Weekly Pac-Five: Players Who Need to Step Up

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 1st, 2016

As part of a new weekly feature here on the Pac-12 microsite, we will be creating many lists of five: five best players; five best coaches; five best and worst teams. The topics are never-ending and we intend to cover a lot of ground over the next few months. As we close out the first month of the season, we tackled five Pac-12 players who need to elevate their play, effective immediately.

  • Dylan Ennis, Senior, Oregon. Maybe his 18-point, six-rebound performance against Boise State was the start of an upward trend, but Ennis looked like someone who hadn’t played in a full year prior to Monday night’s performance. He is still just 4-of-25 from downtown on the season and so far hasn’t been the same defensive weapon he was at Villanova. There is still plenty of time for the senior to shake off the rust, but the Ducks need him to get right quickly because they the offense needs a shot in the arm that could be provided if he finally heats up.
Dylan Ennis (USA Today Images)

Dylan Ennis Could Stand to Revert to his Play at Villanova Soon (USA Today Images)

  • Keondre Dew, Junior, Oregon State. Now that Tres Tinkle is out for six weeks with a broken wrist, it is imperative that Oregon State starts getting production from its junior forward. For that to happen, Dew, who has already been suspended twice this season and has admitted that he was his own worst enemy at Tulsa, needs to wake up. The junior college transfer is a long and versatile offensive weapon — or, he could be if he could stay focused long enough to produce something. In 59 minutes of action so far this season, Dew is only 4-of-16 from the field, 2-of-6 at the free throw line and has more than twice as many turnovers (10) as assists (4). He has the talent to help Oregon State turn its season around and weather the injury storm if he ultimately decides he wants to.

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Oregon Has Bigger Issues Than Dillon Brooks’ Health

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 17th, 2016

Dillon Brooks isn’t walking through that door, Oregon!

Well.. actually, he is. So if you came here looking for analysis full of hand-wringing and questions about what is wrong with Oregon after its beatdown by the hands of Baylor earlier this week, look elsewhere. There is no shame in losing a road game in Waco without your best player and against a team that should never have been considered “unranked” anyway.

That said, it felt like the storyline coming out Oregon’s loss was that the Ducks really miss Brooks, which sounds somewhat like a cop out even if it’s also undoubtedly true. To say that Oregon lost to Baylor because Brooks didn’t play would be glossing over just how inept the rest of Dana Altman’s team looked Tuesday night. As the head coach put it on Wednesday, telling reporters “that’s really easy to let the guys off the hook that way. This team is a lot better, even without him, than what it showed yesterday, and that’s what disappoints me.”

Dillon Brooks (USA Today Images)

The Return of Dillon Brooks Cannot Come Soon Enough for Oregon (USA Today Images)

There is no point in running through the numbers because it is just easier to say that Oregon played its worst offensive game since 2013 and 0.82 points per possession won’t even beat Dartmouth, much less Baylor. To his credit, Altman was the first to admit how poorly his team played Tuesday, but the outcome of the game isn’t the problem inasmuch as some of the holes that Baylor exposed in the process.

The most glaring issue is the team’s obvious lack of depth without Brooks in the lineup. Only seven players received more than 10 minutes of court time and it is obvious that potential rotation pieces Kavell Bigby-Williams and Keith Smith are not yet ready. Without Brooks, this leaves the Ducks undersized and inflexible defensively and forces Altman to heavily rely on freshman guard Payton Pritchard and seldom-used big man Roman Sorkin. Both are useful players but the Ducks are likely better off with them serving as complementary pieces rather than core rotation guys.

It is also somewhat disappointing that Chris Boucher hasn’t yet taken the leap, although It is also worth remembering that he has only been playing organized basketball since 2012. Through two games, Boucher has looked a lot like the same player he was last season, which isn’t a bad thing when you consider his offensive efficiency and shot-blocking ability. But he was also maddeningly inconsistent last season, a player who still disappears offensively at times, doesn’t pass, struggles with foul trouble and doesn’t rebound nearly as well as he should. Against teams like Army, he can go for 14 points and eight rebounds without breaking a sweat; but for Oregon to ultimately win a National Championship, Boucher needs to do better than two rebounds (zero offensive) against quality opponents.

