Handing Out Pac-12 Superlatives

Posted by Mike Lemaire (@Mike_Lemaire) & Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 8th, 2016

With another Pac-12 season now in the books, it’s time to put a bow on the regular season before we all head to the various pool parties and blackjack tables in Vegas (cue Bill Walton: “Please. Las Vegas!). Let’s hand out all the traditional awards below, listing the top candidates followed by the rationale for our picks. Let’s get right to it.

Player of the Year

  • Ryan Anderson, Sr, Arizona: 15.8 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 118.5 ORtg, 24.8% of possessions, 56.9 eFG%
  • Dillon Brooks, Soph, Oregon: 16.7 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.2 SPG, 111.5 ORtg, 26.3% of poss, 51.4 eFG%
  • Gary Payton II, Sr, Oregon State: 15.9 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 5.3 APG, 2.4 SPG, 111.5 ORtg, 27.0% of poss, 50.8 eFG%
  • Jakob Poeltl, Soph, Utah: 17.5 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.6 BPG, 127.1 ORtg, 25.9% of poss, 65.3 eFG%
  • Josh Scott, Sr, Colorado: 16.5 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.7 BPG, 121.5 ORtg, 23.5% of poss, 53.6 eFG%

 

Jakob Poeltl's Excellence At Both Ends Of The Court Makes Him The Clear Cut Pac-12 POY (Charlie Riedel, AP)

Jakob Poeltl’s Excellence At Both Ends Of The Court Makes Him The Clear Cut Pac-12 POY (Charlie Riedel, AP)

Andrew Murawa: That’s a pretty solid five-man first team (with guys like Jaylen Brown, Andrew Andrews and Chris Boucher also having arguments for inclusion). But there is one player from this group who stands above the rest, as Jakob Poeltl has been the best offensive player in this conference, ranks among the handful of best defensive players, and has been a rock in leading the Utes to a second-place finish.

Mike Lemaire: My heart wants to pick Gary Payton II, but my head knows the right pick here is Poeltl. The big man has put together a season that rivals that of any Pac center in the past two decades. He is among the league leaders in nearly every statistical category and is the focal point of the Utes’ game plan on both ends of the floor. It isn’t a coincidence that Poeltl is playing his best basketball of the season as Utah has gotten hot.

Coach of the Year

  • Dana Altman, Oregon: 25-6, 14-4
  • Larry Krystkowiak, Utah: 24-7, 13-5
  • Cuonzo Martin, California: 22-9, 12-6
  • Sean Miller, Arizona: 24-7, 12-6

AM: Last year, Dana Altman received the official Pac-12 COY award in somewhat controversial (hey, Tucson) fashion, earning the nod over Sean Miller despite finishing behind him in the standings. This year, arguments can be made for any of the four coaches at the top of the league, but this award should belong to Altman. While yours truly has ranked Oregon as the Best in the West since August, the Ducks were picked fourth by the media. And that was before would-be senior point guard Dylan Ennis missed all but 21 minutes this season because of a foot injury. Altman patched together a seven-man rotation from disparate sources and coached them up to become the best team in the conference. Winning 14 games in such a competitive league this season is commendable.

ML: There are many different ways to evaluate Coach of the Year, but I prefer to pick one based on how his team performed relative to expectations. Parity in the conference meant there was no such coach this season, so, with apologies to Lorenzo Romar, this award should go to the coach of the best team: Dana Altman. He is the architect of one of the better two-way teams in the country and has done so while breaking in a new starting lineup. He is both the most deserving and a semi-obvious choice.

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Three Ways to Fill an All-Pac-12 Team

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 8th, 2016

Sometime earlier this year, we spelled out four different ways to create a Top 25 list or conference power rankings: (1) based on resume; (2) based on how teams are playing at that exact moment; (3) based on how you expect teams to be playing when it really matters; or (4) some improvisatory combination of the other three parts. Likewise, there are a bunch of different ways to put together all-conference teams. Below, we’ll give you three(-ish) different — and all entirely reasonable (says the guy who’s writing it) — ways to draw up an all-Pac-12 Team this season.

Note to the Pac-12 and other conferences that should know better: Basketball teams allow five players on the floor at a single time. Thus, all-conference teams should feature just five players. If you want to recognize additional players, that’s what Second Teams, Third Teams and Honorable Mentions are for.

Regardless Of How You Put Together An All-Conference Team, Jakob Poeltl Deserves A Spot (Godofredo Vasquez, USA Today)

Regardless Of How You Put Together An All-Conference Team, Jakob Poeltl Deserves A Spot (Godofredo Vasquez, USA Today)

Five Best Players

This one is simple. Don’t think too hard. Just go down the list and determine which players in the conference put together the five best seasons. Sure, determining “best” is completely subjective, but at least the concept is clear. Using this methodology in this year’s Pac-12, we would probably wind up with one true guard surrounded by three bigs and a swingman. Something like a team of Jakob Poeltl, Josh Scott, Ryan Anderson, Dillon Brooks and Gary Payton II. Maybe you would make an argument for Chris Boucher or Jaylen Brown over Brooks or Anderson. But either way, you wind up with a team that looks great on paper but probably would have some on-court problems — ask Purdue or Maryland about this — where they’ve got a lot of appealing pieces that do not fit together quite so well.

