1. California (23-8, 13-5) Projected NCAA Seed: #10
Here it is, the only team locked into the NCAA Tournament no matter what happens this week in Los Angeles. With only eight losses and wins against Oregon and Washington on the road and Colorado at home, even a loss to or Stanford or Arizona State on Thursday wouldn’t knock them out of the Tournament. However, I could see them moving up to a nine seed (which is exactly like an eight) if they win two games at Staples and have teams in front of them (Long Beach State, Alabama, and Kansas State, to name a few) lose early on in their respective conference tournaments. While we could see any team from Cal to UCLA win the Pac-12 Tournament, the Golden Bears are the definite favorite coming in. They’ve got a near-elite to elite player in Allen Crabbe, and with a supporting cast made up of Jorge Gutierrez, Justin Cobbs, and a sleeper player that I think will come alive this week, Emerson Murray, the Golden Bears have unrivaled depth in this conference.
Allen Crabbe and The Cal Bears Appear To Be Headed To The Big Dance (Ben Margot/AP)
2. Oregon (22-8, 13-5), NIT
The Ducks remain on the outside looking in heading into the Tournament, but I’m of the belief that if they win two games and play in the Pac-12 Championship, regardless of what happens there, the Ducks will be included in the field of 68. Oregon has been on the bubble for the better part of conference play, but the real noise in Eugene began when it went down to the desert and took both games from the Arizona schools. Before that trip, Oregon was embarrassed by a 77-60 loss to California at home. Since then it has gone 11-3, with the biggest margin of defeat coming in a 76-71 loss at home against rival Oregon State. Besides Cal, the Ducks have the best chance to make a run in the Pac-12 Tournament; it’s almost like their team was built for it. To win any college basketball tournament, whether it is the Maui Invitational or NIT, you need to be able to shoot lights out, and two, have depth off the bench. As of late, the Ducks have been making everything they put up, and they put up a lot of shots. Watch for Devoe Joseph, E.J. Singler, and Garrett Sim to go off on any given night, considering all three are capable of creating and making their own shot. Look for junior forward Carlos Emory to have a big tournament coming off the bench.
With conference play now over, we’ve got a couple of days here to look back on the regular season before we turn our sights on to postseason play. Today, we name our All-Pac-12 team, tomorrow we’ll hand out our postseason awards (Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, etc.), and then later tomorrow we’ll start looking forward to the Pac-12 Tournament.
G: Jared Cunningham, Jr, Oregon State (18.2 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 2.6 SPG): Cunningham goes in the book as the conference’s leading scorer this year, while also finishing as the runaway leader in steals. His numbers tailed off a bit as the season wore on, but Cunningham’s ability to get to the hoop and his ever-improving jump shot made him one of the toughest checks in the conference. Throw in the ability to make the spectacular play defensively, and Cunningham is one of the most well-rounded players in the conference.
Jared Cunningham Was A Potent Threat On Both Ends Of The Court (Dean Hare/AP)
G: Jorge Gutierrez, Sr, California (13.0 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 4.1 APG): Gutierrez may not be the most naturally gifted basketball player you’ll ever watch, but he certainly puts in plenty of extra work to try to make up the gap. Diving after loose balls, pestering his opponent on defense, and doing whatever is needed offensively may have earned Gutierrez plenty of jeers from opposing student sections, but it has also earned him the respect of basketball fans all up and down the West Coast.
UCLA – In the middle of last week, it certainly seemed doubtful that it would be the week of the Bruin. An article critical of head coach Ben Howland and the state of the program appeared in Sports Illustrated and the problems around Westwood were the talk of the college basketball world. But, a few days and a couple season-capping wins later and the Bruins are one of the hotter teams in the conference heading into the Pac-12 Tournament. UCLA came out Thursday on fire and ran Washington State off of the court, handing out assists on 26 of their 32 field goals and playing smothering defense on the way to a 32-point victory. Then, on Saturday, they kept Washington from clinching the conference title (temporarily at least) in a stirring team effort that left the program feeling pretty darn good about itself. All things considered, for a week in which a controversial article ripped the program to shreds, things couldn’t have gone a whole lot better.
