Pac-12 Weekly Honors: Week 11

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 3rd, 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: California

Sam Singer's Three In The Closing Seconds In Seattle Gave The Golden Bears a Road Sweep (Cal Athletics)

Sam Singer’s Three In The Closing Seconds In Seattle Gave The Golden Bears a Road Sweep (Cal Athletics)

Hey, we said it last week when Arizona earned a road sweep — win a pair of games away from home and that team will be our team of the week. When you’re the Golden Bears and those wins break a six-game losing streak — the latter of which coming in a 90-88 barnburner won when a reserve sophomore guard hit an ill-advised last-second step-back three — you’re a lock for the award. And what’s more, with a home stand against the Los Angeles schools (which have combined to go 1-8 on the Pac-12 road, with that one win UCLA at USC) coming up, the Golden Bears have a chance to get something started. Don’t be surprised to look up when the calendar flips to March and see California, once left for dead in conference play, sitting squarely in the middle of the Pac.

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On the Pac-12 Networks and the Elephant in the Room

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 29th, 2015

Listen. Can we talk about the Pac-12 Networks? Now you, dear reader, like me, you love the Pac-12 Networks. You may have had another cable or satellite TV provider before the networks were announced and may have even been relatively pleased with the service they provided. But when push came to shove and these networks were live and showing exclusive Pac-12 football and basketball games, you went out of your way to dump your old provider and find a new one that offered you this network instead. There was no way in hell you were going to go through a season missing games simply because DirecTV or whoever your provider was couldn’t come to an agreement with the conference on carrying its programming. So you’ve been enjoying the hell out of it for the past three seasons, watching all the games you want to see from your favorite conference, including most recently, last week’s Arizona vs. Utah top-10 clash and last Saturday’s triple-header of conference games. So, for you and for me and other like-minded fans of the conference, this development has been nothing but good.

For Die-Hards, The Pac-12 Networks Have Been A Positive Development

For Die-Hards, The Pac-12 Networks Have Been A Positive Development

The problem is that we’re not everybody. The most recent numbers I cared to look for showed DirecTV with 20.231 million subscribers in the United States at the end of the second quarter in 2014. As you may well know, DirecTV does not carry the Pac-12 Networks. Both sides carried on negotiations about the possibility of a deal, but many years later, there’s no sign of ever getting anywhere. And there are other cable providers with similar stances, which is why you get criticism of the conference when big games – like that Arizona/Utah game – are shown only on the Pac-12 Networks. Our own Shane Connolly fired a shot across the bow when he noted on the RTC Podcast last week that he was happy that the second Utah/Arizona match-up (on February 28) will be shown on a “real channel” (namely ESPN). Ouch. And, you know what? Those criticisms are fair. In this day and age of media saturation, not having access to a channel and its games is unacceptable.

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What’s Next For Washington and Robert Upshaw?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 27th, 2015

The news broke mid-afternoon on Monday, suddenly and succinctly:

If you had told anybody with any knowledge of Robert Upshaw’s career and his ups and downs not only at Washington, but at Fresno State previously, that such a tweet would be coming in the middle of this season, it would not exactly qualify as a shocker. But, here 19 games into a largely successful 2014-15 campaign, with Upshaw the nation’s best shot-blocker, swatting away better than 17 percent of his opponents’ two-point field goal attempts while he’s on the floor, this qualifies as a surprise. The guy we knew as a troubled and troublesome 18- and 19-year-old? That guy was gone, right? Instead, we had a talented 20-year-old who, by all accounts, was putting in the hard work and making big strides on the court, a guy who had worked his way into first round consideration for next year’s NBA Draft, a guy who had transformed the soft Huskies defense into a force to be reckoned with. And now, all that is gone, presumably like a puff of smoke.

