NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Pac-12 Teams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Eight Predictions For The Pac-12 On Selection Sunday

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

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

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

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

  • Oregon avoids the 8/9 game, is gifted a #7 seed. The committee loves rewarding teams that finish the season strong, and Oregon closed the year on an 8-1 tear. I think the Ducks avoid the 8/9 game (and therefore a matchup with a top seed in their second game), and will play a #10 seed in their opener.
  • Colorado and Stanford do play the 8/9 game. Both the Buffaloes and Cardinal had a chance to pull an Oregon and avoid the eight or nine line, but some spectacular flameouts in Las Vegas make that impossible. Both will play in an 8/9 game. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: UCLA 75, #3 Arizona 71

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 15th, 2014

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways:

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

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

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

  2. Toughness. Despite all the high-flying wonderment and spectacular plays, tournament titles require toughness, and there was no shortage of that today. Often things like this are measured in rebounding, and guys like Anderson and Gordon did not disappoint there with Tony Parker (seven boards), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (eight) and Kaleb Tarczewski (seven) chipping in as well. But it is more than just that. It is setting and fighting through hard screens, like the one Parker set to free up Jordan Adams for what would turn out to be the game-winning three. It is getting on the floor for loose ball, as happened several times today, most famously when Travis Wear dug down deep and outraced Gordon to dive for a loose ball near the end line. As Arizona head coach Sean Miller put it afterward, “If you want to love college basketball, just watch that.” And if you want to win championships, you’ve gotta do that too. Read the rest of this entry »
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Pac-12 Tourney Underwhelms on the Way to a Much-Anticipated Arizona/UCLA Final

Posted by AMurawa on March 15th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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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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