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
    Arizona at California Arizona Arizona Arizona
    UCLA at Oregon State Oregon State Oregon State UCLA
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Pac-12 M5: 01.29.14 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 29th, 2014

pac12_morning5

  1. Pac-12 play gets back underway tonight with the Arizona schools visiting the Bay Area. And that means Arizona freshman forward and prized recruit Aaron Gordon is making his return to his old high school stomping grounds, where he played at Archbishop Mitty. As he was in high school, Gordon remains a coach’s dream in college, a hard-working, versatile player that is a great teammate who is always improving. Cal head coach Mike Montgomery, who was among the coaches hot in pursuit of Gordon’s commitment, joined Arizona head coach Sean Miller in praising Gordon’s ability. But, more importantly for the Wildcat’s season than one player’s return home is the chance to again prove their mettle in tough conference road games.
  2. As for California, tonight they host Arizona State in an attempt to get back on track. But the Sun Devils provide significant and diverse challenges for the Golden Bears. First, along the frontline, Richard Solomon will need to continue his strong play as he matches up mostly against the Sun Devils’ senior center Jordan Bachynski who has four inches on him. And then in the backcourt, senior point guard Justin Cobbs may have the experience edge on Arizona State’s sparkplug Jahii Carson, but Carson’s got the clear quickness advantage. And, as always when the nation’s #1 team is up next, the Golden Bears need to make sure they’re not looking ahead to Saturday against Arizona.
  3. Good news everyone! Washington State junior guard DaVonte Lacy may return as early as this weekend when they host Washington on Saturday. Lacy has had a rough 2014 so far, missing time following surgery to remove his appendix, returning for 11 minutes and then injring his ribs. And, without their best scorer and leader, the Cougars have been, well, just awful. While it remains to be seen if he’ll actually play on Saturday or possibly wait until next week, it will likely take some time for him to get back to full strength. And until he is back at full strength, the Cougs really don’t have much of a chance to compete on a regular basis. But, assuming he’s back to full strength by March, and assuming Que Johnson’s time in the spotlight has been put to good use, there’s a chance these guys are talented enough to spring an upset on day one of the Pac-12 Tournament. Maybe not a good chance, but a chance.
  4. Tomorrow night, Oregon gets a chance to build upon its win over Washington State last weekend by protecting its homecourt against the invaders from UCLA. While the Ducks shut down the Cougars defensively on Sunday, holding them to 44 points (0.73 points per possession), the Bruins offer a whole different challenge, with talented offensive players up and down their rotation. After the up-tempo Ducks allowed 80 points or more in five consecutive games prior to the Washington State matchup, they welcome in the Bruins, who have scored at least 69 points in every game this year and 80 or more in 12 out of their 20. With both teams in the top 20 in the nation in shortest offensive possession length and with KenPom.com projecting a final score in the upper-80s, this may well be one of the most enticing conference games of the season.
  5. Lastly, yuck. I didn’t want to do this. I didn’t want to do this at all. It has been an emerging policy at least among RTC Pac-12 writers to ignore Bruins Nation, a UCLA “fan” site that has repeatedly shown an ignorance about basic basketball strategy and is a shining beacon in the world of applying actual events to pre-determined narratives, no matter how silly those applications turn out to be. Given that there are so many better sources for news and opinion about UCLA basketball, there is no reason to usher people in the direction of the TMZ of UCLA basketball coverage. But, in the spirit of comedy, they outdid themselves on Tuesday, suggesting that one of the reasons that freshman guard Zach LaVine (regularly projected as a lottery or border-line lottery selection in the 2014 NBA Draft) may be considering entering the draft following this season is because head coach Steve Alford is playing favorites and will hand the point guard position next year (assuming, safely, that Kyle Anderson is NBA-bound) to his son Bryce Alford, regardless of the competition. Now, we’re not actually going to link to this Onion-esque bit of prose (which, among other things, suggests that LaVine, third on the team in minutes this year, might still be relegated to the bench next season if Anderson leaves), but suffice it to say that this is odd, at best. Right now, without any bit of doubt whatsoever, Alford is the team’s second-best point guard. LaVine is terrific off the ball (seriously, coming off a solid screen and squaring up to get a good look at the hoop from deep, there are very few more fearsome shooters in the nation), but has shown an inability to create for himself or others with anything more than one or two dribbles, and is loose with his handle. He’s a terrific pro prospect because of his athleticism, ridiculous upside and potential to improve those glaring weaknesses. And if he winds up forgoing his final three years of eligibility, it is entirely because he is likely to get paid handsomely for such an opportunity. Either way, while he may well develop into a point guard in time, right now, he would struggle running the point – he’s an attacking wing in transition and a deadly catch-and-shoot guy. But the idea that the criminally-underrated Alford is only receiving playing time because his dad has a soft spot in his heart for him indicates a writer who has decided not to spend any time actually watching UCLA basketball.
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Pac-12’s Good Players on Bad Teams

