Pac-12 Notebook: A Stroll Around the League

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on December 16th, 2015

Every week I check in with the Mountain West by writing a little blurb about each team. I like that format because it provides a chance to follow the development of all the league’s teams and focus in on little things that may not be worthy of a longer post. Some teams may get a few hundred words one week while other teams just get a sentence or two, but it highlights the important things. We’re going to bring that format to the Pac 12, beginning right now. We might as well throw in some power rankings while we’re at it, so let’s check in with the league in order of how these teams rate at this point. Let’s get to it.

Jordan Bell Is Back For The Ducks, But They're Still A Long Way From Healthy (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Jordan Bell Is Back For The Ducks, But They’re Still A Long Way From Healthy. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

  • Oregon – Yes, the Ducks are coming off two losses in their last four games. But I’ve had Dana Altman’s team as the best team in the conference since the middle of the summer and, even playing shorthanded, they’ve done nothing to dissuade me of that so far. Sophomore center Jordan Bell made his season debut Saturday night at Boise State and he looked healthy following surgery over the offseason to repair a broken foot. He ran the court hard, and played big in chasing rebounds and blocked shots. He didn’t appear to be favoring that foot at all. In 17 minutes, he blocked a couple shots, grabbed seven boards and even handed out four assists. Last night against UC Irvine, he was even better with 12 points and three steals. Encouraging debut aside, it is going to take him some time to get back into game shape and to get comfortable with his new teammates. He still also hasn’t played a minute with Tyler Dorsey (out following a knee sprain against UNLV) or Dylan Ennis (still sidelined with a foot injury). This Oregon team remains one that may not reach full strength until mid-February, something that isn’t a problem in a sport that so values March.

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Pac-12 Bests and Worsts of the Week: Vol. III

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 16th, 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

Colorado's George King Has The Shooting And The Size To Make NBA Scouts Take Notice

Colorado’s George King Has The Shooting And The Size To Make NBA Scouts Take Notice.

Last week we highlighted the NBA potential of a stretch seven-footer like UCLA’s Thomas Welsh and this week it is Colorado forward George King’s moment in the spotlight. The 6’6″, 220-pounder is shooting 50 percent from behind the three-point arc after making four of his six attempts in the Buffs’ win over BYU and has an NBA body so we have to imagine he is getting looked at a little. The redshirt sophomore has zero track record or pedigree, which makes his efficiency all the more surprising. With all the talk in the NBA of the importance of threes and free throws, what is better than a player who is doing exactly that and little else? And therein lies the rub. King has three-and-defense potential but he currently doesn’t play very much defense and he doesn’t pass much either. He is primarily an offensive player at this point and although he is a gifted shooter, he won’t shoot 50 percent from downtown this season. If he can stay efficient and work hard on becoming a better rebounder and defender, there is no doubt he has NBA ability.

Best Non-Conference Scheduling

UCLA is obligated to play a star-studded non-conference schedule because of who they are but it sure seems like the Bruins are cutting their teeth against a legitimate Sweet Sixteen contender every week. Oh wait… they ARE playing a legitimate Sweet Sixteen contender every week. After an impressive win over Gonzaga in Spokane over the weekend, UCLA now owns two (the other is Kentucky) of the most impressive non-conference wins of any team in the country. Considering two of the team’s three losses were in a preseason tournament halfway across an ocean, we are inclined to believe those wins will vastly outweigh the losses in the eyes of any committee that may or may not evaluate the Bruins for postseason play. The Bruins will likely end up in a lot of bubble discussions in February and there is no doubt these games help teams prepare for the pressure of similar games in the postseason. They aren’t done either. UCLA plays North Carolina in Brooklyn on Saturday.

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Levy’s B1G Layup Line: Week 4

Posted by Adam Levy on December 11th, 2015

The week after the ACC/Big Ten Challenge usually consists of a bunch of major conference teams playing a bunch of cupcakes to beef up their win columns, and that’s exactly what we had here in the Big Ten. Outside of the Iowa vs. Iowa State game last night, it was a pretty uneventful week in terms of competitiveness and good basketball, but one shall always strive for giving some love to those who deserve it and hating on those who suck or continue to suck. It’s week four of the Layup Line.

