Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 24th, 2011

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

A Look Back

This was the week the west was (all but) won. With Arizona’s thrilling victory over Washington Saturday and UCLA’s overtime loss at Cal on Sunday, the Wildcats now own a two-game lead over the Bruins in the Pac-10 with four games to play. And with UCLA having to travel to the Washington schools to close the conference season after hosting the Arizona schools this week, while it is still possible that the ‘Cats could be caught, it would take a Westwood-favorable convergence of events for that to happen.

Team of the Week: Arizona – I’ll admit, I’ve been slow to come around on this version of the Wildcats. Sure, Derrick Williams is on the very short list of Player of the Year candidates, went my thinking, but the rest of that roster is ordinary. Well, looking back at what Arizona has done to this point is impressive. They’ve won eight in a row and 12 of their 14 conference games. Even if this conference isn’t up to the caliber of the 2009 vintage, that’s mighty impressive. Outside of their inexplicable loss at Oregon State on the first Sunday of the year, the other three Arizona losses have come against teams ranked in Ken Pomeroy’s top 11 right now. Momo Jones has stepped up as a legitimate major conference point guard and a good second scoring option, having scored in double figures in eight of his last nine games. Solomon Hill has established himself as a do-everything scrapper up front, Kyle Fogg has proven to be a capable distributor (he’s had six or more assists three times in this winning streak), Kevin Parrom has turned into a deadly three-point shooter (nine-of-16 from deep during the streak) and a terrific defensive presence and Jesse Perry has become an enforcer up front, averaging 8.8 rebounds per game in their last ten. And if all that isn’t enough, Jamelle Horne, the lone senior on the club, has shown a penchant for knocking down big threes when his team needs it the most. Aside from Williams, the individual pieces on this club may not blow you away on a regular basis, but Sean Miller has done a masterful job molding them into a legitimate threat to make a deep run in March.

Player of the Week: Derrick Williams, Junior, Arizona – 26 points in each of his games this week. 19 total rebounds. A couple of assists per game. Fifteen of 26 shooting from the field and 20-21 from the line (this from a guy who shot 68% from the line last year). Oh, and throw in ten points over the last six minutes against Washington, a couple of big threes, including one with just over a minute left to give the ‘Cats the lead back, then a monstrous rejection on the Huskies’ last viable chance, and it was a very good week for Williams. For the season, the guy hasn’t been kept out of double figures once, has nine double-doubles, is shooting 63% from the field, 75% from the line and an absolutely absurd 68% from deep, averages over two points per shot, is one of the most efficient high-use players in the land and is an absolute shoo-in as a first-team All-American.

Newcomer of the Week: Chase Creekmur, Freshman, Arizona State – With apologies to C.J. Wilcox, Maurice Jones and Jay-R Strowbridge, who all had excellent weeks bombing from deep, let’s recognize this freshman wing from Marshalltown, Iowa who had the game of his very short career this week in helping the Sun Devils to just their second conference win. Creekmur played the most minutes of his career against Washington State and came up with 18 huge points on five-of-eight shooting from behind the arc while also grabbing three rebounds and handing out a couple of assists. As Herb Sendek turns his eye towards the future of the ASU program, Creekmur has thrown his hat into the ring as someone to keep an eye on.

Game of the Week: Arizona 87, Washington 86 – Game of the week, for sure. On the short list with the Arizona/Cal three-overtime epic for game of the year in the conference as well. While the Arizona/Cal game had 15 extra minutes and all the drama and scrappiness that you could ask for in a college basketball game, this one had a national television audience and both teams playing for a potential conference championship. Down the stretch, both teams had its stars step up, as Williams carried the Wildcats on home and Isaiah Thomas did the same for the Huskies, handing out in rapid succession three beautiful lob passes that ended in Washington dunks. In the end, however, it was Williams sending back a Darnell Gant attempt in dramatic fashion with under a second left that sealed the game for the Wildcats.

Game of the Upcoming Week: Arizona (23-4, 12-2) at UCLA (19-8, 10-4), 2/26, 1PM, FSN – While this will no longer be a game for the top spot in the conference, following UCLA’s upset loss at Cal on Sunday night, this should still tell us a lot about both teams. UCLA is still a complete cipher. They’ve beaten BYU and St. John’s (arguably the two best wins by any team in the Pac-10 this year – although the crosstown rival has a major bone of contention there), but in their big “up” games in the Pac-10 (at Arizona and at home against Washington), they’ve lost by 11 points each time. They’ve got a loss to a mediocre Montana team on their rap sheet and while clearly a talented team, they turn the ball over at a ridiculous pace (turnovers on almost a quarter of all possessions) and have efficiency numbers of both ends of the court that are merely average. For Arizona, while we have discussed all the good things they have done, there is still a gaping hole in their resume: lack of quality road wins. To this point their best win away from the McKale Center is either at Washington State or Cal, neither a team that is in the NCAA picture any longer. While a win at an average UCLA team is not normally a resume highlight, given the Wildcats’ relatively weak schedule, this win would be very welcome. Oh, and then there’s the fact that an Arizona win here in all likelihood clinches the Pac-10 title.

Power Rankings

1. Arizona (23-4, 12-2): So, the Wildcats are a lead-pipe cinch to get invited to the NCAA Tournament next month, even without a Pac-10 tournament championship. But where do they wind up seeded? They’ve got road games against the Los Angeles schools and home games against the Oregon schools to finish things up, and while a 2-2 record to finish things up is not impossible, we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that they’ve earned and say they finish up 3-1, then advance to the Pac-10 title game before losing. And that’s the worst-case scenario. If that happens, they wind up at 28-6 on the season with the wins over Washington and UCLA as their sole wins over NCAA Tournament teams (barring some well-placed upsets in Championship Week). What is that good for? Three-seed seems too high for the lack of quality wins, while a six-seed seems too low for a team that won their regular season conference title, finished the season 8-2 (in our scenario) and winds up with a top-20 RPI. I say this team tops out at a four-seed (might have a chance at a three with the Pac-10 tourney title and a couple other dominoes falling ahead of them) with a five-seed the low end.

Looking ahead: While you can’t overlook anything in the Pac-10, this week presents the final large challenges to Arizona’s Pac-10 title dreams. The Wildcats travel to face a suddenly resurgent USC team on Thursday night, then battle UCLA on Saturday with a chance to wrap up the conference championship.

2. Washington (19-8, 10-5): It was a disappointing week for the Huskies, coming up just short in the desert. And while the tightness of the game and the excitement of the final minutes indicate that Washington was right there to the end with the ‘Cats, a close look at the box score reveals some disturbing numbers. To begin with, the Huskies allowed the Wildcats to grab 50% of all offensive rebound opportunities – an unforgivable number – and on the other end, Arizona limited the Huskies to an offensive rebounding percentage of just 24%. While Lorenzo Romar’s team has been just average cleaning the defensive glass this season, in part because they challenge a ton of shots, their inability to positively affect the game on the offensive glass had to be disturbing. That, combined with the fact that Washington wasn’t getting a lot of clean looks from deep, and the looks they were getting weren’t falling, explains the loss. But all things considered, a controversial one-point loss on one of the toughest roadies in the Pac-10 in a game in which you didn’t play all that well is not a terrible result.

Looking ahead: The Huskies are done with the road for the season, and thankfully, as six of their eight losses so far came on the road (the other two were neutral site games in Maui). Back in the friendly confines of the Hec Ed, Washington fully expects to take care of business the rest of the way against Washington State (on Sunday), UCLA (next Thursday) and USC (next Saturday).

3. UCLA (19-8, 10-4): The Bruins are in second place in the conference and the only team with much of a remaining shot at catching Arizona for first place. But I wouldn’t dare put this team as the second strongest team in the conference. They’ve won seven of their last eight, 11 of their last 13, and as referenced above, they’ve got two of the best wins of any team in the Pac-10 this season. This week they got a hard-fought and acceptable road split at the Bay Area schools, but a deeper look at the team reveals serious flaws. But regardless of all that, if the season ended today, the Bruins would be safely in the NCAA Tournament. And yet, the season doesn’t end today.

Looking ahead: Ahead for the Bruins lies danger. This week they’ve got Arizona State and Arizona at home. The Bruins have flirted all season long with giving away conference games against teams that they should beat, but thus far have escaped with perfectly explainable losses. They’ll need to keep up that streak by taking care of business against ASU and not allowing the specter of the Arizona battle to lead to a bad loss. Then come the Wildcats, where a win is a great outcome and a loss is, well, expected. To wrap up the season, Ben Howland takes his team to Washington and Washington State, probably the toughest road trip in the Pac-10 this year. A sweep is almost unthinkable, a split is brilliant and an oh-fer-the-road-trip is a potential nightmare. Even if the worst case scenario comes true and the Bruins go 1-3 down the stretch, winning their first round Pac-10 game to get to 21 wins on the season, paired with wins over BYU and St. John’s, and the Bruins probably limp in. Lose in the first round, and sweat it out on Selection Sunday.

4. USC (15-12, 7-7): From here on down, we are looking at teams that either need to win the Pac-10 Tournament or consider their options for the NIT. And, perhaps most importantly in the short-term for these next five teams, is the fact that teams one through six in the conference receive a first-round bye in the conference tournament. You don’t want to finish seventh here. For the Trojans, they jump from the back of this middle pack last week to the top of it here on the strength of a road sweep of the Bay Area schools. Kevin O’Neill’s club was sparked this week by freshman Maurice Jones, who, after being relegated to coming off the bench for the first time in his college career, took exactly one half to wallow in pity before exploding for 22 second-half points to fend off an attempted-comeback back Cal. Jones followed that game up with another ten points in the win at Stanford, and it looks like he’ll be an asset providing a scoring punch off the bench the rest of the way. Elsewhere, Nikola Vucevic was typically excellent this week, averaging 20 points and 12 rebounds, but also knocking down a surprising five threes this week, which was more than a quarter of his total coming into the game.

Looking ahead: Like the Bruins, the Trojans have a tough row to hoe the rest of the way: Arizona, Arizona State, at Washington State and at Washington.

5. Oregon (14-12, 7-7): The Ducks tore past Oregon State this week to put the wraps on a season-sweep of the Civil War. With the game still somewhat in doubt early in the second half, Jay-R Strowbridge knocked down three straight three-pointers to push Oregon further out ahead. A three by Tyrone Nared followed, as did one by E.J. Singler, then Strowbridge added another and after six straight threes by Oregon, an eight-point Duck lead had turn into a 20-point lead. All in all, Oregon knocked down 13 threes, forced 19 Beaver turnovers and eased home with a 19-point victory.

Looking ahead: Oregon hosts Cal and Stanford in a pair of games that will be very important for Pac-10 Tournament seeding.

6. Cal (14-13, 7-8): The Golden Bears snapped a four-game losing streak on Sunday night, fighting through an improbable buzzer-beating three by Malcolm Lee that sent the game into overtime, to squeak one out in overtime. Junior guard Jorge Gutierrez was phenomenal throughout, scoring 34 points, handing out six assists, grabbing three boards, swiping three steals and just epitomizing toughness and grit. Freshman guard Allen Crabbe returned in that game after missing two straight games and most of a third with a concussion. While Crabbe did not play as well as he had played before the injury, his importance to the club was emphasized during his absence.

Looking ahead: Cal travels to the Oregon schools this week, a good opportunity for a talented club to get right and jump back up the Pac-10 standings.

7. Washington State (17-10, 7-8): Instead of catching the Wildcats looking forward to the Washington game last week, the Cougars found themselves with a post-Arizona hangover when they played Arizona State on Saturday, and my, what a headache that turned out to be. Despite 58 points on the week from junior Klay Thompson, Washington State limped back home with an 0-2 record on the road trip and with any hopes of an NCAA at-large bid dashed upon the rocks. What seemed to be a promising season around Christmastime has turned into utter disappointment, although it is not merely sarcastic to say that this season is a vast improvement over last season’s total collapse.

Looking ahead: The Cougars play two of their final three at home, but it is not an easy stretch by any means. After traveling to play the Huskies in Seattle on Sunday, they’ll host USC and UCLA next week. It looks like they’ll need to win two of those three to feel comfortable about getting a first round Pac-10 bye.

8. Stanford (13-13, 6-9): Getting swept at home in conference play in a week is never a good thing. And now, riding their second losing streak of at least three games this season, the Cardinal find themselves staring up at seven teams above them in the conference standings. Against UCLA, Jeremy Green continued his hot streak, knocking down nine-of-16 shots and five three-pointers on the way to 27 points, his fifth straight 20-point game. But USC was able to get Green off his game, limiting him to 3-13 shooting and just ten points in the 16-point loss.

Looking ahead: The Cardinal travel to Corvallis and Eugene this week for game that border on must-wins.

9. Oregon State (9-16, 4-10): I’ve said enough about the Beavers for the year, I think. They’ve been a fascinating and utterly frustrating team. I’ll throw out bipolar and underachieving as two fairly apt adjectives that I don’t think I’ve used to describe them yet this year. But mostly, I just want to point you to George Dohrmann’s excellent blog post where he spares no quarter in describing the many faults of this Oregon State team. Maybe next week we’ll talk about what the future holds for this Beaver team, but for now they just make me tired.

Looking ahead: Stanford and Cal come calling this week. Who knows what will happen.

10. Arizona State (10-16, 2-12): I love it when we get to wrap up one of these posts on a positive note. There’s not much happy news to report at the bottom of the standings, and certainly one win in a sea of conference losses isn’t much to get excited about, but the ASU win over Washington State on Saturday will have to do. Playing without injured seniors Rihards Kuksiks and Ty Abbott (addition by subtraction much?), the Sun Devils got a career performance by Chase Creekmur (18 points, five threes), the best performance by the team’s leading scorer, Trent Lockett (20 points, eight rebounds), since November and the best performance from freshman guard Corey Hawkins in his brief career (29 minutes, six assists). The Devils knocked down nine threes, outshot the Cougars from the field and played their best defense in about a month and now head into the final weeks of the season with a puncher’s chance at not finishing in last in the conference.

Looking ahead: The Sun Devils travel to UCLA and USC before hosting Oregon and Oregon State. They’ll need to win two of those games and have Oregon State lose all of their to take ninth place, but at least it is something to play for.

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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 10th, 2011

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

A Look Back

It was another one of those weeks in the Pac-10. Just when you thought the wheat had been separated from the chaff, everything gets all mixed up again. Conference-leading Washington drops two games in stunning fashion. Oregon rises up from the back of the pack to sweep the Washington schools, marking their fourth win in five games and getting back to within a game of .500. Oregon State shows signs of life, while Washington State, after seemingly being back in the mix, looks horrible in earning a split and UCLA has now having won seven of eight. And through it all, Arizona just keeps winning games and now finds itself at 20-4 on the season, 9-2 in the Pac-10, a game and a half ahead of UCLA, and #16 in the latest RTC poll despite not having beaten a team ranked in KenPom’s top 40 this season.

