We’ve gone through the Washington State roster and told you about the returnees and the newcomers, but let’s put it all together today: What does the 2012-13 season hold for the Cougars? Just how good will returnees like Reggie Moore, DaVonte Lacy, and Mike Ladd be, and which of the newcomers will emerge as major contributors? And most importantly, can these Cougs improve upon last year’s CBI appearance? Let’s break out that old crystal ball again and see what it says.
Motum Will Lead The Cougars In Scoring For The Second Straight Year
WSU’s Leading Scorer – Brock Motum. No reason we shouldn’t think the Pac-12′s leading scorer in 2011-12 wouldn’t lead his own team in his senior year. With Motum’s ability to score from anywhere on the floor and the fact that he touches the ball so many times on each possession, this is the only pick here. Even with a pair of confident newcomers like Royce Woolridge and Demarquise Johnson who will take a way some of his looks, Motum will still be the go-to guy.
WSU’s MVP – Royce Woolridge. This is a tad bold, but we don’t want to give two awards to Motum even if he may deserve it. Players and coaches called Woolridge the best player on the practice court last season, and the word out of Pullman is that he’s not afraid to shoot the ball. If he can give the Cougars 12 points a night, four rebounds, and maybe a couple steals here and there, Woolridge and Motum will make quite the one-two punch.
On the heels of last-year’s CBI runner-up season, Ken Bone welcomes in eight newcomers, headed by Kansas transfer Royce Woolridge. The eight newcomers will no doubt ease the blow of losing three “team first” guys, but sometimes talent can’t make up for chemistry. We’ll break all eight of them down below, roughly in the order of the contributions we expect from them.
Royce Woolridge, Sophomore, Guard, 6’3” 175 lbs, Kansas – Woolridge received pure garbage minutes in his freshman year at Kansas (0.9 PPG, 0.5 RPG, 0.6 APG in 2.8 MPG), with his best game coming in his first one - six points, two rebounds, and two assists in eight minutes against Longwood. It was an uphill fight from there, and by season’s end Woolridge decided a transfer was necessary. He chose Washington State, a place where he could study Faisal Aden’s game — one much like his own — in the mandatory sit-out season, then fill his role after Aden leaves. Like the departing sharpshooter, Woolridge is a “fill-it-up” type of scorer, meaning he needs to shoot the ball to get his points. That will be fine with Cougar fans if he can make those shots consistently. He will also bring the physical, explosive, nose-for-the-ball mentality that Marcus Capers left behind. Described by coaches and teammates as the best player on the practice floor last season, everyone is anxious to see what he’ll bring to the table once the bright lights are shining.
Woolridge’s Explosiveness Off The Dribble Will Have Opponents Scrambling This Season (credit: Jerry Wang)
Demarquise Johnson, Freshman, Shooting Guard, 6’5” 190 lbs, Westwind Prep Academy, Phoenix, AZ – Johnson hails from the central Arizona power Westwind Prep. While primarily a shooting guard, Johnson is very explosive off the dribble and can slash and score with ease inside the paint, something the Cougars have been missing the past few seasons. That being said, his intensity and on-court toughness does draw some question marks. If he is going to earn major minutes as a freshman in the rotation, Johnson needs to move better without the ball instead of just waiting for it to come to him. This kid is a legitimate player that will surely make an impact by the time he’s done in Pullman. After all, he didn’t earn offers from UNLV, Gonzaga, and Washington for nothing.
Washington State returns four players who were part of the rotation last year, highlighted by Brock Motum – a preseason candidate for Pac-12 Player of the Year – but also extending down to a guard that is back for his senior season after leading the team in minutes per game, a sophomore shooting guard primed to build off a solid freshman campaign, and yet another guard who will probably enjoy a similar role to what he saw last year. We’ll go through all of those guys below, in order of last year’s scoring totals.