Posted by AMurawa on January 28th, 2014

While the Pac-12 may not be all it was cracked up to be early in the season, eight of the conference teams have generally been regarded for most of the past month or so as at least good. That leaves four teams at the bottom of the conference – USC, Oregon State, Washington, and Washington State – that haven’t been taken seriously and that have been described, at one point or another, as straight out bad. A couple of those teams are beginning to come around some, but really until they prove themselves over long stretches, we’re still going to group them at the bottom of the Pac. But, aside from being bad teams, another thing that each of these teams has in common is (at least) one very good player. We’re not spending a ton of time here talking about the Trojans, Beavers, Huskies, and Cougars, but today we’ll give those very good players their due.

Byron Wesley Gets Forgotten Playing With USC, But He's Been Excellent As A Junior (John McGillen)

Byron Wesley Gets Forgotten Playing At USC, But He’s Been Excellent As A Junior (John McGillen)

Byron Wesley, USC – Maybe you haven’t seen Andy Enfield’s first crack at turning the Galen Center into a basketball Mecca, and if so, no one would blame you. The roster is a mishmash of parts, many of whom are ill-suited to Enfield’s style, let along major conference basketball. But Wesley? This dude would carve out a spot anywhere in the nation. In the past, he’s been known as a solid fundamental wing who is best at the defensive end of the court, and he’s still very much that, but offensively he’s blossomed in his junior year. Despite playing approximately the same number of minutes as he’s played his first two years with the Trojans, his number of possessions used has skyrocketed and in turn his per game averages in points, rebounds, and assists have all ballooned, all while playing at a more efficient level than ever before. While the range on his jumper is still a work in progress (he is just 10-for-34 from deep this year), he’s turned into a solid mid-range shooter. But most impressively, his game off the bounce is far better than it has been in the past, and he’s been getting past defenders, getting into the lane, getting better than 45% of his shots at the rim and converting a healthy percentage of those. And defensively? Goodness, one would shudder to think how bad this USC team would be without the ball if Wesley were not around. Case in point, Wednesday night in their best win of the season over a streaking Cal team. Wesley checked Golden Bear sophomore wing Tyrone Wallace the bulk of the night, and held him to his first single-digit scoring output since early December, on just 2/10 shooting. Wesley may not be as flashy as some of the guys we’re going to talk about later, but if he was playing on a better team, he’d be getting all sorts of accolades.

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Pac-12 Thoughts: On Jahii Carson, Colorado Without Dinwiddie and Richard Solomon…

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 20th, 2014

Here are some notes from around the Pac-12, coming out of another busy weekend.

