Pac-12 Morning Five: 02.23.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on February 23rd, 2012

  1. It’s the time of year when, more than anything else, you hear talk about the bubble. Who will be the last few teams in? Who will be left out? At present, Arizona is one of those teams who will likely be sweating it out come Selection Sunday, barring a run through the Pac-12 Tournament. But for Sean Miller and the Wildcats, they know that they can’t get caught up worrying about the bracketology, because their best bet to increase the attractiveness of their resume is to keep winning. For what it’s worth, Joe Lunardi’s latest bracket has the Wildcats in as a #12 seed, while our own Zach Hayes has them as the 69th team, just out of the field of 68.
  2. Colorado is in much the same boat as the Wildcats, but they’ve got another goal in mind: just go ahead and win the Pac-12 regular season title. They’re a game behind Washington and California in the loss column, but they’ve got the Golden Bears coming into town this weekend, and they’ve yet to lose at home in the Pac-12. Last year at this time, the Buffaloes were in a similar spot, firmly on the bubble, but that team last year spent a lot of time trying to gauge where they were in relation to other bubble teams. This year they’re in striking distance of a conference title, and for now, that’s their goal.
  3. Up in Washington, they’re in position for a possible Pac-12 championship as well, and for the time being, that is the only focus for guys like Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten. However, there is already speculation running rampant about the possibility that one or both of these players might be finishing up their college eligibility as we speak. In fact, during the Huskies’ win over Arizona on Saturday, Ross was treated to the “one more year!” chant from the student section, in reference to the thought that he could leave after his sophomore year. Both players would likely be first round draft picks should they enter the 2012 NBA Draft (Draft Express has Ross as the #16 pick, Wroten #27), but each could possibly inch into the lottery with another year of experience.
  4. While the above teams have plenty to think about the rest of the season, at Arizona State there is already an eye toward next year. With guys like transfers Bo Barnes and Evan Gordon along with ineligible freshman point guard Jahii Carson practicing with the team, there is plenty of hope that the influx of talent will flip things for the Sun Devils next year. Those players, combined with bright spots amid the wreckage of this year, like freshman wing Jonathan Gilling, sophomore center Jordan Bachynski and junior team leader Trent Lockett, should give Sun Devil fans hope for next season. One thing is for sure, whatever happens next year for ASU, Herb Sendek will be the man on the sidelines.
  5. At UCLA, it hasn’t been quite as bad as in Tempe, but it has certainly been a down year for the Bruins. They still hope to make some noise in the Pac-12 Tournament, but for guys like sophomore guard Tyler Lamb, there is also the quest to build consistency in preparation for the rest of his career. Lamb’s game against St. John’s on Saturday summed up just how well his talent is enmeshed with inconsistency. While he scored 18 points, grabbed six boards and handed out four assists, he also turned the ball over eight times, an absolute no-no. Whether the focus is on a run in the Pac-12 tourney or future success in Westwood, Lamb needs to become a more steady force for the Bruins.
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Checking In On… the Pac-12 Conference

Posted by AMurawa on February 2nd, 2012

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-12 and Mountain West conferences. He is also a Pac-12 microsite staffer.

Reader’s Take


Top Storylines

  • We’re at the halfway mark of the season this week, and we could be on the verge of finally seeing some separation in the league. Through nine games, California and Washington sit atop the conference standings, a game ahead of Oregon and Colorado, who are sitting a game ahead of Arizona, Stanford and UCLA.
  • However, while their first-place conference standing is a good thing, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Cal and Washington are in particularly good shape when it comes to NCAA Tournament consideration. Cal is in pretty good shape with an overall record of 17-5 and an RPI of 30, but they still have against their case that pesky little strike that they haven’t beaten anybody of note (they’re 0-3 against teams that are in the top 50 in the RPI).
  • For Washington, the numbers are even worse; their RPI is #71 and they’re 0-4 against top 50 RPI teams. In fact, going down the list, the whole conference is just 3-37 against top 50 RPI teams, with two of those wins coming when Oregon State and Washington State knocked off Cal.
Jorge Gutierrez, California