Brock Motum Will Be The Key To Any Cougar Success In 2012-13
Brock Motum, Senior, Forward (18.0 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 0.4 BPG) – After a quiet first two seasons at Washington State, Motum exploded onto the scene in 2012-13. The junior forward took on the minutes left by departing senior DeAngelo Casto, and he showed the Cougar coaching staff immediately what he could do with them. From the very beginning of the year, he introduced a new style of game to the team’s offense. Motum led the team in scoring in the Cougars’ first two games, dropping 17 in a nationally televised contest at Gonzaga, and 23 in their second game against Sacramento State. He took on a “point-center” type role, one where the big man could handle the ball up top and act as a triple threat against opponents. His ability to drive and hit a pull-up jumper made him one of the toughest forwards to defend in the Pac-12, evident by his 18.0 PPG, the conference’s best. Not only a threat to score, but also a force on the glass, Motum pulled down a very respectable 6.4 RPG. Those two feats combined earned him the title of “Most Improved Player” in the Pac-12. Some of Motum’s critics will say he took a lot of defenses by surprise last season, but the truth is, the Cougars were just a tough team to defend. With Faisal Aden and Reggie Moore able to score the ball consistently, Motum was bound to get a few extra looks a game. And he took advantage, making him one of the deadliest players in the league.
Seven players earned significant playing time for the Cougars in 2011-12, and three of those will be gone next season. Of those three, each has used up his eligibility and at least one will get an opportunity to play professionally somewhere or another. Gone is Washington State’s second-leading scorer and top shot-blocker along with a big man who could be very effective on the boards at times. With only one incoming recruit who is likely to make an immediate impact, head coach Ken Bone will have a tough time early on replacing the shooting ability and athletic presence provided by those three players. Below we’ll take a look at who will be missed the most and who can step in to make the transition easier.
Capers’ Athleticism And Ability To Handle The Ball Made Him Valuable As Both A Guard And Defender
Marcus Capers – Capers was a fan favorite on the Palouse. While he wasn’t the most prolific of scorers, he was one of the top shooters from the field. However, his main contribution to the team’s success came on defense. Capers was by far the most athletic player on the roster, and he proved it by leading the squad in blocks and coming in second in rebounding last season. Some of Capers’ biggest games as a Cougar came at the end of his career as the combo guard averaged 5.5 PPG, 4.8 RPG, and 3.5 APG in Washington State’s six CBI contests.
UCLA and Arizona have their 2012 blockbuster recruiting classes all sewn up, with up north, Washington mostly struck out. But all eyes begin to turn to the 2013 class, and it could be Lorenzo Romar and the Huskies who are in a position to score big. Romar landed his first verbal commitment this week as 6’3” guard Nigel Williams-Goss, regarded as a four-star prospect, chose Washington over UCLA, Oregon State, and UNLV (a school he once committed to prior to head coach Lon Kruger’s defection to Oklahoma). While one four-star guard does not a recruiting class make, Romar still has his eyes on players like Jabari Parker (the number one overall prospect), Aaron Gordon (the number two rated power forward), Jabari Bird (the fourth rated off-guard), and Isaac Hamilton (the fifth rated off-guard) among others.
Aside from offseason trouble, some typically minor tweaks to rosters and the shaping of the 2013 recruiting class, the other big news that can be expected throughout the summer is the trickling out of teams’ 2012-13 schedules. UCLA’s calendar dropped on Thursday, with the highly-regarded Bruins reopening Pauley Pavilion on November 9 with a visit from Indiana State. Ben Howland’s club will also host Long Beach State and Missouri (along with a handful of low-major schools), play San Diego State in the Wooden Classic in Anaheim, and participate in the Legends Classic at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn with potential matchups against Indiana, Georgetown, and Georgia. Here’s hoping the Bruins find matchups with both the Hoosiers and the Hoyas awaiting them in New York.
