Checking In On… the Pac-12 Conference

Posted by AMurawa on February 23rd, 2012

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-12 conferences.

Reader’s Take


Top Storylines

Last week at this time, we had five teams who were still serious contenders for the Pac-12 regular season title, all of them within a game of the conference lead. This week, the picture has cleared up considerably, but there is still plenty of intrigue out there. California and Washington both scored big wins over two of the other five contenders (Oregon and Arizona, respectively), in turn not only more or less knocking those teams out of the race for the title, but also cementing their status at the top of the heap. Colorado remains in the mix as well, a game and a half back of the co-leaders. The other component of the race at the top of the conference is the jostling for the #4 spot, which will earn the last first-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament. Oregon and Arizona are currently tied for the fourth spot, but the Ducks own the tiebreaker there on the basis of their earlier win at the McKale Center.


Washington's Win Over Arizona On Saturday Gave The Huskies Reason For Celebration (Elaine Thompson/AP)

What to Watch For

There is really only one big remaining matchup between teams at the top of the conference over the final two weeks of the season: California’s trip to Colorado on Sunday. Other than that, the Bears go on the road to Utah on Thursday before wrapping up their season with a trip to Stanford on the final day of the regular season.

Likewise, Washington will also be spending its last three games on the road, this week against Washington State and next week against USC and UCLA. Depsite the fact that all of those games are on the road, all of those are eminently winnable games for the co-leaders, with the Colorado/Cal game being the sole time when either Cal or Washington will likely not be favored. For the Buffaloes, however, it is going to be an uphill climb. Along with California, they also face Stanford, Oregon and Oregon State, with the latter two on the road – no pushovers anywhere among that group.

As it is, if the Pac-12 Tournament began with the current standings, this is what we’d be looking at. Certainly some pretty interesting semifinals, but my goodness is that Wednesday slate of games awful bad. The best game of the day is at noon and the Staples Center is virtually guaranteed to be whatever the opposite of “rocking” is that day.

Player of the Year Watch

There are a couple of questions here: 1) who is going to win the POTY award, and 2) who deserves to win the POTY award?

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Pac-12 Morning Five: 02.22.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on February 22nd, 2012

  1. With the schedule winding down, it’s a good time to start looking ahead to some of the postseason awards. For quite a while, there was a logjam in the race for Coach of the Year, but with the leaders of the conference now more clear, it looks like Colorado’s Tad Boyle and California’s Mike Montgomery have jumped out into the lead. The two teams meet Sunday in Boulder in a game that could go a long way toward determining the eventual winner, but both coaches have done a stellar job this year. For Boyle, his Colorado team was expected to finish near the bottom of the conference in its first year in the Pac-12; instead they’re just a game and a half back of the leaders. Meanwhile, Montgomery dealt with the aftermath of a successful procedure to treat bladder cancer prior to the start of the season and has since turned in another typically great job patching the holes in a Golden Bear team that now sits tied with Washington for first place.
  2. Speaking of Washington, some Husky fans are still wondering whether head coach Lorenzo Romar has done a masterful job or a subpar job this year. There have been some bad losses for U-Dub this year (the blowout home loss to South Dakota State stands out, but big losses at Colorado and Oregon also fit the bill), but still the Huskies figure to finish the season with more than 20 wins for the fourth straight season and they could still possibly post a 15-3 record (if they win their final three conference games), potentially the best record in school history. And, given the fact that Romar has dealt with the loss of senior leader Scott Suggs prior to the season and has done a good job folding eight freshman into a roster, it appears from this angle that Romar has done just about as good of a job as he’s ever done to this point. However, reputations are earned in March, and the success of the Huskies in their remaining games may deliver the final verdict.
  3. Washington’s players are still debating among themselves whether Aziz N’Diaye traveled on his phenomenal end-to-end blocked shot and dunk against Arizona on Saturday. See for yourself here. Sophomore guard C.J. Wilcox is in Sean Miller’s corner, thinking that the Husky big fella traveled on his way up court, but Romar and senior forward Darnell Gant think N’Diaye made a great, and legal, play. I tend to agree with Romar and Gant; it looks like N’Diaye threw the ball ahead before securing it, then controlled the ball and began his dribble. Regardless, just a terrific end-to-end play by the junior out of Senegal.
  4. The Huskies next get on the court Thursday night at USC, and given that the Trojans have now lost 14 of their last 15, it is likely that Washington will skate through that game. However, despite the team’s struggles with injuries throughout the year, the team is still playing hard for head coach Kevin O’Neill. And, just as importantly, the players in the program are all in O’Neill’s court, supporting their coach despite calls from some SC fans for a new coach. Athletic director Pat Haden has made it pretty clear that O’Neill will be back next year, so it will be interesting to see how far the Trojans can bounce back up next year.
  5. Bud Withers at the Seattle Times takes a look ahead to next season’s Pac-12 possibilities, and sees better things on the horizon. For instance, while California will lose a couple important seniors, and Washington could see guys like Tony Wroten and Terrence Ross head to the NBA early, teams like Arizona, Colorado and Stanford are not only expected to return some quality pieces, but they have strong recruiting classes coming in. Likewise, UCLA sees reinforcements arrive next year, while teams like USC, Washington State and Oregon State could be ready to jump into the upper half of the conference.
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Pac-12 Burning Questions: Pick A Part?

