From Bad to Really Bad: Assessing the Pac-12’s NCAA Tournament

Posted by Mike Lemaire on March 22nd, 2016

The dust has settled on a wild first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, and guess what Pac-12 fans? All that talk about the conference being overrated and its teams not showing up on the big stage in March?

It is all pretty much true!

Oregon is the lone remaining representative of Bill Walton’s Conference of Champions and the onus is on the Ducks to carry the rest of the conference from here on out. This is because the league didn’t just have another tough tournament; it has had a brutally bad tournament. Only Utah and Oregon made it out of the First Round and the Utes didn’t exactly do the conference proud by getting run out of the gym against Gonzaga.

In honor of all the awfulness, we ranked the performances from really bad to downright awful and went back to wishing Oregon well against Duke.


Andy Enfield's Team Choked Away A Late Lead But They Are Still Young

Andy Enfield’s Team Choked Away A Late Lead But Otherwise Actually Played Providence Team

Congratulations to the Trojans, a team that lost to Providence at the buzzer and therefore cemented its status as the Least Bad Pac-12 Tournament Team of 2016. In the interest of full disclosure, USC basically had Providence on the ropes with three minutes to play and frittered the lead away in a flurry of turnovers and missed free throws. You could therefore make an argument that thee Trjoans’ performance in this Tournament was especially bad. The team’s youth and inexperience showed through in a big way down the stretch, as it did pretty much all season long. They shot the ball well, played solid defense for the most part, and literally return everybody, so there’s no obvious reason to hang their heads. They probably would have just been blown out by North Carolina in the Second Round anyway.

Oregon State. Aside from some awful shooting from Stephen Thompson and general uselessness from Malcolm Duvivier, the Beavers actually played VCU tough. The team’s offensive struggles were expected against the Rams’ athletic defense, but Oregon State mitigated some of its shortcomings by taking care of the basketball and locking down their perimeter shooters. The moral victory, however, is limited in that the Rams shot better than 60 percent on their two-pointers and completely had their way on the offensive glass. The Beavers will miss Gary Payton II next season, but they have a solid young nucleus and should be excited about the future in Corvallis.

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Rushed Reactions: #9 Connecticut 74, #8 Colorado 67

Posted by Walker Carey on March 17th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Kevin Ollie Improves to 7-0 in the NCAA Tournament (USA Today Images)

Kevin Ollie Improves to 7-0 in the NCAA Tournament (USA Today Images)

  1. Connecticut’s great second half effort led the Huskies to victory. Sluggish and listless are two ways one could describe Connecticut’s first half effort. The Huskies found themselves down 36-27 at the break, and it appeared there was a chance Colorado might run them right out of the gym. That turned out to not be the case, though, as Kevin Ollie’s group came out in the second half firing on all cylinders. The Huskies used a 20-10 run to start the half and grabbed their first lead at the 11:39 mark — from there, they never looked back. While Connecticut certainly received some dynamite offensive performances, it cranked its defensive intensity up several notches and held the Buffaloes to just 32 second half points. The Huskies have been a bit of an enigmatic bunch this season, so it will be interesting to see if they can translate today’s second half success to its next game on Saturday.
  2. Colorado did not do itself any favors from the free throw line. The Buffaloes led by as many as 11 in the first half and held a nine-point lead at halftime. Those leads could have been greater had they turned in a better performance from the free throw line. Colorado finished just 19-of-30 from the stripe, and at one point was just 8-of-17 from there. Leaving those extra points at the line allowed Connecticut to stay in striking distance, eventually grab the lead, and finally take home the victory. Free throw shooting is important each and every March, and that was well on display this afternoon.
  3. Kevin Ollie remains undefeated in the NCAA Tournament. There were certainly some naysayers when Kevin Ollie took over for a retiring Jim Calhoun in fall 2012, but the first four seasons of returns have been quite positive. The Huskies of course won all six of their games in the 2014 NCAA Tournament on their way to the national title. After a one-year hiatus from the NCAA Tournament, Connecticut got back on the winning track Thursday in its return to March Madness. Can Kevin Ollie improve on his sterling 7-0 tournament record? We shall see on Saturday.

Player of the Game. Rodney Purvis, Connecticut. The junior guard led Connecticut’s second half explosion, finishing with a team-high 19 points and hitting two three-pointers that really gave the Huskies some much-needed breathing room. Backcourt play will be key if Connecticut wants to advance to the Sweet Sixteen, so the strong play of Purvis and fellow guard Daniel Hamilton (17 points on 6-of-12 shooting) was certainly a good sign for Huskies fans.

