Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 24th, 2011

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

A Look Back

This was the week the west was (all but) won. With Arizona’s thrilling victory over Washington Saturday and UCLA’s overtime loss at Cal on Sunday, the Wildcats now own a two-game lead over the Bruins in the Pac-10 with four games to play. And with UCLA having to travel to the Washington schools to close the conference season after hosting the Arizona schools this week, while it is still possible that the ‘Cats could be caught, it would take a Westwood-favorable convergence of events for that to happen.

Team of the Week: Arizona – I’ll admit, I’ve been slow to come around on this version of the Wildcats. Sure, Derrick Williams is on the very short list of Player of the Year candidates, went my thinking, but the rest of that roster is ordinary. Well, looking back at what Arizona has done to this point is impressive. They’ve won eight in a row and 12 of their 14 conference games. Even if this conference isn’t up to the caliber of the 2009 vintage, that’s mighty impressive. Outside of their inexplicable loss at Oregon State on the first Sunday of the year, the other three Arizona losses have come against teams ranked in Ken Pomeroy’s top 11 right now. Momo Jones has stepped up as a legitimate major conference point guard and a good second scoring option, having scored in double figures in eight of his last nine games. Solomon Hill has established himself as a do-everything scrapper up front, Kyle Fogg has proven to be a capable distributor (he’s had six or more assists three times in this winning streak), Kevin Parrom has turned into a deadly three-point shooter (nine-of-16 from deep during the streak) and a terrific defensive presence and Jesse Perry has become an enforcer up front, averaging 8.8 rebounds per game in their last ten. And if all that isn’t enough, Jamelle Horne, the lone senior on the club, has shown a penchant for knocking down big threes when his team needs it the most. Aside from Williams, the individual pieces on this club may not blow you away on a regular basis, but Sean Miller has done a masterful job molding them into a legitimate threat to make a deep run in March.

Player of the Week: Derrick Williams, Junior, Arizona – 26 points in each of his games this week. 19 total rebounds. A couple of assists per game. Fifteen of 26 shooting from the field and 20-21 from the line (this from a guy who shot 68% from the line last year). Oh, and throw in ten points over the last six minutes against Washington, a couple of big threes, including one with just over a minute left to give the ‘Cats the lead back, then a monstrous rejection on the Huskies’ last viable chance, and it was a very good week for Williams. For the season, the guy hasn’t been kept out of double figures once, has nine double-doubles, is shooting 63% from the field, 75% from the line and an absolutely absurd 68% from deep, averages over two points per shot, is one of the most efficient high-use players in the land and is an absolute shoo-in as a first-team All-American.

Newcomer of the Week: Chase Creekmur, Freshman, Arizona State – With apologies to C.J. Wilcox, Maurice Jones and Jay-R Strowbridge, who all had excellent weeks bombing from deep, let’s recognize this freshman wing from Marshalltown, Iowa who had the game of his very short career this week in helping the Sun Devils to just their second conference win. Creekmur played the most minutes of his career against Washington State and came up with 18 huge points on five-of-eight shooting from behind the arc while also grabbing three rebounds and handing out a couple of assists. As Herb Sendek turns his eye towards the future of the ASU program, Creekmur has thrown his hat into the ring as someone to keep an eye on.

Game of the Week: Arizona 87, Washington 86 – Game of the week, for sure. On the short list with the Arizona/Cal three-overtime epic for game of the year in the conference as well. While the Arizona/Cal game had 15 extra minutes and all the drama and scrappiness that you could ask for in a college basketball game, this one had a national television audience and both teams playing for a potential conference championship. Down the stretch, both teams had its stars step up, as Williams carried the Wildcats on home and Isaiah Thomas did the same for the Huskies, handing out in rapid succession three beautiful lob passes that ended in Washington dunks. In the end, however, it was Williams sending back a Darnell Gant attempt in dramatic fashion with under a second left that sealed the game for the Wildcats.

Game of the Upcoming Week: Arizona (23-4, 12-2) at UCLA (19-8, 10-4), 2/26, 1PM, FSN – While this will no longer be a game for the top spot in the conference, following UCLA’s upset loss at Cal on Sunday night, this should still tell us a lot about both teams. UCLA is still a complete cipher. They’ve beaten BYU and St. John’s (arguably the two best wins by any team in the Pac-10 this year – although the crosstown rival has a major bone of contention there), but in their big “up” games in the Pac-10 (at Arizona and at home against Washington), they’ve lost by 11 points each time. They’ve got a loss to a mediocre Montana team on their rap sheet and while clearly a talented team, they turn the ball over at a ridiculous pace (turnovers on almost a quarter of all possessions) and have efficiency numbers of both ends of the court that are merely average. For Arizona, while we have discussed all the good things they have done, there is still a gaping hole in their resume: lack of quality road wins. To this point their best win away from the McKale Center is either at Washington State or Cal, neither a team that is in the NCAA picture any longer. While a win at an average UCLA team is not normally a resume highlight, given the Wildcats’ relatively weak schedule, this win would be very welcome. Oh, and then there’s the fact that an Arizona win here in all likelihood clinches the Pac-10 title.

