Pac-12 M5: 02.19.14 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on February 19th, 2014

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  1. So, late on Monday night I am navigating my way through the college basketball hub on ESPN.com, and I find this piece with different writers making predictions for the rest of the season that will either make them look smart or stupid. About a quarter of the way down the page is the headline “Take notice of the champs… and Oregon State“. John Gasaway’s “prediction that will make him look stupid” is centered around the Beavers upsetting UCLA in the Pac-12 Tournament championship, giving the program its first trip to the Big Dance since 1990. Stupid or not, a prediction is a prediction, and Oregon State fans will take it. Also included in this predictions post is C.L. Brown’s prognostication that Arizona will not receive a one seed for that NCAA Tournament. With four of its final six on the road and its performance without Brandon Ashley not exactly inspiring, this isn’t a bad pick.
  2. Joe Lunardi released his latest edition of Bracketology on Monday, and the Wildcats remain as a #1 seed in his projections. UCLA follows as a #5 seed, and then four Pac-12 teams (Stanford, Arizona State, California, and Colorado) are represented on the #9 and #10 lines. John Templon released his NIT projections as well earlier this week, and Oregon, Washington, Oregon State, and Utah appear in that field.
  3. Shortly after we talked to you on Monday morning, both the AP and Coaches polls were released and saw Arizona drop two spots to #4 after falling at Arizona State last Friday. The only other team to appear inside the Top 25 were the Bruins after their sweep of Colorado and Utah, but both Arizona State and Cal appear in the “Also Receiving Votes” section. Click here to check out Rush the Court‘s weekly rankings, where the Cats once again appear at fourth, the Bruins take 22nd, and Arizona State comes in at #29.
  4. Stanford guard Aaron Bright will be transferring to St. Mary’s and be eligible to play immediately next season in Moraga. The senior appeared in seven games this season for the Cardinal before dislocating his right shoulder during a late November practice. In order to be able to play immediately, Bright has to find a graduate degree program that is offered by St. Mary’s and not by Stanford. According to this tweet, the Gaels have at least three of those; Kinesiology, an MA in Leadership, and an MFA in Creative Writing. Oh, and Australian Basketball Recruiting.
  5. I must warn you, the next link is a bit disturbing. Coaches at both Arizona and Arizona State are proposing the ridiculous notion that Pac-12 court rushes be prevented, possibly by as soon as next season. Sean Miller thinks the situation is a threat to the visiting team’s safety and inconveniences them when trying to get back to the locker room after the game is over. My thoughts? Who cares if you have to wait by the bench for a few extra minutes after the buzzer sounds? Have security in place like the ACC does to surround the staff and players, and let the kids have their fun on the floor.
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Pac-12 Roundup: Week 14

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) and Drew Murawa (@AMurawa) on February 18th, 2014

Out of the country? Living under a rock? Here’s what you missed in the 14th week of Pac-12 basketball. 

Power Rankings (as voted upon by Connor Pelton and Andrew Murawa)

T1. Arizona State (19-6, 4 Points). Comment: “Is Arizona State even an accredited university? Or is it like DeVry?” – Jordan Majewski (@jorcubsdan)

T1. UCLA (20-5, 4 Points). Comment: “UCLA student section chanting “one more year” to Zach LaVine. I’m guessing NBA scouts want in on that chant too.” – Drew Murawa (@AMurawa)

T1. Arizona (23-2, 4 Points). Comment: “He touched the rim. RT @jskarp Sean Miller should be a delight after this game.” – Kevin Danna (@Kevo408)

Senior Guard Jermaine Marshall Celebrates After Knocking Off #2 Arizona On Friday (credit: Matt York)

Senior Guard Jermaine Marshall Celebrates After Knocking Off #2 Arizona On Friday (credit: Matt York)

4. Colorado (19-7, 5 Points). Comment: “Someone is SKIing in Los Angeles right now.” – Adam Butler (@pachoopsab)

5. California (17-8, 8 Points). Comment: “California escapes for an 80-76 overtime win in Pullman and avoids losing to the two worst teams in the conference.” – Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28)

