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.
The Pac-12 in the NCAA Tournament may be a distant memory, but conference teams continue to play on in lesser postseason tournaments. Washington State kicks off a three-game series for the championship of the CBI tournament tonight against Pittsburgh, but will likely have to do so without its most valuable player, Brock Motum. Motum sprained an ankle early in the Cougars’ semifinal game against Oregon State last week, but his teammates were able to step up and cover for him. While he is questionable for tonight’s game, head coach Ken Bone claims that there is a stronger chance that he’ll be able to return for Wednesday night’s game in Pittsburgh.
Meanwhile, Washington heads back to Madison Square Garden for the third time this season as the Huskies face Minnesota in the NIT semifinals on Tuesday night. The first time UW played at MSG this season, freshman guard Tony Wrotenput on a show for a national audience, scoring 24 points, including 14 in the final 10 minutes as he tried to will his team back into the game. Now, after a disappointing end to the Huskies’ NCAA Tournament chances when Wroten missed multiple free throws down the stretch of a Pac-12 tournament game, he is back to reprise his starring role in one of the nation’s best basketball arenas. And it is possible, given Wroten’s chances of becoming a high draft pick in June’s NBA Draft, that his time in the spotlight as a collegiate player will be book-ended by appearances in the World’s Most Famous Arena.
Stanford is the other Pac-12 team still alive, also in the NIT semifinals, facing Massachusetts on Tuesday night. This will also be the Cardinal’s third appearance this season at Madison Square Garden too, after they beat Oklahoma State and dropped a tight game to Syracuse at the Garden in the Preseason NIT during Thanksgiving weekend. But Stanford is also in the news lately because head coach Johnny Dawkins is reportedly a possible candidate for the head coaching job atIllinois. Dawkins denies the reports, but with Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens having already turned down the Illini, Dawkins is supposed to be considered along with Leonard Hamilton, Jeff Capel and Anthony Grant for the position.
Elsewhere around the Cardinal program, with associate head coach Dick Davey retiring at the end of the season, should Dawkins return (which, really, is to be expected, not only because Illinois can probably find someone better than him for their position, but also because he would probably rather be at Stanford that in Champaign), he’ll need to fill a spot on his staff. And, among the candidates for that seat is former Cardinal starMark Madsen. Madsen has limited coaching experience, and Dawkins can certainly find somebody with a more solid resume, but the case can be made that snapping up Madsen now would be good for the Cardinal program in the future.
Lastly, we missed this back at the start of March, but Californiawill be among the eight teams playing in the 2013 Maui Invitational. The Golden Bears will join Syracuse, Baylor, Gonzaga, Arkansas, Dayton, Minnesota and, host Chaminade in Maui in November 2013. It’s too early to prognosticate the strength of any of those teams, but Syracuse, Baylor and Gonzaga have been consistently solid in recent years, while the Bears could feature Allen Crabbe, Justin Cobbs and Richard Solomon as seniors, with David Kravish as a junior.
The news just keeps getting worse for Arizona State and Herb Sendek, as on Tuesday it was announced that leading scorer Trent Locketthad asked for a release from his scholarship in order to transfer to a school closer to his home. The news isn’t very good for Lockett either, however, as the reason he is headed out is to be closer to his mother who recently found out she has cancer. Lockett is well on his way to graduating, having taken 20 or more credits in recent semesters, so he should be able to play immediately at the school of his choice next year. We speculated as far back as the end of November that this might be an eventuality for Lockett and the Sun Devils, but the manner in which this has gone down is certainly a sad one. We wish nothing but the best for Lockett and his family. But, as for ASU, this is now three players from this season’s already significantly undermanned squad who have just since the end of the season announced their intentions to transfer, making it 12 players in four seasons who have left Sendek’s program early.
ASU isn’t the only school dealing with multiple transfers. USC announced on Tuesday that Alexis Moore and Curtis Washingtonwould both be transferring out of the program. Moore was a freshman this season who played in every game and came into the year with a reputation for being an excellent three-point shooter, although he struggled mightily with his shot this season, especially in conference play. Washington did not play at all this season after injuring his shoulder on that fateful Trojan trip to Brazil, a trip that also saw senior point guard Jio Fontan go down with a season-ending injury. Washington played a total of 11 minutes in three games in his freshman season at USC. Of the two, the loss of Moore is the bigger issue, as he earned plenty of experience as a frosh and could have turned into a nice asset for Kevin O’Neill in later years. With the previous announcement that Garrett Jackson would also be transferring out, a USC team that was expected to be deep next season is suddenly hemorrhaging players.
