The Pac-12 Season: It’s Been A Wild Ride So Far

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 25th, 2014

Well, at long last, after an up-and-down season, we can probably pretty safely say: The Pac is Back! Fully buying into the fact that NCAA Tournament performance alone does not equate to the quality of a conference, it is still fun to have three teams dancing in the second week of the tourney. The last time our fair conference had as many teams in the Sweet Sixteen was back in 2008, when it was still just the Pac-10 and also the last time a conference team made the Final Four (UCLA). Between 2009 and 2012, a total of just three teams made the Sweet Sixteen over that four-year span. Things finally ticked up last year with Oregon and Arizona representing us well, and now, we’re back to the promised land. So, how did we get here? Let’s take a quick look back and see.

Pac-12First, I want to admit that I’ve jumped on and off this bandwagon several times this season. Back in the preseason I made the call of seven Pac-12 teams getting invited to the NCAA Tournament and Stanford advancing to the Sweet Sixteen. The former prediction just missed, but the latter actually came true. Still, no use in me taking credit (or blame, for that matter) for either, because god knows I’ve tried to walk both of those back time and again. In early February, I was sitting through a UCLA blowout of Colorado in Pauley Pavilion and began a post (that I never got around to finishing) writing off the concept of seven Pac-12 NCAA Tournament teams entirely, and making the argument that the conference was closer to winding up with just three teams in the field. So there’s that.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

History Lesson: What 2014 UCLA Can Learn From 1994 UCLA’s Loss Against Tulsa

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 21st, 2014

When UCLA hosts Tulsa this evening in San Diego, the Bruins will be solid favorites over an upstart Golden Hurricane team, much as they were 20 years ago when they lost to a Tubby Smith-coached Tulsa team that advanced to the Sweet Sixteen before eventually losing to national champion Arkansas. Below, we’ll compare a few areas where that 1994 team failed with what this year’s UCLA team needs to do in order to advance to Sunday’s round of 32.

Shea Seals, Here Stealing The Ball From Charles O'Bannon, Helped Tulsa To A First-Round Win Over UCLA in 1994

Shea Seals, Here Stealing The Ball From Charles O’Bannon, Helped Tulsa To A First-Round Win Over UCLA in 1994

Show up ready to play. No offense to that talented Golden Hurricane team of 20 years ago, but it was clear from the start that UCLA did not show up ready to play. The Bruins didn’t take their opponent seriously prior to the game (I believe the quote was: “Tulsa – where’s that?”) and once the game did start, their defensive effort was lackluster at best in the halfcourt, while in transition it was even worse. Priority number one for Steve Alford is to avoid any repeats of games like the regular season finale at Washington State where the team basically confessed that it focused on the task at hand. Roll out tape of the Wazzu game; roll out tape of Tulsa 20 years ago; do what you gotta do, but make sure everybody is focused on this game and this game only. Coming off Saturday afternoon’s emotional Pac-12 Tournament win over Arizona, everybody needs to be able to duplicate that energy and take James Woodard, Rashard Smith, Shaquille Harrison and company as seriously as they took Nick Johnson, Aaron Gordon and T.J. McConnell.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Two Keys to Stanford vs. New Mexico This Afternoon

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 21st, 2014

In anticipation of the New Mexico vs. Stanford game this afternoon, here are two keys to the game.

