Breaking Down a Potential UCLA-Indiana Final in the Legends Classic

Posted by Chris Johnson on August 7th, 2012

Christopher Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

Playing formidable competition in early season invitational tournaments is the best way to build a solid RPI foundation upon which to base the rest of your non-conference schedule. In recent years, as teams have adjusted to the notion that non-league scheduling does, in fact, have an appreciable affect on the bubble cut line come Selection Sunday, these tournaments have provided some intriguing matchups featuring national title contenders. The Legends Classic, one of the more anticipated tournaments in the early season college hoops calendar, released its bracket Monday. The 12-team field, on the whole, is a bit underwhelming, but tournament organizers did do us the favor of setting up a potentially epic finale on November 20 at the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Indiana and UCLA, after staging two regional round games on their respective home courts, will need to win only one game against a power conference team before meeting in the tournament’s final game. If UCLA can sneak by Georgetown and Indiana takes care of business against Georgia, the two surefire preseason top-five outfits will put it all on the line for the Legends Classic crown.

Joshua Smith, UCLA

The Legends Classic bracket features two national championship contenders in Indiana and UCLA (Credit: Associated Press).

That’s must-see viewing for any college hoops fan, a tantalizing early season matchup of Final Four-worthy opponents. With more than three months remaining before the bracket kicks off, there’s plenty of time to salivate over this enticing showdown. But in these news-bereft late summer months, where Midnight Madness can’t come soon enough, I’m bringing you a way-too-early positional breakdown of what figures to be one of the best non-league fixtures in the upcoming season. To take this a step further, I’ll provide a prediction, score included, as a way of sparking the debate for which team is better positioned to make good on their considerable preseason hype. Remember, Georgetown or Georgia could knock off UCLA and/or Indiana in the semifinals and thus prevent the more favorable and altogether more entertaining finals matchup. But if the Hoosiers and Bruins are indeed what most preseason prognosticators are making them out to be, they should both advance to the championship round. Still, there’s no guarantee, so take this predictive exercise at face value.

Point guard: Yogi Ferrell/Jordan Hulls vs. Kyle Anderson/Larry Drew II

If Ferrell outplays hulls in preseason practice, Crean likely will insert him into the starting lineup in time for this highly-touted matchup. Ferrell is a true point guard who penetrates and finishes at the rim, but scoring won’t be his primary responsibility this season; facilitating the group of talented finishers around him—guys like Victor Oladipo, Will Sheehey, Christian Watford and Cody Zeller—is the first order of business. Hulls has been around long enough to remember discernibly darker days in Bloomington, the pre-Kentucky upset era—faraway as it may seem—and can make up for his deficiencies on defense with experience, leadership and pinpoint three-point marksmanship. He may ultimately start alongside Ferrell at the two. Countering the Hoosiers’ duo is Anderson, one of the more intriguing skills-to-size prospects in the 2012 class. At 6’7″, Anderson poses a major athletic and size advantage over most every point guard, yet he also boasts the shrewd ball handling, court vision and mid-range touch to excel at the position. He functions efficiently on the low block, posting up defenders and finding open shooters on the perimeter. Drew II, a year after transferring from North Carolina, will challenge Anderson for the starting job. Both players should see significant floor time this season, and they could split minutes in this early nonleague tournament.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

UCLA: 2011-12 Post-Mortem

Posted by AMurawa on April 23rd, 2012

Over the course of the next two weeks, the Pac-12 Microsite will break down each team’s season: what went well, what didn’t, and a look ahead at the future. Today’s subject: UCLA.

What Went Wrong

Team chemistry. While Reeves Nelson is the fall guy for this, after displaying abominable behavior for two-plus years on this Bruin team before eventually being dismissed in early December, the problem went deeper than that. There was supposed senior leader and point guard Jerime Anderson getting busted for stealing a laptop in the offseason and earning a light two-game suspension as a result. There was center Joshua Smith showing up for his sophomore season in worse shape than his rotund, breathless freshman edition. And given that he was close friends with Nelson, it appeared at times that his buddy’s bad attitude rubbed off on him. Aside from behavioral issues, there was also a case of mismatched parts on this team, with a talented frontcourt supported by guards that were in a bit over their heads (despite the relative success that Anderson and backcourt-mate Lazeric Jones enjoyed). And there was head coach Ben Howland who had undoubtedly one of his poorest seasons on the sideline. He was unable to respond to the attitude issues with Nelson in a timely fashion, struggled to meld newcomers like the Wear twins in quickly and in the end, was widely questioned for his inability to find playing time for guys like freshman guard Norman Powell and sophomore center Anthony Stover.

