Pac-12 Burning Questions: Most Improved Senior?

Posted by AMurawa on February 26th, 2013

Our Pac-12 commentators are back with their answers to the biggest questions around the conference. This week, who is the most improved senior in the league?

 

Adam Butler: There was plenty of hype surrounding Solomon Hill. He was a top 50 player being likened to other Wildcat point-forwards like Richard Jefferson, Andre Iguodala, and Luke Walton. Sure that list is eclectically pieced together but the fact remains that Hill’s skill set was such that he could score, board, and dish. And it sounded great. But then Lute wasn’t the coach. And then he was. And then he wasn’t and Hill’s commitment to Arizona followed the same course until he finally settled on his hometown Trojans. Following Arizona’s 2009 season in which they made the Sweet Sixteen, a coaching hunt ensued. It wasn’t the prettiest thing but it landed Sean Miller in Tucson and the rest is history in the making. Of course Hill’s path back to Tucson wouldn’t make much sense without, say, an NCAA scandal (he was not involved) and the subsequent quitting of his USC coach and release from his LOI.

Now wrapping up his collegiate career, Solomon Hill is on the brink of helping the Wildcats earn a Pac-12 title

Now wrapping up his collegiate career, Solomon Hill is on the brink of helping the Wildcats earn a Pac-12 title.

Soon on his doorstep was Arizona’s new lead man and, among the now-fabled 2009 recruiting class to join Sean Miller for year one in Tucson, Hill was the first to commit. But he was overweight and undercommitted, perhaps waltzing in with a sense of entitlement. His freshman year looked something like this: 6/4/2. He made four three-pointers. Today he’s widely considered one of the most complete players in the conference, going for 14/6/2 while connecting on 40% of his threes of which he’s made 46 attempts. Solomon has endured and blossomed in the most interesting of times for Arizona basketball and has carried the torch into the new era. He (along with fellow senior, Kevin Parrom) will be the first four-year players under Miller to move through the program. Their senior day will be bittersweet but it won’t be a farewell. After all, Miller calls it a “player’s program.” Solomon Hill embodies that program.

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Pac-12 Report Card, Volume VIII: The Honor Roll

Posted by AMurawa on February 26th, 2013

This week, Professor Pac is a proud papa, as some of his most prized pupils have turned in a solid week of work. Of the four teams that earned As this week, three of them are within a game of the top of the conference and all four expect to be invited to the Big Dance.

California – A

At the end of the fourth week of conference play, the Golden Bears sat at 3-4 and four games off the pace set by then 7-0 Oregon Ducks. Since then, behind surprisingly balanced production, Cal has gone 7-1 and eked to within one game of the lead. This week they took a road trip to the Oregon schools and didn’t play particularly well, yet still managed to sneak out a pair of wins by a total of three points. And believe me, those two games were even closer than the tight scores could indicate. But, it’s two more wins to add onto the pile. And with a favorable schedule down the stretch, Mike Montgomery and crew are very much in the title hunt, no matter how improbable that may have seemed.

Tyrone Wallace's Shots Haven't Been Falling Lately, But Luckily He Is Capable Of Making Contributions Elsewhere (Lance Iversen, The San Francisco Chronicle)

Tyrone Wallace’s Shots Haven’t Been Falling Lately, But Luckily He Is Capable Of Making Contributions Elsewhere (Lance Iversen/San Francisco Chronicle)

Focus on: Tyrone Wallace. Way back in November and December, if you had told me that the Golden Bears would wind up challenging for a Pac-12 title, I would have figured that the freshman out of Bakersfield had made a quantum leap somewhere around the turn of the calendar. But while Wallace has certainly had his moments this season, over the span of the current Cal five-game winning streak, his only game in double figures came on Saturday against Oregon State with 11. In fact, over the course of conference play, Wallace has shot just 33.8% from the field. While his jumper definitely lags behind other areas of his game, if that gets tightened up, he’s got a promising future.

Looking ahead: The closing stretch for the Bears is fairly manageable. This week they host Utah and Colorado at Haas Pavilion, with the latter of those games obviously being the more perilous, then they wrap up the season next Wednesday by hosting Stanford. We can totally see the Bears earning a sweep this week, then heading into their final game of the regular season looking for a win to keep up with a couple other Pac-12 teams, only to be tripped up by their Bay Area rival.

