Pac-12 Roars Out of the Gates: Opening Weekend Thoughts

Posted by RJ Abeytia on November 14th, 2016

The Pac-12 took a lot of heat as a conference during the Big Dance last year as a number of high-seeds (forgiving Oregon) didn’t amount to deep runs in March. The beauty of college basketball is that a new year brings new chances to make a mark, and as a whole, the conference’s opening weekend was outstanding to tip off the year. Here is a rundown of some of the opening weekend action:

  • UCLA and its talented freshmen burst out of the gate and ran Pacific right out of Pauley on Friday night. The Bruins’ 119-80 victory came with very auspicious debuts for T.J. Leaf and Lonzo Ball. They combined to shoot 15-of-21 for 41 points, and Ball stuffed his first stat sheet with a very impressive 19 points, 11 assists, and eight rebounds (and just one turnover) in 34 minutes. That minutes total brings us to one of the big takeaways from the game, as head coach Steve Alford used a very tight rotation, something rare for an opener that was clearly over at halftime. Leaf played 37 minutes and every starter played at least 26, with Aaron Holiday rounding out the half-dozen man rotation with 24 minutes off the bench. Nobody else logged more than six minutes off the bench.
It Was That Kind of Day For Steve Alford's UCLA Team (USA Today Images)

With a great freshman class in action, Steve Alford has a great chance to lead his Bruins back to the top of the conference. (USA TODAY Images)

  • UCLA came back Sunday night in a defense “optional” performance to beat Cal-State Northridge. The Bruins blitzed the Matadors’ matador defense to the tune of 62 points in the second half to overcome what was actually a small halftime deficit. Again, Alford utilized a short bench, with Holiday getting 29 minutes off the pine and Gyorgy Golomon seeing 15. With Alford depending on such a young and inexperienced core, it’s understandable why he might be willing to give his youngsters heavier doses of minutes. Bruins’ possessions lasted 12.5 seconds on average in the opener, and they didn’t take the foot off the gas against Northridge. Something’s gotta give here. Either Alford lengthens the bench or the Bruins slow down, lest they collectively collapse from exhaustion come January.

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Pac-12 Preseason All-Conference Teams

Posted by Mike Lemaire & Adam Butler on November 11th, 2016

Nothing grinds our gears quite like the end of season Pac-12 All-Conference team selection. There is no reasonable explanation for going to the trouble of naming an official first team and an official second team and then casually picking 15 PLAYERS to fill those two teams. We are all for honoring the conference’s 15 best players, but the way to do that is by just making a third team. We are probably taking this way too seriously, but when the official All-Pac 12 team is 10 players deep, it cheapens the honor. Gary Payton II and Jakob Poetl deserved to be separated from guys like Elgin Cook and Rosco Allen last season. Instead it felt more like they were receiving participation trophies for being really good. We are not as inclusive. There are five players on our Pac-12 first team and there are five players on our Pac-12 second team. Picking these teams before the season begins is always a bit of a fruitless exercise. The order of things is bound to change once the season starts and actual play can be evaluated. Aside from the occasional Ivan Rabb or Dillon Brooks, there are usually as many as 25 players deserving of consideration. We started our list with roughly that number of candidates and trimmed it from there. There were very few consensus selections this year, as you will see when we share our thoughts behind the 10 selections below.

ALL-PAC-12 FIRST TEAM

Markelle Fultz Hasn't Played A Minute of College Basketball and He May Be the Best Player In the Conference (Adidas)

Washington’s Fultz Has Zero Collegiate Experience Yet May Be the Best Player In the Conference. (Adidas)

  • Dillon Brooks, Junior, Oregon
  • Ivan Rabb, Sophomore, California
  • Allonzo Trier, Sophomore, Arizona
  • Lonzo Ball, Freshman, UCLA
  • Markelle Fultz, Freshman, Washington

ML: This was one of the more difficult teams to peg in recent memory and the race to make it was almost entirely wide open. Rabb is the only real shoo-in. He will be stronger this season and is easily the conference’s best big man. Brooks needs to get healthy, but Oregon doesn’t seem overly concerned that he will miss extensive time. He is a no-brainer for this team assuming he returns to form on the court relatively soon. Trier could make us look foolish if his mysterious absence turns into a lengthy suspension, but if he plays, he is will score in bunches and should be a better playmaker this season. Fultz and Ball haven’t yet played a single minute of college basketball, but both would be lottery picks if the NBA Draft was held today and each is talented enough to contend for national honors as well as conference awards.

