The Five Stories We Will Remember From the 2013-14 Season

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 10th, 2014

It just so happened that two of the biggest stories from the first night of this college basketball season happened to be the two most prominent narratives on the season’s final evening. Back on November 8, Shabazz Napier’s 18-point, seven-rebound, seven-assist effort propelled UConn to a one-point victory over Maryland, while some 700 miles away, the most decorated and anticipated freshman class in college hoops history debuted at Rupp Arena, blasting UNC-Asheville, 89-57. Almost exactly five months to that night, Napier was again dazzling and the microscope remained firmly fixed on those gifted Kentucky freshmen, except this time they shared the same court at AT&T Stadium – the season’s final stage. Both national title combatants will survive as integral pieces in the memory of this 2013-14 season, but in between opening night and Championship Monday, countless other teams, players, and storylines seized our attention. Below are the five stories (beyond the Wildcats and Huskies) that I will remember most from a college basketball season that was never, ever boring.

The Shockers Were Unable To Author An NCAA Tournament Fit For Their Dream Season, But Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker And Co. Were Still The Story Of This College Basketball Season

The Shockers Were Unable To Author An NCAA Tournament Ending Fit For Their Dream Season, But Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker And Co. Were Still The Story Of 2013-14

5. Pac-12 Revival. We missed you, Pac-12. It’d been a minute since the league summoned up a national title contender, much less a deep and balanced assemblage of teams to chase that front-runner, but the Pac-12 was able to do just that in 2013-14. Even with Brandon Ashley’s mid-January season-ending ACL tear muddying Arizona’s March forecast, the Wildcats put together a regular season worthy of a #1 seed, and entered the NCAA Tournament on the short list of favorites before falling a point short of the Final Four in an Elite Eight loss to Wisconsin. Five other teams from the conference made the field of 68, with both Stanford and a revived UCLA squad (that Steve Alford hiring doesn’t look so bad now) making the Sweet Sixteen. College hoops is officially back on the West Coast.

4. Marcus Smart. He began the season as a presumptive top-five pick and popular leader of a top-10 team, but found his national image devolve into that of a controversial hothead with a soft spot for flopping. On his way out, Smart claimed he still believes he made the right decision in returning to Stillwater for his sophomore season, but Oklahoma State’s disastrous campaign (despite a late-season surge to make the NCAA Tournament and save a tiny bit of face) and his plummeting draft stock should raise suspicions that, perhaps for old time’s sake, Smart staged this final act as a Poke in some place far from reality. It would only make sense, because in 2014, Marcus Smart was nothing if not drama.

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Farewell, and Thank You, to Pac-12 Writer Connor Pelton

Posted by AMurawa on April 9th, 2014

As the 2013-14 season wraps up, so too does the third season of the Rush the Court Pac-12 microsite. And, as we put a bow on another great college basketball season, we also have reached an end of an era here in our own small little corner of the college hoops universe, as my right-hand man here for the past three seasons, Connor Pelton, will be moving on to greener pastures. Connor and I have had more than a little help manning the RTC Pac-12 beat (dap to Parker Baruh, Adam Butler, Kenny Ocker, and others), but by and large, if you’ve read much about Pac-12 basketball at Rush the Court the past three years, it’s likely been the two of us you’ve been reading. Along the way, we’ve spent time disagreeing about Tony Wroten, Jahii Carson and Joseph Young, etc., bemoaning the failures of the conference we write about, and generally having a lot of fun. While Connor’s input here will be greatly missed, we wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors. And you can bet we’ll be bugging him on the regular to send us over a guest post every now and then.

As for the offseason plans, we’ve got team-by-team post-mortems planned for the near future and posts as events warrant them, so be sure to check back in between now and next season as we continue to keep you up to date on the trials and tribulations of the Pac-12 conference.

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Assessing an Awkward Coaching Situation in Corvallis

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on April 2nd, 2014

Craig Robinson said these words following Oregon State‘s season ending loss against Radford, a game played in front of fewer than 1,500 fans in Corvallis.

That game ended his sixth season in Corvallis, with no single campaign resulting in a postseason finish higher than the CBI, and comprising the lowest attendance totals in Gill Coliseum history. Needless to say, Beaver fans aren’t happy and would like to see a change. Still, with that all laid out on the table, I thought Robinson’s joke was hilarious. Timely, self-deprecating, and unexpected — a perfect combination for a laugh in my book. Unfortunately, his boss, athletic director Bob DeCarolis, did not find it as humorous, which is understandable since he has been in Robinson’s corner since day one. “A bad joke at a bad time,” he said the next day. A little over a week later, DeCarolis penned a letter to his biggest boosters, telling them that he had chosen to retain Robinson as head coach for another season.

