USC Post-Mortem

Posted by AMurawa on April 16th, 2013

Now that we are officially in the offseason, it’s time to take a look back and evaluate each team’s 2012-13 performance. Next on our list: USC.

What Went Wrong

The biggest thing that went wrong were lofty expectations for a group of mostly transfers who had failed to have any success as a group in any of their previous stops. Despite the fact that this was a program coming off a six-win season, instead of playing with a chip on their collective shoulders, this team came out not just softly but selfishly. They went to a Maui Invitational with hopes of establishing themselves amid a flawed field, and instead got blown out by 30 in their opening round game against Illinois. They toughened up some after Maui, but then proceeded to blow several chances against good teams in excruciating fashion and took on eight non-conference losses. Senior point guard Jio Fontan looked terrible for the better part of two months after coming off a year lost to a torn ACL, Dewayne Dedmon seemed intent on throwing away his immense talent, J.T. Terrell pouted and fought his way through most of the early part of the year, and then on January 14, USC athletic director Pat Haden had seen enough, pulling the plug on Kevin O’Neill’s time in Los Angeles. The team rebounded somewhat under interim head coach Bob Cantu, winning six of eight games in the middle of the Pac-12 season, but then floundered down the stretch, culminating in an embarrassing brawl in downtown Pullman after the end of the regular season. All told, a mixture of immaturity and oversized egos appears to have done this team in.

The 2012-13 Season Gave Kevin O'Neill Headaches - And A Nice Buyout

The 2012-13 Season Gave Kevin O’Neill Headaches – And A Nice Buyout

What Went Right

Last year when we looked back on the 2011-12 Trojans, we said the best part about the year was that it was ending. This year, despite a net increase of eight wins, it is hard to say much of anything different. Maybe we call Omar Oraby, who quickly became a fan favorite, if not a coach’s favorite after transferring in from Rice, the team’s lone bright spot. Maybe we expand that to include Byron Wesley, who has been a rock for the Trojans in his two seasons there. But the fact is that the best things that have happened to this program have come since their most recent embarrassing season ended.

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USC’s Hire of Andy Enfield? A Slam Dunk

Posted by AMurawa on April 2nd, 2013

More than two months after USC fired head coach Kevin O’Neill at midseason, the Trojans have hired a replacement. And I can say with absolute certainty that it is not a name that was mentioned by anybody among the list of possible choices in the hours and days following O’Neill’s abrupt end-of-employment. No, former Florida Gulf Coast head coach and new USC hire Andy Enfield’s rise has been fast and sweet. You know Enfield’s story by now. Bounced around the NBA a bit as an assistant coach, spent some time as a minority owner of a successful start-up, married a model, wound up as an assistant coach under Leonard Hamilton at Florida State, then has spent the last two seasons at the head coach of Florida Gulf Coast. And, up until about two weeks ago, 99.9% of the country had never heard of the guy. But, a pair of wild and exciting NCAA Tournament wins out of the 15-hole later, he was the hottest young coach in America and certainly due for a significant step up in pay and in prestige.

A Meteoric Rise for the Florida Gulf Coast Head Coach

A Meteoric Rise for the Florida Gulf Coast Head Coach

Which is where USC comes in; despite canning O’Neill in mid-January ostensibly in an effort to get a head start on their coaching search, it appeared that athletic director Pat Haden had struck out on his first handful of targets, with guys like Jamie Dixon, Josh Pastner and even Steve Alford taking themselves out of the running. In part due to that and in part due to the need to make a big splash with its hire, Enfield winds up as just about the absolute perfect hire for Haden. He’s got the NBA background, he runs a fun style, he’s got the hot wife and he’s a popular name. It’s a slam dunk for a USC program with little history of success.