So, let’s not worry all that much about what happened: we can all read between the lines. But, what happens next? First, let’s go to the team in a team sport: Where do Lorenzo Romar and the Huskies go from here? Well, with Jernard Jarreau sidelined following arthroscopic knee surgery and out at least until the middle of February (if not longer), that leaves the Huskies with Shawn Kemp, Jr. as the only proven frontcourt player. Junior seven-footer Gilles Dierickx has earned 13 minutes in the last six games (four points, five boards in that time) and will likely be forced into additional run. But really, this puts the Huskies behind even where they were last year at this time – basically a team with four wings surrounding a center. The good news is some combination of Nigel Williams-Goss, Andrew Andrews, Mike Anderson, Darin Johnson, Donaven Dorsey and Quevyn Winters is not a terrible batch of talent to draw from. And Kemp has been playing well. But there is absolutely no depth and no room for error.

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Pac-12 Weekly Honors: Week Ten

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 26th, 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

Sometimes this stuff is pretty easy. My philosophy is that if you go on the road in the Pac-12 and come away with a pair of wins for the week, odds are good you’re going to be the Team of the Week. All of our voters this week agreed, rewarding the Wildcats for an impressive two-win trip to the Bay Area. While all the questions about this Arizona team aren’t exactly put away quite yet, we’ve definitely seen this team turn the corner and accelerate its progress since the stunning loss at Oregon State. The scary thing is that there’s still plenty of improvement to come from this bunch. Oh, and watch out, conference, because it looks like Stanley Johnson is in the middle of a tear.

Stanley Johnson and Arizona Are Beginning To Round Into Form (Rick Scuteri, AP Photo)

Stanley Johnson and Arizona Are Beginning To Round Into Form (Rick Scuteri, AP Photo)

Player of the Week: Gary Payton II, Junior, Oregon State

Back when he was doing this sort of thing in non-conference play against Corban, Mississippi Valley State and Grambling, we could be forgiven for having taken a wait-and-see approach. Now, when he’s posting full stat lines and occasional double-doubles against Power Five teams? It’s crazy, but Payton is in the conversation for all-Pac-12 consideration. And not that weird 15-person “official” All-Pac-12 team, but a legit, five-person only all-Pac-12 team. He’s already on the very short list of best defenders in the conference, with averages of three steals and a block per game. In fact, he’s third in the nation in steal percentage, which notes the rate at which he ends an opponent’s possession with a steal. Plus, at a slender 6’3”, he’s grabbing a defensive rebound 20 percent of the time that one is available to be grabbed. This week it was just more of the same. Against UCLA on Thursday he was the best player on the court, scoring 18 points, grabbing seven boards, handing out six assists and swiping five steals; and then he backed that up against USC by double-doubling: 21 points, 10 boards.

(Also receiving votes: Stanley Johnson)

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The Only Thing Standing in the Way of Arizona’s Pac-12 Coronation is Arizona

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 24th, 2015

For the first half of Thursday night’s battle for first place in the Pac-12 against Stanford, Arizona looked like the team that could only muster 56 points in a losing effort against Oregon State. But in the second half, the Wildcats showed why there is no other team in the conference that can hang with them when they are at full strength and minimizing their mistakes. The Wildcats actually jumped out to an early lead as the Cardinal’s thin frontcourt had absolutely no answer for Brandon Ashley and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson inside. But Ashley also picked up three cheap fouls in the first 12 minutes of the game and teammate Stanley Johnson picked up two of his own, and when they left the court, things started to fall apart. Without their two biggest offensive mismatches on the floor, Arizona struggled to take advantage of its distinct size advantage and instead settled for contested jumpers. On the other end of the floor, the Wildcats’ stout defense made things difficult for Stanford, at least when they weren’t fouling Cardinal players. Stanford made 13 free throws in the first half and star guard Chasson Randle scored six of his 14 first half points from the charity stripe. As a result, a first half that any casual observer would think Arizona should have won ended with Stanford up two points.

