Pac-12 Bests and Worsts of the Week: Opening Weekend Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 4th, 2016

As the rest of us file back for what promises to be a dreary work week, conference play in college basketball is well under way. In the opening weekend, Arizona re-established itself as the team to beat while California reclaimed some of its considerable preseason hype. Washington, a team no one picked to do anything this season, is unbeaten after two games. While Utah, a team several analysts picked to win the conference, is still searching for its first conference victory. The opening weekend of action didn’t reveal anything particularly enlightening about any one team, but it signaled to Pac-12 fans that they are in for a wild couple of months.

Worst Way to Finish Off a Game: There is no way that Utah should have lost to Stanford on Friday night, and especially not at the free throw line. But the conference’s best foul shooting team entering the game made just 11-of-24 freebies, including four key misses down the stretch in regulation and two more in overtime to gift wrap a comeback win for the Cardinal. This loss was an especially tough pill to swallow because the Utes subsequently lost to California on Sunday (despite shooting better than 80 percent from the line, incidentally). A loss in Berkeley is understandable on an at-large resume, but Stanford is expected to finish at the bottom of the conference. Utah is now forced to dig itself out of a self-made 0-2 hole — certainly not the way the team wanted to start the 2016.

Jakob Poetl and the Utes Are Not Off To The Start They Envisioned. (AP)

Jakob Poeltl and the Utes Did Not Start Pac-12 Play The Way  They Envisioned. (AP)

Worst Job of Keeping It Together: At the risk of sounding sanctimonious, Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley looked a little foolish in his ejection from the tail end of the Sun Devils’ weekend loss to Arizona. Hurley’s passion and fire make an impact on his team and are a big reason why Arizona State is overachieving this season, but his team still had a chance to win until his antics erased that with two quick technical fouls. He shouldn’t have to apologize for his fiery personality, as it is a big part of his success as a coach, but it rings somewhat hollow when he simultaneously claims that he “always wants the spotlight on the guys in the game.” Some may argue that there is a fine line between toning it down and losing their edge, but that notion too rings hollow. Hurley should be able to keep the chip on his shoulder without making a spectacle that overshadows his team’s resilience.

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Pac-12 Notebook: A Stroll Around the League

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on December 16th, 2015

Every week I check in with the Mountain West by writing a little blurb about each team. I like that format because it provides a chance to follow the development of all the league’s teams and focus in on little things that may not be worthy of a longer post. Some teams may get a few hundred words one week while other teams just get a sentence or two, but it highlights the important things. We’re going to bring that format to the Pac 12, beginning right now. We might as well throw in some power rankings while we’re at it, so let’s check in with the league in order of how these teams rate at this point. Let’s get to it.

Jordan Bell Is Back For The Ducks, But They're Still A Long Way From Healthy (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Jordan Bell Is Back For The Ducks, But They’re Still A Long Way From Healthy. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

  • Oregon – Yes, the Ducks are coming off two losses in their last four games. But I’ve had Dana Altman’s team as the best team in the conference since the middle of the summer and, even playing shorthanded, they’ve done nothing to dissuade me of that so far. Sophomore center Jordan Bell made his season debut Saturday night at Boise State and he looked healthy following surgery over the offseason to repair a broken foot. He ran the court hard, and played big in chasing rebounds and blocked shots. He didn’t appear to be favoring that foot at all. In 17 minutes, he blocked a couple shots, grabbed seven boards and even handed out four assists. Last night against UC Irvine, he was even better with 12 points and three steals. Encouraging debut aside, it is going to take him some time to get back into game shape and to get comfortable with his new teammates. He still also hasn’t played a minute with Tyler Dorsey (out following a knee sprain against UNLV) or Dylan Ennis (still sidelined with a foot injury). This Oregon team remains one that may not reach full strength until mid-February, something that isn’t a problem in a sport that so values March.

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E! True Pac-12 Story: Washington And Its Fouling Problem

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 4th, 2015

When it happened in a season-opening win against Texas, it was okay because it came in an exciting early victory. When it happened again a week later in a blowout win over Penn, it didn’t seem like a big deal because, well, it’s the Ivy League. But then it happened in a loss to Gonzaga, and it started to seem like it actually mattered. When, the very next day, it happened again in a loss in the rematch with the Longhorns, there was no denying the problem. And now, as the team enters the soft part of its non-conference schedule, it’s time to stage the intervention. The first step is admitting the issue, so let’s come out and say it plainly – Washington has a fouling problem.

