Pac-12 M5: 01.18.13 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on January 18th, 2013

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  1. The likely brief Bob Cantu era begin at Southern California last night and, while his Trojans showed plenty of resiliency in sticking around with Oregon and fighting back from a late ten-point deficit to have a chance (okay, more like four chances, three of them point-blank) in the waning moments to win or send the game to overtime, his first game of his interim stretch still goes down in the record book as a loss. For the Top 25 Ducks, they escape the trap game in advance of this weekend’s more celebrated match-up with UCLA, but of concern is their seemingly newfound ability to take comfortable late-game leads and turn them into significantly uncomfortable late-game battles. Certainly much of that has to do with their freshman backcourt, but if UO wants to compete seriously for a Pac-12 title, they need to begin closing games more effectively.
  2. Earlier, up town a piece, UCLA was displaying a similar trait, although nowhere near as dramatically. For at least the fourth time in their five Pac-12 wins, the Bruins surged out to a comfortable lead, only to ease off the gas and let an overmatched opponent back into the game, this time against Oregon State. With the Ducks waiting on Saturday, that will not be an option. Aside from the game, there were other big goings-on at Pauley Pavilion on Thursday night, as Jamaal Wilkes became just the eighth player to have his jersey retired at UCLA. On hand for the festivities were other such Bruin luminaries as Bill Walton (who handled the color duties for the ESPN broadcast), Kareem-Abdul Jabbar, Mike Warren and Marques Johnson.
  3. The Oregon/UCLA game isn’t the only big-time Pac-12 game this weekend, as Arizona and Arizona State will square off in the battle for the Grand Canyon State Saturday as well. After ASU experienced a couple of very down years, they’re back in the mix in the conference, and their improvement on the defensive end is a large reason. Almost completely forsaking the match-up zone of the past, Herb Sendek has turned his team loose in man-to-man defense with athletic perimeter guys like Jahii Carson, Carrick Felix and Evan Gordon harassing ball-handlers and Jordan Bachynski cleaning up anyone that siphons through.
  4. Washington maybe the biggest story in the early going of conference play off of four straight wins to open Pac-12 in surprising fashion. Ben Knibbe of the UW Dawg Pound writes that the difference between the currently streaking Huskies and the team that lost to Albany and Nevada is that they’re finally beginning to play man-to-man defense at the level expected of Lorenzo Romar-coached teams. Part of that is due to veterans completely buying in, part of it is due to great team chemistry, but whatever the cause, so long as the defense remains a priority, expect the Huskies to keep on winning.
  5. We started the week with the Kevin O’Neill news, and its been a constant theme all week, so we might as well wrap it up by touching on it one last time. Pat Haden told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday that not only is USC ready and willing to spend what it takes to land a big-name coach, but that he’s already had contact with people who are potentially interested in the job. But we’re all just going to have to wait and see what happens, because as Haden acknowledged, the guys that he is after aren’t going to be ready to commit to USC until after their NCAA Tournament runs are complete.
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Pac-12 Report Card: Volume II

Posted by AMurawa on January 16th, 2013

Professor Pac is back to break down and evaluate each team’s performances in the past week. With three pet pupils atop the leaderboard still without a loss, it’s no surprise who is earning the As thus far.

Washington – A

After winning a conference road game over an intrastate rival last week, the Huskies decided to one-up themselves this week, taking down two more road games, this time over slightly more significant competition, to begin the season with a surprising three-game road winning streak.

Focus on: Andrew Andrews. The stats this week weren’t anywhere near mind-blowing for the redshirt freshman (9 PPG, 4 RPG, 0.5 APG), but he brings an energy and athleticism to a Husky backcourt that definitely needed it. Offensively, he is a threat to get to the paint and create opportunities on any possession, and on defense, as his four steals against Stanford on Saturday showed, he is capable of wreaking havoc on the opposition. He’s still green, but look for his role to continue to expand this season.

Looking ahead: For a team with a history of struggling on the road, the Huskies have taken care of business there in recent weeks. Now they have to prove they can win at home, something they have failed to do three separate times in the non-conference schedule. Colorado is the first test tonight with Utah visiting on Sunday.

Andrew Andrews Has Been Providing A Spark Off The Bench For The Huskies (Elaine Thompson, AP Photo)

Andrew Andrews Has Been Providing A Spark Off The Bench For The Huskies (Elaine Thompson, AP Photo)

Oregon – A

If you wanted to pick one weakness on this Ducks team, it might be the lack of a proven go-to scorer at this point. This week, for instance, in each of their two home wins over the Arizona schools, four of the five starters scored in double figures, with nobody scoring more than 14 points. In fact, only four times all season has a Duck scored 20 or more (Damyean Dotson twice, Arsalan Kazemi once, and E.J. Singler once). I’m not one who thinks this is always necessarily a problem – if you have plenty of good offensive options and you wind up with balanced scoring that way, it certainly keeps the defense guessing – but I think in the Ducks’ case, they have a bunch of good players, none of whom are completely polished offensive options. And against Arizona down the stretch, the possibility of that being a problem raised its head. Part of it has to do with the decision to milk the clock way too early, but at some point they probably need somebody (the best candidate is Dotson) to become the go-to guy down the stretch.

