Rounding Up Pac-12 Quarterfinal Thursday

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 14th, 2014

The big talk around the conference tournament on Wednesday was Utah’s potential. A KenPom darling ranked in the upper 30s by that metric with a history of playing everybody – including conference elite Arizona – tough, they were usually somewhere around the “Next Four Out” section of most bracketology projections. A win over Arizona in Thursday’s quarterfinal, and maybe they jump California for the seventh Pac-12 team in line for an NCAA bid. For the first segment of the game Thursday afternoon, things were fine, with the Wildcats holding a 7-6 lead at the under-16 timeout. And then. Well. Adjectives fail to adequately describe, so let’s jump right to the numbers: over the remainder of the half, Arizona outscored the Utes 27-6 and 44-11 over the next roughly 23 minutes of game time. At the half, Utah was averaging less than a point every two possessions (0.48 PPP). Arizona was grabbing 92.9% of defensive rebound opportunities and 53.8% on the offensive end. They were leading 8-0 in fast break points, 9-2 in points off turnovers and 16-8 in points in the paint. Three Utes scored in the first half, and their top-three leading scorers on the year – Delon Wright, Jordan Loveridge and Brendan Taylor – were not among them. We could go on.

Arizona's Defensive Dominance Was Displayed Early and Often Thursday Afternoon (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

Arizona’s Defensive Dominance Was Displayed Early and Often Thursday Afternoon (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

There are more stats to be spouted about how dominant the Wildcats were on Thursday afternoon, but there will be more opportunities for them to show off for the rest of the country. Put simply, if the Arizona team that showed up today, and that showed up a couple weeks back dominating the Bay Area schools, continues to be the default Wildcat team, they’ve got a very good chance of cutting down the nets in April. As for Utah, they’ll have an opportunity to continue their season in the NIT, and they’ll be a very tough out there. And next year, behind Wright and Loveridge, they’ll be a favorite for an upper-division Pac-12 finish and an NCAA Tournament invitation. Neither of those things, however, give them much solace now.

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Thoughts From the First Day of the Pac-12 Tournament

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) & Bennet Hayes (@HoopsTraveler) on March 13th, 2014

The opener of the Pac-12 conference tournament was a battle between the eight and nine seeds – Utah and Washington – for the right to keep their faint NCAA Tournament hopes alive and the right to face one-seed Arizona on Thursday. Utah controlled the first half, but then let up and allowed the Huskies back into it, before putting together a 7-1 run in the final minute to provide the final margin of victory. For the Utes, this outcome leaves us with two important questions: 1) can they hang with Arizona on Thursday and 2) what will it take for them to earn an NCAA Tournament bid?

Delon Wright And The Utes Kept Their NCAA Tournament Hopes Alive, But Bigger Tests Loom (Kelley L. Cox, USA Today Sports)

Delon Wright And The Utes Kept Their NCAA Tournament Hopes Alive, But Bigger Tests Loom (Kelley L. Cox, USA Today Sports)

For the first question, let’s give an unabashed “yes.” The last time these two teams met – in Salt Lake City on February 19 – the Utes took the Wildcats to overtime before succumbing by four points. Back in January at the McKale Center, it was a tie game with less than ten minutes to play before the Wildcats turned up the defensive juice and force the Utes to miss eight of their final ten field goal attempts en route to a nine-point win. But on both of those occasions, Utah looked like a team that very much deserved to be on the floor with Arizona. In fact, even last year when the Utes struggled to just five regular season conference wins, they played the Wildcats tight (two losses by a total of seven points). For Utah, the key may be rebounding. In their overtime loss to the Wildcats, the Utes actually got the better end of the deal on the glass, but earlier in the year it was a disaster as the ‘Cats (who still had Brandon Ashley at the time) grabbed 20 offensive rebounds – the difference in an otherwise tight game. Jordan Loveridge, along with the three-headed center of Jeremy Olsen, Dallin Bachynski and Renan Lenz will need to be strong up front against the likes of Aaron Gordon and Kaleb Tarczewski, quite a different challenge than the one they faced on Wednesday against an undersized Washington squad.

