RTC Mock Draft: Final Edition

Posted by zhayes9 on June 23rd, 2011

1) Cleveland Cavaliers- Kyrie Irving, PG, Duke

2) Minnesota Timberwolves- Derrick Williams, PF, Arizona

3) Utah Jazz- Enes Kanter, C, Turkey

4) Cleveland Cavaliers- Jonas Valanciunas, C, Lithuania

5) Toronto Raptors- Brandon Knight, PG, Kentucky

6) Washington Wizards- Jan Vesely, PF, Czech Republic

7) Charlotte Bobcats- Bismack Biyombo, PF, Congo

8) Detroit Pistons- Tristan Thompson, PF, Texas

9) Charlotte Bobcats- Chris Singleton, SF, Florida State

10) Sacramento Kings- Jimmer Fredette, PG, BYU

11) Golden State Warriors- Klay Thompson, SG, Washington State

12) Utah Jazz- Kemba Walker, PG, Connecticut

13) Phoenix Suns- Marcus Morris, SF, Kansas

14) Houston Rockets- Kawhi Leonard, SF, San Diego State

15) Indiana Pacers- Markieff Morris, PF, Kansas

16) Philadelphia Sixers- Nikola Vucevic, C, USC

17) New York Knicks- Iman Shumpert, PG, Georgia Tech

18) Washington Wizards- Alec Burks, SG, Colorado

19) Milwaukee Bucks- Marshon Brooks, SG, Providence

20) Minnesota Timberwolves- Jordan Hamilton, SF, Texas

21) Portland Trail Blazers- Kenneth Faried, PF, Morehead State

22) Denver Nuggets- Tobias Harris, SF, Tennessee

23) Houston Rockets- Donatas Motiejunas, PF, Lithuania

24) Oklahoma City Thunder- Kyle Singler, SF, Duke

25) Boston Celtics- Reggie Jackson, PG, Boston College

26) Dallas Mavericks- Nikola Mirotic, SF, Serbia

27) New Jersey Nets- Justin Harper, PF, Richmond

28) Chicago Bulls- Charles Jenkins, SG, Hofstra

29) San Antonio Spurs- Davis Bertans, SF, Latvia

30) Chicago Bulls- Jeremy Tyler, C, Japan

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RTC NBA Draft Profiles: Nikola Vucevic

Posted by rtmsf on May 26th, 2011

Over the course of the next month until the NBA Draft on June 23, RTC will be rolling out comprehensive profiles of the 35 collegians we feel have the best chance to hear their names called by David Stern in the first round that night. There won’t be any particular order to the list, but you can scroll back through all the finished profiles by clicking here.

Player Name: Nikola Vucevic

School: USC

Height/Weight 6’10, 240 lbs.

NBA Position:  Power Forward/Center

Projected Draft Range Late First Round

Overview: USC center Nikola Vucevic may have been the least hyped all-Pac-10 first team center that the conference has ever had.  It’s a guarantee that when his name is called on draft night, most people around the country will assume “another European player” without any knowledge that the athletic 6’10, 260-pounder played college ball in sunny Los Angeles for the last three years.  One of the reasons for that is because the Trojan program has spent the last two seasons recovering from the OJ Mayo/Tim Floyd debacle, and this year, even though USC ultimately made the NCAA Tournament as a #11 seed, they were summarily dismissed in the First Four by a soon-to-be-Cinderella VCU Rams.  But don’t let that fool you — Vucevic was the lone offensive bright spot on a team that scrapped and defended its way to 19 wins and a berth in the postseason that most west coast observers thought unlikely.  His consistent post game, shooting range, care with the ball and knack for rebounding anchored a Trojan team that had little else to hang its hat on; but it could count on a double-double from the big Montenegran almost every night out (22 last season).  He averaged 17.1 PPG, 10.3 RPG, and 1.4 BPG in nearly 35 minutes of action each night, and his efficiency in both shooting the ball (75% of FTs; 54% of twos; 35% of threes) and rebounding (he grabbed 26% of boards on the defensive glass) makes you wonder why a guy with such a nice low-post game isn’t getting more buzz as a sleeper pick this year. 

Vucevic is Fairly Unknown But Showed an All-Around Game at USC

Will Translate to the NBA:  You certainly can’t teach size, and Vucevic has a body built for banging around in the paint at the next level.  His draft measurements put him at the very top of this year’s class in terms of height (just a shade under seven feet with shoes on) and reach (nearly nine-and-a-half feet).  His draft weight is also ideal because he’ll ultimately be asked to hold his position defensively against some of the elite NBA bigs inside, and although he can stand to become a bit stronger, he’s already very far along in this area.  The other area where he’s already at an NBA level is his exceptionally nice touch with the ball in terms of shooting ability.  He has an established and consistent mid-range game and shoots the ball well from the foul line.  After making only eight three-pointers in his first two seasons at USC, he nearly quadrupled that number last season (29).  There’s no reason to believe he can’t become an excellent shooter when he finds openings in the defense.

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Early Entry Winners & Losers

Posted by rtmsf on May 9th, 2011

Now that the NBA Draft early entry withdrawal has passed (Midnight ET on Sunday night), it’s time to take a look at who the winners and losers were from this year’s process.  Of the nearly 70 players who declared as early entrants for this year’s NBA Draft, we count a dozen or so who will return and make their teams significantly better next year.  The biggest impact will be felt at the following places…

