Rushed Reactions: Arizona 83, Oregon 80

Posted by RJ Abeytia on March 12th, 2017

Arizona left no doubt that it is the most complete Pac-12 team this season. The Wildcats beat UCLA and Oregon on back-to-back nights, and they did it with star big man Lauri Markannen taking only four shots and scoring only 11 points. Oregon may have the most experience and UCLA may have the biggest upside, but Arizona can win at multiple paces and in multiple ways.

Arizona Ran Through Oregon to Claim the Pac-12 Tournament Title (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. The game has changed. Arizona came into tonight’s game with a firm commitment to drive Oregon off the three-point line, even if that meant giving up layups as a result. The Ducks were credited with 30 layup attempts, converting only half of them. However, Oregon — a team that gets nearly 40 percent of its points from the three-point line — only notched 19 percent of their points from distance tonight. Oregon adjusted in the second half by driving to the bucket relentlessly and getting fouls. Foul trouble was the monkey wrench that hurt Arizona in the second half, but Sean Miller confirmed that taking away the three was the priority. It’s counterintuitive relative to the long-established philosophy of defending from the inside out, and it reflects just how much the style of the game and the three-point line have revolutionized not just the way teams attack but also the way they defend.
  2. Track Dillon Brooks’ usage in the NCAA Tournament. Dana Altman and Tyler Dorsey were not excited last night about the stagnation that resulted largely because of Brooks’ ball dominance. Tonight Brooks scored 17 of Oregon’s 29 points in the first half and took 12 of their 29 shots. Oregon’s offensive efficiency that half was 85.3. In the second half, foul trouble opened the door for Tyler Dorsey, who took over the lead role and logged a very efficient 21 points on only 10 shots. Oregon’s offensive efficiency in the second half was 141.7. The Ducks are at their most dangerous when they have everybody engaged (most teams are), but with a player as exceptional as Brooks it can be difficult to find that balance. There is not clear evidence of any kind of a rift between Brooks and his team, but the Ducks’ last two games illustrated that making Oregon one-dimensional is a big step towards beating them, even if that one dimension is a player as good as Brooks.
  3. Chris Boucher was missed.  Altman admitted that it was tough to account for the absence of the Ducks’ senior shot-blocker and three-point threat extraordinaire. Make no mistake: Boucher was missed on both ends of the court tonight. His reputation is built on rim protection but his ability to stretch defenses and create mismatches is something Altman must resolve by the time Oregon starts NCAA Tournament play.

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Notes From the Pac-12 Quarterfinals

Posted by RJ Abeytia on March 10th, 2017

Day two of the Pac-12 Tournament closed with the league’s 24-game chalk streak finally broken (barely, though, with a #5 seed beating a #4 seed), and the conference’s heavyweights in position to line up for the big stage over the next two nights. After two rounds of action, here are the three big takeaways from the Conference of Champions’ time so far in the desert.

UCLA and USC Put on an Entertaining Show Last Night (USA Today Images)

  1. The heavyweights can win with their B Games: Arizona, Oregon, and UCLA were not at their best on Thursday, but they were all good enough. In Arizona’s 92-78 win over the Buffaloes, five Wildcats scored in double figures and Sean Miller’s offense was enough to overcome a defense that struggled to contain Colorado. UCLA went down to the wire against its crosstown rival, but they bookended the game with good defense (USC started the game 1-of-14 and missed their final five shots) and enough offense to advance. Oregon had the easiest time of it, but keep an eye on the Ducks’ depth: They had to roll with only six players because of Chris Boucher’s foul trouble. Perhaps the biggest takeaway on Thursday was that each team overcame its potential weaknesses:  Arizona’s freshmen (Rawle Alkins, Lauri Markannen and Kobi Simmons) shot 17-of-21 combined against Colorado and committed only two turnovers in 62 minutes of floor time. UCLA’s shaky defense did just enough to survive and advance, and Oregon, a team with no real post player, pounded Arizona State in the paint with a 42-18 advantage.
  2. The bubble teams helped their causes: USC is now likely in the field with a 1-1 Pac-12 Tournament showing, but debate still lingers over Cal’s status. A win over Oregon tonight would makes them a lock, but if they were to lose, have the Bears done enough?  Cal has 21 wins but only two of those were in the KenPom top 50 (Utah). Bill Walton thinks they’re in; Joe Lunardi thinks they’re not; but ultimately there’s only one thing we know for sure — the Bears still control their own fate, and that’s all they can ask for at this point.
  3. Derrick White is awesome:  White could make the all-tournament team despite playing only half the days. The senior Colorado guard posted 31 points, six rebounds and five assists against Arizona while shooting 17-of-34 for the tournament. He was also 16-0f-19 from the line. His 57 points are to date better than any player still standing, and only Cal’s Jabari Bird is very close with 46 points.

