Marching to Vegas: In Defense of the Pac

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) on January 14th, 2016

The Pac-12 is exactly what we want it to be, at least in a season like this. In a conference whose most tenured coach has a 0.456 winning percentage over his last four seasons and the second most tenured is Johnny Dawkins, we’ve got what we want. The Pac isn’t producing basketball we’ll soon tell our grandchildren about or write new defensive schematics to contain something transcendent. Only Bill Walton could contextualize the Pac-12 as historically brilliant right now. He’s wrong. He knows he’s wrong but he’ll say it anyway because he’s Bill Walton and he’s forgotten more basketball than we’ll ever know. What if he’s right, though (he’s not)?

Don't Worry Pac-12, We've Got Your Back.

Don’t Worry Pac-12, We’ve Got Your Back.

Because right now the Pac-12 is competitive. We can quantify that, for starters. Noting that 45 percent of its games – according to KenPom – have been close; that there hasn’t been a “blowout” of 19-points or more through 29 conference games. Remember 2012, when we lamented what a poor Pac-12 we had? Just 19 percent of those games were close and 18 percent were blowouts. That’s nearly 40 percent of conference basketball with seemingly no balance. Think about that. In easily the worst Pac play we’ve ever seen, the games weren’t even close. Competition breeds success. The Pac-12 in 2016 isn’t the greatest basketball we’ve ever seen. In 2009 it collectively led the nation in efficiency. This year it’s 15th. But when I sit down to watch Pac-12 basketball, I’m watching an entertaining product. We’re watching a game worth celebrating and not lamenting because there aren’t necessarily rosters littered with disciplined executioners (2015 Wisconsin, Gonzaga, Arizona, Virginia) or uber-talented transcendents (2015 Kentucky, Duke). This isn’t last season. If you want that, here’s a link to CSN Bay Area and all of the Warriors highlights you can handle. And yes, it is unfair to compare anything to those Warriors. It’s also unfair to compare any of these 2016 teams against what was a historically fantastic 2015. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Bracketology: Non-Conference Season

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 9th, 2016

The heavy lifting for Pac-12 teams has just begun but the non-conference games each team is leaving behind won’t stay in the rear-view mirror very long. They make a dramatic reappearance in the next two months when some of those games played two and three months prior might be the difference between getting a coveted invitation to the Big Dance and being shut out. This means that the only consistent way to analyze how each team did in non-conference play is to evaluate each resume as if the teams were on the bubble. In general, Pac-12 teams did a lackluster job of scheduling legitimate competition (and beating it). Even with a seriously stretched definition of what counts as a “quality win,” it was still tough to get excited about the success of these teams. Let’s run through it.

Arizona – IN

Sean Miller's Team is Of Course Easily In, But How High? (USA Today Images)

Sean Miller’s Team is Of Course Easily In, But How High? (USA Today Images)

  • KenPom Non-Conference Strength of Schedule: #292
  • Quality Wins: at Gonzaga, UNLV, Boise State (2x)
  • Bad Losses: None

The Wildcats look like the class of the Pac so the team’s at-large candidacy likely won’t matter much because they’re in regardless. They didn’t exactly challenge themselves in the first half of their schedule, playing  what amounts to the easiest non-conference slate in the conference. But Arizona also didn’t lose to anyone unexpected and beat a few decent teams too. It is possible that the win in Spokane against Gonzaga will be the only one to stand up as a true quality win, but for now, wins over Boise State (twice) and UNLV build a solid foundation for an at-large resume.

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Dear Santa: Here’s Our Pac-12 Holiday Wish List

Posted by Mike Lemaire (@Mike_Lemaire) & Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on December 18th, 2015

Here at the Pac-12 microsite we are hardly immune to the allure of a cheesy holiday-themed post, and so in the spirit of the season, we created a wish list for each team in the conference. Although none of the teams are even close to a finished product and it may be too early in the season to thoughtfully examine strengths and weaknesses, everyone has played enough games that we can start to draw worthwhile conclusions from what we’ve seen. As with any holiday wish list, there are some wants and needs that are easier to satisfy than others but hey, you have to dream big when gifts are involved.