New Mexico wins if… its big men can dominate. All season long, Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow were rugged offensive threats against Mountain West competition. The Lobo big men combined to batter normally undersized frontcourts in their conference to the tune of 33.9 points and 16.1 rebounds between them. Each of them took better than 40% of their shots right at the rim and each converted at least 68% of those shots at the rim. In short, the New Mexico bigs were dominant in and around the paint all year long. For Stanford, meanwhile, despite having plenty of size (New Mexico has slightly more size than the Cardinal, but Stanford is still in the top 15 nation-wide in terms of effective height), has long been regarded as soft in the middle. Stefan Nastic checks in at 6’11”, but is not a natural athlete and is more prone to committing a foul than effectively challenging shots at the rim. Dwight Powell, likewise, is more comfortable away from the hoop or in transition. Only 6’7” Josh Huestis is particularly good defending in the interior, and even that is sketchy. Still, Stanford has done a fairly good job all year limiting looks (just 32.6% of opponents shots come at the rim) – and more importantly, limiting successful attempts (of those shots, opponents make just 56.6%, a good defensive percentage for shots at the rim) – around the rim. If New Mexico is able to regularly convert buckets around the paint, the Lobos should be golden on Friday morning; if they’re harder than usual to come by, they could be in for a dog fight.

Dwight Powell Will Need To Be Physical Defensively And Explosive Offensively For the Cardinal To Advance (USA Today Sports)

Dwight Powell Will Need To Be Physical Defensively And Explosive Offensively For the Cardinal To Advance (USA Today Sports)

Stanford wins if… they’re able to isolate their offensive playmakers. In a lot of ways, these teams look very similar. Both are solid, if not spectacular on both ends of the floor. Neither team commits, not forces, a lot of turnovers; neither team pays a ton of attention to grabbing offensive boards, while both clean the defensive glass pretty well, and neither team is particularly adept at shooting a ton of threes. But one area where the Cardinal have a decided advantage is in athleticism and the ability for their offensive players to get their own shots. Across the board, things are almost even between these teams, but guys like Chasson Randle, Anthony Brown and Powell are particularly good at getting their own shots. For instance, Randle takes more than a third of his shots at the rim, makes 60% of those shots and under a quarter of those shots come off assists. What do those particular set of numbers indicate? A guy who beats his man off the bounce and gets to the rim on his own. His two-point jumper numbers are even more extreme; he takes 27% of his shots in such a fashion, makes 46.9% of them and is assisted on less than 2% of those shots. In other words: dribble, dribble, dribble, pull-up jumper. Powell’s and Brown’s numbers are less extreme, but both of those guys have long shown the ability to beat their defender in man-to-man defense and find their own shot. While New Mexico puts together good team defense, if the Cardinal are able to spread the court with effective three-point shooting (they’re knocking in 37% from three when they do get three-point looks this year), it could clear up the middle of the court for Stanford’s superior offensive creators to do their thing.

Share this story

Four Keys For Oregon Against BYU Today

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 20th, 2014

Oregon certainly has no shortage of guys that can put the ball in the hoop, with Joseph Young and Jason Calliste among the nation’s most efficient scoring threats. But looking beyond Oregon’s ability to knock in shots from all over the court, below we offer three other keys to Oregon’s chances to advance to the round of 32 by knocking off BYU today.

Mike Moser – For much of Mike Moser’s sophomore season at UNLV, the transfer from UCLA was not only on the very short list of the best players in the Mountain West, but he was in the conversation for All-American consideration. However, his junior year in Vegas was never quite right, with injuries and chemistry problems plaguing him throughout the season. For much of his lone season in Eugene, he looked more like the Moser we saw in his junior season than the one we saw as a sophomore. But then, somewhere in the middle of the season, things began to click for Moser. And, unsurprisingly, it was about the same time things began to click for the Ducks as a whole. Over the course of Oregon’s eight-game winning streak (prior to their Pac-12 quarterfinal loss), Moser averaged 16.6 points and 10.1 boards. And as his offensive game locked in, his focus and effectiveness on the defensive end also improved. In that quarterfinal loss, the passive and ineffective Moser was the rule as he floated around the perimeter offensively and was inattentive and soft defensively. The Ducks will most definitely need the good Moser to show up from here on out in order to survive and advance.