Posted by AMurawa on February 17th, 2012

Each week through conference play, we’ll offer up a couple of different takes on the biggest question of the week in the Pac-12.

This week: “While there are no great teams in the Pac-12, there seem to be several teams that are just one key part away from being a Top 25 team. If you could pluck one role player from a Pac-12 team and bring him over to help out another team, who would it be?”

Andrew Murawa: Arizona’s lack of interior size is their biggest weakness. At present, they’re playing a seven-man rotation with only one player bigger than 6’7” – raw 6’9” freshman Angelo Chol – getting any serious time. Jesse Perry, a 6’7” senior best suited to a combo forward spot, is ostensibly the team’s starting center. Enter Washington’s 7’0” junior center Aziz N’Diaye, sliding right into the Wildcats center position, moving Perry to a move natural four-spot, Solomon Hill to the three, and sending freshman Nick Johnson to a sixth-man role. Not only would N’Diaye give Sean Miller a defensive stopper inside, he’s shown his ability to be a solid rebounder on both ends of the court. And, when the Wildcats want to get out and run, N’Diaye has the athleticism and the motor to keep up with their young backcourt. As they are now, the Wildcats are a solid but flawed team, scrapping along to keep in Pac-12 race. Magically drop N’Diaye onto that roster and they’re the favorite in the conference, even with inconsistent freshman Josiah Turner still growing into his role at the point.

Aziz N'Diaye, Washington

Aziz N'Diaye's Length And Athleticism Would Patch A Hole In Arizona's Defense (Ted Copeland/The Daily)

Connor Pelton: I’d like to take Washington State point guard Reggie Moore and bring him over to Stanford. The Cardinal have two solid scorers in forward/center Josh Owens and shooting guard Chasson Randle, but what they are missing is a true point guard. Aaron Bright has his games, but 3.4 assists per outing just isn’t going to cut it if Stanford wants to be a top tier team in the Pac-12. If you bring Moore into the picture, you have by far the best point guard in the Pac-12 (5.7 APG). He also averages 9.2 points per game, which isn’t bad at all for a pass-first type of player. The Cardinal’s new starting lineup would look a lot better as well. The Cardinal would have Moore and Randle at guard, then go with a three forward/center combo of Owens, Anthony Brown, and John Gage. The bench looks solid as well. Bright would come off the bench and could be developed into even more of a combo-guard, and with Andrew Zimmermann and Josh Huestis down low; this Stanford team would definitely have top-tier potential. If only …

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Pac-12 Game of the Week: California @ Washington

Posted by AMurawa on January 19th, 2012

California @ Washington, January 19, 5:30 PM PST, ROOT Northwest

The Golden Bears head north to Washington tonight in a battle that should help sort out the pecking order at the top of the conference, and both teams come into the big game a little bit shorthanded. For Cal, they’ve lost sophomore forward Richard Solomon for the remainder of the season when he was declared academically ineligible, while the Huskies will be without second-leading scorer C.J. Wilcox, whose absence is a little less final – he’s out in the short-term with a stress fracture in his hip. But there are still plenty of talented players on either end of the court who should make this an exciting game.