Jahii Carson (Jeff Gross, Getty Images)

Jahii Carson is Slumping Right Now (Jeff Gross, Getty Images)

Arizona State is off to a 2-3 start in conference play. It is not ideal, but then again, the Sun Devils have played three road games and two at home, so that record is not terrible. And given that Herb Sendek’s team probably plays the toughest opponents in the unbalanced schedule (along with traveling partner Arizona, Arizona State is the lucky team that only gets to play Washington, Washington State and USC once), they’ll probably be just fine if they get to 9-9 in conference play, because that means they’ll have some quality wins under their belt. But. All of that being said, the elephant in the room right now is Jahii Carson, who is definitely slumping. He hasn’t hit better than 50 percent from the field in a game in over a month. He’s turning the ball over; he’s generally not making his teammates better; and most disturbingly, he’s not scoring and seemingly not as explosive. We pointed to these trends before, but it is clear that as Carson goes, so go the Sun Devils. Need proof? Check out the numbers below:

carsonstats2Need an explanation? Let’s not beat around the bush. Carson has been awful in Arizona State’s five losses. And Carson is not an awful player; in fact he’s very, very good. In order for the Sun Devils to take the next step, however, and get into the NCAA Tournament, Carson needs to up his game and be the type of consistent performer he was as a freshman. Carson toyed around with the idea of leaving for the NBA Draft last season, but he returned to Tempe with the hope of tightening up his jumper and proving his NBA credentials. Unfortunately for his prospects and team, a sophomore slump has left more questions than answers.

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Pac-12 M5: 01.20.14 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on January 20th, 2014

pac12_morning5

  1. Much of the time, a demotion of an upperclassman that results in a freshman or sophomore filling the open role can make relationships sour in a hurry. However, that hasn’t been the case for Oregon State junior point guard Challe Barton and freshman Hallice Cooke, who have remained close after Cooke grabbed Barton’s starting spot earlier this month. Despite only averaging 8.8 MPG in Pac-12 play, the junior can typically be seen waving a towel on the bench and one of the first to greet players coming off the floor during a timeout. Barton’s laid-back attitude and easy smile certainly helps, but knowing that playing time on coach Craig Robinson’s squad can flip drastically at the blink of an eye, he knows that he needs to be ready to go and engaged at all times. If Cooke keeps up his current pace, however, that starting job is going to be locked up for awhile. The freshman has provided a much-needed spark to a struggling offense, averaging 10.5 PPG in his last five appearances.
  2. The Beavers got a huge win last night in the Civil War battle against Oregon, jumping out to an early 16-point lead and eventually holding on for an 80-72 upset. Oregon State is now in a tie for eighth in the conference standings and has a great chance of getting back to .500 when it faces Washington State on Wednesday night. On the Ducks’ side of it, things are not going well. The job that Dana Altman has done so far in the month of January is by far the worst in his four seasons with Oregon. His team is currently free-falling down the NCAA Tournament seed lines and desperately needs a sweep at the Washington schools this week.
  3. After suffering a stress fracture in his leg in mid-September, freshman guard Que Johnson got off to a slow start at Washington State. But the redshirt freshman grew more comfortable within the offense as the non-conference season wore on, and he has now become the team’s go-to guy with junior DaVonte Lacy out with various injuries. In this piece examining Johnson’s performance thus far, Jeff Nusser takes a look at his statistics and compares them to former Cougs’ great, Klay Thompson. Johnson is blowing past the freshman Thompson in terms of efficiency, using his aggressiveness to shoot at a 51 percent clip from inside the three-point line. He is also showing some early traits of Thompson’s late-game clutchness, hitting an overtime-forcing three with 10 seconds left against #15 Colorado, then knocking down the final three free throws of a three-point win against Utah a few days later. As Nusser says, putting these comparisons on a freshman may be unfair, but the early returns have been nothing less than terrific. Washington State returns to action Wednesday night against Oregon State in Pullman.
  4. Rush the Court’s resident bracketologist, Daniel Evans, released his updated projections over the weekend, and Arizona claimed his top overall seed once again. Next up are Oregon and Colorado on the five and seven lines, respectively, and California and UCLA coming in at eight and nine. Stanford remains squarely on the bubble and is listed as the second team out of his field.
  5. The Ducks debuted some nice new kicks in last night’s rivalry game with Oregon State, their “JumpDucks.” Long a testing ground for anything Nike has to offer, Oregon was the first one to get a crack at re-doing the Michael Jordan Jumpman logo, replacing it on the shoe’s heel with a shadow Duck mascot. The new Air Jordans look very cool and would be sure to sell quickly if Nike goes down that road. We’ll let you use your wildest imagination to dream up what’s up next for the stylistic offerings of Oregon athletics.
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Best YouTube Moments In Washington State Basketball: The Nominees