The relationship between Robinson, the athletic department and Oregon State fans has grown incredibly awkward. The coach needs fans to buy tickets in order to attract recruits. The fans have stopped coming until they start to see a winning product. And there won’t be a winning product until the recruits head to Corvallis. It’s a vicious cycle, one that Robinson has been tasked with breaking. What he doesn’t seem to understand is that his mouth is getting him in trouble. And I’m not talking about his joke to reporters last month. It’s the other quotes like, “Next year’s team could be ranked in the Top 25.” Not likely when he loses Roberto Nelson, Devon Collier, and Angus Brandt. Or, “If Eric Moreland returns, we will be one of the top teams in the conference.” He’s already building in excuses for next season six months before practice even starts. No one wants to hear that. And then there is his agent, Rick Giles, saying that the 2013-14 Beavers were “two wins away from the NCAA Tournament.” Um, try two wins away from the NIT — maybe. The empty promises, excuses, and over-inflated expectations aren’t cute anymore. It’s annoying and a waste of time.

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Johnny Dawkins’ Road Map Gets Stanford to the Sweet Sixteen

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on March 27th, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) is the NCAA Tournament’s West Region correspondent, which begins Thursday night at Honda Center in Anaheim with Baylor vs. Wisconsin followed by San Diego State vs. Arizona. Make sure to also follow @RTCWestRegion for news and analysis from Anaheim throughout the week.

Last March, Stanford athletic director Bernard Muir had a telephone conversation with Jeff Faraudo of The Bay Area News Group in which he basically recounted laying down an ultimatum for head coach Johnny Dawkins: Make the NCAA Tournament in 2013-14, or it is time to move on. “We want to be playing for a [conference] championship. We think we have the caliber of kids who can do that,” Muir told Faraudo. “And we want to play in the NCAA [Tournament]. The goal has always been and will not change: We want to play well into March on the grand stage of March Madness. There’s a clear expectation that we can do that next year.” For a coach who had missed the NCAA Tournament in his previous five years in the position, and with roughly the same team expected to return, it seemed like quite a challenge at the time. And from there, the challenge grew even bigger.

Despite Four Players Lost To Season-Ending Injury, Johnny Dawkins Has Stanford Still Playing (credit: Danny Moloshok)

Despite Four Players Lost To Season-Ending Injury, Johnny Dawkins Has Stanford Still Playing. (Danny Moloshok/AP)

In July, a torn ACL for senior forward Andy Brown – his fourth such injury in a span of just over four years – ended his Stanford playing career. In October, it was announced that sophomore guard Christian Sanders would miss the season with a hip injury. At roughly the same time, sophomore forward Rosco Allen was said to be out six to eight weeks with a shin injury; those six to eight weeks turned into a lost season, as Allen played just seven minutes all year. Then, the coup de grace came in early December when a dislocated right shoulder would keep senior point guard Aaron Bright out for the remainder of the season. Before conference play even rolled around, four key players, each of whom would have had a role on this Stanford basketball team, were lost for the season.

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March Chameleons: Dayton Adapts, But Can It Beat Stanford?

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 27th, 2014

Dayton’s run the stylistic gauntlet this month and lived to tell the tale, at least for a few more hours. Just look at the Flyers’ March: They beat Massachusetts in a 71-possession footrace, the type of up-and-down affair the Minutemen love; it toppled Saint Louis – on the road – and its grinding, exhausting, limit-your-threes defense; they methodically took down Richmond’s tough match-up zone, and then, in the NCAA Tournament, Syracuse’s 2-3 zone; and it outdid Ohio State, one of the best defenses in the country with one of the best individual defenders in the country. If not for Langston Galloway’s near-buzzer-beater (and push-off?) in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, they might have defeated Saint Joseph’s too. Archie Miller’s group has won games fast and slow, physical and finesse, tactical and chaotic. And now Stanford looms, a club that mixed 2-3 and 1-3-1 zone defenses on Sunday to utterly baffle Kansas and send the heavily-favored Jayhawks packing for the offseason. Trouble on the horizon for the Flyers? Perhaps. But if their recent play is any indication, it won’t be because they can’t adapt.

