Pac-12 Thoughts: On Jahii Carson, Colorado Without Dinwiddie and Richard Solomon…

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 20th, 2014

Here are some notes from around the Pac-12, coming out of another busy weekend.

Jahii Carson (Jeff Gross, Getty Images)

Jahii Carson is Slumping Right Now (Jeff Gross, Getty Images)

Arizona State is off to a 2-3 start in conference play. It is not ideal, but then again, the Sun Devils have played three road games and two at home, so that record is not terrible. And given that Herb Sendek’s team probably plays the toughest opponents in the unbalanced schedule (along with traveling partner Arizona, Arizona State is the lucky team that only gets to play Washington, Washington State and USC once), they’ll probably be just fine if they get to 9-9 in conference play, because that means they’ll have some quality wins under their belt. But. All of that being said, the elephant in the room right now is Jahii Carson, who is definitely slumping. He hasn’t hit better than 50 percent from the field in a game in over a month. He’s turning the ball over; he’s generally not making his teammates better; and most disturbingly, he’s not scoring and seemingly not as explosive. We pointed to these trends before, but it is clear that as Carson goes, so go the Sun Devils. Need proof? Check out the numbers below:

carsonstats2Need an explanation? Let’s not beat around the bush. Carson has been awful in Arizona State’s five losses. And Carson is not an awful player; in fact he’s very, very good. In order for the Sun Devils to take the next step, however, and get into the NCAA Tournament, Carson needs to up his game and be the type of consistent performer he was as a freshman. Carson toyed around with the idea of leaving for the NBA Draft last season, but he returned to Tempe with the hope of tightening up his jumper and proving his NBA credentials. Unfortunately for his prospects and team, a sophomore slump has left more questions than answers.

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Pac-12 M5: 01.20.14 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on January 20th, 2014

pac12_morning5

  1. Much of the time, a demotion of an upperclassman that results in a freshman or sophomore filling the open role can make relationships sour in a hurry. However, that hasn’t been the case for Oregon State junior point guard Challe Barton and freshman Hallice Cooke, who have remained close after Cooke grabbed Barton’s starting spot earlier this month. Despite only averaging 8.8 MPG in Pac-12 play, the junior can typically be seen waving a towel on the bench and one of the first to greet players coming off the floor during a timeout. Barton’s laid-back attitude and easy smile certainly helps, but knowing that playing time on coach Craig Robinson’s squad can flip drastically at the blink of an eye, he knows that he needs to be ready to go and engaged at all times. If Cooke keeps up his current pace, however, that starting job is going to be locked up for awhile. The freshman has provided a much-needed spark to a struggling offense, averaging 10.5 PPG in his last five appearances.
  2. The Beavers got a huge win last night in the Civil War battle against Oregon, jumping out to an early 16-point lead and eventually holding on for an 80-72 upset. Oregon State is now in a tie for eighth in the conference standings and has a great chance of getting back to .500 when it faces Washington State on Wednesday night. On the Ducks’ side of it, things are not going well. The job that Dana Altman has done so far in the month of January is by far the worst in his four seasons with Oregon. His team is currently free-falling down the NCAA Tournament seed lines and desperately needs a sweep at the Washington schools this week.
  3. After suffering a stress fracture in his leg in mid-September, freshman guard Que Johnson got off to a slow start at Washington State. But the redshirt freshman grew more comfortable within the offense as the non-conference season wore on, and he has now become the team’s go-to guy with junior DaVonte Lacy out with various injuries. In this piece examining Johnson’s performance thus far, Jeff Nusser takes a look at his statistics and compares them to former Cougs’ great, Klay Thompson. Johnson is blowing past the freshman Thompson in terms of efficiency, using his aggressiveness to shoot at a 51 percent clip from inside the three-point line. He is also showing some early traits of Thompson’s late-game clutchness, hitting an overtime-forcing three with 10 seconds left against #15 Colorado, then knocking down the final three free throws of a three-point win against Utah a few days later. As Nusser says, putting these comparisons on a freshman may be unfair, but the early returns have been nothing less than terrific. Washington State returns to action Wednesday night against Oregon State in Pullman.
  4. Rush the Court’s resident bracketologist, Daniel Evans, released his updated projections over the weekend, and Arizona claimed his top overall seed once again. Next up are Oregon and Colorado on the five and seven lines, respectively, and California and UCLA coming in at eight and nine. Stanford remains squarely on the bubble and is listed as the second team out of his field.
  5. The Ducks debuted some nice new kicks in last night’s rivalry game with Oregon State, their “JumpDucks.” Long a testing ground for anything Nike has to offer, Oregon was the first one to get a crack at re-doing the Michael Jordan Jumpman logo, replacing it on the shoe’s heel with a shadow Duck mascot. The new Air Jordans look very cool and would be sure to sell quickly if Nike goes down that road. We’ll let you use your wildest imagination to dream up what’s up next for the stylistic offerings of Oregon athletics.
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Pac-12 Wednesday Night Round-Up: Colorado and Washington Squeak By

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on January 9th, 2014

Colorado 71, Washington State 70 (OT)

After last weekend where the Cougars looked anemic offensively and the Buffaloes looked every bit like their RTC #17 ranking, the expectation was certainly that this wouldn’t be a game much worth keeping an eye on. Add in the fact that at opening tip, Washington State’s “crowd” in their game in Spokane could be counted by hand and there was little reason to suspect that the Cougars had a chance. Forty-five minutes later, the Buffaloes were limping out of Spokane Arena with a much tougher win than anyone should have expected. While Washington State was shorthanded without junior gurd DaVonte Lacy, Colorado was also playing without their veteran point guard, Spencer Dinwiddie. Huh? What’s that? He played, you say? He played 38 minutes? Well, what do you know? The box score backs up such an assertion, although the film may test that story.

