Pac-12 Morning Five: 02.02.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on February 2nd, 2012

  1. Wednesday was national Letter of Intent signing day in college football, and Oregon made one of the bigger splashes of the day by signing 6’8”, 290-pound defensive end Arik Armstead. While the signing was a boon to head football coach Chip Kelly’s strong class, it may also prove to help out Dana Altman and his basketball program as well, since Armstead expects to shift over from the football field to the basketball court once the Ducks’ football season ends (and, if recent history is any indication, that won’t be until January). While football is his top priority, Armstead didn’t even consider going to schools that wouldn’t have offered him the opportunity to play both sports. It remains to be seen how fresh those wheels will be once he’s done being pounded on by Pac-12 offensive linemen for a year, but Armstead could give Altman’s program a midseason boost next year.
  2. In the wake of Kevin Parrom’s broken foot that will cost him the rest of his junior season, Arizona head coach Sean Miller said that the school will attempt to petition the NCAA for an extra season of eligibility. Although Parrom has already played more than the 30% of games on UA’s schedule, making him ineligible for a redshirt season, Miller thinks that the combination of Parrom’s good academic standing, his 14 missed games as a freshman and his hardships this season (Parrom was shot in the leg while visiting his mother in New York City during the fall, just before his mother died of cancer) make him a good candidate for a fifth year. With another year of eligibility remaining, it may be quite a while before a decision is reached, and the odds are good that the NCAA decision will be negative, but Miller thinks this strategy is at least worth a try.
  3. In a season chock full of transfers and dismissals, we found out the next step in the careers of a couple former Pac-12 players in recent days. First, in the next step of a somewhat surprising downfall, former UCLA forward Reeves Nelson was released on Tuesday by BC Zalgiris, a professional team in Lithuania. Nelson averaged 10 minutes per game in six appearances with Zalgiris but contributed just 2.5 points and 3.3 rebounds per game while shooting just 28% from the field. Nelson is still eligible for the NBA Draft in June, but the odds that he hears his name called then seem to get slimmer by the day. Meanwhile, former Arizona forward Sidiki Johnson has latched on at Providence. Johnson played a grand total of seven minutes in his Arizona career before been suspended by Miller for a violation of team policy and then leaving the team a couple weeks later.
  4. C.J. Wilcox is expected to be full-steam ahead for Washington’s matchup with UCLA on Thursday night, according to head coach Lorenzo Romar. Wilcox played 26 minutes last Saturday against Arizona after getting ten minutes against Arizona State on Thursday, his first game back after missing three with a stress fracture in his hip. For now, the plan is for Wilcox to skip practices during the week while playing in games, a similar scenario to the way Romar handled Brandon Roy in 2004-05 when he was recovering from knee surgery.
  5. Lastly, it may have been lost in the final outcome on Sunday, but Stanford’s redshirt freshman center, Stefan Nastic, turned in his best game of his career, scoring a career-high 11 points in a 19-minute effort that was by far also his longest stint of the year. Nastic played five games early last season and looked to be a promising prospect before breaking a bone in his foot and missing the rest of the season. Then he got sick at the start of this season and struggled to get started at the outset of the year. But now the seven-footer has put in his ticket for an increased role and could turn into an impact player for Johnny Dawkins.
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Pac-12 Morning Five: 01.26.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on January 26th, 2012

  1. One of the running themes of life in the Pac-12 this season has been important players leaving their teams, for one reason or another, in the middle of the season. There have been dismissals, academic problems, and abrupt transfers, and there have been enough of them to put together a pretty strong team: try Josh Watkins, Jabari Brown, Keala King, Reeves Nelson and Richard Solomon on for size. Aside from the debilitating headache any coach immediately suffers upon so much as seeing those five names together, that’s an awful lot of talent that has disappeared from Pac-12 rosters just since the start of the season.
  2. Along those same lines, UCLA has been hurt by transfers more than any other Pac-12 program. Currently, former Bruins Drew Gordon, Mike Moser, Chace Stanback, and Matt Carlino are playing – and excelling – at other Division I programs. Throw in J’Mison Morgan, who is redshirting at Baylor after playing limited minutes there last season, and Nelson, who turned pro in Europe rather than transfer, and the Bruins have had a significant talent drain. BruinsNation goes through all the transfers and looks at the causes and effects of the decisions of these players to transfer out of Ben Howland’s program.
  3. As an antidote for the above two stories which may leave a bad taste in your mouth, we turn to a great story about California center Robert Thurman, a former walk-on who is making a big impact for the Golden Bears in the wake of Solomon’s academic ineligibility. Against Washington on Thursday night, the “Thurmanator” posted career-highs of 16 points and seven rebounds helping Cal spring the road upset. Coming into the year, Thurman didn’t expect to have much of a role on this team beyond just working hard in practice, but going forward he will be an important piece on the Bear team.
  4. When Washington visits Arizona State tonight, both teams will have key players regarded as questionable for action. For the homestanding Sun Devils, Trent Lockett has missed the two games after spraining an ankle early in the second half against Oregon State a couple weeks back, and although he is making progress, there is no new update on his status. For the Huskies. C.J. Wilcox has missed U-Dub’s last three games with a stress fracture in his hip. He’ll go through some tests prior to the game on Thursday and will be a game-time decision, based largely on the amount of pain he feels, but may remain out until the Huskies head to Tucson on Saturday.
  5. Lastly, a little something that has little or no effect on the play on the court: snazzy new uniforms for Arizona. Nike announced on Wednesday that they had created new uniforms for nine programs who have won national championships (Arizona, Connecticut, Duke, Florida, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Syracuse along with the women’s teams from Baylor and Connecticut) that those teams will wear at specially selected games this season. Arizona will wear their “Hyper Elite Platinum” unis at home against UCLA on February 25.
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Checking In On… the Pac-12 Conference

