Friday at 4:00 PM ET marks a huge day for Illinois as five-star forward Cliff Alexander will announce his college decision — he is down to Illinois, Kansas, DePaul, and Memphis. The Chicago native has his decision in mind and most believe it will be either Illinois or Kansas. Kansas has long been the favorite for Alexander, with Jayhawks’ assistant Jerrance Howard recruiting him since he was an eighth-grader. But Illinois and John Groce have made a late surge and have some momentum. If Alexander puts on the Illini hat Friday, it will not only represent Groce’s growing recruiting presence in Chicago, but will also signal that Illinois is ready to get back to being a national power.
Along with Alexander, elite Class of 2014 prospects Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Stanley Johnson will also announce Friday afternoon. Besides Illinois for Alexander, no other Big Ten team is in the running for these three recruits. But that doesn’t mean the Big Ten is done recruiting top prospects this year. Indiana is heavily pursuing point guard JaQuan Lyle, a former Louisville commitment. Minnesota and Rashad Vaughn have mutual interest. Vaughn, a shooting guard from Golden Valley, Minnesota, would be Richard Pitino’s first major recruit during his short tenure as a head coach. Also look out for OhioState to continue to pursue consensus top five player Myles Turner, a center who has been compared favorably to former NPOY Anthony Davis. The Buckeyes already have one of the nation’s best 2014 recruiting classes and all that is missing is a talented big man like Turner.
Tom Izzo and his MichiganState Spartans are coming off a huge Tuesday night victory over Kentucky. Despite the monster win, Izzo is not pleased with his team’s effort on the boards.Adreian Payne battled foul trouble in the second half and that limited his effectiveness. Izzo desperately needs either Matt Costello, Gavin Schilling or Alex Gauna to become a consistent rebounder who the Spartans can lean on to average at least seven boards a game beyond Payne’s production. GaryHarris is another player who Izzo wants to see increase his rebounding activity. He only averaged 2.5 rebounds per game last season.
Iowa has found a stud player via the transfer hub in JarrodUthoff. With two scholarships open for the class of 2014, head coach Fran McCaffery said he might turn to the transfer trail to fill them again. Transfers have become increasingly important to college programs, especially when they can get waivers to play right away. Don’t be shocked to see Iowa possibly pick up two graduate students for next season who will be granted immediate eligibility.
There are two major games involving Big Ten teams this weekend. First, #10 Ohio State goes to Milwaukee to take on #17 Marquette Saturday. Look out for the important match-up in the post between Amir Williams and Davante Gardner. Gardner was a first team all-Big East preseason selection and will be a handful for Williams, who has never lived up to his McDonald’s All America hype. On Sunday, #7 Michigan travels to Ames to take on Iowa State. Both teams will each be without a key player, though — Iowa State’s Melvin Ejim is out with a bad left knee and Michigan’s MitchMcGary is not expected to play due to a nagging back injury. It’s not a huge deal now, but each team clearly needs its respective injured player to get healthy by the time conference play starts.
To the surprise of probably nobody, Oregon State’s Ahmad Starks was named the first Pac-12 Player of the Week for the 2012-13 season. The junior guard from Chicago earned the honor in large thanks to a 33-point effort against New Mexico State on Sunday night, a game that saw him consistently get to the rack and beat the tall-but-slow-footed 7’5’’ Sim Bhullar and others on his way to the paint. Starks is probably known more for his trigger-happy right hand from beyond the arc, something he showed off in the season opener against Niagara during which he hit six three-pointers. In a land chock full of diminutive guards, Ahmad Starks might be the most underrated of them all. This honor (his second such of his career) helps shine some light on Craig Robinson’s perimeter player, and conferences love to heap praise on players from teams that don’t receive a lot of positive national attention (see: Colorado quarterback Jordan Webb being awarded the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week honor for the Buffs’ lone win of 2012 against Washington State). It’s a well-deserved honor for Starks, who also averaged six rebounds, three assists, and two steals per contest.