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Pac-12 M5: 04.02.13 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton on April 2nd, 2013

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  1. Over the weekend we learned that USC was targeting Florida Gulf Coast head coach Andy Enfield to be hired at the same position in Los Angeles. The Trojans now have their man, as the school announced that both parties met Monday morning and agreed to a deal in the late evening. USC athletic director Pat Haden let go of former head coach Kevin O’Neill in January after SC began the season with a 7-10 record. Enfield will certainly bring a change in style and attitude to the Galen Center, as his up-tempo, high flying offense will differ significantly from the slow-down “KO ball.” While some will question the hire of a virtual unknown, building a program virtually from scratch and winning 41 games in two years is no small task. All in all, this is a good hire for a struggling program, one that will make local recruits wanting to stay home have a tough decision between Enfield and Steve Alford. Also, this tweet won the night.
  2. Jeff Goodman broke the story Monday that Pac-12 coordinator of basketball officials Ed Rush has been investigated by the conference for comments made about Arizona coach Sean Miller in meetings that included several Pac-12 referees. According to a source within the Pac-12 officiating group, Rush told a group of referees on the Thursday of the Pac-12 Tournament that he would give them $5,000 or a trip to Cancun if they either “rang him up” or “ran him,” meaning hit Miller with a technical or toss him out of the game. Rush reiterated these comments during a Friday morning meeting, and of course, Miller was hit with a technical later that night for arguing a double-dribble call in the Wildcats’ semifinal game against UCLA. It was his first of the season. Whether Rush was joking or not, the integrity of the league’s officials has been compromised and looks even weaker than before. There’s no question a change needs to be made.
  3. Today is the day Pac-12 recruiting fans have been waiting for, as five star power forward Aaron Gordon will choose between Washington, Oregon, and Arizona at a McDonald’s All-American Game press conference. It was originally thought the prospect would announce during the actual game, to be played Wednesday, but plans have changed. Many prognosticators around the blogosphere seem to think Gordon is headed to Sean Miller’s Wildcats, as the coach’s reputation for developing raw bigs into NBA-ready wings will push Gordon to the Cardinal and Navy.
  4. As one season comes to a close, another one is just beginning. The offseason is underway for all 12 conference teams, and Oregon faces the task of replacing four key players from its Sweet Sixteen squad. Leading scorer E.J. Singler is gone, as are three other do-everything big men in Tony Woods, Carlos Emory, and Arsalan Kazemi. Thankfully for the Ducks, head coach Dana Altman did a good job of developing a group of young talent throughout the season. Ben Carter, Willie Moore, and Dominic Artis will be the most important players to watch early on in the 2013-14 campaign to see if the Ducks can once again reach the NCAA Tournament.
  5. We close with some sad news out of Southport, North Carolina, where former Colorado head coach H.B. Lee passed away on Sunday night. Lee was 96. He coached Buffalo legend Burdie Haldorson and led the Buffs for six seasons from 1950-56. While in Boulder, Lee won two conference titles and took CU to the Final Four.
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A Pair Of Job Openings In Southern California

Posted by AMurawa on March 23rd, 2013

When UCLA bowed out of the NCAA Tournament in convincing fashion to Minnesota, the Ben Howland era in Westwood ended along with the Bruins’ season (an official announcement is expected in the next couple days). Meanwhile, across town, USC’s first target for their open head coaching position, Pitt’s Jamie Dixon, signed an extension with his current school, effectively eliminating him from contention for that job. With all other coaches in the conferences expected back next season (Stanford has announced that Johnny Dawkins will return, and it looks like Ken Bone will return to Washington State, though no official announcement has been made), we’ll take a quick look at those two jobs and try to read the tea leaves a bit as to what the future may hold.

Ben Howland, UCLA

Despite Early Success, Ben Howland’s Time As The UCLA Coach Has Ended (Jamie Squire, Getty Images)

While UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero made no decisive comment following the game Friday night (“We’ll take stock in the next couple of days and talk like we always do with all coaches,” he said), expectations are that sooner rather than later we’ll have an announcement that the partnership between Howland and UCLA will end. And, regardless of whether Guerrero has an improvement lined up, this is a move that has to be made – for both parties. The relationship has soured, the fickle UCLA fan base has abandoned ship, West Coast recruiting has largely dried up, Howland seems to have compromised his principles, and, the kiss of death, Bill Walton has weighed in heavily in favor of a change at the top of the program. The excitement of three straight Final Four trips from 2006-08 is a distant memory. Howland is still a very good coach, but he’s not a very good coach going forward for UCLA and it is time for both sides to move on.

