Pac-12 Post-Mortems: Oregon

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 21st, 2014

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll go through each Pac-12 team one by one and recount the season that has just completed and begin to turn the page to what we might see next season. Today, Oregon.

What Went Right

Bringing in offense-first transfers like Joseph Young, Jason Calliste and Mike Moser, it became clear that this was going to have to be a team that outdid opponents with relentless offense before the Ducks even played a game. And, for the most part, Dana Altman’s squad did just that. With little in the way of an offensive post player and few on the roster interested in hard-nosed defense, this became a team that wanted to get up and down the floor, find early looks for any number of shooters, get to the line on a regular basis, and score, score, score. When it worked, which it did often, the result was an entertaining, if at times frustrating, display of basketball.

Joseph Young Led The Way For The Offensive-Minded Ducks (AP Photo)

Joseph Young Led The Way For The Offensive-Minded Ducks (AP Photo)

What Went Wrong

As good as this team was offensively, the Ducks were pretty bad defensively. In 21 of 34 games, the Ducks allowed their opponent to score better than a point per possession and Oregon went just 11-10 in those games. Only five times all year did it hold a top-100 KenPom team under a point per possession. Part of this was a result of the make-up of the roster – undersized players and offense-first (if not –only) mindsets – but part of it also had to do with circumstance. Sophomores Dominic Artis and Ben Carter were suspended for the first nine games of the season for receiving improper benefits, and those two guys, particularly Artis, may have been among the team’s three best defensive players. In the end, while the Ducks poured in a superb 1.18 points per possession against a good Wisconsin defense in the NCAA Tournament, their own lack of defense was their downfall, as they allowed the Badgers to score 1.31 points per possession to win the game. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Wisconsin 85, #7 Oregon 77

Posted by Walker Carey on March 22nd, 2014

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion@RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

The Wisconsin Home Crowd Carried the Badgers Through to Victory

The Wisconsin Home Crowd Carried the Badgers Through to Victory

  1. Wisconsin’s second half comeback was monumental. An Oregon offensive flurry had the Ducks leading 49-37 at halftime, but Wisconsin responded with its own flurry to begin the second half. The Badgers went on a 22-9 run to begin the second stanza to take a 59-58 lead at the 13:26 mark. The two teams battled back-and-forth for the rest of the game until a three-pointer from Wisconsin guard Ben Brust gave the Badgers a 77-75 lead with 1:07 to play. That was a lead they would not relinquish. There were many reasons why Wisconsin was able to charge back in the second half, but none was more important than its increased intensity on both ends of the court. After allowing Oregon to shoot 55.6 percent from the field in the first half, the Badgers tightened the screws on their defense and only allowed the Ducks to make 9-of-22 field goals in the second half. The increased intensity on the offensive end of the court was highlighted by its 11 second half offensive rebounds and seven second half three-pointers.
  2. This was essentially a home game for the Badgers and that environment played a role in the team’s comeback. The Bradley Center in Milwaukee is only 75 miles from Wisconsin’s campus in Madison, and that resulted in the Badgers being extremely well-represented at the arena. For the game with Oregon, a reasonable estimation would be that the crowd was 99-to-1 in favor of Wisconsin. The crowd was raucous at the start of the game, but you could sense a nervous energy when Oregon took a 12-point lead into the half. With Wisconsin’s scorching start to the second stanza, however, the crowd once again regained its mojo and made the Bradley Center a hostile environment for the remainder of the game. If you did not know better, the environment would have made you believe that the game was being played in Wisconsin’s home arena. When the victory was in hand in the final seconds, Wisconsin forward Sam Dekker made a point to salute the crowd in a pretty grand fashion.
  3. Wisconsin’s inconsistent defense is going to be an issue in Anaheim. During the Bo Ryan era at Wisconsin, defense has been this team’s calling card. This season’s more offensive-minded personnel has resulted in a shift in mantra. Consequently, Wisconsin’s defense has been a bit all over the place this season. For example, the Badgers held American to just 35 total points and 29.7 percent shooting in Thursday’s round of 64 victory. And while Oregon is a much more talented team, it not arguable that Wisconsin’s defense played with far less intensity in the first half Saturday. Oregon took advantage of a plethora of open looks to put up 49 first half points on a sizzling 55.6 percent shooting. The Badgers made some adjustments in the second half and had far more success containing the high-powered Oregon offense. If Wisconsin is not able to string together more consistent defensive efforts this coming week at the West Regional, the Badgers’ stay in Anaheim could only last a single night.