T6. Oregon (16-8, 14 Points). Comment: “You want to know how well Oregon is playing? I don’t even have anything bad to say about Waverly Austin.” – Matt Daddy (@mattdaddysblog)

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Pac-12 M5: 02.17.14 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on February 17th, 2014

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  1. With wins over Marquette, Colorado, California, and Arizona, Arizona State and head coach Herb Sendek think the Sun Devils are an NCAA Tournament team. They currently boast a Top 30 RPI rank, putting them on the right side of the bubble at the moment. The schedule doesn’t get any easier, however, after topping second-ranked Arizona. Four of their final six regular season games will be played away from Tempe, and the two at home are both against teams that currently sit in the top half of the Pac-12 standings.
  2. Oregon used two huge separate runs of 20-2 and 12-3 to propel itself to a Civil War victory on Sunday afternoon against Oregon State, keeping the Ducks slim hopes of dancing alive. The Ducks came out white hot, hitting their first seven attempts from behind the three-point arc. The Beavers did a good job of battling back to keep the game tight but could never get the deficit to below two. 
  3. Oregon is currently not even in the conversation for the NCAA Tournament following its 4-8 start to Pac-12 play, but that can change with a 5-1 finish to the season. Arizona is still a #1 seed in Joe Lunardi’s latest edition of Bracketology, but the Wildcats need to show that they can win on the road without Brandon Ashley in order to stay there. UCLA is the second highest ranked team in the conference, coming in as a #6 seed, and in an interesting twist, the #10 seed line is chalk full with Pac-12 teams. ColoradoArizona StateCalifornia, and Stanford are all ten seeds in Lunardi’s projections, with the Buffaloes being listed as one of the last four teams to receive a bye.
  4. The Buffs dropped four out of their first five games after losing their best player, Spencer Dinwiddie, to a torn ACL on January 12 at Washington. Since then, however, Colorado has turned the tables and won four of its last five games, lifting them to the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble. Andy McDonnell takes a look at how it is settling into life without Dinwiddie in this piece. The Buffaloes have had to rely on some young guys, namely forwards Josh Scott and Xavier Johnson, to get back to their winning ways, and the production will need to continue this week against the Arizona schools.
  5. This feature takes a look at the strengths and weaknesses of Arizona freshman Aaron Gordon, who is widely projected as a lottery pick for the 2014 NBA draft. The praise comes despite some massive struggles from three-point range and the free throw line, where the forward is shooting at 30 and 40% clips, respectively. His strong defensive fundamentals and high athleticism more than make up for his recent shooting struggles in the eyes of professional scouts, however, and as long as he continues to work on his shot, he will be selected high in late June.
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Pac-12 Roundup: Week 13

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) and Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on February 12th, 2014

Out of the country? Living under a rock? Here’s what you missed in the 13th week of Pac-12 basketball. 

Power Rankings (as voted upon by Connor Pelton, Andrew Murawa, and Adam Butler)

Arizona is once again the unanimous number one in our weekly power rankings, but no team beyond them is completely agreed upon. Check the results below to see the jumbled mess that is the Pac-12.

Sophomore Forward Xavier Johnson Averaged 23.5 PPG And Propelled Colorado To A Weekend Sweep (credit: Ron Chenoy)

Sophomore Forward Xavier Johnson Averaged 23.5 PPG And Propelled Colorado To A Weekend Sweep (credit: Ron Chenoy)

  1. Arizona (23-1, 3 Points)
  2. Arizona State (18-6, 7 Points)
  3. UCLA (18-5, 8 Points)
  4. Colorado (18-6, 14 Points)
  5. Stanford (15-7, 15 Points)
  6. California (15-8, 18 Points)
  7. Utah (16-7, 20 Points)
  8. Oregon State (13-10, 25 Points)
  9. Oregon (15-8, 27 Points)
  10. Washington (13-11, 30 Points)
  11. Washington State (9-14, 33 Points)
  12. USC (10-13, 35 Points)

