Your Way-Too-Early 2014-15 Pac-12 Power Rankings

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on April 9th, 2014

Another season in the books; another Pac-12 disappointment. We’ve got plenty of time to look back on the 2013-14 season, but it is onward and upward from here as we briefly look ahead to next year. We’re still not entirely sure exactly which of the players we watched this year will move on to greener pastures, and there are sure to be some surprise transfers (both incoming and outgoing) ahead of us, but in the days after the national championship, it is time to start dreaming about the 2015 NCAA Tournament. Below are our way-too-early Pac-12 power rankings.

Arizona's Back In The Familiar Spot of A 1-Seed And An NCAA Favorite (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

McConnell, Hollis-Jefferson, and Tarczewski, Among Others, Make Arizona The Pac-12 Favorite Again (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

  1. Arizona – Sure, Aaron Gordon’s stay in Tucson was brief. And yeah, Pac-12 Player of the Year Nick Johnson may join him in the NBA. But barring some surprises, five of the following six players are going to be comprising Sean Miller’s starting lineup next season: T.J. McConnell, Gabe York, Stanley Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Brandon Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski. Goodness gracious sakes alive, that is a lot of talent. And, the West Regional will not be held in Anaheim next season, so let’s go ahead and pencil Miller and his Wildcats into his first-ever Final Four.
  2. Stanford – Johnny Dawkins and company broke through this year with their first NCAA Tournament appearance under the current regime. And while some important players move on, a returning nucleus of combo guard Chasson Randle, wing Anthony Brown and big man Stefan Nastic is solid. Throw in a recruiting class with four different four-star recruits (as ranked by ESPN) and a bevy of talented returning youngsters and we’ll make the Cardinal the best bet in the league to challenge the Wildcats. Read the rest of this entry »
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Previewing #8 Colorado vs. #9 Pittsburgh

Posted by Matt Patton & Andrew Murawa on March 20th, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

Pittsburgh will take on Colorado in Orlando at 1:40 PM ET Thursday afternoon on TBS. RTC correspondents Matt Patton and Andrew Murawa sat down and conducted a quick Q&A about the game featuring ACC vs. Pac-12 squads.

Without Spencer Dinwiddie, Colorado seems vulnerable especially on offense. (credit: David Zalubowski, AP Photo)

Without Spencer Dinwiddie, Colorado seems vulnerable, especially on offense. (David Zalubowski, AP Photo)

Matt: Obviously Colorado took a step backwards when it lost Spencer Dinwiddie in January. How have the Buffaloes replaced his offensive production, and is their seed inflated because of what they did with Dinwiddie earlier in the season?

Andrew: The biggest adjustment that Colorado has made to adjust following the Dinwiddie injury was to slide junior Askia Booker – previously known as an inveterate gunner – over to the point guard slot. Since that time, the number of shots per game out of Booker hasn’t changed much (only twice in the 17 games since the Dinwiddie injury has Booker hoisted fewer than 10 field goal attempts), but the quality of those shots has improved and it has been balanced by an obvious interest in getting his teammates involved. Other guys like Xavier Talton and Jaron Hopkins have seen their minutes and production increase as well, but both have been fairly inconsistent. All of this leads to the fact that while it has been admirable how the Buffaloes have held it together after the loss of their floor general, this team isn’t much of a threat to surprise in the NCAA Tournament, and the #8 seed is a generous appraisal of the team that will take the floor on Thursday. Read the rest of this entry »

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Three Thoughts on UCLA’s Win Over Colorado

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 14th, 2014

Here are three thoughts from UCLA’s convincing win last night over Colorado at Pauley Pavilion.

