What’s Trending: Tar Heel Troubles and a Tumbling Top 10

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on December 16th, 2019

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

North Carolina has made 15 NCAA Tournament appearances over the past 16 seasons with Roy Williams as the head coach. After starting the season 6-1, however, the Tar Heels suffered back-to-back losses to start December. While the panic level remained relatively low heading into the weekend, that changed Sunday morning when the following news broke:

Without Cole Anthony, the team’s leading scorer, questions quickly arose about the Heels’ future. This is a team that, despite owning a top-50 adjusted offensive efficiency, ranks 297th or worse in two-point, three-point and free throw shooting percentages. Without Anthony in the lineup, North Carolina’s losing streak reached three games…

https://twitter.com/marchmadness/status/1206347619641036804?s=20

In the loss, North Carolina shot 38.6 percent from two-point range, 31.6 percent from three-point range, and just 60 percent at the line. The defeat brought out what would have been an unthinkable question prior the season. Might North Carolina miss the NCAA Tournament? While it is still just December, Williams is going to have to earn his paycheck — especially if his team is without Cole Anthony.

This past week was full of trouble for teams near the top of the rankings. A previously undefeated and #1 Louisville club had a midweek match-up against Texas Tech at Madison Square Garden. While Louisville’s 3-of-17 performance from deep did the Cardinals no favors, the storyline of the game came in the form of the surprise performance from Texas Tech’s Avery Benson.

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Ten Questions to Consider: Old Rivalries, In-State Battles and Teams Facing Challenges

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on December 13th, 2019

This has been a week that has already seen three of the AP‘s top five teams suffer a defeat. This weekend’s slate of games includes several match-ups of heavyweights, plenty of rivalry intrigue, and teams facing challenges of injury and circumstance. Here are 10 questions I have for the action to come over the weekend:

  1. Can Gonzaga replicate last year’s success against Arizona? (Gonzaga @ Arizona, Saturday, 10 PM EST, ESPN2) Last season, Gonzaga convincingly beat Arizona, 91-74, in Maui, as the Zags outscored Arizona by 15 points in the final 10 minutes of the game. Of Gonzaga’s 91 points scored, only seven were by players still on the roster (Corey Kispert and Filip Petrusev).
  2. Is defending the three-point line the key against Michigan? (Oregon @ Michigan, Saturday, Noon EST, CBS) In Michigan’s pair of recent losses, the Wolverines went 6-of-37 (16.2%) from three-point range. In the team’s eight wins, Michigan is shooting a more robust 42.2% on 194 three-point attempts. Task #1 is simple for Oregon to win on the road at the Crisler Center.
  3. How much of last season’s hostility will remain in the Volunteer State rematch? (Memphis @ Tennessee, Saturday, 3 PM EST, ESPN) A timeout late in last year’s game set off fireworks between Tennessee and Memphis. In the week following the game, Rick Barnes and Penny Hardaway each had a series of salty quotes directed at the other. With the future of the rivalry unclear, this is a chance for each school to make a regional statement.
  4. Can Utah State slow down Yoeli Childs? (BYU @ Utah State, Saturday, 8 PM EST) In a match-up between these teams last year, Childs scored 31 points on 11-of-18 shooting, grabbed seven rebounds, and logged five steals. Since coming back from his NCAA suspension, Childs has been very productive, posting back-to-back double-doubles. Utah State will need Neemias Queta to be able to produce in this game.
  5. Old Rivalry Part 1: Did Syracuse turn a corner last weekend? (Syracuse @ Georgetown, Saturday, 1 PM EST, Fox) Jim Boeheim’s team had lost three straight contests prior to its 34-point win at Georgia Tech last weekend. In that win, both Elijah Hughes (33) and Buddy Boeheim (26) posted season highs in points, combining to make 12-of-24 three-point attempts.
  6. Old Rivalry Part 2: What will UCLA look like on the road? (UCLA @ Notre Dame, Saturday, 3 PM EST, ABC) UCLA’s trip to South Bend marks its first true road game under new head coach Mick Cronin. This is a Bruins squad that ranks 328th in opponent three-point percentage, taking on a Notre Dame team that made 20-of-39 from deep in its last game — a win against Detroit.
  7. How impacted will Seton Hall be without Sandro Mamukelashvili? (Seton Hall @ Rutgers, Saturday, 4 PM EST, Big Ten Network) Mamukelashvili broke his wrist early in Seton Hall’s last game, a loss at Iowa State. Other than Myles Powell, he was the only Pirate averaging more than 10 points per game. This is a team that needs secondary scorers to show up or the offensive burden will be even too much for Powell to carry.
  8. Will Oklahoma State have point guard Isaac Likekele? If not, can they fix their recent struggles? (Oklahoma State @ Houston, Sunday, 3 PM EST) After winning its first seven games, Oklahoma State has dropped its last two contests, with lead guard Isaac Likekele missed both of those games due to an illness. His status remains unclear for this weekend. Likekele leads the Cowboys in scoring and assists, and also chips in with five rebounds a game.
  9. Can Ohio State continues its early season roll? (Ohio State @ Minnesota, Sunday, 6:30 PM EST, Big Ten Network) For Ohio State, the only thing standing in its way of likely becoming the new #1 team in the nation is a road test at Minnesota. This is the Buckeyes’ first road Big Ten game of the season — last year, they were a team that went just 3-7 away from home in league play.
  10. Can North Carolina make easy work of Wofford or will recent struggles and a look ahead cause some troubles? (Wofford @ North Carolina, Sunday, 4 PM EST, ACC Network) Coming off of disappointing performances against both Ohio State and Virginia, North Carolina hosts a Wofford team that, while anemic defensively, possesses offensive talent. Wofford’s Nathan Hoover is shooting just 25.4 percent early in the season, but is a player who made 47.5 percent of his 177 attempts last season.