  • Team of the Week: Oregon – With all due respect to Arizona, this recognition has to go to the Ducks this week. All season long we’ve noted that this team probably has the least talent in the conference, yet they keep doing everything necessary to give themselves the best chances to stick around and maybe even beat you in the end. And then, on Thursday night, they throw that book right out the window and just pummel Washington State, 69-43, their largest margin of victory in the conference in almost five years. Joevan Catron continues to amaze, going for 37 points and 18 rebounds over the week, while getting help from all over the roster. Jay-R Strowbridge continued his recent run of providing instant and efficient offense off the bench, scoring 27 points on 11-21 shooting this week. Malcolm Armstead has taken his move to the bench in stride (take note Drew family), going for 16 points, eight assists and ten steals this week, while still getting plenty of minutes off the pine. E.J. Singler: 26 points, ten rebounds, six assists. Tyrone Nared: 14 points and six boards against Washington. Garrett Sim: 13 points and four assists against Washington State. And then solid contributions from Jonathan Loyd and Teondre Williams. All this and we haven’t even gotten to head coach Dana Altman who is on his way to running away with the Pac-10 Coach of the Year honors and throwing his name in the hat as a potential longshot National Coach of the Year contender. While this program has a long ways to go to get back to the level it wants to be at, clearly Altman and these Ducks have gone a long way towards taking that first step.
  • Player of the Week: Lamont “Momo” Jones, Sophomore, Arizona – With Arizona down three in the waning moments of regulation against Cal on Saturday night, Jones drove the baseline, drew a bump from Cal’s Markhuri Sanders-Frison, and flipped in a runner, then proceeded to the line and confidently knocked down the game-tying free throw. In the second overtime, with the ‘Cats again down three and with time dripping off the clock, Jones this time pulled up from deep and drilled the game-tying three. And then in the decisive third overtime, Jones put Arizona ahead for good with a layup at the one-minute mark. When Zona’s 107-105 triple-overtime victory was done, Jones had gone for a career-high 27 points. “I’ve played like this my whole life,” Jones boasted after the game. “To other people it might be something new, but to me it’s just another day in the life of Momo Jones.” Nevermind the fact that a quick glance through Jones’ game log in his two seasons with the Wildcats disproves that statement, but for one night at least, Jones was the best player in the Pac-10.
  • Newcomer of the Week: Jay-R Strowbridge, Senior, Oregon – Strowbridge is used to being a newcomer. He was a newcomer-to-be at Murray State, where he originally signed, before decommitting and enrolling at Nebraska, where he was a newcomer as a freshman. Then he was a newcomer at Jacksonville State after transferring there after Nebraska. Then, he was briefly a newcomer at Arkansas State, after using the NCAA rule that allows graduates to transfer to a school offering a graduate program not offered at his current school, but left there when ASU turned out to be under NCAA investigation. Now, he’s officially a newcomer at Oregon. Despite what that history of transfers and travels may suggest, he’s been a strong veteran presence for the Ducks, while providing some good offensive firepower off the bench. In Oregon’s four wins in their last five games, he has averaged 13.8 PPG and posted a 59.5 effective field goal percentage, and it seems at long last, Strowbridge has found a good home.
  • Game of the Week: Arizona 107, Oregon State 105 (3OT) – Not only is this the game of the week, it is the leader in the clubhouse for game of the year in the Pac-10, and a strong contender for game of the year in the country. 14 ties, 17 lead changes, numerous clutch plays on both sides of the ball, career-highs littering the stat sheets. And RTC Live was lucky enough to be there.
  • Game of the Upcoming Week: California (13-10, 6-5) at Washington (15-7, 7-4), 2/10, 6PM PST, FSN – Around this time of year, it starts to seem that every game is a huge one. For the Huskies, riding a three-game losing streak, they need to stop the free fall immediately. They’ve dug themselves a hole in the race for the conference title, but there is still plenty of time to dig back out, provided they can turn things around. For the Golden Bears, there is still hope of getting back in the NCAA Tournament at-large discussion, but following the heart-breaking loss to Arizona on Saturday, they’ll need to bounce back right away. For one of these teams, the bad luck streak continues, while the other has temporarily righted the ship.

Power Rankings

1. Arizona (20-4, 9-2): Last week in this space, I said that a road sweep of the Bay Area schools would be mighty impressive, and I stand by that claim. While Stanford and Cal both gave them a run, the Wildcats did what was necessary to come away with a pair of wins. Most impressive of all, however, was getting the win at Cal, despite playing without Derrick Williams for the last 15+ minutes of the game, after he had fouled out. Throwing aside the perception that this was Williams and a bunch of guys riding his coattails, Jones, Kevin Parrom and Brendon Lavender took over the game in the overtime periods and willed the Cats to victory. Between those three, they had 33 of the 34 Arizona points scored after Williams fouled out (Jones 15, Parrom 13, Lavender 5), proving once and for all that this team is capable of beating good teams in tough environments, even without Williams.

Looking ahead: The ‘Cats travel to Tempe to face in-state rival Arizona State in a game that looks like it should be a breather. But we’ve already learned this season that there is nothing that should be taken for granted in this conference, especially in a road environment against your heated rival.

2. Washington (15-7, 7-4): Let’s not go crazy with Washington and kill them for their performance last week in Oregon. Sure, for the team that was the favorite in the conference, losing back-to-back games to those teams is alarming. But, as Lorenzo Romar was quick to point out following their loss Saturday at Oregon, this type of play in the middle of the season is typical for the Huskies. Maddening, for sure, but typical. In 2006, the Huskies lost three games in a row in the middle of Pac-10 play, dropping to 5-5, then proceeded to heat back up again, finish second in the conference and advance to the Sweet 16. Last year, the Huskies lost three in a row near the start of conference play, dropping as far as 3-5 in the conference, before winning 12 of their last 14 in the regular season and again advancing to the Sweet 16. We had been promised that this year would be different, and when the Huskies powered through the distractions of a sexual assault case (which, incidentally, has been dropped by the King County prosecutor) and a season-ending loss of their starting point guard, Abdul Gaddy, we bought into that idea for a while. But now, the Huskies have lost three in a row again and look for all the world to be the same old Huskies. You know, the Sweet 16 variety.

Looking ahead: The Huskies invite Cal and Stanford into the Hec-Ed, with all parties looking to rebound from last weekend’s disappointments.

3. UCLA (16-7, 7-3): We haven’t talked much about the Bruins to this point, but they are coming off a big week for them. First, on Wednesday they broke a four-game losing streak to cross-town rival USC. Then, on Saturday they came back and defeated former head coach Steve Lavin in his return to the sidelines at Pauley Pavilion as the first-year head coach of St. John’s. We detailed the USC game in last week’s Pac-10 Check-in, but the game against the Johnnies on the weekend was a case of the good Bruins getting the better of the bad Bruins. The good Bruins? Try grabbing 51.9% of all offensive rebounds, getting four players in double-digit scoring and outscoring their opponent from the charity stripe 27-5. The bad Bruins, however, showed up in repeated turnovers (19 total, although I swear it seemed like double that) and allowing the Red Storm to grab nearly 37% of their own offensive rebounds. In the end, Ben Howland’s crew needed an unlikely three by Reeves Nelson (who had 12 points and 17 rebounds on the day) to finally put St. John’s away, after they had cut an 11-point Bruin lead at the five-minute mark to just three in the final minute.

Looking ahead: The Bruins host the Oregon schools this week, and you can bet the coaching staff will use Washington’s struggles last week as a major teachable moment: these are not teams to overlook.

4. Washington State (16-7, 6-5): The Cougars loss at Oregon on Thursday night was just disgusting. They posted a sub-30% effective field goal percentage, got killed on the boards and look passive defensively. Junior Klay Thompson turned the ball over six times, missed nine of his 13 field goal attempts (including six of his eight three-pointers) and was frustrated repeatedly by Oregon’s Malcolm Armstead. All of which led to an entirely forgettable 26-point loss. If there was good news for Ken Bone this week, it was that the Cougars were able to put that monstrosity behind them and still go to Oregon State a couple of days later and come away with a hard-fought win. The performance was only marginally better looking (Thompson was just 2/7 in this game and he turned the ball over five times, while his teammates coughed it up 15 other times), but they did just enough work on the boards to escape from Oregon with one win in a completely unimpressive weekend.

Looking ahead: The Cougars host Stanford and Cal this week, and really need to get both of these in order to begin re-establishing their tournament credentials.

5. Cal (13-10, 6-5): There were so many times during the Arizona game on Saturday night where Bear fans had to be telling themselves: “We’re this close to being just a game out of first place in the conference.” Unfortunately for them, in each of those cases, they just couldn’t close the door. Sure, the foul called on Sanders-Frison on the Momo Jones runner at the end of regulation was iffy at best. But the Bears have to be kicking themselves for Jorge Gutierrez’s charge (and fifth foul) on a fast break in the first overtime, for failing to get a hand in Jones’ face at the end of the second overtime, for missed free throws and missed jumpers at the end of the third overtime, and many other plays down the stretch. The fact is, Cal had numerous chances to dance into the night with a victory, but each time it was the Wildcats who made the plays to get the job done. Now, all that being said, this is still a good Golden Bear team that, provided they can shake this loss off and learn from it, could be very much a factor in the final month of the regular season and into the Pac-10 Tournament.

Looking ahead: A trip up north to visit a couple of very angry Washington squads does not make a bounce-back victory easy to come by for Mike Montgomery and company. But if they want to keep their distant NCAA at-large hopes on life support, they’ll need to get right back to business.

6. Oregon (12-11, 5-6): We covered it all above in the Team of the Week section, but let me just repeat how amazed I am that this team has a winning record on the season, is just a game below .500 in the Pac-10 and is worthy of being ranked #6 in the conference; just a stunning coaching job by Altman.

Looking ahead: At UCLA on Thursday, at USC on Saturday – the Ducks have proven that they are capable of winning these types of games, and they have won two of their last three on the road.

7. Stanford (12-10, 5-6): The Cardinal just keep plodding along. Win a game, lose a game, rinse and repeat as necessary. Aside from getting swept in their Southern California road trip, the Cardinal have earned a split in every other week in the Pac-10 schedule thus far. This week, it was a home loss against Arizona after hanging tight for much of the game, then taking care of business against last-place Arizona State on Saturday. Jeremy Green woke up from a slump by scoring 20 or more in back to back games for the first time since before Thanksgiving. He poured in 21 against the Wildcats in a volume shooting effort, taking 21 shots on the night. But against ASU, he was incredibly efficient, knocking down six of his eight field goals, including all five of his attempts from behind the arc, and six of his eight free throw attempts on his way to a 23-point effort. Josh Owens was again his right-hand man, averaging 14.5 points and 8.5 rebounds this week. And junior point guard Jarrett Mann had his best week of the season, doing a little of everything: 25 points, 12 assists, 11 rebounds, and five steals on the week.

Looking ahead: Stanford takes to the highway with visits to highly motivated Washington squads this week. If they can continue their affinity for weekly splits, this week will have to be considered a success.

8. USC (12-11, 4-6): The Trojans are a disappointment, in a lot of ways. KenPom says their defensive efficiency is 43rd in the nation – you can bet that’s at least a couple dozen notches lower than what Kevin O’Neill had hoped. But, worse than that has been their offense, currently the 73rd most efficient offense in the country. The Trojans simply don’t have the firepower offensively to keep up in the Pac-10. It was expected that junior point guard Jio Fontan would provide them with a spark in the backcourt, but while he has done a pretty good job feeding big men Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson, he just hasn’t provided the scoring punch that he showed in his freshman season at Fordham. Right now, the best offense the Trojans can muster on a regular basis is a missed shot, as Vucevic and Stepheson have both been good – albeit not great – offensive rebounders. In just four of their ten Pac-10 games have they averaged more than a point per possession, but surprisingly, they have only won one of those games. They’ve got a 1-3 record in their four best offensive games, but a 3-3 record in the games in the games in which they score less than a point per possession. I know their best chance at winning is to ugly up their games, but that is ridiculous.

Looking ahead: The Trojans host Oregon State and Oregon in an effort to prove that they haven’t quit on the season.

9. Oregon State (9-13, 4-7): This Beaver team makes an art out of being inconsistent. It seems like at every point this season when I’ve written them off completely, they respond with an improbable victory. I overreact to their win, pronounce them one of the top-five most talented teams in the conference, and then they proceed to stink up the gym for a week or two. This week, they added the win over Washington to their hysterically schizophrenic resume. Yes, they’re a young team. But after four months of playing together, you’d think they’d at least be marginally predictable. Obviously, Craig Robinson has a lot of rope in Corvallis, given that there is at least some life in this once moribund program, but I’m ready to see some results – the talent is there.

Looking ahead: A trip to sunny southern California, the home of four of the Beavers best players.

10. Arizona State (9-14, 1-10): Herb Sendek is deep in the middle of a terrible nightmare, and nobody will even do him the solid to wake him up. Nobody thought this was going to be the Arizona State team that would make Sun Devils fans forget all about James Harden or Super Mario or Byron Scott and Fat Lever. But likewise, nobody thought that they would be this bad. The Devils didn’t look great in the non-conference schedule, but they had wins over UAB and Long Beach State and Nevada at least, they played Richmond and St. John’s well. You figured, maybe a lower division Pac-10 finish, but they’ll be right around .500 when all is said and done. They opened Pac-10 play with a home split against the Oregon schools, not great, but not exactly time to slit the wrists. They mixed in a win over a decent Tulsa team in the midst of conference play, but beyond that, they’re left staring at a nine-game conference losing streak. How? This team had three senior returning starters, almost more than the rest of the league combined. This team had, and still has, some good young pieces. How is this team so bad in a year when the Pac-10 is not exactly great? Just look at their Ken Pom page and it all becomes clear. They don’t do anything well, they’re efficiency numbers are mediocre on both ends of the court, they’re terrible at getting to the line and getting on the offensive glass (although that last one is at least by design), and they’ve only got four players on the roster who just squeak over the century mark in offensive efficiency. And worst of all, for a team that relies so heavily on the three (over 40% of their field goal attempts come from behind the arc), they’re just not a very good three-point shooting team, hitting just 34.7% of their attempts from back there, good for 145th in the country. Ouch.

Looking ahead: The massacre continues when Arizona comes to visit on Sunday. Although, you have to figure, if those three-pointers ever start falling at a higher-than-historical rate, they’ll beat somebody. Right?

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It’s a Love/Hate Relationship: Volume X

Posted by jbaumgartner on February 7th, 2011

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC contributor. In this weekly piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball. This week, Jesse goes nuts (as did most people) on the whole Larry Drew II situation and claims Brandon Knight isn’t a real point guard (God help us), and then takes his place in the long line of Wild Bill fans.

The Five Things I Loved This Week

I LOVED…..“Wild Bill” from the Utah State student section. Apparently I missed this guy last year, but you sure can’t miss him when you’re an opposing player at the free throw line. You get a couple options, too, when you’re playing the Aggies. Wild Bill could choose to expose his rather robust cleavage, or he might switch things up and don an elephant costume – like he did this last week against Nevada. Of course there’s also the Winnie the Pooh outfit, too. Personally I’m waiting for the first free-throw line victim that just starts cracking up. You know they want to, so I’d just let it loose for a few seconds so you could concentrate on the freebie.

How Can One Not Love This?

I LOVED…..three things that came out of Larry Drew II’s decision to quit on UNC (don’t worry, I rant about it in the HATE section, too). First off, UNC looked dynamite without him on Sunday against Florida State and showed again that the team is bigger than the decisions of one disgruntled player. Then there was Roy Williams, who said in the wake of Drew’s decision that “Z (7-footer Tyler Zeller) thinks that he can” be a factor at the point. And finally, check out Tar Heel swing man Dexter Strickland’s hilarious Tweet after realizing he’ll be the back-up point guard: “I gotta get on my Deron Williams swag for Sunday…lol @KButter5 (PG Kendall Marshall) I got u son!”

I LOVED…..some innovative expression from the Pac-10. This time it was Arizona point guard Lamont “MoMo” Jones, who went off for 27 points and hit multiple clutch shots in a dramatic 3OT-road win against Cal. “I’ve played like this my whole life,” said Jones. “To other people it might be something new, but to me it’s just another day in the life of MoMo Jones.” Players take note. If you want to be quoted, nothing does it faster than referring to yourself in the third person. Gets ‘em every time.

I LOVED…..that for all the talk of a weak SEC and a strong, dynamic Kentucky, the Wildcats are now 4-4 in conference play after taking a spill against Florida this weekend. Once again, that which we take for granted in college basketball comes back to bite us in the…whatever you call it. I stand by a statement I made after watching UK in Maui at the start of the season – Brandon Knight must become an actual point guard. Point guards don’t have assist-turnover ratios of 83-75. This UK team can make a run, but they need Knight to perhaps limit his scoring a bit (which is tough, since he’s a stud in that department) and get his teammates better looks on a consistent basis.

