Five Takeaways From Monday Night at the CBE Classic

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 25th, 2014

Feast Week tipped off Monday night, and RTC contributor Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) dispatched this report from Kansas City, where Maryland pulled away late against Arizona State before Iowa State handled Alabama to win its fourth straight game in the Sprint Center.

Melo Trimble Broke Out Last Night in KC (KCStar.com)

Melo Trimble Broke Out Last Night in KC (KCStar.com)

  • Melo Trimble is going to be a load in the Big Ten. When Maryland’s attrition reached its apex over the summer (and arguably before then), it was easy to get down on their prospects for this season. Whether Mark Turgeon takes his remaining pieces to the NCAA Tournament is a question that won’t be answered for several weeks, but if they do, their freshman point guard will be a huge reason why. In just the fourth game of his career, Melo Trimble scored 31 points to nearly break a school freshman scoring record set by Joe Smith, but looked as poised and relaxed as a 31-point scorer could possibly look. While there’s a lot on the line for Maryland this year, the hope is that Trimble won’t need to be this good night and night out. Still, given shoddy performances by teams like Iowa and Indiana in the early going, there may be room for Maryland to ride its young star into the top half of the conference.
  • Arizona State lets a good offensive effort go to waste. The Sun Devils’ offense was stellar thanks to spacing and excellent execution, especially from deep. Arizona State rained in 14 threes, its highest total since November 12 of last year. Jonathan Gilling was white-hot, hitting seven of his ten three-pointers while Bo Barnes added on five on seven tries of his own. Arizona State’s undoing came in the final minutes as it missed several key rebounds and allowed Dez Wells to take over for Maryland. The game effectively ended on a possession where Barnes rushed a deep jumper with a bad angle. While ASU’s fiery 51.9% clip from distance Monday night is hardly sustainable, Herb Sendek’s team looked like it was much further along developmentally than most teams are at this point in the season, especially considering that they’re moving on without two huge pieces from last year. Unfortunately, they could find themselves wondering what might have been if they had managed to get just a few more stops.

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Pac-12 All-Defense & Specialty Teams

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 12th, 2014

Yesterday we unveiled our RTC Pac-12 All-Freshmen and All-Transfer teams. Tomorrow, we’ll release our All-Conference teams. And on Friday, just before the first games tip off, we’ll have the results of our preseason conference poll. Today, we will have a little fun though and unveil our specialty teams, ranging from our Gary Payton All-Defensive team, to our Jorge Gutierrez All-Glue team to our Russell Westbrook All-Dunktastic Team. Enjoy. And feel free to let us know where we screwed up.

The Gary Payton Pac-12 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year: T.J. McConnell, Arizona

He won’t wow you with his athleticism or make opponents look silly with soul-crushing blocks or quick-handed steals, but McConnell is the consummate veteran who is always in the right place at the right time, funneling opponents toward long-armed and intimidating opponents. Sure, McConnell probably gets this award because he plays on a team with so many other terrific defenders (Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson can destroy opponents with their athleticism, while Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski are capable rim-protectors), but he’s a fundamentally-minded defender who always makes things difficult on opponents.

T.J. McConnell's Smarts And Grit Earned Him Our Preseason All-Defensive Player (Arizona Athletics)

T.J. McConnell’s Smarts And Grit Earned Him Our Preseason All-Defensive Player. (Arizona Athletics)

Joining McConnell on the All-Defensive Team are:

  • Delon Wright, Sr, Utah
  • Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Soph, Arizona
  • Shaquielle McKissic, Sr, Arizona State
  • Norman Powell, Sr, UCLA

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Pac-12 Media Day Roundup: Part Two

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) on October 24th, 2014

Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) of Pachoops.com is back for another go-round on his March to Vegas. He covered the Pac-12 Media Day on Thursday. Part I of this two-part series, which covered USC, Washington State, Oregon State, California, Washington and Utah, is located here.

