Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West conferences.
A Look Back
After an up-and-down start to the season, this past week was more or less just down. The ten Pac-10 member institutions posted a combined 11-11 record on the week and the majority of those wins were against teams that were simply overmatched, schools like Sacramento State, Houston Baptist and something called Utah Valley State.
As for the losses, in the conference’s big tests of the week, aside from Cal’s Old Spice first round victory over Temple, the results came back negative. Yes, Arizona looked pretty good in their eight-point loss against #4 Kansas, but it was still a loss, as was UCLA’s four-point loss in the NIT consolation game against VCU. Same for Arizona State’s nine-point loss to St. John’s in the Great Alaskan Shootout final, and two-thirds of Stanford’s 76 Classic debacle, right up until they ran up against a BCS conference school in DePaul that was in worse shape than they were. The fact is, after just about three weeks of the college basketball season, the Pac-10 schedules are littered with near-misses and embarrassments, and as we welcome December, only Washington State maintains an unblemished record on the season. However, they too have a big exam coming up with a visit from Kansas State in the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series on Friday night.
Team of the Week
Washington State – The Cougars take down this award almost by default, joining only Washington as the two Pac-10 teams who escaped this week unscathed. The most impressive win for Ken Bone’s team this week was an 11-point victory at Fresno State on Friday, as junior college transfer Faisal Aden continued his early season tear, racking up 28 points on six threes while adding three assists. WSU turned the game around with a 14-0 run in the second half that flipped a seven-point deficit upside down. The Cougs followed that up with an 84-36 thrashing of Sacramento State on Tuesday, sparked by a 27-0 run to start the game, holding their opponent scoreless until the 10-minute mark of the first half. While there isn’t a great win on the Washington State resume yet, they’ve taken care of business to this point, which is more than some other teams around the conference can say.
Player of the Week
Derrick Williams (Sophomore), Arizona – Williams continued his amazing start to the season this week, averaging 24.5 points per contest and throwing in five three-pointers. In the Wildcats’ loss to Kansas in the Las Vegas Invitational, Williams kept Zona in the game with 27 points and eight rebounds before fouling out with under three minutes remaining. So far on the season, Williams has put up 20.5 points and 7.7 rebounds a night in a mere 24 minutes per game, while hitting an excellent 67.1% from the field and an amazing 80% from three (albeit on just ten attempts). While he’s unlikely to keep up that pace over the course of the season, he has shown that he used the offseason to improve his game. Last year he wasn’t much of a threat outside of the key, but he’s improved his jumper and extended his range out to the arc, he’s added quickness and he’s even stronger than he already was, a scary proposition for teams around the Pac-10 trying to figure out an answer for the talented sophomore.
Newcomer of the Week
C.J. Wilcox (Freshman), Washington – It would be easy enough to reprise the selection of Faisal Aden here, as his torrid early pace has not slowed a bit, but in the interest of a little variety, we’ll go with Wilcox, who caught fire in the sole Huskies game of the week with six three-pointers (in eight attempts) on the way to a career-high in both points (20) and minutes (23) as the Huskies ran away from Long Beach State. Wilcox has seen his minutes fluctuate early in his career, but his three-point shooting has been nothing less than stellar, with 17 makes in his first 29 attempts, good for a 58.6 percentage – just what the Huskies needed, another potent offensive weapon.
Game of the Week
Kansas 87, Arizona 79 – For the second consecutive week, we’re dropping a Pac-10 loss in the Game of the Week section, a pretty good summation of how the season is going thus far for the Pac-10 (Utah Valley State?). Much like last week’s winner here, the Kentucky/Washington matchup in Maui, this game was a matchup of one of the top two teams in the conference against one the premier programs in the country, and while the Wildcats looked impressive in this game, the end result in still a loss. Arizona had to scrape back from a big early deficit (at 31-15, the game looked on the verge of blowout territory), but three straight three-pointers by junior Kyle Fogg, who was coming off the bench for disciplinary reasons, jumpstarted the Zona offense and he and Derrick Williams kept the ‘Cats close until late in the second half. But after Williams fouled out in the game’s closing finish, Sean Miller’s club was unable to finish the deal, yet another Pac-10 case of close, but no cigar.