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Ten Questions to Consider: A Weekend of Statement Games

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on December 6th, 2019

Over the next three days action on the hardwood includes conference games, battles among intrastate rivals, and teams looking to either snap skids or prove they are the real deal. Here are 10 questions I have for what’s to come over a busy college basketball weekend.

  1. Will Gonzaga be able to get out in transition? (Gonzaga @ Washington, Sunday, 7 PM EST, ESPN2) Nearly a third of Gonzaga’s shots have come in transition this year, representing a top-20 rate on the season. The Zags will be up against a Washington zone defense that has only allowed three squads a lower rate of shots in transition.
  2. What will Cole Anthony vs. Virginia’s defense look like? (North Carolina @ Virginia, Sunday, 4 PM EST, ACC Network) The freshman star struggled against Ohio State earlier this week, going 0-for-7 from inside the arc. With Armando Bacot dealing with an injury, how will Anthony perform against the nation’s best defense?
  3. Can Vernon Carey, Jr. continue to mirror the freshman season had by Jahlil Okafor? (Duke @ Virginia Tech, Friday, 7 PM EST, ACC Network) Through Vernon Carey’s first nine games at Duke, he has scored 11 more points, grabbed six more rebounds and blocked seven more shots than former Duke great Jahlil Okafor. In Okafor’s first ACC game, he logged 28 points, eight rebounds and four blocks against Boston College — what will Carey do against Virginia Tech?
  4. How does Michigan respond from its lackluster Big Ten/ACC performance? (Iowa @ Michigan, Friday, 6:30 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) After making 33 three-pointers on 47 percent shooting in their three games at Atlantis, the Wolverines shot a season worst 15.8 percent from deep against Louisville. It led to Michigan posting its worst single-game offensive efficiency total since a Big Ten Tournament loss against Wisconsin in 2008.
  5. Will there be a home court advantage for this under the radar, mega-matchup? (Arizona @ Baylor, Saturday, Noon EST, ESPNU) Just as the basketball tips at the Ferrell Center on Saturday afternoon, Baylor’s football team will be kicking off in its Big 12 title game. The Bears are offering free tickets to anyone who wants to watch the match-up with Arizona, which includes a dazzling backcourt battle of Nico Mannion vs. Baylor’s plethora of guards.
  6. What will the Crosstown Shootout look like without Mick Cronin on the sidelines? (Cincinnati @ Xavier, Saturday, 5 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) For the first time in 13 years, the Cincinnati/Xavier rivalry will not include either Mick Cronin or Chris Mack. Can new Bearcats’ coach John Brannen do something that Cronin never did and win at Xavier? The Musketeers have won each of the past seven home match-ups.
  7. Quite simply, will the free throw line be the deciding factor in USC-TCU? (USC @ TCU, Friday, 9 PM EST, ESPN2) Entering play on Thursday, both USC and TCU ranked outside of the top 240 nationally in free throw percentage. In USC’s nine-point loss against Temple, the Trojans went 11-of-20 at the line. In TCU’s only loss — an overtime loss against Clemson — the Horned Frogs missed eight of their 15 free throw attempts.
  8. Can Wisconsin fix its troubles around the three-point line? (Indiana @ Wisconsin, Saturday, 4:30 PM EST, Big Ten Network) Greg Gard’s Badgers are in the midst of a three-game losing streak in which the Badgers have shot a measly 18.4 percent on 76 three-point attempts. Wisconsin’s three-point attempt rate is up nearly 10 percent from last season, while their success rate is down six points. They get an undefeated Indiana team which includes a red-hot Devonte Green from deep.
  9. Who will win the battle at the rim at Allen Fieldhouse? (Colorado @ Kansas, Saturday, 7 PM EST, ESPN2) According to Hoop-Math, Kansas has logged 45.9 percent of its shots at the rim, a top-10 rate nationally. On those attempts, the Jayhawks are converting a robust 68.3 percent. Defensively, only a few teams in the nation allow more shots at the rim than the Colorado defense. That said, Tad Boyle’s squad holds opponents to a field goal percentage of just 46.3 percent at the rim — a top-20 ranking.
  10. Can DePaul continue to use turnovers its advantage? (Buffalo @ DePaul, Sunday, 5 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) DePaul looks to start a season 10-0 for the first time since the 1986-87 season (when it began 16-0). The Blue Demons own a top-50 defensive turnover rate, which has led to double-figure points off turnovers in each of its first nine games.

