Stanford Week: Q&A With Pachoops’ Adam Butler

Posted by Connor Pelton on July 22nd, 2012

As we go to wind down our coverage of the Stanford basketball program, we head back to Adam Butler of Pachoops for his perspective on the Cardinal basketball program. Adam and I go over every pressing topic surrounding the team’s immediate future, including how they plan on replacing three key seniors and expectations for sophomore-to-be extraordinaire, Chasson Randle. Here’s our conversation:

RTC: How do the Cardinal replace players like Josh Owens, Jarrett Mann, and Andrew Zimmerman?

AB: First of all, you don’t replace an Andrew Zimmerman. Beards like that don’t come around often, but when they do, they’re irreplaceable. On the court, however, Mann and Zimmerman were very solid role players and integral to the success of a Johnny Dawkins team in which hustle and defense would seem to be heavily rewarded. How else does a guy averaging 3 PPG and 3 RPG (Mann) play 20 MPG? So replacing those guys in some respects is easy in that they brought effort to the table. Guys like Josh Huestis, Gabriel Harris, and John Gage should be able to fill those roles. But it’s Owens who leaves the most gaping hole in the Cardinal lineup. Hustle, effort, all of the Tebow stuff, cannot replace talent, and Josh Owens had that. I loved his game and believe he’ll be tough to replace. But this is a roster seemingly full of eligible Owens replacements. My favorite of those candidates is Dwight Powell, who has length and athleticism for days but basketball IQ for minutes. Some more floor time for the rangy Canadian should go a long way in helping the Cardinal replace Owens. I’ll talk about Anthony Brown later.

Before Playing Basketball At Stanford, Zimmerman Starred As The Geico Caveman

RTC: Through some luck and upsets along the way, Stanford never faced a team seeded higher than fifth in the NIT. Do you think it would have won the whole thing if they had to face teams like Mississippi, Arizona, and Seton Hall instead of Illinois State, Nevada, and Massachusetts?

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Stanford Week: Players Not Returning

Posted by Connor Pelton on July 17th, 2012

In last year’s NIT Championship campaign there were seven different Cardinal players who saw significant playing time under head coach Johnny Dawkins. Of those seven players, two will be lost in 2012-13 due to graduation. A third senior saw minutes when the situation or game plan called for it, and a fourth played mainly garbage minutes or was used in backup roles when an injury occurred. We fill you in on their details in the order of importance to the program below.

  • Josh Owens – After playing just garbage minutes as a freshman in 2007-08, Owens saw a major increase in playing time as a sophomore the next year. Poised to build on that solid foundation, Owens was forced to sit out the 2009-10 campaign due to a private medical condition. While some speculated he would never play basketball again, Owens returned for what would be the best season of his college career, averaging 11.6 PPG and 6.5 RPG in just over 27 MPG. His scoring and rebounding stats were almost identical in his final season with the Cardinal, but 2011-12 saw a more aggressive Owens, mainly on the defensive end of the floor. Andy Brown, Stefan Nastic, and Jack Ryan will all be competing this October to try to fill Owens’ shoes, with Nastic being the current slight frontrunner. As for Owens, the forward/center did not receive an invite to either the NBA Combine or Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, and while he went undrafted, he impressed enough in team workouts to earn a spot on the Charlotte Bobcats Summer League roster. Owens didn’t see any action in the team’s first game, but scored six points and grabbed two rebounds in its second summer competition.
Out Of Stanford’s Four Graduating Seniors, Owens Will Be Missed The Most (credit: John Todd Images)
  • Jarrett Mann – Mann still earned solid minutes as a senior, but due to the emergence of freshman star Chasson Randle, he saw a steep decrease in playing time compared with his sophomore and junior years. Due to Randle playing as a slash-and-score one, it appeared at times that Mann didn’t seem comfortable in his new role, which would led to indecisiveness both in passing the ball and scoring.

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Stanford: 2011-12 Post-Mortem

Posted by AMurawa on April 25th, 2012

Over the course of the next two weeks, the Pac-12 Microsite will break down each team’s season: what went well, what didn’t, and a look ahead at the future. Today’s subject: Stanford.

What Went Right

The Cardinal dominated its non-conference schedule, winning 15 of their 17 games outside of the Pac-12. It wasn’t the toughest non-conference schedule in the world, but Johnny Dawkins’ team did wind up with a pair of wins against NCAA Tournament teams (Colorado State and North Carolina State) prior to their conference slate, then ripped through a field of also-rans in the NIT in March. All told, the Cardinal displayed a pretty drastic improvement on the defensive end of the court, finishing in the top 20 nationally in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency numbers. And for a team that relied heavily on underclassmen (five different freshmen and sophomores played at least 40% of the team’s total minutes), there should still be plenty of room to improve, especially on the offensive end, in the near future.

What Went Wrong

While all that youth should pay off next year, it was the undoing of the Cardinal during the conference season. After getting off to a 5-1 start in Pac-12 play, the Cardinal lost five of their next six and struggled mightily, especially on the offensive end. Between Martin Luther King Day and Valentine’s Day they scored just 0.92 points per possession, highlighted by sophomore Aaron Bright’s 22-of-70 shooting during that stretch, good for just a 37.9% eFG.