Mike Moser's Play Is A Key For Oregon's Tournament Chances (credit: Michael Shaw)

Mike Moser’s Play Is A Key For Oregon’s Tournament Chances (credit: Michael Shaw)

Defense – It is no secret that Oregon’s defense isn’t the college basketball equivalent of the ’84 Bears. They allow better than a point per possession on the season and ranked 93rd in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency numbers. But the difference between good Oregon and bad Oregon is pretty startling. In their nine losses, the Ducks have allowed 1.14 points per possession. But even those losses shouldn’t all be taken as equal; Dana Altman has clearly had this team work on their defense throughout the year, so they’re better now than they were at the start of January when they began their mid-season swoon. In those first five consecutive losses, the Ducks allowed 1.19 PPP, a number that would put them squarely in the conversation for worst defensive team in the nation. In the Ducks’ 23 wins, they’ve allowed an average of 0.99 points per possession: certainly not great, but the type of number that can allow the Ducks to win. Now, against a potent offense like BYU’s, odds are good that the Ducks won’t meet that kind of number, but the point is this: Oregon’s defense doesn’t have to be great against the Cougars, but it can’t be awful.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Previewing #8 Colorado vs. #9 Pittsburgh

Posted by Matt Patton & Andrew Murawa on March 20th, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

Pittsburgh will take on Colorado in Orlando at 1:40 PM ET Thursday afternoon on TBS. RTC correspondents Matt Patton and Andrew Murawa sat down and conducted a quick Q&A about the game featuring ACC vs. Pac-12 squads.

Without Spencer Dinwiddie, Colorado seems vulnerable especially on offense. (credit: David Zalubowski, AP Photo)

Without Spencer Dinwiddie, Colorado seems vulnerable, especially on offense. (David Zalubowski, AP Photo)

Matt: Obviously Colorado took a step backwards when it lost Spencer Dinwiddie in January. How have the Buffaloes replaced his offensive production, and is their seed inflated because of what they did with Dinwiddie earlier in the season?

Andrew: The biggest adjustment that Colorado has made to adjust following the Dinwiddie injury was to slide junior Askia Booker – previously known as an inveterate gunner – over to the point guard slot. Since that time, the number of shots per game out of Booker hasn’t changed much (only twice in the 17 games since the Dinwiddie injury has Booker hoisted fewer than 10 field goal attempts), but the quality of those shots has improved and it has been balanced by an obvious interest in getting his teammates involved. Other guys like Xavier Talton and Jaron Hopkins have seen their minutes and production increase as well, but both have been fairly inconsistent. All of this leads to the fact that while it has been admirable how the Buffaloes have held it together after the loss of their floor general, this team isn’t much of a threat to surprise in the NCAA Tournament, and the #8 seed is a generous appraisal of the team that will take the floor on Thursday. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Answering Six Questions About Texas vs. Arizona State

Posted by Brian Goodman (@bsgoodman) & Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 19th, 2014

In prepping for Thursday’s #7/#10 matchup between Texas and Arizona State, Big 12 microsite writer Brian Goodman (@bsgoodman) and Pac-12 correspondent Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) had a little Q&A session about both of these teams.

Andrew Murawa: Arizona State’s offense is dictated by the play of speedy point guard Jahii Carson. What can Texas do to slow him down?

Texas Has Struggled With Speedy Guards Like Jahii Carson This Season (Joe Nicholson, USA Today Sports)

Texas Has Struggled With Speedy Guards Like Jahii Carson This Season (Joe Nicholson, USA Today Sports)

Brian Goodman:  This season to date, Texas has faced its fair share of dynamic scoring point guards in Juwan Staten, Marcus Foster, Marcus Smart and Marcus Paige, and more often than not, their defense struggled to contain these players. Based on that track record, I’m not confident Isaiah Taylor and Javan Felix will be able to check Carson. The bigger question to me is how many of Carson’s shots will come at the basket and how many will come as the result of creating space farther away from the hoop. Joel Embiid and Isaiah Austin have been the Big 12′s best rim protectors, but Ridley is right there behind them. If he can alter Carson’s angles when he attacks, there’s a chance Texas comes out ahead; but if he can’t, it’s going to be a long day for the Longhorns.

