Pac-12 Burning Questions: What Has Been the Biggest Surprise So Far This Year?

Posted by AMurawa on December 21st, 2012

Last week it was all about negativity, as we dwelled on the biggest disappointments in the Pac-12 this year. This week, with the holiday season in full swing, it’s all about happiness and light, as well discuss the year’s biggest surprises.

“Which team, player, or other entity, has been the biggest surprise thus far this year?”

 

Andrew Murawa: Everybody loves to see a kid succeed against the odds, and I’m certainly no different in that respect, which is why Stanford’s Andy Brown has been one of the highlights of the season for me. After three torn ACLs in his left knee over the course of three seasons, there was very little chance that Brown would ever make a significant contribution on the basketball court for the Cardinal. Through no fault of his own, I’d certainly written him off. But this season, he has been Johnny Dawkins’ most consistent contributor off the bench. He’s played in all but one game and averaged better than 20 minutes per night when out there, including better than 20 in each of the last six games. He’s shown a nice three-point stroke, a great ability to poke a ball lose every now and then and a hustle and savvy that any ball club could use. And, best of all, he’s shown no ill effects from his previous injuries out there. Watching the kind of season that Brown is having in what is technically his senior year (academically at least, he can probably play a couple more seasons for Dawkins if he so desires) is not only the biggest surprise in the conference, it is also exactly the kind of thing that keeps me coming back to college athletics.

Andy Brown\'s Return From Three ACL Tears Has Been One Of The Pac-12\'s Nicest Surprises (AP Photo)

Andy Brown’s Return From Three ACL Tears Has Been One Of the Pac-12′s Nicest Surprises (AP Photo)

Adam Butler: There have been some surprises this year to be certain. In answering this BQ I’m quick to hat tip the State of Oregon, Jordan Adams, and the Utes. Each of these entities has exceeded early expectations – if we even bothered to have any in Utah’s case – and should be commended for such. However, the biggest surprise thus far, to me, has been the progress of ASU’s Jordan Bachynski. The big man has nearly doubled his rebounding and scoring numbers from a season ago and, most impressively, has been swatting shots away at an alarming rate; 17.6% to be exact (4.6 per game), good for fourth in the nation. His triple double (13 points, 12 boards, 12 blocks) was the first in the conference since 2007 and the first ever at ASU. He’s an integral piece to the Sun Devils’ surprising 9-2 start. We were pretty aware of what Jahii Carson and Carrick Felix were going to bring to this team. We even had a clue what Evan Gordon could deliver. But really for this squad to improve on their 10-win 2011-12, they were going to need to see some improvement from the existing pieces of this roster. They’ve received such from Bachynski and Jonathan Gilling. While ASU hasn’t quite been challenged yet and flopped in their biggest test to date (DePaul), any time you’re getting this kind of production out of a seven-foot-two-inch man, things tend to go surprisingly well.

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Pac-12 Burning Question: Most Useful Non-Conference Schedule?

Posted by AMurawa on November 15th, 2012

It’s not basketball season until the first Pac-12 non-conference loss. Um, thanks Washington? Anyway, every team has their own philosophy when it comes to scheduling and below we’ll discuss which program did the best job assembling its non-conference slate this season.

“Which program has the best non-conference schedule for their needs?

Parker Baruh: The Stanford Cardinal set up a very interesting non-conference schedule for themselves. It hasn’t started out too difficult, but that’s a good thing for Johnny Dawkins and company. The Cardinal struggled a bit against inferior opponents USF and Cal State Fullerton, but came out with victories and look like they are on the verge of putting it all together. The Cardinal will take on Belmont before they head to the Bahamas to take place in the loaded Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament, which should be good preparation for them. In the opener, Stanford will square off against Missouri, which will be their first tough test of the season. The rest of the tournament field consists of Louisville, VCU, Duke, Northern Iowa, Minnesota, and Memphis, so regardless of how the bracket falls, Stanford will have three intense games in the Bahamas. Later, Stanford plays a very challenging road game at NC State and again on the road against Northwestern. The schedule is well-suited for Stanford because they do have some easy opponents like Seattle University, UC Davis, and Lafayette that will help the Cardinal build confidence for conference play and improve their record, but they also have a couple of games against opponents that could be feathers in their cap come Selection Sunday. The Cardinal will be underdogs to Missouri and NC State, but those games will help them when they have to play UCLA, Arizona, and Colorado on the road. Overall, I like what Stanford has set up this season on the non-conference slate. They don’t have the hardest schedule, but it shouldn’t hurt them come Selection Sunday.