The new AP Top 25 and USA Today Coaches Poll came out yesterday and there wasn’t much movement for the Pac-12 constituents. The AP kept Arizona and UCLA and 12 and 13, respectively, while dropping the Wildcats and Bruins a spot in the USA Today to 12 and 14. The reasons for the slight drops in the coaches poll surround Arizona’s too-close-for-comfort victory over Charleston Southern and the news out of Westwood that Shabazz Muhammad has been ruled ineligible. It’s good to see that UCLA didn’t get punished harshly for the ineligibility of a player who has yet to contribute to the program in a game; others like the CBS Sports Top 25 (and one) dropped the Bruins precipitously. Sure, a lot of preseason rankings are based on projections, but these preseason rankings came out with the knowledge that Muhammad might not play in the first place. It would unjust in the humble opinion of this blogger to dock the Bruins any further.
More on that Arizona win over Charleston Southern– it leaves plenty of room for improvement for the Wildcats, according to The Tucson Citizen. Regardless of how good Charleston Southern may be this year, it’s never a good feeling to have to grind one out against a Big South school at home as a top-25 team. This isn’t the first time this has happened for Arizona, either. Look no further than last year, when a preseason top-20 Wildcat squad sweated out victories at home against Valparaiso and Duquesne before eventually dropping off in non-league play with losses in all of their most important non-conference games (Mississippi State, San Diego State, Florida, and Gonzaga). Lessons are always easier to learn in close wins, but a similar effort against UTEP and Long Beach State, two programs that are a notch above Charleston Southern, might not yield as friendly of a result.
The Colorado sports information department has to rank among the best in the conference, partly due to features that move beyond your normal fluffy and propaganda-sounding pieces. Case in point: this B.G. Brooks article concerning André Roberson’s need to play with more energy. He didn’t have a horrific game in the Buffaloes’ 74-59 season-opening victory against Wofford, but it wasn’t the performance many have come to expect from the only guy to average a double-double in the conference last year. Both Boyle and Roberson himself agree that he needs to play with a little more spunk, and it needs to happen right away as Colorado gets ready for the Charleston Classic. It isn’t a loaded field, but Dayton should provide a good test immediately, and the Buffs could also square off against Baylor and Murray State in future rounds.
Lastly, the Stanford basketball team sent out a get-well motivational video to the injured Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis. The Cardinal made headlines in the NIT last year when Lewis was caught on tape giving a motivational speech to Stanford right before its semifinal game against UMASS in Madison Square Garden. While this video won’t get anyone pissed off for greatness (even though the players mention the phrase a few times in the video), it’s a nice gesture to an NFL great who really helped put Stanford back on the map of national relevance.
Happy Halloween, everyone. Arizona will treat its fans to an exhibition against Humboldt State tonight at the McKale Center. Exhibitions are usually for the die-hards, but probably more than a few casual fans will make their way over to the Tucson campus to catch a glimpse of the third-ranked recruiting class in action for the first time against somebody other than themselves. One question surrounding this class is whether it will be able to live up to the hype better than last year’s class. Remember how highly touted the trio of Nick Johnson, Josiah Turner and Angelo Chol were? All signs point to Grant Jerrett, Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley and Gabe York as able to deliver in a bigger way this season, but one can never be 100 percent certain until they perform in a game. This contest will also provide Wildcat supporters with a first look at point guard Mark Lyons in an Arizona uniform, as the mercurial senior averaged 15 points per game last year at Xavier. It’s also worth mentioning that the Wildcats lost their exhibition opener last year to Seattle Pacific, but I find it hard to believe that a similar result will be produced against Humboldt State on this night.
The NCAA approved tougher sanctions against those programs and coaches who buck the NCAA law. A couple of the more striking provisions are that NCAA violators who are found to be in “serious breach of conduct” could potentially suffer similar punishments to the one handed out to the Penn State football team (a four-year postseason ban and a $60 million fine). Also, if an assistant coach commits a serious violation, the head coach must be able to prove that he or she was unaware of the assistant’s actions; if not, the head coach could be suspended for anywhere from 10 percent to the entire season. All changes will go into effect starting August 1, 2013. While the coaches who are quoted in the various articles seem to be largely in favor of these tougher sanctions, it obviously still remains to be seen how effective these changes will be. As has been the case throughout history, cheaters will find a way to continue their cheating ways. Hopefully these tougher penalties will accomplish the NCAA’s and everyone’s goal of a markedly cleaner collegiate athletics scene.