Power Rankings

1. Arizona (23-4, 12-2): So, the Wildcats are a lead-pipe cinch to get invited to the NCAA Tournament next month, even without a Pac-10 tournament championship. But where do they wind up seeded? They’ve got road games against the Los Angeles schools and home games against the Oregon schools to finish things up, and while a 2-2 record to finish things up is not impossible, we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that they’ve earned and say they finish up 3-1, then advance to the Pac-10 title game before losing. And that’s the worst-case scenario. If that happens, they wind up at 28-6 on the season with the wins over Washington and UCLA as their sole wins over NCAA Tournament teams (barring some well-placed upsets in Championship Week). What is that good for? Three-seed seems too high for the lack of quality wins, while a six-seed seems too low for a team that won their regular season conference title, finished the season 8-2 (in our scenario) and winds up with a top-20 RPI. I say this team tops out at a four-seed (might have a chance at a three with the Pac-10 tourney title and a couple other dominoes falling ahead of them) with a five-seed the low end.

Looking ahead: While you can’t overlook anything in the Pac-10, this week presents the final large challenges to Arizona’s Pac-10 title dreams. The Wildcats travel to face a suddenly resurgent USC team on Thursday night, then battle UCLA on Saturday with a chance to wrap up the conference championship.

2. Washington (19-8, 10-5): It was a disappointing week for the Huskies, coming up just short in the desert. And while the tightness of the game and the excitement of the final minutes indicate that Washington was right there to the end with the ‘Cats, a close look at the box score reveals some disturbing numbers. To begin with, the Huskies allowed the Wildcats to grab 50% of all offensive rebound opportunities – an unforgivable number – and on the other end, Arizona limited the Huskies to an offensive rebounding percentage of just 24%. While Lorenzo Romar’s team has been just average cleaning the defensive glass this season, in part because they challenge a ton of shots, their inability to positively affect the game on the offensive glass had to be disturbing. That, combined with the fact that Washington wasn’t getting a lot of clean looks from deep, and the looks they were getting weren’t falling, explains the loss. But all things considered, a controversial one-point loss on one of the toughest roadies in the Pac-10 in a game in which you didn’t play all that well is not a terrible result.

Looking ahead: The Huskies are done with the road for the season, and thankfully, as six of their eight losses so far came on the road (the other two were neutral site games in Maui). Back in the friendly confines of the Hec Ed, Washington fully expects to take care of business the rest of the way against Washington State (on Sunday), UCLA (next Thursday) and USC (next Saturday).

3. UCLA (19-8, 10-4): The Bruins are in second place in the conference and the only team with much of a remaining shot at catching Arizona for first place. But I wouldn’t dare put this team as the second strongest team in the conference. They’ve won seven of their last eight, 11 of their last 13, and as referenced above, they’ve got two of the best wins of any team in the Pac-10 this season. This week they got a hard-fought and acceptable road split at the Bay Area schools, but a deeper look at the team reveals serious flaws. But regardless of all that, if the season ended today, the Bruins would be safely in the NCAA Tournament. And yet, the season doesn’t end today.

Looking ahead: Ahead for the Bruins lies danger. This week they’ve got Arizona State and Arizona at home. The Bruins have flirted all season long with giving away conference games against teams that they should beat, but thus far have escaped with perfectly explainable losses. They’ll need to keep up that streak by taking care of business against ASU and not allowing the specter of the Arizona battle to lead to a bad loss. Then come the Wildcats, where a win is a great outcome and a loss is, well, expected. To wrap up the season, Ben Howland takes his team to Washington and Washington State, probably the toughest road trip in the Pac-10 this year. A sweep is almost unthinkable, a split is brilliant and an oh-fer-the-road-trip is a potential nightmare. Even if the worst case scenario comes true and the Bruins go 1-3 down the stretch, winning their first round Pac-10 game to get to 21 wins on the season, paired with wins over BYU and St. John’s, and the Bruins probably limp in. Lose in the first round, and sweat it out on Selection Sunday.

4. USC (15-12, 7-7): From here on down, we are looking at teams that either need to win the Pac-10 Tournament or consider their options for the NIT. And, perhaps most importantly in the short-term for these next five teams, is the fact that teams one through six in the conference receive a first-round bye in the conference tournament. You don’t want to finish seventh here. For the Trojans, they jump from the back of this middle pack last week to the top of it here on the strength of a road sweep of the Bay Area schools. Kevin O’Neill’s club was sparked this week by freshman Maurice Jones, who, after being relegated to coming off the bench for the first time in his college career, took exactly one half to wallow in pity before exploding for 22 second-half points to fend off an attempted-comeback back Cal. Jones followed that game up with another ten points in the win at Stanford, and it looks like he’ll be an asset providing a scoring punch off the bench the rest of the way. Elsewhere, Nikola Vucevic was typically excellent this week, averaging 20 points and 12 rebounds, but also knocking down a surprising five threes this week, which was more than a quarter of his total coming into the game.

Looking ahead: Like the Bruins, the Trojans have a tough row to hoe the rest of the way: Arizona, Arizona State, at Washington State and at Washington.

5. Oregon (14-12, 7-7): The Ducks tore past Oregon State this week to put the wraps on a season-sweep of the Civil War. With the game still somewhat in doubt early in the second half, Jay-R Strowbridge knocked down three straight three-pointers to push Oregon further out ahead. A three by Tyrone Nared followed, as did one by E.J. Singler, then Strowbridge added another and after six straight threes by Oregon, an eight-point Duck lead had turn into a 20-point lead. All in all, Oregon knocked down 13 threes, forced 19 Beaver turnovers and eased home with a 19-point victory.

