Pac-12 Post-Mortems: Utah

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 15th, 2014

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

What Went Right

For the first time since Larry Krystkowiak took over a shell of a program from Jim Boylen, Utah basketball fans had a team that they knew could be competitive night in and night out. Of the Utes’ 12 losses this season, seven were by a single possession. The talent level is clearly back to the point where the Utes can be competitive in the Pac-12, defense has become a priority, and the future appears bright.

In His Third Season In Salt Lake City, Larry Krystkowiak's Squad Began To Turn The Corner (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

In His Third Season In Salt Lake City, Larry Krystkowiak’s Squad Began To Turn The Corner (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

What Went Wrong

So, those seven losses by a single possession? Well, that’s not good, is it? Time and time again, the Utes had chances to win close games down the stretch, and time and time again they wound up with losses in those games. Their record in games decided by a single possession was 0-7. They lost all three of their overtime games. And only six times all season did they win games decided by fewer than 10 points. In other words, unless the Utes were blowing out their opponent, odds were good that they were losing. Chalk some of that up to bad luck, another portion to a young team still learning to win games, and more to some coaching breakdowns. But the good news is that if next year’s Utes can find some ways to win those close games, they should be looking at a very good record.

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Your Way-Too-Early 2014-15 Pac-12 Power Rankings

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

Another season in the books; another Pac-12 disappointment. We’ve got plenty of time to look back on the 2013-14 season, but it is onward and upward from here as we briefly look ahead to next year. We’re still not entirely sure exactly which of the players we watched this year will move on to greener pastures, and there are sure to be some surprise transfers (both incoming and outgoing) ahead of us, but in the days after the national championship, it is time to start dreaming about the 2015 NCAA Tournament. Below are our way-too-early Pac-12 power rankings.

Arizona's Back In The Familiar Spot of A 1-Seed And An NCAA Favorite (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

McConnell, Hollis-Jefferson, and Tarczewski, Among Others, Make Arizona The Pac-12 Favorite Again (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

  1. Arizona – Sure, Aaron Gordon’s stay in Tucson was brief. And yeah, Pac-12 Player of the Year Nick Johnson may join him in the NBA. But barring some surprises, five of the following six players are going to be comprising Sean Miller’s starting lineup next season: T.J. McConnell, Gabe York, Stanley Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Brandon Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski. Goodness gracious sakes alive, that is a lot of talent. And, the West Regional will not be held in Anaheim next season, so let’s go ahead and pencil Miller and his Wildcats into his first-ever Final Four.
  2. Stanford – Johnny Dawkins and company broke through this year with their first NCAA Tournament appearance under the current regime. And while some important players move on, a returning nucleus of combo guard Chasson Randle, wing Anthony Brown and big man Stefan Nastic is solid. Throw in a recruiting class with four different four-star recruits (as ranked by ESPN) and a bevy of talented returning youngsters and we’ll make the Cardinal the best bet in the league to challenge the Wildcats. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rounding Up Pac-12 Quarterfinal Thursday

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 14th, 2014

The big talk around the conference tournament on Wednesday was Utah’s potential. A KenPom darling ranked in the upper 30s by that metric with a history of playing everybody – including conference elite Arizona – tough, they were usually somewhere around the “Next Four Out” section of most bracketology projections. A win over Arizona in Thursday’s quarterfinal, and maybe they jump California for the seventh Pac-12 team in line for an NCAA bid. For the first segment of the game Thursday afternoon, things were fine, with the Wildcats holding a 7-6 lead at the under-16 timeout. And then. Well. Adjectives fail to adequately describe, so let’s jump right to the numbers: over the remainder of the half, Arizona outscored the Utes 27-6 and 44-11 over the next roughly 23 minutes of game time. At the half, Utah was averaging less than a point every two possessions (0.48 PPP). Arizona was grabbing 92.9% of defensive rebound opportunities and 53.8% on the offensive end. They were leading 8-0 in fast break points, 9-2 in points off turnovers and 16-8 in points in the paint. Three Utes scored in the first half, and their top-three leading scorers on the year – Delon Wright, Jordan Loveridge and Brendan Taylor – were not among them. We could go on.

