Marching to Vegas: The Pac is Back

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) on November 1st, 2013

Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) of Pachoops again will be joining us all year, providing us with his weekly take on our favorite conference, as we begin the March to Las Vegas.

Have you ever seen that Dodge commercial? It’s the one narrated by Dexter for the Durango re-release. And don’t fear – not yet at least – I’m not about to go full Grantland on you. I’m just curious if you’ve seen the commercial? Anyhow, it’s got me thinking about Pac-12 basketball. Now in the interest of full disclosure, few things don’t lead me back to that subject. We can dismiss that evidence. But back to the commercial, here it is. Michael C. Hall opens it by telling us it’s 2011. “Wonder where the Durango’s been for the last two years?” Dexter asks. He goes on to explain how the SUV left to improve itself and how, but to be honest I hadn’t given the Durango much thought. The Pac-12 on the other hand? I’ve been curious about where it had gone. It’s how I opened last season, running through the elite programs of the conference and why their disappearance lowered the bar for the others. In our most recent version of Pac-12 basketball, both Arizona and UCLA were included in the field of 68; along with three other Pac-12 schools. Five of 12 ain’t bad coming off a year in which the conference champion was not invited to dance; begging the question: Is the Pac Back?

How Is Pac-12 Basketball Like The Dodge Durango? Geez, How Isn't It?

How Is Pac-12 Basketball Like The Dodge Durango? Let Us Count The Ways.

If we look at predictive measurements, the answer may be a resounding NO. KenPom doesn’t rate a Pac-12 team until his 23rd slot (Arizona) and has three squads rated outside the top 100 (Washington State, USC, and Utah). Conference by conference, the Pac settles in at number five behind the B1G, the new Big East, the ACC and the AAC (please note that I believe this is the first time I’ve ever written AAC, for whatever that is worth). For comparison’s sake, the Pac-12 finished eighth among conferences in 2012 and third in 2013. Perhaps the Pac returned last March? But these 2014 numbers suggest that the conference is still among the latter half of the big kid conferences. And isn’t this the beauty of predictive stats? They help us tell the story, but cannot become the story. Because if that were the case, you could have stopped a lot closer to “Dodge Durango” (and I thank you for not).

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Ten Tuesday Scribbles: On Illinois, Undefeated Teams, A Blown Call Nobody Noticed, and More…

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 11th, 2012

Brian Otskey is an RTC columnist. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.

  1. Illinois fans, here is my mea culpa. I was wrong not to rank your team. On Saturday night, the Fighting Illini ventured up to Spokane and walked out of the Kennel with the best win of any team to date. Yes, better than Duke’s wins over Louisville and Ohio State. Why? There has not been a road win of this magnitude by any team through this early point in the season. The Illini proved they’re for real with a dominant second half against a very strong Gonzaga team. After taking the opening punch and falling behind 8-0 right out of the gate, John Groce’s team didn’t panic and made fantastic adjustments. Gonzaga’s game plan was clearly to feed the ball inside and try to dominate a less than imposing Illinois front line. Illinois’ defense suddenly picked up later in the first half, swarming the Gonzaga big men and forcing the Bulldogs into an uncharacteristic 16 turnovers. Illinois was able to speed the game up a bit and prevent Gonzaga from setting up its half court offense effectively. The Zags attempted 18 threes which is right about their season average but a lot of them were rushed and not something the game plan should have called for against an Illinois team without a significant inside presence. Brandon Paul looked like an All-America candidate with his performance not just on the offensive end but defensively against Pangos and the Gonzaga guards as well. Can Illinois keep this level of play up? I’m not sure but I know one thing: The Illini are way better than I thought. This team’s over-reliance on the three-point shot is concerning and is bound to catch up with them at some point, but Illinois has already proved it will be a factor in the loaded Big Ten.

    Brandon Paul Looked Like An All-American Candidate On Saturday Night In Spokane. (Joe Robbins/Getty)

  2. Another impressive performance played out in a different fashion on Saturday night in Clemson, South Carolina. Trailing Clemson by six points midway through the second half, Arizona absorbed the hit and put the pedal down in impressive fashion with a 26-5 run down the stretch to come out of rowdy Littlejohn Coliseum with a sneaky good road win. It was an impressive showing because this Arizona team had been highly touted but untested coming into the game. The Wildcats passed that test with flying colors as they head into a Saturday showdown with Florida in Tucson. Mark Lyons took control in the final minutes for Arizona but contributions from Nick Johnson (13 points, five steals) and Solomon Hill (10 rebounds despite an awful shooting night) illustrate the talent and depth of Sean Miller’s team. Although he didn’t have a great game, I was thoroughly impressed with the physique of freshman Kaleb Tarczewski. It was the first time I’ve seen him play and his body appears mature beyond his age. He’ll be a load for any opponent in the post. Arizona is clearly the best team in the Pac-12 and has the pieces to make a deep run in March. With the gritty Miller at the helm and a boatload of talent, this team will keep getting better as the year moves along. Make sure you watch the Wildcats take on Florida this Saturday night in what could prove to be the best non-conference game of the season.
  3. Another week, another confounding loss for Baylor. Just when you thought the Bears were turning the corner after winning at Kentucky, they put together an absolute stinker of a loss at home to a mediocre Northwestern team that had just suffered back-to-back home losses to Maryland and Illinois-Chicago. Baylor was dominated on the glass by a Northwestern lineup that isn’t all that physically imposing and allowed the Wildcats to shoot 51% for the game. It is inexcusable for a team with Baylor’s talent to have three losses at this point in the season but you know what I like to say, nobody does less with more than Scott Drew. When you look at the statistics, Baylor appears to be a pretty good team. But the chemistry and focus clearly is lacking, otherwise this team wouldn’t have lost to Charleston and Northwestern on its home court. Baylor is a highly talented team and has actually improved its turnover numbers significantly from previous years. Pierre Jackson is playing like one of the best point guards in America and Drew has seen junior forward Cory Jefferson take a huge step forward. Baylor has two more non-conference challenges before Big 12 play begins, against BYU in Waco and a tough trip to Gonzaga in back to back games at the end of this month. Even if the Bears enter Big 12 play at 8-4, I still believe this team is good enough to eventually earn a Top 25 ranking and fit solidly in the NCAA Tournament. At this point however, Baylor just isn’t there yet. Read the rest of this entry »
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Set Your TiVo: 12.09.11 to 12.11.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 9th, 2011

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

It is road test Saturday as Kentucky and Ohio State face strong tests in Bloomington and Lawrence while a fierce intra-city rivalry plays out on the hardwood in Cincinnati. Also, Duke faces a challenge from Washington at MSG while Wisconsin and Gonzaga look to get back on the right track on their home floors. [Editor's Note: There will be no Set Your TiVo on Monday due to the barren nature of that night’s schedule as most schools transition into finals week. We will resume on Tuesday.]

#6 Duke vs. Washington (at New York, NY) – 12:00 PM EST Saturday on CBS (***)

Duke is Back at MSG For Another Great Game (Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

  • Duke returns to Madison Square Garden for the second time this year to take on a Washington team that also will be playing its second game in the building after a thrilling game against Marquette on Tuesday night. This game will be up-tempo and you can expect guard-heavy Duke to try to take advantage of Washington’s inability to defend the three-point shot. Seth Curry, Austin Rivers, Andre Dawkins and Ryan Kelly can all knock down the triple at a high rate and they’re the reasons why the Blue Devils rank #19 in that department. They’ll be shooting against a Huskies defense that ranks a paltry #262 (37.1%) against the trifecta. The Huskies used a zone at times against Marquette earlier this week. That may be effective at stopping Duke inside, but the Blue Devil guards can shoot right over it. If Lorenzo Romar goes man-to-man, his team will have to fight its way through the tremendous screening action that is a huge part of Duke’s offense, allowing shooters to get open with ease. If Duke knocks down its threes, it’ll be a long early afternoon for Washington.
  • The defensive matchups don’t look good for Washington, so you would have to think the Huskies will need to put up a lot of points in order to win. They certainly can do that against Duke’s perimeter defense, but the key will be Terrence Ross and C.J. Wilcox making a bunch of threes to offset the barrage that may come from the Duke shooters. Washington has the height and athleticism necessary to neutralize and even take advantage of Duke in the paint with Aziz N’Diaye and Darnell Gant which will force the Blue Devils to make shots. Offensively, UW’s guards have to be able to penetrate to open up some outside shots while getting N’Diaye and Gant some easy buckets around the rim. That means Abdul Gaddy and (especially) Tony Wroten can’t turn the ball over. The freshman is certainly talented but he turns it over more than four times per game.
  • This is a big chance for Washington (4-3) to snag a crucial victory with hardly anything of note left on its non-conference schedule. Washington must rebound the basketball and push the pace as much as possible. The Huskies do a very good job on the boards, outrebounding Duke by an average of 10 RPG coming into the game. The Huskies need to be tough around the basket on both ends of the floor and should not be afraid to foul Mason Plumlee when he receives the ball in the post. Plumlee is a 42.3% foul shooter and should be in for a battle around the basket. While Washington may not be able to defend the three-ball straight up, the Huskies’ length and athleticism has the potential to bother Duke’s guards. Rivers can break down a defense at will but Curry is susceptible to shaky ballhanding and turnovers. If Washington can rattle Curry and put points on the board, they’ll be in the game for the long haul. We’re looking for a closer than expected game but still have to favor the Blue Devils because of their three-point shooting and the partisan crowd sure to fill Madison Square Garden.