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ATB: The Day After

Posted by jstevrtc on January 28th, 2011

The Lede. Hopefully everyone was over their Jimmer hangovers by the time the games started tonight. Judging by Twitter, and…well, pretty much every sports outlet in the nation, the transitive verb “to Jimmer” has entered the American sporting lexicon with some serious impact. We can’t remember when a college baller’s name has ever been used in this fashion; nobody ever said “You got Turnered/Walled,” or “He Morrisoned them,” or “They Hansbrough’d the heck out of that poor team.” And the only name we can think of that contains a reverent “The” at the beginning that’s in regular use today belongs to U2 guitarist The Edge, though — and credit to Seth Davis for starting the trend — “The Jimmer” is now commonplace usage in referring to just about everybody’s favorite player.

Darius Morris and Crew Start the Celebration (J.Gonzalez/Detroit FP)

But enough of that for now. We’ll have many chances to discuss him later. Tonight we saw three tough conference road wins, two of them in games involving bitter rivals. We have a couple of RTCs we have to weigh in on, and a pair of outstanding tweets from the Gonzaga vs St. Mary’s game. First, though, we start…with Sparty.

Your Watercooler Moment. On the halftime coverage of ESPN2′s St. Mary’s @ Gonzaga game, when asked about how dire the situation was for Michigan State this year after their loss to Michigan tonight, even the understated Dan Dakich hesitated for effect and said gravely, “Well…it’s pretty serious.”

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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 27th, 2011

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

A Look Back

The big story in the Pac-10 last week was the battle between the prohibitive favorite in the conference, Washington, and its biggest supposed contender, Arizona. If you’ve followed this here series all year, you know that we haven’t really bought into the Wildcats as serious threats to the Huskies, but despite Washington’s 17-point win on Thursday night, Arizona did actually post what was, to me, by far their most impressive performance of the season on Saturday, when they followed up their disappointing loss with a tough road victory in Pullman over Washington State. While that one victory still doesn’t mean the ‘Cats are a serious threat to the Huskies, it does set up a battle this week between Arizona and UCLA, each 5-2 in the conference, for the inside track to the two-seed in the conference tournament come March. With this week wrapping up the first half of the conference season, this is a major battle. Elsewhere around the conference, Stanford looked awful in its road trip to Southern California, posting just a 30.5 effective field goal percentage on the weekend. Arizona State continued to look terrible, dropping a couple more games this week (they’re now 1-6 in conference play). And Oregon State continued its vacillating season with a come-from-ahead loss at home against in-state rival Oregon.

Team of the Week: Washington – Both the Huskies and UCLA posted 2-0 records on the week, but while the Bruins won their games in uninspiring fashion, the Huskies garnered the big win over Arizona, then added a tougher-than-expected win over Arizona State on Saturday. Isaiah Thomas continued to be just excellent in the role of point guard for Lorenzo Romar, posting another 18 assists this week, while he is still scoring in bunches (20.5 PPG this week), knocking down threes (three more this week), playing great pressure defense and keeping the high-octane Husky offense running smoothly. Matthew Bryan-Amaning also continued his hot play, averaging 24 PPG and 8 RPG this week.

Player of the Week: Isaiah Thomas, Junior, Washington – For the second week in a row, I’m dissing Derrick Williams and his spectacularly efficient numbers (19.5 PPG, 15 RPG this week and shooting a stunning 70% from three on the season, albeit on just 27 attempts – still amazing) in favor of the diminutive floor general in Seattle. In a 17-point win like the Arizona game on Thursday, it is hard to say that there is one play that determines the game. But, if there was that one play in that game, anyone who watched it knows what it is. With Washington clinging to a 56-50 lead, a Husky turnover led to an Arizona breakaway. Junior forward Darnell Gant hustled back to make a great block in transition, sending the ball towards the corner of the court, seemingly headed out of bounds. But Thomas didn’t stop, went hurtling head-first after the ball and was able to save the ball to teammate Aziz N’Diaye in bounds. After Thomas regained his footing, N’Diaye got the ball back to the Huskies’ leader who brought the ball back up court, drove into the meat of the Wildcat defense and was able to kick it out to an open Gant for a three-pointer, completing a five-point swing. From there, the Huskies slowly put the game away, sparked by the great hustle by both Gant and Thomas. That play, along with several others, prompted Arizona head coach Sean Miller to say the following about Thomas: “Isaiah Thomas, it’s not even close, there’s not one player in the country who’s more disrespected across the nation than him. Not one. It’s not even close. If he’s not one of the top four or five point guards in the country, then I’m going to tell you I want to invite these guys who vote to come and watch film.”

Newcomer of the Week: Lazeric Jones, Junior, UCLA – It was not a pretty week for the Bruins. Freshman center Josh Smith went down midway through the Cal game with a concussion and did not return the rest of the weekend. Sophomore forward Reeves Nelson struggled with foul trouble on Saturday, while junior guard Malcolm Lee fouled out early on Thursday night. And in both cases, the Bruins were awful lucky to have Jones, a junior college transfer, along to bail them out. On Thursday against Cal, the Bruins seemingly had the game under control late, with a comfortable lead. But when Lee fouled out, Cal freshman Allen Crabbe went wild, scoring 13 of his 17 points once his defensive shadow had been disqualified and getting the Bears right back into a tie game. But Jones kept the Bruins steady, knocking down eight of his ten free throws down the stretch on his way to a career-high 24 points. On Saturday, Jones added another 17 important points for a Bruin team lacking its normal big production from their frontcourt. And on the season, Jones is now averaging 11.5 PPG (including 16.5 PPG in his last four), 3.1 APG and a solid 1.5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Game of the Week: Arizona 65, Washington State 63 – In a game that both teams considered very important to their postseason hopes, the Wildcats escaped from their Washington trip with a split when Klay Thompson’s clean look in the lane came up short and Faisal Aden was unable to get up a second shot before the buzzer sounded after securing the offensive rebound. Derrick Williams led the ‘Cats with 17 points and 19 rebounds, while WSU’s two top scorers, Thompson and Aden, struggled all night, combining to hit just six of their 23 field goal attempts and just two of their ten attempts from beyond the arc. Arizona’s Jamelle Horne, the lone senior on either roster, was the hero for the second time in four games, knocking down two big threes around the two-minute mark to extend a 56-55 Zona lead to a 62-57 game. From there, Washington State took advantage of some missed Arizona free throws, including two misses by Kyle Fogg with 15 seconds left, to get back within striking range, but Thompson’s miss at the end left WSU back at .500 in the conference.

Game of the Upcoming Week: UCLA (13-6, 5-2) at Arizona (16-4, 5-2), 1/27, 6PM PST, ESPN2 – There was a time in the recent past, where this game between these schools would go a long way towards deciding the eventual regular season champion. While both schools have struggled through some downturns of late, this rivalry is back on the map and the winner of this game remains just one game back of Washington in the conference. Josh Smith is expected back from a concussion for UCLA, but the biggest question for Ben Howland is how to slow Williams. Nelson will likely take much of that responsibility (with additional eyeballs on Williams at all times), but he has found himself mired in game-long foul trouble twice in the past two weeks, and the Bruins will need him to contribute offensively to have a chance to get the road win. For the Wildcats, they’re still waiting for a consistent second option to arise alongside Williams, to no avail yet. Horne has hit some big shots recently, but has failed to secure his head coach’s complete trust. Momo Jones has scored in double figures the last two times out, but he’s seemingly just as often a liability as an asset. And Solomon Hill, the ‘Cats second leading scorer on the season at 8.5 PPG, is more suited to the role of garbage man than as a go-to offensive player. So far, riding Williams has worked out just fine, but Miller may need to have somebody else step up in this game to secure this win.

Power Rankings

1. Washington (15-4, 7-1): In the last three games, head coach Lorenzo Romar has gone with junior Scott Suggs in the starting lineup, choosing to bring the energy of Venoy Overton off of the bench, and Suggs has produced four threes in those games. In the first two games as a starter, a sole three-pointer seemed to be the only production that Suggs contributed, but in the Arizona State game on Saturday, he knocked down two key second-half threes to help propel the Huskies to victory. With Thomas, Bryan-Amaning and Justin Holiday established offensive weapons, Romar just needs Suggs to provide the three-point threat and some solid defense in his minutes on the floor, but with gunners like C.J. Wilcox and Terrence Ross waiting in reserve, Suggs had better keep knocking down the threes in order to retain his starting job.

Looking ahead: The Huskies travel to Pullman on Sunday for a game that the Cougars are going to be very interested in winning. An in-state rival coming calling on a team who has not yet lived up to their lofty expectations for themselves? Yeah, the Huskies better be ready for a street fight on Sunday.

2. Arizona (16-4, 5-2): We’ve detailed Arizona’s visit to the Washington schools above, so let’s just take a look at their NCAA Tournament resume to this point. They’ve played four teams in Ken Pomeroy’s top 70 teams in the nation, and their win at Washington State on Saturday was their first positive outcome. In the three losses (to Kansas, BYU and Washington), they’ve lost by an average of over 15 points per contest. Aside from the WSU win, their best result was a road win over an underachieving NC State team that was missing its best player. Beyond that, a couple of ugly home wins against the Bay Area schools are the best thing they’ve got going. Sure, “16-4” looks real good, but upon closer inspection, there is just not a lot of meat on the bones of the Arizona resume, to the point where it is possible they’ll need some more appealing wins in the conference schedule in order to secure an at-large bid.

Looking ahead: This week’s homestand against the Los Angeles schools is a good place to start. Hosting UCLA on Thursday and USC on Saturday gives the Wildcats to pick up a couple more wins over KenPom’s top 70 teams.

3. UCLA (13-6, 5-2): The good news for the Bruins is that they posted a couple wins and overcame some adversity in order to do so; the fact that neither game was anywhere near a work of art is beside the point. Against Cal on Thursday, they blew a 14-point lead in a game that was seemingly in hand and had to get a spectacular tip-in by Nelson at the buzzer to avoid overtime. Then, against Stanford on Saturday, they got off to a terrible start, building up their own 14-point deficit early before turning it on late in the first half to get back to within one at the break and then skating through the second half to an 11-point win. While the defense has at times looked very much like a typically stout Howland defense, unfortunately the offense has looked very much like a stagnant Howland offense, a concerning development considering the offensive talent on the roster.

Looking ahead: To this point in the season, the Bruins have done very little to prove to their fans that the ’10-’11 version of the team is significantly different than the ’09-’10 version. On Thursday, they’ll have a good chance to change that perception. But given that they have a history of letting down after a big game, they’d be wise to make sure they don’t take Arizona State lightly on Saturday.

4. Washington State (14-6, 4-4): This was the week for the Cougars to get right back in the mix at the top of the conference. The schedule set up perfectly, with Arizona State coming in on Thursday and Arizona – off of its big battle with Washington – showing up on Saturday. But while they took care of business on the front end, cold shooting from their stars doomed them against the Wildcats. Thompson’s shooting percentage took a significant dip during last year’s conference play, but there is a major difference this year: he’s still able to contribute in other areas when his shot isn’t falling. Against Arizona, he hit just four of his 16 shots, but at least he was able to contribute team highs with eight rebounds and seven assists. But given that Thompson’s scoring is such a focal point of the Coug offense, what will be remembered from that game is his missed shots, and specifically, the final missed shot.

Looking ahead: The Cougs host Washington on Sunday to wrap up the front-end of the Pac-10 conference schedule. For Ken Bone’s club to hold any hopes of competing for a conference title, this is a game they absolutely have to have.

5. USC (11-9, 3-4): Following their lost weekend in Oregon, the Trojans came out strong against Stanford on Thursday and just demolished them. They held the Cardinal to a 24.6 effective field goal percentage on the way to a 23-point victory. Relying on defense, slowing the tempo down on offense, and getting offense from Nikola Vucevic and Jio Fontan, USC looked every bit the part of the upper division Pac-10 team that they occasionally pretend to be. Against Cal on Saturday, it was back to the bad Trojans again, however. Outside of senior guard Donte Smith going absolutely bonkers from deep (eight of 11 threes for a career-high 24 points), the offense was non-existent. The Trojans defended well enough to still have a shot at the win on the final shot of the game, but the Fontan three at the buzzer came up short, a perfectly emblematic offensive possession for the Trojans.

Looking ahead: The Trojans will need to win both of their games in Arizona this week (ASU on Thursday, Arizona on Saturday), in order to complete the first lap of conference play above .500.

6. Cal (10-9, 3-4): Really, a two-point win and a two-point loss for a split on the Southern California road trip, that’s a perfectly defensible result. But the fact that the Golden Bears rallied from a 14-point second half deficit against UCLA and scored 23 points in the final 3:20 to get back to even for the first time since the score was tied at 6-6, then lost on a offensive rebound putback at the buzzer, had to be particularly heartbreaking. The flip side of that is that head coach Mike Montgomery was able to get his team to rebound from that crushing defeat with a fine performance against USC on Saturday is a credit to his coaching ability. Freshman Allen Crabbe continued his hot streak, averaging 14.5 PPG this week and has now hit double figures in six straight games, while junior forward Harper Kamp led the team in scoring in both games, averaging 20 points per contest and bumping his streak of double-digit scoring to eight games.

Looking ahead: The Bears host the Oregon schools this week, and given the way the Pac-10 has played out thus far, no one really knows what to expect in those games.

7. Stanford (10-8, 3-4): With the Cardinal’s two losses in Southern California this week, the team is now 1-5 in true road games this season and 1-2 in neutral site games. Those two wins? Over Arizona State and DePaul, and everybody beats Arizona State and DePaul. For a team with no real veteran point guard and a lot of freshmen counted on for serious contributions off the bench, struggling away from home is not an unheard of proposition, but the way Stanford struggled this week was particularly ugly. In the two games in the LA area, the Cardinal had a combined effective field goal percentage of 30.5%. Against USC, their traditional field goal percentage was 22.2%, their lowest total since the adoption of the 35-second shot-clock. Basically, this Cardinal team is a historically bad offensive team. Johnny Dawkins does have a commitment from class of ’11 recruit Chasson Randle, and he may be able to start at the point from his first day on campus. If he can turn into a playmaking point, the Cardinal could have quite a few nice pieces around him next year, with Jeremy Green and Josh Owens as seniors and youngsters like Dwight Powell, Aaron Bright and Anthony Brown with a year of experience under their belt.

Looking ahead: The Oregon schools come to Maples this week, so the Cardinal have a good shot at getting over .500 this week.

8. Oregon State (8-10, 3-4): Let’s start by saying that these last three teams in the conference are all a jumble. I’m putting OSU 8th based on talent and, you know, a better record, but this is a team that just got done losing at home to Oregon, arguably the least talented team in the conference (and really, there isn’t even much of an argument). While the Beavers have the type of talent that has their fans dreaming of competing for a conference title, those talented players are still awful young and inexperienced. Guys like sophomore Jared Cunningham and freshman Roberto Nelson have shown tantalizing touches of incredible ability, but in the game with the Ducks, those two combined to make just seven of their 21 field goal attempts and Nelson in particular needs to tighten up his shot selection considerably. Also of news this week was Nelson starting ahead of senior Calvin Haynes for the second straight game. It had been thought that the true changing of the guard wouldn’t take place until after the season, but it looks like Craig Robinson will be using the remainder of the season to get experience for his youngsters. While that is a perfectly cromulent decision, it is a shame to see a senior of Haynes’ ability and unselfishness lose minutes down the stretch of his senior year.

Looking ahead: The Beavers travel to Cal on Thursday, then to Stanford on Saturday, and the way they’re playing right now, anything is possible.

