Best of the West: Ranking the Top 20 Teams West of the Rockies

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 17th, 2014

We’re a little more than a quarter of the way through the season now, so it is time to roll out our first edition of Best in the West. We’re going to take all the schools west of the Rockies (and we’re going to be a bit generous with our geography here – basically we’re looking at schools from the Pac-12, Mountain West, WCC and Big West, and then some of the schools from the Big Sky and WAC) and give you the top 20 teams as of today. But rather than just ranking schools #1 though #20, we’re going to divide them up into tiers, mostly because I don’t think putting Gonzaga at #2 when they played Arizona into overtime in Tucson feels right to anybody.

Here are our Top 20 teams in the West (their overall ranking is in parentheses), with descriptions of what the teams in each tier have in common as well as brief comments on each school.

The Best of the Best  – In a league of their own.

  • Arizona (#1 overall, Pac-12 #1) – There have been some growing pains for the Wildcats, but with an unblemished record and wins over Kansas State, San Diego State, Gonzaga and Michigan, they’ve still got a ways to go before they tap out on their potential.
Arizona and Gonzaga Played A Fun One A Week Back, Proving Themselves Nearly Equal

Arizona and Gonzaga Played A Fun One A Week Back, Proving Themselves Nearly Equal. (AP)

  • Gonzaga (#2 overall, WCC #1) – Really, the Zags are more of a #1A in this tier. An overtime loss at Arizona in which they didn’t play all that well and let some good chances slip away bodes well for their upside. Read the rest of this entry »
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O26 Game of the Week: Hawkeye State Showdown, Harvard-Virginia & SDSU-Cincy…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 17th, 2014

Each week the O26 microsite will run down the biggest upcoming game of the week as well as a handful of others to keep an eye on.

Northern Iowa (9-1) vs. Iowa (8-3) – 7:30 PM ET, Big Ten Network, Saturday.

Northern Iowa has a knack for playing in really good basketball games this season. The Panthers upended Stephen F. Austin by two in overtime during last month’s Tip-Off Marathon, ending the Lumberjacks’ 33-game home winning streak; they squandered a big second-half lead against George Mason earlier this month before escaping in overtime; and on Saturday, Ben Jacobson’s group lost its first game in one of the best games of the season, a double-overtime thriller at VCU. So what does UNI have in store this week, bumping up against intrastate foe Iowa in Des Moines? Probably another barnburner.

Seth Tuttle and the Panthers look to take down Iowa on Saturday. (UNI Athletics Communications)

Seth Tuttle and the Panthers look to take down Iowa on Saturday. (UNI Athletics Communications)

KenPom currently ranks the Hawkeyes and Panthers 29th and 31st overall, respectively, which – on a neutral floor – results in a virtual coin-flip projection. Iowa is one of the nation’s top-30 fastest teams offensively (15.9 seconds per possession), while Northern Iowa is among the 30 slowest (20.4 seconds), yet the Hawkeyes’ strong suit has been its defense thus far this season, while the latter unit has been more offensively proficient. The Panthers, despite their preferred snail’s pace of play, demonstrated an ability to get out and run against VCU, so they should have no problem adjusting if Iowa’s uptempo pace wins out. The Hawkeyes’ most notable strength is its frontcourt, which provides much of the team’s scoring and prevents easy looks on the interior – which might actually suit Northern Iowa just fine, considering the majority of its points come from behind the arc and at the free throw line. This match-up may come down to Jacobson’s guys hitting perimeter shots – they went just 3-of-16 from distance in the game two years ago – and whether Fran McCaffery can get quality production from his backcourt. This should be a really good, really close contest either way.

More to Watch

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Surveying Feast Week Carnage Around the Pac-12

Posted by AMurawa on December 1st, 2014

Feast Week around the Pac-12 didn’t bring a whole lot of comfort to the conference. Seven teams around the league played in tournament-style events and only two even made it out of their first game and into the championship side of the bracket, with four of the remaining five teams taking two losses on the week. There was good news, however, as Arizona won the Maui Invitational with a workmanlike win over San Diego State and Washington earned the Wooden Legacy title with solid wins over an underwhelming field. And the teams that did not participate in tournaments this week (including Utah, who hosted a round robin event against overmatched opponents) combined to post a 10-1 record. Of course, that “1” on the right side of the record was an inexplicable Stanford loss to DePaul. Below, we’ll take a quick spin around the conference and get you caught up.