Utah also has some transfer news, as point guard Anthony Odunsibecomes the first Ute to announce his intention to transfer out of the program. Odunsi played in all but two Ute games as a freshman this season, averaging 15 minutes, three points and putting up the lowest offensive efficiency rating on the team (74.0) as a result of poor shooting, too many turnovers, too few assists, and bad decisions all around. He’ll be better off at a low- to mid-major program. As for head coach Larry Krystkowiak, given that he’s in the middle of rebuilding the program from the ground up, don’t be surprised to find additional outgoing transfers in the near future.
Washingtonkept its season going on Tuesday night, as it held off northwest rival Oregon 90-86 in the quarterfinal of the NIT to earn a trip back to Madison Square Garden, where it played two unsuccessful games back in December. Freshman guard Tony Wroten awoke from his postseason slumber with a 22-point performance on 15 field goal attempts, while Terrence Ross continued his strong play, chipping in 24 points. Oregon’s season ends with a 24-10 record, as Devoe Joseph wrapped up his collegiate eligibility with a disappointing 4-for-15 performance. Now Duck fans get to hold their breath until Nebraska hires a coach for fear that they may poach Dana Altman. Back to the Huskies: They’ll face the winner of the Middle Tennessee/Minnesota matchup in the NIT semifinals next Tuesday night. Massachusettshas already qualified for another of the spots in the semifinals, with the winner of the Stanford/Nevada matchup taking the fourth and final spot.
Lastly, back to the transfer circuit, but this time contemplating a potential incoming transfer. Two years ago, Trey Zeigler was a four-star recruit in the class of 2010, considering schools like Michigan, Michigan State, Duke, UCLA and Central Michigan. That last school on the list didn’t seem to fit with those other big-time schools, but CMU had a pretty good in: Trey’s dad Ernie was the head coach there. But, two years later, a 21-42 record has earned the head coach a pink slip, and the younger Zeigler is on the move as well. While he already intends to visit Duke this weekend, UCLA, Michigan and Michigan State are among the other schools that could be in on the Zeigler sweepstakes, part two. UCLA could sure use the athleticism and defensive ability that Zeigler provides. I saw him play earlier in the season at Pepperdine, and while his jump shot is certainly still a work in progress, he has plenty of other tools and was easily the best player on the floor in that matchup.
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.
Once again this morning, since we have got a couple other correspondents writing about the actual games at the Pac-12 Tournament, we will be focusing just on some off-the-court stuff in the Morning Five. For instance, in the wake of Josiah Turner’s indefinite suspension at Arizona, the question needs to be asked: is he ever going to be invited back? Turner picked up a first strike early in the season for being late to a team walkthrough, then was suspended for a single game and left behind from the Wildcats’ trip to Florida in December for strike two. With strike three coming at such an important time for the team, there’s a strong chance that head coach Sean Miller will find that it is time to cut bait on the talented young point guard. And if Miller doesn’t make that decision, maybe Turner, who played at multiple high schools, might make it himself.
One guy who is coming back, apparently, is UCLA sophomore center Joshua Smith. Smith told reporters after the Bruins’ quarterfinal loss to Arizona that he would be returning to the school for next year rather than entertain thoughts about the NBA Draft. While some have made fun of Smith for making this statement, since he is unlikely to draw much interest from NBA scouts due to his inability to get in shape and his limited production as a result, it seems to me that the blame lies more with whichever reporter had the audacity to suggest that Smith might be in a position to leave for the professional ranks. However, Smith seems to recognize that in order to live up to his potential, he needs to shed significant weight and get into prime physical condition. Whether or not he does it remains to be seen, but he has been speaking with former Bruin Kevin Love, who drastically reshaped his doughy body since his high school days.
Kevin O’Neill is also coming back. It hasn’t exactly been a secret, but USC athletic director Pat Haden made it clear on Thursday that O’Neill, whose team endured a 6-26 season, would still be the school’s head basketball coach going forward. With loads of players due back from injury next year and a couple of newly eligible Division I transfers, expect the Trojans to compete for an NCAA Tournament bid next season.