Best Game – Oregon @ Arizona: While Arizona State saw one game go to overtime and another featuring a 23-point comeback, the excitement on Thursday night in Tucson was unmatched throughout the league in week 13. Desperate for a win, Oregon came out firing on all cylinders, answering each of #2 Arizona’s mini-runs and eventually taking a 38-37 lead into the locker room at the half. The Ducks opened up a lead as big as seven in the second half but went dry down the stretch, an all-too-familiar scene for their fans. The Wildcats outscored the visitors 13-7 in the final five minutes to escape with a 67-65 win, lifting them to a 22-1 record on the season. Junior guard Nick Johnson led all scorers with 18 points in the victory, while Joseph Young and Jason Calliste paced Oregon with 14 apiece. With the sweep of the Oregon schools, the Cats remain as a solid one seed, while Oregon’s winless trip to the desert puts them on the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble. With its high RPI, Oregon can still steal an at-large bid, but it needs to find a way to pull out these close games in the final month of the season. Five of its eight losses have come by four points or less, with four coming by two.

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Pac-12 M5: 2.12.14 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 12th, 2014

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  1. So, after a week without Brandon Ashley, one thing has become pretty clear for Arizona: Odds are good that the injured big man will be back for his junior campaign in the desert. He told ESPN’s Jeff Goodman recently that it is very likely he’ll be back in Tucson next season instead of pursuing an NBA career, but for head coach Sean Miller, a guy who has seen his fair share of players leave early, he’s not taking anything for granted. The coach, player and his family plan on gathering together after the season to discuss the big man’s future, however, and the decision then may turn out differently.
  2. One interesting bit out of the Wildcats’ Sunday evening win over Oregon State was the contribution of little-used senior guard Jordin Mayes, who earned just five minutes of action but may have put in his application for future minutes with a nine-point outburst in that limited time. With Miller claiming to already trust Mayes defensively and that seventh and/or eighth spot in the rotation available, it’s possible that the stretch run of Mayes’ Wildcats career could be more impactful than previous results had led us to believe.
  3. Utah also has a player who was formerly on the outs now competing for a bigger role in junior wing Princeton Onwas. After his friend and position-mate Ahmad Fields began to earn a bigger role at the expense of his minutes, Onwas returned to practice with a new focus and set about regaining a larger role. Early results are good, as he earned 25 minutes against Washington and harassed C.J. Wilcox into an off night followed by a highly efficient 10 points on seven field goal attempts in 13 minutes against Washington State on Saturday night.
  4. Tomorrow night Colorado visits UCLA and head coach Tad Boyle is particularly concerned about Bruins junior guard Norman Powellwho had a big second half in UCLA’s win over USC on Saturday night. Powell is the team’s best perimeter defender, its most ferocious dunker, and an emerging all-around offensive force. Boyle recognizes that without the Buffs’ best perimeter defender in Spencer Dinwiddie, Powell’s athleticism and skill will make him someone of whom his team is going to need to pay extra attention.
  5. Another UCLA wing who has raised eyebrows this season is freshman Zach LaVine. But after a fantastic start to the season that had some calling him an immediate lottery pick, the exciting wing has settled back to earth. His three-point shot is beginning to fall a little less frequently (he’s 2-of-11 in the past two weeks); teams are realizing he’s not much of a threat off the bounce; and he’s even started to blow some occasional dunks. Is it still a surefire certainty that he’s NBA-bound after a single season in Westwood? On upside alone, you’ve got to figure he’s gone. But in a year with a deep draft, maybe LaVine wants to return to work on his handle, half-court game and other weaknesses in order to ensure a lottery pick next year? Possibly, but the smart money is still on a rather brief stay with the Bruins.
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Pac-12 M5: 02.10.14 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 10th, 2014

