NIT and CBI Reaction: Pac-12 Teams

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) & Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on March 18th, 2014

Three Pac-12 teams that were not invited to the NCAA Tournament ended up receiving NIT or CBI bids. Let’s break them down in this instareaction format.

California – NIT, #2 seed in SMU Quadrant, vs. Utah Valley, 3/19, 7:30 PM PT - The Golden Bears had something of an argument for the NCAA field of 68, but nobody winds up all that shocked that they’re on the outside looking in. So, now, rather than playing for a national championship (at least in theory), Mike Montgomery and company have to shift gears and find something else to play for over their remaining games. For seniors like Justin Cobbs and Richard Solomon, such a shift will be difficult, as the NIT is clearly not where those guys hoped to be ending their careers. But, for youngsters like Jordan Mathews, Jabari Bird, and Sam Singer, and even junior Ricky Kreklow, whose career has been limited some by injury problems, maybe they can use the NIT as a springboard towards the inevitably larger roles that they’ll have to take on next season. As for match-ups, they will get a Utah Valley team in the opener that they should be able to outclass on talent alone, but beyond that, they will need to begin bringing their A-games, as either Arkansas or Indiana State could give them a serious push in the second-round game.

California Highlights The Pac-12's Representation In The NIT

California Highlights The Pac-12′s Representation In The NIT

Utah – NIT, #5 seed in Minnesota’s Quadrant, at Saint Mary’s, 3/18, 8:00 PM PT, ESPN2 – The Utes got jobbed. Plain and simple. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. Going by the eye test, this team should have been one of the first four or five left out of the NCAA Tournament. Instead, the NIT selection committee relied far too much on strength of schedule and relegated Utah to a first round road game. Saint Mary’s, who most projected to barely sneak into the NIT, receives a better seed and will host the Utes. The Gaels finished fourth in the WCC and fell to Gonzaga in the semifinals of their conference tournament. They opened the year at 9-0, then went to Honolulu, got distracted by the beach, and fell hard from the ranks of the unbeaten. First came a loss against South Carolina. Then Hawaii nipped them, and then George Mason did the same on Christmas morning. And after sneaking past Pacific a few days later, they went up to Spokane and got hammered for a 22-point loss against the Zags. Things have been up and down since, with a little more good than bad, and the Gaels enter the NIT at a 22-11 clip.

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Pac-12 Weekend Round-Up: Arizona, Justin Cobbs, Hallice Cooke and More…

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 3rd, 2014

What a great sports weekend, am I right? There were 10 Pac-12 basketball games since last Wednesday and eight of them were decided by two possessions or fewer. The #1 team in the nation went down. Outside of the Pac-12, the #2 team survived by the skin of its teeth in overtime. Wichita State and San Diego State continued highly successful (and improbable) seasons. I’m sure there were even some sporting events that didn’t involve basketball, too. Maybe. But before we let the weekend get behind us, let’s spend some time to look back at several of the important things we learned in this week of Pac-12 basketball. Because if you hold a blink a beat too long, the next time you open your eyes, we’re going to be in the middle of conference tournaments. Yes, this season is getting away from us. It’s now February, and every conference school has finished half of its conference slate. And despite all that, we’ve still got more questions than ever.

Brandon Ashley Is Done For the Year, But Arizona Still Has Plenty Of Talent (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

Brandon Ashley Is Done For the Year, But Arizona Still Has Plenty Of Talent (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

  • First, Arizona. The Wildcats took their first loss on Saturday night to Cal (and in the process assured that the 1972-73 UCLA squad will remain the last team to go through conference play without a loss), then took an even worse loss on Sunday when it was confirmed that sophomore power forward Brandon Ashley is done for the season with a broken foot. That doesn’t make things any rosier for the Wildcats’ long-term outlook, but there were more than a handful of things from Saturday night’s game that should give Arizona fans plenty of hope. First, as much as junior point guard T.J. McConnell has earned props for his ability to run an offense, contribute defensively and just intangible his way into Arizona fans’ hearts, he hadn’t displayed much of an ability to help out by putting the ball through the hoop. But in a couple of close recent games, he averaged 12 points per night and showed a willingness to get his own when it was appropriate. Hopefully fans across the nation are starting to see just how good this guy is. He’s like Aaron Craft-lite with perhaps a bit more offense. Read the rest of this entry »
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Oregon State Slowly But Surely Returning to Relevance

Posted by Rockne Andrew Roll (@raroll) on February 3rd, 2014

Rockne Andrew Roll is an RTC correspondent. You can also find him at @raroll. Rockne filed this report after Oregon State’s upset victory over UCLA Sunday afternoon.

