Pac-12 Weekly Honors: Week Three

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 9th, 2014

Each week the Pac-12 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, which typically will include a Team, Player and Newcomer of the Week, along with our weekly Power Rankings.

Team of the Week: Utah

Utah's Win Wednesday Night Over Wichita State Was A Rare Recent Success, But Bodes Well For the Future (Rick Bowmer, AP)

Utah’s Win Wednesday Night Over Wichita State Was A Rare Recent Success, But Bodes Well For the Future (Rick Bowmer, AP)

In a week when there were several strong candidates around the conference thanks to big wins against nationally-regarded programs (hey to Arizona and Washington), the Utes get the nod in part because of the rarity of such wins recently around the program and in part due to the manner in which they won the game. First, as to the rarity, in their three previous seasons in the Pac-12, Utah has exactly one win per year over teams that finished the season ranked in the KenPom top 40, with the best win coming against UCLA last season. But for this program, the win over Wichita State (currently ranked #7 by KenPom) looks to be just the first of several quality victories this year rather than an isolated incident. As to the second point, the manner in which the Utes won, let’s put it this way: It was thrilling. Not only does this program not have a recent history of winning against quality programs, but they also have dealt with the back-monkey of dropping close games in heartbreaking fashion. Toward the end of Wednesday night’s win, it looked for a few moments like the Utes were going to reprise that same old song. Instead, they recovered to nail down their big win and earn some much-needed confidence.

(Also receiving votes: Washington)

Player of the Week: Tyrone Wallace, California

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Who Won The Week? Kentucky, Gonzaga and Cal!

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker) on November 21st, 2014

wonweekWho 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 Tacoma-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.

WINNER: Kentucky

The #1 Wildcats put in as dominant a performance against a top-five team as I can remember, eviscerating Kansas 72-40 on Tuesday. As many blocks as field goals surrendered? Holding an elite opponent under 20 percent field goal shooting on a neutral court? Sign me up. If this team plays defense together half this good on a nightly basis, it won’t be on the bottom end of a box score very often this season. The beatdown Kentucky put on Kansas completely justifies overlooking the halftime deficit to Buffalo on Sunday, which became a 71-52 win.  This is as no-doubt a winner as I’ve ever had in this column. (Welcome to year three, kids.)

John Calipari is in a good mood with this many All Americans on his roster (AP).

John Calipari is in a good mood with this many All-Americans on his roster. (AP)

(Related winners: The nine high-school All-Americans who get to play 20 minutes each a game while playing against the best opposing players in the country in practice every day, getting to boost their abilities and NBA draft stock simultaneously. Related losers: Kansas, because yeesh. Buffalo, because blowing a halftime lead wasn’t nearly as bad as the six-plus feet of blowing snow dropped on their city later in the week – after a win at Texas-Arlington, at least.) Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Win For Cal, But More Significant Test Pending

Posted by AMurawa on November 21st, 2014

Midway through the second half of California’s 14–point win over Syracuse (#25 in the RTC preseason poll) at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night, both Dick Vitale and John Saunders expressed surprise that the Golden Bears were picked seventh in the Pac-12 — astonished that there could be six teams in the conference better than them. And if you watched the game, you probably understood that surprise, because Cal looked great. They shot a 54.5 percent eFG against the vaunted Syracuse zone, kept the Orange’s athletes out of transition (for the most part), and really had a handle on the game from the closing moments of the first half (a late 12-0 run in that half featured four Cal threes in five possessions). Sophomore Jabari Bird had his national coming-out party with 16 points on four threes, and his more under-the-radar classmate Jordan Mathews wound up with 22 relatively quiet points. Up and down the rest of the roster, Cuonzo Martin’s players made the type of plays that they’ll be expected to make all season long. So, all that optimism that Golden Bears fans had to be feeling throughout that not-all-that-stressful second half is completely warranted and Cal should start looking into a nice brand of scissors for all that net-cutting they’re going to be doing at the end of the year, right? Well, slow your roll for just one minute.

