We skipped last week because of a dearth of news as we head into the dead days of summer, so now we’ve got a couple week’s worth of catching up to do. The biggest news in the past two weeks was the NBA Draft, where more Pac-12 players heard their names called than conference teams did on Selection Sunday. Washington, who won the regular season title but was banished to the NIT, had two players – Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten, Jr. – get drafted, while Oregon State’s Jared Cunningham became just the 13th Beaver picked in the first round – the first since Corey Benjamin went with the second-to-last pick of the first round in 1998. The Huskies, meanwhile, have had much more recent success on draft night, with nine players drafted in the past eight years, six of those in the first round, a record that head coach Lorenzo Romar is making sure gets heard. With many elite recruits using college as a mere launching point toward NBA careers, Romar’s success at sending players to the NBA can only help his recruiting efforts.
The Huskies also landed a new player this week when it was announced that seven-foot center Gilles Dierickxwould be transferring into the program from Florida International. Dierickx (gee, thanks basketball gods – I only just got used to confidently spelling Krystkowiak) was a freshman last season with FIU, where he played just under 15 minutes a game and averaged 2.6 points and 2.2 rebounds. He’s a face-up stretch four who will be eligible to play for UW beginning in 2013-14. But, as Ben Knibbe at the UW Dawg Pound points out, this leaves Romar with just three open scholarships for the 2013 class, a highly regarded recruiting class in which the Huskies are pursuing several five-star talents. As we’ve seen elsewhere, the fact that a program has a player under scholarship doesn’t preclude the possibility of a coach running off one or more players who are no longer necessary in order to make room for a more desirable prospect, but with the Huskies putting so much emphasis on the 2013 class, this is something of a head-scratcher.
At this point in the summer, no news is generally good news for most collegiate programs. It means that nobody is getting into trouble with the law, nobody’s getting injured while working on their game, and nobody’s making a late decision to transfer. About the only really exciting news for a program at this time of the year is the announcement of the upcoming schedule, something Utah did last week. And, wow, is it ever underwhelming. The first three home games are an exhibition against something called Simon Fraser, then the season opener against Division III Willamette, followed by a match-up with Sacramento State. Now, to be fair, SSU was actually ranked higher than the Utes in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings last season (#292, compared to UU’s #303). The next three home games are part of a four-team round robin event on the Utah campus over Thanksgiving weekend, when the Utes will play Central Michigan, Idaho State and Wright State. Elsewhere in the non-conference schedule are games against Evergreen State of the NAIA and Cal State Northridge. There’s also a home-and-home series with SMU, a visit from Boise State, a trip to Texas State, and their renewal of their annual rivalry with BYU at the Cougars’ Provo campus. In other words, the Utes should be ready to dial up significantly more wins than the three non-conference wins they posted last year, while the ever-important RPI number should still remain in the gutter. Also of note, the Utes also finalized their plans for their trip to Brazil this summer, where they will play five games against Brazilian teams over the course of their 12-day trip.
Another thing to keep an eye on as the summer progresses is landing spots for Pac-12 players who weren’t drafted by the NBA. For instance, former Colorado point guard Nate Tomlinsonis heading back home to Australia to play professionally for the Melbourne Tigers. And he’s even trying to do a little recruiting of his own, trying to get former teammate Austin Dufault to follow him along, although he is also considering Europe and China. Meanwhile, Carlon Brown hasn’t yet given up on his NBA dreams despite going undrafted. The 6’5” wing is hoping to catch on with a summer league team and may need to go the D-League route. Elsewhere, Washington State forward Abe Lodwickwill be playing professionally in Germany, while Arizona’s Kyle Fogg and Brendon Lavenderboth still harbor dreams of NBA careers, with Fogg set to play for Houston’s summer league team and Lavender putting on an Atlanta Hawk jersey for the summer.