Posted by AMurawa on January 19th, 2012

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-12 and Mountain West conferences. He is also a Pac-12 microsite staffer.

Reader’s Take

 

Top Storylines

  • The third weekend in conference play went a long way towards settling the conference into some tentative tiers. With the Bay Area schools’ sweeps of Colorado and Utah, Stanford and California sit atop the conference with 5-1 records and have established themselves, for now, as the teams to beat in the conference. A half-step back sits Washington, winner of four of five conference games, but unproven on the road so far, and Oregon, the sole team in conference play with more than one road win – the Ducks have three. The next tier down is made up of Arizona, Colorado and UCLA, all teams with two losses who have been inconsistent, but have enough talent to leave a mark on the Pac-12 race. We’ll wedge in one more tier before the bottom, with Arizona State, Washington State and Oregon State all seriously flawed teams who for one reason or another are clearly better than the tier of Utah and USC at the bottom of the Pac.
  • Yesterday we got news of a couple more problem children coming to the end of their ropes with their current teams, as Cal’s Richard Solomon and Utah’s Josh Watkins, both of whom had already been suspended for a game once this season, ran into trouble. Solomon was declared academically ineligible and is done for the year, though he could return next season for his junior year provided he cleans up his grades. Watkins, however, is done. The senior was booted off the Ute team by head coach Larry Krystkowiak for his second behavior-related offense of the season. It’s been that kind of year in the Pac-12, with these two just the latest in a line that includes Reeves Nelson, Jabari Brown, Keala King, Sidiki Johnson and Bruce Barron (and I’m sure I’ve blocked another player or two from my memory), players whose seasons ended early because of their own decisions.

The Loss Of Richard Solomon Is A Potential Major Blow To Cal's Conference Title Chances (pac-12.org)

What to Watch For

  • Until further notice, we can just assume that whatever games involve the Bay Area schools any week will be the games to keep an eye on, with the two matchups between the rivals potentially being the games of the year. This week, it is the Washington schools hosting California and Stanford, and the Huskies, in particular, should provide a stiff test for both schools. Washington will be without the services of second-leading scorer C.J. Wilcox for both games this week, due to a stress fracture in his hip, his loss will rob Lorenzo Romar’s bunch not only of a pure shooter on offense, but also one of the Huskies’ best perimeter defenders, a situation that could spell trouble against talented three-point shooters such as Cal’s Allen Crabbe and Stanford’s Anthony Brown, to name two. Read the rest of this entry »
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Pac-12 Game of the Week: UCLA at Stanford

Posted by AMurawa on December 29th, 2011

A couple of weeks ago, there was no way we would have picked this game to be the most interesting game of the first week of Pac-12 play. While Stanford has been a pleasant surprise through their non-conference schedule, UCLA was on the very short list of the least enjoyable teams in the conference to watch. However, the Bruins have quietly strung together five straight wins albeit against abominable competition and the Cardinal, coming off a tough home loss to Butler, have to prove that they are capable of contending for the regular season title. In short, while both of these teams have plenty of doubters, and rightfully so, each has a chance to earn a modicum of respect by taking care of business on opening weekend.

