The past season was an interesting one for Xavier‘s Mark Lyons and after a falling out with Chris Mack, reportedly based on Lyons’ tendency to try to take over games and play outside of the team’s system, he decided to transfer making him one of the most coveted transfers on the market. On Sunday his name announced that he would be heading to Arizona (clarified in a subsequent tweet). The mercurial rising senior, who averaged 15.5 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game last season will likely start for the Wildcats next season as he is set to graduate from Xavier this summer and would be eligible to play next season if he enrolls in a graduate program at Arizona that is not offered at Xavier. One of the more interesting aspects of the transfer is that it reunites Lyons with Sean Miller, the coach who recruited Lyons to Xavier before himself departing to Arizona. The arrival of Lyons in Tucson this summer likely shifts the balance of power in the Pac-12 from Pauley Pavilion to the McKale Center and adds to the conference’s respectability even if we still have doubts about the rest of the conference after the top two teams.
On Saturday, Trent Lockett announced that he will transfer from Arizona State to Marquettefor his senior season to be closer to his mother who is battling cancer. Lockett, who already completed his undergraduate degree, should be eligible to play for Marquette next season either through enrolling in a graduate program at Marquette that is not offered at Arizona State or through a family hardship waiver. Last season, he averaged 13 points and 5.8 rebounds per game for a dysfunctional Sun Devil team and although he is joining a much better team he should get plenty of court time for a team that lost its two best players to graduation.
Lyons and Lockett may have a more immediate impact, but the biggest transfer news of the weekend may be Derrick Gordon who announced on Friday afternoon that he was leaving Western Kentucky to go to Massachusetts. The freshman guard averaged 11.8 points and 6.7 rebounds per game while leading the Hilltoppers to the NCAA Tournament and managing to put up some decent numbers against eventual national champion Kentucky (12 points and 5 rebounds) when he got there. Gordon will have to sit out next season, but he does have three more seasons of eligibility left making his impact much more important in the long-term and could serve as a foundation for the program to build around for the future rather than just one year like the two players we already mentioned.
Having brought Kentucky its eighth national title a month ago, John Caliparitook his team to the White House on Friday. While the White House visit was most likely the most memorable part of Calipari’s day, getting a 8.3% pay raise (or $400,000 extra guaranteed per year) was a nice cherry on top. Although we would like to think that this was just a thank you for bringing title #8 to Lexington, this was more likely a preemptive strike against any other basketball organizations that might try to lure Calipari away from Rupp Arena like a certain organization that could use someone to lead them who can keep their players focused on the opposition and not fire extinguishers. With the President election coming up in November, President Obama is doing more than just inviting the national champion Kentucky Wildcats to the White House. He is also campaigning for reelection and to do that he will be relying in large part on his campaign rallies. While we are not aware of any deals President Obama made with John Calipari, he did enlist the help of another well-known coach: Shaka Smart. The Virginia Commonwealth coach hosted a rally for President Obama on Saturday. It is unlikely that Smart, who was a guest of Obama at last year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner, will help deliver the state of Virginia for Obama, but when you have a popular local figure it seems like Obama picked the right coach in the state of Virginia to bring out to pull in a few extra votes.
While some teams go to exotic destinations for their offseason trips they usually stick to fairly frequently visited destinations such as France, China, and the like. That will not be the case for Washington this year as they will also head to Senegal as part of a 15-day trip. In addition to stops in Spain, France, and Monaco, the Huskies will also visit Senegal and play a game in Dakar. The impetus for the trip is senior Aziz N’Diaye, who is from Senegal, and serves as one of the more unique ways to honor a tradition of rewarding seniors with a game in their hometown. The trip will also serve as a way for the Huskies to get used to their new pieces as they will have to adjust to live after underachieving last season before losing their two best players early to the NBA Draft.
