Oregon Week: Running Down The Returnees

Posted by Connor Pelton on August 9th, 2012

Oregon returns four players who were part of the extended rotation last year, highlighted by E.J. Singler – a second-team All-Pac-12 player – but also extending down to a center back for his senior season who made tremendous strides towards the end of 2011-12, another senior big man who became a major part of the offense in the second half of conference play, and a junior-to-be point guard who is ready to become the team’s main distributor. We’ll go through all of those guys below, in order of last year’s scoring totals.

E.J. Singler, Shown Here Battling His Brother Kyle Singler For A Rebound, Will Be The Key To Any Duck Success In 2012-13 (credit: Jonathan Ferrey)

E.J. Singler, Senior, Forward (13.6 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 0.4 BPG) – With his brother already starring at Duke, Singler entered his freshman year in Eugene with high expectations. But despite being a major part of the rotation, his freshman campaign could have been classified as a disappointment. However, he bounced back to average 11.7 PPG and 5.6 RPG in his sophomore year, and he was arguably the team’s top defender as well. In 2011-12, Singler combined with guard Devoe Joseph to make a perfect scoring combination. The two kept opponents guessing on the defensive end, and combined with Garrett Sim, were unstoppable throughout stretches of a game. Now that Joseph and Sim have graduated, it will be interesting to see how the offense runs early on with only one known scorer. Johnathan Loyd can shoot the ball, but he is more of a true one guard. The job of replacing the points left by Joseph and Sim will likely fall to incoming freshman Fred Richardson III, and if he can step out and hit the three consistently, the pressure on Singler’s shoulders will be lifted.

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Oregon Week: Evaluating The Recent Past

Posted by Connor Pelton on August 7th, 2012

In what could be considered one of the top few-year spans in recent Pac-10/12 history, Oregon was right in the thick of it from 2006-08. Ernie Kent led the Ducks to back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances in those two seasons, the first of which included a run to the Elite Eight. That season was one that many would consider the most successful in Oregon history. Led by star players Aaron Brooks, Malik Hairston, Tajuan Porter, and Maarty Leunen, the Ducks won 18 of their first 19 games, then finished the year by winning nine in a row before falling in a tight game against top-seed Florida. Along the way they won at Georgetown, #8 Arizona, and Washington State, and knocked off Nebraska, #1 UCLA, and Washington State in Eugene. The Pit Crew made McArthur Court into one of the toughest gyms in the nation and excitement was at an all-time high surrounding the program. Building off of that excitement, the Ducks added one of the top freshman centers in the nation in Michael Dunigan and notched road wins against Kansas State and Arizona en route to a second straight NCAA bid, just the third time ever that had happened in program history. Then, the wheels fell off.

McArthur Court Would Get So Loud That At Some Points The Baskets And Overhead Scoreboard Would Begin Shaking. Here, The Pit Crew Taunts Washington Guard Nate Robinson With Chants And Posters Of Gary Coleman. (credit: Chris Pietsch)

With Brooks, Hairston, or Leunen nowhere to be found, the Ducks limped all the way to an 8-23 finish in 2008-09. They won just six nonconference games that season and finished dead last in the conference by four games. At one low point, Oregon was only four games away from finishing the year without a Pac-10 victory before they beat Stanford. Despite some grumblings throughout Eugene, Kent held on to his job for another year. 2009-10 wasn’t much better, though, and despite finishing with a .500 record, the Ducks only beat one nationally ranked opponent all year long. Kent was soon fired, and after a lengthy coaching search that resulted in many candidates turning down the job, Creighton’s Dana Altman signed on.

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Surprise! Assessing Early Signs of Life at Providence, Oregon & Iowa State

Posted by rtmsf on December 22nd, 2010

Andrew Murawa is an RTC contributor.

Last week we spent some time praising the work of two of the most familiar faces in the college basketball coaching world, Rick Pitino and Bruce Pearl, in getting their teams off to sparkling starts in the aftermath of some rough off-court patches. Today, I’d like to recognize some perhaps less well-known coaches who have turned awful offseasons of a different sort into solid starts for their respective teams. At Providence, Oregon and Iowa State, the basketball programs all went through turbulent summers full of personnel changes and uncertainty, but thus far the coaches at each of those programs has fought through the adversity to earn a combined 29-9 record for the three schools, albeit against maybe some lesser competition. None of the three schools are necessarily expected to be major contenders for NCAA Tournament berths, but at least they’ve got their programs headed in the right directions after rough offseasons.

Marshon Brooks Has Been a Revelation This Season

For Keno Davis and the Providence Friars, the offseason was an absolute nightmare – not that 2009-10 was all that great to begin with. The Friars lost their last 11 games of last season on the way to a 12-19 record, during which time junior guard Kyle Wright abruptly left the program. After the season was over, a new rash of bad news hit the Friars. First, it was announced that point guard Johnnie Lacy and center Russ Permenter would be transferring out of the program. Then, a couple days later, Lacy and freshman center James Still were charged with felony assault, leading to Still’s eventual dismissal. A month later, the bright spot in the Friar program was extinguished when leading scorer and rebounder Jamine “Greedy” Peterson was kicked off the team. About a week later, assistant coach Pat Skerry left to head to Big East rival Pitt, and in the process, severely hurt Providence’s recruiting with incoming 2010 recruit Joseph Young announcing that he would be staying closer to his Houston home for college. After Davis lost some face in refusing to allow Young out of his scholarship for a time, he was eventually released and allowed to enroll at the University of Houston. Next, 2011 commit Naadir Tharpe announced that he was withdrawing his commitment to the Friars and opening back up his recruitment. And finally, for good measure, Kadeem Batts suffered a disorderly conduct charge in July. In short, it was a miserable offseason.