9. Oregon (9-10, 2-5): I don’t think it is doing a disservice to the guys on the Oregon roster to say that this is not an overly talented bunch. There aren’t any five-star recruits on this roster; I don’t think there are even any four-star guys here. But, so far this season they’ve played Missouri to a standstill, knocked off USC (a top-50 team according to Ken Pomeroy), and just this week knocked off intra-state rival Oregon State. You generally don’t give Coach of the Year consideration to a guy whose team is 9-10 on the year (with the majority of those nine wins against the dregs of Division I), but it cannot be repeated enough how great of a job head coach Dana Altman has done with these Ducks. This is an undersized, under-talented team that has had to deal with offseason defections, in-season injuries and more talented opposition, but Oregon has continued to scrap, Altman has begun rebuilding the talent base on the recruiting trail, and Duck fans have to be optimistic about the future of the program

Looking ahead: The Ducks travel to Stanford and Cal this week, and while road wins are not likely, given how hard this team competes, the Bay Area schools will be in for a fight.

10. Arizona State (9-10, 1-6): In the interest of remaining positive, wow, has Ty Abbott been on fire from deep lately. He’s had 22 threes in the last five ASU games, averaging 18.6 points per game over that stretch. Unfortunately, the only Sun Devil win over those five games was a non-conference win over Tulsa. ASU’s sole win in conference play was a road win in the final game at Mac Court.  Really, this collapse is almost inexplicable. The Sun Devils have as much talent on board as any of the five teams at the bottom of this conference, and they’ve got something that no other team in the conference can boast: three experienced seniors. While Abbott has been excellent of late, as a whole the senior class has had a very disappointing year, and as the old saw goes, “you’re only as good as your seniors.”

Looking ahead: The Devils welcome USC and UCLA into Tempe this week, and while they’ll be underdogs in both games, there is no good reason this team can’t be competitive in both of these games.

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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 20th, 2011

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

A Look Back

Just as it seemed everything was playing out for a relatively easy run through the league for the Washington Huskies, with a 4-0 conference record in the books for the first time since 1984 despite the sudden loss of point guard Abdul Gaddy to a season-ending knee injury, the Huskies had a rough little stretch. First, there was the disturbing story out of Seattle involving the Huskies, as a “prominent member” of the Washington basketball team was accused by a 16-year-old girl of rape. No charges have been brought as of the time of this post, and there has been no new information in this case for over a week. But with the situation a cloud over the entire program, the full Washington roster headed into Maples Pavilion for a battle with Stanford last Thursday night and looked flat, took bad shots, and didn’t even hit many of their good looks on the way to an upset loss. The Huskies did bounce back with a dominating win over Cal on Sunday, and still remain the team to beat in the conference, but we were all reminded that going on the road in conference play is never an easy proposition.

Team of the Week: Arizona – It’s been a couple of weeks since we’ve done this, so while the Wildcats haven’t exactly looked great in posting three straight wins, they get the nod simply because they are the only Pac-10 team without a loss over those two weeks. The last time we checked in on the Pac-10, we spent a lot of time talking about how Derrick Williams, despite his immense talents, was simply not being aggressive enough, either within the Wildcat offense or on the boards. I’m not for a second saying he heard my call to step up (although, if he’s not a regular reader, he should be, right?), but in two of the last three games, Williams has been a different player, twice posting career-highs with 31 points. In both games (wins over Cal and Arizona State), he was very involved in the Arizona offense, taking 12 field goal attempts each time (making seven against Cal and eight against ASU) and getting to the line a whopping 38 times (connecting on 31) in the two games combined. Perhaps more importantly, Williams was a beast on the glass, posting 31 rebounds over the entire three-game span. The rest of the talent on the Wildcat squad is good, but they’ll only go so far as they let Williams take them. Luckily for all involved, they’ve let Williams take over of late.

Player of the Week: Isaiah Thomas, Junior, Washington – Given the numbers mentioned above for Derrick Williams, the fact that he’s not getting this honor should tell you how good Thomas has been of late. Following the misfortune of the season-ending injury to Gaddy, the big question around Seattle for the Huskies was how effective their point guard play would be. It’s only been two week and four games, but I think Thomas went has provided an answer: try 20 PPG, 9.3 APG, and eleven three-pointers on for size. Add in the fact that the 5’9 star threw down his first dunk in a collegiate game against Oregon, just for a little spice, and while the Huskies will still miss Gaddy’s presence, Lorenzo Romar has to feel confident with his point guard play going forward.

Newcomer of the Week: Terrence Ross, Freshman, Washington and Allen Crabbe, Freshman, California – In the two weeks since we’ve done this, we’ve had a lot go down, but I wanted to mention Ross and his breakout performance a couple weeks back at the Hec Ed. While Ross has had some games this season where he grabbed the spotlight (most notably his 18 points and four threes in Washington’s Pac-10 opening win at USC), the homestand against the Oregon schools featured the biggest game of his young career and his first iteration of big back-to-back performances. Against Oregon, Ross went off with 25 points (on 11-18 shooting, including three threes), four rebounds, four steals, two blocks and no turnovers while earning a season-high 27 minutes. To back that game up, he posted a more reserved 14 points (6-11 field goals) and seven rebounds in just 16 minutes against Oregon State. With Gaddy’s 23 minutes a game up for grabs, Ross went a long way towards staking his claim for some extra run. Since then Ross has come back to earth, scoring just six points in the Huskies’ trip to the Bay Area, but he’s shown what he can do. Crabbe too had an up-and-down non-conference portion of the season, but since backcourt-mate Gary Franklin announced his decision to transfer out of the program, he has stepped into a major role in the Cal offense. Over the last four games, Crabbe has averaged 20 points a night, including a career-high 30 in an overtime upset of Washington State during which he played 44 of a possible 45 minutes. He has scored in double figures in six of the last seven games and has given a Golden Bear offense which sputtered on a regular basis early in the year, an explosive option to pair with their bruising frontcourt.

Game of the Week: Stanford 58, Washington 56 – Upsets like these don’t come easy, as Cardinal head coach Mike Montgomery was reminded on Thursday. After a Josh Owens tip-in put Stanford up two with 29 second left, he knew he’d have to survive one last Washington possession. And what an eventful possession it was. First, junior Scott Suggs missed a potential game-winning three-pointer from the corner, but Husky forward Justin Holiday was able to come away with the rebound and draw a foul from Jeremy Green with two seconds left. But, after missing the first free throw, Holiday was forced to miss the second one on purpose in order to give his team another chance to tie. Stanford freshman Dwight Powell was able to grab the rebound, but was called for a travel, giving U-Dub one last chance at the win. However, Holiday – who had a game-high 15 points, missed at the buzzer and Stanford escaped with a shocking win.

Game of the Upcoming Week: Arizona (15-3, 4-1) at Washington (13-4, 5-1) 1/20, 7:30PM PST, FSN – The battle between the top two teams in the conference also provides Arizona with yet another chance to prove that they belong in the conversation at the top of the conference. So far, the Wildcats have failed every significant test they have faced, and have earned their 4-1 conference start with a mixture of home cooking and light competition. Not only are the Huskies a completely different story, the trip to Washington’s Hec Ed Pavilion is as tough of a place to play as the edition of the Wildcats has seen so far. For Arizona to hang around in this game, Derrick Williams will need to duplicate the intensity and aggressiveness he displayed against Cal and Arizona State, and the Wildcats will need to keep the tempo somewhat slow. If the Huskies turn this game into a fast-break affair, expect the Dogs to expose the ‘Cats flaws.

Power Rankings

1. Washington (13-4, 5-1): We’ve talked about Thomas above, but we’ve also got to mention Matthew Bryan-Amaning, who kept up his hot streak after winning our last Pac-10 Player of the Week, by posting averages of 16.8 points and 10.3 rebounds over the past four games. In the bounce-back win over Cal, Bryan-Amaning was one of three Huskies to score more than 20 points, when he posted 22 points and 11 rebounds. Thomas led all scorers in that game with 27 (and 13 assists for good measure), while Holiday added 23.

Looking ahead: Our game of the week is the big one on the schedule for the Huskies, with a visit from Arizona State following on Saturday.

2. Arizona (15-3, 4-1): According to the standings, the Wildcats are in second place in the conference; a look at their schedule to date gives one at least some pause. A win over conference-doormat Oregon, a surprising loss to a team that lost to Utah Valley State (!!), a two-point win over a down Cal squad, a workmanlike win over a young Stanford squad and a solid win over a hapless Arizona State team does not exactly indicate that this is a classic Arizona team. Still, Derrick Williams is as good as anybody in the conference (if not the nation), Sean Miller is a terrific head coach, and this is a deep roster. If Miller can find somebody to step up to be a consistent threat when paired with Williams, this team could be in business. Senior Jamelle Horne threw his name into that ring with a 16-point, 12-rebound performance against Stanford, where he also knocked down all four of his three-point attempts, including two clutch bombs in the last four-minutes to put down one final Cardinal rally, but his inconsistency showed up again against ASU, when he had just four points and two rebounds in 20 minutes.

Looking ahead: The trip to Washington is one thing, but if the Wildcats aren’t careful, the matchup with Washington State on Saturday could be awful difficult as well. An 0-2 weekend in Washington is not going to be an uncommon result around the conference this season.

3. UCLA (11-6, 3-2): The Bruins lost to USC for the fourth straight time a couple of weeks back when Malcolm Lee and Tyler Honeycutt combined to make four of their 15 field goal attempts and turn the ball over eight times against just four assists. Freshman center Josh Smith was slightly more effective, notching eight points on four-of-six shooting, but he fouled out in 22 minutes after committing multiple dumb fouls, even after Howland lessened his duties in defending the pick-and-roll. To make matters worse, he then went and acted very much like the freshman that his is after the game, further embarrassing a proud program that is struggling through some tough times right now. UCLA did bounce back by sweeping the Oregon schools on the road, in a couple of hard-fought games. Against OSU on Thursday, UCLA completely blew a 17-point second half lead before recovering to score the final seven points of the game and escape with a five-point win. Smith played the hero in that game, knocking down four straight free throws and grabbing four rebounds in the final 2:30 to seal the game.

Looking ahead: UCLA hosts the Bay Area schools this week, giving them a reasonable chance to extend their winning streak to four games.

4. Washington State (13-5, 3-3): Home cookin’ never tasted so good. On the heels of a nearly two-week road trip that ended with a couple of conference-opening losses in Los Angeles, Ken Bone and company were in desperate need of a Beasley Coliseum homestand. And the Cougars made good on their return to the Paloose, pulling out a pair of 14-point wins over the visiting Oregon schools. On the following road trip to the Bay Area, the Cougs managed only a split, losing a tough overtime game to Cal this past Thursday. Klay Thompson has continued to shine for WSU, 25.5 PPG and 7.3 RPG over the last four, but when the Cougs are going good, they give him plenty of help. In the two wins over the Oregon schools,  three additional Cougars scored in double figures in each game, but Thompson’s teammates struggled more offensively against the Bay Area schools. Luckily, WSU’s second-leading scorer, junior Faisal Aden, bounced back from a bit of an offensive downturn to contribute 20 points in the three-point win at Stanford.

Looking ahead: In the Pac-10, each team has a geographic traveling partner. When Washington is playing at Arizona, Washington State is playing at Arizona State. And vice versa. This situation gives the traveling partner of a dominant team in the league a bit of an advantage. For instance, Arizona is going to be sky-high for their game against Washington. Win or lose, you can expect the Wildcats to suffer something of a letdown in their next game at Washington State on Saturday. If the Cougs can take care of business against ASU on Thursday and take advantage of an Arizona letdown on Saturday, a 2-2 week would look mighty good.

5. Stanford (10-6, 3-2): In each of the last two weeks, the Cardinal have come away with splits. And, in each case, that had to be considered a pretty good result for Johnny Dawkins’ young team. On the road trip to Arizona, Stanford took care of business in pummeling the Sun Devils, then lost a tough roadie at the McKale Center. Coming back home, they were able to score the big upset over Washington, but then maybe let down a bit for the follow-up game against Washington State and lost by three after blowing a nine-point halftime lead, when Jeremy Green’s potential game-tying three at the buzzer rimmed out. With so many freshmen dotting the roster, some inconsistency is to be expected, but Dawkins has to be pleased to see guys like Dwight Powell and Anthony Brown make some big contributions on occasion.

Looking ahead: Tough road trip for the Cardinal this week as they head south to face their southern California brethren: at USC on Thursday and at UCLA on Saturday.

6. USC (10-8, 2-3): We can briefly mention USC’s fourth straight win over UCLA, in which Nikola Vucevic scored 20 and Alex Stepheson double-doubled with 13 points and 16 rebounds. Impressive win. Not as impressive? Anything since then. This past week, the Trojans got swept on the Oregon trail, easily the softest road trip in the Pac-10. While Vucevic continued to look strong, averaging 18.5 points and 13.5 rebounds in the two games, the rest of the Trojans were awful. Their trademark tough defense was largely absent, the offense moved in fits and starts and the Trojans twice built up big second half deficits (20 points against Oregon, 14 vs. OSU) before making a too-late charge towards a respectable final margin. The fact that Oregon won without scoring a field goal in the final nine minutes of the game says it all. While Kevin O’Neill’s club has some good performances on its resume, there are too many awful losses there for this team. Throw in the fact that freshman Bryce Jones, who averaged over 30 minutes per game in the first nine games of the season but had seen his minutes dry up to the point where he only averaged seven minutes over the last five games, has announced his decision to transfer from the program and the warm and fuzzy feelings that were surrounding this program quite recently have vanished completely.

Looking ahead: With the Bay Area schools due into town this weekend, the Trojans have an excellent chance to turn their bad luck streak around.

7. Oregon State (8-9, 3-3): After a journey back to reality for the Beavers, with an 0-2 record on their tough Washington road trip, they gave UCLA all they could handle before losing down the stretch, but then handled USC with ease to break a three-game losing streak. While the 3-3 record looks very ordinary, OSU has shown significant improvement in their conference schedule. However, they have to work on finishing their games. They stuck around with Washington State for 32 minutes before letting a 61-57 game turn into a 14-point Cougar win, then they battled Washington to a one-point halftime deficit before getting thumped in the second half. Against UCLA they roared back from a 17-point second deficit, even briefly gaining the lead, but then gave up the final seven points of the game in a loss. The good news is that the Beavers showed improvement in this area against USC. When the Trojans came back from a 14-point second half deficit to cut the lead to four, OSU responded with a couple big plays – an over the shoulder no-look pass from Joe Burton to Jared Cunningham for a bucket, followed by a Calvin Haynes steal and breakaway – to staunch the bleeding. Cunningham remains the versatile star of the program – leading the team in points while currently sitting at second in the nation with one steal roughly every 17 possessions – freshman Roberto Nelson is coming fast, averaging over ten points per game over the last four contests.

Looking ahead: The Beavers host intrastate rival Oregon on Saturday.

8. Cal (9-8, 2-3): In the immediate aftermath of the Gary Franklin transfer, Cal fans rallied around their remaining troops with the typical “oh, we’ll be better off without him” mantra. After four games, it looks like they may have been right. Yes, the Golden Bears have gone just 2-2 in those four games, and they’re coming off a 21-point thrashing at the hands of Washington. But gone are the bad shots and possession stalling dribbling and in his absence, fellow freshman Allen Crabbe has exploded with consistently strong efforts. A third freshman, Richard Solomon, has also come along nicely, averaging 11 points in the Washington homestand; Solomon however needs to add bulk and strength before he can be a consistent contributor at the Pac-10 level. While this team is never going to be as explosive as last year’s offensive powerhouse, the Golden Bears are getting good help from their veterans. Junior Jorge Gutierrez is running the offense, scoring when needed and defending his heart out on a nightly basis, and he went for 12.2 PPG over the last two weeks, while senior big man Markhuri Sanders-Frison, who is fighting through some painful plantar fasciitis, and junior Harper Kamp provide a solid duo up front.

