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

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  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

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  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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Pac-12 M5:11.08.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on November 8th, 2012

  1. Pac-12 basketball exhibition games are generally meaningless affairs where a big school beats up on an overmatched foe while the former’s head coach tinkers around with different lineups and different styles. Usually the Pac-12 team wins going away and no one loses too much sleep about the result one way or the other. Still, valuable information can be gleaned from some of these games: Which returnee has made the biggest strides, which of the newcomers can make an impact early in their careers, and who is getting passed up for playing time? For Arizona, with three new and talented freshman big men, sophomore forward Angelo Chol is battling for a spot in the lineup and he’s had some struggles in the team’s two exhibitions. He’s missed some point-blank shots and has lost some confidence, but head coach Sean Miller is still relying on him to earn minutes while senior leader Solomon Hill is doing his best to keep Chol’s head in the game. Hill, on the other hand, was nearly flawless in his latest outing against Chico State (an Arizona win, 98-60) , with only a late missed free throw and a single turnover as blemishes on his performance.
  2. We’ve all got our favorite Pac-12 blogs, but one of my personal favorites is Coug Center. There are times when it seems like you’ve got to hunt down information about Washington State, and over the years I’ve found Coug Center to be by far the best place to keep up to date with all things WSU. While football is still king there (and a lot of other places) for the time being, Kyle Sherwood, Jeff Nusser and Craig Powers did a great job running down their thoughts on the upcoming season. In light of the Reggie Moore dismissal, topic number one was who will play point guard and they’ve got no better answer than anyone else, other than the fact that Royce Woolridge, DaVonte Lacy and Mike Ladd are going to be forced into a lot of minutes and a point guard-by-committee situation. Who knows, it could work, but just remembering Arizona State last year without any real point guard leaves plenty of room for doubt.
  3. We’ve talked in the past about Utah’s complete remaking of its roster, and there is little doubt that Larry Krystkowiak has upped the talent level there. But with many other programs around the conference improved as well, the question remains whether his new roster will result in additional wins. Based on a ridiculously week non-conference schedule, one would hope the Utes would be able to notch at least six wins prior to conference play, but can they improve on last year’s three Pac-12 wins? Many around the conference are picking Utah at the back of the pack — they were 12th in the preseason Pac-12 poll — but with capable offensive players like Jarred DuBois, Aaron Dotson and Jordan Loveridge as well as a deeper bench than the Utes have had in a couple of years, you can probably expect their improved talent to be reflected in their final record, even if they’re still almost certainly doomed to a lower-division finish.
  4. Back on the recruiting trail, UCLA landed three-star wing Noah Allen in the Class of 2013 on Tuesday. A one-time Harvard commitment, Allen certainly isn’t the type of player that head coach Ben Howland landed last year — Scout.com recruiting guru Evan Daniels calls him “a four-year guy” who is more of a long-term project than an immediate impact player. Interestingly enough, apparently Howland made the offer without ever having seen Allen play in person. We’re guessing that there won’t be any eligibility concerns with this prospect roughly a year from now.
  5. Lastly, we’ll hop across town where USC head coach Kevin O’Neill has named junior J.T. Terrell as the starter at the two-guard, beating out returning starter Byron Wesley for the job. Wesley is still expected to get plenty of run, both in relief of Terrell and at the other wing spot, but, man, sometimes the things that O’Neill says just makes you shake your head in disbelief. “He’s finally starting to play hard,” said O’Neill, inferring that for the longest time, Terrell wasn’t playing hard. O’Neill then went on to say that Terrell is “more intelligent than I thought he was.” Goodness. It makes you wonder if O’Neill thought he was complimenting the transfer player, or if he was going out of his way to get a few jabs in his ribs. Terrell’s certainly a talented offensive player, but you know in order to play for K.O.’s Trojans, you’ve got to be committed to give good effort on the defensive end. I would suspect Terrell’s defensive intensity, or lack thereof, is where these latest back-handed compliments stem from.
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Pac-12 Previews: Utah Utes

Posted by PBaruh on October 18th, 2012

Throughout the preseason, the Pac-12 microsite will be rolling out these featured breakdowns of each of the 12 league schools. Today’s release is the Utah Utes.