Over the last few weeks, we’ve run down each of the teams in the Pac-12, recounting the high and low points of the 2011-12 season, saying goodbye to departing players, introducing you to new faces around the conference, as well as pointing out reasons for hope and concern for the future of each program. Along the way, we also handed out MVP awards for each team, and we graded each team compared with their expectations. In case you’ve missed any of those posts, below you’ll find a link to each team’s post-mortem, along with the MVP and grade we’ve chosen.
As for upcoming features, beginning in June, we’ll spend one week on each team taking you through the dog days of the summer looking ahead to the 2012-13 expectations for the Pac-12 conference. Then every Friday throughout the offseason, we’ll also post a Weekly Five, detailing recent news around the league. And, as events warrant, we’ll drop additional posts as needed and may come up with a handful of other ideas to keep us all entertained as we suffer through the Great Sports Desert.
Coaching changes, along with transfers and recruiting, typically round out the top three themes of most college basketball off-seasons. Well, two out of three ain’t bad. While transfers and recruiting have been prevalent, it has been a slow couple of years in the coaching change department for the Big East. In fact, Ed Cooley taking over at Providence last year represents the lone men’s basketball head coaching change the conference has undergone during that time. Connecticut’s Jim Calhoun has not made it official publicly but, assuming his health permits, it would be a surprise at this point not to see him back. That would leave the conference with no changes at the top this year. Not only do all of the current coaches appear to be secure at the moment but no athletic director would fire a head coach of a high-profile basketball program in late April or early May, right Seth Greenberg? Given this stability, and the name involved, it became a pretty big story when former Louisville assistant Richard Pitino was hired away from his father’s Louisville staff by Florida International University to be their head coach. To fill the void left by the younger Pitino’s departure, head coach and proud papa Rick Pitino hired former Xavier assistantKareem Richardson as an assistant coach. Richardson spent one year on Chris Mack’s staff following three years as an assistant at Drake.
St. John’s and Steve Lavin continued their spring recruiting bonanza this week while at the same time scoring their second re-commitment of the year when 6’4” shooting guard Darrick Woodopted once again for the Red Storm. Wood originally signed with St. John’s as a member of the 2011 class, but headed back to Bridgton (ME) Academy and re-opened his recruitment after being found academically ineligible to play in college. Recent St. John’s re-commit, JaKarr Sampson, followed a similar path. Joining Wood and Sampson thus far in Steve Lavin’s 2012 haul are Monroe (Junior) College teammates: forward/center Orlando Center and guard Marco Bourgault, Texas A&M transfer guard Jamal Branch, sharp-shooting Harvard transfer Max Hooper and high school guard Felix Balamou. As presently constituted, St. John’s has one remaining scholarship available for next year’s roster.
Seemingly every other minute these days we read about another player transferring, but it was real news when Michael Gbinije, who played last season at Duke, announced he was heading to Syracuse. Jim Boeheim has coached the Orange for 36 years and Gbinije represents just the sixth player to transfer in from a four-year college. A 6’7” guard/forward, Gbinije played in 19 games for the Blue Devils averaging 1.7 points and 5.8 minutes per contest. He was a highly rated class of 2011 recruit, ranked 29th by ESPN.com and 35th by Rivals.com, coming out of Virginia’s Benedictine High School. Interestingly once Gbinije is able to suit up for Syracuse in 2013-14 after sitting out next season under NCAA transfer rules he will have pulled off another rare feat by transferring within the same conference given that Syracuse will be part of the ACC by that time.
