An Under the Radar Pac-12 Newcomer Team

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 18th, 2014

More than a month into the season, we’ve had a chance to see each of the Pac-12 teams multiple times, with every school getting a crack or two (or more) at good competition. As for the returnees, we’ve already got a good idea of what to think of their games; but it’s been the newcomers who have made their impressions on us through five weeks. In the spirit of getting to know them, we’re going to put together a team – an honest-to-goodness team with a point guard and bigs and defenders and shooters – made from among our favorite newcomers in the league. Easy enough, you might say. Start with Arizona’s Stanley Johnson, Utah’s Jakob Poeltl and UCLA’s Kevon Looney and go from there, right? Nah, child’s play. Future NBA lottery picks are ineligible for this team. We’re going to dig a little deeper.

Arizona State Freshman Kodi Justice Running The Point: Bold Choice

Arizona State Freshman Kodi Justice Running The Point: Bold Choice

  • PG: Kodi Justice, Arizona State – He’s not your typical point guard. He’s not the small, quick athlete; he’s more of a long, lanky glider. But he’s got savvy and awareness; he’s capable of dropping a dime on his teammates’ hands given only the slimmest of openings. Back off of him and he’ll drill a three in your face. Get up on him and, even though he doesn’t exactly have the quickest first step, he’s got a good enough handle to slide by you and open things up on the move. This Arizona State team will have to make up for Justice’s average athleticism and defensive shortcomings for his position, but we’ll make up for it with great athletes everywhere else in this lineup.

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Washington: Why Don’t We Trust the Huskies?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 9th, 2014

With it’s big 49-36 win over San Diego State on Sunday night, Washington jumped in to the AP Top 25, appearing as the last team on the list. For a proud program under Lorenzo Romar that was once a regular fixture in those rankings, this is the first time the Huskies have been there in nearly four years (February 2011). But interestingly enough, the Huskies are not in the RTC Top 25 this week, so clearly they still have something to prove to some in the college basketball community. What gives? Why the lack of trust in a Washington team that not only has a convincing win over the nationally regarded Aztecs, but also a Wooden Legacy title under its belt? The Huskies are holding opponents to a 37.2% eFG this season, good for fourth in the nation, and they’re 38th in adjusted defensive efficiency, a mark they haven’t seen over the course of an entire season since Jon Brockman and Justin Dentmon were wearing purple and gold. These guys must be for real, right?

Robert Upshaw's Presence In The Middle Has Helped The Huskies Out To A Dominating Defensive Start (Dean Rutz, Seattle Times)

Robert Upshaw’s Presence In The Middle Has Helped The Huskies Out To A Dominating Defensive Start (Dean Rutz, Seattle Times)

Don’t worry Huskies’ fans. This is not the point where you get the comedown of a “not so fast.” Fact is, there is a lot to like here. And room to get better. Those defensive numbers are probably a bit overblown, in part due to San Diego State’s inability to hit anything en route to a 22.2% eFG on Sunday night. But, with shotblocker extraordinaire Robert Upshaw manning the middle for about 20 minutes per game (his 21.4% block rate – the percent of opponent’s two-point field goal attempts he blocks while he’s on the floor – is the best in the nation), and with fellow intimidating interior presences in Jernard Jarreau and Shawn Kemp, Jr., the Huskies are going to be seriously tough to score on inside all year long. That frees up perimeter defenders to really pressure perimeter players, running them off the three-point line and forcing them into tougher and less rewarding field goal attempts. The 24.4 percent rate they are allowing from behind the three-point line thus far this season is in no way sustainable, but the strategy is. Read the rest of this entry »

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Surveying Feast Week Carnage Around the Pac-12

Posted by AMurawa on December 1st, 2014

Feast Week around the Pac-12 didn’t bring a whole lot of comfort to the conference. Seven teams around the league played in tournament-style events and only two even made it out of their first game and into the championship side of the bracket, with four of the remaining five teams taking two losses on the week. There was good news, however, as Arizona won the Maui Invitational with a workmanlike win over San Diego State and Washington earned the Wooden Legacy title with solid wins over an underwhelming field. And the teams that did not participate in tournaments this week (including Utah, who hosted a round robin event against overmatched opponents) combined to post a 10-1 record. Of course, that “1” on the right side of the record was an inexplicable Stanford loss to DePaul. Below, we’ll take a quick spin around the conference and get you caught up.

