The Annotated Bill Walton: Arizona at Stanford Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 30th, 2014

The Bill Walton Experience has become a regular happening during Pac-12 conference games over the past two seasons. And, while the brash and talkative legend can run some people the wrong way, his commentary during games contains references to classical and pop history, the collected wisdom of one of the handful of the greatest basketball players of all time, and more than a couple off-handed Grateful Dead references – along with a handful of other comments that defy reasonable explanation. For those of you who may not get many of his references, below we’ll take a look at some of Walton’s best comments from Wednesday night’s Arizona/Stanford game and give some backstory to them, when needed.

Bill Walton's Pac-12 Commentary Has Become Must-Watch TV (Earl Wilson, The New York Times)

Bill Walton’s Pac-12 Commentary Has Become Must-Watch TV (Earl Wilson, The New York Times)

For your listening pleasure while reading, I suggest a little Grateful Dead accompaniment, such as the only time the Dead played at Maples Pavilion: 2/9/73, a classic in Grateful Dead lore. While you can’t go wrong anywhere here, maybe skip ahead to Playin’ in the Band or China Cat Sunflower->I Know You Rider.

First half:

18:32 – “This is a really good team. If they had been able to beat UCLA 10 days ago in a game that they just got pushed around in Pauley Pavilion, it would have been outstanding for Johnny Dawkins.”

Comment: Not a great start for Grateful Red. “If ifs and buts were candies and nuts…”

16:20 – In response to straight man Dave Pasch’s questions about what he did yesterday: “I had a grand time. I went to church – Memorial Church yesterday and prayed for your salvation.”

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Pac-12 M5: 01.29.14 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 29th, 2014

pac12_morning5

  1. Pac-12 play gets back underway tonight with the Arizona schools visiting the Bay Area. And that means Arizona freshman forward and prized recruit Aaron Gordon is making his return to his old high school stomping grounds, where he played at Archbishop Mitty. As he was in high school, Gordon remains a coach’s dream in college, a hard-working, versatile player that is a great teammate who is always improving. Cal head coach Mike Montgomery, who was among the coaches hot in pursuit of Gordon’s commitment, joined Arizona head coach Sean Miller in praising Gordon’s ability. But, more importantly for the Wildcat’s season than one player’s return home is the chance to again prove their mettle in tough conference road games.
  2. As for California, tonight they host Arizona State in an attempt to get back on track. But the Sun Devils provide significant and diverse challenges for the Golden Bears. First, along the frontline, Richard Solomon will need to continue his strong play as he matches up mostly against the Sun Devils’ senior center Jordan Bachynski who has four inches on him. And then in the backcourt, senior point guard Justin Cobbs may have the experience edge on Arizona State’s sparkplug Jahii Carson, but Carson’s got the clear quickness advantage. And, as always when the nation’s #1 team is up next, the Golden Bears need to make sure they’re not looking ahead to Saturday against Arizona.
  3. Good news everyone! Washington State junior guard DaVonte Lacy may return as early as this weekend when they host Washington on Saturday. Lacy has had a rough 2014 so far, missing time following surgery to remove his appendix, returning for 11 minutes and then injring his ribs. And, without their best scorer and leader, the Cougars have been, well, just awful. While it remains to be seen if he’ll actually play on Saturday or possibly wait until next week, it will likely take some time for him to get back to full strength. And until he is back at full strength, the Cougs really don’t have much of a chance to compete on a regular basis. But, assuming he’s back to full strength by March, and assuming Que Johnson’s time in the spotlight has been put to good use, there’s a chance these guys are talented enough to spring an upset on day one of the Pac-12 Tournament. Maybe not a good chance, but a chance.
  4. Tomorrow night, Oregon gets a chance to build upon its win over Washington State last weekend by protecting its homecourt against the invaders from UCLA. While the Ducks shut down the Cougars defensively on Sunday, holding them to 44 points (0.73 points per possession), the Bruins offer a whole different challenge, with talented offensive players up and down their rotation. After the up-tempo Ducks allowed 80 points or more in five consecutive games prior to the Washington State matchup, they welcome in the Bruins, who have scored at least 69 points in every game this year and 80 or more in 12 out of their 20. With both teams in the top 20 in the nation in shortest offensive possession length and with KenPom.com projecting a final score in the upper-80s, this may well be one of the most enticing conference games of the season.
  5. Lastly, yuck. I didn’t want to do this. I didn’t want to do this at all. It has been an emerging policy at least among RTC Pac-12 writers to ignore Bruins Nation, a UCLA “fan” site that has repeatedly shown an ignorance about basic basketball strategy and is a shining beacon in the world of applying actual events to pre-determined narratives, no matter how silly those applications turn out to be. Given that there are so many better sources for news and opinion about UCLA basketball, there is no reason to usher people in the direction of the TMZ of UCLA basketball coverage. But, in the spirit of comedy, they outdid themselves on Tuesday, suggesting that one of the reasons that freshman guard Zach LaVine (regularly projected as a lottery or border-line lottery selection in the 2014 NBA Draft) may be considering entering the draft following this season is because head coach Steve Alford is playing favorites and will hand the point guard position next year (assuming, safely, that Kyle Anderson is NBA-bound) to his son Bryce Alford, regardless of the competition. Now, we’re not actually going to link to this Onion-esque bit of prose (which, among other things, suggests that LaVine, third on the team in minutes this year, might still be relegated to the bench next season if Anderson leaves), but suffice it to say that this is odd, at best. Right now, without any bit of doubt whatsoever, Alford is the team’s second-best point guard. LaVine is terrific off the ball (seriously, coming off a solid screen and squaring up to get a good look at the hoop from deep, there are very few more fearsome shooters in the nation), but has shown an inability to create for himself or others with anything more than one or two dribbles, and is loose with his handle. He’s a terrific pro prospect because of his athleticism, ridiculous upside and potential to improve those glaring weaknesses. And if he winds up forgoing his final three years of eligibility, it is entirely because he is likely to get paid handsomely for such an opportunity. Either way, while he may well develop into a point guard in time, right now, he would struggle running the point – he’s an attacking wing in transition and a deadly catch-and-shoot guy. But the idea that the criminally-underrated Alford is only receiving playing time because his dad has a soft spot in his heart for him indicates a writer who has decided not to spend any time actually watching UCLA basketball.
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Pac-12 M5: 01.24.14 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on January 24th, 2014