But, in the face of all of that turmoil, the Friars are off to an 11-2 start to this season. Yes, they’ve dropped games to La Salle and Boston College, and for every win over a Rhode Island and an Alabama, there’s a win over Central Connecticut and Prairie View A&M, but at least Coach Davis has not allowed the negative momentum of the offseason to boil over into a disastrous 2010-11 campaign. Senior wing Marshon Brooks has developed into a versatile threat (22.9 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.8 SPG, 1.5 BPG, 2.0 3PG) and a team leader, while sophomores Vincent Council and Bilal Dixon are each developing into serious Big East-level talents. Council is among the top ten point guards in the nation in assists, with seven per game (he had 16 in a game against Brown), while Dixon has been killing the boards on both ends, to the tune of 9.7 rebounds per night (more than three of those on the offensive glass), and adding almost three blocked shots a night. While much more serious competition awaits the Friars come Big East play, Davis has focused on tightening things up on the defensive end where PC ranked in the bottom 100 teams in Division I last year in defensive efficiency; now PC ranks in the top 100. There is certainly a ways to go for this Friar team, and the talent level  is still such that any dream of a run to an upper-division Big East finish should be tempered with, you know, sanity, but Davis has taken what was a disastrous offseason and settled things down in Providence to the point where the program is no longer in freefall and is playing up to their talent level. There are sure to be plenty of losses (and losing streaks) in conference play, but expect the Friars to beat a team or two that they have no business beating, and to be competitive on a regular basis.

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Summer School in the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on August 24th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West Conferences.

Around the Pac-10:

  • Down Times: Last season was clearly one of the low points in Pac-10 basketball history. It took a late-season run out of Washington to ensure two NCAA Tournament bids from the conference, with California earning the other after a strong but somewhat disappointing season. The conference had just one player (the Huskies’ Quincy Pondexter) picked in the first round of the NBA Draft, and just two players picked overall (with Stanford’s Landry Fields somewhat surprisingly being drafted by the Knicks, much to the chagrin of New York fans in attendance, with the 39th pick). The two total players drafted were the lowest total for the league since 1986.
  • Returning Fire: Despite the lack of players picked in the NBA Draft, just nine of the league’s top 20 scorers from last year return, although Rihard Kuksiks is still uncertain whether he will return for his senior season at Arizona State. Likewise, just 11 of the league’s top 20 rebounders return.
  • Fresh Blood: But not to worry, plenty of excellent new talent is headed the Pac-10’s way. Or not. Actually, out of Scout’s Top 100 list, just ten players (and just four out of the top 50) committed to Pac-10 institutions, with the highest ranked player, Washington’s Terrence Ross, checking in at #26. According to ESPNU’s projections, the outlook is slightly rosier, with the Pac-10 accounting for 12 of the top 100 players, five of the top 50, and UCLA’s Josh Smith checking in at #20. Either way, while there is some new talent, it is not of the caliber of the other BCS conferences. There was some intrigue here, however, as Enes Kanter (Scout #3 overall recruit, ESPNU #25) originally verbally committed to Washington before backing out and heading to Kentucky. Additional salt in the wound came when Washington’s top recruit, Terrence Jones (ESPU #9 overall, Scout #8) announced at a press conference that he would be committing to Washington, but then failed to sign a letter of intent and wound up changing his mind and committing to Kentucky as well, giving Husky fans an entirely new Cal to dislike.
  • Head Honchos: While a lot of familiar players have moved on, there is consistency in the hot seat for all but one team: Oregon ended the Ernie Kent era and will welcome new head coach Dana Altman, formerly of Creighton. While Altman wasn’t the sexy hire that Pat Kilkenny and Phil Knight wanted to start the new era in Oregon basketball, he is an excellent coach who will likely have the sleeping giant in Eugene back in the thick of things in the Pac-10 very quickly.
  • Home Cooking: The coaching change isn’t the only big news in Eugene, as the Ducks will break in a new arena this season, when the brand-new gleaming Matthew Knight Arena (named after Knight’s son who died prematurely in a scuba-diving accident) replaces the venerable old McArthur Court in January. The Ducks had planned to kick off the Pac-10 season in the new venue, but the move-in date has been pushed back for a variety of reasons.

Newcomer Terrence Ross will look to keep Washington atop the Pac-10.

Power Rankings:

  1. Washington: The Huskies lose last year’s lone Pac-10 NBA first rounder in Quincy Pondexter, but just about everyone else of consequence returns. Pint-sized point Isaiah Thomas (no, not the suspiciously crazy one who ran the Knicks into the ground) leads the way in a talented backcourt, with energetic pace-setter Venoy Overton back for another season of annoying opposing guards. Also keep your eye on sophomore Abdul Gaddy, who was at one time considered the second-best point guard in the ’09 high school class. He struggled as a 17-year-old freshman, but Lorenzo Romar will certainly give him plenty of chances to earn more playing time this season. Up front, senior Matthew Bryan-Amaning will need to take a big step forward as the frontcourt scoring threat for this squad, with Tyreese Breshers and Darnell Gant doing the dirty work in the paint. Additionally, Romar welcomes three freshmen, including Terrence Ross to add some more talent to the backcourt and 7’0 juco transfer Aziz Ndiaye to add size, if not a polished offensive game, to a relatively small frontcourt. Senior Justin Holliday and junior Scott Suggs will add depth at the wings. The Huskies suffered from lapses in concentration last season, but an additional year of experience for a veteran roster should fix that problem.
  2. Arizona: The Wildcats are on their way back from their struggles at the end of legend Lute Olson’s regime. But while I’ll nab them as my number two team here, this is not a Wildcat team that is going to make any McKale denizens forget the 1988 or 1997 teams – this ranking is more of an indication of the conference’s weakness. However, sophomore forward Derrick Williams is the conference’s fourth leading returning scorer and second-leading returning rebounder and an absolute beast in the paint. Senior Jamelle Horne will start alongside Williams, and he’ll be called on to improve on the nine points and six rebounds he provided nightly last season. Shooting guard Kyle Fogg displayed some nice offensive punch last season, and he’ll be asked for even more, but the most pressure will be felt by sophomore point Lamont “MoMo” Jones, who will be tasked with taking over for departed fixture Nic Wise. The development of frontcourt sophomores Solomon Hill and Kyryl Natyazhko and incoming freshman guards Daniel Bejarano and Jordin Mayes will be important for team depth. This is still an undersized team, which hurts them a bit on the boards and on defense, two areas where they will need to improve from last season.
  3. UCLA: While the 2009-10 season was a nightmare for the Bruins, the cupboard is not completely empty in Westwood. There are a lot of unanswered questions here, however, and the biggest one is at the point. Malcolm Lee got plenty of time there last season, but he is more ideally suited to play on the wing, and if all goes well for the Bruins, that’s where he’ll be this season. With the Jerime Anderson era justifiably considered a failure to this point, Ben Howland has brought in juco transfer Lazeric Jones to man the point, with any positive contributions that Anderson might provide just being bonus. Sophomore Tyler Honeycutt is a skilled ball handler and passer at the three, so he’ll be around to add an additional guard when necessary. Up front, Reeves Nelson was perhaps the biggest bright spot for UCLA in his freshman season, when he averaged 11 points and six rebounds a night in just over 20 minutes per game. He’ll need to keep out of foul trouble to gain additional minutes, and he’ll need to improve his horrid free throw shooting as well, but he looks ready for a big leap forward, especially considering he’ll be joined by UCLA’s big (and I do mean big, once listed at 320, now working towards approaching 270) freshman Josh Smith, a skilled and soft-handed center. Freshman wing Tyler Lamb will also get some early run. But the fact is, there is plenty of talent here, and if the Bruins get nothing more than a caretaker at the point, Howland will win games in a weak Pac-10 with this team. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by rtmsf on March 2nd, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West Conferences.

