What We Learned This Week In The Pac-12

Posted by PBaruh on January 30th, 2013

Here are some takeaways from the week that was in the Pac-12.

Arizona State Isn’t Going Away

The Sun Devils were impressive once again in another week of Pac-12 action by going 2-0 and continuing to win games they weren’t expected to win. First, Arizona State beat USC 98-93 in overtime by holding off a valiant effort from the Trojans. Then, they picked up their biggest win of the season as they were victorious over UCLA. Yes, UCLA was coming off a huge win against Arizona itself and might not have been particularly excited to play the Sun Devils two days later. Even without the presence of Travis Wear, the Bruins still have a lot of talent but that didn’t stop Arizona State from dominating the entire game. The great play of Jahii Carson has obviously been key in Arizona State’s success, but Carrick Felix’s improvement has been important as well. Felix was named ESPN’s National Player of the Week for his 16-point, 1o-rebound effort against USC and his 23-point, 11-rebound effort against UCLA. He is also second on the team in scoring at 15.2 points per game and first in rebounding with 8.2 boards per contest. Without the maturity and improvement of Carrick Felix, the Sun Devils would not be where they are at right now.

Carrick Felix, Arizona State

Carrick Felix has been a big part of Arizona State’s recent success.

Felix and Carson have had the largest impacts, but Arizona State has also been helped out by the strong play of Jordan Bachnyski. The 7’2″ center has been phenomenal on defense in rejecting 4.3 shots per game and blocking 15.6 percent of the shots taken while he is on the floor. He’s also been great at limiting his fouls as he’s only picked up more than three fouls once in conference play thus far and has yet to foul out all season. And he had his most impressive performance of the year against UCLA, with 22 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks in the Sun Devils’ big win.

After two consecutive dismal years in the Pac-12 where Herb Sendek’s team only managed 22 total wins, they’ve finally turned it around. Jahii Carson has been incredible, and Carrick Felix and Jordan Bachnyski deserve a majority of the credit as well. Many thought Arizona State would prove that their strong record before conference play was due to an easy schedule, but the Sun Devils are proving their legitimacy with wins over Colorado and UCLA. Up next, Arizona State is on the road against Washington and Washington State. If they can sweep, Arizona State might no longer be on the bubble and could be looking at a great shot to make the NCAA Tournament and contend for a bye in the Pac-12 Tournament.

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Pac-12 M5: 01.30.13 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on January 30th, 2013

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  1. After little more that just the news that Dominic Artis was out indefinitely, Oregon head coach Dana Altman shed a bit more light on the freshman point guard’s injury, putting the number of games that Artis will miss at “anywhere from three to five games.” But Altman isn’t overly concerned. Even without the talented freshman, he still wants his team to get up and down the court and he has complete trust in junior Jonathan Loyd and freshman Willie Moore to handle Artis’ duties in his absence. However, you can bet that the lack of Artis will make it that much more difficult for the Ducks to break their 37-year streak of not earning a sweep at the Bay Area schools, starting tonight at Stanford.
  2. Carrick Felix has won so many Pac-12 Player of the Week awards this season that he’s starting to lose count. “Half the time, I don’t even know when I get the player-of-the-week award,” Bud Withers of The Seattle Times quotes Felix as saying. Given that he’s won it three times this year already (the most since Derrick Williams was a three-time winner in 2011), you can hardly blame the senior if it has become passé, because without a doubt, Felix has been a huge part of ASU’s vast improvement this season. After a couple years of relative mediocrity in Tempe, Felix is on pace to earn an easy berth on the all-Pac-12 teams, especially since, like, 35 people make the Pac-12 first team.
  3. ESPN.com’s Dana O’Neil spent some time with UCLA’s Ben Howland last week and is apparently flabbergasted by the fact that the Bruins are enjoying some success despite playing a different brand of basketball than Howland became known for in his years at Pitt and his early years in Westwood. Howland told O’Neil that he’s enjoying coaching this team even if he is still trying to find some way to coax more defense out of his team. And, apparently, all the changes are making him a bit insane. Following the Arizona win, he brushed off questions about the team’s youth, claiming “our young guys aren’t freshmen anymore… They’re playing like veterans.” But then after laying an egg at Arizona State, he fell back on the team’s inexperience as something of an excuse, saying “they’re all learning for the first time.”
  4. A couple other random bits of news from the UCLA program. First, the Bruins will be unveiling their all-new all-blue basketball uniforms against USC tonight in front of a “blue-out” crowd. But perhaps more importantly, they might be doing so with only six players in the rotation. Travis Wear still hasn’t been cleared for participation following a concussion suffered last Thursday, and now Shabazz Muhammad is potentially out while struggling with the flu. Some of his teammates think Muhammad will play, although Howland isn’t too sure, while the smart money seems to be on Wear missing another game.
  5. And while UCLA unveils their blue-out plans, Arizona head coach Sean Miller seems ready to retire the “white-out” game that the Wildcats have now lost in the past two seasons. Whether he said that in jest or in reality, it matters not (he backed off his initial comments later in the day, essentially saying, “we’ll see”) because Miller is more focused on the cause of the loss during the most recent white-out, not whatever color shirts his team’s fans were wearing. Still, Miller said he felt good about the UA home stand, taking pleasure in the fact that his team bounced back from the bad Thursday loss and played one of their best games in conference play Saturday in a blowout win over USC.
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Pac-12 M5: 01.29.13 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on January 29th, 2013

