Pac-12 NCAA Tournament Regional Prospectus

Posted by RJ Abeytia on March 23rd, 2017

And then there were three. USC did the Pac-12 no shame in winning two games during the NCAA Tournament’s first weekend, but the Trojans were felled by the neon shine of Baylor on Sunday, leaving the Conference of Champions with three teams in the Sweet Sixteen (as most had predicted). Oregon, Arizona and UCLA begin their second weekend of NCAA Tournament work this evening, so it’s time to check in with each and focus on a  key issue to resolve if they are to rendezvous in Glendale.

Oregon Advanced to the Sweet Sixteen On a Tyler Dorsey Three (USA Today Images)

  • #3 Oregon:  #TeamTyler or #TeamDillon? Postseason play has brought this particular debate to the fore in ways many may have not anticipated. After Oregon’s semifinal win over Cal in the Pac-12 Tournament, Dana Altman pulled no punches in critiquing what had been an uneven performance from Pac-12 Player of the Year Dillon Brooks, going so far as to suggest that Brooks had taken the Ducks out of their offense. The senior is a fantastic player, but Oregon’s offense has at times sputtered on Brooks possessions, allowing for Tyler Dorsey to emerge as an effective alternative for the Ducks in crunch time. Consider: In postseason play, Brooks is shooting 42.0 percent whereas Dorsey is converting a red-hot 67.0 percent. Brooks has outshot his teammate at the foul line, but not by nearly enough to eclipse Dorsey’s phenomenal streak of productivity. It’s always good to have multiple closers on the same team, and this isn’t necessarily about a fatal choice for Altman in the endgame. The big issue is that Dorsey is playing within the flow of the offense and outproducing Brooks at the same time. To win two more games this weekend, Oregon may have to either re-incorporate Brooks into the natural ebb and flow of its offense or elevate Dorsey to a more featured status.

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Oregon 93, #14 Iona 77

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2017

Oregon entered today’s game with the big question on everyone’s mind — how will the Ducks fare without Chris Boucher? At least through the First Round of the NCAA Tournament, that question has been answered.

Oregon Used a Fast Start to Dominate Iona and Move to the Second Round (USA Today Images)

Key Takeaways.

  1. Oregon Got Whatever Oregon Wanted. Iona and its defense rated in the mid-200s nationally wasn’t expected to cause much of a problem for an Oregon offense that has no problem scoring, and it was easy to see from the opening tip that the Ducks were going to get whatever they wanted. Oregon made an early point to get the ball inside to Jordan Bell and the junior center delivered, with 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting from the field. At the completion of the first half, the Ducks were hitting 75 percent of their two-point attempts, illustrating just how paper-thin the Gaels’ defense inside the arc was. Although the Ducks tend to feast on the inside-out game offensively, they will certainly see more pushback from their opponent in the next round.
  2. What About Boucher? With Boucher out of the lineup, has been able to settle into his natural position at the four. His first game last weekend in the full-time role resulted in a solid 33-minute, 25-point performance against Arizona. Today was another 30+ minute outing, but after a quick start, Brooks seemed more content letting his teammates contribute. He still ended the game with 18 points on 6-of-11 shooting. The more concerning area, of course, involves the loss of Boucher is on the defensive end. Brooks was often matched up with the bigger and bulkier Jordan Washington (along with Jordan Bell) inside, who easily overpowered the pair for a 22/11 double-double. The loss of the rim-protection that Boucher offered is definitely something to watch going forward.
  3. Iona Has Had Better Showings. This was Tim Cluess’ fourth trip to the NCAA Tournament in seven years at the helm, but these Gaels probably represented his weakest group to go dancing. Aside from Washington inside and Sam Cassell, Jr. (16 points) on the perimeter, the Gaels were overmatched by the speed, talent and athleticism of Oregon. Other than a brief period in the mid-second half when it appeared that the Ducks became complacent, they were never really tested today. Cluess’ teams have never been great defensive squads, but with only two legitimate scoring options on the floor today, it ultimately meant the Gaels were always playing catch-up against the refined group of offensive talents that Dana Altman has at his disposal.

Star of the Game. Tyler Dorsey, Oregon. Speaking of getting whatever you want, Dorsey used his versatile offensive game to torch Iona for 24 points on 9-of-13 shooting, including a pair of threes and five rebounds. The sophomore’s fourth 20+ point game in a row, it’s clear that Altman believes that his time is now.