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on January 13th, 2014

Last month we introduced our new project, which is centered around determining the top YouTube moment in Pac-12 basketball history. We continue the nomination portion with Washington State.

[ed note: These are just the top moments we could find on YouTube, which has a vast number and array of videos, but we won’t be able to cover the entire 99 years of the conference.]

We open with this beauty of a game-saving block from forward D.J. Shelton. Down by one in the first game of the best-of-three CBI Championship series, Pittsburgh guard Tray Woodall caught the ball at midcourt with 3.5 seconds left on the clock. Woodall took two dribbles, drove into the lane, and attempted to throw in a reverse layup into the hoop as time expired. Only the ball never got there. Shelton bodied up the guard as he got into the paint, then swatted away the futile attempt with great force. A Panthers’ three-point attempt as time expired fell short, and the Cougars escaped with the 67-66 win.

Down one. Overtime. Two and a half seconds left. Senior Day. Against No. 14 Arizona State. That’s the scene for senior Taylor Rochestie, who then buried a three from southern Canada to spring the upset. This is what’s great about college hoops, and this is definitely the highlight of the Washington State options. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Wednesday Night Round-Up: Colorado and Washington Squeak By

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on January 9th, 2014

Colorado 71, Washington State 70 (OT)

After last weekend where the Cougars looked anemic offensively and the Buffaloes looked every bit like their RTC #17 ranking, the expectation was certainly that this wouldn’t be a game much worth keeping an eye on. Add in the fact that at opening tip, Washington State’s “crowd” in their game in Spokane could be counted by hand and there was little reason to suspect that the Cougars had a chance. Forty-five minutes later, the Buffaloes were limping out of Spokane Arena with a much tougher win than anyone should have expected. While Washington State was shorthanded without junior gurd DaVonte Lacy, Colorado was also playing without their veteran point guard, Spencer Dinwiddie. Huh? What’s that? He played, you say? He played 38 minutes? Well, what do you know? The box score backs up such an assertion, although the film may test that story.

Spencer Dinwiddie Was Uncharacteristically Silent For the Buffaloes Against Washington State (David Zalubowski, AP Photo)

Spencer Dinwiddie Was Uncharacteristically Silent For the Buffaloes Against Washington State (David Zalubowski, AP Photo)

In fact, Dinwiddie did play, took five shots from the field (all after the halftime break), scored six points and added a variety of other plays here and there, but was largely absent, an occurrence that likely would have cost his team a game had the opponent been just about any other conference team other than a short-handed WSU team. Backcourt partner Askia Booker was very active, conversely, but made most of his impact from the free-throw line, scoring 13 of his 18 points from the charity stripe while going just two-of-12 from the field. For what it’s worth, Booker’s free throw contributions summed up the game for Colorado, as they enjoyed a whopping 38-3 advantage in free throw attempts in the game. Still, Tad Boyle wound up needing Josh Scott to go nuts late in order to come away with the tough win; the sophomore big man had eight points (on four-of-four shooting), four boards (two on the offensive end) and a blocked shot in the final two minutes of regulation plus the overtime period.

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Takeaways From the Pac-12’s Weekend Games

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on January 7th, 2014

It was a busy Pac-12 weekend around the conference. Here are some thoughts on each of the weekend’s five games.