Ben Howland, UCLA

Ben Howland Is In The Midst Of A Three-Year Downswing With UCLA (Jamie Squire, Getty Images)

What Went Right

Still, after the Bruins got around to ditching their Nelson anchor, the team developed into a solid Pac-12 squad. After getting off to a terrible 2-5 start with losses to Loyola Marymount and Middle Tennessee mixed in with more reasonable defeats in Maui, the Bruins went 17-9 the rest of the way. Travis and David Wear, regarded as Charmin-soft early in the year, turned into the team’s top two leading rebounders and solid interior players. Smith showed some progress on the conditioning front and somehow Howland turned the combination of Jones and Anderson into a quite competent Pac-12 backcourt.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Pac-12 Comings and Goings: Shabazz Muhammad and Josiah Turner

Posted by AMurawa on April 12th, 2012

It was a big day of comings and goings in the Pac-12 on Wednesday as the picture surrounding the two historic basketball powers in the conference crystallized a bit. UCLA and its embattled head coach Ben Howland got a piece of great news as the nation’s #2 recruit – Shabazz Muhammad – announced his intentions to attend the school next year, while Arizona finally cleared up the status of freshman point guard Josiah Turner when it was announced he would be transferring out of the program.

Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA

Shabazz Muhammad Gives The Bruins Plenty Of Talent And Plenty Of Options

First, the Bruins. Despite UCLA’s struggles over the past three seasons (their 56-43 record since 2009-10 is the worst three-year record in program history since Wilbur Johns went 38-36 from 1945 to 1948 prior to the John Wooden era), Howland was able to add Muhammad to an already strong recruiting class that already featured the #5 recruit in the nation (according to ESPNU) – Kyle Anderson – and highly touted sharpshooter Jordan Adams. And, with the program still in hot pursuit of widebody Tony Parker, their haul could get even gaudier. Muhammad is an explosive offensive talent with the ability to throw down highlight-reel dunks with the best of them as well as knock down threes or score in a variety of ways in between. He will join a roster that features plenty of depth and versatility. Muhammad can play either the two or the three, and he is joined on the wings by returnees like Tyler Lamb and Norman Powell, a pair of nice pieces as well as Adams. Anderson as well can play the two or the three, but he is very adept with the ball in his hands and will play a part at the point, along with controversial North Carolina transfer Larry Drew Jr. And then up front, there are the Wear twins as well as big man Joshua Smith (although there is still a chance, somehow, that Smith could decide on his own or be encouraged to leave early), and perhaps Parker. In short, Howland has put together a ton of pieces in Westwood, but he’ll need to prove his ability to congeal those parts into a gestalt. Is Drew the answer at the point or can Anderson run the Bruin offense? Can Howland open up the offense enough to take advantage of Muhammad’s vast skills in the open court? Can Smith lose half a hundred pounds and be effective for 25 minutes a night? Can the Wear twins develop their offensive games and their defensive toughness? And can Lamb or Powell be counted on to knock down threes when called upon, or will Adams jump ahead of them in the rotation? There are plenty of questions to be answered at UCLA, but one thing is for certain: it should be fun to see it all play out.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Pac-12 Burning Questions: Missing A Transfer?

Posted by AMurawa on January 26th, 2012

Each week through conference play, we’ll offer up a couple of different takes on the biggest question of the week in the Pac-12. This week:

“Which recent Pac-12 transfer would do the most to help his former team this year?”

 

Andrew Murawa: Where to begin? There have been so many transfers around the conference in recent years that seemingly every team has been hit hard by one loss or another. Utah has had multiple players transfer out, leaving head coach Larry Krystkowiak with a nearly empty cupboard when he arrived – they could certainly make use of the offensive punch of either current Colorado senior Carlon Brown (although he would have used up his eligibility by now without the transfer) or Marshall Henderson, who will begin his sophomore season at Texas Tech next year. Bryce Jones would give the ridiculously shorthanded USC squad some firepower, but he is currently sitting out his transfer season at UNLV. Arizona State is currently struggling with its backcourt depth, and Demetrius Walker, currently struggling to earn playing time at New Mexico, would certainly be ready to provide minutes for Herb Sendek’s team. And that’s just a partial list.

