Pac-12 Burning Questions: How Great Was That Pac-12 Tournament?

Posted by Andrew Murawa & Adam Butler on March 16th, 2015

Another March to Vegas has concluded and now the Pac-12 conference takes its talents to a national stage. But, before we dig deeper into what’s coming in this year’s NCAA Tournament, Adam Butler and Andrew Murawa discuss what went down at the MGM over the weekend with a series of important questions.

Q: Brandon Ashley was named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament. He shot 19-of-26 across three games and clearly deserved the award. After the junior, however, there were some other great performances. Who was your non-Ashley Most Outstanding Player?

At Precisely The Right Moment, Brandon Ashley Is Playing His Best Ball (Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports)

At Precisely The Right Moment, Brandon Ashley Is Playing His Best Ball. (Casey Sapio/USA TODAY Sports)

Adam Butler: I would like the record to show that I said Brandon Ashley was fantastic. After him, the guy I’d most like to call out is UCLA’s Norman Powell. He scored 35 points on 47 percent shooting. Solid numbers, yes, but I’d most like to highlight his effort against Arizona. As the nation questions UCLA’s qualifications as an NCAA-worthy team, the committee alluded to the Bruins passing the eyeball test. If you had eyeballs on the UCLA-Arizona game, specifically. For large portions of that game he got his and his effort was similar throughout the last month of the year.

Andrew Murawa: The funny thing is that, as well as Brandon Ashley played, I could easily make a case for at least three of his teammates. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was a defensive dynamo and T.J. McConnell is above reproach. But Stanley Johnson remains an absolute freak (16.0 PPG, 6.3 RPG). And in the one game over the weekend where the ‘Cats actually had a chance to lose, it was Johnson who stepped into a three-pointer and effectively sealed the game. Sure, at times he gets caught somewhere between over-exuberance and offensive-foul-induced passivity. But when Johnson is making jumpers like he did at the MGM, the Wildcats are darn near impossible to beat. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Championship with All Eyes on Vegas

Posted by Adam Butler on March 14th, 2015

It’s a championship game. One for all the marbles and the last nationally relevant game of the day. All eyes, if they’re not asleep, will be on Vegas. Because at 8:00 PM the Arizona Wildcats will play the Oregon Ducks for the third time this season. We don’t necessarily need a preview. As I noted in yesterdays historical recap of UCLA and Arizona, the scouting reports are out the window. I mean, Isaac Hamilton scored 36 points in a game. How can you prepare for March basketball? Undoubtedly you saw this:

But that’s the best part. It is March basketball and that means – more than any of the months prior – these games mean things. In tonight’s case it could mean a #1 seed for the Wildcats. Duke and Virginia both fell in the ACC semifinals, opening the door for Arizona to earn one of the big dance’s top four billings. It would be the second consecutive #1 seed for the ‘Cats but the important part would be their status in the West. That part they seemed to have locked up already. But think about this: Arizona and Wisconsin could potentially both be 31-3 with outright conference regular season and tournament championships and still be #2 seeds. If you need evidence of this year’s Dance being top heavy, there it is. Furthermore it’s Arizona’s fourth attempt at winning this thing in the last five years. Sean Miller told us to not even bother asking about what that feels like.

For Oregon, the Ducks too are playing for seeding. Now locked into the Dance, could they elevate themselves onto the #5 line? With each win their resume swells but that’s probably not the focus, right? This is a championship game. In noting that Arizona hasn’t won this thing, Dana Altman conversely has. The Ducks will be playing for their second title in three years. Clearly there are things at stake for each of these programs independent of their opponent, but this matchup itself offers intrigue beyond just the exciting hyperbole of March basketball. It’s really got something for everyone.

