After four consecutive wins to start the CBI tournament, Washington State’s season ended Friday night with a second consecutive loss in the three-game championship series against Pittsburgh. Both teams played without their leading scorers, as Washington State’s Brock Motum and Pitt’s Ashton Gibbs both sat out with sprained ankles. Reggie Moore led the way for the Cougars with his fourth consecutive double-digit scoring output, but his 18 points to go with five assists were not enough to overcome a 12-2 Panther run in the middle of the second half that broke open a tight game. In the end, the Cougs lost by six and wrap up their season with a 19-18 overall record.
With all of the Pac-12 schools having now completed their seasons on the court, and with no coaching changes expected, the biggest question remaining for any of the conference programs is the decisions of Washington’s Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten in regards to the NBA Draft. The first shoe dropped on Sunday for the Huskies, as Ross announced his intention to declare for the NBA Draft. Wroten, however, has yet to announce his choice, although it is widely suspected that his days in Seattle are done as well. And, not only are Huskies fans making peace with that eventuality, there is also talk that they may be better off without him. With Abdul Gaddy due back next season for his senior year and redshirt freshman point guard Andrew Andrews ready to step into the breach as well, UW has plenty of talent in the backcourt. And chemistry-wise, Lorenzo Romar’s team may be better off without the distraction of Wroten around. Sounds like a rationalization to me.
At Utah, however, there is no cache of extra talent lying around Larry Krystkowiak’s roster, so any early defections for the program will sting. On Friday, news came down that three Ute players would be transferring out of the program: Chris Hines, Kareem Storey and Javon Dawson. Given that Krystkowiak had signed more players than he had scholarships available, we all knew that there would be some changeover in the program, but this list of names was something of a surprise. Individually, none of those three players is much of a loss for the Utes, but as a trio of relatively experienced players, it is a hit. Hines, in particular, is a surprise, given that he was expected back as a team leader for his senior season next year, but given that he will graduate this year, he’ll be eligible to play immediately wherever he winds up next season, likely at a program a notch down from the Pac-12 level.
Tonight, Oregon basketball fans will watch the NCAA title game with interest, as two of their own will be playing for Kentucky in their quest for a championship. Terrence Jones and Kyle Wiltjer were both prep stars in Portland, but rather than stick around to play for one of the in-state schools, both opted to head across the country to continue their basketball careers. And next season, another Oregonian – 6’10 center Landen Lucas – will don a Kansas uniform for his collegiate career rather than a Duck or Beaver jersey. It’s easier said than done, but for either program to take the next step, head coaches Dana Altman and Craig Robinsonneed to find a way to keep elite home-state prospects from looking elsewhere for their collegiate careers.
While Shabazz Muhammad gets the most publicity, there is another elite high school recruit still available who is considering UCLA. Georgia’s Tony Parker is a 6’9” center, currently rated the #21 recruit in the 2012 class who has the Bruins as one of his seven potential landing spots. There is speculation that wherever Muhammad ends up could tip Parker’s hand, as both players have UCLA and Duke among their final choices. After playing in the McDonald’s All-American game last week, Parker is now getting ready for the Jordan Brand Classic in two weeks.
Without doing the math and coming up with an exact number, it’s easy to say that somewhere in the neighborhood of 330-340 teams in the NCAA’s Division I will end their basketball season with a loss, either in their conference tournament, the NCAA Tournament, or one of the three other postseason tournaments (to get the exact number, you’ve got to figure in the fact that half of the Ivy League school can potentially end the season with a win since they don’t have a conference tourney, plus D-I independents without a tourney as well). Monday night’s winner in New Orleans will obviously have the most to crow about, but the winners of the NIT, CBI and CIT tournaments will all head to the offseason on an upbeat note. And, despite all their struggles this season, Stanford claimed one of those slots on Thursday night, taking it to Minnesota at Madison Square Garden en route to a 24-point win in the NIT Final. Freshman guard Chasson Randle and sophomore backcourt mate Aaron Bright led the way with 15 points apiece, sending assistant coach Dick Davey off to retirement with a win.
Tonight, Washington State will attempt to be another of those small number of teams to go out with a win, as it faces Pittsburgh in the third game of a three-game CBI championship series. While it is a battle for little more than 101st place, it is still important for the players, and even for some fans, as this article from CougCenter so aptly points out. However, for the third time in as many games, it appears WSU will have to go forth without its best player, Brock Motum, who will likely miss his third straight game after spraining an ankle two minutes into the CBI semifinal game last week. While Motum is doubtful, there is slightly more hope on the Pitt end that their best player, senior guard Ashton Gibbs, will return from his ankle sprain to take part in the final.
Last summer, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott led the way to a major score for the conference, earning a $3 billion deal with ESPN and Fox for the rights to football, basketball and even Olympic sports throughout the conference. Still, Scott thinks that there is more to be had, calling college football, at least, undervalued. And, given that the big money available to football allows the Pac-12 to create an environment where 180 conference basketball games will be aired on a national basis, not only is there potentially more money to come for athletic departments around the country, there is more exposure available for basketball and other sports.
