Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 3rd, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West Conferences.

A Look Back

Two weeks back, Washington beat Arizona pretty convincingly to grab sole control of the Pac-10 lead. A week later, the Wildcats snuck back into a first-place tie when they held serve at home against the Los Angeles schools on the same weekend the Huskies turned the ball over 24 times in a loss at Washington State. Such is life in the Pac-10 this year. The Huskies are the big favorite in the league and look for all the world to be head-and-shoulders above the rest of the competition, but every time they wrest away sole possession of first place, they give it back shortly later. And now, as we make the corner and head for the second turn around the conference, Washington and Arizona sit atop the leaderboard with 7-2 records, with UCLA just a half-game back and Washington State and Cal just another game back from there. To make a long story short, there is no room for mistakes for anyone at the top of the conference in the back half of the schedule.

Team of the Week: Arizona – There aren’t a ton of impressive wins on the Wildcat schedule, but they just keep plugging along solidly and taking care of business. And really, you don’t rack up an 18-4 record, even against mediocre competition, without being a pretty good team. This week they handled their business at home, knocking off UCLA and USC with relative ease and establishing themselves beyond any doubt as Washington’s main competition for the conference title.

Player of the Week: Klay Thompson, Junior, Washington State – With plenty of great games out of Derrick Williams and Isaiah Thomas lately, Thompson has been something of a forgotten man in the Pac-10. And yet, he leads the conference in scoring (22.3 PPG), three-point field goals (65), he’s third in assists (4.4 APG), third in steals (2.0 SPG) and in the top 20 in rebounding (5.3 RPG). And this week, he led his Cougs to a huge home win over in-state rival Washington by posting 25 points and constantly disrupting the Husky offense on his way to five steals. While Thomas and Williams may get most of the ink in the conference Player of the Year discussion, let’s not forget that this is still really a three horse race.

Newcomer of the Week: Allen Crabbe, Freshman, California – After no one really distinguished themselves in the non-conference portion of the schedule, Crabbe has taken a commanding lead in the race for Pac-10 Freshman of the Year with eight straight double-figure scoring performances in conference play. He continued his excellence this week by averaging 15 points, seven rebounds, two steals and two threes per game in a Golden Bear home sweep of the Oregon schools.

Game of the Week: UCLA 73 Arizona State 72 (OT) – After getting a reality check in Tucson on Thursday night, the Bruins looked like a focused team early against the Sun Devils on Saturday. They built up a lead as high as 15 points in the second half behind balanced offense, smothering defense, and a good dose of ASU ineptness. But Herb Sendek’s squad didn’t quit, and when the Bruins eased off the gas a bit, the Devils were able to tighten things up. Still, it took back-to-back Ty Abbott threes and a rebound-and-putback of a missed free throw by Trent Lockett to tie things up in regulation and send the game to overtime. In the extra period, the Bruins jumped out to a 9-2 run behind three consecutive threes by Lazeric Jones, Malcolm Lee and Jerime Anderson in the first two minutes, and from there the Bruins held on for a much-needed win.

Game of the Upcoming Week: Arizona (18-4, 7-2) at California (12-9, 5-4), 2/5, 5PM PST, Fox Sports Arizona – UCLA plays an interesting game this weekend when they host St. John’s in the Steve Lavin Bowl, but this is the game that may ultimately have the biggest effect on the conference race. All four of the Wildcat losses have come away from the McKale Center, and the Bears have won three of their four conference games at Haas Pavilion. And given Cal’s gritty defense, strong frontcourt play, excellent head coaching and the emergence of Crabbe and junior Harper Kamp as solid offensive threats, the Wildcats will have their work cut out for them on Saturday. Of course, Mike Montgomery still has to devise some sort of plan to slow Williams, so both coaches may not rest easy on Friday night.

Power Rankings

1. Washington (15-5, 7-2): When Lorenzo Romar got the stat sheet Sunday night after Washington’s loss in Pullman, I’m guessing his eyes went directly to the turnover column. And he couldn’t have liked what he saw there. Washington 24, Washington State 12. Isaiah Thomas, seven turnovers. Scott Suggs, five turnovers. Justin Holiday, four turnovers. Despite the Huskies’ dominance on the glass at both ends (they grabbed 85.7% of the available defensive rebounds and 37.8% of the offensive ones), the sheer number of turnovers was just something they couldn’t overcome. While the hope is that this game was just an aberration (the Huskies have actually been very good on the season, turning the ball over just under 17% of all their possessions – 16th-best in the nation), the fact is that Thomas’ turnovers have been increasing of late. In four of his last five games, he has turned the ball over at least four times, although the good news is that he has been handing out so many assists, his assist-to-turnover ratio over that span has still been better than two-to-one. Nevertheless, it will be worthwhile to keep an eye on Thomas in the coming games to see if he begins taking better care of the ball.

Looking ahead: The northwest flavor of the Washington schedule continues this week, with a trip to the Oregon schools and a good chance to right the ship.

2. Arizona (18-4, 7-2): I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: beyond Derrick Williams – who is as talented a player as there is in the nation – this roster looks completely ordinary. So how have they gotten to this 18-4 record, and how do we find them tied with the Huskies atop the Pac-10? Three things: (1) they shoot a great percentage from the field (eighth in the nation in effective field goal percentage and three-point percentage), (2) they defend the hell out of the three (their opponents shoot just 26.7% from behind the arc against them, the lowest percentage in the nation) and (3) they get to the line effectively (they shoot almost half as many free throws as field goals) and once there, knock down the gimmes at 74.3% rate. Now, in all of these areas, Williams is the linchpin behind these numbers. He’s first in the nation in effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage, while knocking down a spectacular 70% of his threes. And he is second in the nation in fouls drawn per 40 minutes and in free throw rate. But the fact is, the rest of his teammates are excellent complements to him and his skills. Sure, if you take Williams out of the lineup, this team will fight with Oregon State and Arizona State at the bottom of the conference, but the way things are, the Wildcats are a formidable opponent.

Looking ahead: A trip to the Bay Area looms and the Wildcats have a big mid-term ahead of them this week. A couple wins would be mighty impressive, while a split would be perfectly acceptable.

3. UCLA (15-7, 7-3): The Bruins had a chance to make a big splash this week in their trip to the McKale Center, but despite escaping with a one-point overtime win at ASU on Saturday, Ben Howland and crew returned home with plenty of regrets about a missed opportunity. But the fact was, UCLA’s defense just wasn’t very good, especially against Williams. Plenty of Bruins had their chance at slowing him, and none were very effective. Throw in the fact that Lazeric Jones and Tyler Honeycutt combined to make just one of their 15 field goal attempts and the Bruins left the desert feeling like they had left some money on the table. However, they were able to post a big win last night, knocking off cross-town rival USC and breaking a four-game losing streak in the series. Still, questions remain about the overall maturity on the team. As good as Reeves Nelson has been at times this year, he has a tendency to pout and sulk when things aren’t going his way, and he’s disappeared from a game on more than one occasion. Freshman center Josh Smith has had similar apparent attitude problems, could still stand to lose a pound or 50 and has struggled with foul difficulty all season long. And on Thursday night against Arizona, it was the junior point guard Jones who picked up a dumb technical on an intentional elbow at an inopportune time in the second half. The Bruins will need to get more consistency and more maturity in order to have a serious effect on the Pac-10 championship race, but given all the mistakes they’ve made thus far, the fact that they are right near the top of the standings has to be encouraging.

Looking ahead: On Saturday, UCLA welcomes Steve Lavin back to Westwood, as their former coach returns with his athletic St. John’s team in tow.  Next week, they host the Oregon schools, so this is a big stretch for the Bruins where they are capable of stringing together a streak of wins.

4. Washington State (15-6, 5-4): The Cougars really needed a win on Sunday night against Washington. A loss would have put them under .500 on the first swing around the conference and would have relegated them to long-shot NCAA Tournament consideration at best. But the win they got serves as by far their best win on the season. It’s not their fault teams like Baylor and Gonzaga have been underwhelming, but losses to similarly disappointing teams like Kansas State, Butler and a few tough losses around the Pac-10 were concerning. However, they got solid play and contributions from up and down the roster. Beyond Thompson, Reggie Moore (18 points, five assists), DeAngelo Casto (11 points, eight rebounds) and Faisal Aden (15 points, three three-pointers) all had impressive statlines, while role players like Abe Lodwick, Brock Motum, Marcus Capers and even little-used freshman Patrick Simon helped out.

Looking ahead: A road-trip to the Oregon schools gives the Cougars a good chance at potentially getting a record-boosting road sweep.

5. Cal (12-9, 5-4): In a way, it’s been a tale of two seasons for the Golden Bears. Remember, this is a team that scored five points in the first half against Temple the day after Thanksgiving. They followed that performance up with a 15-point second half a couple of days later against Boston College, and all told in the Old Spice Classic, they averaged 49 points per game. And, not to blame it all on one kid, but in the 13 games prior to Gary Franklin abruptly quitting the team, the Bears averaged 65.9 points; in the eight games since then (in games with roughly the same average number of possessions), they have averaged 77.1 points per game. A lot of this can be attributed to the emergence of Crabbe as a strong offensive weapon, but there is little doubt that the Cal offense has run much more smoothly and efficiently since Brandon Smith has joined the starting backcourt alongside Jorge Gutierrez in place of the departed Franklin.

Looking ahead: The Bears host the Oregon schools this week, and given the way the Pac-10 has played out thus far, no one really knows what to expect in those games.