  1. Kyle Anderson’s 22 points, 11 assists and seven boards; Bryce Alford’s second-half explosion behind a perfect four-of-four from deep; Jordan Adams and Norman Powell out-physicalling Colorado defenders around the paint on the way to a combined 27 points, ten boards, eight assists and five steals: these were the flashy performances, the things that probably caught the most eyeballs. Did anyone ever realize any UCLA frontcourt players showed up to this game? Did anyone notice the Wear twins and Tony Parker combine for 26 points and 14 boards (not to mention four blocks)? Did anyone realize that between the three of them, they made 12 of their 14 field goal attempts and knocked in a couple of threes on the way to a 92.9 eFG%? Well, they did. And with guys like Anderson and Adams and Powell being highly consistent offensive performers around the perimeter and with Alford and fellow freshman Zach LaVine capable of offensive explosions on a regular basis, if the Bruins can get that type of performance from their frontcourt in any way, they are going to be awful hard to beat. How hard? Let’s put it this way: UCLA has not lost a game this season when the trio of the Wears and Parker have combined for at least either 21 points or 13 rebounds. That’s not a high bar to meet. You figure the UCLA wings and guards are going to get theirs; if Steve Alford can continue to just cobble together a solid combined performance out of his trio of bigs, this team is a serious sleeper come March.

    Kyle Anderson's Impact Is Flashier, But The UCLA Frontcourt May Be As Important For thei Team's Long-Term Hopes

    Kyle Anderson’s Impact Is Flashier, But The UCLA Frontcourt May Be As Important For thei Team’s Long-Term Hopes

  2. Kyle Anderson has gotten, and deserved, a lot of press this season for his versatile game. You know about his great passing ability (he hands out assists on better than 35% of his teammates buckets when he’s on the court). You know he’s a floor general for a flashy offensive team. You may not realize he’s shooting 52.4% from three on the year, but you probably have recognized that his perimeter jumper is vastly improved. You know he uses his 6’9” frame and long arms to rebound at high rates on both ends of the court; in fact he’s particularly good on the defensive end (his 24.5 DR% is in the top 50 in the nation). But that last point, his defensive rebounding, really only barely begins to scratch the surface of what he’s doing on the defensive end. The scouting report on Anderson has long been that he’s an amazing offensive talent, but that he can’t guard. And sure, if you try to make him check Jahii Carson or Chasson Randle, he’s going to struggle with their quickness over the course of a game. But given that he is regularly checking the opponent’s forwards, he’s actually turned into a really good defender. Thursday night, he was on Colorado’s Xavier Johnson for the bulk of his 36 minutes of action. In the first half, Johnson was largely absent on his way to four points. Then in the second half, Johnson’s back-to-back buckets on either side of the under-eight media timeout came when Anderson was getting a blow. Anderson used his length and growing stretch to deny Johnson the ball repeatedly. And then when he did get the ball, he used that length to bother Johnson into either bad shots or giving the ball back up. While Anderson is certainly not the type of defender than can guard the smaller and quicker point guards, that needn’t be held as a strike against him, as he is solid enough when he gets switched onto those guys on occasion and if above-average when defending a three or a less physical four. Read the rest of this entry »
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Pac-12 Weekend Round-Up: Arizona, Justin Cobbs, Hallice Cooke and More…

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 3rd, 2014

What a great sports weekend, am I right? There were 10 Pac-12 basketball games since last Wednesday and eight of them were decided by two possessions or fewer. The #1 team in the nation went down. Outside of the Pac-12, the #2 team survived by the skin of its teeth in overtime. Wichita State and San Diego State continued highly successful (and improbable) seasons. I’m sure there were even some sporting events that didn’t involve basketball, too. Maybe. But before we let the weekend get behind us, let’s spend some time to look back at several of the important things we learned in this week of Pac-12 basketball. Because if you hold a blink a beat too long, the next time you open your eyes, we’re going to be in the middle of conference tournaments. Yes, this season is getting away from us. It’s now February, and every conference school has finished half of its conference slate. And despite all that, we’ve still got more questions than ever.