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The 2019-20 RTC16: Week Two

Posted by Walker Carey on November 25th, 2019

It is not uncommon for teams breaking in new pieces to experience some peaks and valleys early in the season, but that does not appear to be the case thus far for #2 Duke and #6 Virginia. The mostly new-look Blue Devils rode a star in the making turn from freshman big man Vernon Carey Jr. to throttle California and survive an inspired effort from Georgetown at the 2K Empire Classic at Madison Square Garden this weekend. Carey was far and away Duke’s best player, contributing averages of 25.5 points and 11.0 rebounds to the winning efforts. With most of the scoring production from last season’s national championship squad now gone, Virginia has relied on its famous defensive intensity in its 6-0 start. The Cavaliers suffocated Massachusetts on Saturday en route to a 58-46 win, and then brought that vigor up another another level Sunday when they held Arizona State to just seven points over the final 11:33 in a plodding 48-45 victory. While Virginia’s offense still needs some work, it did receive a noteworthy contribution from freshman guard Casey Morsell, who tallied 19 points against the Sun Devils. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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What’s Trending: The NCAA Tournament is Closer Than You Think

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 11th, 2019

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

Saturday marked the initial release of the Selection Committee’s top 16 seeds for the upcoming NCAA Tournament. While the choices lacked much in the way of surprise, the release was followed by five of those teams losing later that day.

Earlier in the week, the college basketball world was reminded of the drama that comes along with NCAA violations, as Arizona decided to place assistant coach Mark Phelps on administrative leave. The Wildcats have struggled both on and off the court this season.

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Ten Questions To Consider: Mid-Season Tests and Challenges

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 26th, 2019

With no NFL Playoff games on tap this weekend, all eyes will be glued to the young men on the hardwood. With several marquee matchups, conference intrigue, and a star at Murray State all in action, here are 10 questions I have ahead of this weekend’s action.