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Rushed Reactions: #7 Oregon 87, #10 BYU 68

Posted by Walker Carey on March 20th, 2014

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion, @RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

All game long, Elgin Cook and Oregon were one step ahead. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

All game long, Elgin Cook and Oregon were one step ahead. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Oregon’s reserves played an important role. Dana Altman has used his bench very effectively all season and that continued against BYU. Redshirt sophomore forward Elgin Cook, a Milwaukee native, turned in a career-best performance at the Bradley Center. Cook finished the afternoon with 23 points and eight rebounds in just 23 minutes. The Ducks also received a boost off the bench from senior guard Jason Calliste. Calliste entered the afternoon as the team’s most consistent bench player, averaging 12.4 points per game in limited minutes, and that did not change against BYU. Calliste finished with 14 points and four assists in 26 minutes. The senior also displayed his free throw shooting prowess, as he was 11-of-12 from the charity stripe. To advance in March, you normally need good play from your bench to win. Cook and Calliste provided that against BYU and that is a major reason why the Ducks advanced to the round of 32.
  2. Oregon actually performed well on the defensive end of the court. Oregon’s defense was a concern all season, but it actually equated itself quite well in Thursday’s victory. Part of the reason why the Ducks were able to build a first half lead that was never relinquished was because BYU shot just 28.1 percent from the field over the first 20 minutes. The Cougars ended the afternoon at just 32.8 percent from the field, as the Oregon defense made it difficult for them to establish any sort of offensive rhythm. BYU guard Matt Carlino had a forgettable afternoon. He struggled all game to finish just 4-of-16 from the field. BYU leading scorer Tyler Haws also had difficulties getting on track and finished just 7-of-18 from the field. While it would be inappropriate to say the Oregon defense is “fixed” after just one game, the Ducks’ effort on that side of the court Thursday afternoon certainly gives the team something to build upon as the Tournament continues. Read the rest of this entry »
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Pac-12 M5: 03.17.14 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on March 17th, 2014

