Bracket Prep: UCLA, New Mexico, New Mexico State

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 16th, 2014

As we move through the final stages of Championship Week, we’ll continue to bring you short reviews of each of the automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket next week. Here’s what you need to know about the most recent bid winners. 

UCLA

Steve Alford's Hire Was Met With Resistance Last Spring, But Less Than Twelve Months Later, He Has The Bruins Back On Top Of The Pac-12

Steve Alford’s Hire Was Met With Resistance Last Spring, But Less Than Twelve Months Later, He Has The Bruins Back On Top Of The Pac-12. Next Stop: NCAA Tournament.

  • Pac-12 Champion (26-8, 15-6)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #21/#16/#16
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +13.8
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #4-#5

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. In making Arizona look mortal for the first time all week in Vegas, UCLA became Pac-12 Tournament champions and earned the league’s automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament. UCLA has now scored 75 points against the Wildcats in both meetings this season, and since Michigan is the only other Wildcat opponent to score 70+ points on Sean Miller’s team, it’s an achievement worth noting. If you can score on Arizona, you can score on anyone, and UCLA looks likely to accomplish just that in the Tournament. Each member of Steve Alford’s eight-man rotation is capable of scoring in double figures on any given night, paced by leading scorer Jordan Adams (17.2 PPG, 2.7 SPG). The high game totals that the Bruins’ quick pace generates obscures what has actually been a pretty decent defensive effort (UCLA has the 49th best defense in the country according to Ken Pom), but there’s no hiding that it’s the hyper-efficient offense that makes the Bruins go.
  2. Kyle Anderson (14.9 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 6.6 APG) is a joy to watch on the court, but it might be even easier to appreciate him on KenPom.com, especially if you like to spend Saturday nights poring through free throw rates and true shooting percentages. The All-Pac 12 selection and Pac-12 Tournament MOP ranks in the top-500 in a whopping 12 of 15 individual categories on the site, with the only average categories being percentage of shots taken (who cares), offensive rebounding percentage, and turnover rate. Figuring out how many players have a similar variety in their statistical profile would take quite a while, but it’s difficult to imagine any player in college basketball even having ten of their fifteen categories among the top-500. He’s as proficient at cleaning the glass as he is setting up teammates, equally likely to knock down a three as he is to a shot block a shot. There will be only one Kyle Anderson is the 2014 NCAA Tournament, and that absurd Ken Pom stat-line is testament to just how diversely special he has been all season.
  3. Steve Alford is a massive part of the UCLA narrative heading into this NCAA Tournament. Alford has done a wonderful job in Westwood this season, but don’t think it’s nearly enough for him to outrun his shaky Tournament resume. Seeing is believing, and the latter will only happen with Alford after the former occurs.  The reticence to trust the UCLA head man stems from Alford’s 3-6 Tournament record at Iowa and New Mexico, a mark that includes exactly zero Sweet Sixteen appearances and one nice ugly upset to #14 seeded Harvard just twelve months ago. Do you want to believe in Alford already? Hang your hat on the differences between this UCLA team and the eleven previous ones he coached at Iowa and New Mexico, because only one of those teams (2004 Iowa) finished among the top-100 teams in possessions per game (and still just 66th). The Bruins are currently 14th in the metric, and there’s little doubt that this is the most up-tempo, offensively efficient basketball team that Alford has ever coached.

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Rushed Reactions: UCLA 75, #3 Arizona 71

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 15th, 2014

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways:

  1. Rare Talent. If you watched the game, you saw it all over the place. You saw it in UCLA’s 6’9” sophomore point guard Kyle Anderson, who had 15 defensive rebounds to go with 21 points, five assists and just one turnover. You saw it in Arizona’s freshman power forward Aaron Gordon, who spent time trying to check the opposition’s point guard as well creating plays of his own, dishing out a whopping eight assists (many of them of the spectacular variety, such as an epic alley-oop to junior Nick Johnson). Speaking of Johnson, this is a 6’3” guy who looks like your average ordinary Joe, right up until the point that his feet leave the ground and then just keep going up and up and up. Jordan Adams, Norman Powell, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, T.J. McConnell, Gabe York, and the Wear twins. There was no shortage of talent on the MGM Grand Arena court this afternoon and with many of them turning in elite performances, it was a fantastic game to watch.