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Rushed Reactions: Arizona 70, UCLA 64

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 13th, 2015

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

When Arizona and UCLA Match Up, Especially In March, Great Things Are Bound To Happen (Mamta Popat, Arizona Daily Star)

When Arizona and UCLA Match Up, Especially In March, Great Things Are Bound To Happen (Mamta Popat, Arizona Daily Star)

  1. This Rivalry Never Disappoints. The six-point final margin doesn’t begin to hint at the sustained intensity in the MGM Grand Arena over the course of 40 minutes of another great college basketball game. Over the past three seasons, the Bruins and the Wildcats have met three times in this very arena in the Pac-12 Tournament, and each of those games has been an instant classic. While the Pac-12 Conference has yet to see fit to make sure that these guys are scheduled to play each other twice every season, the basketball gods have stepped in and seen fit to getting these two together in March. And the classics have had plenty of similarities. As Adam Butler pointed out, the game was tied at 68 with 43 seconds remaining last year when Jordan Adams hit a big three to propel UCLA to the win. Tonight, it was Stanley Johnson with a three with 39 seconds remaining to bump the Arizona lead up to 66-61 and effectively seal the game. The big takeaway is quite simply this: When these two teams play, especially in March, it is required viewing.
  2. One Big Run. Midway through the second half, a slashing Norman Powell layup in the middle of the Arizona defense put UCLA up 47-40, prompting a Sean Miller timeout. Over the next five minutes, Arizona reeled off 15 straight points to flip the script. They never trailed again. So, what goes into a run? How about three T.J. McConnell assists and a layup, five team offensive rebounds, a forced turnover and limiting UCLA’s other five possessions to five missed jumpers and an immediate defensive rebound?
  3. Rebounding. UCLA can probably come up with plenty of excuses: Kevon Looney’s facial injury and resultant mask; Tony Parker’s early foul trouble; having to play zone defense for much of the game. But Arizona’s ability to get on the glass and get putbacks was a key here. The Wildcats’ came away with 40 percent of their own missed shots, turning those into 12 points, a key in a close game. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who struggled offensively, had five of those offensive boards by himself. If UCLA had been as good cleaning the defensive glass today (against admittedly above-average competition) as they have been all year long, maybe they’d still be playing on Saturday.

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Arizona and UCLA Have History. Obviously.

Posted by Adam Butler on March 13th, 2015

We probably don’t need a history lesson. You know as well as I do that Arizona and UCLA have been pretty good basketball programs in the same conference for a long while now. But did you know that Arizona is just 1-5 against the Bruins in the conference tournament since it was re-conceived in 2002? If you’re searching for a word, it’s probably ‘owned’ or something of that ilk. And because recent history most immediately dictates our excitement, we need look no further than 2013 and 2014. The former was the infamous “He Touched the Ball” game. The aftermath of that game sent shock waves throughout the conference as officiating ‘scandals’ have a tendency to do. But then we were delighted to the rematch — the game we deserved — because these are the cornerstones of Pac-12 basketball. They’d both rolled into the game (together won the quarters and semis by a net 96 points) with heads of steam for March. The game was a wonderful. UCLA won – remember they own Arizona in this tournament – and it was fitting they played because the Pac-12’s imbalance doesn’t guarantee two of these games.

Two of the better coaches in the country go at in Las Vegas tonight. (AP)

Two of the better coaches in the country go at in Las Vegas tonight. (AP)

I’m not a big believer in the ways of the universe or reading too far into signs (let’s be serious, I probably am, I scour KenPom and hoop-math for nuanced data patterns like the fact that Bryce Alford shoots an insanely low percentage of assisted threes – 58.7 percent – which is like whaaaat?? But maybe, because we’re being treated to this matchup for the third time in nearly as many unbalanced seasons, we need to guarantee ourselves this matchup? Alas, that’s a gripe not suited for March. Because March is our game’s biggest stage and we want to see its biggest competitors. We want competition at its finest and deepest roots. We want Arizona-UCLA. So in 2015, what’s that look like? Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Senior Days: T.J. McConnell

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) on March 6th, 2015

On November 9, 2011, the #16 Arizona Wildcats committed 21 turnovers. They would go on to win that basketball game by eight despite their starting backcourt combining for a mere two assists and eight turnovers. Including guard efforts off the bench, the backcourt numbers ballooned to five assists and 11 miscues. That was the last game that that TJ McConnell would lose in the McKale Center. At the time, he was a sophomore guard for Duquesne and six months later he would transfer to the University of Arizona.

