Pac-12 Morning Five: 12.21.11 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on December 21st, 2011

  1. Three games in the conference last night, none all that interesting, although I suppose it is worth noting these days when the Pac-12 gets through a weeknight without sustaining any more losses. Arizona faced the toughest competition when they hosted Oakland and their talented and prolific senior point guard Reggie Hamilton, but the ‘Cats survived as they “held” him to 31 often spectacular points. Solomon Hill played just about as well as he’s ever played, scoring 23 points, grabbing 11 rebounds, handing out three assists and refusing to let the Wildcats lose. Elsewhere, freshman Norman Powell had a career-high 19 points as UCLA won its fourth straight and stuck its head over .500 for the first time this year by knocking off UC Irvine by 29. And Oregon used a 19-3 run in the middle of the second half to break open a tie-game against North Carolina Central and escape despite a sluggish performance.
  2. Arizona State junior center Ruslan Pateev was suspended for one game by the NCAA on Tuesday following an altercation (jump to the 30 second mark here) during the Sun Devils’ game Monday night in which he took a swing and connected to the back of the head of Southern Mississippi’s Torye Pelham following a little scuffle under the basket. Pateev was ejected from that game after being given a Flagrant 2 foul, and if he receives another foul of that degree this season he will be suspended the remainder of the year.
  3. Washington head coach Lorenzo Romar is trying to right the ship in Seattle and think he has narrowed down the Huskies’ problems to three areas: 1) defense, 2) ball movement, and, the big one, 3) chemistry. Thing one and thing two can be fixed either through effort or game-planning, but with a ton of scorers who like to have the ball in their hands coupled with a play-making point guard like Abdul Gaddy who needs to have the ball in his hands to be effective, there have been some problems figuring out everybody’s roles. And with Tony Wroten now taking a larger part of the offense, and often doing so by creating for himself off the dribble, guys like Terrence Ross and C.J. Wilcox have seen their shot attempts diminish. Ross and Wilcox both averaged over 13 field goal attempts per game in the first eight games, but since Wroten entered the starting lineup, Ross has averaged just eight while Wilcox has averaged 10. Wroten, meanwhile, has taken 38 shots from the field in those two games, and although he did so very effectively (scoring 50 points on those shots), a bigger concern is his ability to create for his teammates, having dished out just four assists in 68 minutes.
  4. Across the state, Washington State is back to full strength for the first time this season, as senior captain Abe Lodwick played for the first time, while Faisal Aden and Mychal Ladd returned from injuries in the Cougars’ last game against Western Oregon. In their absence, senior Charlie Enquist stepped up with by far the best stretch of his career, while freshmen DaVonte Lacy and Dexter Kernich-Drew saw dramatic increases in their playing time. Given the fact that the Cougs have now won their last five after starting the season 2-4, head coach Ken Bone has a chemistry test of his own coming up in the future. The players who helped WSU win those five straight have earned the right to continue getting minutes, while the returnees are certainly among the most talented Cougs. It will be interesting to see how those precious minutes get divided up in Pullman over the coming weeks. WSU has just one remaining non-conference game before they host the Oregon schools to open conference play, a week from tomorrow.
  5. Lastly, Lost Lettermen asks the question, is the West Coast Conference better than the Pac-12? Jim Weber says yes, if only for one season, pointing to Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s and BYU as the standard bearers. Anthony Olivieri takes the negative (rightly), pointing out that Cal and Stanford appear to be as good as the top of the WCC, while a team like Washington (and I would include Arizona) still has plenty of upside. And as bad as the bottom of the Pac-12 is this season, remember that Utah just beat Portland last night, and Portland (who has struggled through an absolutely brutal non-conference schedule) isn’t anywhere near the worst team in the WCC. Certainly the Zags, Gaels and Cougars are all solid programs, but even with the Pac-12 at its nadir, it is still better than the WCC. If you don’t just believe me, ask Ken Pomeroy, Jeff Sagarin and the RPI.
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Arizona State’s Jahii Carson Declared Ineligible

Posted by AMurawa on December 9th, 2011

After a long drawn-out process, Arizona State freshman point guard Jahii Carson was finally declared ineligible for this season, following the results of an ACT test that came up just short of the score needed to qualify on the NCAA’s sliding scale. Carson was a top 50 national recruit out of Mesa High School in Phoenix, expected to take over the Sun Devil point guard position from day one and give Herb Sendek’s team the speed and electricity necessary to run a higher-tempo style of basketball. However, after Carson’s transcripts from a summer class came up short of qualifying him with his first ACT score, he took the test again and, according to ASUDevils.com, came up either one ACT point or one letter grade in one class away from gaining eligibility. Carson will be allowed to practice with the team from here on out, but will enter next season as a sophomore with a chance to regain the season’s worth of eligibility depending on his academic progress.

Jahii Carson, Arizona State

Jahii Carson Is Able To Practice With The Sun Devils, But Won't Be Eligible To Play Until Next Year (Credit: maxpreps.com)

Arizona State is off to a 3-5 start this season (with some bad losses to Pepperdine and DePaul mixed in there), and, coming off a 12-19 season last year, the hope was that Carson would help begin to turn the team around. However, in his absence, the Sun Devils have struggled to take care of the ball, turning the ball over on over 26% of their possessions (326th in the nation). Junior Chris Colvin and sophomore Keala King have taken the majority of the ballhandling responsibilities, but both of them have turned the ball over on more than 30% of all possessions. With Carson’s help delayed, King and Colvin will need to drastically decrease their turnovers for the Devils to be able to improve on last year’s record.

Looking ahead to next season, Arizona State could return all of this year’s contributors along with Carson and a couple of Division I transfers (Liberty transfer Evan Gordon and Hawaii transfer Bo Barnes) and a trio of incoming freshmen. Trent Lockett, the team’s leading scorer, is on pace to graduate in three years however, and there is the possibility (although Lockett has given no indication that this is his intention) that he could transfer to another Division I program without sitting out a year. If he does return, Sendek will have a trio of talented returnees on the wing in Lockett, King (who would be able to shift back over to an off-the-ball role he is more comfortable with) and Carrick Felix. The Sun Devils would still need to find somebody to give some sort of consistent contribution up front – seven footers Ruslan Pateev and Jordan Bachynski have been underwhelming this year, while sophomore forward Kyle Cain remains a work in progress – in order to compete for a tournament bid, but next year’s Sun Devil backcourt should be loaded with talent.

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Pac-12 Morning Five: 12.05.11 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on December 5th, 2011

  1. It was another busy weekend for Pac-12 basketball teams, and replicating previous weeks, it was another weekend piled high with losses and roster turnover. To kick things off with relatively happy news, USC had expected sophomore forward Dewayne Dedmon to miss four to six weeks with a stress fracture. As it turned out, it was closer to four to six days that Dedmon missed, as he returned to action Saturday when the Trojans traveled to Minnesota, losing 55-40. Dedmon showed up to the game with a boot on his right foot, but played anyway, and although he didn’t contribute much worthwhile, for a roster that needs all the warm bodies it can get, his return is welcome.
  2. Okay, enough with the marginally good news; on to the carnage. In Arizona, we can officially close the books on Sidiki Johnson’s run as a Wildcat. Career totals: seven minutes, one point, two rebounds. In news that surprises no one, the university announced Sunday that Johnson has left the program and will transfer out. Meanwhile, up in Berkeley on Saturday, California announced the indefinite suspension of sophomore forward Richard Solomon for behavior “contrary to university and athletic department values.” He didn’t travel with the Golden Bears to San Diego on Sunday, as Cal dropped a one-point game to San Diego State.
  3. We knew well before the season started that this year’s Utah squad would be bad. On Saturday, a 30-point loss to Fresno State dropped the Utes to 1-6, the worst start in the history of the basketball program. The team’s lone win was a 58-55 squeaker over San Diego Christian, a NAIA team that isn’t even much good at that level. Fresno State had previously lost to teams like Texas-San Antonio, Manhattan and North Dakota State, meaning the Utes didn’t even get blown out by a good team. We’ll continue to keep an eye on this squad and root for them to get a win here and there, but it is an awful shame that for the school’s first year in a major conference, they have to be cursed with the worst team in the history of the school.
  4. Okay, enough negatives. There were some positives around the conference this weekend (and yes, this means I won’t even mention Washington’s overtime loss to Nevada or UCLA folding like a tent against Texas). To begin with, Arizona State played its first true road game of the season on Saturday, and came away with a 67-64 win against a Tulsa squad in the middle of an absolutely brutal stretch in their schedule. Still, give credit to the Sun Devils who saw sophomore Keala King notch 18 points, four assists and three steals (nevermind the six turnovers) to lead the team, while junior center Ruslan Pateev scored as many points Saturday as he had in the previous six games combined. ASU was helped by the Golden Hurricane missing six of their nine free throw attempts in the last four minutes, but still, a win is a win. And, just to get ASU fans’ hopes up, the university expects to hear about Jahii Carson’s eligibility on Monday.
  5. There were a couple more big wins this weekend, the first one a literal big win, as Washington State crushed Eastern Washington by 26 points behind 20 points and 13 rebounds from senior center Charlie Enquist. WSU has won its last two games by a total of 58 points, holding its two opponents to an effective field goal percentage below 30%. Enquist, who had scored a total of 50 points and grabbed 41 rebounds in his 54 total games prior to this season, had career highs in virtually every category on the stat sheet. A more impressive win for the conference came Sunday afternoon, when Stanford rallied from a 12-point second half deficit to defeat North Carolina State. Josh Owens led the way for the Cardinal (now 8-1 and knocking on the door of the Top 25) with 19 points and seven rebounds, while freshman guard Chasson Randle continued his strong run, scoring 16 points, grabbing six rebounds and playing some smothering defense during the Cardinal’s second half run. Stanford now takes nearly two weeks off as their student-athletes deal with finals.
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Pac-12 Morning Five: 11.18.11 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on November 18th, 2011