We talked about this possibility the other day, but apparently Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnellhas narrowed his list of possible destinations to Virginia and Arizona. Though those schools could not be more different from each other, the point guard has eliminated all other schools from contention. McConnell made a trip to the Charlottesville campus last week and will visit Tucson next week, but the Wildcats should be considered the strong favorite for a couple reasons: First, while Virginia has sophomore Joe Harris firmly entrenched at the point guard spot for the next couple years, Arizona is wide open; and, McDonnell’s family has been friendly with the family of Wildcat head coach Sean Miller for some time. Pencil McDonnell in as a Wildcat, eligible in 2013-14.
Lastly, on the heels of Washington’s elimination from the NIT on Tuesday night, the next big question in Huskyland is the fate of freshman guard Tony Wroten and sophomore wing Terrence Ross. Both are widely projected to be first round NBA draft picks should they choose to enter this year’s draft, but Wroten in particular could very well slip into the second round and non-guaranteed contract territory. In preparation for the big decisions ahead, both players are awaiting feedback from NBA personnel and will face something of a formality in an NCAA-mandated April 10 deadline to announce their intentions, but in fact they will have until the NBA’s official deadline of April 29 to figure out their next step. Unfortunately for both, the NCAA’s guidelines don’t provide the ability for potential prospects to work out for NBA teams prior to making their decisions. It remains to be seen whether such a setup allows for either more or less bad decisions in regards to early entry.
Despite all the struggles that the Pac-12 went through this season, the conference came into Tuesday night with the most teams of any conference in the nation still playing basketball. Unfortunately, none of those teams were in the NCAA Tournament, with two in the NIT and one in the CBI. And, the results last night trimmed the number of Pac-12 teams to just two. Stanford is among those two, as it took care of business in the matinee at Madison Square Garden, knocking off Massachusetts 74-64 behind 13 second-half points from sophomore wingAnthony Brown, part of his game-high 18. However, in the nightcap, Washingtonfell in overtime to Minnesota, nixing the chances of an all-Pac-12 final. Terrence Ross led the Huskies with 21 points, but now UW fans have to hold their collective breath as they wait to see if he and/or freshman Tony Wroten will enter their names into the NBA Draft, as expected. The Gophers move on to face the Cardinal for the NIT title on Thursday night.
While Pac-12 teams are shut out of this weekend’s Final Four in New Orleans, there is some representation in the weekend’s festivities, as Oregon’s Devoe Joseph and California’s Jorge Gutierrez will both play in the Reese’s Division I College All-Star game on Friday. Meanwhile, Duck fans will also be able to root for Olu Ashaolu in the State Farm Slam Dunk content, on Thursday night.
Despite a difficult season but as we expected all along, there does not appear to be any forthcoming changes in the head coaching positions at any of the Pac-12 schools. Still, every time a new position opens up, certain Pac-12 coaches are mentioned in connection with those jobs. Dana Altman’s name was floated in relation to the Nebraska job, Johnny Dawkins has been suggested as a possibility at Illinois, as has Lorenzo Romar, and now Tad Boyle is rumored to be a possibility at Kansas State. Luckily, most fan bases around the conference can see right through these rumors. The Husky Haul takes umbrage at the idea that Romar’s name gets mentioned seemingly every time any other big position comes open. And likewise, The Ralphie Report laughs off the notion that Boyle is going to walk out on a young and talented Colorado team with a bright future. While either of those guys may leave their respective institutions at some point in the future, Illinois and Kansas State are not going to be the places to steal them away.
There is a possibility, however, that there could be some shakeup on the Colorado bench. In the wake of Tim Miles’ move to Nebraska, Colorado State is in search of its next head coach. Assistants Jean Prioleau and Mike Rohncould each be considered by CSU for its open position, and while Boyle is in no hurry to see either one of them go, he would “love for them to get an opportunity.” There has been a lot of talk about Weber State head coach Randy Rahe landing at CSU, but until the coaching carousel stops spinning, either of Boyle’s main men could be candidates elsewhere.
Lastly, we’ll wrap up a Colorado-heavy Morning Five by pointing you to The Ralphie Report’s third part of its look ahead to next year’s Buffalo team. This part focuses on the six newcomers to the program, making up a Top 25 recruiting class for Boyle. The argument begins as to who is the most anticipated of these newcomers; is it Josh Scott, the 2012 player of the year in Colorado, or maybe Xavier Johnson, another southern California kid stolen by Boyle out from under the noses of UCLA and USC? Maybe it is super bouncy forward Wesley Gordon who could be an excellent backup to Andre Roberson, or versatile wing Chris Jenkins?Xavier Talton is the team’s fifth recruit, an in-state combo-guard who may be a work in progress, while Boyle just added guard Eli Stalzer, a teammate of Johnson’s with the reputation as a pure point guard. With plenty of talent returning for the Buffaloes, getting contributions from a few of these guys could turn CU into a national player next season.
Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.