After A Rough Start To The Week, The Bruins Got Things Figured Out On The Court
Player of the Week
Devoe Joseph, Senior, Oregon – If the Bruins aren’t the hottest team in the conference right now, then the Ducks sure are. And a big part of the reason for that is the play of Joseph, who has been doing it all for Dana Altman recently. This week, Joseph hit 19 of his 25 field goal attempts (including five of his eight attempts from deep) for an average of 22.5 points per night, all while chipping in five assists, five rebounds and a steal or two per game. While the Ducks may be on the outside looking in right now, with regards to the NCAA Tournament, Joseph is a big reason why they are a significant threat to earn the conference’s automatic bid.
The story was pretty simple for Washington when they tipped off against UCLA on Saturday morning: Win, and the Huskies were the conference champion; lose, and they would need some help. And for much of the game it looked like the Huskies were in a mood to take control of their own future, leading for much of the middle 20 minutes of the game. However, when Lazeric Jones hit a three-pointer with just under nine minutes remaining, it gave the Bruins their first lead since the 14-minute mark of the first half and set up a back-and-forth finish to the game. In those last nine minutes, the Huskies turned the ball over five times, made just 3-of-10 field goal attempts and scored just seven points on 14 possessions. But still, with just 15 seconds left, Washington found itself down two as senior forward Darnell Gant received the ball in three-point land at the top of the key. Terrence Ross was open on the wing, but Gant launched the shot and it came up just short, giving UCLA the win and the #5 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament while the Huskies would have to wait until Sunday to find out their fate. As for the Bruins, it was the second straight encouraging win in the aftermath of the controversial Sports Illustrated story last week, sending the team to the conference tournament feeling as good as they have all year.
Washington got the answer it was looking for on Sunday, when Californiahad its conference title hopes dashed by their Bay Area rival, Stanford. It was a tight game down the stretch, but much like the Huskies on Saturday, the Golden Bears just didn’t make the plays necessary to win a championship. For instance, Cardinal sophomore guard Aaron Bright was sent to the free throw line three straight times at the end of the game, and on each of those occasions, he missed the second of his two free throws. However, the first two misses wound up right back in his hands as the Bears were unable to secure an offensive rebound. Earlier, Cal guard Allen Crabbe had passed up an open baseline jumper to drive to the hoop, only to fumble the ball out of bounds. And, continuing a theme for Cal’s loss at Colorado last week, Justin Cobbs and Jorge Gutierrez struggled shooting the ball, hitting a combined six of their 22 field goal attempts. The loss sends the Bears to the Pac-12 Tournament with consecutive defeats for the first time all season. While Stanford’s 10-8 conference record wound up being disappointing (especially the seven losses in its final 12 games), the Cardinal did cinch a 20-win season for the first time in three seasons.
To finish off the trifecta of top teams losing in conference this week, Arizona fell to Arizona State on Sunday in one of the more surprising results of the conference season. Not only was ASU’s 87 points its highest total on the year, it was only the tenth time all season that the Sun Devils had scored more than one point per possession in a game; in fact they averaged 1.27 points per possession, an excellent number. What changed for the Devils? A lot of things, but first and foremost, let’s look at the point guard play: Chris Colvin, who has averaged a turnover more than once every three possessions used, played 34 minutes and had just two turnovers compared with nine assists. Secondly, junior wing Trent Lockett is now, perhaps for the first time, clearly back near full strength after his midseason ankle injury; he had 21 points, seven boards and chipped in five assists of his own compared with just three turnovers. As a whole, ASU only turned it over 10 times on the day, their lowest total of the season, and their turnover percentage (the percentage of possessions on which the team commits a turnover) of 14.7% is almost half of their season average. The Sun Devils go into the conference tournament on a two-game winning streak (their first such streak of the year) and playing arguably their best ball of the season. Meanwhile, for the Wildcats, this was a devastating loss to their NCAA Tournament hopes. Already sitting firmly on the bubble (and possibly on the wrong side of it), Sean Miller’s club has to figure the only way for the team to make its 27th tournament in 28 years is to win the Pac-12 automatic bid next weekend.