Washington's Foul Trouble Is Not Fun For Lorenzo Romar. (The Seattle Times)

Washington’s Foul Trouble Is Not Fun For Lorenzo Romar. (The Seattle Times)

Let’s start with the basics. As a team, the Huskies have committed 167 personal fouls through six games. Focusing specifically on the rotation (anyone playing at least 10 minutes per game), nine players are responsible for 163 of those personal fouls and when we do the math (18 fouls per rotation player and six games played), every member of the Washington rotation is essentially committing three fouls per game. As a result of all this hacking, the Huskies have allowed opponents to shoot an unacceptable amount of free throws. At this point in the season, the national average for free-throw rate (FTA/FGA) is 37.1 percent. The free throw rate for Huskies’ opponents this season has been 50.3 percent, which is 312th in the country. Only three teams in Power 5 conferences (TCU, Missouri and West Virginia) have been more generous when it comes to letting opponents camp out at the charity stripe. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Bests and Worsts: Opening Weekend Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 16th, 2015

The season is back and it is time for what will be a recurring Monday feature here — Bests and Worsts. We usually prefer to spend our weekends watching basketball and save the analysis for the following week so we figured this is the best way to recap some of the good and bad of each weekend. For starters, two teams (UCLA and Stanford) played two games this weekend and everyone else played a single one. One team (Washington) won a potential resume-builder while two other teams (Arizona State and UCLA) lost games that they hope everyone will forget by early February. Let’s take a look at what went down.

Jakob Poeltl Does What You Want A Big Man To Do (Utah Basketball)

Jakob Poeltl Picked Up Where He Left Off In A Season-Opening Win. (Utah Basketball)

  • Best Early Case For Player of the Year Honors: There is little doubt at this point that Jakob Poeltl is going to be a lottery pick as soon as the end of this season, but for now, let’s make sure to celebrate his outstanding versatility before he is gone. The sophomore filled up the box score with 26 points on 10-of-13 shooting, 11 rebounds and four blocks as the Utes’ frontcourt overwhelmed intrastate foe Southern Utah. The Thunderbirds will probably be one of the least physically imposing teams Poeltl goes up against this season, but if his teammates can continue to shoot well from behind the three-point arc, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a Poeltl 20/10 become a regular occurrence in Salt Lake City.

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Gametime: What We Want to See in Texas vs. Washington

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 13th, 2015

We’re just so excited that games are tipping off today that we had to spend some time thinking about what we’re about to see. As a result, the Pac-12 and Big 12 microsites got together to review this evening’s Texas vs. Washington matchup, the first regular season game in any big-time American sports league to be played in China. Shanghai is hosting the event as part of Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott’s initiative to open up Asia. Aside from the intrigue surrounding the location of the game, it will also feature the debut of Shaka Smart as Texas’s new head coach. On the other bench, almost everything except the head coach, Lorenzo Romar, is new for the Huskies. Ken Pomeroy’s ratings suggests that Texas is a nine-point favorite. Below Brian Goodman and Andrew Murawa discuss what they want to see out of each team tonight.

What We Want to See From Texas

Shaka Smart is all smiles as Texas tips off from China. (UT Athletics)

Shaka Smart is all smiles as Texas tips off from China. (UT Athletics)

True Havoc is still a little ways away, but there should still be some change in store for Texas as they tip off their season in China under new head coach Shaka Smart. At a minimum, the Longhorns’ 300th-ranked tempo from last season should tick up. Just don’t expect Texas’ defense to have the same look of Smart’s classic VCU teams. While the Rams drew heaps of praise for the way the guards pressured the backcourt, Texas’ backcourt defense was apathetic at best a year ago, with defensive turnover and steal percentages among the worst in the game. Instead, the Longhorns relied on their bigs to make life miserable for opponents inside, blocking more of their opponent’s shot than every team in the country. Quite the dynamic. While Isaiah Taylor, Javan Felix and Demarcus Holland should improve under Smart, it’s a good bet that his interior will remain the team’s bread and butter on the defensive end of the court. Ridley rightfully gets praise for his shot-blocking prowess, but Prince Ibeh is a highly effective post defender as well, and should earn a bigger role this season. Whether Ibeh shares the floor with Ridley or slides over when he needs a breather, expect Texas’ frontcourt to be very good once again, especially with Shaquille Cleare available after sitting out his transfer year.

