Yesterday was the first day of the Pac-12 Tournament, and we’ll have plenty of separate coverage of the games throughout the weekend, so in the Morning Fives, we’ll focus on more of the “newsy” side of things, both at the tournament and elsewhere. For instance, likely the biggest news of the day yesterday was the news that Arizonahad left point guard Josiah Turner behind on their trip to Los Angeles, and that Turner would be suspended indefinitely. Turner had previously been suspended for a game against Florida on December 7 and had also been benched at the start of a game against Duquesne on November 9. The loss of their starting point guard doesn’t help the Wildcats’ chances this weekend, especially in what seems to be a must-win scenario for UA’s NCAA Tournament chances. In Turner’s absence, Nick Johnson is expected to take over the bulk of the minutes at the point, with Brandon Lavender potentially moving into the starting lineup. Sophomore Jordin Mayes, who has only played eight total minutes in the last eight games, in part due to a foot injury, will also be counted on to cover some of Turner’s minutes. In Sean Miller’s comments on the suspension, he noted that “the standards of our program will not be compromised under any circumstances,” a comment that seems particularly meaningful in the wake of the recent UCLA story.
Speaking of UCLA, in one of the oddest stories I’ve heard recently, sophomore center Joshua Smithwas benched for the first half after missing the team bus from the team hotel to the Staples Center. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, consider that the team is staying in a hotel across the street from the Staples Center, and that Smith actually walked from the hotel to the arena (as every other team participating in the event does) and was at the arena and in the locker room prior to everybody else on his team. Given that Smith could use all the cardiovascular exercise available (even if it is just walking a block), this seems like a case of head coach Ben Howland going out of his way to lay down the law in the wake of last week’s article, even in a situation that may well not have called for it.
UCLA wound up winning its opening game over crosstown rival USC, mercifully ending the Trojans horrific 6-26 season. Normally, when a coach suffers through a season like that, it’s curtains. USC head coach Kevin O’Neill, however, expects to back. Athletic director Pat Haden has repeatedly made it clear that the combination of O’Neill trying to dig out from under the turmoil that previous head coach Tim Floyd left the program in and the astounding number of injuries the Trojans have suffered this year makes for extenuating circumstances. With everybody on the team returning next year and a handful of reinforcements on the way, the Trojans could be primed for a big turnaround next year.
Stanford associate head coach Dick Davey announced on Tuesday that he will be retiring from coaching at the end of the year. Davey, the former head coach at Santa Clara and a four-time Coach of the Year in the West Coast Conference, plans to spend more time doing things like “fishing in Hawaii.” Yeah, that’s a no-brainer, coach. We think you’ve earned it.
In other assistant coaching news, Oregon State associate head coach Doug Stewartis expected to be among the candidates to replace Jesse Agel, who was fired on Monday, as head coach at Brown. Stewart played at Brown from 1991-94 and was a captain there, and he and Agel were both assistants to current Oregon State head coach Craig Robinson when he was the head man at that school. If Stewart does leave, Robinson will need to rework his staff in advance of next year, a season that could be a make-or-break year for him in Corvallis, a season in which just about everybody from this year’s team returns.
Justin Cobbs of California was named the Pac-12 Player of the Week, the conference announced on Monday. Cobbs scored a career-high 28 points against Oregon last Thursday night, then backed that up with a career-high 13 assists against Oregon State on Saturday, ending his week with averages of 19 points, 10.5 assists, four rebounds and two steals per game. We here at RTC picked Washington’s Terrence Ross as our POTW for his excellence against the Arizona schools this week, but Cobbs is certainly a fine choice, and a guy who has been playing some of the best basketball of his career of late.
It has been a rough year all around for Arizona State, but when they take to the road, it gets even worse. They’re now 0-14 in games played outside of Tempe this year, with the latest strikes against them coming this past week when they trailed by 18 at halftime before losing to Washington by eight, then scored just eight first half points against Washington State before losing by 22. If there’s good news for the Sun Devils, it is that at least they’re done with the road slate, playing their final three conference games at home.
