Who Won The Week? TCU, Nate Wolters, and San Diego…

Posted by CNguon on February 8th, 2013

wonweekWho Won the Week? is a regular column that will outline and discuss three winners and losers from the previous week. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), an Oregon-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.

WINNER: TCU

The Horned Frogs started out their Big 12 tenure on a bad note, going 0-8 in conference and losing only one of those games by fewer than 10 points. And then #2 Kansas came to town. Recipe for disaster, right? It was, just not for the team you would expect. The Horned Frogs pounced on the Jayhawks early, holding them to two points in the first 13:39 of the game. But TCU was able to hold up for the rest of the game, never letting Kansas lead and nabbing a 62-55 victory. Never mind that TCU lost by 17 against a Texas team with two conference wins on Saturday; the Horned Frogs nabbed one of the biggest regular-season upsets ever.

TCU's upset over Kansas was one of the biggest shockers in recent memory (Star-Telegram/Rodger Mallison)

TCU’s upset over Kansas was one of the biggest shockers in recent memory (Star-Telegram/Rodger Mallison)

(Related winners: Other teams bidding for a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament; Kansas fans who are wary of being a No. 1 seed. Related losers: Kansas – see below.)

LOSER: Kansas

Thanks to getting shelled by a team Ken Pomeroy said had a 3 percent chance of winning a few days after losing a fast-paced shootout against Oklahoma State, the Jayhawks have their first losing streak since January 2006. Kansas got torn up by the perimeter scoring of the Cowboys, whose guards Markel Brown and Marcus Smart had 28 and 25 points respectively. Meanwhile, the Jayhawks shot a tick above 40 percent from the field, eventually falling 85-80 at home. But Kansas doubled down on its offensive woes in Fort Worth, shooting under 30 percent against TCU. Primary ballhandlers Elijah Johnson and Naadir Tharpe combined to go 5-of-27 from the floor Wednesday with three assists and five turnovers. (Against the Cowboys, the pair combined to go 6 of 21 from the field with 10 assists and five turnovers.) It looks like the Jayhawks need to find someone capable of playing consistently at point guard, lest their otherwise-championship-caliber team go to waste in a year with no dominant team.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Oregon Basketball and The Season of New: It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

Posted by Rockne Roll on January 26th, 2013

Welcome to Oregon Basketball and The Season of New, a weekly Pac-12 microsite column from Rockne Roll (@raroll). His column will focus on the various issues facing college basketball through the prism of the Oregon Ducks, a program ostensibly on the rise with top-notch facilities and coaching, but still subject to many of the same problems suffered by many of the other high-major programs around the country.

Needless to say, it’s been a topsy-turvy week in college hoops. Louisville was crowned the top team in the country after all three remaining undefeated teams lost in the same weekend, only to be promptly unseated by Syracuse in a Big East thriller that propelled Michael Carter-Williams further into the national spotlight. Duke retook the crown, only to suffer an unprecedented 27-point beatdown at the hands of Miami. Heading into Saturday night, the next number one is anything but certain, with Michigan still in the mix and Kansas seemingly ready to take the throne for the first time this season.

E.J. Singler was all over the court in the Ducks comeback win over Washington State, including notching this block in the first half. (Photo by Rockne Andrew Roll)

E.J. Singler was all over the court in the Ducks comeback win over Washington State, including notching this block in the first half. (Photo by Rockne Andrew Roll)

The excitement has continued deep into the undercard throughout the last week. Michigan State’s upset of Ohio State makes the Big Ten race that much more interesting (not that it needed any help), and Wichita State’s win over Creighton turned the Missouri Valley from the Jays’ show to a horse race in one fell swoop. None of these, however, can top the show put on in Hinkle Fieldhouse last Saturday, a prime time game between barely-mid-major programs with the same mascot and the same aspirations come March.

