Rushed Reactions: Arizona 70, UCLA 64

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 13th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

When Arizona and UCLA Match Up, Especially In March, Great Things Are Bound To Happen (Mamta Popat, Arizona Daily Star)

When Arizona and UCLA Match Up, Especially In March, Great Things Are Bound To Happen (Mamta Popat, Arizona Daily Star)

  1. This Rivalry Never Disappoints. The six-point final margin doesn’t begin to hint at the sustained intensity in the MGM Grand Arena over the course of 40 minutes of another great college basketball game. Over the past three seasons, the Bruins and the Wildcats have met three times in this very arena in the Pac-12 Tournament, and each of those games has been an instant classic. While the Pac-12 Conference has yet to see fit to make sure that these guys are scheduled to play each other twice every season, the basketball gods have stepped in and seen fit to getting these two together in March. And the classics have had plenty of similarities. As Adam Butler pointed out, the game was tied at 68 with 43 seconds remaining last year when Jordan Adams hit a big three to propel UCLA to the win. Tonight, it was Stanley Johnson with a three with 39 seconds remaining to bump the Arizona lead up to 66-61 and effectively seal the game. The big takeaway is quite simply this: When these two teams play, especially in March, it is required viewing.
  2. One Big Run. Midway through the second half, a slashing Norman Powell layup in the middle of the Arizona defense put UCLA up 47-40, prompting a Sean Miller timeout. Over the next five minutes, Arizona reeled off 15 straight points to flip the script. They never trailed again. So, what goes into a run? How about three T.J. McConnell assists and a layup, five team offensive rebounds, a forced turnover and limiting UCLA’s other five possessions to five missed jumpers and an immediate defensive rebound?
  3. Rebounding. UCLA can probably come up with plenty of excuses: Kevon Looney’s facial injury and resultant mask; Tony Parker’s early foul trouble; having to play zone defense for much of the game. But Arizona’s ability to get on the glass and get putbacks was a key here. The Wildcats’ came away with 40 percent of their own missed shots, turning those into 12 points, a key in a close game. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who struggled offensively, had five of those offensive boards by himself. If UCLA had been as good cleaning the defensive glass today (against admittedly above-average competition) as they have been all year long, maybe they’d still be playing on Saturday.

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Key Individual Matchups in Pac-12 Quarterfinals

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 12th, 2015

It’s quarterfinal day in Las Vegas, with the Pac’s four top teams facing the upstarts who survived yesterday’s mayhem. Below, by way of previewing today’s games, we’ll look at one of the key matchups in each game that will help determine the eventual winner.

Arizona/California

Stanley Johnson vs. Jabari Bird. Now, I don’t know that this is necessarily going to be the matchup that the Golden Bears go with on Johnson, but I know that there is not really an obvious solution for them. They’re going to have to put some size on the floor in order to match up with the Arizona bigs, so somebody out of Jordan Mathews, Tyrone Wallace or Bird is going to have to try to check Johnson. And Bird is the Bear with the physical tools that give him the best chance to check the Wildcat’s physical specimen. Johnson’s ability to bully Bird in the post or off the bounce give him a big advantage, but Bird’s got some impressive ability of his own, even if it only has come in fits and starts so far. But the sophomore has started to emerge recently, averaging 13.9 points in the Bears’ last seven games. If he can keep Johnson busy when the Bears have the ball, it will serve a dual good. Because really, for a undermanned Cal team against the elite Wildcats, just about everything is going to have to go right.

Can Cal Find Anyone To Slow Stanley Johnson?

Can Cal Find Anyone To Slow Stanley Johnson?

UCLA/USC

Norman Powell vs. Elijah Stewart. After scoring in double figures just twice in the first three months of the season, Stewart has reached the mark in each of the last three games, including a career-high 27 in USC’s come-from-behind victory over Arizona State in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament. But it will be a whole different challenge should the Bruins sic their best individual defender in Powell on him. Powell may instead be charged with slowing the penetration of Trojan point guard Julian Jacobs, but regardless, if Powell can limit the effectiveness of either of those key offensive players for SC, the Trojans’ already difficult task will be enhanced. And on the defensive end, while Stewart does have 35 blocks on the season, he hasn’t yet shown the defensive consistency that will be required to slow Powell’s slashing style. Read the rest of this entry »

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NCAA Tourney Best & Worst Cases for Pac-12 Teams

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 10th, 2015

Believe it or not, another Pac-12 regular season is behind us. The final standings are in, the conference tournament bracket is set, and as I type this, we’re less than a week away from finding out which teams get sent where on Selection Sunday. We’ll have much more on this front throughout the week, but below we’ll review the Pac-12’s most likely NCAA Tournament suspects and figure out where they stand with only conference tournament play remaining before the field is set.