To take a little swerve off of this method of putting together a team, we can also move away from the players who had the “best seasons” in favor of just picking the five best players. In this scenario, California’s Brown likely moves up a notch. Judged on performance on the floor from November to early March, the freshman didn’t match what guys like Boucher, Brooks and Anderson did. But judged on performance heading into postseason play, it’s relatively easy to make the argument that Brown (or Allonzo Trier for that matter) deserves to be mentioned among the top five players in the conference.

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Arizona State’s Future is Bright

Posted by Connor Pelton on March 4th, 2016

Connor Pelton covers Arizona State sports for HouseofSparky.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @ConnorPelton28

When is Bobby Hurley going to call a timeout? That was the thought shared among Arizona State fans during the opening minutes of last Thursday’s game at Utah. Little did they know that no timeout was forthcoming. Not when Brandon Taylor drained a three-pointer to put the Utes up 9-0. Not when Jordan Loveridge dropped in another three to extend the lead to 12-0. Not even when Taylor buried another triple on the next possession to make the score 15-0. The game’s first break didn’t arrive until the under-16 media timeout with the Sun Devils trailing 15-2 and a comeback looking increasingly unlikely. It’s important to remember that Hurley is still learning on the job. After spending the previous two seasons at Buffalo, this is just his third campaign as a head coach. He is young and still evolving, picking up valuable experience every night out.

Hurley's High Energy On The Sidelines Has Gotten Him Into Some Trouble With Officials This Season (Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star)

Hurley’s High Energy On The Sidelines Has Gotten Him Into Some Trouble With Officials This Season (Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star)

So, why was there no timeout when already trailing by 15 in one of the conference’s toughest venues? First, the end of a long season is winding down – a season that is unlikely to result in a trip to the NCAA Tournament. There isn’t much to lose in this scenario, so why not experiment with letting the players work through their problems without assistance from the sideline? This wasn’t the only learning experience, as this season has been chalk full of them — beginning with a disheartening home opener loss to Sacramento State. Along the way Hurley has suspended three players for multiple team violations, been thrown out of a rivalry game against Arizona, dropped four conference games by seven points or fewer, lost a player to transfer just days removed from a career performance, and watched an assistant coach get arrested on suspicion of DUI. Read the rest of this entry »

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Take Notes: Oregon State’s Scheduling Aids Tournament Push

Posted by Mike Lemaire on March 2nd, 2016

Buried in the middle of the always fun 5,000-word weekly Bubble Watch column from ESPN was a statement that requires additional unpacking. While analyzing the resumes of Pac-12 bubble teams, Eamonn Brennan mentioned that Oregon State remains “the nation’s best testament to the power of intelligent non-conference scheduling.”

Wayne Tinkle: Coach of the Year? (Godofredo Vasquez, USA Today)

Wayne Tinkle’s Team Is Finally Reaping the Benefits of Its Gutsy Scheduling (USA Today)

Brennan can say this so confidently because 10-loss teams barely flirting with .500 in conference play usually aren’t serious NCAA Tournament contenders, yet here we are in March with all of the respected bracketologists penciling the Beavers in as one of the 68 teams in the field. A team with Oregon State’s ho-hum record ordinarily wouldn’t even warrant a conversation, but thanks to a sparkling RPI and strength of schedule, Wayne Tinkle’s team is comfortably projected into the field. College basketball fans around the country can only hope that their schools are paying attention.

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Assessing The Pac-12 With One Week Left

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 1st, 2016

Way back in early November, when Pac-12 prognosticators were looking ahead to the season, there were four teams almost universally considered as contenders to win the regular season title – Arizona, California, Oregon and Utah. We’ve had all sorts of twists and turns over the past four months: USC and Washington emerging earlier than expected; California and Utah taking some time to find their stride; and of course, the assorted injuries, hot streaks, cold patches and upsets that change expectations along the way. But here we are, heading into the final week of the regular season, and those four preseason contenders are still exactly that. There’s a lot still left to be decided in the final week and into the conference tournament, so let’s go team by team and break down what’s to play for on the way in.

Dillon Brooks And The Ducks Are One Win Away From Clinching At Least Part Of A Pac-12 Title (John Locher, USA Today)

Dillon Brooks And The Ducks Are One Win Away From Clinching At Least Part Of A Pac-12 Title. (John Locher, USA Today)

Oregon – For at least a month now, anyone with a Pac-12 schedule could look at Oregon’s road trip to Los Angeles in the final week of the regular season and know it would have major ramifications on the regular season title. What nobody could really see at the start of February was both of the Los Angeles schools falling off a cliff. More on them later, but the situation is simple for the Ducks. Win one in LA and earn at least a share of the conference title. Win them both (now, suddenly possible, if not even likely) and they’ve got their first regular season title since 2002 (and only the program’s second since World War II ended). They are likely to be favored in both games — because the season is trending in the wrong direction for both opponents — and a couple of wins could see the Ducks break into two-seed territory come Selection Sunday.

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Jabari Bird is Leading Cal’s Resurgence

Posted by Mike Lemaire on March 1st, 2016

After thumping UCLA last week, Cal forward Jabari Bird told reporters that the primary reason for the Bears’ recent success was that they were “coming together as a team.” It is a nice sentiment but it isn’t why the Bears are winning. What Bird is too humble to admit is that Cal is winning because he was one of the Pac-12’s best players in February. His 12-point, five-rebound effort against USC over the weekend came in the wake of 20 points — including 5-of-8 threes — against UCLA, and and that wasn’t even his best performance of the last two weeks. His contribution against the Bruins was the third game in two weeks in which he has scored more than 20 points and made at least four 3-pointers, and it illustrates why the Bears have now won seven games in a row.