Washington won both games in this series last season, and by an average of over 31 points per game, so this Golden Bear team which is made up of much the same personnel, will need to prove they can hang with the Huskies’ up-tempo style. Last year, the two games between these teams averaged 75.5 possessions per game (with Washington averaging 1.33 points per possession in those games), and this year Mike Montgomery’s team has struggled in uptempo games again. So far this season, Cal has only played in four games that featured more than 70 possessions, and they’ve lost three of those – and by an average of over 20 points per game.

Mike Montgomery, California

Mike Montgomery And California Will Need To Keep The Tempo Slow Against Washington (photo credit: Associated Press)

Given that the Bears are so guard-oriented, it is surprising that they struggle so much in the open court, but really, athleticism is not the strength of this team. Defensively, they like to lock you down in the halfcourt, pack it in and make you take tough shots over their defense. They’ve got enough size on the perimeter to challenge three-point shooters, and they send all five players to the defensive glass. Offensively, they don’t really have any one player that can break down a defender on a consistent basis, but their guards – Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs, especially – are excellent from long range, while Jorge Gutierrez is a guy who just seems to get it done anywhere on the floor. And they even get Brandon Smith back after several missed games due to a concussion.

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Pac-12 Morning Five: 01.19.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on January 19th, 2012

  1. It’s that time of the year when injuries start to play a bigger role for teams around the country. This week we’ve talked about injuries to C.J. Wilcox (hip stress fracture, out this weekend), Brandon Smith (due back from a concussion tonight), Mychal Ladd (thumb injury, doubtful this weekend) and Trent Lockett (sprained ankle, doubtful). But as of yet, we haven’t mentioned USC’s Aaron Fuller, who is dealing with a labral tear in his left shoulder. Given that he is a lefty, this is a nearly debilitating injury and he is considering undergoing season-ending surgery as early as next week. It remains to be seen whether Fuller will play this weekend in Oregon, but given that he is easily USC’s best offensive player, losing him could made an already terrible offensive team even less potent.
  2. Speaking of USC, it’s no secret that Trojan fans are frustrated with their team’s 0-5 conference start and generally atrocious offensive play. Head coach Kevin O’Neill is frustrated too. And, while he is trying to keep this team focused on this season, he thinks he should have a good team on his hands next near. Not only will all of these current Trojan players have an extra year of experience under their belts (and guys like freshmen Byron Wesley and Alexis Moore and sophomore DeWayne Dedmon could sure use them), he expects to have point guard Jio Fontan back from his ACL injury, along with transfers Ari Stewart and J.T. Terrell, both from Wake Forest, and Eric Wise, from UC Irvine.
  3. Tying up a few loose ends, we talked about Richard Solomon’s academic ineligibility and Josh Watkins’ dismissal from Utah yesterday, but thought we’d also pass along some information from the local media on both situations. For Solomon, there isn’t a whole lot to report; he just didn’t make grades, but head coach Mike Montgomery hopes he can patch up those problems and return next season. For Watkins, it’s another story. All indications are that he is a good kid, but head coach Larry Krystkowiak just couldn’t ignore the “accountability issues” with Watkins any longer. He reportedly missed practice again on Monday, and after Krystkowiak had laid down a “zero tolerance” policy following a blowout loss to Colorado on New Year’s Eve, Watkins had to go. Krystkowiak said he hopes Watkins continues at Utah and receives his degree, and I’m sure he does, not just for Watkins’ sake, but for the sake of Utah’s graduation rates that will be in the garbage following all of the recent transfers out of the program.
  4. Washington has a big weekend ahead of it, what with conference-leading California and Stanford headed into Seattle for battles with first place on the lane. And in the midst of that atmosphere, it is possible that freshman forward (and starting tight end on the Husky football team) Austin Seferian-Jenkins could see his first action for the basketball team this weekend, although nothing is set in stone yet. Head coach Lorenzo Romar also confirmed that senior forward Darnell Gant would continue coming off the bench for the Huskies, with center Aziz N’Diaye and forward Desmond Simmons continuing to start up front.
  5. Lastly, we turn our attention to UCLA, who has won three straight games after starting 0-2 in conference play. Bruin players like David Wear and Tyler Lamb attribute the turnaround to a renewed emphasis on defensive intensity, with players taking pride in getting stops and learning to play as a team on that end. While UCLA has held its opponents to just 40.3% shooting from the field over the course of the winning streak, their trip to Oregon this weekend should present a much bigger challenge.
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Pac-12 Game Of The Week: California @ Oregon State