The point guard job is less about whether a hole needs plugging and more about which plug fits that hole best. Pritchard and returning starter Casey Benson have split minutes as the primary ball-handler through two games and most teams in the Pac-12 would kill for a duo like that. But it will be interesting to see how that time-sharing arrangement progresses because each player brings a distinctly different skill set to the table. Benson hasn’t done anything this season to lose his starting spot, but Pritchard is the more talented (and turnover-prone) offensive player. Once Brooks returns, either Benson or Dylan Ennis will be headed to the bench, only making things more interesting as Ennis can play point guard as well. The sample size is admittedly small, but the most logical solution for Altman is to use Benson as the steady hand and let the better shooters, Ennis and Pritchard, provide scoring punch off the ball.

Oregon has no time to lick its wounds as undefeated Valparaiso comes to Eugene tonight. The Crusaders are better than your average mid-major but this is still a chance for the Ducks, even without the services of Brooks for another night, to flex their muscles and prove they are a capable team regardless.

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Pac-12 Burning Questions: How Quickly Can Dillon Brooks Get Healthy?

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 19th, 2016

It seems unfair to say that Oregon’s chances at competing for a National Title depend solely on the long-term health of Dillon Brooks, especially considering the sheer amount of talent and depth Dana Altman has stockpiled in Eugene. But then again, Brooks is no ordinary role player either. The Toronto, Ontario, native emerged as one of the best two-way players in the Pac-12 last season, averaging 16.7 points per game (47.0% FG) to go with 5.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game. He started in all 38 of the Ducks’ games and was the linchpin to Altman’s successful attempt at a nearly position-less rotation. He played as the team’s nominal power forward, but his NBA size and athleticism allowed him to easily guard multiple positions and a match-up nightmare on the other end of the floor. Although he laid a seven-point egg in the Elite Eight against Oklahoma, his performances in the Round of 32 against St. Joseph’s and in the Sweet Sixteen against Duke positioned him as a leading candidate for Pac-12 Preseason Player of the Year this season.

How will Oregon adapt without Brooks? (Photo Credit: Craig Strobeck)

How will Oregon adapt without Brooks? (Photo Credit: Craig Strobeck)

When Brooks withdrew his name from the NBA Draft in late May, it instantly made the Ducks a trendy 2017 title contender. That outlook, however, changed considerably when Altman casually mentioned in a summer conference call that Brooks had been held out of workouts because of a “problem with his foot.” Brooks had foot surgery two weeks later, and it became increasingly clear by August that he was going to miss part of the regular season. That shouldn’t be a major issue, though, as the Ducks are one of the few teams in the country with sufficient talent and depth to replace a player of Brooks’ caliber. If Altman wants to play small, he can feel confident in the trio of Casey Benson, Dylan Ennis, and Tyler Dorsey. If he prefers a larger lineup, versatile big men Chris Boucher, Jordan Bell, and JuCo transfer Kavell Williams-Bigby lead one of the country’s best stables of post players. If the team’s recent exhibition games in Spain were any indication, Altman plans to mix and match until he finds a rotation he is comfortable with, a luxury most coaches in the conference surely envy. But that depth won’t change the fact that Oregon will still be missing its best player on both ends of the floor.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Oregon 91, #16 Holy Cross 52

Posted by Kenny Ocker on March 18th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregionKenny Ocker is covering the Spokane pods of the South and West regionals this week.

Three Key Takeaways.