Mike Moser, UNLV

Mike Moser's Athleticism And Perimeter Abilities Would Greatly Help The Current UCLA Team (photo credit: John Gurzinski, AP Photo)

But really, let’s not get too fancy here. The Pac-12 transfer who would do the most to help his former team is Mike Moser, the best player on the list. Moser left UCLA in April 2010 in search of playing time that Ben Howland either could not or would not find for him. After sitting out last season, he’s become a force at UNLV this year, averaging 14 points and 11.3 rebounds per game, while contributing an athleticism and even a three-point shooting presence that is sorely missing at UCLA. While Moser couldn’t earn consistent minutes as a freshman in 2009-10 on a team that started guys like James Keefe and Nikola Dragovic up front, he would be far and away the most athletic frontcourt player on the squad, and together with freshman guard Norman Powell, one of just two above-average Pac-12 athletes on the team. His ability to rebound has been well documented (he grabs 28.1% of defensive rebounds, good for ninth in the nation, and his 12.9% offensive rebounding rate is somewhat restricted by his tendency to play on the perimeter offensively) but he would also provide some punch outside (he hits slightly more than one three per game at a 32.4% rate). Throw in the fact that he would be the one player on the squad who could effectively match up defensively with athletic threes, freeing up the Wear twins to play primarily at the four and five, and he would be a major boon to a struggling UCLA defense. Moser is a prime example of why it is important for coaches to expand their rotations a bit and at least find a bit of time for youngsters, keeping those guys involved, finding out what they can do and providing them the promise of a chance to contribute to the program in more substantial ways in the future.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Pac-12 Game of the Week: UCLA at Stanford

Posted by AMurawa on December 29th, 2011

A couple of weeks ago, there was no way we would have picked this game to be the most interesting game of the first week of Pac-12 play. While Stanford has been a pleasant surprise through their non-conference schedule, UCLA was on the very short list of the least enjoyable teams in the conference to watch. However, the Bruins have quietly strung together five straight wins albeit against abominable competition and the Cardinal, coming off a tough home loss to Butler, have to prove that they are capable of contending for the regular season title. In short, while both of these teams have plenty of doubters, and rightfully so, each has a chance to earn a modicum of respect by taking care of business on opening weekend.

Stanford’s loss to Butler last week could be explained away in a variety of ways: it was their first game against significant competition in two and a half weeks; the home crowd was absent most of the students and provided little boost to a sleepwalking team; the Bulldogs got plenty of fortunate bounces; and really, it’s a loss to a fast-improving team that has been the national runner-up the past two seasons. Regardless of the excuses, it serves as a reminder that the Cardinal have largely built their status as one of the conference favorites on a loss – a hard-fought six-point defeat against Syracuse in the NIT Season Tip-Off championship game. They have a win over North Carolina State (in which they had to fight back from a 12-point second half deficit) and a win over Oklahoma State, but neither of those teams look like future recipients of an NCAA Tournament invite. So, there is little so far in the positive results category to indicate that this Stanford vintage is significantly better than last year’s 15-16 team that won seven conference games.

Josh Owens, Stanford

Josh Owens Has Been Stanford's Emotional Leader & Go-To Scorer (Credit: Zach Sanderson)

However, if you dig deeper into the metrics, you see a Cardinal team that is winning games because of excellent defense (only twice this season – in the loss to Butler and the uneven win over NC State – have they allowed more than a point per possession), while doing almost all the things that you want to see an efficient offensive team do (they shoot it well, they hit the offensive glass and they get to the free throw line). Only their turnovers on nearly 22% of their offensive possessions present cause for alarm, and that should be a number that sinks as their primary ballhandlers (sophomore Aaron Bright and freshman Chasson Randle) get more comfortable. And if you trust only the eye test, you see a team that appears to run a lot more smoothly than they did last year, when deep into the season the Cardinal appeared to be out of sync on both ends of the court. Bright has taken over as an extension of head coach Johnny Dawkins on the floor, senior center Josh Owens is the team’s emotional leader and go-to scorer, Randle is a steadily improving freshman, and there are a handful of other nice pieces elsewhere on this roster (Anthony Brown, Josh Huestis, Dwight Powell) ready to make positive contributions on both ends. This is an improved Stanford team, but they’ve still got to prove it and they’ll have plenty of chances, starting tonight.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Pac-12 Morning Five: Conference Tip-Off Edition