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Pittsburgh: What Went Wrong With the Panthers?

Posted by mlemaire on March 22nd, 2013

Despite a promising season that  had the metrics lovers thinking that the Panthers were a sleeper choice to make a run into the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, Pitt was run out of the gym by Wichita State on Thursday afternoon. Here are a handful of thoughts on some of the issues surrounding the Panthers as their season is now finished.

Another year ends in disappointment for Pittsburgh and coach Jamie Dixon

Another year ends in disappointment for Pittsburgh and coach Jamie Dixon.

  1. Tray Woodall’s final game was an abject disaster. The Panthers’ fifth-year senior floor general was supposed to be the key to Pittsburgh making a splash in their return to the NCAA Tournament, instead, he may be the primary reason they are going home after just one game. The diminutive Woodall forced shots, never really looked to penetrate, and finished 1-of-12 from the field with five turnovers and just one assist before fouling out. Everyone knew the game between these two physical teams would be a low-scoring one, but Pittsburgh’s shot-making ability is predicated on Woodall’s ability to drive and kick. Instead he spent a lot of time on the perimeter, missed all five of his three-point attempts, basically ignored the roll guy on pick-and-rolls and barely ignited the offense at all, leading to the disastrous performance by the whole team. Read the rest of this entry »
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Pac-12 M5: 03.06.13 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on March 6th, 2013

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  1. So, yeah, quickly, the top candidates for the head basketball coach at USC: something like Pittsburgh head coach Jamie Dixon, Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins, interim head coach Bob Cantu and, um, former USC head coach Tim Floyd? Wait, run that last one by me again. Floyd is currently the head man at UTEP, a position he’s held for a few years after resigning from the USC gig (something about how he didn’t feel supported by then-USC athletic director Mike Garrett in the wake of allegations that guard O.J. Mayo accepted impermissible benefits from an agent). Floyd has long maintained a complete lack of involvement in the issue and plenty of investigations (both by USC and by the NCAA) have failed to turn up any evidence of wrongdoing on his part. Still, let’s not consider Floyd a leading candidate just yet. The meeting between Floyd and now-athletic director Pat Haden may have just been a way for the new AD to build a bridge over the bad blood in the wake of the parting, and Floyd, for his part, is using the surprising news as a way to get the word out publicly that “hey, I didn’t have anything to do with that.” Still, for a stretch there, Floyd put together four straight winning seasons including three in a row with 20-plus wins and NCAA Tournament invitations, including a Sweet Sixteen appearance.
  2. Across town, UCLA head coach Ben Howland let it slip, rather innocently and honestly, that Shabazz Muhammad was in all likelihood headed for the NBA Draft. And that’s not the only opinion he has on the state of the NBA, as he mentioned on Monday that he would prefer changes to the NBA’s eligibility rules that would end the one-and-done era. Howland’s plan would be similar to the rules presently used by Major League Baseball, whereby players would have the option to go straight from high school to the pros, but that once they wind up in college, they have to stay for a few years before being eligible again. Howland also knows that there’s not a chance that change gets made, at least anytime soon.
  3. Speaking of the NBA Draft, we posted our opinions here yesterday on the draft prospects of potential early entrants around the Pac-12, including Arizona State freshman guard Jahii Carson (we’re hoping he stays and develops a jumper). But Sun Devil head coach Herb Sendek claims that he hasn’t given the idea much thought, preferring instead to focus on this season. Still, we’re not buying the idea that it hasn’t even crossed his mind. Cal’s head coach, Mike Montgomery, however, was right to the point when asked about Carson’s pro prospects: “Doesn’t shoot it well enough yet.” The key there may be the word “yet.”
  4. If Carson does stick around for another season in the desert, he’ll have a new competitor in the state at point guard, as Arizona will unveil Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell as their new lead guard. The Daily Wildcat sees a parallel between McConnell’s skill set and the skills of UCLA point guard Larry Drew II. Compared to present UA point Mark Lyons, McConnell is more of the traditional pass-first, shoot-second floor general (of course, compared to Lyons, Allen Iverson is more of a traditional point guard). As Wildcat fans begin to grow weary of Lyons’ all-or-nothing style, the future is starting to look real good, even if that envisioned future is based on little more than partial information.
  5. Lastly, as we look ahead to this week’s games, Washington may be out of the race for the conference title but it still has a chance for some input, as the Huskies will host UCLA on Saturday night. Head coach Lorenzo Romar is hoping that his team can finish the regular season in style. They’ve put together a 13-3 record in the final four conference games of the previous four seasons, and are well on their way to a repeat of that mark with two wins last week. But with USC and UCLA both playing well, the Huskies have their work cut out for them this week.
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Marching to Vegas: Weighing a Pair of Midweek Upsets