In A Solid Year, As Aaron Bright Went, So Did The Cardinal (credit: Zach Sanderson)

MVP

On a squad that was a model of a team effort (11 different players averaged at least eight minutes per game, with six different players averaging somewhere between five points and 13 points per night), it is hard to pick out just one player, but the Cardinal were clearly a team whose fates aligned closely with Bright’s performance. He averaged four more points per game, one more assist and shot the ball nearly 20% better from behind the arc in wins than in losses. When Bright was going good, he was a tough defender, a confident floor general, and a deadly three-point shooter who made opposing defenses pay for collapsing in on interior players like senior Josh Owens. While there is something to be said for Owens’ 11.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and 57.1% field goal percentage (not to mention freshman Chasson Randle’s team-leading 13.8 points per game), Bright was really the most important player on this team, as evidenced by his near-perfect run through the NIT when he averaged 16.8 points, 4.2 assists and shot a whopping 79.5% eFG.

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Pac-12 Game of the Week: Stanford at California

Posted by AMurawa on January 29th, 2012

Stanford at California, January 29, 5:30 PM PST, FSN

The Big Game, basketball edition (part one), lost a bit of its luster last weekend when Stanford got swept by the Washington schools, but with California sitting tied atop the conference standings with Oregon, and with the Cardinal sitting just a game back, there is still plenty of importance to go around here.

Aaron Bright, Stanford

Aaron Bright And Stanford Have Slowed A Bit As The Quality Of Opponent Has Increased (photo credit: Liza Hafalia, San Francisco Chronicle)

For the Cardinal, after losing just one of their first 11 games – and that one to Syracuse at Madison Square Garden – the uptick in level of competition over the last few weeks has exposed them a little bit. After beating up on low-majors (like Bethune-Cookman and Central Arkansas) and mid-majors (like Fresno State and Colorado State), and even sneaking out some tough wins over bubble-minded high majors (Oklahoma State and North Carolina State), Johnny Dawkins’ club has lost four of its last nine games, with all four losses coming to teams ranked lower than #80 in the nation by Ken Pomeroy. Throw in some tight wins (a one-point win against UCLA, a four-overtime battle over Oregon State and even a slugfest W over Utah), and it is clear that despite the major strides this Stanford team has made this season, this is certainly not a team that is going to outclass conference opponents on a regular basis. Along the way, their once stellar efficiency numbers on both ends of the court have taken a significant hit — in their last four losses, Stanford has averaged just over one point per possession offensively, while giving up 1.16 PPP. In their first 11 games of the season, they only allowed more than one point per possession once (the NC State win), but in the last nine they’ve done so five times. Part of that is due to the fact that they’ve been facing better athletes. Where they once were able to outclass opponents on the glass, they’ve now been playing teams with their athletic equals, and the rebounding numbers have dipped. Likewise, guys like Aaron Bright and Chasson Randle have been unable to keep up their ridiculously hot shooting paces; Bright was 49% from three in non-conference play and is down to 37% in conference play while Randle has dipped from 42% to 36%.

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How Good is Stanford?

Posted by AMurawa on December 17th, 2011

Last season, Stanford was a pretty bad basketball team. They had all kinds of trouble scoring, especially early in the season, and weren’t much to look at defensively either. And given that it was one of the least experienced teams in the country (with an average of 1.15 years of experience, good for 315th in the nation, according to Ken Pomeroy), that wasn’t really much of a surprise. The constant theme around the Cardinal program was that this team’s best days were in the future. Well, a year later, minus Jeremy Green, the team’s leading scorer in 2010-11 who gave up his final year of eligibility to chase an NBA dream (he, predictably, went undrafted), this team is a bit more experienced (1.53 years of experience now, up to 208th in the nation), and this team is unquestionably “good.” The question is, how good?

Aaron Bright, Stanford

Aaron Bright And Stanford Played Syracuse Down To The Wire In Their First Big Test Of The Season (Credit: Patrick McDermott, Getty Images North America)

There haven’t been a ton of chances in the non-conference for the Cardinal to really gauge themselves against a high-caliber opponent, but in their one game against an elite team, against Syracuse at Madison Square Garden in the NIT Season Tip-Off Championship, Johnny Dawkins’ club acquitted itself quite well, taking a seven-point lead against the Orange under five minutes to play before folding to the pressure of the Orange and the pressure of the situation. Sophomore point guard Aaron Bright broke onto the national scene in that game, scoring 13 points on five-of-nine shooting, grabbing four rebounds, handing out four assists and snatching one steal, while freshman guard Chasson Randle seemed comfortable in the spotlight and senior Josh Owens proved that he could hang with some of the big boys in the nation. And Dawkins continued his run of seemingly always finding a hot hand to help off the bench to chip in, this time in the person of little used sophomore forward John Gage, who tossed in a couple threes on his way to ten points in 12 minutes. But, down the stretch Stanford’s poise and defensive excellence faded. In the final five minutes, Bright missed both of his field goal attempts and turned the ball over once, Randle was one-of-three with a turnover and Owens missed the front-end of a one-and-one, turned the ball over once and failed to grab a rebound. In the meantime, Syracuse was able to score 18 points on its final ten possessions (1.8 PPP) after having only scored 51 in its first 60 (0.85 PPP).

The question then is, which was the aberration? Was the real Stanford the team from the first 35 minutes that had a top-five national team on the ropes, or the team that was outscored by 13 points in the last five minutes? As usual, the truth probably lies somewhere in between. While the Cardinal have shown a defensive efficiency (86.2, ninth in the country) that will likely keep them in contention throughout the season, this is still a team that is inexperienced, and what experience they do have has not yet been a part of a successful team. In short, this team needs to learn how to win close games, and the process of playing in a tight game with an elite team, such as Syracuse, should help along the learning process.

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Stanford Can Win the Pac-12 With Its Defense

Posted by mlemaire on December 5th, 2011

Mike Lemaire is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from Sunday’s Stanford-NC State game.