Oregon Methodically Took Care of Business Today (USA Today Images)

Oregon Methodically Took Care of Business Today (USA Today Images)

  1. Oregon didn’t embarrass itself, and nobody got hurt: All the Ducks needed to do was win comfortably, have nobody get hurt and try not to tax their key players before Sunday’s second-round game against the winner of Saint Joseph’s and Cincinnati. Mission accomplished. There’s not much else that can be taken from a game against what is Oregon’s second-worst opponent of the season, according to KenPom.com.
  2. Chris Boucher is a unicorn: The Ducks’ 6’11” stringbean of a center does three things, and he does them all phenomenally. He blocks a ton of shots. He takes a lot of threes. And he finishes off spectacular alley-oops. The reigning junior college player of the year has transformed Oregon into a difficult team to attack offensively and just as much of a challenge to defend. He’s freakishly long and quick and can jump as high as anyone in college basketball. His combination of skills was on full display Friday, as Holy Cross had nobody capable of containing him. Boucher’s final stat line: 20 points on 8-12 shooting, one three-pointer, five rebounds.
  3. Bill Carmody finally got a team in purple into the NCAA Tournament: After a long, sometimes-cursed tenure at Northwestern that never saw the Wildcats experience March Madness, Carmody coaxed a struggling Holy Cross team to four consecutive road wins in the Patriot League Tournament, then won a First Four nail-biter against Southern to earn a red-eye flight to Spokane. There’s only one Crusader senior who plays major minutes — swingman/glue guy Eric Green — whose spot in the starting lineup will likely be filled next year by supersub Robert Champion. Once the Crusaders switched to their 1-3-1 zone defense, they saw significantly better results. It wouldn’t be totally surprising to see them back in the bracket next year.

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Pac-12 Bracketology: Non-Conference Season

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 9th, 2016

The heavy lifting for Pac-12 teams has just begun but the non-conference games each team is leaving behind won’t stay in the rear-view mirror very long. They make a dramatic reappearance in the next two months when some of those games played two and three months prior might be the difference between getting a coveted invitation to the Big Dance and being shut out. This means that the only consistent way to analyze how each team did in non-conference play is to evaluate each resume as if the teams were on the bubble. In general, Pac-12 teams did a lackluster job of scheduling legitimate competition (and beating it). Even with a seriously stretched definition of what counts as a “quality win,” it was still tough to get excited about the success of these teams. Let’s run through it.

Arizona – IN

Sean Miller's Team is Of Course Easily In, But How High? (USA Today Images)

Sean Miller’s Team is Of Course Easily In, But How High? (USA Today Images)

  • KenPom Non-Conference Strength of Schedule: #292
  • Quality Wins: at Gonzaga, UNLV, Boise State (2x)
  • Bad Losses: None

The Wildcats look like the class of the Pac so the team’s at-large candidacy likely won’t matter much because they’re in regardless. They didn’t exactly challenge themselves in the first half of their schedule, playing  what amounts to the easiest non-conference slate in the conference. But Arizona also didn’t lose to anyone unexpected and beat a few decent teams too. It is possible that the win in Spokane against Gonzaga will be the only one to stand up as a true quality win, but for now, wins over Boise State (twice) and UNLV build a solid foundation for an at-large resume.

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Repercussions of Dylan Ennis’ Short-Lived Career at Oregon

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 7th, 2016

Wednesday was a day of mixed emotions around the Oregon basketball program. Early in the day it was announced that graduate senior point guard Dylan Ennis would miss the rest of the season with the same foot injury that had kept him out of the Ducks’ first 12 games of the season. This announcement effectively ends Ennis’ career in Eugene before it ever began, relegating him to a role as a cheerleader and mentor on the bench for the remainder of his time there. The good news is that the Ducks bounced back from a loss to Oregon State in its Pac-12 opener to score a solid home win over a California team that is beginning to look very much like the team we expected. While the injury to Ennis is a downright bummer, can the Ducks still be considered among the Pac-12 favorites despite his absence?

A Foot Injury Ended Dylan Ennis' Oregon Career Before It Ever Really Got Started (Oregon Athletics)

A Foot Injury Ended Dylan Ennis’ Oregon Career Before It Ever Really Got Started. (Oregon Athletics)

First, on Ennis. After starting his career as a promising if erratic point guard at Rice, he made the jump to the big leagues in two tremendously effective years at Villanova (averaging 9.9 points and 3.5 assists per game in a 33-win junior year, sharing point guard duties with Ryan Arcidiacono). At 6’2”, he knew that his best chance to maximize his professional potential lay in playing the point full-time. And with a potential logjam looming in the Villanova backcourt, the notion of sharing minutes again with Arcidiacono as well as freshman Jalen Brunson pushed Ennis to make the jump to Dana Altman’s transfer-friendly program. From there, it was a simple twist of fate that led to a foot injury in preseason practice. Altman tried to play him in late December in 10 largely ineffective minutes against Western Oregon; and he got 11 more minutes of action against Oregon State where he was clearly not comfortable with weight on his bad foot. With a redshirt year already lost to his first transfer, Ennis’ collegiate eligibility is likely finished barring a Hail Mary on a sixth-year.

