Pac-12 Burning Questions: Can Bobby Hurley Do More Than Recruit?

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 10th, 2016

When Arizona State hired Bobby Hurley away from Buffalo as its new basketball coach a year ago, athletic director Ray Anderson made no bones about the incoming expectations for his new coach: “We are intent on becoming an elite men’s basketball program.” The hire gained nearly universal praise, in large part thanks to Hurley’s fantastic playing career at Duke and his work in leading Buffalo to its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance in 2015. Once his first season in Tempe started, however, the Sun Devils looked anything but elite.

Bobby Hurley's Team Would Be In Based On Non-Conference Play Alone

Bobby Hurley’s Team Needs To Show More This Season. (Getty)

The team ranked near the bottom of the Pac-12 on both ends of the floor, won just five league games and generally appeared unready to compete for a conference title. Very little of this was the new head coach’s fault, of course. Predecessor Herb Sendek left insufficient talent on hand for the formation of a competent rotation, and those few players remaining were ill-suited for Hurley’s attacking style of offense. Still, despite the team’s continuing struggles, Hurley managed to pile up the accolades for his work in both changing the program’s culture and luring big-time recruits to the desert. As such, despite finishing 11th in the Pac-12 standings, Hurley convinced Arizona State that he deserved a raise and contract extension. And although there is plenty of evidence that Hurley has pointed the Arizona State ship in the right direction, he now needs to reward that faith and enthusiasm with some accompanying on-court improvement. Read the rest of this entry »

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Highlighted Quotes From Each Team at Pac-12 Media Day

Posted by Adam Butler on October 24th, 2016

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

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

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

Washington State, Ernie Kent and Josh Hawkinson

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

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

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An Early Look at Next Season’s Pac-12

Posted by Mike Lemaire on April 13th, 2016

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

1. Oregon

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

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

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

2. Arizona

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

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Arizona State’s Future is Bright

Posted by Connor Pelton on March 4th, 2016

Connor Pelton covers Arizona State sports for HouseofSparky.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @ConnorPelton28

When is Bobby Hurley going to call a timeout? That was the thought shared among Arizona State fans during the opening minutes of last Thursday’s game at Utah. Little did they know that no timeout was forthcoming. Not when Brandon Taylor drained a three-pointer to put the Utes up 9-0. Not when Jordan Loveridge dropped in another three to extend the lead to 12-0. Not even when Taylor buried another triple on the next possession to make the score 15-0. The game’s first break didn’t arrive until the under-16 media timeout with the Sun Devils trailing 15-2 and a comeback looking increasingly unlikely. It’s important to remember that Hurley is still learning on the job. After spending the previous two seasons at Buffalo, this is just his third campaign as a head coach. He is young and still evolving, picking up valuable experience every night out.

Hurley's High Energy On The Sidelines Has Gotten Him Into Some Trouble With Officials This Season (Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star)

Hurley’s High Energy On The Sidelines Has Gotten Him Into Some Trouble With Officials This Season (Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star)

So, why was there no timeout when already trailing by 15 in one of the conference’s toughest venues? First, the end of a long season is winding down – a season that is unlikely to result in a trip to the NCAA Tournament. There isn’t much to lose in this scenario, so why not experiment with letting the players work through their problems without assistance from the sideline? This wasn’t the only learning experience, as this season has been chalk full of them — beginning with a disheartening home opener loss to Sacramento State. Along the way Hurley has suspended three players for multiple team violations, been thrown out of a rivalry game against Arizona, dropped four conference games by seven points or fewer, lost a player to transfer just days removed from a career performance, and watched an assistant coach get arrested on suspicion of DUI. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Bracketology: Non-Conference Season

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 9th, 2016

The heavy lifting for Pac-12 teams has just begun but the non-conference games each team is leaving behind won’t stay in the rear-view mirror very long. They make a dramatic reappearance in the next two months when some of those games played two and three months prior might be the difference between getting a coveted invitation to the Big Dance and being shut out. This means that the only consistent way to analyze how each team did in non-conference play is to evaluate each resume as if the teams were on the bubble. In general, Pac-12 teams did a lackluster job of scheduling legitimate competition (and beating it). Even with a seriously stretched definition of what counts as a “quality win,” it was still tough to get excited about the success of these teams. Let’s run through it.