6. USC (12-11, 4-6): The Trojans do one thing exceedingly well: they clean the defensive glass with abandon, grabbing over 72% of all available rebounds on that end of the floor. Last week, they were even better than that, grabbing 85.7% of the defensive rebounds against a poor rebounding Arizona State team, and then posting a 77.3 defensive rebound percentage against Arizona. But last night against UCLA, even that escaped them as they allowed UCLA to grab 40.7% of their misses. While the defensive rebounding is usually a strength, unfortunately for Kevin O’Neill, this team doesn’t do much else very well. Against ASU, the Trojans escaped with a two-point win primarily because the Sun Devils missed 13 of their 25 free throw attempts, while against the Wildcats on Saturday, the Trojans had no such luck. Not only was Arizona at least competent from the free throw line, but they were unconscious from the field, posting a 71.4 effective field goal percentage while hitting 10 of their 19 three-point attempts. The lack of defensive acumen has to be particularly galling to O’Neill, widely regarded as a defensive wizard who had these Trojans post the second best defensive efficiency numbers in the country last year. Given that USC’s players are just average offensively, if they can’t pick up their game on the defensive end, this becomes the middle-of-the-road bunch that their record suggests.

Looking ahead: After the Bruin game last night, USC has the weekend off in preparation for the Oregon schools next week, a pair of relatively easy games that the Trojans are desperately in need of. While NCAA Tournament at-large hopes are long gone at this point, USC needs to string together some wins to be considered for the other postseason tournaments.

7. Stanford (11-9, 4-5): The Cardinal have got to be kicking themselves over their loss at Maples Pavilion to Oregon, the first time they had lost at home to the Ducks since 1986. Stanford got off to a slow start and never led in the first half, but came back early in the second half to take a brief lead. But after they let the Ducks rip off a 12-0 run in the middle of the half, they never led again. The two main deficiencies in the loss were their failures at the free throw line and their inability to keep the undersized Ducks off the offensive glass. The Cardinal did bounce back on Saturday, defeating Oregon State and salvaging a home split, but Jeremy Green was particularly bad this weekend, making just five of his 19 shots in the two games. In fact, in the last eight games, Green has shot just 28.4% from the field and has posted just a 35.3 effective field goal percentage. But Johnny Dawkins has to be pleased with the development of a couple of his freshmen, as forward Dwight Powell scored 23 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, blocked six shots and swiped five steals on the weekend, while Anthony Brown had 33 points, 11 rebounds, six threes and four steals.

Looking ahead: The Cardinal play the back half of a four-game homestand this week with visits from Arizona on Thursday and Arizona State on Saturday.

8. Oregon (10-11, 3-6): I’ve written similar things in this space several times this year, but one more time won’t hurt anybody: Dana Altman can-flat out coach. The win over Stanford isn’t a whole lot to write home about, but the fact that this Duck squad has three conference wins and is within shouting distance of a .500 overall record is pretty impressive. This week, senior forward Joevan Catron returned to prominence for the Ducks after some mid-season injury problems, leading the team in scoring in both games and 18.5 PPG and 7 RPG. Malcolm Armstead was also effective in both games (13 PPG, 5 APG) and has now wrapped a pair of strong back-to-back performances around his stinker at Oregon State.

Looking ahead: The Ducks host the Washington schools, a daunting task for anyone in the conference.

9. Oregon State (8-12, 3-6): Remember when the Beavers were 2-0 in the conference, Jared Cunningham looked like the second coming of Russell Westbrook and there was much excitement about the potential of the OSU youngsters? Well, if so, you’re lucky, because watching the Beavers bumble through the last seven games should have rightfully given any basketball fan an amnesia-inducing brain aneurysm. Now I see how this team lost to Utah Valley State. Since Cunningham’s streak of nine straight double-digit games, he has been up and down. He posted a very strong 24-point performance against USC a couple weeks back, but in the four games around that outburst he has averaged 7.5 points per game on five-of-25 shooting. Freshman Roberto Nelson, who briefly stole Calvin Haynes’ starting spot, has been even less effective, scoring 21 total points in the last four games, making just seven of 30 shots and turning the ball over ten times, on his way towards giving that starting spot right back. Joe Burton has been better than both of them, but has never since approached his eye-opening play against the Arizona schools. The talent is under there somewhere, and we’ll see over the next couple of years if head coach Craig Robinson is capable of coaxing it out.

Looking ahead: Washington comes calling on Thursday, with a visit from Washington State on the slate for Saturday.

10. Arizona State (9-12, 1-8): The Sun Devils in no way looked like a 1-8 team this weekend. They played both USC and UCLA right down to the wire, losing the two games by a grand total of three points, but tucked away in the middle of two very close games were some details that ASU didn’t take care of that could have been the difference between a 0-2 weekend and a 2-0 weekend. Against USC, the team missed 13 of its 25 free throw attempts in losing a two-point game. Against the Bruins, they were better in that category, missing just nine of their 24 foul shots, but an inability to connect from the floor for huge swaths of the game condemned them to a 15-point second half deficit. They did scrape back to tie the game and send it to overtime, but allowing three straight open threes to start the extra period again doomed them to trying to fight back from behind; this time they simply ran out of time.

Looking ahead: The Devils travel to Cal and Stanford this weekend, and it will be interesting to see where this team’s head is at. Are they ready to pack it in, or will the three ASU seniors rally the troops and go out fighting?

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Set Your Tivo: 01.28-01.30

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 28th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor

This weekend brings us yet another great slate of games with plenty of ranked teams heading out on the road to face unranked opponents. How many will go down this time? All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#21 Georgetown @ #6 Villanova – 12 pm Saturday on ESPN (****)

Despite their win at the Carrier Dome over Syracuse last week, Villanova has lost two of its last three games and now welcomes their rival Georgetown Hoyas to the Wells Fargo Center. The Hoyas have won three straight over the New York-area schools to climb back to 4-4 in Big East play. Georgetown has won four true road games but none of those wins were against teams the caliber of Villanova.

If Freeman and the Hoyas Plan On Finishing Strong, Tonight's a Good Night To Start

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Set Your Tivo: 12.29.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 29th, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

A terrific Big East game and two Pac 10 games highlight tonight’s schedule while Marquette seeks a quality win on the road against an underrated SEC squad. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#8 Georgetown @ #16 Notre Dame – 7 pm on ESPN2 (****)

Two highly efficient offenses meet in each team’s first Big East game of the season. The visiting Hoyas are the top team in the nation when it comes to effective field goal percentage and rank in the top five in both two and three point shooting. Each team scores 81 PPG and is highly experienced, their key players all being veterans. Notre Dame starts four seniors, one of the most experienced teams in the entire country. Georgetown will look to take advantage of their superior marksmanship against an Irish defense that’s better but wouldn’t be confused with any of the top defenses in college basketball. Austin Freeman doesn’t need much room to shoot (49% from deep) and should find ample opportunities for good looks against Notre Dame tonight. Georgetown’s talented guards have the advantage but you can make the argument that the Irish have more balance. Notre Dame’s freshman point guard Eric Atkins has played well but Mike Brey counts on his seniors to do most of the damage. Ben Hansbrough and Tim Abromaitis can stroke it from deep and have the ability to score inside as well. Notre Dame has to rebound the ball well and get to the free throw line to win. If they do both, Julian Vaughn should be minimized. The Georgetown big man has had a nice year and gives them a threat up front where teams can’t just concentrate on the perimeter. However, foul trouble will open up the interior for Tyrone Nash and company while making it easier for the Irish to rebound. Notre Dame is already #3 in keeping opponents off the offensive boards and third in opponents free throw rate as well. Playing at home, ND should hold a significant advantage at the line against a Georgetown team that doesn’t get there often. Both teams shoot it well from the stripe but the Hoya offense doesn’t offer many chances to get fouled. Georgetown has played in quite a few tough environments this year and has emerged victorious all but once. The Irish are good but we love this Hoya team and expect them to earn another solid road win in a difficult atmosphere.

Marquette @ #22 Vanderbilt – 9 pm on ESPN2 (***)

The Golden Eagles desperately need a quality win out of conference and this is their final chance to get one. However, it’s a tall order playing on the road against a Vanderbilt team that hasn’t received the respect it deserves. This is Marquette’s second true road game and the first was against city rival Milwaukee at U.S. Cellular Arena, literally a short walk from the Bradley Center. Memorial Gym will be an entirely different test for Buzz Williams and his team. Looking at this matchup, one immediately notices the height advantage the Commodores will enjoy. Marquette doesn’t really have anyone near the size of Vanderbilt center Festus Ezeli, having a tremendous season. Jae Crowder and Jimmy Butler are good players but it’s hard to see them containing Ezeli for the whole game. Williams may have to turn to Davante Gardner, though the big freshman hasn’t been able to play any kind of extended minutes. Getting the Vanderbilt big man in foul trouble is highly encouraged if you’re a Marquette fan considering MU scores 61% of its points inside the arc. Ezeli has the potential to disrupt the flow inside and keep the men in gold off the boards. Kevin Stallings puts a balanced starting five on the court, a unit that’s efficient on both ends of the floor. Vanderbilt has a smart point guard, a three point gunner, good forwards and a strong interior presence. John Jenkins is the three point gunner and he’s caught fire of late, shooting 52% from deep over his last three games. He’ll look to take care of a soft Golden Eagles perimeter defense, ranked just #258 against the triple. Marquette will need an answer to Jenkins’ shooting prowess and Darius Johnson-Odom figures to be the most likely candidate. DJO has struggled most of the year with his shot but you can never count him out. He took the Big East by storm last year, making himself known to thousands of opposing fans. While he hasn’t been nearly the same shooter he was last season, you have to respect his ability and potential to break out at any point. Marquette needs a good game from their dynamic guard in order to pull the road upset tonight. Also key for Buzz Williams and his team will be turnover margin. Vanderbilt should have the edge on the glass so Marquette must come up with extra possessions by forcing turnovers and taking care of the ball on their own end.  Vanderbilt has lost just two games, each by three points. On paper this looks like a bad matchup for Marquette but that’s why they play the games. Still, we expect Vanderbilt to come away with a good home win against a middle of the pack Big East team that should improve as the season moves along.

