Pac-12 M5: 03.11.14 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 11th, 2014

pac12_morning5

  1. The Pac-12 announced its conference awards on Monday, and we’ll go right to Doug Haller of AZ Central for the details of an Arizona-heavy set of awards. To begin with, as expected, Nick Johnson of Arizona took down the conference Player of the Year award, and his head coach Sean Miller went home with the Coach of the Year award, standard fare for a champion that won the conference by three games. But the Wildcats weren’t done there, as Aaron Gordon won Freshman of the Year and earned All-Pac-12 first-team honors along with Johnson (nevermind for now the fact that the Pac-12 insists on putting ten guys on its first team). Elsewhere, T.J. McConnell earned second-team honors (which is the equivalent in reality to third-team) and a spot on the All-Defensive team, while Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was a member of the All-Freshman team. But the state wasn’t done there, as Arizona State senior Jordan Bachynski also earned a big award, taking home the Defensive Player of the Year award.
  2. As we turn our collective eye towards Las Vegas and the conference tourney, for Washington, the challenge is clear: win the Pac-12 Tournament or consider NIT (or worse) options. And in order to do that, they’ll need to repeat a feat that only Colorado has accomplished in the nine years since the conference went to first-round byes in 2006: win four games in four days. What are the odds that the Huskies can get that done? Well, KenPom.com puts the odds at 28% that they’re even able to knock off their first-round opponent Utah, with the Huskies’ suspect defense being the primary disadvantage against the Utes.
  3. Washington’s first-round opponent, Utah, is in a similar boat. There is an outside chance that if things fall just exactly right and if the Utes reach the Pac-12 championship game and give a good showing there that they can sneak in as an at-large to the First Four – but nobody should count on that. In order to have any confidence that they’re going to hear their name called on Selection Sunday, the Utes need to win this thing. But for a Ute team that is used to playing with everybody on their schedule (of ten losses, seven were by one possession or an overtime game, an eighth was by four points and just two were by more than four points in regulation), they’re confident. As sophomore guard Brandon Taylor puts it, according to Dirk Facer of Deseret News: “We know that we can compete with everybody in the league.”
  4. Continuing our theme of Pac-12 teams that will need to win four games in four days to win the conference tournament, Oregon is in that boat with Washington and Utah. But unlike those teams, even if the Ducks come up short, and likely even if they lose in their opening game, the Ducks will probably wind up dancing. Still, the Ducks have standards to live up to, as in every Pac-12 Tournament that has been played in Las Vegas, Oregon has come out the champion. Sure, that’s only one tournament, but still. The good news for the Ducks is they are the hottest team in the conference right now, with seven straight wins under their belts. The bad news is that unlike last year when they got a first-round bye, they’ll have to get started on day one with a game against in-state rival Oregon State.
  5. Then there’s Colorado who, as the fifth-seed, earns the advantage of getting to play last-place USC in their opening round tournament game. They’re likely in regardless of what goes down in Vegas, but avoiding a bad loss against the Trojans only makes sense. For head coach Tad Boyle, the prescription, according to Tom Kensler of The Denver Post, is to not play tight but to “play with an edge and understand that… every possession could be our last.”
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Pac-12 Superlatives: Coach, Newcomer, Freshman of the Year and More

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 10th, 2014

We announced our Player of the Year and All-Conference teams earlier today, now to dig a little bit deeper with the rest of our All-Conference Awards.

Coach of the Year

Sean Miller, Arizona – This was a no-brainer, as all three of our voters opted for the head coach of the conference champion. Not only did Miller put together a heaping pile of talent in Tucson, but he’s got the group to all buy in to a single goal. They’re all committed defensively, they work together as a single unit, covering for each other. And when Brandon Ashley went down with a broken foot in February, Miller was able to shift on the fly, remaking his team to give it the best chance come March. Many times, a coach is punished in these Coach of the Year votes for having the best talent. This time around, despite Miller having the best team in the league, there should be little argument that he deserves the nod.