Elsewhere around the conference, schedules are starting to take shape. Late last week, it came out that Colorado after a year away, would be renewing its competition with long-time opponent Kansas. While nothing is official yet, both schools have confirmed that an agreement is in place for the Buffaloes and Jayhawks to schedule a home-and-home series in each of the next two seasons. It’s unclear yet exactly where the 2012-13 edition will be played, but while Kansas has had Colorado’s number on a regular basis in their meetings, head coach Tad Boyle certainly has the Buffs on the upswing and his squad should be able to give the Jayhawks a couple interesting games. Down south, Arizonahas added games with Charleston Southern, Long Beach State and Southern Miss. While none of those three teams is a huge name, both Long Beach State and Southern Miss made the NCAA Tournament last year and should provide solid challenges for an already strong Arizona schedule. The Wildcats are still looking to add two more games, both of which are expected to be home-and-home series’.
Continuing our tour around the conference, Oregon State is on the verge of breaking ground on a new basketball practice facility. The structure will be a four-story structure with a couple different regulation-sized basketball courts layer in with locker rooms, support areas, offices and an entrance to the facility that will feature an Oregon State basketball hall of fame. With the upgrade in facilities, head coach Craig Robinson hopes to be able to induce a higher caliber of recruit to Corvallis.
Lastly, last week Pacific Takes unveiled a feature on the ten best sleeper recruits in the last decade, with Kyle Weaver of Washington State leading the way. Interesting to note that of the 14 players on the list (including a four-man honorable mention), six of the players (Weaver, Derrick Low, Brock Motum, DeAngelo Casto, Robbie Cowgill and Reggie Moore) matriculated to Washington State. This speaks well for the Cougar coaching staffs’ (beginning with Dick and Tony Bennett and continuing to current head coach Ken Bone) ability to target under the radar players and develop the talent once it arrives on campus. Given that five-star recruits are rarely going to find their way to Pullman, that is a must for the Cougs.
Money was a big story in the Pac-12 this week. First and foremost, USA Today unveiled an estimate of the worth of the Pac-12 television deals this week. Navigate Research, a Chicago-based firm that has done multimedia rights valuations for other schools and conferences figures that all told, between the conference’s deals with ESPN and Fox and their ready-to-launch Pac-12 Network, each school in the conference should expect upwards of $30 million a year over the life of their 12-year agreement. About $21 million per school is guaranteed by the deal with ESPN and Fox, with the remainder of the total based on the success of the new conference networks. While the Big Ten Network generated $79.2 million worth of profit in 2011, they have to split those profits with Fox, their partner in that venture, while the Pac-12 will own their network outright.
Based on that kind of income, it is easy to see why Larry Scottearned almost $1.9 million in salary and bonuses in his first full year as Pac-12 commissioner. That figure makes Scott the highest paid conference commissioner in the land and means that he earned more than three times the compensation of previous Pac-12 commissioner Tom Hansen in his final full year. Given the wonders that Scott has done with the Pac-12’s finances, image and future prospects, I would guess that most Pac-12 fans see this as money well spent for the conference.
Former UCLA forward Reeves Nelson has hired a lawyer and intends to sue Sports Illustrated and writer George Dohrmann for $10 million, claiming the article published by the magazine in March was guilty of defamation, false light and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The lawsuit claims that many of the stories in the article about Nelson were either false or drastically overstated. The lawsuit includes statements from 18 current or former players at UCLA that refute anecdotes in the article. For instance, former Bruin player Tyler Honeycutt states that the memorable tale of Nelson urinating on his clothes and bed was completely false, while recent UCLA graduate Tyler Trapani refutes the story about Nelson stepping on his chest during a practice drill. Bruin transfer and recent New Mexico big man Drew Gordon denies the claim that Nelson gave Gordon a black eye during a fight (and even denies ever having a fight with Nelson), while Alex Schrempf claims that the story that Nelson purposely in injured him by intentionally hacking him from behind is false as well. Seems like this is about the get very, very interesting as Dorhmann and SI attempt to defend themselves against this lawsuit.
Washington State’s coaching staff is back at full strength again, as head coach Ken Bonehired Ray Lopes to take Jeff Hironaka’s spot on the bench. Hironaka was reassigned (read: demoted) to director of player development , and Lopes, who was most recently an assistant at Idaho, will fill his spot. Lopes is no stranger to Pullman, having coached under Kelvin Sampson on the Palouse in 1993-94, before following Sampson to Oklahoma before winding up as a head coach at Fresno State for a three-year stint. However, at both of those stops, Lopes ran afoul of the NCAA, first getting mixed up in the impermissible phone call saga with Sampson at Oklahoma, then continuing the practice in Fresno, eventually winding up with a three-year show-cause penalty for 457 impermissible phone calls while at Fresno State.