Arizona sophomore point guard Jordin Mayes is just about ready to return to action after missing the last five games with a stress reaction in his right foot. With USC and UCLA in town this week, he’ll likely see time at some point this week, with it all but a certainty that he’ll be ready by the time the Wildcats wrap up their season against Arizona State next week. With the ‘Cats running just a seven-man rotation since the injuries to Mayes and forward Kevin Parrom, senior guard Brendon Lavender has seen his minutes skyrocket. He’s played more than 20 minutes in UA’s last five games, the only times he has done that this season. He’s averaging just over eight points per game and shooting a 67.2% eFG over that span.
California is back on the upswing in the RPI, now ranked at #29 in that index after having dropped several spots the last two weeks. That number should be good enough to earn the Golden Bears an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament should they falter in the Pac-12 Tournament, but no other conference team has an RPI number higher than #50, leaving teams like Washington (RPI #54), Oregon (RPI #55) and Arizona (RPI #67) possibly on the outside looking in come Selection Sunday.
Lastly, the Orange County Register asked the question on Monday morning: Is UCLA NIT-worthy? With the bad loss to St. John’s fresh in the mind and the Bruins sitting behind mediocre Pac-12 teams who may rank higher on the pecking order for an NIT bid, is it possible that the former preseason Pac-12-favorites won’t even garner an NIT invitation? The mere fact that such a question is being asked obviously doesn’t bode well for the future of head coachBen Howland, who is officially on the hot seat, a spot made even warmer by the rumors that 2012 recruit Shabazz Muhammad, once thought to be a future Bruin, may now be more likely to wind up in Lexington next year.
Most years, when USC and UCLA get together to renew their rivalry, it is at least worth a spot on the college basketball fan’s playlist. This year, with a combined record of 20-31, maybe not so much. Still, for the teams involved, this is a big deal. USC had plans to practice on Tuesday just down the street from their campus, at the Sports Arena, where the Bruins are playing most of their home games this season while Pauley Pavilion undergoes renovations. However, UCLA objected to those plans and contacted the Pac-12 office for clarification, finding that conference rules do not allow for the visiting team to practice at the home team’s venue the day prior to either a one-game road trip or the first game of a two-game trip. There’s no doubt, despite the fact that both of these teams are struggling through down years, UCLA would love to complete the season sweep of the hated Trojans.
Just how bad has it been for the Los Angeles schools this year? To begin with, UCLA, without question the biggest basketball program Southern California and one of the giants in the nation, is just the sixth ranked team in its own state, according to the Sagarin ratings, behind California, Saint Mary’s, Long Beach State, San Diego State, and Stanford. Still, that puts them far ahead of USC, a team that is struggling through its worst year in school history, a year that has taken all of the fun out of the game.
After reeling off five straight wins to take over first place in the conference, Washington laid an egg last Thursday night at Oregon. For a team that was already destined to be bubble-bound, barring a win at the Pac-12 Tournament in March, that made the situation down the stretch very clear; as Lorenzo Romar put it on Tuesday: “every game is crucial.” However, despite the loss at Oregon, the Huskies RPI continues to climb, up 14 spots to #62 in this week’s official rankings. Still, an RPI that low is not likely to garner a team much support when the selection committee gets together in just under a month. Aside from winning the conference tournament, the best case scenario is find a win to take down the regular season title.
We’ve talked about the Player of the Year race in our weekly conference check-in, naming Jorge Gutierrez as our favorite for the time being. Bob Clark of The Register Guard takes it one step further, saying that Gutierrez should be an “almost unanimous selection” when the time comes to vote, with guys like Jared Cunningham, Tony Wroten, and Andre Roberson trailing the leader. “Almost unanimous” may be a stretch, but it certainly looks like Gutierrez is the lead horse right now.
Arizona has gone to a seven-man rotation over the last three games, while sophomore guard Jordin Mayes has sat out with a stress fracture in his foot. But, he’s getting closer to being ready to come back, and it is possible that he could return for limited action Saturday against Washington. It appears more likely that he is still a week away, as Sean Miller says he isn’t optimistic about Mayes’ chances this week, but given that it was thought Mayes could be out for the season, the fact that his return seems likely is a bit of good news.