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Set Your Tivo: Christmas Weekend Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 24th, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Not much action over the Christmas holiday but we do have a few interesting games on tap this weekend. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#11 Baylor vs. Florida State (in Honolulu, HI) – 7:30 pm Saturday on ESPN2 (***)

Chris Singleton is a Wonder to Behold For FSU

Baylor’s strong defense was torched by Washington State’s terrific balance to the tune of 57% shooting. When you don’t make shots and don’t defend, you usually don’t win. That was the case as Baylor shot 37% but was remarkably in the game due to a surge fueled by LaceDarius Dunn and their dominance on the boards. The Cougars were up by 20 at one point but Baylor came back and even took the lead before faltering in the end. Meanwhile, Florida State continued its offensive struggles in a loss to Butler. The Seminoles turn it over too much and are highly inefficient when they have the ball. Expect that to continue against a taller and longer Baylor defense. You’d have to think this will be a low scoring game but Baylor does have the potential to break out offensively. Anyone who watched yesterday’s game saw Dunn singlehandedly take over the game and bring the Bears back to give them a shot. Scott Drew’s team cut down on the turnovers but really struggled to find the range against a fundamentally sound Washington State defense. One key area to watch is Chris Singleton’s defense against the Baylor bigs, specifically Quincy Acy. Acy had a double-double against Washington State but really had to work for it. Singleton has the potential to disrupt him, giving FSU a chance. Leonard Hamilton’s best strategy may be to let Dunn get his points and focus on defending the Baylor supporting cast. Dunn and Acy combined for 45 of Baylor’s 71 points against Wazzu so keying in on Acy could be difference for Florida State. The Seminoles are going to have to hold Baylor under 65 points to have a chance as it’s highly unlikely they’ll reach that plateau themselves. Interior defense and turnovers will be the big stories in this game. It’s a very interesting matchup but one where Baylor should have too much offense for Florida State to handle. The Bears have three solid scoring options in Dunn, Acy and Perry Jones, something the Seminoles can’t quite match. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Florida State play well and have a chance to win but Baylor should be able to close the door and grab third place at the Diamond Head Classic.

Washington State vs. Butler (in Honolulu, HI) – 10 pm Saturday on ESPN2 (***)

This is an intriguing matchup between a team that’s really solid on both ends (Washington State) and one that struggles to shoot but can defend well at times and really disrupt a team’s offensive flow (Butler). Washington State is in the top ten in both offensive and defensive effective field goal percentage while Butler is #219 in the same category on the offensive side of the ball. Klay Thompson and Faisal Aden give Washington State two strong threats from deep with Thompson hitting the dagger three to put Baylor away on Thursday. On Saturday they’ll go up against Butler’s top-rated three point defense, allowing just 26% shooting. However, the Bulldogs are vulnerable in the paint and that could the difference in this game. With DeAngelo Casto and Brock Motum inside, Ken Bone has two offensive threats in the paint that Butler cannot match. The Bulldogs have Matt Howard but nobody else has emerged as the second inside threat. On the perimeter, Butler has struggled shooting the trey. They did well against Florida State behind Shelvin Mack but Brad Stevens can’t count on that every night from his team. The rebounding battle is something to watch and should determine who controls the pace of the game. Washington State isn’t a fast-paced team but they run an efficient offense with good screens and cuts. Butler will look to limit second opportunities and slow the game down, falling back into an aggressive man-to-man defense on the perimeter. Stevens may mix in a zone or two to confuse the Cougars but they can’t allow Wazzu to shoot over them and expect to win. Butler fouls a lot but Washington State doesn’t get many points from the line, nor do they shoot it very well. If the Cougars are to win, it’ll be through strong defense leading to scores on the other end. If Wazzu takes good care of the ball, it’s hard to see them losing this game. For the Bulldogs, they absolutely must rebound well in order to have a chance. Butler will scrap and defend hard but they’re a bit too limited offensively to keep up with Washington State’s dynamic scorers, specifically Thompson. He’ll be the difference in this game in what should be a Cougar title in Hawaii.

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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by rtmsf on December 23rd, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West conferences.

A Look Back

  • For the first time this season, the Pac-10 had a week where a handful of teams combined to put together some good efforts, and more importantly, some good wins over quality competition. As of Saturday morning, it looked like more of the same for Pac-10 teams, as USC headed to Lawrence and put up a valiant effort against Kansas, before letting it slip away – a familiar course of action from around the conference. But, later that afternoon UCLA handed BYU its first loss of the season in the Wooden Classic, one of the leading candidates to that point for the best win of the season by a Pac-10 school. The next day, Arizona beat North Carolina State in Raleigh, qualifying as a decent road win. And then on Tuesday, USC wrapped up its tough two-game road trip with a win at Tennessee, probably making the Saturday UCLA win take a back seat. At any rate, while some success has come the Pac-10’s way lately, the conference still sits at 72-39 on the season, with the really quality wins over quality opponents remaining few and far between.
  • Team of the Week.  USC – This award was headed to the Southland one way or another. But USC gets the nod over its L.A. rival after basically playing Kansas and Tennessee to draws on the road, escaping with a win in Knoxville despite coming up short at the Allen Fieldhouse. The Trojan win over Tennessee gives Kevin O’Neill’s club perhaps the two best Pac-10 wins in non-conference play to this point (the other a win over Texas), with the start of Pac-10 play a week away. Junior point guard Jio Fontan saw his first action as a Trojan this week, after sitting out the first semester due to his transfer from Fordham. He was effective in his first two games (he had 15 points at Kansas and 13 points,  four assists and three steals at Tennessee), but is still working on getting comfortable with his teammates. As he settles into his role, he has the ability to make the rest of his team better, meaning the Trojans of February and March should be even more dangerous than they are now.
  • Player of the Week. Klay Thompson, Junior, Washington State – The week started out a little iffy for Thompson, as for most of the Cougars’ game at Santa Clara on Sunday, his shots weren’t falling. Throw in six turnovers and Thompson had his Washington State club on the verge of being upset. But with 17 seconds to go, he hit a three to tie the game at 71. From there the game went to overtime, where Thompson scored another seven points and his Cougs pulled out a tough one by six. Thompson wound up with 23 points (albeit on 5/16 shooting), seven rebounds, six assists, five steals, a couple blocks and four threes along the way. Not bad for a rough night. He followed that performance up with a much crisper performance in the opening round of the Diamond Head Classic on Wednesday, with 28 points and four more threes in a Cougar win over Mississippi State. He is now averaging 21 points per game on the season while hitting 48% of his shots and leading his team in assists and steals.
  • Newcomer of the Week.  Josh Smith, Freshman, UCLA – Smith was a major factor in UCLA’s Saturday win over BYU, scoring 15 points, grabbing eight rebounds and playing gutsy and smart minutes down the stretch, despite playing with four fouls, as UCLA fought off the Cougars. Smith picked up his fourth foul on a questionable call with about 15 minutes left in the game, and after he went to the bench BYU scored 11 straight points to cut the UCLA lead to just two. However, rather than keep Smith on the pine until late in the game, head coach Ben Howland showed a lot of faith in his big kid, putting him back in the game with over ten minutes still to play. Smith responded immediately, rebounding his own miss and getting the put-back just after re-entering on his way to seven points, three rebounds and perhaps the biggest defensive play of the game in a span of just over four minutes. That big defensive play occurred when Smith, playing with those four fouls, slid over in the lane in front of a driving Jimmer Fredette, and drew an offensive foul, the fourth foul on BYU’s All-American candidate. Smith has been up and down in his first month as a collegiate player, but if the Bruins entertain hopes of an NCAA Tournament invitation, they’ll need to continue to get play like this from their big and talented youngster.
  • Game of the Week.  USC 65, Tennessee 64 – In all honesty, that USC/Kansas game was probably the more entertaining game. But in a week where the Pac-10 actually pulled out some big wins, I wanted to mention a Pac-10 win in this space for the first time this season. After leading by as much as eight in the middle of the second half at Thompson-Boling Arena, the Trojans had to hang on down the stretch in order to pull this one out. Senior guard Donte Smith continued his hot play of late by hitting a big three with just over two minutes left to give USC some breathing room at 65-60, but Tennessee pulled back within striking distance with four straight free throws. But USC stepped up the defensive pressure down the stretch and forced a deep Volunteer three which rattled off the rim as time expired to earn the win. USC won despite a rough night for leading scorer Nikola Vucevic who was held to just four points and one rebound before fouling out after just 24 minutes. The Trojans were led by 5’7 freshman guard Maurice Jones and his 15 points, four rebounds, four assists, four steals and three three-pointers.
  • Game of the Upcoming Week.  Washington State in the Diamond Head Classic, ESPN on 12/23 and 12/25 – The Cougs should get a chance or two at some quality opponents in Honolulu. With a win over a short-handed Mississippi State team already under their belts, they get to face Baylor in the semifinal round. Baylor will present quite a challenge for WSU, but it also gives the Cougars a chance to put another good win on their resume. Win or lose, they should then get a chance to face either Butler or Florida State on Christmas Day, either in the championship game or the third-place game. While neither one of those opponents is ranked, they each present Ken Bone’s club with another opportunity to face some big-league competition.