In A Program Defined By Point Guards, T.J. McConnell Is Merely The Latest Arizona Great (Lance King, Getty Images)

In A Program Defined By Point Guards, T.J. McConnell Is Merely The Latest Arizona Great (Lance King, Getty Images)

Let’s begin by contextualizing McConnell within the annals of Arizona basketball and the state of current hoop. Saturday is his final game on his undefeated hardwood and while context may not be requisite to celebrate what McConnell has accomplished in Tucson, it serves as a great complement (and compliment) to what he has and will. The brevity of a college career, particularly one we’ve only known for two seasons, cannot be lost in the deep history of everything around it. Because since becoming a Wildcat, McConnell hasn’t lost much of anything. With games still to play, the senior has the highest winning percentage over a two-year stretch of any Arizona point guard in its illustrious history. Ever. As refresher, Arizona basketball history includes guards like Kerr*, Stoudamire, Bibby*, Terry*, and Gardner (* indicates retired jersey). Already he’s won more games than any of them (I understand the changing landscape of scheduling and preseason events, but winning remains the coolest statistic one can compile). With a sweep of the Bay schools, he will tie Steve Kerr for the best two-year conference mark by an Arizona point guard (in 1988 and 1989 there were two different point guards, Kerr followed by Kenny Lofton, each of whom would go 17-1). Winning speaks volumes.

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The Only Thing Standing in the Way of Arizona’s Pac-12 Coronation is Arizona

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 24th, 2015

For the first half of Thursday night’s battle for first place in the Pac-12 against Stanford, Arizona looked like the team that could only muster 56 points in a losing effort against Oregon State. But in the second half, the Wildcats showed why there is no other team in the conference that can hang with them when they are at full strength and minimizing their mistakes. The Wildcats actually jumped out to an early lead as the Cardinal’s thin frontcourt had absolutely no answer for Brandon Ashley and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson inside. But Ashley also picked up three cheap fouls in the first 12 minutes of the game and teammate Stanley Johnson picked up two of his own, and when they left the court, things started to fall apart. Without their two biggest offensive mismatches on the floor, Arizona struggled to take advantage of its distinct size advantage and instead settled for contested jumpers. On the other end of the floor, the Wildcats’ stout defense made things difficult for Stanford, at least when they weren’t fouling Cardinal players. Stanford made 13 free throws in the first half and star guard Chasson Randle scored six of his 14 first half points from the charity stripe. As a result, a first half that any casual observer would think Arizona should have won ended with Stanford up two points.

Arizona Has the Look of a Team Figuring It Out (USA Today Images)

Arizona Has the Look of a Team Figuring It Out (USA Today Images)

Of course slow starts and early mistakes have become something of Arizona‘s modus operandi this season, and nobody expected the Wildcats to go away. Ashley and Johnson returned to the floor in the second half and immediately made an impact, combining for 10 points in the first six minutes as Arizona slowly but surely took the lead for good. Even more importantly, the Arizona defense decided to start moving its feet and quit picking up cheap fouls, and all of a sudden, their suffocating defense returned in earnest. Once Randle made a difficult layup to bring Stanford within three points with just under 10 minutes to play, the Wildcats’ put the clamps down and the Cardinal didn’t make another field goal for more than eight minutes. By that point, the game was well in hand and Arizona was on its way as the odds-on favorite to run away with the conference regular season title.

