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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The RTC Pac-12 All-Freshman and All-Transfer Teams

Posted by AMurawa on November 11th, 2014

With the season imminent, it is time to start rolling out our preseason picks. Later in the week we’ll release the results of our preseason poll from our writers and friends of the microsite for things like standings, All-Conference Team, Player of the Year, and a host of other specialty awards. In getting this week’s events underway, though, we start by naming our Freshmen of the Year, Transfer of the Year and our All-Freshmen and All-Transfer teams, a group of new faces that we’ll get to know better as the season takes shape. Let’s jump right in.

Preseason Freshman of the Year: Stanley Johnson, Arizona

Stanley Johnson May Not Be An Immediate Starter At Arizona, But He Is Our Unanimous Pick For Freshman of the Year

Stanley Johnson May Not Be An Immediate Starter At Arizona, But He Is Our Unanimous Pick For Freshman of the Year

The unanimous choice among our five voters, Johnson is the latest in Sean Miller’s increasingly long line of elite recruits. Expected to be on the short list of potential leading scorers for the Wildcats, Johnson checked off all the boxes during his prep career: playing on international tournament-winning teams; McDonald’s All-American and Jordan Brand Classic participant; two-time California High School Player of the Year; Parade All-American; MaxPreps National Player of the Year. Oh, and four CIF Division I state titles in four years of high school. So, smooth sailing at Arizona, right? Well, not so fast. In Arizona’s lone exhibition game, Johnson was conspicuously absent from the starting lineup, coming off the bench while junior Gabe York started in his place. Still, Johnson proved his bona fides by overpowering lesser competition on the way to 12 points in 24 minutes of action. Miller describes him as a “physical freak,” and while you can make the argument that the Wildcats are actually better off with him bringing energy off the bench, you can count on the fact that he is going to be one of the best players on a team already loaded with All-Conference players who you will see later in the week. There might well be other freshmen in the conference that wind up with better overall numbers by season’s end, but none of those first-year guys will be the same difference-maker that Johnson can be.

Joining Johnson on the All-Freshman Team are:

  • Kevon Looney, UCLA
  • Reid Travis, Stanford
  • Jordan McLaughlin, USC
  • Isaac Hamilton, UCLA

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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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USC’s Most Important Player: Jordan McLaughlin

Posted by Tracy McDannald on October 27th, 2014

USC heads into another season with low expectations, but the good news is that there is only one place to go after finishing last in the Pac-12 and winning just two league games last season. Second-year head coach Andy Enfield has an equally inexperienced roster after a pair of key transfers left the program during the offseason, but now in the fold are some new faces that may better fit his open-court style of play. Plenty of focus will go toward UNLV transfer Katin Reinhardt, a redshirt sophomore who sat out last season, as the Trojans will surely rely on his shooting touch to provide a bulk of the scoring load. The big name to keep an eye on, however, is freshman Jordan McLaughlin. Sophomore Julian Jacobs is the closest thing to a veteran to help bring the 6’1” point guard along slowly, but his time is now. Like Reinhardt, who attended local powerhouse Mater Dei High School, McLaughlin is a product from nearby Etiwanda. But unlike prospects across town at UCLA, there is no added hometown pressure and rich tradition to live up to. McLaughlin is what Enfield hopes will be the start to his foundation.

Athletic Point Guard Jordan McLaughlin Gives Andy Enfield A More Appropriate Point Guard (Anne Cusack, Los Angeles Times)

Freshman point guard Jordan McLaughlin will be thrust into a leading role immediately at USC. (Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times)

The overarching theme in the Pac-12 this season is the number of programs that must replace significant contributors. Half of the league could take a step back, in some fashion. But aside from Roschon Prince, who transferred to Long Beach State, there wasn’t much to redeem for USC – and how much would you want to return anyway from a group that found itself in the bottom three of several statistical categories? There is no choice but to start fresh, and McLaughlin is the biggest prize of Enfield’s recruiting class. A four-star product who was a top-50 player on both the Rivals and Scout recruiting services, he can use his quickness to get to the rim and score in bunches despite his smaller stature. Passing is not an issue, either, and McLaughlin will have a handful of capable mid-to-long-range shooters at his disposal on the wings. There will be some growing pains and a necessary adjustment to the physicality of the collegiate level, but he is poised to take the reins early and lead the Trojans from the outset.

