Posted by AMurawa on December 24th, 2012
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Posted by AMurawa on July 13th, 2012
- Every week in the middle of the summer, it is always a scramble to find interesting stories to write about for our Weekly Five, as college basketball-related news is often hard to come by. This week, however, was definitely not one of those weeks, as there has been plenty of news from around the conference. However, we’d gladly still be scrambling finding something to write about rather than have to write this. But, former Stanford captain Peter Sauer, who helped the Cardinal reach four straight NCAA Tournaments, including a run to the Final Four in 1998, died last weekend after collapsing while playing pickup basketball. He was just 35. It was an enlarged heart that likely caused the collapse, but Sauer also fractured his skull when he fell. While Sauer was never the main offensive threat for those fantastic Stanford teams, he was a scrappy and effective competitor who left his mark on most games he competed in and seems to have been nearly universally regarded as a great teammate. As a captain in each of his final two seasons on The Farm, he helped his talented Cardinal team to their first-ever Pac-10 title. He remained a part of their program even after graduation and was in attendance when the Cardinal took home the NIT title last March in New York. The Stanford Daily offers up a great eulogy for Sauer, departed far too early. Perhaps there is some small amount of solace in the fact that he died playing the game he loved, but for those of us who go out there whenever we get a chance and spend a couple hours a time or two a week balling it up with friends, this kind of thing hits close to home. You never know which runner in the lane will be your last. He leaves behind a wife and three kids, and our hearts go out to the family and friends he leaves behind.
- Unfortunately, that’s not the last death we have to report this week, as former UCLA wing Kenny Heitz died at the age of 65 on Monday after a long battle with cancer. Heitz may not be a familiar name to younger college basketball fans, but he was a key player on some classic Bruin teams. He was a member of the famous freshman squad of 1965-66 (including such names as Lew Alcindor, Lucius Allen and Lynn Shackleford – how’s that for a recruiting class!) that won the first game ever played in Pauley Pavilion, a 75-60 win for the precocious youngsters over the two-time defending national champion UCLA varsity team. He got run in each of his three varsity seasons, alternating between a starting role and one of the first guys off the bench, eventually earning Academic All-America honors as a senior. After graduating from UCLA Summa Cum Laude and Phi Betta Kappa, he went on to earn his law degree, with honors, from Harvard Law. Heitz is survived by his wife, three daughters and two granddaughters.
- Sticking on UCLA for a second and definitely turning to happier subjects, we got news from Chris Foster of The Los Angeles Times this week that Joshua Smith has lost 15 pounds and has recently been seen – get ready for this – sprinting and jumping while playing basketball. Now, it is certainly possible that the verbs “sprint” and “jump” are relative terms, and sure, 15 pounds off the 300-and-however-many pounds Smith was carrying last season is hopefully just the first leg of a longer journey, but this should count as good news for Bruin and college basketball fans. And, perhaps more importantly, for Smith. He is working with a nutritionist and says he has rediscovered his passion for the game. It’s all good to hear, but the fact is, we heard similar things last offseason. Until we see it on the court come November, Smith remains a serious question mark for UCLA.
- From one guy who has – to this point – squandered his talent, to another guy who seems well on his way to doing the same, Jeff Eisenberg of Yahoo! Sports reported this week that former Arizona point guard Josiah Turner has decided not to play for SMU this fall in lieu of beginning his attempt at creating a professional career for himself. Turner was run out of Tucson in what he admits was a haze of alcohol and marijuana, but was granted a second chance by new SMU head coach Larry Brown. However, Turner decided this past week that instead of continuing his college career, he would pursue a professional career either overseas or in the NBA Developmental League, in hopes of landing in the league next season. Turner claims to have turned over a new leaf in the wake of a DUI arrest in Tucson in April, but he’ll have to prove to NBA scouts that he possesses more than just potential. So, the book closes on Turner’s underwhelming college career, with five double-digit scoring games, three games with five-or-more assists, and two suspensions.
- About a month ago when we did our first week-long look at a Pac-12 team, we were incredulous about Herb Sendek’s statement that Arizona State would “play as fast as anyone” in the conference. Sendek has since changed his tune somewhat, but still says that ASU’s goal will be to average 70 points per game this season, something that, as Doug Haller at The Arizona Republic points out, Sendek’s teams have never done at ASU. Still, despite the fact Sendek may have been overstating his original position, I think we can interpret all this talk as meaning that Sendek is ready to turn freshman point guard Jahii Carson loose whenever possible in the hopes of getting some easy baskets. There still will be plenty of halfcourt sets, but the Sun Devils will hope to take advantage of transition opportunities when available.
Posted by AMurawa on March 7th, 2012
- On the eve of the kickoff of the Pac-12 Tournament comes news that the conference has reached an agreement to move at least the next two conference tournaments to Las Vegas. No official announcement has been made yet, but it could be official as early as Saturday night. The games would be played at the MGM Grand Arena, making it the fourth different conference tournament to be held in Las Vegas (joining the WCC, MW and WAC). Given declining attendance and a reputation for a less-than-thrilling atmosphere at its current home at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, this could be a welcome boost of adrenaline for a flagging event.
- Heading into the tournament, we’re still wondering whether the Pac-12 can get two teams, maybe even three, into the NCAA Tournament. Of all the teams, it appears that California is the safest best to get in, with an RPI of #37 and a couple wins over top 50 RPI teams. California Golden Blogs notes that Joe Lunardi says that the Bears can get in even with an opening round loss to Stanford this week, but, of course, if they want to be safe, they get that win and even another one against Oregon (which could, paradoxically, knock the Ducks out of the top 50 in the RPI and knock the Bears back down to 0-3 in that metric) to tighten up their case.
- At the Autzen Zoo, they’re making a case for three Pac-12 teams worthy of bids, a stance that is not particularly surprising given that the third team would be their beloved Oregon Ducks. They write that “the Pac-12 isn’t as bad as the biased east-coast fans think it is” and I would agree with that – I think that the top four, maybe even as deep as the top six teams are capable Pac-12 squads, even if there is no one great team here. The problem is of course that the tournament resumes of these teams are not good at all. There are no real statement wins against great teams; there are precious few wins against any teams of NCAA Tournament-caliber; and there are poor RPI numbers right on down the line. If there is disappointment around the conference on Selection Sunday, it is deserved.
- John Gasaway takes the stance that, although this conference is literally the weakest major conference in years, it’s not as bad as some make it out to be. What really drags the overall conference numbers down is the bottom of the conference – teams like USC, Utah and Arizona State that have suffered through horrifically bad seasons. Further, he sees the top five or so teams as consistent with what we’ve seen out of similar teams in the past two years in the conference. The bad news is, the past two years in the conference have been down years for the league as well, albeit not as far down as this season. Still, Gasaway sees promise in California and Washington, as well as UCLA, who he notes has been better on a possession-by-possession basis than the Huskies and right in the same general area as Arizona and Oregon.
- Lastly, Jeff Faraudo and Jon Wilner try to provide some reasons for the depths to which the Pac-12 has plunged. Among their reasons: 1) the decision to sign a TV contract with Fox instead of ESPN, hurting their national TV exposure and keeping Pac-12 teams off the radar of some recruits; 2) changes in personnel not only on rosters (early NBA entries, outgoing transfers), but on benches (Lute Olson, Tony Bennett, Tim Floyd); 3) UCLA’s well-publicized problems in their program; and 4) the fact that there just haven’t been a ton of elite-level recruits coming out of California in recent years.