Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 3rd, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West Conferences.

A Look Back

Two weeks back, Washington beat Arizona pretty convincingly to grab sole control of the Pac-10 lead. A week later, the Wildcats snuck back into a first-place tie when they held serve at home against the Los Angeles schools on the same weekend the Huskies turned the ball over 24 times in a loss at Washington State. Such is life in the Pac-10 this year. The Huskies are the big favorite in the league and look for all the world to be head-and-shoulders above the rest of the competition, but every time they wrest away sole possession of first place, they give it back shortly later. And now, as we make the corner and head for the second turn around the conference, Washington and Arizona sit atop the leaderboard with 7-2 records, with UCLA just a half-game back and Washington State and Cal just another game back from there. To make a long story short, there is no room for mistakes for anyone at the top of the conference in the back half of the schedule.

Team of the Week: Arizona – There aren’t a ton of impressive wins on the Wildcat schedule, but they just keep plugging along solidly and taking care of business. And really, you don’t rack up an 18-4 record, even against mediocre competition, without being a pretty good team. This week they handled their business at home, knocking off UCLA and USC with relative ease and establishing themselves beyond any doubt as Washington’s main competition for the conference title.

Player of the Week: Klay Thompson, Junior, Washington State – With plenty of great games out of Derrick Williams and Isaiah Thomas lately, Thompson has been something of a forgotten man in the Pac-10. And yet, he leads the conference in scoring (22.3 PPG), three-point field goals (65), he’s third in assists (4.4 APG), third in steals (2.0 SPG) and in the top 20 in rebounding (5.3 RPG). And this week, he led his Cougs to a huge home win over in-state rival Washington by posting 25 points and constantly disrupting the Husky offense on his way to five steals. While Thomas and Williams may get most of the ink in the conference Player of the Year discussion, let’s not forget that this is still really a three horse race.

Newcomer of the Week: Allen Crabbe, Freshman, California – After no one really distinguished themselves in the non-conference portion of the schedule, Crabbe has taken a commanding lead in the race for Pac-10 Freshman of the Year with eight straight double-figure scoring performances in conference play. He continued his excellence this week by averaging 15 points, seven rebounds, two steals and two threes per game in a Golden Bear home sweep of the Oregon schools.

Game of the Week: UCLA 73 Arizona State 72 (OT) – After getting a reality check in Tucson on Thursday night, the Bruins looked like a focused team early against the Sun Devils on Saturday. They built up a lead as high as 15 points in the second half behind balanced offense, smothering defense, and a good dose of ASU ineptness. But Herb Sendek’s squad didn’t quit, and when the Bruins eased off the gas a bit, the Devils were able to tighten things up. Still, it took back-to-back Ty Abbott threes and a rebound-and-putback of a missed free throw by Trent Lockett to tie things up in regulation and send the game to overtime. In the extra period, the Bruins jumped out to a 9-2 run behind three consecutive threes by Lazeric Jones, Malcolm Lee and Jerime Anderson in the first two minutes, and from there the Bruins held on for a much-needed win.

Game of the Upcoming Week: Arizona (18-4, 7-2) at California (12-9, 5-4), 2/5, 5PM PST, Fox Sports Arizona – UCLA plays an interesting game this weekend when they host St. John’s in the Steve Lavin Bowl, but this is the game that may ultimately have the biggest effect on the conference race. All four of the Wildcat losses have come away from the McKale Center, and the Bears have won three of their four conference games at Haas Pavilion. And given Cal’s gritty defense, strong frontcourt play, excellent head coaching and the emergence of Crabbe and junior Harper Kamp as solid offensive threats, the Wildcats will have their work cut out for them on Saturday. Of course, Mike Montgomery still has to devise some sort of plan to slow Williams, so both coaches may not rest easy on Friday night.

Power Rankings

1. Washington (15-5, 7-2): When Lorenzo Romar got the stat sheet Sunday night after Washington’s loss in Pullman, I’m guessing his eyes went directly to the turnover column. And he couldn’t have liked what he saw there. Washington 24, Washington State 12. Isaiah Thomas, seven turnovers. Scott Suggs, five turnovers. Justin Holiday, four turnovers. Despite the Huskies’ dominance on the glass at both ends (they grabbed 85.7% of the available defensive rebounds and 37.8% of the offensive ones), the sheer number of turnovers was just something they couldn’t overcome. While the hope is that this game was just an aberration (the Huskies have actually been very good on the season, turning the ball over just under 17% of all their possessions – 16th-best in the nation), the fact is that Thomas’ turnovers have been increasing of late. In four of his last five games, he has turned the ball over at least four times, although the good news is that he has been handing out so many assists, his assist-to-turnover ratio over that span has still been better than two-to-one. Nevertheless, it will be worthwhile to keep an eye on Thomas in the coming games to see if he begins taking better care of the ball.

Looking ahead: The northwest flavor of the Washington schedule continues this week, with a trip to the Oregon schools and a good chance to right the ship.

2. Arizona (18-4, 7-2): I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: beyond Derrick Williams – who is as talented a player as there is in the nation – this roster looks completely ordinary. So how have they gotten to this 18-4 record, and how do we find them tied with the Huskies atop the Pac-10? Three things: (1) they shoot a great percentage from the field (eighth in the nation in effective field goal percentage and three-point percentage), (2) they defend the hell out of the three (their opponents shoot just 26.7% from behind the arc against them, the lowest percentage in the nation) and (3) they get to the line effectively (they shoot almost half as many free throws as field goals) and once there, knock down the gimmes at 74.3% rate. Now, in all of these areas, Williams is the linchpin behind these numbers. He’s first in the nation in effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage, while knocking down a spectacular 70% of his threes. And he is second in the nation in fouls drawn per 40 minutes and in free throw rate. But the fact is, the rest of his teammates are excellent complements to him and his skills. Sure, if you take Williams out of the lineup, this team will fight with Oregon State and Arizona State at the bottom of the conference, but the way things are, the Wildcats are a formidable opponent.

Looking ahead: A trip to the Bay Area looms and the Wildcats have a big mid-term ahead of them this week. A couple wins would be mighty impressive, while a split would be perfectly acceptable.

3. UCLA (15-7, 7-3): The Bruins had a chance to make a big splash this week in their trip to the McKale Center, but despite escaping with a one-point overtime win at ASU on Saturday, Ben Howland and crew returned home with plenty of regrets about a missed opportunity. But the fact was, UCLA’s defense just wasn’t very good, especially against Williams. Plenty of Bruins had their chance at slowing him, and none were very effective. Throw in the fact that Lazeric Jones and Tyler Honeycutt combined to make just one of their 15 field goal attempts and the Bruins left the desert feeling like they had left some money on the table. However, they were able to post a big win last night, knocking off cross-town rival USC and breaking a four-game losing streak in the series. Still, questions remain about the overall maturity on the team. As good as Reeves Nelson has been at times this year, he has a tendency to pout and sulk when things aren’t going his way, and he’s disappeared from a game on more than one occasion. Freshman center Josh Smith has had similar apparent attitude problems, could still stand to lose a pound or 50 and has struggled with foul difficulty all season long. And on Thursday night against Arizona, it was the junior point guard Jones who picked up a dumb technical on an intentional elbow at an inopportune time in the second half. The Bruins will need to get more consistency and more maturity in order to have a serious effect on the Pac-10 championship race, but given all the mistakes they’ve made thus far, the fact that they are right near the top of the standings has to be encouraging.

Looking ahead: On Saturday, UCLA welcomes Steve Lavin back to Westwood, as their former coach returns with his athletic St. John’s team in tow.  Next week, they host the Oregon schools, so this is a big stretch for the Bruins where they are capable of stringing together a streak of wins.

4. Washington State (15-6, 5-4): The Cougars really needed a win on Sunday night against Washington. A loss would have put them under .500 on the first swing around the conference and would have relegated them to long-shot NCAA Tournament consideration at best. But the win they got serves as by far their best win on the season. It’s not their fault teams like Baylor and Gonzaga have been underwhelming, but losses to similarly disappointing teams like Kansas State, Butler and a few tough losses around the Pac-10 were concerning. However, they got solid play and contributions from up and down the roster. Beyond Thompson, Reggie Moore (18 points, five assists), DeAngelo Casto (11 points, eight rebounds) and Faisal Aden (15 points, three three-pointers) all had impressive statlines, while role players like Abe Lodwick, Brock Motum, Marcus Capers and even little-used freshman Patrick Simon helped out.

Looking ahead: A road-trip to the Oregon schools gives the Cougars a good chance at potentially getting a record-boosting road sweep.

5. Cal (12-9, 5-4): In a way, it’s been a tale of two seasons for the Golden Bears. Remember, this is a team that scored five points in the first half against Temple the day after Thanksgiving. They followed that performance up with a 15-point second half a couple of days later against Boston College, and all told in the Old Spice Classic, they averaged 49 points per game. And, not to blame it all on one kid, but in the 13 games prior to Gary Franklin abruptly quitting the team, the Bears averaged 65.9 points; in the eight games since then (in games with roughly the same average number of possessions), they have averaged 77.1 points per game. A lot of this can be attributed to the emergence of Crabbe as a strong offensive weapon, but there is little doubt that the Cal offense has run much more smoothly and efficiently since Brandon Smith has joined the starting backcourt alongside Jorge Gutierrez in place of the departed Franklin.

Looking ahead: The Bears host the Oregon schools this week, and given the way the Pac-10 has played out thus far, no one really knows what to expect in those games.

6. USC (12-11, 4-6): The Trojans do one thing exceedingly well: they clean the defensive glass with abandon, grabbing over 72% of all available rebounds on that end of the floor. Last week, they were even better than that, grabbing 85.7% of the defensive rebounds against a poor rebounding Arizona State team, and then posting a 77.3 defensive rebound percentage against Arizona. But last night against UCLA, even that escaped them as they allowed UCLA to grab 40.7% of their misses. While the defensive rebounding is usually a strength, unfortunately for Kevin O’Neill, this team doesn’t do much else very well. Against ASU, the Trojans escaped with a two-point win primarily because the Sun Devils missed 13 of their 25 free throw attempts, while against the Wildcats on Saturday, the Trojans had no such luck. Not only was Arizona at least competent from the free throw line, but they were unconscious from the field, posting a 71.4 effective field goal percentage while hitting 10 of their 19 three-point attempts. The lack of defensive acumen has to be particularly galling to O’Neill, widely regarded as a defensive wizard who had these Trojans post the second best defensive efficiency numbers in the country last year. Given that USC’s players are just average offensively, if they can’t pick up their game on the defensive end, this becomes the middle-of-the-road bunch that their record suggests.

Looking ahead: After the Bruin game last night, USC has the weekend off in preparation for the Oregon schools next week, a pair of relatively easy games that the Trojans are desperately in need of. While NCAA Tournament at-large hopes are long gone at this point, USC needs to string together some wins to be considered for the other postseason tournaments.

7. Stanford (11-9, 4-5): The Cardinal have got to be kicking themselves over their loss at Maples Pavilion to Oregon, the first time they had lost at home to the Ducks since 1986. Stanford got off to a slow start and never led in the first half, but came back early in the second half to take a brief lead. But after they let the Ducks rip off a 12-0 run in the middle of the half, they never led again. The two main deficiencies in the loss were their failures at the free throw line and their inability to keep the undersized Ducks off the offensive glass. The Cardinal did bounce back on Saturday, defeating Oregon State and salvaging a home split, but Jeremy Green was particularly bad this weekend, making just five of his 19 shots in the two games. In fact, in the last eight games, Green has shot just 28.4% from the field and has posted just a 35.3 effective field goal percentage. But Johnny Dawkins has to be pleased with the development of a couple of his freshmen, as forward Dwight Powell scored 23 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, blocked six shots and swiped five steals on the weekend, while Anthony Brown had 33 points, 11 rebounds, six threes and four steals.

Looking ahead: The Cardinal play the back half of a four-game homestand this week with visits from Arizona on Thursday and Arizona State on Saturday.

8. Oregon (10-11, 3-6): I’ve written similar things in this space several times this year, but one more time won’t hurt anybody: Dana Altman can-flat out coach. The win over Stanford isn’t a whole lot to write home about, but the fact that this Duck squad has three conference wins and is within shouting distance of a .500 overall record is pretty impressive. This week, senior forward Joevan Catron returned to prominence for the Ducks after some mid-season injury problems, leading the team in scoring in both games and 18.5 PPG and 7 RPG. Malcolm Armstead was also effective in both games (13 PPG, 5 APG) and has now wrapped a pair of strong back-to-back performances around his stinker at Oregon State.

Looking ahead: The Ducks host the Washington schools, a daunting task for anyone in the conference.

9. Oregon State (8-12, 3-6): Remember when the Beavers were 2-0 in the conference, Jared Cunningham looked like the second coming of Russell Westbrook and there was much excitement about the potential of the OSU youngsters? Well, if so, you’re lucky, because watching the Beavers bumble through the last seven games should have rightfully given any basketball fan an amnesia-inducing brain aneurysm. Now I see how this team lost to Utah Valley State. Since Cunningham’s streak of nine straight double-digit games, he has been up and down. He posted a very strong 24-point performance against USC a couple weeks back, but in the four games around that outburst he has averaged 7.5 points per game on five-of-25 shooting. Freshman Roberto Nelson, who briefly stole Calvin Haynes’ starting spot, has been even less effective, scoring 21 total points in the last four games, making just seven of 30 shots and turning the ball over ten times, on his way towards giving that starting spot right back. Joe Burton has been better than both of them, but has never since approached his eye-opening play against the Arizona schools. The talent is under there somewhere, and we’ll see over the next couple of years if head coach Craig Robinson is capable of coaxing it out.

Looking ahead: Washington comes calling on Thursday, with a visit from Washington State on the slate for Saturday.

10. Arizona State (9-12, 1-8): The Sun Devils in no way looked like a 1-8 team this weekend. They played both USC and UCLA right down to the wire, losing the two games by a grand total of three points, but tucked away in the middle of two very close games were some details that ASU didn’t take care of that could have been the difference between a 0-2 weekend and a 2-0 weekend. Against USC, the team missed 13 of its 25 free throw attempts in losing a two-point game. Against the Bruins, they were better in that category, missing just nine of their 24 foul shots, but an inability to connect from the floor for huge swaths of the game condemned them to a 15-point second half deficit. They did scrape back to tie the game and send it to overtime, but allowing three straight open threes to start the extra period again doomed them to trying to fight back from behind; this time they simply ran out of time.

