Two Angles on Last Night’s Oregon/Arizona Classic

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) and Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 12th, 2016

On Friday night in Las Vegas, Oregon outlasted Arizona in stunning fashion, withstanding a furious comeback to win in overtime. Below are two perspectives on the outcome, coming from each team’s perspective.

On Arizona

What Arizona has leaned on all season long is its distinct advantage in the frontcourt. It’s a traditional looking lineup the Wildcats roll out there, which is neither right nor wrong; it’s what they have. Against Oregon, that might not cut it. Because to contextualize what the Ducks have all over its roster, they have innumerable small forwards. Arizona has none (or a few who are limited). When considering matchups, this is a tough one, arguably, for both teams. But Ryan Anderson was neutralized, Kaleb Tarczewski isn’t an offensive threat, and the rest of the team could be bullied by the mismatches. It’s what allowed Oregon to effectively win the game in the final minutes of the first half.

Mark Tollefsen Missed Just One Shot On Friday Night, But He's Probably Still Thinking About That One (Daily Wildcat)

Mark Tollefsen Missed Just One Shot On Friday Night, But He’s Probably Still Thinking About That One (Daily Wildcat)

So naturally: what a ball game! We can exhaust the narrative of MARCH MADNESS but there’s a reason the damn line stands. Mark Tollefesen had two free throws with 0.4 seconds remaining to win the contest. To win the game. He didn’t win the game. And consider the box score. The Wildcats had 27 offensive rebounds and 27 second chance points. The Ducks had 24 points off of 15 (not a terrible number) Arizona turnovers. The Wildcats were a free throw make by an 83 percent foul shooter from winning a game in which – at that point – they had abysmal performances from  Anderson and Gabe York.

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Pac-12 Bubble Watch and Semifinals Preview

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 11th, 2016

Eight games are in the books at the Pac-12 Tournament and the higher seeds have advanced in each one, setting up a terrific set of semifinals tonight. Before we preview those games, let’s break down postseason expectations for the four teams that were eliminated from the Pac-12 Tournament on Thursday.

Colorado

The Buffaloes are going dancing. Their RPI is a sparkling #30 and they own home wins over Oregon, California, Arizona and Oregon State. In a year such as this one, that should be enough to put them safely above the cut line. With very little else on their resume, though, don’t expect a great seed for the Buffs. Somewhere in the #8-#10 range sounds about right, which means Colorado’s stay in the NCAA Tournament is unlikely to extend beyond next weekend.

Despite A Quarterfinal Loss, Tad Boyle And The Buffs Should Be Comfortably In On Selection Sunday

Despite A Quarterfinal Loss, Tad Boyle And The Buffs Should Be Comfortably In On Selection Sunday

Oregon State

Coming into the weekend, the popular wisdom put Oregon State squarely on the bubble with USC appearing safe. Upon closer review, however, the Beavers may have the superior resume. They have the higher RPI, three wins over top 25 RPI teams (Oregon, California, Utah) and three more victories over teams in the RPI #26-#50 range (Tulsa, Colorado, USC). With no bad losses, that’s a terrific resume, even if all of those quality wins came at home. An argument could even be made that Oregon State’s resume is every bit as good as that of Colorado. This team should definitely be dancing for the first time since 1990.

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Pac-12 Tournament Preview

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 9th, 2016

We’ve spent the last several months marching to Vegas, so let’s tip things off a bit later today with our Pac-12 Tournament preview.

Bracket

p12bracket

Favorite: Oregon

This may not be the very best version of the Pac-12 Conference in its illustrious history, but it is a certainty that this has been a strong and deep conference. For Oregon to win 14 games this year against an unbalanced in-conference schedule tougher than that of either Utah or Arizona is impressive. While the Ducks’ lack of depth (310th in the nation in bench minutes) is concerning in a three-game/three-night scenario, they’ve done enough to prove that they’re the best team in this conference until proven otherwise.

Next Best Chance: Utah

The Utes opened conference play by getting swept at the Bay Area schools followed shortly thereafter by an 18-point loss to Oregon at the Huntsman Center. Since that loss, the Utes have won 12 of 14 games (with another loss to Oregon among those two) and the issues that were apparent in January — Brandon Taylor struggling; Lorenzo Bonam learning; a soft front line; chemistry questions — have all been addressed. The Utes still need to prove that they can play with Oregon, but they are rolling right now and could use a strong Pac-12 Tournament performance as a springboard into next week.

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Assessing The Pac-12 With One Week Left

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 1st, 2016

Way back in early November, when Pac-12 prognosticators were looking ahead to the season, there were four teams almost universally considered as contenders to win the regular season title – Arizona, California, Oregon and Utah. We’ve had all sorts of twists and turns over the past four months: USC and Washington emerging earlier than expected; California and Utah taking some time to find their stride; and of course, the assorted injuries, hot streaks, cold patches and upsets that change expectations along the way. But here we are, heading into the final week of the regular season, and those four preseason contenders are still exactly that. There’s a lot still left to be decided in the final week and into the conference tournament, so let’s go team by team and break down what’s to play for on the way in.