After missing nearly a month due to a severely sprained right ankle, Arizona State junior guard Trent Lockett is set to return to the Sun Devils’ lineup on Thursday when they host Utah. In Lockett’s absence, the wheels fell off an already wobbly ASU bus: They’ve lost five of the six games he’s missed, their scoring dropped by almost 12 points a game, their field goal percentage took a nearly seven-point hit, their assists per game dropped, and their free-throw attempts dropped. It may take some time for Lockett to get back in the swing of things, so it turns out it is fortunate that he returns for the Utah game. Because as bad as things have been for the Sun Devils this year, the Utes are still looking up at them.
Just down the road a piece, Arizona has injury problems of its own. In the past two weeks, both Kevin Parrom and Jordin Mayes went down with foot injuries, with Parrom being lost for the year and Mayes out indefinitely. The Mayes injury was initially feared to be another fracture on a foot that he had broken last year, but X-rays proved negative. Still, for the foreseeable future, head coach Sean Millermay have to rely mostly on a seven-man rotation, with freshman point guard Josiah Turner being aided with the ballhandling duties by senior Kyle Fogg and fellow freshman Nick Johnson.
Utah junior guard Chris Hineshas had more than his fair share of injuries this year himself. He’s hurt his ribs, an elbow, a thumb and an ankle, but through all the bumps and bruises and 18 losses so far, he has missed just two games on the season, and he’s playing nearly 30 minutes a game. As one of only two active players remaining from last year’s squad, Hines has felt the need to keep going out there in order to provide leadership and a scoring punch to a seriously undermanned team.
With the Pac-12 so far down this year, there will really be only one team on Selection Sunday that feels comfortable about making the NCAA Tournament: the team that wins the Pac-12 Tournament. So, while some teams will still worry about winning games to improve their RPI and potentially make themselves more attractive at-large candidates, perhaps the most important goal for the remainder of the conference season is to place in the top four and earn a first round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament. Right now Oregon and Arizona are tied for fourth place, but Oregon head coach Dana Altman is trying to dial down the importance of a top four finish, telling his team to just go out and play well.
Lastly, as if Arizona head coach Sean Miller needed additional ammunition in his recruiting tool chest, but a Wall Street Journal article shows that former Wildcats have earned $738 million in the NBA since 1985. Anthony Gimino of the Tucson Citizen disputes that figure, putting the total closer to $770 million, but either way, Arizona places third among all schools, trailing only North Carolina and Duke. Only two other Pac-12 schools of note make the top 25: UCLA (10th place, $497 million) and California (13th place, $404 million).
On February 5, 2011, then-Findlay Prep star Nick Johnson tuned in from Nevada to watch his future team, Arizona, travel to Berkeley to face off against California. What he witnessed was a wild, back-and-forth, triple-overtime game that Arizona eventually won, 107-105. So Thursday, when the now-freshman starter Johnson and his teammates headed to Berkeley for the rematch, he was ready. Johnson scored 11 points and dished out five assists, and senior Kyle Fogg played what coach Sean Miller called “his best game since I have been at Arizona,” and the Wildcats held off a furious rally by late to win, 78-74, proving that there are still at least seven teams who have legitimate chances at winning the conference title.
Arizona Picked Up Its Biggest Pac-12 Win In Berkeley (AP/J. Chiu)
“I was telling the guys, I watched the game last year,” Johnson said. “So I knew it was going to be crazy, and I prepared for that.” Despite Johnson’s claims, it didn’t look like he or his teammates were prepared for the start of the game as they let the Bears jump out to an early 22-9 lead, looking lost on offense and uninspired on defense. But then, with Haas Pavilion rocking and their team looking to deliver an early knockout blow to an inexperienced opponent, Arizona methodically climbed back into the game and then Fogg took over. In the last 10 minutes of the first-half, Fogg had 10 points, two assists, two steals, and a rebound as Arizona stormed back (with the help of some generous whistles) to take a 45-34 lead at the half.
