Stanford Basketball Yearning For Its Glory Days (Or Is It?)…

Posted by Adam Butler on December 3rd, 2016

You look around Maples Pavilion and you see empty rows of seats. If you look hard enough, I’m sure you could even find columns of seats right up to the not-all-that-high Maples ceiling. There’s empty booster level seating and you can hear conversations, noises perhaps unfamiliar to a more traditional college basketball environment. Just Wednesday night, following a loss inside Indiana’s Assembly Hall, North Carolina head coach Roy Williams lamented, “I’d like to play in front of a crowd like that in the Smith Center every night other than the frickin’ Duke game.” Indeed, what sets college basketball apart – and I suppose all college sports for that matter – is its atmosphere (not the frickin’ Duke game). The skill of professionals cannot be matched. Their stars are brighter and shots more true. Their arenas, however? Bigger but not always better. Or at least not louder. It is not the same. Stanford athletics, however, are a little different. It is not always an event. Sure there are scheduled contests with officials and media, hype men and even knockout at halftime. The requisite production remains. But it’s not destination sport. Their top-tier football program does not demand overflow attendance. And while the basketball program was once there and the floors would shake, they’ve also only been to one NCAA Tournament in the past eight seasons. It’s amazing what an NCAA Tournament appearance can do to an arena.

Stanford's Glory Days Seem Like a Bygone Era (USA Today Images)

Stanford’s Glory Days Seem Like a Bygone Era (USA Today Images)

Following in the steps of a Hall of Famer is never easy. Trent Johnson escaped the shadow by progressively chasing lesser jobs (Stanford > LSU > TCU), while Johnny Dawkins sternly and rarely budged off of 18-wins. In either case, one of two critical components used in standard assessments of a program were missing: winning or charm. While the former speaks for itself and often excuses or masks a lack of the latter, wins are hard to come by. On charm, and particularly early in a coaching tenure, this can be used to excuse winning, a smile and a pep rally to lament the outgoing regime’s recruiting. Consider Ernie Kent walking door-to-door in Pullman or anything Bruce Pearl ever does. In either case (winning or charming), a coach and program are trying to set itself up for success on the recruiting trail and in the pocketbook. The recipe being some nonlinear combination of good players + wins + excitement + attendance. That’s how we generally evaluate a program.

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It’s Time to Talk About Utah’s Non-Conference Schedule

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 22nd, 2016

Utah has not won a game by fewer than 43 points this season, and yet, thanks to some conservative scheduling practices by head coach Larry Krystkowiak, the Utes have already hurt their NCAA Tournament chances. At 3-0, Utah is officially tied atop the Pac-12 standings, a hilarious result given that its first two opponents, Division II members Northwest Nazarene and Concordia (Oregon), considered the games exhibitions. The Utes finally played their first Division I opponent Friday night, smoking 0-5 Coppin State in a game that KenPom gave Utah a 98.7 percent chance of winning. With the victory, Utah earned its initial placement at #289 in the RPI rankings.  There is no unbeaten team from a Power 5 conference with a worse RPI than Utah, and there isn’t a lot of helium left in the Utes’ non-conference schedule to carry it up.

Larry Krystkowiak Mimicking Utah Fans' Reaction to the 2016-17 Schedule. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

Krystkowiak Mimicking Utah Fans’ Reaction to the 2016-17 Schedule (Deseret News)

Utah plays Butler at home on November 28 and travels to Xavier on December 10. Aside from those two games, each of the Utes’ remaining non-conference opponents is ranked 227th or lower by KenPom, not including a potential matchup with San Diego State in the championship game of the Diamond Head Classic. Quality opponents from last season such as San Diego State, Wichita State, BYU and Duke have been replaced by UC Riverside, Montana State, Utah Valley and Prairie View A&M. A team that last year barnstormed across America from Puerto Rico to Wichita to New York City will only leave the Beehive State twice before the new year.