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Pac-12 Tournament Prospectus

Posted by RJ Abeytia on March 15th, 2017

The Pac-12 ended up with fewer seeds in the NCAA Tournament than the ACC, Big 12, SEC, and Big 10.  Of course, it was always quality (Arizona, Oregon, UCLA) and not quantity for the Conference of Champions this season. Outside of the ACC, no conference has three teams being hailed as legitimate Final Four threats.  The questions this time of year focus on where you’re trending and your presumptive path. By the time you get to a National Semifinal you are certainly going to be playing a great team, or at the very least a team playing like one. Those games match up as coin tosses in most cases, so let’s focus on which of the four Pac-12 teams who qualified has the best shot of reaching Glendale.

Do Allonzo Trier and Arizona own the Pac-12’s best chances of reaching the National Semifinals? (Photo: USA Today Sports)

USC

  • Trending Up:  Jordan McLaughlin is averaging nearly 17 points a game over his last four and has a stellar A/TO rate of 31/6 over those four games. Guard play takes center stage in the NCAA Tournament, and if the Trojans are to make more than a cameo in the round of 68, they’ll need McLaughlin to keep playing at a high level this week.
  • Trending Down:  Since posting a stellar 156 ORtg against Washington State in March 1, Bennie Boatwright has slumped to games with offensive efficiency ratings of 88, 102, and 83 amidst an 8-28 field goal shooting stretch.  USC is not a great offensive team and they struggle in the halfcourt; without Boatwright at max efficiency working to stretch defenses and convert in the paint, USC isn’t long for this week.
  • Final Four:  The Trojans were on a three-game winning streak before UCLA dispatched them in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 Tournament. USC didn’t make it easy for the Bruins, however, and in the last four games found an offensive groove, posting efficiency ratings well over national average in its three wins. The loss to UCLA showed they could hang with an elite team despite subpar performances from Boatwright, Chimezie Metu, and De’Anthony Melton. Coming off a loss, it’d be wrong to say the Trojans are streaking, but they are playing good ball.

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Rushed Reactions: Arizona 83, Oregon 80

Posted by RJ Abeytia on March 12th, 2017

Arizona left no doubt that it is the most complete Pac-12 team this season. The Wildcats beat UCLA and Oregon on back-to-back nights, and they did it with star big man Lauri Markannen taking only four shots and scoring only 11 points. Oregon may have the most experience and UCLA may have the biggest upside, but Arizona can win at multiple paces and in multiple ways.

Arizona Ran Through Oregon to Claim the Pac-12 Tournament Title (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. The game has changed. Arizona came into tonight’s game with a firm commitment to drive Oregon off the three-point line, even if that meant giving up layups as a result. The Ducks were credited with 30 layup attempts, converting only half of them. However, Oregon — a team that gets nearly 40 percent of its points from the three-point line — only notched 19 percent of their points from distance tonight. Oregon adjusted in the second half by driving to the bucket relentlessly and getting fouls. Foul trouble was the monkey wrench that hurt Arizona in the second half, but Sean Miller confirmed that taking away the three was the priority. It’s counterintuitive relative to the long-established philosophy of defending from the inside out, and it reflects just how much the style of the game and the three-point line have revolutionized not just the way teams attack but also the way they defend.
  2. Track Dillon Brooks’ usage in the NCAA Tournament. Dana Altman and Tyler Dorsey were not excited last night about the stagnation that resulted largely because of Brooks’ ball dominance. Tonight Brooks scored 17 of Oregon’s 29 points in the first half and took 12 of their 29 shots. Oregon’s offensive efficiency that half was 85.3. In the second half, foul trouble opened the door for Tyler Dorsey, who took over the lead role and logged a very efficient 21 points on only 10 shots. Oregon’s offensive efficiency in the second half was 141.7. The Ducks are at their most dangerous when they have everybody engaged (most teams are), but with a player as exceptional as Brooks it can be difficult to find that balance. There is not clear evidence of any kind of a rift between Brooks and his team, but the Ducks’ last two games illustrated that making Oregon one-dimensional is a big step towards beating them, even if that one dimension is a player as good as Brooks.
  3. Chris Boucher was missed.  Altman admitted that it was tough to account for the absence of the Ducks’ senior shot-blocker and three-point threat extraordinaire. Make no mistake: Boucher was missed on both ends of the court tonight. His reputation is built on rim protection but his ability to stretch defenses and create mismatches is something Altman must resolve by the time Oregon starts NCAA Tournament play.