When all is said and done in the regular season, a night like Thursday night may be the kind of night that determines our eventual regular season champion. Coming into the evening, both Washington and California were tied for first place in the Pac-12, and both teams were treated to rough-and-tumble battles on their home courts against traditional powers in the conference. But, in the end, only one of those teams was able to pull out a victory. For the first time this season, Washington sits atop the Pac-12 standings, alone in first place after pulling out a thrilling victory overUCLA at the Hec Edmundson Pavilion. Midway through the second half, as the Bruins pulled out to a 10-point lead, it looked like the bad Husky team featuring incoherent offense, lazy defense and out-of-control play on both ends was going to doom Lorenzo Romar’s team again. But, sophomore wing Terrence Ross dragged the Huskies back, scoring 10 of their final 12 points, including a couple of threes from Abdul Gaddy assists, and the Huskies were able to pull out an important win. UCLA got a career-high 24 points out of sophomore center Joshua Smith, who was unusually active throughout, but the Bruins squandered a final opportunity. Down two, after having earned a defensive stop, UCLA has a timeout in the bank and 30 seconds on the clock. Instead of using that timeout to set up a play, the Bruins let the clock run down far enough that they were only able to get one shot as time expired. We’ve seen this on multiple occasions this season in the Pac-12 (Oregon State has done it multiple times, Arizona did it against Colorado), and it doesn’t get any easier to watch. It is just plain old bad game theory that doesn’t make a lick of sense. But, that’s a rant for another time. Also of interest in this game is that Tony Wroten sat out the final eight minutes of the game. While he was limping a bit during the game and perhaps bruised a knee, it remains to be seen whether this was a case of Romar benching an inefficient and wild freshman.
California’s game was just as wild as Washington’s, but in Berkeley it was Arizonathat came out on top, behind a season-high 23 points from senior guard Kyle Fogg. Fogg drilled a go-ahead three-pointer with 1:10 remaining, then came up with a huge running block of a potential game-tying three from Cal’s Allen Crabbe with 26 seconds remaining. Freshman Nick Johnson followed that up on the next possession with a swat of his own, this one on a runner by the Bears’ Justin Cobbs. But perhaps the most memorable portion of this game came when Jorge Gutierrez made a diving attempt at saving a loose ball and fell into the Arizona bench, where Wildcat assistant coach Joe Pasternack kicked Gutierrez. Gutierrez then went after Pasternack, yelling and pointing at him, and he had to be held back by Arizona head coach Sean Miller. In the end, no fouls were assessed, but Cal did appear to get some momentum out of the incident. However, the Bears were unable to score on their final three possessions, and now sink back into a traffic jam of three teams tied for second place at 7-3. It wasn’t all good news for Arizona, however, as sophomore point guard Jordin Mayes may have been lost for the season with an injury to his left foot, the same one he broke last spring.
Oregon is in the group a game back of first place after they took care of Utah in Salt Lake City on Thursday night. The Ducks started slowly and still trailed to the 5-17 Utes deep into the second half, but junior wing Carlos Emory, who, along with center Tony Woods, did not play in the first half for disciplinary reasons, sparked a 10-0 run that gave the Ducks control for good. Despite missing the first half, Emory was excellent when it counted, hitting all four of his field goal attempts and all five of his free throws en route to a career-high 14 points. Utah played well, getting 20 points and four threes from junior Chris Hines, while freshman point guard Kareem Storey played his best game of his career, handing out 11 assists against just one turnover.
Colorado is the third team sitting a game back of Washington, following their 22-point drubbing of Oregon State on Thursday night. The Buffaloes used a 22-9 run in the middle of the first half to build a 15-point halftime lead in Boulder, then expanded on that in the second half, running the lead out as far as 28 points in the second half. Sophomore forward Andre Roberson notched his 14th double-double of the season, grabbing 15 boards to go with his 16 points, and the CU defense held the Beaver backcourt combo of Jared Cunningham and Ahmad Starks to just six-of-20 shooting, 15 points, three assists and two turnovers.