For the first 33 minutes of its game against North Carolina State, Stanford looked nothing like the team that just nine days earlier had led No. 5 Syracuse by six points with less than five minutes to play. The Cardinal committed cheap fouls, they let the Wolfpack take open jump shots, and they allowed CJ Leslie and Ricardo Howell to catch the ball deep in the post for easy baskets. Then, over the next four minutes, Johnny Dawkins’ team played with a renewed sense of urgency.  They pressured the ball, fought through screens, were more physical on the low blocks and grabbed every rebound in sight. The result was a defensive effort that proved they are a legitimate contender for the Pac-12 crown.

Aaron Bright And His Teammates Have Plenty of Reasons To Smile After Starting The Season 8-1.

Entering Sunday’s game, the Cardinal was ranked eighth in the country in defensive efficiency. But with a little more than seven minutes left to play, NC State had opened up a 61-52 lead and Stanford’s defense was the primary guilty party. The Wolfpack shot 55.6% from the field in the first half to lead by four entering halftime, and Mark Gottfried’s team took advantage of Stanford’s flat start to the second half to increase the gap. But by the time the game clock read3:06, Stanford led 64-63 and they looked nothing like the same defense that had been on its heels four minutes earlier. They only forced two turnovers, but the Wolfpack had only mustered three free throws. The Cardinal never trailed again, finishing off a 76-72 win and posting perhaps the best non-conference win they will get all season long.

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RTC Conference Primers: #6 – Pac-12

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 1st, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-12 and Mountain West conferences as well as a Pac-12 microsite staffer. You can find him on Twitter @AMurawa.

Reader’s Take I

With only two of the ten players named to last year’s All-Pac-10 team returning, the race for the conference player of the year is wide open.

 

Top Storylines

  • Twelve Is The New Ten: After 33 seasons, college basketball fans on the west coast are getting used to calling their conference the Pac-12. With Colorado and Utah along for the ride (and currently taking their lumps in football), gone are the days of the home-and-away round-robin schedule on the basketball side of things. But lest the traditionalists complain too much, it could have been much different, as schools from Oklahoma and Texas (obviously the very definition of “Pacific” states) flirted with changing their allegiance for the second consecutive year before heading back to the Big 12.
  • Fresh Blood: As mentioned above in our poll question, the conference loses eight of the ten players on last year’s all-Pac-10 team, with just Jorge Gutierrez of Cal and UCLA’s Reeves Nelson returning. In other words, it is time for a new set of players to step up and take the reins of the league. The most likely candidates are a talented group of freshman guards – names like Josiah Turner and Nick Johnson at Arizona, Tony Wroten, Jr. at Washington, Jabari Brown at Oregon, Norman Powell at UCLA and Chasson Randle at Stanford.

Jorge Gutierrez Is A Lightning Rod Of A Guard For Mike Montgomery's Golden Bears, And Big Things Are Expected.

  • The Carson Show On Hold. A seventh highly-touted freshman guard, however, is stuck in limbo. Arizona State’s Jahii Carson has yet to be cleared for practice while an investigation continues into an online course the 5’10” point guard took this summer at Adams State in Colorado. That school has yet to release his course transcript, and until that happens, Carson is unable to practice with the Sun Devils, making an already difficult situation (being regarded as a savior for a team coming off a 12-19 campaign) even worse.
  • Hard Times for Kevin Parrom: Sometimes, just when everything is going well, life conspires to deal you a set of circumstances that just suck. It’s not bad enough that Parrom took a couple of bullets on September 24 during a home invasion, while in the Bronx visiting his sick mother. But on October 16, Parrom’s mom then passed away after a long battle with cancer. While both incidents will have lasting effects on Parrom, the bullet wounds are the biggest obstacle to him getting back on the court, with bullet fragments lodged in his right leg, a boot on his right foot, nerve damage and his left hand currently wrapped up to protect lacerations sustained in the attack. Parrom is rehabilitating his injuries and as of this writing, no hard timetable is set for his return. But if anybody is due for a good break or two, Parrom’s the guy. Get well soon, Kevin.

Predicted Order of Finish

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Conference Report Card: Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 13th, 2011

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

Conference Recap:

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

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

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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 10th, 2011

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

A Look Back

It was another one of those weeks in the Pac-10. Just when you thought the wheat had been separated from the chaff, everything gets all mixed up again. Conference-leading Washington drops two games in stunning fashion. Oregon rises up from the back of the pack to sweep the Washington schools, marking their fourth win in five games and getting back to within a game of .500. Oregon State shows signs of life, while Washington State, after seemingly being back in the mix, looks horrible in earning a split and UCLA has now having won seven of eight. And through it all, Arizona just keeps winning games and now finds itself at 20-4 on the season, 9-2 in the Pac-10, a game and a half ahead of UCLA, and #16 in the latest RTC poll despite not having beaten a team ranked in KenPom’s top 40 this season.