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  1. The Marcus Smart incident wasn’t the only negative fan-related problem from this weekend, as the Pac-12 had one of its own. According to reports from the Oregon basketball staff and members of the team, an Arizona State student spit on Oregon assistant coach Brian Fish and trainer Clay Jamieson following that game. University police witnessed the event, followed the Ducks to their locker room and discussed the incident with the Ducks’ staff, but they declined to press charges. According to Fish, the team was also spit on at halftime heading to the visitor’s locker room via a ramp that bisects the Arizona State student section. As college basketball fans, we certainly love the fact that fans are passionate about the game, but we would hope that people have reasonable boundaries. But, knowing full well that all fans won’t always respect those boundaries, and knowing even better that college-aged students will have even further problems with them, schools and their arenas need to do their best to protect the opposition. Odds are good that the location of the student section at Arizona State will be reconsidered, not that a change in that area will prevent all fan abuses in the future.
  2. As for the game on the court, Sun Devil senior center Jordan Bachynski was the key to a weekend sweep of the Oregon schools. Averaging 21.5 points, 12 rebounds, and eight blocks (!!!!!) on 15-of-20 from the field and 13-of-16 from the free throw line, he dominated the paint against the undersized Ducks and even against the talent Oregon State frontline. On a weekend where he became the conference’s all-time leader in blocked shots, Bachynski had his best all-around back-to-back pair of games in his career in Tempe.
  3. Meanwhile, brother Dallin Bachynski is getting the job done up the road a spell for Utah. Together with sophomore center Jeremy Olsen, Bachynski has helped to give the Utes a toughness inside to pair with the talented wing players who have more regularly been the stars. Against Washington State on Saturday night, Olsen and Bachynski combined for 20 points and 11 boards in a dominating win that has the squad now within a game of .500 in conference play. They’re still a longshot, but the Utes have at least kept alive the hope of an NCAA bid this season.
  4. UCLA, meanwhile, looks like a team that is headed to an NCAA Tournament berth, but they’re still a team that is in need of a good old-fashioned paint-peeling half-time dress-down like the one head coach Steve Alford gave them against USC on Saturday night. After an uninspiring first half, the Bruins were down six and clearly not playing to the best of their abilities. But, a 10-0 run out of the halftime locker room, turned into a 27-6 run and UCLA coasted over an overmatched Trojans team from there.
  5. Lastly, with Arizona now shorthanded without Brandon Ashley, a key for head coach Sean Miller from here on out will be the ability to manage minutes, conserve energy and wisely use his main six players. Sunday night in a blowout against Oregon State, each of the starting five played between 28 and 31 minutes, with Gabe York and Elliott Pitts combining for another 37. They’ve now got a full four days to recover before they face Arizona State on Friday night, then another four days before they travel to Utah, but it will be interesting to see not only how Miller manages his team’s game minutes, but its workout minutes off of the court.
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#rushthetrip Day Two: Exhilaration and Apprehension as McKale Center Watches Cats Escape

Posted by Bennet Hayes on February 7th, 2014

RTC columnist Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) is looking for the spirit of college basketball as he works his way on a two-week tour of various venues around the West. For more about his trip, including his itinerary and previous stops on his journey, check out the complete series here.

West of Lawrence, Kansas, there may be no better home court than either of the two I visited to start this trip. The folks at UCLA, Gonzaga and Utah State might all have reasonable gripes (especially Bruins fans) with that assertion, but back-to-back nights at The Pit and McKale Center is about as good as college basketball can get. Some 450 miles separate the two universities, so six hours of driving (which included a successful journey through Truth or Consequences, New Mexico) brought me to Tucson to watch Arizona host Oregon.

There's No Doubt About It -- Arizona's McKale Center Is One Of College Hoops' Grandest Stages

There’s No Doubt About It — Arizona’s McKale Center Is One Of College Hoops’ Grandest Stages

The obvious storyline entering last night’s game was how the Wildcats would bounce back from not only their first loss of the season, but also the season-ending injury suffered last weekend by Brandon Ashley. Not surprisingly, the hoops-savvy McKale faithful were keyed in on Ashley’s absence (and its impact) throughout the evening. It began in pregame warmups, when Ashley’s crutch-waving at midcourt fomented the student section into a moderate frenzy, and continued when his replacement in the starting lineup, freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, received the loudest ovation of any Wildcat during introductions.

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Who Won the Week? Two Undefeated Teams, But Certainly Not The Third…

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker) on February 7th, 2014

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Who Won the Week? is a regular column that outlines and discusses three winners and losers from the previous week of hoops. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.