Dillon Brooks And The Ducks Are One Win Away From Clinching At Least Part Of A Pac-12 Title (John Locher, USA Today)

Dillon Brooks And The Ducks Are One Win Away From Clinching At Least Part Of A Pac-12 Title. (John Locher, USA Today)

Oregon – For at least a month now, anyone with a Pac-12 schedule could look at Oregon’s road trip to Los Angeles in the final week of the regular season and know it would have major ramifications on the regular season title. What nobody could really see at the start of February was both of the Los Angeles schools falling off a cliff. More on them later, but the situation is simple for the Ducks. Win one in LA and earn at least a share of the conference title. Win them both (now, suddenly possible, if not even likely) and they’ve got their first regular season title since 2002 (and only the program’s second since World War II ended). They are likely to be favored in both games — because the season is trending in the wrong direction for both opponents — and a couple of wins could see the Ducks break into two-seed territory come Selection Sunday.

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The Race For The Pac-12 Title

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on February 24th, 2016

Tonight kicks off the second-to-last week of the Pac-12 regular season. One third of the conference has three games remaining on their schedule; everybody else has four. And even at this late date, nothing much is really decided. Sure, we know Washington State is going to be the 12-seed in the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas. Arizona State is probably going to be a (relatively) dangerous 11. The current conference leaders – Arizona and Oregon, tied at 10-4 – seem destined for opening round byes, although things are tight enough that even that isn’t assured. So let’s get caught up on where we stand as March draws nearer, with an eye towards the race for the regular season title.

As The Season Winds Down, It's A Fight At The Top Of The Standings (Rick Scuteri, AP Photo)

As The Season Winds Down, It’s A Fight At The Top Of The Standings (Rick Scuteri, AP Photo)

Officially, there are seven teams still mathematically alive for the conference title. Realistically, however, Colorado and Washington would need to win out and have everything else break perfectly for their conference title lottery ticket to pay off. Likewise, USC finds itself two games in back of the leaders and would need good fortune to bring the crown back to Los Angeles. Given those disqualifications, odds are very strong that our eventual champion(s) will come from this quartet of teams: Oregon, Arizona, Utah and California.

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Pac-12 Bubble and Bracket Breakdown

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on February 17th, 2016

We’re now less than four weeks from Selection Sunday and there are three weeks remaining in Pac-12 play. With 11 lof our 12-pack of teams currently ranked in the RPI top 100, now’s as good a time as any to review where all the conference teams stand and what they need to do between now and March 13 to make sure they hear Jim Nantz call out their names that afternoon. Let’s jump in.

The Leaders

Even Following A Lost Weekend By The Bay, The Ducks Are In Good NCAA Position (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)

Even Following A Lost Weekend By The Bay, The Ducks Are In Good NCAA Position (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)

  • Oregon (20-6, 9-4, RPI #4, KenPom #20) – What a difference a week makes. After backing up a road sweep of the Arizona schools with a confident home sweep of the mountain schools, the Ducks seemingly had command of the Pac-12 regular season race. But a trip to the Bay Area last weekend resulted in a pair of losses that have put the Ducks into a tie with Arizona atop the conference. With a collection of solid wins both in and out of conference play under its belt, Oregon is still the team that is best positioned for a happy outcome on Selection Sunday. The Bay Area meltdown probably removes any chance of a #1 seed, but the Ducks have a manageable schedule remaining (at home against Oregon State and the Washington schools before a tough final weekend trip to Los Angeles). Where things will really get tricky is when the conference tournament convenes in Las Vegas, because in a season full of parity, even the top seed is going to face a very capable and battle-tested team right out of the gates. Barring a disaster, the Ducks seem headed for Spokane in the opening weekend with a chance at a #2 or #3 seed out West.
  • Arizona (21-5, 9-4, RPI #23, Ken Pom #16) – It’s been a challenging season in Tucson. After losing tons of experienced and early-entry talent from last year’s team, the Wildcats have dealt with injuries and growing pains from day one this year. But here we are at the turn into the backstretch of February and the ‘Cats are as healthy as they’re going to get and appear to be dialing into March. They’re never going to have the top-end ceiling of the last couple teams, but you can bet that Sean Miller is going to get the most out of his group. The first goal is a third consecutive Pac-12 regular season title, and they’ve got a slightly more difficult path ahead than the Ducks, with home games against Arizona State and then Cal and Stanford sandwiched around a roadie to the altitude schools. Their non-conference schedule didn’t provide them with many chances for high-value scalps, so wins over Gonzaga and USC are about the best resume-enhancers they have. But if they can do something crazy like only lose once more between this spot and Selection Sunday, they could sneak into the conversation for a #2 seed if things go haywire elsewhere. A #3 or #4 seed is more realistically within range, with geographical favoritism (Denver followed by Anaheim) a goal. That said, considering Arizona’s recent history in Anaheim, maybe the Wildcats would be better off with a change of scenery this March.
Sean Miller Is Again Tourney-Bound, But Maybe Not So Much On The Anaheim Thing? (Christian Peterson, Getty Images)

Sean Miller Is Again Tourney-Bound, But Maybe Not So Much On The Anaheim Thing? (Christian Peterson, Getty Images)