Jabari Bird and The Cal Bears Looked Great In Handling Syracuse (Ben Margot, AP Photo)

Jabari Bird and The Cal Bears Looked Great In Handling Syracuse (Ben Margot, AP Photo)

First, note that we’re not about to discount what the Golden Bears did last night at all. They beat Syracuse on a floor that was anything but neutral, and they did it in convincing fashion. They’ve got a star or two on the wing in Bird and Mathews. Tyrone Wallace is settling in at the point and has looked good enough there. And if he needs a hand, Martin’s best bench player at this junction is sophomore point Sam Singer who, by the way, handed out eight assists in a solid night of action. There’s senior center David Kravish, who contributed 12 points, 10 boards, three blocks, five assists and even a three against that Syracuse front line which, even if you don’t recognize any of the names off the top of your head, is an intimidating opponent. They looked really good, validating the initial opinion that most people who watched any of the Golden Bears’ first couple games of the season came away with.

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Texas Looks to Maintain Balanced Attack in 2k Sports Classic

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 20th, 2014

Over the next week, we’ll be bringing you breakdowns of notable Big 12 teams participating in neutral site holiday events. Today, we look at how Texas shapes up in the 2k Sports Classic in New York, where it will face Iowa tonight and either Syracuse or Cal tomorrow.

Outlook

Texas picked up right where it left off coming out of a successful 2013-14 campaign. It’s only been two games against teams who aren’t going to sniff NCAA Tournament bids this season, but in hanging 85 points on both North Dakota State and Alcorn State in blowout wins, Texas has done nothing to deter the preseason expectation of competing with Kansas for the Big 12 title. The most important development of the short season has been Myles Turner‘s stellar start to his college career. Through two outings, he holds per-36-minute averages of 22.5 points, 11.7 rebounds and 7.2 blocks. That will definitely play. Leading returning scorer Jonathan Holmes has also been steady, averaging 12.0 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, while point guard Isaiah Taylor is in the process of emerging from national obscurity with a terrific all-around skill set.

Get ready to meet Myles Turner in the 2k Sports Classic. (Brendan Maloney/USA Today)

Get ready to meet Myles Turner in the 2k Sports Classic. (Brendan Maloney/USA Today)

Opening Round Preview

One of the best frontcourts in the nation will find a competitive match-up in the Hawkeyes’ rotation, which consists of four players who are 6’9″ or taller. That core should help Iowa improve on its woeful two-point field goal defense from last season, and although it has done so this year in two games against inferior competition, the Hawkeyes still need to prove that they can do the job against quality opponents. To that point, look for Turner, Cameron Ridley and Holmes to test Aaron White, Adam Woodberry and Gabriel Olaseni early, and possibly stretch them out to the perimeter to free up cutting lanes for Taylor and Javan Felix. Defensively, the Longhorns should have the edge inside, so the big question is whether Texas’ backcourt can neutralize Iowa’s long-range attack. Despite losing Roy Devyn Marble from their rotation, the Hawkeyes can still launch it; Anthony Clemmons, Josh Oglesby and Peter Jok can all connect from deep, as can 6’9″ Jared Uthoff. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 First Weekend Notebook

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 17th, 2014

After a single weekend of games against generally lesser competition, I feel like I could write a book about all the different things I saw this weekend around the Pac-12. But, we’ll let these teams get a few more games – preferably against better competition – before we make any grand proclamations. Still, you have to come away from this weekend pretty impressed with the level of play out of the gates. We saw a lot of teams look better than we had any reason to expect. And we also had USC. Below, we’ll take a look at a few of the bigger non-Arizona takeaways from the first weekend of play around the conference.