Stanley Johnson Is Turning Into A Disruptive Defensive Force (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

Stanley Johnson Is Turning Into A Disruptive Defensive Force (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

Arizona – The Wildcats have not yet looked spectacular this season, in racing out to a 6-0 start. But as they showed against the Aztecs on Wednesday, this is a team with chemistry and toughness, traits that should help them weather the storm as they work towards living up to their incredible upside. Things are coming along slowly but surely, Stanley Johnson is getting comfortable offensively and turning showing his ability to disrupt things defensively and everybody is feeling each other out. It will come all in due time; they’ve still got three months to dial things in before March rolls around. But in the meantime, even as we can pick apart little faults, the ‘Cats have confirmed what we already thought: Sean Miller’s team is the class of the conference. Read the rest of this entry »

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Texas Makes Its Case For Best Defensive Team in the Country

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 22nd, 2014

Fresh off an underdog Sweet Sixteen run at Tennessee, California head coach Cuonzo Martin got a different taste of the national spotlight with his new program by beating Syracuse in its home away from home, Madison Square Garden. The Golden Bears, led by a trio of guards who accounted for 48 of the team’s 73 points, relentlessly attacked and picked apart the Syracuse 2-3 zone defense with quick passing and sharp shooting. While many spent the next 24 hours attributing the win to Syracuse’s disappointing performance rather than Cal’s own doing, there was no denying the host of talented players Martin had in his hands. The plan was to take this newfound momentum and showcase the shooting prowess of Tyrone Wallace, Jordan Mathews and Jabari Bird.

Texas Looked Very Impressive in NYC This Week (USA Today)

Texas Looked Very Impressive in NYC This Week (USA Today)

Texas was having none of it. And neither was senior forward Jonathan Holmes. Head coach Rick Barnes made his game plan clear from the start: Attack the middle and force Cal’s guards off the perimeter. This meant more interior passes to the Bears’ less talented forwards, and unlike Syracuse, whose big men were mostly inexperienced or physically soft, Texas has a wealth of size and talent in the frontcourt. As a team, Texas recorded 16 blocks in the two preceding games, and for a California team with just two players over 6’6″ receiving meaningful minutes, that meant trouble.

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Sweet Seven Scoops: California’s Big Win, Blakeney Heating Up, & More…

Posted by Sean Moran on November 21st, 2014

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Seven Sweet Scoops is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you seven notes from the high-stakes world of college basketball recruiting. We also encourage you to check out his contributions at The Intentional Fouldedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Note: Scout.com used for all player rankings.

1. California’s Win On The Big Stage

California rolled over Syracuse in a nightcap upset of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic in Madison Square Garden last night. After the win, ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla tweeted out the following:

Assistant coach Yanni Hufnagel is well-respected for his recruiting abilities on the west coast and was retained by head coach Cuonzo Martin when he got to the Bay Area this past spring. One of those first texts was most likely sent to senior five-star power forward Ivan Rabb (No. 5 – 2015), who is currently the biggest target for the Bears. Rabb hails from the Bay Area and plays his high school ball at Bishop O’ Dowd in Oakland (CA). Recently the senior cut his list of college suitors down to five and Cal was included along with two other Pac-12 schools in Arizona and UCLA in addition to national powerhouses Kansas and Kentucky. Upon accepting the job at Cal, Martin’s first visit was to Rabb’s high school. Now a prominent win on a big stage makes selling California a little easier for Hufnagel and Martin.

2. Antonio Blakeney Scoring at a High Clip

Five-star shooting guard Antonio Blakeney is one of the hottest names on the market right now after his de-commitment from Louisville in addition to his high scoring outputs of 65 and 42 points in recent high school games. Initially, Blakeney, a senior from Florida and the No. 22 ranked recruit made national news with his de-commitment ,which then turned into a Nike vs. Adidas battle du jour. Now, Blakeney is back to taking official visits while drawing head coaches down to his games. In past weeks, Blakeney has taken official visits to Kentucky and LSU and on Wednesday night he had Roy Williams at his game. With players in the 2015 class coming off the board left and right expect the battle for Blakeney to continue to heat up.