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  1. It was an ugly night in Salt Lake City Sunday night. Aside from a “full-on winter storm” that slammed into the area (in advance of another one yesterday and today), the Utah basketball team laid an egg in front of a small crowd limited by that storm. But afterwards, head coach Larry Krystkowiak had no problem finding plenty of heat. He noted that his team got their “butts kicked in every phase of the game” and promised that, regardless of what happens the rest of the way, “the one thing we’re going to do for the rest of the season is play hard.” But, as Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune notes, with one conference win and 10 games remaining in which the Utes will be underdogs in just about all of them (they’ll likely be favored in their second-to-last game of the year at home against Oregon State), there is some question as to whether the team can match last year’s conference win total of three.
  2. As ugly of a day as it was in SLC, there was plenty to be happy about in Eugene as Oregon found itself in the AP Top 10 for the first time since 2007. That year, after starting 18-1, the Ducks lost six of their next eight games before righting the ship just in time for March and reeling off nine straight victories en route to a Pac-12 Tournament championship and an Elite Eight appearance behind Aaron Brooks, Bryce Taylor, Maarty Leunen and Tajuan Porter. Current head coach Dana Altman could use that midseason slide as a lesson to this year’s team, as he is already cautioning his team against getting too high on themselves. With the trip to the Bay Area schools coming up this week, the Ducks’ chances of maintaining its undefeated conference record are pretty slim. It has been 37 seasons since UO last swept a trip to Stanford and Cal, and in the interim, the team has itself been swept 20 times on the Bay Area swing.
  3. With about five minutes left in regulation in its Pac-12 opener against Arizona, Colorado had all sorts of people talking about this team as not only a Pac-12 title contender but also a force on the national stage. Well, we all know what happened after that. And, for some time afterward, the Buffaloes still seemed to be in a funk. Over the next five games, the team went 2-3 and scored just 0.94 points per possession as their offensive efficiency disappeared. But, this past week back at home against those same Bay Area schools that Oregon has to deal with this week, the Buffs found a way to again put the ball back in the hoop. Their PPP jumped to 1.09 and, with balanced scoring, this team looked like that team way back then that had everybody enthralled with their potential.
  4. If you’ve followed the Pac-12 closely at any point, whether in football or basketball or, the assumption is, wrestling or softball, you’ve heard the complaints about Pac-12 referees. It’s gotten so bad that I’ve got friends that use the term “Pac-12 refs” to mean anything negative. For instance: “Man, I shouldn’t have had that last drink last night. My hangover was so bad, I had to Pac-12 ref before breakfast.” Or: “You should have seen my back yard after that wind storm; it was Pac-12 refs all over the place.” Where am I going with this? Not quite sure, but the Pac-12 refs struck again on Saturday in the Oregon State/Washington State game, according to Kevin Hampton of the Corvallis Gazette-Times. Craig Robinson certainly didn’t appreciate the effort, picking up a technical early in the second half and, frankly, getting away with a pretty decent verbal assault on one of the refs (if you read lips, you dig) while still being allowed to remain in his seat for the remainder of the game.
  5. Lastly, yesterday we picked Washington State’s Mike Ladd as our Pac-12 Player of the Week. Well, more to the point, I picked him, as two of my colleagues went the Carrick Felix route, only to be overruled (mostly because I was asleep by the time I got their votes). The conference agreed with them, however (and I can hardly blame any of them – Felix was awesome this week), as they awarded Felix the official Pac-12 POTW honor yesterday for the third time this season. Looking back on it, given the fact that Felix double-doubled in both games this weekend, averaged 19.5 points and 10.5 rebounds per game and (the biggest strike of all against our – errrrr, my – choice), hasn’t been chosen by RTC as Player of the Week even once this year, makes his omission pretty egregious. I’ll take the blame. But really, did anyone watch Mike Ladd against the Oregon schools this week?
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Pac-12 M5: 01.28.13 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on January 28th, 2013