Cal forward Jabari Bird Is Helping His Team Finally Live Up To the Preseason Hype

Cal forward Jabari Bird Is Helping His Team Finally Live Up To All of the Preseason Hype. (AP)

Bird is averaging 15.3 points per game and is shooting 58 percent from both the floor and downtown during the streak. If you toss out a dud performance at Washington, he is averaging better than 18.0 points per game and is shooting better than 60 percent from the field. That is twice his season scoring average and the 22 threes he has made during the streak is more than twice as many as he made in the nine previous conference games. If that wasn’t enough perspective, the number of career games in which Bird has made at least four threes has doubled (from three to six) and the number of games in which he has made at least five threes has tripled (from one to three) in the past two weeks. Consequently, his shooting percentage from downtown has risen by seven percent (from 33% to 40%), and he has seemingly overnight gone from being one of the most disappointing players in the Pac-12 to perhaps its most important, at least relative to his team’s success. Read the rest of this entry »

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Five Thoughts From Colorado’s Win Over Arizona

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 25th, 2016

After another wacky game between Colorado and Arizona in the wacky conference known as the Pac-12, here are five thoughts coming out of last night’s battle.

  1. Josh Scott. I’ve been watching Pac-12 basketball very closely for about 32 of my 40 years, and I’ve covered this conference comprehensively well in this spot for something like six or seven years. And in terms of true post players, Scott’s senior season is the second-best I’ve seen since Kevin Love’s 2007-08 season at UCLA. The problem is that it also happens to come in the same year as the bestseason I’ve seen out of a Pac post player during that span. Scott’s not going to win conference player of the year, but he’s a lock for first-team all-conference (even if this conference cannot correctly count the number of players allowed on a basketball court for one team at the same time). And with his performance on Wednesday night, he virtually assured his program a third NCAA Tournament appearance in his four seasons in Boulder. He’s always had that great back-to-the-basket post-up game, but he’s also developed a pretty face-up game off the bounce. Back off of him and he’s fully capable of knocking in a jumper. Bang him too hard on the blocks and he’ll earn a whistle and convert from the free throw line. He’s an absolutely terrific straight-up post defender and has developed into a quality help defender as well. If there is any legitimate criticism of him, it is that he is not selfish enough on the offensive end of the floor. Whether he is at the level of former Buffaloes stars like Chauncey Billups, Spencer Dinwiddie, Alec Burks or even Scott Wedman is up for someone else to decide. But when Scott plays his final home game at the Coors Event Center on Sunday afternoon, here’s hoping (and fully expecting) that Colorado fans give Scott the rousing senior sendoff that he richly deserves.

    Josh Scott: Second-Best Pac-12 Big In Recent History? (Kai Casey, CU Independent)

    Josh Scott: Second-Best Pac-12 Big In Recent History? (Kai Casey, CU Independent)

  2. Replay Review Is Terrible. We experienced this situation twice in the final minutes of last night’s game. With Arizona already out of timeouts, the game was stopped for a replay review that allowed Sean Miller to gather his troops for strategy discussions just as if it were another timeout. In a game of 137 offensive possessions, that means there were somewhere in the neighborhood of 92 bad or missed calls. Why, in the final minutes of a tight and otherwise enjoyable game, would you want to put that on pause in order for a bunch of old dudes to stand around and watch TV for a few minutes? Why are the 87th and 92nd bad or missed calls any more important than the 12th or 42nd? And why, for the love of god, if you’re incapable of getting the call correct, are you wasting my time? Oh, and full credit to UCLA. Read the rest of this entry »
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The Race For The Pac-12 Title

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on February 24th, 2016

Tonight kicks off the second-to-last week of the Pac-12 regular season. One third of the conference has three games remaining on their schedule; everybody else has four. And even at this late date, nothing much is really decided. Sure, we know Washington State is going to be the 12-seed in the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas. Arizona State is probably going to be a (relatively) dangerous 11. The current conference leaders – Arizona and Oregon, tied at 10-4 – seem destined for opening round byes, although things are tight enough that even that isn’t assured. So let’s get caught up on where we stand as March draws nearer, with an eye towards the race for the regular season title.

As The Season Winds Down, It's A Fight At The Top Of The Standings (Rick Scuteri, AP Photo)

As The Season Winds Down, It’s A Fight At The Top Of The Standings (Rick Scuteri, AP Photo)

Officially, there are seven teams still mathematically alive for the conference title. Realistically, however, Colorado and Washington would need to win out and have everything else break perfectly for their conference title lottery ticket to pay off. Likewise, USC finds itself two games in back of the leaders and would need good fortune to bring the crown back to Los Angeles. Given those disqualifications, odds are very strong that our eventual champion(s) will come from this quartet of teams: Oregon, Arizona, Utah and California.

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Pac-12 Bubble and Bracket Breakdown

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on February 17th, 2016

We’re now less than four weeks from Selection Sunday and there are three weeks remaining in Pac-12 play. With 11 lof our 12-pack of teams currently ranked in the RPI top 100, now’s as good a time as any to review where all the conference teams stand and what they need to do between now and March 13 to make sure they hear Jim Nantz call out their names that afternoon. Let’s jump in.