Dayton was flying high in Buffalo, but can they beat the Cardinal? (Photo: Jamie Germano Staff Photographer)

Dayton was flying high in Buffalo, but can they beat the Cardinal? (Photo: Jamie Germano)

That adaptability starts with both the depth and versatility of Dayton’s roster. The Flyers ranked second in the A-10 behind only George Mason this season in bench minutes, with reserves accounting for nearly 36 percent of playing time. Among those reserves is Vee Sanford, a team captain and former starter who hit the game-winner against Ohio State in the second round. He, along with Scoochie Smith – a heralded freshman out of the Bronx –point guard Khari Price, and sharpshooter Jordan Sibert, make up a backcourt quick off the dribble and adept from long range. But to suggest that the team’s ‘backcourt’ is easily distinguishable from its ‘frontcourt’ would be a mistake, and almost impossible to conclude if you watch it play. The fact is, most players are able to handle the ball and nearly everyone can run the floor. At 6’7’’, Devin Oliver is the team’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer, tough and physical but also capable of banging home threes. Dyshawn Pierre, the forward who hit clutch free throws in both games over the weekend, fits the same mold. Even 6’9’’ Jalen Robinson can move with ease and drain outside shots. Throw in a few other reserves who provide quality minutes at multiple positions, and Miller is able to mix-and-match lineups on a night-to-night, minute-to-minute basis.

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The Pac-12 Season: It’s Been A Wild Ride So Far

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 25th, 2014

Well, at long last, after an up-and-down season, we can probably pretty safely say: The Pac is Back! Fully buying into the fact that NCAA Tournament performance alone does not equate to the quality of a conference, it is still fun to have three teams dancing in the second week of the tourney. The last time our fair conference had as many teams in the Sweet Sixteen was back in 2008, when it was still just the Pac-10 and also the last time a conference team made the Final Four (UCLA). Between 2009 and 2012, a total of just three teams made the Sweet Sixteen over that four-year span. Things finally ticked up last year with Oregon and Arizona representing us well, and now, we’re back to the promised land. So, how did we get here? Let’s take a quick look back and see.

Pac-12First, I want to admit that I’ve jumped on and off this bandwagon several times this season. Back in the preseason I made the call of seven Pac-12 teams getting invited to the NCAA Tournament and Stanford advancing to the Sweet Sixteen. The former prediction just missed, but the latter actually came true. Still, no use in me taking credit (or blame, for that matter) for either, because god knows I’ve tried to walk both of those back time and again. In early February, I was sitting through a UCLA blowout of Colorado in Pauley Pavilion and began a post (that I never got around to finishing) writing off the concept of seven Pac-12 NCAA Tournament teams entirely, and making the argument that the conference was closer to winding up with just three teams in the field. So there’s that.

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NCAA Regional Reset: South Region

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 25th, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) is the NCAA Tournament’s South Region correspondent, which begins Thursday night at FedEx Forum in Memphis with Dayton vs. Stanford followed by UCLA vs. Florida. Look out for the West Regional Reset later today and the East and Midwest Resets tomorrow. Make sure to also follow @RTCSouthRegion for news and analysis from Memphis throughout the week.

As usual, Billy Donovan has his Gators right in the thick of the title chase. (Getty)

Billy Donovan Is On The Verge Of Orchestrating Yet Another Florida Final Four Appearance. Is There A Team Remaining In This South Region That Can Disrupt The Gators’ March To Dallas? (Getty)

New Favorite: #1 Florida. Nothing has changed on this front. The Gators looked as overwhelming as ever in their third round defeat of Pittsburgh, and with only one other top-nine seed remaining in the region, the NCAA Tournament’s #1 overall seed is in fantastic shape to make its way to Dallas. The Sweet Sixteen match-up with UCLA won’t be easy, but more on that later – the Gators are still the South region’s clear favorite.

Horse of Darkness: #11 Dayton. This quadrant offered plenty of candidates for the honor, but with apologies to Stephen F. Austin (only one win) and Stanford (too familiar a brand), the Dayton Flyers advancing to their first Sweet Sixteen since 1984 makes for the South Region’s best Cinderella story. We make loyal Flyer fans pretend like the First Four is a big deal annually – and their love of basketball prevents them from failing in this pursuit – so it’s only fair that they finally get something to cheer about from their own team. On February 1, Archie Miller’s club (1-5 in the Atlantic 10 at the time) wasn’t even one of the top eight teams in their own conference, but after a late-season surge and this unexpected Tourney run, the Flyers will play on Thursday for a chance to be one of the final eight teams left standing in all of college basketball. What. A. Turnaround.