Looking ahead: The Devils travel to Cal and Stanford this weekend, and it will be interesting to see where this team’s head is at. Are they ready to pack it in, or will the three ASU seniors rally the troops and go out fighting?

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Set Your Tivo: 01.28-01.30

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 28th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor

This weekend brings us yet another great slate of games with plenty of ranked teams heading out on the road to face unranked opponents. How many will go down this time? All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#21 Georgetown @ #6 Villanova – 12 pm Saturday on ESPN (****)

Despite their win at the Carrier Dome over Syracuse last week, Villanova has lost two of its last three games and now welcomes their rival Georgetown Hoyas to the Wells Fargo Center. The Hoyas have won three straight over the New York-area schools to climb back to 4-4 in Big East play. Georgetown has won four true road games but none of those wins were against teams the caliber of Villanova.

If Freeman and the Hoyas Plan On Finishing Strong, Tonight's a Good Night To Start

Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 27th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 conferences.

A Look Back

The big story in the Pac-10 last week was the battle between the prohibitive favorite in the conference, Washington, and its biggest supposed contender, Arizona. If you’ve followed this here series all year, you know that we haven’t really bought into the Wildcats as serious threats to the Huskies, but despite Washington’s 17-point win on Thursday night, Arizona did actually post what was, to me, by far their most impressive performance of the season on Saturday, when they followed up their disappointing loss with a tough road victory in Pullman over Washington State. While that one victory still doesn’t mean the ‘Cats are a serious threat to the Huskies, it does set up a battle this week between Arizona and UCLA, each 5-2 in the conference, for the inside track to the two-seed in the conference tournament come March. With this week wrapping up the first half of the conference season, this is a major battle. Elsewhere around the conference, Stanford looked awful in its road trip to Southern California, posting just a 30.5 effective field goal percentage on the weekend. Arizona State continued to look terrible, dropping a couple more games this week (they’re now 1-6 in conference play). And Oregon State continued its vacillating season with a come-from-ahead loss at home against in-state rival Oregon.

Team of the Week: Washington – Both the Huskies and UCLA posted 2-0 records on the week, but while the Bruins won their games in uninspiring fashion, the Huskies garnered the big win over Arizona, then added a tougher-than-expected win over Arizona State on Saturday. Isaiah Thomas continued to be just excellent in the role of point guard for Lorenzo Romar, posting another 18 assists this week, while he is still scoring in bunches (20.5 PPG this week), knocking down threes (three more this week), playing great pressure defense and keeping the high-octane Husky offense running smoothly. Matthew Bryan-Amaning also continued his hot play, averaging 24 PPG and 8 RPG this week.

Player of the Week: Isaiah Thomas, Junior, Washington – For the second week in a row, I’m dissing Derrick Williams and his spectacularly efficient numbers (19.5 PPG, 15 RPG this week and shooting a stunning 70% from three on the season, albeit on just 27 attempts – still amazing) in favor of the diminutive floor general in Seattle. In a 17-point win like the Arizona game on Thursday, it is hard to say that there is one play that determines the game. But, if there was that one play in that game, anyone who watched it knows what it is. With Washington clinging to a 56-50 lead, a Husky turnover led to an Arizona breakaway. Junior forward Darnell Gant hustled back to make a great block in transition, sending the ball towards the corner of the court, seemingly headed out of bounds. But Thomas didn’t stop, went hurtling head-first after the ball and was able to save the ball to teammate Aziz N’Diaye in bounds. After Thomas regained his footing, N’Diaye got the ball back to the Huskies’ leader who brought the ball back up court, drove into the meat of the Wildcat defense and was able to kick it out to an open Gant for a three-pointer, completing a five-point swing. From there, the Huskies slowly put the game away, sparked by the great hustle by both Gant and Thomas. That play, along with several others, prompted Arizona head coach Sean Miller to say the following about Thomas: “Isaiah Thomas, it’s not even close, there’s not one player in the country who’s more disrespected across the nation than him. Not one. It’s not even close. If he’s not one of the top four or five point guards in the country, then I’m going to tell you I want to invite these guys who vote to come and watch film.”

Newcomer of the Week: Lazeric Jones, Junior, UCLA – It was not a pretty week for the Bruins. Freshman center Josh Smith went down midway through the Cal game with a concussion and did not return the rest of the weekend. Sophomore forward Reeves Nelson struggled with foul trouble on Saturday, while junior guard Malcolm Lee fouled out early on Thursday night. And in both cases, the Bruins were awful lucky to have Jones, a junior college transfer, along to bail them out. On Thursday against Cal, the Bruins seemingly had the game under control late, with a comfortable lead. But when Lee fouled out, Cal freshman Allen Crabbe went wild, scoring 13 of his 17 points once his defensive shadow had been disqualified and getting the Bears right back into a tie game. But Jones kept the Bruins steady, knocking down eight of his ten free throws down the stretch on his way to a career-high 24 points. On Saturday, Jones added another 17 important points for a Bruin team lacking its normal big production from their frontcourt. And on the season, Jones is now averaging 11.5 PPG (including 16.5 PPG in his last four), 3.1 APG and a solid 1.5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Game of the Week: Arizona 65, Washington State 63 – In a game that both teams considered very important to their postseason hopes, the Wildcats escaped from their Washington trip with a split when Klay Thompson’s clean look in the lane came up short and Faisal Aden was unable to get up a second shot before the buzzer sounded after securing the offensive rebound. Derrick Williams led the ‘Cats with 17 points and 19 rebounds, while WSU’s two top scorers, Thompson and Aden, struggled all night, combining to hit just six of their 23 field goal attempts and just two of their ten attempts from beyond the arc. Arizona’s Jamelle Horne, the lone senior on either roster, was the hero for the second time in four games, knocking down two big threes around the two-minute mark to extend a 56-55 Zona lead to a 62-57 game. From there, Washington State took advantage of some missed Arizona free throws, including two misses by Kyle Fogg with 15 seconds left, to get back within striking range, but Thompson’s miss at the end left WSU back at .500 in the conference.

Game of the Upcoming Week: UCLA (13-6, 5-2) at Arizona (16-4, 5-2), 1/27, 6PM PST, ESPN2 – There was a time in the recent past, where this game between these schools would go a long way towards deciding the eventual regular season champion. While both schools have struggled through some downturns of late, this rivalry is back on the map and the winner of this game remains just one game back of Washington in the conference. Josh Smith is expected back from a concussion for UCLA, but the biggest question for Ben Howland is how to slow Williams. Nelson will likely take much of that responsibility (with additional eyeballs on Williams at all times), but he has found himself mired in game-long foul trouble twice in the past two weeks, and the Bruins will need him to contribute offensively to have a chance to get the road win. For the Wildcats, they’re still waiting for a consistent second option to arise alongside Williams, to no avail yet. Horne has hit some big shots recently, but has failed to secure his head coach’s complete trust. Momo Jones has scored in double figures the last two times out, but he’s seemingly just as often a liability as an asset. And Solomon Hill, the ‘Cats second leading scorer on the season at 8.5 PPG, is more suited to the role of garbage man than as a go-to offensive player. So far, riding Williams has worked out just fine, but Miller may need to have somebody else step up in this game to secure this win.

Power Rankings

1. Washington (15-4, 7-1): In the last three games, head coach Lorenzo Romar has gone with junior Scott Suggs in the starting lineup, choosing to bring the energy of Venoy Overton off of the bench, and Suggs has produced four threes in those games. In the first two games as a starter, a sole three-pointer seemed to be the only production that Suggs contributed, but in the Arizona State game on Saturday, he knocked down two key second-half threes to help propel the Huskies to victory. With Thomas, Bryan-Amaning and Justin Holiday established offensive weapons, Romar just needs Suggs to provide the three-point threat and some solid defense in his minutes on the floor, but with gunners like C.J. Wilcox and Terrence Ross waiting in reserve, Suggs had better keep knocking down the threes in order to retain his starting job.

Looking ahead: The Huskies travel to Pullman on Sunday for a game that the Cougars are going to be very interested in winning. An in-state rival coming calling on a team who has not yet lived up to their lofty expectations for themselves? Yeah, the Huskies better be ready for a street fight on Sunday.

2. Arizona (16-4, 5-2): We’ve detailed Arizona’s visit to the Washington schools above, so let’s just take a look at their NCAA Tournament resume to this point. They’ve played four teams in Ken Pomeroy’s top 70 teams in the nation, and their win at Washington State on Saturday was their first positive outcome. In the three losses (to Kansas, BYU and Washington), they’ve lost by an average of over 15 points per contest. Aside from the WSU win, their best result was a road win over an underachieving NC State team that was missing its best player. Beyond that, a couple of ugly home wins against the Bay Area schools are the best thing they’ve got going. Sure, “16-4” looks real good, but upon closer inspection, there is just not a lot of meat on the bones of the Arizona resume, to the point where it is possible they’ll need some more appealing wins in the conference schedule in order to secure an at-large bid.

Looking ahead: This week’s homestand against the Los Angeles schools is a good place to start. Hosting UCLA on Thursday and USC on Saturday gives the Wildcats to pick up a couple more wins over KenPom’s top 70 teams.

3. UCLA (13-6, 5-2): The good news for the Bruins is that they posted a couple wins and overcame some adversity in order to do so; the fact that neither game was anywhere near a work of art is beside the point. Against Cal on Thursday, they blew a 14-point lead in a game that was seemingly in hand and had to get a spectacular tip-in by Nelson at the buzzer to avoid overtime. Then, against Stanford on Saturday, they got off to a terrible start, building up their own 14-point deficit early before turning it on late in the first half to get back to within one at the break and then skating through the second half to an 11-point win. While the defense has at times looked very much like a typically stout Howland defense, unfortunately the offense has looked very much like a stagnant Howland offense, a concerning development considering the offensive talent on the roster.

Looking ahead: To this point in the season, the Bruins have done very little to prove to their fans that the ’10-’11 version of the team is significantly different than the ’09-’10 version. On Thursday, they’ll have a good chance to change that perception. But given that they have a history of letting down after a big game, they’d be wise to make sure they don’t take Arizona State lightly on Saturday.

4. Washington State (14-6, 4-4): This was the week for the Cougars to get right back in the mix at the top of the conference. The schedule set up perfectly, with Arizona State coming in on Thursday and Arizona – off of its big battle with Washington – showing up on Saturday. But while they took care of business on the front end, cold shooting from their stars doomed them against the Wildcats. Thompson’s shooting percentage took a significant dip during last year’s conference play, but there is a major difference this year: he’s still able to contribute in other areas when his shot isn’t falling. Against Arizona, he hit just four of his 16 shots, but at least he was able to contribute team highs with eight rebounds and seven assists. But given that Thompson’s scoring is such a focal point of the Coug offense, what will be remembered from that game is his missed shots, and specifically, the final missed shot.

Looking ahead: The Cougs host Washington on Sunday to wrap up the front-end of the Pac-10 conference schedule. For Ken Bone’s club to hold any hopes of competing for a conference title, this is a game they absolutely have to have.

5. USC (11-9, 3-4): Following their lost weekend in Oregon, the Trojans came out strong against Stanford on Thursday and just demolished them. They held the Cardinal to a 24.6 effective field goal percentage on the way to a 23-point victory. Relying on defense, slowing the tempo down on offense, and getting offense from Nikola Vucevic and Jio Fontan, USC looked every bit the part of the upper division Pac-10 team that they occasionally pretend to be. Against Cal on Saturday, it was back to the bad Trojans again, however. Outside of senior guard Donte Smith going absolutely bonkers from deep (eight of 11 threes for a career-high 24 points), the offense was non-existent. The Trojans defended well enough to still have a shot at the win on the final shot of the game, but the Fontan three at the buzzer came up short, a perfectly emblematic offensive possession for the Trojans.

Looking ahead: The Trojans will need to win both of their games in Arizona this week (ASU on Thursday, Arizona on Saturday), in order to complete the first lap of conference play above .500.

6. Cal (10-9, 3-4): Really, a two-point win and a two-point loss for a split on the Southern California road trip, that’s a perfectly defensible result. But the fact that the Golden Bears rallied from a 14-point second half deficit against UCLA and scored 23 points in the final 3:20 to get back to even for the first time since the score was tied at 6-6, then lost on a offensive rebound putback at the buzzer, had to be particularly heartbreaking. The flip side of that is that head coach Mike Montgomery was able to get his team to rebound from that crushing defeat with a fine performance against USC on Saturday is a credit to his coaching ability. Freshman Allen Crabbe continued his hot streak, averaging 14.5 PPG this week and has now hit double figures in six straight games, while junior forward Harper Kamp led the team in scoring in both games, averaging 20 points per contest and bumping his streak of double-digit scoring to eight games.

Looking ahead: The Bears host the Oregon schools this week, and given the way the Pac-10 has played out thus far, no one really knows what to expect in those games.

7. Stanford (10-8, 3-4): With the Cardinal’s two losses in Southern California this week, the team is now 1-5 in true road games this season and 1-2 in neutral site games. Those two wins? Over Arizona State and DePaul, and everybody beats Arizona State and DePaul. For a team with no real veteran point guard and a lot of freshmen counted on for serious contributions off the bench, struggling away from home is not an unheard of proposition, but the way Stanford struggled this week was particularly ugly. In the two games in the LA area, the Cardinal had a combined effective field goal percentage of 30.5%. Against USC, their traditional field goal percentage was 22.2%, their lowest total since the adoption of the 35-second shot-clock. Basically, this Cardinal team is a historically bad offensive team. Johnny Dawkins does have a commitment from class of ’11 recruit Chasson Randle, and he may be able to start at the point from his first day on campus. If he can turn into a playmaking point, the Cardinal could have quite a few nice pieces around him next year, with Jeremy Green and Josh Owens as seniors and youngsters like Dwight Powell, Aaron Bright and Anthony Brown with a year of experience under their belt.

Looking ahead: The Oregon schools come to Maples this week, so the Cardinal have a good shot at getting over .500 this week.

8. Oregon State (8-10, 3-4): Let’s start by saying that these last three teams in the conference are all a jumble. I’m putting OSU 8th based on talent and, you know, a better record, but this is a team that just got done losing at home to Oregon, arguably the least talented team in the conference (and really, there isn’t even much of an argument). While the Beavers have the type of talent that has their fans dreaming of competing for a conference title, those talented players are still awful young and inexperienced. Guys like sophomore Jared Cunningham and freshman Roberto Nelson have shown tantalizing touches of incredible ability, but in the game with the Ducks, those two combined to make just seven of their 21 field goal attempts and Nelson in particular needs to tighten up his shot selection considerably. Also of news this week was Nelson starting ahead of senior Calvin Haynes for the second straight game. It had been thought that the true changing of the guard wouldn’t take place until after the season, but it looks like Craig Robinson will be using the remainder of the season to get experience for his youngsters. While that is a perfectly cromulent decision, it is a shame to see a senior of Haynes’ ability and unselfishness lose minutes down the stretch of his senior year.

