Out of the country? Living under a rock? Here’s what you missed in the first full week of Pac-12 basketball.
Roberto Nelson Poured In 31 Points In Oregon State’s Upset Win At Maryland (credit: Andy Cripe)
Best Game – Oregon State @ Maryland: Arizona-San Diego State would be a fine pick here as well, but the Wildcats held a comfortable lead for nearly 35 minutes in that one. In College Park, things were exiting and intense from the outset. The whole atmosphere, bolstered by an appearance from the President of the United States, made this feel like something much more than a mid-November game. And on a day when Indiana State won at Notre Dame and Belmont upset North Carolina, it was the Beavers’ turn to pull the shocker. The knocks on Craig Robinson‘s team remain; it is largely a two-man offense without a great rebounder, but it has a solid distributor in Challe Barton and two capable three-point shooters in Angus Brandt and Olaf Schaftenaar. Who knows where the unpredictable Beavers go from here, but the Maryland win provides a boost of momentum that the program desperately needed.
Upsets – There were three upsets in the conference this week, starting late last Monday night when BYU walked into Maples Pavilion and hung 112 points on Stanford. Junior Chasson Randle scored 33 points for the Cardinal, but it was nowhere near enough after a horrific showing on the defensive end of the court. Three days later, UC Irvinedestroyed Washington on its home court, taking a 38-36 halftime lead and turning it into a 14-point win. And of course, the Beavers topped Maryland to close out the week. Oregon State went on an 8-0 run to start the second half and never trailed in the final 20 minutes, winning by a final of 90-83.
Power Rankings (As voted upon by Connor Pelton, Andrew Murawa, and Adam Butler):
Is there a coach with more job security than Craig Robinson after losing to a lower-level MEAC team? Is there a coach other than Craig Robinson taking his team to the White House this week? The answer is in there somewhere, folks.
Robert Morris will look to continue its dominance of Kentucky on Sunday in Lexington. LOL.
How many more times does Stanford have to give up 100 points before Johnny Dawkins is fired?
Posted by Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) on November 15th, 2013
Who Won the Week? is a regular column that will outline and discuss three winners and losers from the previous week. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game. And man, will those be tested this winter. Today’s forecast high temperature? 39 degrees. It’s November 15. It’s only going to get worse from here.
WINNER: The Champions Classic
The outstanding play of Andrew Wiggins was just one of several highlights from the Champions Classic in Chicago. (AP)
Though there was many a spectacular game in the first week of the season – and some of that is certainly just because it’s good to be back watching hoops – the Champions Classic proved a worthy spectacle to start the season. In its third year, the season-opening tournament with four of college basketball’s best programs may have hit its pinnacle thus far. The four programs are each ranked in the top five of the Associated Press poll, and each came in with significant star power. Despite facing Kentucky’s heralded group of freshmen – stop me if you’ve heard that before – Gary Harris, Keith Appling and Adriean Payne took Michigan State to a wire-to-wire 78-74 win in game one of the double-header. Appling’s performance was particularly spectacular, scoring 22 points, grabbing eight rebounds as a point guard, getting eight assists and nabbing four steals. The Wildcats’ most-touted recruit, Julius Randle, shone through despite the early-season backcourt inconsistency John Calipari’s teams are sometimes prone to. The freshman put up 27 points and 13 rebounds despite going against Payne for most of the night (though he did have eight turnovers). But game one’s one-freshman show was trumped by game two’s two-freshman battle. Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins and Duke’s Jabari Parker went back and forth throughout their teams’ match-up. Parker’s 27-point, nine-rebound stat line may have outshone Wiggins’ 22-and-six showing, but the pair’s captivating late-evening game ended up going to the Canadian’s Jayhawks, 94-83. The good news for this season is that Randle, Wiggins, and Parker all looked like the stars they were billed to be coming into college. The good news for the next three seasons? The four schools have agreed to do these neutral-site games for the next three years. See you next year.
(Related winners: Michigan State and Kansas, for getting a couple of top-level non-conference wins; Randle, Wiggins and Parker, for matching their hype. Related losers: Tarik Black, who only had a single rebound and three fouls for the Jayhawks; Kentucky and Duke.)