Arizona – A

The Wildcats hosted the Washington schools and came away with a pair of wins by an average of 17.5 points per game. Now that’s the type of week we’re looking for from a team that wants to be ranked in the top 10 and earn a spot on the one or two seed line next month. And still, there is work to be done, as head coach Sean Miller sees room for more consistent effort on the defensive end. The Wildcats certainly have the talent for a run deep into March, and maybe even April, but we want to continue to see them put away lesser opponents rather than flirt with disaster in the end game.

Focus on: Solomon Hill. We haven’t talked a whole lot about Hill here this season, if only because he’s done the types of things that we’ve come to expect from him – you know, everything. Put it this way – he’s second on his team in scoring, third in assists and rebounds, second in steals and three-pointers made and he leads the team in minutes played. And he’s steady, regularly ready to be penciled in for double-figure points, five boards, three assists and a couple threes over the course of minutes in the mid-30s. Which makes his five-point, two-rebound performance against Washington State confusing. His minutes were somewhat limited by foul trouble, but still in 29 minutes of action, Hill was often invisible.

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Pac-12 M5: 02.19.13 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on February 19th, 2013

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  1. The big item for the discussion around the Pac-12 is this: Early in the second half of a game against USC on Sunday night, Mike Montgomery greeted Allen Crabbe at the start of a timeout by getting in his face and shoving him in the chest in an effort to wake up his talented junior. As Montgomery said after the game, it worked, eventually. After continuing to float along for several minutes following the incident, Crabbe eventually caught fire at the end of the game and brought his Bears back from a 15-point halftime deficit to beat the Trojans. The Pac-12 officially reprimanded Montgomery for the incident, but the head coach will not face a suspension from the league or his employer. In the wake of the incident, everybody’s got an opinion about it ranging from the hyperbolic “it’s an outrage!” to the “no big deal.” Me? I think it is a big deal, but not necessarily because Montgomery’s behavior was shameful. The problem is, more than once this season now, Montgomery’s emotions have gotten the best of him as he has dealt with mercurial personalities such as Crabbe, Justin Cobbs and Richard Solomon. If you’ve watched these guys float through games and underachieve as regularly as they have, you’ve probably wanted to shove them in the chest a time or two as well, even if you’ve got no rooting interest one way or the other. But for now, the hope is that this incident doesn’t overshadow the fact that all of a sudden, Montgomery is beginning to get production out of his group of kids, even if he’s using some unconventional and controversial methods to do so.
  2. In Salt Lake City Sunday, Arizona head coach Sean Miller unveiled a new starting lineup, featuring Kevin Parrom at the three, Solomon Hill at the four and Brandon Ashley moving to a reserve role. While nothing is set in stone, Miller says that he’ll probably stick with that starting lineup going forward. Miller notes that the move wasn’t made out of disappointment with Ashley’s production but rather out of a desire to get Parrom’s veteran leadership more actively involved in the lineup.
  3. Colorado’s Josh Scott suffered a concussion early in the second half of Saturday night’s loss to Arizona State when he and ASU center Jordan Bachynski got tangled up and fell to the floor. Scott took an inadvertent elbow to the head, left the floor and did not return to the game. Head coach Tad Boyle addressed the situation involving his talented freshman on Monday, saying that Scott will be fine but is currently considered day-to-day. Colorado next plays on Thursday night when it hosts Utah in a must-win game in Boulder.
  4. In a week that featured plenty of great basketball games, Saturday’s Washington State/Oregon tussle may have been the most entertaining. For 44 minutes and most of a 45th, the Cougars played the Ducks to a draw. Despite giving up an 18-point first half lead, the Cougs were still right there battling with the conference-leaders, as sophomore guard Royce Woolridge was going off in a career-day kind of way, including his sixth three-pointer that knotted the score up at 77 with just a handful of seconds remaining. As Oregon rushed up the court to attempt a last second potential game-winning shot, WSU sophomore Dexter Kernich-Drew intentionally (but inexplicably) fouled E.J. Singler, sending him to the line with under four seconds remaining. Singler made both giving the Ducks the win and Washington State players and fans are left wondering what exactly happened there.
  5. Lastly, just how good has Jahii Carson been this season for Arizona State? Well, compared will all the freshmen in the history of the Pac-12, he’s currently on pace to produce the 10th highest scoring average in the history of the conference. His 17.7 points per game comes in just shy of James Harden’s totals in his first season in the desert in 2007-08. Interestingly enough, UCLA freshman Shabazz Muhammad is currently seventh on the all-time list at 18.5 PPG. Carson is also now just 22 assists shy of becoming just the 12th freshman in conference history to register 150 assists in a season.
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Arizona Shows Off Its NCAA Tournament Credentials

Posted by Kenny Ocker on February 3rd, 2013

Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) is a journalist based in the Northwest who filed this story after Arizona’s win against Washington State in Pullman on Saturday night.