The Leaders

Even Following A Lost Weekend By The Bay, The Ducks Are In Good NCAA Position (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)

Even Following A Lost Weekend By The Bay, The Ducks Are In Good NCAA Position (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)

  • Oregon (20-6, 9-4, RPI #4, KenPom #20) – What a difference a week makes. After backing up a road sweep of the Arizona schools with a confident home sweep of the mountain schools, the Ducks seemingly had command of the Pac-12 regular season race. But a trip to the Bay Area last weekend resulted in a pair of losses that have put the Ducks into a tie with Arizona atop the conference. With a collection of solid wins both in and out of conference play under its belt, Oregon is still the team that is best positioned for a happy outcome on Selection Sunday. The Bay Area meltdown probably removes any chance of a #1 seed, but the Ducks have a manageable schedule remaining (at home against Oregon State and the Washington schools before a tough final weekend trip to Los Angeles). Where things will really get tricky is when the conference tournament convenes in Las Vegas, because in a season full of parity, even the top seed is going to face a very capable and battle-tested team right out of the gates. Barring a disaster, the Ducks seem headed for Spokane in the opening weekend with a chance at a #2 or #3 seed out West.
  • Arizona (21-5, 9-4, RPI #23, Ken Pom #16) – It’s been a challenging season in Tucson. After losing tons of experienced and early-entry talent from last year’s team, the Wildcats have dealt with injuries and growing pains from day one this year. But here we are at the turn into the backstretch of February and the ‘Cats are as healthy as they’re going to get and appear to be dialing into March. They’re never going to have the top-end ceiling of the last couple teams, but you can bet that Sean Miller is going to get the most out of his group. The first goal is a third consecutive Pac-12 regular season title, and they’ve got a slightly more difficult path ahead than the Ducks, with home games against Arizona State and then Cal and Stanford sandwiched around a roadie to the altitude schools. Their non-conference schedule didn’t provide them with many chances for high-value scalps, so wins over Gonzaga and USC are about the best resume-enhancers they have. But if they can do something crazy like only lose once more between this spot and Selection Sunday, they could sneak into the conversation for a #2 seed if things go haywire elsewhere. A #3 or #4 seed is more realistically within range, with geographical favoritism (Denver followed by Anaheim) a goal. That said, considering Arizona’s recent history in Anaheim, maybe the Wildcats would be better off with a change of scenery this March.
Sean Miller Is Again Tourney-Bound, But Maybe Not So Much On The Anaheim Thing? (Christian Peterson, Getty Images)

Sean Miller Is Again Tourney-Bound, But Maybe Not So Much On The Anaheim Thing? (Christian Peterson, Getty Images)

Playing For Position

  • USC (18-7, 7-5, RPI #22, KenPom #27) – Losing at Arizona State is really not that terrible of a thing. Bobby Hurley has a good squad that has experienced some bad luck, and Wells Fargo Arena is on the upswing as a home venue. But the worst part of losing at Arizona State is then having to visit Arizona following that loss. The Trojans played better against the Wildcats (at least for stretches), but still came away with an 0-2 road trip, putting them a game and a half back of the leaders in the conference race. The bad news for Andy Enfield’s team is that its remaining schedule is brutal. They get four home games but each of those (Colorado, Utah, Oregon State, Oregon) are losable, while the road trip to the Bay Area will be very difficult too. Still, barring a complete collapse, the Trojans will be dancing. With quality non-conference wins over Monmouth, Yale and a short-handed Wichita State club, coupled with a home win over Arizona, USC has a nice resume and a chance to add to it down the stretch. An optimistic scenario is something like a 4-2 finish, a run to the title game in Las Vegas and a seed in the #4-#6 range. If the wheels completely fall off in the next few weeks, however, the Trojans could drop down the bracket and give a high-seed a nightmare game in the first and second round.
  • Utah (18-7, 8-5, RPI #16, KenPom #40) – The Utes sit just a game back of the conference leaders but their final two road games of the season at the Los Angeles schools this weekend will tell us a lot about how they are regarded on Selection Sunday. Three wins against the RPI top 25 and six against the RPI top 50 mean the Utes are already golden with chances against highly-ranked teams like USC, Arizona and Colorado still remaining, Utah (along with its traveling partner, Colorado) has a great opportunity to jump up the seed lines with a few more victories. Right now something in the #6 or #7 range seems most likely, but a strong finish could push them up to the #4 line with a potential opening weekend in Denver.
  • Colorado (18-7, 8-5, RPI #25, KenPom #63) – While the Buffaloes sport the same record as their conference-mandated rival, there’s definitely not the same quality of meat on their bones. Their best non-conference win is over a BYU team that will likely be on the outside looking in although wins over Oregon and Cal will pay dividends. Right now, the Buffs are somewhere in the #7-#9 seed range with a chance for a big finish. Of more importance to the team’s overall chances, however, is the concern over Josh Scott’s ankle injury. If Colorado is going to score quality wins down the stretch over teams like USC, Arizona and Utah, it will need the senior big man in action.
Colorado Will Need Josh Scott To Live Up To Their Potential (Kai Casey, CU Independent)

Colorado Will Need Josh Scott To Live Up To Their Potential (Kai Casey, CU Independent)

  • California (17-8, 7-5, RPI #24, KenPom #32) – Let’s start by breaking down that 7-5 conference record a bit. The Golden Bears’ seven wins have all come in Haas Pavilion, while their five losses have all come on the road. Their sole win this season outside of Berkeley came at Wyoming (#178 in KenPom) in overtime. Now, none of that is necessarily a seed killer, but the Bears have four road games remaining. If form holds and Cal can’t get its act together at the Washington schools or the Arizona schools, they will have issues in terms of placement. Still, this team is going to be dancing and if it can pick up even just the low-hanging fruit on the remaining road schedule, the Bears are primed for a good seed on the basis of four win against the RPI top 25 with cracks at USC and Arizona still ahead. Currently they’re somewhere in the neighborhood of a #6-#8 seed, a spot at which they can give some opposing high seeds serious problems.