Even at the start of last season, head coach Sean Miller knew that the 2012-13 team would be absent four seniors who had completed their collegiate eligibility (Jesse Perry, Kyle Fogg, Brendon Lavender and Alex Jacobson). But, given that Miller was welcoming in a strong four-man 2011 recruiting class and had already dialed in an elite 2012 recruiting class, the Wildcats still figured to be a deep and relatively young squad. However, as is so often the case these days in college basketball, half of last year’s four freshmen never stuck around long enough to see their sophomore seasons in Tucson, and would-be senior Kyryl Natyazkho also decided to forgo his final season of eligibility in pursuit of a professional career in Europe. As a result, instead of simply losing four players from last year’s team, there are a total of seven players who earned minutes last year who will not be in UA uniforms next season. We’ll look at all seven players below, roughly in the order of the degree to which they will be missed.
After Four Strong Years In Tucson, Kyle Fogg Finds Himself On Several All-Time Lists (John Miller, AP)
Kyle Fogg – Fogg came to Tucson in relative obscurity in the class of 2008, a late bloomer ranked as just the 64th best shooting guard in his recruiting class by ESPNU. Four ever-improving seasons later, Fogg bowed out while holding some pretty impressive spots on the all-time Wildcat lists. He’s fifth on the all-time list in games started and first in games played, fourth in three-point field goals made, and seventh in minutes played. He’s 22nd all-time on the Wildcat career scoring list, quite impressive given some of the elite players who have passed through this program. What’s more, he was a guy who was considerably better as a senior than he was as a surprising freshman who earned 24 minutes a game. The quiet freshman who was a recruiting afterthought turned into a great asset for his team by the time his impressive college career was up. He’ll be missed in Tucson.
Jesse Perry – Perry only spent two seasons in Tucson after transferring in from Logan Community College in 2010, but he was a solid contributor in his time with the Wildcats. After a relatively slow start, he turned up his game in time to help UA make its run to the 2011 Pac-10 title and the Elite Eight, then nearly doubled his output as a senior while upping his efficiency numbers too. Though undersized at 6’6” for a guy who was ostensibly a power forward, Perry was third in the conference in rebounding last season (7.5 RPG) and a key part of the UA attack. Luckily for Sean Miller and company, though, Perry’s loss will be mitigated by the arrival of three freshman big men ready to step into his role.
Over the last few weeks, we’ve run down each of the teams in the Pac-12, recounting the high and low points of the 2011-12 season, saying goodbye to departing players, introducing you to new faces around the conference, as well as pointing out reasons for hope and concern for the future of each program. Along the way, we also handed out MVP awards for each team, and we graded each team compared with their expectations. In case you’ve missed any of those posts, below you’ll find a link to each team’s post-mortem, along with the MVP and grade we’ve chosen.
As for upcoming features, beginning in June, we’ll spend one week on each team taking you through the dog days of the summer looking ahead to the 2012-13 expectations for the Pac-12 conference. Then every Friday throughout the offseason, we’ll also post a Weekly Five, detailing recent news around the league. And, as events warrant, we’ll drop additional posts as needed and may come up with a handful of other ideas to keep us all entertained as we suffer through the Great Sports Desert.
It’s never too early for these, right? We all love the debates, projecting who is too high or too low, and taking a closer look at the upcoming college hoops season — six months goes by quickly, promise. In quickly looking at the Top 25, one would surmise that having five of a team’s top players forgo the remainder of their college careers in favor of the NBA Draft would absolutely kill that team’s prospects for the upcoming season, but that is simply not the case for Kentucky. Last year’s National Champions check in at #2 in the Top 25, proving that John Calipari doesn’t rebuild, he reloads. It would not behoove us to let Kentucky steal the storyline, however, as Tom Crean’s Indiana Hoosiers are the top dog in what looks to be a banner upcoming year. In what was arguably the most exciting and high-flying game of last year’s Tournament, the Hoosiers fell to Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen, but have nearly all the pieces back. Just two years ago this was a 12-20 team with no postseason experience, and now they are the top team in the land — according to our group of experts, at least. What a tremendous job Tom Crean has done. The usual Quick ‘n Dirty after the jump…
Whether it is through an exceptional recruiting class, or an impressive finish to the 2011-12 season coupled with a strong nucleus returning, the following five teams surged upward—and for good reason:
Over the course of the next two weeks, the Pac-12 Microsite will break down each team’s season: what went well, what didn’t, and a look ahead at the future.Today’s subject: Arizona.
