RTC Summer Updates: Pac-12 Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on July 25th, 2011

With the the NBA Draft concluded and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. The latest update comes courtesy of our Pac-12 correspondent, Andrew Murawa.

Reader’s Take #1

Summer Storylines

  • The More, The Merrier: The Pac-10 is dead. Long live the Pac-12. The conference welcomes in Colorado and Utah for their first season in the conference, the first expansion in the West Coast’s premier conference since Arizona and Arizona State were added 33 years ago. Along with the new teams comes a new schedule – gone is the full home-and-away round robin. While there won’t be divisions in basketball like there are in football, each team will play an 18-game schedule with home and away games against its traditional rival, with six other rotating home-and-away series and four additional single games against the remaining teams. For instance, Colorado and Utah will only play the Southern California schools and the Washington schools once each, while they will play the remainder of the conference twice. While neither of the new schools are expected to make a big splash immediately in the conference, their arrival, coupled with other changes around the conference, such as the huge new $3 billion TV deal with ESPN and Fox that begins in the fall of 2012, makes it an exciting time to be a Pac-12 fan.
  • Is There A Draft In Here?: Last summer, a big story around the conference was the dearth of Pac-10 players picked in the NBA Draft, as just two players from the conference were selected by NBA teams in 2010. After the 21 players that were picked in the conference between the 2008 and 2009 drafts, that was a precipitous fall. And, back before the season started, there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of future high draft picks on the horizon. However, the conference had six players picked in the NBA draft, including three first-rounders and two lottery picks. Derrick Williams, the 2010-11 conference player of the year, led the way, getting snapped up by Minnesota with the #2 overall pick. Unfortunately for teams around the conference, 12 seasons of eligibility were left on the table between those six picks and the two early entries who went undrafted: Stanford’s Jeremy Green and Washington State’s DeAngelo Casto. And as a result, what had looked like a potential big-time bounce-back season for the conference now sees somewhat diminished expectations. Perhaps no team was hit harder by early defections than UCLA, who had Tyler Honeycutt and Malcolm Lee leave a total of three years of eligibility behind to go get second-round NBA draft picks (and the absence of guaranteed contracts that goes with them) at a time when the NBA labor situation is highly in doubt, but Washington State’s loss of Casto and lottery pick Klay Thompson also leaves the Cougars’ situation fuzzy at best.
  • Replacing Production: Between the early entries to the NBA Draft and departed seniors, the Pac-12 loses its top seven scorers from last season, and 11 of its top 20. Likewise, ten of the top 20 rebounders are gone. However, as always, a new batch of youngsters is ready to show up on campuses this fall and begin contributing immediately. While the Pac-10 inked only nine of the ESPNU top 100 recruits, seven of those players are exciting young guards, all ranked in the top 60 on that list. Arizona leads the way, signing point guard Josiah Turner (#14 overall, according to ESPNU) and Nick Johnson (#21), to go with a couple solid frontcourt signees (Angelo Chol and Sidiki Johnson, #60 and #91, respectively). But Washington (Tony Wroten, Jr., #16), Oregon (Jabari Brown, #25), Arizona State (Jahii Carson, #49), UCLA (Norman Powell, #51) and Stanford (Chasson Randle, #59) all have their own big backcourt recruits ready to provide a burst of energy.

Derrick Williams' performances were one of the highlights of the 2010-11 season.

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Conference Report Card: Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 13th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West conferences. We will be publishing a series of conference report cards over the next week for conferences that received multiple NCAA bids to recap the conference, grade the teams, and look at the future for the conference.

Conference Recap:

After an awful 2009-10 season in which the Pac-10 had to limp into a second NCAA Tournament bid when Washington hit the gas pedal down the stretch, the four tournament bids the conference received this year was a huge improvement. With Arizona advancing to the Elite Eight, the Pac-10 advanced a team beyond the Sweet 16 for the first time in three seasons, and the conference was a much deeper collection of teams than last year. And without a doubt, that came as a result of the enhanced talent level across the conference. Coming into the season, there were just 17 seniors on rosters across the conference, and the youngsters showed vast  improvement this year, notably Derrick Williams (an All-American and national player of the year candidate), Isaiah Thomas, Tyler Honeycutt, and Klay Thompson with several other players making big strides in their games. While the Pac-10 still struggled to gain national respect, it was clear to fans that the level of play is on the rebound from its 2009-2010 nadir.

The Pac-10 was Derrick Williams' personal playground in 2011, and the Wildcats displayed perhaps the most impressive performance of the NCAA Tournament in their dismantling of Duke. (AZ Daily Star/M. Popat)

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Pac-10 Wrap & Tourney Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 9th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 Conference. Get set for this weekend’s conference tournament with RTC’s season recap and postseason preview.

Tournament Preview

This tournament is as wide open as a Pac-10 tournament has ever been. One of Arizona, UCLA or Washington is the favorite (in some order or another) and the three teams likely to be invited to the NCAA Tournament regardless of the outcome of the Pac-10 Tourney. However, Cal, USC and Washington State are three teams who will be playing for their NCAA Tournament lives (none of the three are likely to be in the final field of 68 without a Pac-10 championship this weekend) and each is more than capable of stringing together three straight wins and earning the conference’s automatic bid. Of course, each of those teams has shown that they are more than capable of bowing out in the first round on the wrong end of a blowout. What will actually go down in Los Angeles this weekend is anybody’s guess, but what it lacks in predictability, it could make up for in excitement.

Final Standings:

  1. Arizona                                  25-6        14-4
  2. UCLA                                      22-9        13-5
  3. Washington                           20-10     11-7
  4. USC                                         18-13     10-8
  5. Cal                                           17-13     10-8
  6. Washington State              19-11     9-9
  7. Oregon                                  14-16     7-11
  8. Stanford                                 15-15     7-11
  9. Oregon State                        10-19     5-13
  10. Arizona State                        12-18     4-14

Superlatives:

  • Player of the Year - Derrick Williams, Sophomore, Arizona. On the best team in the conference, Williams was far and away the best player. A shoo-in for the All-America first team, Williams is among the top ten players in the nation in effective field goal percentage, true shooting percentage, fouls drawn per 40 minutes and the rate at which he gets to the foul line. Oh, and the guy is shooting over 62% from behind the three-point line, a number that is truly astounding, even considering his mere 45 attempts, and especially considering that the three wasn’t even part of his game in his first year in Tucson. While Williams was one of the best players in the Pac-10 as a freshman, no one could have predicted the extent of his improvement as a sophomore. His free throw percentage is up eight points, his effective field goal percentage has skyrocketed from simply very good to excellent, his rebounding has jumped, and this season he was the second most efficient high-use offensive player in the nation, behind Hofstra’s Charles Jenkins. In short, while guys like Klay Thompson and Isaiah Thomas have had strong seasons for their respective teams, those two guys were a not even on the radar for this award; this year was all Derrick Williams.
  • Coach of the Year - Mike Montgomery, California. This was a year in the Pac-10 when there was no shortage of strong candidates for this honor. Dana Altman, Sean Miller and Ben Howland all did strong jobs with their respective teams (in fact, even two weeks ago I figured Altman was the no-brainer for this recognition), but the nod goes to Montgomery for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is his amazing player development. All over his roster, Montgomery has gotten contributions from players above and beyond what was expected of them. Below, you’ll see Jorge Gutierrez as my pick for the conference’s Most Improved Player, but Harper Kamp and Markhuri Sanders-Frison exhibited an effectiveness down low that nobody outside of the biggest Cal homers had any reason to expect. Allen Crabbe turned a mediocre non-conference performance into a great first run through the Pac-10 schedule. And Brandon Smith, a guy who committed to Cal as a walk-on two years back and registered an offensive efficiency rating below 70 last season, stepped in as the starting point guard after freshman Gary Franklin abruptly announced his decision to transfer out of the program in the middle of the season, and delivered an extremely solid performance for the Bears down the stretch. For a program that lost its top four scorers from last season (and eight of their top ten scorers from last year – just 14% of their scoring from last season returned), what Montgomery did this season in Berkeley was nothing short of spectacular.
  • Freshman of the Year - Allen Crabbe, California. Crabbe’s season can really be divided into two categories: with Gary Franklin and without Gary Franklin. With Franklin, Crabbe averaged less than 8.5 points per game and shot just 33.3% from three; after he transferred out, Crabbe scored 16.5 points per game and hit 46.4% from deep. If you eliminate the game in which Crabbe suffered a concussion against Washington and his first game back against UCLA, where he was obviously not quite right yet, Crabbe averaged 18.4 PPG after Franklin. Throw in the fact that, at 6’4 and with long arms, Crabbe was an effective perimeter defender, capable of matching up defensively with opposing small forwards and even helping out his big guys on the glass (5.4 RPG), Crabbe has been an efficient and versatile offensive threat for the surging Bears.
  • Defensive Player of the YearMalcolm Lee, Junior, UCLA. On the most efficient defensive team in the conference, Lee epitomizes everything that went right for Ben Howland and the Bruins this season. Last season the Bruins were 138th in the nation defensively; this year they have vaulted back to 29th, certainly not back to the level of the elite Bruin teams from 2006-2008, but a drastic improvement. And Lee was a big part of that, making a habit of shutting down opposing guards like Isaiah Thomas, Allen Crabbe, Jeremy Greens and even Jimmer Fredette, helping his interior defenders by using his long frame to discourage post feeds and just generally harassing the opposition. While his effort doesn’t show up a whole lot in the stat sheet in terms of steals and blocked shots, without a doubt the Bruin defense is significantly less efficient when Lee is not at full strength.
  • Most Improved Player: Jorge Gutierrez, Junior, California. There’s no argument that last year Gutierrez was a good, solid role player on a senior-laden Golden Bear roster. He played about 20 minutes a game, provided irksome and aggressive defense, never failed to hustle after a loose ball and every once in a while knocked down a shot along the way for 5.5 points per game. But with Jerome Randle, Patrick Christopher and others plying their trade elsewhere this season, Gutierrez was called upon for far more than just hustle. At times he has been the team’s de facto point guard, other times he has been their go-to scorer, but along the way he has kept his energetic way. This season he leads the Bears in scoring (14.8 PPG), assists (4.5 APG), steals (1.6 SPG), and certainly in clutch plays. While it stood to reason that Gutierrez’ role would increase this season, the extent to which he has taken on new responsibilities has been impressive.

