Marching to Vegas: In Defense of the Pac

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) on January 14th, 2016

The Pac-12 is exactly what we want it to be, at least in a season like this. In a conference whose most tenured coach has a 0.456 winning percentage over his last four seasons and the second most tenured is Johnny Dawkins, we’ve got what we want. The Pac isn’t producing basketball we’ll soon tell our grandchildren about or write new defensive schematics to contain something transcendent. Only Bill Walton could contextualize the Pac-12 as historically brilliant right now. He’s wrong. He knows he’s wrong but he’ll say it anyway because he’s Bill Walton and he’s forgotten more basketball than we’ll ever know. What if he’s right, though (he’s not)?

Don't Worry Pac-12, We've Got Your Back.

Don’t Worry Pac-12, We’ve Got Your Back.

Because right now the Pac-12 is competitive. We can quantify that, for starters. Noting that 45 percent of its games – according to KenPom – have been close; that there hasn’t been a “blowout” of 19-points or more through 29 conference games. Remember 2012, when we lamented what a poor Pac-12 we had? Just 19 percent of those games were close and 18 percent were blowouts. That’s nearly 40 percent of conference basketball with seemingly no balance. Think about that. In easily the worst Pac play we’ve ever seen, the games weren’t even close. Competition breeds success. The Pac-12 in 2016 isn’t the greatest basketball we’ve ever seen. In 2009 it collectively led the nation in efficiency. This year it’s 15th. But when I sit down to watch Pac-12 basketball, I’m watching an entertaining product. We’re watching a game worth celebrating and not lamenting because there aren’t necessarily rosters littered with disciplined executioners (2015 Wisconsin, Gonzaga, Arizona, Virginia) or uber-talented transcendents (2015 Kentucky, Duke). This isn’t last season. If you want that, here’s a link to CSN Bay Area and all of the Warriors highlights you can handle. And yes, it is unfair to compare anything to those Warriors. It’s also unfair to compare any of these 2016 teams against what was a historically fantastic 2015. Read the rest of this entry »

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Making Sense of the Wild Pac-12 Standings

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

We’re now through two weeks of Pac-12 play and Washington sits alone atop the conference with a 3-0 record. USC, Oregon State and Oregon are the next three teams, with only one loss. Teams among the conference favorites – for example, Arizona and Utah – sit with sub-.500 records. And Arizona State, a team expected to be in the mix somewhere in the middle of the conference race, is sitting alone in last place with an 0-3 record. Sure, given that teams have only played a fraction of the conference schedule, most of this is meaningless. But here are some more relevant facts. At halfway through the college basketball regular season, 11 of the 12 conference teams are ranked among the KenPom top 100 — only Washington State sits out at #122. If RPI is more your thing (for some reason), those 11 teams rank among the top 75 of that metric. If you want to throw out Stanford and Washington, the top nine teams in the conference rank among the top 66 in KenPom and the top 48 in RPI. The conference is listed as the #2 strongest collection of teams in the land by RPI, while KenPom puts the league third. Oregon is rated highest in RPI (#11), while Arizona tops KenPom at #16.

Two Weeks Into Conference Play, One Thing Is Clear: It's Going To Be A Wild One (Gary A. Vasquez, USA Today)

Two Weeks Into Conference Play, One Thing Is Clear: It’s Going To Be A Wild One (Gary A. Vasquez, USA Today)

Enough numbers for now; the important question is what do they all mean? To begin with, this is a conference that runs deep with good teams. In a season seeming to lack great teams on a national level, the Pac-12 will again be expected to extend its streak of seasons without a Final Four entrant to eight. However, because of that lack of dominant team on the national landscape, if this NCAA Tournament tends towards wild upsets (as sometimes happens), the Pac-12 has some teams in that next tier of strength that could either be the upsetter or take advantage of brackets thinned out by upsets.

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Pac-12 Bracketology: Non-Conference Season

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 9th, 2016

The heavy lifting for Pac-12 teams has just begun but the non-conference games each team is leaving behind won’t stay in the rear-view mirror very long. They make a dramatic reappearance in the next two months when some of those games played two and three months prior might be the difference between getting a coveted invitation to the Big Dance and being shut out. This means that the only consistent way to analyze how each team did in non-conference play is to evaluate each resume as if the teams were on the bubble. In general, Pac-12 teams did a lackluster job of scheduling legitimate competition (and beating it). Even with a seriously stretched definition of what counts as a “quality win,” it was still tough to get excited about the success of these teams. Let’s run through it.