Arizona Has the Look of a Team Figuring It Out (USA Today Images)

Arizona Has the Look of a Team Figuring It Out (USA Today Images)

Of course slow starts and early mistakes have become something of Arizona‘s modus operandi this season, and nobody expected the Wildcats to go away. Ashley and Johnson returned to the floor in the second half and immediately made an impact, combining for 10 points in the first six minutes as Arizona slowly but surely took the lead for good. Even more importantly, the Arizona defense decided to start moving its feet and quit picking up cheap fouls, and all of a sudden, their suffocating defense returned in earnest. Once Randle made a difficult layup to bring Stanford within three points with just under 10 minutes to play, the Wildcats’ put the clamps down and the Cardinal didn’t make another field goal for more than eight minutes. By that point, the game was well in hand and Arizona was on its way as the odds-on favorite to run away with the conference regular season title.

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Marching to Vegas: On Pace of Play in the Pac

Posted by Adam Butler on January 23rd, 2015

Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) of Pachoops will again be joining us all year, providing us with his weekly take on our favorite conference as we begin the March to Vegas.

Earlier this week, our very own Andrew Murawa wrote thoughtfully and critically of college basketball. BLASPHEMY. But he’s not wrong. He was sure to cite his love of the sport no matter its flaws and I’d like to note a few of the tempo-related items concerning our Pac-12. Historically it’s been a frenetic pace. During a Thursday morning Twitter conversation, I was brought to this 1988 Arizona Wildcats highlight. In it you’ll notice the Wildcats crashing the offensive glass (possessions!) and sprinting out on the break off a turnover (more possessions!). Arizona would win that game, 78-70, a point total far lower than their season average this year. In 1988, Arizona scored 84.8 point per game, 15th-best in the nation. That would be a top-five scoring total in each of the last 14 seasons.

Up-tempo Exciting Basketball Used To Be The Norm In The Pac-12

Uptempo Exciting Basketball Used To Be The Norm In The Pac-12

Of course Total Points isn’t a statistic we love to note. It bypasses many important factors and qualifiers in understanding how the game is played. Unfortunately, tempo isn’t readily available for that historical context. A Google search, however, can easily deliver a handful of articles that articulate the slowing of the game. What I really want to do, though, is look at the history of this conference. One that saw UCLA and Cal split their 1995 series by a cumulative score of 197-188. That’s two games. By comparison, Cal’s 2012 sweep of UCLA looked like this: 132-158. This is anecdotal and perhaps not indicative of the quality of those respective games; however, there’s been a shift to how the game has been played, particularly in our conference. The century mark is a jaw-dropping feat. It used to get me tacos in McKale.

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A Swing Around the Pac-12 After Five Games

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 21st, 2015

Just a collection of thoughts, compiled over the course of the past two weekends of Pac-12 play.

Arizona – This Utah game actually set up really nicely for the Wildcats. Utah was on a roll and feeling invincible despite the fact that it hadn’t beaten a good team since early December. Arizona, meanwhile, had plenty to prove amid accusations of selfishness and overratedness. The ‘Cats weathered the storm early, rode T.J. McConnell while settling in, and then turned on the juice in the second half. But, really, there are two big takeaways from this game. First, my impression all year long was that this vintage of the Wildcats does not have the high-end defensive ceiling that last year’s team had. And then, I look up on January 17 and they’ve got basically the same defensive efficiency numbers as they had last season and just finished a game where they completely shut down everything Utah wanted to do. This squad still needs to prove an ability to bring that intensity on a regular basis, but they absolutely have the ability to be just about as good defensively as last year’s team (although I still have a concern that they don’t have the type of individual stoppers that they had in Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon). Offensively, my eyes tell me this team has some problems in the half-court and that, while Stanley Johnson is clearly the team’s most talented player, Sean Miller has yet to figure out a good way to find shots for him. Then I look at the stats and I see that this team is pretty much the same offensively as last year’s group, getting similar percentages of shots from all three ranges on offense. And the best part? They’re still feeling their way around. Make no mistake, Arizona in mid-January is still a top 10 team — maybe top five — and the exciting part is that the Wildcats have enough upside that they could be significantly better by March.