Arizona

As Long As Arizona Gets Good Geographical Placement, Either A One or A Two-Seed Will Do

As Long As Arizona Gets Good Geographical Placement, Either a #1 or #2 Seed Will Do. (Getty)

  • Outlook: The Wildcats were the class of the conference this season, running through the Pac-12 with a 16-2 record a full three games better than runners-up Utah and Oregon. What’s more, their 28-3 overall record and #7 RPI rating puts the Wildcats squarely in the conversation for a #1 seed. Kentucky’s got one of those four spots locked up. It’s hard to foresee Virginia and Duke failing to get two others, leaving Arizona in a battle with Villanova, Wisconsin and even Kansas for the final top seed. In the grand scheme of things, though, it doesn’t matter if the ‘Cats get a #1 or a #2 seed so long as they stay out west and away from Kentucky for as long as possible, preferably in the Los Angeles regional. Right now it appears that Wisconsin and Villanova are slightly ahead of Arizona in overall resume, so even if the Wildcats win the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas this week, Arizona may be locked into a #2 regardless. All of which paints the specter of a possible Arizona/Wisconsin regional final as an intriguing possibility.
  • Best case: #1 seed in the West.
  • Worst case: #2 seed anywhere but the West.

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Pac-12 Senior Days: T.J. McConnell

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) on March 6th, 2015

On November 9, 2011, the #16 Arizona Wildcats committed 21 turnovers. They would go on to win that basketball game by eight despite their starting backcourt combining for a mere two assists and eight turnovers. Including guard efforts off the bench, the backcourt numbers ballooned to five assists and 11 miscues. That was the last game that that TJ McConnell would lose in the McKale Center. At the time, he was a sophomore guard for Duquesne and six months later he would transfer to the University of Arizona.

In A Program Defined By Point Guards, T.J. McConnell Is Merely The Latest Arizona Great (Lance King, Getty Images)

In A Program Defined By Point Guards, T.J. McConnell Is Merely The Latest Arizona Great (Lance King, Getty Images)

Let’s begin by contextualizing McConnell within the annals of Arizona basketball and the state of current hoop. Saturday is his final game on his undefeated hardwood and while context may not be requisite to celebrate what McConnell has accomplished in Tucson, it serves as a great complement (and compliment) to what he has and will. The brevity of a college career, particularly one we’ve only known for two seasons, cannot be lost in the deep history of everything around it. Because since becoming a Wildcat, McConnell hasn’t lost much of anything. With games still to play, the senior has the highest winning percentage over a two-year stretch of any Arizona point guard in its illustrious history. Ever. As refresher, Arizona basketball history includes guards like Kerr*, Stoudamire, Bibby*, Terry*, and Gardner (* indicates retired jersey). Already he’s won more games than any of them (I understand the changing landscape of scheduling and preseason events, but winning remains the coolest statistic one can compile). With a sweep of the Bay schools, he will tie Steve Kerr for the best two-year conference mark by an Arizona point guard (in 1988 and 1989 there were two different point guards, Kerr followed by Kenny Lofton, each of whom would go 17-1). Winning speaks volumes.

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Pac-12 Weekly Honors: Week 15

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 4th, 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: Arizona

Arizona Earned Another Conference Title On The Strength Of A Full Team Effort (USA Today)

Arizona Earned Another Conference Title On The Strength Of A Full Team Effort. (USA Today)

Two teams in the conference went on the road and came away with sweeps last week. Alas, we can only pick one in this space, so we leave Oregon – and their likely NCAA Tournament-clinching week aside – to go with the team that locked up a share of the conference title by knocking off upstart Utah in Salt Lake City. After blowing out Colorado in a dominant performance with everybody contributing, Saturday night’s game was all about toughness. The Wildcats started fast and closed fast, taking home the Pac-12 title largely on the strength of their calling card, defense. In a one-point game down the stretch, the Wildcats held Utah without a point in their final four possessions to pull out the title-clinching win.