WINNER: Wichita State

Cleanthony Early was outstanding for the Shockers. (AP)

Cleanthony Early was outstanding this week for the Shockers. (AP)

The nation’s winningest team cleared its toughest conference hurdle Wednesday night in defeating Indiana State in Terre Haute, led by senior forward Cleanthony Early’s 19 points. From here on, the Shockers have better than 50 percent odds to go undefeated in the regular season, according to KenPom.com, and about 35 percent odds to make it to the NCAA Tournament unblemished. Wichita State’s reign over the Missouri Valley has been so strong this year that only two teams – Missouri State and Indiana State – have even finished within 10 points of them. Tomorrow’s game at Northern Iowa is the toughest remaining tilt for the Shockers, which also sandblasted Evansville 81-67 last Saturday.

(Related winners: Gregg Marshall, whose stock will never be higher, even if he never wants to leave; the Missouri Valley, which is certain to get some more NCAA Tournament win shares, even without Creighton in the conference. Related losers: Indiana State, the MVC”s second-best team, which probably has to win Arch Madness to make the NCAAs; Evansville, perpetually anonymous in purple.)

LOSER: Arizona

Of the triumvirate of teams that came into last weekend undefeated, only two came out unscathed. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they weren’t one of them. Their road trip to California, the toughest game left on their schedule at that point, turned out to be undone by a last-second jumper from Golden Bears’ guard Justin Cobbs over center Kaleb Tarczewski, giving Cal a 60-58 win. That news was bad enough, but worse was what came after — that sophomore forward Brandon Ashley, a starter, had broken his foot during the game and would be out for the season. In Thursday’s 67-65 win over Oregon, Arizona looked disjointed offensively and saw star freshman Aaron Gordon injure his leg in a game in which he made just 2-of-11 free throws. The Wildcats actually trailed the disintegrating Ducks with just 90 seconds left before point guard T.J. McConnell made a three-pointer that gave them the lead for good. Sean Miller only played seven players, even accounting for Gordon’s injury, and its lack of depth could be problematic should more injuries arise or should fouls accumulate. It’s a shame to see this happen because a full-strength Arizona team looked to be head and shoulders above all but a few others around the country.

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Pac-12 M5: 02.07.14 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on February 7th, 2014

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  1. The Inferno turned into The Library for the first 11 and a half minutes of last night’s Oregon State-Arizona State contest at Wells Fargo Arena, where the Sun Devil students decided to pay homage to former star James Harden by staying silent until their team reached the 13 point mark. The only problem? Arizona State struggled to find the hoop early on, and the lack of noise from the crowd let the Beavers relax and jump out to an early lead. No harm, no foul as the Devils would eventually pull out an 86-82 victory in overtime, but head coach Herb Sendek would prefer it if that tradition came to an end.
  2. It’s safe to say Arizona State wouldn’t have topped the Beavers without a record setting performance from senior center Jordan Bachynskiwhose seven blocks put him first on the list of Pac-10/12 swat leaders at 279. Bachynski did even more damage on the offensive end of the court, however, gashing Oregon State’s bigs for 15 points. He passed former great Anthony Cook to become the conference’s leader in blocks, who played for rival Arizona.
  3. Down the road and through the desert, #2 Arizona stormed back late last night to squash an upset bid from a desperate Oregon team, prevailing for a 67-65 victory in its first game without sophomore forward Brandon Ashley. Just as they did against UCLA, Washington, and Stanford, the Ducks failed to close out a game they very well could have won, resulting in another heartbreaking loss. Wildcat guard Nick Johnson led all scorers with 18 points in the win. For additional reading, be sure to check out this postgame piece from our very own Drew Murawa, as he examines just how much Arizona loses without Ashley, and what the Cats will need to do in the final month of the season to earn a top seed in the NCAA Tournament. 
  4. Joe Lunardi released his latest Bracketology yesterday, and while Arizona is no longer the top overall seed in the bracket, it still is a one seed in Lunardi’s projections. UCLA and Stanford follow on the six and nine lines, respectively, and then we get to the bubble. California and Colorado are 10 seeds, while Arizona State sneaks into the field as an 11. Oregon is listed as the first team out of the field, but that could change if it comes back home with a split against the Arizona schools.
  5. Game Connor (11-3) Drew (7-7) Adam (6-8)
    Oregon at Arizona State Arizona State Arizona State Arizona State
    Washington State at Utah Utah Utah Utah
    UCLA at USC UCLA UCLA UCLA
    Oregon State at Arizona Arizona Oregon State Arizona
    Washington at Colorado Colorado Colorado Colorado

