Checking In On… the Pac-12 Conference

Posted by AMurawa on March 1st, 2012

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-12 conferences.

Reader’s Take

 

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While the Sports Illustrated story on the UCLA program has been the big story in recent days, we’ve written about that elsewhere (check out Evan Jacoby’s take on the article here, and my opinion here) and we’ll stick to talking about on-court action here today.

The biggest on the court story this week was Colorado knocking off California on Sunday afternoon, leaving the Bears a game back in the loss column of conference leader Washington. The Huskies took care of their business last week, coming back from a 13-point deficit midway through the second half to knock off Washington State. As a result, a UW win tonight at USC (which seems almost a given – the Huskies will be a significant favorite) will earn them at least a share of the conference title. And if they back that up with a win at UCLA on Saturday, they’ll earn their second regular season conference title in four years. If they slip up in one of those games, the Golden Bears can force a tie by knocking off Stanford at Maples Pavilion Sunday in the final conference game of the regular season, and in that case, Cal would also earn the #1 seed in the conference tournament by virtue of their win at Washington in January.

Behind the leaders, there are three teams fighting for the two remaining first-round byes in the conference tournament; Arizona, Colorado and Oregon all sit with five conference losses. Arizona has an advantage over the others, however, in that they have only one remaining game – against lowly Arizona State on Sunday afternoon. Oregon and Colorado, meanwhile, will go a long way towards breaking their tie tonight, as the Ducks host the Buffaloes in Eugene.

While whichever of these three teams winds up as the #5 seed will have the opportunity to breeze through USC in the opening round game, the addition of an extra obstacle in the way prior to the Pac-12 quarterfinals will harm that team’s chances at running the table and coming away with the Pac-12’s automatic bid.

Jesse Perry, Arizona

Arizona Took Care Of Business Against The Los Angeles Schools And Can Now Earn A First-Round Bye (Chris Morrison/US Presswire)

Postseason Prognosis

And that automatic bid will certainly be a very important thing for most teams in this conference. At this point, Cal looks like a pretty safe bet to earn an at-large bid, although they don’t want to press their luck with a loss at Stanford and a loss in the quarters of the conference tourney. They’ve got the best RPI in the conference (see all the numbers below) and they’ve got a couple of top 50 wins (both over Oregon, so take those with a grain of salt). While it looks like they’re safe, if they finish the season poorly, they’ll have no right to complain if they are left out of the eventual bracket.

Washington, meanwhile, seems to be in pretty good shape as well – right now at least. However, they’re towards the back of the bus right now and if a handful of teams come out of the woodwork to steal bids over the next couple of weeks, Washington’s margin for error could get mighty slim.

As for the rest of the bunch, there are some who continue to say that teams like Arizona and Colorado are right on the bubble, but looking at the numbers, they’d do well to just go ahead and win the Pac-12 Tournament if they have any real designs on an NCAA bid. Oregon’s got the best RPI numbers, but they’re 0-5 against top 50 teams. Colorado’s got a couple top 50 wins (over Oregon and Cal – unfortunately, if they beat Oregon this weekend, it will probably drop the Ducks out of the top 50 and take CU back to just 1-3 against the top 50), but they’ve also got four bad losses and an RPI that’s of no use either.

Team Record RPI SOS vs. RPI 1-25 vs. RPI 1-50 vs. RPI +100
Washington 20-8 53 80 0-2 1-5 17-0
California 23-7 36 102 0-2 2-3 17-2
Arizona 21-9 71 111 0-2 1-4 17-1
Oregon 20-8 49 77 0-1 0-5 18-1
Colorado 17-9 77 96 0-2 2-3 13-4

 

So, really, the only chance I see for the Pac-12 to shoehorn three different teams into the bracket is this: (1) California and Washington win their final games of the regular season this weekend, (2) then they both take care of business in the quarterfinals, with one of them advancing to the Pac-12 final while the other loses in the semis, (3) whoever the opponent is in the Pac-12 final wins the championship, earning the automatic bid and (4) bid stealers are kept to a minimum and both Cal and Washington squeak into the field on Selection Sunday, along with the conference champion.

Lastly, one of the best college basketball reads every week is John Gasaway’s Tuesday Truths at Basketball Prospectus. Aside from giving some insights on the 14 best conferences in the nation, he lays out the margin between average points scored and average points allowed per possession, a good measure of a team’s overall strength, throwing out the luck factor.

While the eye test may tell you that Washington has been the best team in the conference, a look at the stats shows that they are only outscoring their opposition by 0.07 points per possession, while Cal is outscoring its opponents by double that, 0.14 points per possession (for comparison’s sake, Kentucky is outscoring its opponents by 0.25 points per possession – an absurdly good number). In fact, the Huskies are fifth in the conference using this metric, behind even UCLA. In fact, of Washington’s 13 conference wins, five came by four points or less, with another five where the margin was less than ten.

According to Ken Pomeroy, Washington has been the 29th luckiest team in the country (what a great time we live in, where luck can be accounted for by statistics). Long story short, the Huskies may go into the conference tournament as the regular season champion, but they need not necessarily be the favorite to win the automatic bid.