When two of the best squads in the country meet in one of the most historic sports venues in any league of any sport, there are bound to be fireworks, but this contest was at “ESPN Classic” levels even before it ended. A Rotnei Clarke-less Bulldogs squad kept it tooth and nail with the kings of the West Coast Conference, Gonzaga, for 39 minutes and 57 seconds until a traveling call seemed to seal this battle of the Bulldogs. Then in came the Hinkle Magic and a kid named Roosevelt Jones grabbed the Zags’ inbounds pass, dribbled twice and launched a floater that no one heard hit the ground after swishing through the net, it’s bounce drowned out as a sea of navy and white rushed the old court to celebrate a tremendous win.

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Oregon Basketball and the Season of New: The Big Win

Posted by Rockne Roll on January 17th, 2013

Welcome to Oregon Basketball and The Season of New, a weekly Pac-12 microsite column from Rockne Roll (@raroll). His column will focus on the various issues facing college basketball through the prism of the Oregon Ducks, a program ostensibly on the rise with top-notch facilities and coaching, but still subject to many of the same problems suffered by many of the other high-major programs around the country.

There are games that every player remembers — their highest-scoring game, their last home contest, rivalry games, conference championships, and bad losses. But not every player gets the chance to be part of a big upset win in front of the home fans on national TV. These games are but a blip on the larger college basketball radar, sometimes netting headlines for a day or so, but for the players, the fans, the building and team staffs and everyone else who was there, it is often the memory of a lifetime.

Carlos Emory drinks in the atmosphere at Matthew Knight Arena in the closing moments of the Duck's win over Arizona. (Photo by Rockne Andrew Roll

Carlos Emory drinks in the atmosphere in the closing moments of the Ducks’ win over Arizona. (Photo by Rockne Andrew Roll)

By about halfway through the non-conference season, four power conference teams had gone unscathed through the early season: Arizona, Duke, Indiana, and Michigan. No team has gone undefeated through the regular season since 1976, when Indiana finished the season with a 32-0 record and a national championship, but there’s always hope that another team can do the job, that the stars will align just right. That squad was not Indiana again, as they lost to Butler in overtime near the trail end of the non-conference season. The win put the Bulldogs back into the national spotlight and shattered many predictions that Indiana was a juggernaut. It also elevated the other three unbeaten schools to elite status, the top of the college basketball heap (and polls).

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Pac-12 Report Card: Volume II

Posted by AMurawa on January 16th, 2013

Professor Pac is back to break down and evaluate each team’s performances in the past week. With three pet pupils atop the leaderboard still without a loss, it’s no surprise who is earning the As thus far.

Washington – A

After winning a conference road game over an intrastate rival last week, the Huskies decided to one-up themselves this week, taking down two more road games, this time over slightly more significant competition, to begin the season with a surprising three-game road winning streak.

Focus on: Andrew Andrews. The stats this week weren’t anywhere near mind-blowing for the redshirt freshman (9 PPG, 4 RPG, 0.5 APG), but he brings an energy and athleticism to a Husky backcourt that definitely needed it. Offensively, he is a threat to get to the paint and create opportunities on any possession, and on defense, as his four steals against Stanford on Saturday showed, he is capable of wreaking havoc on the opposition. He’s still green, but look for his role to continue to expand this season.

Looking ahead: For a team with a history of struggling on the road, the Huskies have taken care of business there in recent weeks. Now they have to prove they can win at home, something they have failed to do three separate times in the non-conference schedule. Colorado is the first test tonight with Utah visiting on Sunday.

Andrew Andrews Has Been Providing A Spark Off The Bench For The Huskies (Elaine Thompson, AP Photo)

Andrew Andrews Has Been Providing A Spark Off The Bench For The Huskies (Elaine Thompson, AP Photo)

Oregon – A

If you wanted to pick one weakness on this Ducks team, it might be the lack of a proven go-to scorer at this point. This week, for instance, in each of their two home wins over the Arizona schools, four of the five starters scored in double figures, with nobody scoring more than 14 points. In fact, only four times all season has a Duck scored 20 or more (Damyean Dotson twice, Arsalan Kazemi once, and E.J. Singler once). I’m not one who thinks this is always necessarily a problem – if you have plenty of good offensive options and you wind up with balanced scoring that way, it certainly keeps the defense guessing – but I think in the Ducks’ case, they have a bunch of good players, none of whom are completely polished offensive options. And against Arizona down the stretch, the possibility of that being a problem raised its head. Part of it has to do with the decision to milk the clock way too early, but at some point they probably need somebody (the best candidate is Dotson) to become the go-to guy down the stretch.