Arizona State

Senior Jonathan Gilling Had Head Coach Herb Sendek Speaking In Glowing Terms (Pac-12 Conference)

Senior Jonathan Gilling Had Head Coach Herb Sendek Speaking In Glowing Terms (Pac-12 Conference)

If nothing else, you have to love Herb Sendek’s enthusiasm. He’s a very positive dude and, at Media Day, has so many great things to say about everything. This year in particular he came out, positivity guns-a-blazing, about his senior wing, Jonathan Gilling. “He basically has been a four-year starter except for the fact last year he discovered he loves to come off the bench. He’s our best sixth man… I think he’s had the best offseason and preseason since he’s been at Arizona State.” Jon Gilling, as it were, seems to be killing it, perhaps even Gilling it, if you’ll allow me. But with the level of turnover and the new faces in Tempe, it’s going to take a lot more than a sixth man’s effort for the Devils to be successful. Fear not, positive Herb would have you know! Newcomers like Willie Atwood, Gerry Blakes, and Roosevelt Scott will be providing wing skills and combo-guard talents that will greatly help Arizona State. Tra Holder, their freshman point guard, will be distributing to these wings and the three-raining Gilling. The Devils can maintain their year-over-year emphasis on tempo with this personnel. This isn’t your Jahii Carson or James Harden Sun Devils, but it just might be a collective effort that leads this group beyond expectations. Particularly considering Sendek’s thoughts on how the conference’s final standings could – literally – shake out: “You could probably put everybody in a hat, shake it up, have just as good a chance at predicting the order of finish as we are able to do sitting here today… So how anybody short of Nostradamus could sit here today and predict like there really is a difference between ninth and tenth or eighth and ninth just is unreasonable.” Here’s a hat, Herb, shake it up.

Stanford

For the first time in his six seasons at Stanford, Johnny Dawkins took the podium as an NCAA Tournament coach. That’s huge. Had that not been the case it’s very likely that he wouldn’t have been joining us at Media Day. Nevertheless, that wasn’t the case and he wasn’t going to miss his opportunity. JD gave the longest and most insightful opening remarks of any of the coaches. He touched on last season and the experience they had as well as whom they lost. Dawkins transitioned into his excitement for this season and the schedule they’ve pieced together, its challenges. He praised his stage-mate, Chasson Randle, and noted that the Cardinal’s game in Chicago is an opportunity for Chasson to return home. Johnny Dawkins was excited to be here just as I imagine he was excited to have made last year’s Sweet Sixteen. I asked him about it and loved what he had to say: “It’s about standards, you know. Last year we were able to set the bar… You have to have standards to meet or exceed what you’ve accomplished.” These were some of my favorite quotes of the day and certainly the most encouraging I’ve heard from Dawkins before. Last year he told me his 9-9 conference team, returning almost completely intact, was going to “Think about things differently.” I wasn’t sold and they managed 10-8. But now that bar has been set. The hurdle has been jumped and the program knows that it can make the Tournament. And be loud there. The experience of Randle, Anthony Brown and Stefan Nastic is not just games played but actual NCAA Tournament wins. That speaks volumes to the newcomers filling the gaps left by Josh Huestis, Dwight Powell, and John Gage. Collectively, this group doesn’t just believe, they don’t think about doing it anymore. They now know.

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Pac-12 Season Preview: Arizona State Sun Devils

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

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

Arizona State Sun Devils

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

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

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

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

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Pac-12 M5: 01.28.14 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 28th, 2014