Andrew Murawa: What can I say? I’m a sucker for Kevin O’Neill’s scheduling. I’m sure I’ve talked about it before here, but USC’s schedule is brutal. Aside from opening with a solid challenge from a game Coppin State team and December back-to-back games against smaller teams from the southern California area (UC Riverside and UC Irvine, although the latter is looking more appealing after the Anteaters’ performance on Tuesday night), the schedule is loaded with tough challenges and major conference opponents. They played Long Beach State the other night (another team that would probably schedule the Lakers if invited) and next week they head to Maui, where an opening-round game against Illinois will either land them Texas in the semifinal round or Chaminade in the consolation bracket, certainly a case where an opening round loss would add insult to injury. If they keep on the good side of that bracket, they could see North Carolina or Marquette later on in the tourney. When they get back home San Diego State visits, just before a pair of road games over the course of three days at Nebraska and New Mexico. While the Cornhuskers aren’t much to write home about, roadies to any major conference team are no joke. Then, towards the back end of December, there’s another visit to an athletic Georgia team followed by tough mid-major Dayton visiting the Galen Center. While teams like Utah and Arizona State have gone out of their way to soften up the schedule following last year’s disasters, O’Neill has done no such thing. He expects his team to be significantly better and he expects them to prove it from day one; dumbing down the schedule would be akin to him admitting that expectations for this team should be lowered. Say what you want about O’Neill’s offense or his demeanor, but as he proves year in and year out with his schedule, you need never question his commitment to getting the best out of his team. And, just like in 2011 when his team earned an at-large bid to the NCAAs with a 19-15 record, if this team can score a few scalps in the non-conference slate, O’Neill’s scheduling will have put them in great shape to earn another invite this year.

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Pac-12 Burning Question: What Are You Most Looking Forward To?

Posted by AMurawa on November 8th, 2012

We’re so close. Tomorrow around this time, we’ll all be looking at getting ready for opening night. Sure, there may not be a whole lot to look forward to this weekend involving Pac-12 teams, but it will be good just to see what some of these teams look like in the early going. And, of course, we’ve got plenty of things to look forward to this year around the conference. We kept it simple this week and gave our correspondents a chance to peer into the future.

“What are you most looking forward to in the upcoming Pac-12 season?”

Kevin Danna: November and December. Forget conference play, forget conference tournaments, forget the Big Dance. November and December are where conferences earn their keep — in the non-conference slate. These have been two months that have absolutely haunted the Pac-12 ever since the likes of James Harden, Jrue Holiday and Darren Collison skipped town. If the Pac is going to get “bac” to 2007-08 form, its constituents MUST take care of business in these two months. Since the theme of 2012-13 seems to be restoring respectability to the conference, November and December is by far the most intriguing time of the year. Everyone needs to do its part — can UCLA take down Georgetown and put up a worthy fight against Indiana? How will Stanford fare in the Bahamas and on the road at NC State and Northwestern? What about Cal — can the Golden Bears finally get a meaningful road non-conference win when they travel to Madison to take on the Badgers? Top to bottom, it will be very interesting to see how the Pac-12 fares against other leagues. A .500 record against ranked opponents and things are looking up; another 9-38 job against the RPI Top 50, and we’re looking at another two-bid league.