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Arizona’s Offense Has Saved Its Season

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 13th, 2017

When Parker Jackson-Cartwright sprained his ankle in a game against Texas Southern on November 30, Arizona head coach Sean Miller must have been worried. His team’s offense, already a concern because of the retirement of Ray Smith and the continued absence of Allonzo Trier, was about to lose its only true point guard. To that point, Jackson-Cartwright had amassed a healthy 37 assists to just 11 turnovers and it stood to reason that, with the Wildcats’ best playmaker hurt and the schedule only getting tougher, an inexperienced offense would struggle to score. Instead, Arizona lost just once in the six games Jackson-Cartwright missed (to unbeaten Gonzaga) and have yet to suffer a defeat since his return. A team that ranks 325th nationally in experience is now quietly 15-2 overall and keeping pace with Oregon and UCLA at the top of the Pac-12. Miller’s defense, of course, deserves a lot of credit. His pack line scheme is one of the stingiest in the country, but that’s true most every year — the man can teach defense. Rather, that Arizona’s offense ranks among the best 30 in the country is the story in Tucson.

Parker Jackson-Cartwright’s ankle injury spelled doom for Arizona, but the ‘Cats never really missed a beat. (Tucson.com)

Arizona’s rotation effectively has one above-average three-point shooter and one above-average passer. It ranks 278th in adjusted tempo and 330th in its share of three-pointers taken within the offense. Yet the Wildcats average roughly 1.14 points per possession to this point (1.11 PPP in conference play), and if Trier can return at nearly 100 percent, they look like the third horse in what appeared to be a two-way battle for conference supremacy. It should be noted that Arizona’s offense has been more mediocre against top 100 opponents, but there are three key reasons why the team has been able to stay afloat offensively. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 1

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 22nd, 2016

The first full week of the season is finished so it is time for the first of what will be a recurring feature called Pac-12 Power Rankings. Each week we will take a look at where each team in the conference stands to date.

Finnish 7' Lauri Markkanen has been everything expected and more for the Wildcats. (Arizona Athletics)

Finnish center Lauri Markkanen has been everything and more for the Wildcats. (Arizona Athletics)

  1. Arizona: The Wildcats boast the best win of any team in the conference (Michigan State) and are still missing arguably their best player in Allonzo Trier. Lauri Markkanen has so far lived up to the hype and classmate Kobi Simmons has been surprisingly efficient offensively. Sean Miller’s club is posting the best defensive numbers in the conference and if Trier returns soon, Arizona could be poised for another excellent season.
  2. UCLA: The Bruins haven’t played anyone of note so we should reserve some judgment here but so far they have looked very good. Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf have been everything UCLA fans ever could have hoped for. Isaac Hamilton and Bryce Alford are two of the most complementary pieces in the conference, especially when they are shooting well, and Aaron Holiday and Thomas Welsh provide quality depth across the board. Steve Alford deserves some credit for the Bruins’ early potency in a key season for this program. Read the rest of this entry »
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Pac-12 Roars Out of the Gates: Opening Weekend Thoughts

Posted by RJ Abeytia on November 14th, 2016

The Pac-12 took a lot of heat as a conference during the Big Dance last year as a number of high-seeds (forgiving Oregon) didn’t amount to deep runs in March. The beauty of college basketball is that a new year brings new chances to make a mark, and as a whole, the conference’s opening weekend was outstanding to tip off the year. Here is a rundown of some of the opening weekend action:

  • UCLA and its talented freshmen burst out of the gate and ran Pacific right out of Pauley on Friday night. The Bruins’ 119-80 victory came with very auspicious debuts for T.J. Leaf and Lonzo Ball. They combined to shoot 15-of-21 for 41 points, and Ball stuffed his first stat sheet with a very impressive 19 points, 11 assists, and eight rebounds (and just one turnover) in 34 minutes. That minutes total brings us to one of the big takeaways from the game, as head coach Steve Alford used a very tight rotation, something rare for an opener that was clearly over at halftime. Leaf played 37 minutes and every starter played at least 26, with Aaron Holiday rounding out the half-dozen man rotation with 24 minutes off the bench. Nobody else logged more than six minutes off the bench.
It Was That Kind of Day For Steve Alford's UCLA Team (USA Today Images)

With a great freshman class in action, Steve Alford has a great chance to lead his Bruins back to the top of the conference. (USA TODAY Images)

  • UCLA came back Sunday night in a defense “optional” performance to beat Cal-State Northridge. The Bruins blitzed the Matadors’ matador defense to the tune of 62 points in the second half to overcome what was actually a small halftime deficit. Again, Alford utilized a short bench, with Holiday getting 29 minutes off the pine and Gyorgy Golomon seeing 15. With Alford depending on such a young and inexperienced core, it’s understandable why he might be willing to give his youngsters heavier doses of minutes. Bruins’ possessions lasted 12.5 seconds on average in the opener, and they didn’t take the foot off the gas against Northridge. Something’s gotta give here. Either Alford lengthens the bench or the Bruins slow down, lest they collectively collapse from exhaustion come January.

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Pac-12 Coach of the Year Debate: Dana Altman vs. Sean Miller

Posted by Mike Lemaire & Adam Butler on November 9th, 2016

There is no clear-cut favorite in this season’s race for Pac-12 Coach of the Year. Most pundits are picking Oregon‘s Dana Altman but it feels like he is winning by default. Altman has something working against him, though, which is that expectations are already sky high in Eugene. If Oregon wins the conference it may be because they were expected to win the conference, and if the Ducks underachieve, Altman will quickly fall out of the race. I still think that Altman is the right pick and the correct pick. Adam and his eternal soft spot for Sean Miller respectfully disagrees. Here’s the case for each.

The Case for Sean Miller

Sean Miller Has His Work Cut Out For Him This Season (USA Today Images)

Sean Miller Has His Work Cut Out For Him This Season (USA Today Images)

As of today we must acknowledge that we don’t know that status of Allonzo Trier. He’s pretty good at basketball and critical to Arizona‘s success this season. That said, if he misses extended time and the Wildcats still finish among the top three teams in this conference, it should only further cement Miller’s claim on Pac-12 Coach of the Year. Beyond the fact that the conference set a precedent of rewarding overachievers (all of the 2015 awards), Miller is poised to navigate a Pac-12 season with a group of talented players all of whom are in brand new experiences. Considering Altman returns 68 percent of the minutes played by his rotation last season and UCLA’s Steve Alford is only moving players into more natural positions, Miller will almost certainly have a larger impact on his team’s success that some of his counterparts. And in making this candidacy, I don’t want to paint the Wildcats as underdogs. They’re not. They’re ranked 10th nationally and even in the absence of Trier (and now, Ray Smith) they still rate as a top-30 team according to Sports Illustrated‘s What-If scenarios. Even with just eight scholarship players, none of whom has significant experience in their role, expectations are always lofty in Tucson. But Arizona only plays Oregon once (in Eugene) and has a schedule that is favorable so that this inexperienced, albeit loosely veteran, roster can have time to develop. Miller teams trend well late in the season and this is a group that likely won’t buck that trend.

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Pac-12 Burning Questions: Who Will Play Point Guard for Arizona?