As for the second question, the Utes still really need to win this tournament if they want to feel secure on Selection Sunday. Yes, a win over Arizona in the quarters would be a nice scalp, and even a win over Colorado or Cal in the semifinals would be nice. But given the overall weakness of their non-conference schedule, the Utes still have a lot of work to do, resume-wise.

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Previewing the Pac-12 Tournament

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab), Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) & Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 12th, 2014

With the Pac-12 Tournament kicking off today in Las Vegas, Adam Butler of Pachoops.com and our own Andrew Murawa and Connor Pelton weigh in on some of the big questions that will be answered this weekend in Sin City.

2014 p12 bracket

Outside of regular season champion Arizona, which is the most dangerous team in the tournament?

AB: The Utah Utes are one dangerous group. It’s not the sexiest argument to say they’ve “played everyone close” but the fact of the matter is they have beaten or taken every team in the conference to overtime. I’ve waited all year long for this team to break when they’ve sustained close loss after close loss but they never have. They have some great guard play in 1st teamer Delon Wright and the sweet shooting Brandon Taylor. They’ve also got a uniquely talented big in Jordan Loveridge who had 15 and 20 points, respectively, in his first two Pac-12 tournament games. The Utes are dangerous.

Delon Wright And Brandon Taylor Help Make The Utes A Very Dangerous Team This Weekend (Trent Nelson, Salt Lake Tribune)

Delon Wright And Brandon Taylor Help Make The Utes A Very Dangerous Team This Weekend (Trent Nelson, Salt Lake Tribune)

AM: In a tournament where there are maybe eight teams that could win this thing, I’m going to give the nod to Arizona State. Jahii Carson has started to turn things on over the last couple weeks after a very underwhelming bulk of the conference season, and he’s shown a penchant for coming up with big games in Las Vegas. In his five previous games played in Sin City, he’s scored better than 30 three times, hit 40 earlier this season against UNLV and averaged 28.8 points in those games. Throw in talented scoring wing Jermaine Marshall who is a great foil for Carson, athletic freak Shaquielle McKissic who is dangerous in transition, and dangerous shooters like Jonathan Gilling and Bo Barnes and you’ve got a recipe for an explosive offensive team. And we haven’t even talked about Jordan Bachynski, the Pac-12’s all-time leading shotblocker and the anchor of Herb Sendek’s best defensive team in the KenPom era. Look for the Sun Devils to be a tough out this weekend.

CP: When picking the winner of a conference tournament, you’d best go with the hottest team coming in. And no team out west is on a roll more than Oregon. Due to some bad luck with the league’s seeding tiebreak procedures, the Ducks not only have to play in the first round, but miss a game with USC or Washington State as well. But while winning four games in four days will be a challenge, if anyone can do it, it’s this team. They are living by the three-pointer right now, and I could easily see them taking the Pac-12 automatic bid.

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Pac-12 M5: 03.12.14 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 12th, 2014

