Checking In On… the Pac-12 Conference

Posted by AMurawa on March 1st, 2012

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-12 conferences.

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While the Sports Illustrated story on the UCLA program has been the big story in recent days, we’ve written about that elsewhere (check out Evan Jacoby’s take on the article here, and my opinion here) and we’ll stick to talking about on-court action here today.

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.

Jesse Perry, Arizona

Arizona Took Care Of Business Against The Los Angeles Schools And Can Now Earn A First-Round Bye (Chris Morrison/US Presswire)

Postseason Prognosis

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.

Team Record RPI SOS vs. RPI 1-25 vs. RPI 1-50 vs. RPI +100
Washington 20-8 53 80 0-2 1-5 17-0
California 23-7 36 102 0-2 2-3 17-2
Arizona 21-9 71 111 0-2 1-4 17-1
Oregon 20-8 49 77 0-1 0-5 18-1
Colorado 17-9 77 96 0-2 2-3 13-4


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, Washington

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)

Player of the Year Watch

Last week, I was pretty well convinced that this Tony Wroten for conference POY nonsense was finally dead. Then today I see that ESPN’s “experts” released their picks for each conference POY and COY and of the 13 people registering their opinion, a whopping seven of them (including Dick Vitale) were wrong enough to pick Wroten.

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, Washington

Lorenzo Romar Has His Huskies In First Place, But Is Getting No Love For Coach Of The Year (Getty Images)

Power Rankings

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.

Weekly Honors

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.

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Pac-12 Morning Five: Leap Day Edition

Posted by AMurawa on February 29th, 2012

  1. 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.
  2. 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 than Arizona’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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
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Pac-12 Weekly Honors: Week 15

Posted by AMurawa on February 27th, 2012

Team of the Week

Washington – In coming back from what was a 13-point deficit with just 11 minutes left, the Huskies not only managed to pull off a season sweep of Apple Cup rival Washington State, they also, combined with California’s loss on Sunday, vaulted themselves into sole ownership of first place in the Pac-12. While their win over WSU certainly wasn’t a thing of beauty, the Huskies managed to gut one out, overcoming Terrence Ross’ foul trouble and ineffectiveness to put it away down the stretch. Despite shooting just 62.2% from the line for the season, the Huskies shot made 78.9% of their 19 second-half free throws, including 58%-free-throw-shooter Tony Wroten knocking down seven of his nine attempts in the second half. With a road trip to the Los Angeles schools the last remaining hurdle on the Husky schedule, it looks like it comes down to this: beat UCLA at the Sports Arena on Saturday and claim the regular season conference title.

Kyle Fogg, Arizona

Kyle Fogg Is Wrapping Up His Arizona Career With His Best Basketball Yet (Chris Morrison/US Presswire)

Player of the Week

Kyle Fogg, Senior, Arizona – Fogg has been rock-steady in his four seasons in Tucson, but with his career rapidly coming to a close, he has begun showing a newly developing personality: glass-eating double-double machine. After going 130 games as a Wildcat without once grabbing 10 or more rebounds, in the past four games Fogg has recorded two double-doubles, two near-misses with nine rebounds and has averaged 15.8 points and ten rebounds per game over that stretch. This week it was 18 points and 10.5 rebounds per night in helping to orchestrate a home-sweep of the Los Angeles schools and keeping the Wildcats in line for a opening-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament. He came to Tucson as a Lute Olson recruit, but never played a minute for the icon whose health forced him to retirement. But over the years, Fogg has become a fixture in Tucson. When the Wildcats eventually open up the Pac-12 Tournament, Fogg will tie Jason Gardner for most games played in Arizona basketball history and he ranks in the top ten in the school’s list for minutes played and three-pointers.

