Breaking Down Pac-12 Non-Conference Schedules: Colorado and Utah

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 15th, 2013

October is here, and that means we are just weeks away from real, live basketball games. In order to prepare you for the first two months of the season, we’re going to break down all 12 non-conference slates over the next couple of weeks. Up next; the schools in the Rockies.

Teams are listed in order of which they will be played. Last season’s RPI in parenthesis. Potential opponents (one round in advance) are italicized. All times listed are Pacific.

Colorado

Cream of the Crop: vs. Baylor (70) in Dallas, vs. Harvard (92), vs. Kansas (5), Oklahoma State (27) in Las Vegas

Tad Boyle And The Buffaloes Will Renew Rivalries With Three Former Big 12 Conference Foes

Tad Boyle And The Buffaloes Will Renew Rivalries With Three Former Big 12 Conference Foes

For a team with high expectations, Tad Boyle has put together a schedule worthy of the attention. They begin with a talented Baylor team on what amounts to the sport’s opening night, but that’s just the first of three quality games against former Big 12 rivals. Their two biggest non-conference games are the other two of those three games, against the two favorites in the Big 12, with Kansas coming to Boulder on December 7, and the Buffaloes meeting Oklahoma State in Las Vegas two weeks later. The good news is that none of those games are true road games, so the Buffs should find a way to win at least one of those three against the Big 12; if they win two, they’re golden. But, just in case everything goes to hell against those Big 12 teams, the Buffs do get a chance to welcome in a Harvard team that has the chance to be a fixture in the Top 25 for much of the year; the bad part is that the Crimson are a team that could give CU all they can handle.

Solid Names: vs. Wyoming (73), @ Air Force (79), @ Colorado State (18), vs. Georgia (140)

Aside from the big names on the schedule, the Buffaloes will also face three Mountain West teams and one SEC team. The bad news there is that none of these teams are expected to be NCAA Tournament contenders this season. Nevertheless, wins over these four teams, especially those two tough in-state roadies, could help bolster the team’s RPI numbers.

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Utah on the Slow Road Back to Basketball Relevance

Posted by AMurawa on October 10th, 2013

If you’re strictly a fan of Pac-12 basketball, you may not know it, but Utah basketball has a long and storied tradition. There are the 36 regular season conference championships, 27 NCAA Tournament appearances, 15 Sweet Sixteens, four Final Fours and even the 1944 national championship. Names like Keith Van Horn, Andre Miller, Tom Chambers, Andrew Bogut and Mike Newlin have gone on to enjoy significant success in the NBA. The thing is, all of that occurred prior to the Utes accepting its membership in the Pac-12. Since they’ve been in our fair conference, the team has gone a combined 21-43 overall and 8-28 in conference play in two seasons. But, rest assured, Utah basketball will be back sooner rather than later.

You May Not Remember It, But Utah Has Quite A History Of Basketball Success (Getty Images)

You May Not Remember It, But Utah Has Quite A History Of Basketball Success (Getty Images)

The beginning of Larry Krystowiak’s reign as the head coach of the Utah basketball program coincides neatly with their inaugural season in the Pac-12, but unfortunately it also coincided with a need for a nearly complete roster overhaul. In the offseason before previous head coach Jim Boylen’s final season, four players (including names like Carlon Brown and Marshall Henderson) transferred out of the program. In the aftermath of the Boylen-to-Krystkowiak transition, seven more players left Salt Lake City. After Krystkowiak’s first season, six additional players transferred and still another headed off on an LDS mission. And this past offseason, continuing the trend, three more players alighted, all of whom had only played one year at Utah. What is left is a roster that has only one player who has been in the Utah program longer than a year. And that guy – 6’10″ redshirt sophomore Jeremy Olsen – has spent as many years away from the program on an LDS mission as he has in Salt Lake City.

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Morning Five: 10.01.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on October 1st, 2013

