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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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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RTC Top 25: Week Three Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on December 8th, 2015

Week Three of the college basketball season brought a plethora of intense action that was highlighted by #10 Maryland and #4 Kentucky suffering their first losses of the young season. The Terrapins fell last Tuesday night at #6 North Carolina in a highly entertaining game that showcased the talent level of each squad. On the contrary, Kentucky showed it is still a work in progress during its 10-point loss last Thursday night at UCLA. This season’s Kentucky/UCLA showdown was in stark contrast from last year’s game when the Bruins managed to score just seven first half points en route to a humbling 83-42 defeat. Yes, the Wildcats’ roster has seen a lot of turnover since then, but such a difference illustrates just how unpredictable college basketball can be from game to game and week to week. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 1.13.52 AM

Quick N’ Dirty Thoughts.

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Replacing Zeus: Arizona’s Options Moving Forward

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 4th, 2015

Now that there is official word that Arizona senior center Kaleb Tarczewski will miss at least a month with a stress reaction and strained muscle in his left foot, it is probably time to take a look at Sean Miller’s contingency plans. The Wildcats are better positioned than most teams to handle this sort of adversity and that is because not too many other teams can replace a legitimate seven-footer with NBA potential with another legitimate seven-footer with perhaps even more NBA potential. But simply plugging sophomore Dusan Ristic into Tarczewski’s spot in the starting lineup isn’t Miller’s only option and the coach has been generous enough to give us a glimpse at both options in the two games that the senior has already missed.

The Wildcats will miss Tarczewski's defensive presence most (Kai Casey, CU Independent)

The Wildcats will miss Tarczewski’s defensive presence most. (Kai Casey, CU Independent)

In the first game without Tarczewski’s services, Miller opted for a more traditional solution. Ristic started in the team’s loss to Providence, playing 18 minutes and finishing with six points and five rebounds while defending Friars’ forward Ben Bentil. On the next night against a smaller and more athletic Boise State team, Ristic barely moved from the bench as Mark Tollefson got the start and freshman Allonzo Trier received the extra minutes. Ristic managed to snag five rebounds in just nine minutes of action against the less physical Broncos, but he mostly looked out of place against an opponent that could stretch the floor at every position. With just two games of supporting evidence, it seems likely that Miller is smartly choosing to mix and match his lineups based on the opponent rather than make the common-sense lineup change and just add Ristic to the starting lineup. Read the rest of this entry »

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Arizona Adjusting to Life Without Lottery Picks

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 3rd, 2015

Arizona went to the Wooden Legacy tournament last weekend as one of two ranked teams, seemingly on a collision course with Michigan State for a meeting in the title game on Sunday. Instead, they looked only slightly less awake than your average relative post-Thanksgiving dinner in their opening round overtime win over then-winless Santa Clara, then looked exceedingly average in a loss to a Providence team that played almost half the game without star Kris Dunn due to foul trouble. A Sunday bounce-back against Boise State did little to mask the fact that this is not your typical Arizona team, as these Wildcats lack the star power, athleticism and overall upside we’ve come to expect in Tucson.

Kaleb Tarczewski, Ryan Anderson and Kadeem Allen Form The Core Of An Atypical Arizona Team (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

Kaleb Tarczewski, Ryan Anderson and Kadeem Allen Form The Core Of An Atypical Arizona Team. (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

When we previewed Arizona in the preseason, we detailed that for once, this is an Arizona team that is without not only an NBA lottery prospect, but also a surefire NBA draft pick. Stanley Johnson, Aaron Gordon, Derrick Williams? Nope, not a guy like that to be found here. Still, this is Point Guard U, right? They’ll at least have a savvy floor general to calm everything down? Not yet. Instead, Sean Miller has been forced to choose between a 5’8” facilitator in Parker Jackson-Cartwright and a JuCo transfer off-guard making the transition to the point in Kadeem Allen. And the elite lock-down defense of the past three seasons in the desert? Miller will certainly get plenty out of this team on that end, but there are no obviously great individual defenders at this juncture, both on the perimeter and in the paint. This isn’t a team that can win by overpowering opponents in any singular way, and the Arizona coaching staff has already accepted it. “One of the things we’ve learned is that room for error and that margin, that gap we experienced the last couple of years isn’t there right now,” said Miller on Friday night after the loss to Providence.

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Pac-12 Bests and Worsts of the Week

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 30th, 2015

With most of the in-season tournaments now over, there are some definite early Pac-12 observations that can be made. Here are a few:

  • Best Way to Give Yourself a Headache: Commit to being a Washington fan for the whole season. The Huskies may very well become a force to be reckoned with by the time the season is over, but the current iteration of the team is a bit of a mess. The Huskies have six freshmen and newcomer Malik Dime in their rotation, and all the youth shows. They foul seemingly every other time down the court; they turn the ball over regularly; but perhaps most maddeningly, they take plenty of shots that would make any discerning basketball fan roll his eyes. But they also have given themselves chances to win because they are athletic, relentless on the glass and consistently harass opposing shooters. The future may be bright for this program, but the present can be painful to watch.
So far Wayne Tinkle is doing everything right on and off the court in Corvallis. (Getty)