Stanley Johnson Is Turning Into A Disruptive Defensive Force (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

Stanley Johnson Is Turning Into A Disruptive Defensive Force (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

Arizona – The Wildcats have not yet looked spectacular this season, in racing out to a 6-0 start. But as they showed against the Aztecs on Wednesday, this is a team with chemistry and toughness, traits that should help them weather the storm as they work towards living up to their incredible upside. Things are coming along slowly but surely, Stanley Johnson is getting comfortable offensively and turning showing his ability to disrupt things defensively and everybody is feeling each other out. It will come all in due time; they’ve still got three months to dial things in before March rolls around. But in the meantime, even as we can pick apart little faults, the ‘Cats have confirmed what we already thought: Sean Miller’s team is the class of the conference. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Preseason Poll and Preview Wrap-Up

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 14th, 2014

And then there was basketball. Starting tonight, if you play your cards right, you can watch college basketball straight through for the next four months, maybe taking a Friday night off here and there to recharge the batteries. Hopefully we’ve done a good job here at the RTC Pac-12 microsite getting you ready for the season. As our last hurrah before we have actual games to talk and write about, we’d like to unveil the results of our five-man preseason poll (Adam Butler, Andrew Murawa, Connor Pelton, Kevin Danna and Tracy McDannald), linking to our team previews for each of the 12 teams in this conference. Below that we also link to our preseason All-Conference teams for one handy spot to return come March to figure out all the places we screwed up. Besides that, the recommendation from these parts is just to sit back, enjoy a tasty snack or enticing beverage, and enjoy some hoops tonight. Happy New Year everybody.

preseasonpoll

  1. Arizona. The Wildcats are our unanimous choice for first place and, all things considered, we mark them and point guard T.J. McConnell as the team to beat by a wide margin.

    T.J. McConnell and The Wildcats Are The Runaway Favorites In The Pac-12 (Lance King, Getty Images)

    T.J. McConnell and The Wildcats Are The Runaway Favorites In The Pac-12 (Lance King, Getty Images)

  2. Utah. The Utes still have a lot to prove, especially in close games, but with All-America candidate Delon Wright leading the way, their talent wins out for our voters.
  3. Stanford. The Cardinal are coming off a thrilling Sweet Sixteen run, and if the Johnny Dawkins can find a few breakout players they could be the team to challenge the Wildcats.
  4. Colorado. Tad Boyle’s squad returns all of his familiar faces, save one. One of their point guards will have to step up for the Buffaloes to sneak up the standings.
  5. UCLA. The Bruins are the conference’s blue blood, but they’ll need Isaac Hamilton to have an impactful freshman season to get much higher than this.
  6. Cal. Cuonzo Martin’s first year in the Bay Area will be a lot easier if Sam Singer steps up and earns the point guard spot.
  7. Washington. The last time the Huskies made the NCAA Tournament, Isaiah Thomas was their point guard. If they’re going to break that streak, Robert Upshaw needs to begin to live up to his promise.
  8. Oregon. Joseph Young is the team’s star, but newcomers like Dwayne Benjamin are going to have to contribute for the Ducks to have a chance.
  9. Arizona State. Guys like Jahii Carson and Jordan Bachynski are gone, meaning newcomers like Willie Atwood are feeling the pressure to produce.
  10. USC. In Andy Enfield’s second season, the Trojans are starting to look like the team he has in mind, but Jordan McLaughlin and company might need a little more experience to move up the standings.
  11. Washington State. Ernie Kent is ready to change the culture in Pullman, but in the short-term, DaVonte Lacy is the Cougars’ best bet.
  12. Oregon State. The Beavers are ready to bring in a talented recruiting class next season, but in his first year, Wayne Tinkle has to hope Gary Payton II plays a lot like his father.