Posted by AMurawa on February 1st, 2013

From the moment it was first rumored, the relocation of the conference tournament to Las Vegas has created quite a buzz among Pac-12 basketball fans. Adam Butler (@pachoopsAB) of PacHoops will be here every week as he offers his unique perspective along our March to Vegas.

Settling into my cubicle Thursday morning I was greeted by an instant message from my brain trust, Brad, “Which was the bigger win last night: USC or Stanford?” I will make no bones about this one; Stanford’s win was the bigger of the two. But it did get me to thinking about USC’s season and what it has and will become. Kevin O’Neill’s dismissal came at a truly strange time – as the team appeared to be turning either the cohesive group or easier schedule corner – indicative of the fact that Pat Haden has plans, big or otherwise, for that position.

The games themselves were solid, the respective performances impressive. From a strictly basketball perspective, Stanford may have been the best team in the nation Wednesday night. And with regards to magnitude of victory, it is my belief that Stanford’s win was the biggest. From an expectations standpoint, we thought the Cardinal would be doing this regularly. Their coach demands hard-nosed defense and their skill set – at least on an individual level – suggests an explosive offense. On Wednesday, they were exactly that, a perfect storm. They connected on their highest percentage of shots in a single game (52%) and held an opponent to the opposite, the lowest percentage of made baskets on their defensive season (34%). To say the Cardinal were due would be an understatement. And to acknowledge that the Cardinal were due is to recognize that their effort, while impressive and the best of the year, was not unexpected. Between Randle, Bright, Huestis, and Powell, Stanford can and should compete.

Against Oregon, Stanford Finally Played Like We Had Expected Them To This Season (Ben Margot, AP Photo)

Against Oregon, Stanford Finally Played Like We Had Expected Them To This Season (Ben Margot, AP Photo)

On the other hand, the Trojans marched into a “Blue Out” with specialty tops of their own and simply didn’t care to adhere to the guest policy. They handed the ball over 17 times and still won. Sure they shot a shade over their season average but this was a road, rivalry game with an interim staff. What business did the Trojans have even flirting with victory let alone controlling the game? I’ll refrain from going in on the Bruins here. So what do these wins mean? For Stanford, outscoring the Ducks represented an exorcising of the demons. My impression – if not hope – is that this represents a tipping point or springboard by which the Cardinal become the team they were meant to be. Returning NIT champs has got to mean more than a middling Pac-12 squad.