Bubblicious

  • Washington (15-10, 7-6, RPI #61, KenPom #69) – The Huskies have lost three straight and five of their last seven games. Those numbers hurt. Dig a little deeper, though, and you find a home loss in overtime to Utah, a road loss to USC, a five-point home loss to Arizona, an eight-point road loss to Utah and a one-point road loss to Colorado — five losses to top 25 RPI teams by an average of less than six points. Still, unless the young pups can string together several wins to close out the season, those justifications may never even get on the committee’s radar. If Washington just wins their three remaining home games (Cal, Stanford, Washington State), they will be at 10-8 in the conference. At that point, they’d probably need to avoid an opening round Pac-12 Tournament loss, but they’d probably still be on the right side of the bubble, even if it meant a trip to Dayton.
  • Oregon State (14-9, 6-7, RPI #38, KenPom #70) – The Beavers are a game under .500 in conference play and they’ve got one more road game than home game remaining. That’s fine, though, because any equation that earns this program its first NCAA invitation since 1990 involves getting a road win at either Oregon or USC while taking care of business in Gill Coliseum against the Washington schools. That would put the Beavs at .500 in conference play and would give them a chance to add another scalp to what is already five wins over top 25 RPI teams. Do that and Oregon State dances. Anything less and it gets hairier, but wins over Oregon, Cal, USC, Utah and Colorado (not to mention another good one against Tulsa) will give this team a chance.
  • UCLA (14-11, 5-7, RPI #68, KenPom #54) – Don’t bury the Bruins just yet. Wins over Kentucky and Arizona show that they can play with the best, but losses to teams like Wake Forest and Washington State may be their eventual undoing. For Steve Alford’s squad to have a prayer on Selection Sunday, they’ve got to get back to .500 in conference play. Not only does that number just look a lot better, but it would also mean that UCLA added some quality wins to its resume with home games against Utah, Colorado, Oregon and Oregon State to come coupled with a road trip to the Bay Area. The bad news is that the only times the Bruins have won four times in six games was when their opponents included teams like Pepperdine, Cal State-Northridge and McNeese State. Odds are good that UCLA is NIT bound, at best.

I Need A Miracle

  • Stanford (11-11, 5-7, RPI #75, KenPom #110)
  • Arizona State (14-12, 4-9, RPI #82, KenPom #77)
  • Washington State (8-16, 1-12, RPI #188, KenPom #164)
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The ABCs Of Why Oregon Is A Final Four Contender

Posted by Mike Lemaire on February 11th, 2016

We’ve been wanting to write about Oregon since the Ducks beat Arizona in Tucson two weeks ago, but coming up with new angles to discuss how good Dana Altman’s team has become is tricky. For the first time since Altman took over the program in 2010, the team is starting to garner real national attention. That of course means that most of the stories about the team’s patchwork roster and intriguing backstories have already been told. Still, the Ducks deserve all the publicity and attention they can get and we on the microsite have been severely lacking in that department, so we decided to make up for it. Rather than regurgitate observations that have already been analyzed to death, though, we instead used the entire alphabet to explain why the Ducks are legitimate Final Four contenders.

Note: This was not as easy as it might look, so we are asking for forgiveness on some of our more obvious reaches.

A is for Altman: It wasn’t very long ago that Oregon was in the middle of an ugly sexual assault scandal and some were calling for Altman’s job. Now he is coaching the best team in the conference and is in consideration for several national coaching awards as well. He gets plenty of criticism for his continued reliance on transfers, especially those from junior college, but players like Chris Boucher, Dwayne Benjamin and Elgin Cook are silencing those critics. He has also made a concerted effort to make his team adaptable and that shows in his willingness to switch up defensive schemes and tinker with lineups. It has all come together this season and now we are watching Altman’s vision come to life.

B is for Blocks: The Ducks do a lot of this, as they are tied with St. John’s for the second-highest block percentage in the country. That elite rim protection is a big reason why Oregon is way more efficient on the defensive end of the floor this season. Boucher leads the country in blocks per game (3.4) and it would be foolish to forget that sophomore Jordan Bell – who is finally rounding into form – was the conference’s best shot-blocker last season.

Chris Boucher, Casey Benson And The Ducks Are Halfway Home To A Pac-12 Title (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)

Chris Boucher Has Been a Game-Changing Rim Protector                                                     (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)

C is for Canada: Altman and Oregon have been luring players from north of the border to Eugene for years now (remember Jason Calliste and Devoe Joseph?) but recently he has outdone himself. Ontario native Dillon Brooks is on the short list of PAC-12 Player of the Year candidates, while Montreal product Boucher may be the team’s best NBA prospect. The Ducks’ Canadian flavor would grow even stronger if Dylan Ennis, another Ontario product, were healthy.

