Pac-12 M5: 03.27.13 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on March 27th, 2013

pac12_morning5

  1. News on this UCLA head coaching search is moving quickly with Pete Thamel reporting that the Bruins are moving on down the list as Shaka Smart is working on an extension with VCU and Brad Stevens is reportedly not interested in the job. From out of the blue, apparently UCLA boosters are interested in their former assistant coach and current N.C. State head coach Mark Gottfried. Gottfried is fresh off of leading a team with arguably more talent that this year’s UCLA team to a fourth-place tie in the ACC and an early NCAA Tournament exit. Throw in his four other exits from the NCAA Tournament in his team’s first game, one Sweet Sixteen and one Elite Eight in nine Tournament appearances, and it is clear just what an upgrade he would be over UCLA’s former coach.
  2. Across town, one of USC’s potential targets for its open head coaching position is now officially off the market, as Memphis head coach Josh Pastner has committed to staying in his current position at Memphis and is working on details for a new five-year contract. But as the search for a new coach continues, you’ve got to wonder exactly what athletic director Pat Haden has been doing for the last couple months. Ostensibly, part of the reason that Kevin O’Neill was fired abruptly in the middle of the season was so that USC could get a jump start on finding a new guy. Apparently, that hasn’t worked out so well, which is just one reason I get a kick out of seeing things like “USC is a better job than UCLA” every so often these last couple days.
  3. The Pac-12 conference announced its All-Academic teams for basketball today and, before we get to the names on those teams, let’s just say we’re grateful that these teams only have five players on each team. Good to see that whoever is putting these teams together has more sense than those who come up with the 10-man All-Conference team. Anyway, here’s the five-man first team, with all players checking in with a GPA above 3.5: Sabatino Chen from Colorado, Carrick Felix from Arizona State, Jeremy Olsen from Utah, and John Gage and Robbie Lemons, both from Stanford. The second team features four additional Stanford players (Andy Brown, Stefan Nastic, Dwight Powell and Chasson Randle), with a seventh player from that roster (Anthony Brown) earning honorable mention. Special congratulations go out to Powell for being the only guy on these lists to also earn RTC All-Pac-12 first team honors. And, taking in that impressive haul makes it a lot clearer why Johnny Dawkins is getting another chance on The Farm.
  4. California’s season ended on Saturday with a loss to Syracuse in the round of 32, equaling the program’s best NCAA Tournament finish in the last 16 years. And so the question that California Golden Blogs asks is, does that make the season a success? The answers are almost resoundingly positive, with people noting that in the middle of January, the Golden Bears probably weren’t even on the radar for an NCAA invite, but that first stat – no Sweet Sixteen since 1997 – that’s gotta sting a little bit.
  5. Lastly, we’ve offered up our opinions on what we hope many of the Pac-12 underclassmen decide with regards to the NBA Draft, but Jack Follman of Pacific Takes also offers up his observations, suggesting that, aside from Shabazz Muhammad, who is already gone, Dewayne Dedmon and Allen Crabbe may well be the only other guys around the conference who leave early. While we hope that would ultimately be the case, as Eric Moreland has already shown us, there are always a couple of guys that come from off the radar to make peculiar decisions to leave early. Stay tuned.
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Stanford Week: Players Not Returning

Posted by Connor Pelton on July 17th, 2012

In last year’s NIT Championship campaign there were seven different Cardinal players who saw significant playing time under head coach Johnny Dawkins. Of those seven players, two will be lost in 2012-13 due to graduation. A third senior saw minutes when the situation or game plan called for it, and a fourth played mainly garbage minutes or was used in backup roles when an injury occurred. We fill you in on their details in the order of importance to the program below.