What Went Wrong
The Wildcats came into the season expecting to compete for a Pac-12 title and find their way back into the NCAA Tournament for the 27th time in 28 years. With a class of four highly regarded freshman coming in, it seemed that while Sean Miller might struggle a bit with inexperienced players, they would have enough talent to establish enough of a resume to earn a postseason invitation. Instead, one of those freshmen – Sidiki Johnson – played exactly nine minutes in his Arizona career before getting run off by Miller for behavioral problems. Another freshman – Josiah Turner – lost his starting job in the second game of the season for being late to a shoot around, blew his chance at regaining that spot by missing a practice and getting suspended just before the trip to Florida in December, then got suspended a second time in March leaving his future with the team in jeopardy and leaving his Wildcats on the outside looking in on Selection Sunday.
Josiah Turner's Inability To Stay Out Of Trouble Left Arizona Without A Leader At The Point (Kelly Presnell, Arizona Daily Star)
What Went Right
Veterans like Kyle Fogg, Jesse Perry, and Solomon Hill all did their best to step up and lead the team, with each turning in their best season in the careers. Fogg was excellent during the conference season and ends his Wildcat career with several places in the program’s record book alongside Wildcat legends while Hill was at his versatile best leading the team in rebounds and assists while finishing second on the team in scoring. Between the three of them, they accounted for 56.1% of the scoring, 54% of the rebounding, and 44.3% of the assists. Plus, despite the struggles that Miller had with immaturity among his freshman class, the coach showed his willingness time and again to put discipline as a priority in his program, a decision that may have cost Arizona a game or two this season, but one that should pay dividends in the long run.
After some speculation that Oregon head coach Dana Altman might be interested in returning to his Nebraska roots and taking the open Cornhusker position, it seems set in stone now that he will remain in Eugene. However, even after two seasons in which his teams have exceeded expectations, Duck fans may be beginning to get a little impatient. Already. Complaints include his inability to bring in big time recruits and, somewhat unbelievably, an inability to develop talent. Such is the culture of college basketball at this point that even coming into a program with cupboards completely barren, results are expected immediately and any disappointments are chalked up to some perceived failures with the head coach. To me, the fact that Altman had his team earn a postseason berth last year with that mishmash of a roster with nobody taller than 6’6” playing more than 50% of the team’s minutes was incredible and worthy of conference Coach of the Year consideration. And in fact this season, we gave him our Pac-12 COY for his work in the regular season. However, for some people, anything short of immediate deep runs into the NCAA Tournament is unacceptable. Of course, this seems like the same type of instant gratification mindset that led Altman’s top recruit Jabari Brown to leave the program after just two games.
Across the conference at one of the newest Pac-12 schools, Colorado has no such disappointments with its head coach, Tad Boyle. After the team’s second consecutive 20-win season and an NCAA Tournament win, Boyle appears to have the Buffaloes on the fast track to success. In the first two parts of a series, The Ralphie Report pays respect to the seniors who have used up their eligibility, while looking ahead to the future of the program. Starting with a core of Andre Roberson, Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker, there are some good pieces returning for Colorado. Shane Harris-Tunks made big strides down the stretch this year after missing last season with a torn ACL. He’s still got two years of eligibility remaining and he could possibly turn into a very solid Pac-12 big man. Elsewhere, Sabatino Chen and Jeremy Adams return, while there is some talk that Shannon Sharpe and Ben Mills, two little-used players, could transfer out of the program. With a strong freshman class coming in (which will be the topic of part three of that series), fresh minutes for Mills and Sharpe could be hard to come by.
At Arizona, there’s time to pay respect to senior guard Kyle Fogg as his eligibility in the desert has expired. A key player in the transition from the Lute Olson era to the Sean Miller era, Fogg goes down in the Arizona record books as an unlikely figure among other more widely recognized Wildcat greats. But now, going forward, this program is truly Sean Miller’s with all of the key components in Tucson as a result of the new head coach.