All Pac-10 First Team:

  • G Isaiah Thomas, Junior, Washington (16.6 PPG, 5.7 APG)
  • G Klay Thompson, Junior, Washington State (22.4 PPG, 4.0 APG)
  • G Jorge Gutierrez, Junior, California (14.8 PPG, 4.5 APG)
  • F Derrick Williams, Sophomore, Arizona (19.0 PPG, 8.3 RPG)
  • F Nikola Vucevic, Junior, USC (17.6 PPG, 10.3 RPG)

All Pac-10 Second Team:

  • G Allen Crabbe, Freshman, California (12.6 PPG, 5.4 RPG)
  • G Jeremy Green, Junior, Stanford (16.4 PPG, 3.5 RPG)
  • F Reeves Nelson, Sophomore, UCLA (13.9 PPG, 9.0 RPG)
  • F Matthew Bryan-Amaning, Senior, Washington (16.2 PPG, 8.4 RPG)
  • F Joevan Catron, Senior, Oregon (14.8 PPG, 6.4 RPG)

Power Rankings

  1. Arizona (25-6, 14-4) Projected NCAA Seed #6: For all the Pac-10 teams expecting to be invited to the NCAA Tournament (and that includes Arizona, UCLA and Washington), the current seeding expectations are somewhat fluid. If Zona, for instance, were to run through the Pac-10 tourney and some other things ahead of them break their way, it is not out of the question that they wind up with a four seed (although really, a #5 is a more realistic high). Likewise, if they bomb out in the opening round against Stanford, maybe they drop all the way to an eight (and again, a #7 is probably the more realistic low). The big question, however, is how far they can go once they get to the Tournament. While Williams is an elite enough player to carry a team a long ways, the question mark remains about the Wildcats’ complementary parts. The Oregon schools showed last week that if you just limit Williams, there’s a good chance the rest of the Arizona team may not be good enough to put their team over the top, and I think that possibility will increase as they run into better and better competition. Throw in the fact that as a forward, Williams is in need of other players to get him the ball where he can impact the game and the ‘Cats could be ripe for an early round exit.
  2. UCLA (22-9, 13-5) Projected NCAA Seed #7: While the Bruins outperformed expectations this season and showed vast improvement from last year’s team, the fact remains that this is the third straight year in Westwood without a Pac-10 title. And there is some frustration arising around the UCLA basketball program as a result. Los Angeles Times columnist T.J. Simers has repeatedly bashed Ben Howland and his coaching style, Bill Plaschke has likewise questioned Howland’s coaching and recently the Bruins Nation blog dedicated a post to asking whether Howland’s offense has taken the Bruins as far as they can go. Now Simers has the reasoning ability of a plough-horse and Plaschke’s column came before the Bruins improved in the last couple months of the season, but the fact remains that there is a significant portion of the UCLA fanbase that is unhappy with the results under Howland. Three straight Final Fours were awful nice, but there was always an undercurrent of dismay around the program that the Bruins didn’t finish the job on any of those occasions. As good of a job as Howland has done with the team to this point, UCLA fans have some very high expectations, and a second-place finish, no matter what degree of improvement occurred along the way, is not really regarded as an accomplishment. While the Bruins are capable of winning the Pac-10 Tourney this week, and even pulling an upset and getting to the Sweet Sixteen or a bit further (another accomplishment that won’t earn Howland many plaudits among boosters), it is exceedingly unlikely that this UCLA squad is capable of putting together the type of run that will make all of these questions go away.
  3. Washington (20-10, 11-7) Projected NCAA Seed #11: The Huskies are probably safe for inclusion in the NCAA Tournament, but as of right now Lorenzo Romar has got to have a little gnawing feeling in the pit of his stomach. Washington’s resume is paper thin. There are no quality wins outside of their conference, and they went 4-6 down the stretch in conference play, despite having a pretty favorable schedule. And yet, this team is talented enough that it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see them as the sole Pac-10 Sweet 16 team, much like last year when they finished third in the conference and got a favorable draw to run to the second weekend on the Tournament. For that to happen, Isaiah Thomas will need to get his swagger back. After playing the best basketball of his career through much of late January and all of February, in his two games in March he has averaged 12.5 points on 32% shooting, is 0/6 from deep and has just one more assist (six) than turnover (five). As Thomas goes, so go the Huskies, so he’ll need to turn it back up, and fast.
  4. California (17-13, 10-8) NIT: The Bears are streaky, and currently they’re streaking good. They’ve won four straight games, after having previously lost four straight, and even that streak came at the end of an entirely different four-game win streak. The four-game losing streak in the middle can be explained away partly because Crabbe played just ten total minutes in the final three games of that slide after sustaining an injury against Washington, and the first of those four losses was an epic three-overtime loss to conference champion Arizona. In other words, when this team has been whole, their only loss since late January was a two-point loss in triple overtime. Of the teams not currently expected to earn NCAA Tournament invites on Sunday, I’d take Berkeley as the most likely team to win the automatic bid.
  5. USC (18-13, 10-8) NIT: While I’d take Cal as the upset pick for the Pac-10 title, the Trojans aren’t far back. USC has won five of its last six and Vucevic is absolutely on fire of late, having racked up double-doubles in his last eight games, while shooting 55% from the field and adding a previously unknown three-point shot to his game. While the fact that the Trojans get most of their minutes from just a six-player rotation may wear them down in a three-game tournament, this squad will not go quietly.
  6. Washington State (19-11, 9-9): The Cougars are the last of the teams currently on the outside of the bubble that stands a reasonable shot at winning this tournament, now that it is clear that Klay Thompson will be available for the Pac-10 tournament. Thompson was arrested for possession of marijuana following Thursday night’s win over USC and Ken Bone’s hand was forced to suspend him for the final game of the season, a close loss to UCLA. Bone, however, announced on Monday that his suspension was ended and that he would be available for the Pac-10 tourney. Of additional concern is the health of point guard Reggie Moore, who also missed the UCLA game due to an injured foot and whose status is still uncertain.
  7. Oregon (14-16, 7-11): The Ducks faded down the stretch, losing their last four games, but the fact is that a 7-11 conference mark is a pretty good outcome given how big of a hit the program took in the offseason. And with reinforcements arriving next year, there is little doubt that Altman has this program headed in the right direction. The Ducks have shown the ability to sneak up and surprise teams in the upper division of the conference (they’ve beaten Washington, Washington State and USC twice), but the odds of them stringing together the four wins necessary to win the conference tournament are quite large.
  8. Stanford (15-15, 7-11): Much like the Ducks, the Cardinal have a good future ahead of them despite all the lumps they took in conference this year. With no graduating seniors, five freshmen who got significant time and all-conference player Jeremy Green returning for his senior season, this Cardinal team could be trouble next year. And, really, if Green catches fire in the conference tournament and freshman Dwight Powell turns in one of his all-too-rare good performances, this Cardinal team could spring an upset. Patching together several upsets seems unlikely.
  9. Oregon State (10-19, 5-13): This Beaver team is one of the more frustrating teams I’ve ever come across. Under no circumstances is this the ninth most talented team in the conference. There is certainly a higher level of talent here than on Stanford or Oregon, and you could make the argument that this team has more horses than WSU or USC. They put up wins over Washington, Arizona and USC, yet got swept by Oregon and were one of the worst teams in the nation in three-point shooting, defending the three (and really, defending any shot), and turning the ball over. They return a lot of exciting talent next season, but this team is in need of a complete attitude makeover.
  10. Arizona State (12-18, 4-14): Break up the Devils. After a nightmare season, they enter the Pac-10 Tournament on a two-game winning streak, having swept the Oregon schools in Tempe by an average of 17 points. Their three seniors, Ty Abbott, Rihards Kuksiks and Jamelle McMillan, combined for a total of 105 points in the final two games, more than 20 points higher than their average for the rest of the season. If those three can continue the fiery end to the careers, it is not out of the question that they could end the Pac-10 tourney for a higher seed or two.
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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 3rd, 2011