morning5

  1. After initially indicating that they would seek a family hardship waiver for Kansas State transfer Angel Rodriguez, Miami announced that they no longer intended to seek such a waiver for the upcoming season. The school did not specify why exactly they decided to withdraw their application for a waiver–they cited Rodriguez’s nagging injuries–because although Rodriguez’s hardship seems questionable at best–moving to Miami to be closer to his native Puerto Rico–with the way that the NCAA has been granting hardship waivers we would not have been shocked to see the NCAA approve it. What the decision means for the Hurricanes is that they will most likely be in the bottom half of the ACC this season, but will have Rodriguez available for two seasons to play with Texas transfer Sheldon McClellan, who will also sit out this season and will have two seasons of eligibility remaining when he comes back for the 2014-15 season.
  2. In contrast to Miami, Florida followed through on their request for a hardship waiver for Rutgers transfer Eli Carter, who left the school in the wake of the Mike Rice scandal, and yesterday the NCAA granted Carter a hardship waiver enabling him to play for the Gators this coming season. Although we have been critical of how easily the NCAA has been granting hardship waivers, Carter’s seemed certain given the public reaction following the release of videotapes showing Rice physically and verbally abusing his players in practice. As for Carter’s role on the Gator team, there is no question that he can score (averaging 14.9 points per game last season), but it remains to be seen how well he can play within the Gators system as he was a high-volume, low-percentage shooter (38.4% FG and 32% 3-point) at Rutgers. If Billy Donovan can find a way to rein him in and utilize his scoring ability in a more efficient manner, he could be a significant addition to the Gators lineup, but that could be a big “if”.
  3. We normally do not pay much attention to minor preseason injuries, but the report of a “stress reaction” in Jahii Carson‘s right tibia caught our eye. As the article mentions the injury is reportedly a low-grade one, but given the quickness that Carson relies on it would be a major issue going forward if it continues to linger. According to both Carson and Arizona State, Carson could play on it if necessary, but that does not mean that he would be able to play through it for the entire season. It seems like an issue that most likely will resolve, but it is worth keeping an eye on.
  4. Larry Krystkowiak might have a way to go before he turns around a floundering Utah program, but at least he is making a difference in his community. According to reports, the 6’9″ second-year Utah coach apprehended a local bike thief, who did not appear to put up much resistance. After catching him, Krystkowiak called campus police, who subsequently discovered five stolen cell phones on the thief. After his weekend adventure, Krystkowiak tweeted about the incident comparing himself to Barney Fife although we assume that Krystkowiak is significantly more imposing than Don Knotts ever was.
  5. Following their surprise run to the CAA Conference Tournament title and First Four victory, James Madison was looking at a rebuilding year as they only had one returning starter: Andre Nation. Unfortunately for the Dukes they will be without Nation for the first 15 games of this season after he was suspended for a violation of an unspecified athletic department policy. The sophomore guard, who averaged 9.3 points and 3.1 rebounds per game last season, showed signs of his potential in the team’s First Four victory against LIU-Brooklyn as he went for 14 points, seven rebounds, five blocked shots, and four assists. Now the team will have to adjust to playing with five new starters to begin the season as Nation is not scheduled to return until a January 7 game against the College of Charleston.
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Utah Post-Mortem

Posted by PBaruh on April 26th, 2013

Now that we are officially in the offseason, it’s time to take a look back and evaluate each team’s 2012-13 performance. Here’s a look at Utah.

What Went Right

After winning only three games in its inaugural 2011-12 Pac-12 season, Utah improved by finishing the season on a high note in beating both Oregon State and Oregon to go 5-13 in conference play. The Utes were still one of the worst teams in the Pac-12, but they upset Washington on the road and Colorado at home. They also scared Arizona twice as they lost to the Wildcats only by a combined seven points in the two contests. Utah found a player to build its team around with freshman Jordan Loveridge who averaged 12.1 points and 7.0 rebounds per game during the season. Jason Washburn had a successful senior campaign himself, averaging 11.9 points and 6.8 rebounds per game too. When the Pac-12 Tournament came around, the Utes were lucky enough to face USC without DeWayne Dedmon and defeated the Trojans in the first round before landing the surprise of Vegas by upsetting Cal in the quarterfinals 79-69.

Utah has found something to build on with Jordan Loveridge

Utah has found a potential star with Jordan Loveridge.

What Went Wrong 

Utah had some troublesome losses in non-conference play against Sacramento State and Cal State Northridge and headed into the conference season overmatched. They lost five straight games to start off the Pac-12 and were a woeful 3-13 before beating Oregon and Oregon State. The Utes’ guard play was inconsistent; Glen Dean and Aaron Dotson, who were supposed to be two of the Utes’ best players this year, disappointed tremendously. Dotson sat out some of the season with a foot injury, but could never gain traction in Larry Krystkowiak’s rotation as he averaged 2.7 points in 17.3 minutes per game. Dean only scored 5.5 points per game in over 25 minutes a game — both guards are now leaving the school.

MVP

Jordan Loveridge was the Utes’ best and most valuable player this year. The 6’6″ freshman used his 230-pound frame to out-muscle smaller players and was a major part of Utah’s offense as he used 24.7 percent of the team’s possessions during the season. He played his best basketball down the stretch by tallying games of  17, 14, 15, and 20 points against Oregon State, Oregon, USC, and Cal, respectively. He logged the highest amount of minutes per game on the team at 31.7 MPG and despite only shooting 40 percent on twos, Loveridge was successful from behind the arc by shooting 36 percent and shot 76 percent from the free throw line.