Power Rankings

1. Washington State 9-1.  We mentioned the Cougars’ overtime win at Santa Clara above while awarding the Player of the Week award to Klay Thompson, but several other Cougs contributed in that game. Junior forward Marcus Capers hit all five of his shots in that game, ending up with 14 points and seven rebounds, and front-court mate DeAngelo Casto scored 15, including five in the overtime period, and added ten more rebounds. From Santa Clara, WSU headed to Honolulu for the Diamond Head Classic, and got things off to a strong start there, taking apart Mississippi State in the second half of their opening round game there. WSU outscored MSU 44-17 in the second half while hitting 12 of their 24 three-point attempts for the game and outrebounding the Bulldogs 39-23.

Looking ahead: Baylor awaits in the second round of the Diamond Head tournament, with Butler or Florida State rounding up the weekend. Once back on the mainland, all thoughts turn to conference play as a trip to Pauley Pavilion opens Pac-10 play next Wednesday.

2. Washington 7-3.  Two wins this week by an average of 29 points over teams with a combined 7-15 record tells us little or nothing about this Husky team. We know they can beat up on bad teams – they’ve made a living out of doing so. Isaiah Thomas led the way for the Huskies as he broke out his own personal 10-0 run to start the second half of Washington’s 30-point victory over San Francisco. And he took that streak and turned it into a season-high 24 points in the 28-point win over Nevada on Wednesday. Thomas’ numbers this season thus far are up nearly all the way across the board. While his scoring average is down a bit, he’s averaging career-bests in assists, steals, field goal percentage, three-point percentage, assist-to-turnover ratio, with a career low in turnovers. With competition going up a notch as conference play nears, we’ll keep an eye on those numbers to see if Thomas can keep up that level of play.

Looking ahead: A trip to Los Angeles in advance of the new year, with the Pac-10 opener at USC on 12/29 followed by a visit to Pauley Pavilion on New Year’s Eve.

3. UCLA 7-4.  The importance of the UCLA win over BYU can’t be overstated. For a young team, bouncing back from a horrific 09-10 campaign, with an 0-3 record in their three biggest games of the season and a painful loss to Montana to boot, the BYU win showed this young team that they are capable of playing with top-25 caliber programs. But, just as important as their performance in a highly anticipated game was how they would respond in the next game, against a team without as much name recognition. After UCLA’s strong performance in a loss at Kansas a few weeks back, they got caught napping in their next game against Montana. This time, they faced Montana State after the BYU game, and while there were lapses of concentration (after leading by as many as 15 in the first half, UCLA got sloppy and allowed Montana  State to retake the lead), UCLA was able to pull away late and secure a 16-point win behind Malcolm Lee’s 18 points. Ben Howland would have preferred more consistent play in the follow-up game, but at least his team was able to come away with the win.

Looking ahead: The Bruins wrap up their pre-Pac-10 non-conference slate on Thursday with a visit from UC Irvine before hosting the Washington schools in the opening weekend of conference play.

4. Arizona 11-2.  The Wildcats looked pretty bad in knocking off Northern Arizona by five last Thursday, but bounced back with a solid win over NC State on Sunday night, and then a blowout of overmatched Robert Morris on Wednesday. In the NAU game, Arizona was outrebounded 28-18 and had to fight back from a seven-point half-time deficit to get to a tie game with just over a minute left. From there, Kevin Parrom connected on a three-point play, and then Brendon Lavender got a steal that led to a breakaway bucket to complete the final margin. The NC State game was much less dramatic, as the Wildcats never trailed in the second half, but they did get outrebounded again, this time by a 36-28 margin, including an 18-7 deficit on the offensive end. The Robert Morris game was a whole other level of undramatic, as the Wildcats won by 26. Derrick Williams continued his efficient play, scoring almost 19 points per game this week, although his rebounding numbers have fallen off some – he had just eight total rebounds in the first two games before grabbing nine against RMU. The sophomore Parrom was the most impressive Wildcat this week, with his 14 points, five rebounds, four assists and three threes against NAU making up the best line of his young career.

Looking ahead: Nothing but Pac-10 play from here, as the Wildcats open with visits to the Oregon schools beginning on 12/30.

5. USC 7-5.  We’ve talked about USC pretty extensively above, so we’ll just point out here that aside from the addition of Fontan, the Trojans have plenty of room to grow defensively. In each of the last four seasons, USC ranked in the top 25 teams in the nation in terms of defensive efficiency, according to Ken Pomeroy, and last year they were number two in the country in that area. This year, they sit at a respectable 44th, but if we know Kevin O’Neill, you can expect that ranking to improve as the year goes on.

Looking ahead: Lehigh on Thursday is the last non-conference game of the regular season, with conference play kicking off Wednesday with a visit from pre-season Pac-10 favorite, Washington.

6. Arizona State 6-4.  The Sun Devils scored a couple of solid wins this week, with a three-point road-win over Nevada and a 17-point home handling of Long Beach State. The concern around Tempe has been the relatively quiet performances from seniors Rihards Kuksiks, Ty Abbott and Jamelle McMillan, but no such worries this week. Kuksiks led the way in the Nevada game with 20 points and four threes. But it was Ty Abbott who hit a clutch three just under a minute to silence a run by the Wolfpack and give the Sun Devils some breathing room. Abbott wound up with 17 in that game, then followed that up with a team-high 15 against LBSU. McMillan was also solid this week, averaging six assists per game and snagging six steals in the Long Beach game alone. Freshman Kyle Cain also had a big game against the 49ers, grabbing 16 rebounds and scoring 12 points.

Looking ahead: North Carolina A&T is the final non-conference visitor prior to Pac-10 play, with a trip to Corvallis kicking things off there next Thursday.

7. Cal 6-5.  Win a game you should win, lose a game you should lose. That’s the story of the Golden Bear week, as a loss to Kansas followed a win over Cal Poly. The bad news is this team doesn’t seem to be improving a whole lot as the season goes on. We knew that this Cal team had some growing pains ahead of it, with a slew of youngsters trying to replace last year’s decorated but now-departed seniors. In the early going, Mike Montgomery has relied on veterans like front-court grinders Markhuri Sanders-Frison and Harper Kamp and backcourt annoyance Jorge Gutierrez to keep the Bears in games out of sheer determination. These guys fight and scrap and bother the opposition (at times to the point of retaliation, as we saw with Kansas’ Marcus Morris and his flagrant elbow on Wednesday night), but they’re just not the type of guys who you can create offensive opportunities, a problem which leads to things like the infamous Cal five-point half. The hope for Golden Bear fans was that freshmen guards Allen Crabbe and Gary Franklin would use the non-conference season to settle in and be ready to break out in Pac-10 play, but while Crabbe has had some moments on his way to averaging 7.4 points and 4.7 assists per game, Franklin has struggled mightily. He’s turned the ball over more than he’s handed out assists and he’s shooting an awful 28.4% from the field. Montgomery keeps running him out there though, for 26-plus minutes a night every night, hoping that his confidence in his talented freshman will rub off some. If it does, this Cal team could surprise some people; if it doesn’t, they’ll just continue to annoy people.

Looking ahead: A meeting with Hartford on Tuesday wraps up the non-conference slate, then it is on to Palo Alto for their Pac-10 opener with Stanford.

8. Stanford 6-4.  From here on down to the last place team in the conference, there is nothing but bad news and losses this week. Stanford’s struggles started Saturday when they were dominated at Butler. After already trailing by 19 at halftime, the Cardinal were outscored 10-0 to start the half by Matt Howard alone as Butler got all over Johnny Dawkins’ club in every aspect of the game. On Tuesday, in what was the final game of an 8-4 Big 12 win in the Big 12/Pac-10 challenge, Stanford tripped up against at Oklahoma State. Juniors Jeremy Green and Josh Owens led the Cardinal again this week, as they have done most of the season, scoring 33.5 points per game between the two of them this week, as opposed to the 28 they normally average. However, there hasn’t been even a semi-consistent third option anywhere else, although freshman guard Aaron Bright threw his hat into the ring for that role against Oklahoma State with 15 points and four assists.

Looking ahead: The Cardinal host Yale on Thursday, then get their conference play opened on the second day of the new year with a battle against Bay Area rival Cal at the Farm.

9. Oregon 7-5.  Losses to Virginia and Idaho this week turn what had been a reasonably good non-conference slate for the Ducks into just a typical ugly record for a team expected to finish near the bottom of the conference. Oregon showed this week that not only are they an undersized team, they’re also simply an under-talented team, as they shot just 34% from the field combined. Senior Joevan Catron continued to produce – he led the Ducks in scoring and rebounding in each game – but he’s still playing out of position and is more or less surrounded by an underwhelming cast.

Looking ahead: The Arizona schools come to town, starting on Thursday, in what should be a long and ugly conference run for the Ducks.