 

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

A Look Back

A week ago, the conference was all but won. Arizona had a two game lead, and even with a Los Angeles road trip looming, it looked like it would take a complete collapse for the Wildcats to lose their grip on the Pac-10. But a week later, USC is riding a four-game winning streak, UCLA has won eight of its last nine, Arizona has dropped two in a row and now we’re left with the Wildcats and the Bruins tied atop the conference. And yet, this is still the Wildcats’ conference to lose. While UCLA heads north to visit the Washington schools this week, Arizona heads back home to host the Oregon schools. If the ‘Cats can take care of business in the McKale Center, UCLA would need to complete a road sweep of the Huskies and Cougars in order to seal the tie at the top of the conference. More importantly, with Selection Sunday just a week and a half away, both UCLA and Arizona have basically sewn up at-large bids, but Washington, once considered the obvious favorite in the Pac-10 and a shoo-in for NCAA inclusion, has put its NCAA at-large candidacy back in question. A closer look at their resume reveals only a home win over Arizona and a road win over UCLA as wins to hang their hat on, with their win over Long Beach State their only other win over likely participants in the NCAA Tournament. While the bubble at the back of the line is probably soft enough for the Huskies to still get in, they surely want to wrap up the season in style with wins over UCLA and USC in order to ease their worried minds.

  • Team of the Week: UCLA – Back from the dead, the Bruins now sit back where Westwood expects them to sit: atop the Pac-10 standings. After last year’s disastrous 14-18 season, the Bruins worst season since Ben Howland’s first year of rebuilding after the Steve Lavin era ended in ruins, after a frightening home loss to Montana to cap a four-game losing streak back in December, after the fourth consecutive loss to cross-town rival USC in their first meeting this season, the Bruins being tied atop the Pac-10 in March seemed exceedingly unlikely. And while this Bruin team looked decidedly ordinary over the course of the Pac-10 schedule, all of a sudden they are playing their best ball of the year. Without a doubt, the Bruins’ 22-point thrashing of Arizona in the final game at Pauley Pavilion before it begins renovations, a game in which John Wooden’s great-grandson, Tyler Trapani, scored the final basket ever recorded in the building’s grand history, was the best Bruin performance in the past two seasons. While they still have a lot to prove in the coming days and weeks, the fact that this team is beginning to gel just as the calendar turns to the most important month in the sport is of great comfort to Bruin fans.
  • Player of the Week: Nikola Vucevic, Junior, USC – In the story of the Trojans’ sudden rebirth, Vucevic is the leading man. While the junior from Montenegro has been very good all season long, averaging 17.5 PPG and 10.3 RPG, over the Trojans four-game winning streak he has been nothing short of excellent. In that span he has averaged 21.3 points and 11.5 rebounds, has knocked down eight of his twelve attempts from beyond the arc and has scored over 30% of USC’s points. If Vucevic can keep his Trojans on their winning ways in Washington this weekend, USC may be just good enough to sneak back into bubble conversations in advance of the Pac-10 Tournament.
  • Newcomer of the Week: Allen Crabbe, Freshman, California – Well, I think he’s back. After sparkling through much of the first 11 games in the conference season, Crabbe’s excellent rookie campaign hit a major speed bump when he suffered a concussion against Washington on February 10. He missed the rest of that game, two more games and was clearly not back to full strength when he did return against UCLA, but this week he proved that he is ready to go forward at full strength. This week he scored 45 points, knocked down ten of his 16 three-point attempts and grabbed eight rebounds in helping his Golden Bears to a sweep of the Oregon schools.
  • Game of the Week: USC 65, Arizona 57 – There were nine games this week, and none closer than USC’s eight-point upset win over the Wildcats on Thursday night. While this was by no means a thing of beauty (the teams combined for six assists on 40 field goals, the Trojans went 1-10 from three and shot just over 40% from the field, and still won with relative ease), the result did send shockwaves around the conference, as Bruin fans were forced to admit that they were pulling for the Trojans – and hard. In the end, USC got two big blocked shots by Alex Stepheson and Marcus Simmons after the Wildcats came back to tie the game at 56, and the Trojans converted those defensive plays into four made free throws on the offensive end. Vucevic led the way for the Trojans with 25 points and 12 rebounds, while junior point Jio Fontan had by far his best game since his first week of eligibility, posting 21 points and adding three assists. But the big key for the Trojans had to be limiting Arizona’s Derrick Williams to just 3-11 shooting, just two free throw attempts (seven below his season average) and just eight total points – his first game of the season in which he failed to score in double figures.
  • Game of the Upcoming Week: UCLA (21-8, 12-4) at Washington (19-9, 10-6), 3/3, 6pm PST, ESPN2 – Between the two teams tied at the top of the conference heap, the Bruins have by far the toughest road remaining. The Huskies have lost just once at home all season, and just four times in the last three years, and UCLA hasn’t won at the Hec Ed since 2004. But, they’ve got to assume that they need two wins in their remaining two games in order to tie for the Pac-10 title, and if they’re to rise to that challenge, it starts here. In the first matchup, the Huskies strung together a 27-10 run spanning halftime to break open a close game and propel them to an eventual 11-point win at Pauley. In that game Joshua Smith fouled out in a relatively ineffective 22 minutes, Lazeric Jones was completely absent, nobody off the Bruin bench made a field goal and the Huskies shot the Bruins out of the gym. For UCLA to get this win, Howland would like to see Smith stay out of foul trouble, pound the Huskies in the paint and get some offensive contributions from Jones. Even if UCLA can pull off this difficult road win, they’ll need to back it up with a win at Washington State on Saturday to ensure a Pac-10 title.

Power Rankings

 1. Arizona (23-6, 12-4): I’ve been saying all year long that if opponents can limit Williams offensively, the ‘Cats don’t have enough firepower on the rest of their roster to beat good teams. We learned this against BYU and we learned this against Oregon State. Of course, then Arizona and Momo Jones and Kevin Parrom shot that theory down in dramatic fashion in triple overtime against Cal, but in the back of my mind, I still didn’t buy this Wildcat squad as an elite team. Fast forward to the last week in February, when USC and UCLA held Williams to 23 points on 8-22 shooting and just six total free throw attempts in handing the Wildcats a oh-for-L.A. weekend. No other Wildcat was able to score more than 12 points in his place over the weekend (Jesse Perry had 12 against USC, Parrom added ten in that game and Kyle Fogg had ten against UCLA) and the rest of the roster combined to shoot a less-than-impressive 32.9% from the field. This is still a good Arizona team, but the concept of this squad being a top ten team (where it was ranked last week) is ludicrous. The concept of this squad even being a top 25 team (where it is still ranked) is still a stretch.

Looking ahead: The Wildcats return to the McKale Center this week, and need to stop the bleeding immediately by avenging their opening weekend loss to Oregon State on Thursday. Then they wrap up the season on Saturday by hosting Oregon. Arizona needs both of these games.

2. UCLA (21-8, 12-4): Sometimes basketball is a pretty simple game. Sure, you’ve got to make your shots, and you can have cold shooting nights that doom you or hot shooting nights by opponents that do the same. But the fact of the matter is, if you play tough defense, rebound well and don’t turn the ball over, you’re most of the way there. And, in those areas, the Bruins are suddenly looking good. At the start of the year, their defense was not up to par. In particular, the loss to Virginia Commonwealth in Madison Square Garden was abysmal, the type of defense that Bruin fans hated seeing last season. But in conference play, things have turned around and now this UCLA squad is excellent defensively. But the biggest factor this weekend in the Bruins’ sweep of the Arizona schools may have been their total of 16 turnovers for the weekend. Considering that the Bruins turned the ball over 18 times against Cal, 19 times in their win over St. John’s and their loss at Arizona, and even 26 times in their win over Oregon State, the eight turnovers that they posted in each game this weekend was a critical improvement. In order for the Bruins to be a serious threat come the NCAA Tournament, they’ll need to keep those turnover totals similarly low.

Looking ahead: Washington on Thursday night and Washington State on Saturday, a pair of games that make up the toughest road trip in the Pac-10. And the Bruins need to win both to secure a conference title.

3. Washington (19-9, 10-6): The Huskies have this rationalization to fall back on, following their home loss to Washington State on Sunday: they didn’t play that bad. The Huskies dominated the offensive glass, grabbing 23 rebounds, exactly 50% of every missed shot that came off the rim on the offensive end. But, they turned the ball over 16 times, missed far too many of the put-back attempts and shot a lowly 36.6% from inside the three-point arc. All in all, Lorenzo Romar and company have to forget about this game and take care of business this week against the hot Los Angeles schools that are coming storming through Seattle. Anything less than a sweep and the Huskies are limping into the Pac-10 tourney.

Looking ahead: UCLA on Thursday, USC on Saturday.

