Key Individual Matchups in Pac-12 Quarterfinals

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

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

Arizona/California

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

Can Cal Find Anyone To Slow Stanley Johnson?

Can Cal Find Anyone To Slow Stanley Johnson?

UCLA/USC

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

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On Oregon and Expectations…

Posted by Adam Butler on March 12th, 2015

When the Pac-12 announced that the Oregon basketball program possessed both the conference’s Player and Coach of the Year, there was some surprise. Each had performed valiantly in his role this year, earning the second seed in the Pac-12 Tournament and exceeding expectations set months before a single shot was taken or play was called. Because when it came time to do those things, Joseph Young made lots and Dana Altman called the right ones. For their efforts, the coaches of the Pac-12 recognized them. It was the most recognition the program had received in months.

Will added expectations curtail Joseph Young and Oregon? (USA TODAY Sports)

Will added expectations curtail Joseph Young and Oregon? (USA TODAY Sports)

You see, Oregon has been under the radar since they went off the radar, dismissing several key players from what had projected as a big season. You know this. But what we don’t really know is what Oregon looks like with expectations. How the neons shine in the spotlight. The Ducks have been fitted for their targets and we’re not really sure how well they’ll fit. They’ve won nine of 10 games since starting conference play a pedestrian 4-4. During that streak, they’re scoring 1.11 points per possession (good) and yielding 1.02 (average). Offensively this is slightly better than their season average (1.09), but defensively it’s on par. The streak, as it were, seems to be nothing beyond the ordinary. Having something expected of this group is. Read the rest of this entry »

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NCAA Tourney Best & Worst Cases for Pac-12 Teams

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 10th, 2015

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

Arizona

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

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

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

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Pac-12 Season Superlatives

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 9th, 2015

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

Player of the Year

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

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

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

All-Conference

First Team

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

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Pac-12 Senior Days: Arizona State’s Shaquille McKissic

Posted by Connor Pelton on March 7th, 2015

One year ago this week, Arizona State hosted California on Senior Day. Small forward Shaquille McKissic was honored, as were five other Sun Devil seniors. They dominated the Golden Bears on that afternoon, but the team would go on to lose its final four games. The last of those came in the Sun Devils’ NCAA Tournament opener, a game that was lost on a last second putback against Texas. You may have seen the heartbreaking pictures.

Heartbreak.

Heartbreak.

McKissic decided that he didn’t want his career to end that way. He and the university petitioned the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility, and on April 18, the word from Indianapolis came back. Because of McKissic’s unique situation — mainly stemming from his time at Edmonds Community College — the NCAA gave him another chance. A second chance to make a run at the NCAA Tournament. A second chance to impress any professional scouts that might be watching. And a second Senior Day, coming once again on a Saturday against California.

The sixth year senior’s story is full of second chances. McKissic blew an opportunity at attending Northern Idaho, one of the country’s premier junior college programs, when he was arrested for breaking into a home. He spent three months in jail and ended up having to play his 2009-10 season in Lynwood, Washington. The small forward thrived at Edmonds, averaging 16.2 PPG. Things began to fall apart once the season ended, however, as he was left homeless when his mother and younger brother moved across the country. And worst of all, his best friend Devin Topps was shot and killed at a Halloween party on October 31, 2010.

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Pac-12 Senior Days: T.J. McConnell

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

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

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

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

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

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Pac-12 Senior Days: UCLA’s Norman Powell

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 4th, 2015

I sat down to write a post about Norman Powell and had no idea what to say. After 10 minutes of staring at a blank Word document, I started to think about taking the easy way out and just throwing a bunch of links to videos and Vines of Powell attacking the rim and finishing in a variety of spellbinding ways. But that would be taking the easy way out, something Powell never did in his four years at UCLA. So instead of getting to spend a few minutes geeking out on dunks and twisting, merry-go-round finishes, you’ve got to read my blather for a few hundred words. And you’ve got Powell to thank for that.

Norman Powell Has Been UCLA's Heart and Soul For Four Years (Associated Press)

Norman Powell Has Been UCLA’s Heart and Soul For Four Years. (Associated Press)

Think back on your favorite Bruins in the past decade or so, whether you count yourself as a UCLA fan or just a fan of college basketball. Guys like Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams, Darren Collison, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, Arron Afflalo, Jordan Farmar, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute are the names that likely come to mind. One thing all those players have in common is that none ever saw their own Senior Day. Now, let’s be clear; I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. But there is something special about a senior’s growth that occurs over four years — about the dedication and drive you need to begin something as difficult as being a student-athlete and seeing it through to the very end. And there is something special about seeing a guy like Powell come down the stretch and lift his game to a higher level in pursuit of righteously closing out that career.