pac12_morning5

  1. Wow. It’s today already. Seems like the season just started and all of a sudden the conference tournament is ready to tip off. We’ll have complete coverage of the Pac-12 Tournament from courtside at the MGM Garden Arena beginning today, but in the meantime, let’s make a quick swing around some of the teams that tip off tournament play today. For Oregon State, it has been a disappointing season, what with a tenth-place finish in the conference. But, the Beavers aren’t done fighting yet and they’re putting on a pretty good show of thinking that they’ve got a chance to make some noise this week. Head coach Craig Robinson goes so far as to say that they’re just “a few turnovers and a few foul shots away from being third in the conference.” There’s more to it than that, but the fact is, of their 10 conference losses, six of them have been by two possessions or less. And with a boatload of talent on the roster, there’s certainly a case to be made for the Beavers as the sleeper team this week.
  2. For Oregon State to live up to those lofty possibilities, they’ll have to begin the Pac-12 Tournament by knocking off in-state rival Oregon in what will be the first time these two programs have met up in the now 17 years of history of this conference’s post-season tournament. In fact, while the Ducks and the Beavers hold the record for the most-played series in NCAA men’s basketball history, this will be the first time these two have ever met in any postseason event.
  3. Utah is another team in need of a big showing the Pac-12 Tournament in order to sniff the type of postseason tournament they’re aiming for. While there remains an outside chance that the Utes could finagle an invite by simply advancing to the Pac-12 Championship game, most in the know see them as a team that needs to earn an automatic bid in order to go dancing. And, if they’re going to do that, according to Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune, they’re going to need to lean on their stars – Delon Wright and Jordan Loveridge – to carry them. The two leading scorers and rebounders and the team’s unquestioned leaders, they’ve both been strong in their two-game split with first-round opponent Washington thus far. Loveridge has averaged 13 points and 10 boards on 60% shooting, while Wright averaged 23 points, 7.5 boards, three assists and a 67.3 eFG% in their two games against the Huskies.
  4. Our regular season pick’em over here at the Pac-12 microsite is complete, and Connor took home the title with a record of 40-8. Drew finished second at 35-13, with Adam in third at a 33-15 clip. Now comes the fun stuff. Each of us have submitted brackets for the Pac-12 Tournament, and the winner will take our microsite’s automatic bid into the Rush the Court NCAA Tournament Pick’Em. Just kidding, there’s no such thing. But there should be. Each correct first round pick will receive one point, each correct quarterfinal pick will receive two, and so on and so forth. To reference the bracket, click here.

Connor’s Winners

  • First Round – Utah, Colorado, Oregon, Stanford
  • Quarterfinals – Arizona, Colorado, Oregon, Arizona State
  • Semifinals – Arizona, Oregon
  • Championship – Arizona

Adam’s Winners

  • First Round – Utah, Colorado, Oregon, Stanford
  • Quarterfinals – Arizona, California, UCLA, Arizona State
  • Semifinals: Arizona, Arizona State
  • Championship: Arizona

Drew’s Winners

  • First Round – Utah, Colorado, Oregon State, Stanford
  • Quarterfinals: Arizona, Colorado, UCLA, Stanford
  • Semifinals: Arizona, UCLA
  • Championship: UCLA

5. Some quick analysis on the above picks: everybody has a difference championship game, but all three of our prognosticators have Arizona as one of the contestants in that game. Connor and Adam are picking the chalk in the opening round today, while Drew is going out on a limb with Oregon State extending the reign of Coach Rob. In the three quarterfinal games not featuring Arizona, Colorado, UCLA and Arizona State are the three favorites according to our panel.

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Pac-12 Senior Days: Oregon and Transfer U

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on March 11th, 2014

Oregon locked up a bid to the NCAA Tournament on Saturday in its upset win over Arizona, and six Seniors played their final game at Matthew Knight Arena in the process. We break them down below:

It's Been An Up And Down Season For Senior Mike Moser, But The Forward Has Averaged 17.7 PPG Over His Last Seven Games To Propel The Ducks Onto The Right Side Of The Bubble. (credit: Michael Shaw)

It’s Been An Up And Down Season For Senior Mike Moser, But The Forward Has Averaged 17.7 PPG Over His Last Seven Games To Propel The Ducks Onto The Right Side Of The Bubble. (Michael Shaw/AP)

Hopes were high when Mike Moser announced his intentions to transfer from UNLV to Oregon last summer, and expectations immediately rose for the Ducks. There were talks before of a top-four finish to follow up their Sweet Sixteen appearance, but with the addition of Moser, competing with Arizona for a conference championship seemed achievable. And for the first two months of the season, things were great. The forward dropped 15 points in the first game of the season against Georgetown, and added another 24 in a huge road win in overtime at Mississippi. The Ducks were riding high, but the losses began to accumulate rapidly as Moser’s production waned. He hit a nasty shooting slump and lost all confidence while Oregon dropped six of seven games in the month of January, but as he slowly began to get his stroke back, Dana Altman‘s team finally started to pull out the close games that they had been losing before. They are now a lock for the NCAA Tournament, and it’s no coincidence that Moser has averaged 16.8 PPG since February 8, a stretch where his team has gone 7-1.