Only four teams out of 345 are truly happy with how their seasons have turned out, and they’re the four headed to New Orleans this weekend for the Final Four. But there are hundreds of other schools that didn’t even get a chance to compete in the NCAA Tournament that need to work that much harder to get their shot next season. That’s what the NIT, CBI, and CIT tournaments are for – not all teams are motivated to compete (see: Seton Hall’s second round NIT loss as a #1-seed), and these tourneys may not draw many casual fans, but they’re important for players, coaches, and fans who want to see their teams finish strong and work on reaching the Big Dance next season. The beauty of March Madness is that a CBI team this season could be in the Sweet Sixteen next year. You never know who that’s going to be. Let’s take a look at who’s left in the ‘other’ postseason tournaments, which all come to a conclusion this week before the Final Four…
The 32-team NIT tournament draws intrigue as the best teams that got ‘snubbed’ by the NCAA Tournament with a chance to validate their seasons with a championship in Madison Square Garden. We’re down to four teams and the semifinals begin tonight (Tuesday).
Tony Wroten, Jr. and Washington Still Have Plenty to Play For (Getty Images/N. Laham)
#1 Washington vs. #6 Minnesota. Call the Pac-12 the kings of mediocrity this season. The conference only sent two teams to the Big Dance (who combined to go 1-2) but it has two teams remaining in the NIT semis and one of the two teams competing in the CBI finals. Washington might be the single most talented team in the country that didn’t get a chance to play in the Big Dance, and the Huskies are proving it in the NIT. Led by several talented athletes looking to build towards next season or perhaps even boost their NBA stocks, UW is the favorite here. Tony Wroten and Terrence Ross are two of those players with NBA thoughts and both are playing exceptional basketball right now, with Ross being the NIT’s leading scorer at 26.3 points per game. Minnesota, meanwhile, has had to play all three games on the road to get here, grinding out victories in typical Big Ten fashion. The Golden Gophers have been motivated by the news that their leader Trevor Mbakwe (injured all season) has been granted a sixth year of eligibility to play next season, so there is plenty of hope for the future. Explosive forward Rodney Williams has been leading this team and will also be back next season. Tubby Smith’s team has been playing hard but will be underdogs against this loaded UW squad.
They were the last hope for the Pac-12, and for 30 minutes or so, it looked like Colorado had a good chance to extend their Cinderella run through the weekend. But too much Brady Heslip and too little defensive rebounding doomed the Buffaloes against Baylor, sending the conference to an early end in the NCAAs. But, looking back on the season for Colorado, it was a magical run, including a five-game win streak taking them from the outside of the tournament bubble to a Round of 32 appearance with a Pac-12 Tournament title mixed in there. All things considered, it was as good of a season as could have been expected of a Buff team that was missing its four leading scorers from the previous season and was picked as low as 11th in preseason Pac-12 rankings. And, despite the loss of seniors Carlon Brown, Nate Tomlinson, and Austin Dufault, the future is bright in Boulder.
There are a handful of Pac-12 teams whose season still go on in lesser tournaments, highlighted by Oregon, who pulled off a 108-97 win over Iowa on Sunday in the second round of the NIT in the highest scoring game in regulation this season. The Ducks trailed by as many as 15 in the game, but behind E.J. Singler’s 25 points and four other players who scored in double figures, the Ducks advanced.
And the Ducks next step is a trip up I-5 to Seattle for a quarterfinal matchup with conference rival Washington, who advanced by slamming Northwestern on Friday night, 76-55. The Huskies earned the win by using their athleticism to kill the Wildcats on the glass, force plenty of bad shots and just generally get them out of rhythm. Oh, and Terrence Ross lit them up for 32 points and eight rebounds. Tony Wroten, who took a lot of heat in the aftermath of the Huskies’ Pac-12 Tournament loss has struggled to rediscover his scoring touch (just 11 points on ten field goal attempts in two NIT games), but has handed out 15 dimes. Oregon State is the final Pac-12 team still playing, and they’ll get their season back underway tonight when they host TCU in the CBI.
While we’re on the topic of the three remaining Pac-12 schools, all in the northwest, The Columbian points out that one of the reasons that the Pac-12 may be down is their inability to tie up local prospects. By way of example, Greg Jayne points out that the quintet of Peyton Siva, Brad Tinsley, Terrence Jones, Kyle Wiltjer, and Brian Conklin – all kids from either Oregon or Washington who are playing elsewhere – would be a pretty darn good start on an NCAA Tournament team. The gauntlet is thrown for Lorenzo Romar, Craig Robinson, and Dana Altman: keep your local prospects at home.
Lastly, in what must be considered good news for UCLA and Ben Howland, Shabazz Muhammadwill be taking his final official visit to the Westwood campus at some point in early April and then will announce his decision a couple of days later. While Muhammad hadn’t previously intended to use an official visit at UCLA (since he had already visited the campus on multiple occasions unofficially), the plan is to check back in with the Bruin program in the wake of last month’s controversial Sports Illustrated article and “get the nuts and bolts of that,” according to his father Ron Holmes. Still, as UCLA has long been considered the favorite to earn the services of the elite high school prospect, the fact that he is heading back to Los Angeles just days before his announcement at the very least gives Howland and company to make the final big sales pitch.