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Three Ways to Fill an All-Pac-12 Team

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 8th, 2016

Sometime earlier this year, we spelled out four different ways to create a Top 25 list or conference power rankings: (1) based on resume; (2) based on how teams are playing at that exact moment; (3) based on how you expect teams to be playing when it really matters; or (4) some improvisatory combination of the other three parts. Likewise, there are a bunch of different ways to put together all-conference teams. Below, we’ll give you three(-ish) different — and all entirely reasonable (says the guy who’s writing it) — ways to draw up an all-Pac-12 Team this season.

Note to the Pac-12 and other conferences that should know better: Basketball teams allow five players on the floor at a single time. Thus, all-conference teams should feature just five players. If you want to recognize additional players, that’s what Second Teams, Third Teams and Honorable Mentions are for.

Regardless Of How You Put Together An All-Conference Team, Jakob Poeltl Deserves A Spot (Godofredo Vasquez, USA Today)

Regardless Of How You Put Together An All-Conference Team, Jakob Poeltl Deserves A Spot (Godofredo Vasquez, USA Today)

Five Best Players

This one is simple. Don’t think too hard. Just go down the list and determine which players in the conference put together the five best seasons. Sure, determining “best” is completely subjective, but at least the concept is clear. Using this methodology in this year’s Pac-12, we would probably wind up with one true guard surrounded by three bigs and a swingman. Something like a team of Jakob Poeltl, Josh Scott, Ryan Anderson, Dillon Brooks and Gary Payton II. Maybe you would make an argument for Chris Boucher or Jaylen Brown over Brooks or Anderson. But either way, you wind up with a team that looks great on paper but probably would have some on-court problems — ask Purdue or Maryland about this — where they’ve got a lot of appealing pieces that do not fit together quite so well.

To take a little swerve off of this method of putting together a team, we can also move away from the players who had the “best seasons” in favor of just picking the five best players. In this scenario, California’s Brown likely moves up a notch. Judged on performance on the floor from November to early March, the freshman didn’t match what guys like Boucher, Brooks and Anderson did. But judged on performance heading into postseason play, it’s relatively easy to make the argument that Brown (or Allonzo Trier for that matter) deserves to be mentioned among the top five players in the conference.

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Assessing The Pac-12 With One Week Left

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 1st, 2016

Way back in early November, when Pac-12 prognosticators were looking ahead to the season, there were four teams almost universally considered as contenders to win the regular season title – Arizona, California, Oregon and Utah. We’ve had all sorts of twists and turns over the past four months: USC and Washington emerging earlier than expected; California and Utah taking some time to find their stride; and of course, the assorted injuries, hot streaks, cold patches and upsets that change expectations along the way. But here we are, heading into the final week of the regular season, and those four preseason contenders are still exactly that. There’s a lot still left to be decided in the final week and into the conference tournament, so let’s go team by team and break down what’s to play for on the way in.

Dillon Brooks And The Ducks Are One Win Away From Clinching At Least Part Of A Pac-12 Title (John Locher, USA Today)

Dillon Brooks And The Ducks Are One Win Away From Clinching At Least Part Of A Pac-12 Title. (John Locher, USA Today)

Oregon – For at least a month now, anyone with a Pac-12 schedule could look at Oregon’s road trip to Los Angeles in the final week of the regular season and know it would have major ramifications on the regular season title. What nobody could really see at the start of February was both of the Los Angeles schools falling off a cliff. More on them later, but the situation is simple for the Ducks. Win one in LA and earn at least a share of the conference title. Win them both (now, suddenly possible, if not even likely) and they’ve got their first regular season title since 2002 (and only the program’s second since World War II ended). They are likely to be favored in both games — because the season is trending in the wrong direction for both opponents — and a couple of wins could see the Ducks break into two-seed territory come Selection Sunday.

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Five Thoughts From Colorado’s Win Over Arizona

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 25th, 2016

After another wacky game between Colorado and Arizona in the wacky conference known as the Pac-12, here are five thoughts coming out of last night’s battle.

