Handing Out Grades For Finals Week

Posted by Andrew Gripshover on December 18th, 2015

It’s finals week across the country and we’re currently in the midst of the slowest week of the college basketball season. The basketball may not be great, but it is the perfect time to hand out a few grades of our own to teams, players, coaches and conferences. Hopefully the feedback will be easier to understand than your teacher’s scribbled critiques in those little blue books.

Purdue: A

Isaac Haas Has Been Dominant For The Undefeated Boilers (Photo: The Exponent)

Isaac Haas Has Been Dominant For The Undefeated Boilers (Photo: The Exponent)

Over the first month of the season, the two biggest “it” teams are Oklahoma and these Boilers. Purdue is 11-0 for the first time since 2009-10, when Robbie Hummel, E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson led the Boilers to a share of the Big Ten crown. This Purdue outfit may be the best Matt Painter team since that group, and some are saying this could be the best team in West Lafayette since Glenn Robinson donned the black and gold in the early ’90s. That kind of talk may be getting a little ahead of things, but these Boilers have won all 11 games by double-figures. The major tests start coming in now, beginning with the Boilers’ next four games: Butler at the Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis; Vanderbilt at home; at Wisconsin (in the Badgers first Big Ten game without Bo Ryan in over a decade); Iowa in West Lafayette. Go 15-0 and this is a surefire A+.

Isaac Haas: A+

If you asked the average college basketball fan to name the best player on Purdue, the answer you’d likely get is AJ Hammons. It wouldn’t be a terrible response — last season, Hammons led the Big Ten in blocked shots for the third straight year (only JaJuan Johnson and Penn State’s Calvin Booth have ever done that before). If you asked a recruiting guru, you might hear the name of blue chip freshman Caleb Swanigan, who has met or even exceeded the lofty expectations attached to him since stepping on campus. But neither of those two has been the most important Boilermaker so far. That notation belongs to Haas, the 7’2″ sophomore who has made the leap as a sophomore. Last season Haas’ offensive rating, per KenPom, was 95.1. So far this year, it’s a whopping 129.8 as he draws almost 9.8 fouls per 40 minutes, the highest average in the country. He’s improved his free throw percentage by 20 points (54.7 percent to 74.2 percent) and he’s making 10 percent more of his two-point attempts (63.3 percent this season) He and Hammons are both dominant on the boards and as shot blockers (Haas’ 8.5 percent block rate falls just a bit short of Hammons’ 10.1 percent) but it’s Haas who is the #5 player in the (very early) KenPom Player of the Year race.

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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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We Need to Talk About California

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 11th, 2015

In recent days, I’ve heard knowledgeable college basketball folks refer to California as both “inconsistent” and “disappointing.” Let’s jump right in and say that they’re being far too kind. So far, this California team, compared with its talent level and their expectations, has been outright bad. They were ranked in nearly everyone’s Top 25 prior to the season, with more than a few supporters slotting the Bears as a top 10 team and mentioning them in the same breath as the words “Final Four.” And looking up and down their roster, it is easy to see why. Pop over to DraftExpress right now and you’ll find freshman forward Jaylen Brown sitting as the projected #6 pick in next year’s NBA Draft. Point guard Tyrone Wallace is projected as a second round pick. And freshman center Ivan Rabb is listed as the #15 pick in the 2017 draft. Throw in very good college guards Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews and the Golden Bears are loaded down with position-appropriate talent across the entire lineup.

So Far, Jaylen Brown And The Bears Have Been Bad (USA Today)

So Far, Jaylen Brown And The Bears Have Been Bad (USA Today)

Now, contrast that load of talent with what this team has actually done to this point. They’ve played two games all year against teams ranked in the top 100 by KenPom.com. Both of those game came over Thanksgiving weekend in Las Vegas. In the first, they Bears looked decent in the first half against San Diego State, before getting outscored 44-22 (1.26 PPP to 0.63) in the second half by an Aztec team who has really, really struggled to score against anybody all season long. The Bears followed that up by allowing a pretty dang good offensive team in Richmond to score 94 points against them, to the tune of a 1.31 PPP average. From there, the Bears haven’t taken a loss in the record books, but they sure haven’t been winning. They were taken to overtime by a Wyoming team still trying to find itself after replacing four of five starters from last year. In that game, Cowboys senior guard Josh Adams outplayed all of Cal’s future pros, and by a wide margin. California followed that game up by hosting Incarnate Word, a team without a win against a Division I team yet this season. At the half, those teams were tied. With eight minutes left, Incarnate Word was within five points.