Focus on: E.J. Singler. The senior had a great all-around game in the win over Arizona, going for 14 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, and three steals, while knocking down some key free throws late, but then once again disappeared for the most part against Arizona State, hitting just one of nine field goal attempts and grabbing only one board in 36 minutes of play. That’s been the M.O. for the most part this season for a guy expected to be an all-conference caliber guy: inconsistency.

Looking ahead: The Ducks leave the state of Oregon for the first time in almost a month and just the third game all year when they head down Los Angeles way. They will be the opponent for Bob Cantu’s debut with USC tomorrow night before headlining the Pac-12 schedule on Saturday with a visit to Pauley Pavilion and UCLA for the first conference match-up between Top 25 teams since 2009.

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Pac-12 M5: 01.15.13 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on January 15th, 2013

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  1. The big news on Monday morning was the surpise firing of a Los Angeles area head basketball coach. Less than a month ago, the odds were probably on the rest of this paragraph being about the end of the Ben Howland era in Westwood, but instead, the “other” LA-area Pac-12 basketball program ended the Kevin O’Neill era abruptly. We posted our thoughts on the matter yesterday, but gave scant attention to USC’s new interim head coach, Bob Cantu, who has now outlasted three Trojan head coaches at the institution. Cantu said he plans to try to speed the game up a bit (but really, doesn’t every coach say that?), may opt for more zone defense, and will try to get USC’s two seven-footers (Dewayne Dedmon and Omar Oraby) on the court together at the same time. In addition, he hopes to get transfers Ari Stewart and Renaldo Woolridge, a pair of guys who have been all but forgotten this season, some more run.
  2. Names like Jamie Dixon, Randy Bennett and Dan Monson seem to be the obvious lead choices for the next USC head coaching position, but plenty of other names have surfaced already, including one who is currently employed by another Pac-12 institution: Arizona State assistant Eric Musselman. Musselman, who has been a head coach in the NBA twice, is apparently interested in the job, according to Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports. But, the question is, just how far down the list is Musselman? And, as always, Reggie Theus is also on the list, at least, according to Theus, that is. And, how about a really deep cut? Former Laker and Lobo star Michael Cooper is presently the head women’s basketball coach at USC. Like I said, a seriously deep cut.
  3. Meanwhile, across town, Ben Howland has turned it around, getting his team back into the Top 25 riding a nine-game winning streak. David Wharton of the Los Angeles Times has a big feature on Howland that does a good job of slapping a human face on the often introverted coach. The article touches on his relationship with his players, his assistants, and, as always, UCLA fans. But perhaps most interesting is how Howland has made the change from playing the grind-it-out, defense-first style that has characterized his last decade-plus as a head coach, to the more transition-oriented team that has currently got those rather picky Bruin fans interested again.
  4. As for the team that USC just beat, Utah, head coach Larry Krystkowiak’s job is in no immediate danger, but in order to make sure it stays that way, and in order to make sure he has his team on the right track, he held one-on-one meetings with each player this week to ensure that both coach and player were both on the same page. The meetings are in an effort to let the players know what Krystkowiak needs them to work on and to hear back from the players any suggestions that they have for the coaching staff. With an 0-4 start featuring three hotly contested games now in the rear view mirror, the Utes hope to use these meetings as a springboard for future improvements.
  5. It’s about that time of the year where, for one reason or another, suspensions and other little punishments begin to crop up here and there around the nation, especially on teams that have had their struggles. We saw Eric Moreland get suspended last week (and it was announced today that he’ll return Saturday against USC, making it a three-game suspension in total), but we glossed over the fact that Stanford point guard Chasson Randle got a slap on the wrist for being late to a shootaround prior to the game against Washington, having to start the game on the bench. He still wound up earning 28 minutes (and scoring 16 effective points along the way), but it’s something to stick in the back of your mind, given Stanford’s early struggles.
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Morning Five: 01.15.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 15th, 2013