REPORT CARD

A: Andrew White

Nebraska's Andrew Smith

Nebraska’s Andrew White Has Been a Revelation in Lincoln (USA Today Images)

Nebraska has played three and a half good teams so far in Villanova, Cincinnati, Miami, Creighton (they’re the half, obvi) and lost them all, so I’m not going to bore you with details on how bad they are. However, I will bore you with details on how good their junior guard/forward, Andrew White, was this past week. 30 points, seven rebounds, four steals, four treys and 14/16 from the line in a win against Abilene Christian; 28 points, eight rebounds, three steals and three treys in a win at Creighton. He’s fourth in the Big Ten in scoring just behind Michigan’s Caris LeVert and finds himself in the top five in three pointers made.

What most casual fans don’t realize is that White is a Kansas transfer. He was the 48th best prospect in the Class of 2012 according to ESPN but found himself playing behind the likes of Ben McLemore, Andrew Wiggins, Wayne Selden, etc. throughout his first two seasons. He’s a good spot up shooter with an excellent mid-range game. This kid is no joke and could very easily find himself on an All-Big Ten Team by season’s end.

B: Brandon Taylor and Shep Garner

It’s finally time for some Penn State love. It has been an up and down season for the Nittany Lions so far, but they had a decent week by beating Eastern Michigan and Canisius and playing a very underrated George Washington team close on the road. They may not be any good, and they may not have any supporters whatsoever (because, you know, Penn State basketball), but amidst all of the negativity throughout the Pat Chambers era arises a two-player nucleus that has made some noise this season.

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Drawing Battle Lines, Day Three: Making a Case for Wednesday’s Games

Posted by Brendan Brody and Matt Patton on December 2nd, 2015

After two days worth of games, the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge is deadlocked at four games apiece with six games left tonight. Michigan, Purdue, and Northwestern picked up wins for the Big Ten last night, while North Carolina, Virginia, and Miami notched wins for the ACC. To prepare for the final night of play, the ACC and Big Ten microsites are once again here to defend the leagues they cover. Brendan Brody (Big Ten) and Matt Patton (ACC) make the case for each team in their respective leagues for all six contests that will take place tonight on the ESPN family of networks.

acc big ten schedule

Penn State at Boston College (7:15 PM, ESPNU)

  • Matt: The Eagles are coming off a disastrous trip to California which they ended getting pummeled by Santa Clara. How the team responds is the x-factor. On paper this looks like a fairly even matchup, which should give the advantage to the home team. Additionally, Jim Christian’s team has the pieces to be a better offensive team than they’ve shown thus far.Expect Christian to throw a few different defensive looks at Brandon Taylor to try to keep him uncomfortable, but the Eagles will win or lose this on the offensive end. Boston College has to make shots, and will need a strong performance out of freshman Jerome Robinson and transfer Eli Carter.
  • Brendan: When they’ve won, Penn State has only given up 56.7 ppg. When they’ve lost, it’s because they’ve given up an obscene amount of three-pointers. Boston College has some shooters, but their two leaders in three-point attempts (Carter, and AJ Turner) are both shooting below 30 percent from deep. Look for the Nittany Lions to make sure they guard on the perimeter, and look for them to squeak out a close win in a low scoring game.

Wisconsin at Syracuse (7:15 PM, ESPN2)

Jim Boeheim (US Presswire)

Jim Boeheim Will Stay in New York For Another Game Tonight (US Presswire)

  • Brendan: Syracuse has been one of the biggest surprises nationally after starting the season 6-0. Wisconsin has struggled to a 4-3 mark, but have showed some flashes of getting things together despite playing a tough schedule. The key aspect that they can exploit in this game is in getting extra possessions on the glass. They rebound 41.0 percent of their misses, while the Orange struggle to close out possessions by snagging a defensive rebound (308th nationally in defensive rebounding rate). Look for the Badgers to take advantage of these extra possessions to get the road win here.
  • Matt: Raise your hand if through six games you thought Trevor Cooney would be the least efficient Orange player. Syracuse has totally reinvented itself, and it hasn’t needed Dajuan Coleman to do so. Michael Gbinije has been outstanding running the offense (with Cooney’s help). If the Orange can keep their starting five on the floor most of the game, they’ll be in good shape. Neither team will be interested in running the floor, so that’s an achievable goal. Tyler Roberson and Tyler Lydon can’t let Wisconsin’s ball movement hurt the Orange inside, though the Badgers have not had a banner year offensively to date.