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History Lesson: What 2014 UCLA Can Learn From 1994 UCLA’s Loss Against Tulsa

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 21st, 2014

When UCLA hosts Tulsa this evening in San Diego, the Bruins will be solid favorites over an upstart Golden Hurricane team, much as they were 20 years ago when they lost to a Tubby Smith-coached Tulsa team that advanced to the Sweet Sixteen before eventually losing to national champion Arkansas. Below, we’ll compare a few areas where that 1994 team failed with what this year’s UCLA team needs to do in order to advance to Sunday’s round of 32.

Shea Seals, Here Stealing The Ball From Charles O'Bannon, Helped Tulsa To A First-Round Win Over UCLA in 1994

Shea Seals, Here Stealing The Ball From Charles O’Bannon, Helped Tulsa To A First-Round Win Over UCLA in 1994

Show up ready to play. No offense to that talented Golden Hurricane team of 20 years ago, but it was clear from the start that UCLA did not show up ready to play. The Bruins didn’t take their opponent seriously prior to the game (I believe the quote was: “Tulsa – where’s that?”) and once the game did start, their defensive effort was lackluster at best in the halfcourt, while in transition it was even worse. Priority number one for Steve Alford is to avoid any repeats of games like the regular season finale at Washington State where the team basically confessed that it focused on the task at hand. Roll out tape of the Wazzu game; roll out tape of Tulsa 20 years ago; do what you gotta do, but make sure everybody is focused on this game and this game only. Coming off Saturday afternoon’s emotional Pac-12 Tournament win over Arizona, everybody needs to be able to duplicate that energy and take James Woodard, Rashard Smith, Shaquille Harrison and company as seriously as they took Nick Johnson, Aaron Gordon and T.J. McConnell.

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Two Keys to Stanford vs. New Mexico This Afternoon

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 21st, 2014

In anticipation of the New Mexico vs. Stanford game this afternoon, here are two keys to the game.

New Mexico wins if… its big men can dominate. All season long, Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow were rugged offensive threats against Mountain West competition. The Lobo big men combined to batter normally undersized frontcourts in their conference to the tune of 33.9 points and 16.1 rebounds between them. Each of them took better than 40% of their shots right at the rim and each converted at least 68% of those shots at the rim. In short, the New Mexico bigs were dominant in and around the paint all year long. For Stanford, meanwhile, despite having plenty of size (New Mexico has slightly more size than the Cardinal, but Stanford is still in the top 15 nation-wide in terms of effective height), has long been regarded as soft in the middle. Stefan Nastic checks in at 6’11”, but is not a natural athlete and is more prone to committing a foul than effectively challenging shots at the rim. Dwight Powell, likewise, is more comfortable away from the hoop or in transition. Only 6’7” Josh Huestis is particularly good defending in the interior, and even that is sketchy. Still, Stanford has done a fairly good job all year limiting looks (just 32.6% of opponents shots come at the rim) – and more importantly, limiting successful attempts (of those shots, opponents make just 56.6%, a good defensive percentage for shots at the rim) – around the rim. If New Mexico is able to regularly convert buckets around the paint, the Lobos should be golden on Friday morning; if they’re harder than usual to come by, they could be in for a dog fight.

Dwight Powell Will Need To Be Physical Defensively And Explosive Offensively For the Cardinal To Advance (USA Today Sports)

Dwight Powell Will Need To Be Physical Defensively And Explosive Offensively For the Cardinal To Advance (USA Today Sports)

Stanford wins if… they’re able to isolate their offensive playmakers. In a lot of ways, these teams look very similar. Both are solid, if not spectacular on both ends of the floor. Neither team commits, not forces, a lot of turnovers; neither team pays a ton of attention to grabbing offensive boards, while both clean the defensive glass pretty well, and neither team is particularly adept at shooting a ton of threes. But one area where the Cardinal have a decided advantage is in athleticism and the ability for their offensive players to get their own shots. Across the board, things are almost even between these teams, but guys like Chasson Randle, Anthony Brown and Powell are particularly good at getting their own shots. For instance, Randle takes more than a third of his shots at the rim, makes 60% of those shots and under a quarter of those shots come off assists. What do those particular set of numbers indicate? A guy who beats his man off the bounce and gets to the rim on his own. His two-point jumper numbers are even more extreme; he takes 27% of his shots in such a fashion, makes 46.9% of them and is assisted on less than 2% of those shots. In other words: dribble, dribble, dribble, pull-up jumper. Powell’s and Brown’s numbers are less extreme, but both of those guys have long shown the ability to beat their defender in man-to-man defense and find their own shot. While New Mexico puts together good team defense, if the Cardinal are able to spread the court with effective three-point shooting (they’re knocking in 37% from three when they do get three-point looks this year), it could clear up the middle of the court for Stanford’s superior offensive creators to do their thing.