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Washington Preview: Meet the New Pups

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 3rd, 2015

In the next three weeks leading up to season tipoff, the Pac-12 microsite will be evaluating each of the league’s 12 teams. Today, we head to Seattle.

Washington Huskies

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been a little too intimidated to start a preview on the Huskies until now. With eight newcomers and just three returnees on the roster, just about everything is going to be new in Seattle this season. Back in 2011-12, Washington won 14 league games en route to the Pac-12 regular season title yet still missed the NCAA Tournament. From there it has been all downhill: back-to-back 9-9 seasons were followed by last year’s 5-13 disaster. In other words, wiping the slate mostly clean and starting over may actually be the best thing head coach Lorenzo Romar can do to save his program.

Blowing It All Up And Starting Over May Have Been Lorenzo Romar's Best Bet (Elaine Thompson, AP)

Blowing It All Up And Starting Over May Have Been Lorenzo Romar’s Best Bet (Elaine Thompson, AP)

Strengths/Weaknesses. Previews typically break into two categories for strengths and weaknesses: one detailing what a program can lean on; one detailing what they need to shore up. In this case, the biggest thing going for Washington may also be its biggest weakness: this complete reboot. Last year’s team was plagued by poor chemistry, infighting and, perhaps worst of all, mediocre talent. In comes that group of eight newcomers to join two sophomores and a senior. If everything goes right, it can be an empowering experience for this new collection of players because there is a lot of talent here. They don’t enter a program where roles have been predetermined and a culture already established. This new group can create the foundation for a new era of Huskies’ hoops. It’s a gamble for sure, but success means setting the table for Romar’s second act in Seattle. If it fails? The show will be closing and Romar’s next role will be in a new theater. Read the rest of this entry »

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Five Things That Scare Us About the Pac-12

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 30th, 2015

Nothing says Halloween like a hastily constructed list replete with a truly cringe-worthy title…or something. The kickoff to the college basketball season is rapidly approaching and one can never have enough preseason analysis. So without further ado and in honor of everyone’s favorite pseudo-holiday, here are the five scariest things happening in the PAC 12 as we head into the season.

With Lorenzo Romar starting from square one, things could get scary. (USA TODAY Sports)

With Lorenzo Romar starting from square one, things could get scary. (USA TODAY Sports)

Lorenzo Romar’s Job Security

The head coach of the Huskies since 2002, Romar is far and away the longest-tenured coach in the Pac-12 and with pretty good reason. The Huskies won 20 games just once under predecessor Bob Bender. Since Romar took over, the Huskies have won 20 games six times and Romar has been the conference Coach of the Year three times. Unfortunately for Romar, the good times have mostly rolled to a halt in Seattle. The Huskies have barely broken .500 in each of the last three seasons and the team’s best player, Nigel Williams-Goss, transferred in the off-season due to concerns about the direction of the program. To his credit, Romar continues to be an excellent recruiter and has brought in another new crop of talent ready to contribute immediately. Still, even with help from the newcomers, the Huskies figure to finish in the bottom third of the conference standings. If (when?) that happens, Romar’s goodwill may have finally run out.

Watching USC Try To Score

In fairness to the Trojans, almost everyone expects the team’s offense to make a major jump this season. But the flip side of that coin is that making the jump offensively shouldn’t be difficult because of how staggeringly bad the team was on that end last season. In the Pac 12, only Oregon State was less efficient offensively than the Trojans last season. USC also managed to rank near the bottom of the country in every meaningful shooting category (63.4 percent from the free-throw line!). The futility was understandable considering the team was almost exclusively underclassmen, but with a mostly unchanged roster returning, points are likely to still be at a premium. If Jordan McLaughlin is healthy, his shooting should improve, but his shot selection needs a lot of work too. The same can be said for Katin Reinhardt, the team’s most gifted offensive player but also its most trigger-happy. Coach Andy Enfield likes his teams to play with tempo. Last season that led to a lot of running and bricking. Everyone who plans to watch the Trojans this season has their fingers crossed that things will be different this time around.