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Pac-12 Morning Five: 02.27.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on February 27th, 2012

  1. It doesn’t go down as a surprise of any kind, but Colorado’s win over California on Sunday afternoon certainly doesn’t lack in importance. The Buffaloes got off to a strong start and withstood some pushback from the Golden Bears to lead for the final 30 minutes of the game and knock Cal from their perch atop the conference standings. Colorado, meanwhile, kept themselves in the mix for one of the four first-round byes in the Pac-12 Tournament. The Buffaloes were led by Austin Dufault and Nate Tomlinson, who celebrated their Senior Day in style, as Dufault went for 15, while Tomlinson had 11, four assists, and four boards and had a major hand in throwing a wrench into the Cal backcourt. Jorge Gutierrez and Justin Cobbs were held to a combined three-of-18 from the floor Sunday night, and in both games against Colorado this season, that duo was just eight-of-44 (18.2%) from the field. Lost in all the lovey-dovey Senior Day celebrating was fellow Colorado senior Carlon Brown slumping on the bench and seemingly not all that pleased to watch freshmen Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker finish the game off. Maybe Tad Boyle is already sick of Brown’s act (it is his first year of eligibility in Boulder after transferring from Utah), but with important games still remaining for Colorado (not just their trip to Oregon next week, but the Pac-12 Tournament, which it seems like they will need to win in order to earn an NCAA Tournament invite), Boyle will have to find some way to get something out of Brown, who is just 22-of-76 from the field in the month of February.
  2. The California loss leaves Washington all by its lonesome in first place in the conference. The Huskies needed a second-half comeback to knock off Apple Cup rival Washington State on Saturday, and they earned that victory largely at the free throw line, not bad for a team in the bottom 10% of the nation in free throw percentage. The Huskies made ten of its final 12 free throw attempts while the Cougars hit just 17 of their 32 second half attempts from the charity stripe and U-Dub escaped with a four-point win. Tony Wroten led the way with 21 points (albeit on 6-18 from the field), while Terrence Ross, in his first game after being declared the Pac-12 POY favorite by yours truly, was limited to just 21 ineffective minutes by foul trouble – he was just one-of-five from the field with two points and three rebounds.
  3. It’s been a long, rough season for Utah, with little talent and as a result, little to play for. But, give credit to head coach Larry Krystkowiak who has kept the Utes scraping hard all season long, and give credit to his team, who the head man describes as “resilient.” It took until the middle of December for the Utes to win a game against Division I competition, and there have been two separate eight-game losing streaks, but Utah got back on the right side of the final score on Saturday, knocking off Stanford 58-57. Junior Chris Hines hit a game-winning three with 27 seconds left and Cardinal senior Josh Owens missed a potentially game-tying free throw with eight seconds, and the Utes escaped with just their sixth win of the year. Meanwhile, for a Stanford team that looked brilliant on Thursday in handing Colorado its first home loss in Pac-12 play, it is just the latest in a long line of uneven performances in conference play.
  4. Normally, if there’s an Arizona/UCLA game being played on the last weekend in February, that’s the headliner in this conference. But, the fact is, as go the Bruins and the Wildcats, so goes the Pac-12. There have been more problems around the conference than just some ordinary teams in Westwood and Tucson, but you have to imagine that if these two stalwarts had lived up to their reputations, there would be a lot less jabbering about the weakness in the conference. As far as the game goes, the Wildcat seniors protected their Senior Day with Kyle Fogg leading the way. The senior guard has averaged at least 24 minutes per game every year of his career, but he is certainly wrapping up his eligibility in style. After going for his second double-double in three games against USC on Thurdsay (and the only two double-doubles of his career), Fogg came just one rebound shy of yet another double-double, but still wound up with 20 points and nine rebounds. The ‘Cats tried to give the game away down the stretch, missing four of six free throws in the final minute, but a Jerime Anderson jumper that could have sent the game to overtime was awry.
  5. Elsewhere around the conference this weekend, the nightmare season for USC continued with a four-point loss at Arizona State, as the undersized and undermanned Trojans couldn’t deal with Sun Devil sophomore center Jordan Bachynski who had 19 points and nine boards. However, it was embattled point guard Chris Colvin who iced the game, converting a three-point play with 19 seconds left to seal the win. Freshman guard Byron Wesley has come up big recently for USC, with new career-highs in each of his last two games, but there just isn’t enough help there for now. And, Sunday night, Oregon held off Oregon State in the 337th edition of the basketball version of the Civil War behind 25 points from Oregon senior guard Garrett Sim, whose parents are both Oregon State alumni.
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Pac-12 Morning Five: 02.24.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on February 24th, 2012