Arizona's Defensive Dominance Was Displayed Early and Often Thursday Afternoon (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

Arizona’s Defensive Dominance Was Displayed Early and Often Thursday Afternoon (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

There are more stats to be spouted about how dominant the Wildcats were on Thursday afternoon, but there will be more opportunities for them to show off for the rest of the country. Put simply, if the Arizona team that showed up today, and that showed up a couple weeks back dominating the Bay Area schools, continues to be the default Wildcat team, they’ve got a very good chance of cutting down the nets in April. As for Utah, they’ll have an opportunity to continue their season in the NIT, and they’ll be a very tough out there. And next year, behind Wright and Loveridge, they’ll be a favorite for an upper-division Pac-12 finish and an NCAA Tournament invitation. Neither of those things, however, give them much solace now.

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Pac-12 Superlatives: Coach, Newcomer, Freshman of the Year and More

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 10th, 2014

We announced our Player of the Year and All-Conference teams earlier today, now to dig a little bit deeper with the rest of our All-Conference Awards.

Coach of the Year

Sean Miller, Arizona – This was a no-brainer, as all three of our voters opted for the head coach of the conference champion. Not only did Miller put together a heaping pile of talent in Tucson, but he’s got the group to all buy in to a single goal. They’re all committed defensively, they work together as a single unit, covering for each other. And when Brandon Ashley went down with a broken foot in February, Miller was able to shift on the fly, remaking his team to give it the best chance come March. Many times, a coach is punished in these Coach of the Year votes for having the best talent. This time around, despite Miller having the best team in the league, there should be little argument that he deserves the nod.

Sean Miller Has Done A Brilliant Job Molding The Talented Wildcats Into A True Team (Arizona Athletics)

Sean Miller Has Done A Brilliant Job Molding The Talented Wildcats Into A True Team (Arizona Athletics)

Newcomer of the Year

Delon Wright, Utah – In his first year in Salt Lake City after a stint at the City College of San Francisco, Wright was something of an unknown coming into the season. And then, as the Utes were running roughshod over undermanned opponents in the early schedule, it was hard to tell if Wright’s ridiculous numbers were legitimate. Four months later, there is no such worry;  not only are his numbers legit, he’s one of the handful of best players in the league. He led his team in scoring, assists, steals, blocks and minutes. He posted a 59.7 eFG%, an absolutely ludicrous number for a point guard. And he helped shift the climate in the Huntsman Center from that of a program used to losing to one that now expects to win.

Defensive Player of the Year

Nick Johnson, Arizona – Our three voters are a small sample size, perhaps accounting for this surprising result, but Johnson edged Arizona State’s Jordan Bachynski on the basis of his hounding perimeter defense for the most efficient defensive team in the nation.

Nick Johnson: He's Not Just Our Player of the Year, He's Our Defensive Player Of the Year (Christian Petersen, Getty Images)

Nick Johnson: He’s Not Just Our Player of the Year, He’s Our Defensive Player Of the Year (Christian Petersen, Getty Images)

Freshman of the Year

Aaron Gordon, Arizona – So often, the talk about Gordon is about the things he can’t do, and admittedly, he’s a pretty poor shooter. But, he wouldn’t be our unanimous Freshman of the Year and a second-team all-conference guy if he were defined strictly by what he can’t do. Because, what he can do is pretty special. Athletically alone, he is in the upper 1% of all Division I college basketball players. His versatility – being able to guard not only fours and fives like Josh Scott and Dwight Powell, but also ones and twos like Chasson Randle and Spencer Dinwiddie – allow the Wildcats to switch everything defensively and match up with whatever the opponent puts on the court without tweaking their own personnel. And then his ability to rebound and finish around the rim, or his keen passing eye or developing game off the bounce? It is no wonder NBA scouts drool over his potential.