Another day, another CBS Sports list. On Tuesday, it was the top 50 shooters in the country, a list that made space for three current Pac-12 players: Washington’s C.J. Wilcox (No. 11), California’s Allen Crabbe (No. 12) and Stanford’s Chasson Randle (No. 41). Additionally, former Husky and current Texas A&M Aggie Elston Turner made the cut at No. 19. No real gripes here, but perhaps Aaron Bright was also deserving of a nod, especially considering his play during the 2012 NIT, a five-game run that earned him NIT Most Outstanding Player honors. What’s noteworthy with this list is that 35 of the 50 players come from non-power conference schools, including representatives from Texas Pan-American and Texas Southern. For those not curious enough to check out the list, former Razorback-turned-Butler Bulldog Rotnei Clarke holds down the top spot.
Earlier this week, ESPN.com’s Eamonn Brennan released his top 10 rebounders in the country, and Colorado’s André Roberson topped the list. We’re probably a little biased here at the Pac-12 microsite because we get to see Roberson play so often, but there’s no faulting Brennan for this selection. Roberson is an elite rebounder thanks to his hops, long arms and overall very high basketball IQ. There were spots during last year’s Pac-12 Tournament where Roberson looked like a future lottery pick, especially when he started to knock down a few threes. He certainly has that kind of upside, and big things are expected again of the only guy in the Pac-12 to average a double-double last season. There were no freshmen in Brennan’s top 10, but Kaleb Tarczewski and Grant Jerrett of Arizona both made his “freshmen to watch” mentions.
Lastly, the Pac-12 announced its talent lineup for the Pac-12 Networks’ men’s basketball coverage for the upcoming season. Headlined by Bill Walton, other analysts include Don MacLean, Ernie Kent, Lenny Wilkens and Detlef Schrempf. The play-by-play lineup doesn’t necessarily include as many big names, but all are very good broadcasters and will not disappoint viewers. The most famous of the play-by-play guys is probably Ted Robinson, a two-time Emmy winner who has done just about every sport imaginable. Overall, it’s a very intriguing lineup of broadcasters and it should keep Pac-12 Networks broadcasts for men’s basketball entertaining.
Oregon opened up its exhibition slate last night, and unlike Washington, the Ducks won rather easily in a 102-75 decision over Concordia. After Concordia opened up the game with a 9-2 run thanks to a couple of threes, the Ducks took care of business in large thanks to the new guys. From what I was able to see (the game was streamed live on the Pac-12 website), the most impressive newbie of the bunch was Dominic Artis, who led the way with 17 points. He dished out some flashy passes and absolutely crossed up a couple of Concordia defenders. He was also able to knock down some perimeter jumpers, hitting three of his four three-point attempts. Damyean Dotson recorded a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds, while another freshman, Willie Moore, scored 15 points. It’s only the preseason and it was a non-Division-I opponent, but Duck fans can come away from that game with some reason to be excited for the future even if this year doesn’t figure to be a banner one for Dana Altman and company.
The Associated Press preseason All-America Team was released yesterday, and probably to the surprise of nobody, no one from the Pac-12 made the list. Instead, comprising the team were Indiana’s Cody Zeller, Crieghton’s Doug McDermott, Ohio State’s DeShaun Thomas, Murray State’s Isaiah Canaan, Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum and Michigan’s Trey Burke (yes, there were six players named because McCollum and Burke received the same number of votes). The one Pac-12 guy who an argument could be made that he deserves preseason All-America honors from a talent perspective is UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad, but, considering his eligibility questions, there was no way Muhammad was going to garner this recognition. There has only been one freshman to be named a preseason All-American by the Associated Press (Harrison Barnes in 2010), and given how that worked out, there might not be another one for a while. The last Pac-12 player to make the AP preseason All-America Team was Darren Collison back in 2008.
Continuing along with its preseason lists, CBS Sports released its top 30 breakout players for 2012-13 yesterday. Two Pac-12 guys found their way on there –Washington’s Scott Suggs (No. 17) and USC’s J.T. Terrell (No. 21), while former Sun Devil-turned-South Florida Bull Victor Rudd checked in at #20. We here at the Rush The CourtPac-12 Micrositetackled this topic on October 19 and not one of us picked Suggs or Terrell to be the top breakout guy in the conference. While both are worthy choices, surely Aziz N’Diaye, Dewayne Dedmon, Nick Johnson, Roberto Nelson and Dwight Powell are deserving of the same sort of recognition. Of course, there are only 30 players on this list and there are more than 30 conferences, so quite a few leagues are feeling more snubbed than the Pac-12 today.