Focus on: E.J. Singler. The senior had a great all-around game in the win over Arizona, going for 14 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, and three steals, while knocking down some key free throws late, but then once again disappeared for the most part against Arizona State, hitting just one of nine field goal attempts and grabbing only one board in 36 minutes of play. That’s been the M.O. for the most part this season for a guy expected to be an all-conference caliber guy: inconsistency.

Looking ahead: The Ducks leave the state of Oregon for the first time in almost a month and just the third game all year when they head down Los Angeles way. They will be the opponent for Bob Cantu’s debut with USC tomorrow night before headlining the Pac-12 schedule on Saturday with a visit to Pauley Pavilion and UCLA for the first conference match-up between Top 25 teams since 2009.

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Oregon Basketball and The Season of New: Anatomy of a Rivalry

Posted by Rockne Roll on January 10th, 2013

Welcome to Oregon Basketball and The Season of New, a weekly Pac-12 microsite column from Rockne Roll (@raroll). His column will focus on the various issues facing college basketball through the prism of the Oregon Ducks, a program ostensibly on the rise with top-notch facilities and coaching but still subject to many of the same problems suffered by many of the other high-major programs around the country.

Not all conference games are created equal, particularly in a conference where there’s a wide separation between best and worst. And while the Oregon Ducks have been saying that they prepare for every game with the same degree of intensity and focus, one can’t help but think that there might have been a little something extra that went into the preparation for Sunday’s conference opener against a team the Ducks have played 337 times before this one. Because what better way for Oregon to start conference play than the longest running rivalry in college basketball; the Civil War against the Beavers of Oregon State.

Team leaders E.J. Singler (left) and Roberto Nelson tried to keep the Civil War "civil." (Photo by Rockne Andrew Roll)

Team leaders E.J. Singler (left) and Roberto Nelson tried to keep the Civil War “civil.” (Photo by Rockne Andrew Roll)

The Civil War has all the makings of a classic rivalry: two big schools with big athletic programs in the same conference separated by 40 or so miles of Interstate 5 and a million miles in terms of campus and community culture. Between Corvallis, the small, rural town with its agricultural college turned engineering and forestry nexus, and Eugene, the famed hippie and beatnick mecca with its liberal arts (emphasis on the liberal) focus that is sometimes referred to as UC Eugene, the whole state takes sides based on location, family history, and alumni status.

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What We Learned Last Week in the Pac-12

Posted by PBaruh on January 8th, 2013

The first week of Pac-12 conference play wrapped up on Sunday and here are some takeaways from the first two games of action for each team.

Coming into conference play, it seemed like third place would come down to Colorado and Oregon. After their performance in Corvallis against Oregon State, the Ducks are unquestionably the third best team in the conference and have a legitimate shot to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008. Dana Altman‘s team went on the road and outplayed a good Oregon State team for 40 minutes and did all of this with its freshman backcourt leading the way, most notably with the performance of Damyean Dotson, who scored a career high 21 points and also added six rebounds. A pressing question for the Ducks heading into the conference season was whether E.J. Singler would break out out of his season-long slump. He certainly looked liked the player that helped the Ducks tremendously last year against the Beavers as he had 15 points, nine rebounds, and three steals in 37 minutes. Singler is still averaging only 10.2 points per game after averaging 13.7 last year, but 15 points was Singler’s second highest scoring total on the season and could prove that the senior is ready to turn his season around. As of now, it looks like Arizona and UCLA are still the top two teams in the conference, but the Oregon Ducks are looming just behind them.

Damyean Dotson led the way for the Oregon on Sunday against Oregon State and the Ducks seem to be the third best team in the Pac-12 right now.