Cincinnati @ #7 Xavier – 12:30 PM EST Saturday on ESPN2 (****)

  • The Crosstown Shootout is one of the perennially underrated rivalries in the game. While the teams aren’t always great, the basketball is intense between two schools that don’t particularly care for one another. Xavier is the better team but can’t afford to take the Bearcats lightly. The Musketeers needed second half rallies to defeat Vanderbilt and Purdue before going on the road and winning at Butler this past Wednesday. Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons do most of the work for this team but the X-men will need an interior presence against Cincinnati big man Yancy Gates. Gates is a load inside but Kenny Frease should be able to match up with him, at least on the defensive end. If Chris Mack’s squad can limit Gates, who is struggling with only 15 total points scored in his last two games, Xavier will be well on its way to a win at the Cintas Center.
  • Cincinnati plays terrific defense but Mick Cronin’s team really struggles to score. The Bearcats have a stunning lack of depth for a team that is supposed to contend for an upper tier finish in the Big East. Since it is putting up only 64 PPG, Cincinnati has to win games with its defense. The good news is Sean Kilpatrick and Dion Dixon can hit from deep with some level of consistency but they’ll face their toughest test to date against a Xavier defense allowing only 25.5% shooting from the three-point line. If the shots don’t fall, Cincinnati doesn’t stand much of a chance, especially if Gates continues his lackluster play of late. To win, the Bearcats must shoot well but they also have to control the glass and the pace of the game. Holloway loves to push the ball, penetrate and get to the line where he’s an 86.2% shooter. He averages nearly ten free throw attempts per game and it’s vital that Cincinnati keep him off the charity stripe if it is to win.
  • These teams are similar with regards to their defense and toughness but Xavier is a more talented and deeper version of Cincinnati. Playing in front of a raucous home crowd, it’s hard to see the Musketeers dropping this game. For the Bearcats to have a chance to pull it out, Gates has to be the player he was towards the end of last season when he was putting up 20+ points a night. In addition, Cashmere Wright can’t be turning the ball over at the rate (3.3 per game) he has so far this season. We may be making a mistake since it is a rivalry game, but Xavier by 10-15 points seems like a good bet.
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Set Your TiVo: The Jimmy V Classic Edition

Posted by bmulvihill on December 6th, 2011

Brendon Mulvihill is an RTC contributor. You can find him @themulv on Twitter.  See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

The V Foundation has been able to give over $90 million to more than 100 cancer research facilities nationwide since the organization was founded in 1993. Tonight means way more than college basketball. So while you are watching the games tonight at home, take a minute to remember what these folks are doing for our friends and family. Let’s take a look at the hoops action this evening at the Jimmy V Classic in NYC.

Marcus Denmon And The Tigers Kick Off the Jimmy V Classic in NYC (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

#10 Missouri vs Villanova – 7 PM EST on ESPN HD (***)

  • Missouri is deadly accurate from the floor. Through seven games, the Tigers are shooting 58.2% from two and 43% from three. Look for Mizzou guards Marcus Denmon and Kim English to continue their hot shooting against a Villanova team that ranks 108th in effective field goal defense. Nova was recently beat-up by another excellent shooting team in the St. Louis Billikens. If Jay Wright does not address his team’s field goal defense quickly, Missouri is going to blow out the Wildcats just like they have every other opponent this season.
  • Villanova has a distinct height advantage against Missouri. If Wright’s club is to have any chance in this game, they are going to have to use that height and grab all the offensive rebounds they possibly can. Missouri’s speed and accuracy on offense puts pressure on the opposing offense to not have any empty possessions. Keep an eye Wildcats’ 6’10” forward Mouphtaou Yarou on the inside. Yarou needs to own the offensive boards. If Villanova is missing shots against an aggressive Tiger defense and not grabbing offensive boards, the game will be over quickly for Wright’s team.
  • Missouri’s speed, accuracy, and experience will prove to be the difference in this game. Thus far, Villanova has not proven they have a defense to stop a team that shoots as well as Mizzou. If Yarou and the rest of the Wildcats can grab offensive boards, they will have a chance but ultimately the pressure Denmon and English put on the team will be too much.

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Morning Five: Thanksgiving Day Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 24th, 2011

  1. After suffering a rash of injuries early in the season, Louisville finally got some good medical news when it cleared Rakeem Buckles to return to practice today. Buckles is coming back from surgery on his right knee after tearing his ACL at the end of February. We are not sure what kind of shape Buckles is in now, but we hope that he is in better health (and has better luck) after an injury-riddled sophomore season in which he had to sit out three different times due to various injuries (ACL tear, concussion, and a broken finger). If Buckles comes back in shape, he could provide the Cardinals with some much needed toughness in the paint.
  2. The investigation into allegations against Bernie Fine appears to be getting messier. While there are additional details coming out about how the case came back into spotlight, the real action is happening between the Syracuse DA’s office and police department. After initially serving the police department with a subpoena and being met by claims of wanting to present the case in whole rather than pieces, the DA is now claiming that the police department illegally leaked the reports from the alleged victims in an attempt to embarrass the DA’s office for the way it originally handled the case. The way things are going it appears like this case may not have the tawdriness and explicit details of a school orchestrated cover-up that some are speculating may have happened at Penn State, but we may have a much messier legal situation because two of the primary prosecuting entities are bickering, which may compromise whatever case there is here.
  3. Sunday was a rough day for Washington. Not only did they get blown out at Saint Louis, but sophomore C.J. Wilcox also suffered a concussion after running into a screen. He has been limited in practice this week, but is expected to play tomorrow. Prior to Sunday’s game, which he had to leave early and did not come back, Wilson had been leading the team in scoring with nearly 19 points per game. According to the report it appears to be a relatively mild concussion so they expect he will be able to return at full strength. In any event, the Huskies probably will not need Wilcox’s services that much until two weeks from now when they play Marquette and Duke.
  4. Steve Alford may have a somewhat unique recruiting situation on his hands as his son Bryce is putting up some big numbers as a junior in Albuquerque. In a win on Tuesday night, Bryce scored 44 points to break a school single-game scoring record held by former Arizona star A.J. Bramlet. While Bryce is not considered one of the truly elite recruits in his class at this time, he is highly regarded and probably would fit in well at his father’s school assuming he wants to stay in the area and be coached by his father. Steve will not only have the advantage of being in his son’s ear everyday (assuming the NCAA doesn’t have a rule against fathers talking to their sons); he will also have other advantages that nobody else can match. As USC’s legendary coach John McKay said of recruiting his own son, “I had a rather distinct advantage. I slept with his mother.”
  5. As we mentioned in a column yesterday, Kentucky’s team is fascinating on a number of levels. We choose to focus on the variability of each player’s individual performance and how they are relying on individual excellence rather than a team-based approach. Andy Glockner has an excellent piece on how John Calipari is dealing with coaching such a young team, an experience that is not that new for him. As Glockner notes, this type of young talented team is increasingly common at Kentucky and its legacy will be determined by how well it reacts to Calipari’s coaching.
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RTC Summer Updates: Pac-12 Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on July 25th, 2011

With the the NBA Draft concluded and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. The latest update comes courtesy of our Pac-12 correspondent, Andrew Murawa.

Reader’s Take #1

Summer Storylines

  • The More, The Merrier: The Pac-10 is dead. Long live the Pac-12. The conference welcomes in Colorado and Utah for their first season in the conference, the first expansion in the West Coast’s premier conference since Arizona and Arizona State were added 33 years ago. Along with the new teams comes a new schedule – gone is the full home-and-away round robin. While there won’t be divisions in basketball like there are in football, each team will play an 18-game schedule with home and away games against its traditional rival, with six other rotating home-and-away series and four additional single games against the remaining teams. For instance, Colorado and Utah will only play the Southern California schools and the Washington schools once each, while they will play the remainder of the conference twice. While neither of the new schools are expected to make a big splash immediately in the conference, their arrival, coupled with other changes around the conference, such as the huge new $3 billion TV deal with ESPN and Fox that begins in the fall of 2012, makes it an exciting time to be a Pac-12 fan.
  • Is There A Draft In Here?: Last summer, a big story around the conference was the dearth of Pac-10 players picked in the NBA Draft, as just two players from the conference were selected by NBA teams in 2010. After the 21 players that were picked in the conference between the 2008 and 2009 drafts, that was a precipitous fall. And, back before the season started, there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of future high draft picks on the horizon. However, the conference had six players picked in the NBA draft, including three first-rounders and two lottery picks. Derrick Williams, the 2010-11 conference player of the year, led the way, getting snapped up by Minnesota with the #2 overall pick. Unfortunately for teams around the conference, 12 seasons of eligibility were left on the table between those six picks and the two early entries who went undrafted: Stanford’s Jeremy Green and Washington State’s DeAngelo Casto. And as a result, what had looked like a potential big-time bounce-back season for the conference now sees somewhat diminished expectations. Perhaps no team was hit harder by early defections than UCLA, who had Tyler Honeycutt and Malcolm Lee leave a total of three years of eligibility behind to go get second-round NBA draft picks (and the absence of guaranteed contracts that goes with them) at a time when the NBA labor situation is highly in doubt, but Washington State’s loss of Casto and lottery pick Klay Thompson also leaves the Cougars’ situation fuzzy at best.
  • Replacing Production: Between the early entries to the NBA Draft and departed seniors, the Pac-12 loses its top seven scorers from last season, and 11 of its top 20. Likewise, ten of the top 20 rebounders are gone. However, as always, a new batch of youngsters is ready to show up on campuses this fall and begin contributing immediately. While the Pac-10 inked only nine of the ESPNU top 100 recruits, seven of those players are exciting young guards, all ranked in the top 60 on that list. Arizona leads the way, signing point guard Josiah Turner (#14 overall, according to ESPNU) and Nick Johnson (#21), to go with a couple solid frontcourt signees (Angelo Chol and Sidiki Johnson, #60 and #91, respectively). But Washington (Tony Wroten, Jr., #16), Oregon (Jabari Brown, #25), Arizona State (Jahii Carson, #49), UCLA (Norman Powell, #51) and Stanford (Chasson Randle, #59) all have their own big backcourt recruits ready to provide a burst of energy.

Derrick Williams' performances were one of the highlights of the 2010-11 season.

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Conference Report Card: Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 13th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West conferences. We will be publishing a series of conference report cards over the next week for conferences that received multiple NCAA bids to recap the conference, grade the teams, and look at the future for the conference.

Conference Recap:

After an awful 2009-10 season in which the Pac-10 had to limp into a second NCAA Tournament bid when Washington hit the gas pedal down the stretch, the four tournament bids the conference received this year was a huge improvement. With Arizona advancing to the Elite Eight, the Pac-10 advanced a team beyond the Sweet 16 for the first time in three seasons, and the conference was a much deeper collection of teams than last year. And without a doubt, that came as a result of the enhanced talent level across the conference. Coming into the season, there were just 17 seniors on rosters across the conference, and the youngsters showed vast  improvement this year, notably Derrick Williams (an All-American and national player of the year candidate), Isaiah Thomas, Tyler Honeycutt, and Klay Thompson with several other players making big strides in their games. While the Pac-10 still struggled to gain national respect, it was clear to fans that the level of play is on the rebound from its 2009-2010 nadir.