Jon Rothstein took a trip to the Galen Center to watch USC practice and came away highly impressed with the Trojans. Predicting the Trojans will finish in the top-half of the Pac-12 standings, Rothstein is particularly in admiration of the depth USC has thanks to all the transfers who are finally eligible to suit up for Kevin O’Neill. One player who might not be eligible is Omar Oraby, and Rothstein notes that O’Neill said he expects to hear from the NCAA this week with regards to the 7’2’’ transfer from Rice (he is applying for an NCAA hardship waiver to play immediately after transferring in September). If he can play this year, Rothstein writes that O’Neill’s plan will be to play both him and Dewayne Dedmon together in the starting lineup, giving the Trojans two seven-footers on the court at the same time. As far as the rest of the rotation, he expects Jio Fontan, J.T. Terrell and Dedmon to start, with the other two spots up for grabs if Oraby isn’t able to play. With such a new-look roster, it’s almost easy to forget that the Trojans were a six-win team in 2011-12 and won only one conference game in perhaps the weakest Pac-12 of recent memory. An article like this will surely have Trojan fans salivating for the beginning of the season.
A bit of unfortunate news out of the Pacific Northwest, as former Oregon State player Daniel Deane has been arrested for a marijuana-related incident… for the third time this year. All three of his arrests have revolved around the transportation of marijuana. Luckily, his jail stint shouldn’t be a long one, as Harney County Jail (where Deane is being held) suggests he will be released on November 7. Deane was a hard-nosed player on the court, one who could be counted on for hustle plays. It’s regrettable that he would commit the same offense three times in a year, but hopefully he will be able to learn from this arrest and at the very least keep his stash at home.
Arizona State came into conference play as one of the least talented teams in the Pac-12. This weekend they played without three of their players, all suspended for “unacceptable conduct” and it was announced Sunday that at least one of those players who had been suspended this weekend will not be returning to the team as Herb Sendek dismissed Keala King from the team. Kyle Cain and Chris Colvin, who were suspended along with King this weekend, apparently will return to the team. King becomes the eighth Sun Devil to leave the program with remaining eligibility since 2008 and the third player in a seven-man 2010 class to leave. It’s a good thing Sendek signed a contract extension earlier in the year, because this program is an absolute mess and will need to start over more or less from scratch next offseason. For what it’s worth, ASU did salvage a weekend split in Los Angeles, knocking off USC on Thursday before getting blown out by UCLA on Saturday.
Saturday night, Stanford and Oregon State played one of the most entertaining games you’ll see this season, as the Cardinal somehow pulled off a 103-101 victory in the fourth overtime at Gill Coliseum. It was a game that was worth watching from the opening tip to the final buzzer, from Roberto Nelson’s shoeless three-pointers early in the first half (that had the OSU announcers way, WAY too excited) to his late body slam of Josh Huestis, to his potential game-winning three-pointer at the end of the fourth OT that just missed. There’s a ton more to be discussed here, and we’ll have something up later this afternoon, but for now enjoy reliving the game with Jeff Eisenberg’s five memorable moments from the game.
There were two Pac-12 games on Sunday afternoon although neither came anywhere near matching the excitement in Corvallis Saturday night. They were, however, important games as the road teams came up with wins in both games. First it was Arizona getting over on USC in one of the uglier games you’ll see this season. The teams combined to shoot 3-of-30 from behind the arc, Arizona turned the ball over 17 times, and Maurice Jones was allowed to shoot the Trojans out of yet another game (he was 3-of-13 from the field and is now shooting a 42.1% eFG this year). Later, it was California going into Oregon and coming away with a 17-point victory that was most notable for Allen Crabbe’s best game of the season – 26 points, 12 rebounds and six three-pointers. In both cases, the road teams earned weekend splits, putting the Bears and the Wildcats, along with Stanford’s Cardinal and perhaps Washington’s Huskies atop the list of conference favorites.
