From the moment it was first rumored, the relocation of the conference tournament to Las Vegas has created quite a buzz among Pac-12 basketball fans. Adam Butler (@pachoopsAB) of PacHoops will be here every week as he offers his unique perspective along our March to Vegas.
Settling into my cubicle Thursday morning I was greeted by an instant message from my brain trust, Brad, “Which was the bigger win last night: USC or Stanford?” I will make no bones about this one; Stanford’s win was the bigger of the two. But it did get me to thinking about USC’s season and what it has and will become. Kevin O’Neill’s dismissal came at a truly strange time – as the team appeared to be turning either the cohesive group or easier schedule corner – indicative of the fact that Pat Haden has plans, big or otherwise, for that position.
The games themselves were solid, the respective performances impressive. From a strictly basketball perspective, Stanford may have been the best team in the nation Wednesday night. And with regards to magnitude of victory, it is my belief that Stanford’s win was the biggest. From an expectations standpoint, we thought the Cardinal would be doing this regularly. Their coach demands hard-nosed defense and their skill set – at least on an individual level – suggests an explosive offense. On Wednesday, they were exactly that, a perfect storm. They connected on their highest percentage of shots in a single game (52%) and held an opponent to the opposite, the lowest percentage of made baskets on their defensive season (34%). To say the Cardinal were due would be an understatement. And to acknowledge that the Cardinal were due is to recognize that their effort, while impressive and the best of the year, was not unexpected. Between Randle, Bright, Huestis, and Powell, Stanford can and should compete.
On the other hand, the Trojans marched into a “Blue Out” with specialty tops of their own and simply didn’t care to adhere to the guest policy. They handed the ball over 17 times and still won. Sure they shot a shade over their season average but this was a road, rivalry game with an interim staff. What business did the Trojans have even flirting with victory let alone controlling the game? I’ll refrain from going in on the Bruins here. So what do these wins mean? For Stanford, outscoring the Ducks represented an exorcising of the demons. My impression – if not hope – is that this represents a tipping point or springboard by which the Cardinal become the team they were meant to be. Returning NIT champs has got to mean more than a middling Pac-12 squad.