pac12_morning5

  1. Utah hasn’t been to an NCAA Tournament since the 2008-09 season, but a couple of solid wins and a few near-misses against good teams has fans wondering if it is again emerging as a basketball school. Coach Larry Krystkowiak has certainly changed the culture and attitude around the program. Fan interest is growing; the Huntsman Center rocks for big games; and losing is no longer expected in Salt Lake City. It’s going to take more than a couple signature wins to regain the title of a real hoops school, but Krystkowiak definitely has the program headed in the right direction.
  2. With Arizona now sitting at 19-0 and still ranked #1 in the country, Tucson, or Lob Pueblo, is becoming the focus of the college basketball nation. Star freshman forward Aaron Gordon is rolling along with the stardom that goes along with his team’s success, going about his business and not letting it affect his on-court performance. The freshman is second on the team in with 12.4 PPG and first in rebounds at a 7.8 RPG clip. This ESPN feature on Gordon details his life as a child and what comes next for himself and the Gordon family, and also reveals the great tidbit that Aaron was born as an ice hockey player. Next up for his undefeated Wildcats is a visit from Utah on Sunday night.
  3. Arizona was in action last night in an ESPN2 game against Colorado, and the Cats picked up another quality win in front of a big audience. The Buffaloes struggled once again without Spencer Dinwiddie available, falling behind Arizona, 18-4, six minutes into the game. The Buffaloes actually outscored Arizona from that point on, but the hole was too deep and the final was 69-57. Wildcat guard Nick Johnson led all scorers with 18 points.
  4. If UCLA wants to be back in the polls on Monday morning it needs to get sophomore guard Jordan Adams some cleaner looks and Adams needs to convert when given the opportunity. The Bruins’ leading scorer has not scored at or above his average since January 5, and in that time frame he has only shot 31 percent from the field. “He’s a great shooter. We’ve got to work the offense to get him better shots,” head coach Steve Alford said. Long offensive droughts hurt UCLA mightily in its losses against Arizona and Utah, and those need to come to a halt if the Bruins are to contend for a Pac-12 title.
  5. With roughly one and a half months remaining in the season, we thought it would be a good time to start up our basketball pick’em contest. Adam Butler from Pachoops will join us through the end of the year in our prognostications, and important bragging rights are on the line. Each week we will also highlight the top game of the weekend, with a correct pick being worth two wins, and an incorrect selection worth two losses. We head to Los Angeles for that game this week, where UCLA will host in-state rival California.
Game Connor (0-0) Drew (0-0) Adam (0-0)
Oregon State at Washington Washington Oregon State Oregon State
Colorado at Arizona State Arizona State Arizona State Colorado
Stanford at USC Stanford Stanford Stanford
Oregon at Washington State Oregon Oregon Oregon
Utah at Arizona Arizona Arizona Arizona
California at UCLA UCLA California UCLA
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Pac-12 M5: 01.17.14 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on January 17th, 2014