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Pac-12 M5: 01.18.13 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on January 18th, 2013

pac12_morning5

  1. The likely brief Bob Cantu era begin at Southern California last night and, while his Trojans showed plenty of resiliency in sticking around with Oregon and fighting back from a late ten-point deficit to have a chance (okay, more like four chances, three of them point-blank) in the waning moments to win or send the game to overtime, his first game of his interim stretch still goes down in the record book as a loss. For the Top 25 Ducks, they escape the trap game in advance of this weekend’s more celebrated match-up with UCLA, but of concern is their seemingly newfound ability to take comfortable late-game leads and turn them into significantly uncomfortable late-game battles. Certainly much of that has to do with their freshman backcourt, but if UO wants to compete seriously for a Pac-12 title, they need to begin closing games more effectively.
  2. Earlier, up town a piece, UCLA was displaying a similar trait, although nowhere near as dramatically. For at least the fourth time in their five Pac-12 wins, the Bruins surged out to a comfortable lead, only to ease off the gas and let an overmatched opponent back into the game, this time against Oregon State. With the Ducks waiting on Saturday, that will not be an option. Aside from the game, there were other big goings-on at Pauley Pavilion on Thursday night, as Jamaal Wilkes became just the eighth player to have his jersey retired at UCLA. On hand for the festivities were other such Bruin luminaries as Bill Walton (who handled the color duties for the ESPN broadcast), Kareem-Abdul Jabbar, Mike Warren and Marques Johnson.
  3. The Oregon/UCLA game isn’t the only big-time Pac-12 game this weekend, as Arizona and Arizona State will square off in the battle for the Grand Canyon State Saturday as well. After ASU experienced a couple of very down years, they’re back in the mix in the conference, and their improvement on the defensive end is a large reason. Almost completely forsaking the match-up zone of the past, Herb Sendek has turned his team loose in man-to-man defense with athletic perimeter guys like Jahii Carson, Carrick Felix and Evan Gordon harassing ball-handlers and Jordan Bachynski cleaning up anyone that siphons through.
  4. Washington maybe the biggest story in the early going of conference play off of four straight wins to open Pac-12 in surprising fashion. Ben Knibbe of the UW Dawg Pound writes that the difference between the currently streaking Huskies and the team that lost to Albany and Nevada is that they’re finally beginning to play man-to-man defense at the level expected of Lorenzo Romar-coached teams. Part of that is due to veterans completely buying in, part of it is due to great team chemistry, but whatever the cause, so long as the defense remains a priority, expect the Huskies to keep on winning.
  5. We started the week with the Kevin O’Neill news, and its been a constant theme all week, so we might as well wrap it up by touching on it one last time. Pat Haden told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday that not only is USC ready and willing to spend what it takes to land a big-name coach, but that he’s already had contact with people who are potentially interested in the job. But we’re all just going to have to wait and see what happens, because as Haden acknowledged, the guys that he is after aren’t going to be ready to commit to USC until after their NCAA Tournament runs are complete.
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Pac-12 M5: 01.16.13 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on January 16th, 2013