As part of the Utah plan to rebuild its program from the depths of a 6-25 season, the team will be heading on an international trip in August, with either a tour of France and Italy or a trip to Brazil still in the planning stages. NCAA rules allow schools to make such a trip once every four years and with the Utes expecting to break in a heap of new players next season, including transfer from Southern Utah Dallin Bachynski (brother of ASU center Jordan Bachynski), returning LDS missionary Jeremy Olsen and three high school seniors, the trip will serve as a chance for the team and head coach Larry Krystkowiak to get in ten extra practices, as many as seven games and a bunch of time bonding as a team.
Lastly, back on the hunt for clues as to Shabazz Muhammad’s mindset, the father of incoming UCLA recruit Kyle Andersonsays that he expects Muhammad to pick UCLA, if only because his parent are from Los Angeles and they might want to get back there. The elder Anderson admits that he has no inside information and is just throwing out opinions, but even with the problems in the Bruin program lately, it still appears that UCLA has been the choice all along for Muhammad.
Here’s a look at each Pac-12 team’s postseason capsule, by order of each team’s tip-off. Enjoy!
Who, When, Where: vs. LSU (18-14) in Eugene, Oregon, NIT First Round, 3/13, 6:30 PM PDT, ESPN
First Up: What the Tigers lack in scoring they make up in rebounds and points in the paint. LSU averages 37 RPG and they are led by big men Justin Hamilton and Storm Warren. What makes the Tigers dangerous is their ability to adapt to a certain style. They will play at the pace you want the game at, and then beat you with your own style.
Best Case Scenario: With the way Oregon has been playing of late (Pac-12 Tournament notwithstanding), the Ducks can easily make a run in this tournament. With players like Devoe Joseph and Garrett Sim that are able to create and knock down their own shots, Oregon should be able to beat LSU in the first round. After that things get much more tough, but I can’t see the Ducks losing a “best case scenario” game until they would likely meet either Seton Hall or Arizona in the championship.
Worst Case Scenario: Even if the Ducks do not play well against the Tigers, home-court advantage should pull them through to the next round. However, they would likely have to travel to Dayton in the second round, and the Flyers pose matchup problems all over the court for Oregon. Expect an Oregon-Dayton matchup to be much like last Thursday’s Colorado-Oregon game. The Flyers stingy defense and potent offense should build a large lead early on against the Ducks, and while Oregon battles to cut the deficit to three with four minutes left, it is never able to come all the way back after a long road trip and an emotinal comeback drians all of its energy.
Devoe Joseph's offensive prowess has the Ducks dreaming of a trip to Madison Square Garden. (credit:Jayne Kamin)
In the wake of Selection Sunday, the biggest news in the Pac-12 may be not who made the NCAA Tournament, but who was left out. For the first time since the tournament was expanded to 64 teams, the regular season champion of a power conference was left behind as Washington failed to hear its name called on Sunday afternoon. While Lorenzo Romar was not surprised by the Huskies’ omission, his team was disappointed. Their season goes on, however, as they’ll host Texas-Arlington in the first round of the NIT tomorrow.
Arizona also missed the NCAA Tournament for just the second time in 27 years, and they’re left pondering the “what-ifs” of a season gone awry. Beginning with their ineffective final possession of the Pac-12 Tournament that ended in an erratic Kyle Fogg three and going back through numerous other twists and turns throughout the season, the Wildcats feel like they left some money on the table. The loss in the final regular season game to Arizona State stands out as a killer, but if they had held on to a seven-point lead against Florida, perhaps that’s the big win that puts UA over the top. Or maybe if Josiah Turner had made better personal decisions through the year, he’s able to help the Wildcats come through in the Pac-12 Tournament. In the end, there’s still plenty of hope in Tucson, as Sean Miller welcomes in the nation’s top recruiting class next year.
The common theme among Pac-12 coaches is that the conference schools earned the treatment they received by the Selection Committee. California head coach Mike Montgomery is one of two coaches who received good news on Sunday, but even though the Golden Bears are in the NCAA Tournament, they’ve got to knock off South Florida on Wednesday in order to advance to the traditional bracket. And while Montgomery would have liked to see Washington in the Tournament, he knows the lesson that the Pac-12 needs to take from Sunday: Win more (and better) games in November and December.