This is likely to be another long season ahead in a longer journey to respectability for USC, but there is some intrigue here. There is no choice but to let McLaughlin loose, and the more he learns early, the better. In the big picture outlook, this is Enfield’s long-term investment that needs to provide some sense of identity for a team that has none. McLaughlin represents the immediate future for the Trojans and few first-year players around the Pac-12 will be relied upon more heavily.

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Pac-12 Season Preview: USC Trojans

Posted by AMurawa on October 23rd, 2014

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

USC Trojans

Strengths. Let’s get this out of the way immediately: This USC roster is not one that is going to win the Pac-12 or likely to find its way into the NCAA Tournament. And really, that’s no surprise given that this is a squad that won two conference games last season and lost the team’s top four scorers to boot. But this is a program in the middle of a complete rebuild and change of identity. The strength of this version of the Trojans is the fact that said change in identity is well underway. The last time the Trojans were even remotely relevant on a national scale, they were trudging their way through 63 possessions of terrible offense a night. And last year in his first season at Southern California, head coach Andy Enfield was stuck with a mishmash of players who either weren’t good fits for his style of play or weren’t fit to act as veteran leaders on a team in transition. This year, however, there is some reason for excitement. Enfield’s got his point guard in freshman Jordan McLaughlin, an explosive, attacking player most comfortable in the open floor. He’s got UNLV transfer Katin Reinhardt ready to serve as a secondary ball-handler and a floor stretcher who will likely lead the team in scoring. He’s got a couple of Serbian big guys (Nikola Jovanovic and Strahinja Gavrilovic) with pick-and-pop skills. And he’s got intriguing athletic depth. There’s still a ways to go here, but Enfield is starting to round his roster into shape.

Andy Enfield's Roster At USC is Starting To Take Shape

Andy Enfield’s Roster At USC is Starting To Take Shape

Weaknesses. Of course, coupled with that rebuild is the fact that right now there is an awful lot of inexperience on this team. There are only four players — Reinhardt, Jovanovic, sophomore Julian Jacobs and Charlotte-transfer Darion Clark –who have averaged as much as 15 minutes per game at the Division I level – and each of those players has only done it once. This team is going to have to learn on the fly; but then again, “on the fly” says a lot about how Enfield will want his team to play.

Non-conference Tests. After a couple home warm-up games against Portland State and Tennessee Tech, we’ll get a good glimpse of USC against legitimate competition in the second week of the season, where they’ll open with Akron in the Charleston Classic, then face either Miami or Drexel on day two, and then a beatable opponent in their final game. Honestly, USC has as much of a chance to win that tournament as anybody else invited. Their biggest test during the rest of non-conference play will likely come when the Trojans travel to New Mexico on the final day of November, but even that is a winnable game against a team that lost most of last year’s top contributors. Later on, there’s a trip to Boston College just before Christmas. But, really, USC plays 12 very winnable games prior to conference play. Anything less than a 9-3 record will be disappointing, even for a young team.

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Pac-12 Post-Mortems: USC

Posted by Andrew Murawa on May 6th, 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, USC.

What Went Wrong

The problems of USC basketball in 2013-14 can largely – but not entirely – be attributed to previous administrations and the changing of the guard. New head coach Andy Enfield was, for the most part, left with a roster of ne’er-do-wells and misfits thrown together into a system in which few of them fit. Almost nobody on the roster would have been a guy that Enfield would have thought would fit perfectly into his system, and among the handful of guys who did, there wasn’t a ton of buy-in. Let’s put it this way: The team’s two captains were senior J.T. Terrell and junior Byron Wesley, who between the two of them were suspended for a total of 10 games and couldn’t get out of the program fast enough once the season ended.