UCLA made it official on Tuesday: Ben Howlandwill be back as the Bruins’ head coach in 2012-13. After missing the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years and suffering through the aftermath of a critical Sports Illustrated article, there was some question. But, athletic director Dan Guerrero decided that he deserved another chance. The father of elite 2012 recruit Shabazz Muhammad issued a statement of his own, expressing his support for the decision and confirming that his son is still very much considering UCLA. Bruins’ fans did find out that one of their own would be laving early, however, as Brendan Lane, a little used reserve forward, would be transferring elsewhere next season as a graduate transfer, making him eligible immediately. No possible landing spots have been discussed, but Lane is considering downshifting to a mid-major program.
Across town, it’s been known for some time that USC head coach Kevin O’Neill would be back next season. And, with players back from injury along with newly eligible transfers, the Trojans should be much better. Still, O’Neill understands that better is a matter of degrees, and mere improvement over this year’s 6-26 record is not enough. The challenge is clear; much like Howland’s UCLA team, O’Neill’s squad will likely need to go to the NCAA Tournament in order to save the head man’s job.
The Pac-12 held a press conference on Tuesday to officially announce the move of the conference tournament to the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas. While they become the fourth conference to hold its year-end tournament there, it is the first to actually have the event at a location on the Strip. Going forward, the event will be televised by a combination of ESPN, Fox and the Pac-12 Network, with ESPN and Fox alternating rights to the event every year. ESPN and Fox will each carry one quarterfinal game, one semifinal game and the championship game, with the Pac-12 Network carrying the remaining games.
NIT play kicked off last night, and three different Pac-12 schools were in action. And, unlike real life, the fantasy world of the NIT is kind to the Pac-12, as all three schools won and advanced. Washington shook off a sluggish first half to knock off Texas-Arlington behind 23 points from Terrence Ross; they’ll face Northwestern in an interesting game that nobody will pay attention to on Friday night. Oregonhammered LSU by 20 with Devoe Joseph continuing his excellence (25 points); they’ll face Iowa on Sunday. And Stanford used a big second half to pull away from Cleveland State as they had ten different players score in an eventual 11-point win. The Cardinal will face the winner of tomorrow night’s Ole Miss/Illinois State matchup.
Lastly, while Oregon fans enjoyed the win tonight, the idea that head coach Dana Altman may not be long for Eugene continues to gain steam. Altman and his wife still live in Nebraska, where he was born, raised and coached at Creighton until two years ago, and with the Huskers looking for a new head coach in the wake of Doc Sadler’s firing, he’ll certainly be among the first people called by NU athletic directorTom Osborne. Osborne and Altman developed a relationship when they were both at Creighton, and at the very least, Altman would listen to offers. George Schroeder at the Register-Guard is convinced that Nebraska is still a “dead-end job,” but with a brand-new practice facility and a brand-new arena, they have facilities at least on par with what Altman currently has in Eugene. In short, while nothing is set in stone, Duck fans would be wise to accept that there is at least a significant chance that they’ll be looking for a new head coach this offseason.
Yesterday we named our All-Pac-12 team, today we hand out our awards. It may not have been a banner year in the Pac-12, but we have had good races for each of these awards and come away with some very deserving honorees.
Player of the Year
Terrence Ross, Soph, Washington: California’s Jorge Gutierrez won the official Pac-12 award, but Ross gets the nod here for a variety of reasons: 1) he’s the best player in the conference; 2) he’s the best player on the conference champion; and 3) when he gets in a rhythm (which is often), no other player in the conference (save perhaps his teammate, Tony Wroten) can make as big of an impact on the game. Ross’ best game of the year may have come on January 15 when he scored 26 points in the second half (while also adding a game-high 14 boards) to bring the Huskies back from a six-point halftime deficit to beat Washington State. Or maybe it came against UCLA on February 2 when he scored 10 points in the final five minutes to help bring the Huskies back from a 10-point deficit with seven minutes left. Or maybe it was his dominant performance inside the three-point line against Arizona on February 18, when he scored 25 points despite a perimeter jumper that took the day off.
Terrence Ross Was A Clutch Performer All Year Long For The Huskies (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
The Pac-12 announced its postseason awards on Monday, handing the Player of the Year award to California’s Jorge Gutierrez and the Coach of the Year to Washington’s Lorenzo Romar for the third time in his career. Gutierrez also claimed the Defensive Player of the Year, earning a spot on the All-Defensive team for the third consecutive season. Washington State’s Brock Motum is the no-brainer for Most Improved Player, while the Huskies’ Tony Wroten was the similarly obvious choice for Freshman of the Year. The All-Conference team was also announced, but at some point, somebody in the league office has got to come to some understanding that you put five players – not 10 – on your basketball All-Conference team. If you want to honor more than just five players, go ahead and name a second team, and even a third if you so choose.