There are so many wonderful and encouraging aspects to today’s technology. The subject matter of this item is not an example one of them. Once it became public that one of the more high-profile transfers of this off-season, Connecticut forward Alex Oriakhi, was headed to Missouri he received a number of profane, violent and hate-filled texts and tweets. Messages not only from bitter Connecticut fans but also from schools that lost out on Oriakhi as a transfer. In one instance, as reported by Yahoo! Sports, Oriakhi shared a series of texts he received from one particularly barbaric, and spelling-challenged, Connecticut fan. Unfortunately the overall ignorance level and narrow-mindedness of people has not declined in-kind as technology has advanced. It is clear that the term smartphone is more indicative of the device as opposed to many of its owners. #timetowakeuppeople
Marquette’s roster for next season now has a couple of late openings. Following the release of 2012 signee Aaron Durleyfrom his letter of intent it was reported that sophomore forward Jamail Jones will transfer out of the program. Durley, a 6’10” center from Fort Bend Bush High School in Texas who signed with the Golden Eagles in November has already verbally committed to Texas Christian University. The 6’6” Jones averaged 1.5 points and 1.2 rebounds per game in his two years with Marquette. Arizona State transfer and last year’s leading scorer, Trent Lockett, is emerging as a high priority to fill one of Buzz Williams’ open spots. Williams also has the ‘Now Hiring’ sign up on his door as he lost his associate head coach, Tony Benford, who was hired last week to be the head coach at North Texas.
Arizona’s recruiting class for 2012 was thought to be done, but they added a junior college transfer – Matt Korcheck – who is expected to sign his commitment this week. Korcheck is a 6’9” forward who is jumping into a crowded frontcourt in Tucson, so he is expected to redshirt next season and retain two years of collegiate eligibility. More importantly for the future of the program, Sean Millerearned a commitment from Duquesne transferT.J. McConnell. McConnell could well be the point guard that Arizona has been lacking, but he’ll have to sit out next year before becoming eligible in 2013-14. The next big question for the Wildcats will be the future of freshman point guard Josiah Turner, who was suspended indefinitely prior to the Pac-12 tournament. With Turner and junior Jordin Mayes the only point guards on the Arizona roster, the fate of the mercurial lead guard could go a long way towards determining just how much should be expected of the Wildcats next season.
In Berkeley, Emerson Murray and Alex Rossiwill be transferring out of Mike Montgomery’s program, joining graduates Harper Kamp and Jorge Gutierrez on the way out the door. Murray was unable to earn any significant minutes in his first two seasons on campus, so he’ll move north to play for Cameron Dollar at Seattle. Rossi struggled with health problems during his entire California career and leaves having played 16 minutes in two seasons on campus. A landing spot for Rossi is not yet known, and there is speculation that his hernia injury that limited his minutes with the Bears may limit his basketball playing future.
Lastly, the Pac-12 All-Academic team was announced last week, and not surprisingly featured two Stanford players on the first team, two on the second team and four more among the honorable mentions. The first team was made up of Sabatino Chen from Colorado, Rhys Murphy from Oregon State, Trent Lockett from Arizona State and John Gage and Jack Trotter from the Cardinal. The team featured all 20 players in the conference who were not only regular players for their teams but also students who earned at least a 3.0 GPA. Arizona, Washington, USC and Utah were the only four schools to not have a player anywhere on the list. I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’.
Over the course of the next two weeks, the Pac-12 Microsite will break down each team’s season: what went well, what didn’t, and a look ahead at the future.Today’s subject: Arizona State.
What Went Wrong
Herb Sendek had a ton of bad luck this season. Freshman point guard Jahii Carson fought with the NCAA over eligibility issues well into December before finally being declared ineligible (he came up either one letter grade in a high school class or one ACT point away from eligibility) for the year. And transfer Chris Colvin struggled mightily early in the season (35.3 eFG% and 0.92-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio in the nine games prior to the Carson ruling), forcing Sendek to turn to wing Keala King at the point. He actually did as good a job as could be expected for a player without any experience there (although he too struggled with turnovers), but bristled under Sendek’s constraints and transferred out of the program after being abruptly suspended (with two other teammates) prior to a January road trip. That left leading scorer Trent Lockett, another wing, as option #4 at the point, and when he went down in late January for six games with an ankle injury it was back to Colvin. All of the uncertainty at the lead guard spot did nothing to make anything easier for the rest of the team. Sophomore Kyle Cain took a step back after a promising rookie campaign (and announced his own transfer out of the program after the season ended), centers Jordan Bachynski and Ruslan Pateev were up and down (at best), and the program is now 22-40 in the past two seasons combined. While it seemed like Sendek’s crew was a walking proof of Murphy’s Law, the time is past for excuses; this program is in bad, bad shape.