Washington’s on that list above in part due to their road win at Utah this weekend. While a win on the road in this year’s Pac-12 is nothing to scoff at, the Huskies weren’t exactly impressive in their victory. After struggling with the woeful Utes for 39 minutes, Washington at least had some breathing room down the stretch, having built up an eight-point lead with just a minute to play. But then Desmond Simmons missed the front-end of a one-and-one with the Utes in foul mode. And then Terrence Ross missed two more front-ends, allowing Utah to get back to within two points with 12 seconds left. Ross finally capped the game off by drilling a couple free throws, but the Huskies’ performance certainly didn’t inspire much confidence.
Lastly, back to that UCLA/ASU game for a second. Bruin sophomore center Joshua Smith, back after missing Thursday’s game with a minor concussion, had his best game of the season, scoring 18 points in 21 minutes and dominating the undermanned Sun Devils. Thursday night Ben Howland noted that Smith, who has struggled with his conditioning throughout his UCLA career, after much work both in and out of practice, was down to his lowest weight of the season (presumably somewhere north of the 305 pounds at which he is presently listed). Saturday night, the work that he had put in was evident. Not only was he able to play 21 very effective minutes, but he actually dunked a ball – not just once, but twice! Don’t believe me? The proof is in the picture here. Now, this doesn’t mean that all of a sudden Smith is the all-conference performer that he has the talent to be (he did, after all, manage only four rebounds against ASU), but it is a huge step in the right direction both for Smith and the Bruins. I like to think he heard my plea.
Seth Davis dug a little deeper into the newest report over the weekend that Saint Joseph’s could not talk about Todd O’Brien until he waived his student-privacy rights and found that despite the school’s initial report it appears that they would not discuss the case even if O’Brien did waive his privacy rights, which is interesting because they seemed to indicate they would when we talked to them over the weekend. Several media members have talked with O’Brien asking if he would be willing to call the school’s bluff and waive his rights. Although O’Brien says he wants to waive his privacy rights he also is hiding behind the legal system in a way as he states that he will not waive his right due to his lawyer advising him not to do so. Like Seth we are willing to acknowledge that while it is probably sound legal advice in general, it is an awful public relations strategy. Todd can hide behind legal advice, but with his decision not to mention the computer theft issue in his original column there will continue to be at least a small portion of the public that will hesitate to support O’Brien in his quest for a graduate student transfer waiver without the full story being out there.
Mississippi lost its leading scorer yesterday when it dismissed Dundrecous Nelson following his arrest at 1:24 AM on Wedneday after he was caught smoking marijuana. Nelson, who was averaging 11.6 points per game despite coming off the bench for the past 10 games, was expected to play an even bigger role on a team that lost much of its scoring from last season. Little-used reserve guard Jamal Jones was also arrested and kicked off the team. According to team sources, both players also reportedly failed multiple drug tests. The Rebels will need to find another offensive weapon quickly as they start SEC play on Saturday.
Arizona State suffered a big blow before their game at USC last night when they announced that three players (starters Keala King and Kyle Cain and backup guard Chris Colvin) had been suspended for “unacceptable conduct”. We have not heard any more information on what these players did (or if their “unacceptable conduct” was related) or how long the suspensions will be. What we do know at this point is that the suspensions left the 4-9 Sun Devils with just six scholarship players for their trip to Los Angeles this weekend with last night’s game at USC followed by a game at UCLA tomorrow. We suspect that these three will be back soon (maybe even on Sunday), but despite their win over a USC team that is an even bigger mess with the Sun Devils falling apart around him you have to wonder how much longer Herb Sendek will continue to be the coach there.
John Caliparispoke out yesterday against a legislative proposal that would require Kentucky to play Louisville every year in men’s basketball and football. Prior to speaking at a lunch, Calipari said, “”I would hope they (lawmakers) don’t think I need help scheduling. I hope they have more important things to do.” When questioned about it later the bill’s sponsor claimed that the proposal was just to generate interest for in the bill’s primary purpose of improving education in the state. Apparently, he felt that he needed to use college sports to get the state to care about education. While we find it amusing (and somewhat disheartening) that he had to resort to the Kentucky-Louisville rivalry to get attention some of the figures listed in the article about graduation rates within the state’s university system are shocking.