The other major story line going into the final weekend was the race for the four opening round byes in the conference tournament. Oregon took care of its business this weekend by throttling Utah on Saturday. The Ducks scored 34 of the game’s first 36 points, and sent seniors Devoe Joseph, Garrett Sim, Olu Ashaolu, Tyrone Nared and Jeremy Jacob out in style, securing the #3 seed in next week’s conference tournament. Colorado, however, floundered at Oregon State, losing by 14 and not only played itself out of contention for one of those byes, but dropped all the way to the #6 seed. The Buffaloes will host Utah on Wednesday as they are still looking for their 20th win on the year.
Lastly, USC’s disaster of a season is now apparently just one game away from being mercifully over. The Trojans fought hard in their final regular season game, holding Washington State scoreless for the final nine minutes and nine seconds on Saturday and rallied back from a 17-point deficit to as close as three late, but once again came up short, wrapping up the conference schedule with a 1-17 record and a school-record 25 losses on the year.
Each week through conference play, we’ll offer up a couple of different takes on the biggest question of the week in the Pac-12. This week:
“In honor of senior days around the conference, which Pac-12 senior will be most missed by his team next year?
Connor Pelton: I’m going to go an interesting route and say Devoe Joseph. Joseph’s contributions have been huge for Oregon this season, as they had lost two of their first six without him. Since then Oregon has gone 16-6, and those losses can hardly be pinned on the senior transfer from Toronto, who has averaged 16.3 PPG. That mark is good enough for fourth in the conference, but perhaps even better than that stat is this: Joseph has only had one game in which he hasn’t scored in double figures this season. That was in their New Year’s Eve meeting with Washington, where he was subject to double teams all night long from a feisty Husky defense. But the reason he will be missed most is not for the jaw-dropping stats, but rather that Oregon doesn’t have a shoot-first player returning next season. E.J. Singler can certainly light it up from behind the arc, but he would still rather attack than shoot from around the perimeter. With both Joseph and Garrett Sim departing, he is going to have to adapt into that type of player, and that could cause some early-season troubles for the Ducks.
Despite Just One Active Season In Eugene, Devoe Joseph Will Be Sorely Missed Next Year (credit: Eric Evans)
Andrew Murawa: I’ll skip some of the obvious choices as well, as while California is sure to miss the work-ethic and passion of Jorge Gutierrez, they should still return a very nice backcourt, and while Arizona will miss the steadiness and leadership of Kyle Fogg, he’s done a good job of beginning to pass the baton to underclassmen like Nick Johnson and Josiah Turner. At Stanford, however, there is no immediately obvious replacement for senior forward Josh Owens. No, Owens isn’t exactly an all-conference performer for the Cardinal, but he brings an interior toughness and physicality that is largely absent from the rest of their roster. While sophomore forward Josh Huestis has athletic gifts that Owens doesn’t, he doesn’t yet have all the tricks of the trade in the middle to make the most of his undersized body. And most of the other returning big men on Johnny Dawkins’ current roster (John Gage, Dwight Powell, Stefan Nastic) are more finesse players. Further, Owens may only average 12.4 points per game, but he is the most efficient offensive player on the Cardinal roster, and a solid choice for the go-to guy when the team needs a bucket down the stretch. Incoming freshman center Grant Verhoeven may eventually eventually grow into that kind of role in the middle, but he’ll need at least a year of the weight room and training table before he gets there. While Owens leaves Palo Alto as one of the most underrated players in the Pac-12, the impact of his loss on the Cardinal could be understated as well.
Kenny Ocker is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from the Oregon-Colorado game in Eugene on Thursday night.
With 14 minutes to go against Colorado in a make-or-break game for both teams, Oregon senior guard Garrett Sim got one lucky bounce. As he stood at the top of the key and the shot clock fell below 10 seconds, his team leading 48-47, a loose ball fortuitously found its way into Sim’s hands, and he stepped up and snapped the net on a three-pointer, giving the Ducks a four-point lead and fans at Matthew Knight Arena a reason to cheer when there was not much to cheer about before.