Beyond all of that content, below you’ll find the rest of our preview pieces. Feel free to make fun of us for our misses, and congratulate us for our hits, when all is said and done a few months from now.

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The RTC Pac-12 All-Freshman and All-Transfer Teams

Posted by AMurawa on November 11th, 2014

With the season imminent, it is time to start rolling out our preseason picks. Later in the week we’ll release the results of our preseason poll from our writers and friends of the microsite for things like standings, All-Conference Team, Player of the Year, and a host of other specialty awards. In getting this week’s events underway, though, we start by naming our Freshmen of the Year, Transfer of the Year and our All-Freshmen and All-Transfer teams, a group of new faces that we’ll get to know better as the season takes shape. Let’s jump right in.

Preseason Freshman of the Year: Stanley Johnson, Arizona

Stanley Johnson May Not Be An Immediate Starter At Arizona, But He Is Our Unanimous Pick For Freshman of the Year

Stanley Johnson May Not Be An Immediate Starter At Arizona, But He Is Our Unanimous Pick For Freshman of the Year

The unanimous choice among our five voters, Johnson is the latest in Sean Miller’s increasingly long line of elite recruits. Expected to be on the short list of potential leading scorers for the Wildcats, Johnson checked off all the boxes during his prep career: playing on international tournament-winning teams; McDonald’s All-American and Jordan Brand Classic participant; two-time California High School Player of the Year; Parade All-American; MaxPreps National Player of the Year. Oh, and four CIF Division I state titles in four years of high school. So, smooth sailing at Arizona, right? Well, not so fast. In Arizona’s lone exhibition game, Johnson was conspicuously absent from the starting lineup, coming off the bench while junior Gabe York started in his place. Still, Johnson proved his bona fides by overpowering lesser competition on the way to 12 points in 24 minutes of action. Miller describes him as a “physical freak,” and while you can make the argument that the Wildcats are actually better off with him bringing energy off the bench, you can count on the fact that he is going to be one of the best players on a team already loaded with All-Conference players who you will see later in the week. There might well be other freshmen in the conference that wind up with better overall numbers by season’s end, but none of those first-year guys will be the same difference-maker that Johnson can be.

Joining Johnson on the All-Freshman Team are:

  • Kevon Looney, UCLA
  • Reid Travis, Stanford
  • Jordan McLaughlin, USC
  • Isaac Hamilton, UCLA

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Washington’s Most Important Player: Robert Upshaw

Posted by Tracy McDannald on October 31st, 2014

Potential can be a tricky hope to bank on. Some players shine immediately; others blossom late; and those who were once an afterthought can perform well above what any high school ranking projected. In the case of Washington center Robert Upshaw, the 7-footer is looking to fulfill untapped potential. In 2012, Upshaw was a four-star prospect as one of the top prep big men in California. He had scholarship offers to attend Louisville and Georgetown as well as interest from around the Pac-12, and he even committed to play at Kansas State before re-opening his recruitment in the spring of his senior year. He ended up at Fresno State, where he was slowed by a knee injury early and then couldn’t get out of his own way during his one year there, averaging just 5.3 points and 3.8 rebounds in 16.4 minutes per game over 22 contests. The program dismissed him in August 2013 after a third violation of team rules.

Robert Upshaw Is A Terrific Pick-up For Fresno State.

Robert Upshaw, a 7-foot transfer from Fresno State, could make Washington’s frontline imposing this season.

Upshaw transferred to Washington and sat out last season, per NCAA rules. But trouble continued to follow him, and at one point there was uncertainty where he stood with head coach Lorenzo Romar and there was significant doubt in March whether he would still be on the roster this season. By September, however, Upshaw was participating in team activities and all appears to be clear for his Huskies career to begin. Although the red flags have already accumulated, the gamble could prove to be worth the risk for Romar. This could be the type of addition that helps the Huskies emerge from what is looking like a crapshoot in the middle-to-bottom half of the league.