pac12_morning5

  1. We are still probably a couple months away from when USC will announce its next head coach, but everybody’s got an opinion about who that might be. I tossed out the usual suspects and a few sleepers a few days ago, but Andy Katz, who’s certainly far more tied in than I, has a few interesting big name possibilities of his own: Texas’ Rick Barnes, Villanova’s Jay Wright and Washington’s Lorenzo Romar. Katz’s reasoning is that these are all guys who might want to get out of their current jobs ahead of getting fired in exchange for a nice brand new contract and a new landscape, citing Herb Sendek as a real pioneer in this field. While I don’t see Romar as approaching the hot seat yet (although, if he doesn’t land Aaron Gordon, maybe we can talk about that possibility approaching), it is an interesting angle. And, given that Romar is a native southern Californian, anything is possible.
  2. Whoever winds up in the USC job is going to have to do a much better job mining the copious amounts of basketball talent in the Los Angeles area than Kevin O’Neill ever did. In fact, they’re probably going to have to do a better job than even Ben Howland is currently doing at UCLA. As friend-of-the-blog Adam Butler writes, those Los Angeles schools have done a terrible job in recent years keeping elite local talents at home, citing guys like James Harden, Jordan Hamilton, Kawhi Leonard, and Derrick Williams as kids who got away. If Pat Haden can find a guy who can simply land a handful of the high quality recruits right in his own backyard, he has the opportunity to shift the landscape in the Pac-12. And really, everywhere out west.
  3. In the wake of UCLA’s road trip to the Rocky Mountains that coincided with a big snowstorm, the team’s MVP for the week goes to not Shabazz Muhammad, not Kyle Anderson, not Jordan Adams, but… the bus driver? As Rahshaun Haylock of Fox Sports West reports, the Bruins were in danger of not making it to the arena due to adverse weather conditions and a well-placed hill. But the driver saved the day with a lead foot and an iron constitution.
  4. Colorado was UCLA’s last victim on its recent road trip, and in the wake of three losses in four games, the Buffaloes are trying to do everything they can to right their ship, including a players-only meeting on Sunday initiated by Sabatino Chen and Andre Roberson which ran for 30 minutes. The coaches too are trying to figure out what they can do to shift the tide, but one thing Tad Boyle is longing for is the leadership ability of departed senior Nate Tomlinson, who brought a win-at-all-costs nature and a vocal quality to the team that is now missing. Still, Boyle recognizes that this team isn’t far away from being where it needs to be and hopes somebody can grow into the team’s new leader.
  5. Lastly, David Piper of Addicted to Quack has a good statistical profile of what makes Oregon a conference contender. While the Ducks have struggled with turnovers in the early going in part due to a pair of freshman guards, Piper notes that those numbers are dropping while UO’s three-point shooting (which got off to a terrible start) is rising. Combine those factors with rock-solid numbers elsewhere, including a defensive efficiency number good enough for 20th in the nation, and the Ducks are not only understandably good, but they are improving.
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Pac-12 M5: Christmas Eve Edition