Adam Butler: The Seniors. It’s the same reason we all tuned in to Chipper Jones this year and why we urge our champions to go out on top. The college senior gets no such urging. He is not afforded the luxury of choice because time hath run its course. He must come to grips with his own mortality. This is when legacies are cemented and special things happen. Or hearts are broken. I’ll never forget Kyle Fogg’s tear through the second half of the Pac-12 season last year. He garnered two Player of the Week awards en route to willing the Wildcats to the Pac-12 championship game. They’d lose that game and Kyle Fogg would barely play another game; taking a meager five shots in a first round NIT loss. As for this season’s crop of seniors, I’m excited about what Jio Fontan can do for the Trojans. He’s a terrific story and a ball of heart who finds himself – a year removed from ACL reconstruction – with a newly talented roster and a chance at turning heads. Does that story sound familiar? It should because Abdul Gaddy is dealing with the same situation in Seattle. He’ll be doing it alongside another knee reconstruct and his co-captain, Scott Suggs. These are classic comeback tales I’ll follow from the edge of my seat. And while we’re talking about comebacks, how about Kevin Parrom? He lost grandma and mom and then was shot. Then his foot broke. I don’t care who your team is, you have to root for this kid. Also on his team is Solomon Hill who has developed into a leader and player to be feared. Hill will have the opportunity to cement himself as a Wildcat great, the beginning of the Miller era not unlike a Kerr or Elliott began the Olson era (way hyperbolic there and, frankly, no way Hill is in their league; although rings can do weird things, ask Frodo – wow full tangent). We of course can’t leave Mark Lyons, EJ Singler, Brock Motum (yes!), Joe Burton, Angus Brandt, Jason Washburn, Larry Drew II, and Carrick Felix off the list of must watch swan songs. These are the guys, the stories, that make the college game our favorite.

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Pac-12 Burning Question: Which Newcomer Will Have The Biggest Impact?

Posted by AMurawa on October 25th, 2012

Gather ‘round everybody as we break out this week’s Burning Question around the Pac-12 and get opinions from all of our correspondents.

“Last week we talked about which of the returnees will have a breakout year. This week, we’ll turn our eye to the newcomers. Of all the newcomers in the conference, who will walk away at the end of the season with the Newcomer of the Year award?”

 

Parker Baruh: With UCLA and Arizona having two of the top three recruiting classes in the nation, it would seem like the best newcomer would be coming from one of those teams. However, this year in the Pac-12, I’m going to stay away from Shabazz Muhammad at UCLA and go with Colorado’s Josh Scott as the impact newcomer. Scott was the highlight of the Colorado recruiting class along with Xavier Johnson, and he provides something Tad Boyle has never had at Colorado or as a head coach for that matter, a freshman who can score inside the paint consistently. Although Scott needs to add weight to his 240-pound frame, his length is outstanding and he can rebound very well on both ends. With potential conference player of the year Andre Roberson starting opposite him, Scott will be able to take advantage of multiple match-ups and sneak in for easy putbacks. He averaged 17.4 points and 7.0 rebounds in Colorado’s five-game pre-season trip to Europe and although he’s not going to come out and put up great numbers right away, as the season progresses, 10 points and eight rebounds per game is not out of the question. He can run the floor very well, which is crucial in Tad Boyle’s offensive system. Consequently, he’ll be able to pick up easy points with the guards finding him in transition. What will separate Scott from other post players around the league is the fact that he doesn’t try to do too much. He’s a good and willing passer and will hit cutters or open shooters when necessary. If Josh Scott can provide scoring and rebounding on the front line with Andre Roberson, teams will have a very hard time stopping Colorado’s offense and give up second chances all game long.

Arizona’s Freshman Class Features Kaleb Tarczewski

Kevin Danna: I really like Arizona’s Kaleb Tarczewski‘s chances as being the newcomer of the year in the Pac-12 for this simple reason: How many 7-footers are there in the conference that have offensive game? Only one, and it’s the freshman center out of St. Mark’s School in Massachusetts. Outside of Aziz N’Diaye and maybe Tony Woods or Eric Moreland, I don’t really see how many guys will have success guarding Tarczewski one-on-one. He has a great back-to-the-basket game, so while it will be a lot tougher for him to stuff it every time down the court, he will be able to rely on his left shoulder baby hook. He doesn’t have the fanciest footwork, but there’s not a lot of wasted motion from this guy, so if he gets a bead on somebody, he’s not going to fiddle around and let a defender have a chance to make up for his mistake. So then you try to double team the guy, which would be fine if he wasn’t a good passer. The problem for opposing defenses, though, is that he has great court vision on the low block. If he’s getting doubled, then easy math says someone has to be open, and Tarczewski has a good sense of where the cutter will be coming from. He is also a guy who can run the floor reasonably well and fill that trail post role nicely. If he gets bodied out of the paint, don’t be surprised to see him hit an eight- to 10-foot turnaround jumper. I love what this kid can do.