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  1. Junior guard Joseph Young leads his Oregon team with 18.6 PPG, but his style of play in no way represents a dominating ball hog. The Houston transfer’s efficiency isn’t based on over-dribbling, but rather a quick-release jumper and the ability to come off screens as well as anyone else in the conference. He can also force his way into the lane and convert at the rim with ease, which keeps his averages up when he’s cold from outside. Young could very well declare for this June’s NBA draft, as he’s got all the necessary tools to go late in the first round or early in the second. That may ultimately depend on if he can improve his stock even more with an NCAA Tournament run over the next couple weeks. He’s come up clutch in big games throughout his first season in Eugene, scoring 25 points in an overtime win against BYU, and 26 in double overtime to hold off UCLA in Westwood. Tournament run or not, this has been a terrific and rare season for Young, and head coach Dana Altman‘s biggest recruiting job this spring could be trying to convince Young to return for a senior campaign.
  2. After a somewhat boring opening three rounds at the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas, guard Jordan Adams shot UCLA to the league’s automatic bid in a thrilling 75-71 victory against top-seeded Arizona. Adams had 19 points on Saturday afternoon at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, including a three-pointer with 45 seconds left to break a 68-68 tie. While ugly at times in the final few minutes, the game was fast-paced and heart-pounding, and everything about it screamed March. The Bruins finished the regular season at 26-8 with the upset, while the Wildcats dropped to 30-4.
  3. Calling to replace Oregon State coach Craig Robinson? Great, you must not be the guy in charge of doing it. At least that’s what John Canzano says, citing the fact that the Beavers can’t afford to fire their coach, and even if they could, no one worth replacing Robinson would want the job. The fact of the matter is, in some ways, you can’t afford not to let him go. Recruiting is down, and will continue to decline as prospects see a quarter-filled Gill Coliseum night in and night out. That translates into even less wins, and more empty seats. It’s a vicious cycle.
  4. Washington may not have a game scheduled yet for next season, but the 2015-16 campaign does have one. The Huskies and Texas will meet on November 14, 2015 in Shanghai, a day after the regular season begins back home in the United States. The game is part of the conference’s Globalization Initiative, which began in 2011, and will actually be the project’s first regular season basketball game.
  5. Yesterday, of course, was Selection Sunday, and six teams from the Pac-12 were chosen for the NCAA Tournament. Arizona led the conference as a #1 seed, and Pac-12 Tourney champion UCLA was placed on the four line. Oregon and Colorado followed as #7 and #8 seeds, respectively, and the conference’s representation was rounded out by Arizona State and Stanford on the #10 line.
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Pac-12 Senior Days: Oregon and Transfer U

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on March 11th, 2014

Oregon locked up a bid to the NCAA Tournament on Saturday in its upset win over Arizona, and six Seniors played their final game at Matthew Knight Arena in the process. We break them down below:

It's Been An Up And Down Season For Senior Mike Moser, But The Forward Has Averaged 17.7 PPG Over His Last Seven Games To Propel The Ducks Onto The Right Side Of The Bubble. (credit: Michael Shaw)

It’s Been An Up And Down Season For Senior Mike Moser, But The Forward Has Averaged 17.7 PPG Over His Last Seven Games To Propel The Ducks Onto The Right Side Of The Bubble. (Michael Shaw/AP)

Hopes were high when Mike Moser announced his intentions to transfer from UNLV to Oregon last summer, and expectations immediately rose for the Ducks. There were talks before of a top-four finish to follow up their Sweet Sixteen appearance, but with the addition of Moser, competing with Arizona for a conference championship seemed achievable. And for the first two months of the season, things were great. The forward dropped 15 points in the first game of the season against Georgetown, and added another 24 in a huge road win in overtime at Mississippi. The Ducks were riding high, but the losses began to accumulate rapidly as Moser’s production waned. He hit a nasty shooting slump and lost all confidence while Oregon dropped six of seven games in the month of January, but as he slowly began to get his stroke back, Dana Altman‘s team finally started to pull out the close games that they had been losing before. They are now a lock for the NCAA Tournament, and it’s no coincidence that Moser has averaged 16.8 PPG since February 8, a stretch where his team has gone 7-1.

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Pac-12 M5: 03.05.14 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on March 5th, 2014