With Stanley Johnson Just Beginning To Reach His Potential, Arizona's Upside Is Staggering (Rick Scuteri, AP Photo)

With Stanley Johnson Just Beginning To Reach His Potential, Arizona’s Upside Is Staggering. (Rick Scuteri, AP Photo)

Utah – The Utes lost. Bury ‘em, right? Not so fast, but we do need to have a talk about a couple of players in particular. First Jordan Loveridge, the team’s junior power small forward. What’s to complain about? In the five Pac-12 games since he returned from injury, he’s averaging better than 10 points per game and shooting at a 54.2% eFG rate, knocking in 11-of-24 shots from deep. In that same time frame, he’s taken twice as many shots from behind the arc as he has from inside; he’s attempting free throws at about a third of the rate of his field goal attempts; and he’s grabbing a rebound about every five minutes. In short, Loveridge has gone from being one of the more promising interior players in the conference to a three-point shooting specialist. That’s about all he does anymore. I understand that at 6’6” his upside at the four is limited, and if he is ever going to play in the NBA, it will be at the three. But this is college ball. And while his ability to hit the three and pull bigs away from the hoop is a useful skill, it’s only a fraction of what Loveridge could be doing for this team. For what it’s worth, I promise that this is the last time I will rip a guy with an offensive rating of 115.0 and a three-point percentage of 47.5 percent. The other guy I want to touch on briefly is Jakob Poeltl. We still like him as a player: like his skills; like his effort; like his upside. And sure, NBA scouts love him. But he really needs a lot of work, especially in the weight room. He got pushed around by the Wildcats all night long on Saturday. And if you go back and look at the results, anytime he has gone up against long interior players (San Diego State, Kansas, UNLV, Colorado, Arizona, even BYU), he has struggled. You can’t really throw the ball into him in the post because he doesn’t know what to do with it yet, so you have to rely on him to get his own miss off the glass if he’s going to have any offensive impact, and he’s not strong enough to do that on a regular basis. He’s still an important part of this Utah team, but his major leap forward probably won’t come until next year, at which time he should hopefully still be in college. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Weekly Honors: Week Nine

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 19th, 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

T.J. McConnell And The Wildcats Issued A Serious Statement In Their Win Over Utah on Saturday (Rick Scuteri, AP Photo)

T.J. McConnell And The Wildcats Issued A Serious Statement In Their Win Over Utah on Saturday (Rick Scuteri, AP Photo)

It was the Pac-12 game of the year to this point: surging challenger to the throne, Utah, against reeling returning champion, Arizona. Both teams took care of business in their undercard games on Thursday, but by the time the main event rolled around on Saturday evening, the McKale Center was a hornet’s nest. The challenger came out of its corner full of vim and vigor, seeking the knockout. But the veteran champion weathered the storm and turned on the power in the final three-quarters of the bout, displaying the whole package of explosive athleticism, wily game knowledge, superior conditioning and, well, a boost of energy from the home crowd. In the end, the Wildcats turned in a smothering performance, displaying their high-end defensive ability with their great offensive potential. If there were any questions about Arizona after last week’s head-scratcher against Oregon State – and trust me, there were – the Wildcats answered most of them on Saturday night in affirming their status as one of the nation’s elite.