    Kyle Anderson and UCLA Took Home The Conference Title In Spectacular Fashion Saturday (Julie Jacobson, AP Photo).

    Kyle Anderson and UCLA Took Home The Conference Title In Spectacular Fashion Saturday (Julie Jacobson, AP Photo).

  2. Toughness. Despite all the high-flying wonderment and spectacular plays, tournament titles require toughness, and there was no shortage of that today. Often things like this are measured in rebounding, and guys like Anderson and Gordon did not disappoint there with Tony Parker (seven boards), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (eight) and Kaleb Tarczewski (seven) chipping in as well. But it is more than just that. It is setting and fighting through hard screens, like the one Parker set to free up Jordan Adams for what would turn out to be the game-winning three. It is getting on the floor for loose ball, as happened several times today, most famously when Travis Wear dug down deep and outraced Gordon to dive for a loose ball near the end line. As Arizona head coach Sean Miller put it afterward, “If you want to love college basketball, just watch that.” And if you want to win championships, you’ve gotta do that too. Read the rest of this entry »
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Pac-12 Player of the Year and All-Conference Teams

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 10th, 2014

Before we announce our Player of the Year and our all-Pac-12 Teams, a quick note on our methodology here — we had each of our three voters – Andrew Murawa, Connor Pelton, and Adam Butler – rank their top 15 players in the conference and awarded points to each player based on those votes (1st place vote =15 points, 2nd place =14, etc.). Normally, when putting together an all-conference team, we’d make an effort to balance our team by position, with either three guards and two frontcourt players on each team, or vice versa. But in this season’s guard-heavy conference we didn’t get a lot of frontcourt votes, which is why you’ll see a five-guard first team when you scroll down. As for our Player of the Year voting, it was simple enough. The player with the most points in our all-conference balloting was our Pac-12 Player of the Year.

Player of the Year

Nick Johnson, Junior, Arizona – As expected, it came down to a close two-man race for Player of the Year, but Johnson squeaked out the win by one point over UCLA sophomore Kyle Anderson. Johnson is not only the leading scorer on the Wildcats, he is also their key defensive catalyst. As Adam Butler wrote justifying his vote for Johnson over Anderson: “Nick Johnson was the most critical player on the best team in the conference. As he went, the Wildcats went and more often than not (see 28-3), Nick Johnson played well. Nay, great.” To look at it the other way, compare Johnson’s performance in the three Arizona losses to their 28 wins. In those three losses, Johnson averaged fewer than 10 points per game on 23.9% eFG; in the wins, he posted a 50.8% eFG on his way to 16.8 points per win.

Nick Johnson's Prowess On Both Ends Of The Court For The Conference's Best Team Earns Him The RTC Pac-12 Player of the Year (Christian Petersen)

Nick Johnson’s Prowess On Both Ends Of The Court For The Conference’s Best Team Earns Him The RTC Pac-12 Player of the Year (Christian Petersen)

All-Conference

First Team

  • Nick Johnson, Junior, Arizona (16.1 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.2 SPG)
  • Kyle Anderson, Sophomore, UCLA (14.9 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 6.6 APG, 1.7 SPG, 48% 3FG) – The versatile Anderson has been one of the nation’s most improved players, registering as not only a terrific play-maker but an elite rebounding  guard.
  • Delon Wright, Junior, Utah (16.1 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 5.3 APG, 2.6 SPG, 1.3 SPG, 59.7% eFG) – The junior college transfer came out of nowhere to become arguably the most versatile player in the conference – if not the most versatile in the nation. These three players were almost unanimously the top three players in the conference this season.
  • Justin Cobbs, Senior, California (15.6 PPG, 5.8 APG) – Cobbs ranked no higher than fifth but no lower than eighth on any of the three ballots, a consistency which earned him a first-team all-conference spot.
  • Roberto Nelson, Senior, Oregon State (20.6 PPG, 3.7 APG, 3.6 RPG) – Nelson was in the top five on two of three ballots, but was left completely off of a third (ahem, Butler). He still had enough votes to sneak on to the first team.

