Pac-12 Notebook: Josh Hawkinson, UCLA Offensive Woes, Utah…

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 6th, 2015

Here are some news and notes from the Pac-12’s opening conference weekend.

  • We’re, what, two months into the college basketball season, and I’m not sure I’ve written the name Josh Hawkinson yet this year. Consider this blurb my official apology for such an egregious oversight. Last year, he played in all but three of Washington State’s games, but never more than 13 minutes, never scoring more than six points, never grabbing more than six boards. This year, he’s averaging 31 minutes per game and has only once had an outing where he failed to score at least six points or grab at least six boards. Over the weekend against the Bay Area schools, he was the best big man on the floor, and that came against frontcourts featuring senior bigs like Stefan Nastic and David Kravish. (By the way, the fact that Jordan Railey had his best pair of games in his career does not bode well for Cal and Stanford’s frontcourt defenses). Hawkinson is not going to amaze you with his athleticism. He’s not what you would call a visionary passer. He’s a decent face-up shooter, but by no means the second coming of Dirk Nowitzki either. He just gets it done. He’s got a great motor; he understands the game; he’s tough on the boards; and he has completely bought in to Ernie Kent’s philosophy. He’s on the short list of players in this conference who have made the biggest jump in production from last year to this one.
Josh Hawkinson May Be The Pac-12's Most Improved Player

Josh Hawkinson May Be The Pac-12’s Most Improved Player

  • To say that it was not a good weekend for UCLA basketball is to engage in annoyingly obvious understatement. The Bruins went to Colorado on Friday night to face a struggling Buffaloes team without its best player, and despite Colorado’s best efforts to fluff up UCLA’s offensive confidence early in the game via a series of turnovers leading to breakaway layups, the Bruins offensive woes continued. Against Utah on Sunday, it was even worse. The gold standard for UCLA offensive ineptitude was their 44 points against Kentucky on national TV. In that game, the Bruins scored those points on 68 possessions, good for 0.647 points per possession. Their 39 points on 60 possessions in Boulder works out to 0.65 points per possession. So, um, progress? In all seriousness, UCLA just has absolutely no offensive confidence right now. Norman Powell is a mess. Kevon Looney can only get so far on effort alone. And Tony Parker can’t seem to get out of his own way, earning only 20 minutes per game this weekend in part due to his continuing problems with dumb fouls. And then there is Bryce Alford. Yikes. For the weekend he was 2-of-26 from the field, 0-of-13 from deep, with five turnovers against nine assists. And let me tell you, those Rocky Mountain scorekeepers were generous in only giving him five turnovers. Now, that’s only one bad weekend, and we’re not going to write off all the other good things he’s done to this point — but with UCLA’s offensive struggles, you’ve got to start with the quarterback, right? The shooting thing? That’s mostly an aberration. Still, Alford is definitely earning a reputation as a guy willing to take bad shots. And on a team with a fragile personality right now, launching wild early-shot-clock bombs while the rest of the team stands around and watches is not going to build much cohesion. Alford is plenty capable of shooting his team into games, but as the point guard, he’s also in part responsible for how the guys around him perform. There were numerous times this weekend where he delivered a beautiful dime on the run that bounced off the hands of a guy like Thomas Welsh, Noah Allen or Tony Parker. But you know what? Alford’s got to know that those guys aren’t really capable of making those kinds of catches and play to his personnel accordingly. This 0-of-13 shooting from deep is not going to continue, but for the Bruins to regain their confidence, Alford’s got to find ways to get Powell, Looney, Parker and Isaac Hamilton good looks on a regular basis, especially early in games. He’s got to be the facilitator, first and foremost.

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Pac-12 Midyear Awards

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 2nd, 2015

With conference play beginning in earnest on Friday night in the Pac-12, it’s time to give out some superlatives for the non-conference portion of the season.