Garrett Sim and Oregon Earned The Coveted First Round Bye For The Pac-12 Tourney Next Week (The Register-Guard)
Sim’s teammates seized upon the momentum his three-pointer had provided, and play after play went in Oregon’s favor. Devoe Joseph, another senior guard, coaxed a steal from Colorado forward Shane Harris-Tunks and took the ball coast to coast for a difficult layup. Buffaloes guard Nate Tomlinson, a former Oregon recruit, then stepped on the baseline, giving the ball back to the Ducks for a Carlos Emory three-pointer. Colorado guard Askia Booker made three free throws on one possession, but Sim retorted with a three-pointer of his own and Emory capped the Ducks’ run with a three-point play. Two minutes later, what had been a one-point Oregon lead had ballooned to 12, and fell below six points for only five seconds for the rest of the game. “Those big shots, I think they mostly got the crowd into it and that’s what we fed off of,” said Sim, who finished with 19 points on 5-of-7 three-point shooting.
Washingtonwrapped up at least a piece of the conference title on Thursday night, blowing out USC at the Galen Center by 22 points. The Trojans actually shot the ball pretty well, limited Washington’s field goal percentage and turned the ball over less than the Huskies, but Washington absolutely dominated on the glass on both ends of the floor, grabbing 51.4% of their misses and 90.6% of USC’s. Five different Huskies had seven rebounds or more while no Trojan had more than five. If Washington can take care of UCLA on Saturday, they will win the Pac-12 outright, and they can also back their way into the championship with a loss and a Stanford win over California on Sunday. Tony Wroten’s chances for the conference Player of the Year award took a hit with a two-for-13 shooting performance that also included four more turnovers, while Terrence Ross bounced back from a weak performance last weekend with 18 points and seven rebounds. USC’s Byron Wesley continued his strong play in defeat, setting a new career-high for the third straight game, with 23 points.
Meanwhile, in Eugene, Oregon went a long way towards clinching a first-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament by pouring on 54 second-half points in a come-from-behind victory over Colorado. The Ducks used a 35-18 run to open the second half to pull away from the Buffaloes, as seemingly everybody on the team got in on the act. E.J. Singler kick-started the run with six straight points, Carlos Emory chipped in a three-point play and a three-pointer later, Garrett Sim knocked down threes with abandon, and Devoe Joseph did a little of everything, including knocking down a key jumper after the final media timeout to staunch a Colorado run. With Utah coming up on Saturday, the Ducks are very much in the driver’s seat for a first-round bye, while the Buffaloes will need to win at Oregon State and get some help to avoid having to play on the opening day of the conference tourney.
In the wake of the controversy surrounding the UCLA program and Ben Howland, the current Bruin team weighed in pretty heavily last night, throttling Washington State early and often on the way to a 32-point victory. While the players downplayed the effect of Wednesday’s Sports Illustrated article (senior guard Lazeric Jones, for one, said he didn’t ever read it), their performance sure seemed like a statement. UCLA led by 19 at the half, then ran that lead out to 30 early in the second half. While nobody on the team thought the performance had anything to do with the article, David Wear said the team “stood together as a team and a family” and Joshua Smith said “We had to show we were the same guys who have worked hard, gone to class and done what Coach Howland told us.” The Bruins will get another chance to make a statement on Saturday, when they can play the spoiler in Washington’s bid for a conference title.
The final game on Thursday night was Oregon State’s ten-point win over Utah, the Beavers’ first win after five straight losses. Oregon State came out on fire in the first half, limiting the Utes to just 21.7% from the field on the way to a 36-15 lead at the break, but let off the gas a bit in the second half. Conference POY candidate Jared Cunningham had a fine, if understated, game, going for 17 points and six assists. If Oregon State can add another win on Saturday against Colorado, they could be on their way towards putting together some momentum for a possible conference tournament run.
Back to Westwood briefly, for another look at the aftermath of the George Dohrmann piece, as Thursday a couple very important Bruins came to the defense of Howland. Former National Player of the Year Marques Johnson, father of Josiah Johnson, who played under Howland, noted that while he had some frustrations with the way the coach handled his son, in the end he things he “did the right things”, while Johnson also brought a dose of perspective to the issue of college kids experimenting with drugs, noting that it is part of the “college atmosphere. Meanwhile, UCLA’s all-time leading scorer Don MacLean chipped in, noting that the head coach can’t always be around to police the players and that those guys need to show discipline and not let their social life get in the way of practice and performance in games.