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Pac-12 M5: 03.11.14 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 11th, 2014

pac12_morning5

  1. The Pac-12 announced its conference awards on Monday, and we’ll go right to Doug Haller of AZ Central for the details of an Arizona-heavy set of awards. To begin with, as expected, Nick Johnson of Arizona took down the conference Player of the Year award, and his head coach Sean Miller went home with the Coach of the Year award, standard fare for a champion that won the conference by three games. But the Wildcats weren’t done there, as Aaron Gordon won Freshman of the Year and earned All-Pac-12 first-team honors along with Johnson (nevermind for now the fact that the Pac-12 insists on putting ten guys on its first team). Elsewhere, T.J. McConnell earned second-team honors (which is the equivalent in reality to third-team) and a spot on the All-Defensive team, while Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was a member of the All-Freshman team. But the state wasn’t done there, as Arizona State senior Jordan Bachynski also earned a big award, taking home the Defensive Player of the Year award.
  2. As we turn our collective eye towards Las Vegas and the conference tourney, for Washington, the challenge is clear: win the Pac-12 Tournament or consider NIT (or worse) options. And in order to do that, they’ll need to repeat a feat that only Colorado has accomplished in the nine years since the conference went to first-round byes in 2006: win four games in four days. What are the odds that the Huskies can get that done? Well, KenPom.com puts the odds at 28% that they’re even able to knock off their first-round opponent Utah, with the Huskies’ suspect defense being the primary disadvantage against the Utes.
  3. Washington’s first-round opponent, Utah, is in a similar boat. There is an outside chance that if things fall just exactly right and if the Utes reach the Pac-12 championship game and give a good showing there that they can sneak in as an at-large to the First Four – but nobody should count on that. In order to have any confidence that they’re going to hear their name called on Selection Sunday, the Utes need to win this thing. But for a Ute team that is used to playing with everybody on their schedule (of ten losses, seven were by one possession or an overtime game, an eighth was by four points and just two were by more than four points in regulation), they’re confident. As sophomore guard Brandon Taylor puts it, according to Dirk Facer of Deseret News: “We know that we can compete with everybody in the league.”
  4. Continuing our theme of Pac-12 teams that will need to win four games in four days to win the conference tournament, Oregon is in that boat with Washington and Utah. But unlike those teams, even if the Ducks come up short, and likely even if they lose in their opening game, the Ducks will probably wind up dancing. Still, the Ducks have standards to live up to, as in every Pac-12 Tournament that has been played in Las Vegas, Oregon has come out the champion. Sure, that’s only one tournament, but still. The good news for the Ducks is they are the hottest team in the conference right now, with seven straight wins under their belts. The bad news is that unlike last year when they got a first-round bye, they’ll have to get started on day one with a game against in-state rival Oregon State.
  5. Then there’s Colorado who, as the fifth-seed, earns the advantage of getting to play last-place USC in their opening round tournament game. They’re likely in regardless of what goes down in Vegas, but avoiding a bad loss against the Trojans only makes sense. For head coach Tad Boyle, the prescription, according to Tom Kensler of The Denver Post, is to not play tight but to “play with an edge and understand that… every possession could be our last.”
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Pac-12 Superlatives: Coach, Newcomer, Freshman of the Year and More

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 10th, 2014

We announced our Player of the Year and All-Conference teams earlier today, now to dig a little bit deeper with the rest of our All-Conference Awards.