Playing For Position

  • USC (18-7, 7-5, RPI #22, KenPom #27) – Losing at Arizona State is really not that terrible of a thing. Bobby Hurley has a good squad that has experienced some bad luck, and Wells Fargo Arena is on the upswing as a home venue. But the worst part of losing at Arizona State is then having to visit Arizona following that loss. The Trojans played better against the Wildcats (at least for stretches), but still came away with an 0-2 road trip, putting them a game and a half back of the leaders in the conference race. The bad news for Andy Enfield’s team is that its remaining schedule is brutal. They get four home games but each of those (Colorado, Utah, Oregon State, Oregon) are losable, while the road trip to the Bay Area will be very difficult too. Still, barring a complete collapse, the Trojans will be dancing. With quality non-conference wins over Monmouth, Yale and a short-handed Wichita State club, coupled with a home win over Arizona, USC has a nice resume and a chance to add to it down the stretch. An optimistic scenario is something like a 4-2 finish, a run to the title game in Las Vegas and a seed in the #4-#6 range. If the wheels completely fall off in the next few weeks, however, the Trojans could drop down the bracket and give a high-seed a nightmare game in the first and second round.
  • Utah (18-7, 8-5, RPI #16, KenPom #40) – The Utes sit just a game back of the conference leaders but their final two road games of the season at the Los Angeles schools this weekend will tell us a lot about how they are regarded on Selection Sunday. Three wins against the RPI top 25 and six against the RPI top 50 mean the Utes are already golden with chances against highly-ranked teams like USC, Arizona and Colorado still remaining, Utah (along with its traveling partner, Colorado) has a great opportunity to jump up the seed lines with a few more victories. Right now something in the #6 or #7 range seems most likely, but a strong finish could push them up to the #4 line with a potential opening weekend in Denver.
  • Colorado (18-7, 8-5, RPI #25, KenPom #63) – While the Buffaloes sport the same record as their conference-mandated rival, there’s definitely not the same quality of meat on their bones. Their best non-conference win is over a BYU team that will likely be on the outside looking in although wins over Oregon and Cal will pay dividends. Right now, the Buffs are somewhere in the #7-#9 seed range with a chance for a big finish. Of more importance to the team’s overall chances, however, is the concern over Josh Scott’s ankle injury. If Colorado is going to score quality wins down the stretch over teams like USC, Arizona and Utah, it will need the senior big man in action.
Colorado Will Need Josh Scott To Live Up To Their Potential (Kai Casey, CU Independent)

Colorado Will Need Josh Scott To Live Up To Their Potential (Kai Casey, CU Independent)

  • California (17-8, 7-5, RPI #24, KenPom #32) – Let’s start by breaking down that 7-5 conference record a bit. The Golden Bears’ seven wins have all come in Haas Pavilion, while their five losses have all come on the road. Their sole win this season outside of Berkeley came at Wyoming (#178 in KenPom) in overtime. Now, none of that is necessarily a seed killer, but the Bears have four road games remaining. If form holds and Cal can’t get its act together at the Washington schools or the Arizona schools, they will have issues in terms of placement. Still, this team is going to be dancing and if it can pick up even just the low-hanging fruit on the remaining road schedule, the Bears are primed for a good seed on the basis of four win against the RPI top 25 with cracks at USC and Arizona still ahead. Currently they’re somewhere in the neighborhood of a #6-#8 seed, a spot at which they can give some opposing high seeds serious problems.

Bubblicious

  • Washington (15-10, 7-6, RPI #61, KenPom #69) – The Huskies have lost three straight and five of their last seven games. Those numbers hurt. Dig a little deeper, though, and you find a home loss in overtime to Utah, a road loss to USC, a five-point home loss to Arizona, an eight-point road loss to Utah and a one-point road loss to Colorado — five losses to top 25 RPI teams by an average of less than six points. Still, unless the young pups can string together several wins to close out the season, those justifications may never even get on the committee’s radar. If Washington just wins their three remaining home games (Cal, Stanford, Washington State), they will be at 10-8 in the conference. At that point, they’d probably need to avoid an opening round Pac-12 Tournament loss, but they’d probably still be on the right side of the bubble, even if it meant a trip to Dayton.
  • Oregon State (14-9, 6-7, RPI #38, KenPom #70) – The Beavers are a game under .500 in conference play and they’ve got one more road game than home game remaining. That’s fine, though, because any equation that earns this program its first NCAA invitation since 1990 involves getting a road win at either Oregon or USC while taking care of business in Gill Coliseum against the Washington schools. That would put the Beavs at .500 in conference play and would give them a chance to add another scalp to what is already five wins over top 25 RPI teams. Do that and Oregon State dances. Anything less and it gets hairier, but wins over Oregon, Cal, USC, Utah and Colorado (not to mention another good one against Tulsa) will give this team a chance.
  • UCLA (14-11, 5-7, RPI #68, KenPom #54) – Don’t bury the Bruins just yet. Wins over Kentucky and Arizona show that they can play with the best, but losses to teams like Wake Forest and Washington State may be their eventual undoing. For Steve Alford’s squad to have a prayer on Selection Sunday, they’ve got to get back to .500 in conference play. Not only does that number just look a lot better, but it would also mean that UCLA added some quality wins to its resume with home games against Utah, Colorado, Oregon and Oregon State to come coupled with a road trip to the Bay Area. The bad news is that the only times the Bruins have won four times in six games was when their opponents included teams like Pepperdine, Cal State-Northridge and McNeese State. Odds are good that UCLA is NIT bound, at best.