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Pac-12 M5: 03.26.13 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on March 26th, 2013

pac12_morning5

  1. A day after the news came down that Ben Howland’s days as the UCLA head coach were over, there he was, back in front of the media at the Westwood campus on Monday, giving a farewell press conference. Howland, as expected, was gracious, thanking players and athletic department personnel, including the athletic director who just fired him. Howland said he hopes to continue coaching, although he realizes that his next job will take a step back in prestige. While the growing consensus seems to be that UCLA was right to part ways with the coach, he still gets a lot of respect and will likely kill it wherever he winds up next. Here’s hoping he takes a year off, finds some nice fly-fishing spots and comes back in 2014-15 at either a mid-major or a struggling major conference team and undertakes a successful rebuilding job.
  2. As for the next UCLA head coach, until a contract is signed, sealed and delivered, this coaching search is going to be in the news almost daily. But for now, no real news has come out, other than a ton of marginally sane suggestions s to who the next Bruins coach will be. For instance , when writers from around the Tribune Company (the owner of the Los Angeles Times, among others) came up with their list of potential names, John Calipari was one of the suggestions, along with Anthony Grant, Andy Kennedy and Andy Enfield. Enfield’s probably too green yet to get the UCLA job, Kennedy certainly ain’t happening, and Calipari? Yeah, not buying that at all. But Grant is an intriguing name, should UCLA strike out on their first few targets. Oh, and N.C. State fans? No need to worry.
  3. Arizona is on its way to Los Angeles this week to compete in the Sweet Sixteen at the Staples Center on Thursday. The last time this Wildcats team was in Los Angeles, to face USC and UCLA the week spanning the end of February and the beginning of March, they came away with a pair of losses. And yet, both head coach Sean Miller and sophomore guard Nick Johnson point to that road trip as the time when things started to come together for the team. Johnson in particular says the Wildcats have been a different defensive team since that trip, and the results seem to show it, as they’ve allowed just 0.95 points per possession against four NCAA Tournament teams and one NIT team.
  4. The other Pac-12 team still alive in the NCAA Tournament is Oregon, but they’ve got a tough task ahead as they face the Tournament’s number one overall seed, Louisville, on Friday night. While just getting this far is a success for the Ducks, they’re still focused on getting even further. But in order to do that, they’ll need to take better care of the ball against the Cardinals’ defensive pressure after turning it over 36 times last weekend in their two dominating wins in San Jose. They got away with it last week, but it is likely that if they turn it over 18 times against Louisville, they’ll be back in Eugene on Saturday.
  5. Lastly, we circle back around to the coaching situation, as Percy Allen goes through all the Pac-12 jobs and tries to determine who is and who is not on the hot seat. He lists the obvious ones: Ken Bone, Craig Robinson and Johnny Dawkins, and although the expectation is that all will be back next season, the 2013-14 year will certainly be make-or-break years for each. Also on Allen’s list is Herb Sendek, but he earned himself the benefit of the doubt with this season’s improvement, although if Jahii Carson winds up going pro this season, they’re likely back to square one. And then the final name on his list is Larry Krystkowiak, who is in no way on the hot seat whatsoever, as Utah will almost certainly give him the entirety of his five-year contract to turn things around.
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Thoughts on the Pac-12 Quarterfinals, Evening Session

Posted by AMurawa on March 15th, 2013

Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-12 Conference. He filed this report after the second session of the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas on Thursday evening.

The evening pair of quarterfinals began with the expectation that there was no way it could live up to the atmosphere and excitement of the afternoon session. And, while it took some time for all of the fans to filter in from happy hour, by the second half of the first game, we had a really good crowd. And what a game that first one was as Utah stormed back from an eight-point second-half deficit against California, survived a seven-minute scoreless streak and got a miraculous Jarred DuBois three over the outstretched arm of 6’10” David Kravish in the waning moments to force overtime, where they would eventually win the game. Lots of little things to mention from this contest:

  • First and foremost, gotta give props to Larry Krystkowiak. Aside from rebuilding his roster from scratch, he’s also done a great job getting incremental improvements out of this team over the course of the season. Remember when this team lost to Stanford by 31? Or lost at the Oregon schools by an average of 14.5 points per game? Now this team is riding a four-game winning streak, shows all the hallmarks of being a well-coached team and is a deserving semifinal entrant. Just wait until the talent level gets to where he wants it.