10. Oregon State 5-6.  The Beavers had two very winnable games this week at home, and came away with a 1-1 record. First, the bad news: a loss against George Washington in which they turned the ball over 19 times, forced just nine turnovers and missed 15 of their 19 attempts from three. A forgettable performance, so let’s just forget it, especially since the win this week was a 20-point blowout of Illinois-Chicago, a team that just got done beating Illinois, a top 25 team. Not only is that a pretty good win for the Beavs, the way that did it has to have their fans excited, as four OSU players scored in double figures: a sophomore, a redshirt freshman and two true freshmen. Sophomore Jared Cunningham led the way with 22 points and three steals. Highly-anticipated redshirt freshman Roberto Nelson went from 14 in just his third game in a Beaver uniform. Freshman Ahmad Starks had 12 points, three assists and four threes, and fellow freshman Devon Collier had ten points, seven rebounds and three steals. When Craig Robinson assembled these kinds of recruits in Corvallis, this is what OSU fans had in mind. Throw in guys like senior forward Omari Johnson and sophomore centers Joe Burton and Angus Brandt and all of a sudden you’ve got the makings of a rotation that looks like a passable Pac-10 group. And that’s without even mentioning senior guard Calvin Haynes, a guy capable of going for 27 points, as he did against Charlotte, although just as likely to go for two points on five field goals attempts in 25 minutes, as he did in a blowout loss at Colorado. This is still a bad Beaver team, but there is no reason this team can’t at least be competitive in many games in a down Pac-10.

Looking ahead: It’s all Pac-10 play from here, as the Beavers will host the Arizona schools next week.

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Set Your Tivo: 12.23.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 23rd, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Not a bad set of games tonight but nothing that jumps out at you as a must watch. The best games of the night may very well be in paradise as opposed to Memphis. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#11 Baylor vs. Washington State (in Honolulu, HI) – 6:30 pm on ESPNU (****)

A Rare Klay Thompson Sighting on National TV Tonight

The theory that good guard play wins in college basketball will be put to the test in this game from the Diamond Head Classic. Washington State’s guard-heavy lineup goes up against Baylor’s powerful front court, though the Bears have a star guard in LaceDarius Dunn. The Cougars have surprised this year and sit at 9-1 with wins over Gonzaga and Mississippi State in addition to a close home loss against Kansas State. Washington State shares one common opponent with Baylor, that’s Gonzaga. Baylor lost to the Bulldogs this past Saturday in Dallas while Washington State rolled the Zags 81-59 at home ten days earlier. Baylor’s offense has struggled a bit against the two decent teams they’ve played, Gonzaga and Arizona State. Combine that with the fact that Washington State defends the three exceptionally well, the Bears should look to use their strength and athleticism inside and pound the ball into the paint. Rebounding is a concern for the Cougars, especially against a Baylor team that averages 41 RPG. Even if the Bears miss some shots inside, they’re sure to get a bunch of put-back chances against the WSU front line. For Washington State, DeAngelo Casto must have a good night on the glass in order to contain Baylor’s front court, led by Perry Jones and Quincy Acy. The Cougars must look to their back court for scoring and they’ll feel comfortable knowing they have Klay Thompson on their team. Thompson had 28 points against Mississippi State on Wednesday and will be in the running for Pac 10 POY honors. In addition to Thompson, Faisal Aden has enjoyed a terrific season so far. Aden and Thompson form a strong guard duo capable of draining three’s with regularity. Washington State is very good inside the arc as well but Baylor’s interior defense poses the toughest challenge the Cougars have faced so far. They need to be clicking from deep or else it could be a long night. Baylor’s back court isn’t too shabby either with Dunn and A.J. Walton, but each player struggles with turnovers. Washington State enjoys a great turnover margin and that’s how they’re going to get extra possessions against the turnover-prone Bears. With the expected rebounding problem, Washington State has to create turnovers to win this game. Expect Baylor to have an edge at the free throw line as well, enjoying a nice free throw rate on both ends of the floor. The Bears also shoot five percent better from the line than Washington State. The Cougars are a good team but Baylor has something to prove after falling to Gonzaga. We’ll take the Bears behind a big game from Acy inside.

#9 Georgetown @ Memphis – 8 pm on ESPN2 (***)

With the departure of Angel Garcia, the injury to Wesley Witherspoon and their struggles on the court, Memphis is going through some adversity. How Josh Pastner gets his young team to overcome that will determine how far he can take his talented group of players. The Tigers have had three close calls against bad teams and are struggling a bit offensively. Memphis averaged 85 PPG in its first seven games but that number has dropped to 69 PPG over the last three contests. Memphis is not a particularly great shooting team but they get to the charity stripe often and do make up some points there. The pregame story is whether or not Witherspoon will play, as Pastner did not rule him out and said he was day-to-day. If he doesn’t play, the guard-laden Tigers will be severely undersized and thin overall. If he does play, they’ll still be undersized but at least will have a scorer capable of pulling the Georgetown big men away from the basket. For the purposes of this preview, we’ll go on the assumption that he doesn’t play and wouldn’t be near 100% even if he does. Memphis already struggles rebounding the basketball and that’ll be a huge problem against a Hoya team with good rebounding guards and two strong post men. Look for Julian Vaughn and Hollis Thompson to own the paint with Witherspoon out. For Memphis, Will Coleman and Tarik Black have to make their presence known, otherwise Georgetown will focus its defense on the Tiger guards all night. A freshman, Black has had a tough time adjusting to a bigger role on this Memphis team. Tonight is a huge opportunity to assert himself and make himself a strong option for his head coach. The story for Georgetown is obviously their terrific trio of guards. They account for 57% of their points and all are great three point shooters. Point guard Chris Wright is also averaging seven assists per game during his senior season in the nation’s capital. Jason Clark is one of the most underrated players in the game today and has the potential to break out at any time. Austin Freeman is their rock. The preseason Big East POY leads the team in scoring and is a lights out three point shooter. When Freeman is hot, Georgetown is incredibly difficult to beat. The Hoyas are third nationally in offensive efficiency, first in effective field goal percentage and fourth in two point percentage, showing they can get it done both inside and out. It’s no surprise Georgetown hoists a lot of three’s, getting a third of their points from the arc. Memphis has to do a good job defensively on the perimeter otherwise Georgetown will shoot them out of the building. The Tigers also have to worry about turnovers, currently averaging 16 per game with Joe Jackson accounting for almost a quarter of those. Jackson is another freshman who’s incredibly talented but a bit undisciplined at this point in his career. He needs to play well and also get Chris Crawford and Charles Carmouche involved from the arc. With almost all of their players being guards, Memphis is going to have to try to match Georgetown’s outside shooting and get to the foul line. The Tigers will be in this game if they can disrupt the flow and score by getting to the stripe but Georgetown is just too experienced and talented for the young Tigers to overcome. Expect the Hoyas to pick up a nice road win at the FedEx Forum tonight after missing an opportunity at Temple a couple weeks ago.

A few other games to monitor:

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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 16th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West conferences.

A Look Back

  • Much like the rest of the country, this week in the Pac-10 was mighty slow as student-athletes focused on their schoolwork in anticipation of winter break. And, much like the rest of the Pac-10 season to date, the three challenging games on the schedule this week for Pac-10 institutions all went down as losses, as Arizona got destroyed by BYU, Washington continued its run of losing to quality competition in a loss to Texas A&M (a loss that also sealed the Pac-10’s fate in the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Challenge) and Cal dropped a nail-biter against Southern Mississippi. With just a couple more weeks of non-conference play remaining, the Pac-10 is in danger again of having few if any viable candidates for at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament.
  • Team of the Week: VACANT – Really. There’s not a team out there that did anything this week to earn any accolades. Who is this supposed to go to? USC for beating Northern Arizona? UCLA for unimpressive wins over Cal Poly and UC Davis? Stanford for not slipping up against UC Riverside and North Carolina A&T? Cal for only losing to Southern Miss by two? Nah. There’s just not a team in the conference that did anything worthwhile this week.
  • Player of the Week: E.J. Singler, Sophomore, Oregon – While Singler certainly owes a portion of this award to the fact that it was a light schedule around the conference, he did his fair share to outright win this honor as well. Kyle’s little brother averaged 16 points and 12 rebounds per game in leading his Ducks to a pair of easy wins over a couple teams with a combined record of 5-14, including Willamette of Division III, a game in which Singler went for 18/17 and three steals. So far this season, the versatile Singler is second on his team in scoring (13.1 PPG), and leads the team in rebounding (6.7 RPG), blocks (11 on the year) and threes (14-26 from deep), while putting in just a minute less than the team-leader in minutes, Joevan Catron.
  • Newcomer of the Week: Faisal Aden, Junior, Washington State – Aden has moved to the bench with point guard Reggie Moore now back from his wrist injury, but his production hasn’t slowed a whole lot. He added another 20-point game this week in WSU’s by-the-books win over Texas Pan-American, with a season-high seven rebounds and another four three-pointers along the way, and is presently averaging 18.3 points per outing while hitting at a rate of 49.6% from the field. Aden’s continued ability to providing a scoring punch off the bench makes the Cougars one of the top contenders for the conference crown.
  • Game of the Week: Texas A&M 63, Washington 62 – Another week, and another disappointing Pac-10 loss takes home our Game of the Week honors, this time the Huskies coming up short in their attempt to beat somebody – anybody – of consequence. Despite their perfect 16-16 night from the foul line and the Aggies’ imperfect night from deep (0-8 from three), the Huskies were outrebounded, outworked and outclassed by their Big 12 opponent. And yet, with time winding down, they still had a chance when Isaiah Thomas snuck up on Nathan Walkup in the open court and picked his pocket with six seconds left, then raced up court to the free throw line before running out of room and out of time. He forced a shot up as time expired into the waiting arms of Aggie junior David Loubeau who sent it back and, with it, sent the Huskies back to Seattle with three losses in their three attempts against top-tier opponents. Soon enough, all these Pac-10 teams will be playing each other, so we’ll have to choose a game in which a Pac-10 team leaves victorious.
  • Game of the Upcoming Week: USC at Kansas, 12/11, 9:00 AM PST, ESPN – While this would not normally be the type of game you would look down the schedule and circle, there are a couple of interesting debuts here that should have all college basketball fans – not just Pac-10 fans – very interested. For the Jayhawks, freshman guard Josh Selby will make his debut, while Trojan fans will get their first glimpse at their new point guard, Jio Fontan, a junior transfer from Fordham. While Selby’s unveiling will get the most attention, given that he was a McDonald’s All-American and one of the most highly regarded recruits in the nation this offseason, Kevin O’Neill and the Trojans are just as excited about Fontan. “He’s our best player,” O’Neill said. “He’s our best leader. He’s our best scorer. He’s our best defender. He’s our best passer. He’s our best guard. He’s our best player.” Whether he’ll be able to fit right in with the Trojans and move them beyond the up-and-down 6-4 squad we’ve seen so far remains to be seen, but O’Neill at least has some experience with getting midseason transfers to step in at point and change the look of his team, as Pat Gerrity did last season for USC. Last year, Gerrity stepped in about this time and led the Trojans to an improbable blowout win over then ninth-ranked Tennessee in his first game back. If Fontan can make anywhere near that type of splash in his first game back, the Trojans could head into Pac-10 play with postseason hopes.