Sixth-Man of The Year

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona – What you want most from a sixth-man is the willingness to do whatever is needed to help the team achieve its goals. Sometimes that means a gunner coming in off the bench to provide instant offense, like Jason Calliste at Oregon. Or a complete change of blood like Bryce Alford and Zach LaVine provide at UCLA. But Hollis-Jefferson is the consummate sixth-man, so much so that when Brandon Ashley went down for the year, Hollis-Jefferson was ready and willing to step into the starting lineup. And then, three games later, when Sean Miller decided it would be better for him to return to his role off the bench, he did so without complaint. Oh, and it also helps that he’s really good, a terrific defender that fits in perfectly with the rest of the squad, an aggressive rebounder and a skilled slasher.

Most Improved

Davonte Lacy, Washington State – On a team that lost go-to scorer Brock Motum, the junior guard took over the reigns as the Cougars best offensive option. His scoring average jumped from 10 PPG to almost 20, his shooting percentages went up across the board and his usage numbers skyrocketed as well. It may not have been the year Ken Bone envisioned, but it certainly wasn’t Lacy’s fault.

All-Freshman Team

  • Aaron Gordon, Arizona
  • Nigel Williams-Goss, Washington
  • Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona
  • Zach LaVine, UCLA
  • Bryce Alford, UCLA

All-Defensive Team

  • Nick Johnson, Arizona
  • Jordan Bachynski, Arizona State
  • Aaron Gordon, Arizona
  • Delon Wright, Utah
  • Jordan Adams, UCLA
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Pac-12 Player of the Year and All-Conference Teams

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 10th, 2014

Before we announce our Player of the Year and our all-Pac-12 Teams, a quick note on our methodology here — we had each of our three voters – Andrew Murawa, Connor Pelton, and Adam Butler – rank their top 15 players in the conference and awarded points to each player based on those votes (1st place vote =15 points, 2nd place =14, etc.). Normally, when putting together an all-conference team, we’d make an effort to balance our team by position, with either three guards and two frontcourt players on each team, or vice versa. But in this season’s guard-heavy conference we didn’t get a lot of frontcourt votes, which is why you’ll see a five-guard first team when you scroll down. As for our Player of the Year voting, it was simple enough. The player with the most points in our all-conference balloting was our Pac-12 Player of the Year.

Player of the Year

Nick Johnson, Junior, Arizona – As expected, it came down to a close two-man race for Player of the Year, but Johnson squeaked out the win by one point over UCLA sophomore Kyle Anderson. Johnson is not only the leading scorer on the Wildcats, he is also their key defensive catalyst. As Adam Butler wrote justifying his vote for Johnson over Anderson: “Nick Johnson was the most critical player on the best team in the conference. As he went, the Wildcats went and more often than not (see 28-3), Nick Johnson played well. Nay, great.” To look at it the other way, compare Johnson’s performance in the three Arizona losses to their 28 wins. In those three losses, Johnson averaged fewer than 10 points per game on 23.9% eFG; in the wins, he posted a 50.8% eFG on his way to 16.8 points per win.

Nick Johnson's Prowess On Both Ends Of The Court For The Conference's Best Team Earns Him The RTC Pac-12 Player of the Year (Christian Petersen)

Nick Johnson’s Prowess On Both Ends Of The Court For The Conference’s Best Team Earns Him The RTC Pac-12 Player of the Year (Christian Petersen)

All-Conference

First Team

  • Nick Johnson, Junior, Arizona (16.1 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.2 SPG)
  • Kyle Anderson, Sophomore, UCLA (14.9 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 6.6 APG, 1.7 SPG, 48% 3FG) – The versatile Anderson has been one of the nation’s most improved players, registering as not only a terrific play-maker but an elite rebounding  guard.
  • Delon Wright, Junior, Utah (16.1 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 5.3 APG, 2.6 SPG, 1.3 SPG, 59.7% eFG) – The junior college transfer came out of nowhere to become arguably the most versatile player in the conference – if not the most versatile in the nation. These three players were almost unanimously the top three players in the conference this season.
  • Justin Cobbs, Senior, California (15.6 PPG, 5.8 APG) – Cobbs ranked no higher than fifth but no lower than eighth on any of the three ballots, a consistency which earned him a first-team all-conference spot.
  • Roberto Nelson, Senior, Oregon State (20.6 PPG, 3.7 APG, 3.6 RPG) – Nelson was in the top five on two of three ballots, but was left completely off of a third (ahem, Butler). He still had enough votes to sneak on to the first team.