Looking ahead: At UCLA tonight, then USC on Saturday.

9. Arizona State (9-8, 1-4): Disastrous couples of weeks for the Sun Devils, losing two games at home to Stanford and Cal, teams that they need to beat to have any hope of an upper division finish, then getting handled pretty easily by Arizona. ASU fans can point to senior point guard Jamelle McMillan missing both games against the Bay Area schools due to injury and sophomore leading scorer Trent Lockett still not being back to 100% following his own injury, but the fact of the matter is that this group is not leading this Sun Devil team anywhere fast. And, you start to get the feeling that Herb Sendek understands that, which is why you see names like Carrick Felix and Ruslan Pateev suddently getting starts and huge bumps in minutes. Felix has been up and down, but does have four double-figures games in his last five, including a 21-point outburst in the Sun Devils’ win over Tulsa last Wednesday in their final non-conference game of the season.

Looking ahead: Tough couple of games ahead at Washington State and Washington. The Devils would be lucky to get a split this week.

10. Oregon (8-10, 1-5): After a couple more losses on the court, and a handful of injuries to go with them for good measure, a couple of weeks ago, the Ducks bounced back to open their $227 million state-of-the-art Matthew Knight Arena in style with an impressive win over USC. First to the injuries. After getting hurt in the Oregon loss at Washington, Malcolm Armstead missed the Ducks’ loss at Washington State last weekend, although he did return for the homestand. Worse yet, senior Joevan Catron and junior Jeremy Jacob were injured in the first half of that Washington State game and didn’t return to the court in the second half. Catron still has not come back, while Jacob did return for the UCLA game. For a team that was already short-handed, injuries leave this team counting on walk-ons for significant minutes as Nicola Fearn, Matt Losli and Martin Seiferth notched 31 minutes between them against WSU. There was some good news for the future of the Duck program,, aside from the successful opening of their new arena, as head coach Dana Altman secured the transfer of point guard Devoe Joseph, formerly of Minnesota. Joseph enters school this semester and will be eligible in December 2011.

Looking ahead: Oregon heads to Corvallis on Saturday for a battle with OSU.

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Set Your Tivo: 01.07-01.09

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 7th, 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 first big hoops weekend of 2011 features many important games across the land. Here are five key games followed by a host of others. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

Cleveland State @ Butler – 7 pm Friday on ESPNU (****)

With Butler’s loss at Milwaukee on Monday, folks in the Horizon League used to the Bulldogs’ dominance are excited that this may be the year someone else takes the title. Cleveland State leads the league by a game over Detroit and Wright State while holding a one and a half game lead over Butler heading into tonight’s game. Should the Vikings win on the road tonight and plow through the rest of their Horizon schedule, expect to see Cleveland State win the league. Obviously we’re a long way off from that but CSU is currently in a nice position. Butler’s problems have been on the defensive end. The Bulldogs have given up an average of 73.6 PPG in their losses while their defensive efficiency has dropped significantly from their top five ranking of a year ago.

The Bulldogs Need Mack Back On Track Tonight, And From Now On

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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 6th, 2011


Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and West Coast Conference.

A Look Back

With non-conference play all but wrapped up and the first week of the conference season in the books, we’re getting a clearer and clearer picture of who the legitimate contenders are and who is going to be bumping along in the lower half of the standings as the season progresses. But, it wouldn’t be the Pac-10 if it didn’t have plenty of surprises in store for us. And with the first nine games of the season complete, we’ve already got the mind-boggling first week surprise of an Oregon State sweep of the Arizona schools, Stanford bouncing back from struggles in their early games to smack Bay Area rival Cal around and Washington going on what is likely their toughest road trip of the season and pulling out just their third-ever sweep of the road trip to Los Angeles to establish themselves as the clear-cut favorite for the crown.

Team of the Week

Oregon StateIt is awful hard not to peg the Huskies as the team of the week, given that they’ve just passed with flying colors what is likely their biggest test of the conference slate. But, this Beaver team just wrapped up a completely fascinating weekend. This is an OSU team that I have previously this year described in this column as “bad,” “amazingly underwhelming,” “very ordinary,” “pitiful,” “terrible,” and “just awful.” In the weekly power ratings, they have never been ranked higher than tenth and I even once wished that there were already 12 teams in the conference just so I could put the Beavers lower than that. There are losses to Texas Southern, Seattle and Utah Valley State in the record books and this team just had the look of a team that would fight and scrap and claw to get to 0-18 in the Pac-10, even if it killed them. But then, just before Christmas, much-heralded and waited-for recruit Roberto Nelson became eligible, the team looked improved in a sneaky-good 20-point win over Illinois-Chicago, and there were whispers that this team had turned the corner. Then this past weekend, they killed Arizona State by 22 before coming back on Sunday night and upsetting Arizona, in a game where the Beavers didn’t even play all that well. And now all of a sudden, you look up and down that roster and see talented freshmen and sophomores (like Nelson, Ahmad Starks, Joe Burton and the star of the Arizona win, Jared Cunningham) paired with a couple of serious veterans in Calvin Haynes and Omari Johnson and you see a pretty stout lineup. I’m not for a second suggesting that out of the blue this OSU team woke up one day as a consistent finished product, but on the right night when things click together for this team, they can beat just about everybody in this conference. And I’m still a little bit scared that I just wrote that sentence.

Player of the Week

Matthew Bryan-Amaning, Senior, Washington – In the Huskies’ New Year’s weekend sweep of the Los Angeles schools, the 6’9 senior from London led the way for Lorenzo Romar’s club, leading the team in both points and rebounds in their two games while posting averages of 19.5 points and nine rebounds per contest. After losing his starting spot for four games earlier this season, Bryan-Amaning has bounced back in a big way, knocking down a high percentage of shots in an efficient manner, being a monster on the boards on both ends, taking care of the ball and defending well. With Washington firmly entrenched as the favorite in the Pac-10, Bryan-Amaning will need to continue being a steady frontcourt presence for the relatively undersized Huskies.

Newcomer of the Week

Dwight Powell, Freshman, Stanford – From the minute Powell stepped on the court this season, it was clear that he had an abundant supply of athletic gifts. But, all too often, Powell has struggled to reign in those talents and play under control and within the structure of the Cardinal offense while still being able to make an impact. This week, however, in his first Pac-10 contest against the hated Cal Bears, Powell pulled it all together in breaking out a career-high 20 points, adding seven rebounds and hitting seven of his 11 attempts from the field. The next test for the talented 6’9 forward is to recreate performances like that on a regular basis. If he can do that, a Stanford squad that struggled in non-conference play could make an impact in the Pac-10 race.

Game of the Week

Washington 73, USC 67 (OT) – If the first game of the year is any indication, we’re in for a wild Pac-10 season. Despite struggling through foul difficulties and injuries, the Huskies battled the homestanding Trojans for 40-minutes to a draw, then saddled back up and went at it for five more intense minutes before coming away with a hard-fought victory. The game was played at the pace and in the style that the Trojans wanted, with the score in the mid-50s at the end of regulation and with the Huskies having to switch to primarily zone defense after they got in deep foul trouble early in the first half (three U-Dub players fouled out, two more wound up with four personals). But Lorenzo Romar got big performances from senior Matthew Bryan-Amaning and freshman Terrence Ross, who each had a team-high 18 points – a career high for Ross. It was seniors Venoy Overton and Justin Holiday who came up biggest in overtime, with Holiday hitting the first five points of OT (including a fall-away three) and Overton scoring eight of his 11 points in the extra frame. All things considered, it was a great example of the Huskies getting positive contributions from a variety of sources in order to get their weekend, and their conference run, off to a scintillating start.

Game of the Upcoming Week

UCLA at USC, 1/9, 7:30 PM PST, FSN – Both LA-area schools started out conference play with a split, each knocking off Washington State in close games, but with both teams entertaining hopes of making a run at NCAA Tournament consideration, this becomes a very important game, apart from the inherent dislike between the two programs. Entertaining matchups abound in this game, with both squads featuring big and imposing frontlines ready to battle it out on the boards. In the backcourt, UCLA junior Malcolm Lee will likely be lined up against the Trojans’ Jio Fontan, and USC’s defensive stopper Marcus Simmons should set his sights on the Bruins’ versatile Tyler Honeycutt. One key in this game could be UCLA’s offensive rebounding. Ben Howland’s team loves to get after the offensive glass, but Kevin O’Neill preaches some heavy duty work on the defensive glass and his duo of Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson are willing acolytes. If they can keep UCLA’s Josh Smith and Reeves Nelson from getting easy buckets on the boards, the tight USC defense could make life difficult for the Bruin offense.

Power Rankings

1. Washington (10-3, 2-0): With the help of last week’s sweep of the Los Angeles schools, the Huskies have erased whatever doubts there may have been about their legitimacy as the favorite in the Pac-10. After earning the hard-fought win over USC detailed above, they came back a couple days later to run away from UCLA in the second half. However, just when it seemed there was nothing but good news surrounding the Husky program, news broke on Wednesday that sophomore point guard Abdul Gaddy had torn his ACL in practice and would miss the rest of the season. One glance at the stat sheet and Gaddy’s 8.3 PPG may make one believe that, though a tough loss for the Huskies, this is one that they can overcome. And while it is certainly true that the combination of Isaiah Thomas, Venoy Overton, C.J. Wilcox and Scott Suggs still form a strong backcourt, Washington will definitely miss Gaddy’s confidence and leadership. He had developed into a true floor general and an efficient player on both ends of the court after a rough freshman season. In his absence, however, Overton and Thomas will both get more minutes at the point, with Suggs and Wilcox due for a bump in playing time at the two (although Wilcox played just four minutes on the SoCal trip due to a staph infection). While the Gaddy injury is a huge bummer for Husky fans (and college basketball fans in general), it is by no means a deal breaker for Washington, especially considering they now have a chance to adjust to his loss over the remainder of the regular season.

Looking ahead: The conference home-opener at the Hec-Ed is on Thursday, with northwest rival Oregon coming to two, then a suddenly interesting contest with Oregon State on Saturday afternoon.

2. USC (9-6, 1-1): With Washington the clear-cut favorite in the Pac-10, the question now becomes, who’s number 2? And the answer remains, albeit after only one week of play: who knows? For now, I’ll go with the Trojans, who gave the Huskies everything they could handle in the opener. A couple of days later, they looked excellent against Washington State for about 37 minutes before slowing up short of the finish line and winding up with a fortunate two-point win. But all things considered, this is a USC team with a reputation as a great defensive team, strong on the boards and with plenty of upside on the offensive end. The Trojans are still adjusting to life with Jio Fontan as their lead guard, and given that he is their most talented offensive player, once everybody is comfortable in their roles USC should improve upon their average offensive efficiency numbers to date. The biggest weakness for Kevin O’Neill is the complete lack of depth on this squad, so if the grind of conference play slows any of the Trojans’ key contributors, things could get tight, but with a little luck, USC could ride a strong conference run to an NCAA Tournament invitation.

Looking ahead: The Trojans host UCLA at the Galen Center on Sunday before getting out on the road in conference play for the first time with a trip to the Oregon schools.

3. UCLA (9-5, 1-1): The Bruins’ homestand against the Washington schools was an eventful one. In the opener against Wazzu, they needed a big second half to defend their turf and get conference play started on the right foot. Sophomore Reeves Nelson had 13 second-half points and classmate Tyler Honeycutt added 12 as UCLA used a 20-6 second half run to come back from an eight-point halftime deficit to post a nine-point win. In the follow-up game, however, it was a 27-10 Washington run that doomed the Bruins to a split. One big factor for the Bruins in the early season has been freshman Joshua Smith and his issues with foul trouble. When Smith can keep clean, few teams around the country have players than can defend him well, but all too often he gets in early foul trouble and then either has to sit or play more carefully for fear of fouling out. In the Washington game, he picked up two quick fouls trying to hedge on ball-screens at the top of the key – a strategy Ben Howland has used successfully with big men during his time in Westwood. Howland admitted he has reconsidered and will no longer regularly ask Smith to hedge ball-screens, rather asking him to sit back and plug the lane.

Looking ahead: The cross-town battle with USC on Sunday should be a must-watch game, with a trip to the Oregon schools to follow.

4. Arizona (12-3, 1-1): The Wildcats’ loss to Oregon State on Sunday was maybe the biggest story around the Pac-10, and it is worth another look from the Arizona perspective. I don’t know about anyone else, but the first thing I look at when I check out an Arizona box score is Derrick Williams, and just looking at his line is a pretty good microcosm of what went wrong in Corvallis. First and foremost, there is little dispute that Williams is the Wildcats’ best player and the guy who Sean Miller wants to be most involved in the offense. He is an insanely efficient offensive player who has been absolutely on fire early in the season. Why then did he only attempt six field goals, especially considering he made every one? Yes, he was limited somewhat by foul trouble, but he still played 29 minutes and yet Arizona could only get him a field goal attempt once every five minutes, in their game with the highest number of possessions this year? Worse yet, that’s not even much of an aberration, as he has only once taken double-digit attempts from the field (ten attempts against CS Fullerton on 12/8) since Thanksgiving weekend. Aside from the six field goal attempts, Williams did get to the line ten times, but he made just three of them, a stunning number given his 81.7% rate coming into the game. And last, but certainly not least damning, Williams had exactly two rebounds in 29 minutes. Two. Really. Two. There were 75 rebounds available for grabbing in that game, approximately 54 rebounds available to him in the time he played, and he grabbed less than 4% of them. That’s unforgivable for a player as talented as he. There is a lot of talk about Arizona as an underrated team and a potential challenger for the Pac-10 crown, but unless Williams, clearly the most talented player on a relatively under-talented Arizona team, can get more aggressive on the boards and more involved in the offense, this is little more than a middle-of-the-Pac team.

Looking ahead: The Wildcats get a chance to bounce back from the Beaver debacle with visits from the young Bay Area teams to the McKale Center.

5. Washington State (10-4, 0-2): After a second half fade against UCLA, the Cougars came out cold against USC, struggled to get good shots and then failed to convert when they did get open looks. And yet, after an 11-0 run in crunch time to get to within 58-56, Klay Thompson drove and spotted an open Abe Lodwick at the three-point line in the corner. However, the pass from Thompson was just a bit off target and Lodwick couldn’t handle it, and a clean look at a possible game-winning three fell harmlessly out of bounds. At this point, you wouldn’t blame Cougar fans if they were a little bit skittish about their team, even after a pretty strong non-conference schedule. Sure, the 0-2 start to conference play is easily explained away with the fact that it was a pair of road games against arguably the toughest pair of travel partners the Washington schools will face all season. And sure, those first two games of the conference schedule came at the tail end of a nearly two-week span away from home. But on the heels of last year’s freefall from a 12-3 start to a 16-14 finish (including a 6-12 conference record good for last place, this WSU team has a lot to prove.  

Looking ahead: The Cougs have a chance to get back to .500 in conference by defending their home court against the Oregon teams, two teams expected to finish in the bottom half of the Pac-10. However, with Oregon State’s sudden resurgence, Ken Bone and company had better bring their A-game on Thursday, just to be safe.

6. Oregon State (7-6, 2-0): Am I really going to jump the Beavers from #10 to #6? I don’t know what choice I have. As I mentioned above, I think this is a talented roster. Couple that with their most recent three games and put on a pair of decent blinders, and this ranking seems perfectly reasonable. Sophomore guard Jared Cunningham has proven to be one of the most dangerous thieves in the country, picking opposing teams’ pockets on six percent of all possessions, and he’s also shown to be an athletic talent in the open floor. He threw down one of the better dunks of the year over Arizona, although he still missed at least three point-blank bunnies in that game. Sophomore center Joe Burton burst out over the weekend as well, averaging 16.5 points and seven rebounds in the game and displaying quick feet, nice hands, a soft touch and a good feel for the game, especially for 6’7, 280-pound guy. Throw in 6’9 athletic senior forward Omari Johnson defending the top of the 1-3-1 zone and second-team All-Pac-10 selection in 2009-10 Calvin Haynes to go with a handful of other young and talented athletes and this Beaver team has gone from an afterthought to must-see TV in the span of about two weeks.