(Also receiving votes: Oregon)

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RTC Top 25: Week Fifteen

Posted by Walker Carey on March 2nd, 2015

The penultimate weekend of the college basketball regular season gave #1 Kentucky, #2 Virginia, #4 Villanova, #5 Arizona, #6 Wisconsin, and #9 Wichita State an opportunity to either a guaranteed a share of a conference title or the outright crown. Kentucky moved its record to 29-0 and earned the SEC regular season title on Saturday with a dominating 17-point home victory over #21 Arkansas. Virginia guaranteed itself at least a share of the ACC title with a Saturday matinee victory over Virginia Tech in Charlottesville. The Cavaliers will attempt to win the title outright for the second straight year, hitting the road this week for games at both Syracuse and #16 Louisville. Villanova rebounded from a seven-point halftime deficit at Xavier to earn its 10th consecutive win and clinch the outright Big East title for the second consecutive year. Arizona earned itself at least a share of the Pac-12 crown with one of the most impressive road victories of the season. The Wildcats went to #10 Utah and scored a thrilling 63-57 triumph on Saturday evening. Wisconsin wrapped up a share of the Big Ten title Sunday — aided tremendously by National Player of the Year candidate Frank Kaminsky’s season-high 31 points — with a home victory over Michigan State. Finally, Wichita State showed Saturday afternoon that it is still the class of the Missouri Valley with a 74-60 home win over #13 Northern Iowa. With just one week to go in the regular season, it will be intriguing to see if Virginia, Arizona, and Wisconsin can become the outright champions of their leagues as well as what will happen in the crazy Big 12 race.

This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump…

rtc25 w15

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Pac-12 Basketball Programs as Craft Breweries

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 2nd, 2015

I really like college hoops. I really like craft beer. I have no idea why I never had this idea before, but here’s a simple, fun game: go through each Pac-12 program and find the brewery most simpatico in style, substance, history and quality. Now, I’ve had my fair share of beers in fine establishments all over the West, but living in California with the sheer number of excellent breweries in this state, we’re going to wind up with plenty of choices from the Golden State on this list. It would be nice to pick more geographically-fitting breweries, but for instance, while there are plenty of fine Arizona breweries, none can match the quality and national importance of the home Wildcats, so we’ll have to go elsewhere for that comparison. And by no means have I got the finger on the pulse of every single craft brewery that has arisen. So, if you’ve got better comparisons in mind, I’m interested in hearing them, especially true toward the bottom of the list where I admittedly ran out of steam. Enough nonsense, let’s get to the list!

Much like the ubiquitious Lagunitas Brewing Company, Arizona fans are a national presence. (AP)

Much like the ubiquitous Lagunitas Brewing Company, Arizona fans are a national presence. (AP)

  • Arizona: Lagunitas Brewing. My first instinct was to go Russian River here, but comparatively speaking, Russian River is a niche brewer. It’s legendary and excellent, but it’s also pretty small. Lagunitas, by comparison, is a national power. It’s the fifth-largest craft brewer in the nation (and the 11th biggest brewery overall, even on a list with the big boys) and ubiquitous, yet it still manages to crank out superbly high quality beers without fail. And if you’ve ever done the brewery tour, you know that Lagunitas is definitely A Player’s Program. The only significant problem I find with this selection is that Lagunitas’ mascot is a dog.
  • UCLA: Sierra Nevada. If Arizona is Lagunitas, the Bruins have to be somebody equally as big, so we’ll go with the Chico mainstay. Sierra Nevada is an old school classic. This brewery has been around forever; it has great history; it’s still committed to quality. But let’s be honest, it’s also been bypassed by a handful of other institutions, and although they still shoot for the stars, sometimes it disappoints. Here’s one thing Sierra has over UCLA, though — unlike Pauley Pavilion, their tap room is never whisper quiet.
  • Utah: Epic Brewing. I have some reservations about comparing a basketball program with the history of the Utes to a Beehive State-based microbrewery given the lack of history that the state has with sensible alcohol laws. But I’ll rationalize this choice by saying that Epic, a brewery that formed after Utah slightly modernized its regulations over the last decade, is making history of its own. Plus, like the current Utes squad, the beers that Epic makes are big and bold.

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Previewing the Pac-12 Game of the Year: Arizona at Utah

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 28th, 2015

It’s the game of the year in the Pac-12, a battle between the top two teams — Arizona and Utah — with only a game separating them in the standings and a week to play. It’s also on the short list of the biggest games ever played in the Huntsman Center, quite a statement for a building with its long and illustrious history. Both teams have legitimate Final Four aspirations. Both teams have every expectation of being top three seeds when the brackets are announced on Selection Sunday. As many as four players in this game could hear their name called in the first round of the NBA Draft in June, each of those players with lottery potential. In short, on the final day of February, we’ll be treated to full-on March basketball. Let’s break it down, with three keys to tonight’s game.

