Pac-12 NCAA Tournament Regional Prospectus

Posted by RJ Abeytia on March 23rd, 2017

And then there were three. USC did the Pac-12 no shame in winning two games during the NCAA Tournament’s first weekend, but the Trojans were felled by the neon shine of Baylor on Sunday, leaving the Conference of Champions with three teams in the Sweet Sixteen (as most had predicted). Oregon, Arizona and UCLA begin their second weekend of NCAA Tournament work this evening, so it’s time to check in with each and focus on a  key issue to resolve if they are to rendezvous in Glendale.

Oregon Advanced to the Sweet Sixteen On a Tyler Dorsey Three (USA Today Images)

  • #3 Oregon:  #TeamTyler or #TeamDillon? Postseason play has brought this particular debate to the fore in ways many may have not anticipated. After Oregon’s semifinal win over Cal in the Pac-12 Tournament, Dana Altman pulled no punches in critiquing what had been an uneven performance from Pac-12 Player of the Year Dillon Brooks, going so far as to suggest that Brooks had taken the Ducks out of their offense. The senior is a fantastic player, but Oregon’s offense has at times sputtered on Brooks possessions, allowing for Tyler Dorsey to emerge as an effective alternative for the Ducks in crunch time. Consider: In postseason play, Brooks is shooting 42.0 percent whereas Dorsey is converting a red-hot 67.0 percent. Brooks has outshot his teammate at the foul line, but not by nearly enough to eclipse Dorsey’s phenomenal streak of productivity. It’s always good to have multiple closers on the same team, and this isn’t necessarily about a fatal choice for Altman in the endgame. The big issue is that Dorsey is playing within the flow of the offense and outproducing Brooks at the same time. To win two more games this weekend, Oregon may have to either re-incorporate Brooks into the natural ebb and flow of its offense or elevate Dorsey to a more featured status.

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NCAA Regional Reset: Midwest Region

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 20th, 2017

Rush the Court is providing comprehensive coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish over the next three weeks.

New Favorite: #1 Kansas (30-4). Despite receiving a 30-minute test from #9 Michigan State on Sunday, Kansas remains the favorite to win the Midwest Region. The Jayhawks smashed #16 UC Davis 100-62 before dominating the last 10 minutes against the Spartans in the Round of 32 — a hard-fought victory that should prepare them well for an even stronger Big Ten opponent, #4 Purdue, on Thursday. If you buy into advanced metrics, this appears to be a fairly even matchup: Kansas ranks seventh in KenPom, while the Boilermakers rank 13th. Unfortunately for Matt Painter’s group, the game will be played in Kansas City, where a sea of Jayhawk faithful is sure to outnumber Purdue fans several fold. Assuming Kansas prevails, it will be a similar story against #3 Oregon or #7 Michigan. Beating Kansas is one thing, but beating Kansas in a semi-road game is something entirely different.

Kansas Rolls Into KC as the Clear Midwest Region Favorite (USA Today Images)

Horse of Darkness: #7 Michigan (26-11). The Wolverines have not lost since that epic defeat at Northwestern on March 1, a nearly three-week stretch which has included a near-plane crash, a Big Ten Tournament championship, and a pair of gutsy NCAA Tournament victories over Oklahoma State and Louisville. Michigan now boasts the third-most efficient offense in college basketball, thanks in large part to blistering performances like the one Moritz Wagner (26 points on 11-of-14 FT) put on against the Cardinals on Sunday. If John Beilein’s group can get past shorthanded Oregon on Thursday, there’s no reason to think it can’t win this region. Heck, the Wolverines have already beaten Purdue twice since February 25, and the last time they played Kansas in the Big Dance, this happened. Look out.

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): #11 Rhode Island (25-10). Rhode Island entered the NCAA Tournament on an eight-game winning streak, so its victory over #6 Creighton in the Round of 64 was not that surprising. The fashion in which it whipped the Bluejays, though — winning by 14 points and trailing for exactly zero seconds in game time — was quite unexpected. So too was the Rams’ effort against #3 Oregon on Sunday night, a game in which they led by double-figures in the second half before falling victim to a cold-blooded Tyler Dorsey three-pointer in the closing seconds. For a program that had not gone dancing since 1999, Rhode Island was certainly ready for prime time.