pac12_morning5

  1. We’re now two and a half weeks into conference play (my god, these seasons fly by don’t they) and California is inarguably the hottest team in the conference, out to a 4-0 start in league play with three of those wins coming on the road. And our friend Adam Butler of Pachoops.com points to senior big man Richard Solomon’s increased efficiency as a key for the Golden Bears’ emergence. He’s even got a pretty little chart correlating Solomon’s shots at the rim with his offensive efficiency over the past three seasons. And while Solomon is surely improved, some credit has to go to his fellow senior – point guard Justin Cobbs – for putting more emphasis on finding Solomon at the rim as opposed to his primary target last season, Allen Crabbe on the wing. Either way, there is more than enough credit to go around up in Berkeley (more evidence – check out John McLamb’s praise for the Cal bench in the comments section) and with Washington State on tap this weekend, and a road trip to USC next Wednesday, there is every reason to believe the Bears will be 6-0 when they play at UCLA next Sunday. Drool…
  2. Across the bay, Stanford may be starting to play some good ball. After squeezing by Oregon in a well-played game last weekend, the Cardinal returned home and laid a hurting on an overmatched Washington State team on Wednesday night. Which is good, because that’s the type of thing this team should be doing. They had four guys in double-figures (with leading scorer Chasson Randle playing distributor) on their way to a 32-point win, but need to prove they’re capable of stringing together victories in the multiple before they’re really taken seriously. Nevertheless, they’ve found their way into NCAA Tournament conversations, sneaking into Joe Lunardi’s most recent bracket as one of the last four teams in.
  3. Oregon and Oregon State will get it on Sunday afternoon while most of the rest of the country will be focusing in on an NFL Playoff game. But if you’re interested in excitement, minus all that pesky defense that just gets in the way, this might be your game. As Andrew Greif of The Oregonian points out, according to Sports-Reference.com (and we’ll have to take Greif’s word for this as I am not double-checking his facts), seven of the 20 worst Pac-12 defenders over the last four seasons will be playing in this game. Names like Jonathan Loyd, Roberto Nelson, Jason Calliste, Challe Barton and Angus Brandt are no surprise – Loyd’s height makes him a liability; the next three are completely uninterested in defense; and Brandt has all the mobility of a statue. But first and third on that bottom 20 list are OSU freshman Malcolm Duvivier and sophomore Langston Morris-Walker. This is a crime. Neither of those guys has any right to be on such a list unless they just aren’t trying. In which case, neither of those guys brings enough to the table offensively to deserve a crack at the court.
  4. In advance of the bouncyball version of the Civil War, Craig Robinson took the time to offer some pointed comments regarding the current state of NCAA transfer rules. Robinson called the rules unfair to smaller schools and passive-aggressively commented about how he didn’t know how to “go out and poach guys when you really aren’t supposed to be able to talk to them.” Given Dana Altman’s success with transfers down the way in Eugene, clearly such comments can’t be taken as anything other than a direct reference to the Ducks. Altman, of course, defended his program, saying that all of the senior transfers who have wound up choosing Oregon have done so after those players had first initiated the contact with the school.
  5. Lastly, Doug Haller’s Pac-12 Insider column at AZCentral.com is one of the best things covering the conference. This week, he looks at the opportunities for Arizona high school players Jaron Hopkins and Que Johnson to step up in place of injured starters, and also points out that Aaron Gordon, per hoop-math.com, leads the Pac-12 in putbacks. Want to know how dominant the Arizona front line is on the offensive glass? Gordon’s teammate Brandon Ashley is third in the conference with 23 himself. Put it this way (bonus analysis!): Gordon and Ashley between them have more putbacks than more than 160 Division I teams, including Utah (50), Stanford (46), Oregon State (43), and Arizona State (34). For what it’s worth, Kansas, a team with comparable size and athleticism to Arizona, has a total of 37 putbacks. For the entire team, the Wildcats have a total of 84 putbacks!
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Takeaways From the Pac-12′s Weekend Games

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on January 7th, 2014

It was a busy Pac-12 weekend around the conference. Here are some thoughts on each of the weekend’s five games.