Posted by AMurawa on December 29th, 2011

  1. Picking up where we left off yesterday, we’re continuing to look ahead to tonight and the start of conference play (completely ignoring Colorado’s 92-34 demolition of New Orleans last night). We’ve got CBS’ Matt Norlander picking California and Stanford as the teams to beat (and give him credit for not putting the entire league under his “Still Unproven” category), while Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News also throws his support behind Mike Montgomery’s team. After browsing through all the Pac-12 picks coming from elsewhere and devising our own (which you’ll see later today), it is clear Cal, despite all its flaws, is the clear favorite in the conference.
  2. It’s the first year of unbalanced scheduling in the conference, as the beautiful home-and-away round robin of years’ past is no longer. And, taking into account that California is the favorite in the conference while Stanford and Oregon State are popular choices to challenge for the title, Arizona seems to be sitting in the (wild) catbird seat with regard to scheduling, skipping a trip to the Oregon schools while missing a visit from the Bay Area schools. The Washington schools also seem to be a little fortunate, as they get to skip the trip to the Bay Area, but miss out on a second chance at Utah and Colorado at home.
  3. USC has struggled to a 5-8 start to the season, they’ve got the 248th ranked offense in Division I (according to Ken Pomeroy) and their top five players have played 73.8% of their total minutes. But not to worry, Trojan fans, your intrepid head coach has a plan: try harder! Brilliant! Rather than install any type of coherent offense, Kevin O’Neill says “let’s just do a few more wind sprints.” Certainly USC’s got some incredibly raw parts offensively, but if I were to make a list of the Trojans top five problems in their first 13 games of the season, I’m quite sure effort would not be among them. For instance, tonight when USC travels to California to face the Human Floor Burn, Jorge Gutierrez, it’s a good bet that even he won’t outwork USC. Expect the conference opener between these two teams to be low-scoring, ugly and, well, won by the Golden Bears.
  4. Looking around the rest of the conference, let’s get a quick injury update in advance of opening night. Oregon senior forward Tyrone Nared is not quite ready to return to play after tearing an MCL a little more than two weeks ago, leaving the Ducks with just nine scholarship players for their trip to the Washington schools this weekend. Aziz N’Diaye is back for Washington, having played in their last game against Cal State Northridge, but his return to the starting lineup remains questionable. Richard Solomon still has not practiced for Cal following a stress fracture in his foot two weeks ago, and as a result, is unlikely tonight.  And UCLA’s Lazeric Jones and Norman Powell are expected to play tonight at Stanford after each sprained their ankles during Monday’s practice. Both have been able to practice the last two days and should be good to go.
  5. When Oregon State kicks off conference play tonight with a trip to Washington, they will do so with the most optimism surrounding their program since the days of Gary Payton a couple of decades ago. Their 10-2 record in non-conference play is their best start to a season since 1989-90, Payton’s senior season, and what’s more, this team is fun to watch: They lead the conference in scoring, assists, steals and shooting. The Beavers have never led the conference in scoring (with statistics going back more than 50 years), but with some highly efficient offensive play and a defensive game plan built around forcing turnovers through pressure, this could be their year to do so.
Share this story

Pac-12 Morning Five: 12.28.11 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on December 28th, 2011