Looking ahead: Oregon hosts Cal and Stanford in a pair of games that will be very important for Pac-10 Tournament seeding.

6. Cal (14-13, 7-8): The Golden Bears snapped a four-game losing streak on Sunday night, fighting through an improbable buzzer-beating three by Malcolm Lee that sent the game into overtime, to squeak one out in overtime. Junior guard Jorge Gutierrez was phenomenal throughout, scoring 34 points, handing out six assists, grabbing three boards, swiping three steals and just epitomizing toughness and grit. Freshman guard Allen Crabbe returned in that game after missing two straight games and most of a third with a concussion. While Crabbe did not play as well as he had played before the injury, his importance to the club was emphasized during his absence.

Looking ahead: Cal travels to the Oregon schools this week, a good opportunity for a talented club to get right and jump back up the Pac-10 standings.

7. Washington State (17-10, 7-8): Instead of catching the Wildcats looking forward to the Washington game last week, the Cougars found themselves with a post-Arizona hangover when they played Arizona State on Saturday, and my, what a headache that turned out to be. Despite 58 points on the week from junior Klay Thompson, Washington State limped back home with an 0-2 record on the road trip and with any hopes of an NCAA at-large bid dashed upon the rocks. What seemed to be a promising season around Christmastime has turned into utter disappointment, although it is not merely sarcastic to say that this season is a vast improvement over last season’s total collapse.

Looking ahead: The Cougars play two of their final three at home, but it is not an easy stretch by any means. After traveling to play the Huskies in Seattle on Sunday, they’ll host USC and UCLA next week. It looks like they’ll need to win two of those three to feel comfortable about getting a first round Pac-10 bye.

8. Stanford (13-13, 6-9): Getting swept at home in conference play in a week is never a good thing. And now, riding their second losing streak of at least three games this season, the Cardinal find themselves staring up at seven teams above them in the conference standings. Against UCLA, Jeremy Green continued his hot streak, knocking down nine-of-16 shots and five three-pointers on the way to 27 points, his fifth straight 20-point game. But USC was able to get Green off his game, limiting him to 3-13 shooting and just ten points in the 16-point loss.

Looking ahead: The Cardinal travel to Corvallis and Eugene this week for game that border on must-wins.

9. Oregon State (9-16, 4-10): I’ve said enough about the Beavers for the year, I think. They’ve been a fascinating and utterly frustrating team. I’ll throw out bipolar and underachieving as two fairly apt adjectives that I don’t think I’ve used to describe them yet this year. But mostly, I just want to point you to George Dohrmann’s excellent blog post where he spares no quarter in describing the many faults of this Oregon State team. Maybe next week we’ll talk about what the future holds for this Beaver team, but for now they just make me tired.

Looking ahead: Stanford and Cal come calling this week. Who knows what will happen.

10. Arizona State (10-16, 2-12): I love it when we get to wrap up one of these posts on a positive note. There’s not much happy news to report at the bottom of the standings, and certainly one win in a sea of conference losses isn’t much to get excited about, but the ASU win over Washington State on Saturday will have to do. Playing without injured seniors Rihards Kuksiks and Ty Abbott (addition by subtraction much?), the Sun Devils got a career performance by Chase Creekmur (18 points, five threes), the best performance by the team’s leading scorer, Trent Lockett (20 points, eight rebounds), since November and the best performance from freshman guard Corey Hawkins in his brief career (29 minutes, six assists). The Devils knocked down nine threes, outshot the Cougars from the field and played their best defense in about a month and now head into the final weeks of the season with a puncher’s chance at not finishing in last in the conference.

Looking ahead: The Sun Devils travel to UCLA and USC before hosting Oregon and Oregon State. They’ll need to win two of those games and have Oregon State lose all of their to take ninth place, but at least it is something to play for.

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Set Your Tivo: 02.18-02.20

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 18th, 2011

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

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

With only two weeks left in the regular season, it’s time for teams to make their moves. This weekend provides ample opportunities for some to do so. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

VCU @ Wichita State – 7 pm Friday on ESPN2 (***)

Skeen Leads VCU In Scoring (14.6 PPG), But Is Also Top Ten In the CAA In Rebounding (7.7 RPG) And PP40 (19.0)

This could very well prove to be an elimination game. VCU has lost two straight games at home and now has to venture out of conference on the road. Wichita State has lost three games at home already this season, however, and probably has to win out and make a run in the MVC Tournament in order to have a chance at a bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Shockers don’t have a win in the RPI top 50 and those three home losses are really holding them back. VCU was blasted on the boards by Old Dominion recently (40-21) and it’s going to be hard to avoid that again in this game. If the Rams can’t create extra possessions through turnovers, it’s going to be a very long night.

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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 17th, 2011

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

A Look Back

This was the type of week in the Pac-10 to lull you back to sleep. On the heels of last week’s Washington meltdown, this week was all about the chalk. Arizona took care of their last place in-state rival with ease. UCLA put the clamps on the Oregon schools in Pauley. And Washington broke their three-game losing streak, using the home crowd to get them back on track with a couple of wins over the Bay Area schools. With just three weeks remaining in the regular season, it’s Arizona at the top of the Pac with a 10-2 record, with UCLA just one game back and the Huskies just a game back from there. Beyond that, Washington State sits two games further back and in desperate need of a big winning streak to end the season in order to entertain any hopes of an NCAA invite.