Tony Wroten, Washington

Tony Wroten Is Well On His Way To Earning Freshman Of The Year Honors, But Will He Take Down the POY As Well? (Drew Sellers/Sportspress Northwest)

Player of the Year Watch

Last week, I was pretty well convinced that this Tony Wroten for conference POY nonsense was finally dead. Then today I see that ESPN’s “experts” released their picks for each conference POY and COY and of the 13 people registering their opinion, a whopping seven of them (including Dick Vitale) were wrong enough to pick Wroten.

Three picked Jared Cunningham, and then one each selected Terrence Ross, Devoe Joseph and Jorge Gutierrez. We’ve been down this road before, so I won’t beat a dead horse too much, but while Wroten’s traditional numbers look just fine (16.7 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 3.5 APG), just digging even a little bit deeper reveals some significant problems with his all around game: turnovers on 22% of his possessions, using far too many possessions in an inefficient manner, his insistence on continuing to shoot threes (poorly at that) and his poor field goal percentages.

Still, after last weekend, you can understand why some are still searching for somebody to throw their support behind. Going into last week, it looked like Gutierrez and Ross might be the favorites. So what did each player do in the second-to-last week of the year? Gutierrez went 0-for-7 from the field and failed to score in a loss at Colorado, while Ross fouled out in 21 minutes against Washington State and had as many turnovers (two) as points. Certainly the wrong time for both players to turn in their worst performances of the year, but their overall body of work still leave them as the top two choices for POY.

Coach of the Year Watch

I’ve long since conceded the fact that Tony Wroten will win Freshman of the Year, so we’ll skip that for the week and take a look at the COY race.

Looking at the same poll from ESPN, we see that five different coaches received at least one vote, with Tad Boyle leading the way with six votes, Mike Montgomery earning three, Sean Miller getting a couple and Lorenzo Romar and Dana Altman each earning a single vote.

First, before we get into the credentials for each coach, can we just recognize for a minute just how good a set of coaches the Pac-12 has? Any one of those coaches would be a seriously desirable candidate for just about any job in the country, which makes the struggles in this conference all the more puzzling. As for the award this year, it is hard to argue with Boyle. His team lost its four leading scorers from last season and was picked to finish around tenth in the league by most people. Instead, with two games remaining, they’re among the best teams in the conference.

It is somewhat surprising that Romar hasn’t received more consideration for this award, seeing as he had to replace four major senior contributors last season, lost senior leader Scott Suggs to an injury before the season, dealt with chemistry issues in the non-conference slate, and now has his team on the verge of a conference title. Any of the five deserve consideration for the award, but for my money, Boyle and Romar (at present in that order) are the leaders.

Lorenzo Romar, Washington

Lorenzo Romar Has His Huskies In First Place, But Is Getting No Love For Coach Of The Year (Getty Images)

Power Rankings

There was only one change in our weekly power rankings this week, as USC finally (and rightfully) reclaimed the last spot in the conference from Utah after spending an inexplicable three weeks ranked 11th. The top of the conference is still California, Washington, Oregon, Arizona and Colorado.

Weekly Honors

While we gave Washington our Team of the Week honors for the second straight week (and fourth time on the season), we continued our improbable streak of seemingly awarding a new Player of the Week every week. To this point, in 16 weeks, only one player (Jared Cunningham) has taken home our POTW honor more than once. This week, it was Kyle Fogg’s first chance earn our award. Similarly, in 16 weeks of handing out a Newcomer of the Week award, we’ve named 12 different players, with Tony Wroten earning it five times and Carlon Brown twice. This week, it was USC’s Byron Wesley.

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Checking In On… the Pac-12 Conference

Posted by AMurawa on February 23rd, 2012

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-12 conferences.

Reader’s Take

 

Top Storylines

Last week at this time, we had five teams who were still serious contenders for the Pac-12 regular season title, all of them within a game of the conference lead. This week, the picture has cleared up considerably, but there is still plenty of intrigue out there. California and Washington both scored big wins over two of the other five contenders (Oregon and Arizona, respectively), in turn not only more or less knocking those teams out of the race for the title, but also cementing their status at the top of the heap. Colorado remains in the mix as well, a game and a half back of the co-leaders. The other component of the race at the top of the conference is the jostling for the #4 spot, which will earn the last first-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament. Oregon and Arizona are currently tied for the fourth spot, but the Ducks own the tiebreaker there on the basis of their earlier win at the McKale Center.

Washington

Washington's Win Over Arizona On Saturday Gave The Huskies Reason For Celebration (Elaine Thompson/AP)

What to Watch For

There is really only one big remaining matchup between teams at the top of the conference over the final two weeks of the season: California’s trip to Colorado on Sunday. Other than that, the Bears go on the road to Utah on Thursday before wrapping up their season with a trip to Stanford on the final day of the regular season.

Likewise, Washington will also be spending its last three games on the road, this week against Washington State and next week against USC and UCLA. Depsite the fact that all of those games are on the road, all of those are eminently winnable games for the co-leaders, with the Colorado/Cal game being the sole time when either Cal or Washington will likely not be favored. For the Buffaloes, however, it is going to be an uphill climb. Along with California, they also face Stanford, Oregon and Oregon State, with the latter two on the road – no pushovers anywhere among that group.