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Pac-12 Bests and Worsts of The Week

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 8th, 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: Most of the NBA’s attention has been on Tony Parker this season, but it has been sophomore seven-footer Thomas Welsh who has been UCLA’s best offensive player and rim protector. Welsh logged back-to-back double-doubles against Kentucky and Long Beach State and is shooting 62 percent from the field — some five percentage points better than Parker even though the senior attempts nearly twice as many shots at the rim. Furthermore, Welsh has been close to automatic on 15-foot jumpers this season, shooting better than 60 percent on such attempts. NBA teams will always find a place for a legitimate big man who can stretch the floor with a mid-range game. If Welsh can keep it up, he will get plenty of attention from scouts throughout the season.

Thomas Welsh Was Massive On Both Ends Of The Court Thursday

Thomas Welsh Has Been Arguably UCLA’s Best Player At This Point In The Season

Best Travel Experience: Arizona wasn’t supposed to beat Gonzaga in Spokane, not with Kaleb Tarczewski sidelined with foot issues and especially not when trailing by double-figures at halftime. But Gabe York and Allonzo Trier sparked the offense; Dusan Ristic held his own inside against Domantas Sabonis; and Sean Miller’s team played its trademark stingy defense down the stretch. The result was one of the most impressive road wins of the young season for any team and the rise of a notion that maybe Arizona won’t need to spend this year “rebuilding” after all. If its defense can remain as ruthlessly efficient as it has been and some of the underclassmen continue to develop, this team will be there again late in March.

Worst Travel Experience: Oregon left the friendly climes of Eugene for the first time this season, but a trip to Sin City didn’t quite go according to plan. Instead the Ducks were greeted rudely by UNLV, who buried the unsuspecting team under a barrage of three-pointers while harassing it into 15 turnovers. If there is one subtle flaw in Oregon’s roster, it’s a profound lack of of experience from top to bottom, especially as injuries continue to sideline key rotation players. The Ducks have shown a knack for gaining fuel from the atmosphere at Matthew Knight Arena, which will makes stealing road wins very difficult for visitors (just 10 losses in four seasons). But road games have been the more pressing recent issue. If the Ducks want to be considered legitimate conference title contenders, they will need to win on the road with some degree of regularity.

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Cal Handles Its Business, An Uneventful But Good Thing

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 17th, 2015

There was absolutely nothing noteworthy about Cal’s 85-67 thrashing of UC Santa Barbara last night in Berkeley, but if the Golden Bears are going to be the contender that they have been advertised as this preseason, that is without question a very good thing.

Cal Rolled to Its Second Win of the Season Last Night Versus UCSB

Cal Rolled to Its Second Win of the Season Versus UCSB Last Night

Cal didn’t play all that well against the Gauchos. Freshmen Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb battled foul trouble all night long, and head coach Cuonzo Martin mentioned afterward that his offense looked stagnant in settling for too many three-pointers (the Bears finished just 6-of-22 from downtown). But UC Santa Barbara is not your typical cupcake either, as the Gauchos were picked by some pundits to win the Big West this season — the type of opponent where a loss would hurt far more than a win helps. But instead of letting UCSB keep the score close and build confidence as the game wore on, Cal instead trampled them from the start with its vastly superior size and athleticism. This fact is easily illustrated in that the Bears’ margin of victory (18) was nearly identical to the difference in made free throws between the the two teams (17). The game was clearly over by midway through the second half, but the final score appeared closer than it actually was after Martin emptied his bench in the final minutes.