Stanford’s loss to Butler last week could be explained away in a variety of ways: it was their first game against significant competition in two and a half weeks; the home crowd was absent most of the students and provided little boost to a sleepwalking team; the Bulldogs got plenty of fortunate bounces; and really, it’s a loss to a fast-improving team that has been the national runner-up the past two seasons. Regardless of the excuses, it serves as a reminder that the Cardinal have largely built their status as one of the conference favorites on a loss – a hard-fought six-point defeat against Syracuse in the NIT Season Tip-Off championship game. They have a win over North Carolina State (in which they had to fight back from a 12-point second half deficit) and a win over Oklahoma State, but neither of those teams look like future recipients of an NCAA Tournament invite. So, there is little so far in the positive results category to indicate that this Stanford vintage is significantly better than last year’s 15-16 team that won seven conference games.

Josh Owens, Stanford

Josh Owens Has Been Stanford's Emotional Leader & Go-To Scorer (Credit: Zach Sanderson)

However, if you dig deeper into the metrics, you see a Cardinal team that is winning games because of excellent defense (only twice this season – in the loss to Butler and the uneven win over NC State – have they allowed more than a point per possession), while doing almost all the things that you want to see an efficient offensive team do (they shoot it well, they hit the offensive glass and they get to the free throw line). Only their turnovers on nearly 22% of their offensive possessions present cause for alarm, and that should be a number that sinks as their primary ballhandlers (sophomore Aaron Bright and freshman Chasson Randle) get more comfortable. And if you trust only the eye test, you see a team that appears to run a lot more smoothly than they did last year, when deep into the season the Cardinal appeared to be out of sync on both ends of the court. Bright has taken over as an extension of head coach Johnny Dawkins on the floor, senior center Josh Owens is the team’s emotional leader and go-to scorer, Randle is a steadily improving freshman, and there are a handful of other nice pieces elsewhere on this roster (Anthony Brown, Josh Huestis, Dwight Powell) ready to make positive contributions on both ends. This is an improved Stanford team, but they’ve still got to prove it and they’ll have plenty of chances, starting tonight.

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Merry Christmas: What’s In Santa’s Bag For Pac-12 Programs?

Posted by AMurawa on December 20th, 2011

It’s that time of the year where everybody is on the lookout for that one great gift for their friends and family. In the spirit of the season of giving, I’ve been racking my brain, trying to come up with the perfect gifts for all of the Pac-12 basketball programs. My good friend Mr. Claus is willing to help me out, and between the two of us, we think we’ve found just the right thing for everybody around the conference.

Arizona – Is it too much to ask for Derrick Williams back? Because he would go a long way towards curing the Wildcats’ ills up front. But since we don’t want to take Williams’ new contract or endorsement deals away from him, we’re going to have to settle on a babysitter for freshman point guard Josiah Turner. Just somebody who can make sure the kid eats his fruits and vegetables and gets to class and practice on time and in one piece, allowing Turner to simply focus on taking care of business at Point Guard U.

Josiah Turner, Arizona

Josiah Turner Has All The Physical Tools To Be Another Great Arizona Point Guard, But He Needs Help Clearing Up His Off-The-Court Struggles (photo credit: Mamta Popat, Arizona Daily Star)

Arizona State – All Sun Devil hoops fans want for Christmas is just one letter grade higher in one class on Jahii Carson’s transcript. The freshman point guard just missed getting a high enough score on his ACT exam to earn eligibility in Tempe, but just one point higher or one letter grade higher on his high school transcript would have made the speedy point ready to play. Santa has assured me that he’s found a minor discrepancy in Carson’s junior year Spanish class that could get him on the court immediately. Sure, Carson isn’t going to turn the Sun Devils into a Tournament team overnight, but they’ll certainly be a lot easier on the eyes.

California – Hey, it’s not much, but this wake-up call service we scored for roomies Allen Crabbe and Richard Solomon should save the Bears countless hours of missed practices and subsequent benchings. And we’re even throwing in a brand new icemaker, which should help Jorge Gutierrez heal up all those bumps and bruises he gets from diving all over the court.

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Pac-12 Morning Five: 12.16.11 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on December 16th, 2011