The Pac-10 was Derrick Williams' personal playground in 2011, and the Wildcats displayed perhaps the most impressive performance of the NCAA Tournament in their dismantling of Duke. (AZ Daily Star/M. Popat)

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ATB: Jordan Taylor Goes Jordanesque Against Indiana

Posted by rtmsf on March 3rd, 2011

The Lede.  There are only a handful of days left in the regular season.  After 10,000 games, we’ve already eliminated a number of teams from national title contention and we’ll spend the weekend talking about positioning.  Most teams are who we know them to be at this late point in the season — like last call in a college bar, it becomes about finding the best light to present yourself to the evaluators, in this case, the NCAA Selection Committee.  The numbers ultimately will rule the day, but perception and the ‘sniff test’ are things not easily erased from one’s mind.  Let’s see who helped and hurt their positions tonight…

 

Taylor Was Magnificent Tonight (Indy Star/J. Cecil)

Your Watercooler MomentJordan Taylor Dominates Indiana.  The ascent of Wisconsin guard Jordan Taylor from solid role player to unknown good player to rising superstar has been remarkable.  So remarkable, in fact, that the Cousy Award folks had originally left him off its list of the ten best point guards in America despite the fact that he is clearly more valuable than half the finalists on the list (Brandon Knight — is this a joke?).  In watching Taylor blow up Michigan State, Ohio State and now Indiana tonight with a career-high 39 points on 11-19 FG (7-8 from deep), we’re regularly astonished with how well he gets his shots off while defended and they still manage to find the bottom of the net.  Many players can shoot the ball when they’re standing open beyond the arc; Taylor, however, is the best player in college basketball shooting the ball with someone right in his face — he regularly takes jumpers where your initial reaction is “wow — tough shot,” only to be surprised when the ball swishes through.  Wisconsin has gone from an unranked team in the preseason to a top ten mainstay in the latter part of the year, and as good as Jon Leuer has also been, the primary reason is Taylor.  He gives Bo Ryan’s team an offensive option that Madison hasn’t seen since Alando Tucker was residing in Madison; and with the defense that his teams always bring to the table, this makes the Badgers just that much more dangerous this March.  If you’re looking for a Final Four darkhorse, you might want to consider this team — they’re every bit as good as all but a few teams in America this year.

Tonight’s Quick Hits

  • Emergence of Scotty Hopson.  In the last three weeks, UT’s star wing has been playing as well as he has at any point in his Tennessee career.  In his last six games including tonight’s win at South Carolina, he’s averaging 23.7 PPG on 52% shooting from the field.  While UT’s record hasn’t necessarily improved as a result of his stellar offensive play — UT has gone 3-3 in those games with two one-point losses — the Vols absolutely must have Hopson play like the star he was supposed to be in order for Bruce Pearl’s team maximize its potential this March.  If his recent play is any indication, the athletic guard may have finally figured out his role as alpha dog on this team, high fade and all.
  • A Fourth Pac-10 Team? Washington probably re-secured its Dance ticket with a nice win over UCLA tonight, so we can reasonably expect that those two, along with Arizona, will hear their names called on Selection Sunday.  Is there a chance that a fourth Pac-10 team, notably Washington State, could sneak into the NCAA’s crosshairs in the next week or so?  After tonight’s home win over USC, if the Cougars can also defeat UCLA over the weekend, Ken Bone’s team would sit at 20-10 (10-8 Pac-10) with a reasonable profile head-to-head against other bubble teams Baylor and Gonzaga (both of whom Wazzu beat earlier this year).  Don’t get us wrong — Washington State would still need to make a run in the Pac-10 Tournament to merit serious consideration, but with the right matchups, the Cougars could find themselves in the finals and pushing the Selection Committee to make a difficult decision.
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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 24th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West Conferences.

A Look Back

This was the week the west was (all but) won. With Arizona’s thrilling victory over Washington Saturday and UCLA’s overtime loss at Cal on Sunday, the Wildcats now own a two-game lead over the Bruins in the Pac-10 with four games to play. And with UCLA having to travel to the Washington schools to close the conference season after hosting the Arizona schools this week, while it is still possible that the ‘Cats could be caught, it would take a Westwood-favorable convergence of events for that to happen.

Team of the Week: Arizona – I’ll admit, I’ve been slow to come around on this version of the Wildcats. Sure, Derrick Williams is on the very short list of Player of the Year candidates, went my thinking, but the rest of that roster is ordinary. Well, looking back at what Arizona has done to this point is impressive. They’ve won eight in a row and 12 of their 14 conference games. Even if this conference isn’t up to the caliber of the 2009 vintage, that’s mighty impressive. Outside of their inexplicable loss at Oregon State on the first Sunday of the year, the other three Arizona losses have come against teams ranked in Ken Pomeroy’s top 11 right now. Momo Jones has stepped up as a legitimate major conference point guard and a good second scoring option, having scored in double figures in eight of his last nine games. Solomon Hill has established himself as a do-everything scrapper up front, Kyle Fogg has proven to be a capable distributor (he’s had six or more assists three times in this winning streak), Kevin Parrom has turned into a deadly three-point shooter (nine-of-16 from deep during the streak) and a terrific defensive presence and Jesse Perry has become an enforcer up front, averaging 8.8 rebounds per game in their last ten. And if all that isn’t enough, Jamelle Horne, the lone senior on the club, has shown a penchant for knocking down big threes when his team needs it the most. Aside from Williams, the individual pieces on this club may not blow you away on a regular basis, but Sean Miller has done a masterful job molding them into a legitimate threat to make a deep run in March.

Player of the Week: Derrick Williams, Junior, Arizona – 26 points in each of his games this week. 19 total rebounds. A couple of assists per game. Fifteen of 26 shooting from the field and 20-21 from the line (this from a guy who shot 68% from the line last year). Oh, and throw in ten points over the last six minutes against Washington, a couple of big threes, including one with just over a minute left to give the ‘Cats the lead back, then a monstrous rejection on the Huskies’ last viable chance, and it was a very good week for Williams. For the season, the guy hasn’t been kept out of double figures once, has nine double-doubles, is shooting 63% from the field, 75% from the line and an absolutely absurd 68% from deep, averages over two points per shot, is one of the most efficient high-use players in the land and is an absolute shoo-in as a first-team All-American.

Newcomer of the Week: Chase Creekmur, Freshman, Arizona State – With apologies to C.J. Wilcox, Maurice Jones and Jay-R Strowbridge, who all had excellent weeks bombing from deep, let’s recognize this freshman wing from Marshalltown, Iowa who had the game of his very short career this week in helping the Sun Devils to just their second conference win. Creekmur played the most minutes of his career against Washington State and came up with 18 huge points on five-of-eight shooting from behind the arc while also grabbing three rebounds and handing out a couple of assists. As Herb Sendek turns his eye towards the future of the ASU program, Creekmur has thrown his hat into the ring as someone to keep an eye on.

Game of the Week: Arizona 87, Washington 86 – Game of the week, for sure. On the short list with the Arizona/Cal three-overtime epic for game of the year in the conference as well. While the Arizona/Cal game had 15 extra minutes and all the drama and scrappiness that you could ask for in a college basketball game, this one had a national television audience and both teams playing for a potential conference championship. Down the stretch, both teams had its stars step up, as Williams carried the Wildcats on home and Isaiah Thomas did the same for the Huskies, handing out in rapid succession three beautiful lob passes that ended in Washington dunks. In the end, however, it was Williams sending back a Darnell Gant attempt in dramatic fashion with under a second left that sealed the game for the Wildcats.

Game of the Upcoming Week: Arizona (23-4, 12-2) at UCLA (19-8, 10-4), 2/26, 1PM, FSN – While this will no longer be a game for the top spot in the conference, following UCLA’s upset loss at Cal on Sunday night, this should still tell us a lot about both teams. UCLA is still a complete cipher. They’ve beaten BYU and St. John’s (arguably the two best wins by any team in the Pac-10 this year – although the crosstown rival has a major bone of contention there), but in their big “up” games in the Pac-10 (at Arizona and at home against Washington), they’ve lost by 11 points each time. They’ve got a loss to a mediocre Montana team on their rap sheet and while clearly a talented team, they turn the ball over at a ridiculous pace (turnovers on almost a quarter of all possessions) and have efficiency numbers of both ends of the court that are merely average. For Arizona, while we have discussed all the good things they have done, there is still a gaping hole in their resume: lack of quality road wins. To this point their best win away from the McKale Center is either at Washington State or Cal, neither a team that is in the NCAA picture any longer. While a win at an average UCLA team is not normally a resume highlight, given the Wildcats’ relatively weak schedule, this win would be very welcome. Oh, and then there’s the fact that an Arizona win here in all likelihood clinches the Pac-10 title.

Power Rankings

1. Arizona (23-4, 12-2): So, the Wildcats are a lead-pipe cinch to get invited to the NCAA Tournament next month, even without a Pac-10 tournament championship. But where do they wind up seeded? They’ve got road games against the Los Angeles schools and home games against the Oregon schools to finish things up, and while a 2-2 record to finish things up is not impossible, we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that they’ve earned and say they finish up 3-1, then advance to the Pac-10 title game before losing. And that’s the worst-case scenario. If that happens, they wind up at 28-6 on the season with the wins over Washington and UCLA as their sole wins over NCAA Tournament teams (barring some well-placed upsets in Championship Week). What is that good for? Three-seed seems too high for the lack of quality wins, while a six-seed seems too low for a team that won their regular season conference title, finished the season 8-2 (in our scenario) and winds up with a top-20 RPI. I say this team tops out at a four-seed (might have a chance at a three with the Pac-10 tourney title and a couple other dominoes falling ahead of them) with a five-seed the low end.

Looking ahead: While you can’t overlook anything in the Pac-10, this week presents the final large challenges to Arizona’s Pac-10 title dreams. The Wildcats travel to face a suddenly resurgent USC team on Thursday night, then battle UCLA on Saturday with a chance to wrap up the conference championship.

2. Washington (19-8, 10-5): It was a disappointing week for the Huskies, coming up just short in the desert. And while the tightness of the game and the excitement of the final minutes indicate that Washington was right there to the end with the ‘Cats, a close look at the box score reveals some disturbing numbers. To begin with, the Huskies allowed the Wildcats to grab 50% of all offensive rebound opportunities – an unforgivable number – and on the other end, Arizona limited the Huskies to an offensive rebounding percentage of just 24%. While Lorenzo Romar’s team has been just average cleaning the defensive glass this season, in part because they challenge a ton of shots, their inability to positively affect the game on the offensive glass had to be disturbing. That, combined with the fact that Washington wasn’t getting a lot of clean looks from deep, and the looks they were getting weren’t falling, explains the loss. But all things considered, a controversial one-point loss on one of the toughest roadies in the Pac-10 in a game in which you didn’t play all that well is not a terrible result.

Looking ahead: The Huskies are done with the road for the season, and thankfully, as six of their eight losses so far came on the road (the other two were neutral site games in Maui). Back in the friendly confines of the Hec Ed, Washington fully expects to take care of business the rest of the way against Washington State (on Sunday), UCLA (next Thursday) and USC (next Saturday).