Game of the Upcoming Week
Gonzaga @ Washington State, 12/8, 8:00 PM PST, FSN – The Cougars have a big week ahead of them, with both Kansas State and Gonzaga visiting the Palouse this week. We’ll take the Zag game as the game of the week, as not only is it a slightly more winnable game for the conference (baby steps, Pac-10, baby steps), but it is also an excellent local rivalry, the battle of eastern Washington. Juniors Faisal Aden and Klay Thompson have been on fire in the early going for WSU, but this week they’ll face a significantly higher level of competition than in their first five games. Luckily, sophomore point guard Reggie Moore is due back from his wrist injury, although he’ll wear a splint on his wrist and will need some adjustment time, especially with Jacob Pullen his matchup on his first night back. Also, DeAngelo Casto is expected back this week after missing the last two Cougar games with a right foot injury, meaning WSU will be healthy (or at least marginally healthy) for the first time all season.
1. Washington (4-2): The Huskies took things a little bit easy this week after returning from their Maui trip, with just a visit from Long Beach State for the week, and they came out ready to play. Seven players scored in double figures and the team posted a stellar 71.6% effective field goal percentage, with C.J. Wilcox, Abdul Gaddy, Darnell Gant and Justin Holiday going 12-14 from behind the arc between them. However, junior guard Isaiah Thomas continues to struggle with his shot, as he missed all six of his attempts from long range. Head coach Lorenzo Romar made a little switch in his starting lineup, sliding junior center Aziz N’Diaye into the starting lineup and bumping senior Matthew Bryan-Amaning to the pine. Bryan-Amaning responded with a perfect 7-7 night from the field for 14 points, and he added five rebounds and four blocks, while N’Diaye was ineffective.
Looking ahead: A couple home games for the Huskies, as they welcome in Texas Tech as part of the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series on Saturday, then host Portland on Monday.
2. Arizona (6-1): The big story of the week was the Wildcats’ matchup with Kansas in the Las Vegas Invitational, which we detailed above in our game of the week section, but prior to that the Cats ripped through Santa Clara on their way to a 23-point victory, and following that they added a 27-point win over Rice, meaning Zona has won their six non-Kansas games by an average of 30 points. Granted, beating up on the “little sisters of the poor” (thanks, Gordon Gee) is not exactly all that much to write home about, but it certainly beats losing to, you know, Utah Valley State or something. While Derrick Williams (see our Player of the Week section) has been nothing short of amazing, Sean Miller has yet to settle into a rotation yet, with plenty of players getting time and posting widely divergent lines as a result. One thing seems clear though in the early going, the point guard position is not yet settled in Tucson. Starter Momo Jones has shown an inability to both get his own points and distribute the ball in the same game, as the only three times he has handed out more than three assists, he has failed to score in double figures. Freshman Jordin Mayes has gotten looks in relief of Jones, but he is still a work in progress, and the best creator for the Wildcats has been off-guard Kyle Fogg, the only player on the squad to average more than three assists per game. That weakness could be a killer come conference play.
Looking ahead: Arizona hosts Oklahoma and CS Fullerton, two games that the Cats should win with relative ease.
3. Washington State (5-0): The lone undefeated Pac-10 team, and the winner of this week’s Pac-10 Team of the Week, has been on fire from the field in the early-going. They rank fourth in the nation with an effective field goal percentage of 60.6% and they are second in the nation with a two-point field goal percentage of 65.2%. While those numbers are drastically improved from last season’s totals, the real improvement for the Cougars has come at the other end of the court. In 2010, they were 155th in the nation in defensive efficiency but thus far this season rank #40. Now, these numbers should be taken with just a grain or two of salt, since last year at this time, the Cougars were 6-0 heading into matchups with Gonzaga and Kansas State, where they began to get exposed a bit, and thus far this season, their most difficult opponent has been Portland, but nevertheless, the focus that Ken Bone and his staff have put on the defensive end is evident and that work should pay off come conference play.