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  1. Joe Lunardi’s latest Bracketology report is out, and he has Arizona as the top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. UCLA follows as a #7 seed, while Arizona State is also safely in the field on the #8 line. The Pac-12 dominates the #10 line, with Stanford, Colorado and California all appearing there. The Golden Bears are on Lunardi’s “Last Four Byes” list, and Oregon is listed as one of the last four in the field. John Templon’s NIT projections were also released earlier in the week, and Utah headlines the conference as a #2 seed there. Washington and Oregon State are also in the field as #4 and #6 seeds, respectively.
  2. Both major Top 25 polls were released shortly after we released the M5 on Monday morning. Arizona appears at #3 in both the AP and Coaches’ rankings, and that’s it for the Pac-12 in the Top 25 proper. UCLA did manage enough votes to place 27th and 28th in each poll, and Arizona State follows at #37 in the AP. The only other team to receive votes was Colorado, who came in two spots behind the Sun Devils.
  3. The Sun Devils traveled to Eugene to meet Oregon last night in the first Tuesday conference game in recent memory. Most of the country missed the majority of the first half thanks to that insane Marquette-Providence game going to double-overtime, and so Oregon’s 15-0 binge to open the festivities went unnoticed. And while it was impossible to keep up that kind of pace, the Ducks never trailed Arizona State, cruising to a 85-78 win that is enormous for their NCAA Tournament hopes. Next up is a visit from #3 Arizona, and Dana Altman‘s team needs either a win in that one or on Wednesday in the Pac-12 Tournament to lock up an at-large bid. Jahii Carson actually led all scorers with a 28-point performance, while Mike Moser paced the Ducks with 22. Because of the long gap between games in the state of Oregon, the Devils caught a flight back to Tempe and will return later in the week.
  4. There were 9,125 Ducks fans in attendance last night at Matthew Knight Arena, one of Oregon’s biggest home crowds of the season. You can thank Altman for that, as the fourth-year head coach toured campus on Monday and pleaded with students to turn out for the game. After hearing that ticket sales were low, he met with many students in person, adding a personal touch that was clearly much appreciated.
  5. For a comprehensive preview of the rest of the week’s action, check out this piece from Adam Butler. Butler notes that because of NCAA and Pac-12 Tournament seeding implications, nearly every game this week is must-see television, save maybe USC-Washington State. The meeting between the Ducks and Wildcats on Saturday is the game of the week in my opinion, as Arizona can lock up a #1 seed with a victory. Oregon’s got the most to prove, however, and it took a big step towards an at-large bid last night by knocking off Arizona State.
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Pac-12 M5: 02.26.14 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on February 26th, 2014

pac12_morning5

  1. It’s been another rough season on the Palouse for Washington State and head coach Ken Bone. Last year, Bone’s job was saved after a disappointing season in part because of a large buyout. But this time around, expectations are that athletic director Bill Moos is going to have to move on from Bone and bring in a new head coach. The question is, who? Vince Grippi of The Spokesman-Review suggests a plan is already in place, but it remains to be seen if it will be a retread coach (Ben Howland makes a lot of sense in a lot of ways), an assistant from some big-time job earning his first head spot, or a mid-major guy taking a big step up.
  2. Oregon is still very much alive in terms of their chances to earn their way back onto the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble. But, according to Steve Mims of the Eugene Register-Guard, various people from around the conference peg the Ducks as a strong candidate to repeat as the Pac-12 Tournament champions and earn the conference’s automatic bid. Both Ernie Kent –an analyst with the Pac-12 Networks – and Mike Montgomery note that Oregon’s ability to get hot and score in bunches could be a major advantage when it comes to having to win four games in four days.
  3. While nothing is official yet, it appears that sophomore guard Damyean Dotson will play for Oregon on Thursday night when the Ducks travel to UCLA. Dotson, who missed Sunday’s game against Washington State after being cited for using a fake ID at a Eugene Bar, had started the previous 60 games for the Ducks. Head coach Dana Altman reports that no decision has been made yet, but that the situation is “moving in the direction” of Dotson being available to play against the Bruins.
  4. After a weekend where junior point guard T.J. McConnell had 16 assists and no turnovers while leading his team to a pair of road wins, there were hopes around Tucson that he would wind up with the Pac-12 Player of the Week award. That was not to be, but head coach Sean Miller made it clear on Monday how much he values McConnell’s contributions to the team, praising not only his effectiveness at running the offense, but also his defensive prowess.
  5. As for the Wildcats’ in-state rival Arizona State, despite getting swept last week by the schools in the Rockies, the Sun Devils are still in good shape to make the NCAA Tournament, according to Doug Haller of AZCentral.com. Their RPI is still rock solid, they’ve got three wins against teams in the top 50 of the RPI and, given the struggles other teams in contention for NCAA Tournament consideration have gone through, they’re pretty comfortably in the field. But, Haller points out five areas where the Sun Devils need to improve between now and Tournament time: urgency, shooting, leadership, consistency and… Jahii Carson. Much as we talked about most recently on Monday, while Carson has been good this season, he hasn’t approached the elite level of play he turned in regularly during his sparkling freshman season.
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Breaking Down the Seven Pac-12 Teams with Tournament Hopes