With the start of the early signing period well underway, we’re going to spend almost all of this morning’s rundown on recruiting. And to kick things off, not only did Arizona have a big night on Thursday by getting a hard-earned victory over a tough San Diego State team, but they heard whispers of some very good things for the future as well. Stanley Johnson, a top-10 recruit out of Mater Dei in the greater Los Angeles area, will announce his decision on where he will attend school next season and the rumors are that Johnson will select Arizona over competitors like USC and Kentucky. With four-star guys Craig Victor and Parker Johnson-Cartwright already committed, Sean Miller’s got the beginnings of another phenomenal class.
On the other side of the things, Oregon State is struggling through a rough start to the season, but Beaver fans not only can celebrate the signing of a new recruit, but this specific recruit – junior college transferGary Payton II – offers up ties to the most recent glory days of the basketball program in Corvallis. While “The Mitten” doesn’t have the accolades that “The Glove” brought to OSU, he is a strong defender like his father and will provide some excitement for the Beavers next season. Meanwhile, there are three other recruits who have already verbally committed to Oregon State who may sign in the coming days. The big question that remains is whether head coach Craig Robinson will still be around to enjoy the fruits of his recruiting labor.
Up in the Bay Area, both Cal and Stanfordhave signed highly regarded recruits. Mike Montgomery signed four-star point guard Ahmaad Rorie, who had committed to the Golden Bears almost two years ago, while Stanford inked five-star power forward Reid Travis, who just committed to the Cardinal last week. Johnny Dawkins still has a couple four-star recruits in point guard Robert Cartwright and center Michael Humphrey who have already verbally committed, but they still need to make it official. And then, of course, we’ll need to see if Dawkins is still around to welcome them into Palo Alto next season.
Let’s switch from NorCal to SoCal to check out what USC and UCLA got done yesterday. Trojan head coach Andy Enfieldsigned three players, including big guys Malik Price-Martin and Jabari Craig along with four-star point guard Jordan McLaughlin, all of whom will be significant upgrades in terms of players who fit in with the style of play that Enfield wants. Expect these three to get big roles early for the cardinal and gold. Meanwhile, across town, Steve Alford signed Kevon Looney – a five-star power forward –and Hungarian power forward Gyorgy Goloman, who is spending 2013-14 at a prep school in Florida. Looney, in particular, is a big-time get for UCLA.
Lastly, we’ve got football again tonight. And, while we’ve got sufficient focus on basketball this time of year, we’ll be sure to take a couple breaks this weekend to keep our eye on some exciting Pac-12 football. Connor and I continue our battle for prognosticating supremacy, and we’re in a tight contest. Last week we both went 4-1, with Connor eking out a fun one when Arizona State knocked off Utah, and me riding Myles Freaking Jack !!!!! (yes, I believe those exclamation points are now officially a part of his name) to a UCLA win over Arizona (although I was wishing I was watching a UCLA/Arizona basketball game the whole time). On the season, Connor’s still got a one-game lead on me, with him checking in at 58-15 and me at 57-16. Our game of the week comes tonight, when Washington and UCLA meet up at the Rose Bowl (a 6:00 PM football game at the Rose Bowl on a Friday night? Yeah, calling that thing half full at kick-off will be extraordinarily optimistic). I’m leaving the Bruins bandwagon to hop on Bishop Sankey and company, while Connor’s going with the Bruins at home.
So. Stanford. Out to save Johnny Dawkins’ job and salvage a single NCAA Tournament appearance for its talented senior class. Yeah, that team. Well, they gave up nearly 1.3 points per possession last night in a home loss to BYU, in a regulation game that featured more scoring than any game played last season anywhere, losing 112-103 at Maples Pavilion. A college basketball game that had more scoring than seven of the nine NBA games on the same night. The good news is that scoring is up, and we could attribute that to the new emphasis on enforcing hand-checking rules. Or, maybe Stanford is just a really bad defensive team.