Strengths. Although Utah had a terrible season last year with almost nothing going right, their coach, Larry Krystkowiak, took charge of the team and made sure that his players knew he didn’t need them if they didn’t play by his rules. He kicked leading scorer Josh Watkins off the team midway through the season. Although Krystkowiak hasn’t had consistent success yet, he’s a good leader for this young team. The Utes have few strengths on this unproven squad right now. However, Utah will have a lot of size, although it will be of the mostly inexperienced variety. They have some returning scoring and rebounding ability with Jason Washburn, but also welcome transfers Dallon Bachynski and Renan Lenz into the fray. Although Bachynski is raw, he still stands at 7’0″ and Lenz should be able to come in and rebound right away and provide a complement to Washburn. Also, the Utes bring in a promising young ESPN 100 recruit in Jordan Loveridge. He could easily become Utah’s best player as the season develops due to his ability to score in the lane, shoot from the outside, and rebound well for a forward.

Jason Washburn, the best player returning for the Utah Utes, will have to step it up this year for Utah to be competitive in the Pac-12 (AP)

Weaknesses. The Utes’ biggest weakness coming into this season is the fact that they don’t have a core of returning players to rely on. Krystowiak brought in 10 new players between recruits and transfers, but none of these players are coming from notable schools. Consequently, Utah doesn’t yet have the talent to really compete in the Pac-12. Last year, the conference was terrible and still they somehow managed to win only three games in the conference. This year, the conference is better, which doesn’t bode well for the Utes especially since they just lost 7’3” David Foster to the same foot injury that hindered him and kept him out for most of last year. It looks like it’s going to be another long season in Salt Lake.

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Pac-12 Expansion: Prognosis after One Year

Posted by KDanna on October 16th, 2012

Last year was the first season of the Pac-12, as the conference invited in a couple more teams to join the party. The number one reason far and away for expansion was football and the ability to have a conference championship game, but of course, Utah and Colorado didn’t just move their pigskin programs. The Utes’ football team nearly made the Pac-12 championship game last year while Colorado struggled mightily under a first year coach having to deal with a multitude of injuries on his roster, so one could surmise that it was a mixed bag for the expansion teams in the Pac-12 teams on the gridiron.

The Buffaloes were one of the few bright spots for the Pac-12 last season, providing the conference with its lone NCAA Tournament win.

With that criterion, you could say the same about last year’s basketball season, except flip the roles of the schools in question. Despite being picked to finish 10th (tied with Washington State) by the media in the preseason poll, the Buffaloes were an impressive 11-7 in the Pac-12 regular season and stunned most everyone by winning four games in four days to claim the Pac-12 Tournament and snatch up the league’s automatic bid to the Big Dance. On the other hand, Utah had a poor non-conference showing with blowout losses to the likes of Boise State, Fresno State and Cal State Fullerton. The Utes didn’t have much more success in the Pac-12 slate, finishing 3-15 in conference and coming in 11th place.

That said, it wouldn’t be fair to Utah to judge them for eternity based on last season’s performance. It was Larry Krystkowiak’s first season in Salt Lake City and the Utes were without their difference-maker on defense in David Foster (and they’ll continue to be without him this year, too).  And with such a huge roster upheaval this year — only three guys on this year’s team played in a game for the Utes in 2011-12 and six transfers are eligible to suit up — who knows how much one can really expect of the 2012-13 version, though that backcourt should get a huge shot in the arm with three of those transfers in Glen Dean, Jarred DuBois and Aaron Dotson.