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Marching to Vegas: The Final Steps

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) on March 7th, 2014

Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) of Pachoops again will be joining us all year, providing us with his weekly take on our favorite conference, as we begin the March to Las Vegas.We find ourselves on the penultimate day of the basketball season. A season, like those before it, that has seen highs and low, cliché, cliché, cliché. I’ve been critical of the Pac, supportive of the Pac, predictive, analytical, and funny. I’ve defended it multiple times and sang praise, too. I’ve linked this entire lead. But the point here is that we’re here. The calendar has turned to our favorite month. Our March to Vegas is over. Our season embarks into the madness of sudden death and the promise of possibility. Tournaments begin (ultimately two of them) with abundant hope and now I’m getting lost in Waltonian hyperbole; but if not hyperbole then what is March for? I mean, look at our first and only conference games thus far in the month. The home and road teams have nearly split their contests. To date, home teams had been winning at a greater than 66 percent clip. Suddenly we get to the third month on the calendar and nothing becomes predictable. Each of Wednesday’s road teams won and then, in perhaps the most unexpected of outcomes, the Trojans got their second victory. Indeed we’re knee deep in the madness and we aren’t even in Vegas yet.

Behind A High-Flying Arizona Team, The Pac Is Back, Right? (Ralph Freso, Getty Images North America)

Behind A High-Flying Arizona Team, The Pac Is Back, Right? (Ralph Freso, Getty Images North America)

But before we get there, I’d like to revisit our first thought. When I lauded that the Pac was back before nary a game was played. Is it back? Or, perhaps more aptly said, has it returned? With the benefit of hindsight, I’d say it is. Look at what we have: arguably the best crop of guards in the nation and the best defense the nation has to offer. We watched the emergence of Utah, a budding program under the hard-nosed and determined watch of Larry Krystkowiak. And have you watched Delon Wright? I didn’t see that coming and if you did, link me to what you said about it because I’d like to buy you a drink. What a phenomenal player who is coming back next season. And still has this season to play (I see you, Vegas). Further, we watched what I believe to be the best backcourt in the country. Or at least the most dynamic. Between Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams, is there anything they can’t do? And if there is, they could just toss it up to Zach LaVine and it might be all right.

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Pac-12 M5: 03.07.14 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on March 7th, 2014

pac12_morning5

  1. At this point last season, UCLA sat at 22-7 and head coach Ben Howland was a dead man walking. The Bruins came into yesterday’s game at Washington with the same exact record, but the coaching situation could not be more different (no matter what Bruins Nation might say). Steve Alford has stepped up the program’s recruiting presence locally, and with the players having fun, the team is definitely going in the right direction. They’ve picked up big wins against the likes of Arizona State, Colorado, and Oregon, and while those haven’t exactly translated into an uptick in attendance, I don’t know if any coach could change that. He’s also got one of the frontrunners for Pac-12 Player of the Year running point guard in sophomore Kyle Amderson, who is helping things immensely in Westwood. The Bruins will close the regular season Saturday night at Washington State. They’ll look to protect the #5 seed that Joe Lunardi currently projects them as.
  2. UCLA improved to 23-7 on the 2013-14 campaign with a 91-82 road win in Seattle last night. Washington actually led 45-41 after an offense-filled first half before the Bruins woke up. Tied at 64 with a little over ten minutes remaining, Kyle Anderson put home a layup to put the visitors in front. That would initiate an 11-3 run, giving them just enough separation to put the Dawgs down. Sophomore guard Jordan Adams dropped a career high 31 points in the victory, which clinched the #2 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament for Alford’s squad.
  3. Last February, Adidas unveiled these insane uniforms for six teams to use in the postseason, including UCLA. So when I heard yesterday that the company was rolling out another set of special March uniforms, I was excited to see what was in store. They decided to go with a much more subdued approach this time around, but the results are still decent. You can view the two Bruin jerseys here, and the rest of the set at this link.
  4. A lot of teams suffer some type of burnout at this point in the season, but few have seen a collapse like California this season. The Golden Bears have lost four of their last five, two at home, and all by an average of 17.5 PPG. “Emotionally, we’re really spent,” coach Mike Montgomery said. “We’re having a hard time emotionally sticking with this thing right now.” If you’re looking for a #HOTBRACKETTIP, you may want to avoid picking these guys very deep in a couple of weeks.
  5. Below is our panel’s selections for the final weekend of regular season Pac-12 basketball. We head to the Willamette Valley for our game of the week, where two of us are taking host Oregon, and Adam sticks with his Wildcats. Drew is taking a few road warriors in Colorado, Arizona State, and UCLA on Saturday, while I’ve got all home teams except for the Bruins, who will be heavy favorites on the Palouse.
    Game Connor (34-7) Drew (30-11) Adam (29-12)
    Utah @ Stanford Stanford Stanford Stanford
    Arizona @ Oregon Oregon Oregon Arizona
    Arizona State @ Oregon State Oregon State Arizona State Oregon State
    USC @ Washington Washington Washington Washington
    Colorado @ California California Colorado California
    UCLA @ Washington State UCLA UCLA UCLA
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Pac-12 M5: 02.28.14 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on February 28th, 2014