Finally, after plenty of speculation that this would come to pass, Colorado redshirt sophomore point guard Shannon Sharpewill be transferring out of the program in order to play closer to his home in southern California. Sharpe’s career at Colorado goes down as a disappointment, after injuring his knee in his first practice with the Buffaloes. All told, he scored 99 points in just a hair over 600 minutes in his career in Boulder. He will have a year of eligibility remaining when he plays again at a lower-tier school (Big West schools like Cal State Fullerton or UC Irvine or perhaps Loyola Marymount or Pepperdine of the WCC would look like good landing spots where he could make an impact), although there is a possibility that he could apply for a waiver on having to sit out a year since both of his parents died of heart failure while he was in high school and he is returning home to take care of the family home.
Not only do rosters begin to solidify this time of year, but coaching staffs do as well. Washington State made a big change earlier in the week by demoting assistant coach Jeff Hironaka. As the article points out, Hironaka has seemed close to landing a head coaching job somewhere around the nation the past couple years. His ability to teach and develop players made him one of the top basketball IQ assistants in the conference, but weaknesses in recruiting led to his eventual demotion to the title of director of player development and special assistant to the head coach. With the move solely motivated by recruiting, head coach Ken Bone will look to add an assistant in the coming weeks that has recruiting contacts around the country. Hironaka can no longer recruit off-campus or give instruction during games, but his salary will remain the same.
Sticking on the Palouse, the Cougars learned on Thursday that center Richard Peters out of Westwind Prep International did not qualify academically to make it to Washington State, and will instead pursue a junior college. However, this did not come with much surprise to the Cougar coaching staff. In anticipation of Peters not qualifying, Bone signed a pair of transfer centers in Jordan Railey and James Hunter in recent weeks. In addition to Railey and Hunter, signees for next season include guard Demarquise Johnson and forwards Richard Longrus and Brett Boese.
Oregon State received great news earlier this week when it received an signed letter of intent from small forward Victor Robbins. Robbins was not pursued hard by the Beavers until after Jared Cunningham announced he would forgo his senior season, but the three-star out of Compton High saw a hole to fill and decided to spurn offers from Gonzaga, Washington, and Georgia. Robbins will be the first in line to fill the small forward/shooting guard role left by Cunningham, and his signing will free up shooting guard Roberto Nelson to work solely on his shot this summer.
Robbins and the rest of the Beavers will start the 2012-13 season a little early by taking a summer trip to Spain and France. The trip will take place August 18-28, but most importantly the Beavers will receive 10 additional practices before flying to Europe. Those will be huge as the Beavers add four new players to this year’s roster (small forwards Robbins, Langston Morris-Walker, Jarmal Reid, and center Maika Ostling), along with a pair of players (forward Daniel Gomis and guard Michael Moyer) who sat out the 2011-12 season. One player who won’t be making the trip is forward Rhys Murphy. Murphy requested and was granted a release from his scholarship, and while he intends to graduate from Oregon State, he is reportedly “exploring his options”. The move is an odd one as Murphy was in line to get solid minutes this season. Oregon State’s last foreign trip came prior to the 2007-08 season, when the Beavers traveled to Italy and posted a 2-2 record. Prior to the 2002-03 season, former head coach Jay John led Oregon State to a 4-1 record in Australia in his first year with team. This season, the Beavers plan to several games against “very good teams” according to head coach Craig Robinson. In addition to the basketball, Robinson says “We are hoping that we can get a nice sort of team-bonding experience out of it, as well as some cultural nuances that the guys can look back on as great memories.” The Beavers have been known to incorporate basketball road trips with cultural/educational experiences, as last season the Beavers visited New York City and Washington D.C. in the middle of an 11-day East Coast trip.