  1. What has already been an awful season for Utah basketball took a scary turn this week, as junior guard Glen Dean suffered a ruptured blood vessel in his brain and had to undergo brain surgery Wednesday. Dean, who transferred from Eastern Washington and is sitting out this year, first noticed a problem on December 8 when he was working out with fellow transfer Aaron Dotson (from LSU) and experienced fuzzy vision and a headache. During last Saturday’s game against Utah, he complained further about discomfort with the lights and the noise at the game and was taken to the hospital and has been there since. His surgery has been described as successful, but he remains under observation and no timetable has been established for his return to practice.
  2. There has been a lot of buzz in recent days about Shabazz Muhammad and UCLA. Muhammad is the consensus #1 recruit in this year’s senior class, and he remains undecided with a long list of schools he is considering, including UCLA, UNLV, Duke, Kentucky and others. Yesterday we linked to an interview with UCLA commit Jordan Adams who said that he expected both Muhammad and power forward Tony Parker from Atlanta to wind up at UCLA, making for a killer class that already includes top ten recruit Kyle Anderson. And today, Five Star Basketball posted an interview with Muhammad in which he says “I think with me, Kyle and Jordan, if I was to go there it would be a great combination. Kyle’s a great player and so is Jordan.” At this point, fans from all of the teams that Muhammad is considering are reduced to trying to read the tea leaves, knowing that Muhammad has said all along that he won’t make a final decision until the spring and confirmed in his diary for SLAM Magazine that there has been no change to his list. In the meantime, fans from coast to coast cling to every little hint that Muhammad could be leaning their way.
  3. That’s part of the future of this conference, but we’ve also got to tie up some loose ends regarding the past. First, Reeves Nelson’s future is apparently in Lithuania. Nelson was dismissed from UCLA last Friday, and head coach Ben Howland confirmed on Thursday that Nelson will forgo transferring to another Division I institution and head overseas to play basketball professionally in Lithuania. Given that he’s a long shot ever to play in the NBA, jumping right to a professional career makes some sense, but he’ll certainly need to mature if he ever expects to live up to his potential.
  4. Then there’s news about former Oregon guard Jabari Brown, who is apparently deciding between Missouri and Georgia Tech for his next stop in college. Brown has already visited Missouri and is expected to be in Atlanta for a look at the Ramblin’ Wreck this week. Missouri will be replacing guards Marcus Denmon and Kim English, among others, next season, while Georgia Tech simply needs any kinds of talented players at this point, meaning both of those programs are willing to look past Brown’s ignominious exit from Eugene.
  5. Lastly, there’s this newsflash: USC’s offense isn’t very good. The Trojans are averaging just 53.7 points per game and have a KenPom offensive efficiency rating of 94.7, good for 265th in the country. But defensively, they’re good enough to keep their anemic offense in a lot of games; they are allowing just 54.3 points and their defensive efficiency rating is 90.7, good for 26th in the nation. As a result, the Trojans are playing in a lot of close games that aren’t exactly great examples of beautiful basketball. And despite their 4-6 record, they’ve lost three different games by a single possession. Sophomore point guard Maurice Jones is doing everything he can to keep the Trojans in games, including playing almost every minute, but head coach Kevin O’Neill will need somebody else to step up and become a consistent offensive threat in order to turn those one-possession losses into wins.
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Morning Five: 12.16.11 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on December 16th, 2011

  1. While the legal system has decided not to get involved with the Xavier-Cincinnati brawl, the fall-out of the brawl may not be over. A Cincinnati columnist is suggesting that the series be cancelled for two years to let things cool off between the two schools. That may seem like a good idea to some observers based on the fight and subsequent post-game comments of some of the players, but it appears that the schools have no intention of suspending the rivalry according to Xavier’s Athletic Director. We tend to agree that suspending the rivalry would be an overreaction, but everybody (from administrators down to team managers) will need to be on their best behavior when these teams meet over the next few years because the college basketball world will be watching them very closely.
  2. As usual Luke Winn’s Power Rankings are filled with interesting statistical nuggets and as we have said before we look at these more for the information than the rankings since rankings are essentially useless (uh, unless they come from RTC). The most controversial part is an analysis that shows that statistically Kentucky is a little better defensively when Anthony Davis is on the bench than when he is on the floor overall this season. This trend disappears (and actually reverses quite dramatically) in games against top 25 teams, but the analysis managed to create a mini-controversy online yesterday. Of course, this started a verbal sparring match between those who embrace statistical analysis and the college basketball Luddites. As we have said before the numbers and analysis are there for your consumption. How you choose to interpret them (or discard them) is up to you. Blindly accepting the figures because they are out there is no better than ignoring them completely. We prefer to sit somewhere in the middle where we look at the statistical analysis and then try to reconcile it with what we see with our eyes. If the two are incongruent, either we are missing something or someone is doing something funny with the numbers.
  3. The always entertaining Mark Titus, leader of the Club Trillion movement, is out with his latest article for Grantland ranking his top 12 teams in the country. It is an interesting list to say the least and we have a feeling that Ohio State fans won’t be too happy with him, but there are some interesting points in there including the decision by Ohio State and Kentucky to schedule very tough first road games coming back to bite them, which is something that was largely overlooked by the national media. Honestly, though, we think his thought process on his #1 team is a little simplistic unless he is being sarcastic in which case he is doing a very bad job at conveying that. Anyways, as you would expect with Titus it is an amusing read that is worth flipping through to get some insight from a former college basketball “player” on the top teams in the country.
  4. While its member institutions are handling out multi-million dollar contracts every few days to coaches with strong track records of failure, the NCAA is still trying to figure out what to do for compensation for its athletes. For now it appears as if they have hit an impasse as they decided to suspend discussion on the proposed $2,000 stipend until January. The issue will be readdressed when the NCAA’s Board of Directors meets next month after 125 schools voted to override its automatic adoption over the four following issues: “how quickly it was implemented, perceived impact on competitive equity, application of the allowance for student-athletes in equivalency sports, and implications for Title IX.” We suspect that like many other bigger economic problems, the NCAA like other bigger institutions will kick this can down the road to be dealt with another day.
  5. We would like wish our favorite malcontent of the 2011-12 season Reeves Nelson a fond farewell from the college basketball world as the recently dismissed UCLA big man will be taking his talents to Lithuania. We don’t have any more details at this time as a report earlier in the day cited Nelson’s father as saying that his son was heading to Europe, but would not say more until a contract was signed as the details were still being negotiated. We have to say it has been an interesting ride with Reeves during his brief time at UCLA and will leave you with this gem about how he plans on taking care of his mother.
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Checking In On… the Pac-12