4. USC (17-12, 9-7): Out of nowhere, a four-game winning streak (they had not won more than two-in-a-row all season) and a newly formidable Trojan squad. Vucevic has been excellent all year, but USC is at its best when his frontcourt mate Stepheson is a major contributor. During the four-game winning streak, he has average 13 points and nine rebounds a game, while during the seven Pac-10 losses he has averaged just over seven points and rebounds per game. The Trojans are 11-4 when he scores in double figures, just 6-8 when he does not. The numbers are clear: Kevin O’Neill needs Stepheson to provide a threat alongside Vucevic for USC to be at its best.

Looking ahead: If USC can continue its streak and get wins at Washington State and Washington, you’d have to say their resume (which would then include wins over Texas, at Tennessee, UCLA, Arizona and at Washington) would be superior to the Huskies. A couple more wins in the Pac-10 tourney could be enough to get them dancing.

5. Cal (16-13, 9-8): I think a lot of people would probably go with Washington State as the next best team in the conference, but Cal has proven to be the more dangerous, more balanced team over the course of conference play. Despite a four-game swoon in February that coincided rather clearly with Crabbe’s four-game absence (Crabbe’s concussion overlapped with three of the four losses), the Golden Bears have been impressive this season under Mike Montgomery’s excellent guidance. Junior Jorge Gutierrez has improved dramatically from the hustling role-player that he portrayed in his first two years on campus, and stepped it up even more spectacularly of late, scoring in double figures in his last ten games and averaging 20.3 PPG, 5.4 APG and 4.2 RPG over that span. Crabbe, too, has shown rapid improvement under Montgomery; after taking a couple months to get comfortable, he has been clearly the best freshman in conference play, averaging 18.4 PPG (excepting the two games around his concussion) since the abrupt transfer of fellow freshman Gary Franklin after the first Stanford game. Likewise, sophomore Brandon Smith, who averaged less than seven minutes per game last year, has been transformed into a solid Pac-10 level point guard since the Franklin departure, averaging 11.4 PPG and 5.1 APG in the 16 games since. And with Markhuri Sanders-Frison and Harper Kamp doing yeoman’s work up front, this is a seriously tough Cal team that could cause a lot of problems in the Pac-10 tourney.

Looking ahead: The Bears wrap up the season with a visit from Stanford on Saturday.

6. Washington State (18-10, 8-8): The mere fact that I’m putting a team as good as this Cougar team as the sixth best team in the conference indicates that while the Pac-10 is not back to the glory days of Kevin Love, the Lopez twins, James Harden and O.J. Mayo (among numerous others), this conference has come a long ways since last year’s mediocre conference. However, the fact that a team this talented is just .500 in the conference raises some other questions. We’ll save those for later, however, as the Cougs are coming off an big win over Washington on Sunday, a game during which they got to the line 36 times and made a mighty impressive 32. Sure, they turn the ball over too much, and they still can get killed on the glass (witness the 23 offensive rebounds they gave up Sunday), but Klay Thompson is one of the best scorers in the nation, DeAngelo Casto is a big, bouncy forward who has turned it on lately (15.5 PPG and 8.0 RPG over the last six games) after an injury-riddled start to the season and Ken Bone is blessed with plenty of willing role players. Much like USC and Cal, this team may need to win the Pac-10 Tournament to get invited to the NCAA Tournament (so far their resume consists of a win over Gonzaga and a season sweep of Washington), but they’re very capable of doing so.

Looking ahead: The Cougars host USC and UCLA this weekend, and they’ll need to prove in those games that their win at Washington wasn’t just a one-off blip before anyone should take them too seriously.

7. Oregon (14-14, 7-9): Home losses to the Bay Area schools this week put a damper on the buzz surrounding the Ducks, but head coach Dana Altman has still done a fantastic job with an undermanned roster. This week the concept of defense escaped Oregon, as they allowed Cal to post a 64.7 effective field goal percentage, only to get worse, as Stanford shot 65.7%. On the week, the Ducks allowed 1.22 points per possession.

Looking ahead: Oregon’s season concludes with a visit to the Arizona schools, where they’ll need to make up ground on WSU in order to avoid the opening round games in the Pac-10 tournament, a possibility that now seems remote.

8. Stanford (15-14, 7-10): The Cardinal came out of Oregon with a split, an acceptable if not enthralling outcome, that nevertheless leaves them without much hoping of earning a bye in the Pac-10 tourney. Jeremy Green did re-establish his hot streak, however, knocking down 15 of 24 shots for 39 points on the Oregon trip. He continued that run in the final non-conference regular season game of the Pac-10 schedule with 22 more points on seven-of-nine shooting in an 11-point win over Seattle on Tuesday.

Looking ahead: The Cardinal travel to Berkeley on Saturday to wrap up the regular season against Cal.

9. Oregon State (10-17, 5-11): The good Beavers were back for a spell this week, knocking off Stanford before posting a come-from-ahead loss against Cal on Saturday. In the Cal game, OSU actually won the battle of the boards and forced twice as many turnovers as they committed, but allowed the Bears to shoots a 71.7% efg. Against the Cardinal, five Beavers scored in double figures and OSU came from behind at the end, outscoring Stanford 13-5 in the final 2:18 to win by seven.

 

Looking ahead: Oregon State travels to Arizona on Thursday, then ASU on Saturday.

10. Arizona State (10-18, 2-14): Another week, another couple of losses by an average of 17 points. Against UCLA on Thursday, no Sun Devils scored in double figures, Ruslan Pateev led the team with five rebounds and Ty Abbott led the team with four assists. While Trent Lockett, the team’s leading scorer with 13.7 PPG, is a nice piece, Herb Sendek has to look awful hard at this team to determine  how to get back from here to competitiveness. Among next year’s possible returnees, besides Lockett, only freshman Chase Creekmur, a relatively one-dimensional shooter, has posted an offensive efficiency number above 100. It’s a long way back from here.

 

Looking ahead: The Sun Devils finish up an awful season with two winnable games at home against the Oregon schools. Here’s hoping the ASU seniors finish things off right with a win over Oregon State on Saturday. Or not. Have they really earned it?

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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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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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Morning Five: 01.13.11 Edition

Posted by jstevrtc on January 13th, 2011

  1. When we list links in the Morning Five every day, we always hope you’ll click on them. Even though we don’t expect our readers to check out every single link in a given M5, we only put things up here that we think you’d want to read or that will provide the original source from a piece of information that we think you should have. We will not attempt to describe the story that Yahoo!’s Jason King published yesterday about the tragic bond shared between Billy Donovan and two of his former assistants, Alabama head coach Anthony Grant and Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey. It is something you simply have to experience for yourself. The RTC crew are not the types to fall victim to that old cliche that a sad story makes for extraordinary writing, or an automatically “better” or elevated story; so take our word for it — you need to read this. Allow us to also say that even though we finished reading the story with red eyes and our collective jaw somewhere around belt-buckle level, we are actually comforted by the fact that men like this — and their families — are in the business of influencing and teaching 18-22 year olds; not because they and their wives and children have experienced tragedy, but because of how they’ve rebounded from it. Now, before you even move on to link #2 in today’s M5, click the above story and read it. Then you can come back here and rejoin our little world.
  2. There’s one thing Bob Huggins won’t have to worry about as he and his West Virginia squad trudge through the Big East schedule toward the post-season: freshman mistakes. Because he, um…has no frosh left. Freshman forward Kevin Noreen had surgery on Wednesday to repair a ruptured prepatellar bursal sac on his right knee and will miss the rest of the season. He was the last active Mountaineer freshman on the team out of the four that Huggins brought in this year.
  3. Ever since Washington’s Abdul Gaddy tore his ACL, we’ve been waiting to see who would step up and lead the Huskies as both a vocal leader and a distributor of the ball. Jeff Goodman makes a compelling case that Isaiah Thomas has already taken on the task of filling that role. We were inspired to look up a couple of stats Goodman alludes to in the article that back up what he’s saying: last year, Thomas’ assist-to-turnover ratio was 1.3 to 1 and he sported an assist rate of 28.5 (tied for 438th nationally). This season, his A/TO ratio is up to 2.1 and his assist rate of 56.1 is tops in the Pac-10 and 56th nationally.
  4. Word surfaced yesterday afternoon that former California freshman Gary Franklin will resurface at Baylor and will be eligible for play in the second semester next year. So, how’s Cal doing sans Franklin? Just fine, writes California Golden Blogs, specifically citing the 1.07 and 1.06 points per possession the Bears averaged against their last two opponents (Arizona State and Arizona, respectively), a level they had only achieved four times in the previous 13 games. Franklin will also enjoy being at Baylor more; you’ve got to shoot to be a scorer, and Franklin should run wild, given all those shots LaceDarius Dunn will leave behind in Waco next year.
  5. Hey, check out those Colorado schools! Colorado is 13-4 and 2-0 in the Big 12. Colorado State is 11-5. Air Force is 10-5.  Denver is, er, 8-9…but 4-0 in the Sun Belt! The Denver Post’s Chris Dempsey shows us that, when it comes to making the NCAA Tournament, hope is alive in the Centennial State and with good reason. We hope at least one of them gets there. Of those schools, Air Force was the last to go — five years ago. And Denver has never tasted the sweet, healing waters of The Dance.
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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 6th, 2011


Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and West Coast Conference.