Halfway through its Pac-12 schedule, Arizona looks like a team prepared to make an impact come March. The Wildcats have wiggled their way back into a tie for the Pac-12 lead with Oregon despite losing in Eugene in mid-January. The one other loss came at home to UCLA two weeks later, but neither snowballed for Arizona. Instead, the Wildcats have run straight through everything that could have derailed the momentum they built up in the non-conference season with wins over Florida, Miami and San Diego State. Even on the road against Washington State, two days after a last-possession win against Washington, with Kevin Parrom ejected for elbowing Cougars guard DaVonte Lacy in the first half and star senior guard Mark Lyons picking up three first-half fouls, Arizona barely blinked, taking a 40-26 lead into halftime in Pullman, which led to a 79-65 win.

Solomon Hill had six three-pointers in the first half to lead Arizona back into a tie for first in the Pac-12.

Solomon Hill had six three-pointers in the first half to lead Arizona back into a tie for first in the Pac-12.

But what makes Arizona so good? Is it having senior leadership? Is it having a talented offense? Is it having a stingy defense? It seems to be all of those things. On a night where Lyons picked up four fouls by the 17-minute mark of the second half and Parrom was booted, fellow senior Solomon Hill filled in the gap for Sean Miller’s squad with six three-pointers – including a three-quarter-court heave at the halftime buzzer – finishing with 18 points. For the season, the trio is averaging around 36 points per game and are three of the Wildcats’ top four scorers, along with sophomore guard Nick Johnson. Arizona’s offense is one that benefits from its best-in-the-conference free-throw shooting, especially thanks to the fouls drawn by ball-handlers Lyons and Johnson, who can get into the lane at will. Once they get there, they capitalize at a team-wide 75 percent rate. That, combined with strong offensive rebounding, leads to the conference’s most efficient offense, despite average two-point and three-point shooting and pedestrian turnover numbers. Where the Wildcats stand out most is on the defensive end. They force turnovers on nearly one in five opponent possessions, allow 40 percent shooting and clear the boards better than anyone in the Pac-12. Johnson’s quick hands lead to more than two steals per game, and Hill averages just more than a steal per game.

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Three Thoughts on the UCLA-Arizona Game From Last Night

Posted by AMurawa on January 25th, 2013

UCLA showed a resolve in Tucson last night that not many could have foreseen from this squad a month ago. Here are three thoughts about the outcome, with the Bruins beating Arizona going away to take over sole possession of second place in the Pac-12.

  1. Thirty-three minutes, five turnovers, zero assists and a 41.2% eFG. There’s your point guard, Arizona fans. I’m not for a minute going to suggest that Mark Lyons was solely responsible for the Wildcats’ 11-point loss at home against UCLA – there’s more than enough blame to go around, beginning with the coaching staff and heading on down the line – but the events of Thursday night showcase in a microcosm the concerns that people have had about Lyons as the lead guard of a team with national championship hopes. Sure, he’s been nails down the stretch in more than a couple games this year (games where, perhaps not coincidentally, he again had more turnovers than assists), but time and again down the court last night, the Arizona offense was unfocused and undisciplined. They’ve got enough playmakers to keep things interesting against quality teams even in the absence of coherent point guard play, but for this team to max out its potential, Lyons either needs to improve his ability to create offense for the Wildcats, or Sean Miller needs to explore using either Solomon Hill or Nick Johnson to more regularly initiate the sets.

    While Mark Lyons Has Been Huge In Late-Game Scenarios For Arizona This Year, He Was A Liability Last Night (Jerry Pillarelli)

    While Mark Lyons Has Been Huge In Late-Game Scenarios For Arizona This Year, He Was A Liability Last Night (Jerry Pillarelli)