Coach of the Year

Sean Miller, Arizona – This was a no-brainer, as all three of our voters opted for the head coach of the conference champion. Not only did Miller put together a heaping pile of talent in Tucson, but he’s got the group to all buy in to a single goal. They’re all committed defensively, they work together as a single unit, covering for each other. And when Brandon Ashley went down with a broken foot in February, Miller was able to shift on the fly, remaking his team to give it the best chance come March. Many times, a coach is punished in these Coach of the Year votes for having the best talent. This time around, despite Miller having the best team in the league, there should be little argument that he deserves the nod.

Sean Miller Has Done A Brilliant Job Molding The Talented Wildcats Into A True Team (Arizona Athletics)

Sean Miller Has Done A Brilliant Job Molding The Talented Wildcats Into A True Team (Arizona Athletics)

Newcomer of the Year

Delon Wright, Utah – In his first year in Salt Lake City after a stint at the City College of San Francisco, Wright was something of an unknown coming into the season. And then, as the Utes were running roughshod over undermanned opponents in the early schedule, it was hard to tell if Wright’s ridiculous numbers were legitimate. Four months later, there is no such worry;  not only are his numbers legit, he’s one of the handful of best players in the league. He led his team in scoring, assists, steals, blocks and minutes. He posted a 59.7 eFG%, an absolutely ludicrous number for a point guard. And he helped shift the climate in the Huntsman Center from that of a program used to losing to one that now expects to win.

Defensive Player of the Year

Nick Johnson, Arizona – Our three voters are a small sample size, perhaps accounting for this surprising result, but Johnson edged Arizona State’s Jordan Bachynski on the basis of his hounding perimeter defense for the most efficient defensive team in the nation.

Nick Johnson: He's Not Just Our Player of the Year, He's Our Defensive Player Of the Year (Christian Petersen, Getty Images)

Nick Johnson: He’s Not Just Our Player of the Year, He’s Our Defensive Player Of the Year (Christian Petersen, Getty Images)

Freshman of the Year

Aaron Gordon, Arizona – So often, the talk about Gordon is about the things he can’t do, and admittedly, he’s a pretty poor shooter. But, he wouldn’t be our unanimous Freshman of the Year and a second-team all-conference guy if he were defined strictly by what he can’t do. Because, what he can do is pretty special. Athletically alone, he is in the upper 1% of all Division I college basketball players. His versatility – being able to guard not only fours and fives like Josh Scott and Dwight Powell, but also ones and twos like Chasson Randle and Spencer Dinwiddie – allow the Wildcats to switch everything defensively and match up with whatever the opponent puts on the court without tweaking their own personnel. And then his ability to rebound and finish around the rim, or his keen passing eye or developing game off the bounce? It is no wonder NBA scouts drool over his potential.

Sixth-Man of The Year

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona – What you want most from a sixth-man is the willingness to do whatever is needed to help the team achieve its goals. Sometimes that means a gunner coming in off the bench to provide instant offense, like Jason Calliste at Oregon. Or a complete change of blood like Bryce Alford and Zach LaVine provide at UCLA. But Hollis-Jefferson is the consummate sixth-man, so much so that when Brandon Ashley went down for the year, Hollis-Jefferson was ready and willing to step into the starting lineup. And then, three games later, when Sean Miller decided it would be better for him to return to his role off the bench, he did so without complaint. Oh, and it also helps that he’s really good, a terrific defender that fits in perfectly with the rest of the squad, an aggressive rebounder and a skilled slasher.

Most Improved

Davonte Lacy, Washington State – On a team that lost go-to scorer Brock Motum, the junior guard took over the reigns as the Cougars best offensive option. His scoring average jumped from 10 PPG to almost 20, his shooting percentages went up across the board and his usage numbers skyrocketed as well. It may not have been the year Ken Bone envisioned, but it certainly wasn’t Lacy’s fault.