The number of quality big men throughout the Pac-12 this season has been well-documented. The Huskies now have the ability to pair 6’10” junior forward Jernard Jarreau and 6’9” senior Shawn Kemp Jr., alongside Upshaw, with 240 pounds and up of bulk in each of the three. In his short time at Fresno State, Upshaw showed off an ability for rim protection with 39 blocked shots. The possibilities for him at Washington look promising, and the redshirt sophomore’s presence could be the difference in fielding a formidable frontcourt, or just a frontcourt with depth. Now, Upshaw just needs to allow for his opportunity to unfold.

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Pac-12 Season Preview: Washington Huskies

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 29th, 2014

The Pac-12 microsite will preview each of its league teams over the next few weeks, continuing today with Washington.

Washington Huskies

Strengths. Historically, Lorenzo Romar’s teams in Seattle have been teams adept at getting up and down the court and scoring in an efficient manner. In his 12 seasons with the Huskies, his teams have ranked in the top 75 in adjusted tempo in all but one year. Likewise, his teams have ranked in the top 90 in adjusted offensive efficiency (all of these numbers are courtesy of KenPom.com) in every year except his first season as head coach there. With point guard Nigel Williams-Goss back for his sophomore campaign, joined by junior Andrew Andrews, Romar has the beginnings of the type of high-octane, backcourt-led offensive juggernaut that has been a hallmark of his best teams. Of course, Romar will have to replace his two most efficient players from last season in C.J. Wilcox and Perris Blackwell, but if Jernard Jarreau comes back from an ACL tear that cost him all but a couple minutes of last season, he’s the type of skilled forward who could be a holy terror running the floor with that pair of guards. Throw in a couple of athletic wings in Mike Anderson and Darin Johnson (who really came on at the end of his freshman campaign) and mercurial former McDonald’s All-American transfer Robert Upshaw in the middle, and if things come together, the Huskies could be fairly potent with the ball in their hands.

Nigel WIlliams-Goss and Andrew Andrews Give The Huskies A Head Start On A Potent Offense

Nigel WIlliams-Goss and Andrew Andrews Give The Huskies A Head Start On A Potent Offense

Weaknesses. So, if I’m going out of my way to praise the Huskies’ offense as a strength, I’ll give you one good guess what I think their weakness could be this season. Back in 2008-09, as Washington was running out to a #4 seed in the NCAA Tournament behind the likes of Jon Brockman, Quincy Pondexter and freshman Isaiah Thomas, Romar’s group gave the 10th most efficient defensive performance in the nation. Every year since then, the Huskies have been worse on defense than the previous year, culminating in last season’s dumpster fire. The Huskies gave up an adjusted total of 104.5 points per 100 offensive possessions, good for a dreadful 163rd in the nation and 11th in the Pac-12. Look no further for your primary reason why the Huskies were lucky to finish 9-9 in conference play. This year, if Upshaw can become something of a rim-protector in the middle and get some help from Jarreau, the Huskies should be better by default. But – let’s be blunt – Williams-Goss and Andrews are not the type of defensive-minded guards around which to build a great defensive team.

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Can Washington and Lorenzo Romar Make Progress This Season?

Posted by Tracy McDannald on October 15th, 2014

The year-to-year turnover in college basketball these days can make recent history appear ancient in a hurry. It was just five seasons ago when Lorenzo Romar guided Washington to the third Sweet Sixteen appearance of his tenure. Heck, just three seasons ago the 2011-12 campaign resulted in a regular season Pac-12 championship and Coach of the Year honors. It was Washington’s fourth consecutive top-three finish and seventh overall under Romar. But that same season ended in a first-round Pac-12 Tournament exit, an NCAA Tournament snub and the early departures of star freshman Tony Wroten and sophomore Terrence Ross. The Huskies haven’t been awful since then, but back-to-back .500 records in conference play is quite the fall in a relatively short period of time.