Elsewhere, Stanfordsnapped its three-game losing streak by handling Arizona State with ease, and the Cardinal now sit tied with Arizona two games out of first in the conference. While at the bottom of the conference, Washington State handed USC its ninth loss in 10 games and saw junior Mike Ladd earn his first minutes in five games, returning from a thumb injury that had just this week had the remainder of his season in doubt. He scored six points and grabbed four rebounds in 24 minutes of action. Brock Motum led the way for the Cougars, though, with 26 points and eight boards.
Each week through conference play, we’ll offer up a couple of different takes on the biggest question of the week in the Pac-12. This week:
“Which recent Pac-12 transfer would do the most to help his former team this year?”
Andrew Murawa: Where to begin? There have been so many transfers around the conference in recent years that seemingly every team has been hit hard by one loss or another. Utah has had multiple players transfer out, leaving head coach Larry Krystkowiak with a nearly empty cupboard when he arrived – they could certainly make use of the offensive punch of either current Colorado senior Carlon Brown (although he would have used up his eligibility by now without the transfer) or Marshall Henderson, who will begin his sophomore season at Texas Tech next year. Bryce Jones would give the ridiculously shorthanded USC squad some firepower, but he is currently sitting out his transfer season at UNLV. Arizona State is currently struggling with its backcourt depth, and Demetrius Walker, currently struggling to earn playing time at New Mexico, would certainly be ready to provide minutes for Herb Sendek’s team. And that’s just a partial list.
Mike Moser's Athleticism And Perimeter Abilities Would Greatly Help The Current UCLA Team (photo credit: John Gurzinski, AP Photo)
But really, let’s not get too fancy here. The Pac-12 transfer who would do the most to help his former team is Mike Moser, the best player on the list. Moser left UCLA in April 2010 in search of playing time that Ben Howland either could not or would not find for him. After sitting out last season, he’s become a force at UNLV this year, averaging 14 points and 11.3 rebounds per game, while contributing an athleticism and even a three-point shooting presence that is sorely missing at UCLA. While Moser couldn’t earn consistent minutes as a freshman in 2009-10 on a team that started guys like James Keefe and Nikola Dragovic up front, he would be far and away the most athletic frontcourt player on the squad, and together with freshman guard Norman Powell, one of just two above-average Pac-12 athletes on the team. His ability to rebound has been well documented (he grabs 28.1% of defensive rebounds, good for ninth in the nation, and his 12.9% offensive rebounding rate is somewhat restricted by his tendency to play on the perimeter offensively) but he would also provide some punch outside (he hits slightly more than one three per game at a 32.4% rate). Throw in the fact that he would be the one player on the squad who could effectively match up defensively with athletic threes, freeing up the Wear twins to play primarily at the four and five, and he would be a major boon to a struggling UCLA defense. Moser is a prime example of why it is important for coaches to expand their rotations a bit and at least find a bit of time for youngsters, keeping those guys involved, finding out what they can do and providing them the promise of a chance to contribute to the program in more substantial ways in the future.
On the heels of Wednesday night’s loss to Nevada, and in the midst of the second straight rough season, Arizona State on Thursday announced a two-year contract extension for head coach Herb Sendek. The timing of the announcement may seem peculiar, but Dan Bickley of The ArizonaRepublic thinks that it was actually the perfect time, assuming the athletic department believes that Sendek is the guy for this program. With further losses expected to pile up this season, especially if freshman point guard Jahii Carson is declared ineligible in the next week, announcing an extension later in the year as the team sinks toward the bottom of the conference would be met with even more consternation from a beleaguered ASU fan base.
In Tucson, all eyes are on the situation with another suspended point guard, Josiah Turner of Arizona. The talented freshman was on the verge of regaining his starting role earlier in the week before he missed a practice and was suspended for the Wildcats’ trip to Florida on Wednesday. Scott Terrell of the Tucson Citizen points out that despite all of Sean Miller’s success on the recruiting trail, he’ll need Turner to be the man at point if he hopes to see his team live up to all its talent. Nick Johnson slid over to the point on Wednesday and gave a good effort, but he is clearly not the answer at the one, while sophomore Jordin Mayes is best suited to a back-up role. With no true point due to arrive at Arizona next year either, these next couple of Wildcat squads will need to be quarterbacked by Turner.