Sean Miller Has Done A Brilliant Job Molding The Talented Wildcats Into A True Team (Arizona Athletics)

Sean Miller Has Done A Brilliant Job Molding The Talented Wildcats Into A True Team (Arizona Athletics)

Newcomer of the Year

Delon Wright, Utah – In his first year in Salt Lake City after a stint at the City College of San Francisco, Wright was something of an unknown coming into the season. And then, as the Utes were running roughshod over undermanned opponents in the early schedule, it was hard to tell if Wright’s ridiculous numbers were legitimate. Four months later, there is no such worry;  not only are his numbers legit, he’s one of the handful of best players in the league. He led his team in scoring, assists, steals, blocks and minutes. He posted a 59.7 eFG%, an absolutely ludicrous number for a point guard. And he helped shift the climate in the Huntsman Center from that of a program used to losing to one that now expects to win.

Defensive Player of the Year

Nick Johnson, Arizona – Our three voters are a small sample size, perhaps accounting for this surprising result, but Johnson edged Arizona State’s Jordan Bachynski on the basis of his hounding perimeter defense for the most efficient defensive team in the nation.

Nick Johnson: He's Not Just Our Player of the Year, He's Our Defensive Player Of the Year (Christian Petersen, Getty Images)

Nick Johnson: He’s Not Just Our Player of the Year, He’s Our Defensive Player Of the Year (Christian Petersen, Getty Images)

Freshman of the Year

Aaron Gordon, Arizona – So often, the talk about Gordon is about the things he can’t do, and admittedly, he’s a pretty poor shooter. But, he wouldn’t be our unanimous Freshman of the Year and a second-team all-conference guy if he were defined strictly by what he can’t do. Because, what he can do is pretty special. Athletically alone, he is in the upper 1% of all Division I college basketball players. His versatility – being able to guard not only fours and fives like Josh Scott and Dwight Powell, but also ones and twos like Chasson Randle and Spencer Dinwiddie – allow the Wildcats to switch everything defensively and match up with whatever the opponent puts on the court without tweaking their own personnel. And then his ability to rebound and finish around the rim, or his keen passing eye or developing game off the bounce? It is no wonder NBA scouts drool over his potential.

Sixth-Man of The Year

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona – What you want most from a sixth-man is the willingness to do whatever is needed to help the team achieve its goals. Sometimes that means a gunner coming in off the bench to provide instant offense, like Jason Calliste at Oregon. Or a complete change of blood like Bryce Alford and Zach LaVine provide at UCLA. But Hollis-Jefferson is the consummate sixth-man, so much so that when Brandon Ashley went down for the year, Hollis-Jefferson was ready and willing to step into the starting lineup. And then, three games later, when Sean Miller decided it would be better for him to return to his role off the bench, he did so without complaint. Oh, and it also helps that he’s really good, a terrific defender that fits in perfectly with the rest of the squad, an aggressive rebounder and a skilled slasher.

Most Improved

Davonte Lacy, Washington State – On a team that lost go-to scorer Brock Motum, the junior guard took over the reigns as the Cougars best offensive option. His scoring average jumped from 10 PPG to almost 20, his shooting percentages went up across the board and his usage numbers skyrocketed as well. It may not have been the year Ken Bone envisioned, but it certainly wasn’t Lacy’s fault.

All-Freshman Team

  • Aaron Gordon, Arizona
  • Nigel Williams-Goss, Washington
  • Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona
  • Zach LaVine, UCLA
  • Bryce Alford, UCLA

All-Defensive Team

  • Nick Johnson, Arizona
  • Jordan Bachynski, Arizona State
  • Aaron Gordon, Arizona
  • Delon Wright, Utah
  • Jordan Adams, UCLA
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Otskey’s Observations: Episode XV, Player and Coach of the Year Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on March 6th, 2014

Each week throughout the season, RTC columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) will run down his observations from the previous week of college basketball.