Non-Conference Player of the Year: Delon Wright, Sr, Utah

If Anything, Delon Wright Is Even More Versatile And Efficient This Season (Rick Egan, The Salt Lake Tribune)

If Anything, Delon Wright Is Even More Versatile And Efficient This Season (Rick Egan, The Salt Lake Tribune)

Prior to the season, the Utes’ point guard earned RTC Co-Preseason Player of the Year honors, shared with Stanford senior Chasson Randle. Now, seven weeks later, Wright stands alone as our panelists’ unanimous choice as the best player in the Pac-12 thus far. Last season, Wright drew amazement with his level of versatility and efficiency. This season, he’s upped the ante in both categories. Didn’t think his 57.2 eFG% was sustainable? That’s up to 60.9% this season. He turned the ball over on nearly 19% of possessions and handed out assists on 29% of teammates’ buckets last year. The turnovers are down to ever 14% of possessions and the assists are up to 34% of teammates’ hoop. Think his perimeter shooting was a weakness last year? Well, he’s hitting a third of his still limited attempts from deep, up from 22% last year. Now sure, with conference play rolling around, those numbers will dip some with increased competition and opponents familiar with his game. But not much, as the Utes have played a tough enough non-conference slate to have seen Wright tested on a variety of occasions.

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Marching to Vegas: Colorado’s Jump-Start Hasn’t Quite Started

Posted by Adam Butler on December 12th, 2014

Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) of Pachoops will again be joining us all year, providing us with his weekly take on our favorite conference as we begin the March to Vegas.

The Colorado Buffaloes seem to be developing into a very curious case. Their season hasn’t quite developed the way we thought it would. Thus far the “jump-start” Tad Boyle called last year’s Spencer Dinwiddie-less time appears to have been a preview. When he went down with his season-ending injury, the Buffs had an offensive rating that was – well – offensive. From the injury onward, Colorado’s offensive rating was just 96 points per 100 possessions. This year the Buffs are putting up an improvement on that number, but not by much. They’re scoring 102.1 points per 100 possessions, which would be the second worst mark of the Boyle era. Their defense is stacking up, however, if you look at the numbers. It’s about on par with previous years, ranking just slightly lower than previous campaigns (NOTE: This is a uniquely defensive season).

Tad Boyle's Buffs Are Playing Very Un-Boyle-Like Defense

Tad Boyle’s Buffs Are Playing Very Un-Boyle-Like Defense

But there is something different there, too. Colorado is yielding the highest percentage of shots at the rim and from distance. Ever. If we examine the unexamined stat – percentage of shots from two-point distance – we find that teams take just 16% of their shots against them as two-point jumpers. To break this down, Colorado is allowing teams to primarily take the easiest shot (at the rim 40% of the time) or the most rewarding shot (behind the arc 44% of the time). In my estimation, that’s not a recipe for success. It’s also a deviation from how they’ve previously played and – heading into conference play – it’s worth noting that the Pac-12 has two teams in the top 25 in field goal percentage at the rim (Arizona and Utah) as well as two teams in the top 25 in three-point field goal percentage (ASU and Utah). If we’re projecting this out, those seem to be teams that are built to take it right at Colorado’s defense. Read the rest of this entry »

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Colorado’s Dilemma and Bad Offensive Basketball

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 9th, 2014

With Colorado’s 64-57 loss at Georgia on Sunday morning, Tad Boyle’s club has now played two games against teams ranked in KenPom’s top 100. Both of those games were on the road, so take that into account, but the Buffaloes have looked absolutely terrible, especially on the offensive end, and are now 0-2 in those games. In 114 offensive possessions, Colorado has scored 90 points, good for 0.79 points per possession. In easy terms: not good. One bad performance early in the season can be written off (Stanford and Michigan, take note), but two of those hints a trend. And we’re deep enough into the season now to start taking some long-term lessons from what we’ve seen. And my first lesson about the state of Colorado basketball is that this offense needs some serious medicine.