Damyean Dotson led the way for the Oregon on Sunday against Oregon State and the Ducks seem to be the third best team in the Pac-12 right now.

Andrew Murawa mentioned this yesterday, but it bears repeating: Colorado needs to get more production out of its bench this year. But after viewing the first week of conference play, it just might not happen. There are fixable problems on this Colorado team like their horrid free throw shooting and too many turnovers, but the bench is another story. Besides Xavier Johnson, who has had major problems with foul trouble thus far, Tad Boyle doesn’t have anyone else available whom he feels he can go to on his bench. Shane Harris-Tunks, the only true big man among the reserves, has been used sparingly, registering only 8.7 minutes per game and only 1.6 rebounds per game despite his 6’11” stature. Freshmen guards Eli Stalzer and Xavier Talton have looked scared whenever they have played a team with physical guards, and, besides the occasional three from Stalzer, neither has shown an ability to score, averaging a combined 3.3 points per game on the year.

Having no bench would be a problem for any team but it could turn into a bigger problem for the Buffaloes if  they continue to get inefficient shooting nights from Askia Booker. Booker has taken 58 more shots than anyone on the team this year and is also shooting at the worst clip out of all the starters at 41 percent from the field. Boyle had a similar situation last year with leading scorer Carlon Brown, a player who struggled mightily near the end of conference play. However, the head coach was able to replace him with, ironically, sixth man Askia Booker. This year, Boyle simply does not have that option. If Colorado wants to stay near the top of the conference throughout the rest of the season, Boyle might not have any other choice than to play his normal starting lineup and Xavier Johnson for almost the entire game. It doesn’t seem like the ideal situation, but at this point, a fatigued yet talented starting five might be better than a bench that simply cannot compete with most teams in the Pac-12.

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The Civil War: For Oregon and Oregon State, One Game Says It All

Posted by Kenny Ocker on January 7th, 2013

Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker on Twitter) is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Sunday night’s Civil War game between Oregon State and Oregon in Corvallis.

After December drags on with a dearth of meaningful games, the first weekend of conference play is a welcome sight for basketball fans. Everybody wants to see how their teams match up against the schools that matter, and are looking for meaningful results to hang their hopes on for the rest of the season. But as tempting as it is to judge how good your favorite squad really is, it’s still too soon to see what each team’s future looks like just yet. That urge to decide what’s in store is magnified when that first game is the 338th edition of the most-played game in college basketball: the Civil War between Oregon and Oregon State.

Oregon forward E.J. Singler seems to be back on track after a slow start to 2012-13. The senior had 15 points and nine rebounds, the second-highest total in each stat this season. (Photo by Rockne Andrew Roll.)

Oregon forward E.J. Singler seems to be back on track after a slow start to 2012-13. The senior had 15 points and nine rebounds, the second-highest total in each stat this season. (Photo by Rockne Andrew Roll.)

One game into the Pac-12 schedule, it looks like Oregon is an NCAA Tournament-level squad after taking a 79-66 road win against rival Oregon State in Corvallis. The Ducks have a realistic shot at making the school’s first Sweet Sixteen since an Elite Eight run in 2006-07 led by Aaron Brooks and a host of other shooters. But Dana Altman’s Ducks are a different sort of team than Kent’s free-wheeling, fast-break-loving squad of yore. The 2012-13 version thrives on its defense, led by shot-altering Wake Forest transfer Tony Woods and quick-handed Rice transfer Arsalan Kazemi. Even if the Ducks play at an above-average tempo, they aren’t hanging up the consistent 80-point scores from those days. Instead, they’ve got a stifling defense currently in the top 10 in defensive points per possession, and have enough offense to get by even with senior leader E.J. Singler struggling to regain the form that helped guide the Ducks to the NIT last season. (I’m thinking he shouldn’t have cut his Samson-like locks after last season. His scoring and rebounding are both down this year, as is his once-stellar free-throw percentage, which finally crested 80 percent again Sunday night.)