The Winners

Jones Fills Out a Ridiculous UK Lineup in 2011-12

  • Kentucky.  How do we figure that a team that ends up losing its best scorer and best perimeter defender is a winner?  Because of who they didn’t lose.  Terrence Jones will team with Kentucky’s fabulous duo of incoming forwards — Michael Gilchrist and Anthony Davis — to produce the most dynamic and talented front line college basketball has seen in some time.  As good as Brandon Knight was in a Kentucky uniform, his loss to the draft also ensures that there’s no question as to who lead this team next year, as incoming superstar Marquis Teague will take over the reins from day one.  The loss of DeAndre Liggins was surprising and will hurt, but on balance, the player UK most needed to return did.
  • The Big East.  With the notable exception of NPOY candidate and Final Four MOP Kemba Walker and the somewhat shocking departures of Notre Dame’s Carleton Scott and Louisville’s Terrence Jennings, the Big East avoided losing three of its better returning players for the 2011-12 season.  Georgetown’s Hollis Thompson, Pittsburgh’s Ashton Gibbs and West Virginia’s Kevin Jones will all return to teams that could not afford to lose them; with so many talented seniors leaving the Big East, it was imperative for the league’s overall health that these talented upperclassmen come back.
  • Missouri.  A very early Christmas came for new Tigers head coach Frank Haith as two of his best returnees, Kim English and Laurence Bowers, made smart decisions to return to Columbia for their senior seasons.  With leading scorer Marcus Denmon already back in the fold, Haith is walking into a situation where his top six players will be back next year.  So long as he can enable his more methodical system with a group that loves to run and press, Mizzou fans should be excited for the possibility of something special in 2011-12.
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Conference Report Card: Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 13th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West conferences. We will be publishing a series of conference report cards over the next week for conferences that received multiple NCAA bids to recap the conference, grade the teams, and look at the future for the conference.

Conference Recap:

After an awful 2009-10 season in which the Pac-10 had to limp into a second NCAA Tournament bid when Washington hit the gas pedal down the stretch, the four tournament bids the conference received this year was a huge improvement. With Arizona advancing to the Elite Eight, the Pac-10 advanced a team beyond the Sweet 16 for the first time in three seasons, and the conference was a much deeper collection of teams than last year. And without a doubt, that came as a result of the enhanced talent level across the conference. Coming into the season, there were just 17 seniors on rosters across the conference, and the youngsters showed vast  improvement this year, notably Derrick Williams (an All-American and national player of the year candidate), Isaiah Thomas, Tyler Honeycutt, and Klay Thompson with several other players making big strides in their games. While the Pac-10 still struggled to gain national respect, it was clear to fans that the level of play is on the rebound from its 2009-2010 nadir.

The Pac-10 was Derrick Williams' personal playground in 2011, and the Wildcats displayed perhaps the most impressive performance of the NCAA Tournament in their dismantling of Duke. (AZ Daily Star/M. Popat)

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NCAA Daily Diaries: First Four – Wednesday

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2011

RTC will be covering the NCAA Tournament from cover to cover this year, with correspondents at each of the fourteen sites over the next three weeks. These diaries are intended to give you insights to the games, coaches, players, fans media and everything else that you wouldn’t otherwise have known simply from watching on television. As always, feel free to offer suggestions for feedback in future versions that we can pass along to our correspondents. Here’s Wednesday’s Diary from Dayton…

The First Four, Wednesday – by John Stevens

Throughout the whole first half of the Alabama State vs. Texas-San Antonio game, the lament was frequently heard: “What on EARTH are we going to write about from this game?” UTSA came out and just socked the Hornets right in the collective jaw with easy drives into the paint and a defense that induced several unforced errors out of ASU. The halftime lead for UTSA was 27. And I know it sounds cliche’ to say it, but it’s true in this case — it wasn’t even THAT close. Melvin Johnson had 25 at the half — his CAREER HIGH, and ASU only had 21! — mostly on drives to the hole, silky fade-aways, and free throws. Everyone in the place shook their heads, wondering how they were going to endure watching another half of a spanking of this magnitude. Then, ASU coach Lewis Jackson began switching his defenses, Jeffery Middlebrooks started draining threes, and Chris Duncan started crashing the glass in force. The Roadrunner lead had shrunk to nine points late, but the Hornets could get no closer. Johnson only took four shots in the second half, and added just four points to end with 29. Despite the comeback by ASU, the matter was decided early. Johnson was just too good in that first half, and the Hornets simply took too long to shake off their jitters. That may have included the coaches — at one point in the first half, ASU received a technical foul for having six players on the floor. UTSA deserved the win, but I like the way ASU represented itself in the Dance by not just caving in. When they took the floor for that second half, there wasn’t one kid in an Alabama State uniform who thought that game was over.

My first tweet from UD Arena tonight complimented the Alabama State band. By far, the BEST I’ve ever seen and heard. Not only are the song choices original, but that wall of brass that comes from their section just makes you want to cry, and the young fellow on the drum kit will definitely put your subwoofer to the test. From the moment they played their first note, they had the whole arena in their pocket. I was simply one of a legion of listeners in the place who felt that way tonight.

People were tweeting, texting, and talking during the USC vs. VCU game about how they thought it was hard to watch, it was reminiscent of Wisconsin/Penn State from the Big Ten Tournament last week (I was at that game, and it was worse), and they couldn’t stand it. I would agree…but only for the first half. In the second, we saw guys try to take control and lift their squads, and I can always appreciate that. Jio Fontan (14/2 asst) got more aggressive in attacking the hole. Jamie Skeen (16/9) put his team on his back for several stretches, hitting mid-range jumpers and threes in succession, and Nikola Vucevic (11/13), frustrated on offense on this night, concentrated his efforts on defense and the glass. The chess match between coaches also got interesting, as Shaka Smart switched to a zone defense (on which more in a moment) and just flummoxed the Trojans, helping the Rams to distance themselves from USC late in the second half. It was almost as if the Trojans didn’t know what had hit them until it was too late.

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NCAA First Four Game Analysis – Wednesday

Posted by rtmsf on March 16th, 2011

Last night went from 68 to 66 at the First Four in Dayton (we’re 2-0!), and here’s our analysis for tonight’s two games.

#16 UT-San Antonio vs. #16 Alabama State – East Region First Round (at Dayton, OH) – 6:30 pm ET on truTV.