Looking ahead: Last year, the Cougs played at Gonzaga on 12/2 and at Kansas State on 12/5. This year, it’s Kansas State on 12/3 and Gonzaga on 12/8, and the games are at home instead of away, but the importance of these two games remains the same. Last year it was a five-point loss in Spokane and a 15-point loss in Manhattan, and if the Cougs really have improved upon last season, we’ll see it this week.
4. UCLA (3-2): The sole Bruin game of the week was a disappointing loss to Virginia Commonwealth in an NIT consolation game that was anything but consoling to fans in Westwood. While UCLA owned the glass with a 41-26 rebounding margin, VCU got to the line 26 times compared to just 12 free throw attempts for UCLA — worse yet, 21 Bruin turnovers, including five each by their biggest offensive playmakers, junior point guard Lazeric Jones and sophomore forward Tyler Honeycutt. Turnovers have been a problem for Honeycutt all season long, as he has had four or more turnovers in four of UCLA five games. A bright spot for Ben Howland’s club was the play of junior Malcolm Lee, who had 23 points and five threes and looks to be all the way back from his early ankle injury.
Looking ahead: One big test for the Bruins and one relative breather, as UCLA heads to Lawrence tonight for a battle with Kansas before returning home to face Montana in Pauley Pavilion on Sunday.
5. Cal (4-2): It shows a lot about the strength and depth (or lack thereof) of the Pac-10 this season that after a week in which the Golden Bears scored a whopping five points in a half against Notre Dame and then followed that up with by comparison a blistering 15-point second half against Boston College, they maintain their ranking as the fifth best team in the conference. The fact is, while Mike Montgomery’s team looked awful in the final two games of the Old Spice Classic, they did come away with an opening round win over a Temple team that had been ranked. Nevertheless, it is clear that the Bears have a ways to go on the offensive end, although their five-man freshman class does have some pieces, notably guards Allen Crabbe and Gary Franklin. Franklin, in particular, has struggled from the field, hitting less than 30% of his shots in the first five games, but he did rebound to score a team-high 13 points in Cal’s Wednesday night win over UC Davis. Montgomery will need those freshman guards to settle down and become relatively consistent scoring threats prior to conference play for this Golden Bear team to be of importance in the Pac-10 race.
Looking ahead: Cal travels to Iowa State for a winnable Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood game, then gets San Diego State at home next Wednesday night. Given the difference between the way the Bears have played in Haas Pavilion and elsewhere, that SDSU game may actually be the more winnable of the two.
6. Arizona State (3-2): The Sun Devils brought a little warmth to the Great Alaskan Shootout this week, going 2-1 with a big win over Houston Baptist, a squeaker over Weber State and a come-from-ahead loss against an average St. John’s team in the final. In most conferences, that would spell a drop in the power rankings, but not this one. While the outcome had to be a disappointment for Herb Sendek and his team, there were some bright spots. Sophomore wing Trent Lockett continued to be the most impressive Sun Devil, averaging 17.3 points and seven rebounds per game in Alaska, while going for a career-high 24 points in the win against Weber, including the game winner with 8.4 seconds left. Senior Ty Abbott showed up in the final for ASU, knocking down six threes on the way to 22 points in the game, the senior trio of Abbott, Jamelle McMillan and Rihards Kuksiks are still only shooting 37.8% from the field between them. While Lockett has been a revelation, he’ll need those seniors to step up for the Sun Devils to have an upper-division Pac-10 finish.
Looking ahead: A Brutal week for the Sun Devils, as they head to Waco for a Big 12/Pac-10 matchup with Baylor, then back home to host Richmond. A split this week is brilliant for Sendek and company, with Richmond being the more likely conquest, although still not a safe bet.