Let’s finish getting the bad news out of the way up front: the Portland Tribune called Oregon State’s home loss to Coppin State on Sunday night “unforgivable.” Considering Beavers head coach Craig Robinson is another Pac-12 coach squarely on the hot seat, “unforgivable” losses are probably not easily forgiven. The fact that the team played without a pair of suspended frontcourt players doesn’t really garner a lot of sympathy, especially since its opponent was playing without its leading scorer and rebounder from last year’s team. Still, Devon Collier is due back tomorrow night and Roberto Nelson is a stud, so there is at least some hope. But that Coppin State loss is something that the RPI is never going to take any excuses for, and, the dip the Beavers will take in the RPI will ripple throughout the conference all season long.
UCLA avoided being painted with the upset victim brush on Friday night, dodging a late deep three-point attempt to hold on for a five-point win over Drexel, but head coach Steve Alford hopes to get in plenty of work on the half-court offense with the Bruins. While Kyle Anderson had some promising moments getting penetration and passing out of the paint, the team often stalled when unable to get into transition. But Alford and senior forward David Wear agree that those problems can be fixed over time with practice. Given that Travis Wearis expected back within the week, the team will have another accomplished half-court weapon.
Two games into the season, Colorado has yet to look very good, and veteran point guard Spencer Dinwiddie has made a total of just four field goal attempts. Head coach Tad Boyle isn’t all that concerned, though, noting that his junior has done plenty of other things well. Even though he’s hit just over 26 percent of his shots from the field so far, Dinwiddie has been able to get to the line 17 times and make 14 of those attempts in order to add to his production. He’s also regularly recognized as one of the best perimeter defenders in the conference. In other words, he doesn’t always need to score to have a positive impact on the game. That said, Boyle says he’d still like to see Dinwiddie be more aggressive.
Lastly, a bit of a look ahead to tonight, when four conference teams will be in action, including Arizona State, where head coach Herb Sendekwill face one of his former teams as Miami (OH) travels to Tempe to face the Sun Devils. Sendek got his start at Miami, spending three seasons in southeastern Ohio. Prior to tonight’s game, Arizona State will honor Charlie Coles, who was an assistant under Sendek at Miami before becoming that program’s head coach. Oh, and just another little tidbit that may help you understand the ASU/Arizona rivalry a bit more: In Sendek’s final season at Miami (OH) before he went to North Carolina State, he led his RedHawk team to a first-round upset of Arizona in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Pac-12 opened the 2013-14 season with a big splash in South Korea and ended with a head-scratching upset in Corvallis. Let’s take a closer look at how the conference fared through the first three days of the regular season.
Young, A Transfer Out Of Houston, Made His Case For Newcomer Of The Year In The Pac-12 After A Stellar Opening Night Performance Against Georgetown. (credit: Lee Jim-man)
Best Game – Oregon vs Georgetown: The stage couldn’t have been bigger. A top 20 Oregon team, missing two of its starters after receiving suspensions earlier in the week, against a good Georgetown club, being played in South Korea on ESPN at the Armed Forces Classic. The Ducks jumped out to a 19-9 lead on the Hoyas before they finally found their offense, but Georgetown eventually settled down and got a Mikael Hopkins jumper with 10 seconds remaining in the first half to pull within three. Oregon held onto a lead for the final 15 minutes of the game, but each time it looked as if it would pull away, Georgetown would come up with a big stop to stay within striking distance. The dagger came with two and a half minutes to play, as senior Richard Amardi slammed home a dunk to end a mini-Hoya run, putting the Ducks up 73-68. Junior guard Joseph Young led Oregon with 24 points and five rebounds.
Upsets – Only one, but it was a biggie. Coppin State, who was picked to finish ninth in the MEAC, went into Corvallis without its best player and topped Oregon State, 78-73. The Beavers, of course, were without two of their starting forwards, Devon Collier and Eric Moreland, so the loss may not be held against Craig Robinson‘s team if they are in the mix for an NCAA bid come March (assuming they’re in the mix at all). But regardless, this was a pathetic performance turned in by the Beavers. Except for a brief spurt of points from center Angus Brandt late in the second half, the only source of offense came from senior Roberto Nelson, who scored a career-high 36 points.