  1. Josh Scott. I’ve been watching Pac-12 basketball very closely for about 32 of my 40 years, and I’ve covered this conference comprehensively well in this spot for something like six or seven years. And in terms of true post players, Scott’s senior season is the second-best I’ve seen since Kevin Love’s 2007-08 season at UCLA. The problem is that it also happens to come in the same year as the bestseason I’ve seen out of a Pac post player during that span. Scott’s not going to win conference player of the year, but he’s a lock for first-team all-conference (even if this conference cannot correctly count the number of players allowed on a basketball court for one team at the same time). And with his performance on Wednesday night, he virtually assured his program a third NCAA Tournament appearance in his four seasons in Boulder. He’s always had that great back-to-the-basket post-up game, but he’s also developed a pretty face-up game off the bounce. Back off of him and he’s fully capable of knocking in a jumper. Bang him too hard on the blocks and he’ll earn a whistle and convert from the free throw line. He’s an absolutely terrific straight-up post defender and has developed into a quality help defender as well. If there is any legitimate criticism of him, it is that he is not selfish enough on the offensive end of the floor. Whether he is at the level of former Buffaloes stars like Chauncey Billups, Spencer Dinwiddie, Alec Burks or even Scott Wedman is up for someone else to decide. But when Scott plays his final home game at the Coors Event Center on Sunday afternoon, here’s hoping (and fully expecting) that Colorado fans give Scott the rousing senior sendoff that he richly deserves.

    Josh Scott: Second-Best Pac-12 Big In Recent History? (Kai Casey, CU Independent)

    Josh Scott: Second-Best Pac-12 Big In Recent History? (Kai Casey, CU Independent)

  2. Replay Review Is Terrible. We experienced this situation twice in the final minutes of last night’s game. With Arizona already out of timeouts, the game was stopped for a replay review that allowed Sean Miller to gather his troops for strategy discussions just as if it were another timeout. In a game of 137 offensive possessions, that means there were somewhere in the neighborhood of 92 bad or missed calls. Why, in the final minutes of a tight and otherwise enjoyable game, would you want to put that on pause in order for a bunch of old dudes to stand around and watch TV for a few minutes? Why are the 87th and 92nd bad or missed calls any more important than the 12th or 42nd? And why, for the love of god, if you’re incapable of getting the call correct, are you wasting my time? Oh, and full credit to UCLA. Read the rest of this entry »
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Making Sense Of The Tightly-Packed PAC at the Turn

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on February 3rd, 2016

Every Pac-12 team is now halfway through its conference schedule, and to say that this conference is tight is quite the understatement. There are currently five teams within a game of first place, and conference stalwarts Arizona and UCLA are not among that group. Let’s take a spin around the league and evaluate where the league stands as it makes the turn for the home stretch.

Legitimate Contenders For Regular Season Championship

Chris Boucher, Casey Benson And The Ducks Are Halfway Home To A Pac-12 Title (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)

Chris Boucher, Casey Benson And The Ducks Are Halfway Home To A Pac-12 Title (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)

Hey, this is easy, right? You just take those five teams sitting at 6-3 or better and boom, we’re done, right? No, that’s too easy. We’ve got to take a stand. So, let’s take a stand and name Oregon, Utah and USC as the biggest threats to take the title. The Ducks, conference leaders at 7-2, are the obvious one. I’m personally interested in bragging about the fact that I’ve had them as the conference favorite since I first looked at the league back in mid-summer, but Dana Altman’s got a combination of experience, upside, athleticism, intelligence, quickness and length that is the Platonic ideal of a college basketball team (little known fact: Plato was a huge hoop-head). As for Utah, it took some early lumps but has taken advantage of a lull in the schedule to reel off five straight wins. They’ve still got tough roadies ahead to the Oregon and Los Angeles schools, but Brandon Taylor is starting to knock in shots and there are few players in the conference who can handle Jakob Poeltl in the post. The final true contender is USC, and that isn’t a phrase that anybody expected to be written this February. But it’s for real. Andy Enfield’s squad is undeniably talented and beginning to figure out how to win. The Trojans’ schedule down the stretch is insane (vs. UCLA, at the Arizona schools, home against Utah and Colorado, at Cal and Stanford, finishing at home against the Oregon schools), but this team has already shown it can play with anybody in the league. Notably missing in this space is two-time defending champion Arizona. The Wildcats aren’t out of it at just two games back, but this year’s group just doesn’t measure up to the type of Wildcats we’ve grown accustomed to.

