Marching to Vegas: On Dana Altman’s Young Ducks

Posted by Adam Butler on February 27th, 2015

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

On two separate occasions this year, Sean Miller has noted the work of Dana Altman. In December he said Altman was the Coach of the Year and this week he “marveled” at Altman’s work. The praise is warranted. Altman’s team projects to make its third consecutive NCAA Tournament despite 10 newcomers and a tumultuous offseason. One of my favorite Altman facts – which notably does not pertain to this season – is that in back-to-back years (2013 and 2014) he coached the 10th-best defense followed by the 11th-best offense. The fact alone is impressive enough on its own, and then you consider his coaching adjustments for the well-documented personnel turnover, and everything really begins to make sense. In 2015, his Oregon team was meant to fly under the radar. And perhaps they have. It’s not often we heap our focus on a volume shooter and a bunch of freshmen who were 5-4 at the turn of conference play. But it’s time we really start paying attention. The Ducks certainly got Utah’s attention and as they head to The Farm this weekend for what seems to be a Dance-or-die battle with the Cardinal, it’s probably worth understanding just what makes these Ducks tick.

Dana Altman's Ability To Get The Most Out of New Faces Is Nearly Unparalleled (credit: Alex Brandon)

Dana Altman’s Ability To Get The Most Out of New Faces Is Nearly Unparalleled. (Alex Brandon/AP)

If we’re to do so in a word, the most appropriate one would be: YOUNG. You guys, it’s a pun. Because this team runs four young freshmen as supplemental parts to the Joseph Young scoring machine. Double meaning. Let’s begin our conversation focusing on the former. Dillon Brooks, Jordan Bell, Casey Benson and Ahmaad Rorie have been more than a pleasant surprise for Altman. But the interesting case is that – after four years of consistent turnover and seemingly brand new rosters – is this really a surprise? This was the 22nd-best class in America, according to, and the fourth-best in the Pac-12. Impressive but not overwhelming. Florida had the 11th-best class and the Gators stink. So too does USC (12th-best class) and Michigan (16th), and Missouri (19th). Now look at how this group stacks up against qualifying freshmen in the Pac-12 with regards to Offensive Rating:

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On the Rise Of Utah Basketball

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on February 26th, 2015

On Saturday, Arizona will travel to Utah for a game with major implications to the Pac-12 regular season title picture. Any casual basketball fan knows the general story of Sean Miller and his refresh of the Wildcats program – a program with a proud history returned to elite status following the bumpy ending of the Lute Olson era. What many may not recognize is that the Utes are following a similar path. Following the stability and excellence of the 14 years of the Rick Majerus era (which featured no losing records, 10 seasons with at least 24 wins, a Final Four and 11 NCAA Tournament appearances), the Utes burned through two coaches in seven years and suffered four losing seasons over that volatile stretch. Compared with Arizona’s post-Olson struggles, Utah’s downturn was far more pronounced. But through the combination of the right hire, rampant roster revamping and, let’s face it, some good luck, the Utes have come out the other side of their dark period as a member of a power conference and back to national contention.

After A Rough Transition Post-Majerus, Utah Basketball Is Back In Its Rightful Place (Utah Athletics)

After A Rough Transition Post-Majerus, Utah Basketball Is Back In Its Rightful Place. (Utah Athletics)

The 2010-11 season was a great example of mixed emotions around the Utah basketball program. There was the excitement that the Utes were headed to a new conference – the newly named Pac-12 – in the following season. But at the same time, the current edition of the team was struggling to a tie for sixth place in the Mountain West as head coach Jim Boylen wrapped up his four-year stint with a third losing conference record. The program was coming off a season in which five players (including some guy named Marshall Henderson, and another one named Carlon Brown – who went on to be a Pac-12 Tournament MVP in leading Colorado to an NCAA bid in 2012) had transferred out of the program. Boylen was subsequently fired, and after a search that included St. Mary’s Randy Bennett and former Alabama head coach Mark Gottfried as candidates, Montana’s Larry Krystkowiak was named the new head coach on April 2, 2011.

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Pac-12 Weekly Honors: Week 14

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 25th, 2015

Each week the Pac-12 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, which typically will include a Team, Player and Newcomer of the Week, along with our weekly Power Rankings.