Colorado 100, Oregon 91

  • It was a game that largely lived up to the hype, with both teams looking good for long stretches. But over the last 10 minutes of the game, it was – get this – Colorado’s guard play that was the deciding factor in the game. It was supposed to be the undefeated Ducks with the bevy of play-making guards that had the advantage on the perimeter, while the Buffaloes were going to need to take advantage of a weak Oregon frontcourt in order to win this game at home. Instead, over the final quarter of the game, Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie combined for 25 of Colorado’s 39 points, sophomore guard Xavier Talton chipped in six more, and Jaron Hopkins was the guy to get everything started with a three off a Dinwiddie dime. All told, the five Colorado guards outscored Oregon’s by a total of 66-52.

    Askia Booker, Colorado

    Big Game Askia? Who Knew? (Patrick Ghidossi, BuffaloSportsNews)

  • Meanwhile up front the Ducks were just okay against that tough Colorado frontcourt. On the offensive end, they were great, grabbing better than 41 percent of their own misses and getting a terrific 24-point performance out of Mike Moser. But the bigger concern is their ability to defend on the interior, and here they were exposed a bit, allowing Colorado to grab better than 46 percent of their misses, leading to lots of easy putbacks for the Buffs. Oregon’s guards are going to keep them in a lot of games, but they need to clean up their frontcourt issues in order to reach their potential.
  • For some of the surprises in this game, the most expected angle proved completely true: Colorado is going to be really, really tough at home. With a strong seven-man rotation plus a couple other guys ready to provide spot minutes, the Buffs are deep, athletic, big, strong and – most importantly – good. And the Coors Events Center is a great homecourt advatange. KenPom.com has the Buffs expected to win their next six games at home by an average of just under 10 points per game, but that only takes us to February 22 when they’ll host Arizona in their last home game of the season. Right now that KenPom projection is Arizona, 68-65, but in what could be Dinwiddie’s final home game, the early inclination is to lean Buffs. Not that trying to project a game seven weeks out is good practice.

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Thoughts From Opening Night in the Pac-12

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on January 3rd, 2014

In what was a very entertaining night of basketball around the Pac-12, here are a number of semi-interesting thoughts for Thursday’s five games.

Oregon 70, Utah 68 (OT)

Despite A Step Up In Competition, Delon Wright Continues To Produce Across the Board (George Frey, AP)

Despite A Step Up In Competition, Delon Wright Continues To Produce Across the Board (George Frey, AP)

  • Plenty of words have already been spent dissecting Utah’s final possessions in regulation and then in overtime, but those two possessions took up about two percent of the entire game. There is more to be gleaned from the other 98-ish percent. So let’s spend some time digging into that game. The biggest question coming into it was: “So, are the Utes really any good?” Well, Utah answered that question with a resounding: “I dunno. Maybe!?! Probably?!? Aw, who knows?” Delon Wright wasn’t as athletically dominant against more worthy competition, but still wound up with 14 points, six boards, four blocks, a couple steals and dimes. And, if anything, he was underused. Oregon got the memo about his unreliable jumper and often backed off him, went under screens, and dared him to knock down jumpers, which he did on a couple of occasions. But that’s still far preferable to letting him get to the rim, which he can do against all but the most capable defenders.
  • Elsewhere, Dallin Bachynski really answered the call in the middle (despite that unfortunate play at the end, which can hardly be blamed on him) and was probably the best big on the court throughout the game, something that wasn’t expected.
  • While the Utes played very well as a whole, Jordan Loveridge was not at his best Thursday night, settling for jumpers too often and, worse yet, settling for long jumpers; he took six of his 23 shots from three-point land and made just one of them. While Loveridge is capable inside and out, he relied far too much on his outside game and shunned the inside portion. Perhaps some of this was part of a game plan to keep Mike Moser from being an interior defensive presence, but there were too many times where Loveridge floated to the three-point  line while Wright was clearly trying to set up a post feed.