Looking ahead: The Beavers travel to the Washington schools this week, with Pullman the first stop. If they were going to win one of these games, the Wazzu game would be the more likely one. Despite their reputation in previous seasons under Craig Robinson as a team that wants to play a slow pace, this Beaver team is young, athletic and raring to go, qualities which are endearing but which could get them in trouble against the more talented Huskies.

7. Stanford (8-4, 1-0): While not as extreme of a surprise as Oregon State’s start to conference play, Stanford’s 14-point win over Cal goes down as an unexpected result as well. It’s not so much that the Cardinal won that was surprising, but the manner in which it happened. For most of the start of the Stanford season, it had been primarily the Jeremy Green/Josh Owens show, with Green providing the bulk of the offense from the perimeter and Owens doing the dirty work inside. But on Sunday, aside from Green’s 21 points, our Newcomer of the Week, Dwight Powell, busted out for 20 points and fellow freshman Anthony Brown and Aaron Bright also went for double digits, outplaying the Cal freshman and providing the difference in the game. Just one game is too small of a sample size to think the Stanford freshmen have turned the corner, but if Jeremy Green can continue to get help from the youngsters around him, Johnny Dawkins’ bunch can spring an upset or two this season.

Looking ahead: The Cardinal head to the desert for matchups with Arizona State and Arizona, giving their freshman class their first taste of life on the road in the Pac-10.

8. Arizona State (8-5, 1-1): Sun Devil leading scorer Trent Lockett missed the first two games of the Pac-10 season with a toe injury, and he was definitely missed. In the opener, the Sun Devils looked awful against Oregon State. They were outrebounded badly, grabbing just 51% of the available defensive rebounds while getting outshot badly on the way to an embarrassing 22-point loss. They bounced back to beat Oregon on Saturday, but didn’t look particularly good in doing so. Junior college transfer Carrick Felix got his second and third starts of his career and his most run (averaging 28.5 minutes per game), and responded with a particularly good game against Oregon, posting a line of 19 points, six rebounds and four assists, and it will be interesting to see Felix’s role upon Lockett expected return this week.

Looking ahead: The Sun Devils host Stanford and Cal, two winnable home games.

9. (Cal 7-6, 0-1): The sole game of the week was the Bears’ disappointing road trip to Stanford, but the big story broke Wednesday in Berkeley, when it was announced that freshman guard Gary Franklin was no longer in school and would be transferring out. Franklin had struggled mightily with his shot in the early season, hitting just 29% from the field, 29% of his threes and only 44% from the line – all this for a guy whose strength was considered to be his shooting. Franklin started the first 11 games of the season, but removed from the starting lineup in the Bears final non-conference game against Hartford, where he only played ten minutes and didn’t score. However, Franklin returned to prominence in the Stanford game, still coming off the bench, but this time getting 30 minutes, knocking down four of his seven three-point attempts and scoring 15 points in his best game of the season. Three days later, the decision was made, and he’ll be playing somewhere else beginning next December. The whole story is confusing, but the scuttlebutt is that Franklin was unhappy with coming off the bench, despite the fact that he still averaged over 25 minutes a game. Odds are, he’ll reappear in another west coast team, maybe San Diego State or UNLV or something like that, but this observer from outside can’t help but see this as a bad decision by a kid who has been treated more than fairly by Mike Montgomery, allowed to work through his struggles with his shot while still being trotted out there every night. In the meantime, Cal’s backcourt become a little thinner, and their fans’ dreams of a Franklin/Allen Crabbe backcourt bringing them back to glory in the not-too-distant future fade far earlier than expected.

Looking ahead: The Golden Bears head to the desert as well, starting with Arizona on Thursday, then heading to Arizona State on Saturday.

10. Oregon (7-7, 0-2): A sad week in Oregon basketball. Yes, they lost their first two games of the Pac-10 season, but really, Duck fans know there are more losses where those came from. The saddest part of the week was the final scheduled men’s basketball games at McArthur Court, the second oldest on-campus arena in Division I (behind Fordham’s Rose Hill Gym). So the old brokedown palace, site of not only many a classic Pac-10 game, but also one of the best Grateful Dead shows ever, gets put out to pasture, while the bright shiny new Matthew Knight Arena gets unveiled in a couple weeks. I’m sure that place is beautiful, and it will probably wind up giving Duck fans a better, more comfortable experience at games. And sure, the Knight Arena and its attendant facilities give Oregon some great new perks to offer potential recruits. I get it. But I’m still sad to see the old place go. I would love it if Oregon could find a way to sneak a game back over across the way to the old barn, but I’m sure that’s little more than a pipe dream. Fare you well, Mac Court, fare you well.  

 

Looking ahead: The Washington swing is up next for the Ducks, and by this time next week, in all likelihood your Oregon Ducks will be sitting at 0-4 in the conference. Their time will come to sneak up on somebody in the Pac-10, but I doubt it is this week.

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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by rtmsf on December 23rd, 2010

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

A Look Back

  • For the first time this season, the Pac-10 had a week where a handful of teams combined to put together some good efforts, and more importantly, some good wins over quality competition. As of Saturday morning, it looked like more of the same for Pac-10 teams, as USC headed to Lawrence and put up a valiant effort against Kansas, before letting it slip away – a familiar course of action from around the conference. But, later that afternoon UCLA handed BYU its first loss of the season in the Wooden Classic, one of the leading candidates to that point for the best win of the season by a Pac-10 school. The next day, Arizona beat North Carolina State in Raleigh, qualifying as a decent road win. And then on Tuesday, USC wrapped up its tough two-game road trip with a win at Tennessee, probably making the Saturday UCLA win take a back seat. At any rate, while some success has come the Pac-10’s way lately, the conference still sits at 72-39 on the season, with the really quality wins over quality opponents remaining few and far between.
  • Team of the Week.  USC – This award was headed to the Southland one way or another. But USC gets the nod over its L.A. rival after basically playing Kansas and Tennessee to draws on the road, escaping with a win in Knoxville despite coming up short at the Allen Fieldhouse. The Trojan win over Tennessee gives Kevin O’Neill’s club perhaps the two best Pac-10 wins in non-conference play to this point (the other a win over Texas), with the start of Pac-10 play a week away. Junior point guard Jio Fontan saw his first action as a Trojan this week, after sitting out the first semester due to his transfer from Fordham. He was effective in his first two games (he had 15 points at Kansas and 13 points,  four assists and three steals at Tennessee), but is still working on getting comfortable with his teammates. As he settles into his role, he has the ability to make the rest of his team better, meaning the Trojans of February and March should be even more dangerous than they are now.
  • Player of the Week. Klay Thompson, Junior, Washington State – The week started out a little iffy for Thompson, as for most of the Cougars’ game at Santa Clara on Sunday, his shots weren’t falling. Throw in six turnovers and Thompson had his Washington State club on the verge of being upset. But with 17 seconds to go, he hit a three to tie the game at 71. From there the game went to overtime, where Thompson scored another seven points and his Cougs pulled out a tough one by six. Thompson wound up with 23 points (albeit on 5/16 shooting), seven rebounds, six assists, five steals, a couple blocks and four threes along the way. Not bad for a rough night. He followed that performance up with a much crisper performance in the opening round of the Diamond Head Classic on Wednesday, with 28 points and four more threes in a Cougar win over Mississippi State. He is now averaging 21 points per game on the season while hitting 48% of his shots and leading his team in assists and steals.
  • Newcomer of the Week.  Josh Smith, Freshman, UCLA – Smith was a major factor in UCLA’s Saturday win over BYU, scoring 15 points, grabbing eight rebounds and playing gutsy and smart minutes down the stretch, despite playing with four fouls, as UCLA fought off the Cougars. Smith picked up his fourth foul on a questionable call with about 15 minutes left in the game, and after he went to the bench BYU scored 11 straight points to cut the UCLA lead to just two. However, rather than keep Smith on the pine until late in the game, head coach Ben Howland showed a lot of faith in his big kid, putting him back in the game with over ten minutes still to play. Smith responded immediately, rebounding his own miss and getting the put-back just after re-entering on his way to seven points, three rebounds and perhaps the biggest defensive play of the game in a span of just over four minutes. That big defensive play occurred when Smith, playing with those four fouls, slid over in the lane in front of a driving Jimmer Fredette, and drew an offensive foul, the fourth foul on BYU’s All-American candidate. Smith has been up and down in his first month as a collegiate player, but if the Bruins entertain hopes of an NCAA Tournament invitation, they’ll need to continue to get play like this from their big and talented youngster.
  • Game of the Week.  USC 65, Tennessee 64 – In all honesty, that USC/Kansas game was probably the more entertaining game. But in a week where the Pac-10 actually pulled out some big wins, I wanted to mention a Pac-10 win in this space for the first time this season. After leading by as much as eight in the middle of the second half at Thompson-Boling Arena, the Trojans had to hang on down the stretch in order to pull this one out. Senior guard Donte Smith continued his hot play of late by hitting a big three with just over two minutes left to give USC some breathing room at 65-60, but Tennessee pulled back within striking distance with four straight free throws. But USC stepped up the defensive pressure down the stretch and forced a deep Volunteer three which rattled off the rim as time expired to earn the win. USC won despite a rough night for leading scorer Nikola Vucevic who was held to just four points and one rebound before fouling out after just 24 minutes. The Trojans were led by 5’7 freshman guard Maurice Jones and his 15 points, four rebounds, four assists, four steals and three three-pointers.
  • Game of the Upcoming Week.  Washington State in the Diamond Head Classic, ESPN on 12/23 and 12/25 – The Cougs should get a chance or two at some quality opponents in Honolulu. With a win over a short-handed Mississippi State team already under their belts, they get to face Baylor in the semifinal round. Baylor will present quite a challenge for WSU, but it also gives the Cougars a chance to put another good win on their resume. Win or lose, they should then get a chance to face either Butler or Florida State on Christmas Day, either in the championship game or the third-place game. While neither one of those opponents is ranked, they each present Ken Bone’s club with another opportunity to face some big-league competition.

Power Rankings

1. Washington State 9-1.  We mentioned the Cougars’ overtime win at Santa Clara above while awarding the Player of the Week award to Klay Thompson, but several other Cougs contributed in that game. Junior forward Marcus Capers hit all five of his shots in that game, ending up with 14 points and seven rebounds, and front-court mate DeAngelo Casto scored 15, including five in the overtime period, and added ten more rebounds. From Santa Clara, WSU headed to Honolulu for the Diamond Head Classic, and got things off to a strong start there, taking apart Mississippi State in the second half of their opening round game there. WSU outscored MSU 44-17 in the second half while hitting 12 of their 24 three-point attempts for the game and outrebounding the Bulldogs 39-23.

Looking ahead: Baylor awaits in the second round of the Diamond Head tournament, with Butler or Florida State rounding up the weekend. Once back on the mainland, all thoughts turn to conference play as a trip to Pauley Pavilion opens Pac-10 play next Wednesday.

2. Washington 7-3.  Two wins this week by an average of 29 points over teams with a combined 7-15 record tells us little or nothing about this Husky team. We know they can beat up on bad teams – they’ve made a living out of doing so. Isaiah Thomas led the way for the Huskies as he broke out his own personal 10-0 run to start the second half of Washington’s 30-point victory over San Francisco. And he took that streak and turned it into a season-high 24 points in the 28-point win over Nevada on Wednesday. Thomas’ numbers this season thus far are up nearly all the way across the board. While his scoring average is down a bit, he’s averaging career-bests in assists, steals, field goal percentage, three-point percentage, assist-to-turnover ratio, with a career low in turnovers. With competition going up a notch as conference play nears, we’ll keep an eye on those numbers to see if Thomas can keep up that level of play.

Looking ahead: A trip to Los Angeles in advance of the new year, with the Pac-10 opener at USC on 12/29 followed by a visit to Pauley Pavilion on New Year’s Eve.

3. UCLA 7-4.  The importance of the UCLA win over BYU can’t be overstated. For a young team, bouncing back from a horrific 09-10 campaign, with an 0-3 record in their three biggest games of the season and a painful loss to Montana to boot, the BYU win showed this young team that they are capable of playing with top-25 caliber programs. But, just as important as their performance in a highly anticipated game was how they would respond in the next game, against a team without as much name recognition. After UCLA’s strong performance in a loss at Kansas a few weeks back, they got caught napping in their next game against Montana. This time, they faced Montana State after the BYU game, and while there were lapses of concentration (after leading by as many as 15 in the first half, UCLA got sloppy and allowed Montana  State to retake the lead), UCLA was able to pull away late and secure a 16-point win behind Malcolm Lee’s 18 points. Ben Howland would have preferred more consistent play in the follow-up game, but at least his team was able to come away with the win.

Looking ahead: The Bruins wrap up their pre-Pac-10 non-conference slate on Thursday with a visit from UC Irvine before hosting the Washington schools in the opening weekend of conference play.

4. Arizona 11-2.  The Wildcats looked pretty bad in knocking off Northern Arizona by five last Thursday, but bounced back with a solid win over NC State on Sunday night, and then a blowout of overmatched Robert Morris on Wednesday. In the NAU game, Arizona was outrebounded 28-18 and had to fight back from a seven-point half-time deficit to get to a tie game with just over a minute left. From there, Kevin Parrom connected on a three-point play, and then Brendon Lavender got a steal that led to a breakaway bucket to complete the final margin. The NC State game was much less dramatic, as the Wildcats never trailed in the second half, but they did get outrebounded again, this time by a 36-28 margin, including an 18-7 deficit on the offensive end. The Robert Morris game was a whole other level of undramatic, as the Wildcats won by 26. Derrick Williams continued his efficient play, scoring almost 19 points per game this week, although his rebounding numbers have fallen off some – he had just eight total rebounds in the first two games before grabbing nine against RMU. The sophomore Parrom was the most impressive Wildcat this week, with his 14 points, five rebounds, four assists and three threes against NAU making up the best line of his young career.

Looking ahead: Nothing but Pac-10 play from here, as the Wildcats open with visits to the Oregon schools beginning on 12/30.

5. USC 7-5.  We’ve talked about USC pretty extensively above, so we’ll just point out here that aside from the addition of Fontan, the Trojans have plenty of room to grow defensively. In each of the last four seasons, USC ranked in the top 25 teams in the nation in terms of defensive efficiency, according to Ken Pomeroy, and last year they were number two in the country in that area. This year, they sit at a respectable 44th, but if we know Kevin O’Neill, you can expect that ranking to improve as the year goes on.

Looking ahead: Lehigh on Thursday is the last non-conference game of the regular season, with conference play kicking off Wednesday with a visit from pre-season Pac-10 favorite, Washington.

6. Arizona State 6-4.  The Sun Devils scored a couple of solid wins this week, with a three-point road-win over Nevada and a 17-point home handling of Long Beach State. The concern around Tempe has been the relatively quiet performances from seniors Rihards Kuksiks, Ty Abbott and Jamelle McMillan, but no such worries this week. Kuksiks led the way in the Nevada game with 20 points and four threes. But it was Ty Abbott who hit a clutch three just under a minute to silence a run by the Wolfpack and give the Sun Devils some breathing room. Abbott wound up with 17 in that game, then followed that up with a team-high 15 against LBSU. McMillan was also solid this week, averaging six assists per game and snagging six steals in the Long Beach game alone. Freshman Kyle Cain also had a big game against the 49ers, grabbing 16 rebounds and scoring 12 points.

Looking ahead: North Carolina A&T is the final non-conference visitor prior to Pac-10 play, with a trip to Corvallis kicking things off there next Thursday.