As it is, if the Pac-12 Tournament began with the current standings, this is what we’d be looking at. Certainly some pretty interesting semifinals, but my goodness is that Wednesday slate of games awful bad. The best game of the day is at noon and the Staples Center is virtually guaranteed to be whatever the opposite of “rocking” is that day.

Player of the Year Watch

There are a couple of questions here: 1) who is going to win the POTY award, and 2) who deserves to win the POTY award?

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Checking In On… The Pac-12

Posted by AMurawa on February 16th, 2012

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-12 conferences.

Reader’s Take

 

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We have heard it all before. The Pac-12 is down. The Pac-12 is terrible. The Pac-12 is a one-bid league. The Pac-12 sucks. There’s some relative truth in some of those and in others, not so much, but one thing is for sure as we sit here with three weeks remaining the regular season and five teams within a game of the regular season title. The Pac-12 is tight. Going into this week, California and Washington are tied for first (with the Golden Bears holding the tiebreaker between the two teams on the strength of their win in Seattle a couple of weeks back), while Oregon, Colorado, and Arizona are all lurking just one game back. We have got a race.

California, Harper Kamp, Jorge Gutierrez

Cal, Currently In First Place, May Have The Best Chance At An At-Large Bid To The NCAA Tournament (George Nikitin/AP)

Aside from a couple of games between top five teams last Thursday night, when Oregon throttled Washington and Arizona took care of Colorado, every other team in the top grouping took care of business against lesser opponents. In fact, looking at the standings right now, the top six teams in the conference are all riding winning streaks while the bottom six are all headed in the wrong direction. At least it now appears that the top of the conference is gaining some separation from the bottom. California, Washington, and Oregon all saw their RPIs improve this week, while Colorado and Arizona saw their number drop a bit, but at least now all five of those teams are at least in the at-large conversation. Our own Zach Hayes has California and Arizona in the tournament in his latest bracket, while Colorado, Washington and Oregon are all among the first eight out. Joe Lunardi’s latest bracket has the Bears and the ‘Cats in as well, with the Huskies and Ducks among the first eight out. Andy Glockner, however, is a bit more pessimistic about the conference’s chances, putting just California in the field with Arizona among the first four out and teams like Seton Hall, North Carolina State, Northwestern, and Xavier all currently higher in the pecking order than the Pac-12 schools.

What to Watch For

With all of the above in mind, every game is going to be critical from here on out for those five teams at the top of the standings. They all need to not only beat up on teams 6-12, but it is time for a couple or three of them to differentiate themselves from the others. We thought last week that Washington might be on the verge of doing that, and then they went out and got blown out by Oregon. Meanwhile, California, and Arizona are the hot teams this week with the Golden Bears on a three-game streak and the Wildcats on a four-game run. Both will find significant tests awaiting them this week, but Cal has the benefit of facing their tests in the comfort of Haas Pavilion, against Oregon Thursday night and then Oregon State on Saturday night. Arizona has to go on the road, and they head to Washington State tomorrow night before a Saturday afternoon marquee matchup with Washington.

Washington, meanwhile, will also have to take care of business against tenth-place Arizona State on Thursday while Oregon travels to Stanford on Sunday afternoon. The Palo Alto trip could be a problem for the Ducks, especially coming off of the big game Thursday night. The other game involving one of the top five schools comes Saturday afternoon, when Colorado travels to Utah. The Buffaloes have won just two conference games on the road thus far, and those came against the teams currently holding down two of the bottom three spots in the standings; if they can handle the Utes, it will become three wins against the three bottom teams in the standings.

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Checking In On… The Pac-12 Conference

Posted by AMurawa on February 9th, 2012

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-12 conferences.

Reader’s Take

 

Top Storylines

Last week in this space, we mentioned that California, of all the teams in the conference, was the one team with a pretty good argument for consideration for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Sure, they had no significant wins on their schedule, but they were ranked 30th in the RPI, a strong enough number that could have earned them a bid. However, the Golden Bears were upset at home by Arizona on Thursday night, and when the RPI numbers came out on Monday, Cal had dropped to 48th (notably, the Wildcats jumped up from 85th to 62nd). This little factoid shows two things: first, and perhaps most important, the RPI rankings are fluid at this point in the season; a good win or a bad loss (and for that matter, good wins and bad losses from previous opponents on your schedule) can have a significant effect on your ranking, especially for teams on the ubiquitous bubble. Secondly, it shows just how slim the margin of error for Pac-12 teams is. With no significant wins to fall back on, any team in the conference that hopes to earn legitimate at-large consideration needs to string together some wins here down the stretch and slowly but surely bump those RPI numbers up.

If you’re looking at it from a conference-wide perspective, the best thing that can happen for the league is for a handful of teams to distance themselves from the middle of the Pac. If, for instance, Washington (current conference leader, RPI of 76), Arizona and California were to get on a roll going down the stretch and consistently off teams like say, Colorado, Oregon, and Stanford, it is still possible that the conference could have three different teams with fairly strong RPIs to help make their case for inclusion in the Big Dance. Of course, those strong RPIs will likely be just about the only significant chip in their corner when those arguments get made. One last note, before we put away all mentions of the RPI for a week, just as an example of how silly it is, Washington swept the Los Angeles schools this week, and their RPI actually dropped, from 72 to 76.