I Need A Miracle

  • Stanford (11-11, 5-7, RPI #75, KenPom #110)
  • Arizona State (14-12, 4-9, RPI #82, KenPom #77)
  • Washington State (8-16, 1-12, RPI #188, KenPom #164)
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Preseason Rankings May Reveal Final Four Destiny

Posted by William Ezekowitz on February 12th, 2016

With March right around the corner, teams that rank highly in the Top 25 are daring to dream of a magical run to the Final Four in Houston. Because the NCAA Tournament is so matchup-based, it makes sense that most observers can’t realistically pick their favorites until Selection Sunday. But what if there were data that allowed us to eliminate a few upstarts before we even saw the brackets? Well, there are ways to do that. One oddity of college basketball is how important and even predictive the preseason rankings are. Nate Silver uses them as one of the tools in his formula for picking winners, a fact that should nearly legitimize them by itself. But the argument behind it makes sense: Preseason rankings are a good way of measuring the overall roster talent of a team (because what else are we going to rank teams on before we see them play?), so teams that were ranked in the preseason Top 25 should generally be accepted as talented teams. But how predictive are they when it comes to the Final Four?

Using data stretching back to the 2003 Final Four, we looked at the average Preseason and Pre-Tournament rankings of every Final Four team. For the purposes of getting an actual number for an average, we changed “not ranked” to “35,” which was somewhat arbitrary but seemed about right given that several teams just missed out in the “also receiving votes” category, while others came totally out of nowhere (Note: if we had used a higher number, the averages and standard deviations would have both been slightly higher, but not much would have otherwise changed). Here are the results:

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 5.40.14 PMScreen Shot 2016-02-11 at 5.40.40 PM

Shockingly, preseason rankings appear to be just as predictive of which teams will make the Final Four as pre-Tournament rankings. This makes us wonder why we even bother with that pesky regular season! But are preseason rankings truly destiny? Iowa, Xavier, Oregon and West Virginia all figure to be in and around the top 10 for the rest of the season, but none of that group were in the Top 25 when the season started. Could teams like these make the Final Four? The short answer, according to historical trends, is probably not. Since 2002, only four teams have ever made the Final Four after being unranked in the preseason but ranked after the regular season (this distinction is important, as it eliminates such Cinderellas like George Mason and VCU), and only one team has done it since 2006. In fact, since the 2012 NCAA Tournament, there have been just seven teams to achieve the rare feat of being unranked in the preseason but in the top 10 at Tournament time — interestingly, none of those teams has made it past the Sweet Sixteen.

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The ABCs Of Why Oregon Is A Final Four Contender

Posted by Mike Lemaire on February 11th, 2016

We’ve been wanting to write about Oregon since the Ducks beat Arizona in Tucson two weeks ago, but coming up with new angles to discuss how good Dana Altman’s team has become is tricky. For the first time since Altman took over the program in 2010, the team is starting to garner real national attention. That of course means that most of the stories about the team’s patchwork roster and intriguing backstories have already been told. Still, the Ducks deserve all the publicity and attention they can get and we on the microsite have been severely lacking in that department, so we decided to make up for it. Rather than regurgitate observations that have already been analyzed to death, though, we instead used the entire alphabet to explain why the Ducks are legitimate Final Four contenders.

Note: This was not as easy as it might look, so we are asking for forgiveness on some of our more obvious reaches.

A is for Altman: It wasn’t very long ago that Oregon was in the middle of an ugly sexual assault scandal and some were calling for Altman’s job. Now he is coaching the best team in the conference and is in consideration for several national coaching awards as well. He gets plenty of criticism for his continued reliance on transfers, especially those from junior college, but players like Chris Boucher, Dwayne Benjamin and Elgin Cook are silencing those critics. He has also made a concerted effort to make his team adaptable and that shows in his willingness to switch up defensive schemes and tinker with lineups. It has all come together this season and now we are watching Altman’s vision come to life.

B is for Blocks: The Ducks do a lot of this, as they are tied with St. John’s for the second-highest block percentage in the country. That elite rim protection is a big reason why Oregon is way more efficient on the defensive end of the floor this season. Boucher leads the country in blocks per game (3.4) and it would be foolish to forget that sophomore Jordan Bell – who is finally rounding into form – was the conference’s best shot-blocker last season.

Chris Boucher, Casey Benson And The Ducks Are Halfway Home To A Pac-12 Title (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)

Chris Boucher Has Been a Game-Changing Rim Protector                                                     (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)

C is for Canada: Altman and Oregon have been luring players from north of the border to Eugene for years now (remember Jason Calliste and Devoe Joseph?) but recently he has outdone himself. Ontario native Dillon Brooks is on the short list of PAC-12 Player of the Year candidates, while Montreal product Boucher may be the team’s best NBA prospect. The Ducks’ Canadian flavor would grow even stronger if Dylan Ennis, another Ontario product, were healthy.

D is for Dillon: Brooks has always been considered a good player but the sophomore has raised both his game and draft stock this season. Oregon has made a conscious effort to run its offense through the versatile Brooks, and he’s responded by averaging 16.9 points per game, shooting 48% from the floor, and grabbing 6.0 rebounds per game. He also averages 3.2 assists per game and shoots 80 percent from the free-throw line. He is still a limited shooter from three-point range and can be sloppy with the ball, but the Ducks wouldn’t be nearly as good as they are now if Brooks wasn’t in the midst of a breakout season.