  1. In an exciting nightcap at Madison Square Garden Thursday night, Arizona turned an eight-point deficit to St. John’s with under seven minutes to play into a nine-point win when it all was said and done. While it was Arizona veterans like Jesse Perry, Jordin Mayes, Kyle Fogg and Solomon Hill who finished strong for the Wildcats, it was their pair of highly-touted freshman guards who got the 23-6 game-closing run started. Nick Johnson took advantage of the Red Storm’s zone defense to drill a three on an underneath inbounds play, and on the next possession point guard Josiah Turner stepped into a passing lane, made a steal and threw down a slam at the other end to swing momentum. Johnson later added another three in the middle of the run to finish with 11 points off the bench, while Turner had his best game of his young career with eight points, three rebounds, and a couple of steals. He’ll still need to get his game under control more (he turned the ball over four times in 19 minutes), but last night he earned the minutes he played. He and his team will get another chance to take a step forward tonight as they face Mississippi State back at the Garden for the Coaches vs. Cancer championship.
  2. On the other side of the continent, USC came up on the losing end of another exciting game that came down to the final moments. Playing at San Diego State, Trojan sophomore point guard Maurice Jones hit a wild game-tying three pointer with 6.8 seconds left, only to see his team give up a coast-to-coast drive for a bucket from Aztec sophomore point guard Xavier Thames with 1.8 seconds remaining to provide the final margin. Jones played all but a minute of the game for USC and led the Trojans in scoring for the third straight game, but his team fell to 1-2 with the two losses coming by a grand total of five points, including a double-overtime loss to Nebraska in their last outing.
  3. ESPNU’s recruiting guru Dave Telep posted his rundown on the remaining unsigned top 100 recruits in the 2012 class and actually opined that UCLA’s struggles in their first two games of the season may help rather than hinder their pitch to #1 overall recruit, Shabazz Muhammad. Apparently Muhammad is looking for a needy co-dependent suitor, and if that’s the case, maybe the Bruins are employing a strategy similar to the Suck for Luck sweepstakes in the NFL. Elsewhere on Telep’s list, Cal and Oregon seem to be running a bit behind St. John’s for ESPNU’s #30 recruit, Ricardo Gathers, while Washington is one of many still trying to get a commitment from #7 Anthony Bennett.
  4. Arizona State hosts New Mexico tonight, with both teams coming off losses earlier in the week. It’s been said that ASU is ready to play a faster tempo this season (although the first couple of games don’t indicate much of a change) and the Lobos will certainly offer the Sun Devils every opportunity to do so. However, Herb Sendek’s team has plenty of things they’ve got to shore up before they can be considered a different team than last year’s 12-19 squad. First, guards Chris Colvin and Keala King need to buy into Sendek’s gospel of ball movement, something they haven’t done yet. And secondly, somebody along the ASU frontcourt, whether it be Kyle Cain, Jordan Bachynski or Ruslan Pateev, needs to show that they can provide the threat of a scoring punch up front. Until that happens, this is still Trent Lockett and a bunch of inoffensive warm bodies.
  5. Lastly, we head back to the Wildcats, as Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News tells the story of Kevin Parrom’s battle back from the gunshot wounds he sustained in an attack in New York City in September while visiting his mother who was then dying of cancer. Back in New York this week for the Coaches vs. Cancer event, it is a bittersweet homecoming for the junior from the Bronx, coming back to the city where he could have lost his life, and where his mother did lose her life just a month ago.  Parrom first made it back to the court last Sunday against Ball State where he played a key role in helping the Wildcats scrape out a victory. When he left the court at the end of the game to a standing ovation from the McKale Center crowd, he also got a big embrace from his coach Sean Miller, a hug that Anthony Gimino of the Tucson Citizen puts on par with some of the other great moments in Arizona basketball.

Today we’ve got a bonus entry, as I forgot to include our football picks for the weekend. Last weekend was a dismal week for both of us as we each went 3-3, but I’d have to point out that I at least got the Oregon pick in our game of the week right (although I had the game much closer than it turned out. And, it should be noted (if only because I’m the one writing this and not Connor), that although Connor holds a one game lead on the year, I’ve correctly picked all three of our games of the week, while Connor is a mere 2-1). This week we’ll look at Oregon again in our game of the week, this time against bowl-ineligible USC playing another in a long line of what amounts to mid-season bowl games.

Game Connor (12-6) Drew (11-7)
Arizona @ Arizona State Arizona State Arizona State
Colorado @ UCLA UCLA UCLA
California @ Stanford Stanford Stanford
Washington @ Oregon State Oregon State Washington
Utah @ Washington State Utah Washington State
USC @ Oregon Oregon 38, USC 21 Oregon 49 USC 30
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RTC Conference Primers: #6 – Pac-12

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 1st, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-12 and Mountain West conferences as well as a Pac-12 microsite staffer. You can find him on Twitter @AMurawa.

Reader’s Take I

With only two of the ten players named to last year’s All-Pac-10 team returning, the race for the conference player of the year is wide open.

 

Top Storylines

  • Twelve Is The New Ten: After 33 seasons, college basketball fans on the west coast are getting used to calling their conference the Pac-12. With Colorado and Utah along for the ride (and currently taking their lumps in football), gone are the days of the home-and-away round-robin schedule on the basketball side of things. But lest the traditionalists complain too much, it could have been much different, as schools from Oklahoma and Texas (obviously the very definition of “Pacific” states) flirted with changing their allegiance for the second consecutive year before heading back to the Big 12.
  • Fresh Blood: As mentioned above in our poll question, the conference loses eight of the ten players on last year’s all-Pac-10 team, with just Jorge Gutierrez of Cal and UCLA’s Reeves Nelson returning. In other words, it is time for a new set of players to step up and take the reins of the league. The most likely candidates are a talented group of freshman guards – names like Josiah Turner and Nick Johnson at Arizona, Tony Wroten, Jr. at Washington, Jabari Brown at Oregon, Norman Powell at UCLA and Chasson Randle at Stanford.

Jorge Gutierrez Is A Lightning Rod Of A Guard For Mike Montgomery's Golden Bears, And Big Things Are Expected.