  1. And then there were two. After skating through its first seven home conference games, Colorado turned in a stinker on Thursday night, getting thoroughly dominated by Stanford in front of their home crowd. The Buffaloes shot just a 33.3% eFG and got badly outrebounded (Stanford grabbed 81.4% of their defensive rebound opportunities and 40% on the offensive end), as sophomore forward Andre Roberson got no help on the boards. CU still has a chance to have a significant impact on the eventual winner of the conference, since they host league-leading California on Sunday afternoon, but barring a wild swing down the stretch, the Buffs are out of the title race. Worse yet, given their tough three-game stretch the rest of the way, they could be well on their way to losing the opening-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament. Chasson Randle led the Cardinal with 20 points, and was one of three players to knock down three three-pointers on the game.
  2. Meanwhile, California did what they needed to do, handling Utah in order to set up a battle with the aforementioned Buffaloes on Sunday. Leading scorer Allen Crabbe was held without a point from the field and Justin Cobbs was limited to just five points, but the Golden Bears forced 17 Ute turnovers, took care of the ball on their own end and gutted out a win. The win temporarily puts the Bears alone in first place, with Washington off tonight in advance of their Apple Cup rivalry with Washington State on Saturday.
  3. While the race for the conference title is rapidly clearing up, we’ve still got some gridlock among the next tier of teams, of which Colorado is now one, as the teams vie to avoid the #5 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament and miss out on the four byes through the opening round. Arizona did its homework on Thursday night, putting in a workmanlike effort in a 70-54 win over USC. Freshman point guard Josiah Turner did not start the game, but came off the bench strong and turned in the best game of his career, scoring a career-high 15 points and adding six assists – one shy of his career high – with no turnovers in 31 minutes of action. Senior guard Kyle Fogg also excelled, posting his first career double-double in his second-to-last home game, with 16 points and a career-high 12 rebounds. Prior to the game, head coach Sean Miller announced the suspension junior center Kyryl Natyazkho, who had only earned a total of five minutes in the last nine games, for a violation of unspecified team rules.
  4. A bit up the road in Tempe, Lazeric Jones showed he takes instruction well after head coach Ben Howland encouraged him during the week to shoot more. Jones did just that against Arizona State, shooting 15 times on his way to 20 points and taking over down the stretch as UCLA pulled away from the short-handed Sun Devils. Jones scored 13 of his points in the second half as his team turned a one-point halftime lead into a lead as big as 17. ASU played without junior wing Carrick Felix due to an illness.
  5. Interesting take from Bud Withers of the Seattle Times on a possible reason why the Pac-12 is down this year, and why it may not get better in the future: demographics. In short, the idea is that because success in basketball is largely dependent on African-Americans, and because the western United States has a lower proportion of African-Americans than other regions, the schools in the Pac-12 may be at a bit of a competitive disadvantage to schools in other regions. At best, this is probably just one of the drops in an otherwise large bucket, as Withers rightly points out that allowing high school recruits from their own backyard to matriculate elsewhere certainly doesn’t help their cause. But, there could be something to look at here going forward.
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Pac-12 Morning Five: 02.13.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on February 13th, 2012