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Dear Santa: Here’s Our Pac-12 Holiday Wish List

Posted by Mike Lemaire (@Mike_Lemaire) & Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on December 18th, 2015

Here at the Pac-12 microsite we are hardly immune to the allure of a cheesy holiday-themed post, and so in the spirit of the season, we created a wish list for each team in the conference. Although none of the teams are even close to a finished product and it may be too early in the season to thoughtfully examine strengths and weaknesses, everyone has played enough games that we can start to draw worthwhile conclusions from what we’ve seen. As with any holiday wish list, there are some wants and needs that are easier to satisfy than others but hey, you have to dream big when gifts are involved.

Arizona: Another Shooter

Arizona Could Stand To See Mark Tollefsen Dial In His Perimeter Shot (USA Today Sports)

Arizona Could Stand To See Mark Tollefsen Dial In His Perimeter Shot. (USA Today Sports)

Even without post anchor Kaleb Tarczewski, the Wildcats have been and will continue to be the conference’s best defensive team. But the offense has been a work in progress primarily because the outside shooting has been ugly. The team is shooting just 31 percent from downtown, down from 38 percent last season and Gabe York is pretty much the only one making shots behind the three-point line with any regularity. York has been much better of late and is one of the most dangerous shooters in the country when he gets hot, but he is pretty much the only one on the roster who can shoot. The big reason why the Wildcats rank near the bottom of the country in 3PA/FGA is because Sean Miller knows his team can’t really shoot it from there. The best hope is that Mark Tollefson rebounds from a slow start and becomes the 36 percent three-pointer shooter he was coming into the season.

Arizona State: a Personal Offensive Coach for Savon Goodman

Goodman is almost as bad at shooting and passing as he is good at everything else he does on the court. He is a vicious dunker, a suffocating defender, one of the better rebounding wing players in the entire country and a good finisher at the rim. But, like many freak athletes on the basketball court, as he moves farther away from the basket, his effectiveness disappears. Goodman has missed all seven of the three-pointers he has attempted in his collegiate career and he is a career 57 percent free throw shooter. Also, his assist rate is below 5.0, which means once he gets the ball, he isn’t looking to get rid of it again. Goodman’s offensive issues are a good microcosm for Arizona State’s offensive issues. The team is athletic and defends hard, but they don’t have any truly skilled offensive players. Goodman will likely never become a consistent three-point threat but imagine how good he and the Sun Devils could be if he develops some feel for his shot.

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Dylan Ennis and Robert Cartwright: More Pac-12 Injuries

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 6th, 2015

Since last week when I put together a list of the six injured players whose status would have a big impact on their team’s success this season, there have been two more big injuries to befall Pac-12 teams. First, Villanova graduate transfer and senior point guard Dylan Ennis is out indefinitely at Oregon with a foot injury. Meanwhile, Stanford sophomore point guard Robert Cartwright is out for the season with a compound fracture in his right arm. Let’s take a closer look at both of these situations and assess the effects they will have on their squads heading into the season.

Following A Foot Injury, We'll Have To Wait Indefinitely To See Dylan Ennis In A Duck Uniform

Following A Foot Injury, We’ll Have To Wait Indefinitely To See Dylan Ennis In a Ducks Uniform. (Getty)

First, there’s Ennis, a player who is expected to step right in from day one and become the Ducks’ new floor general. After spending the majority of his time in Philadelphia playing more of an off-ball role next to Ryan Arcidiacono, he transferred to Eugene to spend his final collegiate season proving himself as a lead guard. Early reports suggest that Ennis will be gone for a least a month, and perhaps not back in the lineup until conference play. It’s an all-around downer for fans and a program that will miss out on the early promise of a loaded Oregon backcourt when the Ducks will face arguably their toughest non-conference opponent, Baylor, four days into the season. Worse yet, you want to get a new point guard as comfortable as possible on the court with his new teammates early; it now looks like that opportunity will be delayed.