Washington knocked off a game Seattle squad on Sunday night in its season opener, but the win may turn out to be something of a Pyrrhic victory as sophomore forward Jernard Jarreauleft with a knee injury just two minutes into the season. As of this writing, there is no news on the severity of the injury, but Jarreau is expected to undergo an MRI today. With senior center Perris Blackwell already out after suffering a concussion in their exhibition game last Wednesday, and with junior Desmond Simmons out for up to two months following knee surgery, the Huskies were forced to even turn to sophomore center Gilles Dierickx (sure, just when I figured out how to spell Krystkowiak without thinking twice, you break out this name on me) for frontcourt depth. But, it was mostly newcomer wings like 6’5” JuCo transfer Mike Anderson and 6’4” freshman Darin Johnson who helped the Huskies compete on the glass, as they grabbed 15 rebounds between them.
While the Huskies evaded a potential upset on Sunday night despite being shorthanded, Oregon State wasn’t so lucky. Playing without suspended forwards Devon Collier and Eric Moreland, the Beavers fell to Coppin State despite a career-high 36 points from senior guard Roberto Nelson. Given that the MEAC, Coppin State’s conference, is a mere 1-89 against power conference teams in the last two seasons, this is not a good sign for head coach Craig Robinson in his quest to keep his job. Luckily, Collier will be back in the next game, but Moreland won’t be back until conference play kicks off. Coppin State comes out of a brief weekend as an honorary member of the Pac-12 with a 1-1 record, after California handled them on Friday night.
Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins got excellent news on Friday afternoon when 6’7” 2014 recruit Reid Traviscommitted to the Cardinal early in the day. He’s a bit undersized for a frontcourt prospect, but he can score in the post and hit the face-up jumper. He’s presently the highlight of a three-man Stanford recruiting class that consists entirely of players ranked in the top 100 in ESPN’s 2014 rankings. Now, all Dawkins needs to do is get his team into the NCAA Tournament in order to earn the right to coach those guys next season; if his team fails to make the Dance this season, expectations are that this will be his last season on The Farm. The Cardinal got off to a sketchy start on Friday night, needing to hold off a pesky Bucknell team on the way to a four-point win, but will have a chance to earn a solid non-conference win tonight at home against BYU.
Aaron Gordon officially began his career at Arizona on Friday night, and we’ll have some thoughts about his and the Wildcats’ performance later today. But, in the meantime, Anthony Gimino of the Tucson Citizen has a timeline of Gordon’s first game with the Wildcats. While he did plenty of things very well, let me just give you a hint that the form on his shot causes me quite a bit of distress.
Lastly, while there weren’t a ton of blowouts on behalf of Pac-12 teams this weekend, Arizona Statedid crush its first bit of competition, as they handed UMBC a 35-point defeat on Friday night. Jahii Carson led the way with 19 points and five boards, but the highlight was the fact that everybody in the Sun Devil starting lineup got into double figures, while the bench added an additional 25 points. We’ll see how much this remains a theme as the season goes on, but the Sun Devils drew 30 foul calls from their opponent, getting to the line for 44 free throw attempts. With a guy like Carson, nobody really expects to be able to guard him at all, but with fouls actually being called now, his offensive effectiveness could skyrocket.
This Weekend’s Lede. It started somewhat unceremoniously with a nondescript game between Air Force and Army in something called the All-Military Classic in Lexington, Virginia. But after seven long months of quiet, the early afternoon tip between two of the military academies in a tiny gym on the campus of VMI represented the reappearance of the sport we call college basketball. For years we’ve clamored for an Opening Night with the appropriate pomp and fanfare that the game deserves upon its November arrival, and with the excitement around social media and the number of good games available on the various networks, we’re getting there. Some 225 other games involving D-I teams came throughout the weekend, and even though there were no aircraft carrier games scattered about the land, there was still plenty to get juiced about.
Your Watercooler Moment. The Triumphant Return of Joshua Smith.