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Pac-12 Preseason Poll, Superlatives & All-Conference Teams

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 13th, 2015

Over the past three weeks, we’ve unveiled individual previews for each of the 12 conference teams (for a full list with links, scroll down to the very bottom of this post). Now it is time to put it all together and take a look at the Pac-12 as a whole. So we gathered our most knowledgeable Pac-12 aficionados and voted on things like projected conference standings, All-Conference Teams, and Player of the Year. Below we’ll unveil those results.

First, though, since this is a team sport, let’s get right to the heart of the matter and review our preseason Pac-12 poll. We asked each of our pollsters to rank each team from #1 through #12 and found some interesting results. Three of our four voters picked Arizona to three-peat as the regular season champion, while the fourth person picked Oregon. Utah and Cal are in the mix as well, while the biggest gap separates spots #6 (Oregon State) and #7 (Arizona State).

Screenshot 2015-11-11 12.56.49

Compared with last season’s standings, Cal is the team expected to take the biggest jump, which is no surprise given Cuonzo Martin’s stellar recruiting class. On the flip side, our voters are less bullish on Stanford across the Bay. Last year the Cardinal finished tied for fifth in the conference and won the NIT. This year? Two of our voters pick them as the absolute worst team in the Pac-12.

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Utah Preview: Who’s Got the Wright Stuff?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 23rd, 2015

In the next three weeks leading up to season tipoff, the Pac-12 microsite will be evaluating each of the league’s 12 teams. Today, we head to Salt Lake City.

Utah Utes

The second team up for our preseason previews is Larry Krystkowiak’s squad, fresh off a third-place conference finish and a Sweet Sixteen appearance. Last season marked the third consecutive year in West Coast Coach K’s four-year tenure in Salt Lake City in which his team’s record has improved. Of the team’s 11 players who averaged better than eight minutes per game last season, nine return. However, the big one who doesn’t is point guard and All-American Delon Wright, who averaged 14.5 points, 5.1 assists, 4.9 boards, 2.1 assists and a block per game, numbers that only begin to sum up his overall importance to the squad.

With Jakob Poeltl Patrolling The Paint, The Utes Defense Is A Serious Strength (Godofredo Vasquez, USA Today)

With Jakob Poeltl Patrolling The Paint, The Utes’ Defense Is A Serious Strength (Godofredo Vasquez, USA Today)

Strengths. As alluded to above, that experience is going to be a huge asset for the Utes. But it is just one of many areas from which this team can draw confidence. Last year the Utes were sixth in the nation in defensive efficiency, largely on the strength of allowing the fifth-lowest effective field goal percentage in the nation. Dig deeper and you also see things like this (courtesy of Hoop-math.com): They were 35th in the nation in fewest three-point attempts allowed; they allowed the 25th-lowest field goal percentage on shots at the rim and were 20th in the nation at shots blocked at the rim; and, they forced their opponents to take the 25th-highest percentage of two-point jumpers. To sum it up, this was a team that closed out on shooters at the arc, forced opponents inside the three-point line, and then used their front line size (highlighted by freshman center Jakob Poeltl) to greatly inhibit shooters’ effectiveness around the rim. Utah loses one of the nation’s elite perimeter defenders with Wright now gone, but the guys expected to take over for him are athletic and long wings. If Krystkowiak’s perimeter defense can be roughly equivalent to last year, scoring against the Utes in the paint will likely be just as difficult. On the other end of the court, the team’s biggest strength last season was its three-point shooting. Three different players – Brandon Taylor, Jordan Loveridge and Dakarai Tucker – shot at least 37 percent from three on at least 108 attempts. They all return, but again, Wright’s ability to penetrate and draw multiple defenders certainly opened up clean looks for them around the arc. If they can again find good looks, the Utes should be able to maintain one of their biggest strengths. Read the rest of this entry »