  • The Carson Show On Hold. A seventh highly-touted freshman guard, however, is stuck in limbo. Arizona State’s Jahii Carson has yet to be cleared for practice while an investigation continues into an online course the 5’10” point guard took this summer at Adams State in Colorado. That school has yet to release his course transcript, and until that happens, Carson is unable to practice with the Sun Devils, making an already difficult situation (being regarded as a savior for a team coming off a 12-19 campaign) even worse.
  • Hard Times for Kevin Parrom: Sometimes, just when everything is going well, life conspires to deal you a set of circumstances that just suck. It’s not bad enough that Parrom took a couple of bullets on September 24 during a home invasion, while in the Bronx visiting his sick mother. But on October 16, Parrom’s mom then passed away after a long battle with cancer. While both incidents will have lasting effects on Parrom, the bullet wounds are the biggest obstacle to him getting back on the court, with bullet fragments lodged in his right leg, a boot on his right foot, nerve damage and his left hand currently wrapped up to protect lacerations sustained in the attack. Parrom is rehabilitating his injuries and as of this writing, no hard timetable is set for his return. But if anybody is due for a good break or two, Parrom’s the guy. Get well soon, Kevin.

Predicted Order of Finish

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Pac-12 Team Previews: Arizona State

Posted by AMurawa on November 1st, 2011

Over the next two weeks, we’ll be previewing each of the Pac-12 teams as we head into the season.

Arizona State Sun Devils

Strengths.  The Sun Devils are big. They’re capable of playing a couple of seven-footers (Ruslan Pateev and Jordan Bachynski) at the same time, with a 6’5” off-guard in Trent Lockett, a 6’3” point in Chris Colvin, and your choice of 6’5”-plus guys at the wing. Additionally, several of those guys are long for their size and guys like Lockett, Keala King, Carrick Felix or starting power forward Kyle Cain have some good hops to pair with their length.

Trent Lockett, Arizona State

Trent Lockett's Athleticsm Allows Him To Play Bigger Than His Size

Weaknesses. Of the many weaknesses ASU displayed last season, its inability to rebound the ball was the most damning. They rebounded just 27.8% of their own missed shots, good for 302nd in the nation, but worse they allowed their opponents to grab 33% of their misses. While Herb Sendek-coached teams don’t typically pound the offensive glass, their struggles cleaning the defensive glass need to be fixed, pronto.

Non-Conference Tests.  The Devils have a very manageable non-conference schedule, with only a visit from Mountain West favorite New Mexico on 11/18 and a trip to the Old Spice Classic on Thanksgiving weekend providing major challenges. They open the Old Spice with a sneaky-tough matchup against Fairfield (one of the favorites in the MAAC), then get either Dayton or Wake Forest on Friday. Really, if ASU can play well in Orlando, they have a puncher’s chance to make some hay in that tournament, given a relatively weak field.

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Pac-12 Morning Five: 10.28.11 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on October 28th, 2011

  1. The first exhibition game for a Pac-12 team this year went down on Thursday night, and while the rest of the sports world was enthralled by a magical World Series Game Six, or even Case Keenum throwing like nine or 12 or 15 touchdowns (sorry, lost count) against Rice, defending Pac-10 champion Arizona was busy losing to Seattle Pacific. Sure, it was an exhibition game, and sure, anyone who wants to overreact to this game needs to remember Syracuse losing to Le Moyne a few years back and then proceeding to be a top five team all year, but we got a couple of things out of the game Thursday night. First, and foremost, we got to watch college basketball again, and we got to see an entertaining game and a close finish. More importantly for the long haul, we got a look at the new Arizona. Freshman guard Nick Johnson looked like a guy unafraid to take a big shot in the closing minutes, while back court mate Josiah Turner looked very much like a freshman playing in his first collegiate game. He got the start at point over Jordin Mayes, but despite a few flashes here and there, he looked like a work in progress. For a bit more detail on this surprising game, check out our debut version of After the Buzzer, Pac-12 Edition from late last night.
  2. As was mentioned in yesterday’s Morning Five on the main RTC site, a scrimmage between current Washington players and Washington alumni was cancelled after head coach Lorenzo Romar mentioned the game on a local radio station and some of the players invited fans on Twitter. Holding the scrimmage would not have been a violation, but publicizing the scrimmage in such a manner would have qualified as a secondary violation. Dumb, right? Well, luckily for the players (both current and former), the scrimmage did occur, with former Huskies like Isaiah Thomas, Nate Robinson, Brandon Roy, Quincy Pondexter and others apparently playing  for the alumni team. Unfortunately for fans, security was in place keeping anybody from seeing the game. Well done, NCAA.
  3. USC’s redshirt sophomore center Dewayne Dedmon is just one among the several Trojans battling injury concerns in the early going (Jio Fontan and Curtis Washington, the two other prominent injuries on the roster). But for Dedmon, at least, there is a bright side to his injury. A natural lefty, what little basketball Dedmon has played (he didn’t start playing organized basketball until his senior year in high school), he has mostly played with his right hand. However, since breaking his right hand on October 11, Dedmon has spent the past few weeks giving his left hand some work. While the injury may not be ideal for the undermanned SC roster, head coach Kevin O’Neill thinks “in the long run, it’s going to help.” Dedmon’s hand will be re-evaluated next week with the hope that he’ll be ready to go when the Trojans open their season on November 11 against Cal State Northridge.
  4. In yesterday’s Morning Five, we talked about how Arizona State was toying around with the idea of using two seven-footers, sophomore Jordan Bachynski and junior Ruslan Pateev, in the lineup at the same time. If you wondered why, consider these troublesome stats: Last year ASU didn’t outrebound a single conference opponent, opposing post players typically went off against the Sun Devils (for example, career-highs for Derrick Williams, DeAngelo Casto and Matthew Bryan-Amaning in three straight games, which were preceded by double-doubles by Josh Owens and Markhuri Sanders-Frison), and the trio of Kyle Cain, Pateev and Bachynski combined to average 10.6 points and 8.5 rebounds in Pac-10 games. Suffice it to say, there is room for improvement up front for ASU, and with Cain bulking up and Bachynski getting more comfortable after a two-year Mormon mission, advances should be on the horizon.
  5. Finally, we’d like to unveil a little Friday fun at the five spot. Connor and I will engage in a little pick ‘em on Friday mornings, starting with Pac-12 football games for now, but moving onto some of the more interesting basketball games as the season progresses. Each week we’ll put our picks for the weekend games here, keep track of them as we go along, and eventually declare a winner and award Paul Bunyan’s Old Oaken Skillet (okay, we’re still working on the name) at the end of the year. Each week we’ll pick the most interesting game and try to call a score on that one (in bold below), while the other games we’ll pick straight up. Here are our picks for this week:
Game Connor’s Pick Drew’s Pick
Washington at Arizona Washington Washington
Colorado at Arizona State Arizona State Arizona State
California at UCLA UCLA California
Washington State at Oregon Oregon Oregon
Oregon State at Utah Utah Oregon State
Stanford at USC Stanford 35-28 Stanford 38-23
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Pac-12 Morning Five: 10.27.11 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on October 27th, 2011