All-Freshman Team

  • Aaron Gordon, Arizona
  • Nigel Williams-Goss, Washington
  • Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona
  • Zach LaVine, UCLA
  • Bryce Alford, UCLA

All-Defensive Team

  • Nick Johnson, Arizona
  • Jordan Bachynski, Arizona State
  • Aaron Gordon, Arizona
  • Delon Wright, Utah
  • Jordan Adams, UCLA
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Pac-12 Player of the Year and All-Conference Teams

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 10th, 2014

Before we announce our Player of the Year and our all-Pac-12 Teams, a quick note on our methodology here — we had each of our three voters – Andrew Murawa, Connor Pelton, and Adam Butler – rank their top 15 players in the conference and awarded points to each player based on those votes (1st place vote =15 points, 2nd place =14, etc.). Normally, when putting together an all-conference team, we’d make an effort to balance our team by position, with either three guards and two frontcourt players on each team, or vice versa. But in this season’s guard-heavy conference we didn’t get a lot of frontcourt votes, which is why you’ll see a five-guard first team when you scroll down. As for our Player of the Year voting, it was simple enough. The player with the most points in our all-conference balloting was our Pac-12 Player of the Year.

Player of the Year

Nick Johnson, Junior, Arizona – As expected, it came down to a close two-man race for Player of the Year, but Johnson squeaked out the win by one point over UCLA sophomore Kyle Anderson. Johnson is not only the leading scorer on the Wildcats, he is also their key defensive catalyst. As Adam Butler wrote justifying his vote for Johnson over Anderson: “Nick Johnson was the most critical player on the best team in the conference. As he went, the Wildcats went and more often than not (see 28-3), Nick Johnson played well. Nay, great.” To look at it the other way, compare Johnson’s performance in the three Arizona losses to their 28 wins. In those three losses, Johnson averaged fewer than 10 points per game on 23.9% eFG; in the wins, he posted a 50.8% eFG on his way to 16.8 points per win.

Nick Johnson's Prowess On Both Ends Of The Court For The Conference's Best Team Earns Him The RTC Pac-12 Player of the Year (Christian Petersen)

Nick Johnson’s Prowess On Both Ends Of The Court For The Conference’s Best Team Earns Him The RTC Pac-12 Player of the Year (Christian Petersen)

All-Conference

First Team

  • Nick Johnson, Junior, Arizona (16.1 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.2 SPG)
  • Kyle Anderson, Sophomore, UCLA (14.9 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 6.6 APG, 1.7 SPG, 48% 3FG) – The versatile Anderson has been one of the nation’s most improved players, registering as not only a terrific play-maker but an elite rebounding  guard.
  • Delon Wright, Junior, Utah (16.1 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 5.3 APG, 2.6 SPG, 1.3 SPG, 59.7% eFG) – The junior college transfer came out of nowhere to become arguably the most versatile player in the conference – if not the most versatile in the nation. These three players were almost unanimously the top three players in the conference this season.
  • Justin Cobbs, Senior, California (15.6 PPG, 5.8 APG) – Cobbs ranked no higher than fifth but no lower than eighth on any of the three ballots, a consistency which earned him a first-team all-conference spot.
  • Roberto Nelson, Senior, Oregon State (20.6 PPG, 3.7 APG, 3.6 RPG) – Nelson was in the top five on two of three ballots, but was left completely off of a third (ahem, Butler). He still had enough votes to sneak on to the first team.

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Pac-12 Senior Days: Oregon State Group of Six

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on March 8th, 2014

On a day when Oregon State looks to secure a bid to the NIT, six Beavers will play their final game at Gill Coliseum. We break them down below.