E is for Ennis: The very definition of a college basketball journeyman, Ennis was supposed to use his last year of eligibility to run the Ducks’ offense this season. Instead, a lingering foot issue sidelined him for the rest of the season. He’s likely played his final minute of college basketball, as the NCAA is expected to reject his appeal for a medical redshirt. But rather than sulk or drop out of school, Ennis has been front and center as the team’s biggest cheerleader. That type of support and loyalty can make subtle, crucial differences in team morale.

F is for Frontcourt: The loss of Ennis has left a gaping hole in the depth of the team’s backcourt, but Oregon makes up for it with a frontcourt that may feature the best grouping of five forwards in the country. Boucher and Brooks need no further explanation, but Bell is a defensive monster who is still shaking off the rust from missing the first portion of the season. Senior Dwayne Benjamin isn’t a great rebounder but makes up for it with his floor-stretching shooting talents, while fellow senior Elgin Cook is the perfect swing forward, capable of filling in wherever necessary. Oh and don’t think Cook is just a role player; he is currently Oregon’s second leading scorer.

G is for Gimmes: The importance of succeeding at the free-throw line can never be understated. While the Ducks are shooting six percent worse from the charity stripe this season than they did last (76 percent has come down to 70 percent), the percentage of free-throw attempts in relation to field-goal attempts has risen sharply, from 28 percent to 40 percent. Oregon is getting to the free-throw line far more often, which is a big reason why the offense has been able to overcome its long-range shooting issues. If anything, it might be worth trying to get to the line even more often.

H is for Homecourt Advantage: Here’s the first letter that demanded a real stretch! Considering the Ducks play in a 12,000-seat arena and can barely muster an average of 8,000 fans for conference home games, the fans may not deserve too much praise. But the crowd is starting to come back (with an assist from the school athletic department) and the team is noticing and responding. The Ducks have yet to lose in Eugene and with just three manageable home dates remaining on the schedule (vs. Oregon State, Washington, and Washington State), it doesn’t seem likely they will this season.

I is for Idolization: The second stretch of the piece! But idolization is a pretty good word for Ducks’ guard Casey Benson‘s fascination with watching his brother play. The elder Benson (T.J.) played at Weber State and now coaches at Grand Canyon University, so the younger Benson had a pretty good mentor to learn from. The younger Benson is one of the best decision-makers in college basketball and has become an unexpected linchpin in one of the nation’s most efficient offenses.

J is for Jumpers: Oregon makes a fair amount of them (its 53.3 percent shooting on two-point field goal attempts is best in the conference) and last we checked, making shots is an important part of becoming a good basketball team.

K is for Knight: It is pretty near impossible to mention the success of Oregon athletics without pointing out that a big part of that success is Nike chairman Phil Knight’s deep pockets and profound love for the school’s sports teams. Matthew Knight Arena is a gleaming testament to both Phil’s son and his own generosity. It may also be the coolest court in college basketball.

Knight

Matthew Knight Arena’s Hardwood Is As Distinctive As Any In College Basketball

L is for Luck: According to hoop-math.com, opponents took 418 field goals in transition against Oregon last season and roughly 38 percent of those attempts came from downtown. Opponents made just 30.8 percent of those shots. This season, opponents have taken 255 field goals in transition (basically the same per game average as last season) and once again roughly 38 percent of those attempts have come from downtown. Opponents are now making 44.4 percent of those attempts, however. Oregon can definitely stand to tighten things up in that area, but that number screams regression. If and when that luck runs out, Oregon’s already solid defense might start looking even more efficient.

M is for Mennenga: As in assistant coach Mike Mennenga. Mennenga is in his second season as an assistant in Eugene but his strong ties to Toronto (he used to be a youth basketball coach there) are a big reason why Oregon is so popular with players from up north. We already explained how important Canada has been to Oregon’s success this season, so it is only fair we give Mennenga his due, as well. 

N is for Newcomers: Since Altman took over for Ernie Kent, the roster has seen an average of nearly eight new players each season. This season isn’t the best example of the constant turnover – in part because we never got to see Ennis play extended minutes – but at the risk of sounding redundant, Boucher and Dorsey have worked out pretty well. It takes a gifted coach and stable program to successfully integrate new players year after year. Oregon does it better than almost anyone else.

O is for Opportunity: At the risk of being a buzzkill, it is worth pointing out that there are no dominant teams in college basketball this season. This leaves a very large open window of opportunity for Oregon (and every other team out there) to climb through. If this were last season, Oregon might not even be the first or second best team in the conference, let alone the country. This is nothing to be ashamed of, but let’s not pretend it doesn’t have a big impact on Oregon’s potential tournament success.

P is for Playing Time: Ducks’ freshman Tyler Dorsey was originally committed to conference rival Arizona. But when Arizona took a commitment from Justin Simon and offered other guards, Dorsey knew his potential playing time was in jeopardy and reopened his commitment before eventually landing at Oregon. Playing time was unlikely to be the only reason Dorsey made the switch, but the point is moot now. Dorsey is suiting up for Oregon and is the team’s third-leading scorer and best outside shooter, shooting better than 40 percent from three-point range.