What’s worse is that this season’s pillow-soft schedule has been some time in the making. To his credit, Krystkowiak has been relatively open about the logic behind his intent, essentially telling ESPN Radio that a friendly schedule would be more beneficial for an inexperienced team. This is understandable. Confidence is important for young collegiate players, and if the current version of Utah had played last season’s schedule, there might not have been much confidence to go around. Similarly, Krystkowiak is hardly the first Power 5 coach to weigh the quality and depth of his roster when putting together a schedule. But there is a big difference between throttling back and throwing it in reverse.

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Pac-12 Player of the Year Debate: Dillon Brooks vs. Ivan Rabb

Posted by Mike Lemaire & Adam Butler on November 11th, 2016

It isn’t often that you see a reigning conference Player of the Year return to school and not be considered the favorite to win it again. But such is life when you play in the same conference as a talent like California’s Ivan Rabb. Oregon’s Dillon Brooks is still the likely favorite to win the award again, but Rabb is almost universally considered the better NBA prospect. To make matters even more complicated, Brooks is returning from a foot injury. While Oregon doesn’t seem overly concerned that its star junior will miss a significant amount of time, it remains unclear when he will be back so speculation will continue. I believe Brooks will be back sooner rather than later and he will quickly return to his spot atop the conference food chain. Adam likes Brooks too — he just likes Rabb better. Let’s make the case for both.

The Case for Dillon Brooks

What Does Dillon Brooks Have In Store For An Encore Performance? (USA Today Images)

What Does Dillon Brooks Have In Store For An Encore Performance? (USA TODAY Images)

It would be easy to just state plainly that Brooks is the reigning Pac-12 Player of the Year and thus should be the front-runner until proven otherwise. But it would be equally foolish to underestimate the development of a player as talented as Rabb, so let’s make the case for Brooks more thoroughly. The Toronto native is not the most efficient scorer, especially from downtown; he isn’t the best passer; he isn’t the perfect defender; and, he can disappear on the glass. But there isn’t any other player in the conference, Rabb included, who can claim to be above-average at all of those categories. Assuming he is healthy (and for now, at least, that is a big assumption), Brooks has a chance to rank among the top 10 in the Pac in scoring, assists, rebounding and steals. He has NBA size and athleticism, and if he can cut down on his turnovers and improve his shot selection, he could become a ruthlessly efficient and unstoppable offensive player. Rabb is without question a future lottery pick and almost certainly has the brighter NBA future, but he will never be able to stuff a stat sheet as completely as Brooks. He is the best player on the best team in the conference and his ability to create his own shot and guard multiple positions is the engine that powers Oregon. He should be able to improve on his numbers from last season and lead the Ducks to the conference crown. If he in fact does both, there will be nothing Rabb can do to stop the Brooks’ coronation ceremony. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Coach of the Year Debate: Dana Altman vs. Sean Miller

Posted by Mike Lemaire & Adam Butler on November 9th, 2016

There is no clear-cut favorite in this season’s race for Pac-12 Coach of the Year. Most pundits are picking Oregon‘s Dana Altman but it feels like he is winning by default. Altman has something working against him, though, which is that expectations are already sky high in Eugene. If Oregon wins the conference it may be because they were expected to win the conference, and if the Ducks underachieve, Altman will quickly fall out of the race. I still think that Altman is the right pick and the correct pick. Adam and his eternal soft spot for Sean Miller respectfully disagrees. Here’s the case for each.