Washington’s Terrence Ross was a strong contender for Player of the Year, and may or may not have been named the RTC Pac-12 POY (check back later today for our conference awards), but upon finding out that Gutierrez had won the award, he said he felt “snubbed.” Ross did congratulate the winner, but felt surprised that neither he nor teammate Wroten won the award. Wroten echoed Ross’ thoughts, saying that he expected his teammate to earn the honor, but said that the Huskies will use the perceived slight as motivation in the conference tournament.
Doug Haller, the Arizona State beat writer at The Arizona Republic, is on the very short list of the best beat writers in the conference, and on Monday he released a barrage of blog posts, giving his thoughts on the official Pac-12 awards, offering up his own picks for All-Pac-12 and some other honors, naming his All-Defensive team, and his All-Freshman team. Now, I certainly don’t agree with his pick of Tony Wroten as the POY and I’ve detailed my objections here in the past (refresher course: He’s not the best player on his team, he’s certainly not the go-to guy in the clutch on his team, his shot selection leaves much to be desired as does his actual shooting, and he turns the ball over too much), but while I would have had picked Tad Boyle as COY a week ago, I’ve shifted to the Dana Altman camp given Colorado’s season-ending slide. But other than that, everything else there looks pretty good; I particularly like the inclusion of USC’s Byron Wesley on his All-Freshman team because, as Haller notes, he’s probably improved more than any other conference freshman over the course of the season.
Reaction to last week’s Sports Illustrated story on the UCLA program continues to roll in. On Sunday, former USC coach Tim Floyd weighed in on Ben Howland’s side, saying that although he and Howland “weren’t close” and “didn’t exchange Christmas cards” (have to admit, I sorta miss Floyd – he’s sure got a way with words, don’t he?), he has great respect for his former adversary and that he is one of the three best coaches he’s ever coached against (with Eddie Sutton and former Colorado State and Fresno State coach Boyd Grant the other two). Check out the whole article though. The last line out of Floyd’s mouth is worth the effort. Elsewhere, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar weighed in on the state of the program as well, calling for the UCLA program to return to the “Wooden way,” something that is far easier said than done. Still, at the heart of his article, the call for Howland to show more interest in the development of his players off of the court should not fall on deaf ears.
Lastly, we talked about it yesterday in our Morning Five, but Arizona’s loss to Arizona State on Sunday is still reverberating throughout Wildcat world. Great line from Scott Terrell of the Tucson Citizen about how “It’s not so much that the Arizona Wildcats lost to Arizona State… Actually, that’s not true. It is that the Cats lost to ASU.” Given how bad the Sun Devils have been for the bulk of this season, he’s right. That result is perhaps the most shocking result of the entire conference schedule. We talked about some of the anomalies that occurred in that game yesterday (ASU’s 1.27 points per possession in that game was a serious outlier compared to their previous results), but Terrell adds a few more: ASU shoots 67% from the free throw line on the year, but shot 92% on Sunday; they hadn’t scored 87 points in a game in 26 months; and Arizona has held opponents to 40% field goal shooting this year, but allowed ASU to shoot 56% on Sunday. Worst of all for the Arizona faithful, the loss leaves the Wildcats needing to win the conference tournament in order to go dancing. Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see if the Sun Devils can use this win as a springboard for some success in the Pac-12 Tourney.
With conference play now over, we’ve got a couple of days here to look back on the regular season before we turn our sights on to postseason play. Today, we name our All-Pac-12 team, tomorrow we’ll hand out our postseason awards (Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, etc.), and then later tomorrow we’ll start looking forward to the Pac-12 Tournament.
G: Jared Cunningham, Jr, Oregon State (18.2 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 2.6 SPG): Cunningham goes in the book as the conference’s leading scorer this year, while also finishing as the runaway leader in steals. His numbers tailed off a bit as the season wore on, but Cunningham’s ability to get to the hoop and his ever-improving jump shot made him one of the toughest checks in the conference. Throw in the ability to make the spectacular play defensively, and Cunningham is one of the most well-rounded players in the conference.
Jared Cunningham Was A Potent Threat On Both Ends Of The Court (Dean Hare/AP)
G: Jorge Gutierrez, Sr, California (13.0 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 4.1 APG): Gutierrez may not be the most naturally gifted basketball player you’ll ever watch, but he certainly puts in plenty of extra work to try to make up the gap. Diving after loose balls, pestering his opponent on defense, and doing whatever is needed offensively may have earned Gutierrez plenty of jeers from opposing student sections, but it has also earned him the respect of basketball fans all up and down the West Coast.
