What’s Trending: Just Another Week of Insanity

Posted by Griffin Wong on February 11th, 2016

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Griffin Wong (@griffwong90) is your weekly host.

Seriously, Another Trip?

Not cool, Grayson Allen. Having fallen to the floor after a missed shot, the Duke sophomore tripped Louisville freshman Raymond Spalding on his way upcourt.

Though the officials initially missed the call, the trip was ruled a flagrant foul upon further review. Duke ultimately got a much-needed win, but Allen definitely suffered a loss in the public eye.

93%

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Making Sense Of The Tightly-Packed PAC at the Turn

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on February 3rd, 2016

Every Pac-12 team is now halfway through its conference schedule, and to say that this conference is tight is quite the understatement. There are currently five teams within a game of first place, and conference stalwarts Arizona and UCLA are not among that group. Let’s take a spin around the league and evaluate where the league stands as it makes the turn for the home stretch.

Legitimate Contenders For Regular Season Championship

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

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

Hey, this is easy, right? You just take those five teams sitting at 6-3 or better and boom, we’re done, right? No, that’s too easy. We’ve got to take a stand. So, let’s take a stand and name Oregon, Utah and USC as the biggest threats to take the title. The Ducks, conference leaders at 7-2, are the obvious one. I’m personally interested in bragging about the fact that I’ve had them as the conference favorite since I first looked at the league back in mid-summer, but Dana Altman’s got a combination of experience, upside, athleticism, intelligence, quickness and length that is the Platonic ideal of a college basketball team (little known fact: Plato was a huge hoop-head). As for Utah, it took some early lumps but has taken advantage of a lull in the schedule to reel off five straight wins. They’ve still got tough roadies ahead to the Oregon and Los Angeles schools, but Brandon Taylor is starting to knock in shots and there are few players in the conference who can handle Jakob Poeltl in the post. The final true contender is USC, and that isn’t a phrase that anybody expected to be written this February. But it’s for real. Andy Enfield’s squad is undeniably talented and beginning to figure out how to win. The Trojans’ schedule down the stretch is insane (vs. UCLA, at the Arizona schools, home against Utah and Colorado, at Cal and Stanford, finishing at home against the Oregon schools), but this team has already shown it can play with anybody in the league. Notably missing in this space is two-time defending champion Arizona. The Wildcats aren’t out of it at just two games back, but this year’s group just doesn’t measure up to the type of Wildcats we’ve grown accustomed to.

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Another Golden Age of Washington Basketball Under Lorenzo Romar?

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on February 2nd, 2016

First, a brief history of Washington basketball. The first reported record of the team was 1-1 way back in 1896. In 1902, the Huskies went 7-0. In 1911, Warner Williams coached them to an 11-1 record in the Northwest Intercollegiate Conference. In 1921, Hec Edmundson took over and three years in, earned the first of his 12 conference titles in 27 years as coach of the program while it was in the Pacific Coast Conference (the first amphibian on land in the long evolution of what is now the Pac-12). Of course, the Huskies now play in the Hec Edmundson Pavilion, a building that opened in 1927 but was renamed in 1948 at the end of the long-time coach’s career. However, six years later in 1953, it was Tippy Dye who took the Huskies to the only Final Four in program history. That was the end of the First Golden Age of Washington Basketball, as the team suffered through an NCAA Tournament drought of over 20 years after that Final Four run. There were obvious external reasons for the malaise (the emergence of UCLA and an era where only conference champions were deemed worthy of NCAA Tournament appearance), but Washington basketball slipped off the radar for a long time.

Hec Edmundson: Jim Tressel's Great-Uncle, And The Bricklayer of the Washington Basketball Program

Hec Edmundson: Jim Tressel’s Great-Uncle, And The Bricklayer of the Washington Basketball Program

The Second (Brief) Golden Age of Washington Basketball came in the mid-80s, where the Huskies made three NCAA Tournaments in three seasons, with Marv Harshman taking Detlef Schrempf and Christian Welp (RIP) to the Sweet 16 in 1984 (where they lost to a Cinderella #10 Dayton squad in that regional semifinal – sound familiar?). The next two seasons saw the Huskies bow out in the 5/12 game in the first round, once as the #5 seed, once as the #12; the former under Harshman, the latter under first-year head coach Andy Russo. Three more seasons under Russo, three seasons with no Tournament. Four seasons of Lynn Nance also resulted in NCAA misses. Bob Bender was hired in 1993-94 and took a team that went 5-22 in his first season to the first of back-to-back NITs in March of ’96, then back-to-back NCAA Tournaments in ’98 and ’99. The ’98 squad was the Todd MacCulloch/Donald Watts/Deon Luton team that lost a heart-ripper to eventual champion UConn and Richard Hamilton. We’ll go so far as to call that team a part of the Bronze Age of Washington Basketball, but the following three years saw the Huskies finish eighth or worse in the Pac-10, paving the way for Lorenzo Romar, a former two-year player (1978-80) for the Huskies, to be hired in spring 2002.