Senior Roberto Nelson Leads The League In Points Despite Being Tightly Defended All Season (credit: Michael Shaw)

Senior Roberto Nelson Leads The League In Points Despite Being Tightly Defended All Season (credit: Michael Shaw)

Roberto Nelson leads the conference in scoring in his final season in Corvallis, and he has been the difference-maker Oregon State needed to produce one of its best seasons in a decade. Coming out of Santa Barbara, he was the top signee of head coach Craig Robinson’s first recruiting class, one that also included guys like Jared Cunningham, Angus Brandt and Joe Burton. The story of his recruitment is an interesting one in itself, and was actually told in the book “Play Their Hearts Out” by George Dohrmann. The shooting guard’s father received letters while in prison from head coaches attempting to get him to persuade Nelson to sign with their school, and the player himself received 2,161 pieces of mail from his suitors. He decided Robinson’s school was right for him, someone who, ironically enough, didn’t send him as much as a post card. After having to sit out his first season with the team due to NCAA eligibility issues, he averaged 7.5 PPG as a freshman role player. His biggest jump came last season when he became one of the most feared shooters in the Pac-12 and went from 9.3 PPG as a sophomore to a 17.8 PPG clip. Nelson is most known for his unbelievably deep range and perpetual green light from the coaching staff, but he is most effective on the dribble-drive, capable of twisting and turning through the lane without picking up his pivot foot, eventually finding his way to the hoop. Outside of basketball, he was a huge part of a student service trip to Macedonia a few years ago, and brought us this excellent clip from his time there. If Nelson can step up on the defensive end of the floor, he has a good shot of making an NBA roster as a free agent.

Favorite Moment: Hitting back-to-back three pointers without a shoe against Stanford.

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Marching to Vegas: The Final Steps

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) on March 7th, 2014

Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) of Pachoops again will be joining us all year, providing us with his weekly take on our favorite conference, as we begin the March to Las Vegas.We find ourselves on the penultimate day of the basketball season. A season, like those before it, that has seen highs and low, cliché, cliché, cliché. I’ve been critical of the Pac, supportive of the Pac, predictive, analytical, and funny. I’ve defended it multiple times and sang praise, too. I’ve linked this entire lead. But the point here is that we’re here. The calendar has turned to our favorite month. Our March to Vegas is over. Our season embarks into the madness of sudden death and the promise of possibility. Tournaments begin (ultimately two of them) with abundant hope and now I’m getting lost in Waltonian hyperbole; but if not hyperbole then what is March for? I mean, look at our first and only conference games thus far in the month. The home and road teams have nearly split their contests. To date, home teams had been winning at a greater than 66 percent clip. Suddenly we get to the third month on the calendar and nothing becomes predictable. Each of Wednesday’s road teams won and then, in perhaps the most unexpected of outcomes, the Trojans got their second victory. Indeed we’re knee deep in the madness and we aren’t even in Vegas yet.

Behind A High-Flying Arizona Team, The Pac Is Back, Right? (Ralph Freso, Getty Images North America)

Behind A High-Flying Arizona Team, The Pac Is Back, Right? (Ralph Freso, Getty Images North America)

But before we get there, I’d like to revisit our first thought. When I lauded that the Pac was back before nary a game was played. Is it back? Or, perhaps more aptly said, has it returned? With the benefit of hindsight, I’d say it is. Look at what we have: arguably the best crop of guards in the nation and the best defense the nation has to offer. We watched the emergence of Utah, a budding program under the hard-nosed and determined watch of Larry Krystkowiak. And have you watched Delon Wright? I didn’t see that coming and if you did, link me to what you said about it because I’d like to buy you a drink. What a phenomenal player who is coming back next season. And still has this season to play (I see you, Vegas). Further, we watched what I believe to be the best backcourt in the country. Or at least the most dynamic. Between Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams, is there anything they can’t do? And if there is, they could just toss it up to Zach LaVine and it might be all right.

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Pac-12 Senior Days: Stanford and the Team That Stayed

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) on March 7th, 2014

Much of the college basketball dialogue has turned to things like one-and-done and transfers. Is it good for the game or is it bad for the game. Mark Cuban went so far as to say the game itself is bad for the sport (I loosely paraphrase). While Cuban’s sentiments aren’t necessarily accurate, they do share the same general tone about the longevity and fluidity of a college career. So on Saturday, when you see Dwight Powell, Josh Huestis, Stefan Nastic and John Gage take the floor for the last time in Palo Alto, note that you’re seeing something special and certainly unique. They’ll stand there short two members of their 2010 recruiting class, Aaron Bright and Anthony Brown, who will both play in 2014-15 as fifth-year seniors after sustaining injuries. They will, of note, all be there together. But think about that for a second. Approximately five years ago, Johnny Dawkins sat in six different living rooms with the promise of a Stanford education and a team. On Saturday, years after these kids committed to their coach, their school and, most importantly, each other, they’ll leave as they arrived: together.