In other scheduling news, Arizona State will be playing real, official basketball games in the 2012 Las Vegas Invitational. The other seven teams in the field are Creighton, Arkansas, Wisconsin, Florida A&M, Cornell, Presbyterian, and Longwood. Before all eight teams head to Vegas, the four small/mid-major schools will play a pair of games at the four power conference teams. While in Vegas, the four lower schools will play a two-round tournament, as will the four power conference teams. The only known game for the Sun Devils so far is that Cornell will be traveling to Wells Fargo arena for one of the regional games. Cornell will also travel to Wisconsin.
The Pac-12 in the NCAA Tournament may be a distant memory, but conference teams continue to play on in lesser postseason tournaments. Washington State kicks off a three-game series for the championship of the CBI tournament tonight against Pittsburgh, but will likely have to do so without its most valuable player, Brock Motum. Motum sprained an ankle early in the Cougars’ semifinal game against Oregon State last week, but his teammates were able to step up and cover for him. While he is questionable for tonight’s game, head coach Ken Bone claims that there is a stronger chance that he’ll be able to return for Wednesday night’s game in Pittsburgh.
Meanwhile, Washington heads back to Madison Square Garden for the third time this season as the Huskies face Minnesota in the NIT semifinals on Tuesday night. The first time UW played at MSG this season, freshman guard Tony Wrotenput on a show for a national audience, scoring 24 points, including 14 in the final 10 minutes as he tried to will his team back into the game. Now, after a disappointing end to the Huskies’ NCAA Tournament chances when Wroten missed multiple free throws down the stretch of a Pac-12 tournament game, he is back to reprise his starring role in one of the nation’s best basketball arenas. And it is possible, given Wroten’s chances of becoming a high draft pick in June’s NBA Draft, that his time in the spotlight as a collegiate player will be book-ended by appearances in the World’s Most Famous Arena.
Stanford is the other Pac-12 team still alive, also in the NIT semifinals, facing Massachusetts on Tuesday night. This will also be the Cardinal’s third appearance this season at Madison Square Garden too, after they beat Oklahoma State and dropped a tight game to Syracuse at the Garden in the Preseason NIT during Thanksgiving weekend. But Stanford is also in the news lately because head coach Johnny Dawkins is reportedly a possible candidate for the head coaching job atIllinois. Dawkins denies the reports, but with Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens having already turned down the Illini, Dawkins is supposed to be considered along with Leonard Hamilton, Jeff Capel and Anthony Grant for the position.
Elsewhere around the Cardinal program, with associate head coach Dick Davey retiring at the end of the season, should Dawkins return (which, really, is to be expected, not only because Illinois can probably find someone better than him for their position, but also because he would probably rather be at Stanford that in Champaign), he’ll need to fill a spot on his staff. And, among the candidates for that seat is former Cardinal starMark Madsen. Madsen has limited coaching experience, and Dawkins can certainly find somebody with a more solid resume, but the case can be made that snapping up Madsen now would be good for the Cardinal program in the future.
Lastly, we missed this back at the start of March, but Californiawill be among the eight teams playing in the 2013 Maui Invitational. The Golden Bears will join Syracuse, Baylor, Gonzaga, Arkansas, Dayton, Minnesota and, host Chaminade in Maui in November 2013. It’s too early to prognosticate the strength of any of those teams, but Syracuse, Baylor and Gonzaga have been consistently solid in recent years, while the Bears could feature Allen Crabbe, Justin Cobbs and Richard Solomon as seniors, with David Kravish as a junior.
With the big Sports Illustrated critique of Ben Howland’s handling of the UCLA program dropping on Wednesday, it was a day heavy on reaction to that story. First and foremost, UCLA officials, including Howland, athletic director Dan Guerrero and chancellor Gene Blockall responded with disappointment to the article. Howland responded by taking responsibility for the program and noted that he would make whatever changes needed to be made, but Guerrero held out the possibility, in a separate teleconference, that he might not have the coach back to make those changes, saying that he will reassess the situation after the season. Both admit that some mistakes were made within the program, but Guerrero says that by and large, these were isolated incidents restricted to just a few players.