Standings

  1. California    (12-5, 20-9)
  2. Arizona State     (10-6, 20-9)
  3. Washington     (9-7, 19-9)
  4. USC     (8-8, 16-12)
  5. Arizona      (8-8, 14-14)
  6. UCLA     (8-8, 13-15)
  7. Oregon State    (7-9, 13-15)
  8. Stanford    (7-10, 13-16)
  9. Washington State    (6-10, 16-12)
  10. Oregon     (6-10, 14-14)

It may not have been the type of season that Cal head coach Mike Montgomery envisioned at the start of the year when his Golden Bears and their five returning starters were ranked in the top 15, but as the calendar page gets flipped to the only month that really matters in college basketball, his team has just finished clinching at least a part of the Pac-10 regular season title and the top seed in next week’s Pac-10 Tournament. What could be very interesting for the Bears, however, is a scenario that Montgomery has no interest in seeing happen: the Bears failing to win the Pac-10 Tournament and its automatic bid, leaving Cal — a team with an RPI in the 20s but no wins against top-50 RPI teams -– squarely on the bubble for NCAA at-large consideration.

Team Rundowns

  • California – The Bears wrapped up their portion of the Pac-10 title by sweeping the Arizona schools behind strong play from their seniors. Over the course of the weekend, the five Bear seniors (Jamal Boykin, Jerome Randle, Patrick Christopher, Theo Robertson and Nikola Knezevic) combined for 129 of the 157 Cal points. Boykin led the way and took home Pac-10 player-of-the-week honors behind averages of 17 points and 8.5 rebounds. Cal still needs either a win at Stanford or a loss by Arizona State in one of their games against the Southern California schools to wrap up sole possession of the regular season crown.
  • Arizona State – The Sun Devils hung around for a half at Haas Pavilion on Saturday, but ice-cold second half shooting (just 7-26 from the field) and a complete inability to hit from range throughout the game (only 3-22 from behind the arc) doomed ASU. Only senior Jerren Shipp was able to get off against the Bears, hitting six of his nine shots (including two threes) for 14 points. Senior center Eric Boateng tied a Pac-10 record by hitting all 11 of his field goal attempts (on his way to 24 points) in their win over Stanford on Thursday. The Devils still have the inside track on the number two seed in the Pac-10 tournament, with a one-game lead over Washington.
  • Washington – The Huskies completed a season-sweep over intrastate rival Washington State on Saturday by getting out to a big first half lead (they led 35-21 at the half) and then fighting off a charging Cougar squad for a seven-point win. Sophomore point guard Isaiah Thomas led all scorers with 22 points and junior forward Matthew Bryan-Amaning continued his recent tear by adding 17 points and 12 rebounds. Bryan-Amaning has now averaged 13/7 over the past six weeks. Washington will head to the Oregon schools to wrap up their regular season, needing to win both games and get some help out of the Southern California schools in order to take over second place.
  • USC – Coming into the week, the Trojans still had an outside shot at winning the regular season Pac-10 title. Those hopes died Thursday night when they scored 12 points in the second half (6/25 FGs, 0/13 3s in the second half) against Oregon. The Trojans followed that up with a similar performance against Oregon State on Saturday, shooting just 25% from the field in the second half (and 29% for the game). Coach Kevin O’Neill will lose senior starters Mike Gerrity, Dwight Lewis and Marcus Johnson off a team that has leaned heavily on its starting five, assuring that things will look different around the Galen Center next season.
  • Arizona – The Wildcats split their trip to the Bay Area this weekend, stealing a game from Stanford on Saturday on a 15-foot bank at the buzzer by freshman guard Lamont “Momo” Jones. Jones had a career high 16 points for the ‘Cats and fellow freshman Derrick Williams added 24 points to push Sean Miller’s club into a three-way tie in the middle of the conference. While senior point guard Nic Wise will be wrapping up his college career this weekend, the Wildcats boast a young team (five freshmen get playing time) that will likely be considered one of the early favorites in the Pac-10 next season.