J.T. Terrell Wearing A "C" On His Right Shoulder: Never A Good Sign

J.T. Terrell Wearing A “C” On His Right Shoulder: Never A Good Sign

What Went Right

Well, on Wednesday March 12, the Trojans took a three-point loss against Colorado in the Pac-12 Tournament, a game which served as a mercy killing of the USC season. Better days likely await the program under Enfield, but man, this season needs to be put in the past right quick. Beyond that snarky answer, Enfield really did begin to implement the type of basketball he would like this Trojans team to play in the future. They got up and down the court, found transition offense on 30 percent of all possessions, and averaged offensive possessions of just 16 seconds, good for 26th in the nation. Once Enfield can begin to fill roster spots with players who will better fit into his scheme, we’ll get a better idea of how the Enfield era will work at USC.

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Welcome Back: Pac-12 Team-By-Team Offseason Wrap

Posted by AMurawa on October 7th, 2013

After a long offseason away from college basketball, we’re back. With practice underway across the country, with “Midnight Madness” events looming and with the start of the season on the not-too-distant horizon, it is time to end our hiatus and dig back into hoops. In a year where the Pac-12 seems to sport one legitimate national title contender and a healthy pack of NCAA Tournament contenders, we can finally say that the conference is back from the recent depths and ready to be a consistent contender on the national stage again. But, in taking an offseason sabbatical, we’ve missed some key storylines. So, in order to get you back in the swing of things, we’ll go team-by-team around the conference and quickly catch you up on some key offseason happenings. Later in the week we’ll break down some of these stories in a little more detail. Next week we’ll be back with our daily Morning Fives, and over the course of the next month, we’ll catch you up on everything you need to know going into the 2013-14 Pac-12 season. Without further ado, here’s what you need to know if you’ve been away from the conference for a few months.

Why Is This Man Smiling? Maybe Because He Has the Best Team in the League.

Why Is This Man Smiling? Maybe Because He Has the Best Team in the League.

Arizona – The conference’s clear preseason favorite got some good news over the offseason when 6’10″ sophomore forward Zach Peters was granted his waiver request by the NCAA for immediate eligibility after transferring from Kansas. A quality recruit in the 2012 class, Peters career never got off the ground in Lawrence largely due to injuries, including multiple concussions. If he can stay healthy, he’s a stretch-four who can provide another offensive threat for the Wildcats. Elsewhere, Sean Miller continued his hot streak on the recruiting trail, landing 2014 four-star power forward Craig Victor, while continuing his pursuit of additional heavy hitters in next year’s class.

Arizona State – It was an offseason roller coaster for the Sun Devils, with Evan Gordon opting to spend his senior season closer to home at Indiana, only to have Penn State transfer Jermaine Marshall decide that he’d spend his final season of eligibility in Tempe. Marshall, who averaged 15.3 points per game for a depleted Penn State squad last season, will likely slide right into the spot vacated by Gordon’s departure. It’s not all sunshine and roses for Herb Sendek’s team, however, as Jahii Carson is dealing with a stress reaction in his right leg that will limit him in practice during the early going.

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Morning Five: 05.31.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on May 31st, 2013