A Month Into The Season, Tad Boyle Has Plenty To Be Upset About On The Offensive End (Jeremy Papasso, AP Photo)

A Month Into The Season, Tad Boyle Has Plenty To Be Upset About On The Offensive End. (Jeremy Papasso, AP Photo)

You can look at the box score from the Georgia game and jump right to one statistic: 2-0f-17 on three-point attempts. Hey, maybe if the Buffs had a bit better luck from three, they’re right in the game with the Bulldogs, right? Well, not so fast. This offense is not built around three-point shooting. As it is, those 17 three-point attempts show up as just 28.8 percent of the team’s field goal attempts, lower than their percentage of three-point field goal attempts on the season, already a low number by national standards. Furthermore, seven of those three-point attempts came in the games’ final four minutes as the Buffaloes were in scramble mode trying to get back into the game. Sure, this isn’t a particularly great three-point shooting team, and that is an issue. But it is not the issue.

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Surveying Feast Week Carnage Around the Pac-12

Posted by AMurawa on December 1st, 2014

Feast Week around the Pac-12 didn’t bring a whole lot of comfort to the conference. Seven teams around the league played in tournament-style events and only two even made it out of their first game and into the championship side of the bracket, with four of the remaining five teams taking two losses on the week. There was good news, however, as Arizona won the Maui Invitational with a workmanlike win over San Diego State and Washington earned the Wooden Legacy title with solid wins over an underwhelming field. And the teams that did not participate in tournaments this week (including Utah, who hosted a round robin event against overmatched opponents) combined to post a 10-1 record. Of course, that “1” on the right side of the record was an inexplicable Stanford loss to DePaul. Below, we’ll take a quick spin around the conference and get you caught up.

Stanley Johnson Is Turning Into A Disruptive Defensive Force (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

Stanley Johnson Is Turning Into A Disruptive Defensive Force (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

Arizona – The Wildcats have not yet looked spectacular this season, in racing out to a 6-0 start. But as they showed against the Aztecs on Wednesday, this is a team with chemistry and toughness, traits that should help them weather the storm as they work towards living up to their incredible upside. Things are coming along slowly but surely, Stanley Johnson is getting comfortable offensively and turning showing his ability to disrupt things defensively and everybody is feeling each other out. It will come all in due time; they’ve still got three months to dial things in before March rolls around. But in the meantime, even as we can pick apart little faults, the ‘Cats have confirmed what we already thought: Sean Miller’s team is the class of the conference. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 First Weekend Notebook

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 17th, 2014

After a single weekend of games against generally lesser competition, I feel like I could write a book about all the different things I saw this weekend around the Pac-12. But, we’ll let these teams get a few more games – preferably against better competition – before we make any grand proclamations. Still, you have to come away from this weekend pretty impressed with the level of play out of the gates. We saw a lot of teams look better than we had any reason to expect. And we also had USC. Below, we’ll take a look at a few of the bigger non-Arizona takeaways from the first weekend of play around the conference.

Utah

Let’s save a more in-depth look at the Utes until after they play San Diego State on Tuesday afternoon, but a couple new names to keep an eye on in that game: First, freshman Jakob Poeltl is going to be a huge factor for the Utes this year. He’s an active and skilled seven-footer who, frankly, is not long for the college game. Because he runs the floor well and is aggressive and confident, he is going to be a challenge for opposing defenses all year long. Then there’s his frontcourt starting partner, JuCo transfer Chris Reyes, a strong and active power forward who is a great combination of skill, athleticism and motor. A lot of the reason people were high on the Utes coming into this year were returnees and maybe freshman Brekkot Chapman, but Poeltl and Reyes are a couple of new elements that may push Utah over the top. And Jordan Loveridge? His body looks better than it ever has before; he’s quicker than he’s been in his first two seasons; and he looks far more comfortable in his role. Let’s put it this way: If I were filling in a Top 25 poll right now, I’d probably have the Utes in the top 15. I think a lot of people are going to have their eyes opened tomorrow afternoon.