Team of the Week: Oregon

A Big Conference Win On Senior Day Had The Knight Arena Crowd Rushing The Court (Andy Nelson, AP Photo)

A Big Conference Win on Senior Day Had the Knight Arena Crowd Rushing the Court (Andy Nelson, AP Photo)

Road wins are great. In conference play, you go out on the road and you beat anybody in conference, even if it’s the worst team, that qualifies as an accomplishment. Home wins tend to get swept under the rug from time to time. But, if, like the Ducks, you make a habit of taking care of most of your business at home AND sneak in a home win over a national top 10 team, you are very much in the mix for an NCAA Tournament bid. Oregon checked both of those boxes this week, turning in a workmanlike win over Colorado on Wednesday night and then backing that up with a prime-time performance on Sunday in taking care of Utah at Matthew Knight Arena. Dana Altman got good back-to-back performances this week from all eight guys in his normal rotation, and with a home sweep, the Ducks are in good position to earn an NCAA Tournament bid – provided, that is, that they can got out on the road over the final two weeks of the year and at least dig out a win.

(Also receiving votes: Arizona)

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Pac-12 Senior Days: Oregon’s Joseph Young

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on February 22nd, 2015

Over the years, college basketball seasons develop a rhythm of their own for me. There are the manic early days of the season when I’m scrambling around between many different channels and early season tournaments to get a feel for new teams and new players, all while trying to keep up with the stretch run in college football. December rolls around and the pace slows some with finals in time for the holidays and I watch fewer games more intently. The New Year brings a new flash of excitement as conference play starts. There’s a light schedule for Big Monday, then Tuesdays and Wednesdays bring an abundance of games before Thursday lightens up again and we all take Friday easy (usually) in preparation for the weekend. Saturday is always an overwhelming cavalcade of game after game from early morning to late night. Sunday is a light dessert. Then rinse and repeat. You get used to the schedule and begin to take the college basketball season for granted. It will always be like this, right?

Joseph Young's Senior Day Marks The Beginning Of The End Of Another College Basketball Season (Daily Emerald)

Joseph Young’s Senior Day Marks The Beginning Of The End Of Another College Basketball Season (Daily Emerald)

And then some day you look up and another page on the calendar is gone and that shortest of months is nearing its end and – holy crap! This season is almost over! If it was midnight and I had a couple drinks in me, maybe I’d draw a parallel between a college basketball season and a life well lived. But it’s not. It’s 9:00 AM. And I’m already getting off track. You see, one of my favorite parts of a college basketball season begins this weekend: Senior Days. It’s a chance for programs and fans to pause for a moment in that busy and all-t00-fleeting season to say thanks to those guys who have paid their dues and made their way to the finish line of their collegiate eligibility. Back in the old days, that usually meant the end of a four-year career at one spot. These days, those seniors are a rarity; sometimes guys transfer three times; sometimes they bounce to a new school just for their final season. But in all cases, seniors are a special breed in college basketball. There’s a whole lot of water under the bridge by the time you get to that year. Games have changed; life has imparted lessons. Guys who came into school as bright-eyed brash freshmen have turned into grizzled, weathered veterans with the experiences that will serve them well as they head out into life.

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Marching to Vegas: Arizona State Emerging From Behind The Curtain

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) on February 20th, 2015

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

When conference play began, Herb Sendek’s Sun Devils weren’t expected to do much. They were 8-5 with an unimpressive schedule that yielded a home loss to Lehigh. Sure, the rest of their losses were excusable instances against quality teams or on the road; but we still had little reason to imagine that Arizona State would amount to much. Then three of their first four conference games were on the road and – in slicing three of four another way – those games were against three top-10 defenses. Arizona State, on January 15, was sub-.500 and we could seemingly give up on them. The basketball was ugly enough that you might jarringly display it from behind a curtain during a free throw.

Arizona State Basketball: What The Hell Is Going On Here?

Arizona State Basketball: What The Hell Is Going On Here?

I suppose this is as good a time as any to talk a little bit about Herb Sendek’s program. Maybe it’s because I’m a defender of jobs and don’t enjoy the hot seat debate. The irresponsible wielding of the sword threat bugs me. Of course by noting my affinity for positive coach speak, I’m backhandedly noting that Herb could be on the hot seat. Whoops. What has Herb done in Tempe? Well he’s attended two NCAA tournaments which matches the program’s success of the previous twenty years. He’s won twenty games on five occasions (of eight seasons). Is success relative? I think so. For example: Two NCAA tournaments in eight seasons at UCLA? Should we even bother to answer this question? Or should I just pose it to Gene Bartow? Gary Cunningham? My Socratic methoding seems to suffice. But the perhaps curse of Sendek has been his swift success. He plucked James Harden out of the Los Angeles grips of Ben Howland and within three seasons in Tempe, Herb was finishing third in a six-bid league (read: tough Pac-10). Fairly or otherwise, it seems to me that expectations were set. And then they won just 20 games (ten per season) the next two years. Disappointment set in but expectations were not adjusted. After the Harden years, it would be five seasons before the Devils could have their dancing hearts ripped out again.