  • UCLA – Senior day summed up the UCLA season pretty well. Before the game started, senior forward Nikola Dragovic, a couple of days after having his shoulder pop out against Oregon State, tripped over a basketball during warm-ups and sprained his ankle. And then, after battling back from a 10-point halftime deficit to tie the game late, sophomore point guard Jerime Anderson had two bad turnovers in the last minute and the Bruins sank back to .500 in the conference. Senior Michael Roll did go out in style, knocking down six three-pointers on his way to 25 points in his last regular season appearance in Pauley Pavilion.
  • Oregon State – The Beavers shot just 4-31 from 3-pt range this week, hit only 37% from the field, turned the ball over 30 times, and still got a split in Southern California when they forced 20 USC turnovers and held the Trojans to 29% shooting on Saturday. Senior guard Seth Tarver led the Beavs with 15 points in a game that was ugly enough to deserve special mention in a season of ugliness in the Pac-10. Oregon State still has a chance to finish the Pac-10 season at .500 with wins over the Arizona schools in the final weekend of the season.
  • Stanford – Despite senior Landry Fields’ strong last weekend in Maples Pavilion, the Cardinal dropped both games this week and are destined for a lower-division Pac-10 finish. Fields averaged 21.5 points and seven rebounds this week, but against the Sun Devils on Thursday he received very little help. Sophomore guards Jeremy Green and Jarrett Mann combined to score just six points on 2-15 shooting (and, to be fair to Mann, he only accounted for one of those field goal attempts – a miss). They both bounced back against Arizona on Saturday, going for 19 and 13 respectively, but the Cardinal lost a heart-breaker on a shot at the buzzer.
  • Washington State – The Cougars stumbled out of the gate on Saturday and by halftime were down 14 on Senior Night in Beasley Coliseum. But sophomore forward DeAngelo Casto led the Cougars on a second half run to get back in the game and even take their first lead of the game in the middle of the second half. However, the Cougars were unable to contain the Huskies’ Thomas late and the Cougs faded down the stretch. Casto wound up with 19/6, but the Cougs’ leading scorer, sophomore Klay Thompson, struggled all day, missing 12 of his 14 field goal attempts and turning the ball over five times. The Cougars will close the season with a road trip to Oregon.
  • Oregon – The Ducks went on the road to Southern California and swept UCLA and USC, breaking a five-game losing streak in a big way, and now have put themselves in position to climb out of the cellar with a strong closing weekend of the season, as the Ducks host the Washington schools while saying goodbye to senior Tajuan Porter as well as MacArthur Court. Porter averaged 22.5 ppg in the LA sweep and threw in seven threes in the win over the Bruins, leaving him just eight threes behind former Arizona star Salim Stoudamire for the all-time Pac-10 mark.
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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by rtmsf on February 24th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 conferences.

Standings

  1. California    10-5       18-9
  2. Arizona State     9-5          19-8
  3. USC     8-6          16-10
  4. Washington     8-7          18-9
  5. Arizona      7-7          13-13
  6. UCLA      7-7          12-14
  7. Stanford      7-8          13-14
  8. Oregon State      6-8          12-14
  9. Washington State     6-9          16-11
  10. Oregon       4-10       12-14

We haven’t had a Pac-10 update ‘round these parts since the conference season began, but it is no secret that the one-word summation of the Pac-10 season to this point is “ugly.”  The only team with anything at all to say about potentially receiving an at-large bid is California, and it is increasingly likely that if Cal fails to win the Pac-10 tournament, they’ll be looking at an NIT bid. For the first time in as far back as I care to research, the only Pac-10 team that will be heading to the NCAA tournament is the team that wins the automatic bid as the Pac-10 tournament champion.

A quick rundown of the teams:

California – The Bears currently top the conference, and of all Pac-10 teams have the best chance at an at-large bid given their RPI in the low 20s and the fourth toughest schedule in the country, but every time it looks like this team is going to  reel off a string of victories, they drop a game like they did Thursday when eighth place Oregon State handled them easily in Corvalis, 80-64. The numbers look good for the senior quartet of Jerome Randle, Patrick Christopher, Theo Robertson and Jamal Boykin (60.2 ppg between the four, with all averaging double-figures on the season), but each has been inconsistent this season, such as when Randle went just 2-9 from the field, 0-5 from behind the arc and had four turnovers in the OSU game.

Arizona StateHerb Sendek’s squad sits just a half-game back of the Bears in the conference standings, a bit of business that will get sorted out on Saturday when they head to Haas Pavilion, but although they have a top-50 win (something Cal cannot boast) over San Diego State, there just isn’t enough there on the ASU resume to really warrant serious at-large consideration. The Sun Devils have gotten as far as they have on the strength of their guard play; senior point Derek Glasser leads the conference in assists, and he and junior point Jamelle McMillan are one-two in the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio.

USC – The Trojans are a team that would be a very tough out in the Pac-10 tournament – that is if the Trojans were going to play in the Pac-10 tournament. In an attempt to throw the NCAA hounds off the trail a bit and to make some sort of restitution for the O.J. Mayo, Reggie Bush and how many other incidents, the USC athletic department decided to self-punish the basketball program, stripping them of their chance to play in the postseason this year. Head coach Kevin O’Neill has done a pretty strong job of keeping his kids together and when the Trojans have come out focused they have been very strong this year (they’ve split with Cal, taken their one matchup with ASU, and swept Washington and UCLA), but playing out the string has got to be hard for these kids and as a result, they’ve lost games to Washington State, Oregon and Oregon State, that they might not have lost had a possible NCAA tourney bid been waiting at the end.

Washington – In a season of conference-wide disappointment, the Huskies have got to take home the title of most disappointing Pac-10 team. At the start of the year, Washington was considered something of a co-favorite to win the conference, and seemed to be a team that could make some noise in March. But between then and now, the Huskies have struggled to gain any consistency. They did pull together a four-game win streak in late January/early February, then laid an egg in their big matchup at Cal. Senior forward Quincy Pondexter has likely been the player-of-the-year in the conference (20.3 ppg, 7.9 rpg), but highly-anticipated freshman guard Abdul Gaddy has yet to catch on, and the team has struggled mightily on the road, notching just a 1-6 record so far.