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On the Rise Of Utah Basketball

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on February 26th, 2015

On Saturday, Arizona will travel to Utah for a game with major implications to the Pac-12 regular season title picture. Any casual basketball fan knows the general story of Sean Miller and his refresh of the Wildcats program – a program with a proud history returned to elite status following the bumpy ending of the Lute Olson era. What many may not recognize is that the Utes are following a similar path. Following the stability and excellence of the 14 years of the Rick Majerus era (which featured no losing records, 10 seasons with at least 24 wins, a Final Four and 11 NCAA Tournament appearances), the Utes burned through two coaches in seven years and suffered four losing seasons over that volatile stretch. Compared with Arizona’s post-Olson struggles, Utah’s downturn was far more pronounced. But through the combination of the right hire, rampant roster revamping and, let’s face it, some good luck, the Utes have come out the other side of their dark period as a member of a power conference and back to national contention.

After A Rough Transition Post-Majerus, Utah Basketball Is Back In Its Rightful Place (Utah Athletics)

After A Rough Transition Post-Majerus, Utah Basketball Is Back In Its Rightful Place. (Utah Athletics)

The 2010-11 season was a great example of mixed emotions around the Utah basketball program. There was the excitement that the Utes were headed to a new conference – the newly named Pac-12 – in the following season. But at the same time, the current edition of the team was struggling to a tie for sixth place in the Mountain West as head coach Jim Boylen wrapped up his four-year stint with a third losing conference record. The program was coming off a season in which five players (including some guy named Marshall Henderson, and another one named Carlon Brown – who went on to be a Pac-12 Tournament MVP in leading Colorado to an NCAA bid in 2012) had transferred out of the program. Boylen was subsequently fired, and after a search that included St. Mary’s Randy Bennett and former Alabama head coach Mark Gottfried as candidates, Montana’s Larry Krystkowiak was named the new head coach on April 2, 2011.

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Is Penn State A Pretender Or Contender?

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 17th, 2014

Last Sunday, Penn State got its best win of the season when it soundly defeated a talented George Washington team at the Bryce Jordan Center. The victory pushed the Nittany Lions’ record to 10-1, which is tied for best in the Big Ten — the lone loss a double-overtime bout with Charlotte. While the number of wins is impressive, a deeper look into the record reveals the absence of any other resume-enhancing wins. Even last weekend’s win against the Colonials, while no easy task, represents a victory over a team that hovers around the top 50 in both the KenPom and Sagarin ratings. Also concerning is the fact that Penn State has not exactly been blowing out its inferior opponents (they won by fewer than five points against Virginia Tech, Marshall, and Duquesne, but they still won). This presents something of a paradox between their on-court performance and their record, leaving Big Ten fans to guess how good Penn State really is. In this post, I’ll explore both sides of whether Pat Chambers’ squad is really a contender or pretender as he pushes forward toward what could possibly be his first NCAA Tournament bid as the head coach.

Shep Garner has been able to emerge as a secondary scorer for Penn State in his freshman year.

Shep Garner has been able to emerge as a secondary scorer for Penn State in his freshman year (Mark Selders/GoPSUSports.com).

  • Penn State is a pretender. Look no further than the Sagarin ratings to show the true discrepancy between the Nittany Lions’ record and performance. Specifically note the Elo rating component, which is a formula that solely considers wins, losses and who they’re against, and compare it with the Golden Mean and Pure Points ratings, two metrics that take into account point differential. Based on the Elo rating, Penn State is ranked 49th in the country; his Golden Mean and Pure Points ratings list the Nittany Lions at 128th and 119th, respectively. That’s an approximate gap of 70-80 teams, with the difference accounting for actual on-court performance. KenPom makes a similar case in his ratings, as he ranks the team 89th but notes that it is among the top 40 in luck, a metric that measures how much a team’s record has been above its expected play on the court. So if you’re looking at these metrics alone, it’s undeniable that the 10-1 record is somewhat misleading.