So far Wayne Tinkle is doing everything right on and off the court in Corvallis. (Getty)

  • Best Example of Holiday Spirit: Attendance remains an issue across the Pac-12, but perhaps not for much longer if Oregon State coach Wayne Tinkle has anything to do with it. Tinkle handed out four free tickets for the Beavers’ game against Valparaiso last Tuesday because a fan on Twitter told the coach he would be cheering from home because money was tight. The fan, an Oregon native, subsequently brought his father, uncle and aunt with him to the game. Sadly for him and other Oregon State fans, though, the Beavers would end up falling short against an excellent Valparaiso team. The arena still wasn’t full, and drumming up much fan support for a program that has seen little recent success will be harder than Tinkle’s random acts of Twitter kindness. But give the second-year coach some credit. He didn’t have to do anything and the fan would have still supported the Beavers. Instead, he took the time to make someone’s day, and in the process likely winning his program a fan for life.

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Plugging the Hole: Kadeem Allen Doing Best T.J. McConnell Impression

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 26th, 2015

Everyone talking about Arizona during the offsesaon (even Jay Bilas) seemed to agree that the biggest question facing head coach Sean Miller was how he would replace do-it-all point guard T.J. McConnell; but no one could have expected how quickly transfer junior Kadeem Allen would be able to answer that question.

Kadeem Allen Has Emerged As An Answer at Point Guard for Arizona

Kadeem Allen Has Emerged As An Answer at Point Guard for Arizona. (Arizona Athletics)

The statistical comparison between the two players comes with a rather large disclaimer that Arizona hasn’t played anyone of note this season in its four games; but so far, at least, Allen looks like a competent replacement for McConnell. Without trying to pretend this is an apples to apples review, it is worth noting that Allen has been the more efficient offensive player (125.3 to 118.3 in ORtg; 60.5%  to 53.8% eFG), a better passer (45.0% to 39.0% in ARate) and a more opportunistic defender (4.9% to 4.3% in Stl%). It’s certainly likely that his efficiency and assist rate will fall back to Earth as he faces better competition, but Arizona’s ability to reload instead of rebuild this season depended heavily on the team’s point guard play. Early indications show that Allen and sophomore Parker Jackson-Cartwright are absolutely ready to fill that role. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Week One Honors

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 23rd, 2015

Week one in college basketball is in the books. And yes, we’re counting week one as going back to opening day a couple Fridays back. Sure, that makes 10 days, but this is a sport that claims a Feast Week that runs for 10 days or more, a Championship Week which is actually a fortnight, and a March Madness that stretches into April. All of those semantics now out of the way, our normal Monday Pac-12 Honors post will wrap up the previous week, unveil our weekly power rankings, and anoint a Team, Player, Freshman and Newcomer of the Week. Let’s jump right in.

Team of the Week: Washington

Andrew Andrews And The Huskies Have Been Electric Early (Dean Rutz, Seattle Times)

Andrew Andrews And The Huskies Have Been Electric Early (Dean Rutz, Seattle Times)

The Huskies are not the best team in the conference, or at least they probably aren’t. But for a team that wiped the slate clean after last season and brought in eight brand new players, they sure are fun to watch. After going to China and coming away with a win against a veteran Texas team on opening night, the Huskies have poured it on, backing up a 33-point win over Mount St. Mary’s with a 37-point win over Penn. They’ve played three straight games of 80 or more possessions, have the third-highest tempo in the nation, and get in and out of a possession in just over 12 seconds, the quickest such team in college basketball. Loaded down with aggressive free-wheeling freshmen, these Huskies have been a pleasant surprise and everything we want a Lorenzo Romar team to be.

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Pac-12 Burning Questions: Where are the Fans?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 20th, 2015

Arizona head coach Sean Miller called out UCLA this week for its poor attendance at games in Pauley Pavilion. But with only a very few exceptions, lack of attendance at basketball games has been a concern at schools up and down the conference. What kind of impact does this have on the overall health of a basketball program? And what can be done to fix it?

Fan Support At McKale Center Is The Gold Standard In The Pac-12 (Daily Wildcat)

Fan Support At McKale Center Is The Gold Standard In The Pac-12 (Daily Wildcat)

Adam Butler: There’s a lot of layers to this onion. There’s the #HotTake and the presumed “shade” thrown by Sean Miller. Reading between the lines we can also see that Steve Alford had a retort. That’s the fun stuff. I called it feed for the news cycle monster. But Drew’s question here doesn’t really address that fun matter (and it shouldn’t because it’s really not worth it). What I want to explore is attendance as a matter of conference health. As the question notes, the Pac-12 has seen declining average attendance in each of the past three seasons, with the abysmal 2011-12 season having the worst average attendance of any Pac-12 season (7,054 per game). Yet here we are, one season removed from three Sweet Sixteen teams and touting four ranked teams for the first time since the week of January 21, 2008. That’s five seasons of three or fewer ranked teams. And sure it’s early — and no doubt attendance is growing — but in this chicken-or-egg conversation I’m drawn to ask what attendance really means? Literally, attendance is the number of people that go to a game. But over time, attendance has come to be synonymous with popularity. And that’s simply inaccurate. It’s 2015 and we have page views and clicks and impressions. They just played a damn Pac-12 game in China! Games can be streamed on phones, tablets and desktops. Blogs like pachoops.com (wink face emoji) and this microsite can cover the sport at more intimate levels than national publishers that maybe, perhaps chop unique sports voices (cough, Grantland, cough). Miller’s comments aren’t wrong; he even noted that a screaming McKale is what we think of when we imagine college basketball. He’s absolutely right. But let’s not be so quick to dismiss the conference’s popularity because there aren’t as many butts in the seats. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Burning Questions: Who’s Your Pick For Champ?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 13th, 2015