  1. This weekend, for once in the Pac-12, all of the upper echelon teams still competing for a conference title took care of the lower-tier teams. The only losses among the top five teams in the conference came against other top five teams – Colorado’s loss to Arizona and Washington’s loss at Oregon, both on Thursday night. But now, with five games left on everyone’s conference schedule, we’ve got five teams all within a game of first place. California earned its spot at the top of the standings by building up a 17-point second half lead against UCLA and then withstanding a late charge, earning its 20th win of the year. With the win, head coach Mike Montgomery became the first Cal coach to win 20 or more games in three of his first four years at the school, while the Golden Bears also completed a regular season sweep of the Los Angeles schools for the first time since 1959. UCLA sophomore center Joshua Smith got off to a strong start in that loss against Cal, scoring five points on his first three possessions and racking up two fouls on Cal freshman forward David Kravish and another on senior Harper Kamp. But, over the next 35 minutes he managed just five more points and was frustrated by Golden Bear double teams and his own conditioning issues. While it isn’t exactly breaking news that Smith is overweight and in poor physical condition, leave it to Bill Plaschke to get Smith on record as saying he “didn’t do anything” to prepare for this year over the offseason. Smith claims that he’ll be putting in the work this offseason in preparation for his junior year, but we’ll have to wait and see just how well that goes.
  2. Washington got back on track and maintained its own hold on a piece of first place with a 75-72 win at Oregon State last night. The game was sloppy on both ends, but was intensely competed and the Huskies had to hit 10 of 15 free throws down the stretch to hold on to the lead. Terrence Ross, C.J. Wilcox and Tony Wroten led the scoring for the Huskies with 50 points between them, but they all struggled from the field, hitting just 15 of their 44 field goal attempts (37.5% eFG) on the night. Jared Cunningham led all scorers with 23 points, be he too was inefficient, needing 20 shots to get his points. While the Huskies are technically tied with Cal for first place, the Golden Bears beat U-Dub earlier in the year, and that game will not be returned due to the unbalanced schedule in the Pac-12, meaning Cal holds the tiebreaker.
  3. Arizona pulled out a win on Saturday over Utah, but it was in no way a win that left Sean Miller feeling pleased with his team. The Wildcats trailed the 5-20 Utes for the first 27 minutes of the game, and didn’t claim the lead for good until a Nick Johnson three with 1:24 remaining put Zona up 64-61. Six free throws down the stretch provided a final margin of nine points, but UA was definitely fortunate to come away with the win. The Wildcats’ problems began well before tipoff, as senior guard Kyle Fogg was late for a pregame walk-through and was removed from the starting lineup as a result. As for the game itself, Miller described his team’s play as “alarming,” “disappointing,” and “pathetic” and mentioned that at least half of his seven-man rotation was not playing with maximum possible energy. The Wildcats travel to the Washington schools next week, so they’ll need to put out a much better effort to extend their four-game winning streak.
  4. The other two teams sitting a game back of the leaders also took care of business on Saturday, as Colorado earned its second road win of the conference season by taking care of Arizona State, and Oregon completed a sweep of the Washington schools by outlasting Washington State. E.J. Singler led the way for the Ducks with 23 points and four threes and also had a major hand in limiting the Cougs’ leading scorer, Brock Motum, to just 15 points, and just one point in the final 15 minutes. In Tempe, it was freshman guard Spencer Dinwiddie leading the way for the Buffaloes with 15 points, five rebounds and three threes. The Buffs will pick back up next week on the road again, with a trip to Salt Lake City to face Utah scheduled for Saturday. After that, however, the final four games of the season will go a long way towards determining CU’s fate: they host Cal and Stanford before traveling to the Oregon schools the last week of the regular season.
  5. Lastly, Stanford won for just the second time in seven games on Sunday when they took apart a struggling USC team, 59-47. The Cardinal dominated on the glass, grabbing 97% of their defensive rebound opportunities and 41.3% of the rebounds on the offensive end, and they held the Trojans to just 35.4% eFG. But, with Stanford now out of the race for the conference title, the highlight of the game had to be junior forward Andy Brownhe of the three knee surgeries – scoring the first field goal of his Stanford career. Brown played eight minutes on Sunday, and has now played 21 minutes on the season, but his battle back despite injuries could be something to build on for the Cardinal going forward. Quickly, on the USC front, after a solid 8-for-13 performance Thursday night, sophomore guard Maurice Jones returned to form, hoisting 14 shots and hitting only two against the Cardinal. He’s now shooting just a 41.3% eFG on the season.
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Pac-12 Morning Five: 2.10.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on February 10th, 2012