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Pac-12 Burning Questions: What’s the Burning-est Question?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 12th, 2015

We’re about ready to have some actual game action to talk about, but before we do that, there are still a few more questions to sort through. As we head into opening weekend, we asked our Pac-12 experts to answer this simple burning question: What’s the burning-est question in the Pac-12? Below are their answers.

Adam Butler: The most burning question, the most incendiary inquiry, isn’t whether Bryce Alford is going to shave his chin stubble (the answer to that is that he needs to); rather, the season’s Pac-12 BQ is the California Golden Bears. I called it the Great Golden Hype. Specifically, the question is: Can Cuonzo Martin and two five-star recruits turn an 18-15 team into anything? The latter half of that equation has been proven — elite players can win you a couple basketball games. The former has also happened at least once or twice before. The reality is that Cal has remarkably high expectations with very little track record to merit (such are lofty expectations) and is, therefore, the burningest question.

Cuonzo Martin Has A Lot To Prove (AP)

Cuonzo Martin and the California Golden Bears Have a Lot to Prove. (AP)

Bennet Hayes: Questions abound in this year’s Pac-12. Can Arizona and Oregon seamlessly reload? Will Washington, Stanford and Colorado play well enough to bring their coaches some degree of job security? Is Bobby Hurley destined to transform Arizona State into a perennial power? Uncertainty is everywhere, which only makes Cuonzo Martin’s California team that much more intriguing. If the amount of talent that this Cal roster supports existed on a team coached by John Calipari or Mike Krzyzewski, there’s a great chance that team would bear a preseason top-five ranking. Back here in reality, with Martin at the helm and the name of a program unaccustomed to major basketball success printed on the front of the jerseys, the corresponding preseason hype is relatively restrained. Given Martin’s uneven record as an X’s and O’s coach, it does makes sense — but only to a point. The freshman pairing of Jaylen Brown (a popular pick for preseason Pac-12 POY) and Ivan Rabb would be enough to turn heads, but factor in the heavy mass of talent returning to Berkeley and this team’s ceiling quickly elevates. Tyrone Wallace is the leading returning scorer in the league. Former McDonald’s All-American Jabari Bird, now a junior, is fully healthy and poised to build off a solid finish. Toss in Jordan Mathews, the team’s second leading scorer a season ago, and you have a pretty dangerous array of offensive weapons. If there was ever a team with the talent to ascend Cal into the highest echelon of West Coast basketball powers, it’s this one. Will Martin let them get there? Read the rest of this entry »

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Five Things That Scare Us About the Pac-12

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 30th, 2015

Nothing says Halloween like a hastily constructed list replete with a truly cringe-worthy title…or something. The kickoff to the college basketball season is rapidly approaching and one can never have enough preseason analysis. So without further ado and in honor of everyone’s favorite pseudo-holiday, here are the five scariest things happening in the PAC 12 as we head into the season.

With Lorenzo Romar starting from square one, things could get scary. (USA TODAY Sports)

With Lorenzo Romar starting from square one, things could get scary. (USA TODAY Sports)

Lorenzo Romar’s Job Security

The head coach of the Huskies since 2002, Romar is far and away the longest-tenured coach in the Pac-12 and with pretty good reason. The Huskies won 20 games just once under predecessor Bob Bender. Since Romar took over, the Huskies have won 20 games six times and Romar has been the conference Coach of the Year three times. Unfortunately for Romar, the good times have mostly rolled to a halt in Seattle. The Huskies have barely broken .500 in each of the last three seasons and the team’s best player, Nigel Williams-Goss, transferred in the off-season due to concerns about the direction of the program. To his credit, Romar continues to be an excellent recruiter and has brought in another new crop of talent ready to contribute immediately. Still, even with help from the newcomers, the Huskies figure to finish in the bottom third of the conference standings. If (when?) that happens, Romar’s goodwill may have finally run out.