Arizona: Another Shooter

Arizona Could Stand To See Mark Tollefsen Dial In His Perimeter Shot (USA Today Sports)

Arizona Could Stand To See Mark Tollefsen Dial In His Perimeter Shot. (USA Today Sports)

Even without post anchor Kaleb Tarczewski, the Wildcats have been and will continue to be the conference’s best defensive team. But the offense has been a work in progress primarily because the outside shooting has been ugly. The team is shooting just 31 percent from downtown, down from 38 percent last season and Gabe York is pretty much the only one making shots behind the three-point line with any regularity. York has been much better of late and is one of the most dangerous shooters in the country when he gets hot, but he is pretty much the only one on the roster who can shoot. The big reason why the Wildcats rank near the bottom of the country in 3PA/FGA is because Sean Miller knows his team can’t really shoot it from there. The best hope is that Mark Tollefson rebounds from a slow start and becomes the 36 percent three-pointer shooter he was coming into the season.

Arizona State: a Personal Offensive Coach for Savon Goodman

Goodman is almost as bad at shooting and passing as he is good at everything else he does on the court. He is a vicious dunker, a suffocating defender, one of the better rebounding wing players in the entire country and a good finisher at the rim. But, like many freak athletes on the basketball court, as he moves farther away from the basket, his effectiveness disappears. Goodman has missed all seven of the three-pointers he has attempted in his collegiate career and he is a career 57 percent free throw shooter. Also, his assist rate is below 5.0, which means once he gets the ball, he isn’t looking to get rid of it again. Goodman’s offensive issues are a good microcosm for Arizona State’s offensive issues. The team is athletic and defends hard, but they don’t have any truly skilled offensive players. Goodman will likely never become a consistent three-point threat but imagine how good he and the Sun Devils could be if he develops some feel for his shot.

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Pac-12 Notebook: A Stroll Around the League

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on December 16th, 2015

Every week I check in with the Mountain West by writing a little blurb about each team. I like that format because it provides a chance to follow the development of all the league’s teams and focus in on little things that may not be worthy of a longer post. Some teams may get a few hundred words one week while other teams just get a sentence or two, but it highlights the important things. We’re going to bring that format to the Pac 12, beginning right now. We might as well throw in some power rankings while we’re at it, so let’s check in with the league in order of how these teams rate at this point. Let’s get to it.

Jordan Bell Is Back For The Ducks, But They're Still A Long Way From Healthy (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Jordan Bell Is Back For The Ducks, But They’re Still A Long Way From Healthy. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

  • Oregon – Yes, the Ducks are coming off two losses in their last four games. But I’ve had Dana Altman’s team as the best team in the conference since the middle of the summer and, even playing shorthanded, they’ve done nothing to dissuade me of that so far. Sophomore center Jordan Bell made his season debut Saturday night at Boise State and he looked healthy following surgery over the offseason to repair a broken foot. He ran the court hard, and played big in chasing rebounds and blocked shots. He didn’t appear to be favoring that foot at all. In 17 minutes, he blocked a couple shots, grabbed seven boards and even handed out four assists. Last night against UC Irvine, he was even better with 12 points and three steals. Encouraging debut aside, it is going to take him some time to get back into game shape and to get comfortable with his new teammates. He still also hasn’t played a minute with Tyler Dorsey (out following a knee sprain against UNLV) or Dylan Ennis (still sidelined with a foot injury). This Oregon team remains one that may not reach full strength until mid-February, something that isn’t a problem in a sport that so values March.

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Savon the Savior: Goodman’s Breakout is Arizona State’s Good Fortune

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 12th, 2015

During Arizona State’s mini-resurgence, fans and media members alike have been quick to credit new coach Bobby Hurley for injecting energy and passion into his team’s play. All of that credit may very well be deserved, but it is actually one of the players Hurley inherited who has been the most influential in the Sun Devils’ surprising success. Savon Goodman may be the most athletic player in the country that only diehard basketball fans know about, but that may not last much longer. The 6’6″, 220-pound junior leads the team in scoring (13.4 PPG) and rebounding (8.3 RPG) and has been at his best against good opponents like NC State (21 points and 16 rebounds) and Creighton (23 points and seven rebounds). Goodman’s best attributes (size, physicality, energy) fit perfectly with the team identity that Hurley is trying to forge and his breakout has meant that a Sun Devils’ team that was hastily written off after a season-opening loss to Sacramento State is now back the fringes of the national conversation heading into today’s nationally-televised showdown with Kentucky.