Arizona – IN

Sean Miller's Team is Of Course Easily In, But How High? (USA Today Images)

Sean Miller’s Team is Of Course Easily In, But How High? (USA Today Images)

  • KenPom Non-Conference Strength of Schedule: #292
  • Quality Wins: at Gonzaga, UNLV, Boise State (2x)
  • Bad Losses: None

The Wildcats look like the class of the Pac so the team’s at-large candidacy likely won’t matter much because they’re in regardless. They didn’t exactly challenge themselves in the first half of their schedule, playing  what amounts to the easiest non-conference slate in the conference. But Arizona also didn’t lose to anyone unexpected and beat a few decent teams too. It is possible that the win in Spokane against Gonzaga will be the only one to stand up as a true quality win, but for now, wins over Boise State (twice) and UNLV build a solid foundation for an at-large resume.

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Pac-12 Bests and Worsts of the Week: Opening Weekend Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 4th, 2016

As the rest of us file back for what promises to be a dreary work week, conference play in college basketball is well under way. In the opening weekend, Arizona re-established itself as the team to beat while California reclaimed some of its considerable preseason hype. Washington, a team no one picked to do anything this season, is unbeaten after two games. While Utah, a team several analysts picked to win the conference, is still searching for its first conference victory. The opening weekend of action didn’t reveal anything particularly enlightening about any one team, but it signaled to Pac-12 fans that they are in for a wild couple of months.

Worst Way to Finish Off a Game: There is no way that Utah should have lost to Stanford on Friday night, and especially not at the free throw line. But the conference’s best foul shooting team entering the game made just 11-of-24 freebies, including four key misses down the stretch in regulation and two more in overtime to gift wrap a comeback win for the Cardinal. This loss was an especially tough pill to swallow because the Utes subsequently lost to California on Sunday (despite shooting better than 80 percent from the line, incidentally). A loss in Berkeley is understandable on an at-large resume, but Stanford is expected to finish at the bottom of the conference. Utah is now forced to dig itself out of a self-made 0-2 hole — certainly not the way the team wanted to start the 2016.

Jakob Poetl and the Utes Are Not Off To The Start They Envisioned. (AP)

Jakob Poeltl and the Utes Did Not Start Pac-12 Play The Way  They Envisioned. (AP)

Worst Job of Keeping It Together: At the risk of sounding sanctimonious, Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley looked a little foolish in his ejection from the tail end of the Sun Devils’ weekend loss to Arizona. Hurley’s passion and fire make an impact on his team and are a big reason why Arizona State is overachieving this season, but his team still had a chance to win until his antics erased that with two quick technical fouls. He shouldn’t have to apologize for his fiery personality, as it is a big part of his success as a coach, but it rings somewhat hollow when he simultaneously claims that he “always wants the spotlight on the guys in the game.” Some may argue that there is a fine line between toning it down and losing their edge, but that notion too rings hollow. Hurley should be able to keep the chip on his shoulder without making a spectacle that overshadows his team’s resilience.

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Savon the Savior: Goodman’s Breakout is Arizona State’s Good Fortune

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 12th, 2015

During Arizona State’s mini-resurgence, fans and media members alike have been quick to credit new coach Bobby Hurley for injecting energy and passion into his team’s play. All of that credit may very well be deserved, but it is actually one of the players Hurley inherited who has been the most influential in the Sun Devils’ surprising success. Savon Goodman may be the most athletic player in the country that only diehard basketball fans know about, but that may not last much longer. The 6’6″, 220-pound junior leads the team in scoring (13.4 PPG) and rebounding (8.3 RPG) and has been at his best against good opponents like NC State (21 points and 16 rebounds) and Creighton (23 points and seven rebounds). Goodman’s best attributes (size, physicality, energy) fit perfectly with the team identity that Hurley is trying to forge and his breakout has meant that a Sun Devils’ team that was hastily written off after a season-opening loss to Sacramento State is now back the fringes of the national conversation heading into today’s nationally-televised showdown with Kentucky.