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Pac-12 Coach of the Year Debate: Dana Altman vs. Sean Miller

Posted by Mike Lemaire & Adam Butler on November 9th, 2016

There is no clear-cut favorite in this season’s race for Pac-12 Coach of the Year. Most pundits are picking Oregon‘s Dana Altman but it feels like he is winning by default. Altman has something working against him, though, which is that expectations are already sky high in Eugene. If Oregon wins the conference it may be because they were expected to win the conference, and if the Ducks underachieve, Altman will quickly fall out of the race. I still think that Altman is the right pick and the correct pick. Adam and his eternal soft spot for Sean Miller respectfully disagrees. Here’s the case for each.

The Case for Sean Miller

Sean Miller Has His Work Cut Out For Him This Season (USA Today Images)

Sean Miller Has His Work Cut Out For Him This Season (USA Today Images)

As of today we must acknowledge that we don’t know that status of Allonzo Trier. He’s pretty good at basketball and critical to Arizona‘s success this season. That said, if he misses extended time and the Wildcats still finish among the top three teams in this conference, it should only further cement Miller’s claim on Pac-12 Coach of the Year. Beyond the fact that the conference set a precedent of rewarding overachievers (all of the 2015 awards), Miller is poised to navigate a Pac-12 season with a group of talented players all of whom are in brand new experiences. Considering Altman returns 68 percent of the minutes played by his rotation last season and UCLA’s Steve Alford is only moving players into more natural positions, Miller will almost certainly have a larger impact on his team’s success that some of his counterparts. And in making this candidacy, I don’t want to paint the Wildcats as underdogs. They’re not. They’re ranked 10th nationally and even in the absence of Trier (and now, Ray Smith) they still rate as a top-30 team according to Sports Illustrated‘s What-If scenarios. Even with just eight scholarship players, none of whom has significant experience in their role, expectations are always lofty in Tucson. But Arizona only plays Oregon once (in Eugene) and has a schedule that is favorable so that this inexperienced, albeit loosely veteran, roster can have time to develop. Miller teams trend well late in the season and this is a group that likely won’t buck that trend.

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Pac-12 Burning Questions: Who Will Play Point Guard for Arizona?

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 25th, 2016

Even after graduating the team’s two leading scorers, Arizona has everything it needs on paper to dethrone Oregon and reassert itself as the best team in the Pac-12. The Wildcats have a redshirt senior who is likely one of the best on-ball defenders in the conference. They have a reigning member of the Pac-12 All-Freshmen Team who averaged nearly 15 points per game last season. They have a freshman wing with enough athleticism to put his own coach on a poster. They have a freshman stretch forward from Finland who can bang three-pointers and take awkward photos with local political figures. They also have a cache of athletic big men, led by a Serbian with enough offensive game to make the program’s official Twitter account think it is okay to rip off the nickname of one of the NBA’s greatest players ever. However, there is one position that isn’t represented on this list and that is because there are still very serious concerns about it. That position is point guard.

Kobi Simmons Has a Tall Task Ahead of Him In His First Season at Arizona

Kobi Simmons Has a Tall Task Ahead of Him In His First Season at Arizona. (Rivals.com)

Sean Miller may be the best recruiter in the entire country outside of Lexington, but if one were to start picking at nits, one could easily make the argument that he has struggled to recruit and develop worthwhile point guards in Tucson. In fact, Josiah Turner and MoMo Jones are the only true point guards Miller has recruited in his tenure at Arizona and neither spent more than two seasons in the desert. The best point guards of the Miller era – T.J. McConnell and Mark Lyons – were transfers, and filling McConnell’s sizable shoes last season proved to be a more difficult task than anyone imagined. The Wildcats went from 40th in turnover percentage in 2014-15 to 191st in the category last year, as neither Kadeem Allen nor Parker Jackson-Cartwright were consistent enough to wrestle the job away from the other player. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, the position appears to be just as unsettled heading into this season. Miller smartly moved Allen off the ball, which leaves Jackson-Cartwright to fend off five-star freshman Kobi Simmons for the keys to what should be an explosive offense. Pairing a proven player with one of the best freshmen point guard prospects in the country is a luxury most coaches would love to have, but that argument doesn’t work for Miller when his fan base expect to compete for a national championship. Read the rest of this entry »

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Highlighted Quotes From Each Team at Pac-12 Media Day