Utah

Let’s save a more in-depth look at the Utes until after they play San Diego State on Tuesday afternoon, but a couple new names to keep an eye on in that game: First, freshman Jakob Poeltl is going to be a huge factor for the Utes this year. He’s an active and skilled seven-footer who, frankly, is not long for the college game. Because he runs the floor well and is aggressive and confident, he is going to be a challenge for opposing defenses all year long. Then there’s his frontcourt starting partner, JuCo transfer Chris Reyes, a strong and active power forward who is a great combination of skill, athleticism and motor. A lot of the reason people were high on the Utes coming into this year were returnees and maybe freshman Brekkot Chapman, but Poeltl and Reyes are a couple of new elements that may push Utah over the top. And Jordan Loveridge? His body looks better than it ever has before; he’s quicker than he’s been in his first two seasons; and he looks far more comfortable in his role. Let’s put it this way: If I were filling in a Top 25 poll right now, I’d probably have the Utes in the top 15. I think a lot of people are going to have their eyes opened tomorrow afternoon.

Jakob Poeltl's Double-Double Debut Should Raise Eyebrows Across the Conference (Utah Basketball)

Jakob Poeltl’s Double-Double Debut Should Raise Eyebrows Across the Conference (Utah Basketball)

Colorado

Given the level of competition they were playing against (Drexel is a pretty solid mid-major), what the Buffaloes did to the Dragons was impressive. Josh Scott looks like he took another step forward in his development during the offseason, looking stronger and more aggressive on the glass and on defense while showing more comfort with the face-up jumper (he even hit a three). Pairing him alongside Wesley Gordon in the middle makes for an intimidating one-two punch. Head coach Tad Boyle went with a strange starting lineup due to some disciplinary measures, and Xavier Johnson and Askia Booker as a result never really got in the flow when they entered the game, with Booker in particular looking pretty bad with a 2-of-14 effort. As far as the big question about the point guard spot, one guy that we routinely overlooked in trying to come up with an answer there was junior Xavier Talton. For now, at least, he appears to be the leader for that job. He’s a facilitator who isn’t going to wow anybody with his athleticism or play-making ability, but he’s very good at making the easy play, keeping the offense moving, and playing solid defense. Whether he’ll lock down that spot for good remains to be seen, but he’ll be a big part of the Colorado rotation all year long. Freshman Tory Miller also deserves a mention. His body and athleticism are already Pac-12 ready and as the game slows down for him, he’s got a good chance to become a solid defender and rebounder off the pine this year, with upside for the rest of his career in Boulder as his offensive game develops.

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Pac-12 Preseason Poll and Preview Wrap-Up

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 14th, 2014

And then there was basketball. Starting tonight, if you play your cards right, you can watch college basketball straight through for the next four months, maybe taking a Friday night off here and there to recharge the batteries. Hopefully we’ve done a good job here at the RTC Pac-12 microsite getting you ready for the season. As our last hurrah before we have actual games to talk and write about, we’d like to unveil the results of our five-man preseason poll (Adam Butler, Andrew Murawa, Connor Pelton, Kevin Danna and Tracy McDannald), linking to our team previews for each of the 12 teams in this conference. Below that we also link to our preseason All-Conference teams for one handy spot to return come March to figure out all the places we screwed up. Besides that, the recommendation from these parts is just to sit back, enjoy a tasty snack or enticing beverage, and enjoy some hoops tonight. Happy New Year everybody.

preseasonpoll

  1. Arizona. The Wildcats are our unanimous choice for first place and, all things considered, we mark them and point guard T.J. McConnell as the team to beat by a wide margin.

    T.J. McConnell and The Wildcats Are The Runaway Favorites In The Pac-12 (Lance King, Getty Images)

    T.J. McConnell and The Wildcats Are The Runaway Favorites In The Pac-12 (Lance King, Getty Images)

