Pac-12 Afternoon Five: Signing Day Edition

Posted by AMurawa on April 11th, 2012

  1. Today’s the big day in college basketball recruiting as the spring signing period officially opens. While most of the 2012 recruiting class is already accounted for, there are a couple teams around the conference today who are waiting on some big decisions. The biggest, of course, is the decision from Shabazz Muhammad – the number two prospect in the class – as to whether he will attend UCLA, Kentucky or Duke. However, he’s not the only unsigned recruit who has a Pac-12 school on his mind. Tony Parker, a 6’9” power forward out of Georgia, is also strongly considering UCLA, but he is not expected to make his announcement on Wednesday. Anthony Bennett, the number seven recruit in the country according to ESPNU is still considering Oregon, but he may be weeks away from making a final decision. ESPNU, for their part, listed the predictions from seven of their recruiting experts as to where each of these guys (and all the other elite unsigned recruits) will land, and they have Muhammad and Parker going to UCLA, with Bennett winding up in Florida.
  2. Arizona’s recruiting class for 2012 was thought to be done, but they added a junior college transferMatt Korcheck – who is expected to sign his commitment this week. Korcheck is a 6’9” forward who is jumping into a crowded frontcourt in Tucson, so he is expected to redshirt next season and retain two years of collegiate eligibility. More importantly for the future of the program, Sean Miller earned a commitment from Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell. McConnell could well be the point guard that Arizona has been lacking, but he’ll have to sit out next year before becoming eligible in 2013-14. The next big question for the Wildcats will be the future of freshman point guard Josiah Turner, who was suspended indefinitely prior to the Pac-12 tournament. With Turner and junior Jordin Mayes the only point guards on the Arizona roster, the fate of the mercurial lead guard could go a long way towards determining just how much should be expected of the Wildcats next season.
  3. Not all of the talk around the conference is of players coming in; at Oregon State, the big news is that junior guard Jared Cunningham will forego his final season of eligibility and enter his name into the NBA Draft. Cunningham was a first-team all-conference selection and averaged nearly 18 points per game, but his decision to remain in the draft is a bit of a head scratcher. Draft Express currently has him being picked towards the back of the second round of the draft, meaning he would not earn a guaranteed contract. He’s got plenty of physical skills, but his inability to consistently hit a jump shot and his gambling style on defense are just two traits that make him a questionable NBA prospect at this point.
  4. In Berkeley, Emerson Murray and Alex Rossi will be transferring out of Mike Montgomery’s program, joining graduates Harper Kamp and Jorge Gutierrez on the way out the door. Murray was unable to earn any significant minutes in his first two seasons on campus, so he’ll move north to play for Cameron Dollar at Seattle. Rossi struggled with health problems during his entire California career and leaves having played 16 minutes in two seasons on campus. A landing spot for Rossi is not yet known, and there is speculation that his hernia injury that limited his minutes with the Bears may limit his basketball playing future.
  5. Lastly, the Pac-12 All-Academic team was announced last week, and not surprisingly featured two Stanford players on the first team, two on the second team and four more among the honorable mentions. The first team was made up of Sabatino Chen from Colorado, Rhys Murphy from Oregon State, Trent Lockett from Arizona State and John Gage and Jack Trotter from the Cardinal. The team featured all 20 players in the conference who were not only regular players for their teams but also students who earned at least a 3.0 GPA. Arizona, Washington, USC and Utah were the only four schools to not have a player anywhere on the list. I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’.
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Pac-12 Morning Five: 04.05.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on April 5th, 2012