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Oregon 75, #11 Rhode Island 72

Posted by rtmsf on March 19th, 2017

RTC is providing coverage from start to finish of the NCAA Tournament for the next three weeks.

Tyler Dorsey Carried the Ducks to the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

Key Takeaways.

  1. Come Aboard the Brooks & Dorsey Train. Everyone knows that Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey mean everything to the Ducks’ offense, but from about the 14-minute mark through the end, EVERY Oregon possession went through one of those two guys. And they came through. When Oregon was down by six in the mid-second half, it was Brooks who put together his own personal 9-0 run to regain the lead. Later, when it appeared that the Ducks were cooked after some missed free throws and a bad shot, it was Dorsey who hit back-t0-back three pointers to both tie the game (with 1:47 remaining) and win it (with 0:37 left). The two players combined for 46 of the Ducks’ 75 total points, and they needed every bit of it.
  2. The Loss of Chris Boucher Was Apparent. At the risk of Debbie Downing what was certainly a gutty win by Oregon, it was clear as day how much the Ducks miss injured center Chris Boucher — at one point in the first half, Rhode Island had converted 16 of 20 shots inside the three-point arc. The Rams repeatedly got to the basket for layups or short jumpers, and they hardly ever missed. That 80 percent figure dropped to a more reasonable 65 percent by the end of the game, but it put so much pressure on Oregon to stay in contact — largely through Brooks and Dorsey — that you wonder how they can possibly manage his loss any better going forward.
  3. Rhode Island is Full of Tough, Tough Kids. Call it the Northeastern swagger of whatever you like, but it was crystal clear today that the ferocity and grit of head coach Danny Hurly has rubbed off on his players. They didn’t care that they were playing 3,000 miles away from home in Pac-12 country against a Pac-12 team. They expected to win and they were devastated when they didn’t. For much of the night, frankly, Rhode Island was the better team with the superior game plan. But they didn’t have a Tyler Dorsey, and that’s ultimately what made the difference. Hurley seems tailor-made for this kind of underdog program, but you can be certain he’ll get some calls from power conference teams very soon.

Star of the Game. Tyler Dorsey, Oregon. It’s funny because it was Brooks who decided to put the team on his shoulders to allow for the Ducks’ second-half comeback today, but Dorsey’s 27 points, five rebounds and threes assists were simply too much to ignore. Not to mention that he hit the back-breaking threes that effectively won the game.

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Oregon 93, #14 Iona 77

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2017

Oregon entered today’s game with the big question on everyone’s mind — how will the Ducks fare without Chris Boucher? At least through the First Round of the NCAA Tournament, that question has been answered.

Oregon Used a Fast Start to Dominate Iona and Move to the Second Round (USA Today Images)

Key Takeaways.

  1. Oregon Got Whatever Oregon Wanted. Iona and its defense rated in the mid-200s nationally wasn’t expected to cause much of a problem for an Oregon offense that has no problem scoring, and it was easy to see from the opening tip that the Ducks were going to get whatever they wanted. Oregon made an early point to get the ball inside to Jordan Bell and the junior center delivered, with 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting from the field. At the completion of the first half, the Ducks were hitting 75 percent of their two-point attempts, illustrating just how paper-thin the Gaels’ defense inside the arc was. Although the Ducks tend to feast on the inside-out game offensively, they will certainly see more pushback from their opponent in the next round.
  2. What About Boucher? With Boucher out of the lineup, has been able to settle into his natural position at the four. His first game last weekend in the full-time role resulted in a solid 33-minute, 25-point performance against Arizona. Today was another 30+ minute outing, but after a quick start, Brooks seemed more content letting his teammates contribute. He still ended the game with 18 points on 6-of-11 shooting. The more concerning area, of course, involves the loss of Boucher is on the defensive end. Brooks was often matched up with the bigger and bulkier Jordan Washington (along with Jordan Bell) inside, who easily overpowered the pair for a 22/11 double-double. The loss of the rim-protection that Boucher offered is definitely something to watch going forward.
  3. Iona Has Had Better Showings. This was Tim Cluess’ fourth trip to the NCAA Tournament in seven years at the helm, but these Gaels probably represented his weakest group to go dancing. Aside from Washington inside and Sam Cassell, Jr. (16 points) on the perimeter, the Gaels were overmatched by the speed, talent and athleticism of Oregon. Other than a brief period in the mid-second half when it appeared that the Ducks became complacent, they were never really tested today. Cluess’ teams have never been great defensive squads, but with only two legitimate scoring options on the floor today, it ultimately meant the Gaels were always playing catch-up against the refined group of offensive talents that Dana Altman has at his disposal.