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Best of the West: Top 25 Teams in the West

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 18th, 2015

We’re now less than four weeks from Selection Sunday, so it’s a good time to check back in with our Best in the West, with a special focus on these 25 teams’ NCAA Tournament prospects. If you haven’t seen this post before, we take all the schools west of the Rockies (basically the schools from the Pac-12, Mountain West, West Coast, and Big West Conferences, and then some of the schools from the Big Sky and Western Athletic Conferences) and list the top 25 teams. Rather than just ranking schools #1 though #25, though, we divide them into tiers, because, for instance, while one team may be ranked third overall and another fourth, there may be a huge gap between teams three and four. Below are ourTop 25 teams in the West (their overall rank will be in parentheses) with descriptions of what we think the teams in each tier have in common, plus brief comments on each and their NCAA Tournament hopes

The Best of the Best – In a league of their own.

Gonzaga is #2 in The AP Poll And In The Mix For A #1 Seed in March

Gonzaga is #2 in The AP Poll And In The Mix For A #1 Seed 

  • Gonzaga (#1 overall, WCC #1) – The Bulldogs are 26-1 with the lone defeat an overtime loss at the McKale Center on the first weekend of December. For me, an overtime road loss equates to a win in the grand scheme of things, so I’ve got Gonzaga slightly ahead of that team that came out on the good side of the scoreboard in Tucson. Admittedly, the rest of the Gonzaga resume is a little light. Their best win is, what, a road win at St. John’s? Or is it the one at BYU? Or maybe the one at UCLA? All of those are good wins to be sure, but none of those are mindblowingly great entries on the Zags’ balance sheet compared with the teams with whom they will be competing for a #1 seed. For instance, the other two teams in this category both have better wins and tougher overall schedules than the Zags. But if they’re able to get from here to Selection Sunday with a “1” on the right-hand side of that record (which would mean additional wins at Saint Mary’s, over BYU and then another over one of those two teams in the WCC Championship game, they’ll probably nose out either Arizona or Utah. Now, teams like Virginia, Duke, Wisconsin and Villanova (not to mention Kentucky) may be a different story.

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Pac-12 Weekly Honors: Week 13

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 17th, 2015

Each week the Pac-12 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, which typically will include a Team, Player and Newcomer of the Week, along with our weekly Power Rankings.

Team of the Week: Arizona

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson And The Wildcats Were Atypically Awesome This Week

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson And The Wildcats Were Atypically Awesome This Week

You go on the road and get a sweep in the Pac-12, then you’re our Team of the Week. So, welcome back, Wildcats. The fact that they won both weekend games against the Washington schools by an average of more than 25 points per game is just icing on the dominant, dominant cake. With all of its long and athletic stoppers littered around the roster, team defense has never really been a question mark for Arizona this season. But as we make the turn into the home stretch of the regular season, the Wildcats are starting to also put together some terrific offensive performances. This week the ‘Cats return to Tucson to host the Los Angeles schools, including our lone scheduled renewal of the Arizona-UCLA rivalry game on Saturday. All of which is just preamble for a renewal of my complaint about UCLA and Arizona only being scheduled once in a season. It may take some fancy scheduling or creative thinking and it may have the side effect of forcing USC-Arizona State upon as twice every year — but for the good of both programs, for the good of the conference, for the good of the sport and for the love of all that is good and holy, get these two teams scheduled against each other twice every season. Read the rest of this entry »

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Picking a Pac-12 All-Star Game

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 13th, 2015

I was poking around some of the upcoming posts on Rush the Court last night, not entirely sure what I wanted to write about, when I stumbled across Brendan Brody’s piece over on the Big Ten microsite about picking a pair of All-Star Game rosters out of that conference. Well, that seemed like a perfectly brilliant idea to me, so I figured I’d steal borrow that notion and shift out west to the Conference of Champions. He’s got 12-man rosters in a 14 (or 16 or 18? God knows how many teams are in the Big-Can’t Count) team league, and we’ve only got 12, so I’m just going to fill out two 10-man rosters and split them based on the North/South divisions that the conference uses for football. One other caveat: We’re going to steal an idea from the MLB (probably the first time I’ve ever used that phrase) and require at least one player from each team. And, since we’re going to have an All-Star Game, we might as well make a full weekend out of it and host a dunk contest, a three-point contest and a skills competition, right? Let’s jump right in.

Seriously. How Cool Would An In-Season Conference All-Star Game Be?

Seriously. How Cool Would An In-Season Conference All-Star Game Be?