Looking ahead: The Beavers travel to Cal on Thursday, then to Stanford on Saturday, and the way they’re playing right now, anything is possible.

9. Oregon (9-10, 2-5): I don’t think it is doing a disservice to the guys on the Oregon roster to say that this is not an overly talented bunch. There aren’t any five-star recruits on this roster; I don’t think there are even any four-star guys here. But, so far this season they’ve played Missouri to a standstill, knocked off USC (a top-50 team according to Ken Pomeroy), and just this week knocked off intra-state rival Oregon State. You generally don’t give Coach of the Year consideration to a guy whose team is 9-10 on the year (with the majority of those nine wins against the dregs of Division I), but it cannot be repeated enough how great of a job head coach Dana Altman has done with these Ducks. This is an undersized, under-talented team that has had to deal with offseason defections, in-season injuries and more talented opposition, but Oregon has continued to scrap, Altman has begun rebuilding the talent base on the recruiting trail, and Duck fans have to be optimistic about the future of the program

Looking ahead: The Ducks travel to Stanford and Cal this week, and while road wins are not likely, given how hard this team competes, the Bay Area schools will be in for a fight.

10. Arizona State (9-10, 1-6): In the interest of remaining positive, wow, has Ty Abbott been on fire from deep lately. He’s had 22 threes in the last five ASU games, averaging 18.6 points per game over that stretch. Unfortunately, the only Sun Devil win over those five games was a non-conference win over Tulsa. ASU’s sole win in conference play was a road win in the final game at Mac Court.  Really, this collapse is almost inexplicable. The Sun Devils have as much talent on board as any of the five teams at the bottom of this conference, and they’ve got something that no other team in the conference can boast: three experienced seniors. While Abbott has been excellent of late, as a whole the senior class has had a very disappointing year, and as the old saw goes, “you’re only as good as your seniors.”

Looking ahead: The Devils welcome USC and UCLA into Tempe this week, and while they’ll be underdogs in both games, there is no good reason this team can’t be competitive in both of these games.

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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 20th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West Conferences.

A Look Back

Just as it seemed everything was playing out for a relatively easy run through the league for the Washington Huskies, with a 4-0 conference record in the books for the first time since 1984 despite the sudden loss of point guard Abdul Gaddy to a season-ending knee injury, the Huskies had a rough little stretch. First, there was the disturbing story out of Seattle involving the Huskies, as a “prominent member” of the Washington basketball team was accused by a 16-year-old girl of rape. No charges have been brought as of the time of this post, and there has been no new information in this case for over a week. But with the situation a cloud over the entire program, the full Washington roster headed into Maples Pavilion for a battle with Stanford last Thursday night and looked flat, took bad shots, and didn’t even hit many of their good looks on the way to an upset loss. The Huskies did bounce back with a dominating win over Cal on Sunday, and still remain the team to beat in the conference, but we were all reminded that going on the road in conference play is never an easy proposition.

Team of the Week: Arizona – It’s been a couple of weeks since we’ve done this, so while the Wildcats haven’t exactly looked great in posting three straight wins, they get the nod simply because they are the only Pac-10 team without a loss over those two weeks. The last time we checked in on the Pac-10, we spent a lot of time talking about how Derrick Williams, despite his immense talents, was simply not being aggressive enough, either within the Wildcat offense or on the boards. I’m not for a second saying he heard my call to step up (although, if he’s not a regular reader, he should be, right?), but in two of the last three games, Williams has been a different player, twice posting career-highs with 31 points. In both games (wins over Cal and Arizona State), he was very involved in the Arizona offense, taking 12 field goal attempts each time (making seven against Cal and eight against ASU) and getting to the line a whopping 38 times (connecting on 31) in the two games combined. Perhaps more importantly, Williams was a beast on the glass, posting 31 rebounds over the entire three-game span. The rest of the talent on the Wildcat squad is good, but they’ll only go so far as they let Williams take them. Luckily for all involved, they’ve let Williams take over of late.

Player of the Week: Isaiah Thomas, Junior, Washington – Given the numbers mentioned above for Derrick Williams, the fact that he’s not getting this honor should tell you how good Thomas has been of late. Following the misfortune of the season-ending injury to Gaddy, the big question around Seattle for the Huskies was how effective their point guard play would be. It’s only been two week and four games, but I think Thomas went has provided an answer: try 20 PPG, 9.3 APG, and eleven three-pointers on for size. Add in the fact that the 5’9 star threw down his first dunk in a collegiate game against Oregon, just for a little spice, and while the Huskies will still miss Gaddy’s presence, Lorenzo Romar has to feel confident with his point guard play going forward.

Newcomer of the Week: Terrence Ross, Freshman, Washington and Allen Crabbe, Freshman, California – In the two weeks since we’ve done this, we’ve had a lot go down, but I wanted to mention Ross and his breakout performance a couple weeks back at the Hec Ed. While Ross has had some games this season where he grabbed the spotlight (most notably his 18 points and four threes in Washington’s Pac-10 opening win at USC), the homestand against the Oregon schools featured the biggest game of his young career and his first iteration of big back-to-back performances. Against Oregon, Ross went off with 25 points (on 11-18 shooting, including three threes), four rebounds, four steals, two blocks and no turnovers while earning a season-high 27 minutes. To back that game up, he posted a more reserved 14 points (6-11 field goals) and seven rebounds in just 16 minutes against Oregon State. With Gaddy’s 23 minutes a game up for grabs, Ross went a long way towards staking his claim for some extra run. Since then Ross has come back to earth, scoring just six points in the Huskies’ trip to the Bay Area, but he’s shown what he can do. Crabbe too had an up-and-down non-conference portion of the season, but since backcourt-mate Gary Franklin announced his decision to transfer out of the program, he has stepped into a major role in the Cal offense. Over the last four games, Crabbe has averaged 20 points a night, including a career-high 30 in an overtime upset of Washington State during which he played 44 of a possible 45 minutes. He has scored in double figures in six of the last seven games and has given a Golden Bear offense which sputtered on a regular basis early in the year, an explosive option to pair with their bruising frontcourt.

Game of the Week: Stanford 58, Washington 56 – Upsets like these don’t come easy, as Cardinal head coach Mike Montgomery was reminded on Thursday. After a Josh Owens tip-in put Stanford up two with 29 second left, he knew he’d have to survive one last Washington possession. And what an eventful possession it was. First, junior Scott Suggs missed a potential game-winning three-pointer from the corner, but Husky forward Justin Holiday was able to come away with the rebound and draw a foul from Jeremy Green with two seconds left. But, after missing the first free throw, Holiday was forced to miss the second one on purpose in order to give his team another chance to tie. Stanford freshman Dwight Powell was able to grab the rebound, but was called for a travel, giving U-Dub one last chance at the win. However, Holiday – who had a game-high 15 points, missed at the buzzer and Stanford escaped with a shocking win.

Game of the Upcoming Week: Arizona (15-3, 4-1) at Washington (13-4, 5-1) 1/20, 7:30PM PST, FSN – The battle between the top two teams in the conference also provides Arizona with yet another chance to prove that they belong in the conversation at the top of the conference. So far, the Wildcats have failed every significant test they have faced, and have earned their 4-1 conference start with a mixture of home cooking and light competition. Not only are the Huskies a completely different story, the trip to Washington’s Hec Ed Pavilion is as tough of a place to play as the edition of the Wildcats has seen so far. For Arizona to hang around in this game, Derrick Williams will need to duplicate the intensity and aggressiveness he displayed against Cal and Arizona State, and the Wildcats will need to keep the tempo somewhat slow. If the Huskies turn this game into a fast-break affair, expect the Dogs to expose the ‘Cats flaws.

Power Rankings

1. Washington (13-4, 5-1): We’ve talked about Thomas above, but we’ve also got to mention Matthew Bryan-Amaning, who kept up his hot streak after winning our last Pac-10 Player of the Week, by posting averages of 16.8 points and 10.3 rebounds over the past four games. In the bounce-back win over Cal, Bryan-Amaning was one of three Huskies to score more than 20 points, when he posted 22 points and 11 rebounds. Thomas led all scorers in that game with 27 (and 13 assists for good measure), while Holiday added 23.

Looking ahead: Our game of the week is the big one on the schedule for the Huskies, with a visit from Arizona State following on Saturday.

2. Arizona (15-3, 4-1): According to the standings, the Wildcats are in second place in the conference; a look at their schedule to date gives one at least some pause. A win over conference-doormat Oregon, a surprising loss to a team that lost to Utah Valley State (!!), a two-point win over a down Cal squad, a workmanlike win over a young Stanford squad and a solid win over a hapless Arizona State team does not exactly indicate that this is a classic Arizona team. Still, Derrick Williams is as good as anybody in the conference (if not the nation), Sean Miller is a terrific head coach, and this is a deep roster. If Miller can find somebody to step up to be a consistent threat when paired with Williams, this team could be in business. Senior Jamelle Horne threw his name into that ring with a 16-point, 12-rebound performance against Stanford, where he also knocked down all four of his three-point attempts, including two clutch bombs in the last four-minutes to put down one final Cardinal rally, but his inconsistency showed up again against ASU, when he had just four points and two rebounds in 20 minutes.

Looking ahead: The trip to Washington is one thing, but if the Wildcats aren’t careful, the matchup with Washington State on Saturday could be awful difficult as well. An 0-2 weekend in Washington is not going to be an uncommon result around the conference this season.

3. UCLA (11-6, 3-2): The Bruins lost to USC for the fourth straight time a couple of weeks back when Malcolm Lee and Tyler Honeycutt combined to make four of their 15 field goal attempts and turn the ball over eight times against just four assists. Freshman center Josh Smith was slightly more effective, notching eight points on four-of-six shooting, but he fouled out in 22 minutes after committing multiple dumb fouls, even after Howland lessened his duties in defending the pick-and-roll. To make matters worse, he then went and acted very much like the freshman that his is after the game, further embarrassing a proud program that is struggling through some tough times right now. UCLA did bounce back by sweeping the Oregon schools on the road, in a couple of hard-fought games. Against OSU on Thursday, UCLA completely blew a 17-point second half lead before recovering to score the final seven points of the game and escape with a five-point win. Smith played the hero in that game, knocking down four straight free throws and grabbing four rebounds in the final 2:30 to seal the game.

Looking ahead: UCLA hosts the Bay Area schools this week, giving them a reasonable chance to extend their winning streak to four games.

4. Washington State (13-5, 3-3): Home cookin’ never tasted so good. On the heels of a nearly two-week road trip that ended with a couple of conference-opening losses in Los Angeles, Ken Bone and company were in desperate need of a Beasley Coliseum homestand. And the Cougars made good on their return to the Paloose, pulling out a pair of 14-point wins over the visiting Oregon schools. On the following road trip to the Bay Area, the Cougs managed only a split, losing a tough overtime game to Cal this past Thursday. Klay Thompson has continued to shine for WSU, 25.5 PPG and 7.3 RPG over the last four, but when the Cougs are going good, they give him plenty of help. In the two wins over the Oregon schools,  three additional Cougars scored in double figures in each game, but Thompson’s teammates struggled more offensively against the Bay Area schools. Luckily, WSU’s second-leading scorer, junior Faisal Aden, bounced back from a bit of an offensive downturn to contribute 20 points in the three-point win at Stanford.

Looking ahead: In the Pac-10, each team has a geographic traveling partner. When Washington is playing at Arizona, Washington State is playing at Arizona State. And vice versa. This situation gives the traveling partner of a dominant team in the league a bit of an advantage. For instance, Arizona is going to be sky-high for their game against Washington. Win or lose, you can expect the Wildcats to suffer something of a letdown in their next game at Washington State on Saturday. If the Cougs can take care of business against ASU on Thursday and take advantage of an Arizona letdown on Saturday, a 2-2 week would look mighty good.

5. Stanford (10-6, 3-2): In each of the last two weeks, the Cardinal have come away with splits. And, in each case, that had to be considered a pretty good result for Johnny Dawkins’ young team. On the road trip to Arizona, Stanford took care of business in pummeling the Sun Devils, then lost a tough roadie at the McKale Center. Coming back home, they were able to score the big upset over Washington, but then maybe let down a bit for the follow-up game against Washington State and lost by three after blowing a nine-point halftime lead, when Jeremy Green’s potential game-tying three at the buzzer rimmed out. With so many freshmen dotting the roster, some inconsistency is to be expected, but Dawkins has to be pleased to see guys like Dwight Powell and Anthony Brown make some big contributions on occasion.

Looking ahead: Tough road trip for the Cardinal this week as they head south to face their southern California brethren: at USC on Thursday and at UCLA on Saturday.

6. USC (10-8, 2-3): We can briefly mention USC’s fourth straight win over UCLA, in which Nikola Vucevic scored 20 and Alex Stepheson double-doubled with 13 points and 16 rebounds. Impressive win. Not as impressive? Anything since then. This past week, the Trojans got swept on the Oregon trail, easily the softest road trip in the Pac-10. While Vucevic continued to look strong, averaging 18.5 points and 13.5 rebounds in the two games, the rest of the Trojans were awful. Their trademark tough defense was largely absent, the offense moved in fits and starts and the Trojans twice built up big second half deficits (20 points against Oregon, 14 vs. OSU) before making a too-late charge towards a respectable final margin. The fact that Oregon won without scoring a field goal in the final nine minutes of the game says it all. While Kevin O’Neill’s club has some good performances on its resume, there are too many awful losses there for this team. Throw in the fact that freshman Bryce Jones, who averaged over 30 minutes per game in the first nine games of the season but had seen his minutes dry up to the point where he only averaged seven minutes over the last five games, has announced his decision to transfer from the program and the warm and fuzzy feelings that were surrounding this program quite recently have vanished completely.

Looking ahead: With the Bay Area schools due into town this weekend, the Trojans have an excellent chance to turn their bad luck streak around.