Colorado 100, Oregon 91

  • It was a game that largely lived up to the hype, with both teams looking good for long stretches. But over the last 10 minutes of the game, it was – get this – Colorado’s guard play that was the deciding factor in the game. It was supposed to be the undefeated Ducks with the bevy of play-making guards that had the advantage on the perimeter, while the Buffaloes were going to need to take advantage of a weak Oregon frontcourt in order to win this game at home. Instead, over the final quarter of the game, Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie combined for 25 of Colorado’s 39 points, sophomore guard Xavier Talton chipped in six more, and Jaron Hopkins was the guy to get everything started with a three off a Dinwiddie dime. All told, the five Colorado guards outscored Oregon’s by a total of 66-52.

    Askia Booker, Colorado

    Big Game Askia? Who Knew? (Patrick Ghidossi, BuffaloSportsNews)

  • Meanwhile up front the Ducks were just okay against that tough Colorado frontcourt. On the offensive end, they were great, grabbing better than 41 percent of their own misses and getting a terrific 24-point performance out of Mike Moser. But the bigger concern is their ability to defend on the interior, and here they were exposed a bit, allowing Colorado to grab better than 46 percent of their misses, leading to lots of easy putbacks for the Buffs. Oregon’s guards are going to keep them in a lot of games, but they need to clean up their frontcourt issues in order to reach their potential.
  • For some of the surprises in this game, the most expected angle proved completely true: Colorado is going to be really, really tough at home. With a strong seven-man rotation plus a couple other guys ready to provide spot minutes, the Buffs are deep, athletic, big, strong and – most importantly – good. And the Coors Events Center is a great homecourt advatange. KenPom.com has the Buffs expected to win their next six games at home by an average of just under 10 points per game, but that only takes us to February 22 when they’ll host Arizona in their last home game of the season. Right now that KenPom projection is Arizona, 68-65, but in what could be Dinwiddie’s final home game, the early inclination is to lean Buffs. Not that trying to project a game seven weeks out is good practice.

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Award Tour: Four New Players Enter the NPOY Discussion

Posted by Jameson Fleming on January 3rd, 2014

AwardTour

Jameson Fleming is an RTC columnist who also works for CBSSports.com as the site’s social media editor. You can follow him on Twitter @JamesonFleming.

College basketball is chock-full of star players on the verge of making these Player of the Year rankings. Wichita State’s Ron Baker and North Carolina’s Marcus Paige dropped out, but not by their own faults. Michigan State’s Keith Appling and Florida’s Casey Prather have simply had better seasons to this point. Massachusetts point guard Chaz Williams was once as high as No. 4 in the rankings, but several poor performances have dropped him straight out of the top 10. Meanwhile, Kansas has two players, Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, who could go No. 1 in the NBA Draft, but neither has yet to crack the list. The Pac-12 may have only one elite team this season, but it is loaded with top players like Arizona’s Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon, Arizona State’s Jahii Carson, and UCLA’s duo of Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams – none of whom are on this week’s list either. So who made it? Let’s get to this week’s post-holiday list.

Player of the Year

10. Keith Appling – Michigan State. Last Week: Not Ranked
2013-14 stats: 15.8 PPG, 4.8 APG, 121.9 oRTG

Keith Appling Breaks Into the NPOY Discussion This Week.

Keith Appling Breaks Into the NPOY Discussion This Week.

NBCSports.com‘s Rob Dauster put together a handy little chart comparing all of the nation’s elite point guards. What did he find? Under these parameters, Keith Appling is the No. 1 high-profile point guard in the country.

via NBCSports.com

You can see the rest of the chart here. When you factor in the points Appling scores per possession and the points he creates per assist, he ranks better than Tyler Ennis, Shabazz Napier, Chaz Williams, Marcus Smart and Russ Smith. The biggest knock against Appling remains his inconsistency in Michigan State’s biggest games.

9. Casey Prather – Florida. Last Week: Not Ranked
2013-14 stats: 17.8 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 121.9 oRTG

After three seasons without much of a role at Florida, Casey Prather has developed into one of the best players in the SEC. He’s nearly tripled his point production (6.2 PPG to 17.8 PPG) thanks to an increase in minutes (33 percent to 74 percent of Florida’s game time) and usage (19.5 percent to 28.1 percent).