Star of the Game. Tyler Dorsey, Oregon. Speaking of getting whatever you want, Dorsey used his versatile offensive game to torch Iona for 24 points on 9-of-13 shooting, including a pair of threes and five rebounds. The sophomore’s fourth 20+ point game in a row, it’s clear that Altman believes that his time is now.

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Pac-12 Tournament Prospectus

Posted by RJ Abeytia on March 15th, 2017

The Pac-12 ended up with fewer seeds in the NCAA Tournament than the ACC, Big 12, SEC, and Big 10.  Of course, it was always quality (Arizona, Oregon, UCLA) and not quantity for the Conference of Champions this season. Outside of the ACC, no conference has three teams being hailed as legitimate Final Four threats.  The questions this time of year focus on where you’re trending and your presumptive path. By the time you get to a National Semifinal you are certainly going to be playing a great team, or at the very least a team playing like one. Those games match up as coin tosses in most cases, so let’s focus on which of the four Pac-12 teams who qualified has the best shot of reaching Glendale.

Do Allonzo Trier and Arizona own the Pac-12’s best chances of reaching the National Semifinals? (Photo: USA Today Sports)

USC

  • Trending Up:  Jordan McLaughlin is averaging nearly 17 points a game over his last four and has a stellar A/TO rate of 31/6 over those four games. Guard play takes center stage in the NCAA Tournament, and if the Trojans are to make more than a cameo in the round of 68, they’ll need McLaughlin to keep playing at a high level this week.
  • Trending Down:  Since posting a stellar 156 ORtg against Washington State in March 1, Bennie Boatwright has slumped to games with offensive efficiency ratings of 88, 102, and 83 amidst an 8-28 field goal shooting stretch.  USC is not a great offensive team and they struggle in the halfcourt; without Boatwright at max efficiency working to stretch defenses and convert in the paint, USC isn’t long for this week.
  • Final Four:  The Trojans were on a three-game winning streak before UCLA dispatched them in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 Tournament. USC didn’t make it easy for the Bruins, however, and in the last four games found an offensive groove, posting efficiency ratings well over national average in its three wins. The loss to UCLA showed they could hang with an elite team despite subpar performances from Boatwright, Chimezie Metu, and De’Anthony Melton. Coming off a loss, it’d be wrong to say the Trojans are streaking, but they are playing good ball.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Pac-12 Teams

Posted by Adam Butler on March 12th, 2017

We thought that the Pac-12 Tournament champion would be rewarded with the West Region’s best available seed. The release of the committee’s bracket confirmed as much and here we are. With the Pac-12 represented by only four teams this season, let’s react to their seeding.

Arizona Rode the Wave to the Pac-12 Title (USA Today Images)

  • #2 Arizona, West – The Wildcats stormed through Las Vegas over the weekend and were rewarded for the effort. What will be interesting in the upcoming days, however, is how Arizona will be evaluated. The advanced metrics like KenPom rate Sean Miller‘s squad as the nation’s 20th best team, loosely correlating to a #4 or even #5 seed. Subsequently, the Internet has instareacted by noting that Saint Mary’s (Arizona’s potential Second Round opponent) in fact has fantastic odds of making the Elite Eight. Of course, Saint Mary’s (14th) rates ahead of the Wildcats, which means that it makes sense that the Gaels are a trendy sleeper pick. But ask yourself, is the team that just beat UCLA and Oregon on successive nights not capable of making the Final Four?

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Rushed Reactions: Arizona 83, Oregon 80

Posted by RJ Abeytia on March 12th, 2017

Arizona left no doubt that it is the most complete Pac-12 team this season. The Wildcats beat UCLA and Oregon on back-to-back nights, and they did it with star big man Lauri Markannen taking only four shots and scoring only 11 points. Oregon may have the most experience and UCLA may have the biggest upside, but Arizona can win at multiple paces and in multiple ways.