7. Oregon State (8-9, 3-3): After a journey back to reality for the Beavers, with an 0-2 record on their tough Washington road trip, they gave UCLA all they could handle before losing down the stretch, but then handled USC with ease to break a three-game losing streak. While the 3-3 record looks very ordinary, OSU has shown significant improvement in their conference schedule. However, they have to work on finishing their games. They stuck around with Washington State for 32 minutes before letting a 61-57 game turn into a 14-point Cougar win, then they battled Washington to a one-point halftime deficit before getting thumped in the second half. Against UCLA they roared back from a 17-point second deficit, even briefly gaining the lead, but then gave up the final seven points of the game in a loss. The good news is that the Beavers showed improvement in this area against USC. When the Trojans came back from a 14-point second half deficit to cut the lead to four, OSU responded with a couple big plays – an over the shoulder no-look pass from Joe Burton to Jared Cunningham for a bucket, followed by a Calvin Haynes steal and breakaway – to staunch the bleeding. Cunningham remains the versatile star of the program – leading the team in points while currently sitting at second in the nation with one steal roughly every 17 possessions – freshman Roberto Nelson is coming fast, averaging over ten points per game over the last four contests.

Looking ahead: The Beavers host intrastate rival Oregon on Saturday.

8. Cal (9-8, 2-3): In the immediate aftermath of the Gary Franklin transfer, Cal fans rallied around their remaining troops with the typical “oh, we’ll be better off without him” mantra. After four games, it looks like they may have been right. Yes, the Golden Bears have gone just 2-2 in those four games, and they’re coming off a 21-point thrashing at the hands of Washington. But gone are the bad shots and possession stalling dribbling and in his absence, fellow freshman Allen Crabbe has exploded with consistently strong efforts. A third freshman, Richard Solomon, has also come along nicely, averaging 11 points in the Washington homestand; Solomon however needs to add bulk and strength before he can be a consistent contributor at the Pac-10 level. While this team is never going to be as explosive as last year’s offensive powerhouse, the Golden Bears are getting good help from their veterans. Junior Jorge Gutierrez is running the offense, scoring when needed and defending his heart out on a nightly basis, and he went for 12.2 PPG over the last two weeks, while senior big man Markhuri Sanders-Frison, who is fighting through some painful plantar fasciitis, and junior Harper Kamp provide a solid duo up front.

Looking ahead: At UCLA tonight, then USC on Saturday.

9. Arizona State (9-8, 1-4): Disastrous couples of weeks for the Sun Devils, losing two games at home to Stanford and Cal, teams that they need to beat to have any hope of an upper division finish, then getting handled pretty easily by Arizona. ASU fans can point to senior point guard Jamelle McMillan missing both games against the Bay Area schools due to injury and sophomore leading scorer Trent Lockett still not being back to 100% following his own injury, but the fact of the matter is that this group is not leading this Sun Devil team anywhere fast. And, you start to get the feeling that Herb Sendek understands that, which is why you see names like Carrick Felix and Ruslan Pateev suddently getting starts and huge bumps in minutes. Felix has been up and down, but does have four double-figures games in his last five, including a 21-point outburst in the Sun Devils’ win over Tulsa last Wednesday in their final non-conference game of the season.

Looking ahead: Tough couple of games ahead at Washington State and Washington. The Devils would be lucky to get a split this week.

10. Oregon (8-10, 1-5): After a couple more losses on the court, and a handful of injuries to go with them for good measure, a couple of weeks ago, the Ducks bounced back to open their $227 million state-of-the-art Matthew Knight Arena in style with an impressive win over USC. First to the injuries. After getting hurt in the Oregon loss at Washington, Malcolm Armstead missed the Ducks’ loss at Washington State last weekend, although he did return for the homestand. Worse yet, senior Joevan Catron and junior Jeremy Jacob were injured in the first half of that Washington State game and didn’t return to the court in the second half. Catron still has not come back, while Jacob did return for the UCLA game. For a team that was already short-handed, injuries leave this team counting on walk-ons for significant minutes as Nicola Fearn, Matt Losli and Martin Seiferth notched 31 minutes between them against WSU. There was some good news for the future of the Duck program,, aside from the successful opening of their new arena, as head coach Dana Altman secured the transfer of point guard Devoe Joseph, formerly of Minnesota. Joseph enters school this semester and will be eligible in December 2011.

Looking ahead: Oregon heads to Corvallis on Saturday for a battle with OSU.

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Set Your Tivo: 12.31.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 31st, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

A really good schedule awaits college basketball fans today on your New Year’s Eve. The Battle of the Bluegrass gets things going right away with an early noon tip, a game tailor made for Gus Johnson. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#12 Kentucky @ Louisville — 12 pm on CBS (*****)

Louisville will be shorthanded in this game but is favored according to the Vegas odds. The Cardinals, still without Jared Swopshire, will also be missing the services of Rakeem Buckles and Mike Marra this afternoon. Still, this is a game you must watch with Gus Johnson on the call. It is a unique rivalry that doesn’t get enough press and has only heated up with the addition of John Calipari and the switch of Rick Pitino from Kentucky blue to Louisville red. It started almost 100 years ago in 1913 but the teams have only met 41 times prior to today with Kentucky holding a 27-14 edge. These teams did not meet for 24 years from 1959 until an elite eight NCAA Tournament game on March 26, 1983. They have met every year since then with UK leading 18-11 in the modern era. One interesting fact is that Kentucky has never failed to win at least two games in a row after winning one throughout the entire history of this series. With the Wildcats on a one game winning streak entering the game today, that statistic, though ultimately meaningless, would suggest a UK win. Expect this game to feature a lot of threes, a big part of each team’s offense. Kentucky actually has five guys who can knock down a triple, much more than the average team. Doron Lamb and Preston Knowles are the big shooters for their respective teams with Lamb being the better of the two so far this year. The freshman has connected on 54% of his treys including a seven for eight performance against Winthrop, a large part of Kentucky’s #13 three point percentage. Knowles is Louisville’s leading scorer and a good defender who teams with Peyton Siva to really disrupt opponents on the defensive end. That will be a big factor against Kentucky point guard Brandon Knight, averaging almost four turnovers per game. Rick Pitino loves the zone press so expect a lot of trapping and aggressive on-ball defense from the Cardinals, trying to get Knight out of a rhythm and make him turnover-prone. As a whole, Kentucky takes remarkably good care of the ball with only 11 turnovers as a team. Calipari needs a good point guard to run his dribble drive offense and Knight is often the key to their success. He had an awful game in a loss to Connecticut and fouled out after committing six turnovers in UK’s loss to North Carolina. In the front court, Kentucky has the best player on the floor in Terrence Jones. The 6’8 freshman can score from almost anywhere on the floor and uses his superior athleticism effectively to create space. Another T.J., Terrence Jennings, has to have a good game defensively for Louisville. He’s a good shot blocker and must neutralize Jones inside. Despite their reliance on the three pointer, the Cardinals get a lot of points inside as well, the seventh best two point shooting team in the country. With Buckles out however, Louisville may turn even more towards the trey in order to win. Kentucky lacks a true scoring center as Josh Harrellson rebounds well but doesn’t look to score much, attempting just four field goals per game. Expect Kyle Kuric to step up in the absence of Marra and Buckles. He’s played more minutes lately and scored 25 points against Morgan State on Monday. Quite simply, this game is going to be a war. The fans hate each other, the coaches do too and even the players got into it right away last year. Most rivalry games are close and despite Louisville’s personnel issues, we expect this one to be as well. However, depth could rear its ugly head if the Cardinals get into foul trouble. Louisville fouls a lot and Pitino has to ensure that doesn’t become an issue. Even though they’re on the road, Kentucky is the better team and has to get the edge here. Take the Wildcats and the points today.

#13 Minnesota @ #18 Michigan State – 4 pm on Big Ten Network (****)

A critical game for both teams, the loser will face some tough questions going forward. With a loss today, Minnesota faces the real possibility of starting Big Ten play at 1-3 with a game at Ohio State next Sunday and Indiana in between. Michigan State would drop to 8-5 overall with a loss today, making Monday’s game at Northwestern a huge one for the Spartans. For Tom Izzo’s team, the three point line is critical in this matchup. Minnesota doesn’t defend it well at all (#260) and the Spartans shoot 40% behind a trio of capable long range bombers. Durrell Summers leads Michigan State in scoring and is arguably their best shooter from deep while Kalin Lucas and Korie Lucious can also knock down the trifecta. Tubby Smith likes to play a zone but that may hurt the Gophers in this matchup. Unless Minnesota extends their defense beyond the line, Michigan State can easily shoot right over it. Of course when you extend a zone there will be holes inside. Minnesota’s big men must lay down the law in the paint and force MSU to beat them from the outside. A strong defensive game will really limit the Spartans offensively and turn this into a rebounding battle, one Minnesota should feel confident in their ability to win. Michigan State has not been a vintage Izzo team in terms of defense and rebounding, a bad sign against a tall and talented Minnesota team. Trevor Mbakwe could be deadly against the Spartans today with his quickness and long arms around the tin. With Mbakwe inside and Blake Hoffarber outside, the Gophers will keep Michigan State on their toes all game long. Al Nolen must play better for Minnesota. Wisconsin shut him down on Tuesday night held the Minnesota offense in check en route to a victory. Turnovers will again be the story for the Spartans, averaging 16 per game. Extra possessions only enhance the Gophers chances. Michigan State looked awful against Syracuse and the Gopher bigs are even taller than Syracuse’s. Despite the KenPom prediction and the Vegas odds, we’re going against the grain and feel this game will come right down to the very end. This is anyone’s ballgame in East Lansing this afternoon.

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Set Your Tivo: 12.29.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 29th, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

A terrific Big East game and two Pac 10 games highlight tonight’s schedule while Marquette seeks a quality win on the road against an underrated SEC squad. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#8 Georgetown @ #16 Notre Dame – 7 pm on ESPN2 (****)

Two highly efficient offenses meet in each team’s first Big East game of the season. The visiting Hoyas are the top team in the nation when it comes to effective field goal percentage and rank in the top five in both two and three point shooting. Each team scores 81 PPG and is highly experienced, their key players all being veterans. Notre Dame starts four seniors, one of the most experienced teams in the entire country. Georgetown will look to take advantage of their superior marksmanship against an Irish defense that’s better but wouldn’t be confused with any of the top defenses in college basketball. Austin Freeman doesn’t need much room to shoot (49% from deep) and should find ample opportunities for good looks against Notre Dame tonight. Georgetown’s talented guards have the advantage but you can make the argument that the Irish have more balance. Notre Dame’s freshman point guard Eric Atkins has played well but Mike Brey counts on his seniors to do most of the damage. Ben Hansbrough and Tim Abromaitis can stroke it from deep and have the ability to score inside as well. Notre Dame has to rebound the ball well and get to the free throw line to win. If they do both, Julian Vaughn should be minimized. The Georgetown big man has had a nice year and gives them a threat up front where teams can’t just concentrate on the perimeter. However, foul trouble will open up the interior for Tyrone Nash and company while making it easier for the Irish to rebound. Notre Dame is already #3 in keeping opponents off the offensive boards and third in opponents free throw rate as well. Playing at home, ND should hold a significant advantage at the line against a Georgetown team that doesn’t get there often. Both teams shoot it well from the stripe but the Hoya offense doesn’t offer many chances to get fouled. Georgetown has played in quite a few tough environments this year and has emerged victorious all but once. The Irish are good but we love this Hoya team and expect them to earn another solid road win in a difficult atmosphere.

Marquette @ #22 Vanderbilt – 9 pm on ESPN2 (***)

The Golden Eagles desperately need a quality win out of conference and this is their final chance to get one. However, it’s a tall order playing on the road against a Vanderbilt team that hasn’t received the respect it deserves. This is Marquette’s second true road game and the first was against city rival Milwaukee at U.S. Cellular Arena, literally a short walk from the Bradley Center. Memorial Gym will be an entirely different test for Buzz Williams and his team. Looking at this matchup, one immediately notices the height advantage the Commodores will enjoy. Marquette doesn’t really have anyone near the size of Vanderbilt center Festus Ezeli, having a tremendous season. Jae Crowder and Jimmy Butler are good players but it’s hard to see them containing Ezeli for the whole game. Williams may have to turn to Davante Gardner, though the big freshman hasn’t been able to play any kind of extended minutes. Getting the Vanderbilt big man in foul trouble is highly encouraged if you’re a Marquette fan considering MU scores 61% of its points inside the arc. Ezeli has the potential to disrupt the flow inside and keep the men in gold off the boards. Kevin Stallings puts a balanced starting five on the court, a unit that’s efficient on both ends of the floor. Vanderbilt has a smart point guard, a three point gunner, good forwards and a strong interior presence. John Jenkins is the three point gunner and he’s caught fire of late, shooting 52% from deep over his last three games. He’ll look to take care of a soft Golden Eagles perimeter defense, ranked just #258 against the triple. Marquette will need an answer to Jenkins’ shooting prowess and Darius Johnson-Odom figures to be the most likely candidate. DJO has struggled most of the year with his shot but you can never count him out. He took the Big East by storm last year, making himself known to thousands of opposing fans. While he hasn’t been nearly the same shooter he was last season, you have to respect his ability and potential to break out at any point. Marquette needs a good game from their dynamic guard in order to pull the road upset tonight. Also key for Buzz Williams and his team will be turnover margin. Vanderbilt should have the edge on the glass so Marquette must come up with extra possessions by forcing turnovers and taking care of the ball on their own end.  Vanderbilt has lost just two games, each by three points. On paper this looks like a bad matchup for Marquette but that’s why they play the games. Still, we expect Vanderbilt to come away with a good home win against a middle of the pack Big East team that should improve as the season moves along.

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Set Your Tivo: Christmas Weekend Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 24th, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Not much action over the Christmas holiday but we do have a few interesting games on tap this weekend. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#11 Baylor vs. Florida State (in Honolulu, HI) – 7:30 pm Saturday on ESPN2 (***)

Chris Singleton is a Wonder to Behold For FSU

Baylor’s strong defense was torched by Washington State’s terrific balance to the tune of 57% shooting. When you don’t make shots and don’t defend, you usually don’t win. That was the case as Baylor shot 37% but was remarkably in the game due to a surge fueled by LaceDarius Dunn and their dominance on the boards. The Cougars were up by 20 at one point but Baylor came back and even took the lead before faltering in the end. Meanwhile, Florida State continued its offensive struggles in a loss to Butler. The Seminoles turn it over too much and are highly inefficient when they have the ball. Expect that to continue against a taller and longer Baylor defense. You’d have to think this will be a low scoring game but Baylor does have the potential to break out offensively. Anyone who watched yesterday’s game saw Dunn singlehandedly take over the game and bring the Bears back to give them a shot. Scott Drew’s team cut down on the turnovers but really struggled to find the range against a fundamentally sound Washington State defense. One key area to watch is Chris Singleton’s defense against the Baylor bigs, specifically Quincy Acy. Acy had a double-double against Washington State but really had to work for it. Singleton has the potential to disrupt him, giving FSU a chance. Leonard Hamilton’s best strategy may be to let Dunn get his points and focus on defending the Baylor supporting cast. Dunn and Acy combined for 45 of Baylor’s 71 points against Wazzu so keying in on Acy could be difference for Florida State. The Seminoles are going to have to hold Baylor under 65 points to have a chance as it’s highly unlikely they’ll reach that plateau themselves. Interior defense and turnovers will be the big stories in this game. It’s a very interesting matchup but one where Baylor should have too much offense for Florida State to handle. The Bears have three solid scoring options in Dunn, Acy and Perry Jones, something the Seminoles can’t quite match. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Florida State play well and have a chance to win but Baylor should be able to close the door and grab third place at the Diamond Head Classic.