Pac-12 North All-Stars


  • G: Chasson Randle, Sr, Stanford
  • G: Joseph Young, Sr, Oregon
  • G: Gary Payton II, Jr, Oregon State
  • F: Anthony Brown, Sr, Stanford
  • F: Josh Hawkinson, So, Washington State


  • G: Davonte Lacy, Sr, Washington State
  • G: Nigel Williams-Goss, So, Washington
  • G: Tyrone Wallace, Jr, California
  • F: Jordan Bell, Fr, Oregon
  • C: Stefan Nastic, Sr, Stanford

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Marching to Vegas: Keep Watching

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) on February 11th, 2015

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

I suppose it’s not a comfort that’s befallen me so much as an acceptance. I first recognized the Pac-12’s general ineptitude as I found myself unaware of game schedules, player success (or otherwise) and disinterest in the whole thing. Let’s also be serious that I was still paying attention. Close attention. And I still want to. After all, we’re not at 2012 levels where just three players wound up drafted and Jorge Gutierrez was the conference Player of the Year. Washington was not invited to dance despite winning the regular season title. This is a story lead that could last forever. Alas, we’re not there but we have the excuse to excuse the rest of this season. It’s more than likely that your team is fighting for a three lettered tournament, at best. What’s there to support? What’s there to watch? The Pac-12 has hosted the highest percentage of in-conference blowouts. Where’s the intrigue? Let me tell you.

Pac-12 Basketball: It's Grrr-... Well, It's Okay.

Pac-12 Basketball: It’s Grrr-… Well, It’s Okay.

Now let’s preface this by saying that I don’t love the format of this column. I generally prefer to tell a story with words and numbers. But I also don’t like to watch middling college basketball teams in the Conference of Champions so I’m cool with it. A list it is. Six reasons to continue watching Pac-12 basketball in 2015:

1. Byes. Not Byes as in “saying goodbye to the 2015 season,” but rather, who among the muck will rise to finish in the third and fourth slots? The top-four seeds receive a Wednesday bye in Las Vegas. Have you ever tried to stay four nights in Vegas? Near impossible. You want the bye. So who’s in the running? The primary candidates are Oregon and Stanford (we’re ignoring Arizona and Utah, as they’re essentially locked in). The Ducks collected a big last-second win on Wednesday, improving to 6-4 in conference play. The rest of their schedule is road heavy but doesn’t include any more games against Arizona and they’ll host Utah. The team ahead of Oregon in the standings, Stanford, had seemed to be a lock to finish in the top three, but after a loss to Washington State I’m not so sure. Oh, then they lost at home to UCLA, a team which is now knocking on the bye door. This is usually the part where we note the wildcard teams, but then I’d be laying out a power rankings of unpowerful teams. Right now, there is a four-way tie for third. In all honesty, keep an eye on Arizona State and ignore USC.

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Pac-12 Weekly Honors: Week 12

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 9th, 2015

Each week the Pac-12 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, which typically will include a Team, Player and Newcomer of the Week, along with our weekly Power Rankings.

Team of the Week: Arizona State

Arizona State's Performance On Saturday Sparked Celebration In Tempe

Arizona State’s Performance On Saturday Sparked Celebration In Tempe

In order to win our Team of the Week award in a week when a team plays just one game, that game had better be pretty special. Knocking off an intrastate rival is a good start. That the rival is a top five team definitely has me intrigued. Scoring 1.14 points per possession against the seventh-best defense in the country? Go on. Going out and getting that win in front of a raucous homecourt crowd on national television in a game where everybody from the freshman point guard to the team’s three seniors all turn in highly impactful performances. Okay, sold. The Sun Devils have had some rotten luck at times this season (six of their 11 losses are by two possessions or fewer), but for the most part, Herb Sendek’s team has played everybody tough while it has folded in several new players into their rotation. On Saturday afternoon in Tempe, everything came together with freshman point guard Tra Holder, JuCo transfer Savon Goodman, junior big man Eric Jacobsen and senior Bo Barnes all particularly deserving of recognition.

(Also receiving votes: California)

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The Annotated Bill Walton: Oregon, the Merry Pranksters & Phi Slama Jama

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 5th, 2015

Back by popular demand, your skeleton key into the mind of Bill Walton. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of the piece, we try to decipher what exactly the most interesting college basketball commentator in the world was talking about, as Oregon got past by Washington in Eugene last night, the most remarkable power spot on Earth. And, as always, you’ll want some musical accompaniment, so let us kindly suggest the Grateful Dead at Mac Court on the campus of the University of Oregon on a cold January day back in 1978, featuring an epic second-set jam. Start with Terrapin Station and let it ride.