Arizona Ran Through Oregon to Claim the Pac-12 Tournament Title (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. The game has changed. Arizona came into tonight’s game with a firm commitment to drive Oregon off the three-point line, even if that meant giving up layups as a result. The Ducks were credited with 30 layup attempts, converting only half of them. However, Oregon — a team that gets nearly 40 percent of its points from the three-point line — only notched 19 percent of their points from distance tonight. Oregon adjusted in the second half by driving to the bucket relentlessly and getting fouls. Foul trouble was the monkey wrench that hurt Arizona in the second half, but Sean Miller confirmed that taking away the three was the priority. It’s counterintuitive relative to the long-established philosophy of defending from the inside out, and it reflects just how much the style of the game and the three-point line have revolutionized not just the way teams attack but also the way they defend.
  2. Track Dillon Brooks’ usage in the NCAA Tournament. Dana Altman and Tyler Dorsey were not excited last night about the stagnation that resulted largely because of Brooks’ ball dominance. Tonight Brooks scored 17 of Oregon’s 29 points in the first half and took 12 of their 29 shots. Oregon’s offensive efficiency that half was 85.3. In the second half, foul trouble opened the door for Tyler Dorsey, who took over the lead role and logged a very efficient 21 points on only 10 shots. Oregon’s offensive efficiency in the second half was 141.7. The Ducks are at their most dangerous when they have everybody engaged (most teams are), but with a player as exceptional as Brooks it can be difficult to find that balance. There is not clear evidence of any kind of a rift between Brooks and his team, but the Ducks’ last two games illustrated that making Oregon one-dimensional is a big step towards beating them, even if that one dimension is a player as good as Brooks.
  3. Chris Boucher was missed.  Altman admitted that it was tough to account for the absence of the Ducks’ senior shot-blocker and three-point threat extraordinaire. Make no mistake: Boucher was missed on both ends of the court tonight. His reputation is built on rim protection but his ability to stretch defenses and create mismatches is something Altman must resolve by the time Oregon starts NCAA Tournament play.

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Rushed Reactions: Oregon 73, California 65

Posted by RJ Abeytia on March 11th, 2017

Oregon and Cal came into the game as the two best defensive teams in the league, and after a fast start for the offenses, the defenses rose up and put a stranglehold on the game. In the end, Cal’s early loss of Jabari Bird proved to be a bridge too far as the NCAA Tournament-galvanizing win the Bears were looking for eluded them and the Ducks moved onto their fourth Pac-12 title game in five seasons.  

Oregon is in Position to Win Its Second Straight Pac-12 Title (USA Today Images)

Key Takeaways.

  • Oregon’s versatility is a big, big deal. The Ducks overcame a subpar (3-of-12 FG) and foul-plagued (he picked up his fourth foul with 18:02 left in the second half) game from Dillon Brooks. Tyler Dorsey picked up his slack with a 23-point performance, but Oregon was not dependent on Brooks to put on his cape at the end. Dylan Ennis posted the key bucket in the final few minutes, curling off a weave handoff and getting to the bucket for the game-sealing three-point play.
  • One of the biggest factors was Oregon’s ability to overcome a poor effort from its freshman point guard and Cal’s inability to do the same. Payton Pritchard was a virtual non-entity on offense (three points) and earned the ire of Dana Altman defensively as well. Cal’s Charlie Moore had a decent overall line with 15 points on 5-of-11 shooting but he also committed seven turnovers and could not get the Bears a good shot when they desperately needed one. With 2:10 to go and the Bears down three, he turned it over with a bad double-dribble possession. Moments later, Ennis hit the and-one that sealed the game for the Ducks. With Dorsey, Brooks and Ennis, Oregon didn’t need Pritchard to organize them and it made the difference.
  • Jordan Bell passes the eye test. Bell had a monster block on a Stephen Domingo drive late where he came from seemingly nowhere (the deep right wing, but you get the idea) to erase what appeared to be an easy layup. He has an endless motor, plays very physically, yet only had two fouls in a game that featured 41 violations. He also contributed 15 rebounds, five blocks and a steal. Oregon is the best defensive team in the conference and Bell is one of the best defenders in college basketball. People want to think Go-Go offense when they think Oregon, but the deeper they go into this season the clearer it is that it’s defense that forms the foundation of this team.

Star of the Game. Tyler Dorsey, Oregon. Bell was a close second, but Dorsey put up 23 points in 32 turnover-free minutes in a game that was effectively played without Dillon Brooks. Cal had nobody who could step up and replace Jabari Bird’s production in the same way that Dorsey did for the Ducks.