A handful of former UCLA players responded to the article by coming to the defense of their old coach. Lorenzo Mata-Real described Howland as a demanding coach who was there for his players when they needed him and who did well to prepare them for life after college. Michael Roll placed the blame at the feet of the handful of players who “didn’t want to do what was necessary to win.” And even Josiah Johnson, who left the program furious at Howland for having slashed his minutes as a senior, now says that his coach was just trying to foster an environment of accountability.
Lastly, while there was plenty of concern that the negative press surrounding the program might negatively affect recruiting, key recruits confirmed their continued interest in UCLA. Top five recruit Kyle Anderson, who has already signed a letter of intent with UCLA, reaffirmed his commitment to the program on Wednesday, while the nation’s #2 recruit, Shabazz Muhammad, confirmed that UCLA was definitely still in the mix. However, Muhammad’s father, Ron Holmes, did mention that the issues could be concerning when the final decision is made. More importantly, on the Muhammad trail, was a bombshell on Wednesday that the NCAA is looking into potential eligibility issues with the recruit. Muhammad has had connections with a couple financial advisers – Benjamin Lincoln and Ken Kavanaugh – and that both men may have given improper benefits to the high school senior. It is alleged that Lincoln paid for some of Muhammad’s unofficial visits to college campuses, while Kavanaugh helped fund his AAU team. The NCAA has alerted all of the schools who are still actively recruiting Muhammad, that although they are free to continue doing so, he may wind up ineligible to compete at the college level. While this story may not get the national run that the SI piece did, in the end, it may be more damaging to Howland’s future.
Enough on UCLA for now, onto Washington and their chances of earning an at-large bid on Selection Sunday. In his weekly Bubble Watch, Andy Glockner took a look at recent teams with similar profiles to the Huskies’ and found that half of the six he looked at did not receive an invitation. Of the six teams he looked at, only one was from a BCS conference – California in 2010. That year the Golden Bears won the conference title with a 13-5 record, but had no top 50 wins and just three against the top 100, similar numbers to what the Huskies will have next Sunday. However, unlike the Huskies, that Cal team had an RPI of 20, significantly better than Washington’s will be.
Two years ago, after Washington State finished their season at 16-15, the program turned down an invitation to the College Basketball Invitational – that third postseason tournament that began in 2008. This year, however, head coach Ken Bone is already making it clear that should the CBI come calling for the Cougars (who are currently 14-14 on the season), they’ll be more than happy to listen. Part of the reason the team turned down the invitation in 2010 was that the team was worn down at the end of the year and didn’t have the passion to continue playing. But this year, on a team that expects to have six significant contributors back next year, the team is still working hard and the extra stretch of the year would give their younger players a chance to continue developing. Now, it’s just a matter of Washington State finishing strongly enough to catch the eye of the CBI.
Craig Robinson will never complain about officiating. Except when he does. Robinson called Oregon State’s loss Sunday night against Oregon a “poorly officiated game,” taking particular exception to a foul called on Eric Moreland during a struggle for a rebound with 10 seconds left and the general lack of fouls called in favor of Jared Cunningham. Robinson called for Cunningham to “get treated like one of the best players,” seemingly meaning that his star player should get calls that other players in the league don’t necessarily get. We all know that this type of subjective officiating goes on, and we know that coaches certainly want their players to get calls whenever possible, but the idea of a coach calling for referees to adjust their officiating to reward a star player? Please. Leave that nonsense to the NBA.
Oregon’s Matthew Knight Arena is a gleaming new state-of-the-art facility that makes an already appealing Oregon basketball program that much more of a force in the Pac-12. That doesn’t mean that everything is going along without a hitch in Eugene. A report issued on Monday showed that financial revenue projections for the arena have been drastically cut, dropping by as much as 30% in some revenue categories, and that the athletic department will likely show annual net deficits for as many as five years beginning in 2013. As is usually the case with these types of projects, the revenue projections may have been purposefully inflated in order to increase the appeal of the building, and now that the project is complete, those projections are free to return to reality. Case in point, while the revenue for men’s basketball ticketing looks like it will hit about $2.4 million for this year, that number is down $400,000 from previous projections.