  1. Looking ahead to conference play, we’re getting picks from up and down the conference as to who is now the favorite in the Pac-12. Connor and I have our own ideas which we’ll share with you tomorrow, but for today, have a look at what Bud Withers of The Seattle Times and Bob Clark of The Register-Guard think. Both guys pick California as the favorite, and somewhat surprisingly, both guys pick UCLA to finish in the top half of the conference, with Clark being bold enough to pick them second. Also noteworthy is that both writers place Arizona, California, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA and Washington in the top six in some order. Where it looked like we had a top tier of four teams (Arizona, Cal, UCLA and Washington) prior to the season, we now seem to have six teams in that top tier, with none of the lot looking like serious contenders to make a push in the NCAA Tournament.
  2. Colorado may be a lower division pick in both of the above projections, but they are something of a sleeper in the conference. With Andre Roberson, Carlon Brown and Spencer Dinwiddie at least in the discussion for all-conference performers, there is no lack of talent on this team, and with six players in their rotation either freshmen or sophomores, there is plenty of upside. And head coach Tad Boyle sees one obvious thing that the Buffaloes need to do in order to improve during conference season: play hard for 40 minutes. The young Buffs have been capable of putting together strong halves, but have yet to really put it all together for a full game.
  3. For UCLA to have any chance of competing for a Pac-12 title (and color me, for one, unconvinced that they can), they’ll need to have a full complement of players, especially in a shorthanded backcourt. The fact that both senior guard Lazeric Jones and freshman guard Norman Powell suffered sprained ankles on Monday is cause for serious concern. Both players are questionable for UCLA’s conference-opening visit to Stanford on Thursday night, and if both are somehow unable to go, the Bruins would have Jerime Anderson, Tyler Lamb and Kenny Jones (14 total minutes in four seasons in Westwood) as their only scholarship guards available.
  4. The UCLA game at Stanford will be a huge test for both teams, and it is our RTC Pac-12 Game of the Week, which we will preview in depth tomorrow. However, Oregon State’s visit to Washington on Thursday night may be equally important to figuring out this Pac-12 landscape. Oregon State has a 10-2 record, tied for best in the conference with the Cardinal, while Washington has limped to a 6-5 record minus any type of quality non-conference wins. And yet it is OSU that has the most to prove in this game, going on the road against arguably the most talented roster in the conference. However, head coach Craig Robinson sees his Beavers as a confident bunch, ready to take a figurative swing at anybody in the conference. It should be an exciting game between the two most up-tempo teams in the league, with each team averaging over 70 possessions per game.
  5. Lastly, Washington and head coach Lorenzo Romar have been very quiet on the recruiting front for the 2012 class with nobody signed for next year yet. However, that doesn’t mean they’re not active elsewhere, as they’ve already offered to at least three players in the 2014 class, with Justin Jackson, a possible top 10 recruit in his class, the latest to receive an offer from the Huskies. Jackson is a 6’6” wing from Houston who has earned interest from elite programs across the country, ranging from Texas, Texas A&M and Baylor in his home state, to Ohio State and now Washington, with other elite schools still in the mix. The other two players Romar has offered in 2014 are Parker Jackson-Cartwright, who has the interest of schools like UCLA, USC and Arizona State as well, and Josh Martin.
Share this story

Pac-12 Weekly Honors: Week Seven

Posted by AMurawa on December 27th, 2011

So, that’s it for non-conference play. While there are still a few non-conference yawners ahead in the schedule, for the most part this merry band of mediocre ballers get to beat up on each other for the next two-plus months. Given that since the last time we did this, Pac-12 teams combined to go just 9-5 against fairly mediocre competition, at least this will provide some of the top tier teams out west to string together a few wins. Hopefully, at least.

Team of the Week

UCLA – The Bruins won two games this week, and scored what was arguably the best win with an eight-point victory over a mediocre Richmond team. UCLA has now strung together five straight Ws (albeit over five straight teams who won’t help their resume much come March) since the dismissal of Reeves Nelson, and seem to be a team that is benefiting greatly from improved chemistry. Furthermore, their senior guard combination of Lazeric Jones and Jerime Anderson have picked up not only their production but the leadership roles that they need to claim, and have guided the UCLA ship into some clear waters prior to the rough stuff coming up from here on out. Jones has scored in double figures in seven straight games (shooting 50% eFG or better in all of them) and averaged four assists, while Anderson has been less prolific but just as steady and impactful. Meanwhile, guys like the Wear Twins and Joshua Smith have been effective up front, and youngsters Norman Powell and Tyler Lamb are displaying some of their ability, although perhaps not as consistently as Ben Howland would like. Nevertheless, the Bruins are at least headed in the right direction.

Lazeric Jones

Lazeric Jones' Efficient Offense, Senior Leadership And Consistent Effort Have Helped UCLA String Together Five Straighht Wins (photo credit: Jamie Squire, Getty Images North America)

Player and Newcomer of the Week

Justin Cobbs, Soph, California – A transfer from Minnesota, Cobbs has stepped up big time in the past week. First on Monday as a depleted Bear team hosted a tough UC Santa Barbara team, Cobbs not only scored a career-high 25 points in the absence of senior leader Jorge Gutierrez, but he also took on a huge role in limiting Orlando Johnson to a season-low nine points on 4-of-13 shooting. Cobbs hit 10 of his 12 shots from the field, including all three of his threes, and was a focal point for the Bear offense. RTC correspondent Mike Lemaire was at the game and came away quite impressed with Cobbs’ performance. On Friday night, the Bears were less successful, getting blown out by UNLV in Vegas, but it wasn’t for lack of effort from Cobbs, who again led the team in scoring with 20. If he can continue to give Mike Montgomery an additional backcourt threat, the Golden Bears can challenge for a Pac-12 title in a down season, but they’ve got plenty of work still to do.