The Case for Sean Miller

Sean Miller Has His Work Cut Out For Him This Season (USA Today Images)

Sean Miller Has His Work Cut Out For Him This Season (USA Today Images)

As of today we must acknowledge that we don’t know that status of Allonzo Trier. He’s pretty good at basketball and critical to Arizona‘s success this season. That said, if he misses extended time and the Wildcats still finish among the top three teams in this conference, it should only further cement Miller’s claim on Pac-12 Coach of the Year. Beyond the fact that the conference set a precedent of rewarding overachievers (all of the 2015 awards), Miller is poised to navigate a Pac-12 season with a group of talented players all of whom are in brand new experiences. Considering Altman returns 68 percent of the minutes played by his rotation last season and UCLA’s Steve Alford is only moving players into more natural positions, Miller will almost certainly have a larger impact on his team’s success that some of his counterparts. And in making this candidacy, I don’t want to paint the Wildcats as underdogs. They’re not. They’re ranked 10th nationally and even in the absence of Trier (and now, Ray Smith) they still rate as a top-30 team according to Sports Illustrated‘s What-If scenarios. Even with just eight scholarship players, none of whom has significant experience in their role, expectations are always lofty in Tucson. But Arizona only plays Oregon once (in Eugene) and has a schedule that is favorable so that this inexperienced, albeit loosely veteran, roster can have time to develop. Miller teams trend well late in the season and this is a group that likely won’t buck that trend.

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Where 2016-17 Happens: Reason #4 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on November 8th, 2016

As RTC heads into its 10th season — Season X, if you will — covering college basketball, it’s time to begin releasing our annual compendium of YouTube clips that we like to call Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball. These 30 snippets from last season’s action are completely guaranteed to make you wish games were starting tonight rather than 30 days from now. Over the next month you’ll get one reason per day until we reach the new season on Friday, November 11. You can find all of this year’s released posts here.

#4 – Where Olympic Effort Happens.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-122012-132013-142014-15 and 2015-16 preseasons.

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Pac-12 Burning Questions: Is Ivan Rabb an NPOY Contender?

Posted by Adam Butler on November 2nd, 2016

It’s been floated around the league that California‘s Ivan Rabb could contend for the National Player of the Year award (more on that and other Pac-12 prognostications later). From what we saw last season, however, the Bay Area big man is wildly efficient and offensively underutilized. To quantify: 120.0 offensive rating; 62 percent inside the arc; top-100 (nationally) eFG% and true shooting percentage. From a utilization standpoint, Rabb played 70 percent of the available minutes (a bit above average for most big men) with a very pedestrian 20 percent usage rate during his time on the floor. His lack of involvement with the offense last season was at times heartbreaking. Meanwhile, teammates Tyrone Wallace and Jaylen Brown hovered around the herculean usage mark. For context against Rabb’s 70/20 minutes/usage ratio, Wallace and Brown were 68/32 and 65/28, respectively. Seriously, the two Bears finished first and second in Pac-12 usage, respectively, one of just three pairs of teammates to lead a conference in such. Naturally this becomes a numbers game — Rabb will get more touches and a corresponding increase in usage, and his scoring efficiency suggests that he will thrive when he gets that opportunity. Consequently, the talk of a National Player of the Year effort.

Ivan Rabb for player of the year? Only if his teammates help him. (Pac-12 Networks)

Ivan Rabb for Player of the Year? Only if his teammates help him. (Pac-12 Networks)

And yet two thoughts immediately come to mind: 1) Cuonzo Martin knows how to milk his stars for all they’re worth and he isn’t afraid to give the ball to those individuals. In which case, Rabb could get all of the touches for seemingly every minute he’s on the floor (something akin to Brown’s one-and-done experience); or 2) Martin’s strength is on the defensive end and he won’t necessarily optimize the offensive end. This dichotomous thinking is the fodder to Cal’s burning hot fire question. If we look at Martin’s teams historically, they’ve generally followed the pattern of riding two horses to their best success. Last year it was Brown and Wallace (at not particularly high efficiency). During his 2014 Tennessee campaign (24-13, Sweet Sixteen appearance), it was Jordan McRae and Jarnell Stokes (28.9% and 25.9% usage rates, respectively) yet at very efficient numbers (each greater than 115.0 offensive ratings). At Missouri State in 2011 (26-9), it was Kyle Weems (25.2%) and Will Creekmore (25.7%) who logged greater than 110.0 offensive ratings. All of which leads us to a third (perhaps fourth) question: Can Jabari Bird be that second guy? He’s played his entire California career somewhat in the shadows after arriving to considerable hype. Gone are Wallace and Brown, but so too is sharpshooter Jordan Mathews, who chose to grad-bolt for Gonzaga. This ultimately feels like a Bears’ roster that is thin on high-major bodies and talent — two critical pieces not only to earning a teammate the highest individual hardware, but also for making another NCAA Tournament. Consider the last four NPOYs:

  • 2016 – Buddy Hield, Oklahoma – #2 seed
  • 2015 – Frank Kaminski, Wisconsin – #1 seed
  • 2014 – Doug McDermott, Creighton – #3 seed
  • 2013 – Trey Burke, Michigan – #2 seed

Does Rabb have the talent to be an NPOY? Absolutely. Does he have the teammates? It’s going to take more than just a strong senior year out of Jabari Bird. Which is a long-winded and politically correct way of saying: No.

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Highlighted Quotes From Each Team at Pac-12 Media Day

Posted by Adam Butler on October 24th, 2016

Pac-12 Media Day, the annual effusing of excitement, promise and not caring for the media poll, was held on Friday at the conference’s network headquarters in San Francisco. There were no on-stage fireworks (there rarely are) but Allonzo Trier was replaced by Kadeem Allen as Arizona’s player representative the night before things got started. Sean Miller would not comment. There was Larry Scott’s now annual promotion of all things Pac-12 + China as well as no update on a DirecTV deal. Following each player/coach stage appearance, and wrapping the day up, was the conference’s top official, Bobby Dibler. Did you know that a Pac-12 referee (or rather a Western Officiating Consortium official) was a Naismith Men’s Basketball College Official of the Year? Quite an honor and something not held by a west coast official since 2011 or 2012 (according to Dibler). All-in-all, it was a reminder that basketball season is upon us, and that to this point, we’ve had nothing but our own opinions and perhaps some “insider” knowledge, to evaluate, predict, and feel about our favorite teams. If you’re a stat nerd, we don’t even have KenPom’s updated ratings (ed. note: KenPom released his ratings Sunday) or a Pac-12 preview from Hanner and Winn over at SI. But Media Day finally gave us some knowledge straight from the proverbial horse’s mouth! Let’s dive into some of the key quotes to come out of each team’s address:

Four years as leader of the nation's premier D1 West Coast athletic conference has earned Scott huge financial bonuses on top of an already sizable base salary (U.S. Presswire).

As the Pac-12 gets ready for the new season, so does commissioner Larry Scott, who faced some of the same questions at Media Day that has been a hot topic league-wide. (U.S. Presswire)

Washington State, Ernie Kent and Josh Hawkinson

“If there was ever a time that a team needed a summer tournament, it was us, an opportunity to go overseas.”

This was Ernie Kent’s opening line and I’d have to agree. The benefit of these trips was expressed many times over throughout the day but when you consider it’s Year 3 at Wazzu and the Cougars went 1-17 in conference last year – yeah – they could use the extra practice. The Cougs do have some seniors, experienced big men like Josh Hawkinson and Conor Clifford, but they are seniors who have won just 11 conference games in their three previous efforts. It could be another long one in Pullman. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Preseason News & Notes

Posted by Adam Butler on October 20th, 2016

Last Friday night, Arizona freshman Rawle Alkins set his coach on the block, handed him a basketball, asked him to adjust it just so, then leapt over Sean Miller for the dunk. That is how the 2017-18 Pac-12 basketball season begins. Not with letters to fan bases, sixth years of eligibility, early entries, foreign tours, or new hires — which isn’t necessarily to say that the Pac-12 hinges on Arizona’s efforts. By most accounts this is the Ducks’ conference to lose. But following a mostly disappointing end to the 2016 campaign (a really ugly performance in the Dance outside of the aforementioned Ducks, who themselves were bounced in embarrassing fashion), the imagery of fresh blood leaping over his historically serious coach in a fan-, if not recruit driven-, event, felt like the arrival of the season. Of course, if you haven’t watched it, here it is.