  2. Repeatedly this season, when Ben Howland has been asked such things as “Why did Tony Parker only get three minutes tonight?” or “Are there any plans to get Parker more minutes?”, he has responded by saying that, to paraphrase, “there will come a game or two this season when, whether due to injury or to foul trouble, we’ll need Parker to give us some quality minutes off the bench.” Exhibit A came last night when, due to concussion-like symptoms exhibited by Travis Wear after taking an unintentional hit to the head in the first half, Parker earned the most minutes he’s had since the Prairie View A&M game in mid-December. He responded as Howland hoped he would, providing 10 rock-solid minutes, scoring six points, grabbing three boards, blocking a shot, playing good post defense and even knocking down some clutch free throws and an interesting fall-away jumper. While saying that UCLA would not have won without Parker is taking it too far, that game would certainly have been much tighter down the stretch in his absence. The freshman has most certainly earned enough trust from his coach to see a bit of a bump in minutes going forward. While on the topic, give credit to David Wear for stepping in for his fallen brother and scrapping his way to his best game of the year. Read the rest of this entry »
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Pac-12 Burning Question: Arizona or UCLA?

Posted by AMurawa on January 24th, 2013

While this may not be the first of two that will decide the conference race as we postulated in the preseason, tonight we are still looking forward to our first UCLA/Arizona game of the year, with a pair of highly-touted freshman classes — not to mention host of talented veterans — clashing for the first time. And, we can barely contain our excitement. So, let’s get right to the point.

“Arizona/UCLA, Part I tips off Thursday night. Who’s going to win, and why?”

Adam Butler: Arizona and UCLA has been the premier rivalry on the West Coast for the better part of three decades now. I love the statistic that between 1984 and 2008, 19 of 30 conference championship banners hung in McKale or Pauley. That’s impressive. And then it’s also very well-documented how each of these programs has faltered recently. But it would appear they are now back(ish). Arizona is undoubtedly on the up-and-up and is poised to be around for a long time. UCLA is a team with parts that scare Frank Haith almost as much as the NCAA. ESPN cast this match-up for a Gameday appearance before the season even started and will be in attendance when the Wildcats head to Pauley in March (as will I). So when the Bruins and Wildcats tip in Tucson Thursday night, there will be no shortage of storylines or intrigue. The question will center on whether the Bruins’ short bench can hang with Arizona’s depth? Can Travis Wear continue to shoot at the level he’s been connecting on in conference play (59%)? Is Jordan Adams showing us who Jordan Adams really is or just slumping? Per usual, Arizona is going to force a lot of threes and deep jumpers. But UCLA has shot well and often from this distance. They take 48% of their shots in the form of two-point jumpers and make them at a 43% clip, 12th and fifth by national ranking, respectively. Could that haunt the Wildcats? I ultimately think Arizona has too many weapons for the Bruins to combat. Mark Lyons will be able to expose Drew2 and there are too many dynamic athletes defensively, for Arizona to not slow Travis Wear. The grand equalizer, as it always has been against the Wildcats, is the three-pointer. But considering a raucous McKale and the Bruins’ general mediocrity in hitting that shot (35%), I’m picking Sean Miller to beat UCLA for the sixth time in his nine tries.

The McKale Will Be Jumping Thursday Night, Providing Yet Another Boost For The Wildcats (Willy Low, AP Photo)

The McKale Will Be Jumping Thursday Night, Providing Yet Another Boost For The Wildcats (Willy Low, AP Photo)

Connor Pelton: Arizona will win this one because of two reasons. Most importantly, while the Wildcats are a turnover-prone team, they take care of the ball in big games. Only 10 turnovers against Florida, eight against San Diego State, and nine against Arizona State keyed huge wins for Zona, and the increased production also resulted in bigger scoring outputs from primary ball-handler Mark Lyons. With the number of play-makers on the UCLA side, giving the Bruins too many extra possessions will be costly. Not as important but still a big factor for a possible UA win is the McKale effect. UCLA hasn’t won in Tucson since the 2007-08 season, and the Wildcats haven’t dropped a game there all year. It’ll be the annual White-Out game, which traditionally brings the biggest crowd of the season, and as Florida, Colorado, and Utah proved, you don’t want to have to operate your offense late with the Zona Zoo rattling your brain. Give me the Wildcats in a close one.