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The Achilles’ Heels of Arizona, Oregon and UCLA

Posted by Richard Abeytia on February 18th, 2017

The Pac-12’s Big Three of Arizona, Oregon and UCLA (in no particular order) have spent most of the regular season displaying their numerous virtues, but for these three programs their ultimate referendum is going to be performance in the NCAA Tournament. The trio certainly won’t be the only Pac-12 schools to qualify for the Big Dance this season, but they will be expected to carry the banner for the Conference of Champions deep into March (last men’s basketball championship: Arizona, 1997). So what to make of the Wildcats, Ducks and Bruins as we approach three weeks until Selection Sunday? Their talent is unquestioned, but each team carries at least one potentially tragic flaw that must be reconciled if it has plans on booking a trip to the Final Four.

Arizona: Inexperience

Lauri Markkanen is a potentially game-changing talent, but will his inexperience catch up to him in the Big Dance? (Getty)

No team epitomizes the conference’s youthful resurgence like Arizona. In Pac-12 play, freshmen Lauri Markkanen, Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons represent nearly half of Arizona’s field goal attempts and scoring. That hasn’t mattered until recently, but a reckoning more commonly known as “The Freshman Wall” is imminent. Rare is the first-year collegian who can completely sidestep a prolonged dip in performance. Markannen recently went through a two-week stretch of poor performances, punctuated by four-point, three-rebound stinker at Oregon. Simmons has also struggled with inconsistency in league play. His masterpiece against UCLA was the precursor to an ineffective 2-of-7 game against Utah. Another inconsistent swing through Oregon cost Simmons his starting job, and his 19 minutes against Stanford represented a season low. He bounced back somewhat against California with 13 points and three assists, but he doesn’t seem quite as comfortable as he once did. Alkins also struggled against the Oregon schools, but he played well in recent games against Stanford and Washington State. Teams have certainly won NCAA titles led by talented youth, but it’s also not hard to imagine a team like Arizona cracking against a veteran-laden athletic group like Villanova. Arizona has plenty of time to find greater consistency among its freshman corps, but like the rest of us, Sean Miller is probably still wondering what are his young Wildcats made of?

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Oregon’s Tyler Dorsey Appears Poised to Break Out… Again

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 5th, 2017

Last night in Washington, a 6’4” combo guard showed off a dizzying array of skills, set Twitter ablaze and almost certainly turned the heads of the numerous NBA scouts watching on ESPN2. In other news, the Huskies’ Markelle Fultz scored 22 points on 16 shots. Oregon sophomore Tyler Dorsey had, in the words of his coach Dana Altman, “one of those games,” unleashing a scoring flurry as good as any you will see in college basketball this season. With Dillon Brooks straddled with foul trouble in the second half and Washington threatening to hang around, Dorsey hit a three-pointer off a pass from Brooks and didn’t stop shooting until the game was over. When he was finished, he had made six consecutive buckets (five from downtown) in scoring 17 points in fewer than 12 minutes. His eight made three-pointers were three more than his career-high and his 28 points represented a career-high against a Power 5 opponent. But it wasn’t just the sheer number of three-pointers that made Dorsey’s performance so impressive last night, it was the variety in which he got those points that was notable.

Tyler Dorsey Put On A Show Last Night, But Can He Keep It Up?(Samuel Marshall/Daily Emerald)

Tyler Dorsey Put On A Show Last Night, But Can He Keep It Up? (Samuel Marshall/Daily Emerald)

Dorsey wasn’t just camping on the perimeter waiting for a kick-out pass. He was swishing shots in transition, pulling up effortlessly off the dribble and putting on a catch-and-shoot clinic. No stranger to 20-point games during his collegiate career, Dorsey looked as confident as ever in his touch last night. You’d be hard-pressed to find one of his second-half shots that even hit the rim. The question now becomes whether his performance against a lackluster Washington defense is a sign of things to come for the Los Angeles native, or just another tantalizing tease of his vast offensive potential. Remember that this was supposed to be a breakout season for the sophomore, the kind of emergence capable of making an already elite Ducks’ offense completely unstoppable. Oregon is still waiting for that breakout.

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Oregon Has Bigger Issues Than Dillon Brooks’ Health

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 17th, 2016

Dillon Brooks isn’t walking through that door, Oregon!

Well.. actually, he is. So if you came here looking for analysis full of hand-wringing and questions about what is wrong with Oregon after its beatdown by the hands of Baylor earlier this week, look elsewhere. There is no shame in losing a road game in Waco without your best player and against a team that should never have been considered “unranked” anyway.

That said, it felt like the storyline coming out Oregon’s loss was that the Ducks really miss Brooks, which sounds somewhat like a cop out even if it’s also undoubtedly true. To say that Oregon lost to Baylor because Brooks didn’t play would be glossing over just how inept the rest of Dana Altman’s team looked Tuesday night. As the head coach put it on Wednesday, telling reporters “that’s really easy to let the guys off the hook that way. This team is a lot better, even without him, than what it showed yesterday, and that’s what disappoints me.”