morning5

  1. It should not be a surprise that Katin Reinhardt has decided to transfer from UNLV to USC as was widely speculated the moment he announced that he was leaving Las Vegas. Reinhardt, who will have to sit out next season as a transfer unless he finds a way to get an exception that nearly every transfer seems to qualify, seems intent on playing point guard as he feels that is his best chance of playing in the NBA (we would argue that playing well would be a start). He should have plenty of opportunities to become a point guard on a Trojan team that lacks an established point guard. Having said that we are not sure that his skill set will translate into Andy Enfield’s offense as a point guard.
  2. We might joke about how irritating conference realignment is, but it is nothing compared to the scourge that is publicly-financed stadiums. We have already seen many ridiculous stadium deals for professional teams with the most egregious being the one that was given to the Miami Marlins, but now the trend appears to be extending to college athletics. We mentioned Chicago’s plans for DePaul‘s basketball arena when it was first announced and now that more information is available Andy Glockner has taken a critical look at the deal. As Glockner notes the entire thing is absurd. We are not sure how the people of Chicago are going to put up with doing this particularly for a private university and we are not sure how the people affiliated with DePaul are going to go forward with this when they have a deal to play at a professional stadium for free and would not become the subject of public anger for having fleeced the city.
  3. Many of our younger readers are familiar with much of Kentucky‘s history including the highs from Adolph Rupp to today, but they may not as familiar with the lows that the program experienced when it was put on probation by the NCAA. Many Kentucky fans still harbor a grudge against Eddie Sutton, who coached Kentucky when they were accused of committing violations that led to Kentucky being placed on probation for three years and receiving a two-year postseason ban. For that Sutton has become a pariah in Lexington, but John Calipari is trying to change that by extending an olive branch to Sutton and inviting him to return to Lexington as his guest. We are not sure how forgiving Kentucky fans will be, but if there is anybody who can convince them to soften their stance it is Calipari.
  4. With conference realignment the newly formed/aligned entities have had to decide how they want to position themselves for their conference tournaments. The biggest battle is in New York City over the rights to Madison Square Garden, but the Southeast could also become a hotly contested area with the ACC and Big XII possibly looking at sites in the area in the near-future particularly if the ACC loses out on New York City. After initially considering a plan where they would hold the SEC Tournament in a permanent site it appears that the SEC has decided to go with a hybrid approach where they will play in Nashville in 2015, 2016, and 2019 and play in Saint Louis in 2017, Tampa in 2018, and Atlanta in 2020. The plan is still in the preliminary stages and the SEC still needs to negotiate with the potential host cities before anything is final, but it looks like this might be an initial step towards making Nashville the permanent home of the SEC Tournament after 2020 if everything works out well with them as a host city.
  5. Speaking of conference realignment, the Southern Conference announced yesterday that it will be adding MercerVirginia Military Institute, and East Tennessee State for the 2014-15 season. Interestingly, VMI and East Tennessee State will be rejoining the Southern Conference after having left it in 2003 and 2005 respectively. We doubt that this move alone will have any effect on the landscape of college sports it will probably lead to another chain of schools shifting between conferences.
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Morning Five: 05.28.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on May 28th, 2013