  1. Lorenzo Romar met with local media on Wednesday and had a ton of news as Washington heads to the offseason. While the early entries of Tony Wroten and Terrence Ross to the NBA are by now old news, it is newsworthy that freshman point guard Andrew Andrews underwent hip surgery and junior center Aziz N’Diaye is scheduled for wrist surgery, although neither issue is serious enough to impact their availability for next season. Romar also noted that although the Huskies have yet to sign any new recruits for next season, he expects to land two or three new players. Mark McLaughlin, a recruit from Tacoma Community College, verbally committed to the program but has yet to sign a letter of intent. And, among other things, Romar said an offseason focus would be on improving perimeter defense and finding an inside scoring presence. That last goal does not have an immediately obvious answer, although guys like Shawn Kemp Jr., Jernard Jarreau and Martin Breunig will all get a chance.
  2. When Trent Lockett announced his decision to transfer from Arizona State, he cited his desire to be closer to his mother who is fighting cancer at her home in Minnesota. So, while schools like Iowa State, Minnesota and Wisconsin all made perfect sense as possible landing grounds, the news that Gonzaga is somehow in the conversation comes as a bit of a shock. Still, Iowa State appears to be the leader for Lockett’s services, but the graduating senior must find a school that offers a graduate program that ASU does not in order for Lockett to be eligible to play next season.
  3. It’s no secret to anyone that’s read this spot this season, but Shabazz Muhammad is more or less a must-get for UCLA. If Muhammad goes to Westwood, it means Ben Howland has landed an elite recruiting class and it means the Bruins may even have a shot to land power forward Tony Parker as well. If Muhammad chooses Kentucky, it reinforces the idea that John Calipari and the Wildcats are the place to be for potential one-and-doners and it likely slams the door on the potential for Parker in blue and gold. Sure, the Bruins will still have a nice little recruiting class with Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams, but with Muhammad in tow, the Bruins are possibly the Pac-12 favorite and a force again on the national stage. My gut feeling? Muhammad will be wearing a blue and gold hat on April 10.
  4. A day after Muhammad’s decision will be announced on ESPNU, Tony Parker will announce his decision, with UCLA also among the favorites. On Wednesday, the Memphis Roar reported that Parker’s father had said that his son had cut his list of potential schools to UCLA, Duke and Memphis, but later in the day he retracted that statement, noting that his son would not be trimming his list until the April 8. Still, for the three schools on the supposed short list, this should be seen as good news, while the others – Kansas, Ohio State and Georgia – should probably start making other plans. And, if Brooks Hansen – the author of the piece – is to be believed, the Bruins are the leader in the clubhouse for Parker’s services.
  5. Arizona would certainly have something to say about the idea that the Bruins would be the Pac-12 favorite with the addition of Muhammad. After all, as of right now, the Wildcats have the best incoming recruiting class in the country. And, with the proliference of all the silly 2012-13 preseason rankings that have come out in recent days, it is interesting to see UA, presently sans a set-in-stone answer at the point guard, showing up near the top of many lists. Andy Katz, for instance, has the Wildcats at #12, but two writers at the Daily Wildcat have differing thoughts on such a lofty ranking. One thinks the love is deserved, even if Josiah Turner never wears an Arizona uniform again, while the other prefers to see the team prove it before giving them such praise.
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Arizona: 2011-12 Post-Mortem

Posted by AMurawa on April 4th, 2012

Over the course of the next two weeks, the Pac-12 Microsite will break down each team’s season: what went well, what didn’t, and a look ahead at the future. Today’s subject: Arizona.

What Went Wrong

The Wildcats came into the season expecting to compete for a Pac-12 title and find their way back into the NCAA Tournament for the 27th time in 28 years. With a class of four highly regarded freshman coming in, it seemed that while Sean Miller might struggle a bit with inexperienced players, they would have enough talent to establish enough of a resume to earn a postseason invitation. Instead, one of those freshmen – Sidiki Johnson – played exactly nine minutes in his Arizona career before getting run off by Miller for behavioral problems. Another freshman – Josiah Turner – lost his starting job in the second game of the season for being late to a shoot around, blew his chance at regaining that spot by missing a practice and getting suspended just before the trip to Florida in December, then got suspended a second time in March leaving his future with the team in jeopardy and leaving his Wildcats on the outside looking in on Selection Sunday.