Jorge Gutierrez and California Have The Best NCAA Tournament Resume In The Pac-12 (Derek Remsburg/The Daily Californian)

  • So, really, in order for the Pac-12 to deserve multiple at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament, they need Cal and Washington to separate themselves from the rest of the Pac. Cal simply isn’t going to be able to wind up with a win against a top-50 RPI team, because they have to play a bunch of Pac-12 teams that aren’t in the top 50. And because of the new unbalanced schedule in the conference, Washington doesn’t get a crack at the Bears in Berkeley, meaning their only chance at earning a win against a top-50 team would come only if they faced Cal in the conference tournament, or if somehow Oregon (currently ranked #69) would string together enough wins to bump up inside the top 50.
  • In short, the picture is pretty grim for the Pac-12. It seems that the Pac-12 is going to have to rely on their historical reputation, a factor that is not supposed to be considered by the NCAA Selection Committee but one that most assuredly is, rather than their bona fides if they hope to send multiple teams dancing. Maybe the best case scenario for fans of the conference is Cal and Washington to string together multiple victories, separate themselves from the crowd, and advance to at least the semis in the conference tournament, and then see another squad take down the title in a mild upset. That’s the only scenario I can see whereby the conference gets more than two teams in the NCAA Tournament, and it may be more likely that only one Pac-12 team gets an invite on Selection Sunday.

What to Watch For

  • With the above in mind, Cal and Washington need to kick start the second half of conference play by taking care of business at home.
  • The Golden Bears see the Arizona schools come to Berkeley Thursday night, with an angry Wildcat team, fresh off a home loss to the Huskies, leading the change.
  • For Washington, it is the Los Angeles schools coming to town, with the matchup with UCLA on Thursday night presenting the biggest challenge. The Stanford matchup with Arizona will also be interesting, while Colorado gets to host the Oregon schools this week, setting up two interesting games that should help clear up some of the confusion in the middle of the conference.
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Pac-12 Honors: Week 12

Posted by AMurawa on January 31st, 2012

Team of the Week

Washington – The Huskies vaulted themselves into a first place tie in the Pac-12 on the strength of a road sweep of the Arizona schools. For a team that has struggled on the road in recent years (they were 10-15 on the road in the last three seasons, prior to this weekend), this weekend not only kept the Huskies on pace for a conference title, but it should give their young squad (the team is #296 in the nation in terms of years of experience) some much-needed confidence for the road tests that still lie ahead, specifically trips to the Oregon and Los Angeles schools, as well as a jaunt east to face Washington State. The Huskies were far from perfect this weekend, as they nearly coughed up a late lead against Arizona and their six-point win over Arizona State wasn’t exactly inspiring, but simply winning games on the road is a significant accomplishment. Plus, their defensive intensity was fairly consistent and they held their two opponents to just 0.93 points per possession on the road trip. All things considered, it was a strong weekend for the Huskies that not only put them in excellent shape in the Pac-12 race, but also put them back on the radar as far as a potential NCAA at-large bid is concerned.

Washington, Tony Wroten, Darnell Gant

After A Road Sweep, Washington Finds Itself Tied For First At The Halfway Mark (photo credit: Paul Connors, Associated Press)

Player of the Week

Jared Cunningham, Jr, Oregon State – The Beavers only played one game this weekend, but Cunningham was spectacular in it – or, he was spectacular in half of it, at least. After scoring just three points in a lackluster first half that found his team trailing by five with just 23 points on the board, Cunningham got a serious wake-up call at halftime and exploded for 24 points in the second half. He made five of his eight second-half field goal attempts, including two-of-three from deep, and made 12 of 15 free throws, including several down the stretch, to help put away Oregon. Most importantly, he helped his team come away with a win, bringing them back to within a game of .500 on the season, and in doing so, he renewed his candidacy for the conference Player of the Year award.

