Pac-12 Tournament Prospectus

Posted by RJ Abeytia on March 15th, 2017

The Pac-12 ended up with fewer seeds in the NCAA Tournament than the ACC, Big 12, SEC, and Big 10.  Of course, it was always quality (Arizona, Oregon, UCLA) and not quantity for the Conference of Champions this season. Outside of the ACC, no conference has three teams being hailed as legitimate Final Four threats.  The questions this time of year focus on where you’re trending and your presumptive path. By the time you get to a National Semifinal you are certainly going to be playing a great team, or at the very least a team playing like one. Those games match up as coin tosses in most cases, so let’s focus on which of the four Pac-12 teams who qualified has the best shot of reaching Glendale.

Do Allonzo Trier and Arizona own the Pac-12’s best chances of reaching the National Semifinals? (Photo: USA Today Sports)

USC

  • Trending Up:  Jordan McLaughlin is averaging nearly 17 points a game over his last four and has a stellar A/TO rate of 31/6 over those four games. Guard play takes center stage in the NCAA Tournament, and if the Trojans are to make more than a cameo in the round of 68, they’ll need McLaughlin to keep playing at a high level this week.
  • Trending Down:  Since posting a stellar 156 ORtg against Washington State in March 1, Bennie Boatwright has slumped to games with offensive efficiency ratings of 88, 102, and 83 amidst an 8-28 field goal shooting stretch.  USC is not a great offensive team and they struggle in the halfcourt; without Boatwright at max efficiency working to stretch defenses and convert in the paint, USC isn’t long for this week.
  • Final Four:  The Trojans were on a three-game winning streak before UCLA dispatched them in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 Tournament. USC didn’t make it easy for the Bruins, however, and in the last four games found an offensive groove, posting efficiency ratings well over national average in its three wins. The loss to UCLA showed they could hang with an elite team despite subpar performances from Boatwright, Chimezie Metu, and De’Anthony Melton. Coming off a loss, it’d be wrong to say the Trojans are streaking, but they are playing good ball.

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Getting to Know the Pac-12: USC

Posted by Mike Lemaire on March 15th, 2017

Chances are, if you live east of the Rocky Mountains, you didn’t catch a lot of Pac-12 basketball this season. And we totally get it! When a Pac-12 matchup kicks off at 7:00 pm PST, the time difference makes it nearly impossible to stay up and watch for anyone who isn’t living on the West Coast. This means that while you may have heard plenty about Oregon and Arizona and UCLA throughout the season, you might still be unfamiliar with individual players that aren’t named Dillon Brooks or Lonzo Ball. But don’t worry, we are here to give you a quick primer on each Pac-12 team in the NCAA Tournament field just in time for those last-minute tweaks to your bracket.

USC

Who are the stars?

USC has plenty of talent and a number of players with NBA futures, but they don’t have any true star talent on the roster. Junior point guard Jordan McLaughlin is probably the closest thing. He’s the team’s best player and very much the engine that makes the offense go. A gunner in his first two seasons with the Trojans’ (albeit an accurate one, as he shot better than 40% from beyond the arc), McLaughlin has evolved into an excellent playmaker and defender as well, finishing fourth in the conference in assist rate (31.4) and 12th in steal percentage (2.8). He is most fun to watch on the offensive end of the floor, where he has more than enough handles to attack the rim. He remains the team’s best chance to get a bucket out of an isolation set, so expect to see the ball in his hands a lot tonight.

Chimezie Metu is an NBA prospect because of his extreme athleticism. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Sophomore center Chimezie Metu isn’t a star yet, but he has brightest NBA future of anyone on the roster. Metu averaged more than 14 points and 7 rebounds per game while also providing tremendous rim protection on the defensive end. A legitimate 6’10”, Metu moves extremely well for a player his size, making him a high-upside defender who is versatile enough to step out and guard stretch forwards. He is still quite raw, but is making strides. Metu cut down on fouls over the course of the season and also made huge strides at the free-throw line, improving by 20 percentage points over last season. He still struggles to create his own offense, but his athleticism and ability to run the floor make him a highlight waiting to happen. Read the rest of this entry »

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Is This Season the Dawn of an L.A. Hoops Renaissance?

Posted by RJ Abeytia on February 22nd, 2017

USC basketball, much like UCLA football, has a long tenure in the City of Angels as the “other” program at its respective university. UCLA Basketball, while not having won a National Championship since 1995 and not having appeared in a Final Four since 2008, remains the King in one of the country’s most fertile basketball talent grounds. Disregarding the clear hierarchy, there hasn’t been a compelling reason why the Trojans couldn’t carve out a reputation for its own place in the high-level college basketball landscape. Ultimately, such a thing comes down to the coach and the money. With the first decade of the Galen Center now in the rear view, USC has clearly established a financial foundation for success. Now with Andy Enfield guiding the Trojans to what should be a second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, it seems as if USC basketball is finally re-establishing itself as a perpetually successful program.