  1. It seems like I have spent the last couple days talking and writing about how if Washington could just string together a patch of wins here down the stretch, they could earn themselves an at-large bid regardless of the holes in their résumé. And, typical of what we have come to expect of the Huskies over the past several years, just when you start buying what they are selling in the regular season, they go out and get punked on the road, just like they did Thursday night, losing at Oregon by 25 in a game that was never in doubt. The Ducks scored the first eight points of the game, shot 64.3% from the field in the first half and then coasted in the second half. No Husky who played more than ten minutes in the game shot better than 50% from the field, their top three scorers–Tony Wroten, Terrence Ross, and C.J. Wilcox–combined for 32 points on 12-of-35 shooting, with a ten turnovers between them, and the entire team shot just two-for-16 from deep. The loss drops Washington back into a first place tie while Oregon moves to within a game of first place.
  2. In the other big game of the night, Arizona continued its hot streak, taking care of Colorado by 14 in their third consecutive strong performance. While the Wildcats have struggled to find consistency in the first three months of the season, now they are playing like a cohesive unit, even as they are limited to just a seven-man rotation. Thursday night, the veteran trio of Jesse Perry, Solomon Hill, and Kyle Fogg did the heavy lifting, scoring 17, 16, and 15 points respectively, while guys like Nick Johnson, Josiah Turner, Brendon Lavender, and Angelo Chol slid comfortably into their roles and took care of business. Combined with the other results in the conference, the Wildcats now find themselves within a game of first and rolling at just the right time. Colorado is also a game back of first place, but their struggles on the road will need to be mended if they hope to seriously challenge for the title; they are now 1-4 in Pac-12 road games with the sole win coming against 1-11 USC.
  3. Speaking of USC, they got to 1-11 by getting taken apart in the second half by California last night. After a hard-fought first half that saw the Trojans down by just six going into the locker room, the Golden Bears rode Harper Kamp’s hot streak after the break (he hit his first seven shots of the second half), while freshman forward David Kravish dominated the undermanned Trojan squad on the glass, grabbing a career-high 18 boards. Coupled with the Washington loss, the Golden Bears again find themselves tied at the top of the conference.
  4. UCLA will be Cal’s next opponent on Saturday, and Thursday night the Bruins took care of business against Stanford, using a late 10-0 to finally put away a pesky Cardinal team in a game that saw both teams put together a variety of runs. It was a sloppy affair, with the teams combining for 41 turnovers, but in the end it was the Bruins’ ability to turn Stanford’s turnovers into points that decided the game, as UCLA scored 28 points off of their 22 forced turnovers. Lazeric Jones had 21 points, six assists and six steals, while freshman Chasson Randle was the only Stanford player to score in double figures, with 16.
  5. At the bottom of the conference, Arizona State welcomed back junior guard Trent Lockett with a win over Utah. Lockett had 12 points and six boards in his return, but it was the combination of Jordan Bachynski (11 points, 12 rebounds) and Carrick Felix (15 points, eight rebounds) that put the Sun Devils over the top. Meanwhile, in Corvallis, the maddening Oregon State conference season continued with a ten-point home loss to Washington State, despite Jared Cunningham filling the stat sheet in a big way. The player of the year candidate had 33 points, including five three-pointers, six rebounds, a couple of assists, three steals, two blocks, and even four turnovers for good measure. Teammate Ahmad Starks struggled, however, hoisting 13 threes and only making two on a miserable night. On the other end of the court, however, Washington State’s own POTY candidate, Brock Motum, continued his hot streak, scoring 24 points and adding nine rebounds. Since Faisal Aden’s season ending injury, Motum has averaged 27.3 points and nine rebounds over four games.
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Pac-12 Morning Five: 02.09.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on February 9th, 2012