Josiah Turner, Arizona

Josiah Turner's Inability To Stay Out Of Trouble Left Arizona Without A Leader At The Point (Kelly Presnell, Arizona Daily Star)

What Went Right

Veterans like Kyle Fogg, Jesse Perry, and Solomon Hill all did their best to step up and lead the team, with each turning in their best season in the careers. Fogg was excellent during the conference season and ends his Wildcat career with several places in the program’s record book alongside Wildcat legends while Hill was at his versatile best leading the team in rebounds and assists while finishing second on the team in scoring. Between the three of them, they accounted for 56.1% of the scoring, 54% of the rebounding, and 44.3% of the assists. Plus, despite the struggles that Miller had with immaturity among his freshman class, the coach showed his willingness time and again to put discipline as a priority in his program, a decision that may have cost Arizona a game or two this season, but one that should pay dividends in the long run.

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Pac-12 Morning Five: 03.27.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on March 27th, 2012

  1. While college basketball as a whole is in that dreaded five-day lull between the Elite Eight games and the Final Four games, we’ve at least got some leftovers to keep us sated as we wait. Last night’s menu featured game one of the three-game CBI championship series, and Washington State, playing without its best player Brock Motum, built a 12-point second-half lead against Pittsburgh, then held on to win, dodging a last-second shot to emerge as a one-point winner. Senior Abe Lodwick picked up the slack for the Cougs, going for 16 points, while junior point guard Reggie Moore had 14. After the opening-game win in Pullman, the Cougs will now have to win just one of the remaining two games at the Peterson Events Center in order to claim the CBI title, with game two coming on Wednesday. Motum, who wore a protective boot on the bench on Monday night, could return for game two, although he’ll be a game-time decision.
  2. Oregon State got news on Monday that junior guard Jared Cunningham would be “testing the waters” with the NBA, meaning that he has until April 10 to announce his intention to return to school rather than become eligible for the June draft. Of course, due to increasingly player-unfavorable rules enacted by the NCAA, this means that Cunningham really will have very little opportunity to get any feedback from NBA executives as to his potential readiness for the league. So, for the next couple weeks, Beaver fans looking forward to an exciting 2012-13 season have plenty of reason for feelings of unease, but can at least comfort themselves in knowing that this has been the plan for Cunningham all along.  All indications are that he’ll return to Corvallis next season, not only in an attempt to improve his own draft stock, but in hopes to get his team to the NCAA Tournament.
  3. Arizona State head coach Herb Sendek is under fire recently for the unprecedented rate of scholarship players to leave his program early – 12 players in four seasons. However, Sendek still feels that the program is on the right track, noting that only one of those players who left wound up transferring to another power conference school (Victor Rudd to South Florida), with the rest of the players downgrading to a mid- or low-major program that is more in fitting with their talents. While that’s certainly true, the other side of the coin is that Sendek, then, has been recruiting players who aren’t talented enough to be impact players at a Pac-12 school. And, as Doug Haller of the Arizona Republic notes, of the 14 players who have signed with ASU between 2008 and 2010, 11 have left, leaving only Ruslan Pateev, Carrick Felix and Jordan Bachynski remaining from those recruiting classes.
  4. It may not be a video that Arizona fans would care to watch, but this recap from the Big Ten Network of Arizona’s collapse against Illinois in the Elite Eight seven years ago seemed particularly relevant this weekend as Florida collapsed against Louisville. While Florida’s folly was more of a slow-motion fade, for some reason watching that inevitability on Saturday brought back the exact same feelings I felt in 2005. A team that had fought its way to a well-earned late double-digit lead on the road to a Final Four somehow suddenly found itself in peril; certainly not a great moment in Pac-12 (nee  10) history, but an iconic one.
  5. Just to cheer up Wildcat fans a bit, there is talk that Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell may wind up at Arizona. McConnell announced his intention to transfer from the Pittsburgh school last week, and rumors immediately swirled that Tucson would be a strong possible landing spot for the point guard who averaged 11.4 points and 5.5 rebounds per game last year. With Josiah Turner’s status in doubt, the Wildcats are in desperate need of a point guard to pair with their 2012 recruiting class currently ranked as the best in the nation, although McConnell would need to sit out a year before being eligible in the desert. Nevertheless, if Turner does indeed wind up returning to the program, that could preclude McConnell from coming west.
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Pac-12 Morning Five: 03.15.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on March 15th, 2012