    Larry Krystkowiak, Utah

    Larry Krystkowiak Has Done A Great Job Getting A Rebuilding Program Into The Pac-12 Semis

  • Utah freshman Jordan Loveridge struggled early, missing seven of his first nine shots, but then hit back-to-back threes to give Utah its first second-half lead, then hit another big three at the start of overtime to extend the Utes’ momentum. He’s had some ups and downs in his first year for the Utes, but he’s a special talent who will eventually, maybe as soon as next year, be an all-conference guy.
  • Richard Solomon continues to be one of my favorite/most-frustrating players in the conference. Dude’s got all the talent in the world, but his motor is often lacking. Case in point tonight: He got 37 minutes of action, probably competed really hard for about 20 of those minutes, and wound up with eight points, 11 boards and three steals.
  • Cal’s Ricky Kreklow, who has missed 24 of his team’s 31 games this season due to a foot injury, played 18 minutes tonight, his most in a game since November, and knocked down two big threes in the first half that kept the Bears sticking around when little else was going right. A lanky wing with a nice shooting touch, it would be a nice addition if he’s good to go without concern for his foot.

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Pac-12 M5: 01.29.13 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on January 29th, 2013

pac12_morning5

  1. It was an ugly night in Salt Lake City Sunday night. Aside from a “full-on winter storm” that slammed into the area (in advance of another one yesterday and today), the Utah basketball team laid an egg in front of a small crowd limited by that storm. But afterwards, head coach Larry Krystkowiak had no problem finding plenty of heat. He noted that his team got their “butts kicked in every phase of the game” and promised that, regardless of what happens the rest of the way, “the one thing we’re going to do for the rest of the season is play hard.” But, as Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune notes, with one conference win and 10 games remaining in which the Utes will be underdogs in just about all of them (they’ll likely be favored in their second-to-last game of the year at home against Oregon State), there is some question as to whether the team can match last year’s conference win total of three.
  2. As ugly of a day as it was in SLC, there was plenty to be happy about in Eugene as Oregon found itself in the AP Top 10 for the first time since 2007. That year, after starting 18-1, the Ducks lost six of their next eight games before righting the ship just in time for March and reeling off nine straight victories en route to a Pac-12 Tournament championship and an Elite Eight appearance behind Aaron Brooks, Bryce Taylor, Maarty Leunen and Tajuan Porter. Current head coach Dana Altman could use that midseason slide as a lesson to this year’s team, as he is already cautioning his team against getting too high on themselves. With the trip to the Bay Area schools coming up this week, the Ducks’ chances of maintaining its undefeated conference record are pretty slim. It has been 37 seasons since UO last swept a trip to Stanford and Cal, and in the interim, the team has itself been swept 20 times on the Bay Area swing.
  3. With about five minutes left in regulation in its Pac-12 opener against Arizona, Colorado had all sorts of people talking about this team as not only a Pac-12 title contender but also a force on the national stage. Well, we all know what happened after that. And, for some time afterward, the Buffaloes still seemed to be in a funk. Over the next five games, the team went 2-3 and scored just 0.94 points per possession as their offensive efficiency disappeared. But, this past week back at home against those same Bay Area schools that Oregon has to deal with this week, the Buffs found a way to again put the ball back in the hoop. Their PPP jumped to 1.09 and, with balanced scoring, this team looked like that team way back then that had everybody enthralled with their potential.
  4. If you’ve followed the Pac-12 closely at any point, whether in football or basketball or, the assumption is, wrestling or softball, you’ve heard the complaints about Pac-12 referees. It’s gotten so bad that I’ve got friends that use the term “Pac-12 refs” to mean anything negative. For instance: “Man, I shouldn’t have had that last drink last night. My hangover was so bad, I had to Pac-12 ref before breakfast.” Or: “You should have seen my back yard after that wind storm; it was Pac-12 refs all over the place.” Where am I going with this? Not quite sure, but the Pac-12 refs struck again on Saturday in the Oregon State/Washington State game, according to Kevin Hampton of the Corvallis Gazette-Times. Craig Robinson certainly didn’t appreciate the effort, picking up a technical early in the second half and, frankly, getting away with a pretty decent verbal assault on one of the refs (if you read lips, you dig) while still being allowed to remain in his seat for the remainder of the game.
  5. Lastly, yesterday we picked Washington State’s Mike Ladd as our Pac-12 Player of the Week. Well, more to the point, I picked him, as two of my colleagues went the Carrick Felix route, only to be overruled (mostly because I was asleep by the time I got their votes). The conference agreed with them, however (and I can hardly blame any of them – Felix was awesome this week), as they awarded Felix the official Pac-12 POTW honor yesterday for the third time this season. Looking back on it, given the fact that Felix double-doubled in both games this weekend, averaged 19.5 points and 10.5 rebounds per game and (the biggest strike of all against our – errrrr, my – choice), hasn’t been chosen by RTC as Player of the Week even once this year, makes his omission pretty egregious. I’ll take the blame. But really, did anyone watch Mike Ladd against the Oregon schools this week?
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Pac-12 M5: 01.28.13 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on January 28th, 2013