Joshua Smith Showed Off His Dominant Post Game in the Armed Forces Classic
Approximately one year ago, the last time any of us saw Joshua Smith, we were subjected to this embarrassing crime against basketball. After a transfer year when he traveled cross-country to Georgetown and received a waiver from the NCAA to play immediately, it was hard to say what to expect this time around. We’ve always known that the 6’10″, 300+ pound center has soft hands, quick feet that belie his size and great touch around the basket, but his weight, and correspondingly, his stamina, have remained problematic. He simply couldn’t stay on the floor at UCLA, averaging only 19.3 minutes per game in a little over two seasons. But on Friday, for at least one night, Smith appeared to be a different player. Although Georgetown lost the Armed Forces Classic game to Oregon, the burly center logged 27 fruitful minutes, shot 10-of-13 from the field, and looked downright unstoppable inside on his way to 25 points. The Hoyas wouldn’t have been within 15 points of the Ducks were it not for Smith’s production, and it begs the question: Has the change of scenery allowed Smith to turn the corner in his development? If so, and what we saw this weekend is any indication, Georgetown has found itself with one of the most talented big men in the nation.
Sights & Sounds. Plenty of great stuff from Friday night, so check out the separate post we put together on Saturday to store it all. The top dunks, buzzer-beaters and some other notable videos and images are all over there, but we saved the best buzzer-beater of the weekend for here. Dayton was down two points as IPFW looked to inbound the ball to ice the big road upset. Then, this happened…
Brutal. And in case you’re too lazy to click through, here’s the best dunk of the weekend for good measure. Michael Qualls!
Top Storyline. Four Freshman Phenoms. We’ve been talking about them all offseason, and the debuts of some of the nation’s top rookies was everything we had hoped it would be. On Friday night, Kentucky’s Julius Randle, Duke’s Jabari Parker and Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins were all playing at the same time, and none disappointed. In a dominant win over Davidson, Parker went for 22/6 on 8-of-10 shooting from the floor that included a silky-smooth 3-of-3 from deep. Randle did Parker one better with a 23/15 performance against UNC-Asheville that included an impressive 11-of-13 from the foul line. He followed that up with another 22/14/3 assts against Northern Kentucky on Sunday, becoming the first freshman to go for consecutive double-doubles in his first two collegiate games since Michael Beasley pulled the trick six years ago. Wiggins didn’t have a dominant performance in Kansas’ win over Louisiana-Monroe, tallying 16/3/3 stls in 34 minutes of action. The trio will all be on display tomorrow night at the Champions Classic, and so far, so good. We also shouldn’t forget Arizona’s star freshman, Aaron Gordon, who put up a 13/10/4 blks double-double himself in the Wildcats’ win over Cal Poly.
Four More Weekend Storylines.
These Games Are Foul. Well, some of them are, at least. There was an awful lot of preseason discussion given to the new hand-checking rules and how coaches, players and officials would have to adjust on the fly. Results have been mixed. One team that many pundits thought would be most impacted, Louisville, only had 14 total fouls in a 62-possession game against Charleston. On the other hand, a Seton Hall-Niagara game on Saturday resulted in a dreadful 73 fouls in an 81-possession game. In fact, there were more free throw attempts (102) than field goal attempts (101) in that game, which two hours and 28 minutes to complete. A total of 24 teams were called for 30 or more fouls over the weekend, while 18 were called for fewer than 15. The national average last season was 17.7 fouls per team per game (or 35.4 fouls per game), so this is definitely a trend worth watching.
ACC Darling Boston College Struggling. BC was a chic pick to make some noise in the ACC this season, and certainly there’s a lot of time left for the Eagles to get things going. But two losses over the weekend revealed that the same issues that Steve Donahue’s team had last season haven’t been solved. They still can’t guard anybody. In losses against Providence and Massachusetts, Boston College gave up 1.04 and 1.20 points per possession, respectively, and an average of 84 points per game. Furthermore, Bryce Cotton (28 points) and Cady Lalanne (27 points) lit their defense up, getting the shots they wanted whenever they wanted. Last season the Eagles finished 192nd in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency; if they don’t figure out a way to limit easy looks from the opposition, they’ll be staring another .500 season in the face not matter how good their offense becomes.
Mr. Robinson May Need a New Neighborhood. It was no secret that Oregon State head coach Craig Robinson came into this season on the hot seat. After yet another embarrassing home loss to a low-major team Sunday night, he may want to go ahead and start picking out his moving company. MEAC teams were 1-89 in the last two seasons against power conference schools (the one victory was Norfolk State over Missouri in the 2012 NCAA Tournament), and they were 0-5 so far this season. That is, until Coppin State went into Oregon State’s Gill Coliseum and used its athleticism and timely three-point shooting to lead for much of the game before walking out with a Pac-12 scalp. Robinson has had a history of these types of awful home losses, and adding another one to his resume surely doesn’t help things for him in Corvallis.