The story was pretty simple for Washington when they tipped off against UCLA on Saturday morning: Win, and the Huskies were the conference champion; lose, and they would need some help. And for much of the game it looked like the Huskies were in a mood to take control of their own future, leading for much of the middle 20 minutes of the game. However, when Lazeric Jones hit a three-pointer with just under nine minutes remaining, it gave the Bruins their first lead since the 14-minute mark of the first half and set up a back-and-forth finish to the game. In those last nine minutes, the Huskies turned the ball over five times, made just 3-of-10 field goal attempts and scored just seven points on 14 possessions. But still, with just 15 seconds left, Washington found itself down two as senior forward Darnell Gant received the ball in three-point land at the top of the key. Terrence Ross was open on the wing, but Gant launched the shot and it came up just short, giving UCLA the win and the #5 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament while the Huskies would have to wait until Sunday to find out their fate. As for the Bruins, it was the second straight encouraging win in the aftermath of the controversial Sports Illustrated story last week, sending the team to the conference tournament feeling as good as they have all year.
Washington got the answer it was looking for on Sunday, when Californiahad its conference title hopes dashed by their Bay Area rival, Stanford. It was a tight game down the stretch, but much like the Huskies on Saturday, the Golden Bears just didn’t make the plays necessary to win a championship. For instance, Cardinal sophomore guard Aaron Bright was sent to the free throw line three straight times at the end of the game, and on each of those occasions, he missed the second of his two free throws. However, the first two misses wound up right back in his hands as the Bears were unable to secure an offensive rebound. Earlier, Cal guard Allen Crabbe had passed up an open baseline jumper to drive to the hoop, only to fumble the ball out of bounds. And, continuing a theme for Cal’s loss at Colorado last week, Justin Cobbs and Jorge Gutierrez struggled shooting the ball, hitting a combined six of their 22 field goal attempts. The loss sends the Bears to the Pac-12 Tournament with consecutive defeats for the first time all season. While Stanford’s 10-8 conference record wound up being disappointing (especially the seven losses in its final 12 games), the Cardinal did cinch a 20-win season for the first time in three seasons.
To finish off the trifecta of top teams losing in conference this week, Arizona fell to Arizona State on Sunday in one of the more surprising results of the conference season. Not only was ASU’s 87 points its highest total on the year, it was only the tenth time all season that the Sun Devils had scored more than one point per possession in a game; in fact they averaged 1.27 points per possession, an excellent number. What changed for the Devils? A lot of things, but first and foremost, let’s look at the point guard play: Chris Colvin, who has averaged a turnover more than once every three possessions used, played 34 minutes and had just two turnovers compared with nine assists. Secondly, junior wing Trent Lockett is now, perhaps for the first time, clearly back near full strength after his midseason ankle injury; he had 21 points, seven boards and chipped in five assists of his own compared with just three turnovers. As a whole, ASU only turned it over 10 times on the day, their lowest total of the season, and their turnover percentage (the percentage of possessions on which the team commits a turnover) of 14.7% is almost half of their season average. The Sun Devils go into the conference tournament on a two-game winning streak (their first such streak of the year) and playing arguably their best ball of the season. Meanwhile, for the Wildcats, this was a devastating loss to their NCAA Tournament hopes. Already sitting firmly on the bubble (and possibly on the wrong side of it), Sean Miller’s club has to figure the only way for the team to make its 27th tournament in 28 years is to win the Pac-12 automatic bid next weekend.
The other major story line going into the final weekend was the race for the four opening round byes in the conference tournament. Oregon took care of its business this weekend by throttling Utah on Saturday. The Ducks scored 34 of the game’s first 36 points, and sent seniors Devoe Joseph, Garrett Sim, Olu Ashaolu, Tyrone Nared and Jeremy Jacob out in style, securing the #3 seed in next week’s conference tournament. Colorado, however, floundered at Oregon State, losing by 14 and not only played itself out of contention for one of those byes, but dropped all the way to the #6 seed. The Buffaloes will host Utah on Wednesday as they are still looking for their 20th win on the year.
Lastly, USC’s disaster of a season is now apparently just one game away from being mercifully over. The Trojans fought hard in their final regular season game, holding Washington State scoreless for the final nine minutes and nine seconds on Saturday and rallied back from a 17-point deficit to as close as three late, but once again came up short, wrapping up the conference schedule with a 1-17 record and a school-record 25 losses on the year.
Washingtonwrapped up at least a piece of the conference title on Thursday night, blowing out USC at the Galen Center by 22 points. The Trojans actually shot the ball pretty well, limited Washington’s field goal percentage and turned the ball over less than the Huskies, but Washington absolutely dominated on the glass on both ends of the floor, grabbing 51.4% of their misses and 90.6% of USC’s. Five different Huskies had seven rebounds or more while no Trojan had more than five. If Washington can take care of UCLA on Saturday, they will win the Pac-12 outright, and they can also back their way into the championship with a loss and a Stanford win over California on Sunday. Tony Wroten’s chances for the conference Player of the Year award took a hit with a two-for-13 shooting performance that also included four more turnovers, while Terrence Ross bounced back from a weak performance last weekend with 18 points and seven rebounds. USC’s Byron Wesley continued his strong play in defeat, setting a new career-high for the third straight game, with 23 points.