  1. Wednesday night was not exactly a banner night in the Pac-12 Conference. Just to tie a bow on a dreadful season, California laid an egg in its opening round NCAA Tournament game, scored just 13 points in the first half against South Florida (which, really, isn’t as much of a crime as allowing USF to score 36 points in the first half – when is the last time USF scored 36 points in any half?) and never really showed up. The Bears only made a run in the final few minutes when the game was already out of reach, causing the final score (65-54) to seem a lot more respectable than it really was. For a team led by seniors Jorge Gutierrez and Harper Kamp, two guys whose careers have been largely based on heart and toughness, to bow out with nary a fight is certainly a disappointing end to their solid Berkeley careers.
  2. Arizona’s season also ended Wednesday night as they lost to Bucknell in the first round of the NIT by the same score. This game was far more competitive, however, until the Bison finished the game on a 7-0 run to put away the Wildcats. With a group of impressive freshmen coming in next season, Arizona hopes it will be its last NIT appearance for quite some time. The biggest question for Sean Miller to answer in the offseason, though, is the future of freshman point guard Josiah Turner. Turner is currently suspended indefinitely, and although he did take in the game on the Wildcat bench in sweats, it is possible that he is not long for the program. With Arizona’s promising recruiting class lacking a true point guard, his fate could have a lot to say about what happens in Tucson next year.
  3. USC announced on Wednesday that sophomore forward Garrett Jackson will be transferring out of the program at the end of the year. Despite the fact that Jackson started the final 14 games of  the season, it has been clear in his two years in Los Angeles that he doesn’t have a bright future playing for head coach Kevin O’Neill. Prior to the rash of injuries that completely sapped the Trojan roster of able bodies, Jackson was just a role player. And with a couple newly eligible senior transfers due in at forward next year, Jackson’s role figured to decline rather than increase in 2012-13.
  4. We’ve discussed the possibility that Dana Altman would be considered for the open Nebraska coaching position, but one thing we never considered was that other Pac-12 coaches might be on the Huskers’ radar as well. As it turns out, Nebraska apparently contacted UCLA’s head coach Ben Howland in regards to the job, but found out that they were barking up the wrong tree there. With Altman and Oregon still alive in the NIT and not playing again until Sunday, it could be some time until we find out for sure whether Altman is all-in or folding early with the Ducks.
  5. Lastly, Oregon State kept its season alive by blowing out Western Illinois in the first round of the CBI on Wednesday night, earning the Beavers their first 20-win season since 1990. For perspective, Jared Cunningham, who led the Beavs with 22 points, wasn’t even born at that time. The win gives the Pac-12 two teams in the CBI quarterfinals, as Washington State advanced on Tuesday night with a 14-point win over San Francisco. Wyoming will travel to Washington State in the next round, while Oregon State will host TCU, two games that could provide trouble for the Pac-12 teams, considering the conference’s struggles against Mountain West teams this season.
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Pac-12 Morning Five: 3.13.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on March 13th, 2012