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on February 24th, 2014

Way back before the start of the season, I made the bold prediction that seven Pac-12 teams would wind up in the NCAA Tournament. Some three months later, we’re looking at six teams that can be confident in packing their bags for the Big Dance, while that lucky number seven is still a strong possibility. After a busy week in the conference, below we’ll go through the teams that still have NCAA at-large aspirations, checking in on where they stand both on the court and in terms of their NCAA hopes.

It Has Taken Some Time For Arizona To Recalibrate, But The Talent Level Here Is Still Great (Ralph Freso, Getty Images North America)

It Has Taken Some Time For Arizona To Recalibrate, But The Talent Level Here Is Still Great (Ralph Freso, Getty Images North America)

Arizona – On Wednesday night, as UCLA was putting the hammer down at California and Arizona was getting fortunate bounces in order to pull out a win at Utah, the sentiment that “UCLA is the best team in this conference” was not an insane statement to make. The Bruins’ impressive collection of talent is congealing nicely in time for the sport’s money month, but remember that Arizona is continuing to rack up wins, starting to adjust to playing without Brandon Ashley, and is still one of the best and most versatile defensive teams in recent history. That isn’t going to go away anytime soon. Sean Miller’s club will continue to make things very difficult for its opponents’ attempts to put the ball in the bucket (only four times in 27 games have they given up more than one point per possession), while their offense will readjust to life without Ashley. This team doesn’t have the offensive upside that it had with their 6’9” big man in the lineup, but things are beginning to get recalibrated, as their 88-point explosion against Colorado on Saturday evening showed. Sure, the Buffaloes are a bad defensive team right now, but that was still the best any team has performed against them all season. The Wildcats just took them apart, getting buckets in transition, getting easy looks at the rim in the halfcourt, and even knocking in eight threes (at a 47% clip) to dominate the Buffs. Oh, and you want one more statistic that sums up just how thoroughly the Wildcats broke Colorado’s spirit? There were about 20 times in the game when, following a Buffaloes’ made basket, the Wildcats took at least 10 seconds off the shot clock. The Wildcats’ eFG% in those 20 possessions? 84.4%, per the great website hoop-math.com. So, basically, Colorado scored, Arizona brought the ball upcourt, worked its offense, and regularly negated the Buffaloes’ previous score. Demoralizing.

NCAA Seeding Outlook: Arizona is still very much in the conversation for a #1 seed, and its remaining schedule is favorable (Cal/Stanford, at Oregon/Oregon State), with every remaining game winnable. Questions about depth may make Arizona something other than the favorite to win the Pac-12 Tournament, so let’s chalk them up for a loss at some point in Las Vegas. And let’s say they go 3-1 in their remaining regular season games. That puts them at something like 28 or 29 wins against four losses, but with all four coming without Ashley. One could see an argument for dropping them to a #2 because of it, but odds remain strong that these Wildcats are a #1 seed come Selection Sunday.