Brandon Ashley Is Done For the Year, But Arizona Still Has Plenty Of Talent (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

Brandon Ashley Is Done For the Year, But Arizona Still Has Plenty Of Talent (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

  • First, Arizona. The Wildcats took their first loss on Saturday night to Cal (and in the process assured that the 1972-73 UCLA squad will remain the last team to go through conference play without a loss), then took an even worse loss on Sunday when it was confirmed that sophomore power forward Brandon Ashley is done for the season with a broken foot. That doesn’t make things any rosier for the Wildcats’ long-term outlook, but there were more than a handful of things from Saturday night’s game that should give Arizona fans plenty of hope. First, as much as junior point guard T.J. McConnell has earned props for his ability to run an offense, contribute defensively and just intangible his way into Arizona fans’ hearts, he hadn’t displayed much of an ability to help out by putting the ball through the hoop. But in a couple of close recent games, he averaged 12 points per night and showed a willingness to get his own when it was appropriate. Hopefully fans across the nation are starting to see just how good this guy is. He’s like Aaron Craft-lite with perhaps a bit more offense. Read the rest of this entry »
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Pac-12 Thoughts: On Jahii Carson, Colorado Without Dinwiddie and Richard Solomon…

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 20th, 2014

Here are some notes from around the Pac-12, coming out of another busy weekend.

Jahii Carson (Jeff Gross, Getty Images)

Jahii Carson is Slumping Right Now (Jeff Gross, Getty Images)

Arizona State is off to a 2-3 start in conference play. It is not ideal, but then again, the Sun Devils have played three road games and two at home, so that record is not terrible. And given that Herb Sendek’s team probably plays the toughest opponents in the unbalanced schedule (along with traveling partner Arizona, Arizona State is the lucky team that only gets to play Washington, Washington State and USC once), they’ll probably be just fine if they get to 9-9 in conference play, because that means they’ll have some quality wins under their belt. But. All of that being said, the elephant in the room right now is Jahii Carson, who is definitely slumping. He hasn’t hit better than 50 percent from the field in a game in over a month. He’s turning the ball over; he’s generally not making his teammates better; and most disturbingly, he’s not scoring and seemingly not as explosive. We pointed to these trends before, but it is clear that as Carson goes, so go the Sun Devils. Need proof? Check out the numbers below:

carsonstats2Need an explanation? Let’s not beat around the bush. Carson has been awful in Arizona State’s five losses. And Carson is not an awful player; in fact he’s very, very good. In order for the Sun Devils to take the next step, however, and get into the NCAA Tournament, Carson needs to up his game and be the type of consistent performer he was as a freshman. Carson toyed around with the idea of leaving for the NBA Draft last season, but he returned to Tempe with the hope of tightening up his jumper and proving his NBA credentials. Unfortunately for his prospects and team, a sophomore slump has left more questions than answers.

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Spencer Dinwiddie’s Injury Totally Sucks: How Colorado Can Save Its Season

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on January 15th, 2014

Ever since Spencer Dinwiddie went down in a heap late in the first half Sunday afternoon and had to be carried by teammates from the floor; ever since we saw the normally stoic veteran guard team leader in tears; ever since head coach Tad Boyle confirmed our instinct to be very concerned by saying this was probably “not good”; we’ve all been careful to avoid speculation. We’ve seen before when injuries looked real bad at the time, but then upon closer inspection were not quite as horrible as feared. Still, in the back of our minds lingered three dreaded letters that we tried not to think, much less say, or write. Unfortunately on Monday Colorado’s worst fears were confirmed with those three letters: ACL. Done for the year. Surgery coming soon. Grueling minutes and hours and days and weeks and months of rehabilitation ahead. Unkind. Unfair. And plenty of well-deserved other curses that you’ll just have to imagine.