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Four Keys For Oregon Against BYU Today

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 20th, 2014

Oregon certainly has no shortage of guys that can put the ball in the hoop, with Joseph Young and Jason Calliste among the nation’s most efficient scoring threats. But looking beyond Oregon’s ability to knock in shots from all over the court, below we offer three other keys to Oregon’s chances to advance to the round of 32 by knocking off BYU today.

Mike Moser – For much of Mike Moser’s sophomore season at UNLV, the transfer from UCLA was not only on the very short list of the best players in the Mountain West, but he was in the conversation for All-American consideration. However, his junior year in Vegas was never quite right, with injuries and chemistry problems plaguing him throughout the season. For much of his lone season in Eugene, he looked more like the Moser we saw in his junior season than the one we saw as a sophomore. But then, somewhere in the middle of the season, things began to click for Moser. And, unsurprisingly, it was about the same time things began to click for the Ducks as a whole. Over the course of Oregon’s eight-game winning streak (prior to their Pac-12 quarterfinal loss), Moser averaged 16.6 points and 10.1 boards. And as his offensive game locked in, his focus and effectiveness on the defensive end also improved. In that quarterfinal loss, the passive and ineffective Moser was the rule as he floated around the perimeter offensively and was inattentive and soft defensively. The Ducks will most definitely need the good Moser to show up from here on out in order to survive and advance.

Mike Moser's Play Is A Key For Oregon's Tournament Chances (credit: Michael Shaw)

Mike Moser’s Play Is A Key For Oregon’s Tournament Chances (credit: Michael Shaw)

Defense – It is no secret that Oregon’s defense isn’t the college basketball equivalent of the ’84 Bears. They allow better than a point per possession on the season and ranked 93rd in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency numbers. But the difference between good Oregon and bad Oregon is pretty startling. In their nine losses, the Ducks have allowed 1.14 points per possession. But even those losses shouldn’t all be taken as equal; Dana Altman has clearly had this team work on their defense throughout the year, so they’re better now than they were at the start of January when they began their mid-season swoon. In those first five consecutive losses, the Ducks allowed 1.19 PPP, a number that would put them squarely in the conversation for worst defensive team in the nation. In the Ducks’ 23 wins, they’ve allowed an average of 0.99 points per possession: certainly not great, but the type of number that can allow the Ducks to win. Now, against a potent offense like BYU’s, odds are good that the Ducks won’t meet that kind of number, but the point is this: Oregon’s defense doesn’t have to be great against the Cougars, but it can’t be awful.

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NIT and CBI Reaction: Pac-12 Teams

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) & Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on March 18th, 2014

Three Pac-12 teams that were not invited to the NCAA Tournament ended up receiving NIT or CBI bids. Let’s break them down in this instareaction format.

California – NIT, #2 seed in SMU Quadrant, vs. Utah Valley, 3/19, 7:30 PM PT - The Golden Bears had something of an argument for the NCAA field of 68, but nobody winds up all that shocked that they’re on the outside looking in. So, now, rather than playing for a national championship (at least in theory), Mike Montgomery and company have to shift gears and find something else to play for over their remaining games. For seniors like Justin Cobbs and Richard Solomon, such a shift will be difficult, as the NIT is clearly not where those guys hoped to be ending their careers. But, for youngsters like Jordan Mathews, Jabari Bird, and Sam Singer, and even junior Ricky Kreklow, whose career has been limited some by injury problems, maybe they can use the NIT as a springboard towards the inevitably larger roles that they’ll have to take on next season. As for match-ups, they will get a Utah Valley team in the opener that they should be able to outclass on talent alone, but beyond that, they will need to begin bringing their A-games, as either Arkansas or Indiana State could give them a serious push in the second-round game.