3. UCLA (19-8, 10-4): The Bruins are in second place in the conference and the only team with much of a remaining shot at catching Arizona for first place. But I wouldn’t dare put this team as the second strongest team in the conference. They’ve won seven of their last eight, 11 of their last 13, and as referenced above, they’ve got two of the best wins of any team in the Pac-10 this season. This week they got a hard-fought and acceptable road split at the Bay Area schools, but a deeper look at the team reveals serious flaws. But regardless of all that, if the season ended today, the Bruins would be safely in the NCAA Tournament. And yet, the season doesn’t end today.

Looking ahead: Ahead for the Bruins lies danger. This week they’ve got Arizona State and Arizona at home. The Bruins have flirted all season long with giving away conference games against teams that they should beat, but thus far have escaped with perfectly explainable losses. They’ll need to keep up that streak by taking care of business against ASU and not allowing the specter of the Arizona battle to lead to a bad loss. Then come the Wildcats, where a win is a great outcome and a loss is, well, expected. To wrap up the season, Ben Howland takes his team to Washington and Washington State, probably the toughest road trip in the Pac-10 this year. A sweep is almost unthinkable, a split is brilliant and an oh-fer-the-road-trip is a potential nightmare. Even if the worst case scenario comes true and the Bruins go 1-3 down the stretch, winning their first round Pac-10 game to get to 21 wins on the season, paired with wins over BYU and St. John’s, and the Bruins probably limp in. Lose in the first round, and sweat it out on Selection Sunday.

4. USC (15-12, 7-7): From here on down, we are looking at teams that either need to win the Pac-10 Tournament or consider their options for the NIT. And, perhaps most importantly in the short-term for these next five teams, is the fact that teams one through six in the conference receive a first-round bye in the conference tournament. You don’t want to finish seventh here. For the Trojans, they jump from the back of this middle pack last week to the top of it here on the strength of a road sweep of the Bay Area schools. Kevin O’Neill’s club was sparked this week by freshman Maurice Jones, who, after being relegated to coming off the bench for the first time in his college career, took exactly one half to wallow in pity before exploding for 22 second-half points to fend off an attempted-comeback back Cal. Jones followed that game up with another ten points in the win at Stanford, and it looks like he’ll be an asset providing a scoring punch off the bench the rest of the way. Elsewhere, Nikola Vucevic was typically excellent this week, averaging 20 points and 12 rebounds, but also knocking down a surprising five threes this week, which was more than a quarter of his total coming into the game.

Looking ahead: Like the Bruins, the Trojans have a tough row to hoe the rest of the way: Arizona, Arizona State, at Washington State and at Washington.

5. Oregon (14-12, 7-7): The Ducks tore past Oregon State this week to put the wraps on a season-sweep of the Civil War. With the game still somewhat in doubt early in the second half, Jay-R Strowbridge knocked down three straight three-pointers to push Oregon further out ahead. A three by Tyrone Nared followed, as did one by E.J. Singler, then Strowbridge added another and after six straight threes by Oregon, an eight-point Duck lead had turn into a 20-point lead. All in all, Oregon knocked down 13 threes, forced 19 Beaver turnovers and eased home with a 19-point victory.

Looking ahead: Oregon hosts Cal and Stanford in a pair of games that will be very important for Pac-10 Tournament seeding.

6. Cal (14-13, 7-8): The Golden Bears snapped a four-game losing streak on Sunday night, fighting through an improbable buzzer-beating three by Malcolm Lee that sent the game into overtime, to squeak one out in overtime. Junior guard Jorge Gutierrez was phenomenal throughout, scoring 34 points, handing out six assists, grabbing three boards, swiping three steals and just epitomizing toughness and grit. Freshman guard Allen Crabbe returned in that game after missing two straight games and most of a third with a concussion. While Crabbe did not play as well as he had played before the injury, his importance to the club was emphasized during his absence.

Looking ahead: Cal travels to the Oregon schools this week, a good opportunity for a talented club to get right and jump back up the Pac-10 standings.

7. Washington State (17-10, 7-8): Instead of catching the Wildcats looking forward to the Washington game last week, the Cougars found themselves with a post-Arizona hangover when they played Arizona State on Saturday, and my, what a headache that turned out to be. Despite 58 points on the week from junior Klay Thompson, Washington State limped back home with an 0-2 record on the road trip and with any hopes of an NCAA at-large bid dashed upon the rocks. What seemed to be a promising season around Christmastime has turned into utter disappointment, although it is not merely sarcastic to say that this season is a vast improvement over last season’s total collapse.

Looking ahead: The Cougars play two of their final three at home, but it is not an easy stretch by any means. After traveling to play the Huskies in Seattle on Sunday, they’ll host USC and UCLA next week. It looks like they’ll need to win two of those three to feel comfortable about getting a first round Pac-10 bye.

8. Stanford (13-13, 6-9): Getting swept at home in conference play in a week is never a good thing. And now, riding their second losing streak of at least three games this season, the Cardinal find themselves staring up at seven teams above them in the conference standings. Against UCLA, Jeremy Green continued his hot streak, knocking down nine-of-16 shots and five three-pointers on the way to 27 points, his fifth straight 20-point game. But USC was able to get Green off his game, limiting him to 3-13 shooting and just ten points in the 16-point loss.

Looking ahead: The Cardinal travel to Corvallis and Eugene this week for game that border on must-wins.

9. Oregon State (9-16, 4-10): I’ve said enough about the Beavers for the year, I think. They’ve been a fascinating and utterly frustrating team. I’ll throw out bipolar and underachieving as two fairly apt adjectives that I don’t think I’ve used to describe them yet this year. But mostly, I just want to point you to George Dohrmann’s excellent blog post where he spares no quarter in describing the many faults of this Oregon State team. Maybe next week we’ll talk about what the future holds for this Beaver team, but for now they just make me tired.

Looking ahead: Stanford and Cal come calling this week. Who knows what will happen.

10. Arizona State (10-16, 2-12): I love it when we get to wrap up one of these posts on a positive note. There’s not much happy news to report at the bottom of the standings, and certainly one win in a sea of conference losses isn’t much to get excited about, but the ASU win over Washington State on Saturday will have to do. Playing without injured seniors Rihards Kuksiks and Ty Abbott (addition by subtraction much?), the Sun Devils got a career performance by Chase Creekmur (18 points, five threes), the best performance by the team’s leading scorer, Trent Lockett (20 points, eight rebounds), since November and the best performance from freshman guard Corey Hawkins in his brief career (29 minutes, six assists). The Devils knocked down nine threes, outshot the Cougars from the field and played their best defense in about a month and now head into the final weeks of the season with a puncher’s chance at not finishing in last in the conference.

Looking ahead: The Sun Devils travel to UCLA and USC before hosting Oregon and Oregon State. They’ll need to win two of those games and have Oregon State lose all of their to take ninth place, but at least it is something to play for.

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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 17th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West Conferences.

A Look Back

This was the type of week in the Pac-10 to lull you back to sleep. On the heels of last week’s Washington meltdown, this week was all about the chalk. Arizona took care of their last place in-state rival with ease. UCLA put the clamps on the Oregon schools in Pauley. And Washington broke their three-game losing streak, using the home crowd to get them back on track with a couple of wins over the Bay Area schools. With just three weeks remaining in the regular season, it’s Arizona at the top of the Pac with a 10-2 record, with UCLA just one game back and the Huskies just a game back from there. Beyond that, Washington State sits two games further back and in desperate need of a big winning streak to end the season in order to entertain any hopes of an NCAA invite.

  • Team of the Week: UCLA – While the Huskies broke their losing streak and the Wildcats continued theirs, we’re gonna take the time to give the Bruins, who have been more or less flying under the radar this season, some love. While the UCLA offense is not exactly a thing of beauty, they are now definitely playing the type of defense you would expect from a Ben Howland team. In each of the five games in the Bruins current win streak, they have held their opponents to less than 40% shooting from the field. Against Oregon State on Saturday, the Bruins racked up a ridiculous 16 blocked shots, including eight by sophomore wing Tyler Honeycutt. Unfortunately, some of that defensive effort was offset by an absurd 26 turnovers, again led by Honeycutt in this category, with seven. While the offense is still a ways away from being considered of championship-caliber, the UCLA defense that looked awful in their last loss, at Arizona, may have turned the corner.
  • Player of the Week: Isaiah Thomas, Junior, Washington – Thomas got his mojo back in a big way against the Cal Bears on Thursday night, knocking down a career-high six three-pointers on his way to 23 points as he led the Huskies to their first win in four games. He added nine assists in that game, then back that effort up with 22 points and another four threes in the win over Stanford on Saturday, in which he scored 14 points in the final three minutes of the first half to get the Huskies on their way.
  • Newcomer of the Week: C.J. Wilcox, Freshman, Washington – Wilcox shook off a couple months worth of a slump by hitting six threes this week on his way to a 12 PPG average. The sharpshooter who redshirted last season got his most minutes in a week since a staph infection in late December killed the momentum he had built up in his first month of play in Seattle. But with Wilcox back in the swing of things, head coach Lorenzo Romar has yet another offensive toy to play with as the Huskies try to get back on top of the Pac-10.
  • Game of the Week: Washington State 75, Cal 71 – As the only game decided by less than ten points this week, this game is the easy choice. This was the game to decide fourth place in the conference this week, and really, an elimination game. While neither team is a strong candidate to make the NCAA Tournament, the Cougars win at least keeps that hope alive, while the Golden Bears now know they’ll need to win the Pac-10 Tournament in March in order to go dancing in March. Junior guard Jorge Gutierrez did everything he could to get Cal back into this game after they fell behind by as many as 11 early in the second half, scoring all 19 of his points after the break, but his attempt at a potential game-tying three with three second left came up short and the Cougars added a free throw at the end to clinch the game. WSU was led by sophomore Brock Motum with 19 points and five rebounds.
  • Game of the Upcoming Week: Washington (17-7, 9-4) at Arizona (21-4, 10-2), 2/19, 3PM PST, ESPN – With three weeks to go, three teams are still in the running for the Pac-10 regular season title. And the fun part is we’ll get one game a week between two of those three teams down the stretch. This week, the Wildcats look for revenge after the Huskies won by 17at the Hec-Ed in mid-January. In that game, Arizona kept it close for about 30 minutes before Washington, sparked by this great play by Thomas and Darnell Gant, pulled away late. Thomas wound up with 22 points and ten assists, while Derrick Williams posted 22 points of his own to go with 11 rebounds, but the rest of the Arizona team went 16-45 from the field. Of late, Sean Miller has done a great job getting contributions from role players on the U of A roster, and he’ll need to continue that trend on Saturday. If that happens, the Wildcats will be in a very good position to all but knock the Huskies out of the Pac-10 title race.