Not A Lot Went Right For Herb Sendek And The Sun Devils This Year (Harry How, Getty Images)
What Went Right
Really, you’ve got to stretch in order to find positives in this year’s team, but Jonathan Gilling, a freshman forward from Denmark, looked pretty good in his first year on campus as maybe a second-coming of Rihards Kuksiks. Gilling knocked down 53 threes at a 41% clip while playing a shade over 50% of the available minutes, but he’s got work to do not only on the defensive end as well as helping out on the glass. Sophomore center Jordan Bachynski showed some flashes of serious potential, scoring in double figures in eight of his final 13 games and showing a penchant for being able to get to the line, although he needs to add consistency. And, more than anything else, when ASU fans look back on the good parts of the 2011-12 season, they can always point to the regular season finale, when they knocked off Arizona behind solid play from Gilling, Bachynski, Colvin, Lockett and even junior Carrick Felix, effectively eliminating the Wildcats from at-large NCAA consideration. That was sweet for Sun Devil fans.
Lorenzo Romar met with local media on Wednesday and had a ton of news as Washington heads to the offseason. While the early entries of Tony Wroten and Terrence Ross to the NBA are by now old news, it is newsworthy that freshman point guard Andrew Andrews underwent hip surgery and junior center Aziz N’Diaye is scheduled for wrist surgery, although neither issue is serious enough to impact their availability for next season. Romar also noted that although the Huskies have yet to sign any new recruits for next season, he expects to land two or three new players. Mark McLaughlin, a recruit from Tacoma Community College, verbally committed to the program but has yet to sign a letter of intent. And, among other things, Romar said an offseason focus would be on improving perimeter defense and finding an inside scoring presence. That last goal does not have an immediately obvious answer, although guys like Shawn Kemp Jr., Jernard Jarreau and Martin Breunig will all get a chance.
When Trent Lockett announced his decision to transfer from Arizona State, he cited his desire to be closer to his mother who is fighting cancer at her home in Minnesota. So, while schools like Iowa State, Minnesota and Wisconsin all made perfect sense as possible landing grounds, the news that Gonzaga is somehow in the conversation comes as a bit of a shock. Still, Iowa State appears to be the leader for Lockett’s services, but the graduating senior must find a school that offers a graduate program that ASU does not in order for Lockett to be eligible to play next season.
It’s no secret to anyone that’s read this spot this season, but Shabazz Muhammad is more or less a must-get for UCLA. If Muhammad goes to Westwood, it means Ben Howland has landed an elite recruiting class and it means the Bruins may even have a shot to land power forward Tony Parker as well. If Muhammad chooses Kentucky, it reinforces the idea that John Calipari and the Wildcats are the place to be for potential one-and-doners and it likely slams the door on the potential for Parker in blue and gold. Sure, the Bruins will still have a nice little recruiting class with Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams, but with Muhammad in tow, the Bruins are possibly the Pac-12 favorite and a force again on the national stage. My gut feeling? Muhammad will be wearing a blue and gold hat on April 10.
A day after Muhammad’s decision will be announced on ESPNU, Tony Parker will announce his decision, with UCLA also among the favorites. On Wednesday, the Memphis Roar reported that Parker’s father had said that his son had cut his list of potential schools to UCLA, Duke and Memphis, but later in the day he retracted that statement, noting that his son would not be trimming his list until the April 8. Still, for the three schools on the supposed short list, this should be seen as good news, while the others – Kansas, Ohio State and Georgia – should probably start making other plans. And, if Brooks Hansen – the author of the piece – is to be believed, the Bruins are the leader in the clubhouse for Parker’s services.