Power Rankings

1. Washington State (7-1): Following this week’s Washington and Arizona losses, it is time to bump the Cougars up to the top spot in the league, even in a week where all they did was post a 22-point win over an outmanned Texas-Pan American squad. This is far from a perfect WSU team, but they’ve cleaned up some of their weaknesses from last season – namely, defensive efficiency – and even improved on their strengths. Last season, Klay Thompson started out the season on fire, ripping through the non-conference schedule with a barrage of shots from deep, but this season he has clearly returned as a more complete player. He’s added the ability to score off the dribble effectively, he’s become a much more effective passer (he has led the team in assists thus far, stepping in as the team’s playmaker as the incumbent point, Reggie Moore, sat out the first five games with a wrist injury), while still rebounding at a good rate (4.3 RPG). Throw in juco transfer Faisal Aden as a consistent offensive threat alongside Thompson, plus the return of Moore at point and frontcourt contributors like DeAngelo Casto and Marcus Capers, and the emergence of sophomore Brock Motum and freshman Patrick Simon and this is a solid WSU team that is not going anywhere once conference play kicks in.

Looking ahead: The Cougars travel to Santa Clara on Sunday before heading off to Honolulu for the Diamondhead Classic, where they’ll open against Mississippi State (with Renardo Sidney and Dee Bost) with a potential matchup with Baylor awaiting in the semis, assuming both squads advance.


2. Washington (6-3): It cannot be said enough, just how disappointing the Huskies have been thus far. Sure, KenPom loves them, still rating them as the sixth best team in the country and the seventh most efficient offense in the land, but even a slightly closer look reveals a team with some cracks. Sure, their three losses are to Kentucky, Michigan State and Texas A&M – all three teams that figure to be dancing come March – but in all three of those games, they were outrebounded (in the Kentucky and A&M games, severely). Worse yet, for a vaunted offensive team, they turned the ball over, didn’t shoot particularly well and were consistently slowed by their defensive-minded opponents. Then there’s Isaiah Thomas, the pint-sized point with the over-sized game. However, thus far he has struggled to take on his new role as the team’s go-to offensive player. In previous seasons he has been at best a secondary option for Lorenzo Romar, but now he needs to be the man for the team when the game is on the line, and thus far, he has been largely ineffective in the team’s three losses: a 13-point average on a combined 10-32 with 11 turnovers and nine assists. Certainly, the team’s three losses aren’t entirely on Thomas’ shoulders, but if he’s going to take over the role of team leader, he’ll need to be a lot more effective in their big games.

Looking ahead: A couple home games against San Francisco and Nevada round up the pre-conference slate (although the Huskies do have one more non-conference game with Seattle mixed in with their Pac-10 play) before the Washington schools visit the Los Angeles area in the last week of December to kick off the conference season.


3. UCLA (5-4): Following the Montana debacle, the Bruins got back on track this week with some ho-hum victories over UC Davis and Cal Poly at Pauley Pavilion. While names like Tyler Honeycutt, Reeves Nelson, Malcolm Lee and Joshua Smith (19 points and 12 rebounds against Cal Poly) jump off the box scores for UCLA, a closer look reveals signs of life from much-maligned point Jerime Anderson. Anderson handed out 11 assists against just one turnover while knocking down three of his seven three-point attempts in these two games and looked solid defensively. Clearly this means one of two things: either Anderson is starting to come around and, while he’ll probably never live up to his advance-billing as a highly-regarded recruit, is ready to make solid positive contributions for Ben Howland, or he’s more suited to play at the Big West level. Anderson’s taken enough abuse in his first two seasons as a Bruin, so in the spirit of finding that silver-lining for a hard-working kid, either one of those possibilities is an improvement for a guy who has struggled mightily living up to his expectations in Westwood.

Looking ahead: The last major test for the Bruins before conference play comes Saturday in the Wooden Classic against BYU. However, given their earlier experiences with overlooking Montana following a tough loss at Kansas, UCLA would do well to pay attention when Montana State comes calling on Tuesday.


4. Arizona (8-2): There’s no sense in beating around the bush: Arizona got completely destroyed by BYU in Salt Lake City on Saturday. A year after allowing Jimmer Fredette to go for 49 points at the McKale Center, the Wildcats were fortunate to hold the All-American candidate to a mere 33 points and nine assists in this year’s matchup. Perhaps more disturbing than their inability to reign in Fredette – a guy who few teams in the country have been able to control – was their own inability to get their All-American candidate, Derrick Williams, free. Williams was efficient against BYU, tallying 13 points on nine shots, but the Cougars denied him the ball and collapsed on him when he did touch it, forcing other ‘Cats to beat them. Sophomore point Momo Jones did his best, going for 20 points (on 7-11 shooting with four threes mixed in) in his best game of the season, but the rest of the team aside from Williams and Jones combined to make just nine of their 40 shots. At this, point the entirety of the Arizona resume is that they played Kansas sort of close on national television, losing by just eight. Sorry, but an eight-point loss as your best performance of the season doesn’t present major qualifications for a conference title, even in a weakened Pac-10.  

Looking ahead: The Wildcats host Northern Arizona in something called the Fiesta Bowl Basketball Classic on Thursday (even though the Fiesta Bowl is a football game, and one that won’t even be played for about two more weeks), then travel to Raleigh for a pretty tough roadie against North Carolina State.


5. USC (6-4): The Trojans have been the epitome of an up-and-down team so far. They won their first two against less-than-stellar completion, then dropped their next two against only slightly better teams. Two more unimpressive wins followed, backed up by even more unimpressive losses. The good Trojans have been back for the last two, the upset of Texas a couple weekends back and their dispatching of Northern Arizona this week, during which senior point guard Donte Smith caught absolute fire in the middle of the second half, scoring 14 straight points to offer a strong response to an NAU team that had cut a 12-point halftime lead to just three. Smith started his run by knocking down a three, then stole the ball on the defensive end and turned that into a breakaway layup, before wrapping up his outburst with three more threes to send the Trojans on their way to an eight-point win.  

Looking ahead: Given the Trojans two-up/two-down pattern, this week’s road trips to Kansas and Tennessee look even less promising, although maybe newly eligible point guard Jio Fontan will be able to break the USC streak.


6. Arizona State (4-4): The Sun Devils played just one game this week, a 71-48 thrashing of Gardner-Webb, but there are some signs that they might be on the verge of turning things around. While sophomore Trent Lockett and freshman Kyle Cain have been pretty solid contributors for Herb Sendek this season, the Devils’ trio of seniors (Ty Abbott, Rihards Kuksiks and Jamelle McMillan) have been disappointing. Not to read to much into a win over Gardner-Webb, but those three combined for 39 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists and nine threes in that win. Given that each of those guys has been a consistent contributor for the Devils over their time in Tempe, they might be ready to turn it on for conference play.

Looking ahead: The Sun Devils make a trip to Reno to face Nevada on Friday before returning home to host Long Beach State, a pair of games that should not be overlooked.


7. Cal (5-4): Three games into the season, Mike Montgomery looked like he was on the verge of pulling off something special in Berkeley. Despite losing four starters from last year’s Pac-10 champion, along with a host of other reserves to various maladies and defections, the Golden Bears opened with wins over CS Northridge, New Mexico and Temple, the last two on that list particularly impressive. Since then, the Bears have gone 2-4, scored five points in a half on one occasion and followed that up with a 15-point outburst in a half the next night out, and have lost twice by 20 or more. This week’s slip-up was quite a bit closer than that, as they lost at home to Southern Mississippi in a nail-biter, with the game undecided until a potential game-winning three by Jorge Gutierrez clanged off the heel at the buzzer. The Golden Eagles’ Gary Flowers scored the last 12 points for Southern Miss on his way to a game high 28, including the game-winner with three seconds left, but the game was really won on the glass as Cal was outrebounded 31-22 on the game and 11-1 on the offensive end, an unsettling stat given the Bears’ desire to rely on the toughness of their frontcourt duo of Harper Kamp and Markuri Sanders-Frison. One highlight for the Bears was junior Nigel Carter’s 16 points on 4-4 shooting from deep, matching his entire output from last season in one afternoon. Carter hasn’t exactly been a consistent scorer for the Bears this season (he has just 14 total points in the other eight Cal games), but after Sunday’s performance, he has made eight of his 11 three-point attempts on the season.