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Pac-12 M5: 01.02.14 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on January 2nd, 2014

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  1. Welcome to New Year’s Day! No, not that one where you wake up hung over and buy a new calendar. The one where the newest Pac-12 conference season tips off. We’ve got five games on the slate tonight, so let’s get right to it. First, we got a little bit of a surprise on Wednesday when Oregon State head coach Craig Robinson announced that senior forward Eric Moreland has “fulfilled the requirements of his suspension” (except for, you know, sitting out the 14 games he was suspended for) and will be in uniform tonight when the Beavers visit Colorado (7:00 PM PST, ESPNU). Moreland averaged 9.4 points, 10.6 boards and 2.5 blocks per game last season and will significantly increase the chances that Oregon State gives the Buffaloes problems tonight.
  2. While that game takes on more intrigue, the game of the night is probably Oregon visiting Utah (5:00 PM PST, Pac-12 Networks). The Utes have played one of the weakest schedules in Division I basketball, but also have largely taken care of business, including a blowout win over rival BYU (a win that doesn’t look quite as impressive now that BYU has dropped a few games). Still, they’ve looked pretty good in getting through that schedule, but beginning tonight there is no more hiding. The undefeated and No. 10 nationally-ranked Ducks visit and will immediately test the Utes’ resolve. For their part, Oregon is still something of an unknown, having earned a handful of good but not earth-shattering wins. We’ll probably know a heck of a lot more about both of these teams by Sunday night.
  3. The basketball version of The Big Game between Cal and Stanford (6:00 PM PST, Fox Sports 1) is the other big story of the night. Both teams have struggled with injuries this season, but the Cardinal have at least accepted the fact that they’ll be playing without guys like Aaron Bright, Andy Brown and Christian Sanders. The Golden Bears, on the other hand, are without Ricky Kreklow for another month and freshman Jabari Bird is out for “awhile” and not expected to play tonight. With that said, and with the Cardinal playing at home, this is a bigger game for Johnny Dawkins’ squad tonight. The Cardinal can’t afford a loss in this one.
  4. Wrapping up tonight’s slate, Arizona State will host Washington (5:00 PM PST, ESPNU), while Washington State gets the distinct pleasure of visiting the No. 1 team in the nation – Arizona (7:00 PM PST, Pac-12 Networks) – without the services of its best player in the lineup. DaVonte Lacy remains out following surgery to remove his appendix, meaning the Cougars had better find a way to get some scoring from guys like Royce Woolridge and Que Johnson, or risk suffering a ridiculously lopsided loss in Tucson.
  5. UCLA and USC won’t tip off their conference play until they face each other on Sunday afternoon (12:00 PST, Fox Sports 1), but former Bruins’ great and current ESPN broadcaster Bill Walton took in his first UCLA game of the Steve Alford era last weekend against Alabama and wasted no time in making his thoughts known. In short, Big Red thinks that the Alford era is already a huge upgrade over the slow and joyless Ben Howland era. But Coach Alford, beware. You still had better win. And fast. And regularly.
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The Best In The West: Ranking the Top 20 Teams West Of The Rockies

Posted by AMurawa on December 16th, 2013

Roughly a quarter of the way through the year, we’re going to unveil something a little new here, something we’ll check back in on once a month or so. We’re going to take all the schools west of the Rockies (and we’re going to be a bit generous with our geography – basically we’re looking at schools from the Pac-12, Mountain West, West Coast, and Big West and then some of the schools from the Big Sky and Western Athletic Conferences) and give you the top 20 teams. But, rather than just ranking schools 1 though 20, we’re going to divide all these teams up into tiers, in part because calling Arizona #1 and then naming another school #2 just seems wrong, because the Wildcats are just so far ahead of everyone else. Below, you’ll see our Top 20 teams in the West (their overall rank will be in parentheses), with descriptions of what we think the teams in each tier have in common, plus brief comments on the teams in our list.