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Marching to Vegas: The Year Of The Bigs

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) on January 22nd, 2016

The following is far from scientific but interesting nonetheless. It became an exercise in qualification as opposed to quantification, visualizing the results of the experiment rather than discovering specific measures of validity. The question at hand wasn’t so much a question as it was a feeling, a healthy topic of conversation: sure seems there’s a lot of really good Pac-12 bigs this year. Feels a lot like that exhaustive list of great guards we had in 2014. Do you remember two years ago? That was the year Nick Johnson won the conference’s player of the year award while Joe Young and Jason Calliste lit things up from Eugene, Jahii Carson single-handedly changed how Herb Sendek coached, UCLA featured Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson and neither was the highest drafted Bruin guard, CJ Wilcox became a first rounder, and we were introduced to a young man named Delon Wright. Guard play, in the 2014 Pac-12 season, was phenomenal. And this year it seems, in a league long and spread on talent, that skill has centralized in the front court. Don’t get me wrong, there are some great guards, but that 2014 list (wildly incomplete above) seems to have given way to a big heavy (not redundant) 2016. Here’s that unscientific list:

Screen Shot 2016-01-22 at 12.07.30 AM

I told you it wasn’t scientific. And I’m not going to measure the number of primary guards (greens) versus bigs (red) in this list of top offensive efficiencies in the Pac-12. There are also so many different ways to qualify “good.” But isn’t this kinda interesting, right? The conference is front court top heavy right now. We aren’t cementing anything, because this is but one “available” measure. Jakob Poeltl might be the best Pac big since Kevin Love.

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Burning Questions: Pac-12’s Best Big Man?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 15th, 2016

Last week we offered up a discussion on the best point guard in the Pac-12. Today, we turn from the little men to the big ones, as we discuss the best players in the conference at the positions of power forward and center. Below, our writers weigh in on the subject.

Jakob Poeltl: The Pac's Best Big (Utah Basketball)

Jakob Poeltl: The PAC’s Best Big (Utah Basketball)

Mike Lemaire: Unlike the point guard question where a case can be made for multiple guys, this honor without question goes to Utah’s Jakob Poeltl. He has long been an obvious lottery pick thanks to his remarkable skill and size, but he refined his offensive game during the offseason and it is now paying big dividends. He is among the national leaders in effective field goal percentage (34th) and true shot percentage (39th) while doubling his assist rate (14.2%), cutting down on his turnover rate (15.6%) and significantly improving his free-throw shooting (from 43% to 68%). In fact, inconsistency at the charity stripe is one of Poeltl’s few offensive flaws and it is clear he is working to iron out that imperfection. Lest we forget, Poeltl is also still an excellent rebounder on both ends of the floor (top 150 nationally in both) and is a game-changing shot-blocker (6.1%). One could argue that Cal’s Ivan Rabb has more long-term upside, but considering Poeltl has less help on the perimeter, his success is impressive to ignore. Read the rest of this entry »

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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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Pac-12 Weekly Honors: Week Two

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 30th, 2015

Pac-12 teams this week played in tournaments from Maui to the Bahamas, from Brooklyn to Orange County. And, well… let’s just get to the carnage.

Team of the Week: Oregon

Dwayne Benjamin and The Ducks Have Been The Best Conference Team This Year

Dwayne Benjamin and the Ducks have been the best team in the Pac-12 this year

It was difficult to come up with a selection here. I polled many knowledgeable people. Adam Butler suggested that it had to be either UCLA or Washington, because at least they had nice vacations in Maui and the Bahamas, respectively. Jeff Eisenberg was sure it had to be California and its three future first-round NBA Draft picks for sticking within 14 points of San Diego State and within four points of mighty Richmond. Still, I kept searching. Four teams got through last week without losing a game – Colorado, Oregon, Utah, and Washington State. But these are the combined opponents that those four teams defeated: Arkansas State, Air Force, Northern Colorado, Idaho State, Cal State-Los Angeles and Texas Southern. So, we’re going to fudge things a little and acknowledge Oregon here. Last week we gave the nod to Washington for its surprising start to the season, but without a doubt, the conference team with the most impressive start after two weeks has been the Ducks. Not only do they have perhaps the two best wins among Pac-12 teams (over Baylor and Valparaiso), but they’ve done so without the benefit of two starters: senior point guard Dylan Ennis and sophomore center Jordan Bell. The Ducks will have a couple more tests this week with a visit from Fresno State tonight and their first road game of the season – at UNLV on Friday – but for now, Dana Altman’s squad remains the conference’s best hope for national glory.

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