Gibson Represents UTSA's Best Hope to Advance

The UT-San Antonio Roadrunners finished just 9-7 in the Southland, but enter the NCAA Tournament winning six of their last seven games after pulling off an upset of favorite McNeese State in the final. UTSA boasts one of the best guards in the conference in Devin Gibson, a 17 PPG scorer who also ranks 30th in the nation in assist rate and lives at the free throw line. He’s clearly the centerpiece of the Roadrunner attack and will be vital to contain if Alabama State hopes to pull off the upset. The SWAC champion ranks in the 300s in both points per game and offensive efficiency, but they do enter the tournament just as hot as their opponent, having won 11 of 12. The Hornets employ an incredible rotation of 13 players averaging double-digit minutes, the most effective weapon being senior forward Tramayne Moyer, a 12.5 PPG scorer who shoots 50% from the floor but only plays 21 minutes per contest. Alabama State does grab an astounding 37% of their misses. If UTSA just limits that strength, they should be in the clear to advance and take on Ohio State in Cleveland on Friday. UTSA shoots fairly well from both the three point and free throw line at 36% and 72%, respectively, while Alabama State is incredibly porous at defending both. Despite their hockey-line style substitution patterns, the Hornets simply don’t have the firepower to down the Roadrunners.

The RTC Certified Pick: UT-San Antonio.

#11 USC vs. #11 VCU – Southwest Region First Round (at Dayton, OH) – 9 pm ET on truTV.

Jamie Skeen Will Have His Hands Full With Vucevic Inside

These two teams were undoubtedly surprised to not only see their names on the bracket released Sunday, but also as #11 seeds.  USC and VCU — the battle of the acronyms — come into tonight’s game on decidedly different paths.  The Pac-10 Trojans came on strong in the second half of the season, winning seven on their last ten games including nice victories over conference leaders Arizona and Washington.  They doing so through the play of the best power conference big man you’ve never heard of, Nikola Vucevic (17/10), and the steady guardplay of mid-season transfer Jio Fontan (4 APG, 1.6:1 ATO ratio).  Head coach Kevin O’Neill has his team playing its typically sturdy defense, and they’ll need it to counter the offensive talents of the Shaka Smart’s quartet of double-figure scorers, Jamie Skeen (15 PPG), Bradford Burgess (14 PPG), Brandon Rozzell (11 PPG) and Joey Rodriguez (11 PPG).  The matchup between Fontan and Rodriguez is particularly interesting because both players are the centerpieces of their respective offense, and while not big individual scorers, they make their systems run smoothly.  The question is whether the VCU team that ran through the CAA Tournament to the finals before bowing out to Old Dominion will show up, or will it be the Ram team that lost four of five to close the regular season?  It says here that with VCU’s inability to defend the post or the perimeter very well, USC will advance on the back of Vucevic’s talents inside and just enough support from his guards. 

The RTC Certified Pick: USC. 

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RTC Live: First Four — Day Two

Posted by jstevrtc on March 16th, 2011

Tonight, two more from the First Four in Dayton. First, at 6:30 PM ET, SWAC Tournament champions Alabama State take on Texas-San Antonio, winners of the Southland Conference tournament. ASU prides itself on its defense, ranking in the top 30 nationally in turnovers forced and 2FG%. The Roadrunners, on the other hand, are more of a balanced squad and will look to speed things up. The Hornets won’t shy from a fast pace, but as good as their defense within the three-point arc is, their defense of the three point shot ranks as one of the worst in the game, so you can bet UTSA will look for long range opportunities in transition. The winner gets overall #1 Ohio State on Friday.

The second game has a pair of at-large bid earners battling for the right to face Georgetown in Chicago in 48 hours. Nikola Vucevic averaged a double-double (17.3 PPG, 10.2 RPG) this year and Alex Stepheson (10/9.2) wasn’t far from one, but they and the rest of their USC mates will have their hands full trying to keep up with a VCU team that launches threes with abandon. It will also be interesting to see if the Rams play with a bit of a chip on their collective shoulder; since the bracket was released on Sunday, VCU (along with UAB) has been treated like an uninvited guest who shows up at a party and then promptly knocks over the drink table.

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Set Your Tivo: 03.11.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 11th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

One auto bid and a host of major conference games are on tap today, two days out from Selection Sunday. The afternoon session features plenty of bubble teams making their closing arguments to the Selection Committee. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

SEC Quarterfinals (at Atlanta, GA): Georgia vs. Alabama – 1 pm on ESPN FullCourt (***)

We’ve heard all kinds of things about this game from an elimination game to a play-in game. Whatever it may be, one team will be looking better than the other by the time it’s over. Alabama beat Georgia in the regular season finale six days ago and now they meet again in another game with major NCAA implications. RTC’s resident bracketologist had Georgia in and Alabama the first team on the “out” list as of last night while Joe Lunardi over at ESPN has the Bulldogs as the last team in the field and the Crimson Tide in the same position as RTC. This game will be played almost exclusively in the paint as neither team shoots it well from deep. Both teams rank in the top 20 in interior defense but Georgia has to avoid turnovers to win. Alabama thrives on giveaways despite their slower tempo, ranked #28 in defensive turnover percentage. Georgia committed 16 turnovers in the loss to the Tide last week and lost the game despite out-shooting Alabama from the floor. Senario Hillman leads Alabama in steals and will look to harass the Georgia guards all game long. The battle in the paint between Trey Thompkins and JaMychal Green could determine the outcome of the game if the Bulldogs don’t turn it over often.

Big Ten Quarterfinals (at Indianapolis, IN): Michigan vs. Illinois – 2:30 pm on ESPN (***)

Illinois is generally considered to be in the field of 68 but Michigan could really use a win. The Wolverines are likely in as of now but a loss here and other results around the country could make it a very close call on Sunday. The Illini won the only meeting of the regular season, a two point win in Champaign on February 16. Michigan protects the ball very well but rebounding and defense did them in against Illinois in that game. John Beilein would love to play this game in the half court where his team can probe and dissect the Illinois defense, although the Illini rank tenth in three point defense and Michigan fires up almost 23 triples per game. With two dynamic playmakers in Darius Morris and Tim Hardaway Jr, Michigan can break a team down off the dribble of spot up for a three. This is a game they definitely can win but a better effort on the glass is needed. Michigan ranks near the bottom of D1 in offensive rebounding percentage (that will happen when you shoot so many threes) and was out-rebounded in the loss to Illinois last month.