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A Twelve-Pack of Important Pac-12 Newcomers

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 2nd, 2015

At this time of year, it is easiest to get excited about the unknown. We have some idea what to expect from players like Jakob Poeltl and Josh Scott and Bryce Alford and Elgin Cook, but the new guys in their new environments? The sky’s the limit. Below we’ll count down our picks for the 12 guys in a conference of 12 teams who have us most intrigued heading into the season.

12. Bennie Boatwright, Freshman, USC – The Trojans’ offense was abysmal last season. There are plenty of things that need to happen for that to change, but Boatwright’s ability to fill it up from deep could provide an immediate boost. He averaged 27.8 PPG as a high school senior, knocking in eight threes in a single game two separate times.

Bennie Boatwright Getting Ready To Bomb From Deep - Get Used To That Sight (Photo by Kelly Kline/adidas)

Bennie Boatwright Getting Ready To Bomb From Deep – Get Used To That Sight (Kelly Kline/adidas)

11. Lorenzo Bonam, Junior, Utah – Just one of many candidates on the Utah roster to help ease the post-Delon Wright transition, Bonam averaged 16.5 points, 6.8 boards and 3.4 assists per game last season at Gillette College in Wyoming. In his Huntsman Center unveiling last month, he had 16 points in about 32 minutes of action.

10. Dejounte Murray, Washington – On a team loaded with new faces, Murray is the most highly regarded of them. He was the 2015 Washington boy’s high school basketball Player of the Year after averaging 25.0 points and 12.4 boards per game, while notching 24 double-doubles and 14 triple-doubles on the season. Read the rest of this entry »

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Oregon Preview: No Longer Forever Young

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 30th, 2015

In the next three weeks leading up to season tipoff, the Pac-12 microsite will be evaluating each of the league’s 12 teams. Today, we head to Eugene.

Oregon Ducks

Eleven wins in Oregon’s final 13 conference games earned the Ducks a second-place conference finish, a Coach of the Year award, and a Player of the Year award (the latter two of which sent a certain southwestern state into an apoplectic fit) last season. Well, that Player of the Year – one Joseph Young – is gone, but all told, five of the Ducks’ eight players who averaged more than 10 minutes per game last season return. And, per usual, head coach Dana Altman has a couple impact transfers on the way to pair with a trio of talented freshmen. In short, expectations in Eugene remain high.

Minus Joseph Young, Dana Altman Still Has A Talented Roster (Michael Arellano/Emerald)

Minus Joseph Young, Dana Altman Still Has A Talented Roster (Michael Arellano/Emerald)

Strengths. There are a lot of them, but we’ll opt for two for the sake of succinctness: depth and versatility. First, there are those five returning players – Elgin Cook, Dillon Brooks, Jordan Bell, Dwayne Benjamin and Casey Benson – each of whom played at least 47.9 percent of the Ducks’ possible minutes last season. To that mix add a touch of senior point guard in Villanova transfer Dylan Ennis. Throw in a little reigning National Junior College Player of the Year Chris Boucher. And then toss in a jumble of three different four-star recruits for good measure. If Altman chooses, his team can go 10 deep and can play in a variety of different ways. Benson’s a true point type of guy, but he’ll compete for playing time at the one with Ennis and freshman Tyler Dorsey, both of whom can also play off the ball. Cook and Bell up front may well be the bouncy combination Altman likes at the four and the five spots, but he could go big with the 6’10” Boucher or 6’9” freshman Trevor Manuel and slide either incumbent over a spot. And then on the wing? There are two big walking mismatches in guys like Brooks and Benjamin. Altman’s certainly got a lot of fun mix-and-match toys to play with this season. Read the rest of this entry »

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