Pac-12 Power Rankings: Who Will Get the Fourth Bye?

Posted by RJ Abeytia on February 16th, 2017

With three weeks of league play left, both the the regular season title and the cherished final Pac-12 Tournament bye are still very much in play…

UCLA Basketball is Cool in LA Again (USA Today Images)

  1. Arizona– The Wildcats are experiencing their three talented freshmen (Lauri Markannen, Kobi Simmons and Rawle Alkins) running smack into the proverbial freshman wall. Despite that ongoing issue, they were still able to sweep the Bay Area schools without playing their best basketball. One of the biggest signs for optimism comes in the form of Chance Comanche, who has fortified Arizona’s post rotation by shooting 17-of-29 (59%) over the last two games.
  2. UCLA– How about a little love for Aaron Holiday? Upstaged by the arrival of superstar freshman Lonzo Ball, the sophomore guard has drastically improved upon what was a very good freshman campaign. He has already converted more three-pointers than all of last season (42) and has flipped his assist rate (24.4%) and turnover rates (21.5%) as well. He isn’t playing as much this season, but he is still a key cog in the Bruins’ devastating offensive machine.
  3. Oregon– The Ducks were about 15 minutes away from looking like the best team in the Pac-12. A furious comeback, however, orchestrated by UCLA’s Lonzo Ball proved that the conference is still up for grabs. As balanced as Oregon is across its rotation, the need for a closer is still an issue. Dillon Brooks has played that role very well for most of this season, but when he’s having an off game, the Ducks need another player to provide late-game production. Read the rest of this entry »
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Pac-12 Burning Questions: Can Bobby Hurley Do More Than Recruit?

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 10th, 2016

When Arizona State hired Bobby Hurley away from Buffalo as its new basketball coach a year ago, athletic director Ray Anderson made no bones about the incoming expectations for his new coach: “We are intent on becoming an elite men’s basketball program.” The hire gained nearly universal praise, in large part thanks to Hurley’s fantastic playing career at Duke and his work in leading Buffalo to its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance in 2015. Once his first season in Tempe started, however, the Sun Devils looked anything but elite.

Bobby Hurley's Team Would Be In Based On Non-Conference Play Alone

Bobby Hurley’s Team Needs To Show More This Season. (Getty)

The team ranked near the bottom of the Pac-12 on both ends of the floor, won just five league games and generally appeared unready to compete for a conference title. Very little of this was the new head coach’s fault, of course. Predecessor Herb Sendek left insufficient talent on hand for the formation of a competent rotation, and those few players remaining were ill-suited for Hurley’s attacking style of offense. Still, despite the team’s continuing struggles, Hurley managed to pile up the accolades for his work in both changing the program’s culture and luring big-time recruits to the desert. As such, despite finishing 11th in the Pac-12 standings, Hurley convinced Arizona State that he deserved a raise and contract extension. And although there is plenty of evidence that Hurley has pointed the Arizona State ship in the right direction, he now needs to reward that faith and enthusiasm with some accompanying on-court improvement. Read the rest of this entry »

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Making Sense Of The Tightly-Packed PAC at the Turn

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on February 3rd, 2016

Every Pac-12 team is now halfway through its conference schedule, and to say that this conference is tight is quite the understatement. There are currently five teams within a game of first place, and conference stalwarts Arizona and UCLA are not among that group. Let’s take a spin around the league and evaluate where the league stands as it makes the turn for the home stretch.

Legitimate Contenders For Regular Season Championship

Chris Boucher, Casey Benson And The Ducks Are Halfway Home To A Pac-12 Title (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)

Chris Boucher, Casey Benson And The Ducks Are Halfway Home To A Pac-12 Title (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)

Hey, this is easy, right? You just take those five teams sitting at 6-3 or better and boom, we’re done, right? No, that’s too easy. We’ve got to take a stand. So, let’s take a stand and name Oregon, Utah and USC as the biggest threats to take the title. The Ducks, conference leaders at 7-2, are the obvious one. I’m personally interested in bragging about the fact that I’ve had them as the conference favorite since I first looked at the league back in mid-summer, but Dana Altman’s got a combination of experience, upside, athleticism, intelligence, quickness and length that is the Platonic ideal of a college basketball team (little known fact: Plato was a huge hoop-head). As for Utah, it took some early lumps but has taken advantage of a lull in the schedule to reel off five straight wins. They’ve still got tough roadies ahead to the Oregon and Los Angeles schools, but Brandon Taylor is starting to knock in shots and there are few players in the conference who can handle Jakob Poeltl in the post. The final true contender is USC, and that isn’t a phrase that anybody expected to be written this February. But it’s for real. Andy Enfield’s squad is undeniably talented and beginning to figure out how to win. The Trojans’ schedule down the stretch is insane (vs. UCLA, at the Arizona schools, home against Utah and Colorado, at Cal and Stanford, finishing at home against the Oregon schools), but this team has already shown it can play with anybody in the league. Notably missing in this space is two-time defending champion Arizona. The Wildcats aren’t out of it at just two games back, but this year’s group just doesn’t measure up to the type of Wildcats we’ve grown accustomed to.