pac12_morning5

  1. Did you see Arizona on Wednesday night? Did you see them run through California at McKale in a barrage of suffocating defense and ridiculous transition throwdowns? Did you think what I thought? As Greg Hansen of the Arizona Daily Star points out, Wednesday night was the Wildcats’ demonstration that they have healed and moved on since losing Brandon Ashley. He won’t, and I won’t, and I doubt anyone will claim that the Wildcats are better without Ashley, but they have definitely worked their way back to the point where they’re roughly as good, and as dominant, as they were before their sophomore power forward went down. There are still certainly some weaknesses there, but I’ll gladly put Arizona right up there with the best in the nation as equally deserving of national championship contender status.
  2. Thursday night, UCLA hosted Oregon and did so without their two best players, as sophomores Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams watched after being suspended in the middle of the day on Thursday for a “violation of team rules.” And, midway through the second half with the Bruins down 14, it looked like Oregon would walk away with an easy win that would help bolster their tournament resume. Well, those Ducks got that all-important win, but it took them an extra 10 minutes to do so, as a wild, literally-last second David Wear three forced overtime, much-maligned freshman point guard Bryce Alford went nuts for 31 points in 49 minutes and still the Bruins weren’t able to overcome the effort of Oregon transfer guards Joseph Young and Jason Calliste. For UCLA, it is no harm, no foul when it comes to their NCAA prospects while Oregon comes away a game south of .500 in the conference with three to play and another solid win for their resume. Anderson and Adams are expected to be back Sunday for UCLA’s home finale against Oregon State and in the end, no harm done, but hopefully a lesson learned.
  3. Tonight, Washington and Washington State will reignite their rivalry in an in-state battle that few outside of the Evergreen State will pay much attention to, even on a night largely barren of meaningful college basketball games. As Christian Caple of The News Tribune calls it, “apathy” has set in, as neither the Huskies nor the Cougars have been much worth watching in recent years. Their match-up earlier this year drew the least number of fans in more than a decade and excitement for Friday night’s match-up isn’t a whole lot stronger than it was.
  4. We mentioned this way back in October and were taken to task for it by a Washington fan, but… at what point does Lorenzo Romar’s seat on the sideline at Hec Edmunson Pavilion get a little tingly? Athletic director Scott Woodward still calls Romar the “right man for the job” and his contract that runs through 2020 (at $1.7 million per year) , which should guarantee that he won’t be run off too hastily. But the Huskies are now heading into their third-straight March on the outside looking in come the NCAA Tournament. And, with C.J. Wilcox graduating and the recruiting pipeline starting to dry up, there is no end in sight to the drought. Make no mistake, Romar’s still got plenty of leash in Seattle, but questions about his long-term viability absolutely need to be considered these days.
  5. Below is our panel’s selections for this weekend in Pac-12 basketball. We head to the mountains for our game of the week, where all three of us took the host Utes in a rare Saturday morning game. In fact, there is no differential between our panel’s selections this week. Very boring.
    Game Connor (27-7) Drew (23-11) Adam (22-12)
    Washington State @ Washington Washington Washington Washington
    Colorado @ Utah Utah Utah Utah
    California @ Arizona State Arizona State Arizona State Arizona State
    Stanford @ Arizona Arizona Arizona Arizona
    Oregon State @ UCLA UCLA UCLA UCLA
    Oregon @ USC Oregon Oregon Oregon
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Morning Five: 02.28.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on February 28th, 2014