  2. Utah. The Utes still have a lot to prove, especially in close games, but with All-America candidate Delon Wright leading the way, their talent wins out for our voters.
  3. Stanford. The Cardinal are coming off a thrilling Sweet Sixteen run, and if the Johnny Dawkins can find a few breakout players they could be the team to challenge the Wildcats.
  4. Colorado. Tad Boyle’s squad returns all of his familiar faces, save one. One of their point guards will have to step up for the Buffaloes to sneak up the standings.
  5. UCLA. The Bruins are the conference’s blue blood, but they’ll need Isaac Hamilton to have an impactful freshman season to get much higher than this.
  6. Cal. Cuonzo Martin’s first year in the Bay Area will be a lot easier if Sam Singer steps up and earns the point guard spot.
  7. Washington. The last time the Huskies made the NCAA Tournament, Isaiah Thomas was their point guard. If they’re going to break that streak, Robert Upshaw needs to begin to live up to his promise.
  8. Oregon. Joseph Young is the team’s star, but newcomers like Dwayne Benjamin are going to have to contribute for the Ducks to have a chance.
  9. Arizona State. Guys like Jahii Carson and Jordan Bachynski are gone, meaning newcomers like Willie Atwood are feeling the pressure to produce.
  10. USC. In Andy Enfield’s second season, the Trojans are starting to look like the team he has in mind, but Jordan McLaughlin and company might need a little more experience to move up the standings.
  11. Washington State. Ernie Kent is ready to change the culture in Pullman, but in the short-term, DaVonte Lacy is the Cougars’ best bet.
  12. Oregon State. The Beavers are ready to bring in a talented recruiting class next season, but in his first year, Wayne Tinkle has to hope Gary Payton II plays a lot like his father.

Beyond all of that content, below you’ll find the rest of our preview pieces. Feel free to make fun of us for our misses, and congratulate us for our hits, when all is said and done a few months from now.

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One on One: A Pac-12 Preview With Jon Wilner

Posted by Walker Carey on November 7th, 2014

RTC interviews one on one

Rush the Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you throughout the preseason with previews of each of the major conferences.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview with the Pac-12, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking with a Pac-12 expert in San Jose Mercury News college basketball scribe, Jon Wilner (@wilnerhotline).

Rush the Court: Even with losing Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon from last season’s squad, Arizona is once again loaded. What makes the Wildcats so well rounded, and do you see them as one of the favorites to take home the national title?

Wilner: They certainly have to be in the very top tier of contenders for the national title. I that that their depth again is their biggest strength. They have so many good players that they are not just reliant on one or two guys. I think they are going to have more options to score this year. They should be a little bit better on offense. There might be a slight drop-off on the defensive end of the court, but it will not be enough to really hurt them. They should be right in the mix nationally. Sean Miller does a great job of getting his guys to play hard all the time. They have a huge homecourt advantage and they have a lot of experience of being able to go win on the road. A lot of success comes from the ability to go win on the road and this group has done just that.

Arizona (Casey Sapio, USA Today Sports)

Arizona Brings Back Enough Talent to Win a National Title This Year (Casey Sapio, USA Today Sports)

RTC: Colorado brings back a lot of experience from last season’s NCAA Tournament squad. With key players Josh Scott, Xavier Johnson, and Askia Booker returning for the Buffaloes, can Tad Boyle make it three NCAA Tournaments in three years?

Wilner: I think so. I expect them to be an NCAA Tournament team. I think Colorado is the best bet to finish second behind Arizona in the conference standings. It might be three or four games behind Arizona, but second place is second place. Tad Boyle is a terrific coach. He is as good as there is in the league. I think the fact that they played so much of last season without Spencer Dinwiddie will help them now that he is officially gone. There is not going to be the transition that you would normally find with a team that loses its best player to the NBA because Colorado did not have Dinwiddie for the last couple months of last season.

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Cal’s Most Important Player: Sam Singer

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on November 3rd, 2014

If I was going to be writing about Cal’s best player – or most improved player; or most exciting player; or breakout player – I would in all likelihood be writing about Jabari Bird. But most important is a matter of perspective and timing. And for a program presently in transition – from head coach Mike Montgomery to Cuonzo Martin, certainly, but also away from rock-solid veteran point guard Justin Cobbs to the next guy in line. And that brings us sophomore point guard Sam Singer. It is one thing to replace a senior leader like Cobbs — a guy who played better than 80 percent of Cal’s available minutes in a highly efficient manner each of the last three seasons. It is quite another thing to do so as a guy who saw only spot-duty minutes as a freshman. It is another thing entirely to take those reins for a first-year head coach on a team with extremely limited depth. But that’s the position Singer is expected to find himself in this season. Sure, he’ll man a lineup with a guy like Tyrone Wallace – who is also a strong ball-handler and effective playmaker — but it is Singer who, in all likelihood, will be tasked with the role of Martin’s coach on the floor. If that happens, he’ll be the guy who will need to bring Martin’s style and philosophy to bear (ahem) on the basketball court.