A Look Back

With non-conference play all but wrapped up and the first week of the conference season in the books, we’re getting a clearer and clearer picture of who the legitimate contenders are and who is going to be bumping along in the lower half of the standings as the season progresses. But, it wouldn’t be the Pac-10 if it didn’t have plenty of surprises in store for us. And with the first nine games of the season complete, we’ve already got the mind-boggling first week surprise of an Oregon State sweep of the Arizona schools, Stanford bouncing back from struggles in their early games to smack Bay Area rival Cal around and Washington going on what is likely their toughest road trip of the season and pulling out just their third-ever sweep of the road trip to Los Angeles to establish themselves as the clear-cut favorite for the crown.

Team of the Week

Oregon StateIt is awful hard not to peg the Huskies as the team of the week, given that they’ve just passed with flying colors what is likely their biggest test of the conference slate. But, this Beaver team just wrapped up a completely fascinating weekend. This is an OSU team that I have previously this year described in this column as “bad,” “amazingly underwhelming,” “very ordinary,” “pitiful,” “terrible,” and “just awful.” In the weekly power ratings, they have never been ranked higher than tenth and I even once wished that there were already 12 teams in the conference just so I could put the Beavers lower than that. There are losses to Texas Southern, Seattle and Utah Valley State in the record books and this team just had the look of a team that would fight and scrap and claw to get to 0-18 in the Pac-10, even if it killed them. But then, just before Christmas, much-heralded and waited-for recruit Roberto Nelson became eligible, the team looked improved in a sneaky-good 20-point win over Illinois-Chicago, and there were whispers that this team had turned the corner. Then this past weekend, they killed Arizona State by 22 before coming back on Sunday night and upsetting Arizona, in a game where the Beavers didn’t even play all that well. And now all of a sudden, you look up and down that roster and see talented freshmen and sophomores (like Nelson, Ahmad Starks, Joe Burton and the star of the Arizona win, Jared Cunningham) paired with a couple of serious veterans in Calvin Haynes and Omari Johnson and you see a pretty stout lineup. I’m not for a second suggesting that out of the blue this OSU team woke up one day as a consistent finished product, but on the right night when things click together for this team, they can beat just about everybody in this conference. And I’m still a little bit scared that I just wrote that sentence.

Player of the Week

Matthew Bryan-Amaning, Senior, Washington – In the Huskies’ New Year’s weekend sweep of the Los Angeles schools, the 6’9 senior from London led the way for Lorenzo Romar’s club, leading the team in both points and rebounds in their two games while posting averages of 19.5 points and nine rebounds per contest. After losing his starting spot for four games earlier this season, Bryan-Amaning has bounced back in a big way, knocking down a high percentage of shots in an efficient manner, being a monster on the boards on both ends, taking care of the ball and defending well. With Washington firmly entrenched as the favorite in the Pac-10, Bryan-Amaning will need to continue being a steady frontcourt presence for the relatively undersized Huskies.

Newcomer of the Week

Dwight Powell, Freshman, Stanford – From the minute Powell stepped on the court this season, it was clear that he had an abundant supply of athletic gifts. But, all too often, Powell has struggled to reign in those talents and play under control and within the structure of the Cardinal offense while still being able to make an impact. This week, however, in his first Pac-10 contest against the hated Cal Bears, Powell pulled it all together in breaking out a career-high 20 points, adding seven rebounds and hitting seven of his 11 attempts from the field. The next test for the talented 6’9 forward is to recreate performances like that on a regular basis. If he can do that, a Stanford squad that struggled in non-conference play could make an impact in the Pac-10 race.

Game of the Week

Washington 73, USC 67 (OT) – If the first game of the year is any indication, we’re in for a wild Pac-10 season. Despite struggling through foul difficulties and injuries, the Huskies battled the homestanding Trojans for 40-minutes to a draw, then saddled back up and went at it for five more intense minutes before coming away with a hard-fought victory. The game was played at the pace and in the style that the Trojans wanted, with the score in the mid-50s at the end of regulation and with the Huskies having to switch to primarily zone defense after they got in deep foul trouble early in the first half (three U-Dub players fouled out, two more wound up with four personals). But Lorenzo Romar got big performances from senior Matthew Bryan-Amaning and freshman Terrence Ross, who each had a team-high 18 points – a career high for Ross. It was seniors Venoy Overton and Justin Holiday who came up biggest in overtime, with Holiday hitting the first five points of OT (including a fall-away three) and Overton scoring eight of his 11 points in the extra frame. All things considered, it was a great example of the Huskies getting positive contributions from a variety of sources in order to get their weekend, and their conference run, off to a scintillating start.

Game of the Upcoming Week

UCLA at USC, 1/9, 7:30 PM PST, FSN – Both LA-area schools started out conference play with a split, each knocking off Washington State in close games, but with both teams entertaining hopes of making a run at NCAA Tournament consideration, this becomes a very important game, apart from the inherent dislike between the two programs. Entertaining matchups abound in this game, with both squads featuring big and imposing frontlines ready to battle it out on the boards. In the backcourt, UCLA junior Malcolm Lee will likely be lined up against the Trojans’ Jio Fontan, and USC’s defensive stopper Marcus Simmons should set his sights on the Bruins’ versatile Tyler Honeycutt. One key in this game could be UCLA’s offensive rebounding. Ben Howland’s team loves to get after the offensive glass, but Kevin O’Neill preaches some heavy duty work on the defensive glass and his duo of Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson are willing acolytes. If they can keep UCLA’s Josh Smith and Reeves Nelson from getting easy buckets on the boards, the tight USC defense could make life difficult for the Bruin offense.

Power Rankings

1. Washington (10-3, 2-0): With the help of last week’s sweep of the Los Angeles schools, the Huskies have erased whatever doubts there may have been about their legitimacy as the favorite in the Pac-10. After earning the hard-fought win over USC detailed above, they came back a couple days later to run away from UCLA in the second half. However, just when it seemed there was nothing but good news surrounding the Husky program, news broke on Wednesday that sophomore point guard Abdul Gaddy had torn his ACL in practice and would miss the rest of the season. One glance at the stat sheet and Gaddy’s 8.3 PPG may make one believe that, though a tough loss for the Huskies, this is one that they can overcome. And while it is certainly true that the combination of Isaiah Thomas, Venoy Overton, C.J. Wilcox and Scott Suggs still form a strong backcourt, Washington will definitely miss Gaddy’s confidence and leadership. He had developed into a true floor general and an efficient player on both ends of the court after a rough freshman season. In his absence, however, Overton and Thomas will both get more minutes at the point, with Suggs and Wilcox due for a bump in playing time at the two (although Wilcox played just four minutes on the SoCal trip due to a staph infection). While the Gaddy injury is a huge bummer for Husky fans (and college basketball fans in general), it is by no means a deal breaker for Washington, especially considering they now have a chance to adjust to his loss over the remainder of the regular season.

Looking ahead: The conference home-opener at the Hec-Ed is on Thursday, with northwest rival Oregon coming to two, then a suddenly interesting contest with Oregon State on Saturday afternoon.

2. USC (9-6, 1-1): With Washington the clear-cut favorite in the Pac-10, the question now becomes, who’s number 2? And the answer remains, albeit after only one week of play: who knows? For now, I’ll go with the Trojans, who gave the Huskies everything they could handle in the opener. A couple of days later, they looked excellent against Washington State for about 37 minutes before slowing up short of the finish line and winding up with a fortunate two-point win. But all things considered, this is a USC team with a reputation as a great defensive team, strong on the boards and with plenty of upside on the offensive end. The Trojans are still adjusting to life with Jio Fontan as their lead guard, and given that he is their most talented offensive player, once everybody is comfortable in their roles USC should improve upon their average offensive efficiency numbers to date. The biggest weakness for Kevin O’Neill is the complete lack of depth on this squad, so if the grind of conference play slows any of the Trojans’ key contributors, things could get tight, but with a little luck, USC could ride a strong conference run to an NCAA Tournament invitation.

Looking ahead: The Trojans host UCLA at the Galen Center on Sunday before getting out on the road in conference play for the first time with a trip to the Oregon schools.

3. UCLA (9-5, 1-1): The Bruins’ homestand against the Washington schools was an eventful one. In the opener against Wazzu, they needed a big second half to defend their turf and get conference play started on the right foot. Sophomore Reeves Nelson had 13 second-half points and classmate Tyler Honeycutt added 12 as UCLA used a 20-6 second half run to come back from an eight-point halftime deficit to post a nine-point win. In the follow-up game, however, it was a 27-10 Washington run that doomed the Bruins to a split. One big factor for the Bruins in the early season has been freshman Joshua Smith and his issues with foul trouble. When Smith can keep clean, few teams around the country have players than can defend him well, but all too often he gets in early foul trouble and then either has to sit or play more carefully for fear of fouling out. In the Washington game, he picked up two quick fouls trying to hedge on ball-screens at the top of the key – a strategy Ben Howland has used successfully with big men during his time in Westwood. Howland admitted he has reconsidered and will no longer regularly ask Smith to hedge ball-screens, rather asking him to sit back and plug the lane.