California Highlights The Pac-12's Representation In The NIT

California Highlights The Pac-12′s Representation In The NIT

Utah – NIT, #5 seed in Minnesota’s Quadrant, at Saint Mary’s, 3/18, 8:00 PM PT, ESPN2 – The Utes got jobbed. Plain and simple. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. Going by the eye test, this team should have been one of the first four or five left out of the NCAA Tournament. Instead, the NIT selection committee relied far too much on strength of schedule and relegated Utah to a first round road game. Saint Mary’s, who most projected to barely sneak into the NIT, receives a better seed and will host the Utes. The Gaels finished fourth in the WCC and fell to Gonzaga in the semifinals of their conference tournament. They opened the year at 9-0, then went to Honolulu, got distracted by the beach, and fell hard from the ranks of the unbeaten. First came a loss against South Carolina. Then Hawaii nipped them, and then George Mason did the same on Christmas morning. And after sneaking past Pacific a few days later, they went up to Spokane and got hammered for a 22-point loss against the Zags. Things have been up and down since, with a little more good than bad, and the Gaels enter the NIT at a 22-11 clip.

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Bracket Prep: UCLA, New Mexico, New Mexico State

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 16th, 2014

As we move through the final stages of Championship Week, we’ll continue to bring you short reviews of each of the automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket next week. Here’s what you need to know about the most recent bid winners. 

UCLA

Steve Alford's Hire Was Met With Resistance Last Spring, But Less Than Twelve Months Later, He Has The Bruins Back On Top Of The Pac-12

Steve Alford’s Hire Was Met With Resistance Last Spring, But Less Than Twelve Months Later, He Has The Bruins Back On Top Of The Pac-12. Next Stop: NCAA Tournament.

  • Pac-12 Champion (26-8, 15-6)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #21/#16/#16
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +13.8
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #4-#5

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. In making Arizona look mortal for the first time all week in Vegas, UCLA became Pac-12 Tournament champions and earned the league’s automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament. UCLA has now scored 75 points against the Wildcats in both meetings this season, and since Michigan is the only other Wildcat opponent to score 70+ points on Sean Miller’s team, it’s an achievement worth noting. If you can score on Arizona, you can score on anyone, and UCLA looks likely to accomplish just that in the Tournament. Each member of Steve Alford’s eight-man rotation is capable of scoring in double figures on any given night, paced by leading scorer Jordan Adams (17.2 PPG, 2.7 SPG). The high game totals that the Bruins’ quick pace generates obscures what has actually been a pretty decent defensive effort (UCLA has the 49th best defense in the country according to Ken Pom), but there’s no hiding that it’s the hyper-efficient offense that makes the Bruins go.
  2. Kyle Anderson (14.9 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 6.6 APG) is a joy to watch on the court, but it might be even easier to appreciate him on KenPom.com, especially if you like to spend Saturday nights poring through free throw rates and true shooting percentages. The All-Pac 12 selection and Pac-12 Tournament MOP ranks in the top-500 in a whopping 12 of 15 individual categories on the site, with the only average categories being percentage of shots taken (who cares), offensive rebounding percentage, and turnover rate. Figuring out how many players have a similar variety in their statistical profile would take quite a while, but it’s difficult to imagine any player in college basketball even having ten of their fifteen categories among the top-500. He’s as proficient at cleaning the glass as he is setting up teammates, equally likely to knock down a three as he is to a shot block a shot. There will be only one Kyle Anderson is the 2014 NCAA Tournament, and that absurd Ken Pom stat-line is testament to just how diversely special he has been all season.
  3. Steve Alford is a massive part of the UCLA narrative heading into this NCAA Tournament. Alford has done a wonderful job in Westwood this season, but don’t think it’s nearly enough for him to outrun his shaky Tournament resume. Seeing is believing, and the latter will only happen with Alford after the former occurs.  The reticence to trust the UCLA head man stems from Alford’s 3-6 Tournament record at Iowa and New Mexico, a mark that includes exactly zero Sweet Sixteen appearances and one nice ugly upset to #14 seeded Harvard just twelve months ago. Do you want to believe in Alford already? Hang your hat on the differences between this UCLA team and the eleven previous ones he coached at Iowa and New Mexico, because only one of those teams (2004 Iowa) finished among the top-100 teams in possessions per game (and still just 66th). The Bruins are currently 14th in the metric, and there’s little doubt that this is the most up-tempo, offensively efficient basketball team that Alford has ever coached.

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