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  1. You can go ahead and recycle your “coaches should not be fired in the middle of the season” because we had the latest addition to the coaching carousel as Kevin O’Neill was fired by USC yesterday. Long-time Trojan assistant Bob Cantu will serve as the interim head coach for the remainder of the season (or as long as it takes for Pat Hayden to get tired of him). Our Pac-12 microsite took a look at the potential long-term replacements yesterday so we will not get into that here (apply here if you are interested). We also will not get into whether or not it is morally correct for college programs to fire coaches in the middle of the season and what message it sends to the student-athletes. We will simply point out that it is interesting that Lane Kiffin has managed to stay around for three-plus seasons without any significant public talk of him losing his job despite the disappointing performance of his football team.
  2. Things went from bad to worse for Wyoming star Luke Martinez as he was suspended indefinitely on Monday after being arrested early on Sunday morning stemming from a bar fight on December 30 that resulted in the broken bone in his right hand that led him to miss time recently. Martinez is currently charged with a felony charge of aggravated assault in a case that was originally deemed “a mutual combat type of thing”, but subsequent information has led to a reinterpretation of events by police that led to Martinez’s arrest. Martinez, who will appear in court tomorrow, is facing a potential monetary fine in addition to a maximum of 10 years in jail although we doubt this will result in much jail time if any based on the fact that it took so long for authorities to even bring charges after being aware of the event and only bringing charges once they got more information from witnesses.
  3. It will not be enough to make Iowa State a threat to win the Big 12, but the Cyclones got some good news when sexual assault charges against junior guard Bubu Palo were dropped. The charges were from an alleged assault that took place on May 18, 2012 when a female claimed that Palo and his co-defendant offered to drive her home, but instead took her to the co-defendant’s house where they raped her. It appears that the case fell apart when a forensic expert examined the shirt that the woman claimed she was wearing that night and reported that the evidence did not fit her story as the shirt she claimed Palo had torn had been washed and the tear had been made after the shirt had been washed. Palo, who had been suspended indefinitely by the school, has already been reinstated although there is no timeline for when he would return to action. In his two years at the school, Palo has put up decent if unspectacular numbers (4 points, 1.5 assists, and 1.5 rebounds in 13.8 minutes per game last season), but should add some depth to Cyclones.
  4. It looks like we might be getting another conference-based television network if the ACC gets its way although we may not see if for a long time. According to a report by SportsBusiness Journal, the ACC is exploring the possibility of creating its own television network following in the footsteps of the Big Ten and Pac-12 with several other conferences joining suit in the near future. However, the conference is already in a 15-year contract with ESPN that is worth $3.6 billion so we doubt that it makes financial sense for them to break that contract in the near future. While the idea of a network airing old school ACC games intrigues us we wonder who is going to own and play the footage of great games between teams that are no longer in the conference.
  5. This might not seem like the best time to do so, but C.J. Moore of Basketball Prospectus posted an attempted defense of Rick Barnes, who has been criticized for years for the perceived underperformance of his team’s given the talent that they have had. As Moore points out much of the criticism started in 2007 around the time that Bill Simmons decided to pay attention to college basketball when his Celtics were tanking struggling, but had hope in the form of a pair of freshmen (Greg Oden and Kevin Durant). Simmons became enamored with Durant’s game (rightfully so), but when Texas failed to make a NCAA Tournament run despite having a once in a generation talent playing for them. While Moore does make some interesting points we should note that coaches usually start to get criticized for their in-game coaching when they fail to produce with talent teams with the understanding that the Durant Longhorn team may have not been as loaded as many remember it. We are not sure we can get behind everything Moore says as we still have qualms with many of Barnes’ in-game decisions, but at least he has Scott Drew in the same conference to make him look good.
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Kevin O’Neill Out As USC Head Coach

Posted by AMurawa on January 14th, 2013

Last we saw USC’s basketball team, they were snapping a 14-game road losing streak while demolishing Utah in what was maybe their best performance in about 22 months. Talented junior forward DeWayne Dedmon had just put the finishing touches on a third consecutive excellent performance, the backcourt triumvirate of Jio Fontan, J.T. Terrell, and Byron Wesley had played their best game as a collective unit, and the Trojans found themselves squarely in the middle of the Pac-12 standings. And for these, admittedly diminished, accomplishments, head coach Kevin O’Neill was rewarded on Monday morning with… his walking papers? Really?

Kevin O'Neill Was Canned Monday, Despite A Road Win on Saturday

Kevin O’Neill Was Canned Monday, Despite A Road Win on Saturday

The surprise is not so much that O’Neill’s job was in jeopardy – a 13-36 record over the past year and a half guaranteed that, not to mention his brusque manner and often unappetizing style of play – but that athletic director Pat Haden was so intent on getting rid of O’Neill that he would make the change in the middle of the year and at a time when USC basketball was on a relative upswing. Two reasons for the timing of the change have been speculated upon: First, the idea that O’Neill had lost the locker room, and secondly, the possibility, as speculated by a Jeff Goodman source, that Haden didn’t want to be tied to O’Neill for the long term, so he got rid of him before this team could turn the corner and win enough games to earn the head coach another year. Both of those ideas are a little cynical, so it is fair to point out that perhaps Haden thinks that this team has the capability of playing better than it has to this point, believes that he can get more out of his team with Bob Cantu as the new interim head coach, and, rather than resting on the laurels of a win over Utah as an accomplishment worth celebrating, he was willing to make the hard choice now.

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