pac12_morning5

  1. Oregon broke its five-game losing streak on Sunday night, but given that it came against the worst team in the league, doubts still remain as to whether its win over Washington State was a sign of a turnaround or merely the exploitation of a bad team. The good news is that we’ll get a good read on the answer to that question on Thursday night when the Ducks will host UCLA in Eugene. With the Bruins featuring both the second best offense and defense in conference play (according to KenPom.com) and the Ducks ranking sixth and ninth, respectively, clearly Oregon takes a step up in competition this week.
  2. Likewise, Arizona State turned things around a bit last week, backing up two road losses with a pair of road wins against the Rockies’ schools. One notable change for the Sun Devils came with sophomore forward Eric Jacobsen replacing junior wing Jonathan Gilling in the starting lineup. Gilling still earned more minutes than Jacobsen (55 to 36), but the change came in order to help give the 6’10” sophomore a potential confidence boost. While the numbers for Jacobsen weren’t huge (10 points, seven boards for the weekend), maybe the biggest benefit will come to Gilling who can give the Sun Devils a scoring jolt off the bench. Last week he made all seven of his three-point attempts and is averaging 12.5 points, 4.5 boards and 3.5 assists per game in his new role.
  3. Utah caught the attention of the nation for better than 30 minutes of action on Sunday night as the Utes gave Arizona a run for their money at the McKale Center. But, as has been the case often this year, Utah was unable to finish strong, fading late to the nation’s top-ranked team. While Larry Krystkowiak has turned his squad into a very competitive team (their five losses come by a combined total of 22 points), they’ve still got to learn how to take these strong efforts and turn them into wins. But with more talent on the way next year and almost everybody of note from this team expected to return, the future is bright indeed in Salt Lake City.
  4. USC played its best pair of back-to-back games over the weekend in coming away with a home split against the Bay Area schools. On Sunday afternoon they took Stanford to overtime, but once there, junior guard Chasson Randle carried the Cardinal home, scoring seven strong points in the overtime period. Still, the Trojans are coming along slowly but surely. Byron Wesley continues to be amazing; Strahinja Gavrilovic appears to be a piece worth planning around; and the Trojans’ top recruit – point guard Jordan McLaughlin – took in the game from the stands.
  5. Lastly, Washington freshman point guard Nigel Williams-Goss had his breakout performance on Saturday when he set a freshman single-game scoring record at the school with a 32-point outburst against Oregon State. With Oregon State focused on slowing C.J. Wilcox, Williams-Goss went wild, helping to bring the Huskies back from a double-figure second half deficit. And not only did he score in droves, but he did so in super-efficient fashion, getting all of his points in just 15 total field goal attempts.
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Pac-12 Team Preview: Arizona State Sun Devils

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on October 29th, 2013

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

Arizona State Sun Devils

Strengths. The combination of the lightning-quick Jahii Carson and sharpshooter Jermaine Marshall gives head coach Herb Sendek one of the top one-two punches in the conference. Carson, arguably one of the top 10 point guards in the nation, will run the offense and is as dangerous as anyone in the Pac-12 in crunch time. Complementing the sophomore in the backcourt will be the Penn State transfer Marshall, whose ability to score from the perimeter and by driving to the basket will take some of the load off Carson. Sendek will employ a faster offense this season looking to maximize the speed and talent the pair provides. If Carson develops a strong left hand and even just on occasion forces defenses to play him more honestly, Arizona State can score enough points to compete with anyone in the Pac-12. All of this should result in its first NCAA Tournament trip since the 2008-09 campaign.

Everything Will Go Through Carson For Arizona State This Season (credit: Zach Long)

Everything Will Go Through Carson For Arizona State This Season (credit: Zach Long)

Weaknesses. As good as Carson and Marshall are, there will be nights when a little depth is required. And that’s where ASU could get into trouble. The next best guard is cornerman Shaquielle McKissic, who is in from Edmonds Community College. McKissic has some raw talent and athleticism, but he will be called upon often and doesn’t appear to be Pac-12 ready.

Non-Conference Tests. Arizona State starts the year with a trio of cupcakes before playing seven consecutive solid opponents. That’s almost unheard of in power conference basketball, so it will be interesting to see how the Sun Devils fare during the brutal two-and-a-half week stretch. Known games with UNLV (in Las Vegas), Marquette (in Tempe), and Creighton (in Fullerton) highlight the slate, while possible match-ups with San Diego State and Miami (FL) are also possible. They’ll remain on the road following the Wooden Legacy for a game at DePaul, which is still a Big East road game no matter how bad the Blue Demons might be.

Toughest Conference Stretch. Sendek’s team will get to face the two toughest teams in the Pac-12 back-to-back on the road near the front end of the league schedule. They’ll get a brief reprieve when hosting Utah following the Arizona game, but a visit from dangerous Colorado two days later accelerates things once more.