  • Josh Owens – After playing just garbage minutes as a freshman in 2007-08, Owens saw a major increase in playing time as a sophomore the next year. Poised to build on that solid foundation, Owens was forced to sit out the 2009-10 campaign due to a private medical condition. While some speculated he would never play basketball again, Owens returned for what would be the best season of his college career, averaging 11.6 PPG and 6.5 RPG in just over 27 MPG. His scoring and rebounding stats were almost identical in his final season with the Cardinal, but 2011-12 saw a more aggressive Owens, mainly on the defensive end of the floor. Andy Brown, Stefan Nastic, and Jack Ryan will all be competing this October to try to fill Owens’ shoes, with Nastic being the current slight frontrunner. As for Owens, the forward/center did not receive an invite to either the NBA Combine or Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, and while he went undrafted, he impressed enough in team workouts to earn a spot on the Charlotte Bobcats Summer League roster. Owens didn’t see any action in the team’s first game, but scored six points and grabbed two rebounds in its second summer competition.
Out Of Stanford’s Four Graduating Seniors, Owens Will Be Missed The Most (credit: John Todd Images)
  • Jarrett Mann – Mann still earned solid minutes as a senior, but due to the emergence of freshman star Chasson Randle, he saw a steep decrease in playing time compared with his sophomore and junior years. Due to Randle playing as a slash-and-score one, it appeared at times that Mann didn’t seem comfortable in his new role, which would led to indecisiveness both in passing the ball and scoring.

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Stanford: 2011-12 Post-Mortem

Posted by AMurawa on April 25th, 2012

Over the course of the next two weeks, the Pac-12 Microsite will break down each team’s season: what went well, what didn’t, and a look ahead at the future. Today’s subject: Stanford.

What Went Right

The Cardinal dominated its non-conference schedule, winning 15 of their 17 games outside of the Pac-12. It wasn’t the toughest non-conference schedule in the world, but Johnny Dawkins’ team did wind up with a pair of wins against NCAA Tournament teams (Colorado State and North Carolina State) prior to their conference slate, then ripped through a field of also-rans in the NIT in March. All told, the Cardinal displayed a pretty drastic improvement on the defensive end of the court, finishing in the top 20 nationally in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency numbers. And for a team that relied heavily on underclassmen (five different freshmen and sophomores played at least 40% of the team’s total minutes), there should still be plenty of room to improve, especially on the offensive end, in the near future.

What Went Wrong

While all that youth should pay off next year, it was the undoing of the Cardinal during the conference season. After getting off to a 5-1 start in Pac-12 play, the Cardinal lost five of their next six and struggled mightily, especially on the offensive end. Between Martin Luther King Day and Valentine’s Day they scored just 0.92 points per possession, highlighted by sophomore Aaron Bright’s 22-of-70 shooting during that stretch, good for just a 37.9% eFG.

In A Solid Year, As Aaron Bright Went, So Did The Cardinal (credit: Zach Sanderson)

MVP

On a squad that was a model of a team effort (11 different players averaged at least eight minutes per game, with six different players averaging somewhere between five points and 13 points per night), it is hard to pick out just one player, but the Cardinal were clearly a team whose fates aligned closely with Bright’s performance. He averaged four more points per game, one more assist and shot the ball nearly 20% better from behind the arc in wins than in losses. When Bright was going good, he was a tough defender, a confident floor general, and a deadly three-point shooter who made opposing defenses pay for collapsing in on interior players like senior Josh Owens. While there is something to be said for Owens’ 11.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and 57.1% field goal percentage (not to mention freshman Chasson Randle’s team-leading 13.8 points per game), Bright was really the most important player on this team, as evidenced by his near-perfect run through the NIT when he averaged 16.8 points, 4.2 assists and shot a whopping 79.5% eFG.

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Stanford’s NIT Title: So What?

Posted by AMurawa on March 30th, 2012

On Thursday night, Stanford earned the right to be one of the handful of teams in Division I basketball to end its season with a win, storming to a 24-point win over Minnesota in the NIT Final. While plenty of people will write that off (with some reason) as just showing that the Cardinal are the 69th best team in college hoops, what exactly does the win mean for Johnny Dawkins and his budding program?

Stanford, NIT Champion

Stanford Took Home The NIT Title, But What Does It Mean For Next Year? (Frank Franklin II/AP Photo)

Conventional wisdom says that an NIT win bodes well for the future, providing a springboard to success in the following season. Even a cursory glance at the history in the last decade shows that this is not really the case. Of the last 10 winners of the NIT, just four teams made the NCAA Tournament the following year, with only one team, West Virginia’s 2006-07 squad, actually earning a victory in the ensuing NCAA Tourney. In fact, over those 10 years, the NIT winners actually turned in a record the following year that was, on average, 4.3 games worse than the record in the year of the NIT win.

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Pac-12 Burning Questions: Senior Moment?

Posted by AMurawa on March 2nd, 2012

Each week through conference play, we’ll offer up a couple of different takes on the biggest question of the week in the Pac-12. This week:

“In honor of senior days around the conference, which Pac-12 senior will be most missed by his team next year?