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Pac-12 Burning Questions: Who’s the Best Point Guard?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 6th, 2016

While watching guys like Jordan McLaughlin, Andrew Andrews, Tra Holder, Kadeem Allen and more shine from the lead guard spot over the weekend, we got the brilliant idea to ask our contributors: Who’s the best point guard in the Pac? Truthfully, there’s only one right answer — a certain Player of the Year candidate in Corvallis who tore up the league last season and has only gotten better as a senior. So, the real question we put forth to our writers is, aside from Gary Payton II, who’s the best point guard in the league? Our answers below.

Gary Payton II Is Not Only The Best Point In The Pac, He's One Of It's Best Players (Oregon State Athletics)

Gary Payton II Is Not Only The Best Point In The Pac, He’s One Of It’s Best Players, Period. (Oregon State Athletics)

Mike Lemaire: This honor is for Gary Payton II to claim, but if the phrasing instead became “most valuable point guard,” then a strong case could be made for Washington senior Andrew Andrews. It can often feel like Andrews is babysitting four wild teenagers when the Huskies play, and considering he is the only upperclassman on the roster, that simile isn’t far from the truth. While his teammates have struggled with fouls, defensive positioning, effort and shot selection, Andrews is quietly scoring more than 20 points per game, leading his team in rebounding (6.3 RPG) and drawing more fouls than anyone else in the Pac. Despite a meaningful uptick in his responsibilities, Andrews is still shooting better than 40 percent from downtown, better than 80 percent from the free throw line and has nearly doubled his assist rate without any corresponding increase in his turnover rate. What makes this even more impressive is that he isn’t even a true point guard; rather, he has just been forced into the role. Still, the pick for best point guard in the league is Gary Payton II, with a notable hat tip to Andrews. Read the rest of this entry »

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Happy New Conference Year: A Pac-12 Reset

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on December 31st, 2015

Happy New Year’s everyone! May you all celebrate the arbitrary tick of the clock on an arbitrary day on the arbitrarily human-invented calendar in whichever arbitrary fashion pleases you the most! Here in this space we’re turning our attention to something far less arbitrary, a tradition older than the hills, a ritual that goes back to before the first organism crawled out of the ocean and onto dry land however many million years ago: the transition from non-conference college basketball to Pac-12 conference play. At least seven unnamed sources indicate that such a sacrament is timeless. And so, to celebrate, let’s take a spin around the Pac-12 and do a quick reset, preparing you for what will seem, as it always does, like a sprint from New Year’s to March Madness.

All-Conference Team (No Surprises Edition)

Jakob Poeltl and Gary Payton II May Wind Up Fighting Over Conference Player of the Year Honors (Godofredo Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Jakob Poeltl and Gary Payton II May Wind Up Fighting Over Conference Player of the Year Honors. (Godofredo Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports)

  • G Gary Payton II, Sr, Oregon State
  • G Tyrone Wallace, Sr, California
  • F Josh Scott, Sr, Colorado
  • F Ryan Anderson, Sr, Arizona
  • C Jakob Poeltl, So, Utah

When we put together our preseason all-conference picks back in November, Poeltl and Payton were unanimous choices as first-teamers, and here they are at the turn of the calendar as the heavy Player of the Year favorites in the conference. Wallace was also on our preseason first-team and he’s been fine, if not spectacular. Scott and Anderson were second-team guys and have both been rock-solid as seniors. Scott has struggled some in his team’s two losses, but if he can lead the Buffaloes to an upper division finish, he might yet have a say in the Player of the Year race as well. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Notebook: A Stroll Around the League

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on December 16th, 2015

Every week I check in with the Mountain West by writing a little blurb about each team. I like that format because it provides a chance to follow the development of all the league’s teams and focus in on little things that may not be worthy of a longer post. Some teams may get a few hundred words one week while other teams just get a sentence or two, but it highlights the important things. We’re going to bring that format to the Pac 12, beginning right now. We might as well throw in some power rankings while we’re at it, so let’s check in with the league in order of how these teams rate at this point. Let’s get to it.