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Pac-12 Weekly Honors: Week 15

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 4th, 2015

Each week the Pac-12 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, which typically will include a Team, Player and Newcomer of the Week, along with our weekly Power Rankings.

Team of the Week: Arizona

Arizona Earned Another Conference Title On The Strength Of A Full Team Effort (USA Today)

Arizona Earned Another Conference Title On The Strength Of A Full Team Effort. (USA Today)

Two teams in the conference went on the road and came away with sweeps last week. Alas, we can only pick one in this space, so we leave Oregon – and their likely NCAA Tournament-clinching week aside – to go with the team that locked up a share of the conference title by knocking off upstart Utah in Salt Lake City. After blowing out Colorado in a dominant performance with everybody contributing, Saturday night’s game was all about toughness. The Wildcats started fast and closed fast, taking home the Pac-12 title largely on the strength of their calling card, defense. In a one-point game down the stretch, the Wildcats held Utah without a point in their final four possessions to pull out the title-clinching win.

(Also receiving votes: Oregon)

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Pac-12 Basketball Programs as Craft Breweries

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 2nd, 2015

I really like college hoops. I really like craft beer. I have no idea why I never had this idea before, but here’s a simple, fun game: go through each Pac-12 program and find the brewery most simpatico in style, substance, history and quality. Now, I’ve had my fair share of beers in fine establishments all over the West, but living in California with the sheer number of excellent breweries in this state, we’re going to wind up with plenty of choices from the Golden State on this list. It would be nice to pick more geographically-fitting breweries, but for instance, while there are plenty of fine Arizona breweries, none can match the quality and national importance of the home Wildcats, so we’ll have to go elsewhere for that comparison. And by no means have I got the finger on the pulse of every single craft brewery that has arisen. So, if you’ve got better comparisons in mind, I’m interested in hearing them, especially true toward the bottom of the list where I admittedly ran out of steam. Enough nonsense, let’s get to the list!

Much like the ubiquitious Lagunitas Brewing Company, Arizona fans are a national presence. (AP)

Much like the ubiquitous Lagunitas Brewing Company, Arizona fans are a national presence. (AP)

  • Arizona: Lagunitas Brewing. My first instinct was to go Russian River here, but comparatively speaking, Russian River is a niche brewer. It’s legendary and excellent, but it’s also pretty small. Lagunitas, by comparison, is a national power. It’s the fifth-largest craft brewer in the nation (and the 11th biggest brewery overall, even on a list with the big boys) and ubiquitous, yet it still manages to crank out superbly high quality beers without fail. And if you’ve ever done the brewery tour, you know that Lagunitas is definitely A Player’s Program. The only significant problem I find with this selection is that Lagunitas’ mascot is a dog.
  • UCLA: Sierra Nevada. If Arizona is Lagunitas, the Bruins have to be somebody equally as big, so we’ll go with the Chico mainstay. Sierra Nevada is an old school classic. This brewery has been around forever; it has great history; it’s still committed to quality. But let’s be honest, it’s also been bypassed by a handful of other institutions, and although they still shoot for the stars, sometimes it disappoints. Here’s one thing Sierra has over UCLA, though — unlike Pauley Pavilion, their tap room is never whisper quiet.
  • Utah: Epic Brewing. I have some reservations about comparing a basketball program with the history of the Utes to a Beehive State-based microbrewery given the lack of history that the state has with sensible alcohol laws. But I’ll rationalize this choice by saying that Epic, a brewery that formed after Utah slightly modernized its regulations over the last decade, is making history of its own. Plus, like the current Utes squad, the beers that Epic makes are big and bold.

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Pac-12 Senior Days: Stanford Says Goodbye to Accomplished Senior Class

Posted by Kevin Danna on March 1st, 2015

Today’s game against Oregon will be Stanford’s last at Maples Pavilion in the 2014-15 campaign (at least, Stanford hopes that it’s the last game at Maples this year), meaning it’s Senior Day for Stanford’s Big Three of Chasson Randle, Anthony Brown and Stefan Nastic.

Obviously Johnny Dawkins and staff knew what they were doing when they recruited the Rock Island stud, but the first hint I got that Chasson Randle was going to be special was in the summer before his freshman season. On the first day of summer school, Randle was in the gym working out at 7:00 AM. This wasn’t for some scheduled workout, mind you; he just wanted to come in on his own and get shots up. And gotten shots up he has. 1,632 of ‘em, in fact, by far more than anybody in Stanford history. Sure, he isn’t the most efficient player, and yeah, you’d like to see your head man shoot better than 40 percent from the field. And most definitely, you’d like to see a guy at his size distribute the rock a little more.