Other Weekend Upsets. Virginia Tech and Miami (FL) suffered tough home losses over the weekend (to USC Upstate and St. Francis (NY), respectively), but both of those programs were expected to be rebuilding this season. The biggest upset of the weekend instead had to have been Kansas State’s shocking home loss to Northern Colorado on Friday night. The jokes about Bruce Weber losing with some of his own players started in earnest immediately after the game, but it was two holdovers from last season’s Big 12 co-champions in Shane Southwell and Will Spradling who were largely responsible for this one. The duo combined to shoot a miserable 4-of-22 from the field and 2-of-12 from behind the arc.
Your Weekend All-Americans.
Julius Randle, Kentucky (NPOY). Consecutive double-doubles to start a collegiate career for the first time since Michael Beasley did it in 2007-08 makes this an easy choice. Through three days of action, he’s the NPOY.
Jabari Parker, Duke. Parker didn’t board like Randle but he scored more efficiently, missing only two shots in his debut.
Joshua Smith, Georgetown. As mentioned above, Smith’s 25/4 on 10-of-13 shooting was his best game in nearly two years.
TJ Warren, NC State. Warren went off for 27/8/3 assts as the Wolfpack beat Appalachian State to start a season of very low expectations.
Arizona received a big boost Tuesday when sophomore stretch forward Zach Peters was cleared by medical personnel to begin practicing with the Wildcats. Peters transferred from Kansas last November before playing a game with the Jayhawks but was sill waiting on clearance after suffering multiple concussions while in Lawrence. The addition is an important one for head coach Sean Miller. Peters is a big body that has the ability to shoot the ball from the outside, and he’ll likely be called upon to fill the absence left by Grant Jerrett. Arizona is losing its top four three-point shooters from the 2012-13 campaign, so there is certainly more than enough room for another shooter on the roster. Peters will open the season behind Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley, and Aaron Gordon on the depth chart, but expect him to play solid minutes once he gets a couple weeks of practice in with the Cats. They open the season Friday night at home against Cal Poly in a game to be televised by the Pac-12 Networks.
The guys over at Building the Dam met in roundtable form last weekend to discuss what excites them, worries them, and their expectations heading into Craig Robinson‘s sixth season at Oregon State. The return of senior center Angus Brandt is definitely high on the list for excitement in Corvallis after the Aussie missed the majority of last season with a torn ACL suffered against Purdue. As RVM points out, however, there are plenty of question marks with this team, beginning with the fact that there is no proven point guard on the roster.
Andy Enfield takes over at USC after the Trojans finished last year with a 14-18 record, its second straight losing season. Conquest Chronicles previews the 2013-14 team in this piece, focusing on the biggest offensive threats and the keys to getting back to relevance out west. All signs from preseason camp seem to point to the Trojans adjusting well to Enfield’s up tempo, high-flying system, but producing results early on against a challenging non-conference schedule will be difficult. They open the season Friday night at Utah State, and before the month ends they will face Villanova, and possibly, #5 Kansas, in the Bahamas. Keying the offense will be senior guard J.T. Terrell, whose ability to take, and make, tough shots will be of great value for Enfield and company. Expectations are small for this team, but I wouldn’t count a coach like Enfield out at any time.
UCLA put a bow on its exhibition season Monday with a 109-79 win over Cal State San Marcos. Everything went through a slimmer and quicker forward/center Tony Parkeras the sophomore finished with 17 points and 16 rebounds. Parker dropped about 20 pounds over the summer and is playing with more confidence, and if the early signs prove to hold true throughout the season, he is a legit post threat in the Pac-12. The Cougars held tough with UCLA for about 12 minutes, and actually only trailed by two just over halfway through the first half. A quick scoring burst later in the half put any thoughts of an upset to bed, and Steve Alford‘s team ended up cruising to the 30-point win. Next up for them is a visit from Drexel late Friday night to start the regular season.