Power Rankings

1. Arizona (21-4, 10-2) – In the Wildcats’ win over Arizona State on Sunday, the Sun Devils surrounded Williams with two and three players every time he touched the ball, limiting him to just five field goal attempts and three free throw attempts. But, as the ‘Cats have made a habit of doing all season long, they had somebody else step up and lead the offense in Williams’ stead. Junior guard Kyle Fogg was the hero this time, popping for a career-high-tying 26 points and six three-pointers. Fogg has been up and down this whole season, but mostly down in Pac-10 play, hitting just 30% of his three-pointers in conference play prior to this weekend, down significantly from last year’s 42% on the season. Perhaps Fogg’s breakout against ASU is a positive sign for the stretch run.

Looking ahead: Arizona hosts the Washington schools this week with a chance to not only beat somebody of significance this week, but also a chance to extend their lead in the conference.

2. Washington (17-7, 9-4): So, is this the start of the patented Husky late-season run? With a game against Arizona coming up this week, the Huskies have a chance to get right back in the thick of things at the top of the conference, but they’ll need some help in order to come away with the regular season title. Aside from the exploits of Thomas and Wilcox, detailed above, Romar got production from all over his roster this week with seven different players scoring in double figures at some point this week. Matthew Bryan-Amaning, in particular, had a big week, averaging 16.5 PPG and 7.5 RPG, while Venoy Overton had his best offensive game of the season with 12 points and four assists against Stanford.

Looking ahead: While Arizona State should be something of a breather on Thursday night, the game against the ‘Cats on Saturday afternoon is huge.

3. UCLA (18-7, 9-3): As of right now, the Bruins are golden. They’ve got 18 wins, they’re on a five-game winning streak and they have won nine of their last ten games. Wins over BYU and St. John’s highlight their resume, and while their RPI in the 40’s isn’t brilliant, if the season ended today, the Bruins would be safely in the tournament. But, the season doesn’t end today. And still ahead on the schedule for UCLA are road trips to the Bay Area and Washington schools wrapped around a homestand against the Arizona schools. While the Arizona State game can safely be chalked up as a win, the other five games remaining in the regular season are perilous. It’s likely that if they come away with a split of those six games, they’ll still be good (although their potential seeding will take a hit). Dreaming bigger, if the Bruins can take advantage of the opportunity to play Washington and Arizona and take care of business in the other games, a Pac-10 title is still within reach, as is a pretty strong seed.

Looking ahead: The road starts this week with a trip to Stanford on Thursday, followed by Cal on Sunday, a pair of games that the Bruins could win, but, as always, a tough intraconference road trip.

4. Washington State (17-8, 7-6): The Cougars have just never gained any traction in Pac-10 play. It’s been two games down one week, two games up the next, and splits abounding. And then after they knocked off the hated Huskies at home, to get back over .500 in the conference, they turn in a complete stinker at Oregon. They get back to even, then let Stanford spank them at home. At this point, it would take stringing together several wins against the rather difficult five games ahead of them in order to make any sort of convincing argument that they are worthy of at-large consideration, even in a week bubble.

Looking ahead: The Cougars travel to Arizona on Thursday, where they’ll hope to catch the Wildcats looking ahead to Saturday’s showdown with Washington. Then, on Saturday, they’ll need to take care of business against the Sun Devils. A 2-0 week here would be a dream come true for Ken Bone and company, and would put the Cougs right back on the bubble again.

5. Cal (13-12, 6-7): This was a very disappointing week for the Golden Bears. After having won four of their last five games, with the only loss a triple overtime knock-down, drag-out battle, they were looking primed to sneak back into the at-large discussion. Then, Washington came out and drilled them something awful on Thursday night, outscoring the Bears by 24 in the first half alone, and 32 on the game. To make matters worse, freshman wing Allen Crabbe sustained a concussion, a turn of events which may have cost them the game on Saturday at Washington State. Fellow freshman Jeff Powers started in his place and did contribute three threes on the way to 14 points, but he was no substitute for Crabbe and the Bears fell by six in Pullman. With the Los Angeles schools visiting this week, a road trip to Oregon next week and a season-closing battle with Stanford the remaining games on the schedule, a 5-0 finish to the season is not out of the question, but even that would probably leave the Bears wanting come Selection Sunday, barring a run to the Pac-10 Tournament Championship.

Looking ahead: The Bears host USC on Thursday, a game in which Crabbe is still questionable. At the very least, Cal fans have to hope he is ready to go by Sunday for the matchup with the Bruins.

6. Oregon (13-12, 6-7): All things considered, a split in Los Angeles for this team is a pretty good week. Malcolm Armstead continued to be a team leader off of the bench, contributing 24 points and 12 assists this week in a total of 65 minutes and the Ducks got threes from seven different players in their win over USC on Saturday.

Looking ahead: The basketball version of the Civil War comes on Saturday when the Ducks host the Beavers at Matt Court.

7. Stanford (13-11, 6-7): Much like the Ducks above, the Cardinal have to be pretty pleased with a road split on the week, especially considering the Washington road trip may well be the toughest trip in the Pac-10 this season. Against Washington State on Thursday, Stanford his seven of their eight first-half three-point attempts on the way to a 17-point halftime lead, then continued to play solid basketball throughout the second half on the way to a 13-point win. The Cardinal wound up with nine threes on the night (compared to just 3-18 shooting from behind the arc for the Cougs) and 20 assists on their 25 made field goals in a very efficient game. Against the Huskies, they weren’t quite as good, still hitting shots at a 55% effective field goal percentage for the game, but turning the ball over 19 times against the Husky pressure. Jeremy Green had a big week, scoring 24 points in each game, and he has now definitely put his midseason slump behind him, averaging 23 PPG over his last four games and having knocked down 15 threes in that span.

Looking ahead: Green can expect to see plenty of UCLA’s Malcolm Lee on Thursday night, and if Green can get the better of the Bruins’ best defender, the Cardinal could get their homestand against the southern California schools off to a good start.

8. USC (13-12, 5-7): In this four-team mush in the middle of the conference (with teams five through eight each having posted 13 total wins and seven conference losses on the season), the Trojans are the team that has struggled the most to get to this point. They haven’t won two games in a week since before Christmas, their offensive efficiency has never picked up, and going forward, they’ll only be a favorite against Arizona State the rest of the way. After the Trojans gave Kansas everything they could handle in mid-December, then beat Tennessee a couple of nights later, the idea of this USC team staring a 6-12 conference season in the face was decidedly improbable. And yet, here they are.

Looking ahead: Cal on Thursday night and Stanford on Saturday are two games that the Trojans are capable of winning. This team’s track record tells us that a split is the best case scenario.

9. Oregon State (9-15, 4-9): The Beavers found plenty of different ways to lose in Los Angeles last week. Against USC they got killed on the glass, they turned the ball over 19 times and they hit just one of their 11 three-point attempts. Against UCLA, they took an entirely different approach. While they still turned the ball over 14 times, they actually forced 26 Bruin turnovers. On the glass, Oregon State performed pretty well, grabbing 38% of all offensive rebound opportunities. But, this time, the Beavers just couldn’t hit from the field, making just 23 of their 70 field goal attempts, and three of those makes coming after UCLA had turned to their walk-ons for mop-up duty. To put it mildly, this Oregon State team is capable of losing games in a wide variety of ways. Craig Robinson has his work cut out for him.

Looking ahead: The Beavs travel to Eugene on Saturday for their battle with the Ducks.

10. Arizona State (9-15, 1-11): And then there are the Sun Devils. 2011 actually got off to a pretty good start for Herb Sendek and his team. They went to Eugene and knocked off the Ducks on New Year’s Day to even their conference record at 1-1, a road split in the first week of the season a pretty good thing. That’s the last time this team won a game in the Pac-10. This week it was another uninspiring effort against Arizona. Senior Jamelle McMillan continued his recent hot steak, scoring 12 points and handing out five assists, and he has now scored in double figures in four straight games, but saying that he is a bright spot is going overboard. There are no bright spots here.

Looking ahead: The Sun Devils host the Washington schools. Not much should be expected, but at some point in the last six games, this ASU team will win a game. They’re simply too good to be this bad.

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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 27th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 conferences.

A Look Back

The big story in the Pac-10 last week was the battle between the prohibitive favorite in the conference, Washington, and its biggest supposed contender, Arizona. If you’ve followed this here series all year, you know that we haven’t really bought into the Wildcats as serious threats to the Huskies, but despite Washington’s 17-point win on Thursday night, Arizona did actually post what was, to me, by far their most impressive performance of the season on Saturday, when they followed up their disappointing loss with a tough road victory in Pullman over Washington State. While that one victory still doesn’t mean the ‘Cats are a serious threat to the Huskies, it does set up a battle this week between Arizona and UCLA, each 5-2 in the conference, for the inside track to the two-seed in the conference tournament come March. With this week wrapping up the first half of the conference season, this is a major battle. Elsewhere around the conference, Stanford looked awful in its road trip to Southern California, posting just a 30.5 effective field goal percentage on the weekend. Arizona State continued to look terrible, dropping a couple more games this week (they’re now 1-6 in conference play). And Oregon State continued its vacillating season with a come-from-ahead loss at home against in-state rival Oregon.

Team of the Week: Washington – Both the Huskies and UCLA posted 2-0 records on the week, but while the Bruins won their games in uninspiring fashion, the Huskies garnered the big win over Arizona, then added a tougher-than-expected win over Arizona State on Saturday. Isaiah Thomas continued to be just excellent in the role of point guard for Lorenzo Romar, posting another 18 assists this week, while he is still scoring in bunches (20.5 PPG this week), knocking down threes (three more this week), playing great pressure defense and keeping the high-octane Husky offense running smoothly. Matthew Bryan-Amaning also continued his hot play, averaging 24 PPG and 8 RPG this week.