Arizona would certainly have something to say about the idea that the Bruins would be the Pac-12 favorite with the addition of Muhammad. After all, as of right now, the Wildcats have the best incoming recruiting class in the country. And, with the proliference of all the silly 2012-13 preseason rankings that have come out in recent days, it is interesting to see UA, presently sans a set-in-stone answer at the point guard, showing up near the top of many lists. Andy Katz, for instance, has the Wildcats at #12, but two writers at the Daily Wildcathave differing thoughts on such a lofty ranking. One thinks the love is deserved, even if Josiah Turner never wears an Arizona uniform again, while the other prefers to see the team prove it before giving them such praise.
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.
It did not take Rhode Island long to find a new head coach as they announced Dan Hurley as their new head coach at a press conference yesterday. Hurley has limited coaching experience at the college experience, but the experience he has had so far has been phenomenal as he turned around the Wagner program leading them to a 25-6 record in just his second year there. While almost everybody understands the move by Hurley, Gary Parrish notes that it is interesting in light of comments about how Hurley would not be using Wagner as a launching pad, but then did so just two months later.
The situation at Southern Illinois appears to be a little less clear. Initial reports suggested that Bruce Weber had been offered his old job again. However, later in the day the school denied those reports and said its search was still ongoing. Weber appears to be the leader to become their next head coach, but the school reportedly has up to eight candidates (mostly current assistant coaches) who they would target to become their next head coach.
Scott Suttoninterviewed at Nebraska on Monday according to his father. Sutton, who is 250-161 in 13 seasons at Oral Roberts, appears to be one of the hotter names not named Shaka this offseason as we have also seen his name linked to Tulsa and Mississippi State. With so many options on the table, we suspect that Scott will have his choice of leaving Oral Roberts if that is his desire. We should also point out how humorous other reports of this story were that reported “sources” had indicated that Scott had interviewed with the Huskers. While his father is technically a source, he is probably a little more credible than your average anonymous source.
Long time followers of our site are familiar with the musical works of Renaldo Woolridge (aka Baller Vol). Woolridge, who was a senior at Tennessee this season, was granted a hardship waiver and given an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA. Interestingly, Woolridge plans to use that extra year to transfer to another school. We are not sure what his reasons are, but Cuonzo Martin appears to have signed off on the transfer unlike a certain coach in Philadelphia.
There were a couple of big transfers in the Pac-12 yesterday. The biggest was the announcement that Trent Lockett, the leading scorer for Arizona State last season, would be transferring to be closer to his ailing mother. Lockett, who averaged 13 points and 5.8 rebounds per game last season, is expected to head back to Minnesota to be closer to his mother although he has not announced which school he intends to transfer to for his remaining eligibility. Lockett is the 12th Sun Devil to leave the program in the past four years although we cannot pin this one on the program as there appears to be more serious family issues at play here. Alexis Moore and Curtis Washington both announced yesterday that they would be the second and third Trojans in a week to transfer from USC. While things may seem really bad for a team that was 6-26 this season and now has lost three of its better players from last season, there is some hope in the form of a talented group of incoming players.
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.
Craig Robinson will never complain about officiating. Except when he does. Robinson called Oregon State’s loss Sunday night against Oregon a “poorly officiated game,” taking particular exception to a foul called on Eric Moreland during a struggle for a rebound with 10 seconds left and the general lack of fouls called in favor of Jared Cunningham. Robinson called for Cunningham to “get treated like one of the best players,” seemingly meaning that his star player should get calls that other players in the league don’t necessarily get. We all know that this type of subjective officiating goes on, and we know that coaches certainly want their players to get calls whenever possible, but the idea of a coach calling for referees to adjust their officiating to reward a star player? Please. Leave that nonsense to the NBA.
Oregon’s Matthew Knight Arena is a gleaming new state-