Looking ahead: The cross-town battle with USC on Sunday should be a must-watch game, with a trip to the Oregon schools to follow.

4. Arizona (12-3, 1-1): The Wildcats’ loss to Oregon State on Sunday was maybe the biggest story around the Pac-10, and it is worth another look from the Arizona perspective. I don’t know about anyone else, but the first thing I look at when I check out an Arizona box score is Derrick Williams, and just looking at his line is a pretty good microcosm of what went wrong in Corvallis. First and foremost, there is little dispute that Williams is the Wildcats’ best player and the guy who Sean Miller wants to be most involved in the offense. He is an insanely efficient offensive player who has been absolutely on fire early in the season. Why then did he only attempt six field goals, especially considering he made every one? Yes, he was limited somewhat by foul trouble, but he still played 29 minutes and yet Arizona could only get him a field goal attempt once every five minutes, in their game with the highest number of possessions this year? Worse yet, that’s not even much of an aberration, as he has only once taken double-digit attempts from the field (ten attempts against CS Fullerton on 12/8) since Thanksgiving weekend. Aside from the six field goal attempts, Williams did get to the line ten times, but he made just three of them, a stunning number given his 81.7% rate coming into the game. And last, but certainly not least damning, Williams had exactly two rebounds in 29 minutes. Two. Really. Two. There were 75 rebounds available for grabbing in that game, approximately 54 rebounds available to him in the time he played, and he grabbed less than 4% of them. That’s unforgivable for a player as talented as he. There is a lot of talk about Arizona as an underrated team and a potential challenger for the Pac-10 crown, but unless Williams, clearly the most talented player on a relatively under-talented Arizona team, can get more aggressive on the boards and more involved in the offense, this is little more than a middle-of-the-Pac team.

Looking ahead: The Wildcats get a chance to bounce back from the Beaver debacle with visits from the young Bay Area teams to the McKale Center.

5. Washington State (10-4, 0-2): After a second half fade against UCLA, the Cougars came out cold against USC, struggled to get good shots and then failed to convert when they did get open looks. And yet, after an 11-0 run in crunch time to get to within 58-56, Klay Thompson drove and spotted an open Abe Lodwick at the three-point line in the corner. However, the pass from Thompson was just a bit off target and Lodwick couldn’t handle it, and a clean look at a possible game-winning three fell harmlessly out of bounds. At this point, you wouldn’t blame Cougar fans if they were a little bit skittish about their team, even after a pretty strong non-conference schedule. Sure, the 0-2 start to conference play is easily explained away with the fact that it was a pair of road games against arguably the toughest pair of travel partners the Washington schools will face all season. And sure, those first two games of the conference schedule came at the tail end of a nearly two-week span away from home. But on the heels of last year’s freefall from a 12-3 start to a 16-14 finish (including a 6-12 conference record good for last place, this WSU team has a lot to prove.  

Looking ahead: The Cougs have a chance to get back to .500 in conference by defending their home court against the Oregon teams, two teams expected to finish in the bottom half of the Pac-10. However, with Oregon State’s sudden resurgence, Ken Bone and company had better bring their A-game on Thursday, just to be safe.

6. Oregon State (7-6, 2-0): Am I really going to jump the Beavers from #10 to #6? I don’t know what choice I have. As I mentioned above, I think this is a talented roster. Couple that with their most recent three games and put on a pair of decent blinders, and this ranking seems perfectly reasonable. Sophomore guard Jared Cunningham has proven to be one of the most dangerous thieves in the country, picking opposing teams’ pockets on six percent of all possessions, and he’s also shown to be an athletic talent in the open floor. He threw down one of the better dunks of the year over Arizona, although he still missed at least three point-blank bunnies in that game. Sophomore center Joe Burton burst out over the weekend as well, averaging 16.5 points and seven rebounds in the game and displaying quick feet, nice hands, a soft touch and a good feel for the game, especially for 6’7, 280-pound guy. Throw in 6’9 athletic senior forward Omari Johnson defending the top of the 1-3-1 zone and second-team All-Pac-10 selection in 2009-10 Calvin Haynes to go with a handful of other young and talented athletes and this Beaver team has gone from an afterthought to must-see TV in the span of about two weeks.

Looking ahead: The Beavers travel to the Washington schools this week, with Pullman the first stop. If they were going to win one of these games, the Wazzu game would be the more likely one. Despite their reputation in previous seasons under Craig Robinson as a team that wants to play a slow pace, this Beaver team is young, athletic and raring to go, qualities which are endearing but which could get them in trouble against the more talented Huskies.

7. Stanford (8-4, 1-0): While not as extreme of a surprise as Oregon State’s start to conference play, Stanford’s 14-point win over Cal goes down as an unexpected result as well. It’s not so much that the Cardinal won that was surprising, but the manner in which it happened. For most of the start of the Stanford season, it had been primarily the Jeremy Green/Josh Owens show, with Green providing the bulk of the offense from the perimeter and Owens doing the dirty work inside. But on Sunday, aside from Green’s 21 points, our Newcomer of the Week, Dwight Powell, busted out for 20 points and fellow freshman Anthony Brown and Aaron Bright also went for double digits, outplaying the Cal freshman and providing the difference in the game. Just one game is too small of a sample size to think the Stanford freshmen have turned the corner, but if Jeremy Green can continue to get help from the youngsters around him, Johnny Dawkins’ bunch can spring an upset or two this season.

Looking ahead: The Cardinal head to the desert for matchups with Arizona State and Arizona, giving their freshman class their first taste of life on the road in the Pac-10.

8. Arizona State (8-5, 1-1): Sun Devil leading scorer Trent Lockett missed the first two games of the Pac-10 season with a toe injury, and he was definitely missed. In the opener, the Sun Devils looked awful against Oregon State. They were outrebounded badly, grabbing just 51% of the available defensive rebounds while getting outshot badly on the way to an embarrassing 22-point loss. They bounced back to beat Oregon on Saturday, but didn’t look particularly good in doing so. Junior college transfer Carrick Felix got his second and third starts of his career and his most run (averaging 28.5 minutes per game), and responded with a particularly good game against Oregon, posting a line of 19 points, six rebounds and four assists, and it will be interesting to see Felix’s role upon Lockett expected return this week.

Looking ahead: The Sun Devils host Stanford and Cal, two winnable home games.

9. (Cal 7-6, 0-1): The sole game of the week was the Bears’ disappointing road trip to Stanford, but the big story broke Wednesday in Berkeley, when it was announced that freshman guard Gary Franklin was no longer in school and would be transferring out. Franklin had struggled mightily with his shot in the early season, hitting just 29% from the field, 29% of his threes and only 44% from the line – all this for a guy whose strength was considered to be his shooting. Franklin started the first 11 games of the season, but removed from the starting lineup in the Bears final non-conference game against Hartford, where he only played ten minutes and didn’t score. However, Franklin returned to prominence in the Stanford game, still coming off the bench, but this time getting 30 minutes, knocking down four of his seven three-point attempts and scoring 15 points in his best game of the season. Three days later, the decision was made, and he’ll be playing somewhere else beginning next December. The whole story is confusing, but the scuttlebutt is that Franklin was unhappy with coming off the bench, despite the fact that he still averaged over 25 minutes a game. Odds are, he’ll reappear in another west coast team, maybe San Diego State or UNLV or something like that, but this observer from outside can’t help but see this as a bad decision by a kid who has been treated more than fairly by Mike Montgomery, allowed to work through his struggles with his shot while still being trotted out there every night. In the meantime, Cal’s backcourt become a little thinner, and their fans’ dreams of a Franklin/Allen Crabbe backcourt bringing them back to glory in the not-too-distant future fade far earlier than expected.

Looking ahead: The Golden Bears head to the desert as well, starting with Arizona on Thursday, then heading to Arizona State on Saturday.

10. Oregon (7-7, 0-2): A sad week in Oregon basketball. Yes, they lost their first two games of the Pac-10 season, but really, Duck fans know there are more losses where those came from. The saddest part of the week was the final scheduled men’s basketball games at McArthur Court, the second oldest on-campus arena in Division I (behind Fordham’s Rose Hill Gym). So the old brokedown palace, site of not only many a classic Pac-10 game, but also one of the best Grateful Dead shows ever, gets put out to pasture, while the bright shiny new Matthew Knight Arena gets unveiled in a couple weeks. I’m sure that place is beautiful, and it will probably wind up giving Duck fans a better, more comfortable experience at games. And sure, the Knight Arena and its attendant facilities give Oregon some great new perks to offer potential recruits. I get it. But I’m still sad to see the old place go. I would love it if Oregon could find a way to sneak a game back over across the way to the old barn, but I’m sure that’s little more than a pipe dream. Fare you well, Mac Court, fare you well.  