Share this story

Pac-12 Morning Five: 12.21.11 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on December 21st, 2011

  1. Three games in the conference last night, none all that interesting, although I suppose it is worth noting these days when the Pac-12 gets through a weeknight without sustaining any more losses. Arizona faced the toughest competition when they hosted Oakland and their talented and prolific senior point guard Reggie Hamilton, but the ‘Cats survived as they “held” him to 31 often spectacular points. Solomon Hill played just about as well as he’s ever played, scoring 23 points, grabbing 11 rebounds, handing out three assists and refusing to let the Wildcats lose. Elsewhere, freshman Norman Powell had a career-high 19 points as UCLA won its fourth straight and stuck its head over .500 for the first time this year by knocking off UC Irvine by 29. And Oregon used a 19-3 run in the middle of the second half to break open a tie-game against North Carolina Central and escape despite a sluggish performance.
  2. Arizona State junior center Ruslan Pateev was suspended for one game by the NCAA on Tuesday following an altercation (jump to the 30 second mark here) during the Sun Devils’ game Monday night in which he took a swing and connected to the back of the head of Southern Mississippi’s Torye Pelham following a little scuffle under the basket. Pateev was ejected from that game after being given a Flagrant 2 foul, and if he receives another foul of that degree this season he will be suspended the remainder of the year.
  3. Washington head coach Lorenzo Romar is trying to right the ship in Seattle and think he has narrowed down the Huskies’ problems to three areas: 1) defense, 2) ball movement, and, the big one, 3) chemistry. Thing one and thing two can be fixed either through effort or game-planning, but with a ton of scorers who like to have the ball in their hands coupled with a play-making point guard like Abdul Gaddy who needs to have the ball in his hands to be effective, there have been some problems figuring out everybody’s roles. And with Tony Wroten now taking a larger part of the offense, and often doing so by creating for himself off the dribble, guys like Terrence Ross and C.J. Wilcox have seen their shot attempts diminish. Ross and Wilcox both averaged over 13 field goal attempts per game in the first eight games, but since Wroten entered the starting lineup, Ross has averaged just eight while Wilcox has averaged 10. Wroten, meanwhile, has taken 38 shots from the field in those two games, and although he did so very effectively (scoring 50 points on those shots), a bigger concern is his ability to create for his teammates, having dished out just four assists in 68 minutes.
  4. Across the state, Washington State is back to full strength for the first time this season, as senior captain Abe Lodwick played for the first time, while Faisal Aden and Mychal Ladd returned from injuries in the Cougars’ last game against Western Oregon. In their absence, senior Charlie Enquist stepped up with by far the best stretch of his career, while freshmen DaVonte Lacy and Dexter Kernich-Drew saw dramatic increases in their playing time. Given the fact that the Cougs have now won their last five after starting the season 2-4, head coach Ken Bone has a chemistry test of his own coming up in the future. The players who helped WSU win those five straight have earned the right to continue getting minutes, while the returnees are certainly among the most talented Cougs. It will be interesting to see how those precious minutes get divided up in Pullman over the coming weeks. WSU has just one remaining non-conference game before they host the Oregon schools to open conference play, a week from tomorrow.
  5. Lastly, Lost Lettermen asks the question, is the West Coast Conference better than the Pac-12? Jim Weber says yes, if only for one season, pointing to Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s and BYU as the standard bearers. Anthony Olivieri takes the negative (rightly), pointing out that Cal and Stanford appear to be as good as the top of the WCC, while a team like Washington (and I would include Arizona) still has plenty of upside. And as bad as the bottom of the Pac-12 is this season, remember that Utah just beat Portland last night, and Portland (who has struggled through an absolutely brutal non-conference schedule) isn’t anywhere near the worst team in the WCC. Certainly the Zags, Gaels and Cougars are all solid programs, but even with the Pac-12 at its nadir, it is still better than the WCC. If you don’t just believe me, ask Ken Pomeroy, Jeff Sagarin and the RPI.
Share this story

A New Beginning For UCLA

Posted by AMurawa on December 12th, 2011

The theme for UCLA’s game Saturday evening against Penn was a new beginning. Not only were the Bruins playing their first game without junior forward Reeves Nelson, who was dismissed by head coach Ben Howland on Friday following a couple of suspensions for behavioral reasons, but the squad shifted to zone defense for much of the game for the first time this season. While the 77-73 victory was by no means a crisp performance, it was a sign of things to come and a chance for the struggling Bruins to experience some positivity.

