Pac-12 Burning Questions: How Quickly Can Dillon Brooks Get Healthy?

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 19th, 2016

It seems unfair to say that Oregon’s chances at competing for a National Title depend solely on the long-term health of Dillon Brooks, especially considering the sheer amount of talent and depth Dana Altman has stockpiled in Eugene. But then again, Brooks is no ordinary role player either. The Toronto, Ontario, native emerged as one of the best two-way players in the Pac-12 last season, averaging 16.7 points per game (47.0% FG) to go with 5.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game. He started in all 38 of the Ducks’ games and was the linchpin to Altman’s successful attempt at a nearly position-less rotation. He played as the team’s nominal power forward, but his NBA size and athleticism allowed him to easily guard multiple positions and a match-up nightmare on the other end of the floor. Although he laid a seven-point egg in the Elite Eight against Oklahoma, his performances in the Round of 32 against St. Joseph’s and in the Sweet Sixteen against Duke positioned him as a leading candidate for Pac-12 Preseason Player of the Year this season.

How will Oregon adapt without Brooks? (Photo Credit: Craig Strobeck)

How will Oregon adapt without Brooks? (Photo Credit: Craig Strobeck)

When Brooks withdrew his name from the NBA Draft in late May, it instantly made the Ducks a trendy 2017 title contender. That outlook, however, changed considerably when Altman casually mentioned in a summer conference call that Brooks had been held out of workouts because of a “problem with his foot.” Brooks had foot surgery two weeks later, and it became increasingly clear by August that he was going to miss part of the regular season. That shouldn’t be a major issue, though, as the Ducks are one of the few teams in the country with sufficient talent and depth to replace a player of Brooks’ caliber. If Altman wants to play small, he can feel confident in the trio of Casey Benson, Dylan Ennis, and Tyler Dorsey. If he prefers a larger lineup, versatile big men Chris Boucher, Jordan Bell, and JuCo transfer Kavell Williams-Bigby lead one of the country’s best stables of post players. If the team’s recent exhibition games in Spain were any indication, Altman plans to mix and match until he finds a rotation he is comfortable with, a luxury most coaches in the conference surely envy. But that depth won’t change the fact that Oregon will still be missing its best player on both ends of the floor.

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An Early Look at Next Season’s Pac-12

Posted by Mike Lemaire on April 13th, 2016

It is never too early to predict how the Pac-12 will look heading into next season. Let’s not waste words and just get into a look at each team by projected order of finish.

1. Oregon

Assuming Brooks Returns, Oregon Will Be The Class of the PAC-12 Again. (Craig Strobeck)

Assuming Brooks Returns, Oregon Will Be The Class of the Pac-12 Again. (Craig Strobeck)

  • Who’s back: Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey, Casey Benson, Chris Boucher, Jordan Bell, Dylan Ennis
  • Who’s new: M.J. Cage, Keith Smith, Payton Pritchard
  • The skinny: Assuming Brooks returns to school and Ennis is eligible and healthy enough to play a full season, the Ducks will run almost two-deep at every position. Boucher’s extra year of eligibility is also huge because it again gives Oregon two of the best rim-protectors in the country while allowing Dana Altman to space the floor. Don’t sleep on the Ducks’ recruiting class, either; there aren’t any stars here, but Cage and Pritchard will both contribute early.

2. Arizona

  • Who’s back: Allonzo Trier, Ray Smith, Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Dusan Ristic, Kadeem Allen, Chance Comanche
  • Who’s new: Rawle Alkins, Kobi Simmons, Lauri Markkanen
  • The skinny: Simmons is the key here. If the point guard is as good as everyone seems to think he is, the Wildcats have the athletes elsewhere to be above-average offensively and elite defensively. Trier could be a Pac-12 Player of the Year contender and some believe that Smith, now healthy after missing all of last season, is the better player in that recruiting class. Sean Miller has reportedly been sniffing around the graduate transfer market as well — if the Wildcats can land an extra big man, that would help shore up a frontcourt that right now consists of Ristic and maybe Comanche.