It’s finally here. Gameday. Enough guessing and predicting and preseason-ing. Let’s get some real answers. Once and for all, its time for our Pac-12 experts to put their picks on the line and defend their choice for the conference champion. We asked our panel of experts:

Who is your pick to win the regular season title and why? And is that team that team you expect to be the last Pac-12 team standing in March?

Bennet Hayes: Cal’s upside is tantalizing, but I still don’t trust Cuonzo Martin enough to maximize all that talent. Arizona is my pick to finish second in the conference, but the roster overhaul scares me a little, even though the new crop of Wildcats is a talented bunch. So with all that in mind, I like Utah’s consistency to carry the Utes to the regular season crown. They lost just once at home all of last season (to Arizona) and all but one of their road defeats (at Washington) came to a team that won at least one game in the NCAA Tournament. What’s more, their lone match-up with Arizona comes in Salt Lake City. Larry Krystkowiak has also seemed to figure things out a little more each season; I trust him to get the most out of a disciplined group of players. But when it comes to the postseason, I’m swapping one and two. Recent Elite Eight exits aside, Sean Miller has proven himself a capable NCAA Tournament coach at both Xavier and Arizona. There’s still a lot of talent in Tucson, and reduced expectations might actually prove beneficial come March.

Larry Krystkowiak, Utah

Coack K And Conference Championships Go Hand In Hand. (AP)

Adam Butler: I’m picking Arizona to win this conference (and could make arguments for Oregon and Utah for similar reasons to the Wildcats). In this case, my greatest argument wears a suit. Sean Miller is Arizona’s coach and he has enough talent to win this thing. The first starting lineup he rolled out (an exhibition against CSU-Chico) included a fourth-year junior, three seniors (including a four-year starter) and a fifth-year senior. I’m not sure you could find a more “experienced” lineup in the country. For a team that lost three players to NBA rosters and Brandon Ashley, that’s the sort of leadership (at least in years) he’ll need.

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Pac-12 Burning Questions: What’s the Burning-est Question?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 12th, 2015

We’re about ready to have some actual game action to talk about, but before we do that, there are still a few more questions to sort through. As we head into opening weekend, we asked our Pac-12 experts to answer this simple burning question: What’s the burning-est question in the Pac-12? Below are their answers.

Adam Butler: The most burning question, the most incendiary inquiry, isn’t whether Bryce Alford is going to shave his chin stubble (the answer to that is that he needs to); rather, the season’s Pac-12 BQ is the California Golden Bears. I called it the Great Golden Hype. Specifically, the question is: Can Cuonzo Martin and two five-star recruits turn an 18-15 team into anything? The latter half of that equation has been proven — elite players can win you a couple basketball games. The former has also happened at least once or twice before. The reality is that Cal has remarkably high expectations with very little track record to merit (such are lofty expectations) and is, therefore, the burningest question.

Cuonzo Martin Has A Lot To Prove (AP)

Cuonzo Martin and the California Golden Bears Have a Lot to Prove. (AP)

Bennet Hayes: Questions abound in this year’s Pac-12. Can Arizona and Oregon seamlessly reload? Will Washington, Stanford and Colorado play well enough to bring their coaches some degree of job security? Is Bobby Hurley destined to transform Arizona State into a perennial power? Uncertainty is everywhere, which only makes Cuonzo Martin’s California team that much more intriguing. If the amount of talent that this Cal roster supports existed on a team coached by John Calipari or Mike Krzyzewski, there’s a great chance that team would bear a preseason top-five ranking. Back here in reality, with Martin at the helm and the name of a program unaccustomed to major basketball success printed on the front of the jerseys, the corresponding preseason hype is relatively restrained. Given Martin’s uneven record as an X’s and O’s coach, it does makes sense — but only to a point. The freshman pairing of Jaylen Brown (a popular pick for preseason Pac-12 POY) and Ivan Rabb would be enough to turn heads, but factor in the heavy mass of talent returning to Berkeley and this team’s ceiling quickly elevates. Tyrone Wallace is the leading returning scorer in the league. Former McDonald’s All-American Jabari Bird, now a junior, is fully healthy and poised to build off a solid finish. Toss in Jordan Mathews, the team’s second leading scorer a season ago, and you have a pretty dangerous array of offensive weapons. If there was ever a team with the talent to ascend Cal into the highest echelon of West Coast basketball powers, it’s this one. Will Martin let them get there? Read the rest of this entry »

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