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Pac-12 Opening Weekend: What To Watch For

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 14th, 2014

We waited all these many months for opening weekend of the college basketball season and we’re rewarded with… Mount St. Mary’s at Arizona, Montana State at UCLA, and South Dakota at Stanford? Well, no matter, I’m still excited. Below we’ll take a look at some things to keep an eye on as all of the Pac-12 teams tip off their seasons this weekend.

  • Arizona: vs. Mount Saint Mary’s on Friday, vs. Cal State Northridge on Sunday (both on Pac-12 Networks): The Wildcats shouldn’t be challenged in either contest (although CSUN at least has some interesting athletes, including Landon Drew, brother of former UCLA point guard Larry Drew II), but that’s no reason not to tune in to see just how Sean Miller intends to pour all of his talent on to the court at the same time. Plus, the over/under on thunderous dunks from the duo of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson is set at 10 for the weekend.

    Rondae Hollis-Jefferson And Company Could Feel Some Rim Rash After This Weekend (Getty)

    Rondae Hollis-Jefferson And Company Could Feel Some Rim Rash After This Weekend. (Getty)

  • Arizona State: vs. Chicago State on Friday (Pac-12 Networks): Do you have the scouting report on Tra Holder, Willie Atwood and Roosevelt Scott down pat? No? Me neither, which is why I’ll be making sure to get a peak at the Sun Devils this weekend to see how Herb Sendek folds in the new talent with veterans like Shaquielle McKissic and Jonathan Gilling.
  • California: vs. Alcorn State on Friday, vs. Kennesaw State on Sunday (both on Pac-12 Networks): The Golden Bears should get through this weekend just fine and be undefeated when they face Syracuse in the 2K Classic next Thursday. Tune in this weekend to check out Cal’s high-flying wings in Cuonzo Martin‘s system and learn how Sam Singer is coming along at the point.

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The 25 Non-Conference Pac-12 Games to Watch

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 13th, 2014

Hey look! Basketball! Well, maybe don’t look all that quickly because, frankly, unless you’re a die-hard, there isn’t a game that a Pac-12 team plays this weekend that is worth a whole heck of a lot. Oh, we’ll still be watching, of course, because, well, we’ve been waiting to see these teams for months now. But, if you’re a busy person and a discriminating basketball fan, don’t burn your precious basketball-watching minutes right away this season. Instead, put these 25 non-conference games on your calendar and you’ll get a chance to check out every team in this league from the comfort of your own couch. Is 25 games not enough for you? Don’t worry, I’m not even including the games in one of the many early-season exempt tournaments (11 of the 12 conference teams compete in such a tournament this season) in this list; more on those later. Here’s your list of the best games involving Pac-12 teams over the next couple of months.

  • 11/18 Utah @ San Diego State (ESPN) – Part of the behemoth in Bristol’s 24 hours of hoops kickoff, this is on the very short list of best Pac-12 non-conference games of the year. We’ll get an early look at the Utes going on the road to face a Top 25-caliber team with a chance to breathlessly overreact to whatever happens there on Tuesday afternoon.
The Show - And The Aztecs - Will Test Utah Early

The Show – And The Aztecs – Will Test Utah Early

  • 11/22 Colorado @ Wyoming (ESPN3) – The only game on this list that you won’t see on national television, this will not only represent a chance to check out the status of the Buffaloes’ point guard situation, but a look at Wyoming’s Larry Nance on his way back from a torn ACL.
  • 11/26 California @ Fresno State (CBSSN) – It’s not the sexiest looking game, but an early road game against an improving intrastate foe is a game the Golden Bears could lose if they aren’t locked in early for Cuonzo Martin.
  • 11/30 USC @ New Mexico (CBSSN) – The Trojans visiting one of the toughest places to play in the sport on Thanksgiving Sunday; sounds fun to me. The Lobos will be breaking in new players almost everywhere, though, so Andy Enfield’s young bunch has at least a puncher’s chance.

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Pac-12 Season Preview: California Golden Bears

Posted by Tracy McDannald on November 4th, 2014

The Pac-12 microsite will preview each of its league teams over the next few weeks, continuing today with California.

California Golden Bears

Strengths: Year 1 of the Cuonzo Martin era will feature some quality leftovers from Mike Montgomery’s tenure. Senior forward David Kravish is coming off his best season, while sophomore guard Jordan Mathews headlines a mostly young backcourt. In all, four of the team’s top six scorers from last season are back. Cal, picked to finish seventh in the Pac-12 media poll, has the look of a team that could get stronger going into the new year.