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Pac-12 M5: 10.18.13 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on October 18th, 2013

  1. pac12_morning5Pac-12 Media Day is in the books, meaning, if nothing else, we’re another day closer to actual games. We’ll have some info in the coming days from there, but for this morning, Percy Allen of The Seattle Times has a rundown of the highlights of each speaker’s time in the spotlight. As for the media poll, there were no real surprises as Arizona received 21 of the 23 first-place votes while UCLA and Colorado each grabbed one on the way to second and third place, respectively. Oregon, California, and Stanford rounded out the upper half of the league, with Arizona State not far behind.
  2. In order for Arizona State to break into that upper-half of the league (they finished in a four-way tie for sixth last season), they’re going to need Penn State transfer Jermaine Marshall to be a scoring threat on the wing. But unfortunately for Marshall and the Sun Devils, the senior has been sidelined with a case of coccidiodomycosis, or “Valley fever”, for the past week. With point guard Jahii Carson having previously missed some time with leg problems, what could be a dynamic backcourt duo for the Sun Devils have not had quite as much time to get used to each other as would have been ideal.
  3. While there is no doubt that Carson is the Sun Devils’ point guard and floor general, head coach Herb Sendek recently talked up the idea of junior forward Jonathan Gilling as the team’s quarterback because of his ability to get everybody on the floor operating in unison. While he’s not the kind of guy who is going to bring the ball up court or rack up a lot of assists, Gilling is a guy who, according to his coach, gets the most out of his ability while flying under the radar.
  4. Meanwhile, Utah’s backcourt is expected to take on an unconventional look this season, what with 6’5 junior college transfer Delon Wright expected to man the point, while much smaller sophomore Brandon Taylor is likely to play the shooting guard spot, despite his just 5’10 frame. In the offseason it was unknown exactly who would step up and take over the point guard spot for the Utes this year, but word is that Wright has looked impressive in his time in practice and is the heavy favorite to play the lead guard. Meanwhile Taylor, who spent his fair share of time as the lead guard last year for the Utes, has been one of the team’s best shooter and could be expected to make a bigger impact playing off of the ball.
  5. And, since we are back to doing our regular Morning Fives, now is the time of the year where Connor and I re-spark our regular weekly pick ‘em contest. So far this year (and you will have to take our word on this), Connor and I have battled it out elsewhere to the tune of a 40-12 record for myself and a 42-10 record for my opponent (although, in my defense, we would have been tied at 41-11 if Washington had completed their final drive at Stanford). With the UCLA/Stanford match-up clearly the game of the week, we will try to pick a score on that game, while just picking winners everywhere else. pickem_firstweek
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Pac-12 M5: 02.20.13 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on February 20th, 2013

pac12_morning5

  1. One side effect of the parity in the conference this season has been a lot of intensity as we head into the stretch run. We saw this most glaringly on Sunday night with Mike Montgomery’s now infamous “shove” of Allen Crabbe, but elsewhere around the conference there were more incidents. In Pullman, Oregon center Tony Woods was ejected for throwing an elbow to the head of Washington State’s Brock Motum. The Pac-12 reviewed the play and decided Woods would face no further suspension. Another pair of bigs got tangled up in Boulder on Saturday when Jordan Bachynski and Josh Scott fell to the floor in pursuit of a rebound. Scott wound up banging his head against the hardwood and sustaining a concussion from which he is still recovering. Colorado head coach Tad Boyle called that game the most physical game he has ever been involved in.
  2. It’s been a tumultuous season for UCLA freshman Shabazz Muhammad, with an NCAA investigation delaying his debut and the flu catching up with him prior to the USC game back in January. Now, and again in advance of a USC game, Muhammad is dealing with pinkeye, which kept him out of practice on Tuesday. However, this issue isn’t expected to have any impact on Muhammad’s availability for Sunday’s game.
  3. Arizona State has compiled an 8-5 conference record largely on the strength of its starting five. Senior Carrick Felix leads the conference in minutes (38.3 minutes per night), while Jahii Carson and Jonathan Gilling both top out at over 36 minutes per game and are among the top five players in the conference in minutes. While head coach Herb Sendek admits that his heavy reliance on a small number of players is “a concern,” he doesn’t expect much to change for the rest of the year.
  4. Meanwhile, down south a little, Arizona head coach Sean Miller has been increasingly relying on a smaller number of players as well. And with his confidence in Jordin Mayes dwindling, Mark Lyons and Nick Johnson are becoming the only options in the backcourt for the Wildcats. However, unlike Sendek up the road, Miller may be ready for a change and could turn to freshman guard Gabe York for some spot minutes on the perimeter. York earned 16 minutes over the course of three games back at the turn of the month into February, but since then York has never left the bench in the last four games.
  5. Continuing the theme, Lorenzo Romar returned to freshman Jernard Jarreau this past weekend as an option off the bench. Jarreau won the starting power forward spot in preseason practice, but was ineffective while starting the first seven games of the season. Since then his role almost completely evaporated to the point where he played just 17 minutes over the course of six games prior to his emergence against Oregon State on Saturday. And Romar says Jarreau has earned a right to continue getting minutes in the hopes of building up his game to the point where he can be a contributor for the next three seasons.
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Pac-12 M5: 02.08.13 Edition