  • Team of the Week: UCLA – While the Huskies broke their losing streak and the Wildcats continued theirs, we’re gonna take the time to give the Bruins, who have been more or less flying under the radar this season, some love. While the UCLA offense is not exactly a thing of beauty, they are now definitely playing the type of defense you would expect from a Ben Howland team. In each of the five games in the Bruins current win streak, they have held their opponents to less than 40% shooting from the field. Against Oregon State on Saturday, the Bruins racked up a ridiculous 16 blocked shots, including eight by sophomore wing Tyler Honeycutt. Unfortunately, some of that defensive effort was offset by an absurd 26 turnovers, again led by Honeycutt in this category, with seven. While the offense is still a ways away from being considered of championship-caliber, the UCLA defense that looked awful in their last loss, at Arizona, may have turned the corner.
  • Player of the Week: Isaiah Thomas, Junior, Washington – Thomas got his mojo back in a big way against the Cal Bears on Thursday night, knocking down a career-high six three-pointers on his way to 23 points as he led the Huskies to their first win in four games. He added nine assists in that game, then back that effort up with 22 points and another four threes in the win over Stanford on Saturday, in which he scored 14 points in the final three minutes of the first half to get the Huskies on their way.
  • Newcomer of the Week: C.J. Wilcox, Freshman, Washington – Wilcox shook off a couple months worth of a slump by hitting six threes this week on his way to a 12 PPG average. The sharpshooter who redshirted last season got his most minutes in a week since a staph infection in late December killed the momentum he had built up in his first month of play in Seattle. But with Wilcox back in the swing of things, head coach Lorenzo Romar has yet another offensive toy to play with as the Huskies try to get back on top of the Pac-10.
  • Game of the Week: Washington State 75, Cal 71 – As the only game decided by less than ten points this week, this game is the easy choice. This was the game to decide fourth place in the conference this week, and really, an elimination game. While neither team is a strong candidate to make the NCAA Tournament, the Cougars win at least keeps that hope alive, while the Golden Bears now know they’ll need to win the Pac-10 Tournament in March in order to go dancing in March. Junior guard Jorge Gutierrez did everything he could to get Cal back into this game after they fell behind by as many as 11 early in the second half, scoring all 19 of his points after the break, but his attempt at a potential game-tying three with three second left came up short and the Cougars added a free throw at the end to clinch the game. WSU was led by sophomore Brock Motum with 19 points and five rebounds.
  • Game of the Upcoming Week: Washington (17-7, 9-4) at Arizona (21-4, 10-2), 2/19, 3PM PST, ESPN – With three weeks to go, three teams are still in the running for the Pac-10 regular season title. And the fun part is we’ll get one game a week between two of those three teams down the stretch. This week, the Wildcats look for revenge after the Huskies won by 17at the Hec-Ed in mid-January. In that game, Arizona kept it close for about 30 minutes before Washington, sparked by this great play by Thomas and Darnell Gant, pulled away late. Thomas wound up with 22 points and ten assists, while Derrick Williams posted 22 points of his own to go with 11 rebounds, but the rest of the Arizona team went 16-45 from the field. Of late, Sean Miller has done a great job getting contributions from role players on the U of A roster, and he’ll need to continue that trend on Saturday. If that happens, the Wildcats will be in a very good position to all but knock the Huskies out of the Pac-10 title race.

Power Rankings

1. Arizona (21-4, 10-2) – In the Wildcats’ win over Arizona State on Sunday, the Sun Devils surrounded Williams with two and three players every time he touched the ball, limiting him to just five field goal attempts and three free throw attempts. But, as the ‘Cats have made a habit of doing all season long, they had somebody else step up and lead the offense in Williams’ stead. Junior guard Kyle Fogg was the hero this time, popping for a career-high-tying 26 points and six three-pointers. Fogg has been up and down this whole season, but mostly down in Pac-10 play, hitting just 30% of his three-pointers in conference play prior to this weekend, down significantly from last year’s 42% on the season. Perhaps Fogg’s breakout against ASU is a positive sign for the stretch run.

Looking ahead: Arizona hosts the Washington schools this week with a chance to not only beat somebody of significance this week, but also a chance to extend their lead in the conference.

2. Washington (17-7, 9-4): So, is this the start of the patented Husky late-season run? With a game against Arizona coming up this week, the Huskies have a chance to get right back in the thick of things at the top of the conference, but they’ll need some help in order to come away with the regular season title. Aside from the exploits of Thomas and Wilcox, detailed above, Romar got production from all over his roster this week with seven different players scoring in double figures at some point this week. Matthew Bryan-Amaning, in particular, had a big week, averaging 16.5 PPG and 7.5 RPG, while Venoy Overton had his best offensive game of the season with 12 points and four assists against Stanford.

Looking ahead: While Arizona State should be something of a breather on Thursday night, the game against the ‘Cats on Saturday afternoon is huge.