 

California

Cal's Loss To Arizona And Subsequent Drop In The RPI Is Nothing For Golden Bear Fans To Cheer About

What to Watch For

The two biggest clashes of the weekend come on Thursday night, as Colorado travels to Arizona and Washington goes to Oregon. Arizona caught fire on the road last week and now they get a chance to extend their two-game winning streak against the Rocky Mountain schools, with the Buffaloes getting the first crack. Colorado rides a two-game winning streak as well, but they have struggled on the road this year winning just one of their first four conference road games with the lone win coming against a depleted USC team. An hour later on Thursday night, we get one of the better rivalry games in the conference, as Washington heads to Oregon for a battle that will help determine who is atop the standings on Friday morning. The Huskies are riding a five-game winning streak and are currently a game up on the Ducks, but despite U-Dub’s 3-1 road record in conference play, it is easy to still be a little bit skeptical of their ability to go on the road and win games. If they can do that this week in what is likely their toughest remaining test on the schedule, you have to be much more inclined to be Husky believers.

Elsewhere around the conference, both California and Stanford will make the road trip to the Los Angeles schools, where each should be significant favorites against USC but slight underdogs to UCLA; Stanford faces the Bruins on Thursday, while Cal makes the trip to the Sports Arena Saturday afternoon.

Player of the Year Watch

Last week, we essentially narrowed the field here down to four players: Terrence Ross, Jorge Gutierrez, Jared Cunningham, and (reluctantly) Tony Wroten. The biggest concern we had about Cunningham’s candidacy was the fact that, despite his conference-leading 18.0 point per game average and other excellent numbers (of both the traditional and tempo-free variety), his team was still below the .500 mark in conference. That prompted Doug Tammaro, the Media Relations Director at Arizona State to send us the following list of Pac-12 Player of the Year award winners compared with his team’s Pac-10 finish and postseason invitation. In short, of the 19 winners in the last 18 years (in 1994-95, there were co-winners), only twice has the POTY winner come from a team that has not earned an NCAA invitation. And, interestingly enough, both of those times the player was a Sun Devil: Ike Diogu in 2004-05 and Eddie House in 1999-2000. Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking In On… the Pac-12 Conference

Posted by AMurawa on February 2nd, 2012

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-12 and Mountain West conferences. He is also a Pac-12 microsite staffer.

Reader’s Take

 

Top Storylines

  • We’re at the halfway mark of the season this week, and we could be on the verge of finally seeing some separation in the league. Through nine games, California and Washington sit atop the conference standings, a game ahead of Oregon and Colorado, who are sitting a game ahead of Arizona, Stanford and UCLA.
  • However, while their first-place conference standing is a good thing, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Cal and Washington are in particularly good shape when it comes to NCAA Tournament consideration. Cal is in pretty good shape with an overall record of 17-5 and an RPI of 30, but they still have against their case that pesky little strike that they haven’t beaten anybody of note (they’re 0-3 against teams that are in the top 50 in the RPI).
  • For Washington, the numbers are even worse; their RPI is #71 and they’re 0-4 against top 50 RPI teams. In fact, going down the list, the whole conference is just 3-37 against top 50 RPI teams, with two of those wins coming when Oregon State and Washington State knocked off Cal.
Jorge Gutierrez, California

Jorge Gutierrez and California Have The Best NCAA Tournament Resume In The Pac-12 (Derek Remsburg/The Daily Californian)

  • So, really, in order for the Pac-12 to deserve multiple at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament, they need Cal and Washington to separate themselves from the rest of the Pac. Cal simply isn’t going to be able to wind up with a win against a top-50 RPI team, because they have to play a bunch of Pac-12 teams that aren’t in the top 50. And because of the new unbalanced schedule in the conference, Washington doesn’t get a crack at the Bears in Berkeley, meaning their only chance at earning a win against a top-50 team would come only if they faced Cal in the conference tournament, or if somehow Oregon (currently ranked #69) would string together enough wins to bump up inside the top 50.
  • In short, the picture is pretty grim for the Pac-12. It seems that the Pac-12 is going to have to rely on their historical reputation, a factor that is not supposed to be considered by the NCAA Selection Committee but one that most assuredly is, rather than their bona fides if they hope to send multiple teams dancing. Maybe the best case scenario for fans of the conference is Cal and Washington to string together multiple victories, separate themselves from the crowd, and advance to at least the semis in the conference tournament, and then see another squad take down the title in a mild upset. That’s the only scenario I can see whereby the conference gets more than two teams in the NCAA Tournament, and it may be more likely that only one Pac-12 team gets an invite on Selection Sunday.

What to Watch For

  • With the above in mind, Cal and Washington need to kick start the second half of conference play by taking care of business at home.
  • The Golden Bears see the Arizona schools come to Berkeley Thursday night, with an angry Wildcat team, fresh off a home loss to the Huskies, leading the change.
  • For Washington, it is the Los Angeles schools coming to town, with the matchup with UCLA on Thursday night presenting the biggest challenge. The Stanford matchup with Arizona will also be interesting, while Colorado gets to host the Oregon schools this week, setting up two interesting games that should help clear up some of the confusion in the middle of the conference.
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Checking In On… the Pac-12 Conference

Posted by AMurawa on January 26th, 2012

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-12 and Mountain West conferences. He is also a Pac-12 microsite staffer.