Arizona – At some point in April, right after Sean Miller had accepted the Arizona job, his roster consisted of little more than senior point Nic Wise, junior wing Jamelle Horne, a couple other returning pieces and a boatload of question marks. Miller took advantage of the meltdown at USC and grabbed some of their fleeing castoffs and wound up patching together a pretty strong recruiting class, and actually had this Wildcat team tied for the conference lead not too long ago. Freshman forward Derrick Williams has been the best of the new Cats (15.4 ppg, 6.8 rpg) and while there are growing pains in the future, especially with Wise getting fitted for cap and gown, folks around Tucson are pretty confident that Miller will be able to get this program back to the heights they are used to.

UCLA – The incongruous facts that the Bruins are 7-7 in conference and two games under .500 on the season and that Ben Howland has done a pretty strong job getting his team that far is a good indication of how bad this Bruin team is. As sophomore Jerime Anderson’s inability to handle the point guard position became apparent, Howland slid another sophomore, Malcolm Lee, over from the two to play out of position. While Lee is still not particularly well suited to the one, he is a definite improvement there. Likewise, as this group as a whole showed that they were incapable of playing the type of man defense that Howland demands, he switched over to run some zone. Still not a great defensive team, but an improvement. Those types of things sum up this season for UCLA. While you still can’t make a silk purse out of a pig’s ear, Howland has at least managed to scrape this Bruin squad together to the point where they aren’t consistently getting embarrassed.

Stanford – Senior swingman Landry Fields and sophomore guard Jeremy Green have turned into quite a duo up on the farm. They are the highest scoring duo in the Pac-10 (nearly 40 points a game), and Fields is a serious conference Player of the Year candidate. Sophomore Jarrett Mann has also turned into a nice point guard, and between he and Green, head coach Johnny Dawkins doesn’t have a whole lot of question marks in the backcourt for next season. The problem for the Cardinal has been the interior game. They are one of the worst rebounding teams (and that despite Fields’ second-best in the Pac-10 8.7 rpg) and are the worst shotblocking team in the Pac-10, with only 45 blocks on the season. Dawkins does have some help coming, however, with four forwards already signed in next year’s recruiting class.

Oregon State – In Craig Robinson’s first season, the Beavers took a major step forward. Certainly another seven-win improvement this season would have been more than anyone could have hoped for, but given the return of much of their roster and the decrease in the overall talent level in the Pac-10, expectations had to be higher than a mere repeat of last season for the Beavers. And yet, that’s where they’re at now. At this point in 2008-09, the Beavers were 12-13 and 6-8 in the conference. The only difference this year is one additional non-conference loss. Junior guard Calvin Haynes is the OSU leading scorer with 13.2 ppg this year; last year he averaged 13.0. Senior center Roeland Schaftenaar’s point totals have dropped slightly, while senior swingman Seth Tarver’s are up slightly. In all, it is looking like a huge uptick from Robinson season one to season two followed by a season worth of reruns.

Washington State – Not a lot of fun being a Washington-state sports fan these days. The Sonics are something called a Thunder these days and they play in tornado country somewhere, the Seahawks are at the bottom of the barrel, college football is just about non-existent and their college basketball programs, which were at one point a combined 20-3 this season, have now combined to go 14-17 since then. For the Cougs, sophomore wing Klay Thompson’s production has taken a bit of a dive in conference play (he just scored 10 combined points in a homestand against the Southern California schools), although he is still averaging almost 21 ppg this season. But with freshman point Reggie Moore and sophomore bruiser DeAngelo Casto to pair up with Thompson, head coach Ken Bone has a young nucleus around which to build.

Oregon – There are two more Pac-10 conference games that will be played at McArthur Court. While some of Oregon’s early-season non-conference games will be played there next season, the Ducks homestand against the Washington schools the final week of the Pac-10 season will close the books on the meaningful games played in that phenomenal building. Some sparkling, brand new beauty of an abomination will “replace” it, but the best atmosphere in the Pac-10 is going away. That’s what I’ll remember from this Duck season. Beyond that, head coach Ernie Kent totters toward a termination, the roster is full of guys with talent who aren’t able to string it together for more than a weekend or two, and Tajuan Porter just missed another wild three. But none of it matters. They’re closing Mac Court.

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RTC Live: Arizona @ Oregon

Posted by rtmsf on January 16th, 2010

RTC Live will be coming to you this afternoon from rainy Eugene, Oregon, where the desert dwellars from Arizona will visit the Oregon Ducks at historic McArthur Court.  While neither team is having a great season this year, the value this year is that anything can happen in the Pac-10 this year and it would surprise absolutely nobody.  Would you be shocked if either Arizona or Oregon won today by 25 points?  Neither would we.  The visiting Wildcats are trying to find some consistency under first-year coach Sean Miller, and Nic Wise is the show for Arizona.  He brings 15/3/4 assts to each game with his shooting and leadership, but it’s also freshman star Derrick Williams who has been a big part of the UA offense this year (15/7).  Oregon counters with the inside/outside tandem of senior guard Tajuan Porter (13 ppg) and sophomore center Michael Dunigan (12/6).  This is RTC Live’s first (and last) trip to the 73-year old arena, and we expect it to be a great one.  Join us on a rainy day in Eugene…

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Ten Tuesday Scribbles…

Posted by zhayes9 on January 5th, 2010

RTC contributor and bracketologist Zach Hayes will deliver ten permeating thoughts every Tuesday as the season progresses.