Ben Howland, UCLA

Ben Howland: "A Lot Has Happened This Week And We're Getting To Where We're Figuring Stuff Out." (Credit: Blaine Ohigashi)

UCLA went to a 2-3 zone for the first time about midway through the first half while trailing by one, and spent every half-court possession for the next six minutes in that defense. Howland is primarily known as a man-to-man coach, but he confirmed that you’ll be seeing plenty of zone out of UCLA the rest of the way. “Zone is not preferred, but it is what is fitting for our team now,” he said. “It is something that you’ll be seeing when we’re changing things up. We need to use it and it will be helpful for us, especially as we get better at it.” At times the zone gave Penn trouble, as on the first possession where the Quakers were unable to find a good shot and had to settle for a fallaway three-point attempt by senior Tyler Bernardini as the shot clock expired; and true to another theme of the day, the shot dropped. Bernardini torched the Bruins throughout the day, regardless of the defense employed, hitting eight of his 12 shots on his way to a career-high 29 points. At times the defenders on the perimeter of the UCLA zone failed to close out on the three-point shot, not even putting a hand in a face, something that will surely be pointed out in practice this week. UCLA has already displayed terrible perimeter defense this year, and even after Penn shot 38.7% from three against them, they are still allowing their opponents to shoot 48.7% from three-point range on the season.

However, regardless of some of the sloppiness of the zone, it did provide a few tangible benefits to the Bruins. First, it kept the Quakers from getting good looks inside the three-point line (more than 50% of Penn’s shots were from three), an area where UCLA has struggled all year. Secondly, it helped protect a couple of Bruin big men who picked up a couple of early fouls; Joshua Smith and David Wear both had two fouls in the first eight minutes. Also, the zone gave Smith a bit of a reprieve from his own poor conditioning, allowing him to preserve some of his energy rather than having to chase his opponents out to the perimeter, leaving him enough energy in the second half to score on three straight possessions as well as kick one pass back out for what turned into a wide-open three-pointer.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Morning Five: 12.08.11 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on December 8th, 2011

  1. It was a busy day in the ongoing Bernie Fine investigation. The District Attorney investigating the case at Syracuse has come out and said that the allegations by Zach Tomaselli, the third alleged victim of abuse, do not match up with the evidence. While the District Attorney did not give many details about the potentially exculpatory evidence, he said it challenged Tomaselli’s claims about his whereabouts at the time of the alleged abuse and would be handing it over to Fine’s defense team. He also added that the claims by the other two alleged victims appeared to be credible while criticizing The Post-Standard for not handing over the recently released tape that many point to as the tipping point in Fine’s firing even though it would not have led to a prosecution of Fine at the time because the statue of limitations had passed.
  2. One of the strangest traditions in college basketball will occur again this Friday night when Taylor University takes on Ohio-Midwestern in what is known as the “Silent Night” game. As part of the tradition, which is nearly two decades old at this point and is held on the Friday before finals week, the Taylor fans are to remain silent until the team scores its tenth point of the game at which point they will finally cheer. Then at the end of the game they will sing “Silent Night”. Fortunately, the Trojans are pretty good (#21 in the NAIA D-II poll) or the silence could go on for a long time. If you are interested in watching this, the game is available online for $4.95 (hey, we just bring you the news; we aren’t telling you to actually buy it).
  3. Oregon suffered a major blow when Jabari Brown decided to transfer, but they will be getting a boost in the form of Minnesota transfer Devoe Joseph, who will finally get to play for the Ducks this Saturday against Fresno State. Joseph, who averaged 11.3 PPG and 3.5 APG in his last season at Minnesota before deciding to transfer after being suspended, should immediately be one of Oregon’s top offensive threats and could be the piece that helps them stay towards the top of the Pac-12 despite the early season defections.
  4. This season has been an unmitigated disaster so far for UCLA and yesterday it got a little worse as freshman guard Norman Powell had to be taken to the hospital after suffering an allergic reaction at practice and will remain in the hospital overnight for observation. According to reports, Powell broke into hives and had trouble breathing during practice before being transferred to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center where he was stabilized. Given the severity of the reported symptoms and the fact that they are keeping him overnight for observation, we would be surprised if Powell played in the team’s next game, which is against Penn on Saturday.
  5. Finally, we don’t typically find mailbags that interesting, but Seth Davis manages to make his worthwhile by finding a handful of good questions and making some interesting points. This week’s edition is no different as Seth talks about tempering expectations for freshmen including those of a fan who compares Ryan Boatright to Kemba Walker and delves into the Scott Machado debate. As usual we agree with Seth on most of the stuff he says and as we have pointed out before people tend to overreact to the performance of freshman as well as many other things. As for Machado, we agree that he is a great college point guard, but it will be tough to glean too much from his performance the rest of the regular season due to a mediocre remaining schedule so in the end most of the nation will be forced to judge him based on his NCAA Tournament performance.
Share this story