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  1. The biggest breaking news over the weekend came out of Eugene late Friday night when Bob Clark of the Register-Guard reported that Dominic Artis would be out indefinitely with a foot injury of undetermined severity. Oregon still managed to knock off Washington on Saturday evening (in the first sellout at Matthew Knight Arena in almost two years) with Artis watching from the bench in a walking boot. Junior Jonathan Loyd got the start and was solid, getting to the line 10 times in 31 minutes of action and scoring nine points, but he did turn the ball over five times to go along with his five assists. The other guy who earned some of the Artis’ minutes was freshman Willie Moore, who earned nine minutes, his most since before Christmas, but he too struggled with turnovers. With no timetable announced for Artis’ return, the Ducks will have to rely on those two to step up as they go to the Bay Area schools next week.
  2. The other injury of note over the past week was to UCLA’s Travis Wear, whose concussion suffered in the first half against Arizona on Thursday night kept him out of Saturday’s visit to Arizona State. But, Travis Wear or no Travis Wear, the Bruins were going down hard on Saturday. They struggled with the Sun Devils’ athleticism, size and energy, but mostly, they just weren’t engaged in the game after Thursday night’s big win. ASU outhustled UCLA from the opening tip to the closing buzzer, with Jordan Bachynski, Carrick Felix and Evan Gordon having big games and Jahii Carson, despite struggling from the field, conducting a masterful performance at the point.
  3. Last night in front of a sparse crowd limited by blizzard conditions in Salt Lake City, Stanford’s offense got back on track in a big way against Utah, scoring 46 first-half points, 87 points for the game, and looking for the first time in a long time like the explosive team that ran to last year’s NIT title. On the Utah side of the court, sophomore transfer Dallin Bachynski did not suit up for the game and his future at the school is in doubt. After getting double-figure minutes in his first 12 games as a Ute, he hasn’t seen anywhere near that run in Pac-12 play and has lost his starting job to senior Jason Washburn. Bachynski met with head coach Larry Krystkowiak on Friday to discuss his future with the program, and while there are no immediate answers as to his long-term status, the fact that he did still sit on the bench with the team (although he didn’t dress out), indicates that he isn’t going away permanently quite yet.
  4. Arizona bounced back from its disappointing loss on Thursday by jumping out to a commanding early lead against USC and never looking back. The Wildcats held USC to nine points on its first 23 possessions, forcing seven turnovers and 2-of-19 shooting. Aside from the crispness with which the ‘Cats played, another aspect of the game that pleased head coach Sean Miller was the fact that it gave him a chance to extend his bench and find some minutes for guys like Angelo Chol and Gabe York. After playing in the first 14 games of the year, Chol has slid back to take the ninth-man spot in an eight-man rotation, but he played with energy in his eight minutes against the Trojans, grabbing a couple boards and blocking a shot. York, a high-flying freshman, has now played in nine games this year, but the USC game was his first appearance in Pac-12 play and he followed Miller’s advice by being very aggressive in looking for his shot. York played eight minutes and yet found room for five three-point attempts, knocking down a couple. Miller has talked with both guys about their playing time and has come away impressed with their maturity even when the minutes haven’t been there.
  5. Colorado took it to California on Sunday and did so without the services of Andre Roberson for much of the first half. Despite losing the nation’s leading rebounder to foul trouble, the Buffs rode some hot shooting to a 34-18 halftime lead and never looked back. After the game, Cal head coach Mike Montgomery had plenty of questions about his team, including whether the team even thought it could win the game and what type of mindset it now has. With conference leader Oregon due in Haas Pavilion next weekend and any distant hopes of an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament receding into the sunset, the Bears need to get it together, and quick. One good bit of news: senior guard Brandon Smith returned to action this weekend after six games lost due to the effects of a concussion.

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Pac-12 M5: 01.18.13 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on January 18th, 2013