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 25th, 2016

Even after graduating the team’s two leading scorers, Arizona has everything it needs on paper to dethrone Oregon and reassert itself as the best team in the Pac-12. The Wildcats have a redshirt senior who is likely one of the best on-ball defenders in the conference. They have a reigning member of the Pac-12 All-Freshmen Team who averaged nearly 15 points per game last season. They have a freshman wing with enough athleticism to put his own coach on a poster. They have a freshman stretch forward from Finland who can bang three-pointers and take awkward photos with local political figures. They also have a cache of athletic big men, led by a Serbian with enough offensive game to make the program’s official Twitter account think it is okay to rip off the nickname of one of the NBA’s greatest players ever. However, there is one position that isn’t represented on this list and that is because there are still very serious concerns about it. That position is point guard.

Kobi Simmons Has a Tall Task Ahead of Him In His First Season at Arizona

Kobi Simmons Has a Tall Task Ahead of Him In His First Season at Arizona. (Rivals.com)

Sean Miller may be the best recruiter in the entire country outside of Lexington, but if one were to start picking at nits, one could easily make the argument that he has struggled to recruit and develop worthwhile point guards in Tucson. In fact, Josiah Turner and MoMo Jones are the only true point guards Miller has recruited in his tenure at Arizona and neither spent more than two seasons in the desert. The best point guards of the Miller era – T.J. McConnell and Mark Lyons – were transfers, and filling McConnell’s sizable shoes last season proved to be a more difficult task than anyone imagined. The Wildcats went from 40th in turnover percentage in 2014-15 to 191st in the category last year, as neither Kadeem Allen nor Parker Jackson-Cartwright were consistent enough to wrestle the job away from the other player. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, the position appears to be just as unsettled heading into this season. Miller smartly moved Allen off the ball, which leaves Jackson-Cartwright to fend off five-star freshman Kobi Simmons for the keys to what should be an explosive offense. Pairing a proven player with one of the best freshmen point guard prospects in the country is a luxury most coaches would love to have, but that argument doesn’t work for Miller when his fan base expect to compete for a national championship. Read the rest of this entry »

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Highlighted Quotes From Each Team at Pac-12 Media Day

Posted by Adam Butler on October 24th, 2016

Pac-12 Media Day, the annual effusing of excitement, promise and not caring for the media poll, was held on Friday at the conference’s network headquarters in San Francisco. There were no on-stage fireworks (there rarely are) but Allonzo Trier was replaced by Kadeem Allen as Arizona’s player representative the night before things got started. Sean Miller would not comment. There was Larry Scott’s now annual promotion of all things Pac-12 + China as well as no update on a DirecTV deal. Following each player/coach stage appearance, and wrapping the day up, was the conference’s top official, Bobby Dibler. Did you know that a Pac-12 referee (or rather a Western Officiating Consortium official) was a Naismith Men’s Basketball College Official of the Year? Quite an honor and something not held by a west coast official since 2011 or 2012 (according to Dibler). All-in-all, it was a reminder that basketball season is upon us, and that to this point, we’ve had nothing but our own opinions and perhaps some “insider” knowledge, to evaluate, predict, and feel about our favorite teams. If you’re a stat nerd, we don’t even have KenPom’s updated ratings (ed. note: KenPom released his ratings Sunday) or a Pac-12 preview from Hanner and Winn over at SI. But Media Day finally gave us some knowledge straight from the proverbial horse’s mouth! Let’s dive into some of the key quotes to come out of each team’s address:

Four years as leader of the nation's premier D1 West Coast athletic conference has earned Scott huge financial bonuses on top of an already sizable base salary (U.S. Presswire).

As the Pac-12 gets ready for the new season, so does commissioner Larry Scott, who faced some of the same questions at Media Day that has been a hot topic league-wide. (U.S. Presswire)

Washington State, Ernie Kent and Josh Hawkinson

“If there was ever a time that a team needed a summer tournament, it was us, an opportunity to go overseas.”