Posted by Connor Pelton on January 5th, 2012

We may only be two games into the conference season, but tonight will give us a good feel on who is a contender and who is a pretender in the Pac-12. The game that most fits that bill will take place tonight in Corvallis when 2-0 California meets 0-2 Oregon State. For the visiting Golden Bears, a loss won’t make or break their chances at a conference crown, but it could be listed as a bad loss on a tournament résumé that is sure to be on the bubble come March. On the other side is Oregon State, where a victory is crucial after being swept in Washington last week. For the Beavers to have any shot at an at-large into the NCAA Tournament, a 3-1 record over their next four games is a must. So of course, they could lose tonight and win their next three, but that is highly unlikely as Stanford and Arizona are on the horizon. Despite this being one of the best games of the week and boasting multiple talented players on each side, the game will not be televised or webcast. That means the winner may get a little national attention just from being on ESPN’s bottom line, but the loser would likely fall from the nation’s radar for a LONG time.

Junior guard Jared Cunningham leads Oregon State with 17 PPG (credit: Sports Chat Place)

For the Beavers to get a win tonight they will need to rely on their defense. They have played three teams this season that are at Cal’s level offensively, and so far they are 1-2. The one win came against Texas, a game in which the Beavers were able to get out on multiple fast breaks after stepping into the Longhorn passing lanes. The Beavers would score a total of 100 points in a game where they actually didn’t shoot the ball that well, but they got the win because of their great defense. That is what they need to do here if they want to have a chance.

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Pac-12 Honors: Week Eight

Posted by AMurawa on January 2nd, 2012

In the first week of conference play, form more or less held, with nine of the ten games being won by the home team. California, Stanford, Washington, and Arizona emerged atop the conference with undefeated records (although the Wildcats played just one game, as opposed to the two played by the other three teams), but the Huskies have to go down as the team with the most impressive weekend, after knocking off not only Oregon State, a team considered by many to be a contender for the conference title, but also Oregon, who was the one road team to score a win in the opening weekend. All things considered, this could not have been a better weekend for the Huskies.

Team of the Week

Washington – Not only did the Huskies score two wins, they earned them over two good teams. And they did so in impressive fashion, winning by 15 over the Beavers and 16 over the Ducks. More importantly, they looked good in doing so. In recent weeks there had been concern over several areas of their performance, notably their defensive effort and their team chemistry; in these two games, those areas were strengths, not weaknesses. After allowing just over a point per possession to a solid OSU offense on Thursday, they held Oregon, who was coming off lightning up the Washington State defense, to just 36.3% 3-point shooting. As for chemistry, six Husky players scored in double figures against the Beavers, and sophomore wing C.J. Wilcox took his shift to the bench (allowing Aziz N’Diaye to regain his starting spot and Tony Wroten to retain his) in stride, scoring 15 points in the opener before lighting up the Ducks for 24 points on just 11 shots. There is still some concern that Wroten may dominate the offense too much, and again, he led the team in attempted field goals in both games, but he also played good defense, handed out nine assists on the weekend and rarely was out of control. The Huskies still have to prove that they’re capable of earning quality conference road wins, but they get to start out that challenge with the training wheels on, as they face Colorado and Utah in their first road trip this weekend. The Buffaloes could present a challenge, but if the Huskies can get out to a 4-0 start in conference play, they will definitely be on the short list of teams leading the conference title race.