For some around the conference, the season is over and so the offseason begins. UCLAwas skipped over by the NIT, so its season is done, meaning we’ll find out the answer to one of the bigger potential questions around the league shortly: Will head coach Ben Howland return? While there are many Bruin fans who are hoping for a change, it appears unlikely that Howland’s job is in any serious immediate jeopardy. Aside from the fact that he’s got a couple good recruits coming in (Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams) and another couple on the line (Shabazz Muhammad and Tony Parker), he’s also got a big buyout clause in his contract, meaning UCLA would have to come up with $3 million or more in order to get rid of him. Translation: He’s safe for now, but would do well to return to the NCAA Tournament next season.
One other offseason transaction hit the news on Friday when it was announced that Arizona State sharpshooter Chanse Creekmurwould be leaving the school in order to play football elsewhere. Creekmur started 13 games for the Sun Devils in 2011-12, averaging 4.7 points and 2.3 rebounds, but would likely see his minutes cut next year with Jahii Carson, Evan Gordon and Bo Barnes joining the program next season and all demanding minutes. Creekmur played quarterback in high school and is hoping to transfer to a smaller school closer to home. He becomes the tenth scholarship player to leave Herb Sendek’s program early in the last four years.
With conference play now over, we’ve got a couple of days here to look back on the regular season before we turn our sights on to postseason play. Today, we name our All-Pac-12 team, tomorrow we’ll hand out our postseason awards (Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, etc.), and then later tomorrow we’ll start looking forward to the Pac-12 Tournament.
G: Jared Cunningham, Jr, Oregon State (18.2 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 2.6 SPG): Cunningham goes in the book as the conference’s leading scorer this year, while also finishing as the runaway leader in steals. His numbers tailed off a bit as the season wore on, but Cunningham’s ability to get to the hoop and his ever-improving jump shot made him one of the toughest checks in the conference. Throw in the ability to make the spectacular play defensively, and Cunningham is one of the most well-rounded players in the conference.
Jared Cunningham Was A Potent Threat On Both Ends Of The Court (Dean Hare/AP)
G: Jorge Gutierrez, Sr, California (13.0 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 4.1 APG): Gutierrez may not be the most naturally gifted basketball player you’ll ever watch, but he certainly puts in plenty of extra work to try to make up the gap. Diving after loose balls, pestering his opponent on defense, and doing whatever is needed offensively may have earned Gutierrez plenty of jeers from opposing student sections, but it has also earned him the respect of basketball fans all up and down the West Coast.
Each week through conference play, we’ll offer up a couple of different takes on the biggest question of the week in the Pac-12. This week:
“In honor of senior days around the conference, which Pac-12 senior will be most missed by his team next year?
Connor Pelton: I’m going to go an interesting route and say Devoe Joseph. Joseph’s contributions have been huge for Oregon this season, as they had lost two of their first six without him. Since then Oregon has gone 16-6, and those losses can hardly be pinned on the senior transfer from Toronto, who has averaged 16.3 PPG. That mark is good enough for fourth in the conference, but perhaps even better than that stat is this: Joseph has only had one game in which he hasn’t scored in double figures this season. That was in their New Year’s Eve meeting with Washington, where he was subject to double teams all night long from a feisty Husky defense. But the reason he will be missed most is not for the jaw-dropping stats, but rather that Oregon doesn’t have a shoot-first player returning next season. E.J. Singler can certainly light it up from behind the arc, but he would still rather attack than shoot from around the perimeter. With both Joseph and Garrett Sim departing, he is going to have to adapt into that type of player, and that could cause some early-season troubles for the Ducks.