Looking ahead: Cal hosts Cal Poly on Saturday before being the last of four Pac-10 teams to get a crack at Kansas (at least in the regular season) this year.


8. Stanford (6-2): Stanford got its first action since the 76 Classic in this week, although the competition wasn’t exactly top-notch: UC Riverside and North Carolina A&T. Junior Jeremy Green led the way with nine three-pointers this week while averaging 20 points a night and junior Josh Owens stepped up as the likely candidate to be Green’s running mate this season, notching 14.5 points and nine rebounds per game this week and proving himself a good Mr. Inside to Green’s Mr. Outside. While Johnny Dawkins won’t learn a whole lot about his team against competition of this caliber, at least the Cardinal had a chance to get back out on the court and get the relatively unexperienced team used to playing with each other.  

Looking ahead: A significant bump up in the level of talent this week, as the Cardinal travel to Indianapolis for a meeting with Butler on Saturday before a Tuesday matchup with Oklahoma State in Stillwater.


9. Oregon (7-3): The Ducks continue to be rock solid under new head coach Dana Altman, generally beating the teams they are supposed to beat while giving solid efforts in their losses. This week the competition was meager (Willamette, a Division III school and Jacksonville State), but the Ducks took care of business with a great deal of maturity. Instead of sleepwalking through overmatched opponents, Oregon did exactly what they were supposed to do. They beat Willamette by 33 while dominating on the glass, then never trailed in the crisply-played game against Jacksonville State, handing out 20 assists on their 29 field goals. While I’ve still got Oregon down here near the bottom of the conference, this is a solid ninth-place team, a team that will not beat itself, that will give consistent effort on a nightly basis, and a team that will probably finish further up the standings despite the limitations of this roster.

Looking ahead: So far, the Ducks have played every game on their schedule within the friendly confines of the state of Oregon. That changes on Friday with a trip to Charlottesville to face Virginia, a significant test for a young Duck team. They return home on Tuesday to face Idaho at Mac Court.


10. Oregon State (4-5): I’m going to try to get through this Oregon State review without mentioning how bad this Beaver team is. Wait. Does that count? Oh well. The good news for the Beavers is that their savior has finally arrived. Highly regarded recruit Roberto Nelson has finally played his first game in a Beaver uniform, over 15 months since he first set foot on the campus as a student, after battling with the NCAA over academic eligibility issues. While his debut performance in the Beavers’ 20-point win over Texas-Pan American was underwhelming (15 minutes, four points, three turnovers), OSU fans got a glimpse of the type of talent that made him a top-100 recruit a couple years back, as Nelson scored 13 in a five-point loss at Montana. While he’s not going to turn this team into a contender overnight, he is a badly needed dash of talent on an otherwise very ordinary roster.

Looking ahead: George Washington and Illinois-Chicago visit Corvallis – two very winnable games for the Beavs.

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RTC Conference Primers: #6 – Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 1st, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West Conferences and an occasional contributor.

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Washington (13-5)
  2. Arizona (12-6)
  3. UCLA (11-7)
  4. Washington State (10-8)
  5. Arizona State (10-8)
  6. Cal (9-9)
  7. USC (9-9)
  8. Stanford (6-12)
  9. Oregon State (6-12)
  10. Oregon (4-14)

All-Conference Team

  • G: Isaiah Thomas. Jr, Washington (16.9 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 3.2 APG)
  • G: Klay Thompson, Jr, Washington State (19.6 PPG, 5.1 RPG).
  • G: Jeremy Green, Jr, Stanford (16.6 PPG, 3.8 RPG)
  • F: Derrick Williams, Soph, Arizona (15.7 PPG, 7.1 RPG)
  • F: Nikola Vucevic, Jr, USC (10.7 PPG, 9.4 RPG)

6th Man

Ty Abbott, Sr, Arizona State (12.0 PPG, 4.4 RPG)

Impact Newcomer

Josh Smith, Fr, UCLA: Smith is the biggest incoming recruit in the conference, in more ways than one. Ranked the 20th-best recruit in the 2010 class according to ESPNU, Smith also tipped the scales at somewhere over three bills when he stepped onto the UCLA campus this summer. Immediately, head coach Ben Howland put him in a conditioning program and Smith changed his dietary habits as well, putting him on the road towards dropping 40 pounds already. Paired with his soft hands and quick feet, the trimmed-down Smith will play a vital role in the Bruins’ attempts to bounce back from last year’s brutal campaign.

UCLA’s Ben Howland is among several Pac-10 coaches looking to make the conference an NCAA Tournament threat again after a poor showing in 2009-10.

What You Need to Know

  • Pac-10 Blues: Last year, the Pac-10 was saved from the indignity of receiving only one NCAA Tournament berth when Washington won nine of their last 11 games of the regular season, then proceeded to win the Pac-10 Tournament to clinch the automatic berth. Together with regular season champion California, the Huskies represented the Pac-10 well, advancing to the Sweet 16 before losing to eventual Final Four team West Virginia, while the Golden Bears fell in the second round to eventual champion Duke. However, the Pac-10’s limited success in the tournament did little to hide the fact that last season was a down year across the conference, and with 11 of last year’s top 20 scorers, and nine of the top 20 rebounders gone, it doesn’t seem that the talent level across the conference is ready to skyrocket.
  • Stability and Youth: But, while there aren’t loads of household names up and down the rosters in the conference, there is some stability, as only Oregon welcomes a new head coach (Dana Altman, formerly of Creighton) and teams across the conference average a total of 3.2 returning starters. And there is plenty of youth, with just 17 seniors on rosters across the conference. Schools will need to see their youngsters step up quickly for the Pac-10 to improve upon last year’s showing. There is a bright side here, though. Even with five members of last year’s all-tournament team (all except the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, Isaiah Thomas) and six of the ten All-Pac-10 first team members having graduated, most teams around the conference, with the significant exception of Cal, return the majority of their production – eight of the ten conference schools return more than 50% of their scoring production, and nine of the ten return more than 50% of their rebounding production. If the kids around the conference can put some of that experience they earned last season to use, this could be a much-improved conference, as the veteran coaches around this conference have proven their ability to coach up their players. There are five coaches in the Pac-10 with more than 300 career wins, and that doesn’t even include some of the most respected young coaches in the land like Sean Miller and Lorenzo Romar. While the talent level seems to be down across the conference, expect this lineup of stellar coaches to get the most out of what they do have.
  • Last Roundup: This season marks the end of the Pac-10 conference. Next year the conference will welcome Colorado and Utah, officially becoming the Pac-12. In the process, plenty of tradition will be discarded: no more home-and-home round robin and the resultant crowning of a true regular season champion, the biggest change. There will be years where UCLA doesn’t visit McKale and Oregon won’t visit Hec Ed, for instance. But in the long run, the conference will add a Utah program that has had some significant success over the years (including a run to the national championship game in 1998) and a Colorado program that, well…hey, they made a Final Four in 1955, I’m told. In any event, come 2011-12, basketball season around the conference will have a different feel.

Predicted Champion

Washington (NCAA Seed: #5): The Huskies are pretty much the de facto favorite, given that last year’s regular season champion Cal lost about 85% of its scoring, but Lorenzo Romar’s team, despite having plenty of talent, still has some question marks. Not in question is the team leader, 5’8 junior point guard Isaiah Thomas, a dynamo who is the team’s leading returning scorer and an interesting personality. Paired in the backcourt with 6’0 senior Venoy Overton (8.5 PPG, 3.1 APG. 2.9 RPG), the duo are undersized but form an intimidating pair for opposing ballhandlers, with the quickness and aggressiveness to get up into their opponents, keeping the opposition from getting comfortable in the half-court set and forcing turnovers which the Huskies can use to jump-start their transition game. They can be overpowered by bigger guards in the half-court game, but use their quickness to good advantage defensively. On the offensive end, Thomas plays with a style that belies his stature, getting into the lane and drawing fouls or finishing in often spectacular ways. The Huskies also return sophomore guard Abdul Gaddy (3.9 PPG, 2.3 APG), the second-ranked point guard in the 2009 recruiting class, who struggled finding his rhythm in his rookie campaign. Should he get his swagger back and become a consistent offensive force for Washington, they could have one of the stronger backcourts in the nation, with junior Scott Suggs (4.7 PPG, 1.2 RPG) providing depth and a good long-range threat. However, up front the team still has something to prove, given the graduation of last year’s leading scorer Quincy Pondexter and the retirement from basketball over the summer of forward Tyrese Breshers due to medical issues. Matthew Bryan-Amaning (8.8 PPG, 5.9 RPG) and Justin Holiday (5.9 PPG, 4.5 RPG) figure to start at the forward spots, giving the Huskies an undersized but athletic starting five. Bryan-Amaning will need to prove himself capable of taking over Pondexter’s role, but all signs show that he is ready for that challenge, as he finished his junior season strong and was one of the big reasons for Washington’s improvement down the stretch. Depth up front will come from 6’8 junior scrapper Darnell Gant (2.5 PPG, 2.4 RPG), 7’0 transfer Aziz N’Diaye and 6’6 wing Terrence Ross, one of the conference’s most heralded newcomers, and a guy who could be an offensive weapon immediately for Romar, provided he can earn the minutes. In a conference where the talent level is presently in question, there is little doubt that the Huskies have plenty of talent. But they’d like to come out of the gates more quickly than they did last season and prove that they are ready to win on the road on a consistent basis, something they struggled with in 2009-10, when they lost their first seven games away from the Hec Ed. Odds are, they’ll be improved in that area due to an extra year of experience for their hyper-talented backcourt, but they’ll have a good early season test of that theory when they travel to the Maui Invitational during Thanksgiving week.