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Pac-12 M5: 01.17.13 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on January 17th, 2013

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  1. Since the firing of Kevin O’Neill on Monday morning, coaches on the hot seat are on the minds of many around the conference. Bud Withers of The Seattle Times points to Craig Robinson, Johnny Dawkins and Ken Bone as the three remaining Pac-12 coaches most likely to be relieved of their duties following the season, and one of the factors that could play a part in their departures is the relative disinterest of the fan bases, especially at Stanford and Washington State, where small crowds have become a theme. Of note is that Ben Howland is missing from Withers’ list, but rest assured, barring a deep run in the NCAA Tournament (meaning at least past the first weekend), Howland’s position will be reevaluated once the season ends.
  2. Continuing to mine that O’Neill theme, the Arizona Daily Wildcat has a piece about how the state of UA basketball could have been much different had previous events turned out differently. To begin with, O’Neill was the interim head coach at Arizona when Lute Olson took his leave of absence in 2007-08, and, were it not for a change of heart on Olson’s part, the plan was to make O’Neill the head man when Olson retired. When that plan fell through, O’Neill wound up free to take the USC job when Tim Floyd abruptly resigned in the wake of recruiting allegations. And, in that whole regime change, guys who had been committed to USC, namely Derrick Williams and Momo Jones, wound up de-committing and instead enrolling at Arizona, became key cogs in the 2011 Elite Eight team. Solomon Hill was also at one point committed to Tim Floyd and USC, but he backed out of that and switched his allegiance to Arizona prior to the coaching change. In short, were it not for a couple simple twists of fate involving O’Neill, the present face of Arizona basketball would look significantly different.
  3. Aside from that, you know, we actually had some games in the conference tonight. Where Wednesday games were sort of a one-off rivalry-game-only type of thing in the past, these are a regular occurrence every week this year. It takes some getting used to, sure, but really, basketball spread out more evenly through the week? I ain’t complaining. Washington State kicked things off last night by raining down fire from deep on Utah on the way to the Cougs’ first conference win of the season. Coug Center’s got your round-up of all the action, including Mike Ladd’s career night. It’s worth noting that Ladd is starting to pick up the pace offensively and it is he, rather than more popular possibilities like DaVonte Lacy or Royce Woolridge, who has stepped up as the second option on this team behind Brock Motum. Ladd has now scored in double figures in five straight games, averaging better than 16 points per night over that span.
  4. As Sabatino Chen’s desperation three-pointer banked in at the buzzer at the end of Colorado’s conference opener, it appeared that the Buffaloes were ready to be a serious contender for the Pac-12 title. Almost literally since that exact moment, not much has gone right for CU. Moments later, that shot was perhaps erroneously waved off. Soon thereafter the Buffs folded in overtime of that game. And since that night, they’ve proceeded to drop three of their next four, stumbling to a 1-4 conference start, including last night’s 10-point loss at Washington. But, while Colorado gets much of the attention for their sudden failures, the Huskies are out to a surprising 4-0 conference start. But, as Jerry Brewer of The Seattle Times notes, while past Husky teams have made their mark with style and flair, this vintage of UW is getting it done with grit, hustle and smarts. And, perhaps not coincidentally, they’re overachieving this year, as opposed to their almost annual recent underachievements.
  5. Lastly, on a day that wasn’t all that great for Oregon sports, there was bad news for the basketball program as well when it came to light that the prep school that 2013 recruit Cristiano Felicio is currently attending may be under scrutiny for its legitimacy as an educational institution. And, the crazy part about this story is that may not be the worst part about it. Aside from possibly being little more than a scam perpetrated on talented basketball players, the president of the school is under investigation for physically abusing some of the schools players by subjecting them to “hands and feet bound with zip ties” and “clothes pins attached to their nipples.” Yikes.
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Night Line: Cardiac Cats Continue To Find A Way

Posted by BHayes on January 4th, 2013

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Bennet Hayes is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @HoopsTraveler on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

March may still be well in the distance and conference play just beginning, but the Arizona Wildcats have already crafted a season’s worth of last-minute escapes. Early December saw Mark Lyons take over a game that was tied with seven minutes to play at Clemson. The Xavier transfer would provide more heroics a week later, as his runner with seven seconds left shocked Florida and erased a six-point, final-minute deficit. Then, in a back-and-forth Christmas Day affair, Nick Johnson delivered Wildcat fans a final Christmas gift when he blocked Chase Tapley’s layup attempt with only ticks remaining, giving Arizona the Diamond Head Classic title in yet another wild final minute.

But none of this drama compared to the scene at the McHale Center on Thursday night. Not only did Arizona need to erase a nine-point deficit in the final two minutes to ultimately win this one, but they also needed to find a bit of good fortune when referees went to the monitor to review Sabatino Chen’s apparent buzzer-beating winner. True to form, the Wildcats ended up on the right side of the bang-bang call, and then (in equally appropriate fashion), Lyons and company displayed the killer instinct that has become a trademark of this unbeaten run.