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Pac-12 M5: 10.12.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on October 12th, 2012

  1. One of the things we love about college basketball is that every year, there are loads and loads of teams with brand new looks. You’ve got freshmen coming in and transfers and kids back from injuries. The entire makeup of a team can change from year to year, for better or for worse. This year in the Pac-12 is no different, but in some cases, these changes seem to be a bit more extreme than normal, with several teams across the conference ready to unveil a completely remade roster. Today, as practices kick off around the country, we’ll take a look at five of those teams, beginning with Utah, where second-year head coach Larry Krystkowiak welcomes in a roster that returns just two scholarship players from last year’s 6-25 team. Given the depths to which the talent level plunged in Salt Lake City last year, the remake was desperately needed, and Krystkowiak is certain that the team is ready to be much more competitive. With 10 new scholarship faces on the roster, the battle for time is tight and ongoing, with the head man mentioning that the Ute starting lineup may be a shifting five over the course of the year.
  2. As bad as the Utes were last year, USC was even worse, limping (quite literally) home to a 1-17 record. Along the way, the Trojans turned into the walking wounded with dozens, if not hundreds, of players (overstatement is of use here) lost for the season to injury. But not only does Kevin O’Neill have many of those players coming back from last year’s injuries, but he’s got transfers galore and, all told, plenty of talent up and down the bench. Never one for understatement, O’Neill last season called then sophomore center DeWayne Dedmon a future NBA lottery pick, while this year he is going out on a limb and projecting Rice transfer Omar Oraby as a future 12- or 13-year pro, although USC is still waiting on word from the NCAA as to whether he’ll receive a waiver to be able to play this year. But O’Neill is most excited about getting back the services of senior point guard Jio Fontan, whom he calls the heart and soul of the team.
  3. Washington State’s 2011-12 season was slightly more successful than either of the above teams’, but like both USC and Utah, the Cougs will unveil a new-look squad as well. Brock Motum returns after his breakout junior season, as does returning starter DaVonte Lacy and four other players, but things are going to have to be different in Pullman this season. But despite being minus recently-dismissed point guard Reggie Moore, head coach Ken Bone thinks this will be a better team than last year, with the combo of Lacy and Kansas-transfer Royce Woolridge being an upgrade over the would-be senior. And Bone hopes that the Cougs’ underdog status will help the squad “pull together.” Reading between the lines a bit, it seems I may not be the only one who thinks the loss of Moore could turn out to be addition by subtraction.
  4. Oregon advanced to the NIT last season, but after five graduating seniors and three freshmen transferring out of the program last year, the Ducks were in need of a talent infusion of their own. Enter a five-man freshman class, two junior college transfers, and Rice transfer Arsalan Kazemi (who is appealing to the NCAA for immediate eligibility), and returnee EJ Singler, for one, is excited about the additional size and athleticism added to Dana Altman’s roster. The number of new players could jump to nine once the football season ends, assuming freshman Arik Armstead joins the team in January, but the number could have even been 10. However, junior college transfer Devon Branch opted not to enroll at UO for the fall semester, instead opting to go the Division II route, which would give him one more season of eligibility than he would have had in Eugene.
  5. The roster makeover for Washington is not as massive as in any of the above four stops, but the Huskies are without their two highest profile stars from last season’s Pac-12 regular season champion. Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten Jr. left eligibility on the table when they split for the NBA, but it was no secret that last year’s squad underachieved in part due to chemistry issues that never got fully resolved. Lorenzo Romar commented on Twitter that this team has the chemistry and attitude that the coaching staff appreciates, a remark that seems to draw a direct comparison to last year’s squad. Put on your special glasses and it might as well read: “last year’s team had no chemistry because there were too many guys worried about getting the credit.” There’s still plenty of talent up in Seattle, with proven upperclassmen Abdul Gaddy, C.J. Wilcox and Aziz N’Diaye leading the way, so if the intangibles shift a little in the right direction, the 2012-13 edition of the Huskies could be an improvement on last year’s more talented squad.
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Pac-12 M5: 10.09.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on October 9th, 2012