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Oregon Basketball and The Season of New: The End of the Beginning

Posted by Rockne Roll on January 6th, 2013

Welcome to Oregon Basketball and The Season of New, a weekly Pac-12 microsite column from Rockne Roll (@raroll). His column will focus on the various issues facing college basketball through the prism of the Oregon Ducks, a program ostensibly on the rise with top-notch facilities and coaching but still subject to many of the same problems suffered by many of the other high-major programs around the country.

“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” -Winston Churchill

At the beginning of college basketball every year, it’s a circus; 340-plus teams criss-crossing the country to play each other, as well as games by Division I squads against their less heralded colleagues from the lower levels of the hoops hierarchy. There are regular season tournaments, featured games like ESPN’s ACC/Big Ten challenge, and (as previously discussed in this column) mid-majors going on the road and getting shellacked by power conference schools to make a few bucks. Buried somewhere in this mix for the big schools are a couple of games that serve as a real test of a squad’s development and capabilities.

Photo by Rockne Andrew Roll

The Ducks Have Been a Pleasant Surprise This Season(Photo by Rockne Andrew Roll)

Oregon played such a game earlier this week, ending its non-conference slate against Nevada at home. The Wolf Pack were just such a team; they went 13-1 against last year’s WAC and made the NIT quarterfinals before losing to Stanford. They pressured the Ducks defensively and scored 20 points off Oregon’s 20 turnovers. But Oregon’s defense held Nevada to 13 percent shooting from downtown and just 14 first half points for a final score of 56-43. Singler went on the podium after the game and personally took credit for the turnover problem. “We had been really trying to limit out turnovers, and most of them, it was on me.” The box score agreed; Singler coughed it up seven times during the match. “I’ve got to clean it up a lot, be stronger with the ball. We’re going to need to pick it up once Pac-12 starts.” But even beyond just the turnovers, Oregon’s ball movement wasn’t working, and without good ball movement, Oregon’s offense grinds to a halt. “Offensively, the ball movement just wasn’t there. We’ve got a lot of work to do. I thought we’d gotten some things worked out with out ball movement,” explained head coach Dana Altman. But one of the differences in this year’s Oregon squad is its defense. The Ducks are currently sporting their lowest field goal percentage defense in six years, and regularly force their opponents deep into shot clocks. “We had a couple times we had some great possessions. Our rotations were really good, out adjustments were really good. For the most part, our defense was pretty good.”

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Pac-12 Burning Questions: Which Non-Conference Trends Are Here To Stay?

Posted by AMurawa on January 4th, 2013

Conference play is underway, and it’s time to take what we’ve learned from a couple months of uneven schedules and evolving lineups and try to project that forward to a couple grueling months of the conference meat grinder. To wit:

“What trends that we’ve seen developing in the non-conference do you see continuing or changing as we head into the final 18?”

Connor Pelton: Going into the season, if I had told you Oregon would be 11-2 going into Pac-12 play, most would have said E.J. Singler would either be leading the team in scoring or a close second behind Arsalan Kazemi. Instead, Singler has fallen into a role as more of a distributor, now passing up shots he had to take last year. With options like Tony Woods and Carlos Emory in the post, and capable scorers Damyean Dotson and Dominic Artis on the perimeter, I see no reason why the Ducks wouldn’t be able to keep up their success sustained thus far. This is a much more balanced team than in years past, so much so that Singler has been able to sit out nearly four more minutes a game than in 2011-12. With all of this said, the senior has to be able to hit big shots when needed. In Oregon’s triple-overtime loss at UTEP last month, Singler was a complete non-factor in the three extra periods. Not only that, he only hit one shot all game long. If the freshmen up top are freezing in big games late in the year, it’ll be Singler who gets the call. I think he answers it, giving the Ducks a great shot at reaching their first NCAA Tournament in five years.