  • Team of the Week: Oregon – With all due respect to Arizona, this recognition has to go to the Ducks this week. All season long we’ve noted that this team probably has the least talent in the conference, yet they keep doing everything necessary to give themselves the best chances to stick around and maybe even beat you in the end. And then, on Thursday night, they throw that book right out the window and just pummel Washington State, 69-43, their largest margin of victory in the conference in almost five years. Joevan Catron continues to amaze, going for 37 points and 18 rebounds over the week, while getting help from all over the roster. Jay-R Strowbridge continued his recent run of providing instant and efficient offense off the bench, scoring 27 points on 11-21 shooting this week. Malcolm Armstead has taken his move to the bench in stride (take note Drew family), going for 16 points, eight assists and ten steals this week, while still getting plenty of minutes off the pine. E.J. Singler: 26 points, ten rebounds, six assists. Tyrone Nared: 14 points and six boards against Washington. Garrett Sim: 13 points and four assists against Washington State. And then solid contributions from Jonathan Loyd and Teondre Williams. All this and we haven’t even gotten to head coach Dana Altman who is on his way to running away with the Pac-10 Coach of the Year honors and throwing his name in the hat as a potential longshot National Coach of the Year contender. While this program has a long ways to go to get back to the level it wants to be at, clearly Altman and these Ducks have gone a long way towards taking that first step.
  • Player of the Week: Lamont “Momo” Jones, Sophomore, Arizona – With Arizona down three in the waning moments of regulation against Cal on Saturday night, Jones drove the baseline, drew a bump from Cal’s Markhuri Sanders-Frison, and flipped in a runner, then proceeded to the line and confidently knocked down the game-tying free throw. In the second overtime, with the ‘Cats again down three and with time dripping off the clock, Jones this time pulled up from deep and drilled the game-tying three. And then in the decisive third overtime, Jones put Arizona ahead for good with a layup at the one-minute mark. When Zona’s 107-105 triple-overtime victory was done, Jones had gone for a career-high 27 points. “I’ve played like this my whole life,” Jones boasted after the game. “To other people it might be something new, but to me it’s just another day in the life of Momo Jones.” Nevermind the fact that a quick glance through Jones’ game log in his two seasons with the Wildcats disproves that statement, but for one night at least, Jones was the best player in the Pac-10.
  • Newcomer of the Week: Jay-R Strowbridge, Senior, Oregon – Strowbridge is used to being a newcomer. He was a newcomer-to-be at Murray State, where he originally signed, before decommitting and enrolling at Nebraska, where he was a newcomer as a freshman. Then he was a newcomer at Jacksonville State after transferring there after Nebraska. Then, he was briefly a newcomer at Arkansas State, after using the NCAA rule that allows graduates to transfer to a school offering a graduate program not offered at his current school, but left there when ASU turned out to be under NCAA investigation. Now, he’s officially a newcomer at Oregon. Despite what that history of transfers and travels may suggest, he’s been a strong veteran presence for the Ducks, while providing some good offensive firepower off the bench. In Oregon’s four wins in their last five games, he has averaged 13.8 PPG and posted a 59.5 effective field goal percentage, and it seems at long last, Strowbridge has found a good home.
  • Game of the Week: Arizona 107, Oregon State 105 (3OT) – Not only is this the game of the week, it is the leader in the clubhouse for game of the year in the Pac-10, and a strong contender for game of the year in the country. 14 ties, 17 lead changes, numerous clutch plays on both sides of the ball, career-highs littering the stat sheets. And RTC Live was lucky enough to be there.
  • Game of the Upcoming Week: California (13-10, 6-5) at Washington (15-7, 7-4), 2/10, 6PM PST, FSN – Around this time of year, it starts to seem that every game is a huge one. For the Huskies, riding a three-game losing streak, they need to stop the free fall immediately. They’ve dug themselves a hole in the race for the conference title, but there is still plenty of time to dig back out, provided they can turn things around. For the Golden Bears, there is still hope of getting back in the NCAA Tournament at-large discussion, but following the heart-breaking loss to Arizona on Saturday, they’ll need to bounce back right away. For one of these teams, the bad luck streak continues, while the other has temporarily righted the ship.

Power Rankings

1. Arizona (20-4, 9-2): Last week in this space, I said that a road sweep of the Bay Area schools would be mighty impressive, and I stand by that claim. While Stanford and Cal both gave them a run, the Wildcats did what was necessary to come away with a pair of wins. Most impressive of all, however, was getting the win at Cal, despite playing without Derrick Williams for the last 15+ minutes of the game, after he had fouled out. Throwing aside the perception that this was Williams and a bunch of guys riding his coattails, Jones, Kevin Parrom and Brendon Lavender took over the game in the overtime periods and willed the Cats to victory. Between those three, they had 33 of the 34 Arizona points scored after Williams fouled out (Jones 15, Parrom 13, Lavender 5), proving once and for all that this team is capable of beating good teams in tough environments, even without Williams.

Looking ahead: The ‘Cats travel to Tempe to face in-state rival Arizona State in a game that looks like it should be a breather. But we’ve already learned this season that there is nothing that should be taken for granted in this conference, especially in a road environment against your heated rival.

2. Washington (15-7, 7-4): Let’s not go crazy with Washington and kill them for their performance last week in Oregon. Sure, for the team that was the favorite in the conference, losing back-to-back games to those teams is alarming. But, as Lorenzo Romar was quick to point out following their loss Saturday at Oregon, this type of play in the middle of the season is typical for the Huskies. Maddening, for sure, but typical. In 2006, the Huskies lost three games in a row in the middle of Pac-10 play, dropping to 5-5, then proceeded to heat back up again, finish second in the conference and advance to the Sweet 16. Last year, the Huskies lost three in a row near the start of conference play, dropping as far as 3-5 in the conference, before winning 12 of their last 14 in the regular season and again advancing to the Sweet 16. We had been promised that this year would be different, and when the Huskies powered through the distractions of a sexual assault case (which, incidentally, has been dropped by the King County prosecutor) and a season-ending loss of their starting point guard, Abdul Gaddy, we bought into that idea for a while. But now, the Huskies have lost three in a row again and look for all the world to be the same old Huskies. You know, the Sweet 16 variety.