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Marching to Vegas: Utah Visits Arizona With So Much on the Line

Posted by Adam Butler on January 16th, 2015

Effort is one of those intangible things that we scream about from the couch. It’s not really something you can quantify but it’s something everyone notices. It’s ugly when it’s not there and it’s endearing when it’s there without results. The desired confluence is when effort meets talent. [insert Wooden quote here]. Because when ‘good’ couples itself with ‘try’, anything is possible. Special happens. But when ‘try’ doesn’t align with the talent component, well, sometimes you lose to Oregon State and coach Sean Miller rails his Arizona team publicly and what we can only assume is privately. Practice was more than likely hellacious these past few days in Tucson.

Sean Miller Was Not All Smiles This Week

Sean Miller Was Not All Smiles This Week

Last night, those frustrations or adjustments manifested as the Wildcats beat a hobbled Colorado team. From that game’s “effort” I think we learned nothing. Colorado was missing their heart, soul, and able bodies. Dead men walking. Arizona did little more than take care of business at home. Effort, as it were, was incalculable and perhaps irrelevant in dismissing the Buffs to Tempe; a game, it would seem, for which Colorado is saving its bullets. Arizona held a 21-11 rebounding advantage at the half. Askia Booker converted to his alter ego, As-three-a Booker, to keep them in the game. But enough on Thursday night.

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O26 Game of the Week: Gonzaga in Tucson, UTEP-Colorado State, More…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 3rd, 2014

Each week the O26 microsite will run down the biggest upcoming game of the week as well as a handful of others to keep an eye on.

Gonzaga (7-0) at Arizona (6-0) – 5:15 PM ET, ESPN, Saturday

Following the Wildcats defeat of San Diego State in the Maui Invitational, this weekend’s Gonzaga-Arizona matchup might now be the unofficial showdown for ‘Best in the West’ – the outcome of which could go a long way in determining the region’s top-seed come Selection Sunday.

Gonzaga-Arizona should be one of the best non-conference matchups in 2014-15. (thesportspost.com)

Gonzaga-Arizona should be one of the best non-conference matchups in 2014-15. (thesportspost.com)

Both teams have notched impressive early-season victories – SMU and St. John’s for the Bulldogs, Kansas State and SDSU for the Wildcats – both possess seven-plus-foot frontcourt players, athletic wings and veteran point guards, and each squad is led by a coach who’s won a bunch of games over the past decade. Sean Miller’s group pounded Gonzaga in last year’s NCAA Tournament, but the Bulldogs are a much different, much deeper unit in 2014-15; Kevin Pangos is back to full-health and Mark Few added transfers Byron Wesley and Kyle Wiltjer in the offseason, along with impact-freshman Domantas Sabonis (12.3 PPG, 6.7 RPG). As a result, it seems doubtful the Zags will turn the ball over 21 times like they did in March, nor are they likely to be as overwhelmed athletically. Then again, this year’s iteration does take place in Tuscon, against a Wildcat team thanks to the return of 6’8’’ forward Brandon Ashley (Arizona has not lost with him in the lineup since 2012-13) and the addition of an eventual lottery pick, freshman wing Stanley Johnson (13.5 PPG, 6.2 RPG). Considering the individual talent on both rosters, it’s hard to say exactly who or what will dictate the outcome – does the frontcourt battle between Przemek Karnowski and Kaleb Tarczewski decide things? Or will it be Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s energy, or Pangos’ hot-shooting? – but regardless, the game is sure to be among the biggest and most impactful non-conference tilts this season.