Oregon State freshman center Daniel Gomis got his first chance to practice as a member of the Beavers on Wednesday after breaking his leg last summer. The 6’10” native of Senegal is still working his way back into game shape and may eventually take a redshirt this year, but OSU head coach Craig Robinson will wait until after December to make a final decision on Gomis’ status for the rest of the season. Gomis is a very athletic big man who runs the floor well and defends hard, but his offensive range doesn’t extend much farther than the distance of a dunk. Barring injury or some other calamity for OSU, expect Gomis to sit out the rest of the season and begin his freshman season next year.
Finally, as if we didn’t know, Jon Wilner puts it into plain black and white just how bad this conference is this year. Among the lowlights, the conference is: 0-9 against ranked teams; 2-8 against the Mountain West; 0-3 against San Diego State; and 9-13 against power conference leagues. And the teams with the two best records in the conference? Stanford (8-1) and Oregon State (6-1) have built their records against schedules ranked 201st and 249th, respectively, by Sagarin.
While Washington has a couple of big challenges this week in New York City, we’ve chosen Arizona’s trip to Florida as the Pac-12 game of the week, largely for the contrast in styles and the expectation that these Wildcats are getting close to turning it on. There were high expectations for the freshman backcourt duo of Josiah Turner and Nick Johnson coming into the season, with both players regarded as top 25 recruits. But, as is often the case, both players took some time adjusting to their new surroundings. Johnson has had some ups and down, but has been a pretty consistent scorer for the Wildcats, averaging 10.8 points per game and earning his first start of the season a week ago against New Mexico State. The odds are good that he may never leave the starting five again. Turner, meanwhile, started the opener against Valparaiso, but lost his job to sophomore Jordin Mayes. Just yesterday, however, Sean Miller was hinting that Turner could earn his way back into the starting lineup as early as tonight’s game. Of course, that was all before Turner missed the final practice before the team’s trip to Gainesville and was suspended. With Turner out, sophomore Mayes will retain his starting spot and be called upon to put in plenty of extra minutes against a talented Gator backcourt.
Kenny Boynton Has Been Hot For Florida And Arizona Will Need To Cool Him Down To Stand A Chance (Credit: Kim Klement, US Presswire)
Even with Turner in the backcourt, the Wildcats were bound to have their hands full with Florida’s athletic and dymanic quartet of guards: Erving Walker, Kenny Boynton, Mike Rosario, and Bradley Beal. All four are capable of knocking down shots from increasingly improbable range, while sure to keep the defense honest with a quickness off the bounce that could earn them easy hoops in the lane or free throw opportunities. Boynton has been criticized at times for being a little too loose with his shot selection, but so far this year he has been knocking down shots at such a high rate (47.3% from three, with an effective shooting percentage of 65.9%) that his green light from Gator coach Billy Donovan has been justified. Walker, the senior point guard, is playing the best ball of his career thus far, handing out assists on over 30% of his team’s hoops while he’s in the game, and knocking down his own shots at a pretty good clip as well (56.6% eFG). Then there’s the freshman, Beal, who may be the best of all of them, despite struggling with his shot at Syracuse this past weekend. A major bonus out of the 6’3” Beal has been his ability to rebound with the big boys while often playing out of position at the three, grabbing double-digit rebounds three times in his seven games and averaging seven rebounds per game.
The Pac-12 conference has turned over a new leaf this week, actually winning games that they are supposed to win. After Tuesday night’s games, the conference is now 6-0 on the week. There aren’t a whole lot of impressive wins in the mix there, but at this point in the game, any win is a good win. The biggest news on the floor came in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where Arizona did just about everything they could to give away a late ten-point lead, but scraped out a seven-point win in a game that could go down as the game that saw the changing of the guard for the Wildcats – quite literally. Freshman guard Nick Johnson got the first start of his career against the Aggies and also stepped right into the role of the Wildcats’ go-to player on the offensive end, hitting eight of his team-high 14 field goals on his way to a career-high 19 points. Further, this was the first game of the season in which freshman point guard Josiah Turner was clearly the best point guard on the roster. While he still hasn’t regained the starting role from sophomore Jordin Mayes, that day is likely just around the corner. Turner is still a work-in-progress (he had a career-high 12 points, but still turned it over four times, including two times after the last media timeout and just before fouling out), but his ability to create offense for himself and for his teammates is undeniable.