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Tyler Ennis, the Underappreciated Phenom

Posted by Chris Kehoe on January 2nd, 2014

What’s that, you say — a heady, patient, point guard on an undefeated team, sporting a 4.67:1 assist-to-turnover ratio, isn’t getting enough attention? Someone who happens to be a freshman valiantly filling the shoes of a lottery pick who has already notched an NBA triple-double? By now, you have probably figured out that we’re referring to none other than Syracuse’s Tyler Ennis, an extremely talented and poised freshman playing arguably the most demanding position in all of basketball. The precocious rookie is averaging 11.8 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 5.4 assists per game for a second-ranked Orange team that looks as dangerous as ever and ready for another deep run in March. He contributes 32 minutes per game on a team that lacks any real alternative at the position, but as Ennis has shown thus far, Jim Boeheim doesn’t need much of a substitute as the Canadian rarely gets in foul trouble or gets fatigued playing at the top of the vaunted 2-3 zone.

Ennis splits an Indiana double team (Rich Barnes/Getty)

Ennis splits an Indiana double team. (Rich Barnes/Getty)

Ennis has proved himself a potent long-range shooter, launching three-pointers at a 40 percent clip, and is no slouch defensively either, averaging 2.7 steals per contest  (10th in the nation). Speaking of national statistical rankings, Ennis also comes in second nationally behind ACC counterpart and Pittsburgh point guard James Robinson in assist-to-turnover ratio, a strong indicator of how effectively he runs the team. Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Eisenberg said it best: “He’s just a savvy point guard who changes pace masterfully, uses ball screens to his advantage, and has a knack for knowing when the Orange need a bucket.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Non-Conference Superlatives

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton128) and Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on January 1st, 2014

As part of the conclusion of the non-conference slate, it’s time for Connor and Drew to recognize some of the Pac-12 highlights through nearly two months of the regular season. We’ll cover all the basics: Player of the Year; Coach of the Year; Freshman of the Year; an all-conference team to this point; as well as the biggest surprises and disappointments. And we’ll give you our rationale on each. So let’s get right to it, and let us know where you disagree.

Player of the Year – There’s still a lot of hoop left, so we’ll each give you our current top three picks in this category and some reasons why.

Connor’s Picks:

  1. Joseph Young. Young has been the cornerstone of Oregon’s offense, scoring in double figures in each game and acting as the guy to lift them whenever they hit a scoring lull.
  2. Roberto Nelson. The conference’s leading scorer has put up at least 17 points or more in each game the Beavers have played, save the contest against Towson in which he was ejected for attempting to throw a punch eight minutes into the contest.
  3. Jahii Carson. Jahiisus, who just might be the quickest point guard in the country, steps up whenever he is called upon for Herb Sendek’s Sun Devils. Whether it’s been a 40-point performance at UNLV or a 23-point showing to beat nationally-ranked Marquette, no stage is too big for the super sophomore.
Oregon's Junior Transfer Joseph Young Top's Both Of Our Voters' Picks For The Player of the Year Leader At The Halfway Mark (AP Photo)

Oregon’s Junior Transfer Joseph Young Top’s Both Of Our Voters’ Picks For The Player of the Year Leader At The Halfway Mark (AP Photo)

Drew’s Picks:

  1. Joseph Young. Might as well make it unanimous. While Young has had plenty of help in Eugene, he’s been the best offensive player on a team chock-full of them.
  2. Jahii Carson. Expectations were high enough for Carson coming into the year so that his 19.3 PPG, 5.4 APG, 3.9 RPG and 51.4 percent three-point shooting are seen as almost a disappointment. Which is ridiculous. Expect him to be a big part of the Pac-12 POY conversation when all is said and done.
  3. Delon Wright. He’s come out of nowhere and hasn’t exactly played against great competition, but his production has been fantastic across the board. If he can keep this up, he’ll be in contention for this award come March.

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Is Adreian Payne a National POY Candidate?