morning5

  1. We have seen a lot of strange transfers over the years, but the decision by Katin Reinhardt to leave UNLV is among the more puzzling ones we have seen. Coming out of high school Reinhardt was a highly regarded shooter, but not considered among the truly elite members of his senior class. Reinhardt is hardly alone in his decision to transfer as it has become an epidemic not only within the UNLV program, but college basketball overall. The interesting aspect of Reinhardt’s decision to transfer is that he felt he needs to showcase his talents more particularly his ability to play point guard if he hopes to play in the NBA. It is true that Reinhardt did not get to play point guard much in his freshman season, but that does not mean he did not have the ball in hands enough to showcase his skills as he took the second most shots on the team last year despite making an atrocious 35.8 percent last season (that’s below the 38.1 percent that the relatively selective Marshall Henderson shot last season). The early buzz is that Reinhardt may be headed to USC and with their Dunk City offense he may be ideally suited to run the offense as his errant shots can serve as lobs for his teammates.
  2. The Julie Hermann saga continues to unfold at Rutgers and it seems to get more complicated with each passing day. It seems like there are more and more people from Hermann’s past coming out on both sides of the accusations from her days at Tennessee. Yesterday, Hermann came out and stated that Rutgers President Robert Barchi had assured her that her job was safe. That might be news to New Jersey political leaders who seem to be less than thrilled about the hiring at this time. At this point if Hermann and Barchi keep their jobs they will probably be on very thin ice.
  3. As part of their ongoing series on NBA Draft trends, CBSSports.com took a look yesterday at how the major conferences have done in the NBA Draft in the past 15 years. The fact that the ACC comes out on top should not be too surprising, but some of the trends in other conferences are interesting particularly the lack of first round picks coming out of the Big Ten, which has probably been the best conference in the country the past two seasons. The one caveat when looking at this analysis is that it keeps the picks in the conference that the school was in when the player was drafted so the relative strength of conferences in this analysis will shift when that is taken into account assuming that they were drafted because of the type of player they were and the school they went to more than the conference they played in.
  4. In the narcissistic world of prep recruiting, it isn’t all that often that young wunderkinds like Andrew Wiggins shun the over-the-top pomp and circumstance in favor of a short and sweet announcement to announce their college destination. Yet Wiggins’ subtle announcement two weeks ago, given in the presence of a single local Huntington, WV, reporter and some family members, characterized how far Wiggins is willing to go to eschew the typical circus atmosphere that surrounds a player of his caliber (some players a decade his elder would do well to take note). Wiggins one-upped himself on the understated but classy front on Sunday with a thank you note in the Herald-Dispatch to the citizens of the community of the small Ohio River burg who spent the last two years supporting him at Huntington Prep. It’s a gesture that many of us are taught to do at a very young age by our parents — the simple thank you note — but so few in his position actually remember. So far, if these early indications represent the true character of Wiggins rather than just another choirboy charade, he has an early fan in all of us here at RTC.
  5. For anyone who has ever worked in the confluence merging between politics and policy-making, what appears to be simple on its face may be quite a bit more complex behind the scenes. Such is likely the case in the matter of DePaul‘s promise from Chicago to partially fund a new home arena, and the near-simultaneous closing of over 50 city schools because of a lack of funding ($1 billion in the red). Mike DeCourcy tackles the topic as an exercise in juxtoposition, and again, on its face it sounds like another example of whacked-out priorities. But the fact of the matter is that city budgets are hugely complex organisms — a fact that DeCourcy notes in  his final paragraph — and there is likely to be a set of tradeoffs that makes substantially more sense when digging into the numbers of each initiatve. Still, the key takeaway here is that questions should be asked and the Mayor’s Office should explain those reconciliations. Otherwise, well, it just looks like misplaced priorities.
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Rushed Reactions: New Mexico 63, UNLV 56

Posted by AMurawa on March 16th, 2013

rushedreactions

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference. He filed this report after Saturday afternoon’s Mountain West Championship game between New Mexico and UNLV in Las Vegas.

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. America: Meet Tony Snell. Those of us that have been watching the Mountain West religiously for the past three years are quite familiar with the unique combination of talent that Snell possesses: a 6’7” wing with even better length, terrific defensive ability, the ability to run off screens at an elite level, and can knock down open looks at a great rate — not to mention the jump-out-of-the-gym hops and a decent handle as well. This afternoon, he put all of that on display for a national audience. The question about him has always been whether he is too nice to be a great competitor, but that was not in doubt today: 21 points, 8-of-11 shooting, five threes and a great blow-by in the closing moments as well.
  2. Live By The Three, Die By The Three. The Rebels shot the ball 59 times on Saturday afternoon; 31 of those (a full 52.5%) came from deep. In the second half it was even worse with 17 of their 29 attempts (58.6%) coming from beyond the arc and another healthy chunk perimeter jumpers just inside it. For awhile, that worked out, as Bryce Dejean-Jones had a couple stretches where he caught fire and the Rebels were right in the game. But when that faucet got turned off, the Rebels faded. There are definitely good shooters on this team, with Dejean-Jones and Katin Reinhardt the best among them, but both of those guys have a tendency to take too many shots and, more disturbingly, to take bad shots. Then there’s Anthony Bennett, a physical specimen with a fantastic inside/out game who too often forgets about the inside half of that equation. For the Rebs to make noise in the NCAA Tournament, they need to find better balance offensively.
  3. New Mexico’s NCAA Tournament Viability. I’ve been among the doubters of the Lobos of late, in part because I haven’t entirely trusted their ability to get consistent offensive production from their guards. Today, to understate things, that was not a concern. We’ve talked about Snell, but Kendall Williams was tremendous as well, handing out seven assists, running the team well, and scoring 12 points. Then there’s Hugh Greenwood who had three early three-pointers and then never scored again. But, Greenwood did so many other things well, grabbing seven boards, handing out five assists and limiting Anthony Marshall’s production. Despite the 29 wins to this point, it has been something of an up-and-down year offensively to this point, but heading into the NCAA Tournament, this team is playing its best ball.