  1. After at least a week, and more likely months of conjecture, it’s official: the Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament is head to Las Vegas. In a news conference schedules for this afternoon, the conference will officially announce the move of their season-ending even to the MGM Grand Garden for at least the next two years. For the past 11 years, the tournament had been held at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, but attendance and fan interest in that event has waned over the years, in part due to the decline in talent in the conference, but also, perhaps, due to the venue. The move to Las Vegas means that Sin City will now host four different conference tournaments, with the Pac-12, Mountain West and WAC all going on at the same time, with the West Coast Conference tournament taking place the week prior. Great. Just what I needed. Another reason to go to Vegas in March. Although the prospect of a Vegas summit for hoops fans is pretty enticing.
  2. It began yesterday, but in case you missed it, we are now officially in that time of year where you have to check the news daily for stories about coaches and players perhaps on the move. With the relatively new opening for head coach at Nebraska, and with current Oregon coach Dana Altman’s ties to the state (he was born in Crete, NE and was the head coach at Creighton, in Omaha, for 15 years), rumors are already swirling that a change may be afoot in Eugene. Altman, however, has been quick to shoot those stories down, saying he is “the coach at Oregon.” While that may not be the strongest possible affirmation of Altman’s intent to stay with the Ducks, it will have to do for now. But the fact that Nebraska has recently sunk a ton of money into its basketball program and that Altman is a Nebraska native should leave Duck fans on edge until that Husker job is filled.
  3. Sticking with the Oregon program for a bit longer, they received bad news today when it was learned that former coach Dick Harter died at the age of 81 on Monday. Though he only coached the Ducks for seven years (1971-1978), he left an indelible mark on the program. Perhaps the high point of his career was ending UCLA’s 98-game winning streak at Pauley Pavilion in 1976, but he built a reputation for his team’s defensive excellence. His “Kamikaze Kids” never won a Pac-8 title (Harter coached before the Arizona schools were added to the conference), but they helped continue the tradition of McArthur Court being an intimidating place for opposing teams to play. Future Oregon head coach Ernie Kent was among Harter’s key players, as was future New York Knicks head coach (and NBA executive) Stu Jackson.
  4. In an announcement that surprised exactly no one, Sean Miller confirmed on Monday that freshman point guard Josiah Turner will not play again this season for Arizona, after being suspended indefinitely prior to the Pac-12 Tournament last week. The only real question remaining surrounding Turner is whether he will ever wear a Wildcat uniform again. Last week’s suspension was Turner’s third disciplinary action in his brief career in Tucson. Miller left the door open for a possible return for Turner next year, saying “I’m not telling any player on our team that he doesn’t have the option to come back, but it’s more about the path Josiah wants to go from this point forward that will determine whether he’s at Arizona or whether he would choose to have a new beginning.”
  5. Let’s wrap up the Morning Five on a positive note: Colorado’s season continues. After taking home the Pac-12’s automatic bid in their first year in the conference, the Buffaloes move on to Albuquerque on Thursday to face UNLV. Though they’ll be an underdog, this is very much a game that the Buffs can win. And head coach Tad Boyle is not content to stop there: “We’re not going to be just happy to be here,” he said. “We’re playing for a national championship.” I appreciate the sentiment, but a win over UNLV on Thursday makes for an excellent season for the Buffs. A further surprise over (potentially) Baylor on Saturday is gravy, while any further advancement is pie-in-the-sky madness. But, stranger things have happened.
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Pac-12 Morning Five: 03.12.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on March 12th, 2012

  1. In the wake of Selection Sunday, the biggest news in the Pac-12 may be not who made the NCAA Tournament, but who was left out. For the first time since the tournament was expanded to 64 teams, the regular season champion of a power conference was left behind as Washington failed to hear its name called on Sunday afternoon. While Lorenzo Romar was not surprised by the Huskies’ omission, his team was disappointed. Their season goes on, however, as they’ll host Texas-Arlington in the first round of the NIT tomorrow.
  2. Arizona also missed the NCAA Tournament for just the second time in 27 years, and they’re left pondering the “what-ifs” of a season gone awry. Beginning with their ineffective final possession of the Pac-12 Tournament that ended in an erratic Kyle Fogg three and going back through numerous other twists and turns throughout the season, the Wildcats feel like they left some money on the table. The loss in the final regular season game to Arizona State stands out as a killer, but if they had held on to a seven-point lead against Florida, perhaps that’s the big win that puts UA over the top. Or maybe if Josiah Turner had made better personal decisions through the year, he’s able to help the Wildcats come through in the Pac-12 Tournament. In the end, there’s still plenty of hope in Tucson, as Sean Miller welcomes in the nation’s top recruiting class next year.
  3. The common theme among Pac-12 coaches is that the conference schools earned the treatment they received by the Selection Committee. California head coach Mike Montgomery is one of two coaches who received good news on Sunday, but even though the Golden Bears are in the NCAA Tournament, they’ve got to knock off South Florida on Wednesday in order to advance to the traditional bracket. And while Montgomery would have liked to see Washington in the Tournament, he knows the lesson that the Pac-12 needs to take from Sunday: Win more (and better) games in November and December.
  4. For some around the conference, the season is over and so the offseason begins. UCLA was skipped over by the NIT, so its season is done, meaning we’ll find out the answer to one of the bigger potential questions around the league shortly: Will head coach Ben Howland return? While there are many Bruin fans who are hoping for a change, it appears unlikely that Howland’s job is in any serious immediate jeopardy. Aside from the fact that he’s got a couple good recruits coming in (Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams) and another couple on the line (Shabazz Muhammad and Tony Parker), he’s also got a big buyout clause in his contract, meaning UCLA would have to come up with $3 million or more in order to get rid of him. Translation: He’s safe for now, but would do well to return to the NCAA Tournament next season.
  5. One other offseason transaction hit the news on Friday when it was announced that Arizona State sharpshooter Chanse Creekmur would be leaving the school in order to play football elsewhere. Creekmur started 13 games for the Sun Devils in 2011-12, averaging 4.7 points and 2.3 rebounds, but would likely see his minutes cut next year with Jahii Carson, Evan Gordon and Bo Barnes joining the program next season and all demanding minutes. Creekmur played quarterback in high school and is hoping to transfer to a smaller school closer to home. He becomes the tenth scholarship player to leave Herb Sendek’s program early in the last four years.
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Pac-12 Morning Five: 03.09.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on March 9th, 2012