Connor Pelton: I’m going to go an interesting route and say Devoe Joseph. Joseph’s contributions have been huge for Oregon this season, as they had lost two of their first six without him. Since then Oregon has gone 16-6, and those losses can hardly be pinned on the senior transfer from Toronto, who has averaged 16.3 PPG. That mark is good enough for fourth in the conference, but perhaps even better than that stat is this: Joseph has only had one game in which he hasn’t scored in double figures this season. That was in their New Year’s Eve meeting with Washington, where he was subject to double teams all night long from a feisty Husky defense. But the reason he will be missed most is not for the jaw-dropping stats, but rather that Oregon doesn’t have a shoot-first player returning next season. E.J. Singler can certainly light it up from behind the arc, but he would still rather attack than shoot from around the perimeter. With both Joseph and Garrett Sim departing, he is going to have to adapt into that type of player, and that could cause some early-season troubles for the Ducks.

Despite Just One Active Season In Eugene, Devoe Joseph Will Be Sorely Missed Next Year (credit: Eric Evans)

Andrew Murawa: I’ll skip some of the obvious choices as well, as while California is sure to miss the work-ethic and passion of Jorge Gutierrez, they should still return a very nice backcourt, and while Arizona will miss the steadiness and leadership of Kyle Fogg, he’s done a good job of beginning to pass the baton to underclassmen like Nick Johnson and Josiah Turner. At Stanford, however, there is no immediately obvious replacement for senior forward Josh Owens. No, Owens isn’t exactly an all-conference performer for the Cardinal, but he brings an interior toughness and physicality that is largely absent from the rest of their roster. While sophomore forward Josh Huestis has athletic gifts that Owens doesn’t, he doesn’t yet have all the tricks of the trade in the middle to make the most of his undersized body. And most of the other returning big men on Johnny Dawkins’ current roster (John Gage, Dwight Powell, Stefan Nastic) are more finesse players. Further, Owens may only average 12.4 points per game, but he is the most efficient offensive player on the Cardinal roster, and a solid choice for the go-to guy when the team needs a bucket down the stretch. Incoming freshman center Grant Verhoeven may eventually eventually grow into that kind of role in the middle, but he’ll need at least a year of the weight room and training table before he gets there. While Owens leaves Palo Alto as one of the most underrated players in the Pac-12, the impact of his loss on the Cardinal could be understated as well.

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Pac-12 Morning Five: 02.02.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on February 2nd, 2012

  1. Wednesday was national Letter of Intent signing day in college football, and Oregon made one of the bigger splashes of the day by signing 6’8”, 290-pound defensive end Arik Armstead. While the signing was a boon to head football coach Chip Kelly’s strong class, it may also prove to help out Dana Altman and his basketball program as well, since Armstead expects to shift over from the football field to the basketball court once the Ducks’ football season ends (and, if recent history is any indication, that won’t be until January). While football is his top priority, Armstead didn’t even consider going to schools that wouldn’t have offered him the opportunity to play both sports. It remains to be seen how fresh those wheels will be once he’s done being pounded on by Pac-12 offensive linemen for a year, but Armstead could give Altman’s program a midseason boost next year.
  2. In the wake of Kevin Parrom’s broken foot that will cost him the rest of his junior season, Arizona head coach Sean Miller said that the school will attempt to petition the NCAA for an extra season of eligibility. Although Parrom has already played more than the 30% of games on UA’s schedule, making him ineligible for a redshirt season, Miller thinks that the combination of Parrom’s good academic standing, his 14 missed games as a freshman and his hardships this season (Parrom was shot in the leg while visiting his mother in New York City during the fall, just before his mother died of cancer) make him a good candidate for a fifth year. With another year of eligibility remaining, it may be quite a while before a decision is reached, and the odds are good that the NCAA decision will be negative, but Miller thinks this strategy is at least worth a try.
  3. In a season chock full of transfers and dismissals, we found out the next step in the careers of a couple former Pac-12 players in recent days. First, in the next step of a somewhat surprising downfall, former UCLA forward Reeves Nelson was released on Tuesday by BC Zalgiris, a professional team in Lithuania. Nelson averaged 10 minutes per game in six appearances with Zalgiris but contributed just 2.5 points and 3.3 rebounds per game while shooting just 28% from the field. Nelson is still eligible for the NBA Draft in June, but the odds that he hears his name called then seem to get slimmer by the day. Meanwhile, former Arizona forward Sidiki Johnson has latched on at Providence. Johnson played a grand total of seven minutes in his Arizona career before been suspended by Miller for a violation of team policy and then leaving the team a couple weeks later.
  4. C.J. Wilcox is expected to be full-steam ahead for Washington’s matchup with UCLA on Thursday night, according to head coach Lorenzo Romar. Wilcox played 26 minutes last Saturday against Arizona after getting ten minutes against Arizona State on Thursday, his first game back after missing three with a stress fracture in his hip. For now, the plan is for Wilcox to skip practices during the week while playing in games, a similar scenario to the way Romar handled Brandon Roy in 2004-05 when he was recovering from knee surgery.
  5. Lastly, it may have been lost in the final outcome on Sunday, but Stanford’s redshirt freshman center, Stefan Nastic, turned in his best game of his career, scoring a career-high 11 points in a 19-minute effort that was by far also his longest stint of the year. Nastic played five games early last season and looked to be a promising prospect before breaking a bone in his foot and missing the rest of the season. Then he got sick at the start of this season and struggled to get started at the outset of the year. But now the seven-footer has put in his ticket for an increased role and could turn into an impact player for Johnny Dawkins.
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Stanford Can Win the Pac-12 With Its Defense

