Pac Previews: Utah vs. Wichita State & Arizona State vs. UNLV

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 3rd, 2014

With Feast Week behind us and finals on the horizon, things are about to slow down just a little bit in college basketball. Come this weekend, we’ll have all sorts of interesting games on the slate — Arizona State vs. Texas A&M, Gonzaga vs. Arizona, Mississippi vs. Oregon, Colorado vs. Georgia and Washington vs. San Diego State — and not necessarily in that order, that have me intrigued. But between now and then, there are just two match-ups that we can recommend in good conscience, both taking place on Pac-12 home courts tonight. Below, we’ll preview the headliner – Wichita State at Utah – as well as an interesting undercard as UNLV visits Arizona State.

Wichita State at Utah, 8:00 PM PST, ESPN2

Unless you’re a big-time Utes fan or an inveterate college hoops junkie, the last time you saw Utah play it was falling short in a late mid-afternoon run at a comeback against San Diego State. Since then, the Utes have performed mop-up duty against a quartet of teams all ranked in the bottom 20 percent of Division I, winning those four games by an average of 36.3 points per game. The Shockers, meanwhile, have played three teams ranked between #50 and #75 by KenPom and won those games by an average of 17.3 points per game. While they are known for their perimeter players – guards Fred Van Vleet and Ron Baker earned preseason All-America consideration, and senior Tekele Cotton is one of the nation’s best perimeter defenders — Wichita State is a team that plays inside out, getting dribble penetration into the lane and creating opportunities from there. As such, priority number one is stopping that penetration, something Utah is well-suited for with elite defenders Delon Wright and Brandon Taylor leading the way. Perhaps more significant to the Utes’ chances would be the presence of shot-blocking freshman phenom Jakob Poeltl protecting the rim should Van Vleet get into the paint. Likewise, on the other end, Poeltl’s skills in the post and the Utes’ offensive rebounding strength (they’re 18th in the nation with a 40.8% offensive rebounding rate – but remind yourself of that level of competition) could be a pain in the neck to a team without an established player taller than 6’7”.

Delon Wright And Utah Need To Prove They're Ready For The National Stage

Delon Wright And Utah Need To Prove They’re Ready For The National Stage. (Getty)

But really, match-ups and Xs-and-Os are in some ways missing the point of this game for Utah. The Utes have already shown that they can play with the big boys. They battled San Diego State to a four-point road loss (keeping in mind that the final score was a touch closer than reality); they played Arizona to a nine-point margin at the McKale Center last season, then took the ‘Cats to overtime in Salt Lake City later on. Last year they also split with Colorado (including a road loss in overtime) and took Oregon to overtime as well before losing. We know that this team is talented enough to play with some of the best teams in the country — what they have yet to show us is that it can beat those teams, can perform in clutch situations and make good decisions when the pressure is on. Against the Aztecs two weeks ago, the stage was a little too bright for them. They’ve had a chance since then to workshop their script in what amounts to little more than dress rehearsals. If the nation can stay awake on Wednesday night after the Duke/Wisconsin game, they’ll get a chance to see if this Utah team is ready for the spotlight. Read the rest of this entry »

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Surveying Feast Week Carnage Around the Pac-12

Posted by AMurawa on December 1st, 2014

Feast Week around the Pac-12 didn’t bring a whole lot of comfort to the conference. Seven teams around the league played in tournament-style events and only two even made it out of their first game and into the championship side of the bracket, with four of the remaining five teams taking two losses on the week. There was good news, however, as Arizona won the Maui Invitational with a workmanlike win over San Diego State and Washington earned the Wooden Legacy title with solid wins over an underwhelming field. And the teams that did not participate in tournaments this week (including Utah, who hosted a round robin event against overmatched opponents) combined to post a 10-1 record. Of course, that “1” on the right side of the record was an inexplicable Stanford loss to DePaul. Below, we’ll take a quick spin around the conference and get you caught up.

Stanley Johnson Is Turning Into A Disruptive Defensive Force (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

Stanley Johnson Is Turning Into A Disruptive Defensive Force (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

Arizona – The Wildcats have not yet looked spectacular this season, in racing out to a 6-0 start. But as they showed against the Aztecs on Wednesday, this is a team with chemistry and toughness, traits that should help them weather the storm as they work towards living up to their incredible upside. Things are coming along slowly but surely, Stanley Johnson is getting comfortable offensively and turning showing his ability to disrupt things defensively and everybody is feeling each other out. It will come all in due time; they’ve still got three months to dial things in before March rolls around. But in the meantime, even as we can pick apart little faults, the ‘Cats have confirmed what we already thought: Sean Miller’s team is the class of the conference. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Weekly Honors: Week Two

Posted by AMurawa on December 1st, 2014

Each week the Pac-12 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, which typically will include a Team, Player and Newcomer of the Week, along with our weekly Power Rankings.