As the college basketball regular season wraps up, I thought this would be a good time to run down my Coaches of the Year and Players of the Year in each of the major conferences. Here goes…

ACC

  • POY: T.J. Warren, NC State (24.2 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 1.8 SPG). Warren has been a tremendous bright spot on an otherwise mediocre Wolfpack squad. Since a rough four-point game against Virginia on January 11, Warren has scored at least 20 points in every game he has played (he missed one game due to injury). At 6’8” and an athletic 215 pounds, Warren is a match-up problem for nearly every opponent. He has had eight 30+ point games (only one fewer than Doug McDermott), including Monday’s 41-point explosion in a road win at Pittsburgh. Some may disagree because NC State is not at the top of the ACC, but a season like this where Warren brought it night after night deserves special recognition.
Tony Bennett has done a tremendous job at Virginia. (virginiasports.com)

Tony Bennett has done a tremendous job at Virginia. (virginiasports.com)

  • COY: Tony Bennett, Virginia (25-5, 16-1 ACC). Bennett’s teams have always been terrific defensively and this one is no exception. Ranked third nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, Virginia has allowed only four ACC opponents to score 60 or more points this season. Even in a league with a tempo as slow as this year’s ACC, that is a remarkable statistic. Virginia was a trendy surprise pick but I am not sure anyone thought it would turn out to be this good. The Cavaliers were picked fourth in the preseason ACC poll but currently hold a three-game lead over Syracuse and North Carolina with just one game to play.

American

  • POY: Russ Smith, Louisville (18.0 PPG, 4.5 APG, 2.0 SPG). This was a really close call between Smith and Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick but I am giving Smith the slightest of edges. Both mean so much to their respective teams but Smith’s decision to return to Louisville for his senior year has proven to be a wise one. Smith is enjoying the best shooting season of his career (46.8 percent) and has matured greatly. He is playing smarter and has led this Louisville team to a 25-5 overall record. The Cardinals again have the look of a Final Four contender and Smith is the primary reason why.

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Pac-12 M5: 02.26.14 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on February 26th, 2014

pac12_morning5

  1. It’s been another rough season on the Palouse for Washington State and head coach Ken Bone. Last year, Bone’s job was saved after a disappointing season in part because of a large buyout. But this time around, expectations are that athletic director Bill Moos is going to have to move on from Bone and bring in a new head coach. The question is, who? Vince Grippi of The Spokesman-Review suggests a plan is already in place, but it remains to be seen if it will be a retread coach (Ben Howland makes a lot of sense in a lot of ways), an assistant from some big-time job earning his first head spot, or a mid-major guy taking a big step up.
  2. Oregon is still very much alive in terms of their chances to earn their way back onto the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble. But, according to Steve Mims of the Eugene Register-Guard, various people from around the conference peg the Ducks as a strong candidate to repeat as the Pac-12 Tournament champions and earn the conference’s automatic bid. Both Ernie Kent –an analyst with the Pac-12 Networks – and Mike Montgomery note that Oregon’s ability to get hot and score in bunches could be a major advantage when it comes to having to win four games in four days.
  3. While nothing is official yet, it appears that sophomore guard Damyean Dotson will play for Oregon on Thursday night when the Ducks travel to UCLA. Dotson, who missed Sunday’s game against Washington State after being cited for using a fake ID at a Eugene Bar, had started the previous 60 games for the Ducks. Head coach Dana Altman reports that no decision has been made yet, but that the situation is “moving in the direction” of Dotson being available to play against the Bruins.
  4. After a weekend where junior point guard T.J. McConnell had 16 assists and no turnovers while leading his team to a pair of road wins, there were hopes around Tucson that he would wind up with the Pac-12 Player of the Week award. That was not to be, but head coach Sean Miller made it clear on Monday how much he values McConnell’s contributions to the team, praising not only his effectiveness at running the offense, but also his defensive prowess.
  5. As for the Wildcats’ in-state rival Arizona State, despite getting swept last week by the schools in the Rockies, the Sun Devils are still in good shape to make the NCAA Tournament, according to Doug Haller of AZCentral.com. Their RPI is still rock solid, they’ve got three wins against teams in the top 50 of the RPI and, given the struggles other teams in contention for NCAA Tournament consideration have gone through, they’re pretty comfortably in the field. But, Haller points out five areas where the Sun Devils need to improve between now and Tournament time: urgency, shooting, leadership, consistency and… Jahii Carson. Much as we talked about most recently on Monday, while Carson has been good this season, he hasn’t approached the elite level of play he turned in regularly during his sparkling freshman season.
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Breaking Down the Seven Pac-12 Teams with Tournament Hopes