Looking ahead: The Huskies invite Cal and Stanford into the Hec-Ed, with all parties looking to rebound from last weekend’s disappointments.

3. UCLA (16-7, 7-3): We haven’t talked much about the Bruins to this point, but they are coming off a big week for them. First, on Wednesday they broke a four-game losing streak to cross-town rival USC. Then, on Saturday they came back and defeated former head coach Steve Lavin in his return to the sidelines at Pauley Pavilion as the first-year head coach of St. John’s. We detailed the USC game in last week’s Pac-10 Check-in, but the game against the Johnnies on the weekend was a case of the good Bruins getting the better of the bad Bruins. The good Bruins? Try grabbing 51.9% of all offensive rebounds, getting four players in double-digit scoring and outscoring their opponent from the charity stripe 27-5. The bad Bruins, however, showed up in repeated turnovers (19 total, although I swear it seemed like double that) and allowing the Red Storm to grab nearly 37% of their own offensive rebounds. In the end, Ben Howland’s crew needed an unlikely three by Reeves Nelson (who had 12 points and 17 rebounds on the day) to finally put St. John’s away, after they had cut an 11-point Bruin lead at the five-minute mark to just three in the final minute.

Looking ahead: The Bruins host the Oregon schools this week, and you can bet the coaching staff will use Washington’s struggles last week as a major teachable moment: these are not teams to overlook.

4. Washington State (16-7, 6-5): The Cougars loss at Oregon on Thursday night was just disgusting. They posted a sub-30% effective field goal percentage, got killed on the boards and look passive defensively. Junior Klay Thompson turned the ball over six times, missed nine of his 13 field goal attempts (including six of his eight three-pointers) and was frustrated repeatedly by Oregon’s Malcolm Armstead. All of which led to an entirely forgettable 26-point loss. If there was good news for Ken Bone this week, it was that the Cougars were able to put that monstrosity behind them and still go to Oregon State a couple of days later and come away with a hard-fought win. The performance was only marginally better looking (Thompson was just 2/7 in this game and he turned the ball over five times, while his teammates coughed it up 15 other times), but they did just enough work on the boards to escape from Oregon with one win in a completely unimpressive weekend.

Looking ahead: The Cougars host Stanford and Cal this week, and really need to get both of these in order to begin re-establishing their tournament credentials.

5. Cal (13-10, 6-5): There were so many times during the Arizona game on Saturday night where Bear fans had to be telling themselves: “We’re this close to being just a game out of first place in the conference.” Unfortunately for them, in each of those cases, they just couldn’t close the door. Sure, the foul called on Sanders-Frison on the Momo Jones runner at the end of regulation was iffy at best. But the Bears have to be kicking themselves for Jorge Gutierrez’s charge (and fifth foul) on a fast break in the first overtime, for failing to get a hand in Jones’ face at the end of the second overtime, for missed free throws and missed jumpers at the end of the third overtime, and many other plays down the stretch. The fact is, Cal had numerous chances to dance into the night with a victory, but each time it was the Wildcats who made the plays to get the job done. Now, all that being said, this is still a good Golden Bear team that, provided they can shake this loss off and learn from it, could be very much a factor in the final month of the regular season and into the Pac-10 Tournament.

Looking ahead: A trip up north to visit a couple of very angry Washington squads does not make a bounce-back victory easy to come by for Mike Montgomery and company. But if they want to keep their distant NCAA at-large hopes on life support, they’ll need to get right back to business.

6. Oregon (12-11, 5-6): We covered it all above in the Team of the Week section, but let me just repeat how amazed I am that this team has a winning record on the season, is just a game below .500 in the Pac-10 and is worthy of being ranked #6 in the conference; just a stunning coaching job by Altman.

Looking ahead: At UCLA on Thursday, at USC on Saturday – the Ducks have proven that they are capable of winning these types of games, and they have won two of their last three on the road.

7. Stanford (12-10, 5-6): The Cardinal just keep plodding along. Win a game, lose a game, rinse and repeat as necessary. Aside from getting swept in their Southern California road trip, the Cardinal have earned a split in every other week in the Pac-10 schedule thus far. This week, it was a home loss against Arizona after hanging tight for much of the game, then taking care of business against last-place Arizona State on Saturday. Jeremy Green woke up from a slump by scoring 20 or more in back to back games for the first time since before Thanksgiving. He poured in 21 against the Wildcats in a volume shooting effort, taking 21 shots on the night. But against ASU, he was incredibly efficient, knocking down six of his eight field goals, including all five of his attempts from behind the arc, and six of his eight free throw attempts on his way to a 23-point effort. Josh Owens was again his right-hand man, averaging 14.5 points and 8.5 rebounds this week. And junior point guard Jarrett Mann had his best week of the season, doing a little of everything: 25 points, 12 assists, 11 rebounds, and five steals on the week.

Looking ahead: Stanford takes to the highway with visits to highly motivated Washington squads this week. If they can continue their affinity for weekly splits, this week will have to be considered a success.

8. USC (12-11, 4-6): The Trojans are a disappointment, in a lot of ways. KenPom says their defensive efficiency is 43rd in the nation – you can bet that’s at least a couple dozen notches lower than what Kevin O’Neill had hoped. But, worse than that has been their offense, currently the 73rd most efficient offense in the country. The Trojans simply don’t have the firepower offensively to keep up in the Pac-10. It was expected that junior point guard Jio Fontan would provide them with a spark in the backcourt, but while he has done a pretty good job feeding big men Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson, he just hasn’t provided the scoring punch that he showed in his freshman season at Fordham. Right now, the best offense the Trojans can muster on a regular basis is a missed shot, as Vucevic and Stepheson have both been good – albeit not great – offensive rebounders. In just four of their ten Pac-10 games have they averaged more than a point per possession, but surprisingly, they have only won one of those games. They’ve got a 1-3 record in their four best offensive games, but a 3-3 record in the games in the games in which they score less than a point per possession. I know their best chance at winning is to ugly up their games, but that is ridiculous.