Q is for Quack: You know, like a Duck?

R is for Reckless: One would think that a rotation primarily comprising first or second year players would be more reckless. But in fact the opposite is true, as Oregon takes better care of the ball than almost any team in the country. Casey Benson has turned the ball over just seven times in more than 300 minutes of conference play and Boucher has just nine turnovers in nearly as many minutes. The Ducks lead the conference in turnover margin (+2.88) and are 26th best in the country in the category (ninth best among Power 5 schools).

A Casey Benson Turnover is a Rare Sight These Days

A Casey Benson Turnover is a Rare Sight These Days (Photo: John Sperry, 247Sports)

S is for Stubblefield: As in longtime Altman sidekick and ace recruiter Tony Stubblefield. Hired away from Cincinnati, Stubblefield has been the program’s best recruiter and is at least partially responsible for the commitment of Dorsey last year. He was also the primary recruiter of Oak Hill Academy forward Trevor Manuel, and 247 Sports credits him with successfully enrolling Cook and Brooks in years past.

T is for Transition Defense: Oregon opponents’ effective field-goal percentage in transition is 58.5 percent. This is in part due to the aforementioned problems defending the three-point arc, but what might be news to some is that Oregon ranks among the top 40 teams in the country in percentage of total field goals attempted in transition (18.3%) and effective field-goal percentage defense in non-transition situations (44.4%). In summation, Oregon is good at preventing opponents’ transition opportunities and is really good at defending when the opponents aren’t getting transition opportunities. This is a reminder to Dana Altman to get that transition perimeter defense cleaned up STAT.

U is for Unicorns: Unicorn was the most apt description for the type of once-in-a-generation talent and athlete Kevin Durant was and still is. Now it is being used, albeit slightly more moderately, to describe the 6’10”, 190-pound athletic freak that is Chris Boucher. There aren’t too many players in college basketball with the versatility to block seven shots and make four three-pointers in the same game. Boucher did it against Arizona State on Jan. 31. He is 23 and is essentially a walking string bean, but his arrival has been an obvious boon on both ends of the floor for the Ducks.

V is for Versatility: And versatility is something Oregon has in spades. Take a look at Oregon’s most frequently used lineups over the last five games and you will see Altman experiments with different combinations liberally. Every player in the rotation also plays more than one position. This is not coincidental. Altman readily admits that versatility is an important part of his recruiting strategy and that position-less basketball is the aim. Almost all of the Ducks are matchup problems for the opposition (especially Brooks) and that ability to play different roles is a big reason why the offense is so efficient.

W is for Warriors: To continue that thought, we won’t pretend the Ducks’ attempts to mimic the Warriors’ position-less defense is perfect. Oregon still has issues on the glass and defending the perimeter. But it is interesting to see how many similar pieces Oregon is working with. This excellent analysis of the Warriors’ ground-breaking defense can be applied to Oregon as well (to a lesser degree, obviously). The Ducks have no defensive footprint and can play man-to-man or zone depending on what suits them. They can switch on defense without worrying about size mismatches with Boucher serving as the Bogut-esque anchor. Brooks also has the potential to be an Iguodala-lite disruptor on defense. These similarities may not be perfect, but their potential existence is a definite good thing.

X is for X: This is one of those skip questions on the test and we will take the “X”.

Y and Z: Uhhhh, seems like we ran out of gas. We got nothing. Dana Altman has to hope his team has a more successful finishing flourish in them this March than we did here. And if you read all the way from A through W, you know the Ducks just might.

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Pac-12 Trade Deadline: Examining the Best Trades That Won’t Happen

Posted by Mike Lemaire on February 10th, 2016

The NBA trade deadline is now less than two weeks away, which means professional basketball writers get to throw together a bunch of hasty trade ideas and rumors in an exercise that always looks like so much fun. College basketball writers get left out of the trade deadline party because, as those who have been paying attention already know, trades are outlawed in amateur athletics. In an effort to crash that party, we are going to waste some space this week analyzing several potentially smart trades for Pac-12 contenders that will not happen. We stick to intra-conference trades to make it easy and because the thought of a bunch of petty Pac-12 coaches bickering over the fairness of those trades would be so entertaining for the rest of us. And remember, talent in addition to remaining years of eligibility are important. How else would Washington State rebuild?

Arizona gets Gary Payton II and Oregon State gets Ray Smith and Kadeem Allen

Gary Payton II Is Not Only The Best Point In The Pac, He's One Of Its Best Players (Oregon State Athletics)

Can You Imagine Arizona If They Traded for Gary Payton II? (Oregon State Athletics)

Corvallis is a football town first and foremost but the good residents there would still likely burn the whole thing to the ground if the Beavers tried to trade away Payton II. Some analysts believe that Oregon State will be an NCAA Tournament team so Wayne Tinkle would potentially be a buyer rather than seller at the deadline. But for a limited team with young talent and a bright future, leveraging a senior like Payton II for future assets is the smart play. His arrival in Tucson doesn’t help Arizona’s immediate shooting need but he does give the Wildcats a true point guard and a more explosive scorer. Given his popularity, Oregon State would probably think long and hard about this trade but eventually would come to their senses and grab an NBA talent like Smith and two years of a poor man’s Gary Payton II (in Allen).