Jakob Poeltl's Double-Double Debut Should Raise Eyebrows Across the Conference (Utah Basketball)

Jakob Poeltl’s Double-Double Debut Should Raise Eyebrows Across the Conference (Utah Basketball)

Colorado

Given the level of competition they were playing against (Drexel is a pretty solid mid-major), what the Buffaloes did to the Dragons was impressive. Josh Scott looks like he took another step forward in his development during the offseason, looking stronger and more aggressive on the glass and on defense while showing more comfort with the face-up jumper (he even hit a three). Pairing him alongside Wesley Gordon in the middle makes for an intimidating one-two punch. Head coach Tad Boyle went with a strange starting lineup due to some disciplinary measures, and Xavier Johnson and Askia Booker as a result never really got in the flow when they entered the game, with Booker in particular looking pretty bad with a 2-of-14 effort. As far as the big question about the point guard spot, one guy that we routinely overlooked in trying to come up with an answer there was junior Xavier Talton. For now, at least, he appears to be the leader for that job. He’s a facilitator who isn’t going to wow anybody with his athleticism or play-making ability, but he’s very good at making the easy play, keeping the offense moving, and playing solid defense. Whether he’ll lock down that spot for good remains to be seen, but he’ll be a big part of the Colorado rotation all year long. Freshman Tory Miller also deserves a mention. His body and athleticism are already Pac-12 ready and as the game slows down for him, he’s got a good chance to become a solid defender and rebounder off the pine this year, with upside for the rest of his career in Boulder as his offensive game develops.

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RTC Pac-12 Preseason POY and All-Conference Teams

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 14th, 2014

It is Opening Day around college basketball nation, and that means that it is time to unveil our picks for our Pac-12 All-Conference teams. We asked five voters (Tracy McDannald, Adam Butler, Kevin Danna, Connor Pelton and myself) to list their 15 best players in the conference, in order of #1 to #15. What follows is our collective best guess at the 15 players most worth watching in the Pac-12 this season.

Pac-12 Preseason Co-Conference Players of the Year

Delon Wright, Sr, Utah and Chasson Randle, Sr, Stanford. Wright and Randle tied atop our poll and each player received two first-place votes among our five voters, so they’ll share this preseason honor. This first bit to note is that, in an era of star freshmen and one-and-dones and very few elite upperclassmen to speak of, not only do two seniors share our Preseason POY honor, but more than half of the 15 players on our three teams are seniors, with just three underclassmen (one freshman and two sophomores) on our list.

Delon Wright's Versatile And Efficient Game Has The Utes Pac-12 Contenders (Rick Egan, The Salt Lake Tribune)

Delon Wright’s Versatile And Efficient Game Has The Utes Pac-12 Contenders (Rick Egan, The Salt Lake Tribune)

But, let’s focus on our POYs for a second. First, Wright. After earning plaudits in the Utes’ early season practices last year, he announced his presence to the college basketball world by racking up ridiculous lines against overmatched opponents — witness the 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting, 10 boards, seven assists, seven steals and three blocks in the Utes’ opener last season; or the 12 points, nine boards, six assists and two blocks he followed that up with. Sure, those games were against Evergreen State and UC Davis, but as the season advanced, the story they told about him remained the same: a highly efficient player capable of positively affecting the game for his team in a variety of ways. Look at his final traditional numbers on the year: 36.4 MPG, 15.5 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 5.3 APG, 2.5 SPG, 1.3 BPG, 56.1% FG, 79.3% FT. The only glaring weakness was his inability to regularly knock in three-point shots (22.2% on 54 attempts). Oh, and there was that little issue about his team struggling in close games and missing the NCAA Tournament. That last bit? That’s the area Wright needs to change the most this season. For Wright to be in consideration for Pac-12 Player of the Year at the end of the season, we can forgive a little bit of a backslide on last year’s spectacular individual numbers so long as the talented Utes live up to their potential, push Arizona a little bit in the conference standings, and wind up dancing come March. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Season Preview: Colorado Buffaloes

Posted by Tracy McDannald on November 12th, 2014

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

Colorado Buffaloes

Strengths: Experience can carry Colorado a long way in a Pac-12 with so much turnover. Spencer Dinwiddie is out the door, but the Buffaloes got a head start on life without The Mayor after a midseason knee injury hastened the transition. A combined 157 starts from last season returns to this Tad Boyle‘s roster, headlined by senior guard Askia Booker and junior forward Josh Scott.