This was Ernie Kent’s opening line and I’d have to agree. The benefit of these trips was expressed many times over throughout the day but when you consider it’s Year 3 at Wazzu and the Cougars went 1-17 in conference last year – yeah – they could use the extra practice. The Cougs do have some seniors, experienced big men like Josh Hawkinson and Conor Clifford, but they are seniors who have won just 11 conference games in their three previous efforts. It could be another long one in Pullman. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Preseason News & Notes

Posted by Adam Butler on October 20th, 2016

Last Friday night, Arizona freshman Rawle Alkins set his coach on the block, handed him a basketball, asked him to adjust it just so, then leapt over Sean Miller for the dunk. That is how the 2017-18 Pac-12 basketball season begins. Not with letters to fan bases, sixth years of eligibility, early entries, foreign tours, or new hires — which isn’t necessarily to say that the Pac-12 hinges on Arizona’s efforts. By most accounts this is the Ducks’ conference to lose. But following a mostly disappointing end to the 2016 campaign (a really ugly performance in the Dance outside of the aforementioned Ducks, who themselves were bounced in embarrassing fashion), the imagery of fresh blood leaping over his historically serious coach in a fan-, if not recruit driven-, event, felt like the arrival of the season. Of course, if you haven’t watched it, here it is.

Sean Miller Is Looking To Break Through For His First Final Four Appearance (Ralph Freso, Getty Images)

Once again, Sean Miller and crew are expected to be right in the mix of things. (Ralph Freso/Getty Images)

The teams have been at for a couple weeks now, getting NCAA allotted hours and gym sessions since 42 days before their first game. Heck, your team might have even received a 2017 commitment in the past couple weeks. As Nike has slogan-ed, [program] basketball never stops. But at a certain point it most certainly begins. And that time is coming in hot. So while our teams practice, so must we, right? Consider this post our first practice, the proverbial Wooden sock drill. This post isn’t necessarily to preview what’s coming but to tease out – not unlike an open practice – forthcoming content, features, games, players, and so on. To help you prepare for the 2016-17 Pac-12 basketball experience. Because it’s coming. November 11 will be here soon and while it’s perhaps not the opening day romanticized in prose (that’s left to baseball), we’ve put together some Pac-12 basketball essentials. Here’s the warm-up, before we really hit the wind sprints with team-by-team previews, dives into conference newcomers and the questions burning up West Coast, high-major basketball. Read the rest of this entry »

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An Early Look at Next Season’s Pac-12

Posted by Mike Lemaire on April 13th, 2016

It is never too early to predict how the Pac-12 will look heading into next season. Let’s not waste words and just get into a look at each team by projected order of finish.

1. Oregon

Assuming Brooks Returns, Oregon Will Be The Class of the PAC-12 Again. (Craig Strobeck)

Assuming Brooks Returns, Oregon Will Be The Class of the Pac-12 Again. (Craig Strobeck)

  • Who’s back: Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey, Casey Benson, Chris Boucher, Jordan Bell, Dylan Ennis
  • Who’s new: M.J. Cage, Keith Smith, Payton Pritchard
  • The skinny: Assuming Brooks returns to school and Ennis is eligible and healthy enough to play a full season, the Ducks will run almost two-deep at every position. Boucher’s extra year of eligibility is also huge because it again gives Oregon two of the best rim-protectors in the country while allowing Dana Altman to space the floor. Don’t sleep on the Ducks’ recruiting class, either; there aren’t any stars here, but Cage and Pritchard will both contribute early.

2. Arizona

  • Who’s back: Allonzo Trier, Ray Smith, Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Dusan Ristic, Kadeem Allen, Chance Comanche
  • Who’s new: Rawle Alkins, Kobi Simmons, Lauri Markkanen
  • The skinny: Simmons is the key here. If the point guard is as good as everyone seems to think he is, the Wildcats have the athletes elsewhere to be above-average offensively and elite defensively. Trier could be a Pac-12 Player of the Year contender and some believe that Smith, now healthy after missing all of last season, is the better player in that recruiting class. Sean Miller has reportedly been sniffing around the graduate transfer market as well — if the Wildcats can land an extra big man, that would help shore up a frontcourt that right now consists of Ristic and maybe Comanche.

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