  1. Once again this morning, since we have got a couple other correspondents writing about the actual games at the Pac-12 Tournament, we will be focusing just on some off-the-court stuff in the Morning Five. For instance, in the wake of Josiah Turner’s indefinite suspension at Arizona, the question needs to be asked: is he ever going to be invited back? Turner picked up a first strike early in the season for being late to a team walkthrough, then was suspended for a single game and left behind from the Wildcats’ trip to Florida in December for strike two. With strike three coming at such an important time for the team, there’s a strong chance that head coach Sean Miller will find that it is time to cut bait on the talented young point guard. And if Miller doesn’t make that decision, maybe Turner, who played at multiple high schools, might make it himself.
  2. One guy who is coming back, apparently, is UCLA sophomore center Joshua Smith. Smith told reporters after the Bruins’ quarterfinal loss to Arizona that he would be returning to the school for next year rather than entertain thoughts about the NBA Draft. While some have made fun of Smith for making this statement, since he is unlikely to draw much interest from NBA scouts due to his inability to get in shape and his limited production as a result, it seems to me that the blame lies more with whichever reporter had the audacity to suggest that Smith might be in a position to leave for the professional ranks. However, Smith seems to recognize that in order to live up to his potential, he needs to shed significant weight and get into prime physical condition. Whether or not he does it remains to be seen, but he has been speaking with former Bruin Kevin Love, who drastically reshaped his doughy body since his high school days.
  3. Kevin O’Neill is also coming back. It hasn’t exactly been a secret, but USC athletic director Pat Haden made it clear on Thursday that O’Neill, whose team endured a 6-26 season, would still be the school’s head basketball coach going forward. With loads of players due back from injury next year and a couple of newly eligible Division I transfers, expect the Trojans to compete for an NCAA Tournament bid next season.
  4. In the wake of Washington’s quarterfinal loss to Oregon State on Thursday, Lorenzo Romar and his squad are left to play the “waiting game,” needing to wait until Sunday’s Section Show to find out if they make the final NCAA Tournament bracket or not. Despite winning the Pac-12 regular season title, the Huskies have a sub-par RPI of 57 and just one win over a top 50 RPI team (Oregon – a team who is currently ranked #49 and may drop out of the RPI top 50). Meanwhile, Tony Wroten, who missed four free throws down the stretch in that loss to Oregon State, deleted his Twitter account in the wake of the loss, after retweeting multiple terrible messages that he received after the game. The fact that supposed “fans” would do this kind of stuff to any 18-year-old kid is just sick. But it should also be noted that the Huskies would never have even been in position to lose that close of a game without Wroten’s career-high 29 points, seven rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a steal. I have been a critic of Wroten’s game throughout the season, but the kind of hateful, negative comments directed at him in the wake of a heartbreaking loss are disgusting.
  5. Lastly, a quick look ahead to some early-season tournament matchups for next season that have been announced in recent days. First, UCLA will be one of the regional hosts for the 2012 Legends Classic, along with Georgetown, Indiana, and Georgia, with all four of those teams guaranteed passage to the semifinal round at the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Also, Oregon State will be one of the regional hosts for the 2K Sports Classic, along with Villanova, Alabama, and Purdue. Like the Legends Classic, the hosts of the early round games in the 2K Sports Classic will also earn automatic advancement to the semifinal round, with those games being held at Madison Square Garden.
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Pac-12 Morning Five: 03.08.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on March 8th, 2012