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Marching to Vegas: The Final Steps

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) on March 7th, 2014

Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) of Pachoops again will be joining us all year, providing us with his weekly take on our favorite conference, as we begin the March to Las Vegas.We find ourselves on the penultimate day of the basketball season. A season, like those before it, that has seen highs and low, cliché, cliché, cliché. I’ve been critical of the Pac, supportive of the Pac, predictive, analytical, and funny. I’ve defended it multiple times and sang praise, too. I’ve linked this entire lead. But the point here is that we’re here. The calendar has turned to our favorite month. Our March to Vegas is over. Our season embarks into the madness of sudden death and the promise of possibility. Tournaments begin (ultimately two of them) with abundant hope and now I’m getting lost in Waltonian hyperbole; but if not hyperbole then what is March for? I mean, look at our first and only conference games thus far in the month. The home and road teams have nearly split their contests. To date, home teams had been winning at a greater than 66 percent clip. Suddenly we get to the third month on the calendar and nothing becomes predictable. Each of Wednesday’s road teams won and then, in perhaps the most unexpected of outcomes, the Trojans got their second victory. Indeed we’re knee deep in the madness and we aren’t even in Vegas yet.

Behind A High-Flying Arizona Team, The Pac Is Back, Right? (Ralph Freso, Getty Images North America)

Behind A High-Flying Arizona Team, The Pac Is Back, Right? (Ralph Freso, Getty Images North America)

But before we get there, I’d like to revisit our first thought. When I lauded that the Pac was back before nary a game was played. Is it back? Or, perhaps more aptly said, has it returned? With the benefit of hindsight, I’d say it is. Look at what we have: arguably the best crop of guards in the nation and the best defense the nation has to offer. We watched the emergence of Utah, a budding program under the hard-nosed and determined watch of Larry Krystkowiak. And have you watched Delon Wright? I didn’t see that coming and if you did, link me to what you said about it because I’d like to buy you a drink. What a phenomenal player who is coming back next season. And still has this season to play (I see you, Vegas). Further, we watched what I believe to be the best backcourt in the country. Or at least the most dynamic. Between Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams, is there anything they can’t do? And if there is, they could just toss it up to Zach LaVine and it might be all right.

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Marching to Vegas: Picking a Dark Horse

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoops) on February 28th, 2014

Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) of Pachoops again will be joining us all year, providing us with his weekly take on our favorite conference, as we begin the March to Las Vegas.

‘Tis the time of year when we really dive into favorites. It makes sense as those usually come first. We pick our favorite candy, friend, player, etc., first whenever organizing. And with the NCAA Tournament fast approaching (you guys realize tomorrow is March, right?) our immediate dialogue turns to picking the favorites to win the thing. Well let’s take a step back from the NCAAs and away from favorites for a second and get ahead of ourselves and talk about who might be a dark horse winner of the Pac-12 Tournament. Semantics would suggest that I’m just citing the favorite rally through a few upsets in Vegas, but I’d disagree. The favorites to win the tournament are foregone. As Tad Boyle recently said, ““There are 11 other teams in the Pac-12 and then there’s Arizona.” There ya have it folks, the favorites debate is settled. Which isn’t to say that anyone not named “Wildcats” is a dark horse champion candidate. Quite the contrary. I like UCLA’s odds and think a senior-laden Stanford crew could most certainly make noise. Arizona State has one of the most dynamic players in the country in Jahii Carson with a red hot support staff in Jermaine Marshall and the conference’s all-time leading shot blocker in Jordan Bachynski making the Sun Devils another viable title option.