morning5

  1. With the season winding down, UCLA appears to be looking at a fairly high seed (we have seen anywhere from 4-7 in brackets), but we have to wonder about them going forward after Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams, the team’s two best players were suspended for last night’s game against Oregon. The outcome of last night’s game isn’t nearly as important as the suspensions–one game each for “violating team rules”. That could certainly mean a lot of things, but it has to make you wonder about the mindset of Anderson (14.9 points, 8.6 rebounds and 6.9 assists per game) and Adams (17.2 points per game) heading into March.
  2. It has been a few weeks since we had heard much about the North Carolina academic scandal so we were a bit surprised to see that Business Week had decided to make it this week’s cover story. For those who have followed this story there is not anything particularly shocking in the story, but it will only serve to further damage the school’s reputation. At this point it seems unlikely that either the NCAA or any governing body will take significant action against the school and you can argue that print media is dying, but having that cover on newsstands across the world certainly won’t help North Carolina’s brand.
  3. For the Tar Heel fans who might be feeling a little down after yet another mainstream media source took a shot at the school for their handle of the academic scandal, Grantland has a feature on a topic–the 2005 title team–that should serve as a way to perk you up. Except that it is about how the key players on that team failed to live up to expectations. We don’t mind to pile on Tar Heel fans today, but it is an interesting topic particularly when you consider that you can make a strong case for that team being one of the top teams since 2000. Oh, and if you want to know if Illinois fans are still upset about losing that title game check out the comment section.
  4. Bill Self might not want to play Wichita State, but that does not mean he does not appreciate what they are doing. When asked about the Shockers, Self reiterated his stance that he would continue to schedule games to help his program not others. This certainly won’t endear him to Wichita State fans, but Self did come out in support of the Shockers as a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament if they are undefeated when Selection Sunday rolls around. Honestly, we don’t understand how anybody could believe that the Selection Committee would pass on an undefeated team much less one that made it to the Final Four last year (yes, we know the last part shouldn’t matter).
  5. By now you should know that we basically link Luke Winn’s Power Rankings almost every week. It’s not that Luke pays us (that would be a nice gift though), but it is because it is one of the few columns that we learn something new from every week. This week the two things that jump out at us are the block matrix that Luke created and how Xavier Thames‘ usage and production has decreased recently. The part of the block matrix that jumped out at us is how underrated Chris Obekpa is as a defender. He won’t generate the headlines that Joel Embiid does mainly because of Obekpa’s limited offensive repertoire, but these numbers suggest that he might be able to find his way onto a NBA roster some day. As for Thames, being on the East Coast we do not get to see as much of him as we would like, but the graph showing his drop in usage and production is instructive if you are trying to figure out what is wrong with San Diego State.
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Five Arguments for the Pac-12 Player of the Year

Posted by Andrew Murawa, Connor Pelton & Adam Butler on February 27th, 2014

We’ve still got two weeks of conference play remaining, but the Pac-12 Player of the Year has really crystallized into a two-man race between UCLA’s Kyle Anderson and Arizona’s Nick Johnson. Still, there are a handful of other players for whom arguments deserve to be made. Below, our RTC Microsite staff plus frequent guest Adam Butler of Pachoops.com break down what they consider to be the top five candidates for this award, presented below in alphabetical order.

Kyle Anderson, UCLA (argued by Andrew Murawa)

Kyle Anderson Not Only Leads The Bruins In Several Stats, But He Also Just Flat Out Leads

Kyle Anderson Not Only Leads The Bruins In Several Stats, But He Also Just Flat Out Leads

If he’s not the clear-cut favorite to win the conference Player of the Year, he’s likely one of just two players realistically in the conversation. Why is Slo-Mo so deserving of such recognition? Well, quite simply, he does just about everything related to the game of basketball very well and he’s also one of the most versatile players ever to grace a college basketball court. He’s a 6’9” dynamo who is not only the best point guard in the conference, but he’s also arguably the best power forward in the conference. Compared to players nationally, his KenPom profile is littered with all sorts of little red numbers highlighted in yellow, indicating that he’s very effective across the board. He leads his team in rebounds, blocks and assists; he’s second in points and steals. But most importantly, he leads. A floor general in the purest sense of the term, he knows where all of his teammates are at all times, and just as importantly, he knows where they should be – and isn’t afraid to tell them. Off the court he’s taken on the mantle of the team’s spokesman at times. And when the game seems to be moving too fast for others, Anderson is sure to keep it cool, proving once and for all that Slo-Mo is not meant to be a pejorative.

Justin Cobbs, California (AM)

Senior point guard. Is there a more comforting phrase in all of college athletics? The very thought brings up the image of guys like Peyton Siva and Jon Scheyer and A.J. Price and Gerry McNamara, elevating their games to new heights. Cobbs may not wind up having the type of team success that those guys had, but it’s not for a lack of trying. Minus his running mate from his last two seasons in Berkeley, Allen Crabbe, Cobbs has gone out of his way this season to try to get teammates like senior forward Richard Solomon, sophomore wing Tyrone Wallace and mercurial freshman Jabari Bird involved in the offense. Despite the loss of the Pac-12 Player of the Year and the elevated roles of young and unproven scorers, the Golden Bears are light years better this season offensively than they were last year, scoring almost seven more points per 100 possessions. Cobbs has been the biggest reason why. The percentage of shots he is taking this season has remained steady, but his assists have skyrocketed, making the transition for those aforementioned teammates into larger roles that much smoother. When it has come time late in tight games for the Golden Bears to rely on their senior leader to score big buckets, he’s repeatedly come up big. His ridiculous late-game performance against #1 Arizona earned the most national attention, but astute Pac-12 hoops fans have seen those deadly step-back daggers on more than a handful of occasions this year.

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Three Thoughts on UCLA’s Win Over Colorado

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 14th, 2014

Here are three thoughts from UCLA’s convincing win last night over Colorado at Pauley Pavilion.

  1. Kyle Anderson’s 22 points, 11 assists and seven boards; Bryce Alford’s second-half explosion behind a perfect four-of-four from deep; Jordan Adams and Norman Powell out-physicalling Colorado defenders around the paint on the way to a combined 27 points, ten boards, eight assists and five steals: these were the flashy performances, the things that probably caught the most eyeballs. Did anyone ever realize any UCLA frontcourt players showed up to this game? Did anyone notice the Wear twins and Tony Parker combine for 26 points and 14 boards (not to mention four blocks)? Did anyone realize that between the three of them, they made 12 of their 14 field goal attempts and knocked in a couple of threes on the way to a 92.9 eFG%? Well, they did. And with guys like Anderson and Adams and Powell being highly consistent offensive performers around the perimeter and with Alford and fellow freshman Zach LaVine capable of offensive explosions on a regular basis, if the Bruins can get that type of performance from their frontcourt in any way, they are going to be awful hard to beat. How hard? Let’s put it this way: UCLA has not lost a game this season when the trio of the Wears and Parker have combined for at least either 21 points or 13 rebounds. That’s not a high bar to meet. You figure the UCLA wings and guards are going to get theirs; if Steve Alford can continue to just cobble together a solid combined performance out of his trio of bigs, this team is a serious sleeper come March.

    Kyle Anderson's Impact Is Flashier, But The UCLA Frontcourt May Be As Important For thei Team's Long-Term Hopes

    Kyle Anderson’s Impact Is Flashier, But The UCLA Frontcourt May Be As Important For thei Team’s Long-Term Hopes

  2. Kyle Anderson has gotten, and deserved, a lot of press this season for his versatile game. You know about his great passing ability (he hands out assists on better than 35% of his teammates buckets when he’s on the court). You know he’s a floor general for a flashy offensive team. You may not realize he’s shooting 52.4% from three on the year, but you probably have recognized that his perimeter jumper is vastly improved. You know he uses his 6’9” frame and long arms to rebound at high rates on both ends of the court; in fact he’s particularly good on the defensive end (his 24.5 DR% is in the top 50 in the nation). But that last point, his defensive rebounding, really only barely begins to scratch the surface of what he’s doing on the defensive end. The scouting report on Anderson has long been that he’s an amazing offensive talent, but that he can’t guard. And sure, if you try to make him check Jahii Carson or Chasson Randle, he’s going to struggle with their quickness over the course of a game. But given that he is regularly checking the opponent’s forwards, he’s actually turned into a really good defender. Thursday night, he was on Colorado’s Xavier Johnson for the bulk of his 36 minutes of action. In the first half, Johnson was largely absent on his way to four points. Then in the second half, Johnson’s back-to-back buckets on either side of the under-eight media timeout came when Anderson was getting a blow. Anderson used his length and growing stretch to deny Johnson the ball repeatedly. And then when he did get the ball, he used that length to bother Johnson into either bad shots or giving the ball back up. While Anderson is certainly not the type of defender than can guard the smaller and quicker point guards, that needn’t be held as a strike against him, as he is solid enough when he gets switched onto those guys on occasion and if above-average when defending a three or a less physical four. Read the rest of this entry »
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The Annotated Bill Walton: UCLA at Oregon Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on January 31st, 2014

So much fun was had creating this column last night, and so enticing was Bill Walton’s introduction for last night’s UCLA/Oregon game, that we’re back again, trying to help you decipher the Big Red Head’s comments throughout two hours of fun.

Bill Walton Back In Oregon? Settle In For A Weird Night (John Papanek, SI)

Bill Walton Back In Oregon? Settle In For A Weird Night (John Papanek, SI)

For last night’s musical accompaniment, we point you to January 22, 1978, at MacArthur Court, the night following a 14-point Oregon home loss to Oregon State, when the Grateful Dead played their second of just three concerts ever in the Eugene landmark. Arguably the best Dead show of 1978, the highlight of the night comes in a second set jam beginning with Terrapin Station that clocks in at more than hour. The whole thing should be required listening for any sentient being, but if you’re pressed for time, jump ahead to The Other One, so long as you promise to finish up the rest of your homework later.

Without furthur ado, Bill Walton:

Intro – “Dave, once upon a time there was a great notion that basketball players, we were born to run. So now as we converge here on track town USA in honor of the late great Steve Prefontaine, we are ready to roll tonight.

Comment: The splashy reference is to Prefontaine, the famed and ill-fated long-distance runner of Oregon fame, but Walton slyly dips in a reference to his friend Ken Kesey, alluding to his best work, Sometimes A Great Notion, not only one of the great American novels but certainly the great Oregon novel. While One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is Kesey’s best-known work, Notion is his masterpiece. There’s also a little nod to Bruce Springsteen and Born to Run here.

First Half

18:56 – Following a play where a Kyle Anderson pass gets deflected by Dominic Artis straight to Travis Wear for a layup: “Perfect execution.”

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Three Thoughts on UCLA’s Win Over California

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 27th, 2014

UCLA hosted California on Sunday night in a match-up of what clearly looks like the second and third-best teams in the Pac-12. UCLA ran out to a big lead, eased up, and then let the Golden Bears back into the game when freshman Jabari Bird got hot. The Bruins were able to turn the energy back on to finish off the game, but we learned several important things that will be important to remember going forward in the Pac-12 race.

Kyle Anderson Is Exceeding Already High Expectations at UCLA (Scott Chandler, UCLA Athletics)

Kyle Anderson Is Exceeding Already High Expectations at UCLA (Scott Chandler, UCLA Athletics)

  1. Kyle Anderson is very good. At some point, writing this will become tiresome and repetitive; but it isn’t yet. Slo-Mo is the Bruins’ best player and – despite all the Zach LaVine hype – its best NBA prospect. He’s got great court vision and a tremendous feel for the game – we knew that. At 6’9”, he’s big and long and causes a lot of match-up problems – yup, knew that too. But his ability to get to rebounds and forcefully collect them (his defensive rebounding percentage is 30th in the nation! For a point guard!); his tendency to lull defenders to sleep with his deliberate style and then glide by them with his long gait on the way to the hoop; his lean-back jumper that uses his long frame to easily shoot over smaller defenders; his ever-improving three-point shot (he’s shooting 52.9 percent from deep this year, for crying out loud!); and his apparent and evolving command of the leadership necessities that go along with being a point guard. Goodness gracious sakes alive! Those are all revelations. Yeah, if you catch him on a switch and he is matched up on a smaller, quicker player, he can have some defensive difficulties, but his feel for the game and those long arms allow him to create so many turnovers. He’ll of course still need to continue adding bulk to his frame, but he is already a terrific player. After the Golden Bears cut the lead to three on Sunday, it was Anderson who the Bruins went to when an answer was needed. He responded time and again, not just getting into the lane and using a variety of moves for good looks at the hoop, but also setting up his teammates in good positions. We’re three months in and still not exactly sure just how good UCLA is, but with a player the caliber of Anderson leading the way, the Bruins are going to have a puncher’s chance come March. Read the rest of this entry »
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Scouting the Pac: On UCLA and Colorado’s NBA Prospects

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on January 17th, 2014

When UCLA knocked off Colorado at the Coors Events Center on Thursday night, there were pretty clearly five future pros on the court. Unfortunately, one of those five – Spencer Dinwiddie – was reduced to assistant coach, forced to the bench by an ACL torn on Sunday afternoon. Below, we’ll break down the games of all five of these guys, including Dinwiddie and his upcoming NBA decision.

Zach LaVine's Athleticism And Shooting Accuracy Have Him In The Lottery Discussion

Zach LaVine’s Athleticism And Shooting Accuracy Have Him In The Lottery Discussion

Zach LaVine, UCLA – While Joel Embiid has gone from a projected first-round pick in the preseason to now being in the discussion (if not atop the heap) for the first pick in the draft, it is UCLA’s freshman wing who has skyrocketed the furthest. While it was clear LaVine was talented, he’s gone from off the NBA radar to seemingly everybody’s pet pick as an NBA Lottery Pick, as soon as the 2014 Draft. Yeah, in a draft as loaded as this year’s, this guy has come out of nowhere to be mentioned right up there with stars like Marcus Smart and Willie Cauley-Stein and Aaron Gordon. And, it isn’t hard to see why. He’s got ridiculous athletic ability. He’s a 6’5” guy with some point guard past. And he is filling it up from deep this year, stroking 48.3 percent from three through Thursday night’s win at Colorado. He’s terrific running off a screen, catching a pass, squaring up and drilling a three; given his size and leaping ability, there are very few defenders who can challenge such a shot. And yeah, his jumper is nowhere near textbook, but he’s certainly knocking them down. All that said, his game still has plenty of room for improvement. His handle is weak; he doesn’t have much of a game off the bounce; he hasn’t shown the ability to go get his own; he doesn’t show much interest in defending; and at 6’5” and 180 pounds, he gets pushed around by a stiff breeze. But, consider that all of those issues are eminently fixable. And further consider that even without those things, to this point he’s been really impressive. I’ve been very slow to come around to the idea that he’s got lottery potential after his freshman season (in part because it is much more likely for players to patch up the blatant holes in their games while in college than in the NBA), but considering his upside, you can bet that – provided his production continues near this pace – there is some NBA GM who will promise him a lottery pick. In other words, UCLA fans, soak in all you can of LaVine over the next couple months, because this is it.

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