Spencer Dinwiddie Was Uncharacteristically Silent For the Buffaloes Against Washington State (David Zalubowski, AP Photo)

Spencer Dinwiddie Was Uncharacteristically Silent For the Buffaloes Against Washington State (David Zalubowski, AP Photo)

In fact, Dinwiddie did play, took five shots from the field (all after the halftime break), scored six points and added a variety of other plays here and there, but was largely absent, an occurrence that likely would have cost his team a game had the opponent been just about any other conference team other than a short-handed WSU team. Backcourt partner Askia Booker was very active, conversely, but made most of his impact from the free-throw line, scoring 13 of his 18 points from the charity stripe while going just two-of-12 from the field. For what it’s worth, Booker’s free throw contributions summed up the game for Colorado, as they enjoyed a whopping 38-3 advantage in free throw attempts in the game. Still, Tad Boyle wound up needing Josh Scott to go nuts late in order to come away with the tough win; the sophomore big man had eight points (on four-of-four shooting), four boards (two on the offensive end) and a blocked shot in the final two minutes of regulation plus the overtime period.

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Takeaways From the Pac-12′s Weekend Games

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on January 7th, 2014

It was a busy Pac-12 weekend around the conference. Here are some thoughts on each of the weekend’s five games.

Colorado 100, Oregon 91

  • It was a game that largely lived up to the hype, with both teams looking good for long stretches. But over the last 10 minutes of the game, it was – get this – Colorado’s guard play that was the deciding factor in the game. It was supposed to be the undefeated Ducks with the bevy of play-making guards that had the advantage on the perimeter, while the Buffaloes were going to need to take advantage of a weak Oregon frontcourt in order to win this game at home. Instead, over the final quarter of the game, Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie combined for 25 of Colorado’s 39 points, sophomore guard Xavier Talton chipped in six more, and Jaron Hopkins was the guy to get everything started with a three off a Dinwiddie dime. All told, the five Colorado guards outscored Oregon’s by a total of 66-52.

    Askia Booker, Colorado

    Big Game Askia? Who Knew? (Patrick Ghidossi, BuffaloSportsNews)

  • Meanwhile up front the Ducks were just okay against that tough Colorado frontcourt. On the offensive end, they were great, grabbing better than 41 percent of their own misses and getting a terrific 24-point performance out of Mike Moser. But the bigger concern is their ability to defend on the interior, and here they were exposed a bit, allowing Colorado to grab better than 46 percent of their misses, leading to lots of easy putbacks for the Buffs. Oregon’s guards are going to keep them in a lot of games, but they need to clean up their frontcourt issues in order to reach their potential.
  • For some of the surprises in this game, the most expected angle proved completely true: Colorado is going to be really, really tough at home. With a strong seven-man rotation plus a couple other guys ready to provide spot minutes, the Buffs are deep, athletic, big, strong and – most importantly – good. And the Coors Events Center is a great homecourt advatange. KenPom.com has the Buffs expected to win their next six games at home by an average of just under 10 points per game, but that only takes us to February 22 when they’ll host Arizona in their last home game of the season. Right now that KenPom projection is Arizona, 68-65, but in what could be Dinwiddie’s final home game, the early inclination is to lean Buffs. Not that trying to project a game seven weeks out is good practice.

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Pac-12 Weekly Roundup: Week Five

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 17th, 2013

Out of the country? Living under a rock? Here’s what you missed in the fifth week of Pac-12 basketball.

Power Rankings (as voted upon by Connor Pelton, Andrew Murawa, and Adam Butler)

For the second consecutive week, we’ve got the same four teams at the top of the poll. We’ve also got consensus on all of those teams, with every ballot listing the top four teams in the same order. From there, however, things get tricky, but there is very clearly a second tier of four teams, with Arizona State, California, Utah and Stanford all bunched together before there is another drop off to Oregon State, Washington State, USC and Washington locked into a group. But perhaps the most notable thing, and likely the most surprising occurrence around the conference this season, is Washington polling last. Expectations were not particularly high for the Huskies this season, but I doubt many expected that.