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on February 24th, 2014

Way back before the start of the season, I made the bold prediction that seven Pac-12 teams would wind up in the NCAA Tournament. Some three months later, we’re looking at six teams that can be confident in packing their bags for the Big Dance, while that lucky number seven is still a strong possibility. After a busy week in the conference, below we’ll go through the teams that still have NCAA at-large aspirations, checking in on where they stand both on the court and in terms of their NCAA hopes.

It Has Taken Some Time For Arizona To Recalibrate, But The Talent Level Here Is Still Great (Ralph Freso, Getty Images North America)

It Has Taken Some Time For Arizona To Recalibrate, But The Talent Level Here Is Still Great (Ralph Freso, Getty Images North America)

Arizona – On Wednesday night, as UCLA was putting the hammer down at California and Arizona was getting fortunate bounces in order to pull out a win at Utah, the sentiment that “UCLA is the best team in this conference” was not an insane statement to make. The Bruins’ impressive collection of talent is congealing nicely in time for the sport’s money month, but remember that Arizona is continuing to rack up wins, starting to adjust to playing without Brandon Ashley, and is still one of the best and most versatile defensive teams in recent history. That isn’t going to go away anytime soon. Sean Miller’s club will continue to make things very difficult for its opponents’ attempts to put the ball in the bucket (only four times in 27 games have they given up more than one point per possession), while their offense will readjust to life without Ashley. This team doesn’t have the offensive upside that it had with their 6’9” big man in the lineup, but things are beginning to get recalibrated, as their 88-point explosion against Colorado on Saturday evening showed. Sure, the Buffaloes are a bad defensive team right now, but that was still the best any team has performed against them all season. The Wildcats just took them apart, getting buckets in transition, getting easy looks at the rim in the halfcourt, and even knocking in eight threes (at a 47% clip) to dominate the Buffs. Oh, and you want one more statistic that sums up just how thoroughly the Wildcats broke Colorado’s spirit? There were about 20 times in the game when, following a Buffaloes’ made basket, the Wildcats took at least 10 seconds off the shot clock. The Wildcats’ eFG% in those 20 possessions? 84.4%, per the great website hoop-math.com. So, basically, Colorado scored, Arizona brought the ball upcourt, worked its offense, and regularly negated the Buffaloes’ previous score. Demoralizing.

NCAA Seeding Outlook: Arizona is still very much in the conversation for a #1 seed, and its remaining schedule is favorable (Cal/Stanford, at Oregon/Oregon State), with every remaining game winnable. Questions about depth may make Arizona something other than the favorite to win the Pac-12 Tournament, so let’s chalk them up for a loss at some point in Las Vegas. And let’s say they go 3-1 in their remaining regular season games. That puts them at something like 28 or 29 wins against four losses, but with all four coming without Ashley. One could see an argument for dropping them to a #2 because of it, but odds remain strong that these Wildcats are a #1 seed come Selection Sunday.

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Marching to Vegas: And Down the Stretch They Come…

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoops) on February 21st, 2014

Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) of Pachoops again will be joining us all year, providing us with his weekly take on our favorite conference, as we begin the March to Las Vegas.