Tonight’s Lede. On the first night of March, the college basketball slate did not disappoint. It was another packed night around the country, featuring some important Pac-12 action and bubble teams blowing opportunities in home games. We also have our first conference tournament final matchup set, as VMI and UNC-Asheville both completed 20-point victories to advance to the championship of the Big South Tournament. There was much quarterfinal action in other tournaments as well. But first, we highlight a crazy finish in the ACC that left the home team stunned and the visitors in a familiar place — victorious after a game-winning shot…
Your Watercooler Moment. Another Seminole Game-Winner.
The previous two times, it was Michael Snaer. On Thursday night, it was Ian Miller. For the third time this season, Florida State converted a game-winning three-point bucket to give the Seminoles a dramatic win. Virginia led 58-47 with under five minutes to play before the ‘Noles made a late surge that culminated in Miller’s buzzer-beater. This result also has major implications in the ACC, as FSU avoided a three-game losing streak to clinch the #3 seed in the upcoming ACC Tournament. Virginia, meanwhile, is in a bit of trouble after this loss. The Cavaliers now drop to 8-7 in the ACC, tied with NC State, Miami, and Clemson. Despite still being ranked in the Top 25, UVA has to start getting a bit worried about its NCAA Tournament status. The Cavaliers are 21-8 overall but don’t have a particularly strong overall profile, with just one top-40 win that came over Michigan in November. They have the #226 non-conference strength of schedule that includes a bad loss to TCU early in the year. They have an RPI of #39 that will be falling as well — not exactly lock status anymore. Virginia should be alright going forward if it can get a win at Maryland in its season finale, but a loss in that one on Terrapin Senior Night will definitely spell some worries for Tony Bennett’s team.
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
Kentucky Won’t Let Up. Throughout the grueling conference season, nearly all teams end up slipping up at least once along the way. Trap games, long flights, three games in a week — there are plenty of excuses that teams use for poor performances. But John Calipari’s team has played at an elite level the entire season. UK, which leads the country in scoring margin, hammered Georgia from the start on Thursday night to remain undefeated in the SEC heading into its season finale in Gainesville this weekend. Don’t expect a letdown from this team in that one.
No Howland Hangover. Just one day removed from the Sports Illustrated article that shed light on Ben Howland’s loss of control over the UCLA program, the Bruins did not seem at all distracted on the court. UCLA dominated Washington State for a 32-point victory, led by Lazeric Jones’ and Tyler Lamb’s combined 34 points and 10 assists. How crazy would it be if this team shut everyone up and made a run in the Pac-12 Tournament to win the conference and advance to the NCAA Tournament? It’s certainly possible, given the Bruins’ talent and the overall weak state of the Pac-12. Read the rest of this entry »
The biggest on the court story this week was Colorado knocking off California on Sunday afternoon, leaving the Bears a game back in the loss column of conference leader Washington. The Huskies took care of their business last week, coming back from a 13-point deficit midway through the second half to knock off Washington State. As a result, a UW win tonight at USC (which seems almost a given – the Huskies will be a significant favorite) will earn them at least a share of the conference title. And if they back that up with a win at UCLA on Saturday, they’ll earn their second regular season conference title in four years. If they slip up in one of those games, the Golden Bears can force a tie by knocking off Stanford at Maples Pavilion Sunday in the final conference game of the regular season, and in that case, Cal would also earn the #1 seed in the conference tournament by virtue of their win at Washington in January.
Behind the leaders, there are three teams fighting for the two remaining first-round byes in the conference tournament; Arizona, Colorado and Oregon all sit with five conference losses. Arizona has an advantage over the others, however, in that they have only one remaining game – against lowly Arizona State on Sunday afternoon. Oregon and Colorado, meanwhile, will go a long way towards breaking their tie tonight, as the Ducks host the Buffaloes in Eugene.
While whichever of these three teams winds up as the #5 seed will have the opportunity to breeze through USC in the opening round game, the addition of an extra obstacle in the way prior to the Pac-12 quarterfinals will harm that team’s chances at running the table and coming away with the Pac-12’s automatic bid.