USC’s faithful on the hardwood might be on to something. (USC Athletics)

The question of whether Los Angeles’ Pac-12 schools are in the midst of a basketball renaissance hinges primarily on whether there was a concurrent stretch of basketball glory in the first place. The 2010-11 season was the last time that both teams qualified for the same NCAA Tournament, but USC’s loss in the First Four and UCLA’s defeat in the Second Round didn’t move the needle much nationally. Both programs also danced at the same time for a three-year stretch from 2007-09, although Ben Howland’s run of three straight Final Fours from 2006-08 vastly outshone Tim Floyd’s 2007 trip to the Sweet Sixteen. Since their departures, however, it’s been a struggle for both programs — USC, primarily — to regain elite status. Read the rest of this entry »

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Should We Be Taking USC More Seriously?

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 14th, 2016

When USC rallied to beat Texas A&M, it was good luck. When the Trojans squeaked past SMU a week later, it was thanks to Bennie Boatright. When they beat BYU a week after that, it was because the Cougars really aren’t that good and the game was in Los Angeles. These are all logical ways to rationalize dismissing USC’s hot start, but the fact remains that the Trojans are just one of six unbeaten teams remaining in Division I basketball and a group that was picked to finish seventh in the preseason Pac-12 standings is rebuilding faster than anyone imagined. Of those six teams sporting flawless records, most smart basketball minds will tell you that Andy Enfield‘s team is easily the worst of the group. KenPom agrees. ESPN agrees. The Trojans are off to their best start in more than 40 years and CBSSports.com barely included them in this week’s Top 25. The conventional wisdom is that, while USC’s early success deserves some attention, the Trojans still aren’t worth taking all that seriously yet.

USC Basketball is Soaring -- Has Anyone Noticed? (USA Today Images)

USC Basketball is Soaring — Has Anyone Noticed? (USA Today Images)

USC feels like a prime candidate for regression to the mean once the rigors of conference play begin. The Trojans own three resume-building wins by slim margins, but a non-conference slate that will include just one game outside California doesn’t impress anyone. Enfield’s roster is one of the 20 least experienced nationally and his best player is expected to be out of the lineup for at least another month. Still, there’s a lot to like in Troy. USC has used more than good fortune to remain unblemished for the first five weeks of the season. The steward of “Dunk City” has created a well-rounded, disciplined and deep group that is producing top 50 efficiency metrics on both ends of the floor, placing a particular importance on taking care of the basketball (top 15 nationally).

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Pac-12 Preseason All-Conference Teams

Posted by Mike Lemaire & Adam Butler on November 11th, 2016

Nothing grinds our gears quite like the end of season Pac-12 All-Conference team selection. There is no reasonable explanation for going to the trouble of naming an official first team and an official second team and then casually picking 15 PLAYERS to fill those two teams. We are all for honoring the conference’s 15 best players, but the way to do that is by just making a third team. We are probably taking this way too seriously, but when the official All-Pac 12 team is 10 players deep, it cheapens the honor. Gary Payton II and Jakob Poetl deserved to be separated from guys like Elgin Cook and Rosco Allen last season. Instead it felt more like they were receiving participation trophies for being really good. We are not as inclusive. There are five players on our Pac-12 first team and there are five players on our Pac-12 second team. Picking these teams before the season begins is always a bit of a fruitless exercise. The order of things is bound to change once the season starts and actual play can be evaluated. Aside from the occasional Ivan Rabb or Dillon Brooks, there are usually as many as 25 players deserving of consideration. We started our list with roughly that number of candidates and trimmed it from there. There were very few consensus selections this year, as you will see when we share our thoughts behind the 10 selections below.

ALL-PAC-12 FIRST TEAM

Markelle Fultz Hasn't Played A Minute of College Basketball and He May Be the Best Player In the Conference (Adidas)

Washington’s Fultz Has Zero Collegiate Experience Yet May Be the Best Player In the Conference. (Adidas)

  • Dillon Brooks, Junior, Oregon
  • Ivan Rabb, Sophomore, California
  • Allonzo Trier, Sophomore, Arizona
  • Lonzo Ball, Freshman, UCLA
  • Markelle Fultz, Freshman, Washington

ML: This was one of the more difficult teams to peg in recent memory and the race to make it was almost entirely wide open. Rabb is the only real shoo-in. He will be stronger this season and is easily the conference’s best big man. Brooks needs to get healthy, but Oregon doesn’t seem overly concerned that he will miss extensive time. He is a no-brainer for this team assuming he returns to form on the court relatively soon. Trier could make us look foolish if his mysterious absence turns into a lengthy suspension, but if he plays, he is will score in bunches and should be a better playmaker this season. Fultz and Ball haven’t yet played a single minute of college basketball, but both would be lottery picks if the NBA Draft was held today and each is talented enough to contend for national honors as well as conference awards.