Washington State vs. Butler (in Honolulu, HI) – 10 pm Saturday on ESPN2 (***)

This is an intriguing matchup between a team that’s really solid on both ends (Washington State) and one that struggles to shoot but can defend well at times and really disrupt a team’s offensive flow (Butler). Washington State is in the top ten in both offensive and defensive effective field goal percentage while Butler is #219 in the same category on the offensive side of the ball. Klay Thompson and Faisal Aden give Washington State two strong threats from deep with Thompson hitting the dagger three to put Baylor away on Thursday. On Saturday they’ll go up against Butler’s top-rated three point defense, allowing just 26% shooting. However, the Bulldogs are vulnerable in the paint and that could the difference in this game. With DeAngelo Casto and Brock Motum inside, Ken Bone has two offensive threats in the paint that Butler cannot match. The Bulldogs have Matt Howard but nobody else has emerged as the second inside threat. On the perimeter, Butler has struggled shooting the trey. They did well against Florida State behind Shelvin Mack but Brad Stevens can’t count on that every night from his team. The rebounding battle is something to watch and should determine who controls the pace of the game. Washington State isn’t a fast-paced team but they run an efficient offense with good screens and cuts. Butler will look to limit second opportunities and slow the game down, falling back into an aggressive man-to-man defense on the perimeter. Stevens may mix in a zone or two to confuse the Cougars but they can’t allow Wazzu to shoot over them and expect to win. Butler fouls a lot but Washington State doesn’t get many points from the line, nor do they shoot it very well. If the Cougars are to win, it’ll be through strong defense leading to scores on the other end. If Wazzu takes good care of the ball, it’s hard to see them losing this game. For the Bulldogs, they absolutely must rebound well in order to have a chance. Butler will scrap and defend hard but they’re a bit too limited offensively to keep up with Washington State’s dynamic scorers, specifically Thompson. He’ll be the difference in this game in what should be a Cougar title in Hawaii.

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Set Your Tivo: 12.23.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 23rd, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Not a bad set of games tonight but nothing that jumps out at you as a must watch. The best games of the night may very well be in paradise as opposed to Memphis. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#11 Baylor vs. Washington State (in Honolulu, HI) – 6:30 pm on ESPNU (****)

A Rare Klay Thompson Sighting on National TV Tonight

The theory that good guard play wins in college basketball will be put to the test in this game from the Diamond Head Classic. Washington State’s guard-heavy lineup goes up against Baylor’s powerful front court, though the Bears have a star guard in LaceDarius Dunn. The Cougars have surprised this year and sit at 9-1 with wins over Gonzaga and Mississippi State in addition to a close home loss against Kansas State. Washington State shares one common opponent with Baylor, that’s Gonzaga. Baylor lost to the Bulldogs this past Saturday in Dallas while Washington State rolled the Zags 81-59 at home ten days earlier. Baylor’s offense has struggled a bit against the two decent teams they’ve played, Gonzaga and Arizona State. Combine that with the fact that Washington State defends the three exceptionally well, the Bears should look to use their strength and athleticism inside and pound the ball into the paint. Rebounding is a concern for the Cougars, especially against a Baylor team that averages 41 RPG. Even if the Bears miss some shots inside, they’re sure to get a bunch of put-back chances against the WSU front line. For Washington State, DeAngelo Casto must have a good night on the glass in order to contain Baylor’s front court, led by Perry Jones and Quincy Acy. The Cougars must look to their back court for scoring and they’ll feel comfortable knowing they have Klay Thompson on their team. Thompson had 28 points against Mississippi State on Wednesday and will be in the running for Pac 10 POY honors. In addition to Thompson, Faisal Aden has enjoyed a terrific season so far. Aden and Thompson form a strong guard duo capable of draining three’s with regularity. Washington State is very good inside the arc as well but Baylor’s interior defense poses the toughest challenge the Cougars have faced so far. They need to be clicking from deep or else it could be a long night. Baylor’s back court isn’t too shabby either with Dunn and A.J. Walton, but each player struggles with turnovers. Washington State enjoys a great turnover margin and that’s how they’re going to get extra possessions against the turnover-prone Bears. With the expected rebounding problem, Washington State has to create turnovers to win this game. Expect Baylor to have an edge at the free throw line as well, enjoying a nice free throw rate on both ends of the floor. The Bears also shoot five percent better from the line than Washington State. The Cougars are a good team but Baylor has something to prove after falling to Gonzaga. We’ll take the Bears behind a big game from Acy inside.

#9 Georgetown @ Memphis – 8 pm on ESPN2 (***)

With the departure of Angel Garcia, the injury to Wesley Witherspoon and their struggles on the court, Memphis is going through some adversity. How Josh Pastner gets his young team to overcome that will determine how far he can take his talented group of players. The Tigers have had three close calls against bad teams and are struggling a bit offensively. Memphis averaged 85 PPG in its first seven games but that number has dropped to 69 PPG over the last three contests. Memphis is not a particularly great shooting team but they get to the charity stripe often and do make up some points there. The pregame story is whether or not Witherspoon will play, as Pastner did not rule him out and said he was day-to-day. If he doesn’t play, the guard-laden Tigers will be severely undersized and thin overall. If he does play, they’ll still be undersized but at least will have a scorer capable of pulling the Georgetown big men away from the basket. For the purposes of this preview, we’ll go on the assumption that he doesn’t play and wouldn’t be near 100% even if he does. Memphis already struggles rebounding the basketball and that’ll be a huge problem against a Hoya team with good rebounding guards and two strong post men. Look for Julian Vaughn and Hollis Thompson to own the paint with Witherspoon out. For Memphis, Will Coleman and Tarik Black have to make their presence known, otherwise Georgetown will focus its defense on the Tiger guards all night. A freshman, Black has had a tough time adjusting to a bigger role on this Memphis team. Tonight is a huge opportunity to assert himself and make himself a strong option for his head coach. The story for Georgetown is obviously their terrific trio of guards. They account for 57% of their points and all are great three point shooters. Point guard Chris Wright is also averaging seven assists per game during his senior season in the nation’s capital. Jason Clark is one of the most underrated players in the game today and has the potential to break out at any time. Austin Freeman is their rock. The preseason Big East POY leads the team in scoring and is a lights out three point shooter. When Freeman is hot, Georgetown is incredibly difficult to beat. The Hoyas are third nationally in offensive efficiency, first in effective field goal percentage and fourth in two point percentage, showing they can get it done both inside and out. It’s no surprise Georgetown hoists a lot of three’s, getting a third of their points from the arc. Memphis has to do a good job defensively on the perimeter otherwise Georgetown will shoot them out of the building. The Tigers also have to worry about turnovers, currently averaging 16 per game with Joe Jackson accounting for almost a quarter of those. Jackson is another freshman who’s incredibly talented but a bit undisciplined at this point in his career. He needs to play well and also get Chris Crawford and Charles Carmouche involved from the arc. With almost all of their players being guards, Memphis is going to have to try to match Georgetown’s outside shooting and get to the foul line. The Tigers will be in this game if they can disrupt the flow and score by getting to the stripe but Georgetown is just too experienced and talented for the young Tigers to overcome. Expect the Hoyas to pick up a nice road win at the FedEx Forum tonight after missing an opportunity at Temple a couple weeks ago.

A few other games to monitor:

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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 16th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West conferences.

A Look Back

  • Much like the rest of the country, this week in the Pac-10 was mighty slow as student-athletes focused on their schoolwork in anticipation of winter break. And, much like the rest of the Pac-10 season to date, the three challenging games on the schedule this week for Pac-10 institutions all went down as losses, as Arizona got destroyed by BYU, Washington continued its run of losing to quality competition in a loss to Texas A&M (a loss that also sealed the Pac-10’s fate in the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Challenge) and Cal dropped a nail-biter against Southern Mississippi. With just a couple more weeks of non-conference play remaining, the Pac-10 is in danger again of having few if any viable candidates for at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament.
  • Team of the Week: VACANT – Really. There’s not a team out there that did anything this week to earn any accolades. Who is this supposed to go to? USC for beating Northern Arizona? UCLA for unimpressive wins over Cal Poly and UC Davis? Stanford for not slipping up against UC Riverside and North Carolina A&T? Cal for only losing to Southern Miss by two? Nah. There’s just not a team in the conference that did anything worthwhile this week.
  • Player of the Week: E.J. Singler, Sophomore, Oregon – While Singler certainly owes a portion of this award to the fact that it was a light schedule around the conference, he did his fair share to outright win this honor as well. Kyle’s little brother averaged 16 points and 12 rebounds per game in leading his Ducks to a pair of easy wins over a couple teams with a combined record of 5-14, including Willamette of Division III, a game in which Singler went for 18/17 and three steals. So far this season, the versatile Singler is second on his team in scoring (13.1 PPG), and leads the team in rebounding (6.7 RPG), blocks (11 on the year) and threes (14-26 from deep), while putting in just a minute less than the team-leader in minutes, Joevan Catron.
  • Newcomer of the Week: Faisal Aden, Junior, Washington State – Aden has moved to the bench with point guard Reggie Moore now back from his wrist injury, but his production hasn’t slowed a whole lot. He added another 20-point game this week in WSU’s by-the-books win over Texas Pan-American, with a season-high seven rebounds and another four three-pointers along the way, and is presently averaging 18.3 points per outing while hitting at a rate of 49.6% from the field. Aden’s continued ability to providing a scoring punch off the bench makes the Cougars one of the top contenders for the conference crown.
  • Game of the Week: Texas A&M 63, Washington 62 – Another week, and another disappointing Pac-10 loss takes home our Game of the Week honors, this time the Huskies coming up short in their attempt to beat somebody – anybody – of consequence. Despite their perfect 16-16 night from the foul line and the Aggies’ imperfect night from deep (0-8 from three), the Huskies were outrebounded, outworked and outclassed by their Big 12 opponent. And yet, with time winding down, they still had a chance when Isaiah Thomas snuck up on Nathan Walkup in the open court and picked his pocket with six seconds left, then raced up court to the free throw line before running out of room and out of time. He forced a shot up as time expired into the waiting arms of Aggie junior David Loubeau who sent it back and, with it, sent the Huskies back to Seattle with three losses in their three attempts against top-tier opponents. Soon enough, all these Pac-10 teams will be playing each other, so we’ll have to choose a game in which a Pac-10 team leaves victorious.
  • Game of the Upcoming Week: USC at Kansas, 12/11, 9:00 AM PST, ESPN – While this would not normally be the type of game you would look down the schedule and circle, there are a couple of interesting debuts here that should have all college basketball fans – not just Pac-10 fans – very interested. For the Jayhawks, freshman guard Josh Selby will make his debut, while Trojan fans will get their first glimpse at their new point guard, Jio Fontan, a junior transfer from Fordham. While Selby’s unveiling will get the most attention, given that he was a McDonald’s All-American and one of the most highly regarded recruits in the nation this offseason, Kevin O’Neill and the Trojans are just as excited about Fontan. “He’s our best player,” O’Neill said. “He’s our best leader. He’s our best scorer. He’s our best defender. He’s our best passer. He’s our best guard. He’s our best player.” Whether he’ll be able to fit right in with the Trojans and move them beyond the up-and-down 6-4 squad we’ve seen so far remains to be seen, but O’Neill at least has some experience with getting midseason transfers to step in at point and change the look of his team, as Pat Gerrity did last season for USC. Last year, Gerrity stepped in about this time and led the Trojans to an improbable blowout win over then ninth-ranked Tennessee in his first game back. If Fontan can make anywhere near that type of splash in his first game back, the Trojans could head into Pac-10 play with postseason hopes.

 

 

Power Rankings

1. Washington State (7-1): Following this week’s Washington and Arizona losses, it is time to bump the Cougars up to the top spot in the league, even in a week where all they did was post a 22-point win over an outmanned Texas-Pan American squad. This is far from a perfect WSU team, but they’ve cleaned up some of their weaknesses from last season – namely, defensive efficiency – and even improved on their strengths. Last season, Klay Thompson started out the season on fire, ripping through the non-conference schedule with a barrage of shots from deep, but this season he has clearly returned as a more complete player. He’s added the ability to score off the dribble effectively, he’s become a much more effective passer (he has led the team in assists thus far, stepping in as the team’s playmaker as the incumbent point, Reggie Moore, sat out the first five games with a wrist injury), while still rebounding at a good rate (4.3 RPG). Throw in juco transfer Faisal Aden as a consistent offensive threat alongside Thompson, plus the return of Moore at point and frontcourt contributors like DeAngelo Casto and Marcus Capers, and the emergence of sophomore Brock Motum and freshman Patrick Simon and this is a solid WSU team that is not going anywhere once conference play kicks in.

Looking ahead: The Cougars travel to Santa Clara on Sunday before heading off to Honolulu for the Diamondhead Classic, where they’ll open against Mississippi State (with Renardo Sidney and Dee Bost) with a potential matchup with Baylor awaiting in the semis, assuming both squads advance.

 

2. Washington (6-3): It cannot be said enough, just how disappointing the Huskies have been thus far. Sure, KenPom loves them, still rating them as the sixth best team in the country and the seventh most efficient offense in the land, but even a slightly closer look reveals a team with some cracks. Sure, their three losses are to Kentucky, Michigan State and Texas A&M – all three teams that figure to be dancing come March – but in all three of those games, they were outrebounded (in the Kentucky and A&M games, severely). Worse yet, for a vaunted offensive team, they turned the ball over, didn’t shoot particularly well and were consistently slowed by their defensive-minded opponents. Then there’s Isaiah Thomas, the pint-sized point with the over-sized game. However, thus far he has struggled to take on his new role as the team’s go-to offensive player. In previous seasons he has been at best a secondary option for Lorenzo Romar, but now he needs to be the man for the team when the game is on the line, and thus far, he has been largely ineffective in the team’s three losses: a 13-point average on a combined 10-32 with 11 turnovers and nine assists. Certainly, the team’s three losses aren’t entirely on Thomas’ shoulders, but if he’s going to take over the role of team leader, he’ll need to be a lot more effective in their big games.