Those are our selections for this weekend in Pac-12 basketball. Out of the 15 picks, only ONE features a difference in opinion, and that’s thanks to Drew’s pick of Oregon State in our “Game of the Week”.

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One Game In: Doom and Gloom For the New Arizona?

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

It was Arizona’s first night without Brandon Ashley. While the rest of these Wildcats have spent three months playing with each other, make no mistake — this is the equivalent of a brand new team out there. Minus Ashley, the overwhelming frontcourt advantage that Arizona sported has been lessened; the defensive philosophy has changed; the end-game scenarios now feature as many negatives as positives; and the whole chemistry of the team is different. Really, this is back to exhibition season for the Wildcats; these guys are starting all over.

The New Arizona Team is 1-0, But There Are Concerns (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

The New Arizona Team is 1-0, But There Are Concerns (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

First, while we originally thought guys like Jordin Mayes and Matt Korcheck would see increased roles, neither player took off his warm-ups against Oregon; rather, it was freshman Elliott Pitts who stepped in and played 12 generally solid minutes. Prior to last night, Pitts had played a grand total of six minutes in Pac-12 play: three in mop-up duty in a blowout over Arizona State, and then three more against Cal on Saturday night. His inclusion in the seven-man rotation signals a shift in style; where once this team was predicated on dominating the front line, now you’re going to see Arizona play more three-guard lineups. Pitts brings good energy and what looks like a confident three-point stroke, but at this point in his career, he’s a replacement-level player. Another ripple from the Ashley injury is that it appears Gabe York – a fine player, yes – will shift from a guy earning minute totals somewhere in the mid-teens to the mid-20s. Nothing against York at all, but he’s a significant step down from Ashley’s production. Both of these guys are going to improve and Arizona is going to get used to playing with them in their rotation, but basically it boils down to this: Brandon Ashley’s 28 minutes per game are going to be shifted to about 12 minutes per game for Pitts, maybe eight extra minutes for York, and then eight extra minutes split between Kaleb Tarczewski and Aaron Gordon.

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Pac-12 Roundup: Week 12

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) and Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on February 5th, 2014

Out of the country? Living under a rock? Here’s what you missed in the 12th week of Pac-12 basketball. 

Power Rankings (as voted upon by Connor Pelton, Andrew Murawa, and Adam Butler)

For the first time in more than a month, Arizona is no longer the unanimous number one team in our Power Rankings. Check the results below to see which team placed first, and the rest of the jumbled mess that is the Pac-12.

Cooke, left, and Roberto Nelson have led the Beavers to victory in four of their last five conference games. (Rockne Andrew Roll/RTC)

Cooke, left, and Roberto Nelson have led the Beavers to victory in four of their last five conference games. (Rockne Andrew Roll/RTC)

  1. Arizona (21-1, 4 Points)
  2. California (15-7, 5 Points)
  3. Stanford (14-7, 13 Points)
  4. Arizona State (16-6, 14 Points)
  5. UCLA (17-5, 15 Points)
  6. Colorado (16-6, 16 Points)
  7. Oregon State (13-8, 19 Points)
  8. Oregon (15-6, 25 Points)
  9. Utah (14-7, 26 Points)
  10. Washington State (9-12, 30 Points)
  11. Washington (13-9, 31 Points)
  12. USC (10-12, 35 Points)