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Bracket Prep: East Region

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 14th, 2016

bracketprep22

On Monday and Tuesday we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: Monday (East and West); Tuesday (South and Midwest). Here, Brian Otskey (@botskey) breaks down the East Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC East Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCeastregion).

East Region

Favorite: No. 1 North Carolina (28-6, 14-4 ACC). Although this region is loaded from top to bottom, the ACC regular season and tournament champions are the clear favorite. Roy Williams has one of the nation’s most talented teams with seniors Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige leading the way. Contending with Johnson is a nightmare for most teams. A relentless rebounder who averages a double-double, Johnson is one of the nation’s most efficient players. Carolina has weaknesses — namely three-point shooting and three-point defense — but the way it utilizes great athleticism to speed up the game makes the Heels hard to beat.

UNC

The ACC regular season and tournament champions are the favorite to take the East Region. (Photo: Todd Melet)

Should They Falter: No. 4 Kentucky (26-8, 13-5 SEC). Yes, we’re going to roll with the Wildcats here. John Calipari’s team has made Final Fours from lower seeded positions — most notably in 2011 and 2014. This is not a vintage Kentucky team by any means, but it is highly talented and Coach Cal has proven that he can push the right buttons in March. College basketball is a guards’ game and Kentucky has that in spades with Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe. The lack of a major threat inside and occasionally spotty defense are definite concerns, but Kentucky has the talent and athletes to get by North Carolina in a potential Sweet Sixteen matchup.

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Assessing Andy Enfield’s Accomplishments At USC

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on January 19th, 2016

Andy Enfield’s first two seasons at USC were…let’s just say underwhelming. An overall record of 23-41 actually looked good next to his conference record of 5-31. What little news Enfield was generating was by way of his mouth, rather than the effectiveness of his team’s play on the court. There was the intended-to-be-off-the-record shot at the cross-town rival (“if you want to play slow, go to UCLA”). Then there was the feud with former USC and current UTEP head coach Tim Floyd, which started over accusations that Enfield tampered with UTEP commit (and current UCLA junior) Isaac Hamilton. That spat continued with Enfield’s shots about Floyd wanting the USC job and suffering through life in El Paso. There were whispers around the Pac-12 grapevine about his inability to coach players up or make in-game adjustments. Despite a roster that was growing in talent, appropriate improvement in the standings hadn’t follow. Even in-house, there were doubts. As late as the Pac-12 Tournament last season, the Trojan program looked to be a complete mess.

The Andy Enfield Era At USC Took Some Time To Get Off The Ground (AP)

The Andy Enfield Era At USC Took Some Time To Get Off The Ground (AP)

Skip ahead through an offseason defined by roster stability and the addition of two highly regarded freshmen bigs. Jump forward to the open of the season where the Trojans won their first four games, all at home, showing off the open-court excitement that the Enfield administration initially promised. Now fast-forward through Thanksgiving weekend, where the excitement of a win over (Fred Van Vleet-less) Wichita State was tempered by ten-point losses to Xavier and Monmouth – teams that we now know are very good. The rest of non-conference play was made to be ignored (six wins over middling, at best, teams). So let’s jump right to what matters: conference play. With five games in the books, the Trojans are atop the conference standings and looking like a legitimate threat to win this thing. Yes, USC and Andy Enfield are Pac-12 title contenders. What the hell happened here?

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Pac-12 Burning Questions: Who’s the Best Point Guard?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 6th, 2016

While watching guys like Jordan McLaughlin, Andrew Andrews, Tra Holder, Kadeem Allen and more shine from the lead guard spot over the weekend, we got the brilliant idea to ask our contributors: Who’s the best point guard in the Pac? Truthfully, there’s only one right answer — a certain Player of the Year candidate in Corvallis who tore up the league last season and has only gotten better as a senior. So, the real question we put forth to our writers is, aside from Gary Payton II, who’s the best point guard in the league? Our answers below.

Gary Payton II Is Not Only The Best Point In The Pac, He's One Of It's Best Players (Oregon State Athletics)

Gary Payton II Is Not Only The Best Point In The Pac, He’s One Of It’s Best Players, Period. (Oregon State Athletics)

Mike Lemaire: This honor is for Gary Payton II to claim, but if the phrasing instead became “most valuable point guard,” then a strong case could be made for Washington senior Andrew Andrews. It can often feel like Andrews is babysitting four wild teenagers when the Huskies play, and considering he is the only upperclassman on the roster, that simile isn’t far from the truth. While his teammates have struggled with fouls, defensive positioning, effort and shot selection, Andrews is quietly scoring more than 20 points per game, leading his team in rebounding (6.3 RPG) and drawing more fouls than anyone else in the Pac. Despite a meaningful uptick in his responsibilities, Andrews is still shooting better than 40 percent from downtown, better than 80 percent from the free throw line and has nearly doubled his assist rate without any corresponding increase in his turnover rate. What makes this even more impressive is that he isn’t even a true point guard; rather, he has just been forced into the role. Still, the pick for best point guard in the league is Gary Payton II, with a notable hat tip to Andrews. Read the rest of this entry »