A year ago, Oregon State was 1-8 in conference play and well on its way to Craig Robinson’s third losing season in five years in Corvallis. This year? UCLA’s Steve Alford summed it up rather succinctly after the Bruins’ 71-67 loss at Gill Coliseum on Sunday. His words were not intended for public consumption, but his frustration with his team’s performance gave his words such volume that they were crystal clear on the other side of the cinder block wall that separates the visiting locker room from the press room. “They’re not so bad now, are they?” Alford said of the Beavers, who are now 5-4 in Pac-12 play.

Cooke, left, and Roberto Nelson have led the Beavers to victory in four of their last five conference games. (Rockne Andrew Roll/RTC)

Hallice Cooke, left, and Roberto Nelson have led the Beavers to victory in four of their last five conference games. (Rockne Andrew Roll/RTC)

After the disappointment of last season, the impact of beating the second-place team in the conference wasn’t lost on Robinson. “I have to reiterate how big that win was to our team, our program, to our school,” he said. “It’s been 14 or 15 years since we’ve been this relevant, this late in the season. It’s not by accident.” Nor was it lost on his players, particularly his seniors, who have suffered through many a heartbreak. “We haven’t been above .500 this late in the season since I’ve been here. From a fifth-year senior standpoint, it’s absolutely massive,” said senior center Angus Brandt. “It’s what we’ve been working toward this entire time. In terms of confidence, it just solidifies in our mind that we’re a team to compete with in this conference.”

So what’s changed since last year? Quite a bit. For starters, true freshman guard Hallice Cooke has worked his way into the starting lineup alongside Roberto Nelson and Langston Morris-Walker, demonstrating his quality with a 7-of-9 shooting performance and a game-high 20 points against the Bruins. Beyond simply scoring, though, Cooke has already put himself in a position of leadership within the Beavers’ locker room. “I don’t consider him a freshman anymore,” junior forward Eric Moreland said of Cooke. “That’s the point guard, he’s our point guard now. I’m an upperclassmen, but anything he has to say, I’m going to listen. I know he knows what he’s talking about. He’s been on the big stage before and he puts in the work. He’s a leader. As a freshman, that says a lot.”

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Pac-12 M5: 02.03.14 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on February 3rd, 2014

pac12_morning5

  1. Oregon forced 16 steals in its win against USC on Saturday night in Eugene, setting a Matthew Knight Arena record and falling one short of a program best. The performance was encouraging for a team that had struggled mightily on the defensive end of the floor in the month of January, and while one could easily dismiss the effort as it came against an opponent with a 10-12 record, the required energy and interest was certainly there. Dana Altman turned in one of his best coaching jobs in awhile, pulling the right strings and calling for a full court press that forced the issue and got the Ducks into a rhythm. It’s going to take an equally as impressive game plan and execution if Oregon is to shock Arizona in Tucson on Thursday night.
  2. The Ducks brought in a season high for home attendance for their match-up with the Trojans, drawing a crowd of 11,178. How did a team that had lost six of its last seven manage to do that? By the power of free stuff. The university honored its super donor in honor of Phil Knight’s 76th birthday coming up this month, and the Duck fans flocked on “Appreciation Knight” (get it?). Altman provided what may be the quote of the year after the game: “Make sure the team doesn’t get any so we don’t put it on eBay and sell them.” Dana was of course referring to the reasons for the suspensions of Dominic Artis and Ben Carter, who sat out the first nine games of the year for selling their team gear.
  3. Down the road in Corvallis this weekend, Oregon State scored a huge victory before the Super Bowl on Sunday morning. Down by as many as 11 points, some timely scoring and heady play from freshman point guard Hallice Cooke brought the Beavers all the way back and then some, taking a 65-54 lead with two and a half minutes left. Despite UCLA having a chance to take the lead inside the final 15 seconds (the furious comeback would fall short thanks to a Jordan Adams offensive foul), the Beavers survived for a four point win that lifts them into a five way tie for fourth place in the conference.
  4. Just one week ago, things were looking bleak for the Pac-12 conference. Oregon’s only win since January 2 had come against last place Washington State, a Spencer Dinwiddie-less Colorado team was struggling mightily to even keep games close, and California, once thought to be the second best team in the Pac, had just been swept by the Los Angeles schools. Fast forward seven days and the outlook has completely changed. Arizona State won in overtime at California, and then the same Golden Bear team turned around three days later and defeated top ranked Arizona. Colorado broke its losing streak with a rivalry win over Utah on Saturday morning, and UCLA fell at Oregon State a day later. The conference, while more muddled than ever, is also at its strongest in the projected NCAA Tournament fields, putting seven teams in Joe Lunardi‘s latest bracket.
  5. Did I say this league looks muddled? I leave you with the Pac-12 Wheel of Suck, which shows just how cannibalistic the conference has been in its first half of the season. The wheel wouldn’t have worked without USC’s shocker against California, which begs the question, what will be the Pac’s biggest upset of its final five weeks? I’m taking Washington State over UCLA on the final day of the regular season in Pullman. Leave your prediction in the comments section.
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Oregon State Finds Success By Swapping Starting Point Guards

Posted by Kenny Ocker on January 23rd, 2014

Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) is a Northwest-based national columnist for Rush The Court and filed this report Wednesday night from Washington State’s Friel Court in Pullman.