D is for Dillon: Brooks has always been considered a good player but the sophomore has raised both his game and draft stock this season. Oregon has made a conscious effort to run its offense through the versatile Brooks, and he’s responded by averaging 16.9 points per game, shooting 48% from the floor, and grabbing 6.0 rebounds per game. He also averages 3.2 assists per game and shoots 80 percent from the free-throw line. He is still a limited shooter from three-point range and can be sloppy with the ball, but the Ducks wouldn’t be nearly as good as they are now if Brooks wasn’t in the midst of a breakout season.

E is for Ennis: The very definition of a college basketball journeyman, Ennis was supposed to use his last year of eligibility to run the Ducks’ offense this season. Instead, a lingering foot issue sidelined him for the rest of the season. He’s likely played his final minute of college basketball, as the NCAA is expected to reject his appeal for a medical redshirt. But rather than sulk or drop out of school, Ennis has been front and center as the team’s biggest cheerleader. That type of support and loyalty can make subtle, crucial differences in team morale.

F is for Frontcourt: The loss of Ennis has left a gaping hole in the depth of the team’s backcourt, but Oregon makes up for it with a frontcourt that may feature the best grouping of five forwards in the country. Boucher and Brooks need no further explanation, but Bell is a defensive monster who is still shaking off the rust from missing the first portion of the season. Senior Dwayne Benjamin isn’t a great rebounder but makes up for it with his floor-stretching shooting talents, while fellow senior Elgin Cook is the perfect swing forward, capable of filling in wherever necessary. Oh and don’t think Cook is just a role player; he is currently Oregon’s second leading scorer.

G is for Gimmes: The importance of succeeding at the free-throw line can never be understated. While the Ducks are shooting six percent worse from the charity stripe this season than they did last (76 percent has come down to 70 percent), the percentage of free-throw attempts in relation to field-goal attempts has risen sharply, from 28 percent to 40 percent. Oregon is getting to the free-throw line far more often, which is a big reason why the offense has been able to overcome its long-range shooting issues. If anything, it might be worth trying to get to the line even more often.

H is for Homecourt Advantage: Here’s the first letter that demanded a real stretch! Considering the Ducks play in a 12,000-seat arena and can barely muster an average of 8,000 fans for conference home games, the fans may not deserve too much praise. But the crowd is starting to come back (with an assist from the school athletic department) and the team is noticing and responding. The Ducks have yet to lose in Eugene and with just three manageable home dates remaining on the schedule (vs. Oregon State, Washington, and Washington State), it doesn’t seem likely they will this season.

I is for Idolization: The second stretch of the piece! But idolization is a pretty good word for Ducks’ guard Casey Benson‘s fascination with watching his brother play. The elder Benson (T.J.) played at Weber State and now coaches at Grand Canyon University, so the younger Benson had a pretty good mentor to learn from. The younger Benson is one of the best decision-makers in college basketball and has become an unexpected linchpin in one of the nation’s most efficient offenses.

J is for Jumpers: Oregon makes a fair amount of them (its 53.3 percent shooting on two-point field goal attempts is best in the conference) and last we checked, making shots is an important part of becoming a good basketball team.

K is for Knight: It is pretty near impossible to mention the success of Oregon athletics without pointing out that a big part of that success is Nike chairman Phil Knight’s deep pockets and profound love for the school’s sports teams. Matthew Knight Arena is a gleaming testament to both Phil’s son and his own generosity. It may also be the coolest court in college basketball.

Knight

Matthew Knight Arena’s Hardwood Is As Distinctive As Any In College Basketball

L is for Luck: According to hoop-math.com, opponents took 418 field goals in transition against Oregon last season and roughly 38 percent of those attempts came from downtown. Opponents made just 30.8 percent of those shots. This season, opponents have taken 255 field goals in transition (basically the same per game average as last season) and once again roughly 38 percent of those attempts have come from downtown. Opponents are now making 44.4 percent of those attempts, however. Oregon can definitely stand to tighten things up in that area, but that number screams regression. If and when that luck runs out, Oregon’s already solid defense might start looking even more efficient.

M is for Mennenga: As in assistant coach Mike Mennenga. Mennenga is in his second season as an assistant in Eugene but his strong ties to Toronto (he used to be a youth basketball coach there) are a big reason why Oregon is so popular with players from up north. We already explained how important Canada has been to Oregon’s success this season, so it is only fair we give Mennenga his due, as well. 

N is for Newcomers: Since Altman took over for Ernie Kent, the roster has seen an average of nearly eight new players each season. This season isn’t the best example of the constant turnover – in part because we never got to see Ennis play extended minutes – but at the risk of sounding redundant, Boucher and Dorsey have worked out pretty well. It takes a gifted coach and stable program to successfully integrate new players year after year. Oregon does it better than almost anyone else.

O is for Opportunity: At the risk of being a buzzkill, it is worth pointing out that there are no dominant teams in college basketball this season. This leaves a very large open window of opportunity for Oregon (and every other team out there) to climb through. If this were last season, Oregon might not even be the first or second best team in the conference, let alone the country. This is nothing to be ashamed of, but let’s not pretend it doesn’t have a big impact on Oregon’s potential tournament success.