Player of the Week: Isaiah Thomas, Junior, Washington – For the second week in a row, I’m dissing Derrick Williams and his spectacularly efficient numbers (19.5 PPG, 15 RPG this week and shooting a stunning 70% from three on the season, albeit on just 27 attempts – still amazing) in favor of the diminutive floor general in Seattle. In a 17-point win like the Arizona game on Thursday, it is hard to say that there is one play that determines the game. But, if there was that one play in that game, anyone who watched it knows what it is. With Washington clinging to a 56-50 lead, a Husky turnover led to an Arizona breakaway. Junior forward Darnell Gant hustled back to make a great block in transition, sending the ball towards the corner of the court, seemingly headed out of bounds. But Thomas didn’t stop, went hurtling head-first after the ball and was able to save the ball to teammate Aziz N’Diaye in bounds. After Thomas regained his footing, N’Diaye got the ball back to the Huskies’ leader who brought the ball back up court, drove into the meat of the Wildcat defense and was able to kick it out to an open Gant for a three-pointer, completing a five-point swing. From there, the Huskies slowly put the game away, sparked by the great hustle by both Gant and Thomas. That play, along with several others, prompted Arizona head coach Sean Miller to say the following about Thomas: “Isaiah Thomas, it’s not even close, there’s not one player in the country who’s more disrespected across the nation than him. Not one. It’s not even close. If he’s not one of the top four or five point guards in the country, then I’m going to tell you I want to invite these guys who vote to come and watch film.”

Newcomer of the Week: Lazeric Jones, Junior, UCLA – It was not a pretty week for the Bruins. Freshman center Josh Smith went down midway through the Cal game with a concussion and did not return the rest of the weekend. Sophomore forward Reeves Nelson struggled with foul trouble on Saturday, while junior guard Malcolm Lee fouled out early on Thursday night. And in both cases, the Bruins were awful lucky to have Jones, a junior college transfer, along to bail them out. On Thursday against Cal, the Bruins seemingly had the game under control late, with a comfortable lead. But when Lee fouled out, Cal freshman Allen Crabbe went wild, scoring 13 of his 17 points once his defensive shadow had been disqualified and getting the Bears right back into a tie game. But Jones kept the Bruins steady, knocking down eight of his ten free throws down the stretch on his way to a career-high 24 points. On Saturday, Jones added another 17 important points for a Bruin team lacking its normal big production from their frontcourt. And on the season, Jones is now averaging 11.5 PPG (including 16.5 PPG in his last four), 3.1 APG and a solid 1.5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Game of the Week: Arizona 65, Washington State 63 – In a game that both teams considered very important to their postseason hopes, the Wildcats escaped from their Washington trip with a split when Klay Thompson’s clean look in the lane came up short and Faisal Aden was unable to get up a second shot before the buzzer sounded after securing the offensive rebound. Derrick Williams led the ‘Cats with 17 points and 19 rebounds, while WSU’s two top scorers, Thompson and Aden, struggled all night, combining to hit just six of their 23 field goal attempts and just two of their ten attempts from beyond the arc. Arizona’s Jamelle Horne, the lone senior on either roster, was the hero for the second time in four games, knocking down two big threes around the two-minute mark to extend a 56-55 Zona lead to a 62-57 game. From there, Washington State took advantage of some missed Arizona free throws, including two misses by Kyle Fogg with 15 seconds left, to get back within striking range, but Thompson’s miss at the end left WSU back at .500 in the conference.

Game of the Upcoming Week: UCLA (13-6, 5-2) at Arizona (16-4, 5-2), 1/27, 6PM PST, ESPN2 – There was a time in the recent past, where this game between these schools would go a long way towards deciding the eventual regular season champion. While both schools have struggled through some downturns of late, this rivalry is back on the map and the winner of this game remains just one game back of Washington in the conference. Josh Smith is expected back from a concussion for UCLA, but the biggest question for Ben Howland is how to slow Williams. Nelson will likely take much of that responsibility (with additional eyeballs on Williams at all times), but he has found himself mired in game-long foul trouble twice in the past two weeks, and the Bruins will need him to contribute offensively to have a chance to get the road win. For the Wildcats, they’re still waiting for a consistent second option to arise alongside Williams, to no avail yet. Horne has hit some big shots recently, but has failed to secure his head coach’s complete trust. Momo Jones has scored in double figures the last two times out, but he’s seemingly just as often a liability as an asset. And Solomon Hill, the ‘Cats second leading scorer on the season at 8.5 PPG, is more suited to the role of garbage man than as a go-to offensive player. So far, riding Williams has worked out just fine, but Miller may need to have somebody else step up in this game to secure this win.

Power Rankings

1. Washington (15-4, 7-1): In the last three games, head coach Lorenzo Romar has gone with junior Scott Suggs in the starting lineup, choosing to bring the energy of Venoy Overton off of the bench, and Suggs has produced four threes in those games. In the first two games as a starter, a sole three-pointer seemed to be the only production that Suggs contributed, but in the Arizona State game on Saturday, he knocked down two key second-half threes to help propel the Huskies to victory. With Thomas, Bryan-Amaning and Justin Holiday established offensive weapons, Romar just needs Suggs to provide the three-point threat and some solid defense in his minutes on the floor, but with gunners like C.J. Wilcox and Terrence Ross waiting in reserve, Suggs had better keep knocking down the threes in order to retain his starting job.

Looking ahead: The Huskies travel to Pullman on Sunday for a game that the Cougars are going to be very interested in winning. An in-state rival coming calling on a team who has not yet lived up to their lofty expectations for themselves? Yeah, the Huskies better be ready for a street fight on Sunday.

2. Arizona (16-4, 5-2): We’ve detailed Arizona’s visit to the Washington schools above, so let’s just take a look at their NCAA Tournament resume to this point. They’ve played four teams in Ken Pomeroy’s top 70 teams in the nation, and their win at Washington State on Saturday was their first positive outcome. In the three losses (to Kansas, BYU and Washington), they’ve lost by an average of over 15 points per contest. Aside from the WSU win, their best result was a road win over an underachieving NC State team that was missing its best player. Beyond that, a couple of ugly home wins against the Bay Area schools are the best thing they’ve got going. Sure, “16-4” looks real good, but upon closer inspection, there is just not a lot of meat on the bones of the Arizona resume, to the point where it is possible they’ll need some more appealing wins in the conference schedule in order to secure an at-large bid.

Looking ahead: This week’s homestand against the Los Angeles schools is a good place to start. Hosting UCLA on Thursday and USC on Saturday gives the Wildcats to pick up a couple more wins over KenPom’s top 70 teams.

3. UCLA (13-6, 5-2): The good news for the Bruins is that they posted a couple wins and overcame some adversity in order to do so; the fact that neither game was anywhere near a work of art is beside the point. Against Cal on Thursday, they blew a 14-point lead in a game that was seemingly in hand and had to get a spectacular tip-in by Nelson at the buzzer to avoid overtime. Then, against Stanford on Saturday, they got off to a terrible start, building up their own 14-point deficit early before turning it on late in the first half to get back to within one at the break and then skating through the second half to an 11-point win. While the defense has at times looked very much like a typically stout Howland defense, unfortunately the offense has looked very much like a stagnant Howland offense, a concerning development considering the offensive talent on the roster.

Looking ahead: To this point in the season, the Bruins have done very little to prove to their fans that the ’10-’11 version of the team is significantly different than the ’09-’10 version. On Thursday, they’ll have a good chance to change that perception. But given that they have a history of letting down after a big game, they’d be wise to make sure they don’t take Arizona State lightly on Saturday.

4. Washington State (14-6, 4-4): This was the week for the Cougars to get right back in the mix at the top of the conference. The schedule set up perfectly, with Arizona State coming in on Thursday and Arizona – off of its big battle with Washington – showing up on Saturday. But while they took care of business on the front end, cold shooting from their stars doomed them against the Wildcats. Thompson’s shooting percentage took a significant dip during last year’s conference play, but there is a major difference this year: he’s still able to contribute in other areas when his shot isn’t falling. Against Arizona, he hit just four of his 16 shots, but at least he was able to contribute team highs with eight rebounds and seven assists. But given that Thompson’s scoring is such a focal point of the Coug offense, what will be remembered from that game is his missed shots, and specifically, the final missed shot.

Looking ahead: The Cougs host Washington on Sunday to wrap up the front-end of the Pac-10 conference schedule. For Ken Bone’s club to hold any hopes of competing for a conference title, this is a game they absolutely have to have.

5. USC (11-9, 3-4): Following their lost weekend in Oregon, the Trojans came out strong against Stanford on Thursday and just demolished them. They held the Cardinal to a 24.6 effective field goal percentage on the way to a 23-point victory. Relying on defense, slowing the tempo down on offense, and getting offense from Nikola Vucevic and Jio Fontan, USC looked every bit the part of the upper division Pac-10 team that they occasionally pretend to be. Against Cal on Saturday, it was back to the bad Trojans again, however. Outside of senior guard Donte Smith going absolutely bonkers from deep (eight of 11 threes for a career-high 24 points), the offense was non-existent. The Trojans defended well enough to still have a shot at the win on the final shot of the game, but the Fontan three at the buzzer came up short, a perfectly emblematic offensive possession for the Trojans.

Looking ahead: The Trojans will need to win both of their games in Arizona this week (ASU on Thursday, Arizona on Saturday), in order to complete the first lap of conference play above .500.

6. Cal (10-9, 3-4): Really, a two-point win and a two-point loss for a split on the Southern California road trip, that’s a perfectly defensible result. But the fact that the Golden Bears rallied from a 14-point second half deficit against UCLA and scored 23 points in the final 3:20 to get back to even for the first time since the score was tied at 6-6, then lost on a offensive rebound putback at the buzzer, had to be particularly heartbreaking. The flip side of that is that head coach Mike Montgomery was able to get his team to rebound from that crushing defeat with a fine performance against USC on Saturday is a credit to his coaching ability. Freshman Allen Crabbe continued his hot streak, averaging 14.5 PPG this week and has now hit double figures in six straight games, while junior forward Harper Kamp led the team in scoring in both games, averaging 20 points per contest and bumping his streak of double-digit scoring to eight games.

Looking ahead: The Bears host the Oregon schools this week, and given the way the Pac-10 has played out thus far, no one really knows what to expect in those games.

7. Stanford (10-8, 3-4): With the Cardinal’s two losses in Southern California this week, the team is now 1-5 in true road games this season and 1-2 in neutral site games. Those two wins? Over Arizona State and DePaul, and everybody beats Arizona State and DePaul. For a team with no real veteran point guard and a lot of freshmen counted on for serious contributions off the bench, struggling away from home is not an unheard of proposition, but the way Stanford struggled this week was particularly ugly. In the two games in the LA area, the Cardinal had a combined effective field goal percentage of 30.5%. Against USC, their traditional field goal percentage was 22.2%, their lowest total since the adoption of the 35-second shot-clock. Basically, this Cardinal team is a historically bad offensive team. Johnny Dawkins does have a commitment from class of ’11 recruit Chasson Randle, and he may be able to start at the point from his first day on campus. If he can turn into a playmaking point, the Cardinal could have quite a few nice pieces around him next year, with Jeremy Green and Josh Owens as seniors and youngsters like Dwight Powell, Aaron Bright and Anthony Brown with a year of experience under their belt.