  1. While this part of the season is largely hidden to the eyes of the normal basketball fan, it can be very important to the success of a basketball team. During practice, coaches get newcomers on the same page as veterans, build chemistry, install offensive sets and defensive principles, and work on conditioning, all while trying to figure out who can best play which roles on a team. All around the conference these days, coaches are finding out more and more about what their teams will look like this season. At Arizona, for instance, head coach Sean Miller is still trying to figure out who his starters are.  While returning starters Kyle Fogg, Solomon Hill and Jesse Perry are penciled in at the two through four positions, Jordin Mayes and Josiah Turner continue to battle it out for the point guard spot. Miller will need to decide between Sidiki Johnson and Kyryl Natyazhko in the middle, saying that for now, he will not move a forward such as Jesse Perry over to play center. With four new freshmen expected to get more comfortable as the season goes on, Miller’s starting lineup may change a bit, but with ten or more players likely to see significant time, it doesn’t matter as much who starts so much as who finishes.
  2. Up in Tempe, head coach Herb Sendek is playing around with the idea of getting both of his seven-footers on the court at the same time. At the end of the Maroon-Gold game on Saturday, both 7’0” Ruslan Pateev and 7’2” Jordan Bachynski found themselves on the same team, a roster move that ASU has worked on a bit in the offseason. While neither player is anywhere near a finished product (Pateev averaged 3.0 PPG in 12.3 MPG last year, while Bachynski went for 2.8 PPG in 10 MPG), the hope is that one of the two can exploit a size mismatch when they are paired together. Bachynski, in particular, is athletic for his size and has expanded his offensive repertoire a bit since last year. Normally putting two big lumbering centers on the court at the same time could hurt a team’s ability to guard, but Sendek seems pretty confident that “both of [these] guys move pretty well.”
  3. Some teams have a tougher time getting all of their game plan installed, and at Washington a roster featuring seven freshmen has caused some growing pains, reports Percy Allen at The Seattle Times. Husky head coach Lorenzo Romar has been unable to install all of his defensive schemes yet, a process no doubt impeded not only by all the youngsters but by the absence of veteran guard Scott Suggs, who is recovering from a stress fracture in his right foot. Adding to the trouble, freshman guard Tony Wroten, Jr., has missed more than a week of practice after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery last week, but due to the miracle of modern medicine, is expected back next week.
  4. Kevin O’Neill’s case is a little different than the above. In the middle of the summer he had a pretty good idea what USC’s offense would look like this year. But, when point guard Jio Fontan tore an ACL on a team trip to Brazil, it was back to the drawing board. Now, instead of pairing Fontan with sophomore Maurice Jones in the back court, Jones has to take over lead guard duties with freshman Alexis Moore as his running mate. Not only will the Trojan offense look different than it was expected to look, but the expectations on Jones are entirely different. Never one to worry about giving his players too much time, O’Neill expects Jones to play almost every minute in a competitive game.
  5. At Oregon State, head coach Craig Robinson has less turnover than most everywhere else in the conference. While he is missing two players who averaged over 20 minutes last year in Calvin Haynes and Omari Johnson, just about everyone else returns. And, for the first time in his stay at Corvallis, everybody on Robinson’s roster is somebody that he recruited. With a young and athletic bunch, Robinson expects to play more man-to-man defense than his customary zone, and he hopes to play at a bit higher pace. But for the most part, while other coaches are putting in new plays and adjusting to newcomers, the Beavers are just tweaking a style of play that most of their players are already familiar with. Perhaps that little extra familiarity can be the difference between the type of results the Beavers have gotten used to and a postseason appearance.
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Conference Report Card: Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 13th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West conferences. We will be publishing a series of conference report cards over the next week for conferences that received multiple NCAA bids to recap the conference, grade the teams, and look at the future for the conference.

Conference Recap:

After an awful 2009-10 season in which the Pac-10 had to limp into a second NCAA Tournament bid when Washington hit the gas pedal down the stretch, the four tournament bids the conference received this year was a huge improvement. With Arizona advancing to the Elite Eight, the Pac-10 advanced a team beyond the Sweet 16 for the first time in three seasons, and the conference was a much deeper collection of teams than last year. And without a doubt, that came as a result of the enhanced talent level across the conference. Coming into the season, there were just 17 seniors on rosters across the conference, and the youngsters showed vast  improvement this year, notably Derrick Williams (an All-American and national player of the year candidate), Isaiah Thomas, Tyler Honeycutt, and Klay Thompson with several other players making big strides in their games. While the Pac-10 still struggled to gain national respect, it was clear to fans that the level of play is on the rebound from its 2009-2010 nadir.

The Pac-10 was Derrick Williams' personal playground in 2011, and the Wildcats displayed perhaps the most impressive performance of the NCAA Tournament in their dismantling of Duke. (AZ Daily Star/M. Popat)

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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 3rd, 2011

 

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 conferences.

A Look Back

A week ago, the conference was all but won. Arizona had a two game lead, and even with a Los Angeles road trip looming, it looked like it would take a complete collapse for the Wildcats to lose their grip on the Pac-10. But a week later, USC is riding a four-game winning streak, UCLA has won eight of its last nine, Arizona has dropped two in a row and now we’re left with the Wildcats and the Bruins tied atop the conference. And yet, this is still the Wildcats’ conference to lose. While UCLA heads north to visit the Washington schools this week, Arizona heads back home to host the Oregon schools. If the ‘Cats can take care of business in the McKale Center, UCLA would need to complete a road sweep of the Huskies and Cougars in order to seal the tie at the top of the conference. More importantly, with Selection Sunday just a week and a half away, both UCLA and Arizona have basically sewn up at-large bids, but Washington, once considered the obvious favorite in the Pac-10 and a shoo-in for NCAA inclusion, has put its NCAA at-large candidacy back in question. A closer look at their resume reveals only a home win over Arizona and a road win over UCLA as wins to hang their hat on, with their win over Long Beach State their only other win over likely participants in the NCAA Tournament. While the bubble at the back of the line is probably soft enough for the Huskies to still get in, they surely want to wrap up the season in style with wins over UCLA and USC in order to ease their worried minds.

  • Team of the Week: UCLA – Back from the dead, the Bruins now sit back where Westwood expects them to sit: atop the Pac-10 standings. After last year’s disastrous 14-18 season, the Bruins worst season since Ben Howland’s first year of rebuilding after the Steve Lavin era ended in ruins, after a frightening home loss to Montana to cap a four-game losing streak back in December, after the fourth consecutive loss to cross-town rival USC in their first meeting this season, the Bruins being tied atop the Pac-10 in March seemed exceedingly unlikely. And while this Bruin team looked decidedly ordinary over the course of the Pac-10 schedule, all of a sudden they are playing their best ball of the year. Without a doubt, the Bruins’ 22-point thrashing of Arizona in the final game at Pauley Pavilion before it begins renovations, a game in which John Wooden’s great-grandson, Tyler Trapani, scored the final basket ever recorded in the building’s grand history, was the best Bruin performance in the past two seasons. While they still have a lot to prove in the coming days and weeks, the fact that this team is beginning to gel just as the calendar turns to the most important month in the sport is of great comfort to Bruin fans.
  • Player of the Week: Nikola Vucevic, Junior, USC – In the story of the Trojans’ sudden rebirth, Vucevic is the leading man. While the junior from Montenegro has been very good all season long, averaging 17.5 PPG and 10.3 RPG, over the Trojans four-game winning streak he has been nothing short of excellent. In that span he has averaged 21.3 points and 11.5 rebounds, has knocked down eight of his twelve attempts from beyond the arc and has scored over 30% of USC’s points. If Vucevic can keep his Trojans on their winning ways in Washington this weekend, USC may be just good enough to sneak back into bubble conversations in advance of the Pac-10 Tournament.
  • Newcomer of the Week: Allen Crabbe, Freshman, California – Well, I think he’s back. After sparkling through much of the first 11 games in the conference season, Crabbe’s excellent rookie campaign hit a major speed bump when he suffered a concussion against Washington on February 10. He missed the rest of that game, two more games and was clearly not back to full strength when he did return against UCLA, but this week he proved that he is ready to go forward at full strength. This week he scored 45 points, knocked down ten of his 16 three-point attempts and grabbed eight rebounds in helping his Golden Bears to a sweep of the Oregon schools.
  • Game of the Week: USC 65, Arizona 57 – There were nine games this week, and none closer than USC’s eight-point upset win over the Wildcats on Thursday night. While this was by no means a thing of beauty (the teams combined for six assists on 40 field goals, the Trojans went 1-10 from three and shot just over 40% from the field, and still won with relative ease), the result did send shockwaves around the conference, as Bruin fans were forced to admit that they were pulling for the Trojans – and hard. In the end, USC got two big blocked shots by Alex Stepheson and Marcus Simmons after the Wildcats came back to tie the game at 56, and the Trojans converted those defensive plays into four made free throws on the offensive end. Vucevic led the way for the Trojans with 25 points and 12 rebounds, while junior point Jio Fontan had by far his best game since his first week of eligibility, posting 21 points and adding three assists. But the big key for the Trojans had to be limiting Arizona’s Derrick Williams to just 3-11 shooting, just two free throw attempts (seven below his season average) and just eight total points – his first game of the season in which he failed to score in double figures.
  • Game of the Upcoming Week: UCLA (21-8, 12-4) at Washington (19-9, 10-6), 3/3, 6pm PST, ESPN2 – Between the two teams tied at the top of the conference heap, the Bruins have by far the toughest road remaining. The Huskies have lost just once at home all season, and just four times in the last three years, and UCLA hasn’t won at the Hec Ed since 2004. But, they’ve got to assume that they need two wins in their remaining two games in order to tie for the Pac-10 title, and if they’re to rise to that challenge, it starts here. In the first matchup, the Huskies strung together a 27-10 run spanning halftime to break open a close game and propel them to an eventual 11-point win at Pauley. In that game Joshua Smith fouled out in a relatively ineffective 22 minutes, Lazeric Jones was completely absent, nobody off the Bruin bench made a field goal and the Huskies shot the Bruins out of the gym. For UCLA to get this win, Howland would like to see Smith stay out of foul trouble, pound the Huskies in the paint and get some offensive contributions from Jones. Even if UCLA can pull off this difficult road win, they’ll need to back it up with a win at Washington State on Saturday to ensure a Pac-10 title.