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Washington’s Big Comeback Win Says More About USC

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 4th, 2016

For something like 25 minutes on Sunday afternoon, this post was going to be about moving USC from contending for an NCAA Tournament invitation to a potential sleeper among the top of the Pac-12 race. The Trojans were up 61-42 at Washington and appeared to be headed for an opening weekend road sweep. They had scored on seven of their first eight second half possessions, mixing dunks in transition with threes, sharing the ball and locking in defensively. But when junior guard Julian Jacobs came out of the game with an ankle injury at the 16:18 mark, things quickly went off the rails.

Minus Julian Jacobs, The Trojans Lost Their Composure, And Their Lead (Ted S. Warren, AP)

Minus Julian Jacobs, The Trojans Lost Their Composure, And Their Lead. (Ted S. Warren, AP)

From that point forward, the Huskies outscored Andy Enfield’s bunch by a score of 45-24. Until he called his team’s final timeout with 6:58 remaining (20 possessions later), the Trojans managed a grand total of 10 measly points, a stretch that featured eight turnovers and five missed layups on the offensive end, along with six layups and five defensive rebounds allowed on the defensive end. Worse yet, after appearing to have regained their poise and settled into a workable seven-point lead with two minutes left, the Trojans melted down again. Washington finished the game on a 9-0 run as sophomore point guard Jordan McLaughlin turned it over twice more and the Huskies grabbed three crucial offensive boards, including one from senior guard Andrew Andrews that became the game-winning bucket. All told, it was a thrilling comeback 87-85 win for the Huskies and a demoralizing failure for the Trojans.

That said, it’s still just one game in a long season. Aside from all the gruesome details about USC’s blown lead, what can we take away from the game? At first blush, the storyline in Seattle seemed to be more about the losers than the victors. This is program that has won a total of six Pac-12 games in 40 tries under Enfield. Only two of those wins have come on the road, and both of those came against Washington State (once at the end of the 2013-14 season; the other on Friday night). In other words, this is not a team with a lot of experience at winning, much less winning in tough environments. Throw in the injury to Jacobs that left USC without arguably its most important player and when things started to go south, they did so in a hurry. Jacobs — aside from being an athletic scoring threat, the team’s most secure ball-handler, and a solid perimeter defender — is also the team’s most veteran presence, capable of acting as a calming influence. When McLaughlin got flustered during the Huskies’ big 26-10 run, he typically would have had Jacobs there to settle things down. No such luck on Sunday, and there were times down the stretch when the Trojans looked to freshman Bennie Boatwright, of all people, to handle the ball and create offense in the half-court. Needless to say, that decision did not end well.

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Happy New Conference Year: A Pac-12 Reset

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on December 31st, 2015

Happy New Year’s everyone! May you all celebrate the arbitrary tick of the clock on an arbitrary day on the arbitrarily human-invented calendar in whichever arbitrary fashion pleases you the most! Here in this space we’re turning our attention to something far less arbitrary, a tradition older than the hills, a ritual that goes back to before the first organism crawled out of the ocean and onto dry land however many million years ago: the transition from non-conference college basketball to Pac-12 conference play. At least seven unnamed sources indicate that such a sacrament is timeless. And so, to celebrate, let’s take a spin around the Pac-12 and do a quick reset, preparing you for what will seem, as it always does, like a sprint from New Year’s to March Madness.

All-Conference Team (No Surprises Edition)

Jakob Poeltl and Gary Payton II May Wind Up Fighting Over Conference Player of the Year Honors (Godofredo Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Jakob Poeltl and Gary Payton II May Wind Up Fighting Over Conference Player of the Year Honors. (Godofredo Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports)

  • G Gary Payton II, Sr, Oregon State
  • G Tyrone Wallace, Sr, California
  • F Josh Scott, Sr, Colorado
  • F Ryan Anderson, Sr, Arizona
  • C Jakob Poeltl, So, Utah

When we put together our preseason all-conference picks back in November, Poeltl and Payton were unanimous choices as first-teamers, and here they are at the turn of the calendar as the heavy Player of the Year favorites in the conference. Wallace was also on our preseason first-team and he’s been fine, if not spectacular. Scott and Anderson were second-team guys and have both been rock-solid as seniors. Scott has struggled some in his team’s two losses, but if he can lead the Buffaloes to an upper division finish, he might yet have a say in the Player of the Year race as well. Read the rest of this entry »

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