Tony Wroten, Washington

Tony Wroten's First Weekend In Pac-12 Play Proved To Be His Most Impressive Back-to-Back Performances Of A Young Career (Credit: Elaine Thompson, Associated Press)

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Pac-12 Morning Five: Conference Tip-Off Edition

Posted by AMurawa on December 29th, 2011

  1. Picking up where we left off yesterday, we’re continuing to look ahead to tonight and the start of conference play (completely ignoring Colorado’s 92-34 demolition of New Orleans last night). We’ve got CBS’ Matt Norlander picking California and Stanford as the teams to beat (and give him credit for not putting the entire league under his “Still Unproven” category), while Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News also throws his support behind Mike Montgomery’s team. After browsing through all the Pac-12 picks coming from elsewhere and devising our own (which you’ll see later today), it is clear Cal, despite all its flaws, is the clear favorite in the conference.
  2. It’s the first year of unbalanced scheduling in the conference, as the beautiful home-and-away round robin of years’ past is no longer. And, taking into account that California is the favorite in the conference while Stanford and Oregon State are popular choices to challenge for the title, Arizona seems to be sitting in the (wild) catbird seat with regard to scheduling, skipping a trip to the Oregon schools while missing a visit from the Bay Area schools. The Washington schools also seem to be a little fortunate, as they get to skip the trip to the Bay Area, but miss out on a second chance at Utah and Colorado at home.
  3. USC has struggled to a 5-8 start to the season, they’ve got the 248th ranked offense in Division I (according to Ken Pomeroy) and their top five players have played 73.8% of their total minutes. But not to worry, Trojan fans, your intrepid head coach has a plan: try harder! Brilliant! Rather than install any type of coherent offense, Kevin O’Neill says “let’s just do a few more wind sprints.” Certainly USC’s got some incredibly raw parts offensively, but if I were to make a list of the Trojans top five problems in their first 13 games of the season, I’m quite sure effort would not be among them. For instance, tonight when USC travels to California to face the Human Floor Burn, Jorge Gutierrez, it’s a good bet that even he won’t outwork USC. Expect the conference opener between these two teams to be low-scoring, ugly and, well, won by the Golden Bears.
  4. Looking around the rest of the conference, let’s get a quick injury update in advance of opening night. Oregon senior forward Tyrone Nared is not quite ready to return to play after tearing an MCL a little more than two weeks ago, leaving the Ducks with just nine scholarship players for their trip to the Washington schools this weekend. Aziz N’Diaye is back for Washington, having played in their last game against Cal State Northridge, but his return to the starting lineup remains questionable. Richard Solomon still has not practiced for Cal following a stress fracture in his foot two weeks ago, and as a result, is unlikely tonight.  And UCLA’s Lazeric Jones and Norman Powell are expected to play tonight at Stanford after each sprained their ankles during Monday’s practice. Both have been able to practice the last two days and should be good to go.
  5. When Oregon State kicks off conference play tonight with a trip to Washington, they will do so with the most optimism surrounding their program since the days of Gary Payton a couple of decades ago. Their 10-2 record in non-conference play is their best start to a season since 1989-90, Payton’s senior season, and what’s more, this team is fun to watch: They lead the conference in scoring, assists, steals and shooting. The Beavers have never led the conference in scoring (with statistics going back more than 50 years), but with some highly efficient offensive play and a defensive game plan built around forcing turnovers through pressure, this could be their year to do so.
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Checking In On… the Pac-12

Posted by AMurawa on December 15th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-12 and Mountain West conferences. He is also a Pac-12 microsite staffer.