Posted by AMurawa on December 15th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-12 and Mountain West conferences. He is also a Pac-12 microsite staffer.

Reader’s Take

 

Top Storylines

  • Personnel Problems – Certainly every team around the country has to deal with some personnel problems of their own. Players get hurt, kids decide to transfer, suspensions get handed out. But, wow. Is it just me or does it seem like an already under-talented conference has been hammered by a string of issues that have robbed them of even more talent? The Reeves Nelson situation at UCLA has been run into the ground, while the Jabari Brown transfer (followed by Bruce Barron’s transfer) is old news in Oregon. Mike Montgomery at California had to suspended forward Richard Solomon just before they traveled to San Diego State, then on the day he was to be reinstated, he and roommate Allen Crabbe overslept and were late to a morning shootaround and began that game on the bench. Josiah Turner has suffered through a benching and a suspension for his inability to get to practices on time (and he potentially cost Arizona a win at Florida in the process). Sean Miller has also had to dismiss freshman Sidiki Johnson, while Utah’s leading scorer Josh Watkins was suspended for a game. Arizona State’s freshman point guard Jahii Carson, who head coach Herb Sendek figured would be the Sun Devils’ starter from day one, was declared ineligible for his freshman season following an insufficient ACT score.
  • Then there are the injuries – Washington State’s Abe Lodwick has yet to play this season, while Faisal Aden and Mychal Ladd have battled their own injuries in recent weeks. USC is without senior point guard Jio Fontan for the season, while sophomore center DeWayne Dedmon has had his development stunted by a couple injuries that he has played through. This week, just a day after Washington announced that senior Scott Suggs would take a redshirt year after struggling with his recovery from foot surgery, their center Aziz N’Diaye sprained his knee and will miss at least the next four games. Back in Eugene, Tyrone Nared had a knee sprain of his own and is out until conference play. And the above is just a partial list cut short for (relative) simplicity’s sake. Now, none of the above is meant to imply that without the above maladies the Pac-12 would be a great conference, just that on a list of all of the possible things that could have gone wrong for Pac-12 teams so far, the teams have seemingly gone out of their way to check off most of them.
Devoe Joseph, Oregon

It Has Only Been Two Games, But Devoe Joseph Has Made A Major Impact For Oregon (Chris Pietsch, The Register-Guard)

  • One Bit of Good NewsDana Altman at least had a bit of good news this week as Devoe Joseph, a senior transfer from Minnesota, played his first games in a Duck uniform and immediately proved his worth. Not only did Joseph lead Oregon in scoring in his first game out against Fresno State, he made a couple of huge momentum changing threes in the second half that helped spur the Ducks to victory. Not to be outdone, he came back on Monday in his second game in Eugene and helped preserve a win as he scored his team’s last eight points after Portland State had closed to within three with 90 seconds left. With Altman now basically trading a freshman (Brown) for the senior Joseph in the backcourt, this Duck team is loaded with veterans and could still make waves in conference play.
  • Very Few, If Any, Resume Wins – Starting right about now and reaching a crescendo in the early days of March, you’re going to hear a lot about who potential NCAA Tournament teams beat and where they beat them as a major criteria for an invitation to the Big Dance. That fact should have the Pac-12 shaking in its boots. To this point it looks like the best win by a Pac-12 team was Oregon State’s neutral-site victory over a Texas team that (1) was playing in its third game with a completely remade roster, and (2) hasn’t beaten anyone of note yet. Beyond that, what are the other wins the teams in this conference hope to hang their tournament resumes on? Cal knocking off a bad Georgia team? Arizona over a middling Clemson team? Stanford against Oklahoma State or North Carolina State? Worse yet, there just aren’t a whole lot of chances left on the schedule for teams to pick up defining wins in the non-conference. Zona goes to Seattle to play Gonzaga and Oregon hosts Virginia this weekend, while Cal travels to UNLV just before Christmas, and that’s it. The rest of the season is, more or less, flawed Pac-12 teams beating up on other flawed Pac-12 teams. In the end, a team like Washington had better either perform one hell of a lot better in road conference games than they have in the past few years OR make sure they win the Pac-12 Tournament, lest they be making NIT plans come March.