Watching USC Try To Score

In fairness to the Trojans, almost everyone expects the team’s offense to make a major jump this season. But the flip side of that coin is that making the jump offensively shouldn’t be difficult because of how staggeringly bad the team was on that end last season. In the Pac 12, only Oregon State was less efficient offensively than the Trojans last season. USC also managed to rank near the bottom of the country in every meaningful shooting category (63.4 percent from the free-throw line!). The futility was understandable considering the team was almost exclusively underclassmen, but with a mostly unchanged roster returning, points are likely to still be at a premium. If Jordan McLaughlin is healthy, his shooting should improve, but his shot selection needs a lot of work too. The same can be said for Katin Reinhardt, the team’s most gifted offensive player but also its most trigger-happy. Coach Andy Enfield likes his teams to play with tempo. Last season that led to a lot of running and bricking. Everyone who plans to watch the Trojans this season has their fingers crossed that things will be different this time around.

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Five Pac-12 Players Coming Back From Injury

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 28th, 2015

Earlier today we reviewed five players from around the Pac-12 who are dealing with serious injuries expected to cost them at least some portion, if not all, of the upcoming season. Happier topics are on tap this afternoon as we grab a peek at five guys who missed all or part of last year but are expected to return to full strength this time around.

Kameron Rooks, California – Let’s start with the Golden Bears big man who we haven’t seen in a game since February 2014. At that time, he was (prematurely) wrapping up a freshman season in which he averaged 1.3 points and 1.6 boards in 7.0 MPG. That campaign ended early due to a stress reaction in his foot. His sophomore season didn’t even get that far, stopping before it began when Rooks tore his left ACL over the summer. Now, the son of former Arizona star Sean Rooks appears to be back to full strength and is expected to provide quality size and depth (along with sophomore Kingsley Okoroh) along the front line for the Bears. Don’t expect a ton of points from the redshirt sophomore, especially considering the offensive punch that exists in the Cal backcourt, but on a team with aspirations of making a national splash, he could play a large part in determining who winds up cutting down various nets this season.

If Kameron Rooks Can Play A Full Season, The Golden Bears Will Have A Deep Frontcourt (Kelley Cox, USA Today)

If Kameron Rooks Can Play A Full Season, The Golden Bears Will Have a Deep Frontcourt (Kelley Cox, USA Today)

Jordan McLaughlin, USC – We spent some time on Monday discussing the importance of McLaughlin to the Trojans’ season-long hopes. To summarize: On a team with plenty of talent, USC needs a floor general who can not only produce his own offense but can also open things up for the players around him. McLaughlin’s freshman season was cut short when his shoulder “popped out of its socket.” He underwent surgery on both shoulders over the summer in hope of preventing this reoccurring injury from, well, reoccurring, but the success of the procedure remains to be seen. If McLaughlin returns to the lineup without incident, he and junior guard Julian Jacobs will need to learn to coexist in the backcourt. This shouldn’t be too  much of an issue, though, especially if the sophomore guard spends more of his on-court time playing off the ball.

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Ranking the Pac-12 Top 20 Non-Conference Games: Part II

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 22nd, 2015

Early today we unveiled our list of spots #20 through #11 in our list of the top 20 non-conference games featuring Pac-12 teams this season. Below we list the top 10 while getting increasingly pumped for some actual games.

10. 11/16 San Diego State at Utah – A rematch of last year’s snoozer as part of the ESPN Tip-Off Marathon, this has almost every chance in the world to be another knock-down, drag-out, back-alley rock fight. All the warning signs are there: an early season contest; two teams who love to go deep into the shot clock; adjustment to the new 30-second shot clock; freshman point guards; defense-first coaches. It’s a good thing that this game is early in the marathon lineup because if it tipped off at around mile 20 or so, you might be tempted to pack it in. Still, two Top 25-caliber teams squaring off means I’ll be watching.

Nobody Mistook San Diego State/Utah '14 For A Beautiful Game; Expect More Of The Same in '15 (Gregory Bull, AP Photo)

Nobody Mistook San Diego State/Utah ’14 For A Beautiful Game; Expect More Of The Same in ’15 (Gregory Bull, AP Photo)

9. 12/3 – Kentucky at UCLA – After watching UCLA lose by a literal bazillion last year (I mean, I didn’t actually see the final score, but based on those first five minutes I assume it was something like: Kentucky, a bazillion, and UCLA, 44), I’m hesitant to put this game so high. But it is a game between two of the blue-bloods in our sport and there will be plenty of talent on both ends of the court. Even if this game turns into another blowout, I’d like to do everything I can to encourage more of these kinds of games.