Mark Lyons Has Brought a Swagger To The Cats, And The Wins Have Followed

Mark Lyons Has Brought a Swagger To The Cats, And The Wins Have Followed

As is usually the case with teams using “imaginative” methods of winning, skeptics will point out that relying on late heroics is not a recipe for sustainability. On the other side of the ledger, Wildcat fans will rightly point out that their team is 13-0 and one of just four unbeaten teams left in the country, so they have to be doing something right. The question then becomes, how good is this Arizona team? The answer, also per usual, falls somewhere in the middle of the two extremes. Ultimately however, this is a talented, veteran Wildcat team, and the dramatic nature of their first 13 games should not be held against them.

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Wrapping Up Pac-12 Non-Conference Play By Reassessing Our All-Conference Selections

Posted by AMurawa on January 2nd, 2013

Later tonight, the second leg of the Pac-12 college basketball season begins as conference play tips off with the Battle of the Bachynskis, when Utah travels to Arizona State. After last year’s nightmare of a non-conference slate, this season the conference took major strides, with Arizona’s win over Florida, UCLA’s win over Missouri, Colorado’s win over Baylor, and Oregon’s win over UNLV making up the top tier of the best wins for the conference. Before we turn our complete attention to conference play, we thought we’d hand out some awards based on the season to this point, so Connor Pelton, Parker Baruh, Pachoops’ Adam Butler and myself voted and came up with the following results.

Player of the Year

Allen Crabbe, Jr, California – Crabbe’s 20.9 PPG and efficient all-around offensive game earned three of the four votes for our player of the year, with UCLA’s Jordan Adams receiving the other vote from me. Crabbe has been a rock for the Golden Bears (well, aside from that Creighton debacle, at least), scoring in double figures in every game, helping out on the glass and, thus far, knocking down better than 38% of his shots from deep.

The Pac-12's Leading Scorer, Allen Crabbe Takes Down The Mid-season POTY Award (credit: Jeff Gross)

The Pac-12′s Leading Scorer, Allen Crabbe Takes Down The Mid-season POTY Award (credit: Jeff Gross)

Coach of the Year

Dana Altman, Oregon – Despite losing three of last year’s top four scorers, and having the other guy in that quartet – E.J. Singler – struggle through the early part of this year, the Ducks have reeled off wins in 11 of their 13 games. Altman has gotten great production out of his freshman backcourt of Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson, has folded Rice transfer Arsalan Kazemi into the mix seamlessly, and coaxed great improvement out of senior center Tony Woods. As a result, he earned three of our four votes for the COY, while Arizona State’s Herb Sendek got my support.

Freshman of the Year

Shabazz Muhammad, Fr, UCLA – After missing the first three games of the season due to an NCAA investigation into his eligibility, Muhammad has come on strong for the Bruins, scoring in double figures in all 10 of the games he’s played in on his way to 19.6 points per night. He’s just beginning to ease into the best physical shape of the season, so the expectation is that conference play will see an even better version of Shabazz. Once again, Shabazz earned three of our four votes for FrOY, with the lone dissenter (again, me) nabbing teammate Jordan Adams.

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Pac-12 Burning Questions: So… About Those Preseason Predictions?

Posted by AMurawa on December 31st, 2012

With non-conference play all but wrapped up, we start to turn our attention to conference play this week. But, before we do we want to take a look back and see what we talked about prior to the season.

“We made a lot of predictions and bold statements prior to the season. Which prognostication did you nail and which did you completely whiff on?”

Adam Butler: I wish I’d had the stones to say things like “Jordan Adams will be UCLA’s best player” or “Josh Smith will leave the Bruins” or “USC will utterly flop.” No, on each of those insights I was sightless. I was the cool kid picking USC to overachieve and who was gobbling up Shabazz hyperbole like flavored vodka at a sorority house. I went out on the limb to say Arizona and Colorado would be good. I have said Spencer Dinwiddie would be All-Conference and, to date, he’s held up his side of that bargain, and I still love his game when he shows up (although, zero points vs. Fresno?). The one thing I’ve nailed but I don’t think it’s been terribly bold has been that Mark Lyons, no matter what he did numbers-wise, was going to have an overwhelming effect on this Wildcats team. I think it’s safe to say that he’s been a lightning rod of attention and criticism and handled it all in stride, strides that have taken him straight to winning buckets against Florida and SDSU. Lyons brings a dynamic to Tucson that was sorely needed and he has not let them down. As for whiffs? I figured Washington would be better and that Oregon would be worse. I thought Jio Fontan would hover around conference POY talk and that Dewayne Dedmon would be a big surprise: fails. There’s still time to play out but it’s hard to say that any of those thoughts will right themselves in my predictive favor. And in that remaining time, I’m excited to see just what UCLA will do and how Arizona’s freshmen bigs will develop within the routine of Pac-12 play. Moving forward, a few additional thoughts: Can Herb’s team keep up their pace? No. Is Solomon Hill going to win the conference POY award? No (but he may be the MVP). Can Colorado be the second best team in the Pac? Yes. Will Stanford be better then their 8-4 record? Yes. Alas, predictions are meaningless but oh-so-fun.