New California Head Coach Cuonzo Martin Has a Backcourt to Build Around But Will Be Looking For Depth and Frontcourt Help in 2014-15. (Cal Athletics)

New California Head Coach Cuonzo Martin Has a Backcourt to Build Around But Will Be Looking For Depth and Frontcourt Help in 2014-15. (Cal Athletics)

Weaknesses: The direction of the offense, however, will be worth keeping an eye on. Cal no longer has first-team all-Pac-12 point guard Justin Cobbs to lean on. Looking to fill that void will be junior Tyrone Wallace, who matched Mathews with a game-high 21 points in a 94-50 exhibition win over Cal State East Bay on Halloween. Three different players, including Wallace, had three assists. Martin will also have to find some depth as he figures out his rotation, particularly in the paint where the Bears have questions on the glass seeking to replace Richard Solomon’s 10.2 rebounds per game.

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Pac-12 M5: 10.30.14 Edition

Posted by Tracy McDannald on October 30th, 2014

pac12_morning5

  1. The Pac-12 made headlines this week with news that the league will begin offering four-year scholarships and an uptick in medical coverage starting in the 2015-16 academic year. If you’re a prospective student-athlete looking at California by the time 2017-18 rolls around, there also better be a minimum 3.0 GPA on that transcript or the chances of your admission dwindle. Now, as for the actual on-court conversation around the program, new head coach Cuonzo Martin is simply looking to build upon the stable foundation he inherited with an emphasis on toughness on defense and rebounding.
  2. While Martin inherited several quality pieces, Oregon State head coach Wayne Tinkle was left without any seniors or returning starters on his team, and therefore had to go the walk-on tryout route to fill a roster picked to finish last in the Pac-12. But the new man in charge didn’t ask any of his holdovers about the previous year, and let the team know that it has a clean slate under his watch. It’s back to square one in Corvallis, from coming prepared to demonstrating discipline, but time will tell whether it’s just more of the same or a new era in Beavers athletics.
  3. Oregon head coach Dana Altman broke his silence last week at Pac-12 Media Day. In case you went Rip Van Winkle during the offseason, here’s all the drama in a nutshell: a sexual assault investigations involving three players – including point guard Dominic Artis and starter Damyean Dotson – led to expulsion; two others transferred; and prized recruit JaQuan Lyle was removed from the roster after failing to qualify (he will play at IMG Academy). And because those headaches were not big enough, junior Elgin Cook and senior Jalil Abdul-Bassit were busted for shoplifting in September. As a result, the roster has a mere 10 players listed on it right now. Without a public comment since May 9, media from across the league came ready with questions for Altman and he was more than prepared to address the past.
  4. Washington State head coach Ernie Kent may be 59 years old and four years removed from his last coaching job at Oregon, but the man does not lack energy or enthusiasm to pick up some new lingo. That should be a welcome sight for a program that has finished in the bottom half of the league in each of the last six seasons. Kent is just trying to give his players “the swag, or whatever you call it.” While serving as an analyst for Pac-12 Networks last season, Kent’s observation of the Cougars’ struggles was simple: Shooting needs to improve.
  5. One of the bigger questions in the Pac-12 this season will not receive an answer until March. If you’re heavy favorite Arizona, no news is the best kind of news, and boring should be the goal. That’s not a slight. But after knocking on the door so many times in recent years, with a number of top recruiting classes and an experienced group, CBS Sports’ Doug Gottlieb is wondering if this is the year the Wildcats under Sean Miller finally knock it down.
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Who’s Got Next? Five Schools Remain For Ivan Rabb

Posted by Sean Moran on October 28th, 2014

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Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to discussing the recruitment of the top uncommitted players in the country. We also encourage you to check out his contributions at The Intentional Foul dedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Note: Scout.com used for all player rankings.

Five-star power forward Ivan Rabb has narrowed his five remaining college suitors. The versatile 6’10″ big man from the Bay Area announced last Friday that California, UCLA, Arizona, Kansas and Kentucky were the quintet of schools that would receive official visits. Two East Coast schools in Georgetown and North Carolina, both of which received unofficial visits last spring, were cut from consideration.