1. More than the countless Big East tournament runs at the Garden, or the contention for conference regular season titles on a yearly basis, or reaching upper-echelon status in college basketball playing with no flashy All-American recruits, Jamie Dixon is proving his worth as a coach this year more than ever. Few teams lost as much talent, leadership, and production as senior point guard Levance Fields, dominating big man DeJuan Blair and outside threat Sam Young. The departure of these three mainstays plus two projected starters for 2009-10, Jermaine Dixon and Gilbert Brown, beginning the year MIA prompted many preseason prognosticators (including myself) to deem Pittsburgh a non-contender in the rugged Big East. My mistake, Jamie. The Panthers just finished one of their most difficult Big East road stretches of the year with two statement victories at previously undefeated Syracuse and at fringe-ranked Cincinnati. Sophomore Ashton Gibbs is taking his experience from playing under Dixon at the U19 Games to good use, running the Pitt offense with superb efficiency, shooting the ball lights out from deep and breaking the all-time Pitt record for consecutive free throws made in the process. Brown has his academics in order and used his athleticism to make a few back-breaking baskets against Cincy last night. Dixon provides stellar defense and outside shooting. It remains to be seen whether Pitt can stay at the top of the Big East with less talent than the other squads, but we do know that Dixon’s team will play smarter and tougher than any opponent. And that always gives them a fighting chance.

2. The most significant win this New Year’s week had to be Purdue running away from West Virginia to remain unblemished and surpass the Mountaineers as a projected #1 seed at this stage of the season. Purdue and coach Matt Painter have constructed their program unlike many of their other counterparts atop the rankings on a weekly basis. There’s no Xavier Henry, Avery Bradley, Devin Ebanks or John Wall walking through the doors of Mackey Arena to play for the Boilers for one or two years; instead, their 2009-10 highly ranked squad features a group of players that have been together for three straight seasons, such a rarity in the age of one-and-done players and the glorification of NBA riches. This specific group of players- Robbie Hummel, Chris Kramer, JaJuan Johnson, E’Twaun Moore, Keaton Grant- have practiced and played together for three straight years now, stepping up the ladder slowly but surely in the college hoops landscape. They took the Big Ten by surprise in 2007-08 before falling in the second round to Xavier and climbed up another step by reaching the Sweet 16 a season ago. This year they hope to reach the top and cut down the nets in nearby Indianapolis with a group of kids that have been through the ups and downs of a college basketball season together more than once- a group of lightly-recruited but tough-minded individuals that will utilize defensive intensity and offensive efficiency to reach the ultimate goal Hummel, Johnson, Moore and others been striving for since arriving in West Lafayette.

3. Think about this for a second: Despite losing three four-year starters that all played 30+ MPG and notched 10+ PPG, Marquette coach Buzz Williams would probably tell you that his Golden Eagles should be staring at a 12-2 (2-0) record with wins over top-ten Villanova and West Virginia and another top-25 team in Florida State. Typical of young, inexperienced squads, Marquette has simply been unable to close games this season against stellar competition. If Darius Johnson-Odom and Jimmy Butler don’t miss two front ends of 1-and-1 opportunities, Da’Sean Butler’s game-winning shot never happens and Marquette has the second most impressive road win in the country this season (just behind Pitt stunning Syracuse). Up two Saturday against Villanova, Johnson-Odom again stepped to the line up two points and 2:35 left on the clock. Both of those attempts bricked, and, couple that with a bunny missed by Butler at the buzzer, the Golden Eagles again fell just short. Rewind back to November in the Old Spice Classic where Marquette held a 30-18 lead at half against FSU and a 10-point cushion midway through the second half, but squandered the lead. I haven’t even included the NC State game where Marquette lead by 11 at the intermission. Closing out games has been a devastating problem for Buzz Williams’ squad this season, and these close losses could very well cost Marquette a spot in the field come March if they’re sitting on the bubble.

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ATB: New Year’s Weekend

Posted by rtmsf on January 4th, 2010

New Year’s Football? Coulda fooled us, as there were nearly 200 basketball games over the last four days in every corner of America.  And here’s the rub — a couple dozen of those games held more value than all those meaningless bowls over the same time period.  The bowls are fun for the players and the fans of the teams involved (another reason to tailgate), but they have absolutely no (as in zero; as in 0.00%) bearing on the national title picture in football.  At least games like West Virginia @ Purdue and Louisville @ Kentucky and William & Mary @ Hofstra have implications toward invitation and seeding in the NCAA Tournament in March.  These games matter.  The bowls (save Thursday night) do not.  Let’s see what some of the highlights of the long weekend were.

Unbeaten No More.  Two of the remaining six undefeated teams lost over the weekend — one expected, one unexpected.  On Friday afternoon, a New Year’s Day tilt between the #4 (Purdue) and #6 (West Virginia) teams in America resulted in the Boilermakers running away with the game 77-62.  JaJuan Johnson was awesome on the interior (25/10), completely outplaying the WVU big men Da’Sean Butler (17/7) and Devin Ebanks (11/6) and showing that when he, Robbie Hummel (18/2) and E’Twaun Moore (15/3 assts) are clicking, the Boilermakers can play with anybody in America.  Oddly, WVU shot the ball ok enough to win, and was absolutely scorching from deep (9-12 3FG), but it was the 17 turnovers that did them in.  Time and time again a poor possession on the WVU end (in large part because of their lack of a true PG) led to Purdue points on the other end.  This game was arguably the ‘biggest’ game of the preconference schedule, and Purdue made a real statement as to its legitimacy in this one.

The unexpected loss was #5 Syracuse, who has looked so fantastic this season, dropping a game to rebuilding Pittsburgh on Saturday.  There were quite a few people in the preseason who were writing off Pitt after what was admittedly huge personnel losses from last season, but those people obviously don’t know or care to know that Jamie Dixon is a phenomenal coach (same as Bo Ryan at Wisconsin).  He always figures out how to win with the team he’s got.  His guards attacked the Syracuse zone to the tune of ten threes while holding their own on the boards and forcing Syracuse to miss most of theirs (1-13 from deep).  A 55-point second half behind Ashton Gibbs’ 24 /8 and Jermaine Dixon’s 21/5/4 assts/5 stls for the game gave Pitt its defining win for the season, and it was clear throughout the second twenty minutes that the Panthers were the more aggressive team.  Syracuse’s Wes Johnson (19/6) didn’t have his usual double-double, but the Cuse players are going to have to remember that Big East foes know how to play against their zone and will need to adjust accordingly.