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Pac-12 Postseason Odds and Ends

Posted by Mike Lemaire on April 1st, 2016

The college basketball season isn’t quite over yet but the page has already turned for the Pac-12. Once Oregon was rudely bounced from the tournament by Oklahoma last weekend, it was time for the always exciting period when coaches are hired and fired, players declare for the NBA Draft, and some others decide on a change of scenery. The Pac-12 has been full of these changes in the past two weeks — from Stanford hiring a new coach to Washington’s precocious freshmen hiring agents to a multitude of players transferring — there’s been a lot of action.

Let’s break down some of the moves that have already been announced and what they mean for their respective teams.

Jerod Haase Hired by Stanford

Jerod Haase Has Won A Lot In C-USA But Can He Do It In The PAC-12 Too?

Stanford Coach Jerod Haase Has Won A Lot In C-USA But Can He Do It In The PAC-12 Too?

Stanford isn’t the can’t-miss job that many think it is, but it still feels like the Cardinal reached in its replacement of Johnny Dawkins. Haase came up as an assistant to Roy Williams and made headlines when his team at UAB beat Iowa State last season, but he has only been to the NCAA Tournament once and his three seasons of 20+ wins are as much a result of Conference USA being awful as his coaching prowess. Furthermore, advanced statistics have not been impressed with the Blazers at all despite their several-year win totals. The former Cal graduate and Bay Area native will bring energy and excitement to the Stanford program, but the jury is out on whether he can coach at this level.

Dejounte Murray and Marquese Chriss Declare for NBA Draft

It isn’t surprising that Murray and Chriss have decided to test the waters after excellent freshman seasons at Washington. It also wouldn’t have been surprising if they had decided to stay in the draft after gathering enough information. What is surprising is that both signed with agents almost immediately, effectively ending their college careers before March was even finished. Both players have a shot at at the lottery, which will mean that their decisions are probably good ones. But Washington could have been poised for a special season next year with the duo back in Seattle. Now, Lorenzo Romar’s rebuilding project looks to be moving a bit slower now.

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From Bad to Really Bad: Assessing the Pac-12’s NCAA Tournament

Posted by Mike Lemaire on March 22nd, 2016

The dust has settled on a wild first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, and guess what Pac-12 fans? All that talk about the conference being overrated and its teams not showing up on the big stage in March?

It is all pretty much true!

Oregon is the lone remaining representative of Bill Walton’s Conference of Champions and the onus is on the Ducks to carry the rest of the conference from here on out. This is because the league didn’t just have another tough tournament; it has had a brutally bad tournament. Only Utah and Oregon made it out of the First Round and the Utes didn’t exactly do the conference proud by getting run out of the gym against Gonzaga.

In honor of all the awfulness, we ranked the performances from really bad to downright awful and went back to wishing Oregon well against Duke.

USC.

Andy Enfield's Team Choked Away A Late Lead But They Are Still Young

Andy Enfield’s Team Choked Away A Late Lead But Otherwise Actually Played Providence Team

Congratulations to the Trojans, a team that lost to Providence at the buzzer and therefore cemented its status as the Least Bad Pac-12 Tournament Team of 2016. In the interest of full disclosure, USC basically had Providence on the ropes with three minutes to play and frittered the lead away in a flurry of turnovers and missed free throws. You could therefore make an argument that thee Trjoans’ performance in this Tournament was especially bad. The team’s youth and inexperience showed through in a big way down the stretch, as it did pretty much all season long. They shot the ball well, played solid defense for the most part, and literally return everybody, so there’s no obvious reason to hang their heads. They probably would have just been blown out by North Carolina in the Second Round anyway.

Oregon State. Aside from some awful shooting from Stephen Thompson and general uselessness from Malcolm Duvivier, the Beavers actually played VCU tough. The team’s offensive struggles were expected against the Rams’ athletic defense, but Oregon State mitigated some of its shortcomings by taking care of the basketball and locking down their perimeter shooters. The moral victory, however, is limited in that the Rams shot better than 60 percent on their two-pointers and completely had their way on the offensive glass. The Beavers will miss Gary Payton II next season, but they have a solid young nucleus and should be excited about the future in Corvallis.