Power Rankings

 1. Arizona (23-6, 12-4): I’ve been saying all year long that if opponents can limit Williams offensively, the ‘Cats don’t have enough firepower on the rest of their roster to beat good teams. We learned this against BYU and we learned this against Oregon State. Of course, then Arizona and Momo Jones and Kevin Parrom shot that theory down in dramatic fashion in triple overtime against Cal, but in the back of my mind, I still didn’t buy this Wildcat squad as an elite team. Fast forward to the last week in February, when USC and UCLA held Williams to 23 points on 8-22 shooting and just six total free throw attempts in handing the Wildcats a oh-for-L.A. weekend. No other Wildcat was able to score more than 12 points in his place over the weekend (Jesse Perry had 12 against USC, Parrom added ten in that game and Kyle Fogg had ten against UCLA) and the rest of the roster combined to shoot a less-than-impressive 32.9% from the field. This is still a good Arizona team, but the concept of this squad being a top ten team (where it was ranked last week) is ludicrous. The concept of this squad even being a top 25 team (where it is still ranked) is still a stretch.

Looking ahead: The Wildcats return to the McKale Center this week, and need to stop the bleeding immediately by avenging their opening weekend loss to Oregon State on Thursday. Then they wrap up the season on Saturday by hosting Oregon. Arizona needs both of these games.

2. UCLA (21-8, 12-4): Sometimes basketball is a pretty simple game. Sure, you’ve got to make your shots, and you can have cold shooting nights that doom you or hot shooting nights by opponents that do the same. But the fact of the matter is, if you play tough defense, rebound well and don’t turn the ball over, you’re most of the way there. And, in those areas, the Bruins are suddenly looking good. At the start of the year, their defense was not up to par. In particular, the loss to Virginia Commonwealth in Madison Square Garden was abysmal, the type of defense that Bruin fans hated seeing last season. But in conference play, things have turned around and now this UCLA squad is excellent defensively. But the biggest factor this weekend in the Bruins’ sweep of the Arizona schools may have been their total of 16 turnovers for the weekend. Considering that the Bruins turned the ball over 18 times against Cal, 19 times in their win over St. John’s and their loss at Arizona, and even 26 times in their win over Oregon State, the eight turnovers that they posted in each game this weekend was a critical improvement. In order for the Bruins to be a serious threat come the NCAA Tournament, they’ll need to keep those turnover totals similarly low.

Looking ahead: Washington on Thursday night and Washington State on Saturday, a pair of games that make up the toughest road trip in the Pac-10. And the Bruins need to win both to secure a conference title.

3. Washington (19-9, 10-6): The Huskies have this rationalization to fall back on, following their home loss to Washington State on Sunday: they didn’t play that bad. The Huskies dominated the offensive glass, grabbing 23 rebounds, exactly 50% of every missed shot that came off the rim on the offensive end. But, they turned the ball over 16 times, missed far too many of the put-back attempts and shot a lowly 36.6% from inside the three-point arc. All in all, Lorenzo Romar and company have to forget about this game and take care of business this week against the hot Los Angeles schools that are coming storming through Seattle. Anything less than a sweep and the Huskies are limping into the Pac-10 tourney.

Looking ahead: UCLA on Thursday, USC on Saturday.

4. USC (17-12, 9-7): Out of nowhere, a four-game winning streak (they had not won more than two-in-a-row all season) and a newly formidable Trojan squad. Vucevic has been excellent all year, but USC is at its best when his frontcourt mate Stepheson is a major contributor. During the four-game winning streak, he has average 13 points and nine rebounds a game, while during the seven Pac-10 losses he has averaged just over seven points and rebounds per game. The Trojans are 11-4 when he scores in double figures, just 6-8 when he does not. The numbers are clear: Kevin O’Neill needs Stepheson to provide a threat alongside Vucevic for USC to be at its best.

Looking ahead: If USC can continue its streak and get wins at Washington State and Washington, you’d have to say their resume (which would then include wins over Texas, at Tennessee, UCLA, Arizona and at Washington) would be superior to the Huskies. A couple more wins in the Pac-10 tourney could be enough to get them dancing.

5. Cal (16-13, 9-8): I think a lot of people would probably go with Washington State as the next best team in the conference, but Cal has proven to be the more dangerous, more balanced team over the course of conference play. Despite a four-game swoon in February that coincided rather clearly with Crabbe’s four-game absence (Crabbe’s concussion overlapped with three of the four losses), the Golden Bears have been impressive this season under Mike Montgomery’s excellent guidance. Junior Jorge Gutierrez has improved dramatically from the hustling role-player that he portrayed in his first two years on campus, and stepped it up even more spectacularly of late, scoring in double figures in his last ten games and averaging 20.3 PPG, 5.4 APG and 4.2 RPG over that span. Crabbe, too, has shown rapid improvement under Montgomery; after taking a couple months to get comfortable, he has been clearly the best freshman in conference play, averaging 18.4 PPG (excepting the two games around his concussion) since the abrupt transfer of fellow freshman Gary Franklin after the first Stanford game. Likewise, sophomore Brandon Smith, who averaged less than seven minutes per game last year, has been transformed into a solid Pac-10 level point guard since the Franklin departure, averaging 11.4 PPG and 5.1 APG in the 16 games since. And with Markhuri Sanders-Frison and Harper Kamp doing yeoman’s work up front, this is a seriously tough Cal team that could cause a lot of problems in the Pac-10 tourney.

Looking ahead: The Bears wrap up the season with a visit from Stanford on Saturday.

6. Washington State (18-10, 8-8): The mere fact that I’m putting a team as good as this Cougar team as the sixth best team in the conference indicates that while the Pac-10 is not back to the glory days of Kevin Love, the Lopez twins, James Harden and O.J. Mayo (among numerous others), this conference has come a long ways since last year’s mediocre conference. However, the fact that a team this talented is just .500 in the conference raises some other questions. We’ll save those for later, however, as the Cougs are coming off an big win over Washington on Sunday, a game during which they got to the line 36 times and made a mighty impressive 32. Sure, they turn the ball over too much, and they still can get killed on the glass (witness the 23 offensive rebounds they gave up Sunday), but Klay Thompson is one of the best scorers in the nation, DeAngelo Casto is a big, bouncy forward who has turned it on lately (15.5 PPG and 8.0 RPG over the last six games) after an injury-riddled start to the season and Ken Bone is blessed with plenty of willing role players. Much like USC and Cal, this team may need to win the Pac-10 Tournament to get invited to the NCAA Tournament (so far their resume consists of a win over Gonzaga and a season sweep of Washington), but they’re very capable of doing so.

Looking ahead: The Cougars host USC and UCLA this weekend, and they’ll need to prove in those games that their win at Washington wasn’t just a one-off blip before anyone should take them too seriously.

7. Oregon (14-14, 7-9): Home losses to the Bay Area schools this week put a damper on the buzz surrounding the Ducks, but head coach Dana Altman has still done a fantastic job with an undermanned roster. This week the concept of defense escaped Oregon, as they allowed Cal to post a 64.7 effective field goal percentage, only to get worse, as Stanford shot 65.7%. On the week, the Ducks allowed 1.22 points per possession.

Looking ahead: Oregon’s season concludes with a visit to the Arizona schools, where they’ll need to make up ground on WSU in order to avoid the opening round games in the Pac-10 tournament, a possibility that now seems remote.

8. Stanford (15-14, 7-10): The Cardinal came out of Oregon with a split, an acceptable if not enthralling outcome, that nevertheless leaves them without much hoping of earning a bye in the Pac-10 tourney. Jeremy Green did re-establish his hot streak, however, knocking down 15 of 24 shots for 39 points on the Oregon trip. He continued that run in the final non-conference regular season game of the Pac-10 schedule with 22 more points on seven-of-nine shooting in an 11-point win over Seattle on Tuesday.