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Set Your Tivo: 03.10.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 10th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

The power conferences take center stage on Thursday with quarterfinal matchups from New York to Kansas City to Los Angeles on the schedule. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

Big East Quarterfinals (at New York, NY): #3 Pittsburgh vs. #18 Connecticut – 12 pm on ESPN (****)

Dixon Will Have To Knock Off a Hot UConn Squad To Avoid Last Year's Fate

The double-bye was not kind to Pittsburgh last year, as they fell victim to Notre Dame on Thursday of last season’s conference tournament. They’ll look to avoid a similar fate today against a hot Connecticut team coming off two convincing wins in the first two rounds. These teams played way back on December 27 in the first Big East game of the year, a contest won by Pittsburgh, 78-63.

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Pac-10 Wrap & Tourney Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 9th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 Conference. Get set for this weekend’s conference tournament with RTC’s season recap and postseason preview.

Tournament Preview

This tournament is as wide open as a Pac-10 tournament has ever been. One of Arizona, UCLA or Washington is the favorite (in some order or another) and the three teams likely to be invited to the NCAA Tournament regardless of the outcome of the Pac-10 Tourney. However, Cal, USC and Washington State are three teams who will be playing for their NCAA Tournament lives (none of the three are likely to be in the final field of 68 without a Pac-10 championship this weekend) and each is more than capable of stringing together three straight wins and earning the conference’s automatic bid. Of course, each of those teams has shown that they are more than capable of bowing out in the first round on the wrong end of a blowout. What will actually go down in Los Angeles this weekend is anybody’s guess, but what it lacks in predictability, it could make up for in excitement.

Final Standings:

  1. Arizona                                  25-6        14-4
  2. UCLA                                      22-9        13-5
  3. Washington                           20-10     11-7
  4. USC                                         18-13     10-8
  5. Cal                                           17-13     10-8
  6. Washington State              19-11     9-9
  7. Oregon                                  14-16     7-11
  8. Stanford                                 15-15     7-11
  9. Oregon State                        10-19     5-13
  10. Arizona State                        12-18     4-14

Superlatives:

  • Player of the Year - Derrick Williams, Sophomore, Arizona. On the best team in the conference, Williams was far and away the best player. A shoo-in for the All-America first team, Williams is among the top ten players in the nation in effective field goal percentage, true shooting percentage, fouls drawn per 40 minutes and the rate at which he gets to the foul line. Oh, and the guy is shooting over 62% from behind the three-point line, a number that is truly astounding, even considering his mere 45 attempts, and especially considering that the three wasn’t even part of his game in his first year in Tucson. While Williams was one of the best players in the Pac-10 as a freshman, no one could have predicted the extent of his improvement as a sophomore. His free throw percentage is up eight points, his effective field goal percentage has skyrocketed from simply very good to excellent, his rebounding has jumped, and this season he was the second most efficient high-use offensive player in the nation, behind Hofstra’s Charles Jenkins. In short, while guys like Klay Thompson and Isaiah Thomas have had strong seasons for their respective teams, those two guys were a not even on the radar for this award; this year was all Derrick Williams.
  • Coach of the Year - Mike Montgomery, California. This was a year in the Pac-10 when there was no shortage of strong candidates for this honor. Dana Altman, Sean Miller and Ben Howland all did strong jobs with their respective teams (in fact, even two weeks ago I figured Altman was the no-brainer for this recognition), but the nod goes to Montgomery for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is his amazing player development. All over his roster, Montgomery has gotten contributions from players above and beyond what was expected of them. Below, you’ll see Jorge Gutierrez as my pick for the conference’s Most Improved Player, but Harper Kamp and Markhuri Sanders-Frison exhibited an effectiveness down low that nobody outside of the biggest Cal homers had any reason to expect. Allen Crabbe turned a mediocre non-conference performance into a great first run through the Pac-10 schedule. And Brandon Smith, a guy who committed to Cal as a walk-on two years back and registered an offensive efficiency rating below 70 last season, stepped in as the starting point guard after freshman Gary Franklin abruptly announced his decision to transfer out of the program in the middle of the season, and delivered an extremely solid performance for the Bears down the stretch. For a program that lost its top four scorers from last season (and eight of their top ten scorers from last year – just 14% of their scoring from last season returned), what Montgomery did this season in Berkeley was nothing short of spectacular.
  • Freshman of the Year - Allen Crabbe, California. Crabbe’s season can really be divided into two categories: with Gary Franklin and without Gary Franklin. With Franklin, Crabbe averaged less than 8.5 points per game and shot just 33.3% from three; after he transferred out, Crabbe scored 16.5 points per game and hit 46.4% from deep. If you eliminate the game in which Crabbe suffered a concussion against Washington and his first game back against UCLA, where he was obviously not quite right yet, Crabbe averaged 18.4 PPG after Franklin. Throw in the fact that, at 6’4 and with long arms, Crabbe was an effective perimeter defender, capable of matching up defensively with opposing small forwards and even helping out his big guys on the glass (5.4 RPG), Crabbe has been an efficient and versatile offensive threat for the surging Bears.
  • Defensive Player of the YearMalcolm Lee, Junior, UCLA. On the most efficient defensive team in the conference, Lee epitomizes everything that went right for Ben Howland and the Bruins this season. Last season the Bruins were 138th in the nation defensively; this year they have vaulted back to 29th, certainly not back to the level of the elite Bruin teams from 2006-2008, but a drastic improvement. And Lee was a big part of that, making a habit of shutting down opposing guards like Isaiah Thomas, Allen Crabbe, Jeremy Greens and even Jimmer Fredette, helping his interior defenders by using his long frame to discourage post feeds and just generally harassing the opposition. While his effort doesn’t show up a whole lot in the stat sheet in terms of steals and blocked shots, without a doubt the Bruin defense is significantly less efficient when Lee is not at full strength.
  • Most Improved Player: Jorge Gutierrez, Junior, California. There’s no argument that last year Gutierrez was a good, solid role player on a senior-laden Golden Bear roster. He played about 20 minutes a game, provided irksome and aggressive defense, never failed to hustle after a loose ball and every once in a while knocked down a shot along the way for 5.5 points per game. But with Jerome Randle, Patrick Christopher and others plying their trade elsewhere this season, Gutierrez was called upon for far more than just hustle. At times he has been the team’s de facto point guard, other times he has been their go-to scorer, but along the way he has kept his energetic way. This season he leads the Bears in scoring (14.8 PPG), assists (4.5 APG), steals (1.6 SPG), and certainly in clutch plays. While it stood to reason that Gutierrez’ role would increase this season, the extent to which he has taken on new responsibilities has been impressive.