Looking ahead: A couple home games against San Francisco and Nevada round up the pre-conference slate (although the Huskies do have one more non-conference game with Seattle mixed in with their Pac-10 play) before the Washington schools visit the Los Angeles area in the last week of December to kick off the conference season.

 

3. UCLA (5-4): Following the Montana debacle, the Bruins got back on track this week with some ho-hum victories over UC Davis and Cal Poly at Pauley Pavilion. While names like Tyler Honeycutt, Reeves Nelson, Malcolm Lee and Joshua Smith (19 points and 12 rebounds against Cal Poly) jump off the box scores for UCLA, a closer look reveals signs of life from much-maligned point Jerime Anderson. Anderson handed out 11 assists against just one turnover while knocking down three of his seven three-point attempts in these two games and looked solid defensively. Clearly this means one of two things: either Anderson is starting to come around and, while he’ll probably never live up to his advance-billing as a highly-regarded recruit, is ready to make solid positive contributions for Ben Howland, or he’s more suited to play at the Big West level. Anderson’s taken enough abuse in his first two seasons as a Bruin, so in the spirit of finding that silver-lining for a hard-working kid, either one of those possibilities is an improvement for a guy who has struggled mightily living up to his expectations in Westwood.

Looking ahead: The last major test for the Bruins before conference play comes Saturday in the Wooden Classic against BYU. However, given their earlier experiences with overlooking Montana following a tough loss at Kansas, UCLA would do well to pay attention when Montana State comes calling on Tuesday.

 

4. Arizona (8-2): There’s no sense in beating around the bush: Arizona got completely destroyed by BYU in Salt Lake City on Saturday. A year after allowing Jimmer Fredette to go for 49 points at the McKale Center, the Wildcats were fortunate to hold the All-American candidate to a mere 33 points and nine assists in this year’s matchup. Perhaps more disturbing than their inability to reign in Fredette – a guy who few teams in the country have been able to control – was their own inability to get their All-American candidate, Derrick Williams, free. Williams was efficient against BYU, tallying 13 points on nine shots, but the Cougars denied him the ball and collapsed on him when he did touch it, forcing other ‘Cats to beat them. Sophomore point Momo Jones did his best, going for 20 points (on 7-11 shooting with four threes mixed in) in his best game of the season, but the rest of the team aside from Williams and Jones combined to make just nine of their 40 shots. At this, point the entirety of the Arizona resume is that they played Kansas sort of close on national television, losing by just eight. Sorry, but an eight-point loss as your best performance of the season doesn’t present major qualifications for a conference title, even in a weakened Pac-10.  

Looking ahead: The Wildcats host Northern Arizona in something called the Fiesta Bowl Basketball Classic on Thursday (even though the Fiesta Bowl is a football game, and one that won’t even be played for about two more weeks), then travel to Raleigh for a pretty tough roadie against North Carolina State.

 

5. USC (6-4): The Trojans have been the epitome of an up-and-down team so far. They won their first two against less-than-stellar completion, then dropped their next two against only slightly better teams. Two more unimpressive wins followed, backed up by even more unimpressive losses. The good Trojans have been back for the last two, the upset of Texas a couple weekends back and their dispatching of Northern Arizona this week, during which senior point guard Donte Smith caught absolute fire in the middle of the second half, scoring 14 straight points to offer a strong response to an NAU team that had cut a 12-point halftime lead to just three. Smith started his run by knocking down a three, then stole the ball on the defensive end and turned that into a breakaway layup, before wrapping up his outburst with three more threes to send the Trojans on their way to an eight-point win.  

Looking ahead: Given the Trojans two-up/two-down pattern, this week’s road trips to Kansas and Tennessee look even less promising, although maybe newly eligible point guard Jio Fontan will be able to break the USC streak.

 

6. Arizona State (4-4): The Sun Devils played just one game this week, a 71-48 thrashing of Gardner-Webb, but there are some signs that they might be on the verge of turning things around. While sophomore Trent Lockett and freshman Kyle Cain have been pretty solid contributors for Herb Sendek this season, the Devils’ trio of seniors (Ty Abbott, Rihards Kuksiks and Jamelle McMillan) have been disappointing. Not to read to much into a win over Gardner-Webb, but those three combined for 39 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists and nine threes in that win. Given that each of those guys has been a consistent contributor for the Devils over their time in Tempe, they might be ready to turn it on for conference play.

Looking ahead: The Sun Devils make a trip to Reno to face Nevada on Friday before returning home to host Long Beach State, a pair of games that should not be overlooked.

 

7. Cal (5-4): Three games into the season, Mike Montgomery looked like he was on the verge of pulling off something special in Berkeley. Despite losing four starters from last year’s Pac-10 champion, along with a host of other reserves to various maladies and defections, the Golden Bears opened with wins over CS Northridge, New Mexico and Temple, the last two on that list particularly impressive. Since then, the Bears have gone 2-4, scored five points in a half on one occasion and followed that up with a 15-point outburst in a half the next night out, and have lost twice by 20 or more. This week’s slip-up was quite a bit closer than that, as they lost at home to Southern Mississippi in a nail-biter, with the game undecided until a potential game-winning three by Jorge Gutierrez clanged off the heel at the buzzer. The Golden Eagles’ Gary Flowers scored the last 12 points for Southern Miss on his way to a game high 28, including the game-winner with three seconds left, but the game was really won on the glass as Cal was outrebounded 31-22 on the game and 11-1 on the offensive end, an unsettling stat given the Bears’ desire to rely on the toughness of their frontcourt duo of Harper Kamp and Markuri Sanders-Frison. One highlight for the Bears was junior Nigel Carter’s 16 points on 4-4 shooting from deep, matching his entire output from last season in one afternoon. Carter hasn’t exactly been a consistent scorer for the Bears this season (he has just 14 total points in the other eight Cal games), but after Sunday’s performance, he has made eight of his 11 three-point attempts on the season.

Looking ahead: Cal hosts Cal Poly on Saturday before being the last of four Pac-10 teams to get a crack at Kansas (at least in the regular season) this year.

 

8. Stanford (6-2): Stanford got its first action since the 76 Classic in this week, although the competition wasn’t exactly top-notch: UC Riverside and North Carolina A&T. Junior Jeremy Green led the way with nine three-pointers this week while averaging 20 points a night and junior Josh Owens stepped up as the likely candidate to be Green’s running mate this season, notching 14.5 points and nine rebounds per game this week and proving himself a good Mr. Inside to Green’s Mr. Outside. While Johnny Dawkins won’t learn a whole lot about his team against competition of this caliber, at least the Cardinal had a chance to get back out on the court and get the relatively unexperienced team used to playing with each other.  

Looking ahead: A significant bump up in the level of talent this week, as the Cardinal travel to Indianapolis for a meeting with Butler on Saturday before a Tuesday matchup with Oklahoma State in Stillwater.

 

9. Oregon (7-3): The Ducks continue to be rock solid under new head coach Dana Altman, generally beating the teams they are supposed to beat while giving solid efforts in their losses. This week the competition was meager (Willamette, a Division III school and Jacksonville State), but the Ducks took care of business with a great deal of maturity. Instead of sleepwalking through overmatched opponents, Oregon did exactly what they were supposed to do. They beat Willamette by 33 while dominating on the glass, then never trailed in the crisply-played game against Jacksonville State, handing out 20 assists on their 29 field goals. While I’ve still got Oregon down here near the bottom of the conference, this is a solid ninth-place team, a team that will not beat itself, that will give consistent effort on a nightly basis, and a team that will probably finish further up the standings despite the limitations of this roster.

Looking ahead: So far, the Ducks have played every game on their schedule within the friendly confines of the state of Oregon. That changes on Friday with a trip to Charlottesville to face Virginia, a significant test for a young Duck team. They return home on Tuesday to face Idaho at Mac Court.

 

10. Oregon State (4-5): I’m going to try to get through this Oregon State review without mentioning how bad this Beaver team is. Wait. Does that count? Oh well. The good news for the Beavers is that their savior has finally arrived. Highly regarded recruit Roberto Nelson has finally played his first game in a Beaver uniform, over 15 months since he first set foot on the campus as a student, after battling with the NCAA over academic eligibility issues. While his debut performance in the Beavers’ 20-point win over Texas-Pan American was underwhelming (15 minutes, four points, three turnovers), OSU fans got a glimpse of the type of talent that made him a top-100 recruit a couple years back, as Nelson scored 13 in a five-point loss at Montana. While he’s not going to turn this team into a contender overnight, he is a badly needed dash of talent on an otherwise very ordinary roster.

Looking ahead: George Washington and Illinois-Chicago visit Corvallis – two very winnable games for the Beavs.

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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 9th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West conferences.

A Look Back

While most seem to agree that the Pac-10 is a better conference from top to bottom than it was last year, the early returns across Pac-10 schedules are not particularly encouraging. Pac-10 schedules are littered with near-misses (Washington’s two losses in Maui, the efforts by UCLA and Arizona against Kansas, Washington State’s battle with Kansas State, Oregon’s comeback against Missouri), bad losses (Montana over UCLA, Rider over USC, Utah Valley State over Oregon State). Even the handful of good wins, like Cal over New Mexico and Temple, Washington State over Gonzaga and Stanford over Virginia, come with asterisks ready to be applied. Really, the only win that stands out for the conference as a no-questions-asked good win, was USC’s surprise of Texas in the Galen Center on Sunday night. Sure, Texas struggled down the stretch last season and there are some questions about their maturity, but given USC’s early-season struggles with youth and inconsistency, the Pac-10 has to feel pretty pleased about its win over a top 25 team. Now, it’s just a matter of stringing a few more of those wins together, or else schools up and down the conference are going to be in a similar situation to last season come the time to talk about quality wins and bad losses on their NCAA Tournament resumes: too few examples of the former and too many of the latter. As of 12/9, of the four teams that I would put in the top tier (or couple of tiers) of the conference (Washington, Arizona, Washington State and UCLA), there really is maybe just one quality win to point to, assuming that Wazzu’s win over Gonzaga actually qualifies as a quality win. Sure, the Pac-10 may be improved, but controversial one-point losses in Lawrence and hard-fought disappointments in Maui aren’t going to earn you much credibility come Selection Sunday.

Team of the Week

USC – The Trojans take down this award based solely on their 17-point beatdown of Texas on Sunday night, their only game of the week, and the best win of the season by a Pac-10 school. USC came out strong right out the gates in the first half, eventually built up a lead as big as 11 before taking an eight-point lead into the half, then opened the second half with an immediate 14-3 run to kill an hope the Longhorns had of getting back into the game. Junior Nikola Vucevic led the Trojans, and you’ll read more about him shortly, but this win belongs to the whole undermanned team. Just seven players got off the bench for the shorthanded Trojans, and just six played more than eight minutes, but four players scored in double figures, and the ones who didn’t made their contributions as well. USC took their lumps in November, playing three freshmen in their short rotation, but as the season turns the corner, head coach Kevin O’Neill has his team improving on a nightly basis.

Player of the Week

Nikola Vucevic, Junior, USC – With USC the Team of the week, it only makes sense that their best player take down Player of the Week, especially considering his sole game of the week featured a career-high 24 points paired nicely with nine rebounds and solid work in the middle against a talented Longhorn frontcourt. On the season, Vucevic is averaging a double-double (16.9 PPG, 10.7 RPG) while playing 36 minutes a night along a severely shorthanded Trojan front line. He’s managed to keep out of foul trouble most nights, and play effectively even while in foul trouble on the remaining nights, and he just keeps getting better every time I see him. He’s a workhorse on the glass, he’s a solid post defender, he’s continually adding new wrinkles offensively and he’s turning into a vocal leader for a Trojan team that needs one. In short, Vucevic’s breakout performance last season was no fluke, and he is proving this season on a nightly basis that he is an all-conference caliber player.

Newcomer of the Week

Joshua Smith, Freshman, UCLA – Smith had the kind of week that is not unusual for a talented freshman, especially early in the season: a big breakout performance one night and an entirely forgettable, mostly-absent game the next. In the Bruins’ loss to Kansas on last Thursday (detailed below in our Game of the Week), Smith came off the bench – mostly as a Ben Howland strategy to keep the big youngster out of early foul trouble – and threw his vast weight (reported somewhat forgivingly at 305 pounds) around on his way to career highs in points (17), rebounds (13) and offensive rebounds (8), and perhaps most importantly, a career low in fouls (just two fouls – he had never had less than four in a game before). And considering this all came against the talented Kansas frontcourt, it was even more impressive of an effort. However, rather than back that type of game up with a second statement, Smith struggled through the Bruins’ next game, a loss at home against Montana, hitting just one of his eight field goal attempts and grabbing just five rebounds. For Smith to be a difference maker at the Pac-10 level, he’ll need to get used to giving a consistent effort, night in and night out, regardless of the opponent.

Game of the Week

Kansas 77, UCLA 76 – For the third consecutive week, we’ve got a Pac-10 loss in this spot, and for the second consecutive week, it is a close loss against Kansas, although this week’s edition was a little more excruciating for the loser. The Bruins fought and clawed with the Jayhawks all night long, in a game where neither team ever led by more than eight, but down the stretch it was Kansas in control, leading by six with under three minutes and by five under two. The Bruins eventually tied the game up on a three by Tyler Honeycutt, who had 31 points, nine rebounds, four assists and five threes on 11-15 shooting from the field, with eight seconds left, but as the Jayhawks brought the ball up court in the waning seconds, with the Bruins seemingly on the verge of fouling the whole way up court, UCLA’s Malcolm Lee and Kansas’ Mario Little bumped into each other while scrambling for a loose ball, and with what turned out to be 0.7 seconds on the clock, a referee blew the whistle and sent Little to the line with a chance to win the game. He hit the first free throw and the Jayhawks escaped with a one-point victory, while the Bruins racked up just another good effort on the way to a loss.