Player of the Week: T.J. McConnell, Senior, Arizona

Five minutes into that heavyweight bout on Saturday night, the Utes were clearly acting as the aggressor. They were out to a 10-2 lead; their superstar Delon Wright was doing everything; and Arizona looked flat. Out of the under-16 media timeout, McConnell immediately made a statement play. He headed right up the court and took the undersized Brandon Taylor down to the left block where he put a jumper right on his head. Next time up and again on Taylor, he did the exact same thing on the other side of the court. Next time on the defensive end, he stripped Wright and dove on the floor to get a tie-up. All of a sudden, Arizona had some energy and belief. Through the rest of the first half, McConnell hit three more jumpers, added a layup, notched a couple assists and grabbed a steal. The most important of those plays may have been the two assists, one a driving handoff to Kaleb Tarczewski for a lay-in, and another a baseline kickout to Brandon Ashley for a jumper. Both of those plays ensured that McConnell was not only involved but was busy keeping his talented teammates involved. On the night, McConnell wound up with 16 points (12 before halftime), six assists, three boards and a steal on 8-of-10 shooting, numbers that only hint at his true impact.

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Marching to Vegas: Utah Visits Arizona With So Much on the Line

Posted by Adam Butler on January 16th, 2015

Effort is one of those intangible things that we scream about from the couch. It’s not really something you can quantify but it’s something everyone notices. It’s ugly when it’s not there and it’s endearing when it’s there without results. The desired confluence is when effort meets talent. [insert Wooden quote here]. Because when ‘good’ couples itself with ‘try’, anything is possible. Special happens. But when ‘try’ doesn’t align with the talent component, well, sometimes you lose to Oregon State and coach Sean Miller rails his Arizona team publicly and what we can only assume is privately. Practice was more than likely hellacious these past few days in Tucson.

Sean Miller Was Not All Smiles This Week

Sean Miller Was Not All Smiles This Week

Last night, those frustrations or adjustments manifested as the Wildcats beat a hobbled Colorado team. From that game’s “effort” I think we learned nothing. Colorado was missing their heart, soul, and able bodies. Dead men walking. Arizona did little more than take care of business at home. Effort, as it were, was incalculable and perhaps irrelevant in dismissing the Buffs to Tempe; a game, it would seem, for which Colorado is saving its bullets. Arizona held a 21-11 rebounding advantage at the half. Askia Booker converted to his alter ego, As-three-a Booker, to keep them in the game. But enough on Thursday night.

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Pac-12 Weekly Honors: Week Eight

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 13th, 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: Oregon State

Behind Their Tough Defense, Oregon State Continues To Exceed Everyone's Expectations (Randy Rasmussen, The Oregonian)

Behind Their Tough Defense, Oregon State Continues To Exceed Everyone’s Expectations (Randy Rasmussen, The Oregonian)

Between the time UCLA wrapped up its home sweep and the Beavers tipped off against Arizona on Sunday evening, I had this section all wrapped up and delivered to the Bruins. After all, there was no way Oregon State had any chance of knocking off the Wildcats, even in Corvallis, right? That is the kind of underestimation the Beavers have dealt with all season long, as we penciled them in for 20-plus losses and contention for the worst major-conference team award back in the preseason. Halfway through the season, Oregon State instead has the scalp of the team we easily pegged as the best in this league, and the bulk of our voters are ranking Oregon State as the third-best team in the Pac-12. First-year coach Wayne Tinkle has done a masterful job in getting the best out of his guys, as Malcolm Duvivier and Gary Payton II make a terrific backcourt combination, Olaf Schaftenaar and Victor Robbins have made huge strides with their games, and everybody has bought in on the defensive end. The Beavers are still going to take some lumps when they head out on the road in league play, but they’re sitting at 11-4 right now. Un-freaking-believable.

Player of the Week: Kevon Looney, UCLA

Much like every other Bruin, the freshman Looney averaged only 8.2 PPG, 7.4 RPG and a 33.3 percent effective field goal rate during UCLA’s five-game losing streak. During last week’s home stand sweep of the Bay Area schools, though, he flipped those numbers to 23.5 PPG, 13.0 RPG and 52.1 percent eFG. Perhaps more importantly, Looney recovered the fire and confidence that had made him so special in the early part of the season, something the Bruins desperately needed. With the Bruins down 13 points midway through the second half against Stanford, Looney put together his own 6-0 run on a three followed by a hoop-and-harm to nearly cut the lead in half. Only a minute later, he strung together a 4-0 run on a dunk and a pair of free throws following an offensive board. By the time his individual stretches were done, the Bruins were within two points and finally believing in themselves again.