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 28th, 2013

Adreian Payne isn’t really a mystery to anyone. When you stay in college all four years and play for a team that pretty much lives in the Top 25 during that time, people generally know who you are. Everyone who follows both the B1G and the national college basketball scene knows how Payne went from someone who essentially rode the bench as a freshman to someone who morphed into one of the best pick-and-pop big men in the game around the middle of his junior season. He’s now projected to be a first-round pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, and he was named a 1st-team preseason All-American by the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook heading into the season. He was also named to all of the requisite watch lists, and he even made our preseason First Team B1G list here at RTC. So the question to be posed coming off of a 33-point offensive clinic last Saturday against Texas is this: Is Adreian Payne a legitimate National Player of the Year candidate?

Adreian Payne is positioning himself to be in the running for national honors with the start to his season (AP Photo/Al Goldis).

Adreian Payne is positioning himself to be in the running for national honors with the start to his season (AP Photo/Al Goldis).

If you look at conventional statistics, you’ll see that he’s averaging 18.1 PPG, 8.0 RPG, and is shooting 53.0 percent from the field, 82.7 percent from the line, and 45.7 percent from three. If advanced stats are more your cup of tea, then you’ll find that Payne has an offensive rating of 122.5 (second in the B1G), an eFG of 59.1 percent, and a true shooting rate of 63.5 percent. He rebounds 22.6 percent of all misses on the defensive end, and is blocking 3.7 percent of all his opponents’ shots. In summation, what you have is a 6’10″ player who shoots the ball like a guard yet still hits the boards and blocks shots at an elite big man level. At the beginning of this season, teammate Keith Appling got more of the headlines with his scorching hot start. Gary Harris, a projected top-10 pick, also got great publicity coming into the year. Yet Payne has been the most consistent of the three. He’s only failed to hit double figures in two games, and he has four double-doubles, including games of 25 points, 10 rebounds, and three blocks, twice this season. If Michigan State, currently at #5 in both national polls, can move back into the top three and Payne continues to produce at a high level, his case will only get stronger.

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Ranking the 37 Pac-12 Basketball Uniforms: Part II

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on December 25th, 2013

After a month and a half of basketball, the Pac-12 teams have debuted 37 different uniforms. Here we rank them in a three-part series, starting from the bottom and working our way up. Today, #24 to #13. To view part one, click here

24. USC’s Golds

Roschon Prince  usc

Roschon Prince and USC’s Gold Uniforms

I like gold. Lots of people like gold. It is shiny and it looks good underneath the cardinal lettering. Like I have mentioned before with the Trojans, the curved team name is appealing too.

23. Utah’s BlacksThe black and red combination here is quite solid, and the block letters spelling out “UTAH” look great. This would have been rated higher, but the number is a bit too large and distracting.

22. Colorado’s WhitesIf you read the first installment of this series, you know that I don’t have a great affinity to white uniforms. But something about the black lettering, numbers, and font on this one just makes it work.

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Pac-12 M5: 12.20.13 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 20th, 2013