A Team Chock Full of Seniors, The Stanford, Has Become A Rarity (Steve Solis / PRPhotos.com)

A Team Chock Full of Seniors, The Stanford, Has Become A Rarity (Steve Solis / PRPhotos.com)

So yes, what will transpire Saturday afternoon is rare and I think, in some regards, it trumps whatever success or otherwise they’ve had. It’s yet to be determined if any of these young men will participate in the NCAA Tournament. It was indubitably a goal that may yet come to fruition. And that’s why I’ll be paying such close attention to Saturday’s contest. They just didn’t show up on Wednesday. Collectively the seniors were 12-of-36 from the field; Powell fouled out and the seniors accounted for eight of 12 turnovers. Show up they did not but stick around they have. As the conversation has whipped around and past them, they’ve embodied all that we’ve wanted and cherished about college basketball. You guys… they stuck it out. Dwight Powell nearly bolted for greener (read: $$) pastures and a chance at the NBA. When I had the opportunity to talk to him at Pac-12 media day, he told me he came back to take care of unfinished business with his guys. That 15th-ranked class has done what everyone wants to say everyone else isn’t doing. And everyone appears to be having success (Lyons, Mark; Marshall, Jermaine; All, Oregon) in doing such. So what does it say about us, or those pining for what the Cardinal have done, that we pay them little attention? Or that we’re disappointed in their lack of success? Or, perhaps worse, expecting it? Sometimes success isn’t always the result but the journey to getting there.

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Battle of Basement in Pac-12 Features Coaches Heading in Opposite Directions

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) on March 7th, 2014

Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) is a national columnist for Rush The Court. He filed this report after USC and Washington State played Thursday night in Pullman, Washington.

What do you expect when you watch two teams who are in the bottom half of their conference in nearly every rate statistic, the two bottom teams in offensive and defensive efficiency, two teams that have combined for three wins since January? Let’s just call this one “aesthetically challenged” and leave it at that. Whether it’s giving up an and-one off an inbounds play or airballing a free throw, there was nothing that made Washington State look good in its 79-68 home loss to rebuilding USC on Thursday night. Having taken a 36-35 lead into halftime and starting the second half with an 8-0 run including three-pointers from guards DaVonte Lacy and Dexter Kernich-Drew and a dunk from forward D.J. Shelton, the Cougars looked to be on track for an easy victory against a Trojans team that hadn’t won since January 22. But USC came out with a 1-2-1-1 zone press that disrupted Washington State’s flow, and a 15-2 USC run turned the tide of the game.

It's been a up-and-down first year for Andy Enfield, but the Trojans did pick up a solid road win Thursday evening. (AP)

It’s been a up-and-down first year for Andy Enfield, but the Trojans did pick up a solid road win Thursday evening. (AP)

“We knew that they would press at some stage,” Kernich-Drew said. “We got lazy.” In the 12 minutes following the Cougars’ 8-0 run, the Trojans turned a 44-35 deficit into a 70-53 lead, capped off by a three-pointer from USC guard Byron Wesley, who finished with 31 points and 10 rebounds. From there, head coach Andy Enfield’s team weathered a too-little-too-late run and held on for its  first road victory since Valentine’s Day 2013 at Stanford. (Back then, Enfield was just a coach at a small Division I school that nobody had heard of unless they were die-hard fans of accurate free throw shooters.) The victory gave USC the tiebreaker for 11th place in the Pac-12, with each two-win team far adrift of the rest of the conference.

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