Arizona Is The Undisputed Leader In The West (Casey Sapio, USA Today Sports)

Arizona Is The Undisputed Leader In The West (Casey Sapio, USA Today Sports)

The Best of the BestIn a league of their own.

Arizona (#1 overall, Pac-12 #1) – The Wildcats are in a class by themselves out West. Even when putting together my national top 25, I wanted to put Arizona at #1, leave spots 2-5 empty, and then have a four-way tie at #6. What they’ve accomplished thus far is unassailable, especially considering how young this team is. Expect somebody (maybe multiple somebodies) in the Pac-12 to put up a serious challenge, but at this point in the season, Sean Miller’s squad is not only the best in the West, but they’re the best by a long shot.

Contenders to the Throne – And all top 25 teams.

Oregon (#2 overall, Pac-12 #2) – The Ducks are the team closest to joining the Wildcats up top, but while they’ve got an undefeated record and some quality scalps, they’re missing the quality of wins that the Wildcats have. But, as good as Dana Altman’s squad has been, they’re not even at full strength yet – Dominic Artis and Ben Carter are due back this week.

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Pac-12 M5: 12.16.13 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 16th, 2013

pac12_morning5

  1. We’re in the midst of a real good streak in the Pac-12. As ESPN’s Roxy Bernstein noted on Sunday night, the conference has now gone 18 straight games without a loss since last Sunday when Washington fell to San Diego State. So as we enter a new week, we’ve got nothing but good things to talk about. We discussed Arizona’s big win over Michigan this weekend, and you heard about Oregon’s offensive fireworks in a win over Illinois, so we’ll skip those high-profile games and jump to the next biggest game of the weekend, in which Utah put the beatdown on in-state rival BYU. By the time all the attendees in the Huntsman Center had shaken the cold out of their bones, the Utes were already up double-figures behind an early explosion from sophomore Jordan Loveridge. He had 15 points before the under-12 media timeout; the Utes had a 21-8 lead; and the Cougars were never within single digits again.
  2. Stanford bounced back from not only the loss of senior guard Aaron Bright to a season-ending injury, but an extended break due to finals to rough up UC Davis by 27 points on Saturday. Four guys scored in double figures; the team handed out 22 assists on 31 field goals; and the Cardinal rolled. With Connecticut and Michigan due up next for Johnny Dawkins’ team, it was a chance to put the start of the year behind it and begin building toward a strong second act.
  3. Across the bay, it was California’s senior Richard Solomon who was guiding the Golden Bears to a solid win over a tough Fresno State team. Solomon’s 17 points and 14 boards only begin to tell the whole story. Solomon was an efficient offensive option, scoring those 17 points on just nine field goal attempts and dominating an undersized Bulldog front line, accounting for three steals, a couple of blocks, and regularly contesting jumpers from the smaller Fresno players.
  4. On Sunday night Washington State got back to business, handling Pepperdine with ease in a 17-point victory. Rather than DaVonte Lacy leading the scoring per usual, though, it was junior wing Royce Woolridge who had his best game of the year by scoring 20 points and handing out four assists. Likewise, Que Johnson dialed things up, scoring 14 points in his best performance as a Coug. While it’s been a slow start this season, there are signs of life around the Wazzu basketball team. For the first time all year, they’re pretty clearly not the worst team in the Pac-12.
  5. So, who is the worst team in the Pac-12 this season? USC put its case on display on Sunday night with an unimpressive four-point win over Cal State Bakersfield in which junior wing Byron Wesley was the only Trojan who was physically superior to the opposition. The other option for worst in the league is a Washington team that showed off its awful defense against a bad Idaho State squad on Saturday. While they had no trouble scoring, they also allowed four Bengals to score in double figures and just looked completely disinterested. Again.
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