Jio Fontan In The Player Of The Year Race? Not So Much. (AP Photo)

Jio Fontan In The Player Of The Year Race? Not So Much. (AP Photo)

Connor Pelton: Looking back on it, I made some interesting (to say the least) picks back in October. But I did nail a few of those, starting with the pick of Arsalan Kazemi as an All-Pac-12 performer. I was the only one to include the Rice transfer on my 15-player ballot, and he has answered by averaging 9.2 PPG, 10.4 RPG, and 3.1 SPG so far. In fact, if he had not had been so tentative shooting the ball at the beginning of the season, it is not a stretch to say he would not only be leading the team in rebounds but points as well. Another pick I am liking was that of Jonathan Gilling as an all-conference three-point shooter. Kevin and I were the only ones to include the sophomore on our lists, and he has proved us right by knocking down 30 triples, second highest in the conference. But the pick I am most proud of is selecting USC at 10th in the conference, while everyone else here had the Trojans sixth or seventh. The thing that made me so skeptical about USC at the beginning of the season was the question, “Where do the points come from behind Jio Fontan?” Some said senior forward Aaron Fuller, who’s averaging a stellar 2.9 PPG. Case closed.

Now, onto the whiffs. While Chasson Randle hasn’t had a great season, there is no question he should be second team All-Pac-12 right now. I did not even include him on my list of 15, opting instead for guys like Ricky Kreklow and Kaleb Tarczewski. Whoops. It is easy to look bad when projecting an all-newcomer team, and boy have I done that. I did not include Mark Lyons on my team, or Jahii Carson, or Josh Scott. Those guys are averaging 13.4, 17.9, and 12.5 PPG, respectively. As we move into conference play, the picks that are on the fence of good and bad will begin to clear up. Are the Buffaloes an NCAA Tournament team? I said yes in October, and I still think they are now. Can Washington rebound from an awful start and make the NIT? No. Can California win a big game? It has to happen eventually, right?

Time will answer everything, and before we know it, we will be filling out brackets and talking about surprises and snubs on Selection Sunday.

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Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week Six

Posted by Connor Pelton on December 27th, 2012

Here’s a look at the power rankings that Drew, ParkerAdam, and I have compiled after the sixth week of Pac-12 games (delta in parentheses):

  1. Arizona, 12-0 (-): Arizona will be the only Pac-12 team to go through non-conference play undefeated, thanks to three walk-over wins and a last-second thriller in Honolulu in the Christmas-extended week six. After dispatching Oral Roberts in Tucson and East Tennessee State and Miami (Florida) on the islands, the Wildcats met San Diego State in the Christmas night final of the Diamond Head Classic. And if not for a game played 10 days prior in the desert, this one would have made a good choice for game of the non-conference season. Just like Arizona, the Aztecs came into Tuesday winners of their last 11. And at two points in the second half, it looked as if SDSU would leave with its 12th. But trailing 45-37, freshman Brandon Ashley made his mark on an otherwise lackluster night. Ashley scored six points and had a key assist in just over five minutes, and along with some help from Solomon Hill, pulled Arizona even at 52-all. The game would go back and forth from there, with the lead changing nine different times, and both teams tied at seven different points. The Wildcats’ perfect non-conference record was finally secured with an out-of-nowhere Nick Johnson block and controversial Kevin Parrom rebound as time expired. Up Next: 1/3 vs. Colorado.
  2. Oregon, 10-2 (-): Played in front of more fans but a lesser national audience, Oregon was entangled in its own thriller last Wednesday in El Paso. And this time, the Pac-12 team didn’t come out on top. UTEP appeared to be practically begging Oregon to win the game, but the Ducks gave away chance after chance before the reluctant Miners finally closed out a 91-84 triple overtime win. Up Next: 12/31 vs. Nevada Christmas Came Early For UTEP Fans, While Arsalan Kazemi And The Ducks Left The Don Haskins Center Disappointed. (credit: Pac-12.com)