Arizona Took Care Of Business Against The Los Angeles Schools And Can Now Earn A First-Round Bye (Chris Morrison/US Presswire)
And that automatic bid will certainly be a very important thing for most teams in this conference. At this point, Cal looks like a pretty safe bet to earn an at-large bid, although they don’t want to press their luck with a loss at Stanford and a loss in the quarters of the conference tourney. They’ve got the best RPI in the conference (see all the numbers below) and they’ve got a couple of top 50 wins (both over Oregon, so take those with a grain of salt). While it looks like they’re safe, if they finish the season poorly, they’ll have no right to complain if they are left out of the eventual bracket.
Washington, meanwhile, seems to be in pretty good shape as well – right now at least. However, they’re towards the back of the bus right now and if a handful of teams come out of the woodwork to steal bids over the next couple of weeks, Washington’s margin for error could get mighty slim.
As for the rest of the bunch, there are some who continue to say that teams like Arizona and Colorado are right on the bubble, but looking at the numbers, they’d do well to just go ahead and win the Pac-12 Tournament if they have any real designs on an NCAA bid. Oregon’s got the best RPI numbers, but they’re 0-5 against top 50 teams. Colorado’s got a couple top 50 wins (over Oregon and Cal – unfortunately, if they beat Oregon this weekend, it will probably drop the Ducks out of the top 50 and take CU back to just 1-3 against the top 50), but they’ve also got four bad losses and an RPI that’s of no use either.
vs. RPI 1-25
vs. RPI 1-50
vs. RPI +100
So, really, the only chance I see for the Pac-12 to shoehorn three different teams into the bracket is this: (1) California and Washington win their final games of the regular season this weekend, (2) then they both take care of business in the quarterfinals, with one of them advancing to the Pac-12 final while the other loses in the semis, (3) whoever the opponent is in the Pac-12 final wins the championship, earning the automatic bid and (4) bid stealers are kept to a minimum and both Cal and Washington squeak into the field on Selection Sunday, along with the conference champion.
Lastly, one of the best college basketball reads every week is John Gasaway’s Tuesday Truths at Basketball Prospectus. Aside from giving some insights on the 14 best conferences in the nation, he lays out the margin between average points scored and average points allowed per possession, a good measure of a team’s overall strength, throwing out the luck factor.
While the eye test may tell you that Washington has been the best team in the conference, a look at the stats shows that they are only outscoring their opposition by 0.07 points per possession, while Cal is outscoring its opponents by double that, 0.14 points per possession (for comparison’s sake, Kentucky is outscoring its opponents by 0.25 points per possession – an absurdly good number). In fact, the Huskies are fifth in the conference using this metric, behind even UCLA. In fact, of Washington’s 13 conference wins, five came by four points or less, with another five where the margin was less than ten.
According to Ken Pomeroy, Washington has been the 29th luckiest team in the country (what a great time we live in, where luck can be accounted for by statistics). Long story short, the Huskies may go into the conference tournament as the regular season champion, but they need not necessarily be the favorite to win the automatic bid.
Tony Wroten Is Well On His Way To Earning Freshman Of The Year Honors, But Will He Take Down the POY As Well? (Drew Sellers/Sportspress Northwest)
Three picked Jared Cunningham, and then one each selected Terrence Ross, Devoe Joseph and Jorge Gutierrez. We’ve been down this road before, so I won’t beat a dead horse too much, but while Wroten’s traditional numbers look just fine (16.7 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 3.5 APG), just digging even a little bit deeper reveals some significant problems with his all around game: turnovers on 22% of his possessions, using far too many possessions in an inefficient manner, his insistence on continuing to shoot threes (poorly at that) and his poor field goal percentages.
Still, after last weekend, you can understand why some are still searching for somebody to throw their support behind. Going into last week, it looked like Gutierrez and Ross might be the favorites. So what did each player do in the second-to-last week of the year? Gutierrez went 0-for-7 from the field and failed to score in a loss at Colorado, while Ross fouled out in 21 minutes against Washington State and had as many turnovers (two) as points. Certainly the wrong time for both players to turn in their worst performances of the year, but their overall body of work still leave them as the top two choices for POY.
Coach of the Year Watch
I’ve long since conceded the fact that Tony Wroten will win Freshman of the Year, so we’ll skip that for the week and take a look at the COY race.
Looking at the same poll from ESPN, we see that five different coaches received at least one vote, with Tad Boyle leading the way with six votes, Mike Montgomery earning three, Sean Miller getting a couple and Lorenzo Romar and Dana Altman each earning a single vote.