It’s Always Fun When Kentucky and Kansas Get Together (USA TODAY Sports)
  1. Can Creighton find its defense? (Butler @ Creighton, Friday 8:3o PM EST, Fox Sports 1) Creighton ranks 61st in NET Rankings, is 2-4 in the Big East and was among Joe Lunardi’s “Next Four Out” in his latest Bracketology. A large reason for Creighton’s inconsistent play has been a defensive efficiency rating that ranks in the 200s. In conference play, however, Greg McDermott’s defensive efficiency rating of #120 is nine points worse than the next closest Big East team. (Ed. note: Creighton held Butler to 0.84 PPP last night in a 14-point victory.)
  2. Does Mississippi State’s upcoming schedule make Auburn a must win game? (Auburn @ Mississippi State, Saturday 8:30 PM EST, SEC Network) If the season ended today, Mississippi State would comfortably make the NCAA Tournament. That said, the Bulldogs will go on the road before returning home for LSU and Kentucky. A win against Auburn today would take quite a bit of pressure off of Ben Howland’s team as they prepare to travel next week.
  3. Is Kentucky’s Reid Travis set to have a big game against Kansas? (Kansas @ Kentucky, Saturday 6 PM EST, ESPN) In arguably Kentucky’s three biggest games to date (Duke, North Carolina and Louisville) Reid Travis has scored 17 points per game. The graduate transfer has eclipsed just 15 points in two of the Wildcats’ other 15 games. Beyond scoring, Travis’ ability to rebound (10 games with three or more offensive rebounds) could put added pressure on the Jayhawks’ All-American Dedric Lawson.
  4. Who is the favorite to win the SEC? Top-ranked Tennessee had a scare midweek at Vanderbilt; LSU remains unbeaten in conference play; and Kentucky sits just a game back through the first three weeks. One thing to consider moving forward is that LSU only plays the other two schools once each, while Tennessee and Kentucky will play each other twice down the stretch.
  5. Can Ohio State end their recent skid at a hostile Pinnacle Bank Arena? (Ohio State @ Nebraska, Saturday Noon, Fox Sports 1) In a game between a pair of Big Ten teams that cannot afford to drop another conference game, the Buckeyes will look to snap a five-game skid. Ohio State has turned the ball over a whopping 63 times in its last four games.
  6. Can Purdue’s stars figure out the Michigan State defense? (Michigan State @ Purdue, Sunday 1 PM EST, CBS) Purdue’s last loss came at the hands of the Spartans in early December. Michigan State held the pair of Carsen Edwards and Ryan Cline to 23 points on 28 shots, and the 11 points scored by Edwards was his season low.
  7. What will Ja Morant do this weekend? (Tennessee State @ Murray State, Saturday 8 PM EST, ESPN+) The Tigers of Tennessee State are one of the worst defensive teams in the country, but they will have the pleasure of attempting to stop Murray State’s dynamic Ja Morant. Heading into Thursday’s game against Belmont, Morant is averaging 26.7 points per game in conference play. According to Hoop-Math, the 6’3″ Morant is 100-for-148 (67.6%) on shots at the rim on the season.
  8. After a disastrous outing against rival USC last weekend, will UCLA show any resistance to Arizona? (Arizona @ UCLA, Saturday 10 PM EST, ESPN2) Last weekend, the lifeless Bruins fell behind 16-2 to start their rivalry game against USC, and Arizona has won three consecutive games at Pauley Pavilion by 11 points. With Thomas Welsh no longer there to torment the Arizona big men, UCLA’s disastrous season could get considerably worse by the end of the weekend.
  9. Will Iowa’s mindset be right when they hit the road this weekend? (Iowa @ Minnesota, Sunday 5 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) Sandwiched between home games against Michigan State and Michigan is a road test for the Hawkeyes at Minnesota. After starting conference play 0-3, Iowa has now won five straight heading into Thursday night’s game against Michigan State. Iowa is the only Big Ten team with five players averaging double-figure points per game.
  10. Can VCU avoid a road slip-up when they take on Duquesne? (VCU @ Duquesne, Saturday 2 PM EST, ESPN Plus) The Rams are coming off of a narrow defeat at Rhode Island where they turned the ball over 19 times. VCU’s offense has been abysmal all year long and is only bogged down further as they have the worst turnover rate among Atlantic 10 teams in conference play. A road loss at Duquesne could be crippling come March for VCU.
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Ten Questions To Consider: Christmas Comes Early With Plenty of Hoops

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on December 21st, 2018

With Christmas, the New Year and conference play all firmly in the sights of players and teams, this weekend’s slate of games brings plenty of questions to the table. Kick off the holidays with plenty of hoops on Friday and Saturday.