7. Cal 6-5.  Win a game you should win, lose a game you should lose. That’s the story of the Golden Bear week, as a loss to Kansas followed a win over Cal Poly. The bad news is this team doesn’t seem to be improving a whole lot as the season goes on. We knew that this Cal team had some growing pains ahead of it, with a slew of youngsters trying to replace last year’s decorated but now-departed seniors. In the early going, Mike Montgomery has relied on veterans like front-court grinders Markhuri Sanders-Frison and Harper Kamp and backcourt annoyance Jorge Gutierrez to keep the Bears in games out of sheer determination. These guys fight and scrap and bother the opposition (at times to the point of retaliation, as we saw with Kansas’ Marcus Morris and his flagrant elbow on Wednesday night), but they’re just not the type of guys who you can create offensive opportunities, a problem which leads to things like the infamous Cal five-point half. The hope for Golden Bear fans was that freshmen guards Allen Crabbe and Gary Franklin would use the non-conference season to settle in and be ready to break out in Pac-10 play, but while Crabbe has had some moments on his way to averaging 7.4 points and 4.7 assists per game, Franklin has struggled mightily. He’s turned the ball over more than he’s handed out assists and he’s shooting an awful 28.4% from the field. Montgomery keeps running him out there though, for 26-plus minutes a night every night, hoping that his confidence in his talented freshman will rub off some. If it does, this Cal team could surprise some people; if it doesn’t, they’ll just continue to annoy people.

Looking ahead: A meeting with Hartford on Tuesday wraps up the non-conference slate, then it is on to Palo Alto for their Pac-10 opener with Stanford.

8. Stanford 6-4.  From here on down to the last place team in the conference, there is nothing but bad news and losses this week. Stanford’s struggles started Saturday when they were dominated at Butler. After already trailing by 19 at halftime, the Cardinal were outscored 10-0 to start the half by Matt Howard alone as Butler got all over Johnny Dawkins’ club in every aspect of the game. On Tuesday, in what was the final game of an 8-4 Big 12 win in the Big 12/Pac-10 challenge, Stanford tripped up against at Oklahoma State. Juniors Jeremy Green and Josh Owens led the Cardinal again this week, as they have done most of the season, scoring 33.5 points per game between the two of them this week, as opposed to the 28 they normally average. However, there hasn’t been even a semi-consistent third option anywhere else, although freshman guard Aaron Bright threw his hat into the ring for that role against Oklahoma State with 15 points and four assists.

Looking ahead: The Cardinal host Yale on Thursday, then get their conference play opened on the second day of the new year with a battle against Bay Area rival Cal at the Farm.

9. Oregon 7-5.  Losses to Virginia and Idaho this week turn what had been a reasonably good non-conference slate for the Ducks into just a typical ugly record for a team expected to finish near the bottom of the conference. Oregon showed this week that not only are they an undersized team, they’re also simply an under-talented team, as they shot just 34% from the field combined. Senior Joevan Catron continued to produce – he led the Ducks in scoring and rebounding in each game – but he’s still playing out of position and is more or less surrounded by an underwhelming cast.

Looking ahead: The Arizona schools come to town, starting on Thursday, in what should be a long and ugly conference run for the Ducks.

10. Oregon State 5-6.  The Beavers had two very winnable games this week at home, and came away with a 1-1 record. First, the bad news: a loss against George Washington in which they turned the ball over 19 times, forced just nine turnovers and missed 15 of their 19 attempts from three. A forgettable performance, so let’s just forget it, especially since the win this week was a 20-point blowout of Illinois-Chicago, a team that just got done beating Illinois, a top 25 team. Not only is that a pretty good win for the Beavs, the way that did it has to have their fans excited, as four OSU players scored in double figures: a sophomore, a redshirt freshman and two true freshmen. Sophomore Jared Cunningham led the way with 22 points and three steals. Highly-anticipated redshirt freshman Roberto Nelson went from 14 in just his third game in a Beaver uniform. Freshman Ahmad Starks had 12 points, three assists and four threes, and fellow freshman Devon Collier had ten points, seven rebounds and three steals. When Craig Robinson assembled these kinds of recruits in Corvallis, this is what OSU fans had in mind. Throw in guys like senior forward Omari Johnson and sophomore centers Joe Burton and Angus Brandt and all of a sudden you’ve got the makings of a rotation that looks like a passable Pac-10 group. And that’s without even mentioning senior guard Calvin Haynes, a guy capable of going for 27 points, as he did against Charlotte, although just as likely to go for two points on five field goals attempts in 25 minutes, as he did in a blowout loss at Colorado. This is still a bad Beaver team, but there is no reason this team can’t at least be competitive in many games in a down Pac-10.

Looking ahead: It’s all Pac-10 play from here, as the Beavers will host the Arizona schools next week.

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Set Your Tivo: 12.21.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 21st, 2010

***** – 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.

An intriguing matchup in Knoxville and a clash in KC highlight tonight’s schedule. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

USC @ #17 Tennessee – 7 pm on ESPN3.com/ESPN FullCourt (***)

UT Has Something to Prove Tonight After Last Week (AP/M. Terrill)

All of a sudden this has become a really interesting basketball game. Each team is headed in the opposite direction with USC coming in confident after a close loss at Kansas which saw the debut of Jio Fontan while Tennessee has lost two straight after starting 7-0. Fontan played well for the Trojans but five turnovers did not help the cause in his first game since transferring from Fordham. USC will look to slow down the pace of this game on the road against the up-tempo Volunteers. The Trojans are rated #283 in tempo and should have an edge rebounding wise with Alex Stepheson and Nikola Vucevic up front. Stepheson is a key player in this game. Coming off a season-high 18-point performance at Kansas, Kevin O’Neill needs his big man to be a presence inside against Tennessee’s Brian Williams. Stepheson is more talented offensively but he’ll have to work hard to get off quality shots against Williams. The rebounding battle is a huge factor in this game with USC coming in at #13 in defensive rebounding and Tennessee #16 in offensive rebounding. USC has to control the glass in order to win and can’t afford careless turnovers, giving the Vols extra possessions. Another area to watch is free throws. Tennessee’s stellar free throw rate has fallen in recent games but it still ranks #6 in the country. The problem is they foul a lot and put their opponent on the line at a pretty good clip as well. USC has a decent defensive free throw rate so keeping Tennessee off the line will give them a much better chance to win. Bruce Pearl now has 6’6 wing Jeronne Maymon eligible, a transfer from Marquette. He’ll add depth to the Volunteer rotation but the key player that has to get going is Scotty Hopson, just 6-19 from the floor in the Charlotte loss. When Hopson is on, Tennessee is awfully tough to beat. With Hopson playing well, teams can’t back off him and must spread the floor defensively, opening up holes where other players can take advantage. Another big player for Tennessee is freshman Tobias Harris. Going up against the taller USC defenders inside, Harris may look more towards his mid-range game in this contest. The Trojans won’t be intimidated after playing so well at Allen Fieldhouse. They’ve been up and down however, having knocked off Texas but losing to the likes of TCU and Bradley among others. Tennessee is a seven point favorite and should win, but this game is basically unpredictable after what we’ve seen from these two teams over this past week.

UNLV vs. #14 Kansas State (in Kansas City) – 9 pm on ESPN2 (****)

This is a huge game for both teams as the loser will pick up their third loss of the season. Each team has seen their offense falter recently. UNLV’s effective field goal percentage dropped quite a bit over their last two games while Kansas State’s offense did essentially nothing in a loss to Florida on Saturday. The Wildcats put up just 44 points after taking a 20-8 lead to start the game and missing 19 of 20 shots at one point. In fact, Kansas State hasn’t cracked 70 points in three of their last four games. One thing the Wildcats do very well is defend and rebound, ranked in the top ten in defensive efficiency and offensive rebounding percentage. Kansas State has to get a consistent third option on offense. Curtis Kelly can be that guy but he was ineffective in only 19 minutes against Florida. As for UNLV, the Rebels do a great job inside the arc and that’s where they need to take advantage of Kansas State tonight. Lon Kruger’s team is #8 in two point offense and #22 in two point defense. They get 57% of their points from two point range led by Chace Stanback. Though he’s struggled a bit in UNLV’s recent games, Stanback can also take his game outside where he’s a 38% three point shooter. Kansas State has to do a good job defending the interior in order to win, otherwise UNLV will run rampant inside. With a capable point guard in Oscar Bellfield and three other solid starters, Kruger has a balanced team that can put up points in a hurry when they’re clicking. For Kansas State, Jacob Pullen has simply got to play better. He looks nothing like the All-American candidate he was hyped up to be though he still leads the team in scoring by a wide margin. He’s scored 19 points in each of the last two games but has shot just 11-34 (32%). When he’s off, the opponent can lock up Rodney McGruder making Kansas State incredibly weak on offense. One area to watch in this game is turnovers, specifically how well UNLV does in forcing K-State to give the ball away. The Rebels rank #15 in defensive turnover percentage while Kansas State is #209 in offensive turnover percentage. Should they turn it over often the Wildcats can make up for it on the glass where they should hold an advantage, turning rebounds into extra offensive opportunities. As everyone knows with Kansas State, should this game be close towards the end the Wildcats are an awful free throw shooting team. Playing in front of what should be a partisan crowd, Kansas State should win this game. However, another weak performance on the offensive end will keep UNLV in this right until the very end. The Rebels are talented and have what it takes to win this game. We predict this one will go down to the wire with free throws deciding the outcome.

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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 9th, 2010

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

A Look Back

While most seem to agree that the Pac-10 is a better conference from top to bottom than it was last year, the early returns across Pac-10 schedules are not particularly encouraging. Pac-10 schedules are littered with near-misses (Washington’s two losses in Maui, the efforts by UCLA and Arizona against Kansas, Washington State’s battle with Kansas State, Oregon’s comeback against Missouri), bad losses (Montana over UCLA, Rider over USC, Utah Valley State over Oregon State). Even the handful of good wins, like Cal over New Mexico and Temple, Washington State over Gonzaga and Stanford over Virginia, come with asterisks ready to be applied. Really, the only win that stands out for the conference as a no-questions-asked good win, was USC’s surprise of Texas in the Galen Center on Sunday night. Sure, Texas struggled down the stretch last season and there are some questions about their maturity, but given USC’s early-season struggles with youth and inconsistency, the Pac-10 has to feel pretty pleased about its win over a top 25 team. Now, it’s just a matter of stringing a few more of those wins together, or else schools up and down the conference are going to be in a similar situation to last season come the time to talk about quality wins and bad losses on their NCAA Tournament resumes: too few examples of the former and too many of the latter. As of 12/9, of the four teams that I would put in the top tier (or couple of tiers) of the conference (Washington, Arizona, Washington State and UCLA), there really is maybe just one quality win to point to, assuming that Wazzu’s win over Gonzaga actually qualifies as a quality win. Sure, the Pac-10 may be improved, but controversial one-point losses in Lawrence and hard-fought disappointments in Maui aren’t going to earn you much credibility come Selection Sunday.

Team of the Week

USC – The Trojans take down this award based solely on their 17-point beatdown of Texas on Sunday night, their only game of the week, and the best win of the season by a Pac-10 school. USC came out strong right out the gates in the first half, eventually built up a lead as big as 11 before taking an eight-point lead into the half, then opened the second half with an immediate 14-3 run to kill an hope the Longhorns had of getting back into the game. Junior Nikola Vucevic led the Trojans, and you’ll read more about him shortly, but this win belongs to the whole undermanned team. Just seven players got off the bench for the shorthanded Trojans, and just six played more than eight minutes, but four players scored in double figures, and the ones who didn’t made their contributions as well. USC took their lumps in November, playing three freshmen in their short rotation, but as the season turns the corner, head coach Kevin O’Neill has his team improving on a nightly basis.

Player of the Week

Nikola Vucevic, Junior, USC – With USC the Team of the week, it only makes sense that their best player take down Player of the Week, especially considering his sole game of the week featured a career-high 24 points paired nicely with nine rebounds and solid work in the middle against a talented Longhorn frontcourt. On the season, Vucevic is averaging a double-double (16.9 PPG, 10.7 RPG) while playing 36 minutes a night along a severely shorthanded Trojan front line. He’s managed to keep out of foul trouble most nights, and play effectively even while in foul trouble on the remaining nights, and he just keeps getting better every time I see him. He’s a workhorse on the glass, he’s a solid post defender, he’s continually adding new wrinkles offensively and he’s turning into a vocal leader for a Trojan team that needs one. In short, Vucevic’s breakout performance last season was no fluke, and he is proving this season on a nightly basis that he is an all-conference caliber player.

Newcomer of the Week

Joshua Smith, Freshman, UCLA – Smith had the kind of week that is not unusual for a talented freshman, especially early in the season: a big breakout performance one night and an entirely forgettable, mostly-absent game the next. In the Bruins’ loss to Kansas on last Thursday (detailed below in our Game of the Week), Smith came off the bench – mostly as a Ben Howland strategy to keep the big youngster out of early foul trouble – and threw his vast weight (reported somewhat forgivingly at 305 pounds) around on his way to career highs in points (17), rebounds (13) and offensive rebounds (8), and perhaps most importantly, a career low in fouls (just two fouls – he had never had less than four in a game before). And considering this all came against the talented Kansas frontcourt, it was even more impressive of an effort. However, rather than back that type of game up with a second statement, Smith struggled through the Bruins’ next game, a loss at home against Montana, hitting just one of his eight field goal attempts and grabbing just five rebounds. For Smith to be a difference maker at the Pac-10 level, he’ll need to get used to giving a consistent effort, night in and night out, regardless of the opponent.

Game of the Week

Kansas 77, UCLA 76 – For the third consecutive week, we’ve got a Pac-10 loss in this spot, and for the second consecutive week, it is a close loss against Kansas, although this week’s edition was a little more excruciating for the loser. The Bruins fought and clawed with the Jayhawks all night long, in a game where neither team ever led by more than eight, but down the stretch it was Kansas in control, leading by six with under three minutes and by five under two. The Bruins eventually tied the game up on a three by Tyler Honeycutt, who had 31 points, nine rebounds, four assists and five threes on 11-15 shooting from the field, with eight seconds left, but as the Jayhawks brought the ball up court in the waning seconds, with the Bruins seemingly on the verge of fouling the whole way up court, UCLA’s Malcolm Lee and Kansas’ Mario Little bumped into each other while scrambling for a loose ball, and with what turned out to be 0.7 seconds on the clock, a referee blew the whistle and sent Little to the line with a chance to win the game. He hit the first free throw and the Jayhawks escaped with a one-point victory, while the Bruins racked up just another good effort on the way to a loss.

Game of the Upcoming Week

Arizona vs. BYU, in Salt Lake City, 12/11, 3:00 PM PST, BYUtv – While things slow down in most places this week as the student-athletes work through their exams, there are a couple good opportunities for Pac-10 schools to get quality wins, with Washington’s trip to College Station to face Texas A&M as the other good example. BYU will throw all sorts of frontcourt players at the Wildcats’ Derrick Williams in an attempt to slow the most efficient offensive player in the nation, according to Ken Pomeroy. But while the Cougars’ frontcourt will have their hands full trying to slow Williams, the Wildcats’ backcourt will have similar problems trying to match up with BYU’s backcourt of Jimmer Fredette and Jackson Emery. In a clash of styles, this game may come down to which team can play this game in their comfort level – BYU will want to get out in transition and play a fast-paced game, while Arizona will be more comfortable in the halfcourt set. Sean Miller will need to make sure his players remember the game plan and stay under control, but if they do, the Wildcats have a chance to get their first quality win of the season.