Player of the Year Watch

  • While no one has yet to step up and grab a lead in this race, Washington State’s Brock Motum did establish himself, albeit against lesser competition, as a legitimate horse in this race. The Cougs are in the midst of a four-game winning streak and Motum has averaged 16.3 points and 6.5 rebounds over that stretch. And Motum remains one of two Pac-12 players to score in double figures in each of his team’s games this season. The other? Washington’s Terrence Ross, who not only has proven himself to be a consistent scorer, but also a versatile talent capable of filling the stats sheet. On the season, Ross is averaging 16.5 points, 7 rebounds, 2.1 assists, a couple of threes and a block per night.
  • Elsewhere Allen Crabbe has continued to be an efficient scorer on a nightly basis for the Golden Bears (15.8 PPG on the season while shooting over 46% from deep), while teammate Jorge Gutierrez continues to lead the conference in intangibles while contributing solid tangible stats to boot (12.9 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 3.9 APG). As for dark horse candidates who are just now beginning to go to the whip? Oregon State’s Roberto Nelson has averaged 15 points a contest over his last four, just barely starting to scratch the surface of his potential, while the aforementioned Devoe Joseph could get in the conversation with a strong showing in conference play.

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Morning Five: 12.13.11 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on December 13th, 2011

  1. Once again the dominant story of the day was the fallout from the Cincinnati-Xavier brawl. The most interesting news was the report that the Hamilton County District Attorney was looking into prosecuting players involved in the the fight. We are not really sure where to begin here except for noting that if charges were brought against the players it would be unusual, but not unprecedented (see the Todd Bertuzzi case in hockey). We are sure that some Musketeer fans are going to point out that Joe Deters, who may end up trying the case, is a graduate of Cincinnati and was previously on the school’s Board of Trustees, but we doubt that it will affect the case because we would expect that the two people most likely to be charged with serious crimes are both Bearcats.
  2. We thought we had gotten over the all-encompassing conference realignment story, but it turns out we were wrong as San Diego State announced yesterday that it would be moving 14 sports including basketball to the Big West from the Mountain West beginning in the 2013 season. The move is a curious one for a number of reasons including the fact that it is a huge step down in prestige for basketball (from 4th in the conference College RPI ratings down to 24th) and San Diego State is going to be playing its football games in the Big East. As strange as some of the other conference realignment stories have been this one has to be the most clear money grab that we have seen. The coaches can say whatever they want about this being good for recruiting, but that seems to be a pretty weak reason since we have never heard of a recruit who would want to go to the Big West over the Mountain West even if the former may get on ESPN more often with this new television deal.
  3. Yesterday, Minnesota forward Trevor Mbakwe pleaded guilty to violating a restraining order when he sent a Facebook message to a former girlfriend. According to Mbakwe’s attorney, he thought the restraining order had expired after one year, but in fact was two years. Mbakwe, who is out for the year after injuring his knee, was sentenced to one day in jail, which he already served, one year of probation, and given a $300 fine. As you may have noticed, we are not exactly the most lenient group in the world when it comes to people breaking laws/rules, but in this case it appears that Mbakwe’s violation was relatively minor, a thought that we expressed at the time that it happened last year.
  4. Washington got a bit of good news as a MRI revealed that junior center Aziz N’Diaye did not suffer any significant structural injury to his right knee during Saturday’s game against Duke. N’Diaye is listed as questionable (or in the words of Lorenzo Romar “very questionable”) for the Huskies next game, which is on Friday against UC-Santa Barbara, with what has been described as a sprain. When N’Diaye injured his knee the Washington staff had good reason to be concerned as he tore ligaments in that knee, which made him miss the 2009-10 season. While it is possible that N’Diaye could return on Friday, the team probably doesn’t need his size against a team whose top rebounder is 6’5″ so Romar may just decide to let him rest. We would point out that the Huskies have a relatively easy schedule coming up, but they are in the Pac-12 so they will not play a good team the rest of the season unless they make the NCAA Tournament.
  5. Seth Davis chimes in on the Crosstown Shootout brawl and various other college basketball topics in his weekly Hoop Thoughts column. As usual Seth does an excellent job getting information from a coach (in this case Chris Mack) and delves deeper into the ridiculous Tu Holloway-Mark Lyons post-game press conference. He also briefly touches on the dismissal of Reeves Nelson and a variety of other topics, of which there are too many to name. It is definitely worth a read and will make you think a little even if you don’t agree with everything Seth has to say.
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It’s A Love/Hate Relationship: Volume IV