Looking ahead: The Oregon schools come to Maples this week, so the Cardinal have a good shot at getting over .500 this week.

8. Oregon State (8-10, 3-4): Let’s start by saying that these last three teams in the conference are all a jumble. I’m putting OSU 8th based on talent and, you know, a better record, but this is a team that just got done losing at home to Oregon, arguably the least talented team in the conference (and really, there isn’t even much of an argument). While the Beavers have the type of talent that has their fans dreaming of competing for a conference title, those talented players are still awful young and inexperienced. Guys like sophomore Jared Cunningham and freshman Roberto Nelson have shown tantalizing touches of incredible ability, but in the game with the Ducks, those two combined to make just seven of their 21 field goal attempts and Nelson in particular needs to tighten up his shot selection considerably. Also of news this week was Nelson starting ahead of senior Calvin Haynes for the second straight game. It had been thought that the true changing of the guard wouldn’t take place until after the season, but it looks like Craig Robinson will be using the remainder of the season to get experience for his youngsters. While that is a perfectly cromulent decision, it is a shame to see a senior of Haynes’ ability and unselfishness lose minutes down the stretch of his senior year.

Looking ahead: The Beavers travel to Cal on Thursday, then to Stanford on Saturday, and the way they’re playing right now, anything is possible.

9. Oregon (9-10, 2-5): I don’t think it is doing a disservice to the guys on the Oregon roster to say that this is not an overly talented bunch. There aren’t any five-star recruits on this roster; I don’t think there are even any four-star guys here. But, so far this season they’ve played Missouri to a standstill, knocked off USC (a top-50 team according to Ken Pomeroy), and just this week knocked off intra-state rival Oregon State. You generally don’t give Coach of the Year consideration to a guy whose team is 9-10 on the year (with the majority of those nine wins against the dregs of Division I), but it cannot be repeated enough how great of a job head coach Dana Altman has done with these Ducks. This is an undersized, under-talented team that has had to deal with offseason defections, in-season injuries and more talented opposition, but Oregon has continued to scrap, Altman has begun rebuilding the talent base on the recruiting trail, and Duck fans have to be optimistic about the future of the program

Looking ahead: The Ducks travel to Stanford and Cal this week, and while road wins are not likely, given how hard this team competes, the Bay Area schools will be in for a fight.

10. Arizona State (9-10, 1-6): In the interest of remaining positive, wow, has Ty Abbott been on fire from deep lately. He’s had 22 threes in the last five ASU games, averaging 18.6 points per game over that stretch. Unfortunately, the only Sun Devil win over those five games was a non-conference win over Tulsa. ASU’s sole win in conference play was a road win in the final game at Mac Court.  Really, this collapse is almost inexplicable. The Sun Devils have as much talent on board as any of the five teams at the bottom of this conference, and they’ve got something that no other team in the conference can boast: three experienced seniors. While Abbott has been excellent of late, as a whole the senior class has had a very disappointing year, and as the old saw goes, “you’re only as good as your seniors.”

Looking ahead: The Devils welcome USC and UCLA into Tempe this week, and while they’ll be underdogs in both games, there is no good reason this team can’t be competitive in both of these games.

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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 6th, 2011


Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and West Coast Conference.

A Look Back

With non-conference play all but wrapped up and the first week of the conference season in the books, we’re getting a clearer and clearer picture of who the legitimate contenders are and who is going to be bumping along in the lower half of the standings as the season progresses. But, it wouldn’t be the Pac-10 if it didn’t have plenty of surprises in store for us. And with the first nine games of the season complete, we’ve already got the mind-boggling first week surprise of an Oregon State sweep of the Arizona schools, Stanford bouncing back from struggles in their early games to smack Bay Area rival Cal around and Washington going on what is likely their toughest road trip of the season and pulling out just their third-ever sweep of the road trip to Los Angeles to establish themselves as the clear-cut favorite for the crown.

Team of the Week

Oregon StateIt is awful hard not to peg the Huskies as the team of the week, given that they’ve just passed with flying colors what is likely their biggest test of the conference slate. But, this Beaver team just wrapped up a completely fascinating weekend. This is an OSU team that I have previously this year described in this column as “bad,” “amazingly underwhelming,” “very ordinary,” “pitiful,” “terrible,” and “just awful.” In the weekly power ratings, they have never been ranked higher than tenth and I even once wished that there were already 12 teams in the conference just so I could put the Beavers lower than that. There are losses to Texas Southern, Seattle and Utah Valley State in the record books and this team just had the look of a team that would fight and scrap and claw to get to 0-18 in the Pac-10, even if it killed them. But then, just before Christmas, much-heralded and waited-for recruit Roberto Nelson became eligible, the team looked improved in a sneaky-good 20-point win over Illinois-Chicago, and there were whispers that this team had turned the corner. Then this past weekend, they killed Arizona State by 22 before coming back on Sunday night and upsetting Arizona, in a game where the Beavers didn’t even play all that well. And now all of a sudden, you look up and down that roster and see talented freshmen and sophomores (like Nelson, Ahmad Starks, Joe Burton and the star of the Arizona win, Jared Cunningham) paired with a couple of serious veterans in Calvin Haynes and Omari Johnson and you see a pretty stout lineup. I’m not for a second suggesting that out of the blue this OSU team woke up one day as a consistent finished product, but on the right night when things click together for this team, they can beat just about everybody in this conference. And I’m still a little bit scared that I just wrote that sentence.

Player of the Week

Matthew Bryan-Amaning, Senior, Washington – In the Huskies’ New Year’s weekend sweep of the Los Angeles schools, the 6’9 senior from London led the way for Lorenzo Romar’s club, leading the team in both points and rebounds in their two games while posting averages of 19.5 points and nine rebounds per contest. After losing his starting spot for four games earlier this season, Bryan-Amaning has bounced back in a big way, knocking down a high percentage of shots in an efficient manner, being a monster on the boards on both ends, taking care of the ball and defending well. With Washington firmly entrenched as the favorite in the Pac-10, Bryan-Amaning will need to continue being a steady frontcourt presence for the relatively undersized Huskies.

Newcomer of the Week

Dwight Powell, Freshman, Stanford – From the minute Powell stepped on the court this season, it was clear that he had an abundant supply of athletic gifts. But, all too often, Powell has struggled to reign in those talents and play under control and within the structure of the Cardinal offense while still being able to make an impact. This week, however, in his first Pac-10 contest against the hated Cal Bears, Powell pulled it all together in breaking out a career-high 20 points, adding seven rebounds and hitting seven of his 11 attempts from the field. The next test for the talented 6’9 forward is to recreate performances like that on a regular basis. If he can do that, a Stanford squad that struggled in non-conference play could make an impact in the Pac-10 race.

Game of the Week

Washington 73, USC 67 (OT) – If the first game of the year is any indication, we’re in for a wild Pac-10 season. Despite struggling through foul difficulties and injuries, the Huskies battled the homestanding Trojans for 40-minutes to a draw, then saddled back up and went at it for five more intense minutes before coming away with a hard-fought victory. The game was played at the pace and in the style that the Trojans wanted, with the score in the mid-50s at the end of regulation and with the Huskies having to switch to primarily zone defense after they got in deep foul trouble early in the first half (three U-Dub players fouled out, two more wound up with four personals). But Lorenzo Romar got big performances from senior Matthew Bryan-Amaning and freshman Terrence Ross, who each had a team-high 18 points – a career high for Ross. It was seniors Venoy Overton and Justin Holiday who came up biggest in overtime, with Holiday hitting the first five points of OT (including a fall-away three) and Overton scoring eight of his 11 points in the extra frame. All things considered, it was a great example of the Huskies getting positive contributions from a variety of sources in order to get their weekend, and their conference run, off to a scintillating start.

Game of the Upcoming Week

UCLA at USC, 1/9, 7:30 PM PST, FSN – Both LA-area schools started out conference play with a split, each knocking off Washington State in close games, but with both teams entertaining hopes of making a run at NCAA Tournament consideration, this becomes a very important game, apart from the inherent dislike between the two programs. Entertaining matchups abound in this game, with both squads featuring big and imposing frontlines ready to battle it out on the boards. In the backcourt, UCLA junior Malcolm Lee will likely be lined up against the Trojans’ Jio Fontan, and USC’s defensive stopper Marcus Simmons should set his sights on the Bruins’ versatile Tyler Honeycutt. One key in this game could be UCLA’s offensive rebounding. Ben Howland’s team loves to get after the offensive glass, but Kevin O’Neill preaches some heavy duty work on the defensive glass and his duo of Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson are willing acolytes. If they can keep UCLA’s Josh Smith and Reeves Nelson from getting easy buckets on the boards, the tight USC defense could make life difficult for the Bruin offense.

Power Rankings

1. Washington (10-3, 2-0): With the help of last week’s sweep of the Los Angeles schools, the Huskies have erased whatever doubts there may have been about their legitimacy as the favorite in the Pac-10. After earning the hard-fought win over USC detailed above, they came back a couple days later to run away from UCLA in the second half. However, just when it seemed there was nothing but good news surrounding the Husky program, news broke on Wednesday that sophomore point guard Abdul Gaddy had torn his ACL in practice and would miss the rest of the season. One glance at the stat sheet and Gaddy’s 8.3 PPG may make one believe that, though a tough loss for the Huskies, this is one that they can overcome. And while it is certainly true that the combination of Isaiah Thomas, Venoy Overton, C.J. Wilcox and Scott Suggs still form a strong backcourt, Washington will definitely miss Gaddy’s confidence and leadership. He had developed into a true floor general and an efficient player on both ends of the court after a rough freshman season. In his absence, however, Overton and Thomas will both get more minutes at the point, with Suggs and Wilcox due for a bump in playing time at the two (although Wilcox played just four minutes on the SoCal trip due to a staph infection). While the Gaddy injury is a huge bummer for Husky fans (and college basketball fans in general), it is by no means a deal breaker for Washington, especially considering they now have a chance to adjust to his loss over the remainder of the regular season.

Looking ahead: The conference home-opener at the Hec-Ed is on Thursday, with northwest rival Oregon coming to two, then a suddenly interesting contest with Oregon State on Saturday afternoon.