Spencer Dinwiddie's ACL Injury Puts Him Out For The Season (Elaine Thompson, AP Photo)

Spencer Dinwiddie’s ACL Injury Puts Him Out For The Season (Elaine Thompson, AP Photo)

This sucks, to use a technical term. It sucks when it happens to anyone. It sucks when it happens to some scrub down at the local gym having fun on the weekend. It sucks when it happens to Jernard Jarreau two minutes into the season. It sucks when it happens to Andy Brown four times before the young man is even 23 years old. And it sucks when it happens to a guy like Dinwiddie at the top of his game, a key player that his Colorado team has come to rely on, a guy who seemed to have an NBA future waiting as early as next season. That NBA future still awaits, as Dinwiddie is a gifted, skilled, hard-working and intelligent athlete who will no doubt put in the requisite blood, sweat and tears to come back from this fate, but damn, this still sucks.

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Pac-12 Wednesday Night Round-Up: Colorado and Washington Squeak By

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on January 9th, 2014

Colorado 71, Washington State 70 (OT)

After last weekend where the Cougars looked anemic offensively and the Buffaloes looked every bit like their RTC #17 ranking, the expectation was certainly that this wouldn’t be a game much worth keeping an eye on. Add in the fact that at opening tip, Washington State’s “crowd” in their game in Spokane could be counted by hand and there was little reason to suspect that the Cougars had a chance. Forty-five minutes later, the Buffaloes were limping out of Spokane Arena with a much tougher win than anyone should have expected. While Washington State was shorthanded without junior gurd DaVonte Lacy, Colorado was also playing without their veteran point guard, Spencer Dinwiddie. Huh? What’s that? He played, you say? He played 38 minutes? Well, what do you know? The box score backs up such an assertion, although the film may test that story.

Spencer Dinwiddie Was Uncharacteristically Silent For the Buffaloes Against Washington State (David Zalubowski, AP Photo)

Spencer Dinwiddie Was Uncharacteristically Silent For the Buffaloes Against Washington State (David Zalubowski, AP Photo)

In fact, Dinwiddie did play, took five shots from the field (all after the halftime break), scored six points and added a variety of other plays here and there, but was largely absent, an occurrence that likely would have cost his team a game had the opponent been just about any other conference team other than a short-handed WSU team. Backcourt partner Askia Booker was very active, conversely, but made most of his impact from the free-throw line, scoring 13 of his 18 points from the charity stripe while going just two-of-12 from the field. For what it’s worth, Booker’s free throw contributions summed up the game for Colorado, as they enjoyed a whopping 38-3 advantage in free throw attempts in the game. Still, Tad Boyle wound up needing Josh Scott to go nuts late in order to come away with the tough win; the sophomore big man had eight points (on four-of-four shooting), four boards (two on the offensive end) and a blocked shot in the final two minutes of regulation plus the overtime period.

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College Basketball is Alive and Well Out West

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 7th, 2014

We have heard plenty about the perceived “East Coast bias” with respect to media coverage of American sport, but when it comes to recent college basketball history, let’s face facts: The Western half of the United States hasn’t done a whole lot for us. No team situated west of Kansas has reached the Final Four since UCLA did it in 2008, and Arizona and Oregon are the only Western programs to even reach a Sweet Sixteen in the last two seasons (both did so last March). The Pac-12, undoubtedly the West’s signature conference, has suffered through a historically depressed string of seasons, with the nadir coming in 2012, when the national polls were “Pac-free” from February on and the league quite nearly went without an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. But the Pac-12 – and much of the rest of the West – is back. Arizona’s steady, month-long reign atop the polls may be the most glaring example of the western resurgence, but a pair of Sunday victories — authored by San Diego State and Colorado – serves notice that the Wildcats may not be the only elite team along the left coast.