Posted by Adam Butler on October 24th, 2016

Pac-12 Media Day, the annual effusing of excitement, promise and not caring for the media poll, was held on Friday at the conference’s network headquarters in San Francisco. There were no on-stage fireworks (there rarely are) but Allonzo Trier was replaced by Kadeem Allen as Arizona’s player representative the night before things got started. Sean Miller would not comment. There was Larry Scott’s now annual promotion of all things Pac-12 + China as well as no update on a DirecTV deal. Following each player/coach stage appearance, and wrapping the day up, was the conference’s top official, Bobby Dibler. Did you know that a Pac-12 referee (or rather a Western Officiating Consortium official) was a Naismith Men’s Basketball College Official of the Year? Quite an honor and something not held by a west coast official since 2011 or 2012 (according to Dibler). All-in-all, it was a reminder that basketball season is upon us, and that to this point, we’ve had nothing but our own opinions and perhaps some “insider” knowledge, to evaluate, predict, and feel about our favorite teams. If you’re a stat nerd, we don’t even have KenPom’s updated ratings (ed. note: KenPom released his ratings Sunday) or a Pac-12 preview from Hanner and Winn over at SI. But Media Day finally gave us some knowledge straight from the proverbial horse’s mouth! Let’s dive into some of the key quotes to come out of each team’s address:

Four years as leader of the nation's premier D1 West Coast athletic conference has earned Scott huge financial bonuses on top of an already sizable base salary (U.S. Presswire).

As the Pac-12 gets ready for the new season, so does commissioner Larry Scott, who faced some of the same questions at Media Day that has been a hot topic league-wide. (U.S. Presswire)

Washington State, Ernie Kent and Josh Hawkinson

“If there was ever a time that a team needed a summer tournament, it was us, an opportunity to go overseas.”

This was Ernie Kent’s opening line and I’d have to agree. The benefit of these trips was expressed many times over throughout the day but when you consider it’s Year 3 at Wazzu and the Cougars went 1-17 in conference last year – yeah – they could use the extra practice. The Cougs do have some seniors, experienced big men like Josh Hawkinson and Conor Clifford, but they are seniors who have won just 11 conference games in their three previous efforts. It could be another long one in Pullman. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Preseason News & Notes

Posted by Adam Butler on October 20th, 2016

Last Friday night, Arizona freshman Rawle Alkins set his coach on the block, handed him a basketball, asked him to adjust it just so, then leapt over Sean Miller for the dunk. That is how the 2017-18 Pac-12 basketball season begins. Not with letters to fan bases, sixth years of eligibility, early entries, foreign tours, or new hires — which isn’t necessarily to say that the Pac-12 hinges on Arizona’s efforts. By most accounts this is the Ducks’ conference to lose. But following a mostly disappointing end to the 2016 campaign (a really ugly performance in the Dance outside of the aforementioned Ducks, who themselves were bounced in embarrassing fashion), the imagery of fresh blood leaping over his historically serious coach in a fan-, if not recruit driven-, event, felt like the arrival of the season. Of course, if you haven’t watched it, here it is.

Sean Miller Is Looking To Break Through For His First Final Four Appearance (Ralph Freso, Getty Images)

Once again, Sean Miller and crew are expected to be right in the mix of things. (Ralph Freso/Getty Images)

The teams have been at for a couple weeks now, getting NCAA allotted hours and gym sessions since 42 days before their first game. Heck, your team might have even received a 2017 commitment in the past couple weeks. As Nike has slogan-ed, [program] basketball never stops. But at a certain point it most certainly begins. And that time is coming in hot. So while our teams practice, so must we, right? Consider this post our first practice, the proverbial Wooden sock drill. This post isn’t necessarily to preview what’s coming but to tease out – not unlike an open practice – forthcoming content, features, games, players, and so on. To help you prepare for the 2016-17 Pac-12 basketball experience. Because it’s coming. November 11 will be here soon and while it’s perhaps not the opening day romanticized in prose (that’s left to baseball), we’ve put together some Pac-12 basketball essentials. Here’s the warm-up, before we really hit the wind sprints with team-by-team previews, dives into conference newcomers and the questions burning up West Coast, high-major basketball. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Burning Questions: How Quickly Can Dillon Brooks Get Healthy?