Jordan Bell Is Back For The Ducks, But They're Still A Long Way From Healthy (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Jordan Bell Is Back For The Ducks, But They’re Still A Long Way From Healthy. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

  • Oregon – Yes, the Ducks are coming off two losses in their last four games. But I’ve had Dana Altman’s team as the best team in the conference since the middle of the summer and, even playing shorthanded, they’ve done nothing to dissuade me of that so far. Sophomore center Jordan Bell made his season debut Saturday night at Boise State and he looked healthy following surgery over the offseason to repair a broken foot. He ran the court hard, and played big in chasing rebounds and blocked shots. He didn’t appear to be favoring that foot at all. In 17 minutes, he blocked a couple shots, grabbed seven boards and even handed out four assists. Last night against UC Irvine, he was even better with 12 points and three steals. Encouraging debut aside, it is going to take him some time to get back into game shape and to get comfortable with his new teammates. He still also hasn’t played a minute with Tyler Dorsey (out following a knee sprain against UNLV) or Dylan Ennis (still sidelined with a foot injury). This Oregon team remains one that may not reach full strength until mid-February, something that isn’t a problem in a sport that so values March.

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Arizona State Putting Together a Quality Resume

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 7th, 2015

You may not have noticed it Saturday night, lost amid college football and everything else that is a late fall Saturday night, but Arizona State’s hoops team put the finishing touches on a very successful week by handing it to Texas A&M (#18 in the latest RTC Top 25) in a 67-54 home win. Coming on the heels of a mid-week win at Creighton, this is just the latest of a series of peaks in Bobby Hurley’s wild first season in the desert. An opening night loss to Sacramento State and a late-game collapse in Brooklyn against Marquette aside, Hurley’s club also has solid wins over Belmont, North Carolina State and UC Santa Barbara on its resume, with road tests at Kentucky and UNLV the next two games on the schedule. So, what exactly is Hurley up to in the desert? And does is this team more like the team that took care of a Top 25 team or the one that lost to a middle-of-the-pack Big Sky team?

Against A Tough Schedule, Bobby Hurley Is Getting Work Done In Tempe (Tom Tingle, Azcentral Sports)

Against A Tough Schedule, Bobby Hurley Is Getting Work Done In Tempe (Tom Tingle, Azcentral Sports)

When things are going well on offense for the Sun Devils, it all starts with sophomore point guard Tra Holder, who is, at times, seemingly impossible for opponents to keep out of the lane. Add in the fact that he’s dangerous when he gets there, with an array of floaters, pull-up jumpers and the ability to earn his way to the line, where he shoots 82.5 percent, and goal one for the opposition’s defense is to put a wrap on Holder’s penetration. That sometimes, such as on Wednesday night against Creighton, necessitates pulling secondary defenders away from their assignments to stop penetration, allowing Holder to do one of two things. First, there’s the old drive-and-dish, sucking in a secondary defender, kicking the ball out to an open teammate on a wing, maybe an additional pass and then a three. With guys like Gerry Blakes, Andre Spight, Kodi Justice and Willie Atwood all capable three-point shooters, that alone is the start for some good offense. The other option for Holder is that midrange game of his, unleashing a floater or a pull-up. If it goes, great; if it doesn’t, the Devils have four guys who are grabbing at least 10% of teammates’ missed shots when they’re on the floor – Savon Goodman, Obinna Oleka, Willie Atwood and Eric Jacobsen. Between those four, 29% of their two-point field goals have come off of putbacks on offensive boards.

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Arizona State Preview: Hurley’s First Stand

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 21st, 2015

In the next three weeks leading up to season tipoff, the Pac-12 microsite will be evaluating each of the league’s 12 teams. Today, we head to Phoenix.

Arizona State Sun Devils

Over the next few weeks, we’ll preview each Pac-12 team in random order, but today we’ll start with the Sun Devils and new head coach Bobby Hurley. Hurley, formerly of Buffalo and a member of college basketball royalty as a two-time national champion point guard at Duke, takes over as Arizona State’s head coach after Herb Sendek was fired following a fifth-place Pac-12 finish last season. Four of the team’s five leading scorers return, with three junior college transfers and a freshman rounding out the likely rotation.

Strengths. Six players return from last year and, as it turns out, they seem to fit perfectly together. Four starters return – sophomore point Tra Holder; senior off-guard Gerry Blakes; junior power forward Savon Goodman; and senior center Eric Jacobsen – leaving the fifth starting spot ready to be grabbed by senior wing Willie Atwood. Guard Kodi Justice – an intriguing prospect with plenty of versatility– figures to be the sixth man. And between those six, there’s a variety of talent here. Goodman and Jacobsen form an imposing frontcourt. There’s athleticism and upside in the backcourt. And for a team that plans to push tempo, there is plenty of high-flying play-making ability as well.