Craig Robinson might have just figured it out just in time to make something of this Pac-12 season. The Oregon State coach, who has struggled for consistent point guard play since taking over in Corvallis back in 2008, has given the reins of the offense to freshman guard Hallice Cooke in the last four games, and it’s paid immediate dividends. After a middling non-conference performance that included losses to Coppin State, DePaul and Hawaii, and an 0-2 start to conference play, Robinson put Cooke in the starting lineup in place of junior Challe Barton, and the Beavers (11-7, 3-3 Pac-12) have looked like a different team.

Oregon State point guard Hallice Cooke (#3) has started the last four games, in which the Beavers have gone 3-1. (AP)

Oregon State point guard Hallice Cooke (#3) has started the last four games, in which the Beavers have gone 3-1. (AP)

Let’s not forget that Oregon State shooting guard Roberto Nelson is the top-scoring player in the Pac-12, putting in more than 21 points per night, and the Beavers’ interior triumvirate of Angus Brandt, Eric Moreland, and Devon Collier each average more than 10 points per game themselves. Cooke doesn’t have to do a lot to help his team. But his skill set – the third-best three-point shooting rate in the country at nearly 56 percent, and the team’s second-best assist rate behind Nelson – fits well within the construct of a team led by three inside scorers and a perimeter scorer (Nelson) who commands double-teams. The Beavers have a 3-1 record in games in which Cooke has started, including home upsets of Stanford and Oregon, and a 66-55 road win at Washington State on Wednesday night.

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Pac-12 M5: 01.20.14 Edition

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

pac12_morning5

  1. Much of the time, a demotion of an upperclassman that results in a freshman or sophomore filling the open role can make relationships sour in a hurry. However, that hasn’t been the case for Oregon State junior point guard Challe Barton and freshman Hallice Cooke, who have remained close after Cooke grabbed Barton’s starting spot earlier this month. Despite only averaging 8.8 MPG in Pac-12 play, the junior can typically be seen waving a towel on the bench and one of the first to greet players coming off the floor during a timeout. Barton’s laid-back attitude and easy smile certainly helps, but knowing that playing time on coach Craig Robinson’s squad can flip drastically at the blink of an eye, he knows that he needs to be ready to go and engaged at all times. If Cooke keeps up his current pace, however, that starting job is going to be locked up for awhile. The freshman has provided a much-needed spark to a struggling offense, averaging 10.5 PPG in his last five appearances.
  2. The Beavers got a huge win last night in the Civil War battle against Oregon, jumping out to an early 16-point lead and eventually holding on for an 80-72 upset. Oregon State is now in a tie for eighth in the conference standings and has a great chance of getting back to .500 when it faces Washington State on Wednesday night. On the Ducks’ side of it, things are not going well. The job that Dana Altman has done so far in the month of January is by far the worst in his four seasons with Oregon. His team is currently free-falling down the NCAA Tournament seed lines and desperately needs a sweep at the Washington schools this week.
  3. After suffering a stress fracture in his leg in mid-September, freshman guard Que Johnson got off to a slow start at Washington State. But the redshirt freshman grew more comfortable within the offense as the non-conference season wore on, and he has now become the team’s go-to guy with junior DaVonte Lacy out with various injuries. In this piece examining Johnson’s performance thus far, Jeff Nusser takes a look at his statistics and compares them to former Cougs’ great, Klay Thompson. Johnson is blowing past the freshman Thompson in terms of efficiency, using his aggressiveness to shoot at a 51 percent clip from inside the three-point line. He is also showing some early traits of Thompson’s late-game clutchness, hitting an overtime-forcing three with 10 seconds left against #15 Colorado, then knocking down the final three free throws of a three-point win against Utah a few days later. As Nusser says, putting these comparisons on a freshman may be unfair, but the early returns have been nothing less than terrific. Washington State returns to action Wednesday night against Oregon State in Pullman.
  4. Rush the Court’s resident bracketologist, Daniel Evans, released his updated projections over the weekend, and Arizona claimed his top overall seed once again. Next up are Oregon and Colorado on the five and seven lines, respectively, and California and UCLA coming in at eight and nine. Stanford remains squarely on the bubble and is listed as the second team out of his field.
  5. The Ducks debuted some nice new kicks in last night’s rivalry game with Oregon State, their “JumpDucks.” Long a testing ground for anything Nike has to offer, Oregon was the first one to get a crack at re-doing the Michael Jordan Jumpman logo, replacing it on the shoe’s heel with a shadow Duck mascot. The new Air Jordans look very cool and would be sure to sell quickly if Nike goes down that road. We’ll let you use your wildest imagination to dream up what’s up next for the stylistic offerings of Oregon athletics.
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Takeaways From the Pac-12′s Weekend Games

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on January 7th, 2014

It was a busy Pac-12 weekend around the conference. Here are some thoughts on each of the weekend’s five games.