California Needs Sam Singer To Step The Team's Point Guard Spot

California Needs Sam Singer To Step The Team’s Point Guard Spot

Singer’s numbers from last year weren’t all that impressive, but why would they be with the frosh taking a clear back seat behind Cobbs? Still, if you dig in a little closer, there is a lot to like here. Begin with the fact that over the course of the team’s four postseason games (one in the Pac-12 Tournament followed by three in the NIT), Singer totaled 10 assists against just one turnover in 43 total minutes of action. He only shot the ball six times – making two buckets – but he showed a great comfort level in leading the offense. This year he’s going to need to show a better capacity for scoring the ball when his team needs him to do so, but he’s got a reputation as a good shooter and he was a very effective scorer in his high school days. So if he can take and make some big shots when defenses overcommit on to guys like Bird and Wallace, he’s got a chance to make a big jump in importance for the Golden Bears.

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Buy, Sell or Hold at Pac-12 Media Day

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 27th, 2014

The concept here is simple and completely stolen borrowed from Seth Davis of CBS Sports. We’re going to take a look at the poll of media members conducted at the Pac-12 Media Day last week and tell you whether we think each team is going to exceed, fall short of, or match the expectations expressed in that poll. And when all this is said and done roughly five months from now, we’ll look back and see how we did. So, without further ado, let’s jump right in.

pac-12poll

Arizona: Hold. The fact is that when you’re picked first in your conference and earn 31 of the 32 possible first-place votes in the preseason poll, there is only so much higher you can go. Given that Arizona is going to be routinely chosen among the top four teams in the nation in just about every national preseason poll that appears, the stakes are pretty clear: Final Four or bust. Given the fact that Sean Miller has yet to reach such a lofty goal in his time in the desert and the fact that the Wildcats lost arguably their two most importance pieces from last season, I’m a least a little skeptical. Given such a high risk, buying this stock is out of the question. But with all the talent compiled in Tucson, we have to at least keep a little piece of the action here. When we come back to re-evaluate this, let’s consider an appearance in the Final Four the barrier, with anything less being considered a letdown and anything more a home run.

Sean Miller, Arizona

Is This The Year Sean Miller and The Wildcats Cut Down The Nets? (AP Photo)

Utah: Sell. Sell, sell, sell. And I like Utah. But let’s remember that this is a squad that went 9-9 in conference play last season. And while they’ve got some fun new pieces (Brekkot Chapman, Chris Reyes, Isaiah Wright, Jakob Poeltl and Kyle Kuzma all have the opportunity to earn playing time), second place in this league is some heady stuff. The Utes will have to prove that they can win games when they’ve got a target on their chest, that they can win close games (they were 3-8 in games decided by two possessions or fewer), and that they can win away from the Huntsman Center (they were 2-9 in true road games) before they’re worthy of blue-chip status.

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Pac-12 Coaching Turnover: Montgomery Out; Kent In; Robinson Holds

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on April 1st, 2014

At the end of the Pac-12 Tournament, it seemed like we would get through this offseason with just one Pac-12 head coaching change – Washington State, where Ken Bone’s five-year run in Pullman was coming to an end. There was some smoke around the status of Oregon State head coach Craig Robinson, but conference commissioner Larry Scott seemed to put a damper on that notion prior to the Pac-12 title game when he announced that Robinson and his staff would be coaching a team of barnstorming Pac-12 stars in China later this year. Elsewhere around the conference, it seemed like continuity was the rule of the day.