Looking ahead: The Cardinal travel to Berkeley on Saturday to wrap up the regular season against Cal.

9. Oregon State (10-17, 5-11): The good Beavers were back for a spell this week, knocking off Stanford before posting a come-from-ahead loss against Cal on Saturday. In the Cal game, OSU actually won the battle of the boards and forced twice as many turnovers as they committed, but allowed the Bears to shoots a 71.7% efg. Against the Cardinal, five Beavers scored in double figures and OSU came from behind at the end, outscoring Stanford 13-5 in the final 2:18 to win by seven.

 

Looking ahead: Oregon State travels to Arizona on Thursday, then ASU on Saturday.

10. Arizona State (10-18, 2-14): Another week, another couple of losses by an average of 17 points. Against UCLA on Thursday, no Sun Devils scored in double figures, Ruslan Pateev led the team with five rebounds and Ty Abbott led the team with four assists. While Trent Lockett, the team’s leading scorer with 13.7 PPG, is a nice piece, Herb Sendek has to look awful hard at this team to determine  how to get back from here to competitiveness. Among next year’s possible returnees, besides Lockett, only freshman Chase Creekmur, a relatively one-dimensional shooter, has posted an offensive efficiency number above 100. It’s a long way back from here.

 

Looking ahead: The Sun Devils finish up an awful season with two winnable games at home against the Oregon schools. Here’s hoping the ASU seniors finish things off right with a win over Oregon State on Saturday. Or not. Have they really earned it?

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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 20th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West Conferences.

A Look Back

Just as it seemed everything was playing out for a relatively easy run through the league for the Washington Huskies, with a 4-0 conference record in the books for the first time since 1984 despite the sudden loss of point guard Abdul Gaddy to a season-ending knee injury, the Huskies had a rough little stretch. First, there was the disturbing story out of Seattle involving the Huskies, as a “prominent member” of the Washington basketball team was accused by a 16-year-old girl of rape. No charges have been brought as of the time of this post, and there has been no new information in this case for over a week. But with the situation a cloud over the entire program, the full Washington roster headed into Maples Pavilion for a battle with Stanford last Thursday night and looked flat, took bad shots, and didn’t even hit many of their good looks on the way to an upset loss. The Huskies did bounce back with a dominating win over Cal on Sunday, and still remain the team to beat in the conference, but we were all reminded that going on the road in conference play is never an easy proposition.

Team of the Week: Arizona – It’s been a couple of weeks since we’ve done this, so while the Wildcats haven’t exactly looked great in posting three straight wins, they get the nod simply because they are the only Pac-10 team without a loss over those two weeks. The last time we checked in on the Pac-10, we spent a lot of time talking about how Derrick Williams, despite his immense talents, was simply not being aggressive enough, either within the Wildcat offense or on the boards. I’m not for a second saying he heard my call to step up (although, if he’s not a regular reader, he should be, right?), but in two of the last three games, Williams has been a different player, twice posting career-highs with 31 points. In both games (wins over Cal and Arizona State), he was very involved in the Arizona offense, taking 12 field goal attempts each time (making seven against Cal and eight against ASU) and getting to the line a whopping 38 times (connecting on 31) in the two games combined. Perhaps more importantly, Williams was a beast on the glass, posting 31 rebounds over the entire three-game span. The rest of the talent on the Wildcat squad is good, but they’ll only go so far as they let Williams take them. Luckily for all involved, they’ve let Williams take over of late.

Player of the Week: Isaiah Thomas, Junior, Washington – Given the numbers mentioned above for Derrick Williams, the fact that he’s not getting this honor should tell you how good Thomas has been of late. Following the misfortune of the season-ending injury to Gaddy, the big question around Seattle for the Huskies was how effective their point guard play would be. It’s only been two week and four games, but I think Thomas went has provided an answer: try 20 PPG, 9.3 APG, and eleven three-pointers on for size. Add in the fact that the 5’9 star threw down his first dunk in a collegiate game against Oregon, just for a little spice, and while the Huskies will still miss Gaddy’s presence, Lorenzo Romar has to feel confident with his point guard play going forward.

Newcomer of the Week: Terrence Ross, Freshman, Washington and Allen Crabbe, Freshman, California – In the two weeks since we’ve done this, we’ve had a lot go down, but I wanted to mention Ross and his breakout performance a couple weeks back at the Hec Ed. While Ross has had some games this season where he grabbed the spotlight (most notably his 18 points and four threes in Washington’s Pac-10 opening win at USC), the homestand against the Oregon schools featured the biggest game of his young career and his first iteration of big back-to-back performances. Against Oregon, Ross went off with 25 points (on 11-18 shooting, including three threes), four rebounds, four steals, two blocks and no turnovers while earning a season-high 27 minutes. To back that game up, he posted a more reserved 14 points (6-11 field goals) and seven rebounds in just 16 minutes against Oregon State. With Gaddy’s 23 minutes a game up for grabs, Ross went a long way towards staking his claim for some extra run. Since then Ross has come back to earth, scoring just six points in the Huskies’ trip to the Bay Area, but he’s shown what he can do. Crabbe too had an up-and-down non-conference portion of the season, but since backcourt-mate Gary Franklin announced his decision to transfer out of the program, he has stepped into a major role in the Cal offense. Over the last four games, Crabbe has averaged 20 points a night, including a career-high 30 in an overtime upset of Washington State during which he played 44 of a possible 45 minutes. He has scored in double figures in six of the last seven games and has given a Golden Bear offense which sputtered on a regular basis early in the year, an explosive option to pair with their bruising frontcourt.

Game of the Week: Stanford 58, Washington 56 – Upsets like these don’t come easy, as Cardinal head coach Mike Montgomery was reminded on Thursday. After a Josh Owens tip-in put Stanford up two with 29 second left, he knew he’d have to survive one last Washington possession. And what an eventful possession it was. First, junior Scott Suggs missed a potential game-winning three-pointer from the corner, but Husky forward Justin Holiday was able to come away with the rebound and draw a foul from Jeremy Green with two seconds left. But, after missing the first free throw, Holiday was forced to miss the second one on purpose in order to give his team another chance to tie. Stanford freshman Dwight Powell was able to grab the rebound, but was called for a travel, giving U-Dub one last chance at the win. However, Holiday – who had a game-high 15 points, missed at the buzzer and Stanford escaped with a shocking win.

Game of the Upcoming Week: Arizona (15-3, 4-1) at Washington (13-4, 5-1) 1/20, 7:30PM PST, FSN – The battle between the top two teams in the conference also provides Arizona with yet another chance to prove that they belong in the conversation at the top of the conference. So far, the Wildcats have failed every significant test they have faced, and have earned their 4-1 conference start with a mixture of home cooking and light competition. Not only are the Huskies a completely different story, the trip to Washington’s Hec Ed Pavilion is as tough of a place to play as the edition of the Wildcats has seen so far. For Arizona to hang around in this game, Derrick Williams will need to duplicate the intensity and aggressiveness he displayed against Cal and Arizona State, and the Wildcats will need to keep the tempo somewhat slow. If the Huskies turn this game into a fast-break affair, expect the Dogs to expose the ‘Cats flaws.

Power Rankings

1. Washington (13-4, 5-1): We’ve talked about Thomas above, but we’ve also got to mention Matthew Bryan-Amaning, who kept up his hot streak after winning our last Pac-10 Player of the Week, by posting averages of 16.8 points and 10.3 rebounds over the past four games. In the bounce-back win over Cal, Bryan-Amaning was one of three Huskies to score more than 20 points, when he posted 22 points and 11 rebounds. Thomas led all scorers in that game with 27 (and 13 assists for good measure), while Holiday added 23.

Looking ahead: Our game of the week is the big one on the schedule for the Huskies, with a visit from Arizona State following on Saturday.