Who Is Ivan Rabb?

Ivan Rabb is a power forward with a 7’1.5” wing span that has been on the national radar from the time he began his high school career at Bishop O’ Dowd High School in Oakland, California. He spent his junior season as the No. 1 rated prospect in the Class of 2015 and now sits at the No. 5 spot overall. Rabb has won gold medals while playing with the USA U-16 and U-17 teams the past two summers and in the spring he led his prep team to the California state championship game where it lost to perennial California powerhouse Mater Dei and current Arizona freshman Stanley Johnson. With Johnson now in Tucson, Rabb’s top priority is bringing a state title back to Oakland.

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Where 2014-15 Happens: Reason #20 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on October 26th, 2014

Here we go… headfirst into another season heralded by our 2014-15 edition of Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball, our annual compendium of YouTube clips from the previous season completely guaranteed to make you wish games were starting tonight rather than 30 days from now. Over the next month you’ll get one reason per day until we reach the new season on November 14. We’ve captured what we believe were the 30 most compelling moments from last season, some of which will bring back goosebumps and others of which will leave you shaking your head in astonishment. For all of this year’s released posts, click here

#20 – Where Rush. That. Court. Happens.

Get out there!!!!!

A video posted by RTC (@rushthecourt) on

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-122012-13 and 2013-14 preseasons.

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Pac-12 Media Day Roundup: Part One

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) on October 24th, 2014

Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) of Pachoops.com is back for another go-round on his March to Vegas. He covered the Pac-12 Media Day in San Francisco on Thursday. Check back later in the day for his notes on the conference’s other six teams.

In Case You Needed A Reminder, Pac-12 Media Day Means Actual Basketball Games Are Just Around the Corner

In Case You Needed A Reminder, Pac-12 Media Day Means Actual Basketball Games Are Just Around the Corner

USC

Coach Andy Enfield took the stage with his starting power forward (or center, Enfield noted both), Nikola Jovanovic, and provided opening remarks lasting about as long as a USC possession: 16 seconds. It was swift and brief. He was complimentary of his fellow, on-stage Trojan, and left the rest to us. Which is probably indicative of the program he’s building. It is just year two and arguably the least interesting season during a rebuild. It’s neither new and exciting nor developed enough to garner much attention. His team is picked to finish 10th, but he likes what he’s building, “We have more athleticism, better shooting. We have an elite freshman point guard (Jordan McLaughlin) we recruited,” said Enfield. These components, he notes, are and will become major parts of what we presume is the Enfield system, aka Dunk City, aka Galen Dunk Center. The addition of McLaughlin is huge, and, without directly saying it, Enfield knows how important he is to their future, “We’re expecting big things from him. I think he came to USC for that opportunity, to be relied upon as a freshman. He’ll have that opportunity. We’re excited for him.” Which is great because I am, too! I’ll be closely following McLaughlin’s progress as his commitment to USC, rather than UCLA when the Bruins were in dire need for a 2014 point guard, is a fascinating storyline to this season. USC might play in flashes and make swift opening remarks, but they just might be a program to stick around awhile.

Washington State

Easily the most charismatic of the coaches, Ernie Kent considered himself back from sabbatical: “Any coach that has coached 30-plus years needs a sabbatical. I’m just amazed at what it’s done for me in terms of your energy, your spirt.” Energy and spirit he provided. He was colorful and funny, even having a slight back-and-forth with his accompanying star, DaVonte Lacy. The two seemed to understand the challenges ahead considering the roster in Pullman and the depth of the conference. But Lacy believes they have the unique opportunity to come together, build on chemistry and do something special. It’s something he learned in his short stint with the Pac-12 All-Star team while in China and it’s something he expanded upon when I asked him about leadership, “Being someone that’s been through the fire already, preparing [newcomers] to go through it, that’s how I’m approaching leadership.” Lacy hopes to galvanize this group, building chemistry and subsequently surprising a few people with what the Cougars can do. And speaking of surprises, can you imagine a “lost” Ernie Kent knocking on your door looking for directions? “Hi, I’m lost. I’m also your new basketball coach.” It’s something Kent has been doing in trying to energize the Cougars fan base, “I’ve tried to make myself available as much as possible… it’s been fun getting out and meeting people in Pullman.” Like I said, the most charismatic of the 12 lead gentlemen.

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