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C.J. Wilcox made the Huskies a respectable foe, and Romar did not lack for effort in trying to surround his high-scoring guard with talent. But a relationship with Aaron Gordon’s father was not enough to beat out Sean Miller and Arizona for the lottery pick’s services last season. Freshman point guard Nigel Williams-Goss developed into the Huskies’ second-leading scorer among last season’s class, but the rest of the freshmen did very little to distinguish themselves. For the first time since 2007, there was no postseason of any sort for the Huskies.

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Pac-12 Offseason Wrap-Up

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 14th, 2014

With basketball season now officially a speck on the horizon, it is time to dig back in and begin the trek that will eventually drop us off at the Final Four in Indianapolis on the first weekend of April. If you, like us, have been away enjoying your summer and you need a refresher on what’s going on in the world of Pac-12 basketball, we’ll get you jump started by trying to sum up every Pac-12 team’s offseason and their big questions for this season in a short paragraph.

Washington State – The Cougars’ big offseason story was etched in stone way back on March 18 when they fired head coach Ken Bone after five increasingly less successful seasons in Pullman. After a tidy two-week search, former Oregon head coach Ernie Kent was named as Bone’s successor. Kent’s got his work cut out for him at the toughest job in the conference, but he’s shown an ability to recruit on the fly, putting together a tidy four-man 2014 class that will at least give the Cougs a chance to surround star senior guard DaVonte Lacy with some decent parts.

Ernie Kent, Now At Washington State, Is One Of Three New Pac-12 Head Coaches (Geoff Crimmins, AP Photo)

Ernie Kent, Now At Washington State, Is One Of Three New Pac-12 Head Coaches (Geoff Crimmins, AP Photo)

California – Likewise, the Golden Bears’ offseason story revolves around a coaching change, what with Mike Montgomery putting an end to his Hall of Fame career following last year’s disappointing season. Athletic director Sandy Barbour wound up with an intriguing hire when he pulled Cuonzo Martin away from Tennessee following his March run from the First Four to the Sweet Sixteen. Martin’s first year in Berkeley will be marked by a short bench, and he’s yet to have any success on the recruiting trail. Furthermore, replacing a fixture like Montgomery is never going to be easy. But Martin immediately gives Cal a completely different feel on the sidelines. Stay tuned.

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Pac-12 Post-Mortems: Washington

Posted by AMurawa on April 25th, 2014

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll go through each Pac-12 team one by one and recount the season that has just completed and begin to turn the page to what we might see next season. Today, Washington.

What Went Right

For the fifth consecutive season, Washington started off Pac-12 play in strong fashion, winning three of their first four after the calendar flipped. But, just like the previous two seasons, the Huskies had dug themselves enough of a hole in non-conference play to make the second-half of the season an uphill climb. Still, Lorenzo Romar’s club definitely played its best ball of the season in Pac-12 play, with freshman point guard Nigel Williams-Goss developing into a promising prospect down the stretch and combining with vets C.J. Wilcox and Perris Blackwell to make Washington an often fearsome offensive squad, especially at Alaska Airlines Arena.

Nigel Williams-Goss Developed Into A Fine Point Guard In His Freshman Year (Getty Images)

Nigel Williams-Goss Developed Into A Fine Point Guard In His Freshman Year (Getty Images)

What Went Wrong

As alluded to above, the Huskies again struggled in non-conference play. This year there was a 14-point home loss to UC Irvine and a pair of neutral-site losses to Indiana and Boston College that made those mediocre squads look a whole lot better than they really were. Over the past three seasons, the Huskies are 22-15 in games before conference play, with at least one embarrassing home loss per year. Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on December 11th, 2013

We’ve talked about it a lot around these parts this year, since before the season even began — so many Mountain West teams putting all their eggs in a very small scheduling basket. For instance, Utah State’s only really quality non-conference game was its rivalry game with BYU. After losing that one, it was assured that their best win prior to the calendar flipping over to conference play would be at UC Santa Barbara – a good victory for sure, but not one to pin your NCAA Tournament hopes on. To make matters worse, Utah State backed up that BYU loss with a home loss to Pacific. So now the Aggies sit at 5-2; they’re lucky to have an RPI in the low 40s; and they face the prospect of needing a very strong run through the Mountain West on their first go-round in order to get themselves in the NCAA Tournament talk later this year.