P is for Playing Time: Ducks’ freshman Tyler Dorsey was originally committed to conference rival Arizona. But when Arizona took a commitment from Justin Simon and offered other guards, Dorsey knew his potential playing time was in jeopardy and reopened his commitment before eventually landing at Oregon. Playing time was unlikely to be the only reason Dorsey made the switch, but the point is moot now. Dorsey is suiting up for Oregon and is the team’s third-leading scorer and best outside shooter, shooting better than 40 percent from three-point range.

Q is for Quack: You know, like a Duck?

R is for Reckless: One would think that a rotation primarily comprising first or second year players would be more reckless. But in fact the opposite is true, as Oregon takes better care of the ball than almost any team in the country. Casey Benson has turned the ball over just seven times in more than 300 minutes of conference play and Boucher has just nine turnovers in nearly as many minutes. The Ducks lead the conference in turnover margin (+2.88) and are 26th best in the country in the category (ninth best among Power 5 schools).

A Casey Benson Turnover is a Rare Sight These Days

A Casey Benson Turnover is a Rare Sight These Days (Photo: John Sperry, 247Sports)

S is for Stubblefield: As in longtime Altman sidekick and ace recruiter Tony Stubblefield. Hired away from Cincinnati, Stubblefield has been the program’s best recruiter and is at least partially responsible for the commitment of Dorsey last year. He was also the primary recruiter of Oak Hill Academy forward Trevor Manuel, and 247 Sports credits him with successfully enrolling Cook and Brooks in years past.

T is for Transition Defense: Oregon opponents’ effective field-goal percentage in transition is 58.5 percent. This is in part due to the aforementioned problems defending the three-point arc, but what might be news to some is that Oregon ranks among the top 40 teams in the country in percentage of total field goals attempted in transition (18.3%) and effective field-goal percentage defense in non-transition situations (44.4%). In summation, Oregon is good at preventing opponents’ transition opportunities and is really good at defending when the opponents aren’t getting transition opportunities. This is a reminder to Dana Altman to get that transition perimeter defense cleaned up STAT.

U is for Unicorns: Unicorn was the most apt description for the type of once-in-a-generation talent and athlete Kevin Durant was and still is. Now it is being used, albeit slightly more moderately, to describe the 6’10”, 190-pound athletic freak that is Chris Boucher. There aren’t too many players in college basketball with the versatility to block seven shots and make four three-pointers in the same game. Boucher did it against Arizona State on Jan. 31. He is 23 and is essentially a walking string bean, but his arrival has been an obvious boon on both ends of the floor for the Ducks.

V is for Versatility: And versatility is something Oregon has in spades. Take a look at Oregon’s most frequently used lineups over the last five games and you will see Altman experiments with different combinations liberally. Every player in the rotation also plays more than one position. This is not coincidental. Altman readily admits that versatility is an important part of his recruiting strategy and that position-less basketball is the aim. Almost all of the Ducks are matchup problems for the opposition (especially Brooks) and that ability to play different roles is a big reason why the offense is so efficient.

W is for Warriors: To continue that thought, we won’t pretend the Ducks’ attempts to mimic the Warriors’ position-less defense is perfect. Oregon still has issues on the glass and defending the perimeter. But it is interesting to see how many similar pieces Oregon is working with. This excellent analysis of the Warriors’ ground-breaking defense can be applied to Oregon as well (to a lesser degree, obviously). The Ducks have no defensive footprint and can play man-to-man or zone depending on what suits them. They can switch on defense without worrying about size mismatches with Boucher serving as the Bogut-esque anchor. Brooks also has the potential to be an Iguodala-lite disruptor on defense. These similarities may not be perfect, but their potential existence is a definite good thing.

X is for X: This is one of those skip questions on the test and we will take the “X”.

Y and Z: Uhhhh, seems like we ran out of gas. We got nothing. Dana Altman has to hope his team has a more successful finishing flourish in them this March than we did here. And if you read all the way from A through W, you know the Ducks just might.

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Pac-12 Trade Deadline: Examining the Best Trades That Won’t Happen

Posted by Mike Lemaire on February 10th, 2016

The NBA trade deadline is now less than two weeks away, which means professional basketball writers get to throw together a bunch of hasty trade ideas and rumors in an exercise that always looks like so much fun. College basketball writers get left out of the trade deadline party because, as those who have been paying attention already know, trades are outlawed in amateur athletics. In an effort to crash that party, we are going to waste some space this week analyzing several potentially smart trades for Pac-12 contenders that will not happen. We stick to intra-conference trades to make it easy and because the thought of a bunch of petty Pac-12 coaches bickering over the fairness of those trades would be so entertaining for the rest of us. And remember, talent in addition to remaining years of eligibility are important. How else would Washington State rebuild?

Arizona gets Gary Payton II and Oregon State gets Ray Smith and Kadeem Allen

Gary Payton II Is Not Only The Best Point In The Pac, He's One Of Its Best Players (Oregon State Athletics)

Can You Imagine Arizona If They Traded for Gary Payton II? (Oregon State Athletics)

Corvallis is a football town first and foremost but the good residents there would still likely burn the whole thing to the ground if the Beavers tried to trade away Payton II. Some analysts believe that Oregon State will be an NCAA Tournament team so Wayne Tinkle would potentially be a buyer rather than seller at the deadline. But for a limited team with young talent and a bright future, leveraging a senior like Payton II for future assets is the smart play. His arrival in Tucson doesn’t help Arizona’s immediate shooting need but he does give the Wildcats a true point guard and a more explosive scorer. Given his popularity, Oregon State would probably think long and hard about this trade but eventually would come to their senses and grab an NBA talent like Smith and two years of a poor man’s Gary Payton II (in Allen).