I think we’re on the home stretch. I don’t really know when it begins, it’s pretty loosely defined. It’s a term derived from horse racing when the horses enter the final straightaway en route to the finish line. When did the Pac-12 make it’s final turn into the home stretch? I’m not sure. It’s certainly up for debate. But what’s certain in this situation is that Vegas is just three weeks away. We play an 18-game schedule and less than a third remains. And with so few games remaining (the home stretch?), I feel pretty strongly that this is shaping into a two-team race. There are a few teams that have a fighter’s chance (boxing) at making a play for the top spot, but right now it’s just UCLA and Arizona, a two-horse race. So let’s look at them! Or, more specifically, their respective current state of affairs and their forthcoming competition on the schedule.

Where Once 12 Came Out Of The Gate, There Are Now Two Horses With A Chance In the Pac-12 (Lawrence K. Ho, Los Angeles Times)

Where Once 12 Came Out Of The Gate, There Are Now Two Horses With A Chance In the Pac-12. (Lawrence K. Ho, Los Angeles Times)

We’ll begin in Westwood where Steve Alford has his team peaking at the right time. Which is an interesting fact because Alford has never coached a team like this before. He’s only once had a team rank in the top-100 in adjusted tempo (his 2004 Iowa team ranked 66th at 70.3) and is at the helm of a squad taking more than 27 percent of their offense in transition. Hoop-math only goes back to 2011-12 but seeing as how the two New Mexico teams accounted for never grabbed more than 20 percent of their offense in transition, I’m comfortable assuming Alford has rarely, if ever, had a team run this much. And they do it well. They’re running up the list of best offensive teams in the country and the Alford mark is beginning to make an imprint, too. He’s lauded most regularly as a defensive guy and the Bruins hovered above average for parts of the season. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 M5: 02.19.14 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on February 19th, 2014

pac12_morning5

  1. So, late on Monday night I am navigating my way through the college basketball hub on ESPN.com, and I find this piece with different writers making predictions for the rest of the season that will either make them look smart or stupid. About a quarter of the way down the page is the headline “Take notice of the champs… and Oregon State“. John Gasaway’s “prediction that will make him look stupid” is centered around the Beavers upsetting UCLA in the Pac-12 Tournament championship, giving the program its first trip to the Big Dance since 1990. Stupid or not, a prediction is a prediction, and Oregon State fans will take it. Also included in this predictions post is C.L. Brown’s prognostication that Arizona will not receive a one seed for that NCAA Tournament. With four of its final six on the road and its performance without Brandon Ashley not exactly inspiring, this isn’t a bad pick.
  2. Joe Lunardi released his latest edition of Bracketology on Monday, and the Wildcats remain as a #1 seed in his projections. UCLA follows as a #5 seed, and then four Pac-12 teams (Stanford, Arizona State, California, and Colorado) are represented on the #9 and #10 lines. John Templon released his NIT projections as well earlier this week, and Oregon, Washington, Oregon State, and Utah appear in that field.
  3. Shortly after we talked to you on Monday morning, both the AP and Coaches polls were released and saw Arizona drop two spots to #4 after falling at Arizona State last Friday. The only other team to appear inside the Top 25 were the Bruins after their sweep of Colorado and Utah, but both Arizona State and Cal appear in the “Also Receiving Votes” section. Click here to check out Rush the Court‘s weekly rankings, where the Cats once again appear at fourth, the Bruins take 22nd, and Arizona State comes in at #29.
  4. Stanford guard Aaron Bright will be transferring to St. Mary’s and be eligible to play immediately next season in Moraga. The senior appeared in seven games this season for the Cardinal before dislocating his right shoulder during a late November practice. In order to be able to play immediately, Bright has to find a graduate degree program that is offered by St. Mary’s and not by Stanford. According to this tweet, the Gaels have at least three of those; Kinesiology, an MA in Leadership, and an MFA in Creative Writing. Oh, and Australian Basketball Recruiting.
  5. I must warn you, the next link is a bit disturbing. Coaches at both Arizona and Arizona State are proposing the ridiculous notion that Pac-12 court rushes be prevented, possibly by as soon as next season. Sean Miller thinks the situation is a threat to the visiting team’s safety and inconveniences them when trying to get back to the locker room after the game is over. My thoughts? Who cares if you have to wait by the bench for a few extra minutes after the buzzer sounds? Have security in place like the ACC does to surround the staff and players, and let the kids have their fun on the floor.
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Pac-12 Roundup: Week 14