7. Stanford (4-2): Considering the Cardinal went to Anaheim for the 76 Classic with an undefeated record, and came away from a fairly unintimidating field with only a win over DePaul to show for their troubles, Thanksgiving weekend was a disaster. Junior guard Jeremy Green struggled all weekend, making just 18 of his 47 attempts from the field and handing out just four assists in 97 minutes of play, then had insult added to injury when he collapsed after the win over DePaul due to exhaustion after dealing with illness all weekend. The Stanford freshman class was predictably inconsistent, with Dwight Powell turning the ball over ten times over the course of the weekend before wrapping things up with a 13-point, ten-rebound game in the finale against DePaul. Anthony Brown was also impressive in the DePaul game, scoring 14 and making several key plays in the overtime, but relatively absent elsewhere this weekend. However, the big issue for the Cardinal is going to be at the point. Neither Green nor junior guard Jarrett Mann are capable playmakers and freshman point Aaron Bright is more equipped to be a distributor and shooter than a creator. With no easy solution walking through the door anytime soon, head coach Johnny Dawkins will have his work cut out for him creating coherent offense all season long.
Looking ahead: Nothing this week for Stanford as they prep for finals, but they return on 12/12 with a game against UC Riverside before hosting North Carolina A&T a few days later.
8. Oregon (4-2): The Ducks hosted the Singler family reunion in the Rose Garden in Portland on Saturday night, providing the perfect platform for that showoff Kyle to go for 30 points in an NBA arena. Little brother E.J. struggled early with the situation, failing to score in the first half, but eventually winding up with 14 second-half points in the Ducks 27-points loss to the number one team in the land. While the Ducks were outshot and outrebounded, one Dana Altman stamp has become apparent on this team: they are going to take care of the ball. Oregon only turned the ball over 11 times against Duke, and they’re in the top 40 in the nation in lowest offensive turnover percentage. The Ducks simply don’t have the horses to really compete this season, but Altman will have this team beat more than a couple teams that are more talented than them over the course of the season and soon enough, Oregon will be a frightening place to go again.
Looking ahead: Now that I’ve written about the Ducks not turning the ball over, they immediately get to test that theory when they host Missouri and Mike Anderson’s pressure defense on Saturday. Things get a bit easier following that with a game against Portland State.
9. USC (4-4): Up and down, up and down. A couple wins over munchkins, a couple losses to relative munchkins. A couple more wins over teams the Trojans should beat on talent alone, a couple more headscratching losses. This week’s bombs? Opening the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series with a loss at Nebraska, one of the strong contenders for last place in the Big 12, after having a 20-point first half lead, then following that up with a loss at TCU, a team in the bottom half of the Mountain West. Up front, the Trojans are just fine with Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson, but the backcourt is young and, really, a mess. While Kevin O’Neill again has his team defending like mad men, there is just no flow offensively. The freshman point guard Maurice Jones turns the ball over just about as much as he hands out assists, and is shooting just 35.6% from the field, although that hasn’t diminished his zeal for continuing to pull the trigger, as he is putting up 13 shots a night. Sure Jio Fontan is eligible soon and maybe he has a magical elixir that will make this team a tournament team overnight. More likely, the Trojans will be better come conference play, but still fatally flawed.
Looking ahead: The Trojans host Texas on Sunday. Watch them beat the Longhorns. Just watch.
10. Oregon State (3-3): Just awful. I wish there were already 12 teams in the conference, just so I could rank this team somewhere lower than 10th. The Beavers lost to Utah Valley State on Wednesday night, and were somehow outrebounded by UVSU by 10. Utah Valley State even went out of their way to open the door for OSU, turning the ball over a generous 24 times, but the Beavs couldn’t take advantage of that. I mean, really. Utah Valley State? It’s a good thing that head coach at Oregon State isn’t a cabinet position or the First Brother-in-Law might be asked to resign in disgrace. The UVSU debacle comes after the Beavers actually made the trip to D.C. to play in front of President Obama and family, and they avoided disaster there by coming back from a halftime deficit against Howard and pulling out a ten-point win behind 60% shooting after the half. But, again, Utah Valley State? Really?
Looking ahead: OSU heads to Boulder for their Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood matchup with Colorado. Chalk that one up for the Big 12.