Yeah, Arizona Is The Favorite, We Know That Already. Give Us An Underdog (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

Yeah, Arizona Is The Favorite, We Know That Already. Give Us An Underdog. (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

But whoopdie doo, Adam! These guys are all in the top half of the conference. That’s why it’s not too exciting, right now in this column, to discuss the favorites. We know them. So what about those dark horses, the un-favorites. I’d say that the criteria to fit this bill is slim. You have had to show the propensity to: A) beat top teams, B) do something elite, and/or C) get wildly hot with top talent. Let’s get something out of the way: USC and Washington State fit none of these bills. The Trojans have demonstrated that not only can they not beat elite teams, but they can’t beat anyone. They will not win the Pac-12 Tournament. Likewise, the Cougars won’t either. Did you know that they put up 0.46 points per possession in a game this season? They couldn’t even bust the 1.0 PPP mark against Oregon State. At this point we have covered the favorites and the least favorites. Leaving us right where we want to be, looking at my favorite dark horse candidates to win the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas, Nevada (it’s two weeks away, by the way).

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Five Arguments for the Pac-12 Player of the Year

Posted by Andrew Murawa, Connor Pelton & Adam Butler on February 27th, 2014

We’ve still got two weeks of conference play remaining, but the Pac-12 Player of the Year has really crystallized into a two-man race between UCLA’s Kyle Anderson and Arizona’s Nick Johnson. Still, there are a handful of other players for whom arguments deserve to be made. Below, our RTC Microsite staff plus frequent guest Adam Butler of Pachoops.com break down what they consider to be the top five candidates for this award, presented below in alphabetical order.

Kyle Anderson, UCLA (argued by Andrew Murawa)

Kyle Anderson Not Only Leads The Bruins In Several Stats, But He Also Just Flat Out Leads

Kyle Anderson Not Only Leads The Bruins In Several Stats, But He Also Just Flat Out Leads

If he’s not the clear-cut favorite to win the conference Player of the Year, he’s likely one of just two players realistically in the conversation. Why is Slo-Mo so deserving of such recognition? Well, quite simply, he does just about everything related to the game of basketball very well and he’s also one of the most versatile players ever to grace a college basketball court. He’s a 6’9” dynamo who is not only the best point guard in the conference, but he’s also arguably the best power forward in the conference. Compared to players nationally, his KenPom profile is littered with all sorts of little red numbers highlighted in yellow, indicating that he’s very effective across the board. He leads his team in rebounds, blocks and assists; he’s second in points and steals. But most importantly, he leads. A floor general in the purest sense of the term, he knows where all of his teammates are at all times, and just as importantly, he knows where they should be – and isn’t afraid to tell them. Off the court he’s taken on the mantle of the team’s spokesman at times. And when the game seems to be moving too fast for others, Anderson is sure to keep it cool, proving once and for all that Slo-Mo is not meant to be a pejorative.

Justin Cobbs, California (AM)

Senior point guard. Is there a more comforting phrase in all of college athletics? The very thought brings up the image of guys like Peyton Siva and Jon Scheyer and A.J. Price and Gerry McNamara, elevating their games to new heights. Cobbs may not wind up having the type of team success that those guys had, but it’s not for a lack of trying. Minus his running mate from his last two seasons in Berkeley, Allen Crabbe, Cobbs has gone out of his way this season to try to get teammates like senior forward Richard Solomon, sophomore wing Tyrone Wallace and mercurial freshman Jabari Bird involved in the offense. Despite the loss of the Pac-12 Player of the Year and the elevated roles of young and unproven scorers, the Golden Bears are light years better this season offensively than they were last year, scoring almost seven more points per 100 possessions. Cobbs has been the biggest reason why. The percentage of shots he is taking this season has remained steady, but his assists have skyrocketed, making the transition for those aforementioned teammates into larger roles that much smoother. When it has come time late in tight games for the Golden Bears to rely on their senior leader to score big buckets, he’s repeatedly come up big. His ridiculous late-game performance against #1 Arizona earned the most national attention, but astute Pac-12 hoops fans have seen those deadly step-back daggers on more than a handful of occasions this year.

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#rushthetrip Day 15: Ute Revival Put On Hold in Salt Lake City

Posted by Bennet Hayes on February 21st, 2014

RTC columnist Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) is looking for the spirit of college basketball as he works his way on a two-week tour of various venues around the West. For more about his trip, including his itinerary and previous stops on his journey, check out the complete series here.