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Pac-12 M5: 02.05.14 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on February 5th, 2014

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  1. When sophomore forward Brandon Ashley went up for a rebound Saturday night in Berkeley, his right foot came down on one of David Kravish’s shoes. It was announced the next day that Ashley’s foot was broken, shaking up the national scene and leaving people wondering if the number one team in the country could withstand the devastating injury. Luke Winn breaks down just exactly what Arizona will be missing without the team’s third leading scorer and rebounder, giving us a taste of how limited its offense will be without him. It will be interesting to see how the Wildcats perform this week at home against two of the worst defenses in the conference in Oregon and Oregon State.
  2. Daniel Evans released his latest bracket projections after the completion of last weekend’s games, and he notes that the Ashley-less Wildcats will be evaluated as a new team from this point on by the committee. Evans has UCLA moving up despite its loss to Oregon State on Sunday, reasoning that while the Pac-12 is perceived weak outside of the Wildcats and Bruins, there are still plenty of tournament-caliber towards the bottom of the bracket. Beyond Arizona and UCLA on the one and five lines, there’s California listed as a #8 seed after its upset of the Cats and Stanford as a #11. Arizona State and Colorado are both on the bubble but listed as IN at the moment, drawing intriguing First Four opponents LSU and SMU in Evans’ bracket. Oregon, which started the season 13-0, has now fallen completely out of the field of 68, but is named the “first team out”. Also published on Monday was John Templon‘s NIT projections. Templon has the Ducks in the NCAA’s, so they do not appear, but the Pac-12 is represented by Washington (a two seed) and Oregon State (a seven).
  3. While a rebuilding Utah program would be fine with an invitation to the nation’s second tier tournament, this Block U piece explains why the NCAA Tournament would be the most likely destination for the Utes. If Larry Krystkowiak‘s team is to make any postseason function above the CBI, they’ll need to nearly run the table at home and pick up at least a couple of wins away from Salt Lake City, a task that has proven nearly impossible in the first three months of the season. But as the article details, accomplishing those feats could put Utah on the NCAA bubble, bypassing the NIT completely. First things first, however, it needs to take care of business this week against the Washington schools at the Huntsman Center. Dropping a game, combined with its awful road record and low RPI, will put its longshot dancing hopes to rest.
  4. After playing four straight Sunday games to open Pac-12 play, Oregon head coach Dana Altman expressed his frustration with the conference’s scheduling in a recent interview with The Oregonian. No other Pac-12 team will have to play that many consecutive Sunday games this season, and Altman finds it unfair to both his fans’ schedules and his team’s, as the Ducks get one less day to prepare for their Wednesday or Thursday opener. In order to have all of its games televised by either the Pac-12 Networks, Fox Sports 1, or the ESPN family of networks, the Pac-12 has adopted a more flexible schedule than in year’s past, playing league games on each day of the week except for Monday and Friday. And while playing too many Sunday games is definitely an inconvenience for Oregon, we haven’t heard Utah complain about its Wednesday/Sunday road trip to Seattle and Pullman or Arizona State’s Tuesday/Saturday trip to Eugene and Corvallis.
  5. Sticking with the Ducks, junior guard Joseph Young is working his way out of a shooting slump after having as hot a start as anyone out west. Young scored in double figures in each of Oregon’s first 12 games, including a 36 point performance against Western Carolina, and a 25 point outing against BYU. But ever since conference play began, the shooting guard has battled bouts of inconsistency, with the low point coming in 1-7 performance from the field against Stanford. It sounds as if all he needed was a little quality time back in the gym to get right again, however. That, and trusting his stroke, led to a 25 point game against UCLA last week, and may spark a shot at an upset or two in the desert this weekend.
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Pac-12 M5: 02.03.14 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on February 3rd, 2014