3. UCLA (18-7, 9-3): As of right now, the Bruins are golden. They’ve got 18 wins, they’re on a five-game winning streak and they have won nine of their last ten games. Wins over BYU and St. John’s highlight their resume, and while their RPI in the 40’s isn’t brilliant, if the season ended today, the Bruins would be safely in the tournament. But, the season doesn’t end today. And still ahead on the schedule for UCLA are road trips to the Bay Area and Washington schools wrapped around a homestand against the Arizona schools. While the Arizona State game can safely be chalked up as a win, the other five games remaining in the regular season are perilous. It’s likely that if they come away with a split of those six games, they’ll still be good (although their potential seeding will take a hit). Dreaming bigger, if the Bruins can take advantage of the opportunity to play Washington and Arizona and take care of business in the other games, a Pac-10 title is still within reach, as is a pretty strong seed.

Looking ahead: The road starts this week with a trip to Stanford on Thursday, followed by Cal on Sunday, a pair of games that the Bruins could win, but, as always, a tough intraconference road trip.

4. Washington State (17-8, 7-6): The Cougars have just never gained any traction in Pac-10 play. It’s been two games down one week, two games up the next, and splits abounding. And then after they knocked off the hated Huskies at home, to get back over .500 in the conference, they turn in a complete stinker at Oregon. They get back to even, then let Stanford spank them at home. At this point, it would take stringing together several wins against the rather difficult five games ahead of them in order to make any sort of convincing argument that they are worthy of at-large consideration, even in a week bubble.

Looking ahead: The Cougars travel to Arizona on Thursday, where they’ll hope to catch the Wildcats looking ahead to Saturday’s showdown with Washington. Then, on Saturday, they’ll need to take care of business against the Sun Devils. A 2-0 week here would be a dream come true for Ken Bone and company, and would put the Cougs right back on the bubble again.

5. Cal (13-12, 6-7): This was a very disappointing week for the Golden Bears. After having won four of their last five games, with the only loss a triple overtime knock-down, drag-out battle, they were looking primed to sneak back into the at-large discussion. Then, Washington came out and drilled them something awful on Thursday night, outscoring the Bears by 24 in the first half alone, and 32 on the game. To make matters worse, freshman wing Allen Crabbe sustained a concussion, a turn of events which may have cost them the game on Saturday at Washington State. Fellow freshman Jeff Powers started in his place and did contribute three threes on the way to 14 points, but he was no substitute for Crabbe and the Bears fell by six in Pullman. With the Los Angeles schools visiting this week, a road trip to Oregon next week and a season-closing battle with Stanford the remaining games on the schedule, a 5-0 finish to the season is not out of the question, but even that would probably leave the Bears wanting come Selection Sunday, barring a run to the Pac-10 Tournament Championship.

Looking ahead: The Bears host USC on Thursday, a game in which Crabbe is still questionable. At the very least, Cal fans have to hope he is ready to go by Sunday for the matchup with the Bruins.

6. Oregon (13-12, 6-7): All things considered, a split in Los Angeles for this team is a pretty good week. Malcolm Armstead continued to be a team leader off of the bench, contributing 24 points and 12 assists this week in a total of 65 minutes and the Ducks got threes from seven different players in their win over USC on Saturday.

Looking ahead: The basketball version of the Civil War comes on Saturday when the Ducks host the Beavers at Matt Court.

7. Stanford (13-11, 6-7): Much like the Ducks above, the Cardinal have to be pretty pleased with a road split on the week, especially considering the Washington road trip may well be the toughest trip in the Pac-10 this season. Against Washington State on Thursday, Stanford his seven of their eight first-half three-point attempts on the way to a 17-point halftime lead, then continued to play solid basketball throughout the second half on the way to a 13-point win. The Cardinal wound up with nine threes on the night (compared to just 3-18 shooting from behind the arc for the Cougs) and 20 assists on their 25 made field goals in a very efficient game. Against the Huskies, they weren’t quite as good, still hitting shots at a 55% effective field goal percentage for the game, but turning the ball over 19 times against the Husky pressure. Jeremy Green had a big week, scoring 24 points in each game, and he has now definitely put his midseason slump behind him, averaging 23 PPG over his last four games and having knocked down 15 threes in that span.

Looking ahead: Green can expect to see plenty of UCLA’s Malcolm Lee on Thursday night, and if Green can get the better of the Bruins’ best defender, the Cardinal could get their homestand against the southern California schools off to a good start.

8. USC (13-12, 5-7): In this four-team mush in the middle of the conference (with teams five through eight each having posted 13 total wins and seven conference losses on the season), the Trojans are the team that has struggled the most to get to this point. They haven’t won two games in a week since before Christmas, their offensive efficiency has never picked up, and going forward, they’ll only be a favorite against Arizona State the rest of the way. After the Trojans gave Kansas everything they could handle in mid-December, then beat Tennessee a couple of nights later, the idea of this USC team staring a 6-12 conference season in the face was decidedly improbable. And yet, here they are.

Looking ahead: Cal on Thursday night and Stanford on Saturday are two games that the Trojans are capable of winning. This team’s track record tells us that a split is the best case scenario.