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 19th, 2016

It seems unfair to say that Oregon’s chances at competing for a National Title depend solely on the long-term health of Dillon Brooks, especially considering the sheer amount of talent and depth Dana Altman has stockpiled in Eugene. But then again, Brooks is no ordinary role player either. The Toronto, Ontario, native emerged as one of the best two-way players in the Pac-12 last season, averaging 16.7 points per game (47.0% FG) to go with 5.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game. He started in all 38 of the Ducks’ games and was the linchpin to Altman’s successful attempt at a nearly position-less rotation. He played as the team’s nominal power forward, but his NBA size and athleticism allowed him to easily guard multiple positions and a match-up nightmare on the other end of the floor. Although he laid a seven-point egg in the Elite Eight against Oklahoma, his performances in the Round of 32 against St. Joseph’s and in the Sweet Sixteen against Duke positioned him as a leading candidate for Pac-12 Preseason Player of the Year this season.

How will Oregon adapt without Brooks? (Photo Credit: Craig Strobeck)

How will Oregon adapt without Brooks? (Photo Credit: Craig Strobeck)

When Brooks withdrew his name from the NBA Draft in late May, it instantly made the Ducks a trendy 2017 title contender. That outlook, however, changed considerably when Altman casually mentioned in a summer conference call that Brooks had been held out of workouts because of a “problem with his foot.” Brooks had foot surgery two weeks later, and it became increasingly clear by August that he was going to miss part of the regular season. That shouldn’t be a major issue, though, as the Ducks are one of the few teams in the country with sufficient talent and depth to replace a player of Brooks’ caliber. If Altman wants to play small, he can feel confident in the trio of Casey Benson, Dylan Ennis, and Tyler Dorsey. If he prefers a larger lineup, versatile big men Chris Boucher, Jordan Bell, and JuCo transfer Kavell Williams-Bigby lead one of the country’s best stables of post players. If the team’s recent exhibition games in Spain were any indication, Altman plans to mix and match until he finds a rotation he is comfortable with, a luxury most coaches in the conference surely envy. But that depth won’t change the fact that Oregon will still be missing its best player on both ends of the floor.

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Morning Five: 09.12.16 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on September 12th, 2016

morning5

  1. The biggest story in college basketball in the past week was Deandre Ayton‘s commitment to play at Arizona in 2017. Ayton, a 7′ center who is widely regarded as the top recruit in this year’s class, chose Arizona over Kansas and Kentucky in a move that surprised many recruiting insiders who expected him to go to Kansas. While Sean Miller has had a surprisingly good record at getting a top recruits to commit to play at Arizona recently (and getting them there is another matter) this is certainly his biggest pick-up yet. The big question now is whether Ayton, who is originally from the Bahamas, but moved around recently before apparently deciding to finish high school in Arizona, will be eligible (and want to play) in college in 2017 as there are questions as to whether he will be able to meet eligibility requirements.
  2. We have to hand it to Ben Howland as he continues to bring top talent into Starksville as he picked up a commitment from Nick Weatherspoon, a five-star point guard out of Mississippi, to play at Mississippi State in 2017. Weatherspoon picked Mississippi State over schools such as North Carolina, Louisville, and Ohio State. While landing an in-state recruit who has a brother already in the program might not seem like that big of a feat to some, it is a sign that Howland is making some progress with the program even if their record does not reflect it yet after just one season there.
  3. While Ben Howland’s first season at Mississippi State was underwhelming, he certainly has more room for error at this point than Richard Pitino has at Minnesota after going 8-23 last season including 2-16 in the Big Ten along with some well-publicized off-court issues for several of his players last year. That makes Isaiah Washington‘s commitment to play at Minnesota in 2017 even more important. Washington, a four-star point guard out of New York, who likely won’t have the immediate impact of some more highly touted prospects in the class, but could be a solid four-year player for the Gophers.
  4. One of the key points of contention surrounding the idea of amateurism in college athletics is the limitations on freedom of movement in transferring. In many cases when a student-athlete transfers, he/she has to sit out an academic year before being eligible to play. Now a lawyer is going to court representing two former student-athletes who say this restriction limited their ability to play college sports and consequently their college education. While many of the coaches in Jeff Goodman’s article seem willing to accept an easier out for student-athletes in special cases (like when the coach leaves the program), other coaches (not surprisingly ones who didn’t have their names mentioned in the article) take a less optimistic view with one even saying it would turn college basketball into “the wild, wild West”. We can understand the desire of coaches to keep the status quo particularly with their large salaries, but we tend to favor any change that would benefit student-athletes.
  5. Speaking of doing what is best for student-athletes, Goodman also had an interesting article on what coaches thought of the graduate transfer exemption (a rule we have mocked many times here) and what they do to prevent athletes from taking advantage of it. As in the other piece, the coaches most critical of it didn’t have the courage to put their names behind it, but several unnamed coaches admitted to essentially preventing a student-athlete from graduating early by slowing down that individual’s academic progress in order to eliminate the option of the graduate transfer. As Goodman says many of these transfers are for athletic purposes when they are supposed to be for academic purposes, but when you look at things from the bigger picture we would rather have 100 student-athletes transfer for non-academic reasons than prevent 1 student-athlete from transferring for academic reasons since this should be more about the student-athletes and their growth than supporting coaches to maintain the same job they have when it would be filled by someone just as qualified if they are fired (basically a zero-sum game unlike that of the student-athlete).
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An Early Look at Next Season’s Pac-12