Most of the talk around the conference Coach of the Year award has centered around names like Tad Boyle, Mike Montgomery and even Dana Altman – all fine choices, to be sure. But what about Lorenzo Romar? He’s taken a team that was projected to finish fourth in the conference prior to the season and turned them into a team on the verge of a regular season title with a 22-8 overall record that features close losses to Duke and Marquette along with some other less palatable losses. He’s taken a team that had some chemistry problems early in the year and built a coherent squad that has significantly improved as the year has gone on. For me, it comes down to Romar or Boyle, and while I agree that Romar’s coaching job is looking better and better by the week, I’m still blown away by Boyle’s success in his first year in the conference.
The flip side of the COY discussion is the hot seat discussion, and The Husky Haul took a crack at that yesterday, ranking Kevin O’Neill, Herb Sendek, Craig Robinson, Johnny Dawkins and Larry Krystkowiak as the five most likely to be swept aside. There are serious problems with this list, beginning with the inclusion of Krystkowiak here; if anything, the Utes have overachieved this season given the dearth of talent in Salt Lake City. Sendek and Dawkins have both recently received contract extensions as well, and seem unlikely to be going anywhere (although their seats are both definitely warming), while USC athletic director Pat Haden has made it very clear that O’Neill will get a pass for this season’s failures. And while Oregon State’s season will go down as a disappointment, it seems like Robinson at least has his team moving in the right direction. Odds are, none of those schools will be looking for new coaches this offseason. In fact, if there was to be a coaching change this year, Ben Howland at UCLA or Ken Bone at Washington State would be more likely to be relieved of their duties than any of the five on this list. In the end, my guess is that we’ll have the same 12 coaches back in this conference next season.
And then there were four. It may not be official, but Oregon’s late-game collapse against California more or less eliminates the Ducks from contention for the regular season title, leaves them currently running fifth in a race for the four opening round byes in the Pac-12 Tournament, and puts a serious dent in their already tenuous claim on an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. With five and a half minutes remaining, the Ducks led on the road against conference-leading Cal, by a score of 73-65. Over the remaining 13 Duck offensive possessions, they turned the ball over six times (part of their 22 turnovers on the night), hit three jumpers (two of which were increasingly improbable deep Devoe Joseph threes) and made a couple technical free throws. Meanwhile, Cal scored on 11 of their final 13 possessions and pulled out a three-point win in front of the home faithful. Joseph wound up with a career-high 33 points, but in the end was outdueled by his former Minnesota teammate Justin Cobbs, who had a career-high of his own, with 28 points, while also adding eight assists and four steals. The win keeps Cal in a first place tie.
Washington remains tied with Cal atop the conference standing after running out to a big lead in the first half against Arizona State then coasting home to victory in the second half. Terrence Ross got things started early with five points on the Huskies’ first two trips down the floor on his way to a game-high 18 points and his team raced out to an 18-point halftime lead. The lead got as high as 24 points on a handful of occasions before Lorenzo Romar called off his dogs and allowed Arizona State to post a respectable final margin of just eight points. Washington expects a bigger challenge on Saturday afternoon when they host Arizona in a game that will have a big impact on the conference standings.
The Wildcats, meanwhile, had a much tougher go of things on Thursday night, going into Pullman and getting a tough fight from Washington State. With just a minute remaining, the Cougs found themselves deadlocked with Arizona, until a Jesse Perry three-point play gave the ‘Cats the lead. Then Perry fouled Brock Motum at the three-point line with just 21 seconds left, sending Motum to the line to shoot three free throws. However Motum, who led Washington State with a dominating 28-point performance, was only able to convert one of the three, sending Ken Bone’s team into foul-mode. The Wildcats made their freebies down the stretch and escaped with their fifth road win of the conference season.