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  1. The likely brief Bob Cantu era begin at Southern California last night and, while his Trojans showed plenty of resiliency in sticking around with Oregon and fighting back from a late ten-point deficit to have a chance (okay, more like four chances, three of them point-blank) in the waning moments to win or send the game to overtime, his first game of his interim stretch still goes down in the record book as a loss. For the Top 25 Ducks, they escape the trap game in advance of this weekend’s more celebrated match-up with UCLA, but of concern is their seemingly newfound ability to take comfortable late-game leads and turn them into significantly uncomfortable late-game battles. Certainly much of that has to do with their freshman backcourt, but if UO wants to compete seriously for a Pac-12 title, they need to begin closing games more effectively.
  2. Earlier, up town a piece, UCLA was displaying a similar trait, although nowhere near as dramatically. For at least the fourth time in their five Pac-12 wins, the Bruins surged out to a comfortable lead, only to ease off the gas and let an overmatched opponent back into the game, this time against Oregon State. With the Ducks waiting on Saturday, that will not be an option. Aside from the game, there were other big goings-on at Pauley Pavilion on Thursday night, as Jamaal Wilkes became just the eighth player to have his jersey retired at UCLA. On hand for the festivities were other such Bruin luminaries as Bill Walton (who handled the color duties for the ESPN broadcast), Kareem-Abdul Jabbar, Mike Warren and Marques Johnson.
  3. The Oregon/UCLA game isn’t the only big-time Pac-12 game this weekend, as Arizona and Arizona State will square off in the battle for the Grand Canyon State Saturday as well. After ASU experienced a couple of very down years, they’re back in the mix in the conference, and their improvement on the defensive end is a large reason. Almost completely forsaking the match-up zone of the past, Herb Sendek has turned his team loose in man-to-man defense with athletic perimeter guys like Jahii Carson, Carrick Felix and Evan Gordon harassing ball-handlers and Jordan Bachynski cleaning up anyone that siphons through.
  4. Washington maybe the biggest story in the early going of conference play off of four straight wins to open Pac-12 in surprising fashion. Ben Knibbe of the UW Dawg Pound writes that the difference between the currently streaking Huskies and the team that lost to Albany and Nevada is that they’re finally beginning to play man-to-man defense at the level expected of Lorenzo Romar-coached teams. Part of that is due to veterans completely buying in, part of it is due to great team chemistry, but whatever the cause, so long as the defense remains a priority, expect the Huskies to keep on winning.
  5. We started the week with the Kevin O’Neill news, and its been a constant theme all week, so we might as well wrap it up by touching on it one last time. Pat Haden told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday that not only is USC ready and willing to spend what it takes to land a big-name coach, but that he’s already had contact with people who are potentially interested in the job. But we’re all just going to have to wait and see what happens, because as Haden acknowledged, the guys that he is after aren’t going to be ready to commit to USC until after their NCAA Tournament runs are complete.
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Pac-12 Report Card: Volume II

Posted by AMurawa on January 16th, 2013

Professor Pac is back to break down and evaluate each team’s performances in the past week. With three pet pupils atop the leaderboard still without a loss, it’s no surprise who is earning the As thus far.

Washington – A

After winning a conference road game over an intrastate rival last week, the Huskies decided to one-up themselves this week, taking down two more road games, this time over slightly more significant competition, to begin the season with a surprising three-game road winning streak.

Focus on: Andrew Andrews. The stats this week weren’t anywhere near mind-blowing for the redshirt freshman (9 PPG, 4 RPG, 0.5 APG), but he brings an energy and athleticism to a Husky backcourt that definitely needed it. Offensively, he is a threat to get to the paint and create opportunities on any possession, and on defense, as his four steals against Stanford on Saturday showed, he is capable of wreaking havoc on the opposition. He’s still green, but look for his role to continue to expand this season.

Looking ahead: For a team with a history of struggling on the road, the Huskies have taken care of business there in recent weeks. Now they have to prove they can win at home, something they have failed to do three separate times in the non-conference schedule. Colorado is the first test tonight with Utah visiting on Sunday.

Andrew Andrews Has Been Providing A Spark Off The Bench For The Huskies (Elaine Thompson, AP Photo)

Andrew Andrews Has Been Providing A Spark Off The Bench For The Huskies (Elaine Thompson, AP Photo)

Oregon – A

If you wanted to pick one weakness on this Ducks team, it might be the lack of a proven go-to scorer at this point. This week, for instance, in each of their two home wins over the Arizona schools, four of the five starters scored in double figures, with nobody scoring more than 14 points. In fact, only four times all season has a Duck scored 20 or more (Damyean Dotson twice, Arsalan Kazemi once, and E.J. Singler once). I’m not one who thinks this is always necessarily a problem – if you have plenty of good offensive options and you wind up with balanced scoring that way, it certainly keeps the defense guessing – but I think in the Ducks’ case, they have a bunch of good players, none of whom are completely polished offensive options. And against Arizona down the stretch, the possibility of that being a problem raised its head. Part of it has to do with the decision to milk the clock way too early, but at some point they probably need somebody (the best candidate is Dotson) to become the go-to guy down the stretch.

Focus on: E.J. Singler. The senior had a great all-around game in the win over Arizona, going for 14 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, and three steals, while knocking down some key free throws late, but then once again disappeared for the most part against Arizona State, hitting just one of nine field goal attempts and grabbing only one board in 36 minutes of play. That’s been the M.O. for the most part this season for a guy expected to be an all-conference caliber guy: inconsistency.

Looking ahead: The Ducks leave the state of Oregon for the first time in almost a month and just the third game all year when they head down Los Angeles way. They will be the opponent for Bob Cantu’s debut with USC tomorrow night before headlining the Pac-12 schedule on Saturday with a visit to Pauley Pavilion and UCLA for the first conference match-up between Top 25 teams since 2009.