San Diego State Seized One Of The Signature Victories Of The Season, And Steve Fisher's Tenure, Sunday At Allen Fieldhouse

San Diego State Seized One Of The Signature Victories Of The Season, And Steve Fisher’s Tenure, Sunday at Allen Fieldhouse

The loudest clamor for respect undoubtedly came from Lawrence, where Steve Fisher’s Aztecs shocked Kansas (and just about everybody else across the country) in ending the Jayhawks’ 68-game home winning streak over non-conference opponents. The final result alone inspires awe, but even more impressive was how San Diego State achieved that end. The Aztecs were unfazed by the bright lights and raucous energy of Allen Fieldhouse; they led for every second of the final 32 minutes of the game. The trademarks of the program that Steve Fisher has built – toughness and physicality on both ends of the floor – were on full display, as the Aztecs snatched 51 rebounds (12 more than the Jayhawks) and harassed Kansas into a 17-of-57 effort from the field.

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Takeaways From the Pac-12′s Weekend Games

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on January 7th, 2014

It was a busy Pac-12 weekend around the conference. Here are some thoughts on each of the weekend’s five games.

Colorado 100, Oregon 91

  • It was a game that largely lived up to the hype, with both teams looking good for long stretches. But over the last 10 minutes of the game, it was – get this – Colorado’s guard play that was the deciding factor in the game. It was supposed to be the undefeated Ducks with the bevy of play-making guards that had the advantage on the perimeter, while the Buffaloes were going to need to take advantage of a weak Oregon frontcourt in order to win this game at home. Instead, over the final quarter of the game, Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie combined for 25 of Colorado’s 39 points, sophomore guard Xavier Talton chipped in six more, and Jaron Hopkins was the guy to get everything started with a three off a Dinwiddie dime. All told, the five Colorado guards outscored Oregon’s by a total of 66-52.

    Askia Booker, Colorado

    Big Game Askia? Who Knew? (Patrick Ghidossi, BuffaloSportsNews)

  • Meanwhile up front the Ducks were just okay against that tough Colorado frontcourt. On the offensive end, they were great, grabbing better than 41 percent of their own misses and getting a terrific 24-point performance out of Mike Moser. But the bigger concern is their ability to defend on the interior, and here they were exposed a bit, allowing Colorado to grab better than 46 percent of their misses, leading to lots of easy putbacks for the Buffs. Oregon’s guards are going to keep them in a lot of games, but they need to clean up their frontcourt issues in order to reach their potential.
  • For some of the surprises in this game, the most expected angle proved completely true: Colorado is going to be really, really tough at home. With a strong seven-man rotation plus a couple other guys ready to provide spot minutes, the Buffs are deep, athletic, big, strong and – most importantly – good. And the Coors Events Center is a great homecourt advatange. KenPom.com has the Buffs expected to win their next six games at home by an average of just under 10 points per game, but that only takes us to February 22 when they’ll host Arizona in their last home game of the season. Right now that KenPom projection is Arizona, 68-65, but in what could be Dinwiddie’s final home game, the early inclination is to lean Buffs. Not that trying to project a game seven weeks out is good practice.

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Pac-12 Team-By-Team Non-Conference Wrap-Up

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on January 2nd, 2014

It’s the unofficial (and un-mathematically correct) halfway point of the college basketball regular season. Non-conference play is, for the most part, in the past, and we’re getting ready to jump right into conference play with a full slate of Pac-12 games beginning today. So, as we look back at what we’ve learned so far and look ahead at what we think might happen from here until we all head to Las Vegas in early March, today we’re going to take a look at what each team has done and pin some rough odds on their chances of making the NCAA Tournament. Teams are ranked below in order of how impressive their resume is to this point.

Following A Successful Non-Conference Slate, The Wildcats Have Put Themselves In A Good Position To Earn A Good NCAA Seed (Casey Sapio, USA Today Sports)

Following A Successful Non-Conference Slate, The Wildcats Have Put Themselves In A Good Position To Earn A Good NCAA Seed (Casey Sapio/USA Today Sports)