  1. After missing nearly a month due to a severely sprained right ankle, Arizona State junior guard Trent Lockett is set to return to the Sun Devils’ lineup on Thursday when they host Utah. In Lockett’s absence, the wheels fell off an already wobbly ASU bus: They’ve lost five of the six games he’s missed, their scoring dropped by almost 12 points a game, their field goal percentage took a nearly seven-point hit, their assists per game dropped, and their free-throw attempts dropped. It may take some time for Lockett to get back in the swing of things, so it turns out it is fortunate that he returns for the Utah game. Because as bad as things have been for the Sun Devils this year, the Utes are still looking up at them.
  2. Just down the road a piece, Arizona has injury problems of its own. In the past two weeks, both Kevin Parrom and Jordin Mayes went down with foot injuries, with Parrom being lost for the year and Mayes out indefinitely. The Mayes injury was initially feared to be another fracture on a foot that he had broken last year, but X-rays proved negative. Still, for the foreseeable future, head coach Sean Miller may have to rely mostly on a seven-man rotation, with freshman point guard Josiah Turner being aided with the ballhandling duties by senior Kyle Fogg and fellow freshman Nick Johnson.
  3. Utah junior guard Chris Hines has had more than his fair share of injuries this year himself. He’s hurt his ribs, an elbow, a thumb and an ankle, but through all the bumps and bruises and 18 losses so far, he has missed just two games on the season, and he’s playing nearly 30 minutes a game. As one of only two active players remaining from last year’s squad, Hines has felt the need to keep going out there in order to provide leadership and a scoring punch to a seriously undermanned team.
  4. With the Pac-12 so far down this year, there will really be only one team on Selection Sunday that feels comfortable about making the NCAA Tournament: the team that wins the Pac-12 Tournament. So, while some teams will still worry about winning games to improve their RPI and potentially make themselves more attractive at-large candidates, perhaps the most important goal for the remainder of the conference season is to place in the top four and earn a first round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament. Right now Oregon and Arizona are tied for fourth place, but Oregon head coach Dana Altman is trying to dial down the importance of a top four finish, telling his team to just go out and play well.
  5. Lastly, as if Arizona head coach Sean Miller needed additional ammunition in his recruiting tool chest, but a Wall Street Journal article shows that former Wildcats have earned $738 million in the NBA since 1985. Anthony Gimino of the Tucson Citizen disputes that figure, putting the total closer to $770 million, but either way, Arizona places third among all schools, trailing only North Carolina and Duke. Only two other Pac-12 schools of note make the top 25: UCLA (10th place, $497 million) and California (13th place, $404 million).
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Pac-12 Morning Five: 02.08.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on February 8th, 2012

  1. Oregon’s loss at Colorado on Saturday night was not the type of game from which it is easy to bounce back. The last-second loss on a controversial foul call left the Ducks tied for fourth place in the conference with Arizona, an especially precarious position to be in, since the top four teams in the conference will earn an opening round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament in March. Still, Dana Altman knows that his team doesn’t have much time to feel sorry for itself with a big game against bitter rival and current conference leader Washington due up tomorrow night.
  2. Arizona’s defense was a big key to their sweep of the Bay Area schools last weekend with Kyle Fogg, Nick Johnson, and Josiah Turner providing stellar perimeter defense at every turn. But a new weapon for Sean Miller’s squad lays waiting for intrepid souls find their way into the paint against the Wildcats, as freshman forward Angelo Chol has seen a bump in his minutes in the wake of Kevin Parrom’s season-ending injury. Against Stanford and California this weekend, Chol played a total of 36 minutes (his highest total in consecutive games since Arizona’s first two games), blocked six shots, and provided a disincentive for opponents to challenge him inside. As a high-schooler in San Diego, Chol blocked 1,120 shots in his career (good for second all-time at that level), but has been unable at Arizona to earn significant minutes, and hasn’t been all that effective in his time, until this past weekend. If he can turn into a strong presence in the paint for the Wildcats, they’ll be much better off as a result.
  3. Another freshman who is starting to earn some more minutes for his team is Washington’s Shawn Kemp Jr. Kemp played 24 minutes over the weekend against the Los Angeles schools and scored ten points in and around the paint. The son of the former SuperSonic superstar has taken a circuitous route to Lorenzo Romar’s team, committing to both Alabama and Auburn in the past, but failing to get his grades together in order to play at either school. Now, two years later, Kemp is working hard on his game to earn playing time and may be a significant piece to the Husky puzzle in 2012-13.
  4. Following a home loss against Arizona on Saturday, Stanford has now lost four of its last five games, falling from first place to a tie for sixth with UCLA. But, as Jon Wilner notes, this is more or less par for the course for the Cardinal thus far in the Johnny Dawkins era. Last year Stanford lost four in a row after starting conference play 3-1. The year before it was a 4-3 start and another four-game slide,while in 2009 the Cardinal dropped eight of their last ten after starting 3-3 in the conference. While Dawkins’ job is likely safe for the time being, at some point this Stanford team needs to prove that progress is being made.
  5. The conference announced the 2012 inductees into the Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Hall of Honor on Tuesday, and there are some great names on the list. One inductee from each member institution will be honored during the Pac-12 Tournament in March. Here’s the list: Richard Jefferson (Arizona), Kurt Nimphius (Arizona State), Lamond Murray (California), Burdette Haldorson (Colorado), Jim Barnett (Oregon), A.C. Green (Oregon State), George Selleck (Stanford), Ed O’Bannon (UCLA), Sam Barry (USC), Arnie Ferrin (Utah), George Irvine (Washington), and Steve Puidokas (Washington State). While there are some great names on that list that most college basketball fans are very familiar with (Jefferson, Murray, O’Bannon, Green, for starters), it is fun to go back through the brief bios on the Pac-12 site and read about guys you may not be all that familiar with. Just as a “for instance”, did you know that former USC head basketball coach Sam Barry helped the Trojans post 32 consecutive victories over UCLA and helped push for the elimination of the center jump after every made basket, as well as the implementation of the ten-second rule? Good stuff from the Pac-12, but my concern is that by inducting one player from every school every year (and this has been going on for many ten years already), it’s not going to be long before the Eugene Edgersons, George Zideks, and Isaac Fontaines of the world have to wind up in the Hall of Honor as well.
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Pac-12 Morning Five: 02.07.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on February 7th, 2012