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Things We Think We Know in the Pac-12

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on October 19th, 2015

It’s been a long and enjoyable summer, but, while staring out the window at a Los Angeles rainstorm, it’s clear that summertime has come and gone, my oh my. No need to worry, though; that just means college basketball season is on the horizon. We’re now less than a month away from the start of the regular season. Teams across the country already have their practice schedules in full swing. All of which means it is time to get the RTC Pac-12 microsite back up and running. We’ll be with you here from now until that first weekend in April when the Final Four visits Houston. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll be rewarded with a Pac-12 representative in our sports’ final weekend for the first time since UCLA went back in 2008.

Bobby Hurley's First Season In The Pac-12 Will Be Worth Keeping An Eye On (Tom Tingle, Azcentral Sports)

Bobby Hurley’s First Season In The Pac-12 Will Be Worth Keeping An Eye On (Tom Tingle, Azcentral Sports)

But all of that is a long way off. Today we’ll just take the first few steps to gather our bearings for the journey ahead. At this stage, there’s a lot of guesswork and uncertainty about what is to come. And as we’re reminded on the regular in both arenas of sports and in life, surprises loom around every corner. So today, by way of getting reacquainted with the Pac-12 conference, let’s take a look at what we know and what we will have to learn over the next five months.

Things We Know

New Faces – As always in college sports, there is rampant year-to-year turnover. It’s baked into the pie. It’s something we expect and something we love: getting to spend a full season figuring out all the new talents and personalities. In this year’s edition of the Pac-12, there are some high impact new faces. First, there’s a new head man patrolling the sidelines in Tempe, as Bobby Hurley takes over the reins for Herb Sendek at Arizona State. In terms of new players, the conference boasts six of the nation’s top 25 recruiting classes (according to ESPN), including a couple landing in the top five. We’re used to Sean Miller regularly pulling in sterling classes at Arizona, but the big news this season is that Cuonzo Martin welcomes a loaded recruiting class highlighted by power wing Jaylen Brown and skilled big man Ivan Rabb. Continuing the theme, there’s plenty that we don’t know about the newcomers, but we certainly know that we’ll be keeping a close eye on Tempe, Tucson and Berkeley this season.

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West Coast Bias: Pac-12 Media Day Happenings

Posted by Adam Butler on October 16th, 2015

They say the media doesn’t pay attention to anything that happens out West, but no such claim could be made yesterday. Here is a team-by-team breakdown of the 2015 edition of Pac-12 Media Day, in order of their appearance.

USC Trojans

You only take the podium first if you’re the commissioner or the last place team in the conference. Andy Enfield isn’t Larry Scott. His squad is the latter. Andy Enfield is interesting to me in that Enfield “won the presser.” He was the flashy hire meant to breathe life into a stale program. And then he spouted off about UCLA! Of course those remarks were “off the record” and not meant to be disseminated anywhere beyond his practice. Two years ago we thought he was every bit the flashy hire Pat Haden promised. They’ve won six conference games since and Enfield really hasn’t had a ton to say. This year, however, he seemed to receive more questions and have more to say. It was a refreshing change from the previous platitudes. And while he didn’t say much – and distinctly promised nothing – there seems to be optimism inside this program. They’re older, wiser, stronger, and presumably better. Enfield has a talented roster: How will it translate?

Washington Huskies

Another program with the allusion of optimism, but I maintain it’s going to be a long one in Seattle. They’re bringing in a top recruiting class and return a senior point guard, but the Huskies feel another year away to me. Which of course is not the seat you want to sit in when you’ve had four progressively worse seasons. It’s the seat of a team predicted to finish 11th by the media. But let’s talk about the important stuff: #Globalization. The PAC is sending its Dawgs to China for the first ever regular season game – collegiate or professional – in China. LoRo’s squad will square off against Shaka Smart’s first Longhorn team in an overseas battle. The Huskies, in fact, are taking classes in prep for this trip. Fact: Andrew Andrews seamlessly spoke Mandarin during Pac-12 Media Day. Fact: Malik Dime is bilingual and the best Mandarin speaker on the team (according to Andrews). And while these are all admirable things, they might not be enough to create a particularly good basketball team.