In 32 Seasons as a Division I Head Coach, Montgomery Had Just One Losing Season (Ben Margot, AP)

In 32 Seasons as a Division I Head Coach, Montgomery Had Just One Losing Season (Ben Margot, AP)

Then on Sunday, as college basketball fans were enjoying a day of great Elite Eight competition, word snuck out that the dean of Pac-12 coaches, Mike Montgomery, was weighing the possibility of stepping down from his position at California. That possibility became a fact on Monday when Montgomery announced his retirement. His accomplishments are legion, including 32 seasons of Division I basketball coaching and winning records in 31 of those campaigns. In 1986, he took over a Stanford program that hadn’t been to an NCAA Tournament in 45 years and was coming off a 23-loss season and turned it into an NCAA Tournament team in just his third season there. All told, there were 12 NCAA Tournament bids at Stanford (including at least one NCAA win in his last 10 seasons on The Farm), one trip to the Final Four (1998, behind Arthur Lee, Kris Weems, Peter Sauer, Mark Madsen and Tim Young), an Elite Eight, and 677 career wins. He coached in the Pac-12 for 24 years and ranks third on the all-time wins list in conference play behind only Lute Olson and John Wooden. He retires as the best coach in Stanford basketball history and the best coach at Berkeley since the legendary Pete Newell.

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Pac-12 Weekend Round-Up: Arizona, Justin Cobbs, Hallice Cooke and More…

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 3rd, 2014

What a great sports weekend, am I right? There were 10 Pac-12 basketball games since last Wednesday and eight of them were decided by two possessions or fewer. The #1 team in the nation went down. Outside of the Pac-12, the #2 team survived by the skin of its teeth in overtime. Wichita State and San Diego State continued highly successful (and improbable) seasons. I’m sure there were even some sporting events that didn’t involve basketball, too. Maybe. But before we let the weekend get behind us, let’s spend some time to look back at several of the important things we learned in this week of Pac-12 basketball. Because if you hold a blink a beat too long, the next time you open your eyes, we’re going to be in the middle of conference tournaments. Yes, this season is getting away from us. It’s now February, and every conference school has finished half of its conference slate. And despite all that, we’ve still got more questions than ever.

Brandon Ashley Is Done For the Year, But Arizona Still Has Plenty Of Talent (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

Brandon Ashley Is Done For the Year, But Arizona Still Has Plenty Of Talent (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

  • First, Arizona. The Wildcats took their first loss on Saturday night to Cal (and in the process assured that the 1972-73 UCLA squad will remain the last team to go through conference play without a loss), then took an even worse loss on Sunday when it was confirmed that sophomore power forward Brandon Ashley is done for the season with a broken foot. That doesn’t make things any rosier for the Wildcats’ long-term outlook, but there were more than a handful of things from Saturday night’s game that should give Arizona fans plenty of hope. First, as much as junior point guard T.J. McConnell has earned props for his ability to run an offense, contribute defensively and just intangible his way into Arizona fans’ hearts, he hadn’t displayed much of an ability to help out by putting the ball through the hoop. But in a couple of close recent games, he averaged 12 points per night and showed a willingness to get his own when it was appropriate. Hopefully fans across the nation are starting to see just how good this guy is. He’s like Aaron Craft-lite with perhaps a bit more offense. Read the rest of this entry »
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Pac-12 M5: 01.29.14 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 29th, 2014