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) and Drew Murawa (@AMurawa) on February 18th, 2014

Out of the country? Living under a rock? Here’s what you missed in the 14th week of Pac-12 basketball. 

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

T1. Arizona State (19-6, 4 Points). Comment: “Is Arizona State even an accredited university? Or is it like DeVry?” – Jordan Majewski (@jorcubsdan)

T1. UCLA (20-5, 4 Points). Comment: “UCLA student section chanting “one more year” to Zach LaVine. I’m guessing NBA scouts want in on that chant too.” – Drew Murawa (@AMurawa)

T1. Arizona (23-2, 4 Points). Comment: “He touched the rim. RT @jskarp Sean Miller should be a delight after this game.” – Kevin Danna (@Kevo408)

Senior Guard Jermaine Marshall Celebrates After Knocking Off #2 Arizona On Friday (credit: Matt York)

Senior Guard Jermaine Marshall Celebrates After Knocking Off #2 Arizona On Friday (credit: Matt York)

4. Colorado (19-7, 5 Points). Comment: “Someone is SKIing in Los Angeles right now.” – Adam Butler (@pachoopsab)

5. California (17-8, 8 Points). Comment: “California escapes for an 80-76 overtime win in Pullman and avoids losing to the two worst teams in the conference.” – Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28)

T6. Oregon (16-8, 14 Points). Comment: “You want to know how well Oregon is playing? I don’t even have anything bad to say about Waverly Austin.” – Matt Daddy (@mattdaddysblog)

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Pac-12 M5: 2.12.14 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 12th, 2014

pac12_morning5

  1. So, after a week without Brandon Ashley, one thing has become pretty clear for Arizona: Odds are good that the injured big man will be back for his junior campaign in the desert. He told ESPN’s Jeff Goodman recently that it is very likely he’ll be back in Tucson next season instead of pursuing an NBA career, but for head coach Sean Miller, a guy who has seen his fair share of players leave early, he’s not taking anything for granted. The coach, player and his family plan on gathering together after the season to discuss the big man’s future, however, and the decision then may turn out differently.
  2. One interesting bit out of the Wildcats’ Sunday evening win over Oregon State was the contribution of little-used senior guard Jordin Mayes, who earned just five minutes of action but may have put in his application for future minutes with a nine-point outburst in that limited time. With Miller claiming to already trust Mayes defensively and that seventh and/or eighth spot in the rotation available, it’s possible that the stretch run of Mayes’ Wildcats career could be more impactful than previous results had led us to believe.
  3. Utah also has a player who was formerly on the outs now competing for a bigger role in junior wing Princeton Onwas. After his friend and position-mate Ahmad Fields began to earn a bigger role at the expense of his minutes, Onwas returned to practice with a new focus and set about regaining a larger role. Early results are good, as he earned 25 minutes against Washington and harassed C.J. Wilcox into an off night followed by a highly efficient 10 points on seven field goal attempts in 13 minutes against Washington State on Saturday night.
  4. Tomorrow night Colorado visits UCLA and head coach Tad Boyle is particularly concerned about Bruins junior guard Norman Powellwho had a big second half in UCLA’s win over USC on Saturday night. Powell is the team’s best perimeter defender, its most ferocious dunker, and an emerging all-around offensive force. Boyle recognizes that without the Buffs’ best perimeter defender in Spencer Dinwiddie, Powell’s athleticism and skill will make him someone of whom his team is going to need to pay extra attention.
  5. Another UCLA wing who has raised eyebrows this season is freshman Zach LaVine. But after a fantastic start to the season that had some calling him an immediate lottery pick, the exciting wing has settled back to earth. His three-point shot is beginning to fall a little less frequently (he’s 2-of-11 in the past two weeks); teams are realizing he’s not much of a threat off the bounce; and he’s even started to blow some occasional dunks. Is it still a surefire certainty that he’s NBA-bound after a single season in Westwood? On upside alone, you’ve got to figure he’s gone. But in a year with a deep draft, maybe LaVine wants to return to work on his handle, half-court game and other weaknesses in order to ensure a lottery pick next year? Possibly, but the smart money is still on a rather brief stay with the Bruins.
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Pac-12 M5: 02.10.14 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 10th, 2014