Despite Just One Active Season In Eugene, Devoe Joseph Will Be Sorely Missed Next Year (credit: Eric Evans)
Andrew Murawa: I’ll skip some of the obvious choices as well, as while California is sure to miss the work-ethic and passion of Jorge Gutierrez, they should still return a very nice backcourt, and while Arizona will miss the steadiness and leadership of Kyle Fogg, he’s done a good job of beginning to pass the baton to underclassmen like Nick Johnson and Josiah Turner. At Stanford, however, there is no immediately obvious replacement for senior forward Josh Owens. No, Owens isn’t exactly an all-conference performer for the Cardinal, but he brings an interior toughness and physicality that is largely absent from the rest of their roster. While sophomore forward Josh Huestis has athletic gifts that Owens doesn’t, he doesn’t yet have all the tricks of the trade in the middle to make the most of his undersized body. And most of the other returning big men on Johnny Dawkins’ current roster (John Gage, Dwight Powell, Stefan Nastic) are more finesse players. Further, Owens may only average 12.4 points per game, but he is the most efficient offensive player on the Cardinal roster, and a solid choice for the go-to guy when the team needs a bucket down the stretch. Incoming freshman center Grant Verhoeven may eventually eventually grow into that kind of role in the middle, but he’ll need at least a year of the weight room and training table before he gets there. While Owens leaves Palo Alto as one of the most underrated players in the Pac-12, the impact of his loss on the Cardinal could be understated as well.
The biggest on the court story this week was Colorado knocking off California on Sunday afternoon, leaving the Bears a game back in the loss column of conference leader Washington. The Huskies took care of their business last week, coming back from a 13-point deficit midway through the second half to knock off Washington State. As a result, a UW win tonight at USC (which seems almost a given – the Huskies will be a significant favorite) will earn them at least a share of the conference title. And if they back that up with a win at UCLA on Saturday, they’ll earn their second regular season conference title in four years. If they slip up in one of those games, the Golden Bears can force a tie by knocking off Stanford at Maples Pavilion Sunday in the final conference game of the regular season, and in that case, Cal would also earn the #1 seed in the conference tournament by virtue of their win at Washington in January.
Behind the leaders, there are three teams fighting for the two remaining first-round byes in the conference tournament; Arizona, Colorado and Oregon all sit with five conference losses. Arizona has an advantage over the others, however, in that they have only one remaining game – against lowly Arizona State on Sunday afternoon. Oregon and Colorado, meanwhile, will go a long way towards breaking their tie tonight, as the Ducks host the Buffaloes in Eugene.
While whichever of these three teams winds up as the #5 seed will have the opportunity to breeze through USC in the opening round game, the addition of an extra obstacle in the way prior to the Pac-12 quarterfinals will harm that team’s chances at running the table and coming away with the Pac-12’s automatic bid.
Arizona Took Care Of Business Against The Los Angeles Schools And Can Now Earn A First-Round Bye (Chris Morrison/US Presswire)
And that automatic bid will certainly be a very important thing for most teams in this conference. At this point, Cal looks like a pretty safe bet to earn an at-large bid, although they don’t want to press their luck with a loss at Stanford and a loss in the quarters of the conference tourney. They’ve got the best RPI in the conference (see all the numbers below) and they’ve got a couple of top 50 wins (both over Oregon, so take those with a grain of salt). While it looks like they’re safe, if they finish the season poorly, they’ll have no right to complain if they are left out of the eventual bracket.
Washington, meanwhile, seems to be in pretty good shape as well – right now at least. However, they’re towards the back of the bus right now and if a handful of teams come out of the woodwork to steal bids over the next couple of weeks, Washington’s margin for error could get mighty slim.
As for the rest of the bunch, there are some who continue to say that teams like Arizona and Colorado are right on the bubble, but looking at the numbers, they’d do well to just go ahead and win the Pac-12 Tournament if they have any real designs on an NCAA bid. Oregon’s got the best RPI numbers, but they’re 0-5 against top 50 teams. Colorado’s got a couple top 50 wins (over Oregon and Cal – unfortunately, if they beat Oregon this weekend, it will probably drop the Ducks out of the top 50 and take CU back to just 1-3 against the top 50), but they’ve also got four bad losses and an RPI that’s of no use either.
vs. RPI 1-25
vs. RPI 1-50
vs. RPI +100
So, really, the only chance I see for the Pac-12 to shoehorn three different teams into the bracket is this: (1) California and Washington win their final games of the regular season this weekend, (2) then they both take care of business in the quarterfinals, with one of them advancing to the Pac-12 final while the other loses in the semis, (3) whoever the opponent is in the Pac-12 final wins the championship, earning the automatic bid and (4) bid stealers are kept to a minimum and both Cal and Washington squeak into the field on Selection Sunday, along with the conference champion.