BG: We know all about Carson. After the Sun Devils missed last year’s Tournament, it’s a decent bet that he’s going to look to put on a show, but Jermaine Marshall enters Thursday’s game in a funk over his last three outings. Specifically, what’s been different for him lately and how important is it for him to return to form in Milwaukee?

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

NIT and CBI Reaction: Pac-12 Teams

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) & Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on March 18th, 2014

Three Pac-12 teams that were not invited to the NCAA Tournament ended up receiving NIT or CBI bids. Let’s break them down in this instareaction format.

California – NIT, #2 seed in SMU Quadrant, vs. Utah Valley, 3/19, 7:30 PM PT - The Golden Bears had something of an argument for the NCAA field of 68, but nobody winds up all that shocked that they’re on the outside looking in. So, now, rather than playing for a national championship (at least in theory), Mike Montgomery and company have to shift gears and find something else to play for over their remaining games. For seniors like Justin Cobbs and Richard Solomon, such a shift will be difficult, as the NIT is clearly not where those guys hoped to be ending their careers. But, for youngsters like Jordan Mathews, Jabari Bird, and Sam Singer, and even junior Ricky Kreklow, whose career has been limited some by injury problems, maybe they can use the NIT as a springboard towards the inevitably larger roles that they’ll have to take on next season. As for match-ups, they will get a Utah Valley team in the opener that they should be able to outclass on talent alone, but beyond that, they will need to begin bringing their A-games, as either Arkansas or Indiana State could give them a serious push in the second-round game.

California Highlights The Pac-12's Representation In The NIT

California Highlights The Pac-12′s Representation In The NIT

Utah – NIT, #5 seed in Minnesota’s Quadrant, at Saint Mary’s, 3/18, 8:00 PM PT, ESPN2 – The Utes got jobbed. Plain and simple. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. Going by the eye test, this team should have been one of the first four or five left out of the NCAA Tournament. Instead, the NIT selection committee relied far too much on strength of schedule and relegated Utah to a first round road game. Saint Mary’s, who most projected to barely sneak into the NIT, receives a better seed and will host the Utes. The Gaels finished fourth in the WCC and fell to Gonzaga in the semifinals of their conference tournament. They opened the year at 9-0, then went to Honolulu, got distracted by the beach, and fell hard from the ranks of the unbeaten. First came a loss against South Carolina. Then Hawaii nipped them, and then George Mason did the same on Christmas morning. And after sneaking past Pacific a few days later, they went up to Spokane and got hammered for a 22-point loss against the Zags. Things have been up and down since, with a little more good than bad, and the Gaels enter the NIT at a 22-11 clip.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Pac-12 M5: 03.17.14 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on March 17th, 2014