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Pac-12 M5: 01.08.13 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton on January 8th, 2013

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  1. Three months ago, Malcolm and Marcus Allen committed to Stanford. But as we get into the thick of hoops season, the Las Vegas Review-Journal published a nice feature on the twins yesterday. The Allens, out of Centennial High School (Nevada), have both earned astounding 4.8 GPAs while in high school, which resulted in offers from Harvard, Yale, and Columbia, among others. When asked why they chose Johnny Dawkins and the Cardinal over the rest, the brothers said that Stanford’s perfect mix of athletics and academics was just too good to pass up, not to mention the fact the Pac-12 is a “premier conference.” The one and two guards will be battling Chasson Randle for minutes in their freshmen season next year.
  2. It was painful for fans of upsets everywhere on Saturday afternoon when Arizona continued to give Utah chance after chance at beating the Wildcats on their home floor, only to see the Utes tighten up in the closing minutes. Scoring has been a problem in the Larry Krystowiak era, but as of late, it’s been the three-point shot that has plagued the Utes. Utah missed three of its final four shots from behind the arc, a stinging stat considering the Utes suffered only a three-point loss. Utah’s leading scorer, Loyola Marymount transfer Jarred DuBois, is in the midst of a big slump, and it seems to be contagious. Their outside stroke won’t be needed to earn a split on the weekend, considering offensively-challenged USC rolls into Salt Lake City on Saturday, but if the Utes have any shot at an upset of UCLA earlier in the week, DuBois and the rest of the team need to do some serious slump-busting.
  3. The guys over at House of Sparky continually churn out great stuff, and yesterday they took a look at why the Sun Devils’ win over Colorado was so huge for the program. The first sentence pretty much sums up my thoughts on the win. I had been skeptical for all of November and December of the Sun Devils, thinking that their win total was just the product of an easy schedule. But on Sunday, Arizona State proved it was legit. The Devils completely took Andre Roberson out of the game, and with a combination of Jahii Carson, Carrick Felix, and Jordan Bachynski all attacking the ball, ASU gave the Buffaloes a migraine on defense. If they can keep up this level of play for the next two months, an NCAA Tournament bid isn’t out of the question.
  4. Sticking with HoS and Arizona State, if the Sun Devils do want to return to the Big Dance, they’ll need to knock down clutch free throws as games wind down. They haven’t done a great job in this area so far in 2012-13, shooting at less than a 63% clip from the charity stripe. One thing that is becoming a noticeable trend with ASU is that all of its shots — but specifically free throws — are falling short towards the end of games. And of course, that makes sense; the more tired you get, the tougher it is for players’ legs to launch the ball to the hoop. But I want to start talking about Herb Sendek‘s guys as a legitimate Pac-12 contender, and contenders make big shots down the stretch rather than leaving them short when their bodies start wearing down.
  5. For every “make you feel good” underdog story, there is another one to tell on the other side of the spectrum. The team lost in the shuffle after the first week of Pac-12 play was Colorado, who looked flat-out awful in the 45 minutes following Sabatino Chen‘s waved off game-winner at Arizona on Thursday. But as head coach Tad Boyle points out, nothing is given to you in conference play, and the Buffs need to have a short memory. Because as he puts it, they’re currently on the road to 0-18, and if they don’t prepare well for a visit from the LA schools, that road will get quite a bit shorter by Saturday night.
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Wrapping Up Pac-12 Non-Conference Play By Reassessing Our All-Conference Selections

Posted by AMurawa on January 2nd, 2013

Later tonight, the second leg of the Pac-12 college basketball season begins as conference play tips off with the Battle of the Bachynskis, when Utah travels to Arizona State. After last year’s nightmare of a non-conference slate, this season the conference took major strides, with Arizona’s win over Florida, UCLA’s win over Missouri, Colorado’s win over Baylor, and Oregon’s win over UNLV making up the top tier of the best wins for the conference. Before we turn our complete attention to conference play, we thought we’d hand out some awards based on the season to this point, so Connor Pelton, Parker Baruh, Pachoops’ Adam Butler and myself voted and came up with the following results.

Player of the Year

Allen Crabbe, Jr, California – Crabbe’s 20.9 PPG and efficient all-around offensive game earned three of the four votes for our player of the year, with UCLA’s Jordan Adams receiving the other vote from me. Crabbe has been a rock for the Golden Bears (well, aside from that Creighton debacle, at least), scoring in double figures in every game, helping out on the glass and, thus far, knocking down better than 38% of his shots from deep.

The Pac-12's Leading Scorer, Allen Crabbe Takes Down The Mid-season POTY Award (credit: Jeff Gross)

The Pac-12’s Leading Scorer, Allen Crabbe Takes Down The Mid-season POTY Award (credit: Jeff Gross)

Coach of the Year

Dana Altman, Oregon – Despite losing three of last year’s top four scorers, and having the other guy in that quartet – E.J. Singler – struggle through the early part of this year, the Ducks have reeled off wins in 11 of their 13 games. Altman has gotten great production out of his freshman backcourt of Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson, has folded Rice transfer Arsalan Kazemi into the mix seamlessly, and coaxed great improvement out of senior center Tony Woods. As a result, he earned three of our four votes for the COY, while Arizona State’s Herb Sendek got my support.