Savon Goodman's Intensity Is What Makes Him So Good

Savon Goodman’s Intensity Is What Makes Him So Good

What makes Goodman’s emergence as a borderline star particularly inspiring is that his road to success has been a long and circuitous one. It’s not as if Goodman was an unheralded recruit who has made the most of his limited abilities. The Philadelphia native first turned heads during the summer of 2010 thanks to a string of dominant performances on the AAU and camp circuit and by November he was considered a five-star prospect and was committed to Villanova. But things were complicated behind the scenes as rumors swirled about his academic standing and whether the Wildcats were really all that interested in him after all. Although the rumors were never confirmed, they received a dose of credibility when Goodman switched high schools for his senior season and de-committed from the Wildcats in August of 2011. Still, Goodman dominated his senior season of high school, leading his new team to the PIAA state and Philadelphia Public League titles and committed to UNLV as questions about whether he would qualify eventually faded away. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Bests and Worsts of The Week

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 8th, 2015

With notable results filtering in throughout the week, the complexion of the Pac-12 has undergone significant change in the last seven days. Here’s a look at some of the highlights — and lowlights — of recent action.

Best Audition for NBA Scouts: Most of the NBA’s attention has been on Tony Parker this season, but it has been sophomore seven-footer Thomas Welsh who has been UCLA’s best offensive player and rim protector. Welsh logged back-to-back double-doubles against Kentucky and Long Beach State and is shooting 62 percent from the field — some five percentage points better than Parker even though the senior attempts nearly twice as many shots at the rim. Furthermore, Welsh has been close to automatic on 15-foot jumpers this season, shooting better than 60 percent on such attempts. NBA teams will always find a place for a legitimate big man who can stretch the floor with a mid-range game. If Welsh can keep it up, he will get plenty of attention from scouts throughout the season.

Thomas Welsh Was Massive On Both Ends Of The Court Thursday

Thomas Welsh Has Been Arguably UCLA’s Best Player At This Point In The Season

Best Travel Experience: Arizona wasn’t supposed to beat Gonzaga in Spokane, not with Kaleb Tarczewski sidelined with foot issues and especially not when trailing by double-figures at halftime. But Gabe York and Allonzo Trier sparked the offense; Dusan Ristic held his own inside against Domantas Sabonis; and Sean Miller’s team played its trademark stingy defense down the stretch. The result was one of the most impressive road wins of the young season for any team and the rise of a notion that maybe Arizona won’t need to spend this year “rebuilding” after all. If its defense can remain as ruthlessly efficient as it has been and some of the underclassmen continue to develop, this team will be there again late in March.

Worst Travel Experience: Oregon left the friendly climes of Eugene for the first time this season, but a trip to Sin City didn’t quite go according to plan. Instead the Ducks were greeted rudely by UNLV, who buried the unsuspecting team under a barrage of three-pointers while harassing it into 15 turnovers. If there is one subtle flaw in Oregon’s roster, it’s a profound lack of of experience from top to bottom, especially as injuries continue to sideline key rotation players. The Ducks have shown a knack for gaining fuel from the atmosphere at Matthew Knight Arena, which will makes stealing road wins very difficult for visitors (just 10 losses in four seasons). But road games have been the more pressing recent issue. If the Ducks want to be considered legitimate conference title contenders, they will need to win on the road with some degree of regularity.

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Arizona State Putting Together a Quality Resume

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 7th, 2015

You may not have noticed it Saturday night, lost amid college football and everything else that is a late fall Saturday night, but Arizona State’s hoops team put the finishing touches on a very successful week by handing it to Texas A&M (#18 in the latest RTC Top 25) in a 67-54 home win. Coming on the heels of a mid-week win at Creighton, this is just the latest of a series of peaks in Bobby Hurley’s wild first season in the desert. An opening night loss to Sacramento State and a late-game collapse in Brooklyn against Marquette aside, Hurley’s club also has solid wins over Belmont, North Carolina State and UC Santa Barbara on its resume, with road tests at Kentucky and UNLV the next two games on the schedule. So, what exactly is Hurley up to in the desert? And does is this team more like the team that took care of a Top 25 team or the one that lost to a middle-of-the-pack Big Sky team?