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Best in the West: The 20 Best Teams West Of The Rockies

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on January 26th, 2016

Here’s something we occasionally do: group all of the teams west of the Rockies (you know, the only part of the country, save Austin, New Orleans, Memphis and maybe New York City worth a damn) together, mix them up and see what order they shake out in. This means we’ve got all of the teams in the Pac-12, Mountain West, WCC and Big West Conferences, plus some of the schools in the WAC and Big Sky. And normally, instead of just ranking teams the traditional way, we divide them up into tiers. The idea is that there may be two great teams that have serious Final Four dreams and then a significant fall off when talking about team number three. This year in the West? Not so much. Apropos of the rest of the nation, there are no elite teams. And on any given Saturday (or Thursday, or Wednesday), there’s a good chance whoever checks in a half-page down this list can play with the first team we mention. But still, here’s a best effort at placing the best in the West into tiers.

The Best of the Best: Legitmate Top 25 teams

  • Oregon (#1 overall, Pac-12 #1) – Since back in the middle of the summer, I’ve had the Ducks at the top of the Pac-12. With Villanova transfer Dylan Ennis added to the mix, the Ducks have long had the prospect of being, a deep, veteran, long, balanced squad. Some of those strengths (depth and experience, mainly) have been diminished with the season that wasn’t for Ennis (out for season with broken foot), but Dana Altman’s presence at the helm of a talented group should mean that this team’s best days are ahead of it. With the shot-blocking combination of Jordan Bell and Chris Boucher along the backline and the perimeter defenders like Casey Benson, Dwayne Benjamin and Tyler Dorsey, this team still has a ways to go before it reaches it’s defensive potential, as it is just 69th in the nation in defensive efficiency. The defense has to improve, but if it does, the Ducks’ offense is diverse and explosive enough to drag them a long ways into March.
Hey, Did You Know That Bell Boucher Is A Type Of Banjo? And A Great Shotblocking Combo?

Bell-Boucher: Both A Banjo And A Great Shot-blocking Combo!

  • Arizona (#2 overall, Pac-12 #2) – A one-point loss at California qualifies as a good result in a West that mimics the national landscape by not having any one dominant team. Every one of the Wildcats’ losses has been a tightly fought contest, with a four-point neutral-court loss against Providence to join three conference road losses that came by an average of two points (and four total overtimes). In short, Arizona is, on January 23rd, six possessions away from a perfect 20-0 record, despite the absence of senior Kaleb Tarczewski for eight games, freshman Allonzo Trier for the last four games and junior Elliott Pitts for the last 13 games. While this is by no mean a vintage Arizona team, Sean Miller is the best coach in the West and you can count on him getting the absolute most out of a flawed roster.

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Pac-12 Burning Questions: Who’s the Best Point Guard?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 6th, 2016

While watching guys like Jordan McLaughlin, Andrew Andrews, Tra Holder, Kadeem Allen and more shine from the lead guard spot over the weekend, we got the brilliant idea to ask our contributors: Who’s the best point guard in the Pac? Truthfully, there’s only one right answer — a certain Player of the Year candidate in Corvallis who tore up the league last season and has only gotten better as a senior. So, the real question we put forth to our writers is, aside from Gary Payton II, who’s the best point guard in the league? Our answers below.

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

Gary Payton II Is Not Only The Best Point In The Pac, He’s One Of It’s Best Players, Period. (Oregon State Athletics)

Mike Lemaire: This honor is for Gary Payton II to claim, but if the phrasing instead became “most valuable point guard,” then a strong case could be made for Washington senior Andrew Andrews. It can often feel like Andrews is babysitting four wild teenagers when the Huskies play, and considering he is the only upperclassman on the roster, that simile isn’t far from the truth. While his teammates have struggled with fouls, defensive positioning, effort and shot selection, Andrews is quietly scoring more than 20 points per game, leading his team in rebounding (6.3 RPG) and drawing more fouls than anyone else in the Pac. Despite a meaningful uptick in his responsibilities, Andrews is still shooting better than 40 percent from downtown, better than 80 percent from the free throw line and has nearly doubled his assist rate without any corresponding increase in his turnover rate. What makes this even more impressive is that he isn’t even a true point guard; rather, he has just been forced into the role. Still, the pick for best point guard in the league is Gary Payton II, with a notable hat tip to Andrews. Read the rest of this entry »

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Washington’s Big Comeback Win Says More About USC

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 4th, 2016

For something like 25 minutes on Sunday afternoon, this post was going to be about moving USC from contending for an NCAA Tournament invitation to a potential sleeper among the top of the Pac-12 race. The Trojans were up 61-42 at Washington and appeared to be headed for an opening weekend road sweep. They had scored on seven of their first eight second half possessions, mixing dunks in transition with threes, sharing the ball and locking in defensively. But when junior guard Julian Jacobs came out of the game with an ankle injury at the 16:18 mark, things quickly went off the rails.