  • Arizona (13-0, RPI: 11, Best Wins: at Michigan, neutral site vs. Duke, at San Diego State) – The Wildcats may be third in the Pac-12 in RPI at this point, but they’re #1 in the polls and deservedly so. They’ve challenged themselves with a tough non-conference slate featuring a pair of tough true road games, a pair of good neutral-site NIT Tip-Off wins, and some solid visitors to the McKale Center. But even more important than these accomplishments is how good they’ve looked doing it — displaying one of the nation’s best defenses and an offense that still has plenty of upside for a young team that should be much improved by March. At this point, it is hard to imagine a scenario where the Wildcats are left on the outside looking in come Selection Sunday. Odds of Making NCAA Tournament: 99.9%

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Ranking the 37 Pac-12 Basketball Uniforms: Part II

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on December 25th, 2013

After a month and a half of basketball, the Pac-12 teams have debuted 37 different uniforms. Here we rank them in a three-part series, starting from the bottom and working our way up. Today, #24 to #13. To view part one, click here

24. USC’s Golds

Roschon Prince  usc

Roschon Prince and USC’s Gold Uniforms

I like gold. Lots of people like gold. It is shiny and it looks good underneath the cardinal lettering. Like I have mentioned before with the Trojans, the curved team name is appealing too.

23. Utah’s BlacksThe black and red combination here is quite solid, and the block letters spelling out “UTAH” look great. This would have been rated higher, but the number is a bit too large and distracting.

22. Colorado’s WhitesIf you read the first installment of this series, you know that I don’t have a great affinity to white uniforms. But something about the black lettering, numbers, and font on this one just makes it work.

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Previewing Saturday’s Oklahoma State vs. Colorado Match-up

Posted by Brian Goodman & Andrew Murawa on December 21st, 2013

There are a lot of interesting non-conference battles around the country this weekend prior to a holiday break for most schools. Big 12 correspondent Brian Goodman (@bsgoodman) and Pac-12 writer Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) teamed up to offer this breakdown of one of them: Colorado vs. Oklahoma State in Las Vegas, Saturday 8:30 PM PST on ESPN2.< Oklahoma State will win if… It capitalizes on its huge advantage offensively and stays out of foul trouble. We haven’t heard a ton about Oklahoma State lately because they haven’t had a marquee match-up since Thanksgiving weekend, but the offense has continued to cruise. Marcus Smart, Markel Brown and Phil Forte are doing their thing. On top of that, Le’Bryan Nash has bought in and been a key contributor as of late, averaging 17.3 points per game over his last three contests. This isn’t a good match-up for Colorado because the skill at which they excel the most, defensive rebounding, has a strong chance of being neutralized by one of the best scoring attacks in the country. There aren’t many areas where the Buffaloes will have an edge, but they do get to the line often. Michael Cobbins will need to keep up-and-coming sophomore Josh Scott in check because he’s a very good ball-handler and along with Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie, can make Oklahoma State pay from the stripe.

Marcus Smart Will Be A Priority On Both Ends of The Court for Both Teams Saturday Night (AP Photo).

Marcus Smart Will Be A Priority On Both Ends of The Court for Both Teams Saturday Night (AP Photo).

Colorado will win if… It takes lessons from what Memphis did to Oklahoma State, and it gets a little bit of luck. Clearly, the game plan against Smart all season has been to keep him out of the lane as much as possible and make him shoot jumpers. If Smart can get into the paint, he is deadly — not only in creating shots for himself, but in creating shots for his teammates. If you can keep him shooting jumpers, not only is he still a work in progress there, but he is very much trying to prove that such progress has been made. In his first appearance against Memphis, his jumper was in full effect, as he knocked down five threes in a dominant performance. In the second go-round, he was 0-for-5 from deep and limped home to a 12-point performance. In other words, keep Smart shooting jumpers and trust your scouting report that they largely don’t go in. While the Buffaloes are primarily going to plan man defense, if Tad Boyle thinks a zone will give his guys a better chance at accomplishing that, he’ll give it a try. The Cowboys are still good enough defensively to cause problems for the Buffs even without Smart scoring prolifically, but getting OSU’s best player out of his comfort zone will go a long way towards giving CU a chance.

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