Team of the Week: Arizona. It wasn’t always as easy as you would hope for a team with Final Four aspirations, but winning the Maui Invitational and knocking off emerging West Coast rival San Diego State in the process speaks for itself. In a week where ten losses piled up around the conference, the Wildcats’ show of toughness and obvious upside on a national stage like the Maui Invitational is hard to beat. And if they can knock off fellow top-ten team Gonzaga next Saturday, they may be in for a repeat appearance in this spot next week.

(Also receiving votes: Washington)

Arizona Earns The RTC Pac-12 Team of the Week On The Strength Of Their Maui Invitational Title

Arizona Earns The RTC Pac-12 Team of the Week On The Strength Of Their Maui Invitational Title

Player of the Week: Stanley Johnson, Arizona. We haven’t seen the best of Johnson yet, but he seemingly gets better by the game. Against San Diego State, he had a career-high 18 points, but it took him 14 field goal attempts to get to that point. Luckily he did a lot of other things, like: get to the line ten times in that game and make nine of those attempts; pull down nine boards; grab three steals and play some terrific all-around defense. And so what if he got a little overexcited and had to have his senior point guard tell him to shut up? You want that kind of intensity, right?

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Pac-12 Season Preview: Arizona State Sun Devils

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on October 20th, 2014

The Pac-12 microsite will preview each of its league teams over the next few weeks, continuing today with Arizona State. 

Arizona State Sun Devils

Strengths: Goodbye Jahii Carson, enter Tra Holder. For a team that lost the quickest point guard in the country after last season, Arizona State’s tempo on offense should still be faster than any other team in the Pac-12. Holder provides the speed and talent needed at the one spot for the Sun Devils’ offense to run like head coach Herb Sendek wants, but inexperience might plague the true freshman early in the season. Senior shooting guard Bo Barnes provides some maturity in the backcourt, but he will definitely need to average more than his 4.5 PPG from last season.

Herb Sendek is Coming Off an NCAA Tournament Appearance, Finally (Photo credit: US Presswire).

Herb Sendek is Coming Off His Second NCAA Tournament Appearance in Tempe (Photo credit: US Presswire).

Weaknesses: This team has an extremely thin bench. Combo guard Chance Murray will be forced into playing most of his minutes at point guard, backing up Holder, and while this will be his second year in the system, he is still a big question mark for Sendek. Down low, the second team is filled with new faces. There is plenty of raw talent, but it could be a while before they develop into a Pac-12 ready group. It doesn’t help that one of its biggest scrappers in the post, UNLV transfer Savon Goodman, will not be eligible until after the team faces Maryland, UNLV and Texas A&M.

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Pac-12 Post-Mortems: Arizona State

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 10th, 2014

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll go through each Pac-12 team one by one and recount the season that has just completed and begin to turn the page to what we might see next season. Up first, Arizona State.

What Went Right

Jermaine Marshall and Shaquielle McKissic were largely excellent in their only seasons in Tempe (McKissic will be petitioning the NCAA for an additional season of eligibility). Jordan Bachynski capped his stellar Sun Devils career with his best season and an all-time conference record for career blocked shots. And Herb Sendek and the Sun Devils earned their first NCAA Tournament appearance since James Harden was on campus.

Arizona State

Arizona State Went Dancing, But It Ended With a Heartbreaking Putback by Texas

What Went Wrong

Still, despite that major accomplishment, you’ve got to feel that this team left money on the table at the end of the year. First, just the way they lost their NCAA Tournament game, falling to Texas on a buzzer-beater when the Longhorns’ last two buckets came on offensive rebounds after airballs – ouch! And Jahii Carson, the team’s best player and arguably a more talented player than what he showed, struggled through a rough season, with questions about his game confirmed and others about his leadership raised anew. Sendek did a solid job with this team, a squad that had some obvious holes in it. But still, this feels like a team that had an NCAA Tournament win (or two) in them but failed to get the job done.

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