2. Arizona (15-3, 4-1): According to the standings, the Wildcats are in second place in the conference; a look at their schedule to date gives one at least some pause. A win over conference-doormat Oregon, a surprising loss to a team that lost to Utah Valley State (!!), a two-point win over a down Cal squad, a workmanlike win over a young Stanford squad and a solid win over a hapless Arizona State team does not exactly indicate that this is a classic Arizona team. Still, Derrick Williams is as good as anybody in the conference (if not the nation), Sean Miller is a terrific head coach, and this is a deep roster. If Miller can find somebody to step up to be a consistent threat when paired with Williams, this team could be in business. Senior Jamelle Horne threw his name into that ring with a 16-point, 12-rebound performance against Stanford, where he also knocked down all four of his three-point attempts, including two clutch bombs in the last four-minutes to put down one final Cardinal rally, but his inconsistency showed up again against ASU, when he had just four points and two rebounds in 20 minutes.

Looking ahead: The trip to Washington is one thing, but if the Wildcats aren’t careful, the matchup with Washington State on Saturday could be awful difficult as well. An 0-2 weekend in Washington is not going to be an uncommon result around the conference this season.

3. UCLA (11-6, 3-2): The Bruins lost to USC for the fourth straight time a couple of weeks back when Malcolm Lee and Tyler Honeycutt combined to make four of their 15 field goal attempts and turn the ball over eight times against just four assists. Freshman center Josh Smith was slightly more effective, notching eight points on four-of-six shooting, but he fouled out in 22 minutes after committing multiple dumb fouls, even after Howland lessened his duties in defending the pick-and-roll. To make matters worse, he then went and acted very much like the freshman that his is after the game, further embarrassing a proud program that is struggling through some tough times right now. UCLA did bounce back by sweeping the Oregon schools on the road, in a couple of hard-fought games. Against OSU on Thursday, UCLA completely blew a 17-point second half lead before recovering to score the final seven points of the game and escape with a five-point win. Smith played the hero in that game, knocking down four straight free throws and grabbing four rebounds in the final 2:30 to seal the game.

Looking ahead: UCLA hosts the Bay Area schools this week, giving them a reasonable chance to extend their winning streak to four games.

4. Washington State (13-5, 3-3): Home cookin’ never tasted so good. On the heels of a nearly two-week road trip that ended with a couple of conference-opening losses in Los Angeles, Ken Bone and company were in desperate need of a Beasley Coliseum homestand. And the Cougars made good on their return to the Paloose, pulling out a pair of 14-point wins over the visiting Oregon schools. On the following road trip to the Bay Area, the Cougs managed only a split, losing a tough overtime game to Cal this past Thursday. Klay Thompson has continued to shine for WSU, 25.5 PPG and 7.3 RPG over the last four, but when the Cougs are going good, they give him plenty of help. In the two wins over the Oregon schools,  three additional Cougars scored in double figures in each game, but Thompson’s teammates struggled more offensively against the Bay Area schools. Luckily, WSU’s second-leading scorer, junior Faisal Aden, bounced back from a bit of an offensive downturn to contribute 20 points in the three-point win at Stanford.

Looking ahead: In the Pac-10, each team has a geographic traveling partner. When Washington is playing at Arizona, Washington State is playing at Arizona State. And vice versa. This situation gives the traveling partner of a dominant team in the league a bit of an advantage. For instance, Arizona is going to be sky-high for their game against Washington. Win or lose, you can expect the Wildcats to suffer something of a letdown in their next game at Washington State on Saturday. If the Cougs can take care of business against ASU on Thursday and take advantage of an Arizona letdown on Saturday, a 2-2 week would look mighty good.

5. Stanford (10-6, 3-2): In each of the last two weeks, the Cardinal have come away with splits. And, in each case, that had to be considered a pretty good result for Johnny Dawkins’ young team. On the road trip to Arizona, Stanford took care of business in pummeling the Sun Devils, then lost a tough roadie at the McKale Center. Coming back home, they were able to score the big upset over Washington, but then maybe let down a bit for the follow-up game against Washington State and lost by three after blowing a nine-point halftime lead, when Jeremy Green’s potential game-tying three at the buzzer rimmed out. With so many freshmen dotting the roster, some inconsistency is to be expected, but Dawkins has to be pleased to see guys like Dwight Powell and Anthony Brown make some big contributions on occasion.

Looking ahead: Tough road trip for the Cardinal this week as they head south to face their southern California brethren: at USC on Thursday and at UCLA on Saturday.

6. USC (10-8, 2-3): We can briefly mention USC’s fourth straight win over UCLA, in which Nikola Vucevic scored 20 and Alex Stepheson double-doubled with 13 points and 16 rebounds. Impressive win. Not as impressive? Anything since then. This past week, the Trojans got swept on the Oregon trail, easily the softest road trip in the Pac-10. While Vucevic continued to look strong, averaging 18.5 points and 13.5 rebounds in the two games, the rest of the Trojans were awful. Their trademark tough defense was largely absent, the offense moved in fits and starts and the Trojans twice built up big second half deficits (20 points against Oregon, 14 vs. OSU) before making a too-late charge towards a respectable final margin. The fact that Oregon won without scoring a field goal in the final nine minutes of the game says it all. While Kevin O’Neill’s club has some good performances on its resume, there are too many awful losses there for this team. Throw in the fact that freshman Bryce Jones, who averaged over 30 minutes per game in the first nine games of the season but had seen his minutes dry up to the point where he only averaged seven minutes over the last five games, has announced his decision to transfer from the program and the warm and fuzzy feelings that were surrounding this program quite recently have vanished completely.

Looking ahead: With the Bay Area schools due into town this weekend, the Trojans have an excellent chance to turn their bad luck streak around.

7. Oregon State (8-9, 3-3): After a journey back to reality for the Beavers, with an 0-2 record on their tough Washington road trip, they gave UCLA all they could handle before losing down the stretch, but then handled USC with ease to break a three-game losing streak. While the 3-3 record looks very ordinary, OSU has shown significant improvement in their conference schedule. However, they have to work on finishing their games. They stuck around with Washington State for 32 minutes before letting a 61-57 game turn into a 14-point Cougar win, then they battled Washington to a one-point halftime deficit before getting thumped in the second half. Against UCLA they roared back from a 17-point second deficit, even briefly gaining the lead, but then gave up the final seven points of the game in a loss. The good news is that the Beavers showed improvement in this area against USC. When the Trojans came back from a 14-point second half deficit to cut the lead to four, OSU responded with a couple big plays – an over the shoulder no-look pass from Joe Burton to Jared Cunningham for a bucket, followed by a Calvin Haynes steal and breakaway – to staunch the bleeding. Cunningham remains the versatile star of the program – leading the team in points while currently sitting at second in the nation with one steal roughly every 17 possessions – freshman Roberto Nelson is coming fast, averaging over ten points per game over the last four contests.

Looking ahead: The Beavers host intrastate rival Oregon on Saturday.

8. Cal (9-8, 2-3): In the immediate aftermath of the Gary Franklin transfer, Cal fans rallied around their remaining troops with the typical “oh, we’ll be better off without him” mantra. After four games, it looks like they may have been right. Yes, the Golden Bears have gone just 2-2 in those four games, and they’re coming off a 21-point thrashing at the hands of Washington. But gone are the bad shots and possession stalling dribbling and in his absence, fellow freshman Allen Crabbe has exploded with consistently strong efforts. A third freshman, Richard Solomon, has also come along nicely, averaging 11 points in the Washington homestand; Solomon however needs to add bulk and strength before he can be a consistent contributor at the Pac-10 level. While this team is never going to be as explosive as last year’s offensive powerhouse, the Golden Bears are getting good help from their veterans. Junior Jorge Gutierrez is running the offense, scoring when needed and defending his heart out on a nightly basis, and he went for 12.2 PPG over the last two weeks, while senior big man Markhuri Sanders-Frison, who is fighting through some painful plantar fasciitis, and junior Harper Kamp provide a solid duo up front.

Looking ahead: At UCLA tonight, then USC on Saturday.

9. Arizona State (9-8, 1-4): Disastrous couples of weeks for the Sun Devils, losing two games at home to Stanford and Cal, teams that they need to beat to have any hope of an upper division finish, then getting handled pretty easily by Arizona. ASU fans can point to senior point guard Jamelle McMillan missing both games against the Bay Area schools due to injury and sophomore leading scorer Trent Lockett still not being back to 100% following his own injury, but the fact of the matter is that this group is not leading this Sun Devil team anywhere fast. And, you start to get the feeling that Herb Sendek understands that, which is why you see names like Carrick Felix and Ruslan Pateev suddently getting starts and huge bumps in minutes. Felix has been up and down, but does have four double-figures games in his last five, including a 21-point outburst in the Sun Devils’ win over Tulsa last Wednesday in their final non-conference game of the season.