All Pac-10 First Team:

  • G Isaiah Thomas, Junior, Washington (16.6 PPG, 5.7 APG)
  • G Klay Thompson, Junior, Washington State (22.4 PPG, 4.0 APG)
  • G Jorge Gutierrez, Junior, California (14.8 PPG, 4.5 APG)
  • F Derrick Williams, Sophomore, Arizona (19.0 PPG, 8.3 RPG)
  • F Nikola Vucevic, Junior, USC (17.6 PPG, 10.3 RPG)

All Pac-10 Second Team:

  • G Allen Crabbe, Freshman, California (12.6 PPG, 5.4 RPG)
  • G Jeremy Green, Junior, Stanford (16.4 PPG, 3.5 RPG)
  • F Reeves Nelson, Sophomore, UCLA (13.9 PPG, 9.0 RPG)
  • F Matthew Bryan-Amaning, Senior, Washington (16.2 PPG, 8.4 RPG)
  • F Joevan Catron, Senior, Oregon (14.8 PPG, 6.4 RPG)

Power Rankings

  1. Arizona (25-6, 14-4) Projected NCAA Seed #6: For all the Pac-10 teams expecting to be invited to the NCAA Tournament (and that includes Arizona, UCLA and Washington), the current seeding expectations are somewhat fluid. If Zona, for instance, were to run through the Pac-10 tourney and some other things ahead of them break their way, it is not out of the question that they wind up with a four seed (although really, a #5 is a more realistic high). Likewise, if they bomb out in the opening round against Stanford, maybe they drop all the way to an eight (and again, a #7 is probably the more realistic low). The big question, however, is how far they can go once they get to the Tournament. While Williams is an elite enough player to carry a team a long ways, the question mark remains about the Wildcats’ complementary parts. The Oregon schools showed last week that if you just limit Williams, there’s a good chance the rest of the Arizona team may not be good enough to put their team over the top, and I think that possibility will increase as they run into better and better competition. Throw in the fact that as a forward, Williams is in need of other players to get him the ball where he can impact the game and the ‘Cats could be ripe for an early round exit.
  2. UCLA (22-9, 13-5) Projected NCAA Seed #7: While the Bruins outperformed expectations this season and showed vast improvement from last year’s team, the fact remains that this is the third straight year in Westwood without a Pac-10 title. And there is some frustration arising around the UCLA basketball program as a result. Los Angeles Times columnist T.J. Simers has repeatedly bashed Ben Howland and his coaching style, Bill Plaschke has likewise questioned Howland’s coaching and recently the Bruins Nation blog dedicated a post to asking whether Howland’s offense has taken the Bruins as far as they can go. Now Simers has the reasoning ability of a plough-horse and Plaschke’s column came before the Bruins improved in the last couple months of the season, but the fact remains that there is a significant portion of the UCLA fanbase that is unhappy with the results under Howland. Three straight Final Fours were awful nice, but there was always an undercurrent of dismay around the program that the Bruins didn’t finish the job on any of those occasions. As good of a job as Howland has done with the team to this point, UCLA fans have some very high expectations, and a second-place finish, no matter what degree of improvement occurred along the way, is not really regarded as an accomplishment. While the Bruins are capable of winning the Pac-10 Tourney this week, and even pulling an upset and getting to the Sweet Sixteen or a bit further (another accomplishment that won’t earn Howland many plaudits among boosters), it is exceedingly unlikely that this UCLA squad is capable of putting together the type of run that will make all of these questions go away.
  3. Washington (20-10, 11-7) Projected NCAA Seed #11: The Huskies are probably safe for inclusion in the NCAA Tournament, but as of right now Lorenzo Romar has got to have a little gnawing feeling in the pit of his stomach. Washington’s resume is paper thin. There are no quality wins outside of their conference, and they went 4-6 down the stretch in conference play, despite having a pretty favorable schedule. And yet, this team is talented enough that it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see them as the sole Pac-10 Sweet 16 team, much like last year when they finished third in the conference and got a favorable draw to run to the second weekend on the Tournament. For that to happen, Isaiah Thomas will need to get his swagger back. After playing the best basketball of his career through much of late January and all of February, in his two games in March he has averaged 12.5 points on 32% shooting, is 0/6 from deep and has just one more assist (six) than turnover (five). As Thomas goes, so go the Huskies, so he’ll need to turn it back up, and fast.
  4. California (17-13, 10-8) NIT: The Bears are streaky, and currently they’re streaking good. They’ve won four straight games, after having previously lost four straight, and even that streak came at the end of an entirely different four-game win streak. The four-game losing streak in the middle can be explained away partly because Crabbe played just ten total minutes in the final three games of that slide after sustaining an injury against Washington, and the first of those four losses was an epic three-overtime loss to conference champion Arizona. In other words, when this team has been whole, their only loss since late January was a two-point loss in triple overtime. Of the teams not currently expected to earn NCAA Tournament invites on Sunday, I’d take Berkeley as the most likely team to win the automatic bid.
  5. USC (18-13, 10-8) NIT: While I’d take Cal as the upset pick for the Pac-10 title, the Trojans aren’t far back. USC has won five of its last six and Vucevic is absolutely on fire of late, having racked up double-doubles in his last eight games, while shooting 55% from the field and adding a previously unknown three-point shot to his game. While the fact that the Trojans get most of their minutes from just a six-player rotation may wear them down in a three-game tournament, this squad will not go quietly.
  6. Washington State (19-11, 9-9): The Cougars are the last of the teams currently on the outside of the bubble that stands a reasonable shot at winning this tournament, now that it is clear that Klay Thompson will be available for the Pac-10 tournament. Thompson was arrested for possession of marijuana following Thursday night’s win over USC and Ken Bone’s hand was forced to suspend him for the final game of the season, a close loss to UCLA. Bone, however, announced on Monday that his suspension was ended and that he would be available for the Pac-10 tourney. Of additional concern is the health of point guard Reggie Moore, who also missed the UCLA game due to an injured foot and whose status is still uncertain.
  7. Oregon (14-16, 7-11): The Ducks faded down the stretch, losing their last four games, but the fact is that a 7-11 conference mark is a pretty good outcome given how big of a hit the program took in the offseason. And with reinforcements arriving next year, there is little doubt that Altman has this program headed in the right direction. The Ducks have shown the ability to sneak up and surprise teams in the upper division of the conference (they’ve beaten Washington, Washington State and USC twice), but the odds of them stringing together the four wins necessary to win the conference tournament are quite large.
  8. Stanford (15-15, 7-11): Much like the Ducks, the Cardinal have a good future ahead of them despite all the lumps they took in conference this year. With no graduating seniors, five freshmen who got significant time and all-conference player Jeremy Green returning for his senior season, this Cardinal team could be trouble next year. And, really, if Green catches fire in the conference tournament and freshman Dwight Powell turns in one of his all-too-rare good performances, this Cardinal team could spring an upset. Patching together several upsets seems unlikely.
  9. Oregon State (10-19, 5-13): This Beaver team is one of the more frustrating teams I’ve ever come across. Under no circumstances is this the ninth most talented team in the conference. There is certainly a higher level of talent here than on Stanford or Oregon, and you could make the argument that this team has more horses than WSU or USC. They put up wins over Washington, Arizona and USC, yet got swept by Oregon and were one of the worst teams in the nation in three-point shooting, defending the three (and really, defending any shot), and turning the ball over. They return a lot of exciting talent next season, but this team is in need of a complete attitude makeover.
  10. Arizona State (12-18, 4-14): Break up the Devils. After a nightmare season, they enter the Pac-10 Tournament on a two-game winning streak, having swept the Oregon schools in Tempe by an average of 17 points. Their three seniors, Ty Abbott, Rihards Kuksiks and Jamelle McMillan, combined for a total of 105 points in the final two games, more than 20 points higher than their average for the rest of the season. If those three can continue the fiery end to the careers, it is not out of the question that they could end the Pac-10 tourney for a higher seed or two.
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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 3rd, 2011