Posted by AMurawa on December 24th, 2012

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  1. Ever since the Pac-12 announced that it was moving its conference tournament from the regularly church-quiet Staples Center in Los Angeles to Las Vegas beginning this season, fans from around the conference have been marking their calendars. But the fact that the host venue — the MGM Grand Hotel — had never before hosted a basketball event, was somewhat concerning. However, never let it be said that Larry Scott and company do things without putting in the proper diligence. This weekend the MGM Grand held the first dry run for a basketball game, as Oregon State and San Diego broke the seal on that place. And it was a real dry run, in part because the final announced attendance for the game was a whopping 840 people in a building with a capacity of 16,800. Even after seeing a boatload of empty seats at the Staples Center in recent years, I would bet the farm on the fact that there will be significantly more people in the venue when the conference tourney rolls around (although such a bet is probably less impressive when you consider that I don’t own a farm). But, there weren’t many complaints about the arena, which is good considering there were only 840 people there to possibly complain. Oh, and OSU won but they looked terrible.
  2. Speaking of terrible, USC fell at Georgia on Saturday, slipping back to 4-8 on the year and any “yeah, buts” about their tough schedule need to get put on the back burner until the Trojans beat somebody of importance. Evan Barnes of Rant Sports is more or less on the same page as me. Both of us, apparently, have just been waiting for this talented bunch to turn the corner and play up to their ability, but we’ve both sort of given up on that. And, we’ve both come to the conclusion that Kevin O’Neill bears the full brunt of the blame. At some point, as rosters get completely remade and the team continues to run much of the same stuff to largely the same effect, you’ve got to come to the conclusion that this issue isn’t entirely with the players on the court but may partially be tied back to the guy in the lead chair on the sideline. I’m a fan of O’Neill’s blunt, honest-to-a-fault style off the court, but I no longer have any faith in his ability to get his team, no matter who is out there, to run anything approaching a good offense. While Trojan athletic director Pat Haden has kicked the task of replacing head football coach Lane Kiffin down the line a year, odds are very good that, barring a drastic turnaround, there will be another coaching search in South L.A. this spring.
  3. Meanwhile, up the road a stretch, there may be another, slightly more attractive job opening in Los Angeles come spring. Last week Tracy Pierson of Bruin Report Online referenced anonymous sources who claimed that UCLA head coach Ben Howland’s job may be in jeopardy prior to the end of the season. Howland shrugged off such claims, noting “I can’t help you with substantiating anything that’s written on the boards.” Given that Howland’s got his team starting to click, at least on one end of the floor, and the fact that finding a prime replacement while the season is still in full swing, would be next to impossible, I’m in the camp that thinks it would be safe to just ignore this report. Sure, if UCLA’s season ends at any point prior to Atlanta on the weekend of April 6, you can start tracking the movements of your friendly neighborhood hatchet man, but there’s not a chance this side of Phil Jackson that Howland’s UCLA career ends at any point prior to the end of the season.
  4. Last week, just before we all headed off to wrap up our Christmas shopping, a couple of my colleagues pointed to Utah as the conference’s biggest pleasant surprise. Well, sorry Connor and Adam, but I’ll be passing along your information to Larry Krystkowiak and he’ll be getting in touch with you to personally thank you both for jinxing his team. Because Friday night, after playing a sparklingly good first half, the Utes were outscored by 26 points in laying an egg in the second half, losing to Cal State Northridge and seemingly going out of their way to make sure that they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Still, you gotta remind yourself that this is a Utah team that has already won more games this season than they did all of last year and is still getting used to the idea of actually winning games. But man, that had to put a serious hurting on the beginning of a holiday break. One other note tangentially related to the Pac-12: One of the chief architects in putting that hurting into the Utah basketball program was CSUN freshman point guard Landon Drew, who had a career-high 19 points, including 14 in the second. Landon’s brother is Larry Drew II, the UCLA senior point guard.
  5. As a fan and follower of both the Pac-12 and Mountain West, I’ve had Decembr 25 circled on my calendar for months, not for silly things like Santa Claus and eggnog and jingle bells, but for the possibility of an Arizona vs. San Diego State match-up in the finals of the Diamond Head Classic. And, after both teams have more or less cruised through the opening rounds of that tournament, that game is finally set in stone. While teams like Gonzaga, UNLV and New Mexico will have something to say about it, this may be a match-up to determine the best team west of the Rockies. Merry Christmas, hoops fans.
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USC Week’s Burning Question: How To Build A Basketball Winner?

Posted by AMurawa on July 6th, 2012

Last week we invited Pachoops’ Adam Butler to chime in with his thoughts on our Burning Question. He did such a fine job, we’ve asked him back to reprise his appearance during Arizona week with a cameo during USC week. As for this week’s question, here goes:

In the big picture of the USC athletic program, it is no secret that the football program is the favorite son while the basketball program has historically been an afterthought. But when the Galen Center was opened in 2006, there was talk of a newfound commitment to making USC basketball respectable. Between the scandal surrounding the Tim Floyd/O.J. Mayo era and last year’s awful season, that momentum has stalled out. What do athletic director Pat Haden and the USC athletic department need to do to turn around the culture of USC basketball?

USC

USC Basketball Program Is In Dire Need Of A Glamour Upgrade

Andrew Murawa: When you think of the University of Southern California, sure, you think of those red helmets and those classic jerseys, you think of Reggie Bush and Marcus Allen and O.J. Simpson, you think of the Los Angeles Coliseum and Traveler and that damn song the band plays over and over and over. And, you think of the song girls and those sweaters. Really, it’s all about image and glamour and style. And yet, when you think of USC basketball (if, that is, you ever think of USC basketball) you think of drudgery. You think of games played in the 50s (at best). You think of defense-first and a slow-it-down and ugly-it-up approach to what should be a beautiful game. In Los Angeles, winning will always garner some sort of support. But one way to fast-track your way to that support is to pretty things up. Make USC basketball the equivalent of those song girls: glamour and style, first and foremost. Recruit elite-level athletes, make the transition game a priority and earn a reputation for playing an appealing style of basketball. Couple that with recruiting visits to sunny Southern California and there is no reason that USC can’t compete with any program in the conference for any recruit. Now, is Kevin O’Neill the right man to change the culture of the program? While he can certainly coach the game, style and glamour are not words that immediately come to mind to describe him, and if he can’t get the Trojans back into the NCAA Tournament this season, March would be a good time to begin remaking the USC basketball program.