pac12_morning5

  1. The biggest breaking news over the weekend came out of Eugene late Friday night when Bob Clark of the Register-Guard reported that Dominic Artis would be out indefinitely with a foot injury of undetermined severity. Oregon still managed to knock off Washington on Saturday evening (in the first sellout at Matthew Knight Arena in almost two years) with Artis watching from the bench in a walking boot. Junior Jonathan Loyd got the start and was solid, getting to the line 10 times in 31 minutes of action and scoring nine points, but he did turn the ball over five times to go along with his five assists. The other guy who earned some of the Artis’ minutes was freshman Willie Moore, who earned nine minutes, his most since before Christmas, but he too struggled with turnovers. With no timetable announced for Artis’ return, the Ducks will have to rely on those two to step up as they go to the Bay Area schools next week.
  2. The other injury of note over the past week was to UCLA’s Travis Wear, whose concussion suffered in the first half against Arizona on Thursday night kept him out of Saturday’s visit to Arizona State. But, Travis Wear or no Travis Wear, the Bruins were going down hard on Saturday. They struggled with the Sun Devils’ athleticism, size and energy, but mostly, they just weren’t engaged in the game after Thursday night’s big win. ASU outhustled UCLA from the opening tip to the closing buzzer, with Jordan Bachynski, Carrick Felix and Evan Gordon having big games and Jahii Carson, despite struggling from the field, conducting a masterful performance at the point.
  3. Last night in front of a sparse crowd limited by blizzard conditions in Salt Lake City, Stanford’s offense got back on track in a big way against Utah, scoring 46 first-half points, 87 points for the game, and looking for the first time in a long time like the explosive team that ran to last year’s NIT title. On the Utah side of the court, sophomore transfer Dallin Bachynski did not suit up for the game and his future at the school is in doubt. After getting double-figure minutes in his first 12 games as a Ute, he hasn’t seen anywhere near that run in Pac-12 play and has lost his starting job to senior Jason Washburn. Bachynski met with head coach Larry Krystkowiak on Friday to discuss his future with the program, and while there are no immediate answers as to his long-term status, the fact that he did still sit on the bench with the team (although he didn’t dress out), indicates that he isn’t going away permanently quite yet.
  4. Arizona bounced back from its disappointing loss on Thursday by jumping out to a commanding early lead against USC and never looking back. The Wildcats held USC to nine points on its first 23 possessions, forcing seven turnovers and 2-of-19 shooting. Aside from the crispness with which the ‘Cats played, another aspect of the game that pleased head coach Sean Miller was the fact that it gave him a chance to extend his bench and find some minutes for guys like Angelo Chol and Gabe York. After playing in the first 14 games of the year, Chol has slid back to take the ninth-man spot in an eight-man rotation, but he played with energy in his eight minutes against the Trojans, grabbing a couple boards and blocking a shot. York, a high-flying freshman, has now played in nine games this year, but the USC game was his first appearance in Pac-12 play and he followed Miller’s advice by being very aggressive in looking for his shot. York played eight minutes and yet found room for five three-point attempts, knocking down a couple. Miller has talked with both guys about their playing time and has come away impressed with their maturity even when the minutes haven’t been there.
  5. Colorado took it to California on Sunday and did so without the services of Andre Roberson for much of the first half. Despite losing the nation’s leading rebounder to foul trouble, the Buffs rode some hot shooting to a 34-18 halftime lead and never looked back. After the game, Cal head coach Mike Montgomery had plenty of questions about his team, including whether the team even thought it could win the game and what type of mindset it now has. With conference leader Oregon due in Haas Pavilion next weekend and any distant hopes of an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament receding into the sunset, the Bears need to get it together, and quick. One good bit of news: senior guard Brandon Smith returned to action this weekend after six games lost due to the effects of a concussion.