Arizona – IN

Sean Miller's Team is Of Course Easily In, But How High? (USA Today Images)

Sean Miller’s Team is Of Course Easily In, But How High? (USA Today Images)

  • KenPom Non-Conference Strength of Schedule: #292
  • Quality Wins: at Gonzaga, UNLV, Boise State (2x)
  • Bad Losses: None

The Wildcats look like the class of the Pac so the team’s at-large candidacy likely won’t matter much because they’re in regardless. They didn’t exactly challenge themselves in the first half of their schedule, playing  what amounts to the easiest non-conference slate in the conference. But Arizona also didn’t lose to anyone unexpected and beat a few decent teams too. It is possible that the win in Spokane against Gonzaga will be the only one to stand up as a true quality win, but for now, wins over Boise State (twice) and UNLV build a solid foundation for an at-large resume.

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On the Importance of Sam Singer at California

Posted by Matt Snyder on December 1st, 2015

After reeling off four straight wins to begin the 2015-16 season, California endured its first setbacks of the season in last week’s Las Vegas Classic. First came a 14-point loss to San Diego State, which had fallen at home to Arkansas-Little Rock the previous week. (To be fair, Little Rock is currently 5-0, and has also taken down Tulsa on the road.) The day after beating the Bears, the Aztecs were unceremoniously thumped by West Virginia. In its second game in Vegas, Cal lost by four points to Richmond, which already has a win at Wake Forest and returns four starters from last season: one of whom, senior forward Terry Allen, went off for 34 points and 13 rebounds against the Bears. All of which is to say, through a rather convoluted lede, that the non-conference portion of the season is in full swing. Crazy stuff happens as teams begin to take shape. There’s no need for Cal fans to panic after watching their team’s perfect 4-0 record dwindle to a more pedestrian 4-2 in the face of tougher competition.

Sam Singer might be one of the more hearalded players on the Cal squad, but he is one of the most important. (Cal Athletics)

Sam Singer (#2) might not be one of the more heralded players on Cal’s squad, but he is one of the most important. (Cal Athletics)

Take that game against Richmond. The Bears’ two standout freshmen, Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb, led the team in points (27) and rebounds (seven), respectively, continuing their strong starts to the season. They are the two gemstones that head coach Cuonzo Martin has embedded into the program he’s building in Berkeley — one that seems poised to become a West Coast powerhouse for years to come. The new blood blends well with the core that Mike Montgomery, Martin’s predecessor, assembled before retiring at the close of the 2013-14 season. In addition to being one of the best minds in the game, ‘Monty’, as he’s commonly known, brought in the likes of Tyrone Wallace, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews, all of whom start for Cal this season. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Burning Questions: Where are the Fans?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 20th, 2015

Arizona head coach Sean Miller called out UCLA this week for its poor attendance at games in Pauley Pavilion. But with only a very few exceptions, lack of attendance at basketball games has been a concern at schools up and down the conference. What kind of impact does this have on the overall health of a basketball program? And what can be done to fix it?

Fan Support At McKale Center Is The Gold Standard In The Pac-12 (Daily Wildcat)

Fan Support At McKale Center Is The Gold Standard In The Pac-12 (Daily Wildcat)

Adam Butler: There’s a lot of layers to this onion. There’s the #HotTake and the presumed “shade” thrown by Sean Miller. Reading between the lines we can also see that Steve Alford had a retort. That’s the fun stuff. I called it feed for the news cycle monster. But Drew’s question here doesn’t really address that fun matter (and it shouldn’t because it’s really not worth it). What I want to explore is attendance as a matter of conference health. As the question notes, the Pac-12 has seen declining average attendance in each of the past three seasons, with the abysmal 2011-12 season having the worst average attendance of any Pac-12 season (7,054 per game). Yet here we are, one season removed from three Sweet Sixteen teams and touting four ranked teams for the first time since the week of January 21, 2008. That’s five seasons of three or fewer ranked teams. And sure it’s early — and no doubt attendance is growing — but in this chicken-or-egg conversation I’m drawn to ask what attendance really means? Literally, attendance is the number of people that go to a game. But over time, attendance has come to be synonymous with popularity. And that’s simply inaccurate. It’s 2015 and we have page views and clicks and impressions. They just played a damn Pac-12 game in China! Games can be streamed on phones, tablets and desktops. Blogs like (wink face emoji) and this microsite can cover the sport at more intimate levels than national publishers that maybe, perhaps chop unique sports voices (cough, Grantland, cough). Miller’s comments aren’t wrong; he even noted that a screaming McKale is what we think of when we imagine college basketball. He’s absolutely right. But let’s not be so quick to dismiss the conference’s popularity because there aren’t as many butts in the seats. Read the rest of this entry »

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Oregon State Preview: Can the Beavers Finally Break Out?

Posted by Michael Lemaire on November 6th, 2015

In the next three weeks leading up to season tipoff, the Pac-12 microsite will be evaluating each of the league’s 12 teams. Today, we head to Corvallis.