pac12_morning5

  1. UCLA got its big chance on the national stage on Thursday night against Duke at Cameron Square Garden, and the Bruins looked real good for about 30 minutes. Unfortunately, those minutes were non-consecutive, and, of course, a college basketball game is still 40 minutes of play. In the end, it was a 17-point win for Duke, another feather in the cap of freshman Jabari Parker on his way to a Player of the Year candidacy, and another opportunity for skeptical Bruins’ fans to distrust the Steve Alford era. UCLA has now struck out in its only two games of national interest in its weak non-conference schedule, and has shown a concerning tendency to lose focus for short stretches of time that ends up costing them.
  2. Steve Alford spoke with CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein prior to UCLA’s game with Duke and addressed, among other things, the comments proffered by cross-town rival Andy Enfield earlier in the year. Alford wouldn’t get as explicit as Enfield got in his discussion of it, but his “one side can talk; the other side will do what we do” comment goes a long way towards reinforcing what has become the popular theme in the rivalry: USC will talk, UCLA will act.
  3. Speaking of USC, after needing every minute on Sunday night to put away Cal State Bakersfield, the Trojans ran into another Cal State school on Thursday night with a bit more talent and couldn’t make up for another uninspired effort. Pe’Shon Howard led the Trojans with 19 points, but took 13 of his 14 field goal attempts from three-point range, including a wayward bomb on SC’s final half-court possession when the team was only down a point. But Howard isn’t the only Trojan who deserves criticism, as junior Byron Wesley was benched for the first 11 minutes of the first half due to a “coach’s decision” and didn’t score his only basket of the night until there were fewer than four minutes left in the game. It was Wesley’s first game under double-figures this year and likely the worst game in his USC career.
  4. So, um. Hmmm. I don’t often read Eamonn Brennan at ESPN.com, but what he wrote on Thursday caught my eye. Apparently, this dude spends a column per week predicting who is at the top of the list for the Wooden Award; you know, the best player in the nation. This week he’s got Arizona’s Aaron Gordon atop that list. Now, I’ve read a lot of dumb things on the Internet (and believe me, I know dumb, because I’ve read Bruins Nation twice today – shudder), but that one takes that cake. I like Gordon a lot and he’s been a great glue guy for the nation’s top-ranked team. But the Wooden Award? I don’t know if Arizona has any name for the award it hands out to its MVP at the end of the year (the Elliott Award?), but if the school were to hand out that award tonight, there are at least two guys (Nick Johnson and Brandon Ashley) who would be ahead of Gordon for that honor. Anthony Gimino of the Tucson Citizen even includes T.J. McConnell ahead of Gordon at this point. None of this should be taken as a strike against Gordon, who has been great on a team that has gotten production for all seven players in its seven-man rotation, but how can Gordon be in the lead for the best player in the nation when he clearly hasn’t even been the best player on his team?
  5. Lastly, Oregon was already a deep team in its first nine game of the season, with eight players averaging better than 13 minutes per game. But with Dominic Artis and Ben Carter now back and hungry for some run, how will head coach Dana Altman fold those players back into an already successful rotation? Early reports are that Altman plans to use his team’s depth to its advantage. Eleven guys played at least eight minutes in the Ducks’ recent game against UC Irvine and the coach mentioned afterward that with the added depth he hopes to see his team continue to extend its defensive pressure and up the tempo. While point guard Jonathan Loyd has been excellent this year for the Ducks, Artis in particular will significantly improve Oregon’s ability to apply great defensive pressure.
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Three Thoughts on Arizona’s Win at Michigan

Posted by AMurawa on December 15th, 2013

Imagine this scenario: you’re one of the youngest teams in the nation. You’ve just assumed the number one spot in the polls, and the following weekend, you’re hearding across country to play the equivalent of a 9:00 AM game at the home of the team that was the runner-up for the national championship last year. An opponent that, while talented, has underachieved so far this season despite the presence of one of the best X-and-O coaches in the nation. Worse yet, early in the second half, you look up and figure out you’ve got a 13-point deficit in front of you. Combine all of those factors together and you’ve got the makings of a brief stay at the #1 spot, right? You could easily imagine getting run out of that gym, yes? Instead, Arizona went to Ann Arbor, took a really good shot from Michigan, then rededicated itself to exploiting its advantages and proved again that, not only is this a team that is very much worthy of its current ranking, but it is a team that will likely be within shouting distance of this ranking for the rest of the year. Barring a major surprise, these Wildcats will likely be 15-0 when they head to UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion on January 9. In light of all of this, let’s take a look at a few things we learned about Arizona during its big comeback win on Saturday.

Losing A Tough Game At The Road Would Have Been Understandable For A Young Team, But Arizona Pulled Out A Great Win At Michigan

Losing A Tough Game At The Road Would Have Been Understandable For A Young Team, But Arizona Pulled Out A Great Win At Michigan

  1. There’s just under two minutes left. Arizona is down a point. Sean Miller calls a timeout and what happened from there on answered any questions we might have had about who the go-to guys are on this Wildcats team. On the first possession, the Wildcats get the ball to Nick Johnson with Aaron Gordon setting a screen to get Johnson on the same side of the court as Brandon Ashley, where Ashley sets a pick and rolls down the baseline. Johnson then finds him there and lets him go to work; he slides past three Wolverine defenders, including his man Mitch McGary, for a nice bucket and the lead. The next time down, after T.J. McConnell recovered his own miss, Johnson backed things out, settled his team down, and again set up a two-man game for himself and Ashley, waving freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson off before driving, picking up a (questionable) foul and getting to the line where he made two free throws to give his squad a lead it would never relinquish. While freshmen Gordon and Jefferson are hyper-talented players, Johnson and Ashley are the more complete players, especially considering the fact that if either of them gets sent to the free throw line in a close game, Wildcat fans will rightly be confident. But even without that consideration, Johnson and Ashley offer more versatility in the half-court with an ability to take their opponents off the bounce or hit the jumper. Johnson and Ashley may not be the first guys you think of when you think of Arizona this season, but they’re Miller’s go-to guys when it counts. Read the rest of this entry »
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