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Pac-12 M5: 01.15.13 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on January 15th, 2013

pac12_morning5

  1. The big news on Monday morning was the surpise firing of a Los Angeles area head basketball coach. Less than a month ago, the odds were probably on the rest of this paragraph being about the end of the Ben Howland era in Westwood, but instead, the “other” LA-area Pac-12 basketball program ended the Kevin O’Neill era abruptly. We posted our thoughts on the matter yesterday, but gave scant attention to USC’s new interim head coach, Bob Cantu, who has now outlasted three Trojan head coaches at the institution. Cantu said he plans to try to speed the game up a bit (but really, doesn’t every coach say that?), may opt for more zone defense, and will try to get USC’s two seven-footers (Dewayne Dedmon and Omar Oraby) on the court together at the same time. In addition, he hopes to get transfers Ari Stewart and Renaldo Woolridge, a pair of guys who have been all but forgotten this season, some more run.
  2. Names like Jamie Dixon, Randy Bennett and Dan Monson seem to be the obvious lead choices for the next USC head coaching position, but plenty of other names have surfaced already, including one who is currently employed by another Pac-12 institution: Arizona State assistant Eric Musselman. Musselman, who has been a head coach in the NBA twice, is apparently interested in the job, according to Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports. But, the question is, just how far down the list is Musselman? And, as always, Reggie Theus is also on the list, at least, according to Theus, that is. And, how about a really deep cut? Former Laker and Lobo star Michael Cooper is presently the head women’s basketball coach at USC. Like I said, a seriously deep cut.
  3. Meanwhile, across town, Ben Howland has turned it around, getting his team back into the Top 25 riding a nine-game winning streak. David Wharton of the Los Angeles Times has a big feature on Howland that does a good job of slapping a human face on the often introverted coach. The article touches on his relationship with his players, his assistants, and, as always, UCLA fans. But perhaps most interesting is how Howland has made the change from playing the grind-it-out, defense-first style that has characterized his last decade-plus as a head coach, to the more transition-oriented team that has currently got those rather picky Bruin fans interested again.
  4. As for the team that USC just beat, Utah, head coach Larry Krystkowiak’s job is in no immediate danger, but in order to make sure it stays that way, and in order to make sure he has his team on the right track, he held one-on-one meetings with each player this week to ensure that both coach and player were both on the same page. The meetings are in an effort to let the players know what Krystkowiak needs them to work on and to hear back from the players any suggestions that they have for the coaching staff. With an 0-4 start featuring three hotly contested games now in the rear view mirror, the Utes hope to use these meetings as a springboard for future improvements.
  5. It’s about that time of the year where, for one reason or another, suspensions and other little punishments begin to crop up here and there around the nation, especially on teams that have had their struggles. We saw Eric Moreland get suspended last week (and it was announced today that he’ll return Saturday against USC, making it a three-game suspension in total), but we glossed over the fact that Stanford point guard Chasson Randle got a slap on the wrist for being late to a shootaround prior to the game against Washington, having to start the game on the bench. He still wound up earning 28 minutes (and scoring 16 effective points along the way), but it’s something to stick in the back of your mind, given Stanford’s early struggles.
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Pac-12 M5: Christmas Eve Edition