Freshman of the Year

Shabazz Muhammad, Fr, UCLA – After missing the first three games of the season due to an NCAA investigation into his eligibility, Muhammad has come on strong for the Bruins, scoring in double figures in all 10 of the games he’s played in on his way to 19.6 points per night. He’s just beginning to ease into the best physical shape of the season, so the expectation is that conference play will see an even better version of Shabazz. Once again, Shabazz earned three of our four votes for FrOY, with the lone dissenter (again, me) nabbing teammate Jordan Adams.

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Pac-12 M5: 12.17.12 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton on December 17th, 2012

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  1. It’s not often you hear a coach say they almost feel guilty after a win, but that was the case on Saturday after Arizona‘s thrilling, come-from-behind victory against Florida. “There’s a side of me that almost feels guilty because they were the better team for most of the game, but it doesn’t always work out that way,” said Wildcat head coach Sean Miller. While there’s no argument against the Gators being the better team for the majority of the night, Arizona played hard and made some crucial stops in the final minutes to put themselves in a position to win it. And Mark Lyons did just that, dropping a floater with seven seconds to play to give Zona its first lead since the 17:35 mark of the first half. They likely won’t need any late-game heroics in their next two outings against Oral Roberts and East Tennessee State, but possible match-ups against Miami (FL) and San Diego State await the cardiac Cats.
  2. Two three-pointers and 16 turnovers. A solid power conference opponent. A half-filled arena with students on break. These factors alone could have combined for an Oregon upset on Saturday, but a terrific defensive performance by the Ducks negated their second-lowest scoring output of the season. While Dana Altman may not have been pleased with the outcome, escaping with another résumé-building victory by 22 points, is nothing to be too down about. The Cornhuskers did play the game how they wanted to play it, dominating the pace and successfully denying most Oregon opportunities inside the paint. But the Ducks answered on the other side of the court, forcing all those Husker turnovers and a 30.6% clip from the field. It will be interesting to see how Altman’s bunch bounces back on Wednesday against UTEP, another team that will try to play the game at an agonizing pace.
  3. Arizona State’s 17-point home loss at the hands of DePaul on Wednesday took a lot of excitement out of its 9-2 opening mark, but there have been a pair of significant stories coming out of the desert early in the season. One of those belongs to senior guard Carrick Felix, who has been the man on the side holding everything together while freshman sensation Jahii Carson shines in the spotlight. Without this duo, even against this type of schedule, the 9-2 Sun Devils could be a 7-4 type of team similar to the past. If Herb Sendek can get some continued production out of Jordan Bachynski, ASU has the pieces in place to surprise a lot of people come Pac-12 play.
  4. It was another case of “one step forward, two steps back” at Washington over the weekend. After a solid win at Seattle U. on Thursday, the Huskies came out slow and looking ugly against Jackson State two days later. They would eventually pull out a 75-67 victory against the 0-8 Tigers, who are still in the midst of a three-game road trip through the state of Washington, and an 11-game trip to start the season. What’s most concerning is the fact that Lorenzo Romar sensed his team needed Saturday off after a draining game against the Redhawks. Get used to it boys, conference play is right around the corner.
  5. Is it another underachieving season in Los Angeles, or has USC fallen victim to a challenging non-conference schedule and still has time to turn it around? Junior Omar Oraby believes the latter, saying that the difficult slate of opponents has prepared the Trojans for a bounce back in Pac-12 action. It’s concerning that SC’s best game so far has been an overtime win against a 6-4 Texas squad, but we’ll take Oraby’s word for it. They did certainly make some strides in Saturday’s game against UC Riverside, which resulted in a 70-26 thrashing of the Highlanders.
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Pac-12 M5: 12.05.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on December 5th, 2012