Savon Goodman's Intensity Is What Makes Him So Good

Savon Goodman’s Intensity Is What Makes Him So Good

What makes Goodman’s emergence as a borderline star particularly inspiring is that his road to success has been a long and circuitous one. It’s not as if Goodman was an unheralded recruit who has made the most of his limited abilities. The Philadelphia native first turned heads during the summer of 2010 thanks to a string of dominant performances on the AAU and camp circuit and by November he was considered a five-star prospect and was committed to Villanova. But things were complicated behind the scenes as rumors swirled about his academic standing and whether the Wildcats were really all that interested in him after all. Although the rumors were never confirmed, they received a dose of credibility when Goodman switched high schools for his senior season and de-committed from the Wildcats in August of 2011. Still, Goodman dominated his senior season of high school, leading his new team to the PIAA state and Philadelphia Public League titles and committed to UNLV as questions about whether he would qualify eventually faded away. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Bests and Worsts of The Week

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 8th, 2015

With notable results filtering in throughout the week, the complexion of the Pac-12 has undergone significant change in the last seven days. Here’s a look at some of the highlights — and lowlights — of recent action.

Best Audition for NBA Scouts: Most of the NBA’s attention has been on Tony Parker this season, but it has been sophomore seven-footer Thomas Welsh who has been UCLA’s best offensive player and rim protector. Welsh logged back-to-back double-doubles against Kentucky and Long Beach State and is shooting 62 percent from the field — some five percentage points better than Parker even though the senior attempts nearly twice as many shots at the rim. Furthermore, Welsh has been close to automatic on 15-foot jumpers this season, shooting better than 60 percent on such attempts. NBA teams will always find a place for a legitimate big man who can stretch the floor with a mid-range game. If Welsh can keep it up, he will get plenty of attention from scouts throughout the season.

Thomas Welsh Was Massive On Both Ends Of The Court Thursday

Thomas Welsh Has Been Arguably UCLA’s Best Player At This Point In The Season

Best Travel Experience: Arizona wasn’t supposed to beat Gonzaga in Spokane, not with Kaleb Tarczewski sidelined with foot issues and especially not when trailing by double-figures at halftime. But Gabe York and Allonzo Trier sparked the offense; Dusan Ristic held his own inside against Domantas Sabonis; and Sean Miller’s team played its trademark stingy defense down the stretch. The result was one of the most impressive road wins of the young season for any team and the rise of a notion that maybe Arizona won’t need to spend this year “rebuilding” after all. If its defense can remain as ruthlessly efficient as it has been and some of the underclassmen continue to develop, this team will be there again late in March.

Worst Travel Experience: Oregon left the friendly climes of Eugene for the first time this season, but a trip to Sin City didn’t quite go according to plan. Instead the Ducks were greeted rudely by UNLV, who buried the unsuspecting team under a barrage of three-pointers while harassing it into 15 turnovers. If there is one subtle flaw in Oregon’s roster, it’s a profound lack of of experience from top to bottom, especially as injuries continue to sideline key rotation players. The Ducks have shown a knack for gaining fuel from the atmosphere at Matthew Knight Arena, which will makes stealing road wins very difficult for visitors (just 10 losses in four seasons). But road games have been the more pressing recent issue. If the Ducks want to be considered legitimate conference title contenders, they will need to win on the road with some degree of regularity.