Odds Are Good That Little Will Come Easy In Tonight's Collision in Salt Lake City

Odds Are Good That Little Will Come Easy In Tonight’s Collision in Salt Lake City

  • Home court advantage. Playing at just under 5,000 feet in Salt Lake City, the Utes enjoy quite a home court advantage at the Huntsman Center. They’ve won all 17 of their games there this season by an average of 24 points per outing. They’re outscoring teams there by an average of 0.40 points per possession. Only one team (Wichita State) has managed to keep within 14 of the Utes. And the MUSS will be rabid tonight. Despite all those considerations, the Wildcats are no slouches on the road. All three of their losses this season have come  in games where maybe they overlooked their opponents. Understand that there is no chance that the ‘Cats will overlook the Utes today. Still, the Utes will come out riding a wave of momentum following Senior Day ceremonies for Delon Wright and Dallin Bachynski. Their home fans will be load and raucous. Whenever Utah needs a shot of adrenaline in the middle of the game, the Huntsman Center will have its back. And perhaps most importantly against an Arizona team that really only wants to play six players, maybe that elevation could be a deciding factor down the stretch. We’ve certainly seen short-benched Arizona teams struggle against the Rocky Mountain schools in the past.

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RTC Weekly Primer: Who Can Make a Run in March?

Posted by Henry Bushnell on February 24th, 2015

It happens every year. Every single year. Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but more often than not, there comes a time in a college basketball season when the entire hoops world witnesses the birth of something. It can begin with a bang; but it can also begin innocuously. It can occur in plain sight; but it can also be the tree in the middle of a deserted forest. This birth, of course, is the preliminary stage of a postseason run. And the run, of course, is the one that in a few weeks time will be the talk of college basketball. Back in 2011, it was Shelvin Mack, Brad Stevens and Butler. In 2012, it was Lorenzo Brown and NC State. In 2013, it was very nearly Marshall Henderson and Ole Miss. A season ago, it was Jordan McRae and the upstart Tennessee Volunteers. NCAA Tournament runs usually don’t just appear out of thin air. Typically, there’s a backstory. In 2015, the time has come for those backstories to develop. Next month’s headlines will start formulating themselves right now.

Most Every Team is Looking For Its Butler Moment (USA Today Images)

Most Every Team is Looking For Its Butler Moment (USA Today Images)

Who will those headlines be written about this year? Who will be the team that sees everything come together at the right time? Who will be that team? It’s time to start considering some possibilities:

  • Georgetown – The Hoyas aren’t exactly in the same category as the Butlers and Ole Misses of years past, but they seem to be flying somewhat under the radar. Georgetown has the pieces to make a run. The Hoyas are a top-20 defensive team, boast an occasionally dominant post presence in senior center Josh Smith, and have a guard in D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera who can take over a game. After getting smoked by Villanova a couple weeks ago, they’ve now won three straight and have the week off to prepare for St. John’s in Madison Square Garden on Saturday. That’s the kind of win that could propel the Hoyas to a #4 or #5 seed and their first Sweet Sixteen (or better) run since 2007.
  • Indiana – Another team that is solidly in the NCAA Tournament, the Hoosiers certainly will never be considered a Cinderella story. But most projections have them as a #8 or #9 seed right now, meaning they aren’t being discussed as a legitimate contender either. This team has notable flaws in its personnel and it has a coach who many have questioned in recent years. But it’s also arguably got the most lethal backcourt in the country — just the type of thing that can carry a team on a surprising journey through March. The Hoosiers, which have struggled on the road but have been dynamite at home, travel to Northwestern on Wednesday night before a two-game home swing featuring Iowa and Michigan State. It’s really the perfect slate to build some March momentum.