First, before we get into the credentials for each coach, can we just recognize for a minute just how good a set of coaches the Pac-12 has? Any one of those coaches would be a seriously desirable candidate for just about any job in the country, which makes the struggles in this conference all the more puzzling. As for the award this year, it is hard to argue with Boyle. His team lost its four leading scorers from last season and was picked to finish around tenth in the league by most people. Instead, with two games remaining, they’re among the best teams in the conference.
It is somewhat surprising that Romar hasn’t received more consideration for this award, seeing as he had to replace four major senior contributors last season, lost senior leader Scott Suggs to an injury before the season, dealt with chemistry issues in the non-conference slate, and now has his team on the verge of a conference title. Any of the five deserve consideration for the award, but for my money, Boyle and Romar (at present in that order) are the leaders.
Lorenzo Romar Has His Huskies In First Place, But Is Getting No Love For Coach Of The Year (Getty Images)
There was only one change in our weekly power rankings this week, as USC finally (and rightfully) reclaimed the last spot in the conference from Utah after spending an inexplicable three weeks ranked 11th. The top of the conference is still California, Washington, Oregon, Arizona and Colorado.
While we gave Washington our Team of the Week honors for the second straight week (and fourth time on the season), we continued our improbable streak of seemingly awarding a new Player of the Week every week. To this point, in 16 weeks, only one player (Jared Cunningham) has taken home our POTW honor more than once. This week, it was Kyle Fogg’s first chance earn our award. Similarly, in 16 weeks of handing out a Newcomer of the Week award, we’ve named 12 different players, with Tony Wroten earning it five times and Carlon Brown twice. This week, it was USC’s Byron Wesley.
Here’s a look at the power rankings that Drew and I have compiled after the 16th week of Pac-12 games:
1. California, 23-7 (13-4): The Golden Bears may have suffered a disappointing 13-point loss to Colorado on Sunday, but I still have Cal on top for a couple of reasons. First, while Cal’s loss was bad, Washington fell by 18 at Colorado earlier this season. Secondly, even though the Huskies are ahead of the Golden Bears by half a game in the Pac-12 standings, California still has three more wins than the Dawgs. Group in the fact that the Golden Bears don’t have any glaring bad losses on their slate, I still think they are the better team right now. Up Next: 3/4 @ Stanford
2. Washington, 20-8 (13-3): Washington all but guaranteed itself an NCAA bid with their 59-55 win in Pullman last Saturday. The Huskies should make it official by splitting their trip to Los Angeles, but even if they found a way to lose to USC, I think they would still be good. The big question is whether or not the Huskies will avoid one of the “First Four” games. Right now I would say they are safe, but they need a good couple of weeks in LA to be assured of that as well. Up Next: 3/1 @ USC
3. Oregon, 20-8 (11-5): The Ducks sure looked like an NCAA Tournament team on Sunday, but they still remain just outside the field of 68 in most projections. Whether it was Garrett Sim, Devoe Joseph, or Olu Ashaolu, the Ducks were making everything they threw up, which they will need to do if they want to advance in whatever postseason tournament they play in. The Ducks led by ten points against feisty rival Oregon State with just 5:50 remaining, but the Beavers stormed back to within a point with one second left on a Jared Cunningham slam dunk that followed Challe Barton’s three that went off the right rim to try and tie the game. The next Oregon inbound pass wasn’t fully covered however, and Oregon ran down the clock and ran out of Gill Coliseum with a 74-73 win. With the win, the Ducks have posted back-to-back 20-win seasons. Up Next: 3/1 vs. Colorado
Senior guard Garrett Sim, who grew up a Beaver fan, was booed every time he touched the ball after elbowing Jared Cunningham early in Sunday's Civil War. Sim finished with 25 points. (credit: Brent Wojahn)
4. Arizona, 21-9 (12-5): It wasn’t easy at times for the Cats, but at the end of the weekend they found themselves with a pair of wins over the LA schools in Tucson. On Thursday it was a solid 70-54 win over the visiting Trojans, solid because they struggled at times with the tough SC defense back in January at the Galen Center. Two days later it was a nail biter all the way through, with Arizona finally prevailing for a 65-63 win. Up Next: 3/4 @ Arizona State Read the rest of this entry »
Winters in Minnesota are all about highs and lows not just temperature wise, but also with their basketball team. The Golden Gophers had their lows during the Dan Monson era from 2000 to 2007 because they only made it to one NCAA tournament. It wasn’t all Monson’s fault as he was trying to rebuild a program dealing with probation assessed due to the actions of Clem Haskins, the prior coach. But when Tubby Smith was brought in from Kentucky to replace Monson, the fans had certain expectations. Smith did not disappoint as he led the Gophers to the Big Dance three out of the first four seasons in Minneapolis. The fan base could feel the momentum shift at the turn of the decade after some tough winters. Smith recruited a top 25 class and the athleticism of the players was very obvious on the court. But similar to the temperatures, the program dropped again after those high points over the last couple seasons. Arguments could be made that Tubby Smith’s coaching has not been up to par but several events that led to the Gopher letdown were out of his control– on and off the court. Let’s examine a couple of those factors and understand how Smith dealt with them.