Posted by jbaumgartner on December 12th, 2011

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC columnist. His Love/Hate column will publish on Mondays throughout the season. In this weekly piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball.

Five Things I Loved This Week

I LOVED… Tom Crean taking a giant step forward with his Indiana Hoosiers on Saturday. Having taken over a disastrous situation in Bloomington, no one deserved that finish more than Crean against the Kentucky Wildcats. Christian Watford’s rainbow swish as the buzzer sounded is one giant recruiting tool for the future, and the only thing better would have been Gus Johnson’s voice on the call. What a game, and what a relief for Crean after several years of frustration.

Christian Watford's Game-Winner Represents IU's Renaissance

I LOVED… seeing Madison Square Garden for the first time. I made it to MSG for Saturday’s Washington/Duke matchup, and there is a different type of atmosphere in that historic arena that takes hold the moment you get your ticket scanned and step inside. Players on both teams were bouncing up and down as soon as they stepped on the floor, which isn’t something you always see at a neutral location. The crowd is basketball-savvy, and you can’t help getting caught up looking at the retired Knicks greats in the rafters. As Coach K said after the game: “I love playing at Cameron, but outside of Cameron, Madison Square Garden is the place.” Very cool.

I LOVED…UCLA coach Ben Howland making a gutsy call by getting rid of Reeves Nelson. It’s a tough situation when one player is setting a terrible example, but your team is still probably better off with him on the floor. We talked about Nelson a couple weeks ago and I questioned whether Howland was going too easy on him, but this is a decision that obviously places principles ahead of short-term benefits. It could be a rough year in LA for Howland, but the Bruin program will be better off in the long run.

I LOVED… trying to decide about Washington freshman guard Tony Wroten. I actually got to watch Wroten play in high school because he went to my alma mater in Seattle, and he’s been a top-5 prospect in his class since about age 14 (he likely would have been top-3 without a football knee injury as a junior, but he seems to have fully recovered). Anyone who caught Washington/Duke saw what I’m talking about – Wroten is usually too showy, at times the best scorer on the floor, at times the best passer on the floor, at times the most selfish on the floor, often times the most unmotivated on the floor, the most exciting, the most excited, and almost always a turnover waiting to happen.

It can be mesmerizing to watch though (when it’s not infuriatingly aggravating), and it will be interesting to see how Lorenzo Romar will develop this uber-talented frosh. If he refines his game and focus, he could be up there with the best in the nation.

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A New Beginning For UCLA

Posted by AMurawa on December 12th, 2011

The theme for UCLA’s game Saturday evening against Penn was a new beginning. Not only were the Bruins playing their first game without junior forward Reeves Nelson, who was dismissed by head coach Ben Howland on Friday following a couple of suspensions for behavioral reasons, but the squad shifted to zone defense for much of the game for the first time this season. While the 77-73 victory was by no means a crisp performance, it was a sign of things to come and a chance for the struggling Bruins to experience some positivity.

Ben Howland, UCLA

Ben Howland: "A Lot Has Happened This Week And We're Getting To Where We're Figuring Stuff Out." (Credit: Blaine Ohigashi)

UCLA went to a 2-3 zone for the first time about midway through the first half while trailing by one, and spent every half-court possession for the next six minutes in that defense. Howland is primarily known as a man-to-man coach, but he confirmed that you’ll be seeing plenty of zone out of UCLA the rest of the way. “Zone is not preferred, but it is what is fitting for our team now,” he said. “It is something that you’ll be seeing when we’re changing things up. We need to use it and it will be helpful for us, especially as we get better at it.” At times the zone gave Penn trouble, as on the first possession where the Quakers were unable to find a good shot and had to settle for a fallaway three-point attempt by senior Tyler Bernardini as the shot clock expired; and true to another theme of the day, the shot dropped. Bernardini torched the Bruins throughout the day, regardless of the defense employed, hitting eight of his 12 shots on his way to a career-high 29 points. At times the defenders on the perimeter of the UCLA zone failed to close out on the three-point shot, not even putting a hand in a face, something that will surely be pointed out in practice this week. UCLA has already displayed terrible perimeter defense this year, and even after Penn shot 38.7% from three against them, they are still allowing their opponents to shoot 48.7% from three-point range on the season.