  1. 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 Arizona had 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.
  2. Speaking of UCLA, in one of the oddest stories I’ve heard recently, sophomore center Joshua Smith was 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. In other assistant coaching news, Oregon State associate head coach Doug Stewart is 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.
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Morning Five: 03.08.12 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 8th, 2012

  1. Just eight years after essentially getting kicked out of the Big East for its poor on-field performance and attendance numbers Temple will rejoin the conference. Yesterday, the Big East announced that Temple would be returning to the conference for football this coming season and other sports the following year. The move ensures that the Big East will have eight football teams for the coming season and gives the Big East another very strong basketball program. In addition, it should create an even more interesting dynamic between Temple and Villanova now that they will be in the same conference.
  2. One of the big storylines of the opening week of the NCAA Tournament will be that of Detroit, which features the father-son combination of Ray McCallum Jr and Sr. Most college basketball fans are very familiar with their story, but if you need a refresher before next week’s onslaught, this column is a pretty good place to start. Between the father-son combo and the school’s former coach (some guy named Vitale) the school will be getting plenty of publicity as long as they stay alive.
  3. One player who will not be part of March Madness is Arizona‘s freshmen guard Josiah Turner, who was suspended indefinitely by the school after violating unspecified team rules. The suspension is Turner’s second this year as he missed a game earlier this season against Florida. Turner, who came in as a highly touted recruit, has averaged 6.8 points and 2.4 rebounds per game in 29 games this season. Even with him the Wildcats would have been hard pressed to make a run in a weak Pac-12 conference, but as a local writer points out Turner’s absence is a big blow for the team right now.
  4. There have been plenty of columns on Bruce Weber and his imminent firing at Illinois, but most have focused on where he faltered. Michael Rosenberg takes a decidedly different approach choosing instead to focus on the decision to fire Weber and how it reflects on the current state of college athletics. Rosenberg compares Weber to Illinois legend Lou Henson and points out some small changes to history that would have led to Weber keeping his job. While we do find Rosenberg’s take interesting, it is worth pointing out that those small changes are essentially what makes history, which will most likely be demonstrated again over the next four weeks.
  5. Last year Charles Barkley‘s inclusion on the Selection Special on CBS created quite a bit of discussion among college basketball fans as Barkley, who is fantastic analyzing basketball games appeared out of his element discussing some teams and their resumes to that point. This year, Barkley will not be involved in the show, but will continue to be involved in the studio analysis. Both Barkley and CBS/Turner state that the move isn’t necessarily due to a lack of trust in Barkley, but instead a move to highlight his strengths and frankly a good move in our opinion.
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ATB: Bids Earned From Montana to Brooklyn While Power Conferences Do Battle…

Posted by EJacoby on March 8th, 2012

Tonight’s Lede. The Big East Tournament continued in the early afternoon, but nothing crazy has happened in New York City, yet, with all favorites moving on to Thursday’s quarterfinals. The Big 12 and Pac-12 tournaments also got underway on Wednesday, but all of the top seeds had byes until later rounds. The most exciting action once again took place in the smaller conference tourneys, providing more do-or-die action with Big Dance tickets on the line. We start with the best game of the night, which took place in the Patriot League:

Your Watercooler Moment. C.J. McCollum Outduels Mike Muscala for Lehigh Victory

C.J. McCollum Put the Team on his Back to Send Lehigh Dancing (Getty Images/R. Martinez)