Reader’s Take

 

Top Storylines

Parity abounds in the Pac-12. After four weeks of conference play, no less than five teams sit within a game of first place. Last weekend California had a chance to snatch the outright lead in the conference for themselves on Saturday night after pulling off a big road win against Washington on Thursday, but they were shot down in Pullman by Pac-12 Player of the Week Faisal Aden and his Washington State team. Oregon, meanwhile, put together a home sweep of the Los Angeles schools, has now won four straight and is tied atop the conference with the Golden Bears at 6-2. Sitting just back of the leaders are Colorado (off a 2-0 weekend against the Arizona schools) and Washington (split against the Bay Area schools), while Stanford drops back to fifth in the conference after getting swept in Washington.

Faisal Aden, Washington State

Faisal Aden's Big Week Helped Washington State Sweep The Bay Area Schools (AP)

Outside of the top five, you could make arguments for any of the next four teams getting hot and making a run. Arizona sits at 4-3, but is one of just three conference teams with at least two road wins in the first four weeks. Washington State is 3-4, but they’re on a two-game streak and Aden’s outburst has Cougar fans hoping for a turnaround. UCLA also sits at 3-4, but their road trips to Oregon and the Bay Area are in the past. And Oregon State got off to a terrible start in conference play, but they’ve now won two straight, and if they can make a splash in their next three games (all road games against Oregon, Colorado and Utah), they’ve got five of their last seven at home.

The rest of the conference is looking ahead to spring break and next season. USC, in particular, sits at 0-7 in the conference, 5-15 on the year and all but left for dead, while Arizona State and Utah, despite similar overall records and a similar lack of talent, are at least overachieving.

What to Watch For

The biggest games of the weekend come on Sunday this week, with a couple of late afternoon rivalry games. Oregon State heads to Oregon hoping to break the Ducks’ two-game winning streak in the series and get their mojo back. After that, we’ve got the game we’ve all been waiting for, the basketball version of The Big Game, as California hosts Stanford in an attempt to hang on to their hold on first place in the conference. Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking In On… the Pac-12 Conference

Posted by AMurawa on January 12th, 2012

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-12 and Mountain West conferences. He is also a Pac-12 microsite staffer.

Reader’s Take

 

Top Storylines

  • This past weekend likely saw the best regular season game of the Pac-12 schedule, as Stanford battled Oregon State for four exciting overtimes before finally securing an all-important road victory.
  • Given the relative homogeneity of the conference, the recipe for winning the regular season title is going to be: 1) take care of business at home; and 2) steal a handful of road games against the middle and bottom of the Pac. On both of those fronts, Stanford is looking good now, sitting with California, Washington, and Arizona atop the conference. What’s that you say? Colorado actually leads the conference with a 3-0 record? Sorry Buffs, but get back to me once you have tasted the road in the Pac-12. Right now all three of their wins have come at home.
Chasson Randle, Stanford

Stanford's Four Overtime Win Over Oregon State Helped Keep Them Among The Contenders In The Pac-12 (Rick Bowmer/AP)

  • Elsewhere this past weekend, Thursday night was upset central as all six underdogs came away with victories that night, before things got back to normal, as only Stanford was able to spring the upset. UCLA got back to .500 in conference after sweeping the Arizona schools, making the Bruins and Buffs the only homestanders to win both of their games last weekend.
  • And, lastly, the Pac-12 lost another promising player to immaturity this week, as Keala King was dismissed by Arizona State head coach Herb Sendek after being left back from the Sun Devils’ trip to the Los Angeles-area schools week along with Kyle Cain and Chris Colvin. In Sendek’s press conference on Tuesday, he referred to King being unhappy with being forced to play point guard in the absence of ineligible freshman Jahii Carson and butting heads with Sendek over his role. As a result, King joins the growing list of Pac-12 players who have divorced their programs this season. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the Pac-12 Conference

Posted by AMurawa on January 5th, 2012

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-12 and Mountain West conferences. He is also a Pac-12 microsite staffer.

Reader’s Take

 

Top Storylines

  • The home teams dominated play this week, going 9-1 in the first weekend of conference play. Fans around the conference will gnash their teeth and overreact to the first two games and anoint teams like Washington, Stanford and California as the runaway favorites, but the fact remains that even in a down year in the Pac-12, the eventual winner of the regular season title will need to win their fair share of road games, while still defending their home court. So, it is good news for the Huskies, Cardinal and Golden Bears, but they’ve still got a lot to prove before distancing themselves from a team like Oregon State, who dropped its first two games of the year in disappointing fashion.
  • The one road team to score a win last weekend was Oregon, who played almost a perfect game in their opener against Washington State, scoring almost 1.8 points per possession in the first half, shooting a 78.6 eFG% and sweeping to a 17-point road win. They were brought back to earth a bit on Saturday, when a suddenly hot Washington team tore through them, but a 1-1 record for the Ducks is a significant accomplishment. If they can back that up by holding serve as the Bay Area schools come north this weekend, they’ll be in business.
Olu Ashaolu, Oregon