  1. Tonight, prior to its game against Boise State, Utah will pause to commemorate the life of former head coach Rick Majerus, who died on Saturday night of heart failure. The university will observe a moment of silence, then they’ll show a video in the Huntsman Center celebrating Majerus’ time in Utah and the team will wear black patches on their uniforms for the remainder of the season. Later in the year, they’ll raise a replica of the white sweater that Majerus wore during his time there. The athletic department had tried to work out a time to have a ceremony for Majerus last season, while he was still a head coach at Saint Louis, but the two parties could never find a suitable time. Lastly, while there have been a lot of great remembrances of the coaching legend in recent days, it goes without saying that Utah fans, where Majerus enjoyed his greatest success, had a good perspective on the man, and Block U in particular laid down another in a long line of touching tributes.
  2. And speaking of the game against Boise State, that contest kicks off a big week for Utah, as they’ll also travel to face BYU on Saturday. Both games mark significant upgrades in terms of competition for the Utes, and they represent the clear high water mark of the non-conference schedule. Ken Pomeroy gives Utah a 17% chance of knocking off the Broncos and an 8% chance of winning in Provo, but more important to the program may not be the focus on earning any Ws this week, but playing up to their potential and showing improvement from last week’s split of a two-game road-trip to Texas to face SMU (a seven-point loss) and Texas State (a five-point win).
  3. On Monday, we handed out our Pac-12 Player of the Week award to C.J. Wilcox of Washington, but the official POTW award went to Arizona State’s Carrick Felix, who averaged 21 points, nine boards, nearly five assists and a couple of blocks in a pair of wins for the Sun Devils. He was the first ASU player to earn the honor since Ty Abbott won it in March 2011. After a bumpy first couple of seasons in Tempe marked by great athleticism but poor shooting, Felix has dialed in his long-range jumper in a big way this season, hitting nearly two threes a game at a 44.4% clip. As Doug Haller reports, head coach Herb Sendek attributes Felix’s improvement to perseverance and “habits of excellence” as well as understanding his strengths and being comfortable with who he is on the basketball court. Throw in the fact that Felix, a senior now, is surrounded by the most talent he’s seen in his time at ASU and there’s a good chance this run at the start of the year is not just a fluke, but the new normal.
  4. Washington has been without the services of Scott Suggs since before Thanksgiving, and they’ve been without Shawn Kemp Jr. for the entire year. But, both are nearing their returns, and if they can get through practices on Thursday and Friday without any adverse affects (a big if), they will be ready to play on Saturday against Nevada. Kemp tore a patellar tendon in his right knee back in October, and even if he is available for Saturday’s game, it will likely be for limited minutes. Suggs, who has been struggling with plantar fasciitis, is a better bet to play on Saturday, but head coach Lorenzo Romar warns that Suggs’ injury is one that could linger throughout the season.
  5. Finally, Scott Gleeson of the USA Today asked the question yesterday, is the Mountain West better than the Pac-12? Gleeson came up with the right answer, which is, “of course!” And he could have gone a step further with, “and it has been for at least three years now.” But despite three MW teams in the Top 25 compared to just one for the Pac-12 and a current 4-2 advantage on the season, we’ll get a clearer answer to the question this week as we’ll see five different match-ups between the two conferences. We already mentioned the Utah/Boise State game tonight, but there are a pair of other contests between the conferences tonight, as Colorado State visits Colorado and USC visits New Mexico. Then, over the weekend, we’ll see a couple more games, with Nevada traveling to Washington on Saturday and UNLV visiting California. And, there will be at least three other match-ups (and potentially a San Diego State/Arizona Christmas present in the championship game of the Diamond Head Classic) between the conferences prior to the start of 2013, giving a large enough sample to declare a winner in the unofficial Pac-12/Mountain West Challenge. My guess on the final tally? The Pac-12 finishes strong and pulls out a 9-6 record in the long run, with Colorado getting back on track tonight against Colorado State and California scoring a key win over UNLV on Sunday.
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Pac-12 Team Previews: Arizona State Sun Devils

Posted by AMurawa on November 2nd, 2012

Throughout the preseason, the Pac-12 microsite will be rolling out these featured breakdowns of each of the 12 league schools. Today’s release is the Arizona State Sun Devils.

Strengths.  The biggest strength the Sun Devils may have this season is enthusiasm, confidence and camaraderie. Two years ago, a combination of bad luck and senioritis killed the team’s season before conference play had even gotten into the grind. Last year, poor team chemistry and low expectations conspired to sap ASU of energy before even the New Year. This year, there is a swagger about the program, in part due to the confidence that newly eligible guys like Jahii Carson and Evan Gordon bring along with them. It also doesn’t hurt that those players have been in the program for a couple of years and know and like their teammates. That injection of talent combined with improving veterans and, as of right now, the Sun Devils have the feel of a team with a chip on their shoulder and something to prove. That alone can take some of the 64-61 and 68-65 losses that ASU suffered last year (six of their first nine defeats were by six points or less) and turn those into wins. That newfound attitude coupled with a pretty significant upgrade in talent could equal the first step on the road to redemption for Herb Sendek’s program.

Jahii Carson, Arizona State

With Jahii Carson Leading The Way, This Edition Of The Sun Devils Has More Swagger Than Recent Teams

Weaknesses. A note on the above, all that good will and happiness could go south right quick if a couple bad bounces go against ASU; “here we go again” and all that. There are a couple of other significant areas that the Sun Devils need to improve on, however: turnovers and defense. Last year, ASU was in the bottom half of the country in defensive efficiency. And on the offensive end of the court, ASU turned the ball over more frequently than all but three other teams in Division I (according to KenPom), leading to pretty awful offensive numbers as well. Now, the addition of Carson alone could mean improvements in both of those areas, but with the new point guard comes a new faster-paced offense (just how much faster remains to be seen). And, if the freshman gets a little to amped up in an effort to push the pace, it is possible that those turnovers could stick around as well.