More to Watch

  1. Wichita State (4-0) at Utah (5-1) – 11:00 PM ET, ESPN2, Wednesday. Does Wichita State’s 35-game regular season winning streak end in Salt Lake City? The Shockers have not looked prone to defeat so far in 2014-15, having drubbed New Mexico State, Memphis and Tulsa by an average of 17 points per game, but knocking off Utah on its home floor should prove much more difficult. The Utes boast one of the best all-around guards in America, 6’5’’ junior Delon Wright, and are markedly tougher in the Huntsman Center – they were a couple of two-point, overtime losses against Oregon and Arizona from going undefeated at home in 2013-14. Luckily, Gregg Marshall has a pair of experienced, All-America type guards in his own right – Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker – who should hold their own in the hostile environment. KenPom has this one pegged as one a near-coin flip (54% in the Wichita State’s favor), and if the Shockers can emerge victorious, their impressive streak might persist well into the New Year.
  2. UTEP (5-1) at Colorado State (6-0) – 9:00 PM ET, Wednesday. Colorado State won the Great Alaska Shootout and UTEP nearly won the Wooden Legacy over the holiday weekend, punctuating a very good month of November for both units. Even with the Miners falling to Washington on Sunday night, each group appears talented and capable enough to be in the at-large discussion by season’s end – making Wednesday’s game in Fort Collins an important opportunity for both. The Rams, led by senior point guard Daniel Bejarano (13.8 PPG, 7.3 RPG) and forward J.J. Avila (14.5 PPG, 7.7 RPG), have been very proficient from deep so far in 2014-15 (40.5% 3PT) and are the fifth-most experienced team in the country, while UTEP – paced by athletic, versatile forward Vince Hunter (five straight double-doubles to begin 2014-15) – boasts one of college basketball’s largest front lines.
  3. Wyoming (7-0) at SMU (4-3) – 7:00 PM ET, ESPNews, Friday. This is an important bellweather game for Wyoming, which has gotten off to an excellent start in 2014-15 – including a dominant victory over Colorado – but has yet to play a game outside of Laramie. The Mustangs, despite a rocky start without their best player, Markus Kennedy, are a good, well-rounded team that’s always tough inside Moody Coliseum. The Cowboys have found great looks near the basket this season (66.2% 2PT; second-best in NCAA) and SMU’s interior defense has been less dominant without Kennedy, so Wyoming’s ability to patiently run its sets in a road environment might be the key to success.
  4. Virginia (7-0) at Virginia Commonwealth (5-2) – 2:00 PM ET, ESPNU, Saturday. VCU edged Illinois State on Tuesday night, but the Rams still seek a marquee victory after two disappointing losses last week. This home contest against newfound in-state rival Virginia provides that opportunity. In what should be an exercise in contrasting styles – VCU plays frenzied, uptempo basketball, whereas the Cavaliers like to grind on both ends of the court – the outcome may depend on whether Shaka Smart’s group can force Virginia into turnovers with any kind of regularity. If not, the preseason Atlantic 10 favorites – who already struggle to score in the half-court – could be in for a long night against Tony Bennett’s defense [See: Rutgers game].
  5. San Diego State (5-1) at Washington (6-0) – 9:00 PM ET, Pac-12 Network, Sunday. In another very good west coast showdown, the Aztecs will have to play without guard Aqeel Quinn (9.7 PPG), who broke his finger against Arizona last week. The Huskies have the advantage at point guard with Nigel Williams-Goss (14.7 PPG, 7.5 RPG) – important against an aggressive defensive unit like SDSU – but the Aztecs have more athletic wings, and both squads possess plenty of size underneath. Should be close.

Other Notables

  •  Northeastern (5-1) at Harvard (4-1) – 7:00 PM ET, Wednesday.
  •  Long Beach State (4-4) at Stephen F. Austin (4-3) – 8:00PM, Friday.
  •  Boise State (4-2) at Saint Mary’s (5-0) – 11:30 PM ET, ESPNU, Saturday.
  •  Florida Gulf Coast (6-1) *at Massachusetts (5-3) – 2:00 PM ET, Sunday (*Springfield, MA).