Josh Scott Was Snubbed It The Preseason In Favor Of More Hyped Players From Arizona and UCLA, But Has Been One Of The Leagues' Best Newcomers (US Presswire)

Josh Scott returns as the leading scorer on a Colorado team with plenty to like in the starting lineup. (US Presswire)

Weaknesses: While Dinwiddie’s injury caused Boyle to accelerate the future of the program at point guard, questions remain at the position. The team finished 11th in the league in assists (11.3 per game) and sported the worst assist-to-turnover ratio (0.85) in the conference. The narrative necessarily flips from the replacement of a missing star to a program looking for stability at the point. No excuses in Boulder this year.

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One on One: A Pac-12 Preview With Jon Wilner

Posted by Walker Carey on November 7th, 2014

RTC interviews one on one

Rush the Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you throughout the preseason with previews of each of the major conferences.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview with the Pac-12, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking with a Pac-12 expert in San Jose Mercury News college basketball scribe, Jon Wilner (@wilnerhotline).

Rush the Court: Even with losing Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon from last season’s squad, Arizona is once again loaded. What makes the Wildcats so well rounded, and do you see them as one of the favorites to take home the national title?

Wilner: They certainly have to be in the very top tier of contenders for the national title. I that that their depth again is their biggest strength. They have so many good players that they are not just reliant on one or two guys. I think they are going to have more options to score this year. They should be a little bit better on offense. There might be a slight drop-off on the defensive end of the court, but it will not be enough to really hurt them. They should be right in the mix nationally. Sean Miller does a great job of getting his guys to play hard all the time. They have a huge homecourt advantage and they have a lot of experience of being able to go win on the road. A lot of success comes from the ability to go win on the road and this group has done just that.

Arizona (Casey Sapio, USA Today Sports)

Arizona Brings Back Enough Talent to Win a National Title This Year (Casey Sapio, USA Today Sports)

RTC: Colorado brings back a lot of experience from last season’s NCAA Tournament squad. With key players Josh Scott, Xavier Johnson, and Askia Booker returning for the Buffaloes, can Tad Boyle make it three NCAA Tournaments in three years?

Wilner: I think so. I expect them to be an NCAA Tournament team. I think Colorado is the best bet to finish second behind Arizona in the conference standings. It might be three or four games behind Arizona, but second place is second place. Tad Boyle is a terrific coach. He is as good as there is in the league. I think the fact that they played so much of last season without Spencer Dinwiddie will help them now that he is officially gone. There is not going to be the transition that you would normally find with a team that loses its best player to the NBA because Colorado did not have Dinwiddie for the last couple months of last season.

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Pac-12 Post-Mortems: Colorado

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 29th, 2014

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll go through each Pac-12 team one by one and recount the season that has just completed and begin to turn the page to what we might see next season. Today, Colorado.

What Went Wrong

On the morning of Sunday, January 12, Colorado was getting ready to play Washington in its fourth Pac-12 conference game. Up to that point, the Buffaloes had gone 14-2 on the season, won all three of their previous conference games, and were rated 31st in KenPom, down a bit from their season high of 28th (following their non-conference finale against Georgia). And then, late in the first half against the Huskies, junior point guard Spencer Dinwiddie took a false step on a fast break, his left knee buckled, and everyone’s worst fears were confirmed as a torn ACL was later verified. The Buffaloes went on to lose four of their next five games, and posted a middling 9-10 record the rest of the way, stumbling ever-steadily to a KenPom low of #68 by the end of the year. Tad Boyle and company could never truly recover from the loss of their best player and team leader.

Colorado Was Never The Same After "The Mayor" Went Down With An Injury

Colorado Was Never The Same After “The Mayor” Went Down With An Injury

What Went Right

Following the loss of Dinwiddie, the team did its best to rally together, with junior guard Askia Booker in particular deserving extra praise. Booker had been known as  an inveterate gunner who had never seen a shot he didn’t like with Dinwiddie alongside him. But down the stretch of the season, Booker took over the bulk of the point guard duties and played the part of good teammate, looking to get everybody involved. Sure, he wasn’t always particularly effective in that new role, but the Buffs fought the good fight the rest of the season with him in the lead.