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Cal’s Tyrone Wallace Sidelined Again With Broken Hand

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker) on March 18th, 2016

California has an unexpected hole in its starting lineup today after senior point guard Tyrone Wallace broke his hand for the second time this season days before the Golden Bears’ NCAA Tournament game. The injury came in a non-contact drill when Wallace, the team’s lone senior, got his hand caught in a teammate’s jersey, head coach Cuonzo Martin said during a Thursday news conference. With the importance of veteran guard play in the NCAA Tournament, the injury couldn’t have come at a worse time for the #4 seed in the South Region. But at least they’ve already played five games without Wallace this season. The Bears went 3-2 in those games, losing both ends of the Pac-12’s difficult Utah/Colorado road trip in late January and winning home games against Stanford, Arizona and Arizona State with junior Sam Singer as their point guard.

Tyrone Wallace might be the best player in the Pac-12, but he's going to need help for Cal to stay near the top of the conference standings. (AP)

The loss of Tyrone Wallace puts junior point guard Sam Singer back in the driver’s seat. (AP)

“Everybody loses someone at some level, injuries, stuff happens. You have 13 scholarships. So there’s no excuses, it’s part of the game,” Martin said. “We won games with Sam at our point. I’m not worried at all. Sam will do a great job at the point guard position and whoever backs him up will do well as well.” But there’s a big difference between home conference games in January and NCAA Tournament games in March, and there’s just as big a difference between Wallace and Singer. Wallace leads Cal with 32.2 minutes, 15.3 points, 4.4 assists and 1.0 steal per game, and averages 5.4 rebounds as well. Singer, who has played in every game, averages 3.5 points, 2.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists in just under 20 minutes per contest. Read the rest of this entry »

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When to Fire Your Head Coach?

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 15th, 2016

Mixed in here with the end of the regular season and the start of the postseason is another far less festive time of the college basketball season: firing season. Johnny Dawkins, Joe Scott, Trent Johnson, Donnie Jones, Bruiser Flint, and Kerry Keating are among the names that have already received pink slips, while fans in various locales across the country are hoping against hope that their current coach joins such the list sooner than later. Sure, it’s a pretty macabre pastime to speculate on the status of a person’s livelihood and hope that he suffers a terrible indignity in a very public fashion. But somehow, such a thing has become a fundamental part of the sports landscape. As sports have increased in ubiquity and attention across the country, the level of patience granted to head coaches in all sports has drastically shrunk.

John Wooden, UCLA

Given Today’s Standards, John Wooden May Have Been Fired A Full Decade Before His First National Title.

Need proof? Remember that John Wooden didn’t win his first NCAA title until his 16th season at UCLA and won just three conference titles in his first 13. Given today’s standards for coaches at the same institution, Wooden would have likely been fired in 1954 after a second straight year in which he didn’t even win the Pacific Coast Conference’s four-team southern division (the Bruins finished third of four teams in 1953 and second in 1954). Dean Smith? He didn’t win an ACC title until his sixth season at North Carolina and likely would have been fired in today’s environment after a 6-8 conference record in his third season. If he had somehow survived that, he certainly would have been crucified for making five Final Fours in the next 11 seasons but failing to win a single title; “can’t win the big one” would have been the lame complaint. Mike Krzyzewski? Duke’s head coach was very lucky to survive a bumpy start to his ACC career in which his second and third seasons resulted in combined records of 21-34 overall and 7-21 in conference play. He also came away empty in his first four Final Four appearances, and you probably know the rest.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Pac-12

Posted by Adam Butler on March 14th, 2016

Your favorite Pac-12 school is seeded right about where it should be. The Conference of Champions got what it deserved, which was thorough representation in the NCAA Tournament, decent regionalization, and Sir Charles’ annual homerism. Consider that seven bids is historic for this conference and there really isn’t much to be bugged about here. That’s an accomplishment. Consider further that the torchbearer is neither Arizona nor (definitively) UCLA and it’s a considerable accomplishment. Helluva 2016, Pac. But it’s not over yet (I unfortunately don’t think we’re very far from the end, however) and we’ve got a bracket to digest. Let’s walk through the Pac’s seeding and tourney prospects:

#1 Oregon, West Region: Don’t let Dana Altman’s ho-hum personality and deflection of his team’s success fool you: The guy knows what he’s doing. On multiple occasions to this point he’s noted that he hasn’t been in this #1 seed scenario before. You know what he has been to? The NCAA Tournament. He’s also done some winning in it, and while this is the highest seed he’s ever attained, he has a basketball team with a fantastic draw. And it’s not the matchups that matter as much when you see the way Oregon is playing right now. Any of Elgin Cook (won it), Dillon Brooks, or Tyler Dorsey could have been awarded the Pac-12 tournament MOP and you would have agreed. The scoring threat of Dorsey is probably what sets them apart as we head into the most guard-critical time of the season. If forced to look at their possible matchups, however, do you expect a fast paced Saint Joseph’s to make the Ducks uncomfortable? Conversely – and naturally, because this is the NCAA Tournament – Cincinnati offers the stark contrast in style: slower and great defensively. I’d ask how that worked out for Utah. More broadly than the first weekend, Oregon and Baylor remains a fun matchup and any possible NCAA opportunity to play/beat Duke is welcomed (something Oregon would be very poised to do). Ultimately I think Oklahoma offers the greatest threat to eliminating the Ducks. Oregon finished ninth in 3FG% defense in the Pac and ranks 264th nationally. The Sooners? Making a casual 43 percent of its threes on the season. Of course both teams would have to get there for any shots to be taken and it is worth noting that the Ducks have the lowest KenPom rating of any of the top seeds and three of the twos.

Dillon Brooks and the Ducks are heading to the NCAA Tournament as a #1 seed. (Photo: Cole Elsasser/Emerald)

Dillon Brooks and the Ducks are heading to the NCAA Tournament as a #1 seed. (Photo: Cole Elsasser/Emerald)

#3 Utah, Midwest Region: I like this draw for Utah. Their first weekend pod seems to be rightfully challenging but by no means insurmountable (they are the #3 seed afterall). Fresno State is a nice story but it should prove to be a relatively easy First Round opponent. They rate 105th in KenPom and Utah has lost just two KenPom 100+ games the last two seasons. I’ll take the Utes. Of course looming large here is Michigan State. They’re really good and will be in my Final Four. So let’s back up to a possible Utah-Gonzaga game. This would be a really nice matchup, again, for the Utes. Beyond the fact that Gonzaga just isn’t that great this year, I  like the number of long bodies they can throw at Kyle Wiltjer and  think Sabonis-Poeltl would be fantastic foreign-born TV. Utah would ultimately have the advantage at the guard spot where the Zags really, really struggle. And yes, I’ll admit that I’ve completely dismissed Seton Hall which is very irresponsible considering they’ve beaten Xavier twice and Villanova once in the last three weeks. Utah, one could argue, has struggled with scoring guards (see: Trier, Allonzo; Dorsey, Tyler; Jacobs, Julian) of which Seton Hall has one of the best in Isaiah Whitehead.

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Pac-12 Tournament: Is Bigger Better?

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) on March 14th, 2016

The teams have been selected and our favorite tournament is about to begin. The Pac-12 scope is about to broaden far beyond our western view and in my opinion the nation needs to be on high Oregon Ducks alert. It’s also my opinion that we should all be thankful that the Pac-12 logo doesn’t look like the Big Ten’s. But before we dive too deeply into the 68-team version of college basketball, some thoughts on the Pac-12 Tournament that just wrapped. It was the fifth Las Vegas iteration and when Oregon was celebrated as its champion, confetti and other things we didn’t have to clean up were shot all over. It made for a great photo but also felt like a farewell of sorts. Last Friday the Pac-12 announced it will be moving its wildly successful men’s tournament to the T-Mobile Arena nearby. A few bullets on the T-Mobile Arena to be absorbed as fact and not leading comments:

The MGM Grand Has Been Good to the Pac-12 Tournament (USA Today Images)

The MGM Grand Has Been Good to the Pac-12 Tournament (USA Today Images)

  • It will open April 6, 2016.
  • It cost $375 million to construct.
  • It seats 18,800 basketball fans.