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Arizona State Putting Together a Quality Resume

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 7th, 2015

You may not have noticed it Saturday night, lost amid college football and everything else that is a late fall Saturday night, but Arizona State’s hoops team put the finishing touches on a very successful week by handing it to Texas A&M (#18 in the latest RTC Top 25) in a 67-54 home win. Coming on the heels of a mid-week win at Creighton, this is just the latest of a series of peaks in Bobby Hurley’s wild first season in the desert. An opening night loss to Sacramento State and a late-game collapse in Brooklyn against Marquette aside, Hurley’s club also has solid wins over Belmont, North Carolina State and UC Santa Barbara on its resume, with road tests at Kentucky and UNLV the next two games on the schedule. So, what exactly is Hurley up to in the desert? And does is this team more like the team that took care of a Top 25 team or the one that lost to a middle-of-the-pack Big Sky team?

Against A Tough Schedule, Bobby Hurley Is Getting Work Done In Tempe (Tom Tingle, Azcentral Sports)

Against A Tough Schedule, Bobby Hurley Is Getting Work Done In Tempe (Tom Tingle, Azcentral Sports)

When things are going well on offense for the Sun Devils, it all starts with sophomore point guard Tra Holder, who is, at times, seemingly impossible for opponents to keep out of the lane. Add in the fact that he’s dangerous when he gets there, with an array of floaters, pull-up jumpers and the ability to earn his way to the line, where he shoots 82.5 percent, and goal one for the opposition’s defense is to put a wrap on Holder’s penetration. That sometimes, such as on Wednesday night against Creighton, necessitates pulling secondary defenders away from their assignments to stop penetration, allowing Holder to do one of two things. First, there’s the old drive-and-dish, sucking in a secondary defender, kicking the ball out to an open teammate on a wing, maybe an additional pass and then a three. With guys like Gerry Blakes, Andre Spight, Kodi Justice and Willie Atwood all capable three-point shooters, that alone is the start for some good offense. The other option for Holder is that midrange game of his, unleashing a floater or a pull-up. If it goes, great; if it doesn’t, the Devils have four guys who are grabbing at least 10% of teammates’ missed shots when they’re on the floor – Savon Goodman, Obinna Oleka, Willie Atwood and Eric Jacobsen. Between those four, 29% of their two-point field goals have come off of putbacks on offensive boards.

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Thoughts From a Wacky Opening Night in College Basketball

Posted by Andrew Gripshover on November 14th, 2015

There were a lot of games and a lot of things that happened last night!  Some immediate takeaways on several of them…

Wisconsin. Yikes. You just don’t expect THAT from a Bo Ryan team, right? We all knew the Badgers were replacing a lot this season but it’s always been next man up in Madison. Perhaps it’s a little different though when you’re replacing the NPOY Frank Kaminsky, his sidekick Sam Dekker and many of the other key components of arguably one of the greatest offenses in college basketball history. Still, there shouldn’t be a drop from that to losing at arguably the nation’s greatest fortress to WESTERN ILLINOIS. Picked last in the Summit (as I’m sure you’ve heard by now), the Leathernecks weren’t exactly North Florida winning at Illinois or even Belmont winning at Marquette (both of which also happened last night). This was THE most shocking result of the night.

Shocker of Shockers on a Wild Opening Night

Shocker of Shockers on a Wild Opening Night

Monmouth over UCLA put in a late bid, though.  Playing 2,796 miles away from campus at Pauley Pavilion and with their body clocks at well after midnight Eastern time, the Hawks more or less debunked every time-zone theory by winning 84-81 in overtime. Maybe it’s fairer to say that the Bruins really lost this one, however, after blowing a 13-point lead with 12 minutes to play, and then up five with two minutes remaining in the extra session. Aaron Holiday had an end-of-game sequence to forget — first missing a jumper, followed by one-of-two free throws after an offensive rebound, and then badly bricking a game-tying three-pointer as time ran out. Perhaps tearing up San Diego State in a secret scrimmage isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

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