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Let’s Kick It Off: Observing a College Football Weekend Through A Hoops Lens

Posted by rtmsf on September 2nd, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 Conferences and an occasional contributor.

Hooray! Today is the official end of the Great Sports Desert – you know, that period of time between the first Monday in April and the first weekend of the college football season. Beginning tonight, there are actual meaningful sporting events that I am interested in. Let’s be clear, I love college football. Easily my second favorite sport. But, I’m a college hoops junkie first and foremost, and part of the reason I love the start of college football season is because that means that the start of college basketball is within shouting distance from here. And, while looking over the slate of college football games this weekend, I couldn’t help but imagine some of these matchups as college basketball games. So, here I have, in reverse order, the ten most intriguing matchups of the college football weekend, provided they are re-imagined as season openers in basketball season.  (ed. note: yes, he is sick, but we love him for it)

College Sports is Back on the Calendar!

First, a nod to a handful of games which, being a junkie and all, definitely appeal to me, but were just a bit off of my top-10 list:

  • Pittsburgh @ Utah – on Thursday night, with only six other games on. If this was basketball season, and there were only six other games on, you could bet I’d watch some of this. Sure, Utah isn’t going to be very good, but it would be interesting to see Pitt go on the road early into a hostile environment.
  • Murray State @ Kent State – a very good mid-major matchup between one of last season’s Cinderellas and one of the MAC’s always competitive teams.
  • Connecticut @ Michigan – this game just sounds really good, but in reality, UConn is down and Michigan is, well, I would say Michigan is down, but its been awhile since they’ve been up.
  • Richmond @ Virginia – a big intrastate matchup between the A-10 and the ACC. If Virginia was just a little bit better, this may have made the cut, because UR will be very good again, but a road trip into the John Paul Jones Arena would be a good early test for Kevin Anderson and company.
  • Northwestern @ Vanderbilt – as enticing as this Wildcat/Commodore matchup would be between two talented teams with NCAA Tournament hopes, this just misses the cut.

And on to the top 10:

  • #10 – Washington State @ Oklahoma StateKlay Thompson, Reggie Moore and DeAngelo Casto invade the Gallagher-Iba Arena to provide a good early season test for a young Cowboy squad minus last season’s two leading scorers. While the young Cowboy guards Ray Penn and Keiton Page keep this close throughout, too much Thompson eventually does them in.

Predicted Football Score: Oklahoma State 31 Washington State 10

Predicted Basketball Score: Washington State 72 Oklahoma State 66

  • #9 – UCLA @ Kansas State – Kansas State is one of the teams on the short list of national title contenders. UCLA is, well, honestly, not very good at least judging by last season’s performance. But, they’re still UCLA. And their frontline of Reeves Nelson, Josh Smith and Tyler Honeycutt will test Curtis Kelly, Wally Judge and company, perhaps even to a draw. We’ll also get a first chance to see if the Bruins have even remotely solved their problems at the point, an area of concern that will eventually be the deciding factor in this matchup as Jacob Pullen eventually gets over on Malcolm Lee and the Wildcats pull away in the second half.

Pullen is Back With Another Strong Team

Predicted Football Score: UCLA 23 Kansas State 17

Predicted Basketball Score: Kansas State 70 UCLA 60

  • #8 – Syracuse @ AkronJim Boeheim taking his Orange on the road early against a Midwest mid-major? Sure, that’ll happen. But, if it did, I’d be thrilled to see my first glimpse of Syracuse freshman center Fab Melo battling the Zips own young center, sophomore seven-footer Zeke Marshall. Sure, the Orange’s talent would probably win out in the end with Akron not having an answer for Kris Joseph, but I’m pretty sure that we’d get at least 30 minutes of pretty compelling basketball here.

Predicted Football Score: Syracuse 24, Akron 20

Predicted Basketball Score: Syracuse 67 Akron 55

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20 At The Top: Pac-10 Player Rankings

Posted by zhayes9 on August 6th, 2010

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist at Rush the Court.

For the entire 20 At The Top series, click here.

“Banner season” probably isn’t the first phrase that comes to mind when describing the Pac-10 in 2009-10. Much bandied about as a potential one-bid league until Washington peaked in March with a conference tournament run, the Pac-10 was largely kicked to the curb as an inferior of their fellow BCS brethren. A mass exodus of high draft picks coupled with down spirals for normally contending programs resulted in only California vying for a spot in each Monday’s national rankings last season. Bad news for Pac-10 diehards searching for a comeback as soon as this winter: six of the ten All Pac-10 first team members are gone. Regular season champion Cal lost their top four scorers. Powerhouses UCLA and Arizona are not back to elite status yet. The prized incoming freshman changed his mind and bolted for Kentucky. While a conference as proud as the Pac-10 will surely reclaim its glory sooner than later (especially if a raiding of the Big 12 is inevitable), fans may have to hold off on these wishes another season. Still, intrigue does exist. Many feel that Washington is the clear favorite, but there’s question marks abound from that point on, making for what should be an unpredictable Pac-10 slate.

Thompson will become a household name this season

1. Klay Thompson, Washington State– Thompson heads into his junior season as many experts’ preseason pick for conference player of the year. A high volume scorer blessed with a picture perfect jumper, Thompson delivered to the tune of nearly 20 PPG and 17 20+ point performances. Forced into carrying his team on the scoreboard for long stretches- only Stanford’s Landry Fields utilized more of his teams’ possessions- was the only reason Thompson’s shooting percentages dipped a bit last season. He’s also an ace from the charity stripe and his excellent court vision goes unnoticed at times. Thompson could turn into the Evan Turner of the West Coast by season’s end in terms of his versatility, ball-handling and ability to play multiple positions while filling up the stat sheet. Adding some bulk, improving toughness and shaking off a late-season shooting slide are the only areas of improvement that jump out when it comes to this special talent.

2. Isaiah Thomas, Washington– The diminutive Thomas was expected to make a gigantic leap and lead Washington to a year-long stay atop the conference standings last season. Part of the reason Thomas’ sophomore campaign was labeled a disappointment by some when February rolled around was largely due to the expectations he established as a freshman. Luckily for the purple-clad UW fans in Seattle, Thomas played his best basketball late, scoring in double digits in his last 12 games, averaging less than two turnovers per game in his last seven contests and helping lead Washington to a surprising Sweet 16. Thomas isn’t a pinpoint shooter and he’s always been more of a scorer than point guard, but there are only a handful of players in the nation that play with more energy and toughness than the 5’9 Tacoma native. He’s fearless driving to the rim, has a strong frame for his size and the athleticism is jaw-dropping. Expect first team all-conference honors for Thomas as a junior.

3. Derrick Williams, Arizona– A freshman revelation for Sean Miller in his first season at the helm, the former USC commit established himself with an early 25/8 against Wisconsin in Maui and never looked back. Williams went on to surpass even the loftiest expectations as the conference’s rookie of the year: a 16/7 average, double digit scoring in all but three games and top-100 season nationally in true shooting percentage and effective FG%. Williams is a 6’8 versatile forward that lived at the free throw line, shooting 232 free throws last season. Developing his mid-range jumper even further would help disguise suspect athleticism, but Williams’ strengths has piqued the interest of NBA evaluators and the potential is there to lead the Pac-10 in scoring as a sophomore. His role will only expand with senior Nic Wise exhausting his eligibility.

4. Jeremy Green, Stanford– Last season was the Landry Fields & Jeremy Green show for Johnny Dawkins and his Cardinal, two all-conference players that combined for almost 39 PPG and kept the team afloat. With Fields drafted by the New York Knicks, the onus now falls on Green and a duo of talented freshmen to boost Stanford towards the upper portion of the Pac-10 standings. Green improved mightily as a sophomore, more than doubling his scoring average and playing an effective second fiddle to Fields. His ten 20+ point games and establishing the single season Stanford record for threes were strong enough to earn second team all-conference accolades. There’s little doubt Green has the capability to score 20+ PPG as Fields accomplished, it’s other facets of his game that must improve- namely getting to the free throw line at a higher rate and improving extraordinarily low assist totals- in order for Stanford to climb out of the Pac-10 basement.

Will this be Malcolm Lee’s breakout season?

5. Malcolm Lee, UCLA– Lee is the player who I feel could make the biggest leap this season and finally tap into that potential that has scouts pegging him as a future first round selection. Thrust into directing the Bruin offense after Jerime Anderson flopped, Lee was learning on the fly and a disappointing overall campaign for UCLA masked some considerable steps forward for the jet-quick sophomore. There are flashes where it rings clear Lee can develop as a steady point guard, but the turnovers still can come in bunches and, although Lee loves to run in transition, his proficiency in half-court sets certainly needs work. His 6’5 frame will allow Ben Howland to play Lee at either guard position and he’s displayed a propensity to defend either 1’s or 2’s at the college level. It’s asking a great deal, but refine a questionable jumper while continuing to progress directing traffic and Lee could be the most improved player in this conference.

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