The other Pac-12 game last night saw Oregon hold off a game UTEP team behind Jonathan Loyd‘s career-high six three-pointers. It has been a slow start to the season for Loyd, and with Devoe Joseph becoming eligible in ten days, he’ll see more competition for the Ducks’ precious backcourt minutes. But the 5’7” guard’s quickness combined with his ability from deep means he’ll continue to provide energy for Dana Altman in whatever role he plays. And, we learned after the game that even more backcourt minutes have opened up for the Ducks as it was announced that freshman guard Bruce Barron had left the team too, making him the second backcourt recruit to leave Oregon abruptly in the first month of the season. Jabari Brown left the team ten days ago. While Altman had previously said that the door was open for Brown to return to the team, he offered no such option this time, saying “we’re past that point” and confirming that the team would be comfortable moving forward with the players remaining on the roster.
Injury problems have plagued Kevin O’Neill and USC all season; they struck again on Tuesday when it was announced that sophomore center Dewayne Dedmon had suffered a stress injury in his right foot and would be out four to six weeks. Not only is this a blow to USC’s chances, it is a blow to the inexperienced Dedmon, who already suffered a broken hand prior to the season but did not miss any games as a result of that injury. USC will shift 7’1” junior James Blasczyk from the bench into Dedmon’s spot, with sophomore Garrett Jackson finding more minutes for himself and 6’5” freshman Byron Wesley possibly getting some time at the four.
Bouncing back across town to UCLA for a moment, Jeff Eisenberg reported on Tuesday that there were exactly 34 UCLA students at the Bruins’ temporary home at the Sports Arena when their game against Pepperdine tipped off Monday night. And in the 14,500 seat facility, the announced crowd was 3,885 – a generous number at that. With UCLA struggling to find any rhythm early in the season, the fact that the team can’t even count on a student section to stir up some momentum seems to cast an even more dire glow over an already disappointing season.
Finally, there’s some interesting news out of Arizona State, as their star wing Trent Lockett is taking 21 credits both this semester and next in the hopes of graduating after three years. Clearly the kid has an amazing work ethic, because in addition to handling such a huge class load, he has improved his basketball game every season he has been in Tempe. But – and this is just pure speculation – one has to wonder if maybe, just maybe, the reason he is so intent on finishing up his degree in three years is so he can take advantage of the rule that allows graduates to transfer between academic institutions without having to sit out a year. And really, who could blame a guy as good as Lockett who is mired in a pretty miserable situation with the Sun Devils.
Over the weekend, three different Pac-12 teams played in eight-team tournaments. Arizona State, Utah and Washington State combined to go 1-8 in the Old Spice Classic, the Battle 4 Atlantis and the 76 Classic. Thankfully ASU was able to come across another BCS conference team that was worse than they were, handing Wake Forest a 28-point beatdown, but other than that, there wasn’t a whole lot to be thankful for in the Thanksgiving tournaments this year. Other tournaments this week had mixed results, as Stanford advanced to the championship of the NIT Season Tip-Off and gave Syracuse just about all it could handle before succumbing in the final minutes, and USC also split its two games in Las Vegas, losing to UNLV on Friday in the semifinal, but knocking off South Carolina in the consolation game.
Arizona State did get some sort of good news this weekend, however, as an update on Jahii Carson finally came through. While Carson is still not eligible to play at this point, there is at least some movement here, as Doug Haller clarified in reporting that Carson was waiting on a late ACT score to post. When that score posts, if it is high enough, Carson can begin practicing (and playing) with the team immediately. If the score is not high enough, Carson will be ineligible this season. Stay tuned.
