifth-year guard Joseph Young, the dynamic leading scorer and rare returner (or so it seems these days in Eugene) for head coach Dana Altman. Young will be the do-everything playmaker tasked with keeping the Ducks’ heads above water. A distant second is a pair of freshmen, Jordan Bell and Casey Benson, who will have plenty of opportunity on a roster that tacked on five extras after October to make it appear like Oregon had a full team.

Joseph Young Will Have To Be Mr. Everything for Oregon in 2014-15. (Ryan Kang, Daily Emerald)

Joseph Young Will Have To Be Mr. Everything for Oregon in 2014-15. (Ryan Kang, Daily Emerald)

Weaknesses: Judging by the exodus in the offseason, self-discipline is high on the list. On the court, there will not be much size. Junior center Michael Chandler, a JuCo transfer from Northwest Florida State and the projected starter, is the tallest player at 6’10” but has yet to practice because of a lingering knee injury that doesn’t have a timetable for recovery. Chandler did not play in the Ducks’ exhibition opener last Tuesday. Playing the role of Captain Obvious, chemistry also will be an issue on a roster that lost 10 letterwinners.

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UCLA’s Most Important Player: Isaac Hamilton

Posted by Tracy McDannald on November 5th, 2014

The offseason in Westwood could have gone better — much better. The Bruins knew they were going to be woefully thin in the backcourt, and head coach Steve Alford was never going to completely replace point-forward Kyle Anderson, the 6’9” match-up nightmare with elite point guard skills. But then UCLA received word that Colorado State transfer Jon Octeus had been denied admission, nixing the Bruins’ best-laid plans to make him the starting point guard. There’s just not much depth available here at all, and this clearly puts additional pressure on the Bruins’ starters (although senior Norman Powell should have little issue so long as he remains in good health). Off the bench, UCLA may struggle beyond Noah Allen to find any realistic contributors under the height of 6’9”.

Isaac Hamilton, the No. 25 overall prospect, cited his relationship with UTEP head coach Tim Floyd as deciding factor

Sophomore guard Isaac Hamilton, who was forced to miss all of the 2013-14 season, will be needed at both backcourt positions at UCLA.

The void creates a big opportunity for combo guard Isaac Hamilton, and there may not be a more valuable player on the roster. The 6’4” sophomore missed the entire 2013-14 season after backing out of his initial commitment with UTEP. While Hamilton lost a year in the transition, he was able to practice with his teammates and digest the system, and that is where his true value will be revealed. The year away from action did wonders for T.J. McConnell at Arizona, where the point guard ran the scout team before becoming a valuable piece last season. Hamilton’s case is different because he doesn’t have previous Division I experience under his belt, but there’s something to be said about developing team chemistry and learning the tendencies of teammates in a practice setting.

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Pac-12 Season Preview: California Golden Bears

Posted by Tracy McDannald on November 4th, 2014

The Pac-12 microsite will preview each of its league teams over the next few weeks, continuing today with California.

California Golden Bears

Strengths: Year 1 of the Cuonzo Martin era will feature some quality leftovers from Mike Montgomery’s tenure. Senior forward David Kravish is coming off his best season, while sophomore guard Jordan Mathews headlines a mostly young backcourt. In all, four of the team’s top six scorers from last season are back. Cal, picked to finish seventh in the Pac-12 media poll, has the look of a team that could get stronger going into the new year.

New California Head Coach Cuonzo Martin Has a Backcourt to Build Around But Will Be Looking For Depth and Frontcourt Help in 2014-15. (Cal Athletics)

New California Head Coach Cuonzo Martin Has a Backcourt to Build Around But Will Be Looking For Depth and Frontcourt Help in 2014-15. (Cal Athletics)

Weaknesses: The direction of the offense, however, will be worth keeping an eye on. Cal no longer has first-team all-Pac-12 point guard Justin Cobbs to lean on. Looking to fill that void will be junior Tyrone Wallace, who matched Mathews with a game-high 21 points in a 94-50 exhibition win over Cal State East Bay on Halloween. Three different players, including Wallace, had three assists. Martin will also have to find some depth as he figures out his rotation, particularly in the paint where the Bears have questions on the glass seeking to replace Richard Solomon’s 10.2 rebounds per game.