9. Oregon State (9-15, 4-9): The Beavers found plenty of different ways to lose in Los Angeles last week. Against USC they got killed on the glass, they turned the ball over 19 times and they hit just one of their 11 three-point attempts. Against UCLA, they took an entirely different approach. While they still turned the ball over 14 times, they actually forced 26 Bruin turnovers. On the glass, Oregon State performed pretty well, grabbing 38% of all offensive rebound opportunities. But, this time, the Beavers just couldn’t hit from the field, making just 23 of their 70 field goal attempts, and three of those makes coming after UCLA had turned to their walk-ons for mop-up duty. To put it mildly, this Oregon State team is capable of losing games in a wide variety of ways. Craig Robinson has his work cut out for him.

Looking ahead: The Beavs travel to Eugene on Saturday for their battle with the Ducks.

10. Arizona State (9-15, 1-11): And then there are the Sun Devils. 2011 actually got off to a pretty good start for Herb Sendek and his team. They went to Eugene and knocked off the Ducks on New Year’s Day to even their conference record at 1-1, a road split in the first week of the season a pretty good thing. That’s the last time this team won a game in the Pac-10. This week it was another uninspiring effort against Arizona. Senior Jamelle McMillan continued his recent hot steak, scoring 12 points and handing out five assists, and he has now scored in double figures in four straight games, but saying that he is a bright spot is going overboard. There are no bright spots here.

Looking ahead: The Sun Devils host the Washington schools. Not much should be expected, but at some point in the last six games, this ASU team will win a game. They’re simply too good to be this bad.

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The Cousy Award Committee Changes Its Mind On Jordan Taylor

Posted by nvr1983 on February 17th, 2011

Earlier this month the Basketball Hall of Fame announced its list of ten finalists for the Bob Cousy Award, given annually to the nation’s top point guard, and created a minor controversy when it left off Wisconsin star Jordan Taylor. At the time, the ten finalists appeared to be deserving although some might question Jimmer Fredette‘s passing ability/frequency and Demetri McCamey‘s play recently:

  • Norris Cole, Cleveland State
  • Corey Fisher, Villanova
  • Jimmer Fredette, BYU
  • DJ Gay, San Diego State
  • Brandon Knight, Kentucky
  • Demetri McCamey, Illinois
  • Mickey McConnell, St. Mary’s
  • Nolan Smith, Duke
  • Isaiah Thomas, Washington
  • Kemba Walker, UConn

The Cousy Award committee eventually came to its senses on Taylor

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ATB: Rhythm Of The Saints And Baseline Complaints

Posted by jstevrtc on February 11th, 2011

The Lede. It was Day Four of Rivalry Week, and though the tag of “rivalry” on some of the games might have been questionable, there was no lack of storylines. Connecticut might have been indoors but still got caught up in one heck of a Storm, and Vanderbilt managed to dodge an entire Tide, though the majority of our friends and Twitter followees feel that the Commodores may have gotten a little help at the end. Oh, and there’s a little WCC team on whom you might want to keep an eye. Let’s jump in…

St. John's Had Walker Frustrated All Night (F. Franklin/AP)

Your Watercooler Moment. There were very few points in this game at which Connecticut appeared to be playing at full speed, and even fewer at which St. John’s appeared to play at anything less. Sure, the Garden may have had a little to do with the Johnnies’ 89-72 win over the Huskies, but the bigger factor was that one team showed up for whole game and the other didn’t. UConn didn’t play its best basketball in the first half but at least seemed interested and stayed close enough to where their talent could have pulled them through in the end. Instead, in the second half, Connecticut didn’t defend in the half-court, didn’t get back in transition defense, didn’t seem at all prepared for St. John’s’ match-up zone, and did nothing to stop SJU’s Dwight Hardy. The St. John’s senior guard dropped 33 on the Huskies and got help with 20 more from D. J. Kennedy, whose 11 boards helped the Red Storm to a 41-31 rebounding edge. UConn got the help it’s been wanting from its non-Kemba corps — Roscoe Smith (16/6), Alex Oriakhi (12/8), Jeremy Lamb (13/5) all played well, though Lamb’s 2-7 from three was a bit of a pinch — it just didn’t defend for most of the game. Nobody expected that from a team who came into MSG ranked in the top ten nationally in FG% defense, especially inside the three-point arc. [Note: For our RTC Live summary and link to the coverage, see below.]

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Morning Five: 02.08.11 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on February 8th, 2011