Posted by mlemaire on December 5th, 2011

Mike Lemaire is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from Sunday’s Stanford-NC State game.

For the first 33 minutes of its game against North Carolina State, Stanford looked nothing like the team that just nine days earlier had led No. 5 Syracuse by six points with less than five minutes to play. The Cardinal committed cheap fouls, they let the Wolfpack take open jump shots, and they allowed CJ Leslie and Ricardo Howell to catch the ball deep in the post for easy baskets. Then, over the next four minutes, Johnny Dawkins’ team played with a renewed sense of urgency.  They pressured the ball, fought through screens, were more physical on the low blocks and grabbed every rebound in sight. The result was a defensive effort that proved they are a legitimate contender for the Pac-12 crown.

Aaron Bright And His Teammates Have Plenty of Reasons To Smile After Starting The Season 8-1.

Entering Sunday’s game, the Cardinal was ranked eighth in the country in defensive efficiency. But with a little more than seven minutes left to play, NC State had opened up a 61-52 lead and Stanford’s defense was the primary guilty party. The Wolfpack shot 55.6% from the field in the first half to lead by four entering halftime, and Mark Gottfried’s team took advantage of Stanford’s flat start to the second half to increase the gap. But by the time the game clock read3:06, Stanford led 64-63 and they looked nothing like the same defense that had been on its heels four minutes earlier. They only forced two turnovers, but the Wolfpack had only mustered three free throws. The Cardinal never trailed again, finishing off a 76-72 win and posting perhaps the best non-conference win they will get all season long.

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RTC Summer Updates: Pac-12 Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on July 25th, 2011

With the the NBA Draft concluded and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. The latest update comes courtesy of our Pac-12 correspondent, Andrew Murawa.