After A Fun Night In Eugene, Will Dig A Little Furthur Into Bill Walton's Commentary

After A Fun Night In Eugene, Will Dig A Little Furthur Into Bill Walton’s Commentary

First half

16:36 – “I’m fired up. Today was one of the most remarkable days of my life. I saw so much, I’m just hoping it was all real. Because that was a spectacular series of events. I’m the luckiest guy in the world.”

Comment: Now that’s what you call a tease, setting up what is sure to be our storyline the rest of the night.

14:09 – Following discussion of Robert Upshaw getting kicked off the Washington team and playing with a small lineup: “I know you’re not old enough to remember that one of the great teams in the history of college basketball – two consecutive championships in the mid-60s, they happened to play at UCLA – the tallest guy on the team was 6’5”.”

Comment: Sometimes you have to clean up the facts a little bit. For sure, the 1964 UCLA national championship team famously featured no starter taller than 6’5”, with Hall of Famers Walt Hazzard and Gail Goodrich leading the way and senior center Fred Slaughter and junior forward Keith Erickson each checking in at just 6’5”. But, Doug McIntosh came off the bench at 6’7” and played 30 minutes in the title game. In 1965, he regularly started and 6’6” Edgar Lacy also became a major factor for the Bruins.

11:09 – Dave Pasch pre-commercial, teasing the next feature: “Well, coming up: One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. No, it’s not Walton’s biography. A Walton’s World tribute to Ken Kesey and someone called Mountain Girl. You can’t make this stuff up.”

Walton’s World: “What a day. It started at the HDC with football and then quickly moved to the Knight Library where Voodoo Doughnuts donated $10,000 to the Ken Kesey Fund. And then, one of the original Pranksters, Ken Babbs, the rider who went to college with Ken Kesey at Stanford. The Knight Library had this fantastic collection, including this record soundtrack from Jack Nicholson. And then all the writings. Mountain Girl was there to read it. And then the Jail Journal. And then we all wound up in the Ken Kesey Classroom. And here tonight at the Matthew Knight Arena, Mountain Girl on the left, Sunshine she’s on the right, she’s Ken and Mountain Girl’s daughter. And then down underneath the basket on the other end, we have Ken Babbs. Ken Babbs, a great basketball player in his own day at Miami (Ohio), played on the same team as Wayne Embry. He’s dancing with the Duck here, he’s a great writer himself, he’s got the Last Go ‘Round novel.

Pasch: “Now wait, who is Mountain Girl?”

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Pac-12 Halfway Home Awards

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on February 4th, 2015

The calendar has been flipped to February. The Super Bowl is in the rearview mirror. And all Pac-12 teams have nine conference games in the books. It’s a nice, tidy point to recap what we’ve seen so far and take a brief look ahead as the college basketball regular season takes the main stage (really, who actually watches regular season NBA games?) and we begin the downhill run to March Madness. We’ll be reconvening in Vegas before we know it.

Player of the Midyear

He May Not Be The "Best" Player In The Conference, But He's Arguably The Most Important (Arizona Athletics)

He May Not Be the “Best” Player in the Conference, But He’s Arguably the Most Important One (Arizona Athletics)

A couple weeks back, my friend and colleague Adam Butler drew a line in the sand and argued that Stanford’s Chasson Randle and Utah’s Delon Wright were the only two options for Pac-12 Player of the Year. I read that post. I enjoyed that post. I disagreed – and continue to disagree – with that post. Don’t get me wrong. Both of those guys are very much in the conversation for the award. Both of those guys are awesome. Both of those guys are part of the reason why I love college hoops so much. And both of those guys currently take a back seat to Arizona’s T.J. McConnell in my POY calculus. Look, I get it: McConnell is not actually the best player in the Pac-12. He’s not even the best player on his team (I’d give that honor to either Rondae Hollis-Johnson or Stanley Johnson – or maybe Rondley Jeffer-Hollisson). In considering a national All-American team, I’d certainly consider Wright and Randle, while leaving McConnell’s name on the cutting room floor. But “Player of the Year”? That title is so open to interpretation. Here’s what I know: Arizona is the best team in the conference. Take away one of Jefferson, or Johnson, or Brandon Ashley or Kaleb Tarczewski, and that sentiment still stands. Take away McConnell and the whole darn thing is bound to fall apart. He is the catalyst for everything that Arizona does well. He gets the ball in the hands of the right players. He sets the defensive tone. And when the rest of the team is sleep-walking through a first half against the biggest contender to Arizona’s throne, there’s McConnell putting his team on his back and serving as a human alarm clock. He’s not the best player in his conference. He’s not the best player on his team. But at this midway point, he’s my Player of the Year front-runner.

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