The Arena isn’t off the strip (or at least no further off the strip than the MGM Grand Garden Arena) and is going to be an upgrade in facilities. If Vegas does anything well it is build more and more lavishly and I suspect this new venture will fulfill that pattern. My gut says the T-Mobile Arena is going to be incredible. The experience will not be lacking and if Friday night’s semifinals are any indication of the direction of Pac-12 basketball, we won’t soon be lacking for excitement even if the games are played at a local park in Henderson. But my gut also says that we (Pac-12 fans) will struggle to fill those 18,800 seats. That the atmosphere could be amiss in such a ferociously grand upgrade. And don’t get me wrong, I’m all for change in the spirit of improvement. I question, however, for a conference not known for its superb attendance, what are we solving for in broadening that denominator? Because right now the tournament is perfectly filled (carried by Arizona fans) in an arena that fits just right. Saturday’s championship game flirted with capacity even into the final moments of a lopsided contest. Read the rest of this entry »

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Best and Worst Case Scenarios For the Pac-12’s Top Four

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 13th, 2016

If you’re a Pac-12 fan feeling nervous about Selection Sunday, here are two words of advice: don’t fret! We’re here to tell you that everything is going to work out: Seven conference teams (Oregon, Utah, California, Arizona, Colorado, USC and Oregon State) will get invitations to the Big Dance. Those first four will likely be placed among the top six seed lines, while the last three should be assigned to tougher sledding somewhere in the #7-#11 range. Washington fans? Sorry, but hopefully you’ll be able to enjoy a home NIT game. Colorado, USC, Oregon State: Be happy that you’re dancing and your teams should believe they can at least win that opener, but anything beyond that will be pure gravy. Those first four teams (Oregon, Utah, California, Arizona), however, should have higher expectations. While there are plenty of fans all over the country with unreasonably lofty hopes at this time of year, none of those four teams are insane to think about a Final Four appearance so long as everything breaks just right. What is “everything” for this quartet? And what are the scenarios that could trip them up prematurely? Let’s dig into best and worst case scenarios for each of the Pac-12’s top four teams.

Oregon

The Ducks Are The Pac-12's Most Final Four-Ready Team (Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

The Ducks Are The Pac-12’s Most Final Four-Ready Team (Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

Final Four Team If: Hey, getting to the Final Four is a ridiculously difficult task (just ask Arizona fans about Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker) even if you have a once-in-a-generation team like these Ducks have. But Oregon is the perfect example of modern-day position-less basketball. In a seven-man rotation, they havve one true point guard type, one true big-man type, then five versatile guys who are just, you know, basketball players. They can guard almost any position, share the ball, hit jumpers, and attack the rim off the bounce. They’re also so well coached that if an opponent has a defensive weakness, you can bet the Ducks will exploit it. Offensively, they’re elite. Defensively, they’re just now rounding into a form that belies their season-long numbers. The sky is the limit here. Read the rest of this entry »

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Two Angles on Last Night’s Oregon/Arizona Classic

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) and Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 12th, 2016

On Friday night in Las Vegas, Oregon outlasted Arizona in stunning fashion, withstanding a furious comeback to win in overtime. Below are two perspectives on the outcome, coming from each team’s perspective.

On Arizona

What Arizona has leaned on all season long is its distinct advantage in the frontcourt. It’s a traditional looking lineup the Wildcats roll out there, which is neither right nor wrong; it’s what they have. Against Oregon, that might not cut it. Because to contextualize what the Ducks have all over its roster, they have innumerable small forwards. Arizona has none (or a few who are limited). When considering matchups, this is a tough one, arguably, for both teams. But Ryan Anderson was neutralized, Kaleb Tarczewski isn’t an offensive threat, and the rest of the team could be bullied by the mismatches. It’s what allowed Oregon to effectively win the game in the final minutes of the first half.

Mark Tollefsen Missed Just One Shot On Friday Night, But He's Probably Still Thinking About That One (Daily Wildcat)

Mark Tollefsen Missed Just One Shot On Friday Night, But He’s Probably Still Thinking About That One (Daily Wildcat)

So naturally: what a ball game! We can exhaust the narrative of MARCH MADNESS but there’s a reason the damn line stands. Mark Tollefesen had two free throws with 0.4 seconds remaining to win the contest. To win the game. He didn’t win the game. And consider the box score. The Wildcats had 27 offensive rebounds and 27 second chance points. The Ducks had 24 points off of 15 (not a terrible number) Arizona turnovers. The Wildcats were a free throw make by an 83 percent foul shooter from winning a game in which – at that point – they had abysmal performances from  Anderson and Gabe York.

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