  1. Way back on April 11, Shabazz Muhammad signed with UCLA, guaranteeing Ben Howland one of the year’s best recruiting classes and boosting the hopes of Bruins’ fans. While there have been some good moments since then (such as when Tony Parker eventually committed to UCLA as well), now nearly six months later, the Bruins are on a bit of a losing streak even though they have yet to play a game. They learned yesterday that returning starter Tyler Lamb will miss at least a month while recovering from knee surgery. Throw that on top of the NCAA investigations into Muhammad and fellow recruits Parker and Kyle Anderson, along with bad news from Joshua Smith’s scale, and there is some concern as to where this season is going. However, on the bright side, Lamb will likely be back soon after the season begins, and even if UCLA plays without him for a handful of games, sophomore guard Norman Powell should be ready and willing to step in and use the available minutes to make his case for more playing time.
  2. As for the other question marks mentioned above, UCLA fans are hoping to get some positive answers. First, on the matter of Joshua Smith’s diet, once again progress is being reported. Though there is still no one that will actually go on record with a three-digit number meant to accurately represent his weight, Smith claims that his body fat percentage is down from 25% when he came to campus two years ago to just 17% today, with a future goal of 10%. Still, at this point, especially given last year’s often lackluster effort, college basketball fans will largely take a wait-and-see approach to Smith’s waistline. Meanwhile, Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson have begun preliminary workouts with the Bruins despite the fact that the NCAA has yet to rule on their eligibility. This means (correct me if I am wrong) that for the next 45 days, these guys are eligible to practice with the team and play in games. Once those 45 days expire, either they must be cleared or they must stop working out with the team until their investigations are resolved. The scuttlebutt is that Anderson will be cleared by the NCAA (although, until that actually happens, Bruins fans have every right to be nervous), while any guess on Muhammad’s eventual status is just that, a guess.
  3. Lamb’s knee surgery isn’t the only big injury news around the conference. California head coach Mike Montgomery announced on Monday that sophomore guard Ricky Kreklow underwent surgery on his right foot and will be out of action for up to two months. Kreklow transferred into Berkeley after spending one season at Missouri, where he shot 28.3% from three in limited minutes as a freshman in 2010-11. After sitting out last season per NCAA rules, the former Mr. Basketball in Missouri in 2010 was expected to jump into the Golden Bear starting lineup this season as a three-point shooting specialist, but instead will have to serve as a midseason reinforcement. Coupled with the transfers of guards Alex Rossi and Emerson Murray this offseason, the Bears now find themselves slightly shorthanded in the backcourt, with returning starters Justin Cobbs and Allen Crabbe being joined by Brandon Smith and freshman Tyrone Wallace. The injury could mean that instead of employing a three-guard starting lineup of Cobbs, Crabbe and Kreklow, Cal could opt to go bigger along the front line. Stay tuned.
  4. Last week, the consensus #1 player in the 2013 recruiting class, Jabari Parker, narrowed his list of potential schools down to five. This is important for Pac-12 fans for a couple of different reasons. First, and foremost, Stanford is one of the quintet of schools remaining as possible landing spots for the versatile wing. Johnny Dawkins already has commitments from the Allen twins (Marcus and Malcolm), but adding an elite recruit the level of Parker would bring a whole different level of recruit to The Farm. The other bit of interest about Parker involves Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak, who apparently was shown on a Salt Lake City television station talking about Parker, a potential NCAA violation. However, Rob Dauster argues that since the Utes no longer stand a chance of landing Parker (the Utes are not among his final five), Krystkowiak can get off on a technicality. Still, the coach should know better.
  5. It’s not all bumbles and stumbles along the recruiting trail for Krystkowiak, however, as the Utah head man continues his pursuit of Michael Williams, a 6’2” point guard out of Texas. He just finished an official visit with the program last week and now will decide between the Utes, TCU and Penn. The fact that those are the other schools in on Williams’ recruitment indicates that he’s not likely to be a player who makes a huge impact, but he is a bigger lead guard than anybody currently on the roster with Glen Dean and Brandon Taylor both checking in under six feet. Krystkowiak already has a couple 2013 shooting guard commitments, while also chasing Las Vegas point guard Julian Jacobs and southern California lead guard Brandon Randolph.
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