Ten Tuesday Scribbles: On Kentucky, Florida, Minnesota, Canadian Imports, and More…

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 4th, 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. When the AP Top 25 was released Monday afternoon, Kentucky wound up unranked for the first time in the John Calipari era after a blowout loss to Notre Dame and a home setback to Baylor, UK’s first loss at Rupp Arena under Calipari (UK remains ranked at #20 here at RTC). Kentucky’s drop from #8 to unranked was the largest in AP poll history since the poll expanded to include 25 teams in 1990. Now we all know college basketball polls don’t really matter (unlike a certain other collegiate sport) so this is just something to discuss among basketball junkies. But seriously, do people really believe this isn’t one of the Top 25 teams in the country? I guess it depends on your philosophy when it comes to filling out a ballot. If you’re going purely by record, sure the Wildcats shouldn’t be ranked at 4-3. But a deeper inspection reveals a team with a win over Maryland, one that could turn into a very good win if the Terrapins sustain their early season level of play, and three losses to very good basketball teams (Duke, Notre Dame and Baylor). The Wildcats aren’t anywhere near last year’s juggernaut but until they lose to a bad team or the losses to good teams keep piling up, I’ll continue to rank Kentucky and won’t overreact. What are the issues Calipari faces? Number one, Ryan Harrow has proven not to be the answer at point guard. Archie Goodwin has been forced to be the primary ballhandler and is turning the ball over more than three times per game. Second, Kentucky’s rebounding and defense has taken a dip from last year but who didn’t expect that? Anthony Davis is in New Orleans now, not Lexington. Third, the team is relying exclusively on freshmen, one sophomore (Kyle Wiltjer, who does need to pick his game up) and two transfers. There is no veteran presence who has been through the SEC wars like Doron Lamb and Darius Miller had been last season. While Cal’s teams have had tremendous freshmen talent, the presence of Miller and Lamb pushed the team over the top last year. Without that crucial element, Kentucky will continue to struggle with immature plays and poor decision-making. However, I’m sure that Calipari will find a way to make things work eventually. Let’s not panic in early December because Kentucky lost three games to Top 25 teams.

    Coach Cal’s Team Is Now Unranked, But Don’t Panic Yet

  2. With Kentucky struggling to find its way right now, Florida has emerged as the early favorite in the SEC. The Gators are 6-0 with a pair of blowout wins over Wisconsin and Marquette and a nice “neutral” court win over a good Middle Tennessee team. It’s pretty clear that Florida is for real but the schedule ramps up in a big way this month with tomorrow’s road trip to rival Florida State followed 10 days later by a visit to Arizona and a quasi-road game against Kansas State in Kansas City on December 22. Everyone knows about Florida’s high-powered offensive attack but the most astonishing thing about this team has been its defense. This could very well be Billy Donovan’s best defensive team in Gainesville. Florida leads the nation in scoring defense, giving up just 48.5 PPG to date. The Gators are fourth in defensive efficiency and have also improved their rebounding from a year ago with Patric Young and Will Yeguete doing most of the work on the boards but even UF’s guards are contributing to that effort as well. Florida is just as efficient on the offensive end of the floor with balanced scoring and depth. Seven Gators are averaging at least seven points per game, led by Kenny Boynton. Donovan has to be thrilled with senior Erik Murphy, someone who is an absolute match-up nightmare for almost every opponent because of his length, versatility and ability to stretch defenses. When Murphy hangs out on the perimeter he can hit shots or open up gaps for his teammates to drive and score, or get to the line as Florida has done so well this year. His numbers don’t jump off the stat sheet at you but he’s such a valuable asset to this team. Murphy has had his share of off-court problems and here’s to hoping he’s learned from that and takes on a leadership role for his team as a senior. He’s off to a great start and it wouldn’t surprise anyone to see Florida in the top 10 all year long. Read the rest of this entry »
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A Spin Around The Pac-12

Posted by AMurawa on November 28th, 2012

Now that we’ve got games coming fast and furious, every team around the conference has a story to tell, and often we don’t have time to get to them all. So, in the interest of checking in semi-regularly with every team, we’re going to take a quick spin around the conference and check the temperature of each team, beginning with the spots that have gone the most terribly wrong and working backwards to the success stories.