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Previewing #8 Colorado vs. #9 Pittsburgh

Posted by Matt Patton & Andrew Murawa on March 20th, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

Pittsburgh will take on Colorado in Orlando at 1:40 PM ET Thursday afternoon on TBS. RTC correspondents Matt Patton and Andrew Murawa sat down and conducted a quick Q&A about the game featuring ACC vs. Pac-12 squads.

Without Spencer Dinwiddie, Colorado seems vulnerable especially on offense. (credit: David Zalubowski, AP Photo)

Without Spencer Dinwiddie, Colorado seems vulnerable, especially on offense. (David Zalubowski, AP Photo)

Matt: Obviously Colorado took a step backwards when it lost Spencer Dinwiddie in January. How have the Buffaloes replaced his offensive production, and is their seed inflated because of what they did with Dinwiddie earlier in the season?

Andrew: The biggest adjustment that Colorado has made to adjust following the Dinwiddie injury was to slide junior Askia Booker – previously known as an inveterate gunner – over to the point guard slot. Since that time, the number of shots per game out of Booker hasn’t changed much (only twice in the 17 games since the Dinwiddie injury has Booker hoisted fewer than 10 field goal attempts), but the quality of those shots has improved and it has been balanced by an obvious interest in getting his teammates involved. Other guys like Xavier Talton and Jaron Hopkins have seen their minutes and production increase as well, but both have been fairly inconsistent. All of this leads to the fact that while it has been admirable how the Buffaloes have held it together after the loss of their floor general, this team isn’t much of a threat to surprise in the NCAA Tournament, and the #8 seed is a generous appraisal of the team that will take the floor on Thursday. Read the rest of this entry »

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NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Thursday Afternoon

Posted by Andrew Murawa, Bennet Hayes, Brian Otskey & Walker Carey on March 20th, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

And so it begins. Today at exactly 12:15 PM in Buffalo, New York, the 2014 NCAA Tournament as we all know it will officially tip off, setting in motion a chain of events that will undoubtedly bust most people’s brackets by mid-afternoon. Nevertheless, the anticipation for the best two weekdays in all of sports is over. Savor it. Embrace it. Respect it. Let’s get things started with an analysis of all of today’s games, beginning with the afternoon slate of eight contests.

#6 Ohio State vs. #11 Dayton — South Region Second Round (at Buffalo, NY) — 12:15 PM ET on CBS.

Aaron Craft And The Buckeyes Have Had A Difficult Time Putting The Ball In The Hoop This Season; Can They Score Often Enough To Knock Off In-State Foe Dayton?

Aaron Craft And The Buckeyes Have Had A Difficult Time Putting The Ball Through The Hoop This Season; Can They Score Often Enough To Knock Off In-State Foe Dayton On Thursday? (AP)

You could ignore the fact that Dayton and Ohio State are separated by 70 miles of Ohio interstate, that the Flyer’s leading scorer is an Ohio State transfer, that Thad Matta has never had any interest in scheduling a regular season game with UD, and this game would still be one of the most intriguing matchups of the first round. Or you could, of course, take account of all those things and declare this the game to watch in the round of 64. Former Buckeye Jordan Sibert will be a marked man on Thursday afternoon, and not just because he used to don the scarlet and gray. Sibert (43% 3PT) leads a proficient Flyer offense that excels beyond the arc; Dayton has made 38% of their three-point attempts this season. Aaron Craft receives plenty of recognition for his defensive abilities on the perimeter, but Shannon Scott is nearly Craft’s equal when it comes to on-ball defense, and both will strive to make Sibert and the rest of the Flyers’ life difficult. Similar resistance is unlikely to be provided by a Dayton defense that is less than elite, but can the Buckeyes take advantage? Ohio State’s scoring struggles this season have been well documented, but look for LaQuinton Ross and Lenzelle Smith to get just enough done offensively for the Buckeyes to seize this battle for Ohio. Either way though, subplots abound.

The RTC Certified Pick: Ohio State

#2 Wisconsin vs #15 American – West Regional Second Round (at Milwaukee, WI) – 12:40 PM ET on truTV

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