Star of the GameTony Snell. Five minutes into the game, you would have figured Anthony Bennett was going to be the guy. He had his team’s first 11 points in often spectacular ways, but his star faded quickly. Snell, however, played his best after the break, logging all 20 minutes, making five of seven shots (including three threes) and coming up with the big offensive play whenever his team needed a bucket.

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CIO… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on January 29th, 2013

CIO header

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference.

Conference Round-up

The dream around the Mountain West is six conference teams making the NCAA Tournament. But, in order for that to realistically happen, the top six teams here need to separate from the bottom three, with the teams at the back end of that first six earning at least a win or two over the upper-echelon teams. This week, that plan did not come to fruition. Boise State took care of Fresno State at home (good!) but then lost to Nevada on the road (bad). Wyoming lost on the road to UNLV (not good, but not unexpected), but then went back home and lost to Air Force (bad). In fact, Air Force has now knocked off a pair of MW teams dreaming of sneaking through that NCAA bubble (they knocked off Boise State the previous week) and, crazy as it may seem, they have their own devious designs on sneaking into the bracket come Selection Sunday. We’re now exactly one-third of the way through the conference schedule and one game in the standings is the difference between first and fifth place. Just two games separate first and seventh. And that team that started 13-0 and was among the last undefeated teams in the nation? Yeah, um, Wyoming is in eighth place and in need of 50 cc’s of an offensive injection, stat!

Reader’s Take

 

Team of the Week

San Diego State – Two weeks ago, the Aztecs lost on their home court in convincing fashion to their biggest rival in the league, UNLV, then followed that up with a lackluster performance in a loss at Wyoming, sinking them back to .500 in the conference and causing some to reevaluate just how strong this team was. Well, Steve Fisher and company had an answer for those questions this week, first tearing through Nevada in Reno on Wednesday night, then coming home and absolutely locking up New Mexico in front of The Show. Their smothering defense held the previously unbeaten Lobos to a field goal percentage in the 20s and just 34 total points (UNM’s lowest total of the year), helping them to overcome their own relatively unimpressive offensive performance. With point guard Xavier Thames just starting to work his way back into playing shape after a back injury, and with freshman Skylar Spencer seemingly improving by the game, the Aztecs seem to be a team that has hit their nadir and is on its way to bouncing back up.

Player of the Week

Allen Huddleston, Junior, Fresno State – Handing out the POTW honors to a guy whose team just went 0-2 for the week is not a precedent I’m thrilled to set, but in a week without a bunch of great options, rewarding a guy for keeping a positive attitude and finding a way to help his team out seems like as good a way as any to go. You see, after transferring in from Pacific and starting the first 11 games of the season (while averaging a hair under 30 minutes a game), Huddleston lost his starting spot to freshman Aaron Anderson and saw his minutes slashed (down to about 12 minutes a game over the next six games). When he did get into the game, he seemed to force the action in an effort to regain his coaches’ trust, but the low point came in a couple of oh-fer performances in extremely limited minutes against Sonoma State and Nevada. But rather than pout or quit on his team or transfer again (although, certainly, he did have some low moments in the interim), Huddleston kept working and was rewarded by head coach Rodney Terry with 55 total minutes of run this week. And he responded with his best two back-to-back performances of the year, averaging 17.5 points, three assists and two steals while knocking down seven three-pointers over the course of the week (and shooting a 64.6% eFG). While his play didn’t wind up earning his team a win, you can be sure he did his best to give his team chances to win those two games.