Sophomore Jahii Carson and Penn State transfer Jermaine Marshall will be the leaders of Arizona State‘s deep backcourt unit this season. That much you probably know. But there are four other guards on the roster that will don the maroon and gold this season, and House of Sparkybreaks down that depth in this preview. Redshirt freshman Calean Robinson will run the offense when Carson leaves the court, and he may be the most intriguing Sun Devil behind Carson. Arizona State meets Maryland Baltimore County to open the season Sunday evening at Wells Fargo Arena.
As a whole, it is pretty easy to see that the Pac-12 is on an upswing, with talent abounding and more than half of the conference teams optimistic about their chances this season. But in four spots around the conference, there are coaches in dire need of success in order to keep their jobs. Last year at this time, there were six coaches whose seats we deemed at least warm. Of those six, two are now gone, while the other four remain seated on toasty chairs. We’ll take a look at those four coaches and tell you just how worried they should be about their jobs this season, then go through the other eight schools briefly and tell you the state of the head coaching position there.
Johnny Dawkins, Stanford – Scalding. Stanford athletic director Bernard Muir made it quite clear last season that, while Dawkins would be returning for his sixth season on The Farm, there would be heavy expectations – namely, make the NCAA Tournament or else, something that Stanford has failed to do since the year before Dawkins arrived. The good news for Dawkins is that he’s got a fine team. The bad news is that this fine team is made up of mostly the same players who limped home to a 19-15 record last season.
Dawkins’ Challenge Is Clear: NCAA Tournament or Bust. (AP)
Ken Bone, Washington State – Scorching. Last spring, Bone had to wait almost three weeks after his season ended to finally get confirmation from athletic director Bill Moos that he would be returning to coach the Cougars in 2013-14. In four seasons on the Palouse, Bone has compiled a tepid 70-65 overall record, winning just 26 of WSU’s 72 conference games over that span. In fact, the only reason Bone may still be around for this year is that Moos’ predecessor gave Bone a seven-year contract that would have required a $2.55 million buyout. With all-conference type Brock Motum gone, Bone will need to get significant improvement out of a guard-dominated lineup in order to stick around past this season.
While the main focus right now for basketball fans around the country may be the return of the NBA regular season, we continue to check off the final days before college basketball returns for real. But, in the meantime, if you’re dying for any kind of action, we do have some exhibition games to pass the time. Tonight, for instance, the Steve Alford era at UCLA gets underway as the Bruins will host Cal State San Bernardino at Pauley Pavilion, giving fans a first glimpse at what the Alford offense is going to look like and whether Kyle Anderson can live up to his hype as the floor general for this squad. As for the new head coach, he’s most looking forward to that first trip down the tunnel from the locker room to the floor.
Meanwhile, Alford has notched his first commitment for the class of 2014, a 6’9″ native of Hungary named Gyorgy Goloman. Given that the Bruins are expected to lose four of their five players who are taller than 6’7″ (those four would be the senior Wear twins, walk-on Sooren Derboghosian, and Anderson, who is expected to leave for the NBA Draft following his sophomore campaign), scoring a big man – even a three-star big man like Goloman – is a major priority. Still, Alford will need to up the talent level in order to get things rolling again in Westwood.
Meanwhile, Oregon State’s first of two exhibition games came last night as the Beavers hosted Corban at Gill Coliseum. Playing without the suspended Devon Collier and Eric Moreland, Oregon State led by as many as 31 before Craig Robinson emptied the bench. Roberto Nelson led the Beavers in scoring (get used to that phrase), but the highlight may have been senior center Angus Brandt’s return from last year’s ACL injury. Brandt only played 13 minutes, but scored eight points and, most importantly, looked healthy. But really, just about the only thing these exhibition games are good for are to remind us that were getting real darn close to games that count.
Stanford and head coach Johnny Dawkins face a daunting challenge this season. Unless the Cardinal make their first NCAA Tournament since 2008 (behind this improbable Brook Lopez last-second jump-hook), Dawkins will be looking for new employment and the Cardinal’s talented senior class will have gone oh-fer-their careers at Stanford. Dawkins points to Stanford’s close misses (six losses by five or fewer points) as reason for hope that a turnaround would not be that drastic. But Stanford will need to significantly improve its shooting (it was last in the conference in field goal percentage at just 41.6 percent last year) in order for that improvement to happen.