Olu Ashaolu's Double-Double Led The Ducks To The Lone Road Win In The Opening Week Of The Pac-12 (Young Kwak/AP)

What to Watch For

  • A week of conference play only tells half of the story. This week, for the most part, teams that benefited from opening week homestands have to head on the road, while last week’s road warriors get the comfort of some home-cooking. The biggest clashes of the week may come when the Oregon schools host the Bay Area schools. If either Stanford or California is able to somehow pull off a sweep, they have earned the early title of Pac-12 favorites. Meanwhile, Oregon State, considered by some (ahem), to be the conference favorite prior to last weekend has a lot to prove. The Beavers absolutely have to win both of their games this weekend at Gill Coliseum to still be considered a legitimate contender to the throne. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the Pac-12

Posted by AMurawa on December 15th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-12 and Mountain West conferences. He is also a Pac-12 microsite staffer.

Reader’s Take

 

Top Storylines

  • Personnel Problems – Certainly every team around the country has to deal with some personnel problems of their own. Players get hurt, kids decide to transfer, suspensions get handed out. But, wow. Is it just me or does it seem like an already under-talented conference has been hammered by a string of issues that have robbed them of even more talent? The Reeves Nelson situation at UCLA has been run into the ground, while the Jabari Brown transfer (followed by Bruce Barron’s transfer) is old news in Oregon. Mike Montgomery at California had to suspended forward Richard Solomon just before they traveled to San Diego State, then on the day he was to be reinstated, he and roommate Allen Crabbe overslept and were late to a morning shootaround and began that game on the bench. Josiah Turner has suffered through a benching and a suspension for his inability to get to practices on time (and he potentially cost Arizona a win at Florida in the process). Sean Miller has also had to dismiss freshman Sidiki Johnson, while Utah’s leading scorer Josh Watkins was suspended for a game. Arizona State’s freshman point guard Jahii Carson, who head coach Herb Sendek figured would be the Sun Devils’ starter from day one, was declared ineligible for his freshman season following an insufficient ACT score.
  • Then there are the injuries – Washington State’s Abe Lodwick has yet to play this season, while Faisal Aden and Mychal Ladd have battled their own injuries in recent weeks. USC is without senior point guard Jio Fontan for the season, while sophomore center DeWayne Dedmon has had his development stunted by a couple injuries that he has played through. This week, just a day after Washington announced that senior Scott Suggs would take a redshirt year after struggling with his recovery from foot surgery, their center Aziz N’Diaye sprained his knee and will miss at least the next four games. Back in Eugene, Tyrone Nared had a knee sprain of his own and is out until conference play. And the above is just a partial list cut short for (relative) simplicity’s sake. Now, none of the above is meant to imply that without the above maladies the Pac-12 would be a great conference, just that on a list of all of the possible things that could have gone wrong for Pac-12 teams so far, the teams have seemingly gone out of their way to check off most of them.
Devoe Joseph, Oregon

It Has Only Been Two Games, But Devoe Joseph Has Made A Major Impact For Oregon (Chris Pietsch, The Register-Guard)

  • One Bit of Good NewsDana Altman at least had a bit of good news this week as Devoe Joseph, a senior transfer from Minnesota, played his first games in a Duck uniform and immediately proved his worth. Not only did Joseph lead Oregon in scoring in his first game out against Fresno State, he made a couple of huge momentum changing threes in the second half that helped spur the Ducks to victory. Not to be outdone, he came back on Monday in his second game in Eugene and helped preserve a win as he scored his team’s last eight points after Portland State had closed to within three with 90 seconds left. With Altman now basically trading a freshman (Brown) for the senior Joseph in the backcourt, this Duck team is loaded with veterans and could still make waves in conference play.
  • Very Few, If Any, Resume Wins – Starting right about now and reaching a crescendo in the early days of March, you’re going to hear a lot about who potential NCAA Tournament teams beat and where they beat them as a major criteria for an invitation to the Big Dance. That fact should have the Pac-12 shaking in its boots. To this point it looks like the best win by a Pac-12 team was Oregon State’s neutral-site victory over a Texas team that (1) was playing in its third game with a completely remade roster, and (2) hasn’t beaten anyone of note yet. Beyond that, what are the other wins the teams in this conference hope to hang their tournament resumes on? Cal knocking off a bad Georgia team? Arizona over a middling Clemson team? Stanford against Oklahoma State or North Carolina State? Worse yet, there just aren’t a whole lot of chances left on the schedule for teams to pick up defining wins in the non-conference. Zona goes to Seattle to play Gonzaga and Oregon hosts Virginia this weekend, while Cal travels to UNLV just before Christmas, and that’s it. The rest of the season is, more or less, flawed Pac-12 teams beating up on other flawed Pac-12 teams. In the end, a team like Washington had better either perform one hell of a lot better in road conference games than they have in the past few years OR make sure they win the Pac-12 Tournament, lest they be making NIT plans come March.