Against A Tough Schedule, Bobby Hurley Is Getting Work Done In Tempe (Tom Tingle, Azcentral Sports)

Against A Tough Schedule, Bobby Hurley Is Getting Work Done In Tempe (Tom Tingle, Azcentral Sports)

When things are going well on offense for the Sun Devils, it all starts with sophomore point guard Tra Holder, who is, at times, seemingly impossible for opponents to keep out of the lane. Add in the fact that he’s dangerous when he gets there, with an array of floaters, pull-up jumpers and the ability to earn his way to the line, where he shoots 82.5 percent, and goal one for the opposition’s defense is to put a wrap on Holder’s penetration. That sometimes, such as on Wednesday night against Creighton, necessitates pulling secondary defenders away from their assignments to stop penetration, allowing Holder to do one of two things. First, there’s the old drive-and-dish, sucking in a secondary defender, kicking the ball out to an open teammate on a wing, maybe an additional pass and then a three. With guys like Gerry Blakes, Andre Spight, Kodi Justice and Willie Atwood all capable three-point shooters, that alone is the start for some good offense. The other option for Holder is that midrange game of his, unleashing a floater or a pull-up. If it goes, great; if it doesn’t, the Devils have four guys who are grabbing at least 10% of teammates’ missed shots when they’re on the floor – Savon Goodman, Obinna Oleka, Willie Atwood and Eric Jacobsen. Between those four, 29% of their two-point field goals have come off of putbacks on offensive boards.

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Morning Five: 11.16.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 16th, 2015

morning5

  1. Everybody likes to hype the start of the college basketball season, but the reality is that most of the opening weekend games are boring match-ups (at least on paper). As some prominent programs found out this weekend, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will coast to easy wins even in guarantee games. Andrew Gripshover has a solid recap of a strange opening night. The most notable upsets (to our knowledge all “guarantee games”) were William & Mary winning at North Carolina State, Western Illinois winning at Wisconsin, Monmouth winning at UCLA, Sacramento State winning at Arizona State, North Florida winning at Illinois, and Chattanooga at Georgia. [Ed. Note: Radford also beat Georgetown at home, which was not technically a guarantee game, but was still embarrassing for the Hoyas.] We wouldn’t read too much into any of these games for three reasons: its still early in the season, these are 18- to 22-year-olds, and we didn’t think any of those teams would be that good anyways.
  2. Rhode Island‘s hopes of contending for an Atlantic-10 title this season took a massive blow when E.C. Matthews suffered a season-ending right knee injury during Friday’s win over American. Matthews, who was considered a legit Atlantic-10 Player of the Year candidate and a possible late 2nd round NBA Draft pick, averaged 16.9 points and 4.6 rebounds per game last season. The extent of the injury is not known yet (or at least has not been publicly revealed), but we would expect them to release that information sometime this week.
  3. Matthews was not the only significant player to suffer an injury on Friday as NC State’s Terry Henderson tore ligaments in his right ankle and is expected to miss six to eight weeks. Henderson, who sat out last season after transferring from West Virginia, averaged 11.7 points per game as a sophomore and was expected to help replace Trevor Lacey. Now without Henderson, the Wolfpack will probably have to rely on freshman Maverick Rowan until Henderson returns to the lineup. Fortunately for NC State, Henderson’s expected return should be around the start of ACC play and their non-conference schedule isn’t exactly challenging to put it lightly.
  4. Over the past few years there has been growing debate around the idea of playing games on aircraft carriers, but it turns out playing games on land can have its own dangers as Gonzaga and Pittsburgh found out during their game in Okinawa, Japan. The game, which is part of the annual Armed Forces Classic, had to be called off with Pittsburgh leading Gonzaga 37-35 at half after several players had fallen on a slippery floor including Pittsburgh’s James Robinson who had to leave the game after a fall that left blood streaming down the right side of his face. While it was disappointing for all involved especially since this was intended to a treat for the members of our military it was clearly the right call. Unlike the aircraft carriers, which are inherently exposed to the elements, this is a somewhat unexpected situation even in a humid location. We aren’t sure what the solution is to this problem outside of trying to get these games in traditional arenas, which would decrease the aesthetic appeal of the games.
  5. One of the problems with prepping a column to be posted in the morning is that sometimes the news changes almost as soon as you get the post up. That was the case with Friday’s Morning Five, which discussed the case of Central Florida freshman Tacko Fall. Perhaps it was just coincidence (or maybe Mark Emmert read our post), but the NCAA reversed course and ruled that Fall was eligible to play immediately. Fall’s case drew attention for several reasons including his height (7’6″), background (moved to the US as a junior after growing up in Senegal), and apparent high academic achievement. Fall had 4 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 blocks in 14 minutes yesterday against Davidson. We aren’t sure what kind of impact Fall will have this year, but it is nice to see the NCAA make the right decision even if it took a long time to get to that decision.
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Five Pac-12 Players Coming Back From Injury

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 28th, 2015

Earlier today we reviewed five players from around the Pac-12 who are dealing with serious injuries expected to cost them at least some portion, if not all, of the upcoming season. Happier topics are on tap this afternoon as we grab a peek at five guys who missed all or part of last year but are expected to return to full strength this time around.