  1. The Mountain West has received a lot of attention this year due to the excellent play of top ten teams San Diego State and BYU and, of course, the NPOY candidacy of the Cougars’ Jimmer Fredette.  Yesterday the attention on the league was of a different sort, though, as Wyoming, dead last in the league standings at 1-8, fired head coach Heath Schroyer after three-plus seasons at the helm.  This move comes after the Cowboys lost its seventh consecutive game on Saturday, a three-point home loss to Colorado State.  Schroyer was 49-68 during his tenure in Laramie, with his best season coming in 2008-09 as Wyoming went 19-14 (7-9 MWC) and made the NIT.
  2. Ugh.  Oklahoma State forward Darrell Williams was charged with three counts of rape and one of sexual battery on Monday stemming from an incident in December where he allegedly assaulted two women at a party.  The junior college transfer has given head coach Travis Ford a solid season, averaging 7/7 in twelve starts and around 21 minutes per game, but according to the coach, he will be held out of the lineup and practice until his legal issues are resolved.  His preliminary hearing is scheduled for the first week in March, which probably means that Williams’ season is effectively over.  OSU has been playing better of late, beating Missouri and Oklahoma to get back to the middle of the Big 12 pack, but any further push will be that much more difficult without the sometime-starter available to bang bodies down low.
  3. Dan Wiederer delves further into the phenomenon known as Kendall Marshall going for a record sixteen assists in UNC’s destruction of Florida State over the weekend.   We didn’t know, for example, that Marshall has a tendency to pull a Bill Russell during halftime of games, but we do now and we’re quite sure that Roy Williams will provide the rookie with his own four-year supply of barf bags if he keeps dropping double-figure dimes the rest of the season.
  4. A new Monday meant another version of Seth Davis’ Hoop Thoughts.  In this week’s edition, he deplores the fly-by-night departure of Larry Drew II from the program (blaming Drew’s mother more than his famous father), St. John’s as the most interesting bubble team at this point, and a Kyrie Irving update that you haven’t seen anywhere else.
  5. The ten final candidates for the Bob Cousy Award given to the nation’s top point guard were announced on Monday, and there were a couple of surprising omissions.  The complete list is below, but as Mike Miller at Beyond the Arc points out, there’s really no legitimate excuse for leaving out Xavier’s Tu Holloway and Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor.  Both players have been outstanding for their respective teams, and outside of the NPOY candidates Fredette, Smith and Walker, arguably better than any of the other names on this list.
  • Norris Cole, Cleveland State
  • Corey Fisher, Villanova
  • Jimmer Fredette, BYU
  • D.J. Gay, San Diego State
  • Brandon Knight, Kentucky
  • Demetri McCamey, Illinois
  • Mickey McConnell, St. Mary’s
  • Nolan Smith, Duke
  • Isaiah Thomas, Washington
  • Kemba Walker, UConn
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BGTD: Late Afternoon Games Analysis

Posted by jstevrtc on February 5th, 2011

The afternoon games gave us a couple of squads needing and getting redemption wins, despite still having a lot of work to do on their resumes. We also saw The Jimmer get creative and show you other aspects of his game besides the leaning scissor-kick threes from the hash marks (though those are really fun to watch), and we’re preplexed by Washington’s road-o-phobia.

  • Wildcats Win a Wild One. We’ve written so much negative stuff about Kansas State this year, let’s say something good for once. Jacob Pullen used a tasty little crossover to wrong-foot his defender and get to the hoop for an easy lay-in with about two seconds left to give the Wildcats their first Big 12 road win this season, an 86-85 squeaker over Iowa State. Congrats on the nice win, but let’s keep a big-picture perspective. KSU’s next two are at Colorado (tough) and at home against Kansas. If they can win those two, then they’ll have our attention. That’d put them at 18-8 (6-5) with a late-season win over a title contender. Ironically, that KSU vs KU game is a Valentine’s Day tilt.
  • Speaking of Wildcats Needing Wins… Northwestern has a pulse, at least, having pulled out a close road win at Illinois, 71-70. We’re still scratching our collective head regarding the change over the last month in Demetri McCamey (14/4 asst). In the Illini’s first 16 games, McCamey had only one game in which he had less than five assists (three in a win vs Oakland on 12/8). At that point, they were 13-3. In their last seven games, McCamey has had only one game with more than five assists (11 in a win vs Michigan State on 1/18). The Illini have lost five of those seven games.
  • Along Came (the other) Jones.  Another team that earned a little redemption (and needed it) with a road win: the Baylor Bears. Perry Jones (27/7) deserves every bit of the hype he gets, but today it was Anthony Jones (10/8) who saved the Bears with a lay-in with 3.1 seconds remaining, giving Baylor a good solid win (76-74) over a 16th-ranked Texas A&M squad. Checking the schedule, Baylor has seven Big 12 games remaining, and we see a minimum of three wins out of those (Nebraska, Texas Tech, and Texas A&M, all at home). That would make Baylor 8-8 in the Big 12…which isn’t even as encouraging as it sounds. In the past 18 years, a .500-or-worse team has only been to the NCAA Tournament four times. The Bears still have two games against Texas ahead of them. They might need to steal one of those.

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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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Set Your Tivo: 01.28-01.30

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 28th, 2011

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

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor

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

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

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

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

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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 27th, 2011

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

A Look Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

Power Rankings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ten Tuesday Scribbles

Posted by zhayes9 on January 25th, 2011

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.