The Patriot League final took place on #1 seed Bucknell’s court, and the home team’s star player went off for 30 points and 14 rebounds. But it wasn’t enough, as the conference’s leading scorer made a few more plays for the road team. C.J. McCollum, the league Player of the Year who put up ridiculous numbers this season, again ran wild for the Mountain Hawks on Wednesday night. The junior guard scored 29 points with five assists, three rebounds, three steals, and two blocks, doing it all for Lehigh including hitting 10-13 free throws with several of them in the final four minutes. Mike Muscala had a monster double-double for Bucknell, but he could not convert on the team’s final couple of possessions and didn’t get enough help from his teammates. Lehigh held on to win, 82-77, and is headed to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years.

Tonight’s Quick Hits

  • Brooklyn Represents the Northeast Conference Once Again. LIU-Brooklyn is one of the highest scoring teams in Division I, and not even the NEC’s best defensive team could slow down the Blackbirds on Wednesday night. LIU defeated Robert Morris, 90-73, on Wednesday night to capture its second consecutive NEC title. The Blackbirds head back to the NCAA Tournament where they last were disposed of by North Carolina in a high-scoring round one game. Expect much of the same for an LIU team that has high-flying forwards (Julian Boyd and Jamal Olasewere each average about 17 points per game), but doesn’t play a whole lot of defense. The attacking style worked in the NEC, but could it work as a #15 seed in the NCAAs? Regardless, Brooklyn will be in the house for the Big Dance. Read the rest of this entry »
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Pac-12 Burning Questions: Senior Moment?

Posted by AMurawa on March 2nd, 2012

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:

“In honor of senior days around the conference, which Pac-12 senior will be most missed by his team next year?

Connor Pelton: I’m going to go an interesting route and say Devoe Joseph. Joseph’s contributions have been huge for Oregon this season, as they had lost two of their first six without him. Since then Oregon has gone 16-6, and those losses can hardly be pinned on the senior transfer from Toronto, who has averaged 16.3 PPG. That mark is good enough for fourth in the conference, but perhaps even better than that stat is this: Joseph has only had one game in which he hasn’t scored in double figures this season. That was in their New Year’s Eve meeting with Washington, where he was subject to double teams all night long from a feisty Husky defense. But the reason he will be missed most is not for the jaw-dropping stats, but rather that Oregon doesn’t have a shoot-first player returning next season. E.J. Singler can certainly light it up from behind the arc, but he would still rather attack than shoot from around the perimeter. With both Joseph and Garrett Sim departing, he is going to have to adapt into that type of player, and that could cause some early-season troubles for the Ducks.

Despite Just One Active Season In Eugene, Devoe Joseph Will Be Sorely Missed Next Year (credit: Eric Evans)

Andrew Murawa: I’ll skip some of the obvious choices as well, as while California is sure to miss the work-ethic and passion of Jorge Gutierrez, they should still return a very nice backcourt, and while Arizona will miss the steadiness and leadership of Kyle Fogg, he’s done a good job of beginning to pass the baton to underclassmen like Nick Johnson and Josiah Turner. At Stanford, however, there is no immediately obvious replacement for senior forward Josh Owens. No, Owens isn’t exactly an all-conference performer for the Cardinal, but he brings an interior toughness and physicality that is largely absent from the rest of their roster. While sophomore forward Josh Huestis has athletic gifts that Owens doesn’t, he doesn’t yet have all the tricks of the trade in the middle to make the most of his undersized body. And most of the other returning big men on Johnny Dawkins’ current roster (John Gage, Dwight Powell, Stefan Nastic) are more finesse players. Further, Owens may only average 12.4 points per game, but he is the most efficient offensive player on the Cardinal roster, and a solid choice for the go-to guy when the team needs a bucket down the stretch. Incoming freshman center Grant Verhoeven may eventually eventually grow into that kind of role in the middle, but he’ll need at least a year of the weight room and training table before he gets there. While Owens leaves Palo Alto as one of the most underrated players in the Pac-12, the impact of his loss on the Cardinal could be understated as well.

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