 

Looking ahead: The Washington swing is up next for the Ducks, and by this time next week, in all likelihood your Oregon Ducks will be sitting at 0-4 in the conference. Their time will come to sneak up on somebody in the Pac-10, but I doubt it is this week.

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Morning Five: 01.06.11 Edition

Posted by jstevrtc on January 6th, 2011

  1. Do you recall the incident from this past Saturday in which Rick Majerus collided with a couple of  players who were diving for a loose ball, knocking him into the scorer’s table and putting a gash in his left leg? If you saw it, you might remember that the leg bled pretty badly (he’s on blood thinners), and Majerus missed the rest of the game as he received treatment in the locker room. Well, now the leg is infected, and Majerus missed tonight’s A-10 opener against Dayton. He’ll also miss the Billikens’ next two games (Sunday at Temple, Wednesday at Duquesne) while he recovers. Get better soon, coach.
  2. Twelve games in, freshman guard Gary Franklin has decided that he’s had enough of being a California Golden Bear, and will transfer. Not the most efficient option, Franklin didn’t start, but was fourth on the team in minutes and fifth in scoring (8.2 PPG in 25.7 MPG). One interesting fact from that article: that’s seven transfers by players from Santa Ana Mater Dei in the last five seasons.
  3. Even among Kentucky fans, all people cared to know about Josh Harrellson before this season was that he was a backup center and…well, that he was not Enes Kanter. Now, he’s a BMOC (at least in the Bluegrass) and leads the Wildcats in seven different statistical categories, if you throw some tempo-free ones in there. The Frankfort State Journal checks in on him to see how he’s handling his exponentially increased celebrity. Hard work on the boards and 23/14 in a thumping of arch rival Louisville will do that for you in Lexington.
  4. Nobody told Fran McCaffery things were going to be easy at Iowa, and his efforts just took another hit. When sophomore guard Cully Payne went out with a sports hernia (surgeons also repaired a torn oblique muscle) after only five games this season, there was still hope that he would be back later in the schedule. McCaffery painted a less encouraging picture, though, earlier this week. Last year, Payne led the team in assists (3.8 APG) and was fifth in scoring (8.7 PPG), and his assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.1 to 1 was tops on the Hawkeyes this year.
  5. It was almost a year ago that Texas was the top-ranked team in the land. At that point in the season, we can only assume that Oklahoma and Texas A&M supporters everywhere began sticking pins in their Longhorn dolls, as UT subsequently went 7-10 to end the year. Senior forward Gary Johnson remembers those days: “If you watch any film from last year, the will of being a team just wasn’t there,” he told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. More importantly, he makes a great case as to why he sees no such swoon in store this season for his squad, which seems to be playing progressively better each week.
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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by rtmsf on December 23rd, 2010

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

A Look Back

  • For the first time this season, the Pac-10 had a week where a handful of teams combined to put together some good efforts, and more importantly, some good wins over quality competition. As of Saturday morning, it looked like more of the same for Pac-10 teams, as USC headed to Lawrence and put up a valiant effort against Kansas, before letting it slip away – a familiar course of action from around the conference. But, later that afternoon UCLA handed BYU its first loss of the season in the Wooden Classic, one of the leading candidates to that point for the best win of the season by a Pac-10 school. The next day, Arizona beat North Carolina State in Raleigh, qualifying as a decent road win. And then on Tuesday, USC wrapped up its tough two-game road trip with a win at Tennessee, probably making the Saturday UCLA win take a back seat. At any rate, while some success has come the Pac-10’s way lately, the conference still sits at 72-39 on the season, with the really quality wins over quality opponents remaining few and far between.
  • Team of the Week.  USC – This award was headed to the Southland one way or another. But USC gets the nod over its L.A. rival after basically playing Kansas and Tennessee to draws on the road, escaping with a win in Knoxville despite coming up short at the Allen Fieldhouse. The Trojan win over Tennessee gives Kevin O’Neill’s club perhaps the two best Pac-10 wins in non-conference play to this point (the other a win over Texas), with the start of Pac-10 play a week away. Junior point guard Jio Fontan saw his first action as a Trojan this week, after sitting out the first semester due to his transfer from Fordham. He was effective in his first two games (he had 15 points at Kansas and 13 points,  four assists and three steals at Tennessee), but is still working on getting comfortable with his teammates. As he settles into his role, he has the ability to make the rest of his team better, meaning the Trojans of February and March should be even more dangerous than they are now.
  • Player of the Week. Klay Thompson, Junior, Washington State – The week started out a little iffy for Thompson, as for most of the Cougars’ game at Santa Clara on Sunday, his shots weren’t falling. Throw in six turnovers and Thompson had his Washington State club on the verge of being upset. But with 17 seconds to go, he hit a three to tie the game at 71. From there the game went to overtime, where Thompson scored another seven points and his Cougs pulled out a tough one by six. Thompson wound up with 23 points (albeit on 5/16 shooting), seven rebounds, six assists, five steals, a couple blocks and four threes along the way. Not bad for a rough night. He followed that performance up with a much crisper performance in the opening round of the Diamond Head Classic on Wednesday, with 28 points and four more threes in a Cougar win over Mississippi State. He is now averaging 21 points per game on the season while hitting 48% of his shots and leading his team in assists and steals.
  • Newcomer of the Week.  Josh Smith, Freshman, UCLA – Smith was a major factor in UCLA’s Saturday win over BYU, scoring 15 points, grabbing eight rebounds and playing gutsy and smart minutes down the stretch, despite playing with four fouls, as UCLA fought off the Cougars. Smith picked up his fourth foul on a questionable call with about 15 minutes left in the game, and after he went to the bench BYU scored 11 straight points to cut the UCLA lead to just two. However, rather than keep Smith on the pine until late in the game, head coach Ben Howland showed a lot of faith in his big kid, putting him back in the game with over ten minutes still to play. Smith responded immediately, rebounding his own miss and getting the put-back just after re-entering on his way to seven points, three rebounds and perhaps the biggest defensive play of the game in a span of just over four minutes. That big defensive play occurred when Smith, playing with those four fouls, slid over in the lane in front of a driving Jimmer Fredette, and drew an offensive foul, the fourth foul on BYU’s All-American candidate. Smith has been up and down in his first month as a collegiate player, but if the Bruins entertain hopes of an NCAA Tournament invitation, they’ll need to continue to get play like this from their big and talented youngster.
  • Game of the Week.  USC 65, Tennessee 64 – In all honesty, that USC/Kansas game was probably the more entertaining game. But in a week where the Pac-10 actually pulled out some big wins, I wanted to mention a Pac-10 win in this space for the first time this season. After leading by as much as eight in the middle of the second half at Thompson-Boling Arena, the Trojans had to hang on down the stretch in order to pull this one out. Senior guard Donte Smith continued his hot play of late by hitting a big three with just over two minutes left to give USC some breathing room at 65-60, but Tennessee pulled back within striking distance with four straight free throws. But USC stepped up the defensive pressure down the stretch and forced a deep Volunteer three which rattled off the rim as time expired to earn the win. USC won despite a rough night for leading scorer Nikola Vucevic who was held to just four points and one rebound before fouling out after just 24 minutes. The Trojans were led by 5’7 freshman guard Maurice Jones and his 15 points, four rebounds, four assists, four steals and three three-pointers.
  • Game of the Upcoming Week.  Washington State in the Diamond Head Classic, ESPN on 12/23 and 12/25 – The Cougs should get a chance or two at some quality opponents in Honolulu. With a win over a short-handed Mississippi State team already under their belts, they get to face Baylor in the semifinal round. Baylor will present quite a challenge for WSU, but it also gives the Cougars a chance to put another good win on their resume. Win or lose, they should then get a chance to face either Butler or Florida State on Christmas Day, either in the championship game or the third-place game. While neither one of those opponents is ranked, they each present Ken Bone’s club with another opportunity to face some big-league competition.

Power Rankings

1. Washington State 9-1.  We mentioned the Cougars’ overtime win at Santa Clara above while awarding the Player of the Week award to Klay Thompson, but several other Cougs contributed in that game. Junior forward Marcus Capers hit all five of his shots in that game, ending up with 14 points and seven rebounds, and front-court mate DeAngelo Casto scored 15, including five in the overtime period, and added ten more rebounds. From Santa Clara, WSU headed to Honolulu for the Diamond Head Classic, and got things off to a strong start there, taking apart Mississippi State in the second half of their opening round game there. WSU outscored MSU 44-17 in the second half while hitting 12 of their 24 three-point attempts for the game and outrebounding the Bulldogs 39-23.

Looking ahead: Baylor awaits in the second round of the Diamond Head tournament, with Butler or Florida State rounding up the weekend. Once back on the mainland, all thoughts turn to conference play as a trip to Pauley Pavilion opens Pac-10 play next Wednesday.