Pac-12 Morning Five: 12.02.11 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on December 2nd, 2011

  1. Thursday night was quiet around the conference with Stanford’s demolition of Seattle the only game of the night. Little can be taken away from the game due to the imbalance of talent, but the fact that Seattle won the battle on the boards could be used as ammunition for Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins in the practices leading up to the Cardinal’s next game against North Carolina State on Sunday. Given that the Wolfpack has been strong on the glass (especially on the offensive end) thus far, they could present problems for Stanford if they’re not careful about that area of the game.
  2. Friday night’s slate is pretty light as well, but in the sole game, Washington head coach Lorenzo Romar has a chance to earn his 200th win as the head coach of the Huskies. Including his stints at Pepperdine and Saint Louis, Romar has 292 wins in his career, but a win against Nevada would make him only the third coach (after Hec Edmundson and Marv Hashman) in Washington history to achieve that milestone. Of course, Romar has quite a long way to go if he ever hopes to catch Edmundson (the namesake of the Hec Ed), who compiled 488 wins as the head coach of the Huskies from 1920-47.
  3. UCLA gets back to work on Saturday, hosting Texas at the Sports Arena. The Bruins hope to build on the momentum begun in their last game, where they earned their first win against a Division I team this year. In order to turn things around, they’ll need to pick things up on the defensive end, and freshman guard Norman Powell hopes to be able to help his team do just that. Taking a cue from former Bruin Arron Afflalo, Powell announced his desire to “lock down the other team’s best player.” Ben Howland has to like that enthusiasm (along with the youngster’s excellent athleticism), but Powell will have to prove his ability to become that type of defensive presence in order to continue earning more minutes.
  4. Sean Miller expected junior forward Solomon Hill to be a team leader both vocally and by example this season, but Hill’s game has taken a big step forward as well. It’s not just Hill’s team-leading 12.0 points per game. Or his team-leading 3.1 assists per game (even more impressive considering he’s a 6’6” guy who started at power forward in the Wildcats’ last game). Or even his 7.9 rebounds per game. The fact that Hill has only turned the ball over nine times in the last five games (after coughing it up eight times in the first two games) while handling the ball on a regular basis has been big. The fact is, Miller sees Hill as his jack-of-all-trades. And, with the experience Hill has built up in his first two seasons in Tucson, he has shown a good ability to play through foul trouble this year. Despite having picked up four fouls in five different games this season, Hill has never seen his minutes severely limited by foul trouble.
  5. Finally, with the first ever Pac-12 Championship game in football coming up tonight, it’s time to wrap up the battle between Connor and I for the Big Civil Apple Duel title. My Hail Mary pass to try to catch up to Connor last week fell short, as I went 3-4 in rivalry week, while my opponent went 4-3, extending his lead to four games on the season, with only the Oregon/UCLA mismatch left to play. And, as much as I would like to imagine a scenario by which UCLA is able to keep the Friday night game interesting, I’m only picking UCLA by a score of 28-27 out of desperation, boredom and a healthy dose of sleep deprivation. Connor sees Oregon winning 45-14 (and who can blame him), but regardless of the score, the first round of this battle is already decided. However, I’ll have my chance at revenge, as next week we’ll start picking some basketball games every week and we’ll (thankfully) be resetting our records at that time.
Share this story