Upset Special

Can Yale hang around with Connecticut on Friday night? (The Providence Journal/Glenn Osmundson)

Can Yale hang around with Connecticut on Friday night? (The Providence Journal/Glenn Osmundson)

Yale (6-2) at Connecticut (3-2) – 7:00 PM ET, ESPN3, Friday. There are plenty of reasons why this upset can’t happen – I mean, we are talking about the defending National Champions…playing at home – so how about one reason why it can: Huskies guard Ryan Boatright might miss the contest with a sprained ankle. If he does sit out, Connecticut will be without the guy who leads it in scoring (20.8 PPG), assists (4 APG) and steals (1.6 SPG), who  plays virtually every minute of every game, who shoots almost one-third of the team’s shots while on the floor, and who racks up fouls in bunches. Yale, which looked good in a hard-fought loss to Providence last weekend, has bodies to bang with Connecticut on the glass and should do a better job taking care of the ball (turnovers have been a problem) against the Boatright-less Huskies. If Javier Duren, Jack Montague and Armani Cotton get hot from behind the arc and Justin Sears (15.1 PPG, 9.1 RPG) stays out of foul trouble, the Bulldogs have a chance.

Stars Aligned: Great Individual Match-Ups

  • Green Bay’s Kiefer Sykes at Georgia State’s Ryan Harrow – 7:00 PM ET, Thursday. Both Sykes (18.5 PPG) and Harrow (20.3 PPG) are small, explosive point guards who thrive on their quickness and ability to penetrate. They also happen to be two of college basketball’s best players, on two of the better teams at the mid-major level. You won’t want to miss this battle.
  • William & Mary’s Marcus Thornton at Richmond’s Kendall Anthony – 7:00 PM ET, Wednesday. Another pair of talented scoring guards go at it tonight, as Thornton (17 PPG) and Anthony (15.3 PPG) square off in Richmond. At just 5’8’’, Anthony gives up a full eight inches to his William & Mary counterpart, so it seems doubtful they will actually wind up guarding each other. Either way, expect a bevy of points from these two guys and a hard-fought game between quality intra-state foes.
  • Valparaiso’s Alec Peters vs. someone(s) on Eastern Kentucky – 7:00 PM ET, Wednesday. This game is projected to be a toss-up, but I’m not sure who on the Colonels is going to stop Peters. The 6’9’’ forward has been nothing short of exceptional so far this season, averaging 19.3 PPG and shooting 55% 3PT. With that combination of size and shooting ability, Eastern Kentucky’s best hope might be to exploit Valpo’s weakness at point guard, turn the Crusaders over and limit Peters’ touches as much as possible.
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Rushed Reactions: #3 Arizona 61, #15 San Diego State 59

Posted by rtmsf on November 27th, 2014

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

Arizona the 2014 Maui champs. #mauihoops

A photo posted by RTC (@rushthecourt) on

  1. San Diego State Needed This More Than Arizona. And they weren’t able to get it, in large part because of the same old bugaboo that has limited Steve Fisher’s teams the last few seasons: offensive production. From the 9:17 to the 0:18 mark of the second half, the Aztecs scored a grand total of three points on a Skylar Spencer free throw and a Trey Kell jumper. What will cause Steve Fisher to lose even more sleep over this loss tonight is that Arizona only moderately took advantage of the drought (going from a one-point deficit to a six-point lead) — opportunities were there, and Fisher mentioned as much in the postgame press conference. But far too often, the Aztecs simply don’t know what to do with the basketball on the offensive end other than to give it to Winston Shepard (14 points, six rebounds) and ask him to create something. There’s more on a possible remedy to that problem below, but the bigger takeaway here is that this was a winnable game that could have really bolstered the Aztecs’ seed line in March when they have another gaudy record that people are uncertain about. Arizona, on the other hand, will play Gonzaga and Michigan in coming weeks to bolster its bona fides as the Wildcats position themselves for another #1 seed in the West Region.
  2. Stanley Johnson is the Real Deal. I’m not sure if I was more impressed with the all-around abilities of Johnson in his Tournament MVP performance, or his relative nonchalance while dominating the action here in Maui. With four California state titles under his belt, Johnson was as well-decorated as they come heading into college. But his demeanor on the floor is so unflappable that, incessant chewing of the mouth guard aside, it belies his relative inexperience in a college uniform. In what was easily the poorest shooting night of his young career (4-14 FG), he still found plenty of ways to impact the game beyond scoring (which he made up for at the line): nine rebounds, including five offensive; three big steals; a block; an assist. Sean Miller said after the game that Johnson has only recently — the last month or so — started to understand what it takes to be successful at this level: “He couldn’t have won Tournament MVP a month ago.” God help us all once he puts it all together. He’s a game-changer in the best possible way.
  3. The Offensive Development of Trey Kell Will Make or Break the Aztecs. San Diego State will beat a bunch of teams with its defense alone, but in order for this group to break through and realistically become a Final Four contender, Fisher needs Trey Kell to become his second reliable scoring threat. Dwayne Polee is a nice third guy in an offense — the kind of player who is best served when defenses aren’t designed to specifically stop him — but Kell showed through three games in Maui that he is more than capable of putting up nice numbers (14.7 PPG on 60% FG and 76% FT) for a team that ranks among the slowest-paced 20 percent of all Division I teams. The question is really whether he can do it reliably. Shepard, as talented and versatile of a player as he is, needs a teammate who can take the offensive pressure off of him, and the freshman clearly has the stones (hitting the big four-point play to give SDSU its final life with 18 seconds remaining) to make a run at it. Mark this down: If Kell becomes an all-Mountain West caliber player this season, San Diego State will play in the NCAA’s second weekend and have a favorable match-up’s chance at the program’s first Final Four.