Minus Julian Jacobs, The Trojans Lost Their Composure, And Their Lead (Ted S. Warren, AP)

Minus Julian Jacobs, The Trojans Lost Their Composure, And Their Lead. (Ted S. Warren, AP)

From that point forward, the Huskies outscored Andy Enfield’s bunch by a score of 45-24. Until he called his team’s final timeout with 6:58 remaining (20 possessions later), the Trojans managed a grand total of 10 measly points, a stretch that featured eight turnovers and five missed layups on the offensive end, along with six layups and five defensive rebounds allowed on the defensive end. Worse yet, after appearing to have regained their poise and settled into a workable seven-point lead with two minutes left, the Trojans melted down again. Washington finished the game on a 9-0 run as sophomore point guard Jordan McLaughlin turned it over twice more and the Huskies grabbed three crucial offensive boards, including one from senior guard Andrew Andrews that became the game-winning bucket. All told, it was a thrilling comeback 87-85 win for the Huskies and a demoralizing failure for the Trojans.

That said, it’s still just one game in a long season. Aside from all the gruesome details about USC’s blown lead, what can we take away from the game? At first blush, the storyline in Seattle seemed to be more about the losers than the victors. This is program that has won a total of six Pac-12 games in 40 tries under Enfield. Only two of those wins have come on the road, and both of those came against Washington State (once at the end of the 2013-14 season; the other on Friday night). In other words, this is not a team with a lot of experience at winning, much less winning in tough environments. Throw in the injury to Jacobs that left USC without arguably its most important player and when things started to go south, they did so in a hurry. Jacobs — aside from being an athletic scoring threat, the team’s most secure ball-handler, and a solid perimeter defender — is also the team’s most veteran presence, capable of acting as a calming influence. When McLaughlin got flustered during the Huskies’ big 26-10 run, he typically would have had Jacobs there to settle things down. No such luck on Sunday, and there were times down the stretch when the Trojans looked to freshman Bennie Boatwright, of all people, to handle the ball and create offense in the half-court. Needless to say, that decision did not end well.

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Pac-12 First Impressions

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 16th, 2015

The first weekend is in the books. Everybody’s played at least once and some teams have even gotten a couple games under their belts. There were some positive surprises (hello, Washington!) and some early disappointments (oh, UCLA), but we’ve got already plenty to talk about. Let’s take a spin around the conference and give a sentence or two on every team, while expanding on those teams that have done something — whether positive or negative — to deserve a little more.

Arizona: Ater ofnly one game against middling competition, I’m ready to call the battle for the Wildcats’ starting point guard position over. In something of a surprise, it’s Kadeem Allen. The former JuCo Player of the Year was known as a scoring off-guard coming to Tucson, but after spending his redshirt year playing the point, he’s leaped over sophomore Parker Jackson-Cartwright on the depth chart. There will be some bumps in the road for the new team orchestrator, but at 6’3” (compared to Jackson-Cartwright’s 5’9”), he allows Sean Miller to put more talent on the floor.

Kadeem Allen Is The One At Point Guard U?

Kadeem Allen Is The One at Point Guard U?

Arizona State: The Sun Devils’ 2-of-17 mark from beyond the three-point arc stands out in their opening night loss against Sacramento State, but more concerning might be the fact that they were outrebounded by a team that was awful on the glass last season. Still, we may look back on this game in three months and see it as just a weird blip.

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Gametime: What We Want to See in Texas vs. Washington

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 13th, 2015

We’re just so excited that games are tipping off today that we had to spend some time thinking about what we’re about to see. As a result, the Pac-12 and Big 12 microsites got together to review this evening’s Texas vs. Washington matchup, the first regular season game in any big-time American sports league to be played in China. Shanghai is hosting the event as part of Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott’s initiative to open up Asia. Aside from the intrigue surrounding the location of the game, it will also feature the debut of Shaka Smart as Texas’s new head coach. On the other bench, almost everything except the head coach, Lorenzo Romar, is new for the Huskies. Ken Pomeroy’s ratings suggests that Texas is a nine-point favorite. Below Brian Goodman and Andrew Murawa discuss what they want to see out of each team tonight.