Posted by AMurawa on December 24th, 2012

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  1. Ever since the Pac-12 announced that it was moving its conference tournament from the regularly church-quiet Staples Center in Los Angeles to Las Vegas beginning this season, fans from around the conference have been marking their calendars. But the fact that the host venue — the MGM Grand Hotel — had never before hosted a basketball event, was somewhat concerning. However, never let it be said that Larry Scott and company do things without putting in the proper diligence. This weekend the MGM Grand held the first dry run for a basketball game, as Oregon State and San Diego broke the seal on that place. And it was a real dry run, in part because the final announced attendance for the game was a whopping 840 people in a building with a capacity of 16,800. Even after seeing a boatload of empty seats at the Staples Center in recent years, I would bet the farm on the fact that there will be significantly more people in the venue when the conference tourney rolls around (although such a bet is probably less impressive when you consider that I don’t own a farm). But, there weren’t many complaints about the arena, which is good considering there were only 840 people there to possibly complain. Oh, and OSU won but they looked terrible.
  2. Speaking of terrible, USC fell at Georgia on Saturday, slipping back to 4-8 on the year and any “yeah, buts” about their tough schedule need to get put on the back burner until the Trojans beat somebody of importance. Evan Barnes of Rant Sports is more or less on the same page as me. Both of us, apparently, have just been waiting for this talented bunch to turn the corner and play up to their ability, but we’ve both sort of given up on that. And, we’ve both come to the conclusion that Kevin O’Neill bears the full brunt of the blame. At some point, as rosters get completely remade and the team continues to run much of the same stuff to largely the same effect, you’ve got to come to the conclusion that this issue isn’t entirely with the players on the court but may partially be tied back to the guy in the lead chair on the sideline. I’m a fan of O’Neill’s blunt, honest-to-a-fault style off the court, but I no longer have any faith in his ability to get his team, no matter who is out there, to run anything approaching a good offense. While Trojan athletic director Pat Haden has kicked the task of replacing head football coach Lane Kiffin down the line a year, odds are very good that, barring a drastic turnaround, there will be another coaching search in South L.A. this spring.
  3. Meanwhile, up the road a stretch, there may be another, slightly more attractive job opening in Los Angeles come spring. Last week Tracy Pierson of Bruin Report Online referenced anonymous sources who claimed that UCLA head coach Ben Howland’s job may be in jeopardy prior to the end of the season. Howland shrugged off such claims, noting “I can’t help you with substantiating anything that’s written on the boards.” Given that Howland’s got his team starting to click, at least on one end of the floor, and the fact that finding a prime replacement while the season is still in full swing, would be next to impossible, I’m in the camp that thinks it would be safe to just ignore this report. Sure, if UCLA’s season ends at any point prior to Atlanta on the weekend of April 6, you can start tracking the movements of your friendly neighborhood hatchet man, but there’s not a chance this side of Phil Jackson that Howland’s UCLA career ends at any point prior to the end of the season.
  4. Last week, just before we all headed off to wrap up our Christmas shopping, a couple of my colleagues pointed to Utah as the conference’s biggest pleasant surprise. Well, sorry Connor and Adam, but I’ll be passing along your information to Larry Krystkowiak and he’ll be getting in touch with you to personally thank you both for jinxing his team. Because Friday night, after playing a sparklingly good first half, the Utes were outscored by 26 points in laying an egg in the second half, losing to Cal State Northridge and seemingly going out of their way to make sure that they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Still, you gotta remind yourself that this is a Utah team that has already won more games this season than they did all of last year and is still getting used to the idea of actually winning games. But man, that had to put a serious hurting on the beginning of a holiday break. One other note tangentially related to the Pac-12: One of the chief architects in putting that hurting into the Utah basketball program was CSUN freshman point guard Landon Drew, who had a career-high 19 points, including 14 in the second. Landon’s brother is Larry Drew II, the UCLA senior point guard.
  5. As a fan and follower of both the Pac-12 and Mountain West, I’ve had Decembr 25 circled on my calendar for months, not for silly things like Santa Claus and eggnog and jingle bells, but for the possibility of an Arizona vs. San Diego State match-up in the finals of the Diamond Head Classic. And, after both teams have more or less cruised through the opening rounds of that tournament, that game is finally set in stone. While teams like Gonzaga, UNLV and New Mexico will have something to say about it, this may be a match-up to determine the best team west of the Rockies. Merry Christmas, hoops fans.
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Pac-12 M5: 12.07.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on December 7th, 2012

  1. Gonzaga’s last second win over Washington State on Wednesday night goes down as one of the best games of the young season so far, and while Ken Bone and the Cougars aren’t big on the concept of the moral victory against a bitter rival, there are some good things they can take away from that game. First and foremost, their stars stepped up in a big way. Brock Motum and DaVonte Lacy combined for five threes in a four-and-a-half minute stretch to bring the Cougs back from an 11-point deficit to tie the game and set up the final scramble. And if WSU has any plans to turn around a slow start to the year, it will need to be on the backs of those two. The other big thing is that, while this team will be without a traditional point guard the whole year, Bone seems to have cobbled together a workable solution. Mike Ladd seems to do most of the play-making in the halfcourt set, but guys like Royce Woolridge, Dexter Kernich-Drew and Lacy have all pitched in and assembled a good point-guard-by-committee group that is doing an excellent job limiting turnovers and getting WSU into their sets. It was bumpy at the start of the year, but the Gonzaga loss proved to me, at least, that the situation is workable.
  2. Meanwhile, Utah, another team expected to finish near the bottom of the conference, was able to come up with its best performance of the year in blowing out Boise State. On a night when the Utes honored former head coach Rick Majerus prior to the game, Utah center Jason Washburn said “we felt like Coach Majerus was with us all night; he was right on the bench with us, smiling down.”  Washburn went 6-of-6 from the field to pace an incredibly hot shooting night for the Utes, in which they shot a ridiculous 78.8% eFG. Block U calls the win the best by the program in the last four years, and, although I could nitpick, it is being taken as a sign by the Ute faithful that Larry Krystkowiak has got this ship headed in the right direction.
  3. We’ve talked a lot about Mark Lyons over the last few days, and Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News has his own take on his transition to the point, which includes the unconvincing argument of “hey, they’re beating a lot of bad teams by a lot of points!” But, DeCourcy does make the point that Lyons is never really the sole ballhandler on the floor for Arizona and that Sean Miller is quite pleased with Lyons’ production. I would maybe go even one step further and say that, while Lyons is the closest thing to a point guard on the team, very rarely is he tasked with being the initiator of the halfcourt offense, a role that just as often falls to either Solomon Hill or Nick Johnson. Lyons may spend a bit more time with the ball in his hands this year than he did last year playing with Tu Holloway at Xavier, but really, Miller hasn’t exactly tried to rebuild Lyons from the ground up.
  4. Even with UCLA’s struggles out of the gate, Shabazz Muhammad still thinks his team is going to make an impact in the Pac-12 this season, even if it has been relegated to sleeper status by their early losses. He told the Petros and Money show on Fox Radio on Wednesday how he feels about the rest of the season. But, the big takeaway from Muhammad’s comments (other than the overwhelming use of the word “really”) may be that Ben Howland has “become a players’ coach.” Muhammad ties that comment to the change that encourages the team to get out in transition more, and it is true that UCLA’s averaging about three more possessions per game this year than last, but certainly Howland is still trying to figure out the sweet spots on both ends of the floor for this team.
  5. Another team that has earned the title “sleeper team” in the Pac-12 is Oregon, off to a 7-1 start behind the production of an all-freshman backcourt of Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson. While senior leader E.J. Singler is quick to praise his younger players, Dana Altman, ever the coach, sees the need for better consistency and better shot selection out of the backcourt duo. Still, he sees them as key cogs in the long-term plans for the Ducks. And, an already deep and talented team expects to get even deeper and more talented, when freshman Arik Armstead is expected to join the team in January. Armstead, a defensive tackle for the Ducks football team, won’t join the team until after Oregon’s appearance in the Fiesta Bowl (January 3 against Kansas State) and it’ll take some time for him to get into basketball shape and learn the ins and outs of the teams’ sets, but he’s been spending a bit of time working with team managers. Just how much of an impact he’ll have is unknown, especially with a now deep Ducks big man rotation, but you can never have too much talent, can you?
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How Hot Is That Seat? The Pac-12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on November 8th, 2012