Despite Losing His Starting Job, Allen Huddleston Had A Big Week In A Losing Effort For Fresno State (Gary Kazanjian, Fresno Bee)

Despite Losing His Starting Job, Allen Huddleston Had A Big Week In A Losing Effort For Fresno State (Gary Kazanjian/Fresno Bee)

Newcomer of the Week

Skylar Spencer, Freshman, San Diego State – Yeah, Huddleston is a newcomer, so he could just as easily be here too, but Spencer deserves some pub too. You see, the freshman big man hasn’t missed a shot from the field since January 12 — four games ago. For the year he’s made better than 76% of his shots. As you might expect, Spencer’s range is basically a dunk (or closer), but give credit to the guy for knowing his strengths, accepting his limits and doing the things his coaching staff wants him to do. Yeah, that basically comes down to stuffing home point-blank opportunities, grabbing rebounds and playing defense, but he’s done all of that well. He blocks nearly 10 percent of his opponents’ two-point field goal attempts, has quick enough hands to dislodge a ball on the floor and is a beast on the offensive glass. While the SDSU rotation is crowded, Spencer has carved out a nice 20-minute-per-game spot for himself. Oh yeah, and the “of-the-week” part of this: try on 5-of-5 from the field, 10 points, five boards, three blocks and four steals.

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CIO… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on January 23rd, 2013

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Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference.

Conference Round-up

Nine teams, six in the hunt for an NCAA Tournament invitation, four with a good claim on a Top 25 spot — It is safe to say that the Mountain West, while maybe not having the elite teams that the Big Ten does, is the most competitive conference in the country from top to bottom. We’ve had three overtime games in two weeks and another five games decided by single figures. And, just when you’re ready to count out one team (like for instance, Air Force following a 39-point loss at Colorado State), they bounce back and score a big win (like those Falcons did against Boise State over the weekend). Conversely, we’ve seen a team like UNLV score a major road win over their biggest rival, San Diego State, then come back and struggle on the road. While the road environments in this conference are brutal, so far we’ve seen road teams have good success (road teams have won six of the 16 conference games played), such that it is looking like specific match-ups and timing may have as big of an impact on the outcomes of games as venue does. Two weeks in, everybody in the conference has at least one win and everybody, save for conference-leading New Mexico, has at least one loss. In other words, buckle up, because it is going to be a wild ride, and in all likelihood, this conference is not going to be settled until the final week of the regular season.

Reader’s Take

 

Team of the Week

Colorado State – After taking intra-state rival Air Force out behind the woodshed on Wednesday, the Rams welcomed UNLV into Moby Arena on Saturday for the headlining MW game of the weekend. Despite Colton Iverson’s offensive struggles and Wes Eikmeier’s foul trouble, CSU rode Dorian Green’s offensive explosion (24 points, including four threes, along with five assists and five boards) to its second straight win over the Rebels. The Rams hit 10 straight free throws in the final four minutes of the game and held UNLV to just two points on six possessions to turn a two-point deficit into a five-point win.

With Colton Iverson Struggling And Wes Eikmeier In Foul Trouble, Dorian Green Had His Best Game Of The Year (Dawn Madura, The Coloradoan)

With Colton Iverson Struggling And Wes Eikmeier In Foul Trouble, Dorian Green Had His Best Game Of The Year (Dawn Madura/The Coloradoan)

Player of the Week

Anthony Marshall, Senior, UNLV – While Air Force’s Michael Lyons had the game of the week in the conference (37 ridiculously efficient points against Boise on Saturday), Marshall was the most consistent performer this week, averaging 20.5 points, four assists, seven rebounds and two steals while willing his Rebels to a road win at San Diego State. After the Rebels went more than five minutes without scoring, and in the process turned a nine-point lead into a three-point deficit, Marshall took over, scoring nine of the next 13 Rebels points and getting the lead back. Marshall followed that game up with an equally impressive effort against CSU, scoring 15 second half points in trying to earn his Rebels a secondstraight conference road win.

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