UCLA – More or less a co-favorite heading into the season, the Bruins are likely the biggest story going in the Pac-12 right now – and not for anything good. Sunday night’s blown 18-point second-half lead en route to a loss to Cal Poly is one (terrible, horrible, atrocious) thing, but the fact that this team is doing this kind of thing with a the level of talent they’ve got is unforgivable. If Ben Howland is going to stick with more or less this personnel in his rotation (you know, the Wear twins, Larry Drew and a pair of wings), he’s gotta just break down and play a ton of zone. Really, this will do two good things: (1) minimize the effect of this team’s low level of overall athleticism, and (2) give them plenty of work on their zone offense in practice, something they desperately need. The other thing that absolutely has to happen for UCLA to even get within shouting distance of its potential ceiling is to find a way to get Kyle Anderson comfortable in this offense, and really that means putting the ball in his hands and letting him create, at least in the halfcourt. Drew has been excellent running the show and in no way should be scapegoated for UCLA’s struggles, but this team needs Anderson to be a factor and, while he’s shown his versatility, his defense has been bad, his shooting has been worse, and he hasn’t done enough elsewhere to make up for those serious drawbacks. There is still plenty of time for this team to turn things around, but UCLA fans have rightly run out of patience with Howland and are demanding immediate success. If this team doesn’t get drastically better, the big story come March will be whether UCLA’s legacy will be enough to pull either Shaka Smart or Brad Stevens away from their current jobs.

Kyle Anderson, UCLA

Ben Howland Needs To Find a Way To Get Kyle Anderson Comfortable, Or He’ll Be Looking For A New Job

Washington – The thinking at the start of the year was that maybe, minus a pair of talented but conflicted wings, the Huskies could be a textbook example of addition by subtraction. Minus Terrence Ross and especially Tony Wroten Jr., the remaining members of the team would know and accept their roles better. Well, somebody forgot to tell guys like Desmond Simmons, Jernard Jarreau and Martin Breunig that a big part of their roles would be to clean the defensive glass. While the Huskies have more or less won the battle of the boards against lesser teams, versus Ohio State and Colorado State they were dominated – in fact, against the Rams, the Huskies actually grabbed fewer defensive rebounds than CSU grabbed offensive boards. Sure, it sucks that Shawn Kemp Jr. went down with an injury just before the start of the year, but either Jarreau or Breuning needs to be ready to step in and do some of the dirty work, lest they be not asked back next season.

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Pac-12 M5: 11.05.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on November 5th, 2012

  1. Perhaps the most tantalizing events of the preseason practice schedules are the “secret scrimmages” that take place between teams, apparently under the cover of darkness. Fans and media aren’t allowed to attend, but sometimes you get some great matchups between significant teams with the caveat that no one is supposed to talk about these games. Jeff Goodman at CBS posted a list of some of the secret scrimmages that different teams have played, but perhaps the biggest bout came yesterday. Just prior to the time that UCLA was blowing the doors off of Arizona at the Rose Bowl in front of a near-capacity crowd, the Bruin basketball team was across town hosting UNLV in front of, well, really just the players, coaches and training staff. You’ll never see a box score for this game, but the story is that the Bruins pulled away from the Rebels in the second half of that scrimmage for an 18-point win. My prayer to the basketball gods at this point is for these teams to meet up for a rematch, right around the Sweet Sixteen somewhere. And, hey, it might be interesting if super-recruit Shabazz Muhammad is allowed to play in that one.
  2. Kyle Anderson was able to play in that exhibition game and he’s now ready to go for the rest of the year, where he is expected to team with Larry Drew II to man the point guard spot for UCLA. While Drew is the more traditional point, Anderson is very much the playmaker with all the offensive skills that any coach is looking for in a point. Still, at 6’9” and with some defensive limitations, Anderson will likely spend much of his time this season guarding either the opposing small forward, or whichever opposing wing is the least fleet of foot. Expect Anderson and Drew to spend a lot of time on the floor together, but when Drew goes to the pine, the Bruins could be just fine playing two other wings alongside Anderson – either Muhammad, Norman Powell, Jordan Adams or the presently injured Tyler Lamb.
  3. The exhibition game is basically a secret scrimmage than ain’t so secret and also ain’t so appealing, normally coming against teams from lower divisons. Utah knocked out its exhibition game on Friday night with a rout of Simon Fraser. Sure, the competition wasn’t much, but considering that the Utes lost to Adams State last year in an exhibition, this is definitely progress. Sophomore center Dallin Bachynski, who in the wake of the career-ending injury to David Foster will be counted on in a big way this season, led all scoring for UU, dropping in 16 and grabbing six boards on the way to a 71-36 final. Utah’s season opener is Friday night, and, frankly, the competition isn’t all that much greater then when they host Willamette University. The difference then will be that a win on Friday night will actually count on the record.
  4. There has been plenty said about Arizona’s gifted incoming freshmen, but what makes the Wildcats the preseason favorite in the conference is their combination of young talent and veteran leadership. The most obvious leader for Sean Miller’s club is senior forward Solomon Hill, who has been warning the youngsters against getting too caught up in the numerous social opportunities available to them in their new environment. Last year, highly touted point guard Josiah Turner saw his career in Tucson wash out in a haze of misaligned priorities and Hill wants to make sure his new group of teammates doesn’t run into a similar situation. The vet’s presence on the team should ease Miller’s mind, knowing that not only does he have a coach on the floor in Hill, but he’s also got a coach off the floor to help keep his players out of trouble.
  5. With expected starter Ricky Kreklow out for the start of the season with a foot injury, it looks like California coach Mike Montgomery will look to freshman guard Tyrone Wallace to play a big role early. While Wallace won’t step into Kreklow’s starting spot, he will be the first guard off the bench and the head man has plenty of confidence in him, saying that so far Wallace has been as good as advertised. While his best chance at a bright future may come manning the point, right now Wallace is earning time at all three perimeter positions and should be a fixture in Haas Pavilion for years to come.
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Pac-12 Weekly Five: 10.04.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on October 4th, 2012