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  1. Oregon forced 16 steals in its win against USC on Saturday night in Eugene, setting a Matthew Knight Arena record and falling one short of a program best. The performance was encouraging for a team that had struggled mightily on the defensive end of the floor in the month of January, and while one could easily dismiss the effort as it came against an opponent with a 10-12 record, the required energy and interest was certainly there. Dana Altman turned in one of his best coaching jobs in awhile, pulling the right strings and calling for a full court press that forced the issue and got the Ducks into a rhythm. It’s going to take an equally as impressive game plan and execution if Oregon is to shock Arizona in Tucson on Thursday night.
  2. The Ducks brought in a season high for home attendance for their match-up with the Trojans, drawing a crowd of 11,178. How did a team that had lost six of its last seven manage to do that? By the power of free stuff. The university honored its super donor in honor of Phil Knight’s 76th birthday coming up this month, and the Duck fans flocked on “Appreciation Knight” (get it?). Altman provided what may be the quote of the year after the game: “Make sure the team doesn’t get any so we don’t put it on eBay and sell them.” Dana was of course referring to the reasons for the suspensions of Dominic Artis and Ben Carter, who sat out the first nine games of the year for selling their team gear.
  3. Down the road in Corvallis this weekend, Oregon State scored a huge victory before the Super Bowl on Sunday morning. Down by as many as 11 points, some timely scoring and heady play from freshman point guard Hallice Cooke brought the Beavers all the way back and then some, taking a 65-54 lead with two and a half minutes left. Despite UCLA having a chance to take the lead inside the final 15 seconds (the furious comeback would fall short thanks to a Jordan Adams offensive foul), the Beavers survived for a four point win that lifts them into a five way tie for fourth place in the conference.
  4. Just one week ago, things were looking bleak for the Pac-12 conference. Oregon’s only win since January 2 had come against last place Washington State, a Spencer Dinwiddie-less Colorado team was struggling mightily to even keep games close, and California, once thought to be the second best team in the Pac, had just been swept by the Los Angeles schools. Fast forward seven days and the outlook has completely changed. Arizona State won in overtime at California, and then the same Golden Bear team turned around three days later and defeated top ranked Arizona. Colorado broke its losing streak with a rivalry win over Utah on Saturday morning, and UCLA fell at Oregon State a day later. The conference, while more muddled than ever, is also at its strongest in the projected NCAA Tournament fields, putting seven teams in Joe Lunardi‘s latest bracket.
  5. Did I say this league looks muddled? I leave you with the Pac-12 Wheel of Suck, which shows just how cannibalistic the conference has been in its first half of the season. The wheel wouldn’t have worked without USC’s shocker against California, which begs the question, what will be the Pac’s biggest upset of its final five weeks? I’m taking Washington State over UCLA on the final day of the regular season in Pullman. Leave your prediction in the comments section.
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Pac-12 M5: 01.31.14 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 31st, 2014