Reader’s Take #1

Summer Storylines

  • The More, The Merrier: The Pac-10 is dead. Long live the Pac-12. The conference welcomes in Colorado and Utah for their first season in the conference, the first expansion in the West Coast’s premier conference since Arizona and Arizona State were added 33 years ago. Along with the new teams comes a new schedule – gone is the full home-and-away round robin. While there won’t be divisions in basketball like there are in football, each team will play an 18-game schedule with home and away games against its traditional rival, with six other rotating home-and-away series and four additional single games against the remaining teams. For instance, Colorado and Utah will only play the Southern California schools and the Washington schools once each, while they will play the remainder of the conference twice. While neither of the new schools are expected to make a big splash immediately in the conference, their arrival, coupled with other changes around the conference, such as the huge new $3 billion TV deal with ESPN and Fox that begins in the fall of 2012, makes it an exciting time to be a Pac-12 fan.
  • Is There A Draft In Here?: Last summer, a big story around the conference was the dearth of Pac-10 players picked in the NBA Draft, as just two players from the conference were selected by NBA teams in 2010. After the 21 players that were picked in the conference between the 2008 and 2009 drafts, that was a precipitous fall. And, back before the season started, there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of future high draft picks on the horizon. However, the conference had six players picked in the NBA draft, including three first-rounders and two lottery picks. Derrick Williams, the 2010-11 conference player of the year, led the way, getting snapped up by Minnesota with the #2 overall pick. Unfortunately for teams around the conference, 12 seasons of eligibility were left on the table between those six picks and the two early entries who went undrafted: Stanford’s Jeremy Green and Washington State’s DeAngelo Casto. And as a result, what had looked like a potential big-time bounce-back season for the conference now sees somewhat diminished expectations. Perhaps no team was hit harder by early defections than UCLA, who had Tyler Honeycutt and Malcolm Lee leave a total of three years of eligibility behind to go get second-round NBA draft picks (and the absence of guaranteed contracts that goes with them) at a time when the NBA labor situation is highly in doubt, but Washington State’s loss of Casto and lottery pick Klay Thompson also leaves the Cougars’ situation fuzzy at best.
  • Replacing Production: Between the early entries to the NBA Draft and departed seniors, the Pac-12 loses its top seven scorers from last season, and 11 of its top 20. Likewise, ten of the top 20 rebounders are gone. However, as always, a new batch of youngsters is ready to show up on campuses this fall and begin contributing immediately. While the Pac-10 inked only nine of the ESPNU top 100 recruits, seven of those players are exciting young guards, all ranked in the top 60 on that list. Arizona leads the way, signing point guard Josiah Turner (#14 overall, according to ESPNU) and Nick Johnson (#21), to go with a couple solid frontcourt signees (Angelo Chol and Sidiki Johnson, #60 and #91, respectively). But Washington (Tony Wroten, Jr., #16), Oregon (Jabari Brown, #25), Arizona State (Jahii Carson, #49), UCLA (Norman Powell, #51) and Stanford (Chasson Randle, #59) all have their own big backcourt recruits ready to provide a burst of energy.

Derrick Williams' performances were one of the highlights of the 2010-11 season.

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Conference Report Card: Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 13th, 2011

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

Conference Recap:

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

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

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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 25th, 2010

Andrew Murara is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference and the Pac-10.

A Look Back

After a disappointing season last year when the conference needed a late Washington rally to qualify just two teams to the NCAA Tournament, the Pac-10 was looking to get off to a faster start this season, but with early results in, the reviews are definitely a mixed bag. While four of the conference teams remain undefeated, conference favorite Washington limped home to a 4th place finish in the Maui Invitational and the bottom of the conference is littered with embarrassing losses, such as USC losing at home by 20 to Rider and Oregon State dropping games to Seattle and Texas Southern. While the Bay Area schools have had some strong performances and Arizona and UCLA have looked solid in the early going, the questions about the overall strength of the Pac-10 remain unanswered.

Team of the Week

Stanford – The Cardinal’s best win thus far is a 21-point drubbing of an underwhelming Virginia squad, but Johnny Dawkins’ crew wins this week mention not so much because of the quality of their opponents, but the ease with which the Cardinal have handled them. Stanford sandwiched the Virginia game with a 16-point win over San Diego in their opener and a 43-point victory over Arkansas-Pine Bluff, and in the process they have had seven players score in double figures at least once, have had different rebound and assist leaders in each game and have consistently controlled the boards. While Dawkins and company still have a ways to go to match the success that Mike Montgomery and Trent Johnson (in his brief tenure) had on the farm, given their talented youngsters and early success, the Cardinal certainly appear on their way.

Player of the Week

Derrick Williams (Sophomore), Arizona – Williams has led the Wildcats in scoring in each of their four victories this season and in rebounding on three occasions on his way to a 19.3 scoring average and 8.3 rebounds per contest early on, while converting on a whopping 74.3 percent of his attempts from the field. While the ‘Cats haven’t played their typically brutal non-conference schedule to this point, Williams had his best performance in Arizona’s second game when he went for 27 points and 14 rebounds, six of which came on the offensive end, in a 26-point win over the Aggies. Things get tougher for Sean Miller’s team this week, with a neutral-site matchup with Kansas in Las Vegas on Saturday, and if Williams can keep on his roll, the Wildcats could give the Jayhawks a good run.