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Pac-12 Morning Five: 01.27.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on January 27th, 2012

  1. Sometimes, life just ain’t fair. After earning Pac-12 Player of the Week honors last week after averaging 28.5 points per game last week, Washington State senior guard Faisal Aden left the Cougars game with Arizona late in the first half Thursday night with a knee injury. While we are by no means doctors here, it is quite possible that Aden has played his final game in a Washington State uniform. Washington State beat writer Christian Caple reports that it is a sprained MCL, but we will get more details later. After what appeared to be a complete makeover in his game the last several games, the prospect that Aden does not get a chance to work towards proving his growth as a player and proving his critics wrong is, in a word, depressing. Who knows? Maybe the injury isn’t as bad as it seemed, and he’ll be back sooner rather than later. We can hope. As for the rest of the game, the Wildcats hit 15-of-27 three-point attempts, shot a 63.6 eFG%, held WSU to 38.5 eFG%, forced 16 Cougar turnovers and committed just nine. In short, a confidence-building performance heading into Saturday’s tough match-up with Washington.
  2. Herb Sendek got excellent effort out of his undermanned Arizona State team Thursday night, but they still struggled to score with consistency, scoring just one point in the first six minutes of the second half as Washington turned a two-point halftime deficit into an 11-point lead. Arizona State got back within four late in the game, but Washington held on for a six-point win. Tony Wroten had a great game for the Huskies, scoring 22 points on 12 field goal attempts (including a serious throw-down late in the game), grabbing six rebounds, handing out four assists, swiping a couple steals, and only turning the ball over twice, in what may have been his second-best all-around game in a U-Dub uniform. Freshman Jonathan Gilling did his best to keep the Sun Devils around, scoring a career-high 20 points and hitting five threes (three in the second half), but it was not to be.
  3. UCLA took apart Utah is a game only a mother could love (and really, that mother would be up for a mother-of-the-year award for pretending to love this thing). After a sluggish Bruin first half (in which they still out-scored the Utes by 15), they really turned it on early in the second half, building their lead up as high as 37 behind balanced scoring. Seven Bruins scored eight points or more, UCLA shot a 68.5 eFG% and held Utah to just 42.4 eFG%. Beyond that, yuck.
  4. At least the game across town was interesting in a train-wreck type of way. USC’s nightmare season continued as they got absolutely owned by Colorado, who earned their first-ever Pac-12 road win in dominating fashion. It’s hard to take a lot out of a win over these Trojans this year, but winning at USC may be a good first step towards further road success for the Buffaloes the rest of the way. Thursday night, they were mighty impressive, holding USC to 36.4 eFG% and killing the Trojans on the boards. Colorado grabbed 92.9% of defensive rebound opportunities and 43.5% on the offensive end. Five Buffs scored in double figures, and five grabbed more than five boards while the trio of Colorado players making a return to their Southern California home (Carlon Brown, Askia Booker, and Spencer Dinwiddie) combined for 34 points and 27 rebounds. Even worse for the Trojans, sophomore center DeWayne Dedmon left early in the first half with a knee injury and did not return. USC has already lost three players for the season to injury.
  5. Lastly, ESPN’s Jay Bilas weighed in on the weakness of the Pac-12, blaming not only the early defections of some conference players to the NBA, but also the number of new coaches up and down the conference. Certainly Arizona has had to deal with the transition from the Lute Olson era to the Sean Miller era, while USC’s struggles in the wake of the Tim Floyd era helped bolster the Wildcats a bit. Then there’s Oregon’s struggles keeping players around the start of the Dana Altman era, and the loss of Tony Bennett from Washington State was a crushing blow, but that explanation does nothing to excuse the problems at UCLA, Washington, or Arizona State.
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