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Pac-12 M5: 11.20.14 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 20th, 2014

pac12_morning5

  1. Arizona just keeps on rolling, and not just because the Wildcats knocked off Big West favorite UC Irvine in Tucson on Wednesday night, but because Sean Miller keeps dialing in elite recruiting classes. He’s already got four signees locked up and is working on adding more to next year’s class , and he’s already gotten a head start on a strong 2016 class with a verbal commitment from San Diego-area power forward T.J. Leaf. Leaf is a 6’9” combo forward with the size to play the four and the skill set to play the three. In fact, he cited Miller’s history of allowing his forwards to display a wide variety of skill sets as a big reason why he chose Arizona over other big-time schools like UCLA and Florida.
  2. Tad Boyle is getting to ready to welcome some young talent into his rotation, as freshman point guard Dominique Collier may see his first action in a Colorado uniform against Wyoming this weekend. Collier was suspended for the Buffaloes’ first two games of the season and has been dealing with a nagging ankle injury on top of that, but he’s finally practicing at full speed and ready to contribute. With Xavier Talton acquitting himself nicely in the early going, don’t expect Collier to jump into a huge role in the rotation right away. But the two-time Colorado Mr. Basketball is another talent who should make Boyle’s already deep bench even stronger.
  3. UCLA freshman Kevon Looney is another youngster that you’ll get to know a lot about this season. Through two games of his college career, the former McDonald’s All-American from Milwaukee is averaging 19.5 points and 11.5 boards per game for the Bruins, albeit against overmatched competition. Looney’s 7’5” wingspan certainly accounts for some of his naturally-gifted rebounding ability, and the fact that he’s so athletic factors in there too. According to his teammates, thought, what makes Looney so good on the glass are his simple instincts.
  4. Oregon State is off to its first 2-0 start since 2000-01, but with wins over the likes of Rice and Corban, it is not advisable to get too excited about this young team. Still, as Gary Horowitz of the Statesman Journal notes, this Beavers program is at least worth watching. With a bevy of athletic wings who can handle the ball, versatile legacy Gary Payton II and a few surprisingly skilled bigs, Wayne Tinkle has his team playing an entertaining brand of ball while laying the foundation for future success. Sure, there are plenty of losses on the team’s immediate horizon, but with a strong recruiting class due next season, this is at the very least a basketball program with a chance at a fairly bright future. One word of warning, however: It is going to get worse before it gets better.
  5. There’s another new head coach in the conference who is also in the midst of trying to turn a program around with very little talent. Ernie Kent has sweet-talked all the locals around the Washington State program, but an 0-2 start to the season with losses by an average of 20 points in a mini-tour of middle-of-the-road (at best) Texas schools quickly put a damper on any buzz around this year’s squad. Just watch how the tenor of tweets from the CougCenter contributors went downhill quickly as the Cougars’ 27-point loss to TCU progressed.
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Three Opinions on Arizona’s Opening Weekend