Sean Miller Is Looking To Break Through For His First Final Four Appearance (Ralph Freso, Getty Images)

Once again, Sean Miller and crew are expected to be right in the mix of things. (Ralph Freso/Getty Images)

The teams have been at for a couple weeks now, getting NCAA allotted hours and gym sessions since 42 days before their first game. Heck, your team might have even received a 2017 commitment in the past couple weeks. As Nike has slogan-ed, [program] basketball never stops. But at a certain point it most certainly begins. And that time is coming in hot. So while our teams practice, so must we, right? Consider this post our first practice, the proverbial Wooden sock drill. This post isn’t necessarily to preview what’s coming but to tease out – not unlike an open practice – forthcoming content, features, games, players, and so on. To help you prepare for the 2016-17 Pac-12 basketball experience. Because it’s coming. November 11 will be here soon and while it’s perhaps not the opening day romanticized in prose (that’s left to baseball), we’ve put together some Pac-12 basketball essentials. Here’s the warm-up, before we really hit the wind sprints with team-by-team previews, dives into conference newcomers and the questions burning up West Coast, high-major basketball. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Burning Questions: How Quickly Can Dillon Brooks Get Healthy?

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 19th, 2016

It seems unfair to say that Oregon’s chances at competing for a National Title depend solely on the long-term health of Dillon Brooks, especially considering the sheer amount of talent and depth Dana Altman has stockpiled in Eugene. But then again, Brooks is no ordinary role player either. The Toronto, Ontario, native emerged as one of the best two-way players in the Pac-12 last season, averaging 16.7 points per game (47.0% FG) to go with 5.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game. He started in all 38 of the Ducks’ games and was the linchpin to Altman’s successful attempt at a nearly position-less rotation. He played as the team’s nominal power forward, but his NBA size and athleticism allowed him to easily guard multiple positions and a match-up nightmare on the other end of the floor. Although he laid a seven-point egg in the Elite Eight against Oklahoma, his performances in the Round of 32 against St. Joseph’s and in the Sweet Sixteen against Duke positioned him as a leading candidate for Pac-12 Preseason Player of the Year this season.

How will Oregon adapt without Brooks? (Photo Credit: Craig Strobeck)

How will Oregon adapt without Brooks? (Photo Credit: Craig Strobeck)

When Brooks withdrew his name from the NBA Draft in late May, it instantly made the Ducks a trendy 2017 title contender. That outlook, however, changed considerably when Altman casually mentioned in a summer conference call that Brooks had been held out of workouts because of a “problem with his foot.” Brooks had foot surgery two weeks later, and it became increasingly clear by August that he was going to miss part of the regular season. That shouldn’t be a major issue, though, as the Ducks are one of the few teams in the country with sufficient talent and depth to replace a player of Brooks’ caliber. If Altman wants to play small, he can feel confident in the trio of Casey Benson, Dylan Ennis, and Tyler Dorsey. If he prefers a larger lineup, versatile big men Chris Boucher, Jordan Bell, and JuCo transfer Kavell Williams-Bigby lead one of the country’s best stables of post players. If the team’s recent exhibition games in Spain were any indication, Altman plans to mix and match until he finds a rotation he is comfortable with, a luxury most coaches in the conference surely envy. But that depth won’t change the fact that Oregon will still be missing its best player on both ends of the floor.

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Where 2016-17 Happens: Reason #27 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on October 16th, 2016

As RTC heads into its 10th season — Season X, if you will — covering college basketball, it’s time to begin releasing our annual compendium of YouTube clips that we like to call Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball. These 30 snippets from last season’s action are completely guaranteed to make you wish games were starting tonight rather than 30 days from now. Over the next month you’ll get one reason per day until we reach the new season on Friday, November 11. You can find all of this year’s released posts here.

#27 – Where Soaring Ducks Happen.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-122012-132013-142014-15 and 2015-16 preseasons.

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