Preston Medlin And Utah State Don't Have A Lot To Cheer About After Dropping A Home Game to Pacific (Rick Egan, Salt Lake Tribune)

Preston Medlin And Utah State Don’t Have A Lot To Cheer About After Dropping A Home Game to Pacific (Rick Egan/Salt Lake Tribune)

Likewise, Boise State went out and put together a schedule not befitting for a squad with borderline Top 25 talent and arguably the best team in school history. Certainly, they’re in the midst of the toughest stretch of their non-conference schedule, what with a trip to Kentucky on Tuesday night followed by a visit from an undefeated Saint Mary’s team on Saturday. But, as could have been expected, the Broncos struck out against the talented Wildcats, getting killed on the glass and at the rim and not being able to find enough good clean looks from deep against their long and athletic guards. Now all their hopes for a quality non-conference win get pinned on Saturday’s game against the Gaels. Again, on the basis of six wins in seven games, the Broncos are fortunate to have an RPI of #40, but with no resume wins in the non-conference, those four conference games against New Mexico and San Diego State in conference will loom large.

You see, it is only the Aztecs and the Lobos who have succeeded in coming away with some quality wins in the non-conference. SDSU has scalps from Creighton and Marquette, while New Mexico’s got UAB and Cincinnati on the wall already, with Kansas in Kansas City looming on Saturday and Marquette up the following Saturday. None of the victims of the Lobos or Aztecs are elite teams, but they’ve at least helped their teams to RPIs of #11 and #17, respectively. At the quarter-pole of the year, those two squads are alone among Mountain West teams on the good side of the resume ledger.

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Checking In On… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on November 26th, 2013

We’re a little more than two weeks into the season and the best win among all 11 Mountain West conference teams is: what? New Mexico in a double-overtime miracle over a UAB team that was under .500 last season? Utah State over UC Santa Barbara without its best player? Colorado State over Weber State? Meanwhile, among the dregs of the conference, you’ve got losses to luminaries like Pacific (twice no less), Cal State Bakersfield, Morehead State, Santa Clara, Milwaukee, Northern Illinois, James Madison, VMI and Jackson State. Not exactly painting a pretty picture, am I? While the Lobos will have plenty of chances over the next three weeks to score some pretty nice non-conference victories, the other best hopes in this conference have pretty slim pickings on their non-conference slates. Outside of this weekend in Orange County at the Wooden Legacy, San Diego State will have to win at Kansas in order to garner a really solid non-conference win; good luck with that. Boise State has a road trip to Rupp Arena in a couple weeks to face Kentucky’s freshmen, otherwise its only “up” game non-conference game prior to the Diamond Head Classic over Christmas is a home game against Saint Mary’s. And Utah State’s only non-conference game of consequence is against BYU on Saturday. In other words, you can not only completely forget about any possibility of five bids to the NCAA Tournament come March, three may be significantly stretching the matter.

Team of the Week

Anthony Drmic And Boise State Are Off To An Impressive Offensive Start, But Haven't Played Anybody

Anthony Drmic And Boise State Are Off To An Impressive Offensive Start, But Haven’t Played Anybody.

Boise State – It is slim pickings out there, so we’ll go with the Broncos for their home win over Seattle and road win over New Orleans. Told you it was grim out there.

Player of the Week

Alex Kirk, Jr, New Mexico – Another week, another New Mexico big man. This time it is Kirk for his three double-doubles in the Charleston Classic. For the week, the native New Mexican averaged 21.3 points, 12 rebounds and 4.3 blocks per game, and even threw in five three-pointers for good measure. Read the rest of this entry »

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