Wednesday brought me back into Utah (which is quickly becoming the official home state of #rushthetrip!) for a rendezvous between the Utes and #4 Arizona. As of Tuesday, few bracketologists (including our own Daniel Evans) had Utah in the field — or even in that first crop of teams missing out — but finding a way to nip the Cats would surely thrust Larry Krystkowiak’s group into the bubble discussion. And for the once-spoiled turned long-suffering Utes’ fans (just one NCAA Tournament appearance since 2005 after making 10 of 11 trips from 1995-2005), the opportunity at hand had to make this one of the biggest college basketball games Salt Lake City has seen in the last decade.

The Young Utes Have Yet To Fully Arrive, But The Huntsman Center Offered One Of The Best Atmospheres This Trip Has Seen

The Young Utes Have Yet To Fully Arrive, But The Huntsman Center Offered One Of The Best Atmospheres This Trip Has Seen

The Huntsman Center atmosphere supported that thesis. Fans filled the sizable gym (a listed attendance of 14,266 fell a few seats short of capacity), and despite a first half that featured little in the way of positive developments for the Utes, stayed involved throughout. The student section was amazing, nearly stretching all the way from floor to rafters, a sea of red fully prepped to swallow up the Wildcats. Their consistent engagement would pay off in the latter portions of the second half, as the Utes scrapped their way back into a game that they had trailed by 12 with 13 minutes to play. I was more than happy to be forced to spend most of the final 10 minutes (plus overtime) standing behind the Huntsman Center masses. Once that Ute surge began in earnest, there was nary a seated fanny in the building; I can’t recall too many games where I’ve seen seats used less frequently. Clearly, Utah fans wanted this game.

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Pac-12 M5: 01.16.14 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 16th, 2014

pac12_morning5

  1. After a dust-up last week where NBA scouts were complaining about the seats that UCLA gave them for the battle between the Bruins and Arizona, Draft Express did a poll of NBA scouts to see which schools treated them the best (i.e., gave them good seats and maybe a meal) and, perhaps unsurprisingly, UCLA was atop the heap of the schools that got negative comments. The whole article is really pointed at UCLA: You spend a ton of space in your media guides promoting your former players who are making it big at the next level, but you’re not rolling out the red carpet for the scouts and executive who determine the worth of the next round of NBA prospects. We’re not going to spend a ton of time on this, but doesn’t this whole thing seem a bit absurd? For instance, in some cases where the NBA scouts got seats that didn’t meet their needs, they had to (gasp!) ask  their multi-hundred-million dollar organizations to go onto StubHub and purchase them better tickets. The horror! Even at Arizona, which was among the schools most often mentioned as being good to NBA scouts, somebody had the temerity to complain about the price of the great seats they were given, prices which were likely considerably lower than the amount that could have been charged for those seats. In other words, forgive me if I don’t join this particular hunger strike.
  2. We posted yesterday about the Spencer Dinwiddie injury (too long; didn’t read: it sucks), but that knee injury wasn’t the only one to befall a Colorado player in Seattle on Sunday. Freshman wing Tre’Shaun Fletcher also tweaked a knee in that game, and although he returned to action after the injury, it was later determined that this injury will require surgery, costing Fletcher the next six-to-eight weeks. While this injury is not an ACL injury, it is damaging to the team as Fletcher certainly would have been due for a bump in minutes without Dinwiddie in the lineup.
  3. After ripping off 13 straight wins to start the season, Oregon is now riding a three-game losing streak, with a pair of those losses coming at home. Luckily, the Ducks now have a week where they can focus on just one game — their road trip to face Oregon State in Corvallis on Sunday. Confidence may be dipping, but head coach Dana Altman recalled the last time the Ducks went through a multi-game losing streak: the final two games of last season when they lost on the road to Colorado and Utah. What happened next? The Ducks went to Las Vegas, won the Pac-12 Tournament, and then advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. In other words, it would be very unwise to count out these Ducks in mid-January.
  4. We’ve got another big intrastate rivalry game this week to check out as Arizona State travels to Arizona tonight. Herb Sendek was asked about trying to compete against a team that is recruiting on the elite level that the Wildcats are doing right now. And, not surprisingly, he called it a challenge, noting that what they’re doing is “absolutely astonishing” and “almost unprecedented.” Put it this way; as Adam Green of ArizonaSports.com notes, of the seven players in the rotation at Arizona, five were five-star recruits coming out of high school, while a sixth was a four-star recruit. By comparison, Jahii Carson is the only Sun Devils’ recruit to earn more than three stars coming out of high school.
  5. Lastly, Utah drew rave reviews in its first weekend of conference play, taking Oregon to the wire on opening night before beating Oregon State. But last weekend on their first road trip to the Washington schools, their offense took a major step back. Tonight, as they host USC, goal number one for Larry Krystkowiak and company is to compete better on the offensive end of the court, including getting out in transition more often, something their Trojans’ opponents probably want as well. With talented offensive players like Delon Wright, Jordan Loveridge and Brandon Taylor, this shouldn’t be a problem.
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Pac-12 Wednesday Night Round-Up: Colorado and Washington Squeak By