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Pac-12 Morning Five: 03.09.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on March 9th, 2012

  1. Once again this morning, since we have got a couple other correspondents writing about the actual games at the Pac-12 Tournament, we will be focusing just on some off-the-court stuff in the Morning Five. For instance, in the wake of Josiah Turner’s indefinite suspension at Arizona, the question needs to be asked: is he ever going to be invited back? Turner picked up a first strike early in the season for being late to a team walkthrough, then was suspended for a single game and left behind from the Wildcats’ trip to Florida in December for strike two. With strike three coming at such an important time for the team, there’s a strong chance that head coach Sean Miller will find that it is time to cut bait on the talented young point guard. And if Miller doesn’t make that decision, maybe Turner, who played at multiple high schools, might make it himself.
  2. One guy who is coming back, apparently, is UCLA sophomore center Joshua Smith. Smith told reporters after the Bruins’ quarterfinal loss to Arizona that he would be returning to the school for next year rather than entertain thoughts about the NBA Draft. While some have made fun of Smith for making this statement, since he is unlikely to draw much interest from NBA scouts due to his inability to get in shape and his limited production as a result, it seems to me that the blame lies more with whichever reporter had the audacity to suggest that Smith might be in a position to leave for the professional ranks. However, Smith seems to recognize that in order to live up to his potential, he needs to shed significant weight and get into prime physical condition. Whether or not he does it remains to be seen, but he has been speaking with former Bruin Kevin Love, who drastically reshaped his doughy body since his high school days.
  3. Kevin O’Neill is also coming back. It hasn’t exactly been a secret, but USC athletic director Pat Haden made it clear on Thursday that O’Neill, whose team endured a 6-26 season, would still be the school’s head basketball coach going forward. With loads of players due back from injury next year and a couple of newly eligible Division I transfers, expect the Trojans to compete for an NCAA Tournament bid next season.
  4. In the wake of Washington’s quarterfinal loss to Oregon State on Thursday, Lorenzo Romar and his squad are left to play the “waiting game,” needing to wait until Sunday’s Section Show to find out if they make the final NCAA Tournament bracket or not. Despite winning the Pac-12 regular season title, the Huskies have a sub-par RPI of 57 and just one win over a top 50 RPI team (Oregon – a team who is currently ranked #49 and may drop out of the RPI top 50). Meanwhile, Tony Wroten, who missed four free throws down the stretch in that loss to Oregon State, deleted his Twitter account in the wake of the loss, after retweeting multiple terrible messages that he received after the game. The fact that supposed “fans” would do this kind of stuff to any 18-year-old kid is just sick. But it should also be noted that the Huskies would never have even been in position to lose that close of a game without Wroten’s career-high 29 points, seven rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a steal. I have been a critic of Wroten’s game throughout the season, but the kind of hateful, negative comments directed at him in the wake of a heartbreaking loss are disgusting.
  5. Lastly, a quick look ahead to some early-season tournament matchups for next season that have been announced in recent days. First, UCLA will be one of the regional hosts for the 2012 Legends Classic, along with Georgetown, Indiana, and Georgia, with all four of those teams guaranteed passage to the semifinal round at the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Also, Oregon State will be one of the regional hosts for the 2K Sports Classic, along with Villanova, Alabama, and Purdue. Like the Legends Classic, the hosts of the early round games in the 2K Sports Classic will also earn automatic advancement to the semifinal round, with those games being held at Madison Square Garden.
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