Down the road a piece in Arizona, Sean Miller is promising big changes for the Wildcats. “The same five that started against San Diego State (Jordin Mayes, Kyle Fogg, Solomon Hill, Jesse Perry and Kyryl Natyazhko) “will never start another game (together) at Arizona,” said Miller. Certainly Natyazhko is expected to be out of the starting lineup, although it remains to be seen whether Perry will move over to center or if freshman Angelo Chol will get a chance to start. But Mayes’ tenuous hold on the point guard position may be slipping as well, after he has struggled, handing out just three assists in his last five games. While freshman Josiah Turner has had his struggles adjusting to the new level of competition, his last few games have shown improvement and he may be ready to take over the reins. Likewise, the time could be now for Miller’s other freshman guard, Nick Johnson, who could slide in at the wing if Perry takes over in the middle. We’ll see what Miller has in mind on Tuesday night at New Mexico State.
Oregon State had a fun weekend, wrapping up their week-long east coast road trip with a 20-point win over Towson in front of President Obama, among others. Devon Collier continued his strong start to his sophomore season by scoring 15 points, grabbing five offensive rebounds, handing out three assists and snagging two steals, while sophomore guard Roberto Nelson had by far his best game of the year, scoring 12 points and handing out four assists while playing under control. There were high hopes for Nelson this season, and maybe Saturday was the first sign of promising things to come.
Finally, as if a 1-2 record in the Maui Invitational and a 1-4 start to the season weren’t enough for UCLA, sophomore forward Travis Wear cut his foot while snorkeling in Maui on Thursday and took five stitches. The Bruins’ second-leading scorer on this underwhelming season did not practice this weekend and will be reevaluated today to determine whether he will be able to play tonight when UCLA hosts Pepperdine at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.
Each week around these parts we’re going to pick one big game involving a Pac-12 team and provide a preview of the game. Last week we took a look at Oregon traveling to Vanderbilt, today we’ll look at a real dog vs. cat matchup as Arizona faces Mississippi State in the final of the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament this evening in New York City.
The Bulldogs (3-1) got to this championship game by racing out to a big 22-point lead in the first ten minutes of Thursday night’s semifinal game against Texas A&M, then hanging on from there to post a nine-point win. MSU hit five three-pointers during the opening ten minutes and made 11 of their first 15 shots from the field, then cooled off considerably, hitting just one of seven three-point attempts in the final 30 minutes of the game and only 28.2% of their field goals over that span. Of those two extremes of shooting, the final 30 minutes probably more accurately reflects MSU’s shooting ability, as the best three-point bombers from last year’s MSU club have graduated. Senior point guard Dee Bost is the Bulldogs’ most important player, team leader and leading scorer (18 PPG), but the real strength of the team lies along their frontline with 6’11” center Arnett Moultrie, much-maligned and underachieving 6’10” power forward Renardo Sidney, and 6’9” reserve big man Wendell Lewis. The Wildcats will need their veteran forwards Jesse Perry and Solomon Hill, along with freshmen bigs Sidiki Johnson and Angelo Chol, to put in a full night’s work on the glass to keep Arizona in touch.
Dee Bost Is The Engine That Makes The Mississippi State Offense Go
While the Wildcats are off to a 4-0 start, they’ve yet to really gel. They needed a big 23-6 in the final seven minutes of their semifinal game with St. John’s to advance, and they’ve struggled to not only replace last year’s two leading scorers, but to fold four freshmen into the mix. Offensively, the Wildcats have been decent, with multiple players chipping in on a nightly basis to provide balanced scoring, but things still remain unsettled. Five players (Kyle Fogg, Hill, Perry, Nick Johnson and Jordin Mayes) have averaged double figure scoring thus far, but this team is still a work in progress, albeit with much upside. Junior wing Kevin Parrom just returned from a gunshot wound suffered in September and has yet to get back to 100%; freshman point guard Josiah Turner is getting slightly more comfortable game by game, but he is still too wild to be completely trusted; and the freshman frontcourt duo of Johnson and Chol has shown some serious flashes but not yet the ability to produce on a consistent basis. Read the rest of this entry »