pac12_morning5

  1. The Marcus Smart incident wasn’t the only negative fan-related problem from this weekend, as the Pac-12 had one of its own. According to reports from the Oregon basketball staff and members of the team, an Arizona State student spit on Oregon assistant coach Brian Fish and trainer Clay Jamieson following that game. University police witnessed the event, followed the Ducks to their locker room and discussed the incident with the Ducks’ staff, but they declined to press charges. According to Fish, the team was also spit on at halftime heading to the visitor’s locker room via a ramp that bisects the Arizona State student section. As college basketball fans, we certainly love the fact that fans are passionate about the game, but we would hope that people have reasonable boundaries. But, knowing full well that all fans won’t always respect those boundaries, and knowing even better that college-aged students will have even further problems with them, schools and their arenas need to do their best to protect the opposition. Odds are good that the location of the student section at Arizona State will be reconsidered, not that a change in that area will prevent all fan abuses in the future.
  2. As for the game on the court, Sun Devil senior center Jordan Bachynski was the key to a weekend sweep of the Oregon schools. Averaging 21.5 points, 12 rebounds, and eight blocks (!!!!!) on 15-of-20 from the field and 13-of-16 from the free throw line, he dominated the paint against the undersized Ducks and even against the talent Oregon State frontline. On a weekend where he became the conference’s all-time leader in blocked shots, Bachynski had his best all-around back-to-back pair of games in his career in Tempe.
  3. Meanwhile, brother Dallin Bachynski is getting the job done up the road a spell for Utah. Together with sophomore center Jeremy Olsen, Bachynski has helped to give the Utes a toughness inside to pair with the talented wing players who have more regularly been the stars. Against Washington State on Saturday night, Olsen and Bachynski combined for 20 points and 11 boards in a dominating win that has the squad now within a game of .500 in conference play. They’re still a longshot, but the Utes have at least kept alive the hope of an NCAA bid this season.
  4. UCLA, meanwhile, looks like a team that is headed to an NCAA Tournament berth, but they’re still a team that is in need of a good old-fashioned paint-peeling half-time dress-down like the one head coach Steve Alford gave them against USC on Saturday night. After an uninspiring first half, the Bruins were down six and clearly not playing to the best of their abilities. But, a 10-0 run out of the halftime locker room, turned into a 27-6 run and UCLA coasted over an overmatched Trojans team from there.
  5. Lastly, with Arizona now shorthanded without Brandon Ashley, a key for head coach Sean Miller from here on out will be the ability to manage minutes, conserve energy and wisely use his main six players. Sunday night in a blowout against Oregon State, each of the starting five played between 28 and 31 minutes, with Gabe York and Elliott Pitts combining for another 37. They’ve now got a full four days to recover before they face Arizona State on Friday night, then another four days before they travel to Utah, but it will be interesting to see not only how Miller manages his team’s game minutes, but its workout minutes off of the court.
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#rushthetrip Day Two: Exhilaration and Apprehension as McKale Center Watches Cats Escape

Posted by Bennet Hayes on February 7th, 2014

RTC columnist Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) is looking for the spirit of college basketball as he works his way on a two-week tour of various venues around the West. For more about his trip, including his itinerary and previous stops on his journey, check out the complete series here.