2. Washington 7-3.  Two wins this week by an average of 29 points over teams with a combined 7-15 record tells us little or nothing about this Husky team. We know they can beat up on bad teams – they’ve made a living out of doing so. Isaiah Thomas led the way for the Huskies as he broke out his own personal 10-0 run to start the second half of Washington’s 30-point victory over San Francisco. And he took that streak and turned it into a season-high 24 points in the 28-point win over Nevada on Wednesday. Thomas’ numbers this season thus far are up nearly all the way across the board. While his scoring average is down a bit, he’s averaging career-bests in assists, steals, field goal percentage, three-point percentage, assist-to-turnover ratio, with a career low in turnovers. With competition going up a notch as conference play nears, we’ll keep an eye on those numbers to see if Thomas can keep up that level of play.

Looking ahead: A trip to Los Angeles in advance of the new year, with the Pac-10 opener at USC on 12/29 followed by a visit to Pauley Pavilion on New Year’s Eve.

3. UCLA 7-4.  The importance of the UCLA win over BYU can’t be overstated. For a young team, bouncing back from a horrific 09-10 campaign, with an 0-3 record in their three biggest games of the season and a painful loss to Montana to boot, the BYU win showed this young team that they are capable of playing with top-25 caliber programs. But, just as important as their performance in a highly anticipated game was how they would respond in the next game, against a team without as much name recognition. After UCLA’s strong performance in a loss at Kansas a few weeks back, they got caught napping in their next game against Montana. This time, they faced Montana State after the BYU game, and while there were lapses of concentration (after leading by as many as 15 in the first half, UCLA got sloppy and allowed Montana  State to retake the lead), UCLA was able to pull away late and secure a 16-point win behind Malcolm Lee’s 18 points. Ben Howland would have preferred more consistent play in the follow-up game, but at least his team was able to come away with the win.

Looking ahead: The Bruins wrap up their pre-Pac-10 non-conference slate on Thursday with a visit from UC Irvine before hosting the Washington schools in the opening weekend of conference play.

4. Arizona 11-2.  The Wildcats looked pretty bad in knocking off Northern Arizona by five last Thursday, but bounced back with a solid win over NC State on Sunday night, and then a blowout of overmatched Robert Morris on Wednesday. In the NAU game, Arizona was outrebounded 28-18 and had to fight back from a seven-point half-time deficit to get to a tie game with just over a minute left. From there, Kevin Parrom connected on a three-point play, and then Brendon Lavender got a steal that led to a breakaway bucket to complete the final margin. The NC State game was much less dramatic, as the Wildcats never trailed in the second half, but they did get outrebounded again, this time by a 36-28 margin, including an 18-7 deficit on the offensive end. The Robert Morris game was a whole other level of undramatic, as the Wildcats won by 26. Derrick Williams continued his efficient play, scoring almost 19 points per game this week, although his rebounding numbers have fallen off some – he had just eight total rebounds in the first two games before grabbing nine against RMU. The sophomore Parrom was the most impressive Wildcat this week, with his 14 points, five rebounds, four assists and three threes against NAU making up the best line of his young career.

Looking ahead: Nothing but Pac-10 play from here, as the Wildcats open with visits to the Oregon schools beginning on 12/30.

5. USC 7-5.  We’ve talked about USC pretty extensively above, so we’ll just point out here that aside from the addition of Fontan, the Trojans have plenty of room to grow defensively. In each of the last four seasons, USC ranked in the top 25 teams in the nation in terms of defensive efficiency, according to Ken Pomeroy, and last year they were number two in the country in that area. This year, they sit at a respectable 44th, but if we know Kevin O’Neill, you can expect that ranking to improve as the year goes on.

Looking ahead: Lehigh on Thursday is the last non-conference game of the regular season, with conference play kicking off Wednesday with a visit from pre-season Pac-10 favorite, Washington.

6. Arizona State 6-4.  The Sun Devils scored a couple of solid wins this week, with a three-point road-win over Nevada and a 17-point home handling of Long Beach State. The concern around Tempe has been the relatively quiet performances from seniors Rihards Kuksiks, Ty Abbott and Jamelle McMillan, but no such worries this week. Kuksiks led the way in the Nevada game with 20 points and four threes. But it was Ty Abbott who hit a clutch three just under a minute to silence a run by the Wolfpack and give the Sun Devils some breathing room. Abbott wound up with 17 in that game, then followed that up with a team-high 15 against LBSU. McMillan was also solid this week, averaging six assists per game and snagging six steals in the Long Beach game alone. Freshman Kyle Cain also had a big game against the 49ers, grabbing 16 rebounds and scoring 12 points.

Looking ahead: North Carolina A&T is the final non-conference visitor prior to Pac-10 play, with a trip to Corvallis kicking things off there next Thursday.

7. Cal 6-5.  Win a game you should win, lose a game you should lose. That’s the story of the Golden Bear week, as a loss to Kansas followed a win over Cal Poly. The bad news is this team doesn’t seem to be improving a whole lot as the season goes on. We knew that this Cal team had some growing pains ahead of it, with a slew of youngsters trying to replace last year’s decorated but now-departed seniors. In the early going, Mike Montgomery has relied on veterans like front-court grinders Markhuri Sanders-Frison and Harper Kamp and backcourt annoyance Jorge Gutierrez to keep the Bears in games out of sheer determination. These guys fight and scrap and bother the opposition (at times to the point of retaliation, as we saw with Kansas’ Marcus Morris and his flagrant elbow on Wednesday night), but they’re just not the type of guys who you can create offensive opportunities, a problem which leads to things like the infamous Cal five-point half. The hope for Golden Bear fans was that freshmen guards Allen Crabbe and Gary Franklin would use the non-conference season to settle in and be ready to break out in Pac-10 play, but while Crabbe has had some moments on his way to averaging 7.4 points and 4.7 assists per game, Franklin has struggled mightily. He’s turned the ball over more than he’s handed out assists and he’s shooting an awful 28.4% from the field. Montgomery keeps running him out there though, for 26-plus minutes a night every night, hoping that his confidence in his talented freshman will rub off some. If it does, this Cal team could surprise some people; if it doesn’t, they’ll just continue to annoy people.

Looking ahead: A meeting with Hartford on Tuesday wraps up the non-conference slate, then it is on to Palo Alto for their Pac-10 opener with Stanford.

8. Stanford 6-4.  From here on down to the last place team in the conference, there is nothing but bad news and losses this week. Stanford’s struggles started Saturday when they were dominated at Butler. After already trailing by 19 at halftime, the Cardinal were outscored 10-0 to start the half by Matt Howard alone as Butler got all over Johnny Dawkins’ club in every aspect of the game. On Tuesday, in what was the final game of an 8-4 Big 12 win in the Big 12/Pac-10 challenge, Stanford tripped up against at Oklahoma State. Juniors Jeremy Green and Josh Owens led the Cardinal again this week, as they have done most of the season, scoring 33.5 points per game between the two of them this week, as opposed to the 28 they normally average. However, there hasn’t been even a semi-consistent third option anywhere else, although freshman guard Aaron Bright threw his hat into the ring for that role against Oklahoma State with 15 points and four assists.

Looking ahead: The Cardinal host Yale on Thursday, then get their conference play opened on the second day of the new year with a battle against Bay Area rival Cal at the Farm.

9. Oregon 7-5.  Losses to Virginia and Idaho this week turn what had been a reasonably good non-conference slate for the Ducks into just a typical ugly record for a team expected to finish near the bottom of the conference. Oregon showed this week that not only are they an undersized team, they’re also simply an under-talented team, as they shot just 34% from the field combined. Senior Joevan Catron continued to produce – he led the Ducks in scoring and rebounding in each game – but he’s still playing out of position and is more or less surrounded by an underwhelming cast.

Looking ahead: The Arizona schools come to town, starting on Thursday, in what should be a long and ugly conference run for the Ducks.

10. Oregon State 5-6.  The Beavers had two very winnable games this week at home, and came away with a 1-1 record. First, the bad news: a loss against George Washington in which they turned the ball over 19 times, forced just nine turnovers and missed 15 of their 19 attempts from three. A forgettable performance, so let’s just forget it, especially since the win this week was a 20-point blowout of Illinois-Chicago, a team that just got done beating Illinois, a top 25 team. Not only is that a pretty good win for the Beavs, the way that did it has to have their fans excited, as four OSU players scored in double figures: a sophomore, a redshirt freshman and two true freshmen. Sophomore Jared Cunningham led the way with 22 points and three steals. Highly-anticipated redshirt freshman Roberto Nelson went from 14 in just his third game in a Beaver uniform. Freshman Ahmad Starks had 12 points, three assists and four threes, and fellow freshman Devon Collier had ten points, seven rebounds and three steals. When Craig Robinson assembled these kinds of recruits in Corvallis, this is what OSU fans had in mind. Throw in guys like senior forward Omari Johnson and sophomore centers Joe Burton and Angus Brandt and all of a sudden you’ve got the makings of a rotation that looks like a passable Pac-10 group. And that’s without even mentioning senior guard Calvin Haynes, a guy capable of going for 27 points, as he did against Charlotte, although just as likely to go for two points on five field goals attempts in 25 minutes, as he did in a blowout loss at Colorado. This is still a bad Beaver team, but there is no reason this team can’t at least be competitive in many games in a down Pac-10.

Looking ahead: It’s all Pac-10 play from here, as the Beavers will host the Arizona schools next week.

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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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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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