Oregon Has Had Success So Far, But Needs Singler To Contribute More

Oregon Has Had Success So Far, But Needs Singler To Contribute More

Adam Butler: I foresee the improvement of Stanford’s Dwight Powell to continue. Here’s a guy who’s long had the physical tools to be good and in the preseason (both this and last year), we discussed just how good he could be. A season ago he played through injury and, frankly, awkwardness; a hint of a baby giraffe out there. This year he’s begun to assert himself, catapulting his usage numbers into the realm of team leader. He’s put up some insanely impressive games and those have been the one’s he’s sought to be the man. And that’s the trend I expect to see continue. When he’s on, he makes Randle and Bright better. Consistency will be the name of the game for this Canadian and I really think that the routine of a Pac-12 season (Thursday, Saturday, Thursday, Saturday…) can really help these guys get into comfort zones the non-conference slate doesn’t always afford. For Powell, 10 to 15 shots per game will be his sweet spot. It’d also be sweet if he didn’t foul people. He has a tendency to do such. Powell is still improving, which is a scary thought considering he went for 23/8 against CJ Leslie and N.C. State. One other thing I expect to continue is Shabazz Muhammad playing well. And that’s horrifying if you’re not wearing powder blue.

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Wrapping Up Pac-12 Non-Conference Play By Reassessing Our All-Conference Selections

Posted by AMurawa on January 2nd, 2013

Later tonight, the second leg of the Pac-12 college basketball season begins as conference play tips off with the Battle of the Bachynskis, when Utah travels to Arizona State. After last year’s nightmare of a non-conference slate, this season the conference took major strides, with Arizona’s win over Florida, UCLA’s win over Missouri, Colorado’s win over Baylor, and Oregon’s win over UNLV making up the top tier of the best wins for the conference. Before we turn our complete attention to conference play, we thought we’d hand out some awards based on the season to this point, so Connor Pelton, Parker Baruh, Pachoops’ Adam Butler and myself voted and came up with the following results.

Player of the Year

Allen Crabbe, Jr, California – Crabbe’s 20.9 PPG and efficient all-around offensive game earned three of the four votes for our player of the year, with UCLA’s Jordan Adams receiving the other vote from me. Crabbe has been a rock for the Golden Bears (well, aside from that Creighton debacle, at least), scoring in double figures in every game, helping out on the glass and, thus far, knocking down better than 38% of his shots from deep.

The Pac-12's Leading Scorer, Allen Crabbe Takes Down The Mid-season POTY Award (credit: Jeff Gross)

The Pac-12’s Leading Scorer, Allen Crabbe Takes Down The Mid-season POTY Award (credit: Jeff Gross)

Coach of the Year

Dana Altman, Oregon – Despite losing three of last year’s top four scorers, and having the other guy in that quartet – E.J. Singler – struggle through the early part of this year, the Ducks have reeled off wins in 11 of their 13 games. Altman has gotten great production out of his freshman backcourt of Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson, has folded Rice transfer Arsalan Kazemi into the mix seamlessly, and coaxed great improvement out of senior center Tony Woods. As a result, he earned three of our four votes for the COY, while Arizona State’s Herb Sendek got my support.

Freshman of the Year

Shabazz Muhammad, Fr, UCLA – After missing the first three games of the season due to an NCAA investigation into his eligibility, Muhammad has come on strong for the Bruins, scoring in double figures in all 10 of the games he’s played in on his way to 19.6 points per night. He’s just beginning to ease into the best physical shape of the season, so the expectation is that conference play will see an even better version of Shabazz. Once again, Shabazz earned three of our four votes for FrOY, with the lone dissenter (again, me) nabbing teammate Jordan Adams.

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Oregon Basketball and The Season of New: Seniors that Surprise

Posted by Rockne Roll on December 26th, 2012

Welcome to Oregon Basketball and The Season of New, a weekly Pac-12 microsite column from Rockne Roll (@raroll). His column will focus on the various issues facing college basketball through the prism of the Oregon Ducks, a program ostensibly on the rise with top-notch facilities and coaching but still subject to many of the same problems suffered by many of the other high-major programs around the country. 