Washington gets Rosco Allen and Stanford gets Matisse Thybulle

Washington is still in the hunt for the Pac-12 title but head coach Lorenzo Romar is smart enough to know better than to mortgage his team’s bright future for a run this season. The Huskies’ backcourt is their strength and has too much depth to make it worth tinkering with. However, an offensive-minded stretch forward who can shoot the three and takes care of the ball would fit in nicely in the Huskies’ fluid frontcourt. Allen would probably be the least athletic forward of the bunch but he would bring polish, offensive nuance and enough athleticism to run with the young Huskies. He would offer important spacing to a team that struggles to perform in half-court sets and wouldn’t be asked to do too much defensively. Romar would probably rather part with David Crisp or Donaven Dorsey than the versatile Thybulle, but there would be enough contenders pursuing Allen so that he might be willing to pay for a rental player who could help deliver a Sweet Sixteen banner to Seattle.

Oregon gets Ike Iroegbu and Washington State gets Kendall Small and Roman Sorkin

Minus Joseph Young, Dana Altman Still Has A Talented Roster (Michael Arellano/Emerald)

Dana Altman Needs Backcourt Depth and Ike Iroegbu Is An Easy Solution (Michael Arellano/Emerald)

Oregon is in the most precarious position of any Pac-12 contender because it is a flawed team despite its recent hot streak and its most intriguing trade chips are in the current rotation. The Ducks’ two immediate areas of need are in backcourt depth and rebounding help. If Dylan Ennis were healthy, Dana Altman would be inclined to pursue a rebounder like Josh Hawkinson. But the Ducks’ backcourt is so thin right now that getting a player like Iroegbu is more important. The junior turns the ball over too much and is not a great defender but he would give Altman’s backcourt a creative playmaker and dead-eye shooter (46.2% 3FG) at a relative discount. Oregon doesn’t have the pieces to go after Payton II or Bryce Alford, but Small and Sorkin offer enough long-term upside to convince the Cougars to part with an inconsistent talent like Iroegbu.

Cal gets Tony Parker and UCLA gets Stephen Domingo and Kameron Rooks

Despite his immense talent, Parker is probably too moody and inconsistent to garner much interest as a last-minute rental. But Cuonzo Martin, perhaps sensing that this is his only year with Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb, could be persuaded to take a low-risk flyer on a big-time addition. Cal would love to take some interior attention away from the precocious Rabb and Parker would undoubtedly do that. Rabb is a good enough shooter that he and Parker could play together without floor-spacing issues and Parker is a good enough post defender and rebounder that Rabb could use his length to bother shooters on and off the ball. The question would be whether Martin could get the most out of Parker and make him a more consistent player. If so, Cal might become a scary postseason proposition. For UCLA, Steve Alford would get a chance to start fresh with a young core while adding depth to his frontcourt.

Utah gets Bryce Alford and Colorado gets Kyle Kuzma and Isaiah Wright

Utah is firmly entrenched in “win now” mode whether it likes it or not. Jakob Poeltl will likely not be back for his junior season and the Utes will also lose three other rotation members including Jordan Loveridge — their third-leading scorer and best outside shooter. UCLA, on the other hand, has a solid young nucleus and a top-ranked recruiting class coming to Westwood. If Alford was ruthless enough to ship his own son out of town, now would be a good time. For Utah, the Brandon Taylor experiment has run its course. Alford isn’t known for his defense but he is still a major upgrade on both ends of the floor and he would give his new team another deep threat to pair with Loveridge. Brekkot Chapman has not improved the way Utah would have liked but he is good enough to capably replace Kuzma and Chris Reyes is a reliable backup. Kuzma is the perfect second or third big man for the new-look Bruins. He is athletic and skilled enough that he could become a double-double machine once he is away from Poeltl’s long shadow.

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Making Sense Of The Tightly-Packed PAC at the Turn

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on February 3rd, 2016

Every Pac-12 team is now halfway through its conference schedule, and to say that this conference is tight is quite the understatement. There are currently five teams within a game of first place, and conference stalwarts Arizona and UCLA are not among that group. Let’s take a spin around the league and evaluate where the league stands as it makes the turn for the home stretch.

Legitimate Contenders For Regular Season Championship

Chris Boucher, Casey Benson And The Ducks Are Halfway Home To A Pac-12 Title (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)

Chris Boucher, Casey Benson And The Ducks Are Halfway Home To A Pac-12 Title (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)

Hey, this is easy, right? You just take those five teams sitting at 6-3 or better and boom, we’re done, right? No, that’s too easy. We’ve got to take a stand. So, let’s take a stand and name Oregon, Utah and USC as the biggest threats to take the title. The Ducks, conference leaders at 7-2, are the obvious one. I’m personally interested in bragging about the fact that I’ve had them as the conference favorite since I first looked at the league back in mid-summer, but Dana Altman’s got a combination of experience, upside, athleticism, intelligence, quickness and length that is the Platonic ideal of a college basketball team (little known fact: Plato was a huge hoop-head). As for Utah, it took some early lumps but has taken advantage of a lull in the schedule to reel off five straight wins. They’ve still got tough roadies ahead to the Oregon and Los Angeles schools, but Brandon Taylor is starting to knock in shots and there are few players in the conference who can handle Jakob Poeltl in the post. The final true contender is USC, and that isn’t a phrase that anybody expected to be written this February. But it’s for real. Andy Enfield’s squad is undeniably talented and beginning to figure out how to win. The Trojans’ schedule down the stretch is insane (vs. UCLA, at the Arizona schools, home against Utah and Colorado, at Cal and Stanford, finishing at home against the Oregon schools), but this team has already shown it can play with anybody in the league. Notably missing in this space is two-time defending champion Arizona. The Wildcats aren’t out of it at just two games back, but this year’s group just doesn’t measure up to the type of Wildcats we’ve grown accustomed to.