Posted by Mike Lemaire on April 13th, 2016

It is never too early to predict how the Pac-12 will look heading into next season. Let’s not waste words and just get into a look at each team by projected order of finish.

1. Oregon

Assuming Brooks Returns, Oregon Will Be The Class of the PAC-12 Again. (Craig Strobeck)

Assuming Brooks Returns, Oregon Will Be The Class of the Pac-12 Again. (Craig Strobeck)

  • Who’s back: Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey, Casey Benson, Chris Boucher, Jordan Bell, Dylan Ennis
  • Who’s new: M.J. Cage, Keith Smith, Payton Pritchard
  • The skinny: Assuming Brooks returns to school and Ennis is eligible and healthy enough to play a full season, the Ducks will run almost two-deep at every position. Boucher’s extra year of eligibility is also huge because it again gives Oregon two of the best rim-protectors in the country while allowing Dana Altman to space the floor. Don’t sleep on the Ducks’ recruiting class, either; there aren’t any stars here, but Cage and Pritchard will both contribute early.

2. Arizona

  • Who’s back: Allonzo Trier, Ray Smith, Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Dusan Ristic, Kadeem Allen, Chance Comanche
  • Who’s new: Rawle Alkins, Kobi Simmons, Lauri Markkanen
  • The skinny: Simmons is the key here. If the point guard is as good as everyone seems to think he is, the Wildcats have the athletes elsewhere to be above-average offensively and elite defensively. Trier could be a Pac-12 Player of the Year contender and some believe that Smith, now healthy after missing all of last season, is the better player in that recruiting class. Sean Miller has reportedly been sniffing around the graduate transfer market as well — if the Wildcats can land an extra big man, that would help shore up a frontcourt that right now consists of Ristic and maybe Comanche.

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Pac-12 Postseason Odds and Ends

Posted by Mike Lemaire on April 1st, 2016

The college basketball season isn’t quite over yet but the page has already turned for the Pac-12. Once Oregon was rudely bounced from the tournament by Oklahoma last weekend, it was time for the always exciting period when coaches are hired and fired, players declare for the NBA Draft, and some others decide on a change of scenery. The Pac-12 has been full of these changes in the past two weeks — from Stanford hiring a new coach to Washington’s precocious freshmen hiring agents to a multitude of players transferring — there’s been a lot of action.

Let’s break down some of the moves that have already been announced and what they mean for their respective teams.

Jerod Haase Hired by Stanford

Jerod Haase Has Won A Lot In C-USA But Can He Do It In The PAC-12 Too?

Stanford Coach Jerod Haase Has Won A Lot In C-USA But Can He Do It In The PAC-12 Too?

Stanford isn’t the can’t-miss job that many think it is, but it still feels like the Cardinal reached in its replacement of Johnny Dawkins. Haase came up as an assistant to Roy Williams and made headlines when his team at UAB beat Iowa State last season, but he has only been to the NCAA Tournament once and his three seasons of 20+ wins are as much a result of Conference USA being awful as his coaching prowess. Furthermore, advanced statistics have not been impressed with the Blazers at all despite their several-year win totals. The former Cal graduate and Bay Area native will bring energy and excitement to the Stanford program, but the jury is out on whether he can coach at this level.

Dejounte Murray and Marquese Chriss Declare for NBA Draft

It isn’t surprising that Murray and Chriss have decided to test the waters after excellent freshman seasons at Washington. It also wouldn’t have been surprising if they had decided to stay in the draft after gathering enough information. What is surprising is that both signed with agents almost immediately, effectively ending their college careers before March was even finished. Both players have a shot at at the lottery, which will mean that their decisions are probably good ones. But Washington could have been poised for a special season next year with the duo back in Seattle. Now, Lorenzo Romar’s rebuilding project looks to be moving a bit slower now.

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