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RTC Top 25: Week Fourteen

Posted by Walker Carey on February 23rd, 2015

Former Big East rivals #16 West Virginia and #18 Louisville probably turned in the most eventful week in college basketball. The Mountaineers jumped eight spots this week after earning victories against two ranked opponents, beginning on Monday when senior guard Juwan Staten made a layup with four seconds remaining to give his team a one-point home triumph over #8 Kansas. Bob Huggins’ squad followed that up on Saturday when it grabbed a nice 10-point win at Oklahoma State. Those two Big 12 wins moved West Virginia’s conference record to 9-5, which at this point still gives the Mountaineeers a glimmer of hope in the Big 12 race. While West Virginia’s week had a great week, Louisville experienced something of a media circus that concluded with the dismissal of one of its key players. First, news broke Tuesday evening that senior guard Chris Jones was suspended indefinitely and would not be with the team for Wednesday’s game at Syracuse. Predictably, Louisville blew a second half lead at the Carrier Dome and lost to the Orange by 10 points. Jones was then reinstated on Thursday for Saturday’s home game versus Miami (FL), a game in which Louisville overcame a 10-point halftime deficit on its way to a much-needed two-point win. Just when it seemed like things were returning to normal for Rick Pitino’s program, the school then announced on Sunday afternoon that Jones had been formally dismissed from the program. The Cardinals now have the unenviable task of finishing the balance of the regular season and the postseason without their senior point guard and one of their best offensive threats. College basketball is often where the unexpected happens, and that was certainly on display at Louisville last week.

This week’s Quick N’ Dirty Analysis after the jump…

rtc25 02.23.15

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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Best of the West: Top 25 Teams in the West

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 18th, 2015

We’re now less than four weeks from Selection Sunday, so it’s a good time to check back in with our Best in the West, with a special focus on these 25 teams’ NCAA Tournament prospects. If you haven’t seen this post before, we take all the schools west of the Rockies (basically the schools from the Pac-12, Mountain West, West Coast, and Big West Conferences, and then some of the schools from the Big Sky and Western Athletic Conferences) and list the top 25 teams. Rather than just ranking schools #1 though #25, though, we divide them into tiers, because, for instance, while one team may be ranked third overall and another fourth, there may be a huge gap between teams three and four. Below are ourTop 25 teams in the West (their overall rank will be in parentheses) with descriptions of what we think the teams in each tier have in common, plus brief comments on each and their NCAA Tournament hopes

The Best of the Best – In a league of their own.

Gonzaga is #2 in The AP Poll And In The Mix For A #1 Seed in March

Gonzaga is #2 in The AP Poll And In The Mix For A #1 Seed 

  • Gonzaga (#1 overall, WCC #1) – The Bulldogs are 26-1 with the lone defeat an overtime loss at the McKale Center on the first weekend of December. For me, an overtime road loss equates to a win in the grand scheme of things, so I’ve got Gonzaga slightly ahead of that team that came out on the good side of the scoreboard in Tucson. Admittedly, the rest of the Gonzaga resume is a little light. Their best win is, what, a road win at St. John’s? Or is it the one at BYU? Or maybe the one at UCLA? All of those are good wins to be sure, but none of those are mindblowingly great entries on the Zags’ balance sheet compared with the teams with whom they will be competing for a #1 seed. For instance, the other two teams in this category both have better wins and tougher overall schedules than the Zags. But if they’re able to get from here to Selection Sunday with a “1” on the right-hand side of that record (which would mean additional wins at Saint Mary’s, over BYU and then another over one of those two teams in the WCC Championship game, they’ll probably nose out either Arizona or Utah. Now, teams like Virginia, Duke, Wisconsin and Villanova (not to mention Kentucky) may be a different story.

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Pac-12 Weekly Honors: Week 13

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 17th, 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: Arizona

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson And The Wildcats Were Atypically Awesome This Week

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson And The Wildcats Were Atypically Awesome This Week

You go on the road and get a sweep in the Pac-12, then you’re our Team of the Week. So, welcome back, Wildcats. The fact that they won both weekend games against the Washington schools by an average of more than 25 points per game is just icing on the dominant, dominant cake. With all of its long and athletic stoppers littered around the roster, team defense has never really been a question mark for Arizona this season. But as we make the turn into the home stretch of the regular season, the Wildcats are starting to also put together some terrific offensive performances. This week the ‘Cats return to Tucson to host the Los Angeles schools, including our lone scheduled renewal of the Arizona-UCLA rivalry game on Saturday. All of which is just preamble for a renewal of my complaint about UCLA and Arizona only being scheduled once in a season. It may take some fancy scheduling or creative thinking and it may have the side effect of forcing USC-Arizona State upon as twice every year — but for the good of both programs, for the good of the conference, for the good of the sport and for the love of all that is good and holy, get these two teams scheduled against each other twice every season. Read the rest of this entry »

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