In the latest installment of their weekly power rankings Luke Winn takes a look at foul rates for some top interior players as well as a variety of stats including the always controversial Kentucky defensive stats while Mark Titus offers his various musings about college basketball. Winn provides his usual insightful statistical analysis with great visuals to help those whose eyes tend to glaze when presented with a bunch of numbers. On the other hand, Titus appears to be trying his hand at being a serious journalist as you will notice there are not quite as many anecdotes and he repeatedly mentions watching a game multiple times, but we are just having a hard time adjusting to the new Club Trillion as a serious basketball journalist especially when he makes comments like Perry Jones being the best player in the Big 12 while completely ignoring Thomas Robinson.
Not only did Oregon State lose its first two road games of this Pac-12 conference season, it has lost the last 11 conference road games it has played. As you might expect, the Beavers are quite happy to be back home this week. However, the bad part is, they kick off the homestand with California, a team that has beaten OSU in 29 of its last 34 contests. However, if Craig Robinson’s club can gain a little momentum this weekend at Gill Coliseum, perhaps they could use that energy to turn around their poor fortune on the road.
Colorado is the one team in the conference with a winning conference record that gets to continue to play at home this week. However, after having dispatched with Utah easily last Saturday, tonight they will host Washington, “a different animal,” according to head coach Tad Boyle. While the Buffaloes are young and talented, Boyle says he will use this game against the Huskies as a litmus test for where they stand in the Pac-12. Given that CU is placing so much importance on this game, it will be interesting to see how the Huskies respond to their first conference road test.
Is Tony Wroten a Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate, asks The Arizona Republic’s Doug Haller. Of course, answers ESPN west-coast analyst Sean Farnham. Farnham cites Wroten’s tremendous ability in the open court, his scoring acumen, his strong rebounding for a guard, and, really, the weakness of the rest of the Pac-12 as key reasons why Wroten is the favorite for the Pac-12 POTY title. And, if you need some visual evidence, check out the sequence embedded there, where Wroten rebounds at one end, goes coast to coast, finishes above the rim, then hustles back downcourt and rejects a Devoe Joseph jumper. Classic.
Most years, a UCLA/Arizona matchup is a contender for conference game of the year. This year, the luster is off the rivalry a bit, as UCLA has struggled and, frankly, isn’t always much fun to watch. But still, it is UCLA/Arizona, and any self-respecting obsessive college hoops fan will want to take a look at it. However, if you were to check out Ben Howland’s comment and read between the lines a little bit, you might want to have a Plan B on hold. UCLA’s defense has struggled mightily stopping dribble penetration this year, and Howland admits “Arizona is very hard for us to match up with. Basically, we’re playing against five guards.” For the Bruins to have any chance to hang with the Wildcats, they’ll need to find a way to slow the penetration from those guards and find a way to use guys like Joshua Smith and the Wear twins to take advantage of the relatively underized Wildcat frontline.
Lastly, we head back up to Seattle for a great profile from The Seattle Times’ Percy Allen on Washington’s Abdul Gaddy, a friend of RTC. It was one year ago yesterday that Gaddy tore his ACL in practice, and it is amazing to think that he was back ready to go at the start of the 2011-12 season, just nine and half months later. While Gaddy’s injury-shortened sophomore campaign looked to be a breakout year for the Husky point guard, he has picked up this year right where he left off, leading his team in minutes played and assists and earning a co-captain role for Lorenzo Romar.
Finally, here’s this week’s Youtube Play of the Week… Arizona’s Josiah Turner to Nick Johnson.
Washington is the talk of the Pac-12 this week, after having swept the Oregon schools in impressive fashion the opening weekend of conference play. And while Tony Wroten, C.J. Wilcox, Terrence Ross and Abdul Gaddy impressed offensively, the Huskies understand that it was their success on the defensive end that is most responsible for their 2-0 record. Wroten cited the Huskies loss to South Dakota State as the wake-up call they needed to get their act together on the defensive end.
Ben Howland admitted on Tuesday that the only chance UCLA has of earning an NCAA Tournament bid is to win the Pac-12 Tournament in March. Sure, this isn’t exactly a newsflash to anybody who has paid attention to the Bruins’ struggles this season, but some UCLA fans see this as Howland already waving a white flag. Realistically, it is simply a rational, truthful assessment of where the Bruins stand right now and Howland knows that the remainder of the UCLA regular season schedule is aimed simply at getting his team ready to play its best basketball of the season over four days at the Staples Center in early March. Other Pac-12 coaches may not have admitted as much, but certainly Howland is not the only Pac-12 coach facing similar circumstances.