Player of the Year Watch

  • While no one has yet to step up and grab a lead in this race, Washington State’s Brock Motum did establish himself, albeit against lesser competition, as a legitimate horse in this race. The Cougs are in the midst of a four-game winning streak and Motum has averaged 16.3 points and 6.5 rebounds over that stretch. And Motum remains one of two Pac-12 players to score in double figures in each of his team’s games this season. The other? Washington’s Terrence Ross, who not only has proven himself to be a consistent scorer, but also a versatile talent capable of filling the stats sheet. On the season, Ross is averaging 16.5 points, 7 rebounds, 2.1 assists, a couple of threes and a block per night.
  • Elsewhere Allen Crabbe has continued to be an efficient scorer on a nightly basis for the Golden Bears (15.8 PPG on the season while shooting over 46% from deep), while teammate Jorge Gutierrez continues to lead the conference in intangibles while contributing solid tangible stats to boot (12.9 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 3.9 APG). As for dark horse candidates who are just now beginning to go to the whip? Oregon State’s Roberto Nelson has averaged 15 points a contest over his last four, just barely starting to scratch the surface of his potential, while the aforementioned Devoe Joseph could get in the conversation with a strong showing in conference play.

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Checking In On… the Pac-12

Posted by rtmsf on December 8th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-12 and Mountain West conferences.  

Reader’s Take

 

Top Storylines

  • More Behavioral Problems – While the struggles of the Pac-12 conference as a whole has been well-documented, the sheer number of off-the-court distractions coaches up and down the conference have had to deal with has been astounding. There’s the ongoing Reeves Nelson soap opera at UCLA. Josiah Turner has been patently unable to get it together in Arizona. Jabari Brown quit on his team after just two games because he was “only” getting about 26 minutes a game. This week Utah suspended Josh Watkins, one of just three players in the Pac-12 to score in double figures in each of his team’s games (Washington’s Terrence Ross and Washington State’s Brock Motum the other two). Then there are lesser lights like Oregon’s Bruce Barron (quit on his team as well), Arizona’s Sidiki Johnson (suspended, dismissed and now transferring out) and Washington State’s D.J. Shelton (suspended). That’s not even including Joshua Smith’s issues, Jerime Anderson’s legal troubles, or Jahii Carson’s inability to get eligible. While the play on the court has been less than stellar around the conference, it is the off-the-court nonsense that is giving the conference the biggest black eye.

Josh Watkins' Troubles Are Only the Latest and Greatest...

  • Surprising Players Stepping Up – In the place of all the missing or invisible players, these teams have needed somebody to step up, and there have been some surprising players that are doing their part. Just looking at the five players that were nominated for the Pac-12 Player of the Week last week gives you a list of surprising names: Charlie Enquist, Ahmad Starks, Anthony Brown, Keala King and, the winner of the award, Solomon Hill. No disrespect to any of those guys, but I don’t think you would have found any of those names on most preseason all-Pac-12 teams. Hill has been a versatile and steadying force for Arizona.  Not only is the junior post leading the team in points (12.4 PPG), assists (3.1 APG) and minutes (31.5 MPG), but Hill is also grabbing the second most rebounds (7.8 RPG), and he’ll likely be a candidate for the Pac-12 award on a semi-regular basis throughout the year. But Charlie Enquist? That’s a guy who had scored a total of 50 points and grabbed a total of 41 rebounds in his 54 games in his previous three years in Pullman. This week he scored 28 and grabbed 19 rebounds. Meanwhile, King was awful at Arizona State last year (36.5% from the field, 1-18 threes, more turnovers than assists), but has scored 65 points in his last three games while posting a 75.8 eFG%. Starks had 16 points and four threes in Oregon State’s win over Montana, and Anthony Brown scored 27 points in two games for Stanford this week. For the underachieving teams in this conference to improve between now and March, they’ll need players to step up and make bigger-than-expected contributions.
  • Stanford For Real? – At the start of the season, it was more or less consensus that there were four teams in the upper tier of the Pac-12: Arizona, Cal, UCLA and Washington. It didn’t take long for one of those four teams to drop from that group (I’ll let you guess which one that was), but with Stanford sporting the best record in the Pac-12 at 8-1 so far (the lone loss a tough six-point defeat at Madison Square Garden to Syracuse), the Cardinal may have jumped up into that group. Of Stanford’s eight victories this season, seven of them have come by 12 or more, with only their most recent come-from-behind win against NC State being a tight one. And at least one RTC correspondent came away from that game impressed enough to confirm that Stanford is good enough, at least defensively, to contend for the conference title. The Cardinal are now in the midst of 13 days off surrounding finals, and really only have one challenging non-conference game remaining (December 22 against Butler). But, if the Cardinal can pick up where it left off, coach Johnny Dawkins‘ squad will be a tough out during conference play.

Player of the Year Watch

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Checking In On.. the Pac-12

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 1st, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-12 and Mountain West conferences. 