There are four unbeatens remaining. You may have heard of them.  #1 Kansas, #2 Texas, #3 Kentucky, #4 Purdue.

Bluegrass Bloody Brawl#3 Kentucky 71, Louisville 62. This was an ugly, ugly game, and the tone was set from the first eight seconds when it was clear that one of Rick Pitino’s primary strategies was going to be to rough up the young Wildcats in an attempt to get in their heads.  It worked with Louisville’s first target, Eric Bledsoe, as he was sent to the bench almost immediately, but it never fazed DeMarcus Cousins (18/18/3 assts) or John Wall (17/4), who were subject to repeated hacks and hard fouls throughout.  This game was a turnover-filled foulfest that included five techs, but when Louisville came back to take a one-point lead at 42-41, it was Wall (who later said he’s not even close to fulfilling his potential) who once again took over the game and made several key plays to give the Wildcats breathing room.  This put UK at 15-0 and at its best start in forty years, making the Wildcat faithful apoplectic over the possibility of what lies ahead.  UK will most certainly lose a game or several in the SEC, but what’s even more amazing to us is that John Calipari is now 86-6 over the last two-plus seasons.  Those are John Wooden/Coach K in their prime type of numbers (before you get all crazy, we’re not saying Calipari is as good as those guys… yet).

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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by rtmsf on December 31st, 2009

Ryan ZumMallen of LBPostSports is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 Conference.

Boy, that was a rough non-conference season, huh? Everybody and their mom jumped on the Pac-10 for underachieving, and there is certainly some merit to that. The teams that were expected to compete for Top 10 spots sometimes looked like they shouldn’t be ranked at all. As a whole, the conference won very few quality games and for the most part waltzed through laughably easy opponents. Then, of course, there were the downright embarrassing losses that began to pile up one after another.

But don’t think for a second that there aren’t dangerous teams in the Pac-10 Conference. We expected California and Washington to be good, but the past few weeks have seen the impressive rise of Arizona State and USC, who now look like at-large bid candidates. And for as dreadful as we all made UCLA out to be, their losses came against good teams and the Bruins are still hovering around .500. In fact, they’re the only sub-.500 team in the Pac-10, so how bad could the conference really be?

Things will get sorted out as conference play begins tonight, and as the weeks go on the cream will likely rise to the top. Let’s catch up on how everyone has been doing, and analyze their chances at winning the league as we get started with play within the ‘family.’

Player of the Week: Quincy Pondexter, Washington – The 6’6 forward scored 47 points in two wins this week to get the #16 Huskies on track heading into Pac-10 play, and is looking like one of the clear frontrunners for conference Player of the Year. Without a third scoring option to complement he and Isaiah Thomas, Washington will need everything Pondexter’s got if they’re going to win the conference.

Power Rankings

#16 Washington (9-2): You have to wonder about the Huskies heading into their conference opener tonight. They’ve played just two games away from home, their two biggest wins are against Wright State and Texas A&M and they still haven’t found a suitable offensive weapon save Quincy Pondexter and Isaiah Thomas. They’re talented enough to win the league, sure, but without really challenging themselves in the non-conference it’s tough to know exactly what Washington is all about.

Arizona State (10-3): Similarly, the Sun Devils have played away from home just three times and dropped two of those games. Those losses to Duke and BYU came against good squads, but otherwise their schedule has been soft as cotton candy. They’re riding a three-game winning streak that began with a big win over hot San Diego State, but that is literally Arizona State’s only win of substance. WARNING: leading scorer Derek Glasser has gone cold in the past month after a very hot start.

California (8-4): The Golden Bears have rallied after a surprisingly rough start to win four out of their last five games; the one loss coming in a valiant effort against #1 Kansas and the four wins each coming by 19 points or more. With the return of 6’6 forward Theo Robertson – Cal was 3-3 during his absense – there’s another wing threat to keep defenders honest and give stars Patrick Christopher and Jerome Randle a chance to do what they do. Heading into the conference schedule tonight, Cal still has a great chance at winning the Pac-10.

Washington State (10-2): It looked like the Cougars were a fluke thanks to an easy schedule, but they just kept on winning so you’ve got to give them credit for winning the games they should. Still – and this is a definite theme for the Pac-10 so far – they literally have no quality wins unless you count last Tuesday’s overtime victory over a struggling LSU (I don’t).

USC (8-4): Without a doubt, the Trojans are the most dangerous team in the entire conference right now. It looked like USC was off to a terrible season with a 2-4 start, but they’re now riding a six-game winning streak that includes three quality, double-digit wins over Tennessee, St. Mary’s and UNLV. Senior guard Mike Gerrity has become the team’s leading scorer in just four games and lit a fire under the Trojans, who now boast a potent scoring attack to balance one of the conference’s stingiest defenses.

Stanford (6-6): The Cardinal have faltered a little bit, dropping three of their last four games to Oklahoma State, Northwestern and Texas Tech. Shoot, at least they played somebody! You’ve gotta give Stanford credit for a tougher schedule than most. Senior forward Landry Fields leads the conference in scoring and has put up 20 points in each of the last eight games. Watch for Stanford to shock some Pac-10 opponents this season.

Oregon (8-4): The Ducks open their conference season tonight in what is actually one of the most compelling matchups in the Pac-10 against Washington State. Neither team boasts a difficult non-conference schedule and we’ll get to see whether either of them is for real when they face off. Oregon rides a four-game winning streak that featured nary a quality win, so facing the 10-2 Cougars will be a good barometer for the progress of both teams. Leading scorer Tajuan Porter has battled an ankle injury but may finally be getting back into a rhythm after a recent five 3-pointer effort.