Lastly, news came down earlier this week that former USC head coach Kevin O’Neillhas landed a job as a college basketball analyst with Fox Sports 1 for the upcoming season. While O’Neill has a gruff persona and is not exactly a beloved former coach a la Seth Greenberg or Bruce Pearl, the guy has something of a dry sense of humor. And, of course, he knows the game. Unfortunately, with Fox Sports 1 only locked into broadcasting Big East games, Pac-12 fans won’t get to hear O’Neill’s opinions of the cast of characters he coached for and against in recent years. Still, we see a strong future for O’Neill as the next Billy Packer – you can decide for yourself whether or not that is a good thing.
You know, it has come to my attention that we haven’t addressed the big news last week that Houston transfer Joseph Young has been declared eligible by the NCAA to play this season at Oregon. After averaging 18 highly efficient points per game last season (26th in the nation in offensive efficiency, according to Ken Pomeroy), his presence is going to mean huge things for the Ducks. With Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson returning for their sophomore seasons, and with Jonathan Loyd back for his senior year, and with Detroit transfer Jason Calliste – another prolific and efficient scoring guard – now eligible, the Ducks are on the very short list for the best backcourts in the nation. If Mike Moser, Ben Carter and Waverly Austin can hold down the fort up front, the Ducks are going to be extremely dangerous.
But despite all that talent in the backcourt, we’ll be interested to see exactly what head coach Dana Altman can hammer out as a rotation. The best five players on the team are probably Artis, Dotson, Young, Calliste and Moser, but that combination would leave the Ducks with four guards and a forward in Moser who, while a skilled defender and rebounder, is not exactly your typical low post player for a team hoping to contend for a conference title in a major conference. And with all those guards and more, Altman will have a fun time trying to distribute shots between them all. Stay tuned.
Continuing our all-Oregon themed M5, it is no secret that Altman has made Oregon the grade-A landing spot for the best of the best transfers in Division I basketball. In his three seasons in Eugene, Altman has welcomed in seven transfers who had previous experience at D-I schools (Moser, Young, Calliste, Arsalan Kazemi, Devoe Joseph, Olu Ashaolu, and Tony Woods), as well as junior college transfers like Carlos Emory, Waverly Austin, Richard Amardi, Elgin Cook and Jalil Abdul-Bassit. Along the way, Altman has also become known as a welcome landing spot for “basketball refugees,” as Percy Allen of the Seattle Times calls them. Better yet, while other coaches have shied away from these players, Altman has succeeded in turning around a program that was in the dumps when he took over and having the Ducks back in the national conversation.
Let’s take a brief little jaunt up the I-5 to peek in with Craig Robinson and Oregon State in Corvallis. In a year where Robinson, once a media darling with the Beavers, finds himself in dire need of a productive season in order to hold on to his job, the brother-in-law-in-chief is talking up his sophomore class. Between Olaf Schaftenaar, Langston Morris-Walker, Jarmal Reid and Victor Robbins, there are loads of minutes available, what with Eric Moreland and Devon Collier due to each serve suspensions upon the start of the year. While none of these four should be expected to line up along the front line like their temporarily-departed brethren, each is capable of providing some punch from the wing for the Beavers. And, frankly, Robinson will need some major contributions out of that quartet in order to stabilize his own professional prospects.
Lastly, let’s jump out of the state of Oregon and head somewhere much drier to get a report on the conference favorite Arizona‘s exhibition game last night against Augustana. T.J. McConnell stole the show in the opening game at his new school, scoring 12 points, handing out eight assists, snatching three steals, and getting his team rolling as the floor general for the top-10 Wildcats. Three other players scored in double figures against their Division II opponent in a 32-point win. Sure, it means absolutely nothing, but it is basketball and it was on TV. If you missed it the first time, you can watch the replay on the Pac-12 Networks this morning at 9:00 AM.
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Michigan’s Nik Stauskas' improvement is obvious on the court this season. An improved vertical is a sign he's been doing a lot of work off the court.