Best Game – Arizona @ California: This was undoubtedly the best week of Pac-12 basketball in the 2013-14 campaign. The number one team in the country was nearly taken to overtime last Wednesday. UCLA hit a game-winning jumper with five seconds left at Oregon after winning a jump ball, then lost at Oregon State three days later. And oh yeah, three games actually DID go to overtime. And yet, none of those games rivaled Arizona vs. Cal on Saturday night. Neither team led by more than two possessions in the final 10 minutes, and on the Golden Bears’ bench, it was Justin Cobbs time. He scored the only Cal points in that period, including the fadeaway jumper with less than a second remaining that put his team up 60-58, sending the gold-out Haas Pavilion crowd into a premature court-rushing frenzy. The upset more than made up for California’s setback at USC two weeks ago, and gets them off the bubble for the moment. The Wildcats are now ranked second in the nation behind unbeaten Syracuse, but more important than losing the top spot and their undefeated record is the loss of sophomore forward Brandon Ashley. Ashley is gone for the season after breaking his right foot in Berkeley, and it will be interesting to see how the Wildcats’ offense performs without his services.

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Otskey’s Observations: Episode XI

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 5th, 2014

Each week throughout the season, RTC columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) will run down his observations from the previous week of college basketball.

Early Returns on Chris Collins Look Great

When former Duke associate head coach Chris Collins was hired at Northwestern this past spring, many felt it was only a matter of time before the local guy from Northbrook, Illinois, would build up the program to a level where it could achieve its first-ever NCAA Tournament bid. After a 7-9 (0-3 Big Ten) start to the season, Collins and Northwestern have righted the ship with wins in five of their past seven games. Most impressive have been the three consecutive wins away from Evanston: at Indiana, Wisconsin and Minnesota. How have the Wildcats done it? Collins has done what any good coach would do — analyze the strengths and weaknesses of his team and implement a style of play that showcases the strengths while minimizing the weaknesses. Northwestern obviously does not have the same talent level as most other teams in the Big Ten so the way to win games is to slow it down, muck it up and play great defense in low possession games. And that is exactly what the Wildcats have done.

Chris Collins is starting to get it done in Evanston.

Chris Collins is starting to get it done in Evanston.

Collins has gotten this team to buy in defensively as Northwestern is currently ranked No. 10 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. In Big Ten play, the Wildcats lead the conference with a 44.6 percent defensive effective field goal percentage. Since allowing 93 points in a loss at Iowa on January 9, Northwestern has allowed only one opponent (also Iowa) to score more than 56 points in regulation time (Purdue scored 60 in a double-overtime loss to the Wildcats but posted just 46 points in regulation). Northwestern’s games in Big Ten play have averaged only 61.2 possessions with an average possession length of 20.4 seconds, both statistics ranking as the slowest in the Big Ten. Last year’s Northwestern team was dead last in defensive efficiency (in league play) under Bill Carmody which shows you how absolutely remarkable it is that Collins has gotten this group to defend at a high level in such a short period of time. While you never want to get ahead of yourself, at this point it would be a surprise if Northwestern doesn’t make the NCAA Tournament over the next five years when you also consider how well Collins is already doing on the recruiting trail.

Syracuse and Duke Exceeds the Hype

Syracuse’s thrilling overtime victory over Duke last Saturday was one of the best regular season college basketball games I can remember in quite some time. It had everything you would want in a big game: a terrific atmosphere with over 35,000 fans in attendance; two Hall of Fame coaches; league title implications (Syracuse entered the game at 7-0, Duke at 6-2); tons of talent on the floor; and an extremely high level of play. Consider this: Syracuse won an overtime game by two points on its home floor and posted an outrageously high offensive efficiency of 1.34 points per possession. It took that good of an offensive performance to stave off the Blue Devils, which posted 1.31 PPP themselves. It is going to be very difficult to top that game but I am very excited for the rematch at Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 22. Duke and North Carolina will always be the best rivalry in the ACC and arguably in all of college basketball, but Duke and Syracuse appear to be on their way to another terrific rivalry in what has become a bloated ACC. This new rivalry has the potential to exceed what Duke and Maryland had going for some time as a secondary ACC rivalry now that Maryland will be moving on to the Big Ten next season.

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