Oregon State (6-5): In all truthfulness, this should be a 9-2 Beaver team. I know what you’re thinking, their offense is such a jumbled mess that they might as well just punt on most possessions. But their defense is stellar, even against excellent opposition, and if they get freshman guard Roberto Nelson back (currently ineligible) then Oregon State will be dangerous down the stretch. Still, there was that home loss to Sacramento State; shudder…

Arizona (6-6): You just don’t know what to do with Arizona. Heading into the conference opener against streaking USC tonight, the Wildcats have suffered several losses to good teams – which is more than most of the Pac-10 can say – but still don’t have a defining win and just gave up a 49-point effort to BYU’s Jimmer Fredette. On the other hand, point guard Nic Wise is playing like a conference MVP contender and he makes ‘Zona dangerous on any given night. Then again, a one-point home win over Lipscomb (in overtime!) doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

UCLA (5-7): The head-scratching continues in Westwood as Bruin faithful try to digest exactly what is going on. Yes, UCLA’s losses have all come against quality teams, but the Bruins hardly put up a fight in any of them. They get a tough opener tonight hosting Arizona State. Let’s see if Malcolm Lee and his merry band of underachievers can put up a better fight in the conference season.

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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by rtmsf on December 5th, 2009

checkinginon

Ryan ZumMallen of LBPostSports.com is the RTC correspondent for the Big West and Pac-10 Conferences.

Sometimes it’s not so painful to watch a once proud and mighty warrior fall from grace, as it is bizarre.  You may be able to accept that nothing lasts forever, and that eventually the tide must turn. But it’s one thing to have a rebuilding year, and quite another to be a national laughingstock.  Yet, that term best describes the way that Pac-10 teams have performed so far in this early season. It also describes the way that the conference’s flagship program, the UCLA Bruins, has performed so far in this early season.  The Pac-10, we knew, was a conference in decline. But few predicted that the decline would be so far, so fast.

The conference’s two Top 25 teams have each suffered losses to unranked, seemingly-lesser teams.  The conference was soundly beaten in this week’s Big 12/Pac-10 Challenge, losing each of Thursday night’s three games. In fact, until late Friday, the Pac-10 Conference has not won a single game since Monday night, when Arizona State defeated 0-5 Arkansas-Pine Bluff.  Obviously it’s early in the season, and this is a conference that will play its best basketball later in the season, but the Pac-10 was considered mediocre among the power conferences this season and has instead looked dreadful, while the two teams that did possess national potential are obviously flawed and UCLA continues to trip all over itself. It’ll take a lot for the Pac-10 to rebuild its reputation this season, so let’s take a look at what’s transpired thus far.

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RTC 2009-10 Impact Players – Northwest Region

Posted by rtmsf on November 3rd, 2009

impactplayers

Ed. Note: the previous posts in this series (Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Atlantic South, Deep South, Mid-South, Lower Midwest, Upper Midwest, Mountains and Southwest) are located here.

It’s time for the tenth and final installment of our RTC 2009-10 Impact Players series, the group of cool, wet Pacific states known as the Northwest Region.   Each week we’ll pick a geographic area of the country and break down the five players who we feel will have the most impact on their teams (and by the transitive property, college basketball) this season.  Our criteria is once again subjective – there are so many good players in every region of the country that it’s difficult to narrow them down to only five  in each – but we feel at the end of this exercise that we’ll have discussed nearly every player of major impact in the nation.  Just to be fair and to make this not too high-major-centric, we’re also going to pick a mid-major impact player in each region as our sixth man.  We welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments where we left players off.  The only request is that you provide an argument – why will your choice be more influential this season than those we chose?

Northwest Region (AK, WA, OR, northern CA)

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  • Matt Bouldin – G, Sr – Gonzaga.  As anyone in Spokane or among Gonzaga’s growing national fan base can tell you, most of the talk about Gonzaga this off-season has concerned itself with what the Bulldogs have lost.  Understandable, as the excellent Zag firm of Daye, Heytvelt, Pargo, and Downs are a tough bunch to replace, to say the least.  Consider also that Gonzaga is bringing in something like 37 freshmen onto this year’s squad, and one can easily conclude that Mark Few finds himself with his most interesting coaching predicament yet.  With such an inexperienced squad, what’s the one thing Few needs most?  A savvy, intelligent senior leader.  Enter Matt Bouldin, a 2010 preseason Wooden Award nominee to absolutely nobody’s surprise.  Check these stats from last year:  49.1% from the field, 42.3% from three-point range…but only 13.6 PPG.  Even with several other offensive options on his team, you’d expect a shooting guard with those percentages to average more than 13.6 PPG.  But, this means that when Bouldin does shoot, it’s usually a good shot in terms of shot selection, something coaches will tell you is one of the real keys to winning at this level, and an incredibly difficult thing to teach.  Mind you, those percentages are up from his sophomore season even though he registered more attempts as a junior.  Without a doubt, Bouldin’s touches and minutes will increase this season, despite leading last year’s team with 31.7 minutes a game.  He might need to get to the line a little more this year, but with his ability to take care of the ball, Coach Few should have no apprehension adding this to Bouldin’s responsibilites, if he chooses.  Bouldin’s 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio was third in the conference (behind two of his teammates!) and is exceptional for a shooting guard.  So go ahead, feel sorry for Gonzaga if you must.  We know what they lost, and we know Portland might be a fun pick in the WCC.  But with a coach like Few, a leader like Bouldin, and a non-conference pressure-cooker like the one Gonzaga has in store, if Portland so much as twitches, Gonzaga will take them down.  And look at their NCAA Tournament history.  Except for 2007, Gonzaga does best when they get a 10-12 seed and nobody’s looking.  Mark Few is spectacular when it comes to keeping numerous talented players happy and, perhaps better than anyone in the country, instilling in all of his players an immense pride in the name on the front of the jersey as compared with the one on the back.  When you watch Few’s Gonzaga teams, you can almost feel the love the players have for that uniform.  Matt Bouldin possesses this pride just as much as any of his Wooden-list predecessors like Morrison or Dickau.  We guarantee you — he will not go quietly.

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