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Best in the West: The 20 Best Teams West Of The Rockies

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on January 26th, 2016

Here’s something we occasionally do: group all of the teams west of the Rockies (you know, the only part of the country, save Austin, New Orleans, Memphis and maybe New York City worth a damn) together, mix them up and see what order they shake out in. This means we’ve got all of the teams in the Pac-12, Mountain West, WCC and Big West Conferences, plus some of the schools in the WAC and Big Sky. And normally, instead of just ranking teams the traditional way, we divide them up into tiers. The idea is that there may be two great teams that have serious Final Four dreams and then a significant fall off when talking about team number three. This year in the West? Not so much. Apropos of the rest of the nation, there are no elite teams. And on any given Saturday (or Thursday, or Wednesday), there’s a good chance whoever checks in a half-page down this list can play with the first team we mention. But still, here’s a best effort at placing the best in the West into tiers.

The Best of the Best: Legitmate Top 25 teams

  • Oregon (#1 overall, Pac-12 #1) – Since back in the middle of the summer, I’ve had the Ducks at the top of the Pac-12. With Villanova transfer Dylan Ennis added to the mix, the Ducks have long had the prospect of being, a deep, veteran, long, balanced squad. Some of those strengths (depth and experience, mainly) have been diminished with the season that wasn’t for Ennis (out for season with broken foot), but Dana Altman’s presence at the helm of a talented group should mean that this team’s best days are ahead of it. With the shot-blocking combination of Jordan Bell and Chris Boucher along the backline and the perimeter defenders like Casey Benson, Dwayne Benjamin and Tyler Dorsey, this team still has a ways to go before it reaches it’s defensive potential, as it is just 69th in the nation in defensive efficiency. The defense has to improve, but if it does, the Ducks’ offense is diverse and explosive enough to drag them a long ways into March.
Hey, Did You Know That Bell Boucher Is A Type Of Banjo? And A Great Shotblocking Combo?

Bell-Boucher: Both A Banjo And A Great Shot-blocking Combo!

  • Arizona (#2 overall, Pac-12 #2) – A one-point loss at California qualifies as a good result in a West that mimics the national landscape by not having any one dominant team. Every one of the Wildcats’ losses has been a tightly fought contest, with a four-point neutral-court loss against Providence to join three conference road losses that came by an average of two points (and four total overtimes). In short, Arizona is, on January 23rd, six possessions away from a perfect 20-0 record, despite the absence of senior Kaleb Tarczewski for eight games, freshman Allonzo Trier for the last four games and junior Elliott Pitts for the last 13 games. While this is by no mean a vintage Arizona team, Sean Miller is the best coach in the West and you can count on him getting the absolute most out of a flawed roster.

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It’s Time Everyone Started Appreciating Gary Payton II

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 15th, 2016

Colorado blew out Oregon State on Wednesday night behind 25 points and 12 rebounds from Josh Scott to improve to 2-2 in the Pac-12 standings. But with apologies to the victors, that game may have been a better display for the skills of another league star: Gary Payton II. The senior guard, or, as the Colorado student section dubbed him, “Daddy’s Shadow”, exploded for a career-high 26 points and season-high 15 rebounds in the losing effort. He also did this. Which, if you have been staying up late to watch the Pac-12 in the last two weeks, is becoming a regular occurrence.

Gary Payton II Is Not Only The Best Point In The Pac, He's One Of It's Best Players (Oregon State Athletics)

Gary Payton II Is Making His Case To PAC-12 Opponents and NBA Scouts Alike This Season (Oregon State Athletics)

Even in defeat, Payton owned everyone’s attention. He was pretty much working on his own, but that didn’t seem to matter; the senior had posted nearly a double-double at halftime, then scored 18 points in the second half when he was clearly the only option. Payton was impossible to keep out of the lane (he went 9-of-10 from the charity stripe) and off the offensive glass (five of his 15 rebounds came there). His full line: 26 points, 15 rebounds, three assists, three steals and three turnovers. These kinds of stat lines are also becoming a regular occurrence.

Four days earlier in a home win against California, Payton posted a 20-point, 11-rebound, eight-assist, four-steal performance (against just one turnover). Three days before that, he had 22 points, nine rebounds, six assists, two steals and just two turnovers in the loss to Stanford. Before that, it was a modest 12/6/6 effort in the win over Oregon. It’s still early, but Payton leads the conference in steal percentage (4.2%) and assist rate (small sample size, but 40.7% is elite); he is also fourth in the conference in defensive rebounding percentage and 19th in offensive rebounding percentage (not bad for a wing). In short, Payton has been both the best and most entertaining player in the conference since New Year’s Day.

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