Lorenzo Romar's Team Will Begin A Do-Or-Die Season For Their Coach In China Against Texas (Photo: Seattle Times)

Lorenzo Romar Will Begin A Do-Or-Die Season In China Against Texas (Photo: Seattle Times)

Colorado Buffaloes

Tad walked in all smiles and I loved it. At Media Day, while there isn’t anything particularly stressful, it isn’t everyone’s favorite day. There are logistics, entrances, platitudes, smiles for the camera, and a lot of ‘hey howya doings.’ Media Day is polite. But Tad Boyle waltzed onto the stage with his senior leader, Josh Scott, and a genuine grin on his face. He said, “I was just sitting down with Josh in the waiting room right there, and I’m not sure I have a lot to say. I’m just ready to play.” And doesn’t that make sense? Colorado closed last season in joyless fashion, watching a plethora of players transfer and a senior – Askia Booker – decline an invitation to play in the CBI. About five months ago, there was little to smile about surrounding Colorado basketball. “Looking at last year, I think me and my teammates kind of had to evaluate where we went wrong as a group, and in looking at it, we were afraid to call each other out,” Scott said. Now winning doesn’t necessarily demand a bunch of guys telling each other they’re out of position or screwing up, but it doesn’t hurt to have the kind of trust where teammates work together towards a common goal. The Buffs might not be great this year, but it seems they might be working towards cohesion. And that’s got Tad smiling.

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Wrapping Up the Pac-12 and Looking Ahead to 2015-16

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 16th, 2015

The National Championship game is now more than a week behind us and the Final Four is almost two weeks back. Stanford’s “magical” NIT run ended 14 days ago and Arizona’s loss to Wisconsin in the Elite Eight, capping off the last meaningful Pac-12 action of the season, is nearly three weeks ago. With Arizona State’s coaching vacancy filled and early-entry and transfer season fully in swing, that means it is well past time to put a bow on the season and begin to think about what comes next. Below, we’ll review each Pac-12 team and offer up grades on each team’s season. We’ll also take a look at what could be around the bend the next time college basketball rolls around.

Sean Miller, Arizona

Despite Regular Season and Conference Tournament Titles, The 2014-15 Wildcats Came Up Shy Of Their Grandest Goals. (AP)

Arizona (A-)

The goal all year long was a Final Four. Wrapping up some unfinished business and all. Well, that goal was left incomplete. Business is still pending. Still, you’re not going to see me come down too hard on the Wildcats. While their three regular seasons losses were all suspicious in nature, their Elite Eight loss to national runner-up Wisconsin was just one of those things that happens between great teams. Sean Miller’s postgame press conference after the Badgers shot a 105.0 percent eFG in the second half was one long extended verbal shrug, a “what can you do?”, a “sh– happens.” Arizona ended its season playing its best basketball, some of the best basketball being played by any team in the nation. The Wildcats just happened to lose to one of maybe two or three other teams that were capable of playing better. We have to tack a “minus” onto that well-deserved “A” simply because I would guess Miller and T.J. McConnell and Stanley Johnson and all the rest would agree that the overall result of the season was tinged with some disappointment. Without a doubt, though, the Wildcats were the best team in the Pac-12. And were it not for Buzzsaw Badger, they might still be celebrating in Tucson.

What’s next: McConnell is out of eligibility. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Brandon Ashley have said they’re forgoing their remaining eligibility to pursue NBA careers, a decision Johnson is likely to make as well. But this is Arizona. And this is Sean Miller. The ‘Cats will be fine. Kaleb Tarczewski and Gabe York will return and take on bigger roles. Sophomores Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Dusan Ristic will be relied upon to take big steps forward. Boston College transfer Ryan Anderson and junior college transfer (and 2014-15 redshirt Kadeem Allen) will jump right in. And then there’s a recruiting class featuring Allonzo Trier, Ray Smith, Justin Simon and Chance Comanche (ESPN top-100 recruits, all) that may not even be finished yet. Yeah, don’t cry for Miller and his Wildcats; they’ll be back. Read the rest of this entry »

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