Meanwhile, in Eugene, Oregon went a long way towards clinching a first-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament by pouring on 54 second-half points in a come-from-behind victory over Colorado. The Ducks used a 35-18 run to open the second half to pull away from the Buffaloes, as seemingly everybody on the team got in on the act. E.J. Singler kick-started the run with six straight points, Carlos Emory chipped in a three-point play and a three-pointer later, Garrett Sim knocked down threes with abandon, and Devoe Joseph did a little of everything, including knocking down a key jumper after the final media timeout to staunch a Colorado run. With Utah coming up on Saturday, the Ducks are very much in the driver’s seat for a first-round bye, while the Buffaloes will need to win at Oregon State and get some help to avoid having to play on the opening day of the conference tourney.
In the wake of the controversy surrounding the UCLA program and Ben Howland, the current Bruin team weighed in pretty heavily last night, throttling Washington State early and often on the way to a 32-point victory. While the players downplayed the effect of Wednesday’s Sports Illustrated article (senior guard Lazeric Jones, for one, said he didn’t ever read it), their performance sure seemed like a statement. UCLA led by 19 at the half, then ran that lead out to 30 early in the second half. While nobody on the team thought the performance had anything to do with the article, David Wear said the team “stood together as a team and a family” and Joshua Smith said “We had to show we were the same guys who have worked hard, gone to class and done what Coach Howland told us.” The Bruins will get another chance to make a statement on Saturday, when they can play the spoiler in Washington’s bid for a conference title.
The final game on Thursday night was Oregon State’s ten-point win over Utah, the Beavers’ first win after five straight losses. Oregon State came out on fire in the first half, limiting the Utes to just 21.7% from the field on the way to a 36-15 lead at the break, but let off the gas a bit in the second half. Conference POY candidate Jared Cunningham had a fine, if understated, game, going for 17 points and six assists. If Oregon State can add another win on Saturday against Colorado, they could be on their way towards putting together some momentum for a possible conference tournament run.
Back to Westwood briefly, for another look at the aftermath of the George Dohrmann piece, as Thursday a couple very important Bruins came to the defense of Howland. Former National Player of the Year Marques Johnson, father of Josiah Johnson, who played under Howland, noted that while he had some frustrations with the way the coach handled his son, in the end he things he “did the right things”, while Johnson also brought a dose of perspective to the issue of college kids experimenting with drugs, noting that it is part of the “college atmosphere. Meanwhile, UCLA’s all-time leading scorer Don MacLean chipped in, noting that the head coach can’t always be around to police the players and that those guys need to show discipline and not let their social life get in the way of practice and performance in games.
The biggest on the court story this week was Colorado knocking off California on Sunday afternoon, leaving the Bears a game back in the loss column of conference leader Washington. The Huskies took care of their business last week, coming back from a 13-point deficit midway through the second half to knock off Washington State. As a result, a UW win tonight at USC (which seems almost a given – the Huskies will be a significant favorite) will earn them at least a share of the conference title. And if they back that up with a win at UCLA on Saturday, they’ll earn their second regular season conference title in four years. If they slip up in one of those games, the Golden Bears can force a tie by knocking off Stanford at Maples Pavilion Sunday in the final conference game of the regular season, and in that case, Cal would also earn the #1 seed in the conference tournament by virtue of their win at Washington in January.
Behind the leaders, there are three teams fighting for the two remaining first-round byes in the conference tournament; Arizona, Colorado and Oregon all sit with five conference losses. Arizona has an advantage over the others, however, in that they have only one remaining game – against lowly Arizona State on Sunday afternoon. Oregon and Colorado, meanwhile, will go a long way towards breaking their tie tonight, as the Ducks host the Buffaloes in Eugene.
While whichever of these three teams winds up as the #5 seed will have the opportunity to breeze through USC in the opening round game, the addition of an extra obstacle in the way prior to the Pac-12 quarterfinals will harm that team’s chances at running the table and coming away with the Pac-12’s automatic bid.
Arizona Took Care Of Business Against The Los Angeles Schools And Can Now Earn A First-Round Bye (Chris Morrison/US Presswire)
And that automatic bid will certainly be a very important thing for most teams in this conference. At this point, Cal looks like a pretty safe bet to earn an at-large bid, although they don’t want to press their luck with a loss at Stanford and a loss in the quarters of the conference tourney. They’ve got the best RPI in the conference (see all the numbers below) and they’ve got a couple of top 50 wins (both over Oregon, so take those with a grain of salt). While it looks like they’re safe, if they finish the season poorly, they’ll have no right to complain if they are left out of the eventual bracket.
Washington, meanwhile, seems to be in pretty good shape as well – right now at least. However, they’re towards the back of the bus right now and if a handful of teams come out of the woodwork to steal bids over the next couple of weeks, Washington’s margin for error could get mighty slim.