8. 12/19 UCLA vs. North Carolina in Brooklyn – See above. After watching UCLA roll over and quit against the Tar Heels  in last year’s Battle 4 Atlantis, I’m hesitant to put this game this high. But… well, you know the rest. Read the rest of this entry »

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West Coast Bias: Pac-12 Media Day Happenings

Posted by Adam Butler on October 16th, 2015

They say the media doesn’t pay attention to anything that happens out West, but no such claim could be made yesterday. Here is a team-by-team breakdown of the 2015 edition of Pac-12 Media Day, in order of their appearance.

USC Trojans

You only take the podium first if you’re the commissioner or the last place team in the conference. Andy Enfield isn’t Larry Scott. His squad is the latter. Andy Enfield is interesting to me in that Enfield “won the presser.” He was the flashy hire meant to breathe life into a stale program. And then he spouted off about UCLA! Of course those remarks were “off the record” and not meant to be disseminated anywhere beyond his practice. Two years ago we thought he was every bit the flashy hire Pat Haden promised. They’ve won six conference games since and Enfield really hasn’t had a ton to say. This year, however, he seemed to receive more questions and have more to say. It was a refreshing change from the previous platitudes. And while he didn’t say much – and distinctly promised nothing – there seems to be optimism inside this program. They’re older, wiser, stronger, and presumably better. Enfield has a talented roster: How will it translate?

Washington Huskies

Another program with the allusion of optimism, but I maintain it’s going to be a long one in Seattle. They’re bringing in a top recruiting class and return a senior point guard, but the Huskies feel another year away to me. Which of course is not the seat you want to sit in when you’ve had four progressively worse seasons. It’s the seat of a team predicted to finish 11th by the media. But let’s talk about the important stuff: #Globalization. The PAC is sending its Dawgs to China for the first ever regular season game – collegiate or professional – in China. LoRo’s squad will square off against Shaka Smart’s first Longhorn team in an overseas battle. The Huskies, in fact, are taking classes in prep for this trip. Fact: Andrew Andrews seamlessly spoke Mandarin during Pac-12 Media Day. Fact: Malik Dime is bilingual and the best Mandarin speaker on the team (according to Andrews). And while these are all admirable things, they might not be enough to create a particularly good basketball team.

Lorenzo Romar's Team Will Begin A Do-Or-Die Season For Their Coach In China Against Texas (Photo: Seattle Times)

Lorenzo Romar Will Begin A Do-Or-Die Season In China Against Texas (Photo: Seattle Times)

Colorado Buffaloes

Tad walked in all smiles and I loved it. At Media Day, while there isn’t anything particularly stressful, it isn’t everyone’s favorite day. There are logistics, entrances, platitudes, smiles for the camera, and a lot of ‘hey howya doings.’ Media Day is polite. But Tad Boyle waltzed onto the stage with his senior leader, Josh Scott, and a genuine grin on his face. He said, “I was just sitting down with Josh in the waiting room right there, and I’m not sure I have a lot to say. I’m just ready to play.” And doesn’t that make sense? Colorado closed last season in joyless fashion, watching a plethora of players transfer and a senior – Askia Booker – decline an invitation to play in the CBI. About five months ago, there was little to smile about surrounding Colorado basketball. “Looking at last year, I think me and my teammates kind of had to evaluate where we went wrong as a group, and in looking at it, we were afraid to call each other out,” Scott said. Now winning doesn’t necessarily demand a bunch of guys telling each other they’re out of position or screwing up, but it doesn’t hurt to have the kind of trust where teammates work together towards a common goal. The Buffs might not be great this year, but it seems they might be working towards cohesion. And that’s got Tad smiling.

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