Chasson Randle: Bulldog.

Chasson Randle: Bulldog.

But Randle is what so few Stanford basketball players over the years have been. He’s a dog, and I mean that in the most positive way possible. You want a bucket? Chasson’s your guy. He might not always make it, but he’s never scared of the moment. And that’s what I’ve always appreciated about him — he wants the basketball; he has never shied away from taking the big shot. It hasn’t always worked out, and he has certainly done things that have cost Stanford games in the past (fouling a half-court shooter as time expired in a tie game against Minnesota in the Bahamas is something I won’t soon forget) but not too many people have the gumption to challenge the nation’s leading shot-blocker with the game on the line (see: Stanford’s overtime win against Washington when Robert Upshaw was still lacing ‘em up). He made that one.

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Previewing the Pac-12 Game of the Year: Arizona at Utah

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 28th, 2015

It’s the game of the year in the Pac-12, a battle between the top two teams — Arizona and Utah — with only a game separating them in the standings and a week to play. It’s also on the short list of the biggest games ever played in the Huntsman Center, quite a statement for a building with its long and illustrious history. Both teams have legitimate Final Four aspirations. Both teams have every expectation of being top three seeds when the brackets are announced on Selection Sunday. As many as four players in this game could hear their name called in the first round of the NBA Draft in June, each of those players with lottery potential. In short, on the final day of February, we’ll be treated to full-on March basketball. Let’s break it down, with three keys to tonight’s game.

Odds Are Good That Little Will Come Easy In Tonight's Collision in Salt Lake City

Odds Are Good That Little Will Come Easy In Tonight’s Collision in Salt Lake City

  • Home court advantage. Playing at just under 5,000 feet in Salt Lake City, the Utes enjoy quite a home court advantage at the Huntsman Center. They’ve won all 17 of their games there this season by an average of 24 points per outing. They’re outscoring teams there by an average of 0.40 points per possession. Only one team (Wichita State) has managed to keep within 14 of the Utes. And the MUSS will be rabid tonight. Despite all those considerations, the Wildcats are no slouches on the road. All three of their losses this season have come  in games where maybe they overlooked their opponents. Understand that there is no chance that the ‘Cats will overlook the Utes today. Still, the Utes will come out riding a wave of momentum following Senior Day ceremonies for Delon Wright and Dallin Bachynski. Their home fans will be load and raucous. Whenever Utah needs a shot of adrenaline in the middle of the game, the Huntsman Center will have its back. And perhaps most importantly against an Arizona team that really only wants to play six players, maybe that elevation could be a deciding factor down the stretch. We’ve certainly seen short-benched Arizona teams struggle against the Rocky Mountain schools in the past.

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Pac-12 Senior Days: David Kravish, No Longer a Skinny Freshman

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 28th, 2015

When David Kravish first stepped on the California campus as a student back in 2011, the freshman was listed at 6’9” and 207 pounds. In an ideal world, maybe the raw and impossibly skinny recruit out of Lee’s Summit, Missouri, would have had a chance to wear a redshirt, spend a year hitting the training table and prepping for wars on the block against Pac-12 bigs with some time on the scout team. But with senior Harper Kamp the only battle-tested big man on the roster, Richard Solomon’s maturity problems and Kravish’s willingness to scrap and a serviceable little 10-foot jumper, he was welcomed right into 24 minutes per night against high-major competition. This meant that skin-and-bones Kravish was forced to go toe to toe around the league with upperclassmen like Brock Motum (230 pounds), Jason Washburn (245), Tony Woods (250), Aziz N’Diaye (260) and Joe Burton (280). All Kravish did that season was what little he was asked to do: rebound the ball; bust his butt on defense; set some picks; and make the simple plays. When it was all said and done, he averaged 6.9 points and 5.6 boards per game, and posted a 118.4 offensive rating while shooting a 59.4% eFG, good for 60th in the nation.

David Kravish As A Freshman, Playing The Part Of A Skeleton

David Kravish as a Freshman, Playing The Part of a Skeleton

Kravish’s four years of collegiate eligibility have now mostly come and gone and his body now pays great testament to all the hard work and dedication he’s put into it. He’s now listed at 6’10” and 240 pounds, and young pups around the league with any number of body types can look at Kravish as great proof of what four years of hard work can do. Now he’s the upperclassman bully. He put in his time, stuffing his face with all manner of food in order to pack the pounds on an unwilling body after hours on conditioning or weight training. And – get this – he did all of this while on pace to graduate in four years from Berkeley with a pre-med degree. Stud. Kravish will be sent off on Sunday afternoon to a rousing ovation as the California community will celebrate his career on a well-earned Senior Day.

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