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Building a Football Team From Pac-12 Basketball Players

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 13th, 2015

Yesterday was the day that college basketball paused one last time to make way for its college football friends. From here on out, college hoops has the right of way on the amateur level. With Oregon representing our proud conference despite the loss, we figured today would be a good time to tie college football and basketball together in a fun way by piecing together an imaginary football team made up entirely of current Pac-12 basketball players. This team would probably be pretty good, so let’s get right to it.

Offense

  • QB: Nigel Williams-Goss, Washington – If there was such a thing as a pocket passer in basketball, Williams-Goss would be it. We’ll get him out on the edge every now and then to make some plays, but we want our quarterback to hang tight and deliver the ball to our play-makers.
Let's Trade In Nigel Williams-Goss As A QB on The Floor For Just A Plain, Old QB (Getty Images)

Let’s Trade in Nigel Williams-Goss As A QB on the Floor For Just a Plain Old QB (Getty Images)

  • RB: Chasson Randle, Stanford – He’s got speed, quickness and power. We can dump the ball to him out of the backfield or let him pound ahead into the line.
  • RB: Malcolm Duviver, Oregon State – The first time I saw this guy I thought he looked more like a tailback than a point guard. At 6’2”, 205, he can be our workhorse back.
  • WR: Stanley Johnson, Arizona – Man, there are so many places we could play Johnson but we’re envisioning him as our Megatron. He’s got speed and great hands, and once he makes the catch, good luck bringing him down.

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Marching To Vegas: On UCLA and Lighting Someone Else’s Candle

Posted by Adam Butler on January 9th, 2015

Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) of Pachoops will again be joining us all year, providing us with his weekly take on our favorite conference as we begin the March to Vegas.

It can’t not be discussed. I never went to journalism school – I studied Human Biology – but I have to think you should never start an article with a double negative. The conversation, however, has got to be had surrounding UCLA. It’s going on in many places, most notably Twitter, where panic is settling in and leaps are being made. It’s a bad look. The question, of course, is the job security of Steve Alford. Let’s first address the obvious: He’s under contract with a crazy buyout at a time in which UC schools are haggling every which way for money. Public relations aside, that’s a lofty price tag to rid yourself of a rushed hire in the wake of a less-than-adored coach. Of course, shelling out exorbitant amounts of money to salvage your athletic brand is not unprecedented. As recently as MICHIGAN it’s happened. The lure of I-don’t-know-exactly-what-but-equal-money-I-guess-kinda-talks drew Jim Harbaugh to his alma mater. The arguable issue, of course, is that there isn’t a lingering mega-alum waiting in UCLA wings.

I promise, that on the souls of my grandchildren, I will not be the one to break the peace we've made here today.

I promise, that on the souls of my grandchildren, I will not be the one to break the peace we’ve made here today.

And then, obvioulsly, the Bruins eke out a win against Stanford. Does that salvage their season? UCLA doesn’t have seasons. They have title runs or naught. This, if you weren’t aware, is not a year of the former. But did you expect it to be? If you did, you perhaps aren’t paying attention. In addressing his first season in Westwood, we were impressed with Alford’s adjustment to what he did with fantastic roster. They were fascinating, terrifying and unique. Alford got a lot out of them. Everything, really. Which climaxed with (just) a Sweet Sixteen. That isn’t bad; it’s in fact good; but it perhaps wasn’t indicative of things to come. The thing to come was not necessarily avoiding six-game losing streaks with double-overtime thrillers; but that’s where we find ourselves and that’s the conversations we can’t not avoid.

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