In the wake of Washington’s quarterfinal loss to Oregon State on Thursday, Lorenzo Romar and his squad are left to play the “waiting game,” needing to wait until Sunday’s Section Show to find out if they make the final NCAA Tournament bracket or not. Despite winning the Pac-12 regular season title, the Huskies have a sub-par RPI of 57 and just one win over a top 50 RPI team (Oregon – a team who is currently ranked #49 and may drop out of the RPI top 50). Meanwhile, Tony Wroten, who missed four free throws down the stretch in that loss to Oregon State, deleted his Twitter account in the wake of the loss, after retweeting multiple terrible messages that he received after the game. The fact that supposed “fans” would do this kind of stuff to any 18-year-old kid is just sick. But it should also be noted that the Huskies would never have even been in position to lose that close of a game without Wroten’s career-high 29 points, seven rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a steal. I have been a critic of Wroten’s game throughout the season, but the kind of hateful, negative comments directed at him in the wake of a heartbreaking loss are disgusting.
Tonight’s Lede. Thursday was a transition night during Championship Week from small-conference finishes to power league beginnings. Most mid-major tournaments are now completed, as the automatic bids came flying in over the past five days. Check our Bracket Prep posts to get the scoop on all of the lesser-known teams that have qualified for the Big Dance and will fill out the lower seeds in the bracket. But Thursday night included no tournament finals and instead was a jam-packed day of mostly power league teams dueling to keep their seasons alive, work their way off the ‘bubble,’ or jockey for NCAA Tournament seeding. There were also a few other smaller league tournaments that produced notable results as well. If you missed anything (with 49 games, you probably did), we’ve got you covered…
Your Watercooler Moment. Cincinnati Spectacle – Bearcats Victorious in Double-Overtime
Cincinnati is All Smiles After Thursday's Clutch OT Victory (AP Photo)
The Big East Tournament has been catching some flak for the fairly boring games taking place during the nightcaps on ESPN, but the NYC tourney produced fantastic results during the afternoon on Thursday. Following a hard-fought game between Connecticut and Syracuse, the Bearcats and Hoyas did battle for 40+ minutes, extending all the way into two overtimes in what looked like could have been an even longer game. Georgetown led for most of regulation in the game, but Cincy stormed back in the second half with a strong defensive effort and plenty of big plays, many by the veteran forward Yancy Gates. Although being played at a low-scoring, slow pace, this game was full of clutch shots and crisp basketball plays at the end of regulation and both overtimes. In order to extend the game both times, Georgetown needed to make shots on a final possession while down by two points. First, Otto Porter tied the game in regulation and then it was Henry Sims in the first overtime with a beautiful swooping layup as time expired. But in double-OT, the Hoyas were down two once again with the ball and this time went for the win. Sims’ three-pointer wouldn’t go down and the Bearcats were victorious behind Gates’ 23 points and eight boards. They move on to play Syracuse tomorrow in the Big East semifinals.
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
Marshall and Tulsa Play Three! If you thought the Cincinnati-Georgetown game was crazy, you’ll want to hear about this one in Conference USA. Marshall was the lower-seeded team and had played yesterday but is probably the more talented squad than Tulsa, who was higher-seeded thanks to a better record in the C-USA season by one game. These two teams did not want to go home empty handed, as they combined to score 205 points in 55 total minutes of play. In three overtimes, Marshall star DeAndre Kane went for a career-high 40 points including nearly all of the big plays down the stretch of the extra sessions. Kane also piled up seven rebounds, three assists, and three steals and played all but one minute of the entire game. Four Tulsa players scored at least 14 points and the Golden Hurricane led by at least three points in all three overtimes, but they could not contain the Thundering Herd’s desperate comeback efforts that resulted in the win from sheer passion and effort. Marshall lives to play another day, but who knows how much it has left in the tank for Friday.
Jamaal Franklin For the Win. San Diego State struggled to put away pesky Boise State in the first round of the Mountain West Tournament, but the Aztecs happen to have the conference Player of the Year who’s made great plays all season long. Franklin had 19 points in the game but it was his incredible long-range heave at the buzzer that stole the show and won the game for SDSU. Head coach Steve Fisher described this final play call as, “Give him [Franklin] the ball and let him make a play.” Check out the footage below.
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.
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.