Dillon Brooks (USA Today Images)

The Return of Dillon Brooks Cannot Come Soon Enough for Oregon (USA Today Images)

There is no point in running through the numbers because it is just easier to say that Oregon played its worst offensive game since 2013 and 0.82 points per possession won’t even beat Dartmouth, much less Baylor. To his credit, Altman was the first to admit how poorly his team played Tuesday, but the outcome of the game isn’t the problem inasmuch as some of the holes that Baylor exposed in the process.

The most glaring issue is the team’s obvious lack of depth without Brooks in the lineup. Only seven players received more than 10 minutes of court time and it is obvious that potential rotation pieces Kavell Bigby-Williams and Keith Smith are not yet ready. Without Brooks, this leaves the Ducks undersized and inflexible defensively and forces Altman to heavily rely on freshman guard Payton Pritchard and seldom-used big man Roman Sorkin. Both are useful players but the Ducks are likely better off with them serving as complementary pieces rather than core rotation guys.

It is also somewhat disappointing that Chris Boucher hasn’t yet taken the leap, although It is also worth remembering that he has only been playing organized basketball since 2012. Through two games, Boucher has looked a lot like the same player he was last season, which isn’t a bad thing when you consider his offensive efficiency and shot-blocking ability. But he was also maddeningly inconsistent last season, a player who still disappears offensively at times, doesn’t pass, struggles with foul trouble and doesn’t rebound nearly as well as he should. Against teams like Army, he can go for 14 points and eight rebounds without breaking a sweat; but for Oregon to ultimately win a National Championship, Boucher needs to do better than two rebounds (zero offensive) against quality opponents.

The point guard job is less about whether a hole needs plugging and more about which plug fits that hole best. Pritchard and returning starter Casey Benson have split minutes as the primary ball-handler through two games and most teams in the Pac-12 would kill for a duo like that. But it will be interesting to see how that time-sharing arrangement progresses because each player brings a distinctly different skill set to the table. Benson hasn’t done anything this season to lose his starting spot, but Pritchard is the more talented (and turnover-prone) offensive player. Once Brooks returns, either Benson or Dylan Ennis will be headed to the bench, only making things more interesting as Ennis can play point guard as well. The sample size is admittedly small, but the most logical solution for Altman is to use Benson as the steady hand and let the better shooters, Ennis and Pritchard, provide scoring punch off the ball.

Oregon has no time to lick its wounds as undefeated Valparaiso comes to Eugene tonight. The Crusaders are better than your average mid-major but this is still a chance for the Ducks, even without the services of Brooks for another night, to flex their muscles and prove they are a capable team regardless.

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Pac-12 Player of the Year Debate: Dillon Brooks vs. Ivan Rabb

Posted by Mike Lemaire & Adam Butler on November 11th, 2016

It isn’t often that you see a reigning conference Player of the Year return to school and not be considered the favorite to win it again. But such is life when you play in the same conference as a talent like California’s Ivan Rabb. Oregon’s Dillon Brooks is still the likely favorite to win the award again, but Rabb is almost universally considered the better NBA prospect. To make matters even more complicated, Brooks is returning from a foot injury. While Oregon doesn’t seem overly concerned that its star junior will miss a significant amount of time, it remains unclear when he will be back so speculation will continue. I believe Brooks will be back sooner rather than later and he will quickly return to his spot atop the conference food chain. Adam likes Brooks too — he just likes Rabb better. Let’s make the case for both.

The Case for Dillon Brooks

What Does Dillon Brooks Have In Store For An Encore Performance? (USA Today Images)

What Does Dillon Brooks Have In Store For An Encore Performance? (USA TODAY Images)

It would be easy to just state plainly that Brooks is the reigning Pac-12 Player of the Year and thus should be the front-runner until proven otherwise. But it would be equally foolish to underestimate the development of a player as talented as Rabb, so let’s make the case for Brooks more thoroughly. The Toronto native is not the most efficient scorer, especially from downtown; he isn’t the best passer; he isn’t the perfect defender; and, he can disappear on the glass. But there isn’t any other player in the conference, Rabb included, who can claim to be above-average at all of those categories. Assuming he is healthy (and for now, at least, that is a big assumption), Brooks has a chance to rank among the top 10 in the Pac in scoring, assists, rebounding and steals. He has NBA size and athleticism, and if he can cut down on his turnovers and improve his shot selection, he could become a ruthlessly efficient and unstoppable offensive player. Rabb is without question a future lottery pick and almost certainly has the brighter NBA future, but he will never be able to stuff a stat sheet as completely as Brooks. He is the best player on the best team in the conference and his ability to create his own shot and guard multiple positions is the engine that powers Oregon. He should be able to improve on his numbers from last season and lead the Ducks to the conference crown. If he in fact does both, there will be nothing Rabb can do to stop the Brooks’ coronation ceremony. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Coach of the Year Debate: Dana Altman vs. Sean Miller