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Washington’s Most Important Player: Robert Upshaw

Posted by Tracy McDannald on October 31st, 2014

Potential can be a tricky hope to bank on. Some players shine immediately; others blossom late; and those who were once an afterthought can perform well above what any high school ranking projected. In the case of Washington center Robert Upshaw, the 7-footer is looking to fulfill untapped potential. In 2012, Upshaw was a four-star prospect as one of the top prep big men in California. He had scholarship offers to attend Louisville and Georgetown as well as interest from around the Pac-12, and he even committed to play at Kansas State before re-opening his recruitment in the spring of his senior year. He ended up at Fresno State, where he was slowed by a knee injury early and then couldn’t get out of his own way during his one year there, averaging just 5.3 points and 3.8 rebounds in 16.4 minutes per game over 22 contests. The program dismissed him in August 2013 after a third violation of team rules.

Robert Upshaw Is A Terrific Pick-up For Fresno State.

Robert Upshaw, a 7-foot transfer from Fresno State, could make Washington’s frontline imposing this season.

Upshaw transferred to Washington and sat out last season, per NCAA rules. But trouble continued to follow him, and at one point there was uncertainty where he stood with head coach Lorenzo Romar and there was significant doubt in March whether he would still be on the roster this season. By September, however, Upshaw was participating in team activities and all appears to be clear for his Huskies career to begin. Although the red flags have already accumulated, the gamble could prove to be worth the risk for Romar. This could be the type of addition that helps the Huskies emerge from what is looking like a crapshoot in the middle-to-bottom half of the league.

The number of quality big men throughout the Pac-12 this season has been well-documented. The Huskies now have the ability to pair 6’10” junior forward Jernard Jarreau and 6’9” senior Shawn Kemp Jr., alongside Upshaw, with 240 pounds and up of bulk in each of the three. In his short time at Fresno State, Upshaw showed off an ability for rim protection with 39 blocked shots. The possibilities for him at Washington look promising, and the redshirt sophomore’s presence could be the difference in fielding a formidable frontcourt, or just a frontcourt with depth. Now, Upshaw just needs to allow for his opportunity to unfold.

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Pac-12 M5: 10.30.14 Edition

Posted by Tracy McDannald on October 30th, 2014


  1. The Pac-12 made headlines this week with news that the league will begin offering four-year scholarships and an uptick in medical coverage starting in the 2015-16 academic year. If you’re a prospective student-athlete looking at California by the time 2017-18 rolls around, there also better be a minimum 3.0 GPA on that transcript or the chances of your admission dwindle. Now, as for the actual on-court conversation around the program, new head coach Cuonzo Martin is simply looking to build upon the stable foundation he inherited with an emphasis on toughness on defense and rebounding.
  2. While Martin inherited several quality pieces, Oregon State head coach Wayne Tinkle was left without any seniors or returning starters on his team, and therefore had to go the walk-on tryout route to fill a roster picked to finish last in the Pac-12. But the new man in charge didn’t ask any of his holdovers about the previous year, and let the team know that it has a clean slate under his watch. It’s back to square one in Corvallis, from coming prepared to demonstrating discipline, but time will tell whether it’s just more of the same or a new era in Beavers athletics.
  3. Oregon head coach Dana Altman broke his silence last week at Pac-12 Media Day. In case you went Rip Van Winkle during the offseason, here’s all the drama in a nutshell: a sexual assault investigations involving three players – including point guard Dominic Artis and starter Damyean Dotson – led to expulsion; two others transferred; and prized recruit JaQuan Lyle was removed from the roster after failing to qualify (he will play at IMG Academy). And because those headaches were not big enough, junior Elgin Cook and senior Jalil Abdul-Bassit were busted for shoplifting in September. As a result, the roster has a mere 10 players listed on it right now. Without a public comment since May 9, media from across the league came ready with questions for Altman and he was more than prepared to address the past.
  4. Washington State head coach Ernie Kent may be 59 years old and four years removed from his last coaching job at Oregon, but the man does not lack energy or enthusiasm to pick up some new lingo. That should be a welcome sight for a program that has finished in the bottom half of the league in each of the last six seasons. Kent is just trying to give his players “the swag, or whatever you call it.” While serving as an analyst for Pac-12 Networks last season, Kent’s observation of the Cougars’ struggles was simple: Shooting needs to improve.
  5. One of the bigger questions in the Pac-12 this season will not receive an answer until March. If you’re heavy favorite Arizona, no news is the best kind of news, and boring should be the goal. That’s not a slight. But after knocking on the door so many times in recent years, with a number of top recruiting classes and an experienced group, CBS Sports’ Doug Gottlieb is wondering if this is the year the Wildcats under Sean Miller finally knock it down.
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