After a year like the Pac-12 had last year, with the conference champion missing the NCAA Tournament and – oh, nevermind, I don’t need to run down the litany of lows the conference went through last year – it was bad. But, somehow, amidst all the 6-26’s and 31-point home losses to Cal State Fullerton and 20-point home losses to Middle Tennessee, every single Pac-12 head coach returns to his spot on the bench this season, the first time since 2001-02 that every one will do so. But, before we all get too comfortable with this admittedly quite fine selection of coaches, it is worth understanding that the odds are very much against a similar thing happening next year. We’re definitely in an era in college athletics where memories of good times don’t last very long and expectations for each and every season are high. Up and down the conference this season, you’ll find head coaches with make-or-break seasons ahead of them. Last week, CBS released its list of 12 coaches across the nation who find themselves on the hot seat going into the season, and six of those guys will be prowling the sidelines in the Pac-12. Below, we’ll take a look at each head coach in the league and rank just how hot that folding chair on the sidelines is getting for them, from scalding hot down to icy cold.

  • Ben Howland, UCLA – Scalding. Last year was pretty bad. Back-to-back losses to start the season to Loyola Marymount and Middle Tennessee are never good. The Reeves Nelson embarrassment at the start of the year (really, how did he ever think it would be okay to let Nelson fly out to the Maui Invitational on a separate flight?) was one thing, but it blew up into a huge story when George Dohrmann and Sports Illustrated broke down the dysfunction in the program. Sure, there were some circumstances that were less than ideal last year, including playing away from home in the creaky old Sports Arena, but excuses like that don’t fly just two years after a 14-18 season in Westwood. Those three straight Final Fours are not too far back in the rearview mirror, and yeah, the nation’s best recruiting class will definitely help things, but if somehow this thing blows up in Howland’s face this year, we’ll have a nationwide search for the next UCLA basketball coach to write about come March.
Ben Howland, UCLA

Despite Three Straight Final Fours Earlier In His UCLA Career, Ben Howland Needs A Big Year To Hang On To His Job (Jamie Squire, Getty Images)

  • Herb Sendek, Arizona State – Scorching. There isn’t a ton of basketball success in the history books at Arizona State, but when the Sun Devils reeled in the perpetually underrated Sendek from North Carolina State six seasons ago, it seemed like a big score for ASU. Three straight 20-win seasons followed and the Sun Devils were even scoring big-time recruits (see James Harden and Jahii Carson). But two seasons ago, the wheels came off amidst injuries, poor play from seniors, and youngsters who weren’t quite ready. Last year, the whole dang car went in the ditch. But, somehow in the middle of last year’s 10-21 season, then-Athletic Director Lisa Love extended Sendek’s contract by a couple of years. Well, ASU’s got a new AD in Steve Patterson ready to put his stamp on his department. And if Sendek’s youngsters don’t show some serious improvement this year (which, given the low standards and new talent, shouldn’t be that hard to do), Patterson may get his chance to remake the basketball program.

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