Roy and Cal Get Together Again (USA Today Images)
  1. Will Buffalo pick up another win over a power conference opponent? (Buffalo @ Marquette, Friday 8:30 PM EST, FS1) Having already picked up Quadrant 1 wins at West Virginia and Syracuse, Buffalo can make it three big victories with a win at Marquette tonight. In those two wins, Bulls guard CJ Massinburg combined to score 68 points on 13 made three-pointers.
  2. Will Oklahoma’s success travel? (Oklahoma @ Northwestern, Friday 9 PM EST, Big Ten Network) The Sooners started the season with true road games at UT-Rio Grande Valley and UT-San Antonio, and they have not played a true game since then. This Friday evening trip to Northwestern could be feisty as the Wildcats gave Michigan all it could handle in the Wolverines’ narrow two-point win at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
  3. How will southern California’s best team do on the road at Butler? (UC Irvine @ Butler, Friday 6:30 PM EST, FS1) The most successful southern California basketball team this season belongs to UC Irvine. The Anteaters are 11-2 heading into their Friday evening match-up with Butler. Irvine has a suffocating defense that includes a defensive two-point field-goal percentage that ranks among the top 10 nationally.
  4. Which offensive rebounding force will come out on top in battle between blue-bloods? (Kentucky vs. North Carolina in Chicago, Saturday 5:15 PM EST, CBS) The CBS Sports Classic pits these two heavyweights against one another yet again. Both teams grab offensive rebounds at a rate that places them among the best in the country. In North Carolina’s convincing win over Gonzaga, the Tar Heels had an offensive rebound rate of 46.7 percent.
  5. Is Kansas ready for its first true road test? (Kansas @ Arizona State, Saturday 9 PM EST, ESPN2) Undefeated and top-ranked Kansas hits the road for its first true road game on Saturday evening. In a loss last season to the Sun Devils, the trio of Tra Holder, Shannon Evans, and Remy Martin combined to score 72 of the team’s 95 points. Of the three, only Martin is back with Arizona State this season.
  6. Will Arizona’s offense make an appearance? (UC Davis @ Arizona, Saturday 7 PM EST, Pac-12 Network) Arizona’s offensive efficiency had ranked among the top 20 in the nation in each of the past six seasons. This year, however, the Wildcats’ efficiency has fallen outside of the top 100. As a team, Arizona is 11-of-40 from beyond the arc in its last two games.
  7. Can the WCC pick up ANOTHER win over a Pac-12 opponent? (San Diego @ Washington State, Saturday 7:30 PM EST, FS1) The quest for the West Coast Conference to becoming a three-bid league continues as San Diego looks to pick the conference’s eighth win over the Pac-12. The Toreros are led by Isaiah Pineiro who has scored double-figure points in 30 of his last 31 games.
  8. How far can Kansas State’s superb defense carry the team? (Vanderbilt vs. Kansas State, Saturday 7 PM, ESPN2) Kansas State’s ability to defend the three, create turnovers and limit second-chance opportunities has allowed the Wildcats to log a defensive efficiency that sits among the top five nationally. They are now a team without one of its best offensive weapons in Dean Wade, however. Vanderbilt does not struggle to score the ball, so will this be the game in which Kansas State needs its offense to wake up?
  9. Will UConn get a win against former Big East foe Villanova? (UConn @ Villanova, Saturday 12:30 PM EST, CBS) After its two-game losing streak earlier this season, Villanova went on to win six straight. Having just lost two in a row again, the Wildcats now face a familiar opponent in former Big East rival UConn. The Huskies are 9-3 but have just one win (Syracuse) against an opponent with a KenPom ranking of #225 or better.
  10. Is Auburn vulnerable coming off of its loss at NC State? (Murray State @ Auburn, Saturday 4:30 PM EST, SEC Network) While Auburn shot 68 percent from inside the arc against NC State earlier this week, the Tigers were also a dismal 5-of-25 beyond the three-point line. Auburn returns home for a match-up against a Murray State team that has the nation’s best three-point defense to date. If the Racers can defend the three well and clean up their defensive glass, an area they have struggled in, Auburn could be in for a very tough 40 minutes.

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How Bad is Bad? Evaluating the Pac-12

Posted by Adam Butler on December 21st, 2018

During Wednesday evening’s broadcast of the Arizona-Montana game, Bill Walton, while simultaneously running the math for plates on the bench press and waxing poetic about his morning in Utah and evening in Tucson, noted, “This will be a most competitive conference.” I paraphrase; however, the gist remains: Walton was celebrating many of the Pac-12’s teams. He’s a known, if not unapologetic, champion of the Conference of Champions, and was not soon to bash it as many of us have lamented. But regardless of the Big Redhead’s admonitions, this year is looking BAD.  

Is Oregon the Best Worst Team in High-Major Basketball? (USA Today Images)

This is a conference not all that far removed from one of the worst conference performances ever. In 2012, the inaugural Pac-12 season, Washington won the conference regular season, lost in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament, and was summarily dismissed by the NCAA Tournament committee on Selection Sunday. The Pac that year owned nine top-100 KenPom teams (zero among the top 25) and two teams that were rated in the 300s. Just two of those teams danced, including a 23-11 Colorado team that entered the Pac-12 Tournament rated 96th by KenPom yet earned the Pac-12 auto-bid by defeating Arizona in an ugly 53-51 championship game.