Newcomer of the Week

Faisal Aden (Junior), Washington State – With sophomore point guard Reggie Moore sidelined for the Cougars’ first three games due to a wrist injury, Aden, a junior college transfer who is originally from Somalia, got a chance to step into the starting lineup and made the most of his opportunity, leading Washington State in scoring in each of their first two games and pouring in 21.7 points per game in their first three games. While Moore is currently day-to-day and could be back as soon as Friday against Fresno State, Aden has definitely staked his claim as a key contributor to this Coug offense and a potential second scoring threat to take some of the pressure off of junior wing Klay Thompson.

Game of the Week

Kentucky 74, Washington 67 – While clearly not the score that Pac-10 fans want to see as their game of the week, this outcome sums up the state of the conference. All offseason, the Huskies were pointing towards this game as a chance to make a statement on a big stage and as a chance for some type of revenge against Kentucky and their freshman Terrence Jones for his change of heart after originally committing to Washington. So, the Huskies come out revved up and riding their momentum rip off a big huge run right out of the starting gate, well, right up until Kentucky coach John Calipari called a timeout to stop that short at 4-0, that is. A 20-2 Kentucky run later and the Huskies had to spend the rest of the first half scrapping back to even. Then, down the stretch, it was the youngsters of Kentucky who had the most poise. Washington senior defensive specialist Venoy Overton struggled with cramps and was unable to stop Wildcat freshman Brandon Knight, and junior guard Isaiah Thomas struggled to score throughout the night, finishing just 4-14 from the field, 0-4 from three and 5-10 from the line as the Huskies missed a big chance to score an early signature win.

Game of the Upcoming Week

Arizona vs. Kansas in Las Vegas, 7:30 PM PST, ESPN2 – Arizona’s first big test of the season against a BCS conference opponent, and it is a big one as they face the Jayhawks in the centerpiece game of the Las Vegas Invitational. The ‘Cats dodge a bullet in facing Kansas without the services of freshman guard Josh Selby, but they’ll still have their hands full with the Morris twins who have been dominating up front with 30 points and 17 rebounds a night between them and junior guard Tyshawn Taylor who has taken over the Kansas point guard position without missing a beat. Arizona will need Derrick Williams to continue his excellent play and guards Kyle Fogg and Momo Jones to lend a hand in order to spring the Saturday night special in Vegas.

Power Rankings

1. Washington (3-2): Sure, the Huskies have as many losses as any team in the conference, but given that those two losses have come in relatively tight games against top 10 teams, the Huskies are still the top dog in the Pac-10. Isaiah Thomas has shot poorly in both Washington losses (shooting a combined 8-25 from the field), and Lorenzo Romar’s team has yet to iron out their roles and rotation. One of the bright spots early for the Huskies has been the play of junior college transfer Aziz N’diaye who has shown the ability to block shots and rebound with the best of them, swatting five against Kentucky and pulling down double-digit rebounds twice in limited minutes early. Freshman guard C.J. Wilcox has also impressed with his sharpshooting, knocking down ten of his 19 three-point attempts thus far. Once the guards settle into their roles and typically excellent performance, the Huskies will be as tough to beat as ever.

Looking Ahead: Things quiet down significantly for the Huskies, with just a visit from Long Beach State on Tuesday before a visit from Texas Tech on 12/4.

2. Arizona (4-0): Sean Miller has used the Wildcats relatively light early season schedule to get a look at a variety of players on his squad. In the season-opening 48-point win over Idaho State, 15 Wildcat players saw time, and in their first four games, ten different players have averaged at least 12 points per game. When your average margin of victory is 32.5 points, you have that luxury, but with a higher caliber of opponent on the horizon, expect that rotation to tighten up a bit. Of the new faces on the Wildcat roster, it has been Jordin Mayes who has made the biggest contribution in relief of starting point Momo Jones, averaging seven points and two assists while knocking down five of his 11 three-point attempts in 16 minutes per night.

Looking Ahead: The Wildcats head to the Las Vegas Invitational for matchups with Santa Clara and Kansas on back-to-back nights before heading to Houston to face Rice next Wednesday.

3. UCLA (3-1): After four games, the difference between this year’s Bruin team and last year’s edition is pretty evident. To begin with, the addition of junior college transfer Lazeric Jones as the team’s starting point guard improves that position, not to the point where it is a strength, but at least to the point where it is not an Achilles’ heel. Up front, sophomores Reeves Nelson and Tyler Honeycutt are more comfortable and are starting to make plays, with the two finishing first and second, respectively, in points scored in each of UCLA’s first three games. But it was the fourth game, UCLA’s NIT Season Tip-Off semifinal matchup with Villanova, that really showed where Ben Howland’s club is at this point. Last year at this time, the Bruins had already lost to Cal State Fullerton and were about to get embarrassed by Portland and Long Beach State. This year, the Bruins hung tight with one of the best teams in the country for most of the game, only to run out of steam against a more talented, more physical, and more experienced opponent. While this by no means is a great UCLA team, they’ve got the ship pointed in the right direction and should be a strong contender for an NCAA Tournament berth.