  1. We’re still about a week out from the start of practices, but Utah already has to recalibrate its plans for the year, as 7’3” fifth-year senior David Foster reinjured the foot that kept him on the sidelines last year and will prepare to undergo another surgery on that foot next week. That surgery will not only keep him out of action this year, it effectively ends his career as a Ute. Foster, who goes down as the school’s all-time leader in blocked shots with 219, was never much of an offensive threat, but his size and shot-blocking ability made him a force on the defensive end. Minus the services of Foster, the Utes still boast plenty of size, but instead of 6’10” senior Jason Washburn starting out at the four opposite Foster, he’ll have to man the post, with 6’9” junior power forward Renan Lenz likely being bumped into the starting lineup. The Utes will still feature plenty of size, however, with 7’0” center Dallin Bachynski being the obvious choice to eat up many of the minutes vacated by Foster.
  2. While it has become common for schools to celebrate the beginning of basketball practice with a Midnight Madness event, Arizona’s got a little tradition of their own. The Red-Blue game, an intrasquad scrimmage and hardwood festival, this year will also commemorate the 25th anniversary of the 1987-88 Final Four team, with luminaries such as Lute Olson, Sean Elliott, Steve Kerr, Jud Buechler, Kenny Lofton, Tom Tolbert, Sean Rooks and Matt Muehlebach all expected back in Tucson for the event. Throw in the fact that it will be Wildcat fans’ first good look at newcomers like Mark Lyons, Kaleb Tarczewski, Grant Jerrett, Brandon Ashley and Gabe York on a team that could put all of the pieces together to make its own Final Four run, and Sunday, October 21 is a date to circle for UA fans.
  3. California head coach Mike Montgomery picked up his third commitment for the Bears’ 2013 recruiting class Tuesday. Ransom Everglades point guard Sam Singer chose the Bears over Harvard, NC State, Stanford, and USC, among others. Despite the fact that Singer might be behind California’s first two commits (Jordan Matthews and Jabari Bird) in scoring and athleticism, his passing ability and decision-making makes him a good candidate to see early minutes as a freshman. As Rob Dauster points out, the Miami native does have a solid three-point stroke, but with Brandon Smith playing his final season in Berkeley this year, there is no question Singer’s ability at the one spot will be much-needed. Now with three guards in the Class of 2013, Montgomery will likely turn to a big man to fill out the slate.
  4. It’s preview magazine time, which behind playing actual games is one of the best parts in the college basketball year. Percy Allen gives a quick breakdown of Athlon‘s thoughts on the Pac-12 in this post. Of note is their pick of Arizona to take the conference crown, which is all the sudden becoming the trendy pick instead of the all-star UCLA squad that Ben Howland has assembled. The Bruins are projected to finish second, just ahead of the two Bay Area schools to round out the upper third of the league.
  5. So, after five weeks of college football, Connor holds a three-game lead in our prognostication battle. Drew shaved a game off his deficit with a pair of solid picks in Washington and Arizona State, but Oregon State came through in the desert to prevent a huge disaster on Connor’s side. Picking the game of the week proved to be a quandary in week six. Washington-Oregon wins out, being a rivalry between two Top 25 teams, but oddly, every other game will likely be closer than that one. Make sure to tune in to tonight’s battle in Salt Lake City, as it is the only pick that we differ on. Here’s our picks for this week, with our game of the week pick in bold:
Game Connor’s Pick (32-11) Drew’s Pick (29-14)
USC at Utah Utah USC
Washington State at Oregon State Oregon State Oregon State
Arizona at Stanford Stanford Stanford
UCLA at California UCLA UCLA
Washington at Oregon Oregon 45-24 Oregon 53-27
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Utah Week: Ten Newcomers Breathe Life Into The Program