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Dear Utah: Seriously, Can You Learn How to Close the Door?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 11th, 2014

Against Wichita State, it was sort of heartwarming; Utah getting that close-game monkey off their back (they had been 3-9 in games decided by two possesions or less since Delon Wright put on a Utah uniform at the start of last season). The fact that they had to blow a comfortable lead in the waning moments to make the game close to begin with was forgivable givne the final result. Against BYU on Wednesday night, heartwarming turned into heartburn.

Winning Easily Seems To Fit As Awkwardly On The Utes As A Suit Jacket Does On Head Coach Larry Krystkowiak

Winning Easily Seems To Fit As Awkwardly On The Utes As A Suit Jacket Does On Head Coach Larry Krystkowiak

Really, by the time this game reached the first TV timeout early in the first half, there was no doubt as to who was the better team, who had more talent. Sure, BYU’s Tyler Haws is an elite scorer capable of keeping his team in a lot of games it has no business being in. And Kyle Collinsworth? Goodness. I have neither the time nor the imminent desire to list all the things I love about that dude’s game. But beyond that, the rest of that BYU roster is more or less indistinguishable from any other random team that will likely be on the periphery of NCAA Tournament discussion in a few months. They’ve got some decent parts (Anson Winder is nice, Chase Fischer is flammable, some passable bigs), but on a whole, there ain’t a whole lot to write home about beyond those two.

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Huge Win For Utah in a Non-Conference Classic

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 4th, 2014

If you’ve been paying attention here, you knew the stats: last year Utah was 3-8 in games decided by two possessions or less. This season they extended that number to 3-9 with a four-point loss at San Diego State. Throw in the extra little point that only one of those three close wins last year came against an NCAA Tournament team, and you had to feel unsure about the Utes’ chances in the middle of the second half when they appeared to be locked into a duel with everybody’s favorite, the Wichita State Shockers. Even as the Utes appeared to be the more dynamic team on the floor in this game once they settled down about mid-way through the first half, the Shockers kept sticking around and making championship-level plays. That is, right up until their water got turned off by excellent Utah defense for possession after possession in the middle of the second half. A consistently tight game turned into an 11-point lead for the Utes with five minutes left, a lead that remained at seven with 80 seconds left. And it appeared the game was in hand. And then: oh Utah. Wichita: three. Then a five-second call and a unshocking three. Then a turnover on the inbounds pass and then another Wichita three. And then… “Sure, okay, this is how 3-10 is going to happen.”

Freshman Seven-Footer Jakob Poeltl Helped Lead The Utes To An Exciting Win (Rick Bowmer, AP)

Freshman Seven-Footer Jakob Poeltl Helped Lead The Utes To An Exciting Win (Rick Bowmer, AP)

But then, this team with all this talent… They… Well, is “grew a pair” too much? This matchup was a game with actual consequences for both teams. Wichita is getting exactly two cracks at the Big Five conference teams this season, and this was one of them. Utah, while still having chances at quality wins later in December, was on the verge of adding on another layer of lacquer to that reputation of a team that can’t win in the clutch. Both of these teams had very strong reasons to take this game extremely seriously. And in the middle of all this, Utah takes Wichita’s best shot (albeit in the friendly confines of the Huntsman Center) and shows a serious toughness down the stretch of regulation to force overtime and eventually eke out a tough win. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac Previews: Utah vs. Wichita State & Arizona State vs. UNLV

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 3rd, 2014

With Feast Week behind us and finals on the horizon, things are about to slow down just a little bit in college basketball. Come this weekend, we’ll have all sorts of interesting games on the slate — Arizona State vs. Texas A&M, Gonzaga vs. Arizona, Mississippi vs. Oregon, Colorado vs. Georgia and Washington vs. San Diego State — and not necessarily in that order, that have me intrigued. But between now and then, there are just two match-ups that we can recommend in good conscience, both taking place on Pac-12 home courts tonight. Below, we’ll preview the headliner – Wichita State at Utah – as well as an interesting undercard as UNLV visits Arizona State.