Posted by Mike Lemaire & Adam Butler on November 9th, 2016

There is no clear-cut favorite in this season’s race for Pac-12 Coach of the Year. Most pundits are picking Oregon‘s Dana Altman but it feels like he is winning by default. Altman has something working against him, though, which is that expectations are already sky high in Eugene. If Oregon wins the conference it may be because they were expected to win the conference, and if the Ducks underachieve, Altman will quickly fall out of the race. I still think that Altman is the right pick and the correct pick. Adam and his eternal soft spot for Sean Miller respectfully disagrees. Here’s the case for each.

The Case for Sean Miller

Sean Miller Has His Work Cut Out For Him This Season (USA Today Images)

Sean Miller Has His Work Cut Out For Him This Season (USA Today Images)

As of today we must acknowledge that we don’t know that status of Allonzo Trier. He’s pretty good at basketball and critical to Arizona‘s success this season. That said, if he misses extended time and the Wildcats still finish among the top three teams in this conference, it should only further cement Miller’s claim on Pac-12 Coach of the Year. Beyond the fact that the conference set a precedent of rewarding overachievers (all of the 2015 awards), Miller is poised to navigate a Pac-12 season with a group of talented players all of whom are in brand new experiences. Considering Altman returns 68 percent of the minutes played by his rotation last season and UCLA’s Steve Alford is only moving players into more natural positions, Miller will almost certainly have a larger impact on his team’s success that some of his counterparts. And in making this candidacy, I don’t want to paint the Wildcats as underdogs. They’re not. They’re ranked 10th nationally and even in the absence of Trier (and now, Ray Smith) they still rate as a top-30 team according to Sports Illustrated‘s What-If scenarios. Even with just eight scholarship players, none of whom has significant experience in their role, expectations are always lofty in Tucson. But Arizona only plays Oregon once (in Eugene) and has a schedule that is favorable so that this inexperienced, albeit loosely veteran, roster can have time to develop. Miller teams trend well late in the season and this is a group that likely won’t buck that trend.

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Pac-12 Burning Questions: How Quickly Can Dillon Brooks Get Healthy?

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 19th, 2016

It seems unfair to say that Oregon’s chances at competing for a National Title depend solely on the long-term health of Dillon Brooks, especially considering the sheer amount of talent and depth Dana Altman has stockpiled in Eugene. But then again, Brooks is no ordinary role player either. The Toronto, Ontario, native emerged as one of the best two-way players in the Pac-12 last season, averaging 16.7 points per game (47.0% FG) to go with 5.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game. He started in all 38 of the Ducks’ games and was the linchpin to Altman’s successful attempt at a nearly position-less rotation. He played as the team’s nominal power forward, but his NBA size and athleticism allowed him to easily guard multiple positions and a match-up nightmare on the other end of the floor. Although he laid a seven-point egg in the Elite Eight against Oklahoma, his performances in the Round of 32 against St. Joseph’s and in the Sweet Sixteen against Duke positioned him as a leading candidate for Pac-12 Preseason Player of the Year this season.

How will Oregon adapt without Brooks? (Photo Credit: Craig Strobeck)

How will Oregon adapt without Brooks? (Photo Credit: Craig Strobeck)

When Brooks withdrew his name from the NBA Draft in late May, it instantly made the Ducks a trendy 2017 title contender. That outlook, however, changed considerably when Altman casually mentioned in a summer conference call that Brooks had been held out of workouts because of a “problem with his foot.” Brooks had foot surgery two weeks later, and it became increasingly clear by August that he was going to miss part of the regular season. That shouldn’t be a major issue, though, as the Ducks are one of the few teams in the country with sufficient talent and depth to replace a player of Brooks’ caliber. If Altman wants to play small, he can feel confident in the trio of Casey Benson, Dylan Ennis, and Tyler Dorsey. If he prefers a larger lineup, versatile big men Chris Boucher, Jordan Bell, and JuCo transfer Kavell Williams-Bigby lead one of the country’s best stables of post players. If the team’s recent exhibition games in Spain were any indication, Altman plans to mix and match until he finds a rotation he is comfortable with, a luxury most coaches in the conference surely envy. But that depth won’t change the fact that Oregon will still be missing its best player on both ends of the floor.

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