The other game of the night was a rematch of a classic quadruple-overtime game earlier in the year between Stanford and Oregon State. This one wasn’t quite as enthralling, but it was still an up-tempo, exciting ball game, even though the Cardinal needed 20 less minutes to knock off the Beavers. The Stanford backcourt led the way, with Chasson Randle going for 24 points (including six-of-seven three-point shooting) and Aaron Bright adding 20 (four-of-nine from deep) outdueling Oregon State’s Jared Cunningham, who had 22 points and added four threes of his own.
In the wake of UCLA’s easy win over cross-town rival USC Wednesday night, everything is hunky-dory for Bruin fans. Or not. There are complaints about who Ben Howland chose to use and for how many minutes. He should have given some of the other guys more time, and yet at the same time, there are complaints that he didn’t pour it on even more at the end. There is hand-wringing over who might be the next Bruin to transfer out of the program. And, unbelievably, there are complaints that he has signed and is still pursuing five-star recruits, as if that is somehow a strike against him. Howland definitely deserves plenty of blame for likely missing the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years, but some of this stuff is plain old ridiculous.
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-12 conferences.
We have heard it all before. The Pac-12 is down. The Pac-12 is terrible. The Pac-12 is a one-bid league. The Pac-12 sucks. There’s some relative truth in some of those and in others, not so much, but one thing is for sure as we sit here with three weeks remaining the regular season and five teams within a game of the regular season title. The Pac-12 is tight. Going into this week, California and Washington are tied for first (with the Golden Bears holding the tiebreaker between the two teams on the strength of their win in Seattle a couple of weeks back), while Oregon, Colorado, and Arizona are all lurking just one game back. We have got a race.
Cal, Currently In First Place, May Have The Best Chance At An At-Large Bid To The NCAA Tournament (George Nikitin/AP)
Aside from a couple of games between top five teams last Thursday night, when Oregon throttled Washington and Arizona took care of Colorado, every other team in the top grouping took care of business against lesser opponents. In fact, looking at the standings right now, the top six teams in the conference are all riding winning streaks while the bottom six are all headed in the wrong direction. At least it now appears that the top of the conference is gaining some separation from the bottom. California, Washington, and Oregon all saw their RPIs improve this week, while Colorado and Arizona saw their number drop a bit, but at least now all five of those teams are at least in the at-large conversation. Our own Zach Hayes has California and Arizona in the tournament in his latest bracket, while Colorado, Washington and Oregon are all among the first eight out. Joe Lunardi’s latest bracket has the Bears and the ‘Cats in as well, with the Huskies and Ducks among the first eight out. Andy Glockner, however, is a bit more pessimistic about the conference’s chances, putting just California in the field with Arizona among the first four out and teams like Seton Hall, North Carolina State, Northwestern, and Xavier all currently higher in the pecking order than the Pac-12 schools.
What to Watch For
With all of the above in mind, every game is going to be critical from here on out for those five teams at the top of the standings. They all need to not only beat up on teams 6-12, but it is time for a couple or three of them to differentiate themselves from the others. We thought last week that Washington might be on the verge of doing that, and then they went out and got blown out by Oregon. Meanwhile, California, and Arizona are the hot teams this week with the Golden Bears on a three-game streak and the Wildcats on a four-game run. Both will find significant tests awaiting them this week, but Cal has the benefit of facing their tests in the comfort of Haas Pavilion, against Oregon Thursday night and then Oregon State on Saturday night. Arizona has to go on the road, and they head to Washington State tomorrow night before a Saturday afternoon marquee matchup with Washington.
Washington, meanwhile, will also have to take care of business against tenth-place Arizona State on Thursday while Oregon travels to Stanford on Sunday afternoon. The Palo Alto trip could be a problem for the Ducks, especially coming off of the big game Thursday night. The other game involving one of the top five schools comes Saturday afternoon, when Colorado travels to Utah. The Buffaloes have won just two conference games on the road thus far, and those came against the teams currently holding down two of the bottom three spots in the standings; if they can handle the Utes, it will become three wins against the three bottom teams in the standings.