Game of the Upcoming Week

Arizona vs. BYU, in Salt Lake City, 12/11, 3:00 PM PST, BYUtv – While things slow down in most places this week as the student-athletes work through their exams, there are a couple good opportunities for Pac-10 schools to get quality wins, with Washington’s trip to College Station to face Texas A&M as the other good example. BYU will throw all sorts of frontcourt players at the Wildcats’ Derrick Williams in an attempt to slow the most efficient offensive player in the nation, according to Ken Pomeroy. But while the Cougars’ frontcourt will have their hands full trying to slow Williams, the Wildcats’ backcourt will have similar problems trying to match up with BYU’s backcourt of Jimmer Fredette and Jackson Emery. In a clash of styles, this game may come down to which team can play this game in their comfort level – BYU will want to get out in transition and play a fast-paced game, while Arizona will be more comfortable in the halfcourt set. Sean Miller will need to make sure his players remember the game plan and stay under control, but if they do, the Wildcats have a chance to get their first quality win of the season.

Power Rankings

1. Washington (6-2): A couple big wins over decent programs this week for the Huskies, as they averaged 101 points per game and a 25.5 point margin of victory in knocking off Texas Tech and Portland at the Hec Ed. Senior wing Justin Holiday led the team with 20 points in each game, throwing in 15 rebounds and seven threes over the course of the week, but once again the story was mostly balance and contributions from players all up and down the roster. Junior guard Scott Suggs, for instance, scored in double figures for the first time since the season opener when he helped stop short a Portland comeback attempt, hitting two straight threes as part of an 11-0 response to the Pilots cutting the lead to six and starting the Huskies on their way to putting the game out of reach. While junior Isaiah Thomas has been relatively quiet this season, he still leads the team in scoring at a 15.6 clip, leading five Huskies currently averaging more than ten points per night.

Looking ahead: The Huskies travel to Texas A&M on Saturday for their last chance at a good out-of-conference win, making this a very important week for Washington.

2. Arizona (8-1): A workmanlike week for the ‘Cats, as they dispatched with two teams that they were clearly better than in an efficient manner. In the Sunday win over Oklahoma, sophomore forward Derrick Williams struggled with foul trouble, but ‘Zona had no trouble easing past the Sooners by 23. Then on Wednesday night, Cal State Fullerton threw a zone at the ‘Cats to keep things close, and succeeded in that goal, before Arizona outscored the Titans by ten in the second half, with Williams chipping in 16 of his 22 after the break. Head coach Sean Miller has yet to really have anyone step up and claim the role of secondary option to Williams yet, but with ten players sporting 110+ offensive ratings according to Ken Pomeroy, it looks like there are plenty of options on any given night. Point guard does remain a position of concern, however, as sophomore Momo Jones has been more down than up thus far, with turnovers and poor shooting chief among his faults. However, Miller has been able to get capable playmaking out of other players, with off-guard Kyle Fogg handing out 3.6 assists per night and forward Solomon Hill dishing out 2.5, both while keeping their turnovers in relative check.

Looking ahead: Big week for the ‘Cats, even if it is just a one-game week. See our Game of the Upcoming Week section for more details of Arizona’s matchup with BYU.

3. Washington State (6-1): The Cougars’ brief undefeated streak may have ended this week, but Ken Bone and company have to pretty feel good about what they accomplished this week, splitting a home stand with a blowout win over Gonzaga and a tough loss against Kansas State. While the 22-point win over their regional rival, Gonzaga, may look better at first glance, we learned more about this year’s version of the Cougs in the loss against Kansas State. In that loss, juniors Klay Thompson and Faisal Aden, the team’s two leading scorers with roughly 40 points a night between them, struggled offensively, hitting just nine of their combined 28 shots. Nevertheless, WSU hung tight with the Wildcats, using defense and grittiness to stick around to the bitter end. The Cougs held KSU leading scorer and All-American candidate Jacob Pullen to a mere two makes on 11 attempts, and despite getting outrebounded by the more physical Wildcats, were able to force 21 Kansas State turnovers. While sophomore point guard Reggie Moore provided a spark for the Cougs while playing in his first game of the season, albeit with a splint still on his injured wrist, the Cougs inability to hit their shots (they were just 3-16 from three) cost them down the stretch. Still, given that the biggest question mark for this program has been the effectiveness on the defensive end, their ability to scrap and fight with a top ten team like KSU proves that this year’s WSU squad is quite a different beast than last year’s paper Cougar.

Looking ahead: After last week’s excitement, things slow down considerably, with only a visit from Texas-Pan American on Friday as schoolwork takes precedence.

4. UCLA (3-4): While the Kansas loss is the big story of the week, just as important for the Bruins’ long-term hopes was the Sunday night game against Montana, in which the young UCLA squad was unfocused and passive and allowed the Grizzlies to outplay them. While the Bruin defense had been up and down all season, on Sunday night it completely deserted them, as Montana shot 52% from the field. Things weren’t much better on the other end of the court as the Bruins shot just 31.3% from the field, and the two stars of the Kansas game, Tyler Honeycutt and Josh Smith, shot a combined four of 20 from the field. With BYU and St. John’s as the only non-conference games remaining of any importance, no good wins to speak of and with this bad Montana loss on the resume, the Bruins find themselves stuck behind the eight-ball with Selection Sunday still months away. They’ll need to make a big run through the Pac-10 in order to have any hope of hearing their name called when the brackets are announced, and in order to do that, they’ll need to eliminate mental lapses like the Montana debacle.

Looking ahead: While UCLA showed the ability to lose to teams with less talent than them, one would have to guess that this week’s docket is pretty manageable: UC Davis and Cal Poly, both in Pauley.

5. USC (5-4): In this space last week, I called the USC upset of Texas. And, really, I was halfway serious about it. There is talent on this team. Junior Nikola Vucevic just keeps getting better every time I see him. He’s a workhorse on the glass, he’s a solid post defender, he’s continually adding new wrinkles offensively. Paired up front with senior Alex Stepheson who grabs rebounds like he needs them to live, the Trojans have an intimidating duo up front. Freshman Maurice Jones is getting almost all of the time at the point right now (he’s averaging over 38 minutes a game) until Fordham-transfer Jio Fontan is eligible next week, and while he has experienced some growing pains along the way, Kevin O’Neill and his club will be better for it in the long run. Fellow freshman Bryce Jones isn’t getting quite as much run as his unrelated teammate Maurice, but he has the capability to be the off-ball scorer that USC has been missing, and while he too has had some bumps early, he has been spectacular at times. What this team lacks is any kind of effective depth, but if they can keep their big guys clean, this club is going to be dangerous in the Pac-10 race.

Looking ahead: The Trojans wrap up the first portion of their season with a game against Northern Arizona on Saturday, their last game in the pre-Fontan era. The next time USC takes the court, the following Saturday in Lawrence, Fontan will be the man at point.

6. Arizona State (3-4): Herb Sendek got awfully brave with his non-conference scheduling this season, and after a couple more adventurous games this week (at Baylor and home against Richmond), and a couple more losses to boot, the wisdom of such a schedule could be questioned. But, from Sendek’s point of view, with three senior starters returning from last year’s second-place Pac-10 finisher, the Sun Devils appeared ready to be tested early. But, thus far, the seniors have been a disappointment, with only point guard Jamelle McMillan anywhere close to sniffing a Pomeroy offensive rating of 100 and a combined field goal percentage of under 37%. There are bright spots for the Devils though, as sophomore slasher Trent Lockett has been most impressive, contributing across the stat sheet (15.6 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 3.3 APG, 63% from the field, 40% from three) and seeming ready to step into a leadership role, while freshman forward Kyle Cain has posted some great nights, albeit interspersed with a couple games where he was limited by foul trouble. Cain has averaged 9.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game so far, but his best days are ahead of him, especially once he beefs up his skinny frame. In the end, this non-conference run through a challenging schedule could toughen up ASU for conference play, but they’ll need their trio of seniors to step up the efficiency.

Looking ahead: A quiet week for the Sun Devils, with just a visit from Gardner-Webb on Saturday.

7. Cal (5-3): Earlier in the season, the Golden Bears hung a 25-point whooping on a visiting MWC team, New Mexico, at Haas Pavilion. On Wednesday night, they ran into a MWC team of a completely different caliber, when San Diego State blasted the Bears in the second half and ran away to a 20-point win. Earlier in the week, however, head coach Mike Montgomery and his team met up with a more compatible opponent, Iowa State, a lower-division team in the Big 12. Despite playing the first true road game of the season for this young group of cubs, they were able to have four players score in double figures and they got a couple big plays from sophomore forward Bak Bak with under a minute to go in a tight game. With the game tied at 59, Bak converted a three-point play on the offensive end to give the Bears the lead, then stripped the Cyclone point guard on the other end of the court and calmly hit two free throws to ice the game. Montgomery has gotten as much as anyone could have thought possible out of frontcourt players like Bak, senior Markuri Sanders-Frison and redshirt junior Harper Kamp, but the young backcourt is still very much a work in progress. While junior Jorge Gutierrez has done what he can at the point (leading the team in scoring, assists, steals and three-point percentage), he is really not a natural point. While freshmen guards Gary Franklin and Allen Crabbe have each had strong moments, they’ll need to grow up before conference play rolls around for the Bears to entertain an upper division finish.

Looking ahead: The Bears host Southern Mississippi in a sneaky good Sunday afternoon matinee, a stiff test for both squads.

8. Stanford (4-2): Absolutely nothing for the Cardinal this week, as finals was the focus around campus this week.

Looking ahead: The Cardinal get back to the hardwood with a couple of very winnable games: UC Riverside on Sunday and North Carolina A&T on Wednesday.

9. Oregon (5-3): The Ducks split their two-game week, but all things considered, it was a good week in Eugene. Sure, the basketball program lags a bit behind their brethren on the gridiron, but an undermanned Oregon squad has shown quite a bit of tenacity under new head coach Dana Altman. RTC’s #15 Missouri visited McArthur Court on Thursday night and the Ducks, after falling behind by 20 in the first half, rallied behind 62.1% shooting in the second half and a career high 19 points from sophomore E.J. Singler to at least give the Tigers a scare, before eventually falling 83-80. The Ducks followed that up by beating in-state foe Portland State on Sunday in a game where they could have easily been caught sleeping (see UCLA and Montana, above). After scrapping to something of a draw in the first half, Oregon turned it on in the second half and finished on a 24-8 run to settle matters. Singler, thus far, has been one of the most improved players in the nation, posting highly efficient offensive numbers while playing out of position for the undersized Ducks. While there just isn’t enough talent on this squad to pose a serious threat in conference, they’ll win their fair share of games this year, just on effort and smarts alone.

Looking ahead: Willamette and Jacksonville State visit Eugene this week, before the Ducks play their first game outside the state of Oregon on 12/17 when they travel to Charlottesville to face Virginia.

10. Oregon State (3-4): The Beavers followed up their two-point loss to Utah Valley State with a 26-point loss to Colorado, going a long way towards answering the eternal question, “if Utah Valley State and Colorado were to play, what should be the betting line?” Of course, the UVSU game was in Corvallis and the Colorado game was in Boulder, so assuming that there is actually a home court advantage in Boulder (hey, this has Pac-10 relevance – we’ll need to know if the Colorado home court advantage is significant) and estimating it at around five points (based on a couple home and away games with Big 12 opponents over the last couple of years), we can safely say that Colorado should be somewhere in the neighborhood of a 19-point favorite over Utah Valley State. There. I got through this little section without having to say anything meaningful about Oregon State. Aside from the fact that they are terrible.

Looking ahead: The Beavers host Texas-Pan American on Sunday, then travel to Missoula to face Montana on Wednesday. Watch OSU beat Mont—ah, never mind, I can’t even type it with a straight face.

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Set Your Tivo: 12.03.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 3rd, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

After an unexpectedly interesting game last night in Lawrence complete with controversy, your Friday night slate features a clash in the deep south and an intriguing battle out west. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

UAB @ Georgia – 7 pm on FS South/ESPN3 (**)

Georgia Needs a Healthy Thompkins to Reach Its Goals

Georgia had a very disappointing trip to Orlando last week for the Old Spice Classic, coming away with only one win. Even that win was a struggle, 61-58 over a bad Manhattan team. The Bulldogs did get Trey Thompkins back but he’s still trying to work himself back into game shape. Thompkins averaged 15/7 in the three games but turned the ball over almost four times a game. Georgia is not a very good defensive team, rated #104 in efficiency and #328 against the three. That will be a problem against a UAB team that features a 65% three-point shooter in forward Cameron Moore (18/9). Granted he’s only taken 17 treys so far this year, but he is a threat that could pull Thompkins away from the basket and open up the inside for point guard Aaron Johnson to distribute the ball. Johnson is averaging 10 points and a superb nine assists per contest this season. At 5’9 he really struggles shooting but makes up for that deficiency by getting others involved. UAB has only given up 61 PPG and is #14 in defending the three so Georgia is going to have to work hard for points. The Bulldogs are not a good three-point shooting team (29%) so they get most (62%) of their points from inside the arc. The good news for Georgia is that while they’re turnover prone, UAB doesn’t force many turnovers at all because they play a slower style. The rebounding battle will be important in this game and might very well determine the winner. Travis Leslie is an excellent rebounder for his size, pulling down nine a game. He’ll need to be on his game along with Thompkins for Georgia to control the glass, though UAB is a poor offensive rebounding team. Coach Mike Davis plays four guys at least 30 minutes per game so tired legs are something to watch for in the second half. The Bulldogs are the favorite at home but this really could be looked at as a toss-up game. UAB has some talent and they’ll certainly give Georgia a game tonight at Stegeman Coliseum.

#5 Kansas State @ Washington State – 11 pm on FSN (****)

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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 2nd, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West conferences.

 

A Look Back

After an up-and-down start to the season, this past week was more or less just down. The ten Pac-10 member institutions posted a combined 11-11 record on the week and the majority of those wins were against teams that were simply overmatched, schools like Sacramento State, Houston Baptist and something called Utah Valley State.

As for the losses, in the conference’s big tests of the week, aside from Cal’s Old Spice first round victory over Temple, the results came back negative. Yes, Arizona looked pretty good in their eight-point loss against #4 Kansas, but it was still a loss, as was UCLA’s four-point loss in the NIT consolation game against VCU. Same for Arizona State’s nine-point loss to St. John’s in the Great Alaskan Shootout final, and two-thirds of Stanford’s 76 Classic debacle, right up until they ran up against a BCS conference school in DePaul that was in worse shape than they were. The fact is, after just about three weeks of the college basketball season, the Pac-10 schedules are littered with near-misses and embarrassments, and as we welcome December, only Washington State maintains an unblemished record on the season. However, they too have a big exam coming up with a visit from Kansas State in the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series on Friday night.