As for the rest of the bunch, there are some who continue to say that teams like Arizona and Colorado are right on the bubble, but looking at the numbers, they’d do well to just go ahead and win the Pac-12 Tournament if they have any real designs on an NCAA bid. Oregon’s got the best RPI numbers, but they’re 0-5 against top 50 teams. Colorado’s got a couple top 50 wins (over Oregon and Cal – unfortunately, if they beat Oregon this weekend, it will probably drop the Ducks out of the top 50 and take CU back to just 1-3 against the top 50), but they’ve also got four bad losses and an RPI that’s of no use either.
vs. RPI 1-25
vs. RPI 1-50
vs. RPI +100
So, really, the only chance I see for the Pac-12 to shoehorn three different teams into the bracket is this: (1) California and Washington win their final games of the regular season this weekend, (2) then they both take care of business in the quarterfinals, with one of them advancing to the Pac-12 final while the other loses in the semis, (3) whoever the opponent is in the Pac-12 final wins the championship, earning the automatic bid and (4) bid stealers are kept to a minimum and both Cal and Washington squeak into the field on Selection Sunday, along with the conference champion.
Lastly, one of the best college basketball reads every week is John Gasaway’s Tuesday Truths at Basketball Prospectus. Aside from giving some insights on the 14 best conferences in the nation, he lays out the margin between average points scored and average points allowed per possession, a good measure of a team’s overall strength, throwing out the luck factor.
While the eye test may tell you that Washington has been the best team in the conference, a look at the stats shows that they are only outscoring their opposition by 0.07 points per possession, while Cal is outscoring its opponents by double that, 0.14 points per possession (for comparison’s sake, Kentucky is outscoring its opponents by 0.25 points per possession – an absurdly good number). In fact, the Huskies are fifth in the conference using this metric, behind even UCLA. In fact, of Washington’s 13 conference wins, five came by four points or less, with another five where the margin was less than ten.
According to Ken Pomeroy, Washington has been the 29th luckiest team in the country (what a great time we live in, where luck can be accounted for by statistics). Long story short, the Huskies may go into the conference tournament as the regular season champion, but they need not necessarily be the favorite to win the automatic bid.
Tony Wroten Is Well On His Way To Earning Freshman Of The Year Honors, But Will He Take Down the POY As Well? (Drew Sellers/Sportspress Northwest)
Three picked Jared Cunningham, and then one each selected Terrence Ross, Devoe Joseph and Jorge Gutierrez. We’ve been down this road before, so I won’t beat a dead horse too much, but while Wroten’s traditional numbers look just fine (16.7 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 3.5 APG), just digging even a little bit deeper reveals some significant problems with his all around game: turnovers on 22% of his possessions, using far too many possessions in an inefficient manner, his insistence on continuing to shoot threes (poorly at that) and his poor field goal percentages.
Still, after last weekend, you can understand why some are still searching for somebody to throw their support behind. Going into last week, it looked like Gutierrez and Ross might be the favorites. So what did each player do in the second-to-last week of the year? Gutierrez went 0-for-7 from the field and failed to score in a loss at Colorado, while Ross fouled out in 21 minutes against Washington State and had as many turnovers (two) as points. Certainly the wrong time for both players to turn in their worst performances of the year, but their overall body of work still leave them as the top two choices for POY.
Coach of the Year Watch
I’ve long since conceded the fact that Tony Wroten will win Freshman of the Year, so we’ll skip that for the week and take a look at the COY race.
Looking at the same poll from ESPN, we see that five different coaches received at least one vote, with Tad Boyle leading the way with six votes, Mike Montgomery earning three, Sean Miller getting a couple and Lorenzo Romar and Dana Altman each earning a single vote.
First, before we get into the credentials for each coach, can we just recognize for a minute just how good a set of coaches the Pac-12 has? Any one of those coaches would be a seriously desirable candidate for just about any job in the country, which makes the struggles in this conference all the more puzzling. As for the award this year, it is hard to argue with Boyle. His team lost its four leading scorers from last season and was picked to finish around tenth in the league by most people. Instead, with two games remaining, they’re among the best teams in the conference.
It is somewhat surprising that Romar hasn’t received more consideration for this award, seeing as he had to replace four major senior contributors last season, lost senior leader Scott Suggs to an injury before the season, dealt with chemistry issues in the non-conference slate, and now has his team on the verge of a conference title. Any of the five deserve consideration for the award, but for my money, Boyle and Romar (at present in that order) are the leaders.
Lorenzo Romar Has His Huskies In First Place, But Is Getting No Love For Coach Of The Year (Getty Images)
There was only one change in our weekly power rankings this week, as USC finally (and rightfully) reclaimed the last spot in the conference from Utah after spending an inexplicable three weeks ranked 11th. The top of the conference is still California, Washington, Oregon, Arizona and Colorado.
While we gave Washington our Team of the Week honors for the second straight week (and fourth time on the season), we continued our improbable streak of seemingly awarding a new Player of the Week every week. To this point, in 16 weeks, only one player (Jared Cunningham) has taken home our POTW honor more than once. This week, it was Kyle Fogg’s first chance earn our award. Similarly, in 16 weeks of handing out a Newcomer of the Week award, we’ve named 12 different players, with Tony Wroten earning it five times and Carlon Brown twice. This week, it was USC’s Byron Wesley.