    Christmas Came Early For UTEP Fans, While Arsalan Kazemi And The Ducks Left The Don Haskins Center Disappointed. (credit: Pac-12.com)

  3. Colorado, 9-2 (-): The Buffaloes hold steady at number three after destroying an awful Northern Arizona team, 98-51. Askia Booker and Xavier Johnson led all scorers with 17 points a piece in the victory. Up Next: 12/29 vs. Hartford.
  4. Oregon State, 9-2 (-): Another week, another pair of unimpressive wins for Oregon State. The good news is of course that the Beavers are winning games, and that is the point of playing these contests. The bad news is that if they put out the type of efforts we saw against Howard and in the second half against San Diego, conference play is going to be a disaster. Up Next: 12/29 vs. Towson. Read the rest of this entry »
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Pac-12 M5: 12.26.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on December 26th, 2012

pac12_morning5

  1. Saint Nick came through in a big way on Christmas night for Arizona, as sophomore guard Nick Johnson swatted away a potentially game-winning layup attempt by San Diego State’s Chase Tapley to preserve the Wildcats’ perfect season and earn the Diamond Head Classic title. While the first half was stodgy and slow, the two teams lived up to expectations in the second half and delivered a terrific performance. Once again, it was seniors who led UA, this time Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom doing the job as Mark Lyons never really got into a groove, hampered by foul trouble, turnovers and erratic shooting. And then there was, of course, Johnson, who struggled shooting the ball but was terrific defensively, and helped out initiating the offense and made the athletic play in the waning moments to seal the game.
  2. Former Arizona star Miles Simon, who won the Most Outstanding Player in the Wildcats\’ 1997 run to Lute Olson’s sole NCAA Championship, worked the Diamond Head Classic as the color man for ESPN. And, despite the fact that UA’s backcourt may not match up with the traditional ideal of true point and scoring off-guard, Simon is impressed with the duo of Lyons and Johnson. He sees the duo as complementary parts with Johnson capable of helping Lyons out with some areas (initiating offense and getting other players involved) that he is weaker in. I would add that their ability to have Hill also share some of the ball-handling load means that, even without the proverbial “traditional” point, Arizona’s guard play is not a significant concern.
  3. UCLA’s Tony Parker has been a little-used piece for Ben Howland, averaging under nine minutes a game despite his team’s lack of depth along the frontcourt. Following another eight-minute appearance against Fresno State, he tweeted out “A lot of told me this wasn’t for me I wish I would’ve listened.\” Given Howland’s recent issues with players transferring out of his program, this tweet and other recent tweets from Parker referencing homesickness indicate that he may not be long for the Bruin program as well. And, of course, Bruins Nation took this as a chance to rip Howland again. The other side of the coin is that Parker missed time early due to injury and has been inconsistent in the minutes he has received, playing ineffectively on the boards, fouling at far too high of a rate and getting lost defensively, and this type of complaining public message probably does nothing to help him earn more playing time. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, as Howland likely should have found some more minutes against UCLA’s weaker competition, but the fact of the matter is, Parker hasn’t done a whole lot to earn those minutes yet.
  4. Tying up one loose end, Oregon State’s Eric Moreland earned the official Pac-12 Player of the Week honor for his pair of double-doubles and 17-point and 11.5-rebound average last week. We opted for Jordan Adams as our pick (and oddly enough, neither Adams nor any other Bruin was even nominated by the school for the award), but Moreland was certainly a worthy recipient as well. Always known for his defensive ability, Moreland has shown a significantly improved offensive game this season. Where last year he was little more than a garbage man on offense, he’s added the ability to beat his man off the bounce, his jumper is significantly improved and he’s converting shots around the lane at a high rate, all while continuing to defend and rebound like a madman.
  5. And lastly, back to UCLA. As some Bruin fans continue to root for Ben Howland’s ouster as head coach, Bruins Nation put together a post with some of the great moments in his time in Westwood. Worth a look for hoops fans, but sure makes you remember just how good UCLA was going just a few years back. Could you have imagined after Howland’s third straight trip to the Final Four that he would be on the chopping block inside of five years, minus any type of serious NCAA investigation into improprieties in his program? Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
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