Team of the Week

Washington State – The Cougars take down this award almost by default, joining only Washington as the two Pac-10 teams who escaped this week unscathed. The most impressive win for Ken Bone’s team this week was an 11-point victory at Fresno State on Friday, as junior college transfer Faisal Aden continued his early season tear, racking up 28 points on six threes while adding three assists.  WSU turned the game around with a 14-0 run in the second half that flipped a seven-point deficit upside down. The Cougs followed that up with an 84-36 thrashing of Sacramento State on Tuesday, sparked by a 27-0 run to start the game, holding their opponent scoreless until the 10-minute mark of the first half. While there isn’t a great win on the Washington State resume yet, they’ve taken care of business to this point, which is more than some other teams around the conference can say.

Player of the Week

Derrick Williams (Sophomore), Arizona – Williams continued his amazing start to the season this week, averaging 24.5 points per contest and throwing in five three-pointers. In the Wildcats’ loss to Kansas in the Las Vegas Invitational, Williams kept Zona in the game with 27 points and eight rebounds before fouling out with under three minutes remaining. So far on the season, Williams has put up 20.5 points and 7.7 rebounds a night in a mere 24 minutes per game, while hitting an excellent 67.1% from the field and an amazing 80% from three (albeit on just ten attempts). While he’s unlikely to keep up that pace over the course of the season, he has shown that he used the offseason to improve his game. Last year he wasn’t much of a threat outside of the key, but he’s improved his jumper and extended his range out to the arc, he’s added quickness and he’s even stronger than he already was, a scary proposition for teams around the Pac-10 trying to figure out an answer for the talented sophomore.

Newcomer of the Week

C.J. Wilcox (Freshman), Washington – It would be easy enough to reprise the selection of Faisal Aden here, as his torrid early pace has not slowed a bit, but in the interest of a little variety, we’ll go with Wilcox, who caught fire in the sole Huskies game of the week with six three-pointers (in eight attempts) on the way to a career-high in both points (20) and minutes (23) as the Huskies ran away from Long Beach State. Wilcox has seen his minutes fluctuate early in his career, but his three-point shooting has been nothing less than stellar, with 17 makes in his first 29 attempts, good for a 58.6 percentage – just what the Huskies needed, another potent offensive weapon.

Game of the Week

Kansas 87, Arizona 79 – For the second consecutive week, we’re dropping a Pac-10 loss in the Game of the Week section, a pretty good summation of how the season is going thus far for the Pac-10 (Utah Valley State?). Much like last week’s winner here, the Kentucky/Washington matchup in Maui, this game was a matchup of one of the top two teams in the conference against one the premier programs in the country, and while the Wildcats looked impressive in this game, the end result in still a loss. Arizona had to scrape back from a big early deficit (at 31-15, the game looked on the verge of blowout territory), but three straight three-pointers by junior Kyle Fogg, who was coming off the bench for disciplinary reasons, jumpstarted the Zona offense and he and Derrick Williams kept the ‘Cats close until late in the second half. But after Williams fouled out in the game’s closing finish, Sean Miller’s club was unable to finish the deal, yet another Pac-10 case of close, but no cigar.

Game of the Upcoming Week

Gonzaga @ Washington State, 12/8, 8:00 PM PST, FSN – The Cougars have a big week ahead of them, with both Kansas State and Gonzaga visiting the Palouse this week. We’ll take the Zag game as the game of the week, as not only is it a slightly more winnable game for the conference (baby steps, Pac-10, baby steps), but it is also an excellent local rivalry, the battle of eastern Washington. Juniors Faisal Aden and Klay Thompson have been on fire in the early going for WSU, but this week they’ll face a significantly higher level of competition than in their first five games. Luckily, sophomore point guard Reggie Moore is due back from his wrist injury, although he’ll wear a splint on his wrist and will need some adjustment time, especially with Jacob Pullen his matchup on his first night back. Also, DeAngelo Casto is expected back this week after missing the last two Cougar games with a right foot injury, meaning WSU will be healthy (or at least marginally healthy) for the first time all season.

Power Rankings

1. Washington (4-2): The Huskies took things a little bit easy this week after returning from their Maui trip, with just a visit from Long Beach State for the week, and they came out ready to play. Seven players scored in double figures and the team posted a stellar 71.6% effective field goal percentage, with C.J. Wilcox, Abdul Gaddy, Darnell Gant and Justin Holiday going 12-14 from behind the arc between them. However, junior guard Isaiah Thomas continues to struggle with his shot, as he missed all six of his attempts from long range. Head coach Lorenzo Romar made a little switch in his starting lineup, sliding junior center Aziz N’Diaye into the starting lineup and bumping senior Matthew Bryan-Amaning to the pine. Bryan-Amaning responded with a perfect 7-7 night from the field for 14 points, and he added five rebounds and four blocks, while N’Diaye was ineffective.

Looking ahead: A couple home games for the Huskies, as they welcome in Texas Tech as part of the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series on Saturday, then host Portland on Monday.

2. Arizona (6-1): The big story of the week was the Wildcats’ matchup with Kansas in the Las Vegas Invitational, which we detailed above in our game of the week section, but prior to that the Cats ripped through Santa Clara on their way to a 23-point victory, and following that they added a 27-point win over Rice, meaning Zona has won their six non-Kansas games by an average of 30 points. Granted, beating up on the “little sisters of the poor” (thanks, Gordon Gee) is not exactly all that much to write home about, but it certainly beats losing to, you know, Utah Valley State or something. While Derrick Williams (see our Player of the Week section) has been nothing short of amazing, Sean Miller has yet to settle into a rotation yet, with plenty of players getting time and posting widely divergent lines as a result. One thing seems clear though in the early going, the point guard position is not yet settled in Tucson. Starter Momo Jones has shown an inability to both get his own points and distribute the ball in the same game, as the only three times he has handed out more than three assists, he has failed to score in double figures. Freshman Jordin Mayes has gotten looks in relief of Jones, but he is still a work in progress, and the best creator for the Wildcats has been off-guard Kyle Fogg, the only player on the squad to average more than three assists per game. That weakness could be a killer come conference play.

Looking ahead: Arizona hosts Oklahoma and CS Fullerton, two games that the Cats should win with relative ease.

3. Washington State (5-0): The lone undefeated Pac-10 team, and the winner of this week’s Pac-10 Team of the Week, has been on fire from the field in the early-going. They rank fourth in the nation with an effective field goal percentage of 60.6% and they are second in the nation with a two-point field goal percentage of 65.2%. While those numbers are drastically improved from last season’s totals, the real improvement for the Cougars has come at the other end of the court. In 2010, they were 155th in the nation in defensive efficiency but thus far this season rank #40. Now, these numbers should be taken with just a grain or two of salt, since last year at this time, the Cougars were 6-0 heading into matchups with Gonzaga and Kansas State, where they began to get exposed a bit, and thus far this season, their most difficult opponent has been Portland, but nevertheless, the focus that Ken Bone and his staff have put on the defensive end is evident and that work should pay off come conference play.

Looking ahead: Last year, the Cougs played at Gonzaga on 12/2 and at Kansas State on 12/5. This year, it’s Kansas State on 12/3 and Gonzaga on 12/8, and the games are at home instead of away, but the importance of these two games remains the same. Last year it was a five-point loss in Spokane and a 15-point loss in Manhattan, and if the Cougs really have improved upon last season, we’ll see it this week.

4. UCLA (3-2): The sole Bruin game of the week was a disappointing loss to Virginia Commonwealth in an NIT consolation game that was anything but consoling to fans in Westwood. While UCLA owned the glass with a 41-26 rebounding margin, VCU got to the line 26 times compared to just 12 free throw attempts for UCLA — worse yet, 21 Bruin turnovers, including five each by their biggest offensive playmakers, junior point guard Lazeric Jones and sophomore forward Tyler Honeycutt. Turnovers have been a problem for Honeycutt all season long, as he has had four or more turnovers in four of UCLA five games. A bright spot for Ben Howland’s club was the play of junior Malcolm Lee, who had 23 points and five threes and looks to be all the way back from his early ankle injury.

Looking ahead: One big test for the Bruins and one relative breather, as UCLA heads to Lawrence tonight for a battle with Kansas before returning home to face Montana in Pauley Pavilion on Sunday.

5. Cal (4-2): It shows a lot about the strength and depth (or lack thereof) of the Pac-10 this season that after a week in which the Golden Bears scored a whopping five points in a half against Notre Dame and then followed that up with by comparison a blistering 15-point second half against Boston College, they maintain their ranking as the fifth best team in the conference. The fact is, while Mike Montgomery’s team looked awful in the final two games of the Old Spice Classic, they did come away with an opening round win over a Temple team that had been ranked. Nevertheless, it is clear that the Bears have a ways to go on the offensive end, although their five-man freshman class does have some pieces, notably guards Allen Crabbe and Gary Franklin. Franklin, in particular, has struggled from the field, hitting less than 30% of his shots in the first five games, but he did rebound to score a team-high 13 points in Cal’s Wednesday night win over UC Davis. Montgomery will need those freshman guards to settle down and become relatively consistent scoring threats prior to conference play for this Golden Bear team to be of importance in the Pac-10 race.

Looking ahead: Cal travels to Iowa State for a winnable Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood game, then gets San Diego State at home next Wednesday night. Given the difference between the way the Bears have played in Haas Pavilion and elsewhere, that SDSU game may actually be the more winnable of the two.

6. Arizona State (3-2): The Sun Devils brought a little warmth to the Great Alaskan Shootout this week, going 2-1 with a big win over Houston Baptist, a squeaker over Weber State and a come-from-ahead loss against an average St. John’s team in the final. In most conferences, that would spell a drop in the power rankings, but not this one. While the outcome had to be a disappointment for Herb Sendek and his team, there were some bright spots. Sophomore wing Trent Lockett continued to be the most impressive Sun Devil, averaging 17.3 points and seven rebounds per game in Alaska, while going for a career-high 24 points in the win against Weber, including the game winner with 8.4 seconds left. Senior Ty Abbott showed up in the final for ASU, knocking down six threes on the way to 22 points in the game, the senior trio of Abbott, Jamelle McMillan and Rihards Kuksiks are still only shooting 37.8% from the field between them. While Lockett has been a revelation, he’ll need those seniors to step up for the Sun Devils to have an upper-division Pac-10 finish.

Looking ahead: A Brutal week for the Sun Devils, as they head to Waco for a Big 12/Pac-10 matchup with Baylor, then back home to host Richmond. A split this week is brilliant for Sendek and company, with Richmond being the more likely conquest, although still not a safe bet.

7. Stanford (4-2): Considering the Cardinal went to Anaheim for the 76 Classic with an undefeated record, and came away from a fairly unintimidating field with only a win over DePaul to show for their troubles, Thanksgiving weekend was a disaster. Junior guard Jeremy Green struggled all weekend, making just 18 of his 47 attempts from the field and handing out just four assists in 97 minutes of play, then had insult added to injury when he collapsed after the win over DePaul due to exhaustion after dealing with illness all weekend. The Stanford freshman class was predictably inconsistent, with Dwight Powell turning the ball over ten times over the course of the weekend before wrapping things up with a 13-point, ten-rebound game in the finale against DePaul. Anthony Brown was also impressive in the DePaul game, scoring 14 and making several key plays in the overtime, but relatively absent elsewhere this weekend. However, the big issue for the Cardinal is going to be at the point. Neither Green nor junior guard Jarrett Mann are capable playmakers and freshman point Aaron Bright is more equipped to be a distributor and shooter than a creator. With no easy solution walking through the door anytime soon, head coach Johnny Dawkins will have his work cut out for him creating coherent offense all season long.

Looking ahead: Nothing this week for Stanford as they prep for finals, but they return on 12/12 with a game against UC Riverside before hosting North Carolina A&T a few days later.

8. Oregon (4-2): The Ducks hosted the Singler family reunion in the Rose Garden in Portland on Saturday night, providing the perfect platform for that showoff Kyle to go for 30 points in an NBA arena. Little brother E.J. struggled early with the situation, failing to score in the first half, but eventually winding up with 14 second-half points in the Ducks 27-points loss to the number one team in the land. While the Ducks were outshot and outrebounded, one Dana Altman stamp has become apparent on this team: they are going to take care of the ball. Oregon only turned the ball over 11 times against Duke, and they’re in the top 40 in the nation in lowest offensive turnover percentage. The Ducks simply don’t have the horses to really compete this season, but Altman will have this team beat more than a couple teams that are more talented than them over the course of the season and soon enough, Oregon will be a frightening place to go again.

Looking ahead: Now that I’ve written about the Ducks not turning the ball over, they immediately get to test that theory when they host Missouri and Mike Anderson’s pressure defense on Saturday. Things get a bit easier following that with a game against Portland State.

9. USC (4-4): Up and down, up and down. A couple wins over munchkins, a couple losses to relative munchkins. A couple more wins over teams the Trojans should beat on talent alone, a couple more headscratching losses. This week’s bombs? Opening the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series with a loss at Nebraska, one of the strong contenders for last place in the Big 12, after having a 20-point first half lead, then following that up with a loss at TCU, a team in the bottom half of the Mountain West. Up front, the Trojans are just fine with Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson, but the backcourt is young and, really, a mess. While Kevin O’Neill again has his team defending like mad men, there is just no flow offensively. The freshman point guard Maurice Jones turns the ball over just about as much as he hands out assists, and is shooting just 35.6% from the field, although that hasn’t diminished his zeal for continuing to pull the trigger, as he is putting up 13 shots a night. Sure Jio Fontan is eligible soon and maybe he has a magical elixir that will make this team a tournament team overnight. More likely, the Trojans will be better come conference play, but still fatally flawed.

Looking ahead: The Trojans host Texas on Sunday. Watch them beat the Longhorns. Just watch.

10. Oregon State (3-3): Just awful. I wish there were already 12 teams in the conference, just so I could rank this team somewhere lower than 10th. The Beavers lost to Utah Valley State on Wednesday night, and were somehow outrebounded by UVSU by 10. Utah Valley State even went out of their way to open the door for OSU, turning the ball over a generous 24 times, but the Beavs couldn’t take advantage of that. I mean, really. Utah Valley State? It’s a good thing that head coach at Oregon State isn’t a cabinet position or the First Brother-in-Law might be asked to resign in disgrace. The UVSU debacle comes after the Beavers actually made the trip to D.C. to play in front of President Obama and family, and they avoided disaster there by coming back from a halftime deficit against Howard and pulling out a ten-point win behind 60% shooting after the half. But, again, Utah Valley State? Really?

Looking ahead: OSU heads to Boulder for their Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood matchup with Colorado. Chalk that one up for the Big 12.

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