Posted by AMurawa on August 30th, 2012

As head coach Larry Krystkowiak begins to remake the Utah roster more to his liking, he welcomes in 10 new players next season, including three newly eligible Division I transfers, a couple of student-athletes returning from two-year LDS missions, four freshmen, and a junior college transfer. Coupled with three returning seniors, Utah will have a significantly more experienced team. Likewise, the talent level takes a big bump up from last year’s hastily assembled roster. Below, we’ll run down each of the newcomers in our guess as to the order of their importance to the 2012-13 squad.

Jordan Loveridge, Freshman, Combo Forward, 6’6” 225 lbs, West Jordan High School, West Jordan, Utah – The 2012 Player of the Year in Utah was a huge get for Krystkowiak, the first step in proving that the new head coach can protect his back yard. As a senior, Loveridge led the state in both scoring and rebounding, notching 18 double-doubles along the way. In the Utes’ summer trip to Brazil, he scored in double figures in three of the four games and averaged 13 points and eight rebounds per game in limited minutes during that stretch, prompting even further hope for UU fans that Loveridge will be a special player. Still, Loveridge is a guy most suited to play the four, and at 6’6” that could prove to be something of a problem in the Pac-12. He’s got long arms, a great basketball IQ and the ability to extend his game out beyond the three-point line, but he still needs to prove his effectiveness against Pac-12-caliber competition. Eventually if he polishes his perimeter handles, he could shift to the three spot full-time and turn into a match-up nightmare for opposing defenses.

Jarred DuBois, Utah

Jarred DuBois Leads A Trio Of Transfers That Will Remake The Ute Backcourt (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Jarred DuBois, Senior, Combo Guard, 6’3” 180 lbs, Loyola Marymount University – A graduate student transfer from LMU, DuBois is a playmaker. Unfortunately, there have been times in his career when the number of plays he makes for the opposition are greater than the number of plays he makes for his own team. Still, if he can tighten up his handle, take better care of the ball and – this might be the toughest of his assignments – shoot a decent percentage from the field, DuBois has the athleticism and toughness to be a major asset for the Utes. His best season at LMU was his sophomore campaign where he hit 59 threes at a 40% clip while handing out a couple assists per night and keeping his turnover rate low. If he can replicate that type of line, he’ll be an upgrade in the backcourt.

Aaron Dotson, Junior, Shooting Guard, 6’4” 204 lbs, Louisiana State University –Dotson, a native of Seattle, committed to LSU as a highly regarded member of the 2009 recruiting class, ranked #45 overall by ESPNU. In two years at LSU, Dotson earned 38 starts (out of 63 games), averaging 6.8 points per game in his sophomore year, by far his most effective season. He struggled mightily as a freshman, turning the ball over regularly and shooting just a 32.6% eFG. While his turnovers remained steady as a freshman, Dotson improved his shot as a sophomore, leading the Tigers with 37.5% from deep, but with his mother fighting breast cancer, Dotson decided it was time to head back across country and play closer to home. His size and athleticism coupled with a sweet stroke from three mean that there is plenty of upside here. If Dotson is able to harness his talents, he could be a revelation in the Pac-12.

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Utah: 2011-12 Post-Mortem

Posted by AMurawa on April 17th, 2012

What Went Wrong

Much of what went wrong in the Utah program that led to this season’s 6-25 debacle happened prior to new head coach Larry Krystkowiak’s first game on the sidelines at the Huntsman Center. Two years ago, following a disappointing and underachieving 14-17 season, five Utes, including the team’s two leading scorers, transferred out of Jim Boylen’s program. Then, following a 2010-11 season that took a step down from there with a 13-18 record that led to Boylen’s demise, six more players, including leading scorer and rebounder Will Clyburn, bolted from Salt Lake City. As a result, when the Krystkowiak era tipped off in November, there was a serious lack of talent in Ute basketball uniforms. Throw in the fact that 7’4” former Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year David Foster missed this season with a foot injury and Utah had to rely on just three returnees with any experience– point guard Josh Watkins, center Jason Washburn, and guard Chris Hines – along with six newcomers and a handful of walk-ons. Then Watkins, who was the team’s leading scorer and assist man, was dismissed prematurely in January. In short, this Ute team never really had a chance in its first year in the Pac-12. Even in a conference with a talent level near historic lows, the Utes just didn’t have the horses to hang with the bulk of the conference.