Looking ahead: Tough couple of games ahead at Washington State and Washington. The Devils would be lucky to get a split this week.

10. Oregon (8-10, 1-5): After a couple more losses on the court, and a handful of injuries to go with them for good measure, a couple of weeks ago, the Ducks bounced back to open their $227 million state-of-the-art Matthew Knight Arena in style with an impressive win over USC. First to the injuries. After getting hurt in the Oregon loss at Washington, Malcolm Armstead missed the Ducks’ loss at Washington State last weekend, although he did return for the homestand. Worse yet, senior Joevan Catron and junior Jeremy Jacob were injured in the first half of that Washington State game and didn’t return to the court in the second half. Catron still has not come back, while Jacob did return for the UCLA game. For a team that was already short-handed, injuries leave this team counting on walk-ons for significant minutes as Nicola Fearn, Matt Losli and Martin Seiferth notched 31 minutes between them against WSU. There was some good news for the future of the Duck program,, aside from the successful opening of their new arena, as head coach Dana Altman secured the transfer of point guard Devoe Joseph, formerly of Minnesota. Joseph enters school this semester and will be eligible in December 2011.

Looking ahead: Oregon heads to Corvallis on Saturday for a battle with OSU.

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RTC Conference Primers: #6 – Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 1st, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West Conferences and an occasional contributor.

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Washington (13-5)
  2. Arizona (12-6)
  3. UCLA (11-7)
  4. Washington State (10-8)
  5. Arizona State (10-8)
  6. Cal (9-9)
  7. USC (9-9)
  8. Stanford (6-12)
  9. Oregon State (6-12)
  10. Oregon (4-14)

All-Conference Team

  • G: Isaiah Thomas. Jr, Washington (16.9 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 3.2 APG)
  • G: Klay Thompson, Jr, Washington State (19.6 PPG, 5.1 RPG).
  • G: Jeremy Green, Jr, Stanford (16.6 PPG, 3.8 RPG)
  • F: Derrick Williams, Soph, Arizona (15.7 PPG, 7.1 RPG)
  • F: Nikola Vucevic, Jr, USC (10.7 PPG, 9.4 RPG)

6th Man

Ty Abbott, Sr, Arizona State (12.0 PPG, 4.4 RPG)

Impact Newcomer

Josh Smith, Fr, UCLA: Smith is the biggest incoming recruit in the conference, in more ways than one. Ranked the 20th-best recruit in the 2010 class according to ESPNU, Smith also tipped the scales at somewhere over three bills when he stepped onto the UCLA campus this summer. Immediately, head coach Ben Howland put him in a conditioning program and Smith changed his dietary habits as well, putting him on the road towards dropping 40 pounds already. Paired with his soft hands and quick feet, the trimmed-down Smith will play a vital role in the Bruins’ attempts to bounce back from last year’s brutal campaign.

UCLA’s Ben Howland is among several Pac-10 coaches looking to make the conference an NCAA Tournament threat again after a poor showing in 2009-10.

What You Need to Know

  • Pac-10 Blues: Last year, the Pac-10 was saved from the indignity of receiving only one NCAA Tournament berth when Washington won nine of their last 11 games of the regular season, then proceeded to win the Pac-10 Tournament to clinch the automatic berth. Together with regular season champion California, the Huskies represented the Pac-10 well, advancing to the Sweet 16 before losing to eventual Final Four team West Virginia, while the Golden Bears fell in the second round to eventual champion Duke. However, the Pac-10’s limited success in the tournament did little to hide the fact that last season was a down year across the conference, and with 11 of last year’s top 20 scorers, and nine of the top 20 rebounders gone, it doesn’t seem that the talent level across the conference is ready to skyrocket.
  • Stability and Youth: But, while there aren’t loads of household names up and down the rosters in the conference, there is some stability, as only Oregon welcomes a new head coach (Dana Altman, formerly of Creighton) and teams across the conference average a total of 3.2 returning starters. And there is plenty of youth, with just 17 seniors on rosters across the conference. Schools will need to see their youngsters step up quickly for the Pac-10 to improve upon last year’s showing. There is a bright side here, though. Even with five members of last year’s all-tournament team (all except the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, Isaiah Thomas) and six of the ten All-Pac-10 first team members having graduated, most teams around the conference, with the significant exception of Cal, return the majority of their production – eight of the ten conference schools return more than 50% of their scoring production, and nine of the ten return more than 50% of their rebounding production. If the kids around the conference can put some of that experience they earned last season to use, this could be a much-improved conference, as the veteran coaches around this conference have proven their ability to coach up their players. There are five coaches in the Pac-10 with more than 300 career wins, and that doesn’t even include some of the most respected young coaches in the land like Sean Miller and Lorenzo Romar. While the talent level seems to be down across the conference, expect this lineup of stellar coaches to get the most out of what they do have.
  • Last Roundup: This season marks the end of the Pac-10 conference. Next year the conference will welcome Colorado and Utah, officially becoming the Pac-12. In the process, plenty of tradition will be discarded: no more home-and-home round robin and the resultant crowning of a true regular season champion, the biggest change. There will be years where UCLA doesn’t visit McKale and Oregon won’t visit Hec Ed, for instance. But in the long run, the conference will add a Utah program that has had some significant success over the years (including a run to the national championship game in 1998) and a Colorado program that, well…hey, they made a Final Four in 1955, I’m told. In any event, come 2011-12, basketball season around the conference will have a different feel.

Predicted Champion

Washington (NCAA Seed: #5): The Huskies are pretty much the de facto favorite, given that last year’s regular season champion Cal lost about 85% of its scoring, but Lorenzo Romar’s team, despite having plenty of talent, still has some question marks. Not in question is the team leader, 5’8 junior point guard Isaiah Thomas, a dynamo who is the team’s leading returning scorer and an interesting personality. Paired in the backcourt with 6’0 senior Venoy Overton (8.5 PPG, 3.1 APG. 2.9 RPG), the duo are undersized but form an intimidating pair for opposing ballhandlers, with the quickness and aggressiveness to get up into their opponents, keeping the opposition from getting comfortable in the half-court set and forcing turnovers which the Huskies can use to jump-start their transition game. They can be overpowered by bigger guards in the half-court game, but use their quickness to good advantage defensively. On the offensive end, Thomas plays with a style that belies his stature, getting into the lane and drawing fouls or finishing in often spectacular ways. The Huskies also return sophomore guard Abdul Gaddy (3.9 PPG, 2.3 APG), the second-ranked point guard in the 2009 recruiting class, who struggled finding his rhythm in his rookie campaign. Should he get his swagger back and become a consistent offensive force for Washington, they could have one of the stronger backcourts in the nation, with junior Scott Suggs (4.7 PPG, 1.2 RPG) providing depth and a good long-range threat. However, up front the team still has something to prove, given the graduation of last year’s leading scorer Quincy Pondexter and the retirement from basketball over the summer of forward Tyrese Breshers due to medical issues. Matthew Bryan-Amaning (8.8 PPG, 5.9 RPG) and Justin Holiday (5.9 PPG, 4.5 RPG) figure to start at the forward spots, giving the Huskies an undersized but athletic starting five. Bryan-Amaning will need to prove himself capable of taking over Pondexter’s role, but all signs show that he is ready for that challenge, as he finished his junior season strong and was one of the big reasons for Washington’s improvement down the stretch. Depth up front will come from 6’8 junior scrapper Darnell Gant (2.5 PPG, 2.4 RPG), 7’0 transfer Aziz N’Diaye and 6’6 wing Terrence Ross, one of the conference’s most heralded newcomers, and a guy who could be an offensive weapon immediately for Romar, provided he can earn the minutes. In a conference where the talent level is presently in question, there is little doubt that the Huskies have plenty of talent. But they’d like to come out of the gates more quickly than they did last season and prove that they are ready to win on the road on a consistent basis, something they struggled with in 2009-10, when they lost their first seven games away from the Hec Ed. Odds are, they’ll be improved in that area due to an extra year of experience for their hyper-talented backcourt, but they’ll have a good early season test of that theory when they travel to the Maui Invitational during Thanksgiving week.

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