Tubby Smith Has Had A Rough Time With Injuries To His Star Players
The stage was set for potential disappointment in 2010 when 6’8″ forward Royce White transferred to Iowa State. White joined other transfers such as Michigan State’s Chris Allen to play for Fred Hoiberg and the Cyclones. White is having a fantastic season – 12.9 PPG, 9.1 RPG, and 5.0 APG. In addition to White, the list of transfers includes Devoe Joseph to Oregon and Colton Iverson to Colorado State. Joseph has Oregon sitting on the bubble for an NCAA tournament bid in a weak Pac-12 conference but his services would have certainly helped Tubby Smith’s team. He is averaging 16.3 PPG and Smith caught a fair amount of heat in 2011 when Joseph chose to leave Minnesota. Royce White’s case was a little different because of several off the court issues but nonetheless, Smith was counting on him to have a good career in Minneapolis and it fell short. Smith’s recruiting classes were very good and the performance of his ex-players shows that he knew what he was doing but for several other reasons, he couldn’t hold the team together. Is he to blame for all of the transfers? Not necessarily. Players don’t always pan out the way you expect them to, but the best you can do is bring them into the program and try to keep them away from trouble and focused on basketball.
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-12 conferences.
Last week at this time, we had five teams who were still serious contenders for the Pac-12 regular season title, all of them within a game of the conference lead. This week, the picture has cleared up considerably, but there is still plenty of intrigue out there. California and Washington both scored big wins over two of the other five contenders (Oregon and Arizona, respectively), in turn not only more or less knocking those teams out of the race for the title, but also cementing their status at the top of the heap. Colorado remains in the mix as well, a game and a half back of the co-leaders. The other component of the race at the top of the conference is the jostling for the #4 spot, which will earn the last first-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament. Oregon and Arizona are currently tied for the fourth spot, but the Ducks own the tiebreaker there on the basis of their earlier win at the McKale Center.
Washington's Win Over Arizona On Saturday Gave The Huskies Reason For Celebration (Elaine Thompson/AP)
What to Watch For
There is really only one big remaining matchup between teams at the top of the conference over the final two weeks of the season: California’s trip to Colorado on Sunday. Other than that, the Bears go on the road to Utah on Thursday before wrapping up their season with a trip to Stanford on the final day of the regular season.
Likewise, Washington will also be spending its last three games on the road, this week against Washington State and next week against USC and UCLA. Depsite the fact that all of those games are on the road, all of those are eminently winnable games for the co-leaders, with the Colorado/Cal game being the sole time when either Cal or Washington will likely not be favored. For the Buffaloes, however, it is going to be an uphill climb. Along with California, they also face Stanford, Oregon and Oregon State, with the latter two on the road – no pushovers anywhere among that group.
As it is, if the Pac-12 Tournament began with the current standings, this is what we’d be looking at. Certainly some pretty interesting semifinals, but my goodness is that Wednesday slate of games awful bad. The best game of the day is at noon and the Staples Center is virtually guaranteed to be whatever the opposite of “rocking” is that day.
Player of the Year Watch
There are a couple of questions here: 1) who is going to win the POTY award, and 2) who deserves to win the POTY award?