The Returning Trio Of Tra Holder, Savon Goodman And Eric Jacobsen Gives Bobby Hurley Hopes In His First Season In Tempe (Mark J. Rebilas, USA Today)

The Returning Trio Of Tra Holder, Savon Goodman And Eric Jacobsen Gives Bobby Hurley Hopes In His First Season In Tempe (Mark J. Rebilas, USA Today)

Weaknesses. Two things stand out here. First, beyond those top six players, there’s not much proven talent. Obinna Oleka stands out as the newcomer with the best chance of becoming an impact performer, but JuCo guards Andre Spight and Maurice O’Field will likely be called upon to contribute as well. It was hoped frosh forward Andre Adams could chip in right away too, but he tore his ACL (for the second time in his career) in September and will spend this year rehabilitating. Of the guys remaining, Spight in particular may be called upon for his ability to knock in the perimeter jumper because nobody else on this roster has a history of competent three-point shooting. Blakes is the leading returning long-range dialer, having knocked in 39 threes last season, but he did so at just a 30.2 percent clip. Justice shot 45.9 percent from deep, but on just 37 attempts. In an ideal world this season, Justice ups his attempts, Blakes ups his efficiency and Spight lends a hand as well. If the Devils can add some perimeter punch, that will make Goodman and Jacobsen that much more impressive in the paint.

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Marching to Vegas: Arizona State Emerging From Behind The Curtain

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) on February 20th, 2015

Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) of Pachoops will again be joining us all year, providing us with his weekly take on our favorite conference as we begin the March to Vegas.

When conference play began, Herb Sendek’s Sun Devils weren’t expected to do much. They were 8-5 with an unimpressive schedule that yielded a home loss to Lehigh. Sure, the rest of their losses were excusable instances against quality teams or on the road; but we still had little reason to imagine that Arizona State would amount to much. Then three of their first four conference games were on the road and – in slicing three of four another way – those games were against three top-10 defenses. Arizona State, on January 15, was sub-.500 and we could seemingly give up on them. The basketball was ugly enough that you might jarringly display it from behind a curtain during a free throw.

Arizona State Basketball: What The Hell Is Going On Here?

Arizona State Basketball: What The Hell Is Going On Here?

I suppose this is as good a time as any to talk a little bit about Herb Sendek’s program. Maybe it’s because I’m a defender of jobs and don’t enjoy the hot seat debate. The irresponsible wielding of the sword threat bugs me. Of course by noting my affinity for positive coach speak, I’m backhandedly noting that Herb could be on the hot seat. Whoops. What has Herb done in Tempe? Well he’s attended two NCAA tournaments which matches the program’s success of the previous twenty years. He’s won twenty games on five occasions (of eight seasons). Is success relative? I think so. For example: Two NCAA tournaments in eight seasons at UCLA? Should we even bother to answer this question? Or should I just pose it to Gene Bartow? Gary Cunningham? My Socratic methoding seems to suffice. But the perhaps curse of Sendek has been his swift success. He plucked James Harden out of the Los Angeles grips of Ben Howland and within three seasons in Tempe, Herb was finishing third in a six-bid league (read: tough Pac-10). Fairly or otherwise, it seems to me that expectations were set. And then they won just 20 games (ten per season) the next two years. Disappointment set in but expectations were not adjusted. After the Harden years, it would be five seasons before the Devils could have their dancing hearts ripped out again.

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Arizona State’s Lineup Change Makes Complete Sense

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 30th, 2014

In any conference, there are hierarchies with the storylines, and, the Pac-12 is no different. Arizona is a perennial national contender. Utah is living up to its offseason promise as a challenger to the throne. Washington is the surprise team. Colorado is the disappointment. UCLA is struggling through a major roster change, sometimes with spectacular failures. USC is, well, yuck. Oregon State is fending off its preseason narrative as one of the worst major conference teams in America. Tyrone Wallace is blowing up for California. Stanford is completely indecipherable. I could go on.

In Two Games With Gerry Blakes As Their Point Guard, Arizona State Looks Like A Different Team (Jamie Squire, Getty Images)

In Two Games With Gerry Blakes As Their Point Guard, Arizona State Looks Like A Different Team (Jamie Squire, Getty Images)

My point is, wow; you can go a long way in discussing this conference before you get down the line to talk about Arizona State, but this is a pretty fascinating team. Let’s throw out the Sun Devils’ two performances in the CBE Classic in Kansas City, where they played 38 strong minutes in each game with Maryland and Alabama only to implode in the waning minutes. Let’s also throw out a 22-point win over UNLV and the ensuing one-point loss at Texas A&M — both featuring late-game struggles — and let’s just look at their last four games: an ugly performance in a seven-point loss at Marquette; a triple-overtime home loss to Lehigh; and a pair of home wins over Detroit, by 39 points, and Harvard, by 10 points. Why do we want to look at just these games? Well, in that recent span, we’ve seen head coach Herb Sendek start to figure out exactly what his rotation will be, beginning with sliding junior Gerry Blakes from the shooting guard to the point guard spot.

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