Reader’s Take

 

Top Storylines

  • Tournament Trip-Ups – The early season exempt tournaments are always an exciting time of the year in college basketball. Teams from conferences across the land get a chance to meet, usually on a neutral floor, and play several games against quality competition in a relatively short span, giving coaches a chance to figure out exactly what to make of their new collection of players and giving fans a chance to get introduced to their new teams. For the Pac-12 schools, this season’s batch of early season tournaments was largely a bust. You know when the two best results for the conference in these tournaments were Oregon State’s two-point loss to Vanderbilt in the finals of the Legends Classic and Stanford’s six-point loss to Syracuse in the finals of the NIT Season Tip-Off, that things didn’t exactly go as planned. And the less we speak about the last place finishes of Utah and Washington State in the Old Spice Classic and the 76 Classic, the better.
  • Oregon’s Growing Pains – Last week, the bombshell out of Eugene was that five-star freshman guard Jabari Brown was leaving Dana Altman’s program after just two games. Then news broke Tuesday night that fellow freshman guard Bruce Barron was also leaving the program – this time after just five games, only three of which Barron played in (seven minutes per game). Those two defections make for six players that have left the Oregon program since Altman’s arrival. Certainly the first four of those transfers make sense, as many coaching changes result in roster changes, but Brown and Barron were Altman recruits, and guys who were getting playing time. The fact that Brown and Barron were close friends does provide something of an explanation for Barron’s decision, though. If there is any good news in this shakeup for Oregon, both players are continuing with their classes at the school for this semester, meaning their defections could have no negative impact on the team’s APR.
Jabari Brown, Oregon

The Trend Of Ducks Flying The Coup Is A Troubling One For Oregon Fans. (Jim Brown/US Presswire)

  • Injuries – The Pac-12 probably hasn’t had any more injuries than any other conference this season, but they have had their share of important ones. USC lost senior point guard Jio Fontan to a torn ACL prior to the season, had freshman center Curtis Washington saw his season end with a torn labrum, and just last week saw sophomore center Dewayne Dedmon go down with a stress fracture in his foot that will keep him out for four to six weeks. Utah is missing 7’3” center David Foster, who broke a foot in the Utes’ exhibition game, and he is still deciding whether he’ll return this season or take a medical redshirt. And Washington is still waiting to find out about senior guard Scott Suggs who broke a toe prior to the season. Suggs hopes to begin practicing this week with a possible return December 10 against Duke.

Player of the Year Watch

Last week, Jared Cunningham was coming off consecutive games in which he had set a new career-high for himself, and combined with his defensive prowess, he was the POTY frontrunner. Now, he’s coming off two-straight more modest performances scoring-wise (10.5 PPG), but remains the Pac-12’s leading scorer with 20.8 points per game. The next three spots on the conference scoring list are manned by Utah’s Josh Watkins (18.8 PPG), Arizona State’s Trent Lockett (17.5 PPG) and Washington State’s Faisal Aden (17.0 PPG), good players all, but guys who likely won’t have an impact on the POTY race, simply because they play for bad teams.

Cunningham Remains at the Top of our POTY Watch

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Checking In On… the Pac-12

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 24th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-12 conferences.

Reader’s Take

Top Storylines

Problem Children – The overriding theme in the Pac-12 thus far this season has been problems: chemistry problems, behavioral problems, injury problems, and probably problems on top of those problems. (You know how when you repeat the same word a lot you realize how weird it sounds? Problem is a weird word.) The most high-profile of all these categories has been a handful of student-athletes around the conference creating problems for their teams out of thin air. The Reeves Nelson meltdown at UCLA has been the most high profile, with Jabari Brown’s premature defection from Oregon not far behind, but elsewhere around the conference there have been issues as well. At UCLA, senior point guard Jerime Anderson, a guy who should have been in a leadership position for this team, got busted for stealing a laptop this summer, pleading guilty to a couple misdemeanors and was suspended for two games (including one exhibition game) at the start of the year. On the same squad, ultra-talented big man Joshua Smith came back to the team this year ultra-big, looking as big or bigger than the 300+ pounds he showed he was unable to play at last year, then followed a loss to Loyola Marymount loss by making a fool of himself on Twitter. Over in Arizona, Sean Miller has had troubles of his own with freshmen Josiah Turner and Sidiki Johnson. Johnson is currently suspended, while Turner has displayed some chemistry problems of his own, causing him to be banished to the bench for a game by Miller. In short, aside from some bad basketball on the court, there have been a handful of players around the league making negative headlines off the court as well.

Problem Programs – Nobody really expected the Pac-12 to be a great conference this season, but the expectation was that it would be roughly as good as last year and primed for a big upswing next year with a batch of new highly regarded freshmen joining the talented youngsters currently littering conference rosters. Instead, through Tuesday night’s games, the conference had posted a combined 30-18 record, had just one remaining team (Stanford) still sporting an undefeated record and had a handful of teams in line for the title of worst BCS conference team. UCLA’s losses to Loyola Marymount and Middle Tennessee State have been well-documented, while USC’s 36-point disaster of a performance, in which enough bricks to build several wolf-proof houses were produced, is an excellent example of basketball at its ugliest. Nevertheless, as bad as UCLA and USC have been, one could easily envision both of those teams as middle-of-the-Pac contenders in the conference. That alone should tell you how bad the bottom of the conference is, but if further explanation is needed, look no further than Arizona State and Utah. The Sun Devils dropped a game at home to Pepperdine (a team that will challenge for the basement in the WCC) while Utah squeaked by NAIA also-ran San Diego Christian College (seriously, that’s a team that was 8-22 last year and lost 15 of its last 16 games) by three points before getting drilled by Boise State and losing to Montana State. As bad as the Pac-12 is, this Utah team is far and away the worst team in the conference.

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