Looking Ahead: The Bruins will wrap up their NIT play with a consolation game against VCU before heading back home for a few days to get ready for a road trip to Lawrence for another matchup with a highly-touted opponent, Kansas.

4. Washington State (3-0): The Cougars are yet another undefeated Pac-10 team without a really impressive victory on their resume yet. Their best win came over Portland (4-2) in Seattle on Tuesday when Klay Thompson exploded for 35 points, including WSU’s first nine en route to a 24-4 run to open the game. Thompson has averaged 24.3 points per game, but has also chipped in 5.3 rebounds per game and six assists a night in the absence of starting point guard Reggie Moore. Thompson and Faisal Aden, my Pac-10 Newcomer of the Week, have averaged 46 points per game between them and are the only two players on the squad to average double digits thus far.

Looking Ahead: The Cougars travel to Fresno State for their first true road test of the year on Friday, then return home for a relative breather with Sacramento State as a warm-up for hosting Kansas State in the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series on December 3.

5. Cal (3-0): The Golden Bears have what is arguably the best win by a Pac-10 team of the new season, a 25-point blowout of New Mexico on Saturday. Jorge Gutierrez and Harper Kamp have been the biggest producers for a revamped Golden Bear team that lost four starters from last season’s regular season Pac-10 champion. Gutierrez has done a little bit of everything for the Bears, averaging 19 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 2.5 steals and a three per game, while Kamp has returned from a medical redshirt year to lead a bruising Cal frontline with 18.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per night. Of the highly regarded five-man freshman class, guard Gary Franklin has been the most comfortable early, adding 16 points (including four threes) and four assists in the New Mexico victory.

Looking Ahead: Cal competes in the Old Spice Classic this Thanksgiving weekend, with a good opening round battle with Temple followed by a matchup with either Georgia or Notre Dame on Friday.

6. Stanford (3-0): The Cardinal may be our team of the week, but they’ve still got a lot to prove before they start skyrocketing up our rankings. In the early going, they look solid, getting production from go-to scorer Jeremy Green when possible (he had 21 in each of the Cardinal’s last two games), but not forcing the issue when their opponents attempt to take him away. In the opener against San Diego, the Torreros ran a lot of defenders at Green, holding him to just one field goal on seven attempts and forcing him to give up the ball time and again. However, in his stead, Johnny Dawkins had players like junior forward Andrew Zimmerman and sophomore guard Gabriel Harris step up. Zimmerman had 14 in the opener (and added 12 in the next game) while Harris knocked down a couple of open threes on the way to 12 for the game. Stanford has also had multiple freshmen contribute, with 6’10 center Dwight Powell most prone to spectacular plays from time to time. Aside from Powell, point guard Aaron Bright, wing Anthony Brown and forward Josh Huestis and Stefan Nastic have all made positive contributions, giving this Cardinal team plenty of exciting upside.

Looking Ahead: The Cardinal get their chance to prove that they are for real in a big way this weekend at the 76 Classic. They’ll open with one of last year’s Cinderellas in Murray State, then get a crack at either UNLV or Tulsa in round two.

7. Arizona State (1-1): The Sun Devils didn’t have the scheduling fortune to open with the cupcakes that so many of their conference brethren did, and they got bit. They opened with a tough road trip to The Pit to face New Mexico, a scary proposition even for a group of seasoned veterans, but this young ASU team suffered from lapses, most evident during a 20-0 first half Lobo run, and despite some spectacular play by sophomore wing Trent Lockett – 22 points and eight rebounds – they just didn’t hit their shots, shooting poorly from three (5-21) and from the line (13-23), leading to a 14-point loss. Lockett has been strong in both Sun Devil games, averaging 20.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and three assists. However, the senior trio of Ty Abbott, Jamelle McMillan and Rihards Kuksiks has been inconsistent at best thus far, with Kuksiks particularly absent (5.0 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 30.8% FG). While it would be no surprise to see the explosive Lockett lead the team throughout the year, he’ll need help from that senior class for the Devils to compete for a postseason berth.