Kameron Rooks, California – Let’s start with the Golden Bears big man who we haven’t seen in a game since February 2014. At that time, he was (prematurely) wrapping up a freshman season in which he averaged 1.3 points and 1.6 boards in 7.0 MPG. That campaign ended early due to a stress reaction in his foot. His sophomore season didn’t even get that far, stopping before it began when Rooks tore his left ACL over the summer. Now, the son of former Arizona star Sean Rooks appears to be back to full strength and is expected to provide quality size and depth (along with sophomore Kingsley Okoroh) along the front line for the Bears. Don’t expect a ton of points from the redshirt sophomore, especially considering the offensive punch that exists in the Cal backcourt, but on a team with aspirations of making a national splash, he could play a large part in determining who winds up cutting down various nets this season.

If Kameron Rooks Can Play A Full Season, The Golden Bears Will Have A Deep Frontcourt (Kelley Cox, USA Today)

If Kameron Rooks Can Play A Full Season, The Golden Bears Will Have a Deep Frontcourt (Kelley Cox, USA Today)

Jordan McLaughlin, USC – We spent some time on Monday discussing the importance of McLaughlin to the Trojans’ season-long hopes. To summarize: On a team with plenty of talent, USC needs a floor general who can not only produce his own offense but can also open things up for the players around him. McLaughlin’s freshman season was cut short when his shoulder “popped out of its socket.” He underwent surgery on both shoulders over the summer in hope of preventing this reoccurring injury from, well, reoccurring, but the success of the procedure remains to be seen. If McLaughlin returns to the lineup without incident, he and junior guard Julian Jacobs will need to learn to coexist in the backcourt. This shouldn’t be too  much of an issue, though, especially if the sophomore guard spends more of his on-court time playing off the ball.

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Six Injuries Affecting Pac-12 Teams

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 28th, 2015

Here we are, counting down the final few weeks until the start of the college basketball regular season. Everything’s great. We get to read about new players making their marks, possible breakout players and teams, and we get to dream of the season that is about to unfold before us. And then, in the middle of it all, we get bummed out with news like that which broke over the weekend: Arizona freshman Ray Smith, recently off a torn ACL in his left knee that caused him to miss his senior season of high school, has now torn the ACL in his right knee and will miss the entire upcoming season. Horrible, terrible, stupid no-good, **expletive deleted**. Unfortunately, these things are a part of the game and they’ll have an impact on the year ahead of us. Below we’ll review six injuries to Pac-12 players that occurred during the offseason, and later today we’ll take a look at five players who will (hopefully) return from an injury suffered last season.

Ray Smith, Arizona – We’ll start with Smith, who in all likelihood was going to start the season as a reserve. However, since he was playing a position of scarcity on the Arizona roster, he had the potential to work his way into the starting lineup as an athletic defender at the three with excellent open court abilities. Now, after successfully rehabilitating his left knee for the past year, he’s got to do it all over again with the right leg. Best wishes go out to Smith in the hopes that he’ll be back in time to have an impact on the 2016-17 season.

Xavier Johnson's Achilles Injury Will Likely Cost Him The 2015-16 Season (Jeremy Papasso, Daily Camera)

Xavier Johnson’s Achilles Injury Will Likely Cost Him The 2015-16 Season (Jeremy Papasso, Daily Camera)

Xavier Johnson, Colorado – Johnson tore his Achilles in June. With that kind of injury, you typically just figure: “Okay, he’s out for the year.” But in September Jon Rothstein reported that Johnson has not yet been entirely ruled out and that the program would re-assess his condition in December. After playing at least 24 minutes per game and averaging 10.2 PPG and 5.3 RPG over his first three seasons in Boulder, Johnson is as big piece to the puzzle for the Buffaloes, especially if paired alongside fellow senior Josh Scott in the frontcourt. More likely, however, a redshirt season is the likely outcome for Big X this year. As a result, sophomore George King (himself coming off a redshirt season, although for player development rather than from an injury) is the most likely candidate to spend time at the three for the Buffs.

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