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Pac-12 M5: 11.01.12 Edition

Posted by KDanna on November 1st, 2012

  1. Finally, some good news for one of UCLA’s freshmen: Kyle Anderson has been cleared by the NCAA to play this season. The main questions surrounding Anderson’s eligibility had to do with his father’s relationship with agent Thad Foucher, in addition to concerns about who paid for Anderson’s unofficial visits to UCLA (along with how many he took). Though Anderson’s father was confident all along that his son would be cleared to play, assuredly there were more than a few UCLA supporters who heaved a deep sigh of relief Wednesday. It has been a long four months for the Anderson family and UCLA, but there is now one less cloud hanging over the Bruins’ 2012-13 season. All of a sudden, the Bruins’ perimeter lineup looks a lot stronger and bigger, as the 6’9’’ Anderson is known for his great court vision and passing abilities. Now all that’s left is for the NCAA to clear Shabazz Muhammad, the No. 2 overall recruit in the class of 2012 according to Scout and No. 1 recruit according to Rivals. At the very least, the Bruins are in a much better position to live up to the preseason hype as a top 15 team in the country and potentially make a push deep into the NCAA Tournament next spring.
  2. Another Pac-12 exhibition contest is in the books as Arizona defeated Humboldt State 108-67 in its exhibition opener last night. If this game is any indication (and it probably isn’t), our Kevin Danna might have nailed it on the head in last week’s burning question when he said Kaleb Tarczewski will be the best newcomer to the Pac-12 this year. The seven-footer had the game’s lone double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds. He seemed to always be in the right spot down by the bucket to collect rebounds and also showed off a very nice drop-step, albeit against a non-Division-I post player. Mark Lyons also looked comfortable handling Sean Miller’s offense and, as usual, he wasn’t afraid to look for his own shot either, finishing with 15 points. Nick Johnson filled up the stat sheet in just about every way imaginable with 14 points, five rebounds, five steals and four assists, as well as throwing down a couple of nice dunks as icing on the cake. If any other school in the conference wants to claim they have the best fans in the conference, then show an attendance figure surpassing 12,431 for an exhibition game. From the best I could tell on the stream (which, by the way, was much less laggy than Oregon’s stream on Monday night), the Wildcat crowd was very into it aside from just showing up in large numbers to a meaningless game on Halloween night. Supporters in Tucson surely sense that Sean Miller has a potentially great team on his hands.
  3. And then there are the “secret scrimmages” that never seem to be too much of a secret. Later tonight, Stanford will travel to Moraga to take on the Saint Mary’s Gaels in a game that fans and reporters are prohibited from attending. While many Cardinal followers would prefer this to be an actual game on the non-conference slate, perhaps it could be the first step towards setting up a home-and-home with the Gaels in the near future. In the immediate future, this game will give the Cardinal some sort of idea how they stack up with a team that is more or less thought to be on the same level. Big things are expected out of the junior class that features Aaron Bright, Dwight Powell, Anthony Brown, and Josh Huestis, and this game provides the class with a chance to get some positive momentum rolling into the beginning of the season. A “win” against St. Mary’s in the scrimmage could provide a nice confidence boost, even if it’s not a real game setting and both coaches might tweak the lineups more than usual.
  4. The newest CBS Sports list deals with the best defenders in the nation and, unlike previous ones, this one is not ordered. Rather, 30 guys are separated into different categories of defenders, and two of the 30 defenders reign from the Pac-12: Colorado’s André Roberson and Washington’s Aziz N’Diaye. Roberson gets a nod under the “best glass cleaning defenders” category, for pretty much the same reason why Eamonn Brennan tabbed the Colorado forward the best rebounder in the nation. N’Diaye is filed under the “best rim protecting defenders” department. We talked about Roberson yesterday, so N’Diaye is a guy who has done a solid job as a lane-clogger for Lorenzo Romar during his first two years in Seattle, but you would expect a guy his size to finish better than 12th in the conference in blocks as he did last season. No love for Pac-12 perimeter defenders, but right now, there isn’t any guard in the conference that could feel too slighted by not receiving CBS Sports’ recognition.
  5. Finally, it’s Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Media Day today, taking place this morning and afternoon in the Pac-12 Enterprises offices in San Francisco. All 12 coaches will be there, along with one player from each team: Solomon Hill, Carrick Felix, Allen Crabbe, André Roberson, E.J. Singler, Angus Brandt, Aaron Bright, David Wear (you didn’t think UCLA would take Shabazz, did you?), Jio Fontan, Jason Washburn, Abdul Gaddy and Brock Motum. Nothing earth-shattering usually takes place at these events, but it will be a good chance to get some more nuggets on Washington’s high-post offense, Craig Robinson’s role in the Obama re-election campaign, and an official “no comment” comment on the Shabazz situation now that Anderson is cleared to play. Most importantly, the preseason Pac-12 media poll will be released. Which team will the media pick to take home the Pac-12 regular season crown: UCLA or Arizona?
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