Looking Ahead: The Sun Devils look to heat up in the great white north, as they head to the greatly diminished Great Alaskan Shootout, where the most interesting possible opponent would be St. John’s.

8. Oregon (4-1): The mere fact that head coach Dana Altman has this ragtag bunch of Ducks considered to be something other than the worst team in the Pac-10 is a testament to his coaching ability. After a nightmare of an offseason during which four players transferred out of the program, and another left in the shadow of NCAA investigations, what is left is a severely undersized team with 6’6 senior forward Joevan Catron, coming off of a medical redshirt year, considered the team’s big man, and with E.J. Singler, who is more suited to a wing position asked to assume a role close to that of power forward. And, most impressively, both players have looked good in doing so. Catron led the team in scoring in each of their first four games, averaging 21.8 point in those games, while Singler has added 11.6 points and 5.2 rebounds per outing. And while the Ducks have escaped with close wins over UC Santa Barbara and North Dakota State, their only blemish is a loss to undefeated San Jose State on a late three-point play. While these Ducks probably don’t have the firepower to really compete this year in the Pac-10, fans in Eugene have to be pleased with the direction Altman has this program going.

Looking Ahead: Okay, all those good and happy thoughts above? Yeah, well, table those for a week. Duke rolls into Portland for a Singler family reunion that is likely to have all the brotherly affection of Cain and Abel. And after the Ducks deal with the best team in the nation on a neutral court, they head back home to welcome Missouri. Yikes.

9. USC (4-2): Two games into the season, things were looking good for Kevin O’Neill and his Trojans. Junior Nikola Vucevic was continuing the strong play of his sophomore campaign and taking over a leadership position, senior forward Alex Stepheson was doing the dirty work with zeal and freshman Bryce Jones and Maurice Jones (unrelated) were doing some heavy lifting offensively. Then Rider rolled into town as part of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off event and laid a whooping on the Trojans in front of their home crowd, 77-57, as Rider’s Justin Robinson led the Broncs with 28 points on an absurd 9-10 from the field, while making all five of his three-point attempts and all five of his free throws. And the rest of his team wasn’t too bad either, torching the USC defense with 60.7% shooting from the field and making 12 of their 19 three-point attempts. A few nights later, a good Bradley team got the better of the Trojans in Springfield, Massachusetts, before SC was able to bounce back with victories over New Mexico State and Cal State Fullerton. Despite what Rider did to the Trojans, they still have had a very efficient defensive performance early in the season, and with Fordham transfer Jio Fontan becoming eligible in mid-December, all is not lost for this Trojan team. If Vucevic keeps up his strong early play (17.8 PPG, 11.3 RPG) and the freshmen continue to improve, this team should be rounding into excellent shape just in time for conference play.

Looking Ahead: A couple road games against beatable teams for the Trojans, although I’m thinking that these games would be far more appealing on the gridiron than on the hardwood: USC at Nebraska on Saturday, then USC at TCU on Monday.

10. Oregon State (2-2): Well, I guess there’s a bright side here. Last season Oregon State welcomed Seattle, a Division I Independent, into Corvallis and head coach Cameron Dollar and his team drilled the Beavers by 51 points. This year Oregon State repaid Seattle’s kindness with a trip to their place and only lost by three. So, the Beavers are a lot better this year, right? In fact, Oregon State had the powerful Redhawks on the ropes midway through the second half, the scrappy Beavs up 10 with just 10 to play, before the inevitable happened and Seattle turned on the juice and pulled away with a 20-5 run. Oregon State made one final stand, and actually had a chance to send the game to overtime, but senior Calvin Haynes had the ball knocked out of his hands before he could attempt the game-tying three. What a wonderful victory it could have been for the David from small-town Corvallis to storm into Goliath’s lair in big-city Seattle and slay the might giant, but it was not to be. The sad part is, that’s probably not the worst loss for the Beavers this season, as a few nights later, they lost at home to Texas Southern, a team that Oregon drilled by 23. It’s going to be a long season for Craig Robinson. It’s a good thing he’s got friends in high places.

Looking Ahead: The Beavers head to Washington, D.C. for a matchup with Howard. Hopefully the Beavers can beat Howard. I mean, he’s just one guy, right?

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