pac12_morning5

  1. Junior guard Joseph Young leads his Oregon team with 18.6 PPG, but his style of play in no way represents a dominating ball hog. The Houston transfer’s efficiency isn’t based on over-dribbling, but rather a quick-release jumper and the ability to come off screens as well as anyone else in the conference. He can also force his way into the lane and convert at the rim with ease, which keeps his averages up when he’s cold from outside. Young could very well declare for this June’s NBA draft, as he’s got all the necessary tools to go late in the first round or early in the second. That may ultimately depend on if he can improve his stock even more with an NCAA Tournament run over the next couple weeks. He’s come up clutch in big games throughout his first season in Eugene, scoring 25 points in an overtime win against BYU, and 26 in double overtime to hold off UCLA in Westwood. Tournament run or not, this has been a terrific and rare season for Young, and head coach Dana Altman‘s biggest recruiting job this spring could be trying to convince Young to return for a senior campaign.
  2. After a somewhat boring opening three rounds at the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas, guard Jordan Adams shot UCLA to the league’s automatic bid in a thrilling 75-71 victory against top-seeded Arizona. Adams had 19 points on Saturday afternoon at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, including a three-pointer with 45 seconds left to break a 68-68 tie. While ugly at times in the final few minutes, the game was fast-paced and heart-pounding, and everything about it screamed March. The Bruins finished the regular season at 26-8 with the upset, while the Wildcats dropped to 30-4.
  3. Calling to replace Oregon State coach Craig Robinson? Great, you must not be the guy in charge of doing it. At least that’s what John Canzano says, citing the fact that the Beavers can’t afford to fire their coach, and even if they could, no one worth replacing Robinson would want the job. The fact of the matter is, in some ways, you can’t afford not to let him go. Recruiting is down, and will continue to decline as prospects see a quarter-filled Gill Coliseum night in and night out. That translates into even less wins, and more empty seats. It’s a vicious cycle.
  4. Washington may not have a game scheduled yet for next season, but the 2015-16 campaign does have one. The Huskies and Texas will meet on November 14, 2015 in Shanghai, a day after the regular season begins back home in the United States. The game is part of the conference’s Globalization Initiative, which began in 2011, and will actually be the project’s first regular season basketball game.
  5. Yesterday, of course, was Selection Sunday, and six teams from the Pac-12 were chosen for the NCAA Tournament. Arizona led the conference as a #1 seed, and Pac-12 Tourney champion UCLA was placed on the four line. Oregon and Colorado followed as #7 and #8 seeds, respectively, and the conference’s representation was rounded out by Arizona State and Stanford on the #10 line.
Share this story

NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Pac-12 Teams

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) & Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 16th, 2014

Six Pac-12 teams were invited to the NCAA Tournament today. Let’s break down each of them in this instareaction format.

Arizona – NCAA, #1 seed in West region, San Diego pod, vs. Weber State, 3/21 - The Pac-12’s regular season champion earns a #1 seed and gets to play in San Diego and Anaheim until the Final Four in Arlington. The selection committee didn’t throw us any curveballs with this one, as each of the major prognostications have had the Wildcats on the top line and staying out west for some time now. They get Big Sky champion Weber State in the opener, and while the potential Third Round game is much more interesting, we’ll get to that in a moment. The Wildcats from Ogden finished the year at 19-11 and won both conference tournament games by an average of 12 points. Senior guard/forward Davison Berry is their only main offensive threat, averaging 19.1 PPG. Weber lost by 23 at UCLA in their final game before Christmas break, it’s only Pac-12 competition of the season.  Sean Miller’s team will face either Gonzaga or Oklahoma State in that one. The Bulldogs are the only team besides Creighton in this region that will travel as well as Arizona fans, so that potential matchup wouldn’t necessarily be a “home game” for the Cats. If it’s Oklahoma State in that second game, the one seed gets a hot Cowboy team; always a dangerous matchup come tournament time. They have won five of their last seven, with the two losses coming against Top 20 opponents in overtime. Sophomore point guard Marcus Smart is a difficult matchup for anybody, and Senior Markel Brown is averaging over 17 PPG. Oklahoma State went 3-1 against opponents shared with Arizona (Colorado and Texas Tech), while the Wildcats are 3-0.

Arizona's Back In The Familiar Spot of A 1-Seed And An NCAA Favorite (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

Arizona’s Back In The Familiar Spot of A 1-Seed And An NCAA Favorite (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