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All Pac-12 Team and Player of the Year

Posted by RJ Abeytia on March 10th, 2017

We’ve been treating freshmen and non-freshmen in the Pac-12 like opposing sides of the bracket in breaking down our season-ending honors, but with the conference itself announcing its award winners and all-league honors, it’s time to let fly with our All-Pac team and picks for awards, with all players finally in the pool and up for honors.

All-PAC Team

Writer Player Player Player Player Player
Adam Butler Lonzo Ball, UCLA Dillon Brooks, Oregon Jordan Bell, Oregon Lauri Markannen, Arizona T.J. Leaf, UCLA
Gus Morris Lonzo Ball, UCLA Dillon Brooks, Oregon Markelle Fultz, Washington Lauri Markannen, Arizona T.J. Leaf, UCLA
R.J Abeytia Lonzo Ball, UCLA Dillon Brooks, Oregon Jordan Bell, Oregon Lauri Markannen, Arizona T.J. Leaf, UCLA

 

Lonzo Ball is RTC’s pick for Pac-12 POY (Photo: Getty Images)


What we lack in creativity, we make up in substance. It’s hard to argue with any of the choices here, although the point of contention is of course the inclusion of Washington’s Markelle Fultz. It’s hard to knock a guy who is a likely top-two pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, and it’s even harder to compare him with a player like Oregon’s Jordan Bell, who occupies such a contrasting space in terms of role, skill set, position and usage. For consistency’s sake, let’s look at the twin criteria of Net Efficiency Differential combined with Relative Defensive Efficiency.
Fultz finished with a negative differential (-4.7) in conference play, while Bell finished with a staggering +33.2 differential.  Of course, that’s tremendously impacted by the noted factors above, especially usage. Bell logged an 18.2 percent usage rate in conference play while Fultz carried a massive load for the Huskies at 33.2 percent.

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Notes From the Pac-12 Quarterfinals

Posted by RJ Abeytia on March 10th, 2017

Day two of the Pac-12 Tournament closed with the league’s 24-game chalk streak finally broken (barely, though, with a #5 seed beating a #4 seed), and the conference’s heavyweights in position to line up for the big stage over the next two nights. After two rounds of action, here are the three big takeaways from the Conference of Champions’ time so far in the desert.

UCLA and USC Put on an Entertaining Show Last Night (USA Today Images)

  1. The heavyweights can win with their B Games: Arizona, Oregon, and UCLA were not at their best on Thursday, but they were all good enough. In Arizona’s 92-78 win over the Buffaloes, five Wildcats scored in double figures and Sean Miller’s offense was enough to overcome a defense that struggled to contain Colorado. UCLA went down to the wire against its crosstown rival, but they bookended the game with good defense (USC started the game 1-of-14 and missed their final five shots) and enough offense to advance. Oregon had the easiest time of it, but keep an eye on the Ducks’ depth: They had to roll with only six players because of Chris Boucher’s foul trouble. Perhaps the biggest takeaway on Thursday was that each team overcame its potential weaknesses:  Arizona’s freshmen (Rawle Alkins, Lauri Markannen and Kobi Simmons) shot 17-of-21 combined against Colorado and committed only two turnovers in 62 minutes of floor time. UCLA’s shaky defense did just enough to survive and advance, and Oregon, a team with no real post player, pounded Arizona State in the paint with a 42-18 advantage.
  2. The bubble teams helped their causes: USC is now likely in the field with a 1-1 Pac-12 Tournament showing, but debate still lingers over Cal’s status. A win over Oregon tonight would makes them a lock, but if they were to lose, have the Bears done enough?  Cal has 21 wins but only two of those were in the KenPom top 50 (Utah). Bill Walton thinks they’re in; Joe Lunardi thinks they’re not; but ultimately there’s only one thing we know for sure — the Bears still control their own fate, and that’s all they can ask for at this point.
  3. Derrick White is awesome:  White could make the all-tournament team despite playing only half the days. The senior Colorado guard posted 31 points, six rebounds and five assists against Arizona while shooting 17-of-34 for the tournament. He was also 16-0f-19 from the line. His 57 points are to date better than any player still standing, and only Cal’s Jabari Bird is very close with 46 points.

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