Reader’s Take


Top Storylines

  • Personnel Problems – Certainly every team around the country has to deal with some personnel problems of their own. Players get hurt, kids decide to transfer, suspensions get handed out. But, wow. Is it just me or does it seem like an already under-talented conference has been hammered by a string of issues that have robbed them of even more talent? The Reeves Nelson situation at UCLA has been run into the ground, while the Jabari Brown transfer (followed by Bruce Barron’s transfer) is old news in Oregon. Mike Montgomery at California had to suspended forward Richard Solomon just before they traveled to San Diego State, then on the day he was to be reinstated, he and roommate Allen Crabbe overslept and were late to a morning shootaround and began that game on the bench. Josiah Turner has suffered through a benching and a suspension for his inability to get to practices on time (and he potentially cost Arizona a win at Florida in the process). Sean Miller has also had to dismiss freshman Sidiki Johnson, while Utah’s leading scorer Josh Watkins was suspended for a game. Arizona State’s freshman point guard Jahii Carson, who head coach Herb Sendek figured would be the Sun Devils’ starter from day one, was declared ineligible for his freshman season following an insufficient ACT score.
  • Then there are the injuries – Washington State’s Abe Lodwick has yet to play this season, while Faisal Aden and Mychal Ladd have battled their own injuries in recent weeks. USC is without senior point guard Jio Fontan for the season, while sophomore center DeWayne Dedmon has had his development stunted by a couple injuries that he has played through. This week, just a day after Washington announced that senior Scott Suggs would take a redshirt year after struggling with his recovery from foot surgery, their center Aziz N’Diaye sprained his knee and will miss at least the next four games. Back in Eugene, Tyrone Nared had a knee sprain of his own and is out until conference play. And the above is just a partial list cut short for (relative) simplicity’s sake. Now, none of the above is meant to imply that without the above maladies the Pac-12 would be a great conference, just that on a list of all of the possible things that could have gone wrong for Pac-12 teams so far, the teams have seemingly gone out of their way to check off most of them.
Devoe Joseph, Oregon

It Has Only Been Two Games, But Devoe Joseph Has Made A Major Impact For Oregon (Chris Pietsch, The Register-Guard)

  • One Bit of Good NewsDana Altman at least had a bit of good news this week as Devoe Joseph, a senior transfer from Minnesota, played his first games in a Duck uniform and immediately proved his worth. Not only did Joseph lead Oregon in scoring in his first game out against Fresno State, he made a couple of huge momentum changing threes in the second half that helped spur the Ducks to victory. Not to be outdone, he came back on Monday in his second game in Eugene and helped preserve a win as he scored his team’s last eight points after Portland State had closed to within three with 90 seconds left. With Altman now basically trading a freshman (Brown) for the senior Joseph in the backcourt, this Duck team is loaded with veterans and could still make waves in conference play.
  • Very Few, If Any, Resume Wins – Starting right about now and reaching a crescendo in the early days of March, you’re going to hear a lot about who potential NCAA Tournament teams beat and where they beat them as a major criteria for an invitation to the Big Dance. That fact should have the Pac-12 shaking in its boots. To this point it looks like the best win by a Pac-12 team was Oregon State’s neutral-site victory over a Texas team that (1) was playing in its third game with a completely remade roster, and (2) hasn’t beaten anyone of note yet. Beyond that, what are the other wins the teams in this conference hope to hang their tournament resumes on? Cal knocking off a bad Georgia team? Arizona over a middling Clemson team? Stanford against Oklahoma State or North Carolina State? Worse yet, there just aren’t a whole lot of chances left on the schedule for teams to pick up defining wins in the non-conference. Zona goes to Seattle to play Gonzaga and Oregon hosts Virginia this weekend, while Cal travels to UNLV just before Christmas, and that’s it. The rest of the season is, more or less, flawed Pac-12 teams beating up on other flawed Pac-12 teams. In the end, a team like Washington had better either perform one hell of a lot better in road conference games than they have in the past few years OR make sure they win the Pac-12 Tournament, lest they be making NIT plans come March.