UCLA – NCAA, #4 seed in South region, San Diego pod , vs. Tulsa, 3/21 – When UCLA fans saw their team pop up on the #4 line in San Diego, they had to be pleased; their team not only earns a high seed, but also gets to play just a quick jaunt down Interstate 5. That pleasure, however, was probably short-lived, as Tulsa appearing on the #13 line across from them likely brought back some bad memories of a game 20 years ago in 1994, when a Tubby Smith-coached Tulsa team hung 112 on Ed O’Bannon, Tyus Edney and Jim Harrick’s squad and booted the Bruins in round one. Back in 1994, UCLA was a young and talented team that had yet to consistently live up to its vast potential despite flashes of brilliance, quite similar to the Bruins 20 years later. Back then, Tulsa was a team that went 15-3 in the Missouri Valley Conference largely on the stretch of an up-tempo offense and a pair of big-time scorers (Gary Collier and Shea Seals – who combined for 54 in the win over UCLA) for an up-and-coming head coach. This time around, second-year head coach Danny Manning has Tulsa getting it done mostly on the defensive end, with undersized grinders keeping the Golden Hurricane in the top 30 nationally in defensive efficiency. The Pac-12 team with roughly the same type of efficiency numbers as Tulsa would be Colorado, a team that UCLA beat in their two meetings by an average of 15.5 points per game. Tulsa will certainly test UCLA, but the Bruins are used to playing teams with defenses in the same vicinity and then going out there and simply outscoring them. Plus, for whoever winds up seeing UCLA across the court from them this postseason, the big question is: who checks Kyle Anderson? An answer is not immediately apparent for the Golden Hurricane. Looking further down the line for UCLA, Virginia Commonwealth potentially awaits in the round of 32, a team that can cause all sorts of matchup problems in a quick turnaround. And if the Bruins are fortunate enough to get out of the first weekend, they can expect to see #1 overall seed Florida in the Sweet Sixteen. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there, but that is an utterly winnable game for the Bruins.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Eight Predictions For The Pac-12 On Selection Sunday

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on March 16th, 2014

  • Arizona will get a #1 seed in the West region. This one’s almost too easy. Without a team west of Wichita vying for a seed above the four line, the Wildcats have no competition for this spot. They have been locked into a one seed ever since their dominating performance at Colorado on February 22, and losses to Oregon and UCLA in the final two weeks of the season doesn’t change that. Expect Sean Miller‘s team to also be sent to San Diego for its opening games in the tournament.
  • UCLA is underseeded, and its opponents will pay for it. Without a signature non-conference win and losses like the 18-point one suffered at Washington State dotting its schedule, I think the committee slots UCLA as a #6 seed, instead of the four or five the Bruins probably deserve. This will hurt their second and third round opponents more than anything, as we’ve seen in recent years.

    UCLA Guard Jordan Adams Is Averaging 17.2 PPG And Has Come Up Clutch In Big Games (Stephen Dunn)

    UCLA Guard Jordan Adams Is Averaging 17.2 PPG And Has Come Up Clutch In Big Games (Stephen Dunn)

  • Oregon avoids the 8/9 game, is gifted a #7 seed. The committee loves rewarding teams that finish the season strong, and Oregon closed the year on an 8-1 tear. I think the Ducks avoid the 8/9 game (and therefore a matchup with a top seed in their second game), and will play a #10 seed in their opener.
  • Colorado and Stanford do play the 8/9 game. Both the Buffaloes and Cardinal had a chance to pull an Oregon and avoid the eight or nine line, but some spectacular flameouts in Las Vegas make that impossible. Both will play in an 8/9 game. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

Rushed Reactions: UCLA 75, #3 Arizona 71

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 15th, 2014

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways:

  1. Rare Talent. If you watched the game, you saw it all over the place. You saw it in UCLA’s 6’9” sophomore point guard Kyle Anderson, who had 15 defensive rebounds to go with 21 points, five assists and just one turnover. You saw it in Arizona’s freshman power forward Aaron Gordon, who spent time trying to check the opposition’s point guard as well creating plays of his own, dishing out a whopping eight assists (many of them of the spectacular variety, such as an epic alley-oop to junior Nick Johnson). Speaking of Johnson, this is a 6’3” guy who looks like your average ordinary Joe, right up until the point that his feet leave the ground and then just keep going up and up and up. Jordan Adams, Norman Powell, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, T.J. McConnell, Gabe York, and the Wear twins. There was no shortage of talent on the MGM Grand Arena court this afternoon and with many of them turning in elite performances, it was a fantastic game to watch.