Looking ahead: The Trojans host Oregon State and Oregon in an effort to prove that they haven’t quit on the season.

9. Oregon State (9-13, 4-7): This Beaver team makes an art out of being inconsistent. It seems like at every point this season when I’ve written them off completely, they respond with an improbable victory. I overreact to their win, pronounce them one of the top-five most talented teams in the conference, and then they proceed to stink up the gym for a week or two. This week, they added the win over Washington to their hysterically schizophrenic resume. Yes, they’re a young team. But after four months of playing together, you’d think they’d at least be marginally predictable. Obviously, Craig Robinson has a lot of rope in Corvallis, given that there is at least some life in this once moribund program, but I’m ready to see some results – the talent is there.

Looking ahead: A trip to sunny southern California, the home of four of the Beavers best players.

10. Arizona State (9-14, 1-10): Herb Sendek is deep in the middle of a terrible nightmare, and nobody will even do him the solid to wake him up. Nobody thought this was going to be the Arizona State team that would make Sun Devils fans forget all about James Harden or Super Mario or Byron Scott and Fat Lever. But likewise, nobody thought that they would be this bad. The Devils didn’t look great in the non-conference schedule, but they had wins over UAB and Long Beach State and Nevada at least, they played Richmond and St. John’s well. You figured, maybe a lower division Pac-10 finish, but they’ll be right around .500 when all is said and done. They opened Pac-10 play with a home split against the Oregon schools, not great, but not exactly time to slit the wrists. They mixed in a win over a decent Tulsa team in the midst of conference play, but beyond that, they’re left staring at a nine-game conference losing streak. How? This team had three senior returning starters, almost more than the rest of the league combined. This team had, and still has, some good young pieces. How is this team so bad in a year when the Pac-10 is not exactly great? Just look at their Ken Pom page and it all becomes clear. They don’t do anything well, they’re efficiency numbers are mediocre on both ends of the court, they’re terrible at getting to the line and getting on the offensive glass (although that last one is at least by design), and they’ve only got four players on the roster who just squeak over the century mark in offensive efficiency. And worst of all, for a team that relies so heavily on the three (over 40% of their field goal attempts come from behind the arc), they’re just not a very good three-point shooting team, hitting just 34.7% of their attempts from back there, good for 145th in the country. Ouch.

Looking ahead: The massacre continues when Arizona comes to visit on Sunday. Although, you have to figure, if those three-pointers ever start falling at a higher-than-historical rate, they’ll beat somebody. Right?

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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 2nd, 2010

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

 

A Look Back

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

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

Team of the Week

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

Player of the Week

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

Newcomer of the Week

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

Game of the Week

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

Game of the Upcoming Week

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

Power Rankings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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RTC Conference Primers: #6 – Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 1st, 2010

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

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Washington (13-5)
  2. Arizona (12-6)
  3. UCLA (11-7)
  4. Washington State (10-8)
  5. Arizona State (10-8)
  6. Cal (9-9)
  7. USC (9-9)
  8. Stanford (6-12)
  9. Oregon State (6-12)
  10. Oregon (4-14)

All-Conference Team

  • G: Isaiah Thomas. Jr, Washington (16.9 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 3.2 APG)
  • G: Klay Thompson, Jr, Washington State (19.6 PPG, 5.1 RPG).
  • G: Jeremy Green, Jr, Stanford (16.6 PPG, 3.8 RPG)
  • F: Derrick Williams, Soph, Arizona (15.7 PPG, 7.1 RPG)
  • F: Nikola Vucevic, Jr, USC (10.7 PPG, 9.4 RPG)

6th Man

Ty Abbott, Sr, Arizona State (12.0 PPG, 4.4 RPG)

Impact Newcomer

Josh Smith, Fr, UCLA: Smith is the biggest incoming recruit in the conference, in more ways than one. Ranked the 20th-best recruit in the 2010 class according to ESPNU, Smith also tipped the scales at somewhere over three bills when he stepped onto the UCLA campus this summer. Immediately, head coach Ben Howland put him in a conditioning program and Smith changed his dietary habits as well, putting him on the road towards dropping 40 pounds already. Paired with his soft hands and quick feet, the trimmed-down Smith will play a vital role in the Bruins’ attempts to bounce back from last year’s brutal campaign.

UCLA’s Ben Howland is among several Pac-10 coaches looking to make the conference an NCAA Tournament threat again after a poor showing in 2009-10.