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

Colorado 71, Washington State 70 (OT)

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

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

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

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

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Two Pac-12 Teams Answering Questions and Two Others Raising Them

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 8th, 2014

There were quite a few teams around the conference that, for whatever reason, we were unable to get a real peg on in non-conference play. Maybe the level of competition was low, or new guys were getting used to new roles, or injuries and suspensions changed the roster. But now that we’re into conference play, there is no longer anyplace to hide. After just a weekend of action, we’ve started to get a read on two teams that had previously proved inscrutable. Meanwhile, we’ve also seen a couple of teams that now have us more confused than ever. Below, we’ll take a look at all four of those squads with some of the explanations behind each.

Opening weekend of conference play was enlightening in these two cases.

  1. Utah – After the loss at Boise State in which the Utes looked good, you felt like you still didn’t really know this team. Soon afterward, there was their blowout win over BYU, which, to be honest, felt a little fluky, didn’t it? So we came into Pac-12 play maybe hoping that the Utes were going to be legitimate, but not really having anything to back that up. After an opening weekend home stand that finished with one in the good column and one in the bad, we’ve got to start getting used to the fact that the Utes are going to be a factor worth talking about (and worth watching) in the Pac-12. We knew about Jordan Loveridge, but it is becoming more and more apparent that Delon Wright is the “fill-in-your-hyperbole here” guy. Just last week, when national columnists were naming all-Pac-12 teams for the non-conference schedule, Wright was routinely overlooked. But this dude – for those of you who have still not made yourself acquainted with his game – is legit. He’s good enough that, when describing his game, it is easy to be torn between deciding whether to first mention his athleticism or his innate feel for the game. Throw in a full rotation that has nice bits and pieces most of the way down the bench – including in the coach’s seat – and, while we still want to see just how different the road Mr. Hyde is from the home Dr. Jekyll, it is about time to start taking these Utes seriously.

    Delon Wright And The Utes Deserve To Be Taken Seriously (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

    Delon Wright And The Utes Deserve To Be Taken Seriously (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

  2. California – Down Jabari Bird and Ricky Kreklow and heading across the Bay to face rival Stanford in their Pac-12 opener, the Golden Bears appeared to be walking into an ambush. But they’ve got a couple big weapons of their own that will keep this team competitive throughout the rest of the regular season. First, Mike Montgomery. You may have heard of him. He can coach a little. And against most of the coaches in this conference, he’ll provide his team with a mismatch in the coaching battle. The other is the ever-elusive rare breed in modern-day college basketball – the senior point guard, or Justin Cobbs, in this case. In his fifth year of college basketball and in his third season as a starter for Cal, he’s seen it all. So when he looks up at the under-four timeout and sees his team down in an unfriendly environment, he’s not going to be dissuaded. Late Thursday night, he took over the game by drilling step-back jumpers, getting to the line, and dropping dimes when needed. Monty’s genius will go a long way towards keeping Cal in a lot of games, but it may be up to Cobbs to put them over the top on the regular.

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