    Kyle Anderson and UCLA Took Home The Conference Title In Spectacular Fashion Saturday (Julie Jacobson, AP Photo).

    Kyle Anderson and UCLA Took Home The Conference Title In Spectacular Fashion Saturday (Julie Jacobson, AP Photo).

  2. Toughness. Despite all the high-flying wonderment and spectacular plays, tournament titles require toughness, and there was no shortage of that today. Often things like this are measured in rebounding, and guys like Anderson and Gordon did not disappoint there with Tony Parker (seven boards), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (eight) and Kaleb Tarczewski (seven) chipping in as well. But it is more than just that. It is setting and fighting through hard screens, like the one Parker set to free up Jordan Adams for what would turn out to be the game-winning three. It is getting on the floor for loose ball, as happened several times today, most famously when Travis Wear dug down deep and outraced Gordon to dive for a loose ball near the end line. As Arizona head coach Sean Miller put it afterward, “If you want to love college basketball, just watch that.” And if you want to win championships, you’ve gotta do that too. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

Pac-12 Tourney Underwhelms on the Way to a Much-Anticipated Arizona/UCLA Final

Posted by AMurawa on March 15th, 2014

Let’s be blunt: through ten of the 11 games in the Pac-12 Tournament, this has not been a particularly thrilling tourney. Just three games have been decided by single figures; the other seven games have had final margins of an average of more than 20 points. Neither Arizona nor UCLA, the two teams that will appear in today’s championship game, have been tested at all, with the Wildcats winning their two games by an average of 26 points and the Bruins relatively sneaking by with an average margin of victory of just 23 points. But none of that matters now. In a season where Arizona and UCLA were scheduled to play just once (at Pauley Pavilion, way back on January 9), the basketball gods have seen fit to correct such an egregious oversight by the conference schedule-makers and arranged for the conference’s two elite programs to get another crack at it. As Adam Butler so eloquently put it, it is the title game we need and deserve.

Arizona and UCLA Will Meet In The Pac-12 Title Game For Just The Second Time Ever (Julie Jacobson, AP Photo)

Arizona and UCLA Will Meet In The Pac-12 Title Game For Just The Second Time Ever (Julie Jacobson, AP Photo)

We need it, because not only has it become clear that these are, in fact, the two best teams in the conference, but also because missing out on a return game of the conference’s best rivalry in the name of progress is certainly an example of progress not being made. And, we deserve it because, after the past handful of years (hitting rock bottom in 2011-12 when the regular season conference champion was shipped to the NIT), Pac-12 basketball diehards have earned a little good karma. Arizona/UCLA in a conference championship game will occur for only the second time in history (the last time was 1990 – the final conference tournament for more than 10 seasons), and it will give us a chance to relive and come to terms with last year’s controversial semifinal game.

Arizona will head into the title game on an absolute roll, playing arguably their best ball of the season at precisely the right time, as somewhere in the neighborhood of a seven-point favorite. In their two Pac-12 Tournament games so far, the ‘Cats have allowed just 0.72 points per possession. Aaron Gordon seems to be on a crusade to highlight the lunacy of his absence from the Pac-12 All-Defensive team, with five blocks and five steals punctuating his versatile and harassing defense. He’s capable of dominating a Wear twin if Sean Miller decides to go that way, or he could make things very uncomfortable for Kyle Anderson if the ‘Cats decide to check the UCLA point guard/power forward with their most versatile defender. Meanwhile, Nick Johnson (who did make the Pac-12 All-Defensive team) has already this season showed his ability to completely lock up Jordan Adams. In fact, in that first match-up, the Wildcats’ held Anderson and Adams to a combined 10-of-30 from the field along with five turnovers. Furthermore, the Wear twins were largely invisible, combining for 10 points and four boards in 40 minutes of action. These are the types of things this Arizona defense is capable of doing, namely shutting off the water for a handful of key cogs on the opposition.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story