Jason Washburn, Utah

Jason Washburn Was A Lone Bright Spot On An Otherwise Miserable Ute Team (Associated Press)

What Went Right

There was a time, well into December, where it was questionable whether the Utes had a chance at earning so much as a single win against a Division I team. Then they strung together two straight home wins against Idaho State and Portland (admittedly, two really bad teams) before going on to win three conference games, including wins over Washington State and Stanford that go down as significantly improbable events. As absurd as it may seem, that 6-25 record is actually an overachievement for this team.

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Pac-12 Morning Five: 03.23.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on March 23rd, 2012

  1. After some speculation that Oregon head coach Dana Altman might be interested in returning to his Nebraska roots and taking the open Cornhusker position, it seems set in stone now that he will remain in Eugene. However, even after two seasons in which his teams have exceeded expectations, Duck fans may be beginning to get a little impatient. Already. Complaints include his inability to bring in big time recruits and, somewhat unbelievably, an inability to develop talent. Such is the culture of college basketball at this point that even coming into a program with cupboards completely barren, results are expected immediately and any disappointments are chalked up to some perceived failures with the head coach. To me, the fact that Altman had his team earn a postseason berth last year with that mishmash of a roster with nobody taller than 6’6” playing more than 50% of the team’s minutes was incredible and worthy of conference Coach of the Year consideration. And in fact this season, we gave him our Pac-12 COY for his work in the regular season. However, for some people, anything short of immediate deep runs into the NCAA Tournament is unacceptable. Of course, this seems like the same type of instant gratification mindset that led Altman’s top recruit Jabari Brown to leave the program after just two games.
  2. Across the conference at one of the newest Pac-12 schools, Colorado has no such disappointments with its head coach, Tad Boyle. After the team’s second consecutive 20-win season and an NCAA Tournament win, Boyle appears to have the Buffaloes on the fast track to success. In the first two parts of a series, The Ralphie Report pays respect to the seniors who have used up their eligibility, while looking ahead to the future of the program. Starting with a core of Andre Roberson, Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker, there are some good pieces returning for Colorado. Shane Harris-Tunks made big strides down the stretch this year after missing last season with a torn ACL. He’s still got two years of eligibility remaining and he could possibly turn into a very solid Pac-12 big man. Elsewhere, Sabatino Chen and Jeremy Adams return, while there is some talk that Shannon Sharpe and Ben Mills, two little-used players, could transfer out of the program. With a strong freshman class coming in (which will be the topic of part three of that series), fresh minutes for Mills and Sharpe could be hard to come by.
  3. At Arizona, there’s time to pay respect to senior guard Kyle Fogg as his eligibility in the desert has expired. A key player in the transition from the Lute Olson era to the Sean Miller era, Fogg goes down in the Arizona record books as an unlikely figure among other more widely recognized Wildcat greats. But now, going forward, this program is truly Sean Miller’s with all of the key components in Tucson as a result of the new head coach.
  4. As part of the Utah plan to rebuild its program from the depths of a 6-25 season, the team will be heading on an international trip in August, with either a tour of France and Italy or a trip to Brazil still in the planning stages. NCAA rules allow schools to make such a trip once every four years and with the Utes expecting to break in a heap of new players next season, including transfer from Southern Utah Dallin Bachynski (brother of ASU center Jordan Bachynski), returning LDS missionary Jeremy Olsen and three high school seniors, the trip will serve as a chance for the team and head coach Larry Krystkowiak to get in ten extra practices, as many as seven games and a bunch of time bonding as a team.
  5. Lastly, back on the hunt for clues as to Shabazz Muhammad’s mindset, the father of incoming UCLA recruit Kyle Anderson says that he expects Muhammad to pick UCLA, if only because his parent are from Los Angeles and they might want to get back there. The elder Anderson admits that he has no inside information and is just throwing out opinions, but even with the problems in the Bruin program lately, it still appears that UCLA has been the choice all along for Muhammad.
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