However, regardless of some of the sloppiness of the zone, it did provide a few tangible benefits to the Bruins. First, it kept the Quakers from getting good looks inside the three-point line (more than 50% of Penn’s shots were from three), an area where UCLA has struggled all year. Secondly, it helped protect a couple of Bruin big men who picked up a couple of early fouls; Joshua Smith and David Wear both had two fouls in the first eight minutes. Also, the zone gave Smith a bit of a reprieve from his own poor conditioning, allowing him to preserve some of his energy rather than having to chase his opponents out to the perimeter, leaving him enough energy in the second half to score on three straight possessions as well as kick one pass back out for what turned into a wide-open three-pointer.

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Morning Five: 12.12.11 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on December 12th, 2011

  1. As you may have heard, there was a small fracas at the end of the Xavier-Cincinnati game on Saturday. The two schools suspended four players each for their actions with the suspensions ranging from six games (for Yancy Gates and Cheikh Mbodj) to one game along with unspecified community service obligations. While there are a handful of fans and media members who are saying that the schools did a good job handling the punishments, it seems like a vast majority have been quite critical of the relatively light suspensions especially after what they believed they were hearing from Mick Cronin in his post-game press conference (a topic we wrote about yesterday). Although it has been discussed ad nauseum within the college basketball world, don’t be surprised if this is one of the major stories on sports radio and all the talking head TV shows even if does get buried under Tebow-mania.
  2. It took him long enough, but Ben Howland finally decided to kick Reeves Nelson off the UCLA basketball team on Friday. It does not appear that there was another specific incident that led Howland to finally get rid of Nelson, but instead it appears that it was more the result of a series of discussions that Nelson had with Howland and how Howland felt Nelson was responding to his punishment. We are not sure if this decision will finally spark a lifeless Bruin team as they struggled on Saturday to beat a mediocre Penn team at home. We aren’t sure where Nelson will end up next or if he will ever live up to his potential (our guess: no), but it might be instructive to see how he responded to his dismissal.
  3. On Saturday, Georgetown announced that highly touted freshman center Tyler Adams would be out indefinitely while undergoing tests to work up a potential cardiac abnormality. While we don’t know what Adams is being worked up for, the most likely reasons are for hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy or an arrhythmia. We probably don’t need to tell you that cardiac conditions can be serious, but if you missed our prior post on the increased incidence of sudden cardiac death in Division I men’s basketball players it is worth a read. It goes without saying that basketball should be a distant secondary concern for Adams at the time and we hope that whatever triggered this work-up was an isolated event and not a significant medical problem not so much for his basketball career as for the rest of his life.
  4. While Kansas picked up a big victory at home on Saturday against a Jared Sullinger-less Ohio State team, they also suffered a blow when it was announced that Tyshawn Taylor had torn his meniscus in his right knee earlier in the week and would be undergoing surgery. According to reports, the surgery, which is a fairly simple procedure, went well and Taylor is expected to be out for three weeks. Until he returns a relatively young Jayhawk team will have to learn to adjust to life without their talented, but mercurial leader, who himself has had trouble with turnovers this season. This majority of the point guard duties will probably be handed over to Elijah Johnson or one of the younger players on the team like Naadir Tharpe. Fortunately for the Jayhawks, they don’t really have another tough opponent until January 16 (five weeks from now) when they play Baylor.
  5. We are always surprised when a coach resigns in the middle of the season and even moreso when it is an established coach so when Northern Arizona‘s Mike Adras abruptly announced that he was stepping down on Friday we were shocked. Adras, who compiled a 193-170 record in 13 seasons at the school, led the team to its second NCAA Tournament appearance ever in 2000, but had not been back to the NCAA Tournament since then and his team started this season 2-7. Adras had very little to say in the school’s official release other than the usual generic stuff about being proud of what he accomplished and leaving to pursue other undisclosed opportunities. Interestingly, Adras never actually told his players about his decision to leave and as of this writing apparently has not talked to the team about it, which makes it seem like he may have actually had a little push from the administration to help him with his decision to resign. For the time being, 70 year-old Dave Brown will act as the interim head coach while the school begins its search for a permanent replacement.
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