UCLA’s next challenge comes Thursday in a homecoming for Arizona’s Solomon Hill, when the Wildcats face the Bruins in Anaheim as part of the Wooden Classic. Hill, who graduated from Fairfax High School (not exactly all that close to the Honda Center, where the game will be played), has struggled with the pressure of road games against his hometown schools in years past (just 14 points and 15 rebounds in 94 minutes in his four road games against the Southern California schools the past two years), but he’s playing his best ball of his career now and is a catalyst for Sean Miller’s team.
Anybody who has watched Utah play this season knows that Larry Krystkowiak needs new talent on that squad – and fast; what you may not have realized was just how quickly he needs the talent. With several Utes out with a variety of injuries, the team has been forced to use assistant coaches in their practices just so they can have enough bodies to go five-on-five. So, as a result, Krystkowiak is considering holding open tryouts among the student body to find some warm bodies with which to practice. And considering the depths to which this proud program has sunk, it is not out of the question that somebody could find themselves suiting up from that pool for a Pac-12 game in the near future.
Lastly, some sad news, as former UCLA head coach Gene Bartow passed away at the age of 81 on Tuesday following a two-year battle with stomach cancer. Bartow took over for the legendary John Wooden at UCLA in 1975, went 52-9 in two seasons in Westwood including a trip to a Final Four, before leaving to begin the athletic program at UAB. Bartow was not only the athletic director at UAB but also the basketball coach for the Blazers for 18 years, racking up 340 wins and nine NCAA Tournament appearances there (including seven straight trips and a run to the Elite Eight in 1982). He was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009 and as of today, Bartow is 48th on the list of the all-time winningest college basketball coaches, with a career record of 647-353. Bartow’s son Murry succeeded his dad at UAB and is now the head coach at East Tennessee State. Our condolences go out to the entire Bartow family.
Opening night in conference play was an exciting one, so let’s jump right into it with the game of the night, where Stanford held off UCLA, needing a Josh Huestis block of an attempt by Lazeric Jones to preserve a 60-59 victory. After giving up the first four points of the game, Stanford bounced back with a 15-2 run and never again trailed, although UCLA had multiple attempts to regain the lead in the second half. Jones led the charge for the Bruins, reeling off a career-high 26 points, but it was a couple of threes by Stanford freshman Chasson Randle wrapped around another three by sophomore Anthony Brown that broke a late tie and gave Stanford a five-point lead with five minutes to play. Randle had struggled on the night, hitting just one of his ten other attempts from the field and getting exposed on the UCLA pick and roll throughout the evening, but came up big down the stretch. Prior to the game, Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins announced that junior guard Gabe Harriswould miss the rest of the season after having surgery on his injured right knee. Harris had been averaging over 13 minutes per game off the bench.
Up the road a stretch, California had to withstand a late charge from Maurice Jones and USC to pull out a four-point win. Jones hit three 3-pointers in the final four and a half minutes to bring the Trojans back from a 16-point deficit, and were right there, just a point back with the clock running down when Trojan sophomore center Dewayne Dedmon swatted Jorge Gutierrez’s layup attempt. However, the ball wound up in the hands of Allen Crabbe who, in his own words, “just threw it up” from behind the three-point line and was fouled by little-used Eric Stangis. Crabbe hit all three free throws and the Bears escaped. If there was ever a game for Gutierrez to shine in, it was this gritty, hard-fought game, and he certainly stood out, leading his team with 13 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, and four steals. However, his uncharacteristic two-of-seven night from the line was crucial in keeping USC in the game. Even more concerning for Mike Montgomery was his team getting absolutely crushed on the glass, allowing USC to grab 50% of the available offensive rebounds and 74.1% of the defensive rebounds. As expected, sophomore forward Richard Solomon did not play for Cal due to a stress fracture in his foot.