Posted by PBaruh on February 8th, 2013

pac12_morning5

  1. Despite playing very well on the road against Arizona Wednesday night, Stanford was not happy with what Johnny Dawkins considered a moral victory. The Cardinal fell short to the Wildcats 73-66, but for the majority of the game matched Arizona basket for basket and had a chance to win the game with down the stretch. Dwight Powell said Stanford let up defensively in the end and ultimately were finished after Solomon Hill nailed a three pointer to stretch the lead to four points with three minutes left to go in the game. Even though Stanford could not pull off the upset, they are starting to play up to the level they were expected to at the beginning of the season and proved they can play with anybody in the Pac-12 with their performance in Tucson.
  2. Arizona State’s Jonathan Gilling is out to show that he’s not just a shooter. Although it’s easy to label him that due to the fact that he is second in the Pac-12 making 2.4 three pointers per game, Gilling is providing much more than just shooting this season. After averaging a minuscule 1.8 rebounds as a freshman, Gilling is all the way up to 7.0 rebounds per game in his sophomore campaign. Many will credit Jahii Carson, Carrick Felix, and even Jordan Bachynski for the surprising success of Arizona State, but without Gilling’s overall play, the Sun Devils might not be where they are right now in the Pac-12 standings.
  3. After a slow start to their game against Stanford, Arizona’s Sean Miller is likely to make changes to his starting lineup in their next game against Cal. Miller knows his team isn’t going to be leading after the first media timeout every game, but he wants his players to be confident coming out of the gate. He mentioned someone who always brings the same energy no matter the score is senior Kevin Parrom. Nothing is certain, but if Miller does make a change to his starting lineup for their upcoming game against Cal, it’s likely the senior will be getting the starting nod.
  4. Dana Altman desperately wants his team to cut down on turnovers. With the Ducks getting swept in the Bay Area last week against Stanford and Cal, Altman has been stressing simple play in practice. In their games against Washington, Stanford and Cal, Oregon has committed 65 turnovers, which is more than their field goals made (64) and more than double the amount of assists (30). However, against Colorado, the Ducks only 12 committed turnovers, but lost for the third consecutive game. The Ducks no longer control their fate in the Pac-12 race with three conference losses and need Dominic Artis back as soon as possible.
  5. Oregon State is no longer alone in last place in the Pac-12 and Craig Robinson hopes with their 82-64 victory over Utah on Wednesday night, the Beavers can establish some momentum going into the second half of conference play. The Beavers scored 84 points, 10 more than they had scored in any other Pac-12 game this year, and played their best defensive game of the conference season as well. Although Robinson and Oregon State certainly have been disappointing this year at 2-8 and many have called for Robinson to be fired, there’s still hope. As the past week has proved, anything can happen in the Pac-12 and that could prove very beneficial for Oregon State.
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Pac-12 Report Card: Volume IV

Posted by AMurawa on January 30th, 2013

Another week of classes, another week of grades from Professor Pac. As midterms approach, only Oregon is on pace for a A this semester.

Arizona State – A

Way back in June, Herb Sendek was talking about how his new Sun Devil team was going to get out and run and be as uptempo as anybody in the Pac-12. But, since getting run off the court by an athletic DePaul team back in early December, Arizona State had gone eight straight games without getting 70 possessions in a ball game. This past week when they hosted USC and UCLA and came away 2-0, they went over 70 possessions in both games and averaged 76 possessions – and 88 points – for the week. Sure, the USC game was aided by an extra five minutes of play, but the Sun Devils still played with more pace this past week than they have done in some time.