Arizona's Big Win At Michigan Has Them Firmly Entrenched As The Pac-12's Top Team (AP Photo)

Arizona’s Big Win At Michigan Has The Wildcats Firmly Entrenched  as the Pac-12′s Top Team. (AP)

  1. Arizona
  2. Oregon
  3. Colorado
  4. UCLA
  5. Arizona State
  6. California
  7. Utah
  8. Stanford
  9. Oregon State
  10. Washington State
  11. USC
  12. Washington

Team of the Week

Arizona – The Wildcats are the no-brainer here, not only for their #1 national ranking but also for the way in which they maintained that ranking — by going on the road to an unfriendly arena; bouncing back from a slow start that led to a double-figure second half deficit; fighting through a key injury and some foul trouble on an already intentionally short rotation; and making enough big-time plays down the stretch to knock off last year’s national runner-up. Yes, Arizona earned this honor.

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Pac-12 M5: 12.16.13 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 16th, 2013

pac12_morning5

  1. We’re in the midst of a real good streak in the Pac-12. As ESPN’s Roxy Bernstein noted on Sunday night, the conference has now gone 18 straight games without a loss since last Sunday when Washington fell to San Diego State. So as we enter a new week, we’ve got nothing but good things to talk about. We discussed Arizona’s big win over Michigan this weekend, and you heard about Oregon’s offensive fireworks in a win over Illinois, so we’ll skip those high-profile games and jump to the next biggest game of the weekend, in which Utah put the beatdown on in-state rival BYU. By the time all the attendees in the Huntsman Center had shaken the cold out of their bones, the Utes were already up double-figures behind an early explosion from sophomore Jordan Loveridge. He had 15 points before the under-12 media timeout; the Utes had a 21-8 lead; and the Cougars were never within single digits again.
  2. Stanford bounced back from not only the loss of senior guard Aaron Bright to a season-ending injury, but an extended break due to finals to rough up UC Davis by 27 points on Saturday. Four guys scored in double figures; the team handed out 22 assists on 31 field goals; and the Cardinal rolled. With Connecticut and Michigan due up next for Johnny Dawkins’ team, it was a chance to put the start of the year behind it and begin building toward a strong second act.
  3. Across the bay, it was California’s senior Richard Solomon who was guiding the Golden Bears to a solid win over a tough Fresno State team. Solomon’s 17 points and 14 boards only begin to tell the whole story. Solomon was an efficient offensive option, scoring those 17 points on just nine field goal attempts and dominating an undersized Bulldog front line, accounting for three steals, a couple of blocks, and regularly contesting jumpers from the smaller Fresno players.
  4. On Sunday night Washington State got back to business, handling Pepperdine with ease in a 17-point victory. Rather than DaVonte Lacy leading the scoring per usual, though, it was junior wing Royce Woolridge who had his best game of the year by scoring 20 points and handing out four assists. Likewise, Que Johnson dialed things up, scoring 14 points in his best performance as a Coug. While it’s been a slow start this season, there are signs of life around the Wazzu basketball team. For the first time all year, they’re pretty clearly not the worst team in the Pac-12.
  5. So, who is the worst team in the Pac-12 this season? USC put its case on display on Sunday night with an unimpressive four-point win over Cal State Bakersfield in which junior wing Byron Wesley was the only Trojan who was physically superior to the opposition. The other option for worst in the league is a Washington team that showed off its awful defense against a bad Idaho State squad on Saturday. While they had no trouble scoring, they also allowed four Bengals to score in double figures and just looked completely disinterested. Again.
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Pac-12 All-Freshmen and All-Transfer Teams

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on November 7th, 2013

It’s become a new era in college sports, especially in basketball. The fortunes of a program can change almost overnight, not only with the addition of big-time one-and-done freshmen, but also with proven entities transferring from one program to another with immediate eligibility. In recent years, it has become almost mandatory for coaches to not only pound the pavement in search of high school recruits, but to also keep their nose to the ground with the possibility of landing some immediate impact transfers. In our fair conference, some coaches, most prominently Dana Altman at Oregon, have turned into a welcome landing spot for those quality transfers. So, in the interest of recognizing that, as we unveil our official RTC Pac-12 All-Freshman Team, we’ll also turn you on to our All-Transfer team as well.

Arizona's Aaron Gordon Was A Unanimous Freshman Of The Year Selection

Arizona’s Aaron Gordon Was A Unanimous Freshman Of The Year Selection

All-Freshman Team

  • Aaron Gordon, forward, Arizona – Gordon is the unanimous selection as our preseason Freshman of the Year in the Pac-12. A five-star recruit out of the Bay Area, he is expected to be the primary offensive weapon for Sean Miller’s Wildcats. Right now he’s dealing with a “nagging groin strain” which will likely limit his outstanding athleticism early, but once he gets healthy, watch out.
  • Jabari Bird, guard, California – The Golden Bears lose last year’s Pac-12 Player of the Year in Allen Crabbe and are fortunate enough to be able to plug four-star freshman guard Bird right into his place. He may not have quite as sweet a stroke as Crabbe did, but he is more athletic and should be able to an contribute big things right away.
  • Nigel Williams-Goss, guard, Washington – A five-star point guard out of Findlay Prep, Williams-Goss is expected to take over the vacant Husky lead guard spot from day one. He’s big and heady and if he can handle the pressure, he’ll make the Huskies a contender right away.

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