West of Lawrence, Kansas, there may be no better home court than either of the two I visited to start this trip. The folks at UCLA, Gonzaga and Utah State might all have reasonable gripes (especially Bruins fans) with that assertion, but back-to-back nights at The Pit and McKale Center is about as good as college basketball can get. Some 450 miles separate the two universities, so six hours of driving (which included a successful journey through Truth or Consequences, New Mexico) brought me to Tucson to watch Arizona host Oregon.

There's No Doubt About It -- Arizona's McKale Center Is One Of College Hoops' Grandest Stages

There’s No Doubt About It — Arizona’s McKale Center Is One Of College Hoops’ Grandest Stages

The obvious storyline entering last night’s game was how the Wildcats would bounce back from not only their first loss of the season, but also the season-ending injury suffered last weekend by Brandon Ashley. Not surprisingly, the hoops-savvy McKale faithful were keyed in on Ashley’s absence (and its impact) throughout the evening. It began in pregame warmups, when Ashley’s crutch-waving at midcourt fomented the student section into a moderate frenzy, and continued when his replacement in the starting lineup, freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, received the loudest ovation of any Wildcat during introductions.

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Who Won the Week? Two Undefeated Teams, But Certainly Not The Third…

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker) on February 7th, 2014

wonweek

Who Won the Week? is a regular column that outlines and discusses three winners and losers from the previous week of hoops. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.

WINNER: Wichita State

Cleanthony Early was outstanding for the Shockers. (AP)

Cleanthony Early was outstanding this week for the Shockers. (AP)

The nation’s winningest team cleared its toughest conference hurdle Wednesday night in defeating Indiana State in Terre Haute, led by senior forward Cleanthony Early’s 19 points. From here on, the Shockers have better than 50 percent odds to go undefeated in the regular season, according to KenPom.com, and about 35 percent odds to make it to the NCAA Tournament unblemished. Wichita State’s reign over the Missouri Valley has been so strong this year that only two teams – Missouri State and Indiana State – have even finished within 10 points of them. Tomorrow’s game at Northern Iowa is the toughest remaining tilt for the Shockers, which also sandblasted Evansville 81-67 last Saturday.

(Related winners: Gregg Marshall, whose stock will never be higher, even if he never wants to leave; the Missouri Valley, which is certain to get some more NCAA Tournament win shares, even without Creighton in the conference. Related losers: Indiana State, the MVC”s second-best team, which probably has to win Arch Madness to make the NCAAs; Evansville, perpetually anonymous in purple.)

LOSER: Arizona

Of the triumvirate of teams that came into last weekend undefeated, only two came out unscathed. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they weren’t one of them. Their road trip to California, the toughest game left on their schedule at that point, turned out to be undone by a last-second jumper from Golden Bears’ guard Justin Cobbs over center Kaleb Tarczewski, giving Cal a 60-58 win. That news was bad enough, but worse was what came after — that sophomore forward Brandon Ashley, a starter, had broken his foot during the game and would be out for the season. In Thursday’s 67-65 win over Oregon, Arizona looked disjointed offensively and saw star freshman Aaron Gordon injure his leg in a game in which he made just 2-of-11 free throws. The Wildcats actually trailed the disintegrating Ducks with just 90 seconds left before point guard T.J. McConnell made a three-pointer that gave them the lead for good. Sean Miller only played seven players, even accounting for Gordon’s injury, and its lack of depth could be problematic should more injuries arise or should fouls accumulate. It’s a shame to see this happen because a full-strength Arizona team looked to be head and shoulders above all but a few others around the country.

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