Focus on: Jonathan Gilling. We’ve talked a ton about Jahii Carson and Jordan Bachynski, we’ve touched on Carrick Felix and Evan Gordon on a regular basis, but Gilling is the fifth member of the starting unit, and criminally underrated. While his shooting percentages have dipped compared with his freshman campaign, Gilling is doing everything else better this season. He’s turned into an exceedingly effective rebounder and an underrated passer. He’s one of just two players in the conference to average seven rebounds and three assists per game (the other is Kyle Anderson) and as you could see by this week’s performance when he has 14 dimes, he finds exceedingly good looks for his teammates. Of those 14 assists, eight led to either layups or dunks, while four more ended in threes. And he’s an equal-opportunity distributor; Felix, Bachynski, and Gordon were each on the receiving end of four of Gilling’s assists.

While His More Heralded Teammates Get Most Of The Pub, Jonathan Gilling Has Been Great For ASU This Season (Jae C. Hong, AP Photo)

While His More Heralded Teammates Get Most Of The Pub, Jonathan Gilling Has Been Great For ASU This Season (Jae C. Hong, AP Photo)

Looking ahead: The Sun Devils are the toast of the conference this week, but with a road trip up north to the Washington schools ahead, things can go south in a hurry. The Cougars and Huskies may not be the most intimidating opponents, but they’re more than capable of knocking off the Sun Devils.

Colorado – A

Don’t look now, but after an extended hangover effect following the debacle in the desert, the Buffaloes have won three straight by an average of 13 points and are back to .500 in the conference. And while the offense has been steadily improving, they’ve been doing it with defense. They’ve held their three opponents in that win streak to a 40.5 eFG%.

Focus on: Xavier Johnson. Doomed to play roughly the same position as the nation’s leading rebounder, Andre Roberson, Johnson has been lurking in the shadows somewhat most of the year. But on Sunday, when Roberson was limited to just two first half minutes due to foul trouble, Johnson had his breakout game, notching his first double-double of his career and scoring 18 points on just ten field goal attempts. In fact, over the course of this Buff winning streak, Johnson has been a major contributor. He’s scored in double figures in every game and has been hyper-efficient; he’s averaging 14.3 points per game and shooting a 74 eFG%.

Looking ahead: The Buffs have a short week, with only a trip to Salt Lake City to face a Utah team coming off its worst performance of the season. If the Buffs don’t have a four-game win streak at this point next week, they may be the recipient of the year’s first F.

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Pac-12 Burning Questions: So… About Those Preseason Predictions?

Posted by AMurawa on December 31st, 2012

With non-conference play all but wrapped up, we start to turn our attention to conference play this week. But, before we do we want to take a look back and see what we talked about prior to the season.

“We made a lot of predictions and bold statements prior to the season. Which prognostication did you nail and which did you completely whiff on?”

Adam Butler: I wish I’d had the stones to say things like “Jordan Adams will be UCLA’s best player” or “Josh Smith will leave the Bruins” or “USC will utterly flop.” No, on each of those insights I was sightless. I was the cool kid picking USC to overachieve and who was gobbling up Shabazz hyperbole like flavored vodka at a sorority house. I went out on the limb to say Arizona and Colorado would be good. I have said Spencer Dinwiddie would be All-Conference and, to date, he’s held up his side of that bargain, and I still love his game when he shows up (although, zero points vs. Fresno?). The one thing I’ve nailed but I don’t think it’s been terribly bold has been that Mark Lyons, no matter what he did numbers-wise, was going to have an overwhelming effect on this Wildcats team. I think it’s safe to say that he’s been a lightning rod of attention and criticism and handled it all in stride, strides that have taken him straight to winning buckets against Florida and SDSU. Lyons brings a dynamic to Tucson that was sorely needed and he has not let them down. As for whiffs? I figured Washington would be better and that Oregon would be worse. I thought Jio Fontan would hover around conference POY talk and that Dewayne Dedmon would be a big surprise: fails. There’s still time to play out but it’s hard to say that any of those thoughts will right themselves in my predictive favor. And in that remaining time, I’m excited to see just what UCLA will do and how Arizona’s freshmen bigs will develop within the routine of Pac-12 play. Moving forward, a few additional thoughts: Can Herb’s team keep up their pace? No. Is Solomon Hill going to win the conference POY award? No (but he may be the MVP). Can Colorado be the second best team in the Pac? Yes. Will Stanford be better then their 8-4 record? Yes. Alas, predictions are meaningless but oh-so-fun.