What You Need to Know

  • Pac-10 Blues: Last year, the Pac-10 was saved from the indignity of receiving only one NCAA Tournament berth when Washington won nine of their last 11 games of the regular season, then proceeded to win the Pac-10 Tournament to clinch the automatic berth. Together with regular season champion California, the Huskies represented the Pac-10 well, advancing to the Sweet 16 before losing to eventual Final Four team West Virginia, while the Golden Bears fell in the second round to eventual champion Duke. However, the Pac-10’s limited success in the tournament did little to hide the fact that last season was a down year across the conference, and with 11 of last year’s top 20 scorers, and nine of the top 20 rebounders gone, it doesn’t seem that the talent level across the conference is ready to skyrocket.
  • Stability and Youth: But, while there aren’t loads of household names up and down the rosters in the conference, there is some stability, as only Oregon welcomes a new head coach (Dana Altman, formerly of Creighton) and teams across the conference average a total of 3.2 returning starters. And there is plenty of youth, with just 17 seniors on rosters across the conference. Schools will need to see their youngsters step up quickly for the Pac-10 to improve upon last year’s showing. There is a bright side here, though. Even with five members of last year’s all-tournament team (all except the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, Isaiah Thomas) and six of the ten All-Pac-10 first team members having graduated, most teams around the conference, with the significant exception of Cal, return the majority of their production – eight of the ten conference schools return more than 50% of their scoring production, and nine of the ten return more than 50% of their rebounding production. If the kids around the conference can put some of that experience they earned last season to use, this could be a much-improved conference, as the veteran coaches around this conference have proven their ability to coach up their players. There are five coaches in the Pac-10 with more than 300 career wins, and that doesn’t even include some of the most respected young coaches in the land like Sean Miller and Lorenzo Romar. While the talent level seems to be down across the conference, expect this lineup of stellar coaches to get the most out of what they do have.
  • Last Roundup: This season marks the end of the Pac-10 conference. Next year the conference will welcome Colorado and Utah, officially becoming the Pac-12. In the process, plenty of tradition will be discarded: no more home-and-home round robin and the resultant crowning of a true regular season champion, the biggest change. There will be years where UCLA doesn’t visit McKale and Oregon won’t visit Hec Ed, for instance. But in the long run, the conference will add a Utah program that has had some significant success over the years (including a run to the national championship game in 1998) and a Colorado program that, well…hey, they made a Final Four in 1955, I’m told. In any event, come 2011-12, basketball season around the conference will have a different feel.

Predicted Champion

Washington (NCAA Seed: #5): The Huskies are pretty much the de facto favorite, given that last year’s regular season champion Cal lost about 85% of its scoring, but Lorenzo Romar’s team, despite having plenty of talent, still has some question marks. Not in question is the team leader, 5’8 junior point guard Isaiah Thomas, a dynamo who is the team’s leading returning scorer and an interesting personality. Paired in the backcourt with 6’0 senior Venoy Overton (8.5 PPG, 3.1 APG. 2.9 RPG), the duo are undersized but form an intimidating pair for opposing ballhandlers, with the quickness and aggressiveness to get up into their opponents, keeping the opposition from getting comfortable in the half-court set and forcing turnovers which the Huskies can use to jump-start their transition game. They can be overpowered by bigger guards in the half-court game, but use their quickness to good advantage defensively. On the offensive end, Thomas plays with a style that belies his stature, getting into the lane and drawing fouls or finishing in often spectacular ways. The Huskies also return sophomore guard Abdul Gaddy (3.9 PPG, 2.3 APG), the second-ranked point guard in the 2009 recruiting class, who struggled finding his rhythm in his rookie campaign. Should he get his swagger back and become a consistent offensive force for Washington, they could have one of the stronger backcourts in the nation, with junior Scott Suggs (4.7 PPG, 1.2 RPG) providing depth and a good long-range threat. However, up front the team still has something to prove, given the graduation of last year’s leading scorer Quincy Pondexter and the retirement from basketball over the summer of forward Tyrese Breshers due to medical issues. Matthew Bryan-Amaning (8.8 PPG, 5.9 RPG) and Justin Holiday (5.9 PPG, 4.5 RPG) figure to start at the forward spots, giving the Huskies an undersized but athletic starting five. Bryan-Amaning will need to prove himself capable of taking over Pondexter’s role, but all signs show that he is ready for that challenge, as he finished his junior season strong and was one of the big reasons for Washington’s improvement down the stretch. Depth up front will come from 6’8 junior scrapper Darnell Gant (2.5 PPG, 2.4 RPG), 7’0 transfer Aziz N’Diaye and 6’6 wing Terrence Ross, one of the conference’s most heralded newcomers, and a guy who could be an offensive weapon immediately for Romar, provided he can earn the minutes. In a conference where the talent level is presently in question, there is little doubt that the Huskies have plenty of talent. But they’d like to come out of the gates more quickly than they did last season and prove that they are ready to win on the road on a consistent basis, something they struggled with in 2009-10, when they lost their first seven games away from the Hec Ed. Odds are, they’ll be improved in that area due to an extra year of experience for their hyper-talented backcourt, but they’ll have a good early season test of that theory when they travel to the Maui Invitational during Thanksgiving week.

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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by rtmsf on March 2nd, 2010

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

Standings

  1. California    (12-5, 20-9)
  2. Arizona State     (10-6, 20-9)
  3. Washington     (9-7, 19-9)
  4. USC     (8-8, 16-12)
  5. Arizona      (8-8, 14-14)
  6. UCLA     (8-8, 13-15)
  7. Oregon State    (7-9, 13-15)
  8. Stanford    (7-10, 13-16)
  9. Washington State    (6-10, 16-12)
  10. Oregon     (6-10, 14-14)

It may not have been the type of season that Cal head coach Mike Montgomery envisioned at the start of the year when his Golden Bears and their five returning starters were ranked in the top 15, but as the calendar page gets flipped to the only month that really matters in college basketball, his team has just finished clinching at least a part of the Pac-10 regular season title and the top seed in next week’s Pac-10 Tournament. What could be very interesting for the Bears, however, is a scenario that Montgomery has no interest in seeing happen: the Bears failing to win the Pac-10 Tournament and its automatic bid, leaving Cal — a team with an RPI in the 20s but no wins against top-50 RPI teams -– squarely on the bubble for NCAA at-large consideration.