 

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 conferences.

A Look Back

A week ago, the conference was all but won. Arizona had a two game lead, and even with a Los Angeles road trip looming, it looked like it would take a complete collapse for the Wildcats to lose their grip on the Pac-10. But a week later, USC is riding a four-game winning streak, UCLA has won eight of its last nine, Arizona has dropped two in a row and now we’re left with the Wildcats and the Bruins tied atop the conference. And yet, this is still the Wildcats’ conference to lose. While UCLA heads north to visit the Washington schools this week, Arizona heads back home to host the Oregon schools. If the ‘Cats can take care of business in the McKale Center, UCLA would need to complete a road sweep of the Huskies and Cougars in order to seal the tie at the top of the conference. More importantly, with Selection Sunday just a week and a half away, both UCLA and Arizona have basically sewn up at-large bids, but Washington, once considered the obvious favorite in the Pac-10 and a shoo-in for NCAA inclusion, has put its NCAA at-large candidacy back in question. A closer look at their resume reveals only a home win over Arizona and a road win over UCLA as wins to hang their hat on, with their win over Long Beach State their only other win over likely participants in the NCAA Tournament. While the bubble at the back of the line is probably soft enough for the Huskies to still get in, they surely want to wrap up the season in style with wins over UCLA and USC in order to ease their worried minds.

  • Team of the Week: UCLA – Back from the dead, the Bruins now sit back where Westwood expects them to sit: atop the Pac-10 standings. After last year’s disastrous 14-18 season, the Bruins worst season since Ben Howland’s first year of rebuilding after the Steve Lavin era ended in ruins, after a frightening home loss to Montana to cap a four-game losing streak back in December, after the fourth consecutive loss to cross-town rival USC in their first meeting this season, the Bruins being tied atop the Pac-10 in March seemed exceedingly unlikely. And while this Bruin team looked decidedly ordinary over the course of the Pac-10 schedule, all of a sudden they are playing their best ball of the year. Without a doubt, the Bruins’ 22-point thrashing of Arizona in the final game at Pauley Pavilion before it begins renovations, a game in which John Wooden’s great-grandson, Tyler Trapani, scored the final basket ever recorded in the building’s grand history, was the best Bruin performance in the past two seasons. While they still have a lot to prove in the coming days and weeks, the fact that this team is beginning to gel just as the calendar turns to the most important month in the sport is of great comfort to Bruin fans.
  • Player of the Week: Nikola Vucevic, Junior, USC – In the story of the Trojans’ sudden rebirth, Vucevic is the leading man. While the junior from Montenegro has been very good all season long, averaging 17.5 PPG and 10.3 RPG, over the Trojans four-game winning streak he has been nothing short of excellent. In that span he has averaged 21.3 points and 11.5 rebounds, has knocked down eight of his twelve attempts from beyond the arc and has scored over 30% of USC’s points. If Vucevic can keep his Trojans on their winning ways in Washington this weekend, USC may be just good enough to sneak back into bubble conversations in advance of the Pac-10 Tournament.
  • Newcomer of the Week: Allen Crabbe, Freshman, California – Well, I think he’s back. After sparkling through much of the first 11 games in the conference season, Crabbe’s excellent rookie campaign hit a major speed bump when he suffered a concussion against Washington on February 10. He missed the rest of that game, two more games and was clearly not back to full strength when he did return against UCLA, but this week he proved that he is ready to go forward at full strength. This week he scored 45 points, knocked down ten of his 16 three-point attempts and grabbed eight rebounds in helping his Golden Bears to a sweep of the Oregon schools.
  • Game of the Week: USC 65, Arizona 57 – There were nine games this week, and none closer than USC’s eight-point upset win over the Wildcats on Thursday night. While this was by no means a thing of beauty (the teams combined for six assists on 40 field goals, the Trojans went 1-10 from three and shot just over 40% from the field, and still won with relative ease), the result did send shockwaves around the conference, as Bruin fans were forced to admit that they were pulling for the Trojans – and hard. In the end, USC got two big blocked shots by Alex Stepheson and Marcus Simmons after the Wildcats came back to tie the game at 56, and the Trojans converted those defensive plays into four made free throws on the offensive end. Vucevic led the way for the Trojans with 25 points and 12 rebounds, while junior point Jio Fontan had by far his best game since his first week of eligibility, posting 21 points and adding three assists. But the big key for the Trojans had to be limiting Arizona’s Derrick Williams to just 3-11 shooting, just two free throw attempts (seven below his season average) and just eight total points – his first game of the season in which he failed to score in double figures.
  • Game of the Upcoming Week: UCLA (21-8, 12-4) at Washington (19-9, 10-6), 3/3, 6pm PST, ESPN2 – Between the two teams tied at the top of the conference heap, the Bruins have by far the toughest road remaining. The Huskies have lost just once at home all season, and just four times in the last three years, and UCLA hasn’t won at the Hec Ed since 2004. But, they’ve got to assume that they need two wins in their remaining two games in order to tie for the Pac-10 title, and if they’re to rise to that challenge, it starts here. In the first matchup, the Huskies strung together a 27-10 run spanning halftime to break open a close game and propel them to an eventual 11-point win at Pauley. In that game Joshua Smith fouled out in a relatively ineffective 22 minutes, Lazeric Jones was completely absent, nobody off the Bruin bench made a field goal and the Huskies shot the Bruins out of the gym. For UCLA to get this win, Howland would like to see Smith stay out of foul trouble, pound the Huskies in the paint and get some offensive contributions from Jones. Even if UCLA can pull off this difficult road win, they’ll need to back it up with a win at Washington State on Saturday to ensure a Pac-10 title.