Jio Fontan In The Player Of The Year Race? Not So Much. (AP Photo)

Jio Fontan In The Player Of The Year Race? Not So Much. (AP Photo)

Connor Pelton: Looking back on it, I made some interesting (to say the least) picks back in October. But I did nail a few of those, starting with the pick of Arsalan Kazemi as an All-Pac-12 performer. I was the only one to include the Rice transfer on my 15-player ballot, and he has answered by averaging 9.2 PPG, 10.4 RPG, and 3.1 SPG so far. In fact, if he had not had been so tentative shooting the ball at the beginning of the season, it is not a stretch to say he would not only be leading the team in rebounds but points as well. Another pick I am liking was that of Jonathan Gilling as an all-conference three-point shooter. Kevin and I were the only ones to include the sophomore on our lists, and he has proved us right by knocking down 30 triples, second highest in the conference. But the pick I am most proud of is selecting USC at 10th in the conference, while everyone else here had the Trojans sixth or seventh. The thing that made me so skeptical about USC at the beginning of the season was the question, “Where do the points come from behind Jio Fontan?” Some said senior forward Aaron Fuller, who’s averaging a stellar 2.9 PPG. Case closed.

Now, onto the whiffs. While Chasson Randle hasn’t had a great season, there is no question he should be second team All-Pac-12 right now. I did not even include him on my list of 15, opting instead for guys like Ricky Kreklow and Kaleb Tarczewski. Whoops. It is easy to look bad when projecting an all-newcomer team, and boy have I done that. I did not include Mark Lyons on my team, or Jahii Carson, or Josh Scott. Those guys are averaging 13.4, 17.9, and 12.5 PPG, respectively. As we move into conference play, the picks that are on the fence of good and bad will begin to clear up. Are the Buffaloes an NCAA Tournament team? I said yes in October, and I still think they are now. Can Washington rebound from an awful start and make the NIT? No. Can California win a big game? It has to happen eventually, right?

Time will answer everything, and before we know it, we will be filling out brackets and talking about surprises and snubs on Selection Sunday.

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Pac-12 Team Previews: Arizona State Sun Devils

Posted by AMurawa on November 2nd, 2012

Throughout the preseason, the Pac-12 microsite will be rolling out these featured breakdowns of each of the 12 league schools. Today’s release is the Arizona State Sun Devils.

Strengths.  The biggest strength the Sun Devils may have this season is enthusiasm, confidence and camaraderie. Two years ago, a combination of bad luck and senioritis killed the team’s season before conference play had even gotten into the grind. Last year, poor team chemistry and low expectations conspired to sap ASU of energy before even the New Year. This year, there is a swagger about the program, in part due to the confidence that newly eligible guys like Jahii Carson and Evan Gordon bring along with them. It also doesn’t hurt that those players have been in the program for a couple of years and know and like their teammates. That injection of talent combined with improving veterans and, as of right now, the Sun Devils have the feel of a team with a chip on their shoulder and something to prove. That alone can take some of the 64-61 and 68-65 losses that ASU suffered last year (six of their first nine defeats were by six points or less) and turn those into wins. That newfound attitude coupled with a pretty significant upgrade in talent could equal the first step on the road to redemption for Herb Sendek’s program.

Jahii Carson, Arizona State

With Jahii Carson Leading The Way, This Edition Of The Sun Devils Has More Swagger Than Recent Teams

Weaknesses. A note on the above, all that good will and happiness could go south right quick if a couple bad bounces go against ASU; “here we go again” and all that. There are a couple of other significant areas that the Sun Devils need to improve on, however: turnovers and defense. Last year, ASU was in the bottom half of the country in defensive efficiency. And on the offensive end of the court, ASU turned the ball over more frequently than all but three other teams in Division I (according to KenPom), leading to pretty awful offensive numbers as well. Now, the addition of Carson alone could mean improvements in both of those areas, but with the new point guard comes a new faster-paced offense (just how much faster remains to be seen). And, if the freshman gets a little to amped up in an effort to push the pace, it is possible that those turnovers could stick around as well.

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