pac12_morning5

  1. Pac-12 play gets back underway tonight with the Arizona schools visiting the Bay Area. And that means Arizona freshman forward and prized recruit Aaron Gordon is making his return to his old high school stomping grounds, where he played at Archbishop Mitty. As he was in high school, Gordon remains a coach’s dream in college, a hard-working, versatile player that is a great teammate who is always improving. Cal head coach Mike Montgomery, who was among the coaches hot in pursuit of Gordon’s commitment, joined Arizona head coach Sean Miller in praising Gordon’s ability. But, more importantly for the Wildcat’s season than one player’s return home is the chance to again prove their mettle in tough conference road games.
  2. As for California, tonight they host Arizona State in an attempt to get back on track. But the Sun Devils provide significant and diverse challenges for the Golden Bears. First, along the frontline, Richard Solomon will need to continue his strong play as he matches up mostly against the Sun Devils’ senior center Jordan Bachynski who has four inches on him. And then in the backcourt, senior point guard Justin Cobbs may have the experience edge on Arizona State’s sparkplug Jahii Carson, but Carson’s got the clear quickness advantage. And, as always when the nation’s #1 team is up next, the Golden Bears need to make sure they’re not looking ahead to Saturday against Arizona.
  3. Good news everyone! Washington State junior guard DaVonte Lacy may return as early as this weekend when they host Washington on Saturday. Lacy has had a rough 2014 so far, missing time following surgery to remove his appendix, returning for 11 minutes and then injring his ribs. And, without their best scorer and leader, the Cougars have been, well, just awful. While it remains to be seen if he’ll actually play on Saturday or possibly wait until next week, it will likely take some time for him to get back to full strength. And until he is back at full strength, the Cougs really don’t have much of a chance to compete on a regular basis. But, assuming he’s back to full strength by March, and assuming Que Johnson’s time in the spotlight has been put to good use, there’s a chance these guys are talented enough to spring an upset on day one of the Pac-12 Tournament. Maybe not a good chance, but a chance.
  4. Tomorrow night, Oregon gets a chance to build upon its win over Washington State last weekend by protecting its homecourt against the invaders from UCLA. While the Ducks shut down the Cougars defensively on Sunday, holding them to 44 points (0.73 points per possession), the Bruins offer a whole different challenge, with talented offensive players up and down their rotation. After the up-tempo Ducks allowed 80 points or more in five consecutive games prior to the Washington State matchup, they welcome in the Bruins, who have scored at least 69 points in every game this year and 80 or more in 12 out of their 20. With both teams in the top 20 in the nation in shortest offensive possession length and with KenPom.com projecting a final score in the upper-80s, this may well be one of the most enticing conference games of the season.
  5. Lastly, yuck. I didn’t want to do this. I didn’t want to do this at all. It has been an emerging policy at least among RTC Pac-12 writers to ignore Bruins Nation, a UCLA “fan” site that has repeatedly shown an ignorance about basic basketball strategy and is a shining beacon in the world of applying actual events to pre-determined narratives, no matter how silly those applications turn out to be. Given that there are so many better sources for news and opinion about UCLA basketball, there is no reason to usher people in the direction of the TMZ of UCLA basketball coverage. But, in the spirit of comedy, they outdid themselves on Tuesday, suggesting that one of the reasons that freshman guard Zach LaVine (regularly projected as a lottery or border-line lottery selection in the 2014 NBA Draft) may be considering entering the draft following this season is because head coach Steve Alford is playing favorites and will hand the point guard position next year (assuming, safely, that Kyle Anderson is NBA-bound) to his son Bryce Alford, regardless of the competition. Now, we’re not actually going to link to this Onion-esque bit of prose (which, among other things, suggests that LaVine, third on the team in minutes this year, might still be relegated to the bench next season if Anderson leaves), but suffice it to say that this is odd, at best. Right now, without any bit of doubt whatsoever, Alford is the team’s second-best point guard. LaVine is terrific off the ball (seriously, coming off a solid screen and squaring up to get a good look at the hoop from deep, there are very few more fearsome shooters in the nation), but has shown an inability to create for himself or others with anything more than one or two dribbles, and is loose with his handle. He’s a terrific pro prospect because of his athleticism, ridiculous upside and potential to improve those glaring weaknesses. And if he winds up forgoing his final three years of eligibility, it is entirely because he is likely to get paid handsomely for such an opportunity. Either way, while he may well develop into a point guard in time, right now, he would struggle running the point – he’s an attacking wing in transition and a deadly catch-and-shoot guy. But the idea that the criminally-underrated Alford is only receiving playing time because his dad has a soft spot in his heart for him indicates a writer who has decided not to spend any time actually watching UCLA basketball.
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