Power Rankings

 1. Arizona (23-6, 12-4): I’ve been saying all year long that if opponents can limit Williams offensively, the ‘Cats don’t have enough firepower on the rest of their roster to beat good teams. We learned this against BYU and we learned this against Oregon State. Of course, then Arizona and Momo Jones and Kevin Parrom shot that theory down in dramatic fashion in triple overtime against Cal, but in the back of my mind, I still didn’t buy this Wildcat squad as an elite team. Fast forward to the last week in February, when USC and UCLA held Williams to 23 points on 8-22 shooting and just six total free throw attempts in handing the Wildcats a oh-for-L.A. weekend. No other Wildcat was able to score more than 12 points in his place over the weekend (Jesse Perry had 12 against USC, Parrom added ten in that game and Kyle Fogg had ten against UCLA) and the rest of the roster combined to shoot a less-than-impressive 32.9% from the field. This is still a good Arizona team, but the concept of this squad being a top ten team (where it was ranked last week) is ludicrous. The concept of this squad even being a top 25 team (where it is still ranked) is still a stretch.

Looking ahead: The Wildcats return to the McKale Center this week, and need to stop the bleeding immediately by avenging their opening weekend loss to Oregon State on Thursday. Then they wrap up the season on Saturday by hosting Oregon. Arizona needs both of these games.

2. UCLA (21-8, 12-4): Sometimes basketball is a pretty simple game. Sure, you’ve got to make your shots, and you can have cold shooting nights that doom you or hot shooting nights by opponents that do the same. But the fact of the matter is, if you play tough defense, rebound well and don’t turn the ball over, you’re most of the way there. And, in those areas, the Bruins are suddenly looking good. At the start of the year, their defense was not up to par. In particular, the loss to Virginia Commonwealth in Madison Square Garden was abysmal, the type of defense that Bruin fans hated seeing last season. But in conference play, things have turned around and now this UCLA squad is excellent defensively. But the biggest factor this weekend in the Bruins’ sweep of the Arizona schools may have been their total of 16 turnovers for the weekend. Considering that the Bruins turned the ball over 18 times against Cal, 19 times in their win over St. John’s and their loss at Arizona, and even 26 times in their win over Oregon State, the eight turnovers that they posted in each game this weekend was a critical improvement. In order for the Bruins to be a serious threat come the NCAA Tournament, they’ll need to keep those turnover totals similarly low.

Looking ahead: Washington on Thursday night and Washington State on Saturday, a pair of games that make up the toughest road trip in the Pac-10. And the Bruins need to win both to secure a conference title.

3. Washington (19-9, 10-6): The Huskies have this rationalization to fall back on, following their home loss to Washington State on Sunday: they didn’t play that bad. The Huskies dominated the offensive glass, grabbing 23 rebounds, exactly 50% of every missed shot that came off the rim on the offensive end. But, they turned the ball over 16 times, missed far too many of the put-back attempts and shot a lowly 36.6% from inside the three-point arc. All in all, Lorenzo Romar and company have to forget about this game and take care of business this week against the hot Los Angeles schools that are coming storming through Seattle. Anything less than a sweep and the Huskies are limping into the Pac-10 tourney.

Looking ahead: UCLA on Thursday, USC on Saturday.

4. USC (17-12, 9-7): Out of nowhere, a four-game winning streak (they had not won more than two-in-a-row all season) and a newly formidable Trojan squad. Vucevic has been excellent all year, but USC is at its best when his frontcourt mate Stepheson is a major contributor. During the four-game winning streak, he has average 13 points and nine rebounds a game, while during the seven Pac-10 losses he has averaged just over seven points and rebounds per game. The Trojans are 11-4 when he scores in double figures, just 6-8 when he does not. The numbers are clear: Kevin O’Neill needs Stepheson to provide a threat alongside Vucevic for USC to be at its best.

Looking ahead: If USC can continue its streak and get wins at Washington State and Washington, you’d have to say their resume (which would then include wins over Texas, at Tennessee, UCLA, Arizona and at Washington) would be superior to the Huskies. A couple more wins in the Pac-10 tourney could be enough to get them dancing.