Lastly, one of the best college basketball reads every week is John Gasaway’s Tuesday Truths at Basketball Prospectus. Aside from giving some insights on the 14 best conferences in the nation, he lays out the margin between average points scored and average points allowed per possession, a good measure of a team’s overall strength, throwing out the luck factor.
While the eye test may tell you that Washington has been the best team in the conference, a look at the stats shows that they are only outscoring their opposition by 0.07 points per possession, while Cal is outscoring its opponents by double that, 0.14 points per possession (for comparison’s sake, Kentucky is outscoring its opponents by 0.25 points per possession – an absurdly good number). In fact, the Huskies are fifth in the conference using this metric, behind even UCLA. In fact, of Washington’s 13 conference wins, five came by four points or less, with another five where the margin was less than ten.
According to Ken Pomeroy, Washington has been the 29th luckiest team in the country (what a great time we live in, where luck can be accounted for by statistics). Long story short, the Huskies may go into the conference tournament as the regular season champion, but they need not necessarily be the favorite to win the automatic bid.
Tony Wroten Is Well On His Way To Earning Freshman Of The Year Honors, But Will He Take Down the POY As Well? (Drew Sellers/Sportspress Northwest)
Three picked Jared Cunningham, and then one each selected Terrence Ross, Devoe Joseph and Jorge Gutierrez. We’ve been down this road before, so I won’t beat a dead horse too much, but while Wroten’s traditional numbers look just fine (16.7 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 3.5 APG), just digging even a little bit deeper reveals some significant problems with his all around game: turnovers on 22% of his possessions, using far too many possessions in an inefficient manner, his insistence on continuing to shoot threes (poorly at that) and his poor field goal percentages.
Still, after last weekend, you can understand why some are still searching for somebody to throw their support behind. Going into last week, it looked like Gutierrez and Ross might be the favorites. So what did each player do in the second-to-last week of the year? Gutierrez went 0-for-7 from the field and failed to score in a loss at Colorado, while Ross fouled out in 21 minutes against Washington State and had as many turnovers (two) as points. Certainly the wrong time for both players to turn in their worst performances of the year, but their overall body of work still leave them as the top two choices for POY.
Coach of the Year Watch
I’ve long since conceded the fact that Tony Wroten will win Freshman of the Year, so we’ll skip that for the week and take a look at the COY race.
Looking at the same poll from ESPN, we see that five different coaches received at least one vote, with Tad Boyle leading the way with six votes, Mike Montgomery earning three, Sean Miller getting a couple and Lorenzo Romar and Dana Altman each earning a single vote.
First, before we get into the credentials for each coach, can we just recognize for a minute just how good a set of coaches the Pac-12 has? Any one of those coaches would be a seriously desirable candidate for just about any job in the country, which makes the struggles in this conference all the more puzzling. As for the award this year, it is hard to argue with Boyle. His team lost its four leading scorers from last season and was picked to finish around tenth in the league by most people. Instead, with two games remaining, they’re among the best teams in the conference.
It is somewhat surprising that Romar hasn’t received more consideration for this award, seeing as he had to replace four major senior contributors last season, lost senior leader Scott Suggs to an injury before the season, dealt with chemistry issues in the non-conference slate, and now has his team on the verge of a conference title. Any of the five deserve consideration for the award, but for my money, Boyle and Romar (at present in that order) are the leaders.
Lorenzo Romar Has His Huskies In First Place, But Is Getting No Love For Coach Of The Year (Getty Images)
There was only one change in our weekly power rankings this week, as USC finally (and rightfully) reclaimed the last spot in the conference from Utah after spending an inexplicable three weeks ranked 11th. The top of the conference is still California, Washington, Oregon, Arizona and Colorado.