What We Want to See From Texas

Shaka Smart is all smiles as Texas tips off from China. (UT Athletics)

Shaka Smart is all smiles as Texas tips off from China. (UT Athletics)

True Havoc is still a little ways away, but there should still be some change in store for Texas as they tip off their season in China under new head coach Shaka Smart. At a minimum, the Longhorns’ 300th-ranked tempo from last season should tick up. Just don’t expect Texas’ defense to have the same look of Smart’s classic VCU teams. While the Rams drew heaps of praise for the way the guards pressured the backcourt, Texas’ backcourt defense was apathetic at best a year ago, with defensive turnover and steal percentages among the worst in the game. Instead, the Longhorns relied on their bigs to make life miserable for opponents inside, blocking more of their opponent’s shot than every team in the country. Quite the dynamic. While Isaiah Taylor, Javan Felix and Demarcus Holland should improve under Smart, it’s a good bet that his interior will remain the team’s bread and butter on the defensive end of the court. Ridley rightfully gets praise for his shot-blocking prowess, but Prince Ibeh is a highly effective post defender as well, and should earn a bigger role this season. Whether Ibeh shares the floor with Ridley or slides over when he needs a breather, expect Texas’ frontcourt to be very good once again, especially with Shaquille Cleare available after sitting out his transfer year.

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Washington Preview: Meet the New Pups

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 3rd, 2015

In the next three weeks leading up to season tipoff, the Pac-12 microsite will be evaluating each of the league’s 12 teams. Today, we head to Seattle.

Washington Huskies

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been a little too intimidated to start a preview on the Huskies until now. With eight newcomers and just three returnees on the roster, just about everything is going to be new in Seattle this season. Back in 2011-12, Washington won 14 league games en route to the Pac-12 regular season title yet still missed the NCAA Tournament. From there it has been all downhill: back-to-back 9-9 seasons were followed by last year’s 5-13 disaster. In other words, wiping the slate mostly clean and starting over may actually be the best thing head coach Lorenzo Romar can do to save his program.

Blowing It All Up And Starting Over May Have Been Lorenzo Romar's Best Bet (Elaine Thompson, AP)

Blowing It All Up And Starting Over May Have Been Lorenzo Romar’s Best Bet (Elaine Thompson, AP)

Strengths/Weaknesses. Previews typically break into two categories for strengths and weaknesses: one detailing what a program can lean on; one detailing what they need to shore up. In this case, the biggest thing going for Washington may also be its biggest weakness: this complete reboot. Last year’s team was plagued by poor chemistry, infighting and, perhaps worst of all, mediocre talent. In comes that group of eight newcomers to join two sophomores and a senior. If everything goes right, it can be an empowering experience for this new collection of players because there is a lot of talent here. They don’t enter a program where roles have been predetermined and a culture already established. This new group can create the foundation for a new era of Huskies’ hoops. It’s a gamble for sure, but success means setting the table for Romar’s second act in Seattle. If it fails? The show will be closing and Romar’s next role will be in a new theater. Read the rest of this entry »

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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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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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Washington: Why Don’t We Trust the Huskies?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 9th, 2014

With it’s big 49-36 win over San Diego State on Sunday night, Washington jumped in to the AP Top 25, appearing as the last team on the list. For a proud program under Lorenzo Romar that was once a regular fixture in those rankings, this is the first time the Huskies have been there in nearly four years (February 2011). But interestingly enough, the Huskies are not in the RTC Top 25 this week, so clearly they still have something to prove to some in the college basketball community. What gives? Why the lack of trust in a Washington team that not only has a convincing win over the nationally regarded Aztecs, but also a Wooden Legacy title under its belt? The Huskies are holding opponents to a 37.2% eFG this season, good for fourth in the nation, and they’re 38th in adjusted defensive efficiency, a mark they haven’t seen over the course of an entire season since Jon Brockman and Justin Dentmon were wearing purple and gold. These guys must be for real, right?

Robert Upshaw's Presence In The Middle Has Helped The Huskies Out To A Dominating Defensive Start (Dean Rutz, Seattle Times)

Robert Upshaw’s Presence In The Middle Has Helped The Huskies Out To A Dominating Defensive Start (Dean Rutz, Seattle Times)

Don’t worry Huskies’ fans. This is not the point where you get the comedown of a “not so fast.” Fact is, there is a lot to like here. And room to get better. Those defensive numbers are probably a bit overblown, in part due to San Diego State’s inability to hit anything en route to a 22.2% eFG on Sunday night. But, with shotblocker extraordinaire Robert Upshaw manning the middle for about 20 minutes per game (his 21.4% block rate – the percent of opponent’s two-point field goal attempts he blocks while he’s on the floor – is the best in the nation), and with fellow intimidating interior presences in Jernard Jarreau and Shawn Kemp, Jr., the Huskies are going to be seriously tough to score on inside all year long. That frees up perimeter defenders to really pressure perimeter players, running them off the three-point line and forcing them into tougher and less rewarding field goal attempts. The 24.4 percent rate they are allowing from behind the three-point line thus far this season is in no way sustainable, but the strategy is. Read the rest of this entry »

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