5. Cal (16-13, 9-8): I think a lot of people would probably go with Washington State as the next best team in the conference, but Cal has proven to be the more dangerous, more balanced team over the course of conference play. Despite a four-game swoon in February that coincided rather clearly with Crabbe’s four-game absence (Crabbe’s concussion overlapped with three of the four losses), the Golden Bears have been impressive this season under Mike Montgomery’s excellent guidance. Junior Jorge Gutierrez has improved dramatically from the hustling role-player that he portrayed in his first two years on campus, and stepped it up even more spectacularly of late, scoring in double figures in his last ten games and averaging 20.3 PPG, 5.4 APG and 4.2 RPG over that span. Crabbe, too, has shown rapid improvement under Montgomery; after taking a couple months to get comfortable, he has been clearly the best freshman in conference play, averaging 18.4 PPG (excepting the two games around his concussion) since the abrupt transfer of fellow freshman Gary Franklin after the first Stanford game. Likewise, sophomore Brandon Smith, who averaged less than seven minutes per game last year, has been transformed into a solid Pac-10 level point guard since the Franklin departure, averaging 11.4 PPG and 5.1 APG in the 16 games since. And with Markhuri Sanders-Frison and Harper Kamp doing yeoman’s work up front, this is a seriously tough Cal team that could cause a lot of problems in the Pac-10 tourney.

Looking ahead: The Bears wrap up the season with a visit from Stanford on Saturday.

6. Washington State (18-10, 8-8): The mere fact that I’m putting a team as good as this Cougar team as the sixth best team in the conference indicates that while the Pac-10 is not back to the glory days of Kevin Love, the Lopez twins, James Harden and O.J. Mayo (among numerous others), this conference has come a long ways since last year’s mediocre conference. However, the fact that a team this talented is just .500 in the conference raises some other questions. We’ll save those for later, however, as the Cougs are coming off an big win over Washington on Sunday, a game during which they got to the line 36 times and made a mighty impressive 32. Sure, they turn the ball over too much, and they still can get killed on the glass (witness the 23 offensive rebounds they gave up Sunday), but Klay Thompson is one of the best scorers in the nation, DeAngelo Casto is a big, bouncy forward who has turned it on lately (15.5 PPG and 8.0 RPG over the last six games) after an injury-riddled start to the season and Ken Bone is blessed with plenty of willing role players. Much like USC and Cal, this team may need to win the Pac-10 Tournament to get invited to the NCAA Tournament (so far their resume consists of a win over Gonzaga and a season sweep of Washington), but they’re very capable of doing so.

Looking ahead: The Cougars host USC and UCLA this weekend, and they’ll need to prove in those games that their win at Washington wasn’t just a one-off blip before anyone should take them too seriously.

7. Oregon (14-14, 7-9): Home losses to the Bay Area schools this week put a damper on the buzz surrounding the Ducks, but head coach Dana Altman has still done a fantastic job with an undermanned roster. This week the concept of defense escaped Oregon, as they allowed Cal to post a 64.7 effective field goal percentage, only to get worse, as Stanford shot 65.7%. On the week, the Ducks allowed 1.22 points per possession.

Looking ahead: Oregon’s season concludes with a visit to the Arizona schools, where they’ll need to make up ground on WSU in order to avoid the opening round games in the Pac-10 tournament, a possibility that now seems remote.

8. Stanford (15-14, 7-10): The Cardinal came out of Oregon with a split, an acceptable if not enthralling outcome, that nevertheless leaves them without much hoping of earning a bye in the Pac-10 tourney. Jeremy Green did re-establish his hot streak, however, knocking down 15 of 24 shots for 39 points on the Oregon trip. He continued that run in the final non-conference regular season game of the Pac-10 schedule with 22 more points on seven-of-nine shooting in an 11-point win over Seattle on Tuesday.

Looking ahead: The Cardinal travel to Berkeley on Saturday to wrap up the regular season against Cal.

9. Oregon State (10-17, 5-11): The good Beavers were back for a spell this week, knocking off Stanford before posting a come-from-ahead loss against Cal on Saturday. In the Cal game, OSU actually won the battle of the boards and forced twice as many turnovers as they committed, but allowed the Bears to shoots a 71.7% efg. Against the Cardinal, five Beavers scored in double figures and OSU came from behind at the end, outscoring Stanford 13-5 in the final 2:18 to win by seven.

 

Looking ahead: Oregon State travels to Arizona on Thursday, then ASU on Saturday.

10. Arizona State (10-18, 2-14): Another week, another couple of losses by an average of 17 points. Against UCLA on Thursday, no Sun Devils scored in double figures, Ruslan Pateev led the team with five rebounds and Ty Abbott led the team with four assists. While Trent Lockett, the team’s leading scorer with 13.7 PPG, is a nice piece, Herb Sendek has to look awful hard at this team to determine  how to get back from here to competitiveness. Among next year’s possible returnees, besides Lockett, only freshman Chase Creekmur, a relatively one-dimensional shooter, has posted an offensive efficiency number above 100. It’s a long way back from here.

 

Looking ahead: The Sun Devils finish up an awful season with two winnable games at home against the Oregon schools. Here’s hoping the ASU seniors finish things off right with a win over Oregon State on Saturday. Or not. Have they really earned it?

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ATB: Rest, Ye Merry Gentlemen

Posted by jstevrtc on February 25th, 2011

The Lede. Who doesn’t love a nice thick Thursday full of excellent college hoops storylines? We’ve got 17 more days to talk bubble teams and seed lines, and we’ll get to the big boys here soon enough. Tonight we start the ATB in the only place even considered for the honor, a 3,000-seat gym in Shreveport, Louisiana. Gold Dome. 0-28. Centenary.

Nakwaasah Was One of Two Gents Who Put Up Career Highs Tonight

Your Watercooler Moment. This entire season has been a lame duck endeavor for the Centenary Gentlemen. This is their last season in Division I, and not only are they demoting themselves, they’re sublimating straight to Division III after this year. For weeks they’ve been the only D-I team without a win. All season long up until a couple of weeks ago, while we were worried about undefeated squads, Centenary was unvictorious. As evening began to fall on the college season, prognosticators began glancing at Centenary’s schedule, wondering if a win was going to happen for the Gentlemen, and which game presented the most likely chance. We mean no disrespect to any supporters of the Western Illinois Leathernecks, the school, or the team itself, but when you looked at the records of Centenary’s upcoming opponents and you noticed that WIU, on its own floor, had only beaten the Gentlemen by six back on December 4th, the return game on February 24th was the one at which you pointed as a possible win for CC. The nation wanted it. It takes a lot of guts for kids to lose 28 times in a row, go through the practices and hear the whispers for an entire year, and still show up night after night.

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