Things were significantly less dramatic in the state of Washington last night, although for a brief moment it looked like Oregon State was on its way back from a 20-point deficit to make the Huskies sweat a bit down the stretch. After a wild Ahmad Starks three-pointer brought back to within 83-80, U-Dub closed the game on a 12-0 run to finish off the Beavers. The big story in the game was the played of Husky freshman guard Tony Wroten, who had 26 efficient points on 10-16 shooting, nine rebounds, four assists, just two turnovers, and hit five of his seven free throw attempts. While Wroten has now scored 20 or more in four of his last five games, this was far and away his best game in a young career. Lorenzo Romar also got significant production from the rest of his roster, with five other players – including sophomore wing C.J. Wilcox, who came off the bench for the first time this season – scoring in double figures.
Perhaps the biggest surprise on the night in the conference was Oregon going into Spokane and taking apart Washington State, ending the Cougars six-game winning streak in spectacular fashion. While senior forward Olu Ashaolu gets the honorifics after scoring 23 points and grabbing ten rebounds, it was a total team effort for the Ducks, as they shot a ridiculous 78.6 eFG% and controlled the glass. As Craig Powers at CougCenter points out, Oregon scored about 1.31 points per possession on the night, a number that is a bit out of whack since the Ducks spent the last several minutes trying to run out the clock. In the first half, OU scored almost 1.8 points per possession. There’s a long way to go in the season, but this had to be a concerning outing for Washington State head coach Ken Bone.
When Utah tips off its first conference game in the Pac-12 on Saturday at Colorado, it will do so without senior guard Chris Hines. Hines broke his left thumb three weeks ago against BYU, and has been playing through the injury for the Utes last three games (including its only two wins of the season), but head coach Larry Krystkowiak says he can barely even catch the ball, so Hines will sit for the time being. Unfortunately for the under-talented Utes, Hines’ backups are banged up as well, as walk-on Alex Mortenson is out after suffering a concussion in practice this week and junior Cedric Martin has been struggling with plantar fasciitis this week and will be a game-time decision on Saturday.
Let’s start things off with a wrap-up of the latest Shabazz Muhammad buzz. Five Star Basketball reported on Wednesday that he had cut his list to six schools: Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, UCLA, Arizona and UNLV, in the order in which he mentioned them, for those wishing to come up with yet another clue as to his intentions. USC and Texas A&M were among the schools trimmed off the list. Muhammad confirmed that Sean Miller still had the Wildcats in the running, even with (or maybe because of) the already stacked recruiting class headed to Tucson. But if you ask Nerlens Noel (currently the #2 rated recruit in the 2013 class, according to ESPNU) or Brandon Bibbs, either UCLA or Kentucky are the favorites. There had been a report last week from Jerry Meyer that Muhammad was losing interest in UCLA, however, so as always, this story is a long ways from being decided.
USC hosts Kansas tonight at the Galen Center, and if recent history is any indication, the Trojans might have a chance. Although the Pac-12 is just 9-37 against ranked teams the last three seasons, USC owns four of those nine wins. And with the Trojans coming off their best offensive performance of the season, and Kansas coming off a loss to Davidson and still working to get point guard Tyshawn Taylor back in the groove after knee surgery, perhaps Kevin O’Neill has his team primed to pull a whopper.
Arizona State lost on a late three-pointer for the third time in as many games on Wednesday night, when Fresno State’s Kevin Olekaibe hit a go-ahead three with 30 seconds left to send the Sun Devils to their third straight loss. But ASU head coach Herb Sendek wanted to look beyond the play in the final minute, as the team blew a 17-point lead and played “despicable” defense in the second half. Olekaibe scored 21 of his 30 points in the second half and sparked a 23-4 Bulldog run that put FSU up, prior to ASU responding and taking the lead back. After a Kyle Cain three-point play put the Sun Devils back up, Olekaibe drove the final nail in the ASU coffin, sending them to 4-8 on the year.
More good news out of Salt Lake City on Wednesday, as junior guard Glen Dean, just one week removed from brain surgery to repair a ruptured blood vessel, was able to watch Utah practice. Head coach Larry Krystkowiak hopes Dean, a transfer who is sitting out this season, will be able to return to practice fully sometime in early January, and a complete recovery is expected.
Lastly, Tony Woods is getting a second chance at a college basketball career at Oregon, after transferring from Wake Forest following a guilty plea to a charge of assault on his girlfriend. While Woods’ game is still raw, head coach Dana Altman is hoping to mold a difference maker out of the 6’11” junior, building his post-up game while keeping on him to give consistent effort on the defensive end. And Woods is buying in and happy, saying that “life is good here.”