Colorado 100, Oregon 91

  • It was a game that largely lived up to the hype, with both teams looking good for long stretches. But over the last 10 minutes of the game, it was – get this – Colorado’s guard play that was the deciding factor in the game. It was supposed to be the undefeated Ducks with the bevy of play-making guards that had the advantage on the perimeter, while the Buffaloes were going to need to take advantage of a weak Oregon frontcourt in order to win this game at home. Instead, over the final quarter of the game, Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie combined for 25 of Colorado’s 39 points, sophomore guard Xavier Talton chipped in six more, and Jaron Hopkins was the guy to get everything started with a three off a Dinwiddie dime. All told, the five Colorado guards outscored Oregon’s by a total of 66-52.

    Askia Booker, Colorado

    Big Game Askia? Who Knew? (Patrick Ghidossi, BuffaloSportsNews)

  • Meanwhile up front the Ducks were just okay against that tough Colorado frontcourt. On the offensive end, they were great, grabbing better than 41 percent of their own misses and getting a terrific 24-point performance out of Mike Moser. But the bigger concern is their ability to defend on the interior, and here they were exposed a bit, allowing Colorado to grab better than 46 percent of their misses, leading to lots of easy putbacks for the Buffs. Oregon’s guards are going to keep them in a lot of games, but they need to clean up their frontcourt issues in order to reach their potential.
  • For some of the surprises in this game, the most expected angle proved completely true: Colorado is going to be really, really tough at home. With a strong seven-man rotation plus a couple other guys ready to provide spot minutes, the Buffs are deep, athletic, big, strong and – most importantly – good. And the Coors Events Center is a great homecourt advatange. KenPom.com has the Buffs expected to win their next six games at home by an average of just under 10 points per game, but that only takes us to February 22 when they’ll host Arizona in their last home game of the season. Right now that KenPom projection is Arizona, 68-65, but in what could be Dinwiddie’s final home game, the early inclination is to lean Buffs. Not that trying to project a game seven weeks out is good practice.

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Pac-12 Team Preview: Oregon State Beavers

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on October 26th, 2013

We continue unveiling our team-by-team breakdowns, in roughly the reverse order of where we expect these teams to finish in the conference standings.

Oregon State Beavers

Strengths. Oregon State boasts one of the finest frontcourts in the conference. Starting the group off is senior Devon Collier, a strong small forward who can score either driving to the hoop or with a nifty little jumper. Senior center Angus Brandt missed the majority of last season after tearing his ACL in the fourth game of the year, and his ability to score from both inside and behind the arc took away a big threat from that team. Finally, there’s Eric Moreland. Moreland’s career in Corvallis has been an up-and-down one, including two “violation of team rules” suspensions in the past 10 months and a declaration for the NBA Draft (which he later pulled out of and decided to return). Now he is serving that second suspension and will miss the first 14 games of the 2013-14 campaign, but will provide a monster boost on both the glass and the defensive end of the court when he returns.

Devon Collier Can Beat Defenders Playing Either As A Physical Small Forward Or Face-Up Four (credit: Andy Wooldridge)

Devon Collier Can Beat Defenders Playing Either As A Physical Small Forward Or Face-Up Four (credit: Andy Wooldridge)

Weaknesses. This team has very little experience on the bench. The backup point guard is Malcolm Duvivier, a true freshman who was originally in the Class of 2014 but reclassified to join the team immediately. Backing up Roberto Nelson at the two will be the newcomer that Beaver fans should be most excited about, Hallice Cooke out of St. Anthony High School (NY). And the best option to spell Brandt will be sophomore Olaf Schaftenaar, who shot a completely unnecessary amount of three-pointers his initial season in Corvallis, and at a 30.9% clip to boot.

Non-Conference Tests. A trip to College Park to face Maryland awaits Craig Robinson’s team just seven days after its season opener. DePaul isn’t exactly a “test,” but the Blue Demons present a challenge at home against the Beavers on December 1. The toughest stretch comes in the four games before Christmas break, beginning with a visit from Towson, a team that came from 19 down last year at Gill Coliseum to top the Beavers in overtime. After that they head to the Islands to face Akron in their Diamond Head Classic opener. Either Iowa State or George Mason will be on tap in the second game, and a solid group of choices, headlined by Saint Mary’s, are in play for the Christmas Day finale.

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