- The last second Cory Joseph-led triumph over North Carolina in Greensboro opened some eyes to the legitimacy of the Texas Longhorns, but it was directly following their evisceration of Michigan State at the Breslin Center when I pegged Rick Barnes’ squad as my official Final Four sleeper. Following a dismantling of Texas A&M on their home floor and a stunning come-from-behind win in Allen Fieldhouse against previously unbeaten Kansas—for my money the single most impressive win of the season to date – I think it’s time we elevate the Longhorns from Final Four contender to justifiable national champion candidate. It’s difficult to believe that this same program is just eight months removed from a historic and embarrassing collapse that saw a #1 Texas team in the nation in mid-January fall out of the rankings to a #8 seed in the NCAA Tournament and a first-round flameout, but the infusion of heady, intelligent and talented freshmen, the maturation of Jordan Hamilton, the cleansing of players with varying agendas and a severe rotation trimming has convinced most followers of the sport that last season’s disintegration is no longer relevant to discuss. Trying to discover a weakness on this Texas squad is a challenging task; even the free throw headaches that plagued last year’s team have improved from the depths of Division I to the point where it in all likelihood won’t single-handedly cost them a game. Their team defense is tenacious and hounding, ranking second in the nation in efficiency and in the top ten in both two-point and three-point field goal defense with stoppers in the paint (see: Tristan Thompson’s length and athleticism forcing Marcus Morris to become a three-point chucker) and on the perimeter (Dogus Balbay and Cory Joseph are two of the best). With capable scorers that line the roster and a scoring extraordinaire that will take and make any shot in the gym, the Longhorns have jumped from the unranked to the second best team in the nation in many evaluators’ eyes, the polar opposite of a downfall last season that’s long in the past.

Barnes and Johnson are leading Texas up the rankings

- The biggest basketball game in the history of the Mountain West conference will take place Wednesday night when top-ten foes BYU and San Diego State clash at the Marriott Center in Provo. Even though ESPN isn’t broadcasting the game, the hype surrounding this showdown will build considerably in the hours ahead until Wednesday night’s late tip off. The atmosphere should be absolutely electric and the stakes are considerably high: a win over an RPI top ten foe, a leg up in the race to win the fourth ranked RPI conference in the nation, a number one seed and potential undefeated campaign for the Aztecs and a jump to the second seed line for the home Cougars, to name a few. What’s so fascinating about this matchup is the contrast in styles. BYU, led by the captivating Jimmer Fredette and his capable sidekick Jackson Emery, is more backcourt-focused, a team whose guards generate steals and fast break opportunities, shoot 37% from deep, rank third in the nation in turnover percentage and has a member of their backcourt (Fredette) that uses 33% of his teams’ possessions. San Diego State, meanwhile, features an abundance of depth in their frontcourt, led by the explosive trio of Kawhi Leonard, Billy White and Malcolm Thomas. The physical and bruising San Diego State frontline boosts the Aztecs to first in block percentage, eighth in two-point field goal percentage and 23rd in offensive rebounding percentage in the nation. BYU has crumbled in the past when facing superior athleticism and it’s a legitimate concern as to whether the Cougars have the horses up front to match Leonard, White and Thomas. Playing in front of their raucous home fans in an arena where BYU rarely falters should help tremendously.

- So, raise your hand if you had Kansas and Pittsburgh both losing at home in a span of three days. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention/discuss Notre Dame’s jaw-dropping win last night at a place where Pittsburgh is normally invincible just two days following Kansas surrendering their nation-pacing 69-game home winning streak. It’s especially remarkable when you consider that in Notre Dame’s previous two Big East road games at St. John’s and Marquette, two teams that may not make the NCAA Tournament, the Irish lost by a combined 40 points. Give Mike Brey and his team tons and tons of credit for executing and believing in a “burn” gameplan that exhausted the shot clock continuously, limited possessions (ND totaled 37 of 56 points with 11 seconds or fewer on the shot clock) and trusted Ben Hansbrough to create his own shot under enormous pressure. Pittsburgh insisted on switching ball screens and pick-and-roll situations which left Nasir Robinson and the less-than-agile Gary McGhee trying to front Hansbrough in space. The progress that Hansbrough has made improving his conditioning and all-around repertoire from perimeter gunner to capable penetrator, floor general and three-point marksman since his Mississippi State days has been staggering. Although Hansbrough donned the Superman cape late, it was matchup nightmare Carleton Scott that kept the Irish within striking distance by knocking down critical shots all night long. Scott is truly an X-factor and difference maker for Brey, a weapon the Irish didn’t have during those two blowout losses to St. John’s and Marquette.

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The Week That Was: Jan. 17-Jan. 24

Posted by jstevrtc on January 25th, 2011

David Ely is an RTC Contributor

Get ready college hoops fanatics. Get ready for the stampede of casual fans that are about to crash the sports bars once the NFL season comes to a close. They’ll have to find something for their sports fix and they’ll turn to college basketball. So be prepared for people asking things like, “Who’s that big guy for Ohio State? He looks pretty good.” Or “San Diego State’s in the top five? Really?!?” Just try to smile and nod at those fools. No need to let them ruin the season’s stretch run.

What We Learned

TWTW Loves Jimmer and Kawhi, But Prefers E'Twaun and the Boilers Traveling to Columbus This Week

Even with SDSU and BYU squaring off on Wednesday, TWTW feels that if there’s only one game you watch this week, make sure it’s Purdue at Ohio State, tonight at 9pm ET. Matt Painter’s squad is one of our favorites and TWTW thinks they’re a good bet to pull off the upset. Purdue rebounded from back-to-back losses at Minnesota and West Virginia to grind out a win over a plucky Penn State squad and then took care of business against reeling Michigan State. It would have been easy for the Boilermakers to fold at the first sign of trouble this season. They have the built-in excuse of Robbie Hummel’s injury, and no one really believed they could sustain their early-season success once they hit the meat of their schedule, but seniors JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore wouldn’t let that two-game losing streak turn into a prolonged swoon. Johnson scored 25 points in the win over PSU, while Moore poured in 26 against the Spartans.

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