Player of the Year Watch

  • While no one has yet to step up and grab a lead in this race, Washington State’s Brock Motum did establish himself, albeit against lesser competition, as a legitimate horse in this race. The Cougs are in the midst of a four-game winning streak and Motum has averaged 16.3 points and 6.5 rebounds over that stretch. And Motum remains one of two Pac-12 players to score in double figures in each of his team’s games this season. The other? Washington’s Terrence Ross, who not only has proven himself to be a consistent scorer, but also a versatile talent capable of filling the stats sheet. On the season, Ross is averaging 16.5 points, 7 rebounds, 2.1 assists, a couple of threes and a block per night.
  • Elsewhere Allen Crabbe has continued to be an efficient scorer on a nightly basis for the Golden Bears (15.8 PPG on the season while shooting over 46% from deep), while teammate Jorge Gutierrez continues to lead the conference in intangibles while contributing solid tangible stats to boot (12.9 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 3.9 APG). As for dark horse candidates who are just now beginning to go to the whip? Oregon State’s Roberto Nelson has averaged 15 points a contest over his last four, just barely starting to scratch the surface of his potential, while the aforementioned Devoe Joseph could get in the conversation with a strong showing in conference play.

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Pac-12 Morning Five: 12.13.11 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on December 13th, 2011

  1. There was a time when the Pac-10 conference was right there with the Big Ten in a race for the most conservative conference in college sports. But since Larry Scott took over as the conference commissioner in the summer of 2009, much of that has changed. Aside from expanding to 12 teams and twice almost jumping to 16 members, Scott has helped the conference ink a huge new television deal and has been working tirelessly to expand the conference’s brand. To that end, on Sunday Scott boarded a jet to work on expanding the Pac-12’s reach, this time to China. While Scott’s exact plans remain to be seen, there is talk of eventually playing regular season games on the other side of the Pacific, although that prospect seems quite far away. Literally.
  2. This past weekend had the sports world buzzing about college basketball with the Indiana/Kentucky finish leading the way, but the unfortunate events in Cincinnati created a stir as well. As the former coach of one of the teams involved in that brawl in the Queen City, Arizona head coach Sean Miller was asked to comment on his former team and he said (among other things), “if Cincinnati tries to do what they did, they’re going to get a fight, so I’m proud of those guys. They have a chance to win it all. It’s just such a great story. I’m really proud of those guys and I watch them any time that I can. No one’s going to bully those guys.” After taking plenty of flak for those comments, Miller tried to clarify their tone, noting that he was responding “to a question as to whether I have been following” Xavier and that he was in no way condoning a fight, merely mentioning his “belief in several players that I once coached and a head coach, Chris Mack, that I have great respect for.”
  3. Up in Seattle, Washington fans are trying to wrap their minds around a 4-4 start, and with freshman guard Tony Wroten’s recent success, one commenter makes the argument that Wroten needs to be the starting point guard in lieu of Abdul Gaddy. Despite Wroten’s struggles shooting and his carelessness with the ball, Husky fans see all that talent and want to plug him in right away. Nevertheless, despite his obvious physical skills, he is still creating more opportunities for himself than for his teammates, turns the ball over more than he dishes out assists, and even his ability to get to the line on cue is diminished by an inability to hit free throws when he gets there. Until Wroten can patch up some of the obvious holes in his game, expect the quieter but more effective Gaddy to continue to lead this team.
  4. Aziz N’Diaye’s sprained right knee, suffered early in the second half of Washington’s loss to Duke on Saturday, is the other big story around the Husky program, and the news on Monday was as good as could have been hoped for. While N’Diaye is expected to miss the team’s next three games, he is hoping to be able to return in time for the conference opener against Oregon State on December 29. N’Diaye missed the entire 2009-10 season with a torn ACL, so it was a great relief when the results of the MRI on Monday showed no tears or serious structural damage to the joint.
  5. Lastly, we here have tried to be pretty fair when it comes to this year’s Utah team. Yes, that’s a bad basketball team, but head coach Larry Krystkowiak came into a bad situation with little returning talent and no time to bring in players who could make a serious impact. Throw in a few untimely injuries and the Utes are well on their way to being a historically bad team. At a school like Utah with a proud basketball tradition, that’s just not going to fly, as Gordon Monson of The Salt Lake Tribune goes out of his way to show. Monson lays the blame for the current Ute struggles squarely at the feet of athletic director Chris Hill for botching consecutive hires – Ray Giacoletti and Jim Boylen – but gives Hill credit for taking accountability for the mess that Utah basketball is in.
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