Oregon State Beavers

After years of sustained mediocrity under former head coach Craig Robinson, Oregon State took a (very) small step forward in its first season under new coach Wayne Tinkle. The Beavers may have won only 17 games and still finished below .500 in the Pac-12, but they did it with a roster returning just one meaningful contributor and quickly earned a reputation as one of the toughest defensive teams in the country. After surprising plenty of observers last season with their newfound competitiveness, Tinkle’s team isn’t going to sneak up on anyone this season. His squad not only returns almost every key player but also adds four of the top 150 recruits in the country. The result of those two things should be the addition of a little firepower to what was often a punchless offense. There are still a lot of moving parts that will be Tinkle’s responsibility to clean up and fit together, but all of a sudden the Beavers have become one of the deepest and most experienced teams in the Pac-12. If the freshmen can live up to even a portion of their hype and the trademark suffocating defense doesn’t disappear, the Beavers could find themselves in the NCAA Tournament by the end of the season.

Wayne Tinkle: Coach of the Year? (Godofredo Vasquez, USA Today)

Wayne Tinkle Has Oregon State Thinking About Dancing. (Godofredo Vasquez/USA Today)

Strengths: Tinkle has always been known for his hard-nosed approach on defense, but few could have predicted that last season’s roster full of question marks would quickly evolve into one of the 20 most efficient defenses in the entire country. Some of this is a byproduct of the super-slow pace that the Beavers play, but led by reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Gary Payton II, the Beavers harassed opposing teams into poor shooting nights, forced turnovers and protected the rim. The team allowed opponents to score 70 points or more just seven times all season, hounding opponents into shooting just 30 percent from downtown along the way. This year’s team should be at least as good defensively as it was last season. If the Beavers can keep the opposition off the free throw line — something at which they failed miserably last season — they should be even better. Also, aside from losing troubled but talented forward Victor Robbins, who was dismissed in June, Oregon State returns literally everyone who played meaningful minutes, giving Tinkle heavy doses of both depth and experience. This should allow the head coach the luxury of fitting the newcomers into places where they can succeed.  Lineups can also be mixed and matched in a way that enables the Beavers to compete with both big and small teams. Bottom line: If Oregon State can maintain its defensive efficiency this season, the Beavers should be competitive in every game they play. Read the rest of this entry »

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The RTC Podcast: Conference Preview Edition

Posted by rtmsf on November 6th, 2015

In this, the third preseason installment of the RTC Podcast, the guys welcome Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) to join the discussion about favorites, surprises and storylines for each of the six major basketball conferences (sorry, American fans!). In a wide-ranging pod, consensus was reached in only a couple of conferences this preseason — see if you can guess which ones? As always, Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114) hosts, and make sure to subscribe on iTunes so it will automatically download to your listening device each week. The full rundown is below!

  • 0:00-10:23 – ACC Preview
  • 10:23-17:51 – Big East Preview
  • 17:51-25:21 – Big Ten Preview
  • 25:51-32:54 – Big 12 Preview
  • 32:54-37:51 – Pac 12 Preview
  • 37:51-43:43 – SEC Preview
  • 43:43-45:41 – Which will be the best conference?
  • 45:41-49:13 – College Basketball Survivor Pool
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Six Injuries Affecting Pac-12 Teams

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 28th, 2015

Here we are, counting down the final few weeks until the start of the college basketball regular season. Everything’s great. We get to read about new players making their marks, possible breakout players and teams, and we get to dream of the season that is about to unfold before us. And then, in the middle of it all, we get bummed out with news like that which broke over the weekend: Arizona freshman Ray Smith, recently off a torn ACL in his left knee that caused him to miss his senior season of high school, has now torn the ACL in his right knee and will miss the entire upcoming season. Horrible, terrible, stupid no-good, **expletive deleted**. Unfortunately, these things are a part of the game and they’ll have an impact on the year ahead of us. Below we’ll review six injuries to Pac-12 players that occurred during the offseason, and later today we’ll take a look at five players who will (hopefully) return from an injury suffered last season.

Ray Smith, Arizona – We’ll start with Smith, who in all likelihood was going to start the season as a reserve. However, since he was playing a position of scarcity on the Arizona roster, he had the potential to work his way into the starting lineup as an athletic defender at the three with excellent open court abilities. Now, after successfully rehabilitating his left knee for the past year, he’s got to do it all over again with the right leg. Best wishes go out to Smith in the hopes that he’ll be back in time to have an impact on the 2016-17 season.