Washington gets Rosco Allen and Stanford gets Matisse Thybulle

Washington is still in the hunt for the Pac-12 title but head coach Lorenzo Romar is smart enough to know better than to mortgage his team’s bright future for a run this season. The Huskies’ backcourt is their strength and has too much depth to make it worth tinkering with. However, an offensive-minded stretch forward who can shoot the three and takes care of the ball would fit in nicely in the Huskies’ fluid frontcourt. Allen would probably be the least athletic forward of the bunch but he would bring polish, offensive nuance and enough athleticism to run with the young Huskies. He would offer important spacing to a team that struggles to perform in half-court sets and wouldn’t be asked to do too much defensively. Romar would probably rather part with David Crisp or Donaven Dorsey than the versatile Thybulle, but there would be enough contenders pursuing Allen so that he might be willing to pay for a rental player who could help deliver a Sweet Sixteen banner to Seattle.

Oregon gets Ike Iroegbu and Washington State gets Kendall Small and Roman Sorkin

Minus Joseph Young, Dana Altman Still Has A Talented Roster (Michael Arellano/Emerald)

Dana Altman Needs Backcourt Depth and Ike Iroegbu Is An Easy Solution (Michael Arellano/Emerald)

Oregon is in the most precarious position of any Pac-12 contender because it is a flawed team despite its recent hot streak and its most intriguing trade chips are in the current rotation. The Ducks’ two immediate areas of need are in backcourt depth and rebounding help. If Dylan Ennis were healthy, Dana Altman would be inclined to pursue a rebounder like Josh Hawkinson. But the Ducks’ backcourt is so thin right now that getting a player like Iroegbu is more important. The junior turns the ball over too much and is not a great defender but he would give Altman’s backcourt a creative playmaker and dead-eye shooter (46.2% 3FG) at a relative discount. Oregon doesn’t have the pieces to go after Payton II or Bryce Alford, but Small and Sorkin offer enough long-term upside to convince the Cougars to part with an inconsistent talent like Iroegbu.

Cal gets Tony Parker and UCLA gets Stephen Domingo and Kameron Rooks

Despite his immense talent, Parker is probably too moody and inconsistent to garner much interest as a last-minute rental. But Cuonzo Martin, perhaps sensing that this is his only year with Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb, could be persuaded to take a low-risk flyer on a big-time addition. Cal would love to take some interior attention away from the precocious Rabb and Parker would undoubtedly do that. Rabb is a good enough shooter that he and Parker could play together without floor-spacing issues and Parker is a good enough post defender and rebounder that Rabb could use his length to bother shooters on and off the ball. The question would be whether Martin could get the most out of Parker and make him a more consistent player. If so, Cal might become a scary postseason proposition. For UCLA, Steve Alford would get a chance to start fresh with a young core while adding depth to his frontcourt.

Utah gets Bryce Alford and Colorado gets Kyle Kuzma and Isaiah Wright

Utah is firmly entrenched in “win now” mode whether it likes it or not. Jakob Poeltl will likely not be back for his junior season and the Utes will also lose three other rotation members including Jordan Loveridge — their third-leading scorer and best outside shooter. UCLA, on the other hand, has a solid young nucleus and a top-ranked recruiting class coming to Westwood. If Alford was ruthless enough to ship his own son out of town, now would be a good time. For Utah, the Brandon Taylor experiment has run its course. Alford isn’t known for his defense but he is still a major upgrade on both ends of the floor and he would give his new team another deep threat to pair with Loveridge. Brekkot Chapman has not improved the way Utah would have liked but he is good enough to capably replace Kuzma and Chris Reyes is a reliable backup. Kuzma is the perfect second or third big man for the new-look Bruins. He is athletic and skilled enough that he could become a double-double machine once he is away from Poeltl’s long shadow.

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Burning Questions: Pac’s Next Best Team

Posted by Mike Lemaire (@Mike_Lemaire), Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) and Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on February 4th, 2016

Oregon sits alone atop the conference with a one-game lead at the halfway mark over four second-place teams. Considering the Ducks already have a win at the McKale Center (one of their six wins over top 50 teams) and a conference-best KenPom rating of #15, we’ve got a consensus of contributors willing to call Dana Altman’s group the best team in the Pac. So that brings us to the obvious next question: If the Ducks go down, which will be the team to do it? Our answers are below.

Even Sitting A Couple Games Back, Sean Miller And The Wildcats Are In Striking Position

Even Sitting A Couple Games Back, Sean Miller And The Wildcats Are In Striking Position

Mike Lemaire: Depleted as they may be, Arizona is still the next best team in the conference. All three of its road losses were by three points or fewer (and one of those went into quadruple-overtime), and although Oregon exposed the Wildcats as a flawed team (especially without the services of Allonzo Trier), it is still the most well-rounded team in the league outside of Eugene. But this pick is as much about the uninspiring resumes of the other contenders as it is about Arizona. Utah’s best win is at Colorado; the Buffaloes beat Oregon at home but haven’t posted many other victories of note; USC needed four overtimes to beat the Wildcats in the Galen Center. Behind Oregon, the Pac-12 is a conference littered with “good but not great” teams. Arizona has the best coach, the most talent and the most upside. I’ll take the ‘Cats head-to-head on a neutral floor against any other team in the conference. Read the rest of this entry »

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