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Pac-12 Five: Pre-Feast Week Observations

Posted by Adam Butler on November 16th, 2018

As we head into Feast Week, and the with the Pac-12 continuing to take its lumps, a few items to ensure you’re keeping an eye on.

Brandon Randolph Has Been a Pleasant Surprise For Arizona (USA Today Images)

  1. Arizona has impressed – I recognize that the Wildcats have only played teams in the KenPom >250 but their defense is currently the ninth-best (by raw efficiency) in the nation, a far cry from last season’s 102.8. The Wildcats have the steepest test ahead with a loaded Maui field awaiting next week.
  2. Oregon being Oregon – The Ducks seemingly have an annual tendency to struggle early and improve late, and last night they stuck to that script. See Exhibit 2017 when they swiftly dropped games to Baylor and Georgetown before going on a casual 31-4 run and wound up in the Final Four. Is this team THAT good? Probably not. But come time for Pac-12 play, expect Oregon to be the dominant squad.
  3. USC’s Kevin Porter will be a difference-maker – Yes, Nick Rackocevic has been a handful at 17 PPG, 15 RPG and 3 BPG. But considering the significance and impact of guards, not to mention the confusion a lefty creates, Porter has already demonstrated he’s going to be an absolute threat. The Trojans head to the NABC Hall of Fame Classic this weekend, so it would be a treat to see this group at full strength (reminder: Bennie Boatright is back).
  4. Could Washington find its defense in Canada? The Huskies head to Vancouver for an inaugural tournament just north across the border. But the Dawgs to date have done little to impress, getting blown out in a true road game at Auburn (I suppose excusable) but then just squeaking by a game San Diego squad visiting Seattle.
  5. Tempo – It’s notably up in the NBA and has been steadily increasing in college basketball over the past few seasons as well. Right now, however, the median tempo in college basketball is 71.5 possessions per game. Last year, that number would’ve ranked among the top 50. Keep in mind that pace usually slows down as we get into the meat of the season, but it’s an intriguing storyline to keep an eye on as a burgeoning trend.
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The 2018-19 Pac-12 Elite: What’s Setting the Top Teams Apart

Posted by Adam Butler on November 1st, 2018

With Gonzaga in the top five nationally and some of the traditional western powers not-or-barely ranked, it’s unclear where the conference’s top team lies. Pac-12 media came to the conclusion last month that it will be Oregon, UCLA Washington and Arizona. As we approach season tip-off early next week, let’s explore each of those squads and what differentiates them as the conference elite.

Oregon

Dana Altman Welcomes an Elite Group of New Ducks to Eugene (USA Today Images)

  • Why they’re here: Introducing the best freshman class of Dana Altman’s Oregon tenure to a sound cast of returnees.
  • Summary: Altman has worked magic in Eugene with minimal continuity cemented by transfers, but this year is a little different. He has as much talent as he’s ever had but much of it is youthful, and last season was a little underwhelming with similar (albeit less heralded) youth. Of course many eyes will focus on Bol Bol – the fascinating 7’3” freshman talent — but don’t forget about Kenny Wooten, poised to be something like the next Jordan Bell. Wooten had the nation’s third-highest block rate (15.3%) a season ago and should be poised to progress. Meanwhile, senior Paul White is the kind of dynamic forward Altman has typically built around — 6’9” with a 14 percent defensive rebounding rate and a 35 percent three-point shooter. Further, Payton Pritchard (41% 3FG) might as well be a senior point guard (full disclosure: He is only a junior), and while the Ducks may appear to be light on guards – clearly critical to success at the college level – their on-paper talent suggests this may be a nationally underrated squad.
  • Conclusion: Considering the Ducks’ mix of talented players and a proven (excellent) coach, Oregon should be the best team in the Pac-12.

UCLA

  • Why they’re here: Projected lottery picks returning and incoming.
  • Summary: It’s a familiar tale in Westwood: The Bruins are as talented as any team in the league if not the nation. Kris Wilkes may be the front-runner for Pac-12 Player of the Year while Jaylen Hands – a terrifically skilled big guard – inherits the reins from the last of the Holiday family. The other familiarity, of course, has been some of the underwhelming results of the Steve Alford era. In a Pac-12 with a low ceiling and what I’d consider a relatively high floor, the Bruins have the talent to win this thing outright and the pedigree to finish fourth.
  • Conclusion: Despite the summary’s closing sentence, look for consistency from these Bruins as roles and responsibilities appear clearer than they perhaps have in the past. What does consistency yield? Well, for these Bruins it very well could be a conference title.

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