Christmas has come and probably gone by the time you read this, so instead of focusing on “the spirit of the season” and joy and all that, it’s time to discuss the real reason that Christmas is such a popular holiday: gifts. Everyone likes receiving gifts, and college basketball coaches are no exception. Quite a few coaches have been reveling in the gifts they received from Recruiting Claus way back in the offseason as their freshman prospects have blossomed into powerhouse college players. But gifts come in all shapes, sizes and amounts of remaining eligibility for coaches. As the season has unfolded, a number of seniors that were previously talented but not quite superstar players have emerged as unexpected studs that have propelled their teams to unexpected success.

Miles Plumlee Has Been a Gift to Duke Fans (AP Photo)

The most prominent example of this phenomenon nationally has been Mason Plumlee.  Notching just over 11 points and nine boards in last year’s campaign, the middle of the Plumlee brothers was expected to headline the Blue Devil’s frontcourt this year, but not to factor into the hunt for national honors nor was Duke seen as a serious national title contender. How times change: Plumlee now averages nearly 20 points per contest and is the leading scorer and rebounder for the best team in the country. “Mason Plumlee’s improvement in a year’s time is extraordinary,” Elon coach Matt Matheny told reporters after Plumlee scored 21 and notched 15 boards in Duke’s 76-54 win over the Phoenix at Cameron Indoor Stadium. “He has done a tremendously good job of developing into a really, really good college player.” “Really good” is an understatement here, as Plumlee has gone from potential All-American to the short list for the Naismith Award.

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Oregon Basketball and The Season of New: Breaking The Winter Blahs

Posted by Rockne Roll on December 15th, 2012

Welcome to Oregon Basketball and The Season of New, a weekly Pac-12 microsite column from Rockne Roll (@raroll). His column will focus on the various issues facing college basketball through the prism of the Oregon Ducks, a program ostensibly on the rise with top-notch facilities and coaching but still subject to many of the same problems suffered by many of the other high-major programs around the country.

December is a strange time of year in the world of college sports. There are no classes for student-athletes and, at least for the Oregon Ducks, only a few games in the space of a month leading up to the start of conference play. With the hustle and bustle of regular season tournaments ended, now is the time that teams have to solidify their rotations, offensive strategies and other nuances of the game leading up to conference season. Oregon will have some help in this regard. Between their Global Sports Classic finale (their only loss yet) and the beginning of the Pac-12 calendar, the Ducks play all but one of their games at home, and only two against teams that had a winning record last year. But even though the non-conference schedule for them and most high-major schools is now as tender as a fine Christmas roast, that doesn’t mean this time of year is without obstacles. Even in the course of winning games, there are gaping flaws to be unveiled and problems to encounter that make this time of year nerve-wracking.

E.J. Singler leaps in for a put-back off of Damyean Dotson's missed three-pointer. (Photo by Rockne Andrew Roll)

E.J. Singler leaps in for a put-back off of Damyean Dotson’s missed three-pointer. (Photo by Rockne Andrew Roll)

Just ask the Michigan State Spartans. They needed a 22-9 run early in the second half to put away Loyola (IL) 73-61 on December 8. “ Tough game,” explained Spartans coach Tom Izzo. “We didn’t play great, but we didn’t play bad. We had some poor stretches and a couple of really foolish turnovers.” This was only the most recent of their troubles, they came very close to dumping a home contest to a very underwhelming Idaho State squad, eventually squeaking out with a 74-70 win on November 20. Kentucky has had some worse problems. After losing to Notre Dame, the Wildcats went into national ranking freefall after a subsequent 64-55 loss to Baylor. “I don’t know what you can say,” head coach John Calipari said in the press conference afterward. “The greatest thing, we had a chance to win the game. But we are still trying to teach them how to finish games, and they don’t know.” Calipari took the opportunity to discuss some of his team’s other near-misses earlier in the season. “We also could have lost to Maryland, earlier this season. We also could have lost to Morehead. Morehead had us on the ropes. What I need our players to understand is, that we are not a very good team right now and we are not individually very good.” Their woes continued in their game against Portland, which they won by a 74-46 final score that belied the fact that the game was tied nine minutes in and the Pilots stayed within 10 for much of the second half until Kentucky finally put them away.

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