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Pac-12 Burning Question: Who’s This Season’s Breakout Guy?

Posted by AMurawa on October 19th, 2012

It’s that time of week for our Burning Question, as once a week we’ll try to ask the big question around the conference and get answers from all of our correspondents. This week, amidst all the fresh blood around the conference, we’ll try to find out which familiar face is ready to take a step forward.

Which returning Pac-12 player is poised to have the biggest breakout season?

 

Connor Pelton: I’m going to go way off the board here and pick a surprise player on my surprise team for 2012-13. Aziz N’Diaye has always been a lane-clogging, shot-blocking, rebounding-machine for Washington, but this is the year the senior center puts it all together. He’s not the most agile center in the conference, but he’s athletic enough to be the game-changing seven-footer that Lorenzo Romar’s offense desperately needs with the departure of guards Tony Wroten, Jr., and Terrence Ross. Guys like C.J. Wilcox, Abdul Gaddy, and Scott Suggs are big enough threats on the perimeter to give N’Diaye the space he needs down in the post, and Desmond Simmons (if you’re looking for a super-deep sleeper, he could be another pick) is a big enough threat to take some pressure off Aziz. I think nights like he had last year, putting up 14 points against California, or 13 against Florida Atlantic, will become the norm this year. He had a solid summer exhibition tour as well, his best game coming in a 12-point, 14-rebound performance against Zaragoza.

The key to N’Diaye’s projected breakout year will be avoiding sluggish starts. Just like the double-digit performances that you’ll see peppered throughout last season’s stat sheet, there are the few ugly offensive outings in which N’Diaye struggled early and ended up on the bench for most of the game. To avoid tempting Romar with the option of Austin Seferian-Jenkins, he needs to start each game like he wants to finish it. I think the senior steps up to the challenge, goes for 10/10, and leads the Dawgs to a surprise at-large bid come selection Sunday.

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Stanford Week’s Burning Question: Is Dawkins’ Seat Warming Up?

Posted by Connor Pelton on July 21st, 2012

Pachoops’ Adam Butler joins us once again to chime in with his thoughts on our Burning Question. This is now his fourth straight appearance after giving us answers on the programs of Arizona, USC, and Washington. As for Stanford’s question, here goes:

Stanford made the NCAA Tournament in 13 out of 14 seasons before current head coach Johnny Dawkins took over in 2008-09. In his four seasons on the Farm, Dawkins has yet to lead the Cardinal back to the Big Dance, which has dropped the program down a step in terms of national prominence. How many more times can he go without dancing before his seat begins to heat up?

Dawkins Needs To Bring Stanford Back To National Prominence In A Hurry (credit: Danny Moloshok)

Connor Pelton: It’s tough to stand out and become a prominent team nationally in college basketball. In college football, an average fan will watch roughly 70 out of 125 FBS teams play at least one game throughout the season. That number is about the same for college basketball, but  it’s out of 345 Division I teams. If you think of it as a huge pie, there are about 30 large slices, 40 medium slices, and the rest are crumbs. Stanford used to be one of those coveted large slices, one that would without a doubt hear their name called on Selection Sunday year in and year out. But since Dawkins has taken over, the Cardinal have taken a step down to just one of the medium slices. Fans around the nation know who they are, but they don’t care enough to stay up until Midnight (on the east coast) to watch them play. The same goes for recruits, and if you find yourself in one of those six or seven-year droughts without going dancing, your four- and five-stars are going to become twos and threes.

With that said, Dawkins was able to pump some life into a program that was a little sleepy by winning the NIT Championship last season. That will buy him some time, if only because he can point to it and say, “Hey, we’re on the road back to success.” But if he doesn’t get back to the promised land within the next two seasons, it might be time to move on in Palo Alto.

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