  1. Last week at this time, California sat at #30 in the RPI, one of the factors that the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee uses to determine at-large participants. However, after losing at home to Arizona on Saturday, its RPI fell to #48, giving us an excellent example of just how tenuous of a claim Pac-12 schools have toward an NCAA Tournament at-large bid. The win did bump Arizona up to #62 from #85, while Washington, the conference leader, still sits at #72. For perspective, an RPI in the 30s will very likely get you in, while pushing up into the 40s will leave you wondering on Selection Sunday eve. In short, odds are getting stronger that the only team that will be truly comfortable when they tune into CBS on Selection Sunday is the winner of the conference tournament.
  2. We gave our Pac-12 Player of the Week award to Joshua Smith for his big weekend in Washington, but the Pac-12 handed out the hardware to Arizona senior guard Kyle Fogg, a worthy recipient based on his well-rounded weekend leading the Wildcats to a road sweep of the Bay Area schools. It is Fogg’s first ever POTW honor, and the 83rd all-time selection for an Arizona player.
  3. Yesterday we mentioned the injuries that Cal’s Allen Crabbe and Harper Kamp suffered in their game against Arizona State on Saturday, but today Mike Montgomery confirmed that the injuries aren’t anything to worry about and that both players will practice and play this weekend when the Golden Bears head to the Los Angeles schools. Meanwhile, Arizona State junior guard Trent Lockett will likely return to action this week for the Sun Devils after missing six games with a badly sprained right ankle. The team’s leading scorer took over the point guard duties for Herb Sendek following the team’s dismissal of Keala King, but may be able to return to more of a wing role now that junior guard Chris Colvin has had some success running the point. Nevertheless, ASU has gone 1-5 in Lockett’s absence.
  4. The Pac-12 is probably no different than other leagues around the country in that fans from one end of the conference to the other think the officiating, um, isn’t very good. Oregon fans are the latest to take up the call for better officiating, following their loss to Colorado Saturday night on a controversial last-second foul call. Conference commissioner Larry Scott made it a priority to work on improving the work of Pac-12 football officials last year, and here’s hoping a similar initiative is in the works for the basketball side of things. However, there is a significant barrier in the way: Basketball officials aren’t tied to or affiliated with any one conference, but rather work a variety of games with teams from different conferences involved. But, to this point, Scott has worked wonders in his time with the conference, so hope remains that he can work on improving the state of officiating in Pac-12 basketball.
  5. And lastly, speaking of the commissioner, he was awarded with a contract extension to 2016 yesterday, unanimously approved by all 12 university presidents. In his first two years as the Commish, he has expanded the conference to 12 schools (and twice almost bumped it up to 16), scored a huge new television deal with ESPN and Fox that begins next year and will include a Pac-12 television network, and just generally done a great job marketing and promoting the conference not only around the West, but nationally and even internationally. Now, USC fans may not be all that enamored of Scott, but the rest of the conference seems to be mighty pleased with the way things are being done under the new commissioner.
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