Posted by Andrew Murawa, Tracy McDannald & Adam Butler on November 17th, 2014

With no single must-watch game in the conference this weekend, we tasked our guys with getting a good look at Arizona’s pair of games and coming away with some first impressions on the conference’s heavy favorite. In a pair of wins over lesser opponents, here’s what caught our eyes.

Adam Butler: I don’t doubt that Rondae Hollis-Jefferson tweaked his shoulder. But I also don’t know how a tweaked shoulder would keep him out of the starting lineup and off the court for just the first few minutes. For both games the lengthy defender came off the bench just like he did last year. Is this the route Sean Miller is going to take for the whole season? There are a ton of weapons at Miller’s disposal and he seems to be using these lesser opponents as a testing ground for different lineups. Rondae certainly gets starter minutes and is/will play in all crunch situations, but his starting on the bench is an interesting twist following the benching of Stanley Johnson for Arizona’s exhibition game. RHJ certainly is comfortable coming off the bench, but I’m curious if this helps Gabe York feel more comfortable as a starter.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson Started The Season as A Reserve Due To A "Tweaked" Shoulder (Mike Christy, Arizona Daily Star)

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson Started The Season as A Reserve Due To A “Tweaked” Shoulder (Mike Christy, Arizona Daily Star)

One other thing that I noticed was the play of Parker Jackson-Cartwright. Much has been made of Miller’s point guards since becoming the coach at Arizona. Now it seems he has both a true point guard and a quality backup as well. PJC scored 15 points and dished five assists over the weekend and — perhaps most importantly — looked the part. He was cool and confident on the floor. I don’t imagine he’s going to play a ton this season, but these early successes will bode well in the limited role he’ll see as this season gets into more significant games.

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Pac-12 Opening Weekend: What To Watch For

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 14th, 2014

We waited all these many months for opening weekend of the college basketball season and we’re rewarded with… Mount St. Mary’s at Arizona, Montana State at UCLA, and South Dakota at Stanford? Well, no matter, I’m still excited. Below we’ll take a look at some things to keep an eye on as all of the Pac-12 teams tip off their seasons this weekend.

  • Arizona: vs. Mount Saint Mary’s on Friday, vs. Cal State Northridge on Sunday (both on Pac-12 Networks): The Wildcats shouldn’t be challenged in either contest (although CSUN at least has some interesting athletes, including Landon Drew, brother of former UCLA point guard Larry Drew II), but that’s no reason not to tune in to see just how Sean Miller intends to pour all of his talent on to the court at the same time. Plus, the over/under on thunderous dunks from the duo of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson is set at 10 for the weekend.

    Rondae Hollis-Jefferson And Company Could Feel Some Rim Rash After This Weekend (Getty)

    Rondae Hollis-Jefferson And Company Could Feel Some Rim Rash After This Weekend. (Getty)

  • Arizona State: vs. Chicago State on Friday (Pac-12 Networks): Do you have the scouting report on Tra Holder, Willie Atwood and Roosevelt Scott down pat? No? Me neither, which is why I’ll be making sure to get a peak at the Sun Devils this weekend to see how Herb Sendek folds in the new talent with veterans like Shaquielle McKissic and Jonathan Gilling.
  • California: vs. Alcorn State on Friday, vs. Kennesaw State on Sunday (both on Pac-12 Networks): The Golden Bears should get through this weekend just fine and be undefeated when they face Syracuse in the 2K Classic next Thursday. Tune in this weekend to check out Cal’s high-flying wings in Cuonzo Martin‘s system and learn how Sam Singer is coming along at the point.

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