Power Rankings

1. Washington (6-2): A couple big wins over decent programs this week for the Huskies, as they averaged 101 points per game and a 25.5 point margin of victory in knocking off Texas Tech and Portland at the Hec Ed. Senior wing Justin Holiday led the team with 20 points in each game, throwing in 15 rebounds and seven threes over the course of the week, but once again the story was mostly balance and contributions from players all up and down the roster. Junior guard Scott Suggs, for instance, scored in double figures for the first time since the season opener when he helped stop short a Portland comeback attempt, hitting two straight threes as part of an 11-0 response to the Pilots cutting the lead to six and starting the Huskies on their way to putting the game out of reach. While junior Isaiah Thomas has been relatively quiet this season, he still leads the team in scoring at a 15.6 clip, leading five Huskies currently averaging more than ten points per night.

Looking ahead: The Huskies travel to Texas A&M on Saturday for their last chance at a good out-of-conference win, making this a very important week for Washington.

2. Arizona (8-1): A workmanlike week for the ‘Cats, as they dispatched with two teams that they were clearly better than in an efficient manner. In the Sunday win over Oklahoma, sophomore forward Derrick Williams struggled with foul trouble, but ‘Zona had no trouble easing past the Sooners by 23. Then on Wednesday night, Cal State Fullerton threw a zone at the ‘Cats to keep things close, and succeeded in that goal, before Arizona outscored the Titans by ten in the second half, with Williams chipping in 16 of his 22 after the break. Head coach Sean Miller has yet to really have anyone step up and claim the role of secondary option to Williams yet, but with ten players sporting 110+ offensive ratings according to Ken Pomeroy, it looks like there are plenty of options on any given night. Point guard does remain a position of concern, however, as sophomore Momo Jones has been more down than up thus far, with turnovers and poor shooting chief among his faults. However, Miller has been able to get capable playmaking out of other players, with off-guard Kyle Fogg handing out 3.6 assists per night and forward Solomon Hill dishing out 2.5, both while keeping their turnovers in relative check.

Looking ahead: Big week for the ‘Cats, even if it is just a one-game week. See our Game of the Upcoming Week section for more details of Arizona’s matchup with BYU.

3. Washington State (6-1): The Cougars’ brief undefeated streak may have ended this week, but Ken Bone and company have to pretty feel good about what they accomplished this week, splitting a home stand with a blowout win over Gonzaga and a tough loss against Kansas State. While the 22-point win over their regional rival, Gonzaga, may look better at first glance, we learned more about this year’s version of the Cougs in the loss against Kansas State. In that loss, juniors Klay Thompson and Faisal Aden, the team’s two leading scorers with roughly 40 points a night between them, struggled offensively, hitting just nine of their combined 28 shots. Nevertheless, WSU hung tight with the Wildcats, using defense and grittiness to stick around to the bitter end. The Cougs held KSU leading scorer and All-American candidate Jacob Pullen to a mere two makes on 11 attempts, and despite getting outrebounded by the more physical Wildcats, were able to force 21 Kansas State turnovers. While sophomore point guard Reggie Moore provided a spark for the Cougs while playing in his first game of the season, albeit with a splint still on his injured wrist, the Cougs inability to hit their shots (they were just 3-16 from three) cost them down the stretch. Still, given that the biggest question mark for this program has been the effectiveness on the defensive end, their ability to scrap and fight with a top ten team like KSU proves that this year’s WSU squad is quite a different beast than last year’s paper Cougar.

Looking ahead: After last week’s excitement, things slow down considerably, with only a visit from Texas-Pan American on Friday as schoolwork takes precedence.

4. UCLA (3-4): While the Kansas loss is the big story of the week, just as important for the Bruins’ long-term hopes was the Sunday night game against Montana, in which the young UCLA squad was unfocused and passive and allowed the Grizzlies to outplay them. While the Bruin defense had been up and down all season, on Sunday night it completely deserted them, as Montana shot 52% from the field. Things weren’t much better on the other end of the court as the Bruins shot just 31.3% from the field, and the two stars of the Kansas game, Tyler Honeycutt and Josh Smith, shot a combined four of 20 from the field. With BYU and St. John’s as the only non-conference games remaining of any importance, no good wins to speak of and with this bad Montana loss on the resume, the Bruins find themselves stuck behind the eight-ball with Selection Sunday still months away. They’ll need to make a big run through the Pac-10 in order to have any hope of hearing their name called when the brackets are announced, and in order to do that, they’ll need to eliminate mental lapses like the Montana debacle.

Looking ahead: While UCLA showed the ability to lose to teams with less talent than them, one would have to guess that this week’s docket is pretty manageable: UC Davis and Cal Poly, both in Pauley.

5. USC (5-4): In this space last week, I called the USC upset of Texas. And, really, I was halfway serious about it. There is talent on this team. Junior Nikola Vucevic just keeps getting better every time I see him. He’s a workhorse on the glass, he’s a solid post defender, he’s continually adding new wrinkles offensively. Paired up front with senior Alex Stepheson who grabs rebounds like he needs them to live, the Trojans have an intimidating duo up front. Freshman Maurice Jones is getting almost all of the time at the point right now (he’s averaging over 38 minutes a game) until Fordham-transfer Jio Fontan is eligible next week, and while he has experienced some growing pains along the way, Kevin O’Neill and his club will be better for it in the long run. Fellow freshman Bryce Jones isn’t getting quite as much run as his unrelated teammate Maurice, but he has the capability to be the off-ball scorer that USC has been missing, and while he too has had some bumps early, he has been spectacular at times. What this team lacks is any kind of effective depth, but if they can keep their big guys clean, this club is going to be dangerous in the Pac-10 race.

Looking ahead: The Trojans wrap up the first portion of their season with a game against Northern Arizona on Saturday, their last game in the pre-Fontan era. The next time USC takes the court, the following Saturday in Lawrence, Fontan will be the man at point.

6. Arizona State (3-4): Herb Sendek got awfully brave with his non-conference scheduling this season, and after a couple more adventurous games this week (at Baylor and home against Richmond), and a couple more losses to boot, the wisdom of such a schedule could be questioned. But, from Sendek’s point of view, with three senior starters returning from last year’s second-place Pac-10 finisher, the Sun Devils appeared ready to be tested early. But, thus far, the seniors have been a disappointment, with only point guard Jamelle McMillan anywhere close to sniffing a Pomeroy offensive rating of 100 and a combined field goal percentage of under 37%. There are bright spots for the Devils though, as sophomore slasher Trent Lockett has been most impressive, contributing across the stat sheet (15.6 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 3.3 APG, 63% from the field, 40% from three) and seeming ready to step into a leadership role, while freshman forward Kyle Cain has posted some great nights, albeit interspersed with a couple games where he was limited by foul trouble. Cain has averaged 9.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game so far, but his best days are ahead of him, especially once he beefs up his skinny frame. In the end, this non-conference run through a challenging schedule could toughen up ASU for conference play, but they’ll need their trio of seniors to step up the efficiency.

Looking ahead: A quiet week for the Sun Devils, with just a visit from Gardner-Webb on Saturday.

7. Cal (5-3): Earlier in the season, the Golden Bears hung a 25-point whooping on a visiting MWC team, New Mexico, at Haas Pavilion. On Wednesday night, they ran into a MWC team of a completely different caliber, when San Diego State blasted the Bears in the second half and ran away to a 20-point win. Earlier in the week, however, head coach Mike Montgomery and his team met up with a more compatible opponent, Iowa State, a lower-division team in the Big 12. Despite playing the first true road game of the season for this young group of cubs, they were able to have four players score in double figures and they got a couple big plays from sophomore forward Bak Bak with under a minute to go in a tight game. With the game tied at 59, Bak converted a three-point play on the offensive end to give the Bears the lead, then stripped the Cyclone point guard on the other end of the court and calmly hit two free throws to ice the game. Montgomery has gotten as much as anyone could have thought possible out of frontcourt players like Bak, senior Markuri Sanders-Frison and redshirt junior Harper Kamp, but the young backcourt is still very much a work in progress. While junior Jorge Gutierrez has done what he can at the point (leading the team in scoring, assists, steals and three-point percentage), he is really not a natural point. While freshmen guards Gary Franklin and Allen Crabbe have each had strong moments, they’ll need to grow up before conference play rolls around for the Bears to entertain an upper division finish.

Looking ahead: The Bears host Southern Mississippi in a sneaky good Sunday afternoon matinee, a stiff test for both squads.

8. Stanford (4-2): Absolutely nothing for the Cardinal this week, as finals was the focus around campus this week.

Looking ahead: The Cardinal get back to the hardwood with a couple of very winnable games: UC Riverside on Sunday and North Carolina A&T on Wednesday.

9. Oregon (5-3): The Ducks split their two-game week, but all things considered, it was a good week in Eugene. Sure, the basketball program lags a bit behind their brethren on the gridiron, but an undermanned Oregon squad has shown quite a bit of tenacity under new head coach Dana Altman. RTC’s #15 Missouri visited McArthur Court on Thursday night and the Ducks, after falling behind by 20 in the first half, rallied behind 62.1% shooting in the second half and a career high 19 points from sophomore E.J. Singler to at least give the Tigers a scare, before eventually falling 83-80. The Ducks followed that up by beating in-state foe Portland State on Sunday in a game where they could have easily been caught sleeping (see UCLA and Montana, above). After scrapping to something of a draw in the first half, Oregon turned it on in the second half and finished on a 24-8 run to settle matters. Singler, thus far, has been one of the most improved players in the nation, posting highly efficient offensive numbers while playing out of position for the undersized Ducks. While there just isn’t enough talent on this squad to pose a serious threat in conference, they’ll win their fair share of games this year, just on effort and smarts alone.

Looking ahead: Willamette and Jacksonville State visit Eugene this week, before the Ducks play their first game outside the state of Oregon on 12/17 when they travel to Charlottesville to face Virginia.

10. Oregon State (3-4): The Beavers followed up their two-point loss to Utah Valley State with a 26-point loss to Colorado, going a long way towards answering the eternal question, “if Utah Valley State and Colorado were to play, what should be the betting line?” Of course, the UVSU game was in Corvallis and the Colorado game was in Boulder, so assuming that there is actually a home court advantage in Boulder (hey, this has Pac-10 relevance – we’ll need to know if the Colorado home court advantage is significant) and estimating it at around five points (based on a couple home and away games with Big 12 opponents over the last couple of years), we can safely say that Colorado should be somewhere in the neighborhood of a 19-point favorite over Utah Valley State. There. I got through this little section without having to say anything meaningful about Oregon State. Aside from the fact that they are terrible.

Looking ahead: The Beavers host Texas-Pan American on Sunday, then travel to Missoula to face Montana on Wednesday. Watch OSU beat Mont—ah, never mind, I can’t even type it with a straight face.

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ATB: Thank God We’re Not the BCS Weekend Recap

Posted by rtmsf on December 6th, 2010

The LedeThankfully We Decide Our Champions on the Court.  And we don’t use awful naming conventions when doing it.  Imagine if the First Four was actually called the Toys “R” Us First Four, or the Final Four became the Batesville Casket Company Final Four?  That’s essentially what we’re looking at with some of these absurd bowl names — our favorites: the Beef “O” Brady Bowl and the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.  Maybe the two bowls should morph together and then they’d have the whole eating thing figured out.  On to more serious issues, though.  For seemingly the fourteenth consecutive year, the BCS national title game featuring Auburn and Oregon is not without controversy, as there are three unbeaten teams left standing with only two spots available.  Perhaps you’re of the opinion that a school like TCU (12-0), with its weak schedule and lack of gridiron pedigree, is not worthy of playing in that sports’ marquee event.  To this we say: neither was Butler.  Yet somehow the small college from the north side of Indianapolis that didn’t belong there found itself capable of beating two of basketball’s best coaches (Jim Boeheim and Tom Izzo) and come within a hair of beating its best (Mike Krzyzewski).  It’s an absurd system that if used in basketball would guarantee that Duke would have won at least ten “mythical” national titles in the last twenty years, while robbing us of the magic of schools like George Mason and Butler along the way.  Critics of the system correctly point out that FBS college football is the only NCAA sport that does not have a playoff system to determine its champion, but it’s also the only American sport that becomes less interesting as the season progresses.  The single most exciting time is kickoff weekend, when anything seems possible.  Enjoy your BBVA Compass Bowl featuring a 2-6 SEC team, folks — we’ll be over here watching games that actually build up to something.

This Weekend’s Marquee Games.  For additional analysis on the major games from Saturday check out our Instant Analyses from Saturday (part 1, part 2, part 3).

Zeller Was Great Against UK on Saturday (AP/G. Broome)

  • Over 4,000 Wins in Chapel Hill. But it was the embattled Tar Heels of North Carolina who added win #2009 on this day, as Tyler Zeller reminded us how good he can be when he asserts himself (27/11/5 blks).  In a wrinkle we’ve never seen before, Zeller fouled out the entire Kentucky frontline with his play inside; his length (along with teammate John Henson’s) frustrated UK star forward Terrence Jones for the first time all season (3-17 FG for nine points).  The Carolina guard play still left something to be desired, shooting 6-24 from the field and totaling 21 points, but this is a known commodity — Carolina’s rise and fall this season will generally rest on how well their big men play each night out.  We came away from this game thinking that we were viewing two flawed teams — Kentucky on the inside, and UNC on the perimeter — but that Kentucky, despite losing the game, has the greater upside.
  • National Title Rematch. Butler proved for more than a half that it wasn’t going to quietly skulk away into the night after its run to the national championship game and a shaky start to this season.  As our correspondent Matt Patton wrote from the game: “First off, Butler can play: people have been down on the Bulldogs after they were blown out by Louisville and upset by Evansville, but they showed that they still have some star power and one of the smartest coaches in the game in Brad Stevens.  I thought Stevens really kept Duke on their heels the first half, giving the Blue Devils fits with a triangle and two zone and expertly controlling the tempo during the first half.  Butler also showcased some impressive depth, outscoring Duke’s talented bench 33-13 (a large amount of that credit goes to Shawn Vanzant, who had a spectacular second half).  If the Bulldogs take care of the ball like they did today and keep their stars on the court (i.e. minimize fouls and injuries), they can still surprise some people come March.”  We don’t disagree at all.  Butler isn’t a top ten team, but they will always play legitimate defense, and once they get their sea legs under them, nobody will want to face the Bulldogs (again) next Spring.
  • Battle of Seattle.  We haven’t been as high as many others have been on Gonzaga this year, and any injury to Elias Harris notwithstanding, the reason was fully on display Saturday in the Battle of Seattle game against Illinois: the Zags don’t defend.  Illinois has never traditionally been a high-octane offense under Bruce Weber, but against a Gonzaga defense that would rather reach than move, Illinois repeatedly picked Mark Few’s team apart for wide-open threes (12-23) and dunks.  Giving up twelve treys is a problem against any team, and this is the second time this season that the Zags have done so in a loss (Kansas State was the other).  This definitely appears to be Weber’s best Illini squad since the 2005 national runner-up, and it helps in that Illinois has six players capable of putting up double figures any given night.  The maturation of Brandon Paul in particular from a gunner incapable of taking a good shot in the flow of the offense (33% last year) to a disciplined shooter (52% this year) has been a pleasure to watch.  This Illinois team is capable of big things this year.

SoCal Upsets. The most surprising upsets of the weekend came at the very end of it, as the two biggest Los Angeles programs made news in one way or another.  First, UCLA, coming off a loss against top-five Kansas on Thursday night that universally slammed the officials for bailing the Jayhawks out, must have still been feeling the effects.  They allowed Montana (without Anthony Johnson, mind you) to come into Pauley Pavilion and shoot 52% in a 66-57 victory that must have UCLA fans scratching their heads perplexed.  The two stars of the Kansas game, Tyler Honeycutt and Joshua Smith, combined for 4-20 shooting and 15 total points.  Meanwhile, on the other side of town, USC, a team who had already racked up bad losses against Rider, Bradley, TCU and Nebraska, managed to completely flummox the young Texas Longhorns for an easy 73-56 victory.  If you saw either one of these results coming, then you’re well beyond the scope of this site.  Unbelievable.

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