Team Rundowns

  • California – The Bears wrapped up their portion of the Pac-10 title by sweeping the Arizona schools behind strong play from their seniors. Over the course of the weekend, the five Bear seniors (Jamal Boykin, Jerome Randle, Patrick Christopher, Theo Robertson and Nikola Knezevic) combined for 129 of the 157 Cal points. Boykin led the way and took home Pac-10 player-of-the-week honors behind averages of 17 points and 8.5 rebounds. Cal still needs either a win at Stanford or a loss by Arizona State in one of their games against the Southern California schools to wrap up sole possession of the regular season crown.
  • Arizona State – The Sun Devils hung around for a half at Haas Pavilion on Saturday, but ice-cold second half shooting (just 7-26 from the field) and a complete inability to hit from range throughout the game (only 3-22 from behind the arc) doomed ASU. Only senior Jerren Shipp was able to get off against the Bears, hitting six of his nine shots (including two threes) for 14 points. Senior center Eric Boateng tied a Pac-10 record by hitting all 11 of his field goal attempts (on his way to 24 points) in their win over Stanford on Thursday. The Devils still have the inside track on the number two seed in the Pac-10 tournament, with a one-game lead over Washington.
  • Washington – The Huskies completed a season-sweep over intrastate rival Washington State on Saturday by getting out to a big first half lead (they led 35-21 at the half) and then fighting off a charging Cougar squad for a seven-point win. Sophomore point guard Isaiah Thomas led all scorers with 22 points and junior forward Matthew Bryan-Amaning continued his recent tear by adding 17 points and 12 rebounds. Bryan-Amaning has now averaged 13/7 over the past six weeks. Washington will head to the Oregon schools to wrap up their regular season, needing to win both games and get some help out of the Southern California schools in order to take over second place.
  • USC – Coming into the week, the Trojans still had an outside shot at winning the regular season Pac-10 title. Those hopes died Thursday night when they scored 12 points in the second half (6/25 FGs, 0/13 3s in the second half) against Oregon. The Trojans followed that up with a similar performance against Oregon State on Saturday, shooting just 25% from the field in the second half (and 29% for the game). Coach Kevin O’Neill will lose senior starters Mike Gerrity, Dwight Lewis and Marcus Johnson off a team that has leaned heavily on its starting five, assuring that things will look different around the Galen Center next season.
  • Arizona – The Wildcats split their trip to the Bay Area this weekend, stealing a game from Stanford on Saturday on a 15-foot bank at the buzzer by freshman guard Lamont “Momo” Jones. Jones had a career high 16 points for the ‘Cats and fellow freshman Derrick Williams added 24 points to push Sean Miller’s club into a three-way tie in the middle of the conference. While senior point guard Nic Wise will be wrapping up his college career this weekend, the Wildcats boast a young team (five freshmen get playing time) that will likely be considered one of the early favorites in the Pac-10 next season.

  • UCLA – Senior day summed up the UCLA season pretty well. Before the game started, senior forward Nikola Dragovic, a couple of days after having his shoulder pop out against Oregon State, tripped over a basketball during warm-ups and sprained his ankle. And then, after battling back from a 10-point halftime deficit to tie the game late, sophomore point guard Jerime Anderson had two bad turnovers in the last minute and the Bruins sank back to .500 in the conference. Senior Michael Roll did go out in style, knocking down six three-pointers on his way to 25 points in his last regular season appearance in Pauley Pavilion.
  • Oregon State – The Beavers shot just 4-31 from 3-pt range this week, hit only 37% from the field, turned the ball over 30 times, and still got a split in Southern California when they forced 20 USC turnovers and held the Trojans to 29% shooting on Saturday. Senior guard Seth Tarver led the Beavs with 15 points in a game that was ugly enough to deserve special mention in a season of ugliness in the Pac-10. Oregon State still has a chance to finish the Pac-10 season at .500 with wins over the Arizona schools in the final weekend of the season.
  • Stanford – Despite senior Landry Fields’ strong last weekend in Maples Pavilion, the Cardinal dropped both games this week and are destined for a lower-division Pac-10 finish. Fields averaged 21.5 points and seven rebounds this week, but against the Sun Devils on Thursday he received very little help. Sophomore guards Jeremy Green and Jarrett Mann combined to score just six points on 2-15 shooting (and, to be fair to Mann, he only accounted for one of those field goal attempts – a miss). They both bounced back against Arizona on Saturday, going for 19 and 13 respectively, but the Cardinal lost a heart-breaker on a shot at the buzzer.
  • Washington State – The Cougars stumbled out of the gate on Saturday and by halftime were down 14 on Senior Night in Beasley Coliseum. But sophomore forward DeAngelo Casto led the Cougars on a second half run to get back in the game and even take their first lead of the game in the middle of the second half. However, the Cougars were unable to contain the Huskies’ Thomas late and the Cougs faded down the stretch. Casto wound up with 19/6, but the Cougs’ leading scorer, sophomore Klay Thompson, struggled all day, missing 12 of his 14 field goal attempts and turning the ball over five times. The Cougars will close the season with a road trip to Oregon.
  • Oregon – The Ducks went on the road to Southern California and swept UCLA and USC, breaking a five-game losing streak in a big way, and now have put themselves in position to climb out of the cellar with a strong closing weekend of the season, as the Ducks host the Washington schools while saying goodbye to senior Tajuan Porter as well as MacArthur Court. Porter averaged 22.5 ppg in the LA sweep and threw in seven threes in the win over the Bruins, leaving him just eight threes behind former Arizona star Salim Stoudamire for the all-time Pac-10 mark.
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