2. USC (9-6, 1-1): With Washington the clear-cut favorite in the Pac-10, the question now becomes, who’s number 2? And the answer remains, albeit after only one week of play: who knows? For now, I’ll go with the Trojans, who gave the Huskies everything they could handle in the opener. A couple of days later, they looked excellent against Washington State for about 37 minutes before slowing up short of the finish line and winding up with a fortunate two-point win. But all things considered, this is a USC team with a reputation as a great defensive team, strong on the boards and with plenty of upside on the offensive end. The Trojans are still adjusting to life with Jio Fontan as their lead guard, and given that he is their most talented offensive player, once everybody is comfortable in their roles USC should improve upon their average offensive efficiency numbers to date. The biggest weakness for Kevin O’Neill is the complete lack of depth on this squad, so if the grind of conference play slows any of the Trojans’ key contributors, things could get tight, but with a little luck, USC could ride a strong conference run to an NCAA Tournament invitation.

Looking ahead: The Trojans host UCLA at the Galen Center on Sunday before getting out on the road in conference play for the first time with a trip to the Oregon schools.

3. UCLA (9-5, 1-1): The Bruins’ homestand against the Washington schools was an eventful one. In the opener against Wazzu, they needed a big second half to defend their turf and get conference play started on the right foot. Sophomore Reeves Nelson had 13 second-half points and classmate Tyler Honeycutt added 12 as UCLA used a 20-6 second half run to come back from an eight-point halftime deficit to post a nine-point win. In the follow-up game, however, it was a 27-10 Washington run that doomed the Bruins to a split. One big factor for the Bruins in the early season has been freshman Joshua Smith and his issues with foul trouble. When Smith can keep clean, few teams around the country have players than can defend him well, but all too often he gets in early foul trouble and then either has to sit or play more carefully for fear of fouling out. In the Washington game, he picked up two quick fouls trying to hedge on ball-screens at the top of the key – a strategy Ben Howland has used successfully with big men during his time in Westwood. Howland admitted he has reconsidered and will no longer regularly ask Smith to hedge ball-screens, rather asking him to sit back and plug the lane.

Looking ahead: The cross-town battle with USC on Sunday should be a must-watch game, with a trip to the Oregon schools to follow.

4. Arizona (12-3, 1-1): The Wildcats’ loss to Oregon State on Sunday was maybe the biggest story around the Pac-10, and it is worth another look from the Arizona perspective. I don’t know about anyone else, but the first thing I look at when I check out an Arizona box score is Derrick Williams, and just looking at his line is a pretty good microcosm of what went wrong in Corvallis. First and foremost, there is little dispute that Williams is the Wildcats’ best player and the guy who Sean Miller wants to be most involved in the offense. He is an insanely efficient offensive player who has been absolutely on fire early in the season. Why then did he only attempt six field goals, especially considering he made every one? Yes, he was limited somewhat by foul trouble, but he still played 29 minutes and yet Arizona could only get him a field goal attempt once every five minutes, in their game with the highest number of possessions this year? Worse yet, that’s not even much of an aberration, as he has only once taken double-digit attempts from the field (ten attempts against CS Fullerton on 12/8) since Thanksgiving weekend. Aside from the six field goal attempts, Williams did get to the line ten times, but he made just three of them, a stunning number given his 81.7% rate coming into the game. And last, but certainly not least damning, Williams had exactly two rebounds in 29 minutes. Two. Really. Two. There were 75 rebounds available for grabbing in that game, approximately 54 rebounds available to him in the time he played, and he grabbed less than 4% of them. That’s unforgivable for a player as talented as he. There is a lot of talk about Arizona as an underrated team and a potential challenger for the Pac-10 crown, but unless Williams, clearly the most talented player on a relatively under-talented Arizona team, can get more aggressive on the boards and more involved in the offense, this is little more than a middle-of-the-Pac team.

Looking ahead: The Wildcats get a chance to bounce back from the Beaver debacle with visits from the young Bay Area teams to the McKale Center.

5. Washington State (10-4, 0-2): After a second half fade against UCLA, the Cougars came out cold against USC, struggled to get good shots and then failed to convert when they did get open looks. And yet, after an 11-0 run in crunch time to get to within 58-56, Klay Thompson drove and spotted an open Abe Lodwick at the three-point line in the corner. However, the pass from Thompson was just a bit off target and Lodwick couldn’t handle it, and a clean look at a possible game-winning three fell harmlessly out of bounds. At this point, you wouldn’t blame Cougar fans if they were a little bit skittish about their team, even after a pretty strong non-conference schedule. Sure, the 0-2 start to conference play is easily explained away with the fact that it was a pair of road games against arguably the toughest pair of travel partners the Washington schools will face all season. And sure, those first two games of the conference schedule came at the tail end of a nearly two-week span away from home. But on the heels of last year’s freefall from a 12-3 start to a 16-14 finish (including a 6-12 conference record good for last place, this WSU team has a lot to prove.  

Looking ahead: The Cougs have a chance to get back to .500 in conference by defending their home court against the Oregon teams, two teams expected to finish in the bottom half of the Pac-10. However, with Oregon State’s sudden resurgence, Ken Bone and company had better bring their A-game on Thursday, just to be safe.

6. Oregon State (7-6, 2-0): Am I really going to jump the Beavers from #10 to #6? I don’t know what choice I have. As I mentioned above, I think this is a talented roster. Couple that with their most recent three games and put on a pair of decent blinders, and this ranking seems perfectly reasonable. Sophomore guard Jared Cunningham has proven to be one of the most dangerous thieves in the country, picking opposing teams’ pockets on six percent of all possessions, and he’s also shown to be an athletic talent in the open floor. He threw down one of the better dunks of the year over Arizona, although he still missed at least three point-blank bunnies in that game. Sophomore center Joe Burton burst out over the weekend as well, averaging 16.5 points and seven rebounds in the game and displaying quick feet, nice hands, a soft touch and a good feel for the game, especially for 6’7, 280-pound guy. Throw in 6’9 athletic senior forward Omari Johnson defending the top of the 1-3-1 zone and second-team All-Pac-10 selection in 2009-10 Calvin Haynes to go with a handful of other young and talented athletes and this Beaver team has gone from an afterthought to must-see TV in the span of about two weeks.

Looking ahead: The Beavers travel to the Washington schools this week, with Pullman the first stop. If they were going to win one of these games, the Wazzu game would be the more likely one. Despite their reputation in previous seasons under Craig Robinson as a team that wants to play a slow pace, this Beaver team is young, athletic and raring to go, qualities which are endearing but which could get them in trouble against the more talented Huskies.

7. Stanford (8-4, 1-0): While not as extreme of a surprise as Oregon State’s start to conference play, Stanford’s 14-point win over Cal goes down as an unexpected result as well. It’s not so much that the Cardinal won that was surprising, but the manner in which it happened. For most of the start of the Stanford season, it had been primarily the Jeremy Green/Josh Owens show, with Green providing the bulk of the offense from the perimeter and Owens doing the dirty work inside. But on Sunday, aside from Green’s 21 points, our Newcomer of the Week, Dwight Powell, busted out for 20 points and fellow freshman Anthony Brown and Aaron Bright also went for double digits, outplaying the Cal freshman and providing the difference in the game. Just one game is too small of a sample size to think the Stanford freshmen have turned the corner, but if Jeremy Green can continue to get help from the youngsters around him, Johnny Dawkins’ bunch can spring an upset or two this season.

Looking ahead: The Cardinal head to the desert for matchups with Arizona State and Arizona, giving their freshman class their first taste of life on the road in the Pac-10.

8. Arizona State (8-5, 1-1): Sun Devil leading scorer Trent Lockett missed the first two games of the Pac-10 season with a toe injury, and he was definitely missed. In the opener, the Sun Devils looked awful against Oregon State. They were outrebounded badly, grabbing just 51% of the available defensive rebounds while getting outshot badly on the way to an embarrassing 22-point loss. They bounced back to beat Oregon on Saturday, but didn’t look particularly good in doing so. Junior college transfer Carrick Felix got his second and third starts of his career and his most run (averaging 28.5 minutes per game), and responded with a particularly good game against Oregon, posting a line of 19 points, six rebounds and four assists, and it will be interesting to see Felix’s role upon Lockett expected return this week.

Looking ahead: The Sun Devils host Stanford and Cal, two winnable home games.

9. (Cal 7-6, 0-1): The sole game of the week was the Bears’ disappointing road trip to Stanford, but the big story broke Wednesday in Berkeley, when it was announced that freshman guard Gary Franklin was no longer in school and would be transferring out. Franklin had struggled mightily with his shot in the early season, hitting just 29% from the field, 29% of his threes and only 44% from the line – all this for a guy whose strength was considered to be his shooting. Franklin started the first 11 games of the season, but removed from the starting lineup in the Bears final non-conference game against Hartford, where he only played ten minutes and didn’t score. However, Franklin returned to prominence in the Stanford game, still coming off the bench, but this time getting 30 minutes, knocking down four of his seven three-point attempts and scoring 15 points in his best game of the season. Three days later, the decision was made, and he’ll be playing somewhere else beginning next December. The whole story is confusing, but the scuttlebutt is that Franklin was unhappy with coming off the bench, despite the fact that he still averaged over 25 minutes a game. Odds are, he’ll reappear in another west coast team, maybe San Diego State or UNLV or something like that, but this observer from outside can’t help but see this as a bad decision by a kid who has been treated more than fairly by Mike Montgomery, allowed to work through his struggles with his shot while still being trotted out there every night. In the meantime, Cal’s backcourt become a little thinner, and their fans’ dreams of a Franklin/Allen Crabbe backcourt bringing them back to glory in the not-too-distant future fade far earlier than expected.

Looking ahead: The Golden Bears head to the desert as well, starting with Arizona on Thursday, then heading to Arizona State on Saturday.

10. Oregon (7-7, 0-2): A sad week in Oregon basketball. Yes, they lost their first two games of the Pac-10 season, but really, Duck fans know there are more losses where those came from. The saddest part of the week was the final scheduled men’s basketball games at McArthur Court, the second oldest on-campus arena in Division I (behind Fordham’s Rose Hill Gym). So the old brokedown palace, site of not only many a classic Pac-10 game, but also one of the best Grateful Dead shows ever, gets put out to pasture, while the bright shiny new Matthew Knight Arena gets unveiled in a couple weeks. I’m sure that place is beautiful, and it will probably wind up giving Duck fans a better, more comfortable experience at games. And sure, the Knight Arena and its attendant facilities give Oregon some great new perks to offer potential recruits. I get it. But I’m still sad to see the old place go. I would love it if Oregon could find a way to sneak a game back over across the way to the old barn, but I’m sure that’s little more than a pipe dream. Fare you well, Mac Court, fare you well.  

 

Looking ahead: The Washington swing is up next for the Ducks, and by this time next week, in all likelihood your Oregon Ducks will be sitting at 0-4 in the conference. Their time will come to sneak up on somebody in the Pac-10, but I doubt it is this week.

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