Xavier Johnson's Achilles Injury Will Likely Cost Him The 2015-16 Season (Jeremy Papasso, Daily Camera)

Xavier Johnson’s Achilles Injury Will Likely Cost Him The 2015-16 Season (Jeremy Papasso, Daily Camera)

Xavier Johnson, Colorado – Johnson tore his Achilles in June. With that kind of injury, you typically just figure: “Okay, he’s out for the year.” But in September Jon Rothstein reported that Johnson has not yet been entirely ruled out and that the program would re-assess his condition in December. After playing at least 24 minutes per game and averaging 10.2 PPG and 5.3 RPG over his first three seasons in Boulder, Johnson is as big piece to the puzzle for the Buffaloes, especially if paired alongside fellow senior Josh Scott in the frontcourt. More likely, however, a redshirt season is the likely outcome for Big X this year. As a result, sophomore George King (himself coming off a redshirt season, although for player development rather than from an injury) is the most likely candidate to spend time at the three for the Buffs.

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Ranking the Pac-12 Top 20 Non-Conference Games: Part II

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 22nd, 2015

Early today we unveiled our list of spots #20 through #11 in our list of the top 20 non-conference games featuring Pac-12 teams this season. Below we list the top 10 while getting increasingly pumped for some actual games.

10. 11/16 San Diego State at Utah – A rematch of last year’s snoozer as part of the ESPN Tip-Off Marathon, this has almost every chance in the world to be another knock-down, drag-out, back-alley rock fight. All the warning signs are there: an early season contest; two teams who love to go deep into the shot clock; adjustment to the new 30-second shot clock; freshman point guards; defense-first coaches. It’s a good thing that this game is early in the marathon lineup because if it tipped off at around mile 20 or so, you might be tempted to pack it in. Still, two Top 25-caliber teams squaring off means I’ll be watching.

Nobody Mistook San Diego State/Utah '14 For A Beautiful Game; Expect More Of The Same in '15 (Gregory Bull, AP Photo)

Nobody Mistook San Diego State/Utah ’14 For A Beautiful Game; Expect More Of The Same in ’15 (Gregory Bull, AP Photo)

9. 12/3 – Kentucky at UCLA – After watching UCLA lose by a literal bazillion last year (I mean, I didn’t actually see the final score, but based on those first five minutes I assume it was something like: Kentucky, a bazillion, and UCLA, 44), I’m hesitant to put this game so high. But it is a game between two of the blue-bloods in our sport and there will be plenty of talent on both ends of the court. Even if this game turns into another blowout, I’d like to do everything I can to encourage more of these kinds of games.

8. 12/19 UCLA vs. North Carolina in Brooklyn – See above. After watching UCLA roll over and quit against the Tar Heels  in last year’s Battle 4 Atlantis, I’m hesitant to put this game this high. But… well, you know the rest. Read the rest of this entry »

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Ranking the Pac-12’s Top 20 Non-Conference Games: Part I

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 22nd, 2015

Part I contains games #20 – #11. Check back later today for the top 10 non-conference games featuring Pac-12 teams.

Last season, according to Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, UCLA had the toughest non-conference strength of schedule among Pac-12 teams, good for 91st in the nation. Beyond the Bruins, only Stanford (136th), Utah (155th) and Arizona (180th) finished among the top 200. As a conference, those are obscene numbers. We talked a lot last year about the state of the game and watchability and the like, and yet, when a major conference like the Pac-12 can’t be bothered to play halfway decent opponents in their elective games, that is a sure sign that something is wrong in the game. This year, things should be somewhat better but it is still a mixed bag. Big ups to teams like Utah, UCLA and Arizona State for scheduling well outside of league play, but several other teams still missed the mark. Arizona, for instance, a program never known for ducking quality competition, has a decent-ish schedule, but one that is missing its typical oomph. Oregon State, a team seemingly on the rise with good returning talent coupled with a big recruiting class, has a schedule where, arguably, a home game against Valparaiso is the second-toughest game on the slate. You’ve got to do better, Beavs.

Larry Krystkowiak, Utah

Larry Krystkowiak and Utah, In Particular, Have Done An Excellent Job Scheduling

With all this in mind, we’re going to check in on the 20 best games we’ll see before the conference slate kicks in around the turn of the calendar year. A couple caveats: First, we’re doing this using MLB All-Star game rules, so every team gets an appearance here; and second, games that are the first game in a multi-game tournament get bonus points. Without further ado, let’s count one man’s picks for the Pac-12 non-conference games to watch.

20. 11/26 USC vs Wichita State in Orlando, FL (Advocare Invitational) – In the Thanksgiving weekend tournament formerly known as the Old Spice Classic (among other things), the Trojans get to swing for the fences against the Shockers. While it would indeed be a shock if Andy Enfield’s bunch advances to the semifinals, this game will serve as a great barometer for USC’s improvement. Read the rest of this entry »

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