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  1. Oregon fought back late against UCLA on Thursday night to force a tight game, but wound up losing at home. Still, the Dana Altman transfer society is not going to end anytime soon in Eugene, as the Ducks are getting their first glimpse of Providence transfer Brandon Austin in practices and like what they see. Austin was a highly-regarded recruit at Providence, but he never played a minute there after earning a suspension for a violation of the school’s Code of Conduct. He’s been in Eugene since the start of the semester and has shown his teammates and coaches that he will be a force in the future, but he will first have to wait until the end of the fall semester next season in order to gain eligibility for the Ducks.
  2. Arizona remained undefeated on Wednesday night, pulling off a hard-fought road win at Stanford. And with 21 wins in their pocket and no strikes against them, the inevitable contrarian columns begin: Is it actually good to be undefeated? Let’s put these types of things to bed right now. Is it good to be undefeated? Um, yeah. Sure, why not? You play these games to win, right? Now, just because, yes, it is good to be king, it does not necessarily follow that taking a loss is terrible either. It’s a long year. Road games are tough. Odds are good that Arizona (and Syracuse and even Wichita State) will slip up somewhere before March. But if they don’t, that doesn’t really put any more pressure on any of those teams. They’ll continue to get everybody’s best shot regardless of whether they have zero losses or one loss. And once it gets to the NCAA Tournament? It’s not like having a loss – or not – in their past is really going to have any effect on their play down the stretch in a tight tourney game. One of the reasons the Wildcats got out of Palo Alto on Wednesday night with a win was their defense against Stanford guard Chasson Randle, who was harassed by T.J. McConnell and Nick Johnson into a 3-of-15 night from the field. For his career at Stanford, he is now 10-of-42 from the field in three games against the Wildcats. Suffice it to say, that’s not good.
  3. Meanwhile, across the bay in Berkeley on Wednesday night, California fought back from an early deficit to force overtime against Arizona State. But after getting outscored by 11 in the extra period, the once-streaking Golden Bears have now dropped their third straight game. In a game where Justin Cobbs missed a layup in “unusual” fashion, Cal was close, but so far away. For a team that fewer than two weeks ago looked like perhaps the biggest challenger to Arizona’s conference throne, the Golden Bears are now faced with an almost must-win match-up against the nation’s #1 team on Saturday night. And, really, the Bears probably don’t match up very well with the Wildcats.
  4. Lastly, Washington State, perhaps more than any other team in the conference, is in desperate need of good news. And expectations are that they will get it on Saturday, when junior guard DaVonte Lacy is expected to make a return from his rib injury against Washington. Lacy practiced this week and will be a game time decision, but All Coug’d Up asks, if Lacy isn’t back to 100 percent yet, why force him back early if he’s not clearly ready to go. Stay tuned.
  5. We close with the second week of our basketball pick’em contest. Boasted by a Stanford overtime win at USC and UCLA surviving a late comeback attempt by California, Connor swept last week’s selections. Our game of the week to close out the month (worth either two wins or two losses) will feature top-ranked Arizona traveling to a hostile Haas Pavilion to face the Golden Bears. Each member on our three-man panel agrees the Wildcats will take that one.
    Game Connor (7-0) Drew (4-3) Adam (5-2)
    Utah at Colorado Colorado Colorado Utah
    Arizona State at Stanford Stanford Arizona State Arizona State
    Washington at Wash. State Washington Washington Washington
    USC at Oregon Oregon Oregon Oregon
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Dana Altman’s Ducks Stop the Bleeding on Sunday

Posted by Kenny Ocker on January 27th, 2014

Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker) is a national columnist for Rush The Court. He filed this story Sunday evening after the Oregon Ducks and Washington State Cougars played at Friel Court in Pullman, Washington.

Oregon was a desperate team. Forward Mike Moser said it; Dana Altman said it; both were unprompted. After three-plus weeks of bad shooting, nonexistent defense, or both – and being a last-second dunk away from a winless mark in conference – the team once ranked #10 in the nation was destined to be pressing. But the Ducks, thanks especially to an 8-of-10 shooting performance from reserve guard Jason Calliste, managed to get that monkey off their back, blowing out Washington State 71-44 on Sunday in Pullman.

D.J. Shelton and his Oregon mates deperately needed a win. They played like a desperate team Sunday, outhustling Wazzu to a much-needed W. (Getty)

Elgin Cook (23) and his Oregon mates desperately needed a win. They played like a desperate team Sunday, out-hustling Wazzu to a much-needed W. (Getty)

“We desperately needed that. It was a little bit bigger than a monkey,” Altman said after the game. “I think it turned into a gorilla. I felt good for the guys; they were relieved in the locker room. It’s been a long three weeks.” The Ducks only trailed Washington State for a 21-second stretch early in the first half, a change Altman welcomed after his team has spent most of the conference season trying to chase teams down with little success. But Oregon (14-5, 2-5 Pac-12) only pulled away slowly at first, with Calliste’s perfect 6-of-6 shooting in the first half and 14 points eventually leading to a 13-point halftime lead. “Jason really did a tremendous job. He was the difference in the game,” Altman said of Calliste, who finished with 20 points. “That first half, going 6 for 6 he gave us an advantage and then we could play from the lead.” Though Calliste cooled off, the rest of the Ducks took off in the second half, led by all nine of Moser’s points. If it weren’t for a pair of garbage-time three-pointers from reserve Cougars forward Brett Boese, Oregon’s 41-point second-half barrage would have outscored Washington State (8-12, 1-7) for the game.

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