Wichita State at Utah, 8:00 PM PST, ESPN2

Unless you’re a big-time Utes fan or an inveterate college hoops junkie, the last time you saw Utah play it was falling short in a late mid-afternoon run at a comeback against San Diego State. Since then, the Utes have performed mop-up duty against a quartet of teams all ranked in the bottom 20 percent of Division I, winning those four games by an average of 36.3 points per game. The Shockers, meanwhile, have played three teams ranked between #50 and #75 by KenPom and won those games by an average of 17.3 points per game. While they are known for their perimeter players – guards Fred Van Vleet and Ron Baker earned preseason All-America consideration, and senior Tekele Cotton is one of the nation’s best perimeter defenders — Wichita State is a team that plays inside out, getting dribble penetration into the lane and creating opportunities from there. As such, priority number one is stopping that penetration, something Utah is well-suited for with elite defenders Delon Wright and Brandon Taylor leading the way. Perhaps more significant to the Utes’ chances would be the presence of shot-blocking freshman phenom Jakob Poeltl protecting the rim should Van Vleet get into the paint. Likewise, on the other end, Poeltl’s skills in the post and the Utes’ offensive rebounding strength (they’re 18th in the nation with a 40.8% offensive rebounding rate – but remind yourself of that level of competition) could be a pain in the neck to a team without an established player taller than 6’7”.

Delon Wright And Utah Need To Prove They're Ready For The National Stage

Delon Wright And Utah Need To Prove They’re Ready For The National Stage. (Getty)

But really, match-ups and Xs-and-Os are in some ways missing the point of this game for Utah. The Utes have already shown that they can play with the big boys. They battled San Diego State to a four-point road loss (keeping in mind that the final score was a touch closer than reality); they played Arizona to a nine-point margin at the McKale Center last season, then took the ‘Cats to overtime in Salt Lake City later on. Last year they also split with Colorado (including a road loss in overtime) and took Oregon to overtime as well before losing. We know that this team is talented enough to play with some of the best teams in the country — what they have yet to show us is that it can beat those teams, can perform in clutch situations and make good decisions when the pressure is on. Against the Aztecs two weeks ago, the stage was a little too bright for them. They’ve had a chance since then to workshop their script in what amounts to little more than dress rehearsals. If the nation can stay awake on Wednesday night after the Duke/Wisconsin game, they’ll get a chance to see if this Utah team is ready for the spotlight. Read the rest of this entry »

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Penn State Outlook in the Charleston Classic

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 20th, 2014

Penn State heads to South Carolina this weekend to play in the Charleston Classic. The eight-team field doesn’t have any Top 25 teams attending, but it will give the Nittany Lions a few chances to notch wins that could end up being significant if they want to make a postseason tournament. Of course which team they play will be determined by how the bracket works out, but regardless of their opponents, one has to look no further than what Nebraska did last season as to how a holiday tournament like this can help teams figure things out. Despite the fact that they Cornhuskers only won one of three games in this event last season, Nebraska played eventual NCAA Tournament team UMass close and got a decent win over Georgia. Here’s a brief look at what Penn State has in store for them in this season’s edition.

Penn State will need big games from DJ Newbill this weekend in the Charleston Classic. (GoPSUsports.com)

Penn State will need big games from DJ Newbill this weekend in the Charleston Classic. (GoPSUsports.com)

Their first round opponent is Charlotte, a team that could contend for the Conference USA crown along with the likes of Louisiana Tech and UTEP. Both teams look to be structured similarly in terms of their size and makeup. Penn State will need to keep Mike Thorne Jr and Willie Clayton off of the boards, as the pair combined for 23 rebounds in their first game of the season, a win over Elon. Ross Travis and Brandon Taylor will need to keep them in check, especially to keep Clayton from giving the 49ers extra possessions. Florida transfer Braxton Ogbueze is Charlotte’s point guard, which will be a nice test for freshman Shep Garner. Penn State should win this one, but it will be a quality match-up.

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