While we gave Washington our Team of the Week honors for the second straight week (and fourth time on the season), we continued our improbable streak of seemingly awarding a new Player of the Week every week. To this point, in 16 weeks, only one player (Jared Cunningham) has taken home our POTW honor more than once. This week, it was Kyle Fogg’s first chance earn our award. Similarly, in 16 weeks of handing out a Newcomer of the Week award, we’ve named 12 different players, with Tony Wroten earning it five times and Carlon Brown twice. This week, it was USC’s Byron Wesley.
It’s the last day of February, a glorious time to be a college hoops fan, right? But for UCLA fans, not only are they on the verge of being on the outside looking in during the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years, but Sports Illustrated today publishes an “extremely negative” article about the Bruin basketball program. Pulitzer Prize winner George Dohrmann – author of “Play Their Hearts Out”, among other things – will publish a piece today, which deals with the downfall of the program, from Final Four installation to Pac-12 also-ran. The bulk of the story deals with destructive behavior from a handful of players in UCLA’s 2008 and 2009 classes (most notably – surprise! – Reeves Nelson), but plenty of blame is laid at the feet of head coach Ben Howland for not dealing with that behavior promptly or fairly. The content of the article certainly didn’t live up to the fears that UCLA fans experienced on Tuesday, when they found out that Dohrmann, breaker of the Minnesota cheating scandal in 1999 and the Ohio State football scandal last season, was dropping a bombshell on the program, but certainly any negative article about the Bruins at this point is not a good thing for the long term prospects of Howland, already regarded as being potentially on the hot seat. Howland commented on Tuesday that he can’t talk specifically about former players, and that “everybody makes mistakes, I’m definitely not perfect” but that he thinks he has “for the most part” handled things correctly. We’ll have more on this story later today and in the future as events warrant.
Sort of annoying that we have to deal with that kind of story right at the start of what should be about a month-long holiday for fans of the sport, so let’s try to wipe away that story by focusing on some good stories. And there may be no better story in the Pac-12 this year thanArizona’s Kyle Fogg. Fogg came from being an afterthought in the 2008 recruiting class, only signed by Lute Olson because the Wildcats were losing Jerryd Bayless after just one year, as well as a couple graduating seniors, and needed some “fresh blood.” Now, four years later, Fogg is well on his way to becoming an All-Pac-12 performer and he already occupies spots in several Wildcat career top ten lists.
Another senior who has come from relative obscurity to claim a spot as one of the conference’s best players is Oregon senior guard Garrett Sim, who just got done torching in-state rival Oregon State, the alma mater of both of his parents, to the tune of 25 points on ten-of-14 shooting. And for one Duck fan, Sim is the perfect player for the home crowd to root for – not only effective, but eminently annoying to opposing teams and opposing fans. And yes, annoying is a good thing in this context.
Sim has certainly turned it on as a senior, but California’s Jorge Gutierrez has got the whole “thorn in the side to opposing teams” thing down pat after four years of experience. Even as a freshman, Gutierrez’s relentless energy, hustle and defensive pestiness drove opposing fanbases crazy, but over the years, as the Golden Bear combo guard developed his game, he has earned grudging respect from up and down the conference. While just about every coach – save one – in the conference will be glad to see Gutierrez’s eligibility expire, we’ll certainly be missing a little fire in our game next season.
Lastly, let’s jump up to Washington State for one last bit of finding that silver lining, because as Jeff Nusser at CougCenter points out, this year’s Cougar team actually improved offensively, despite the losses of Klay Thompson and DeAngelo Casto to the professional ranks a year early. Of course, what he fails to mention is that the WSU defense took a complete nose dive. They fell from 46th in the nation in defensive efficiency last year to 199th this year, propelled mainly by their inability to do anything particularly well on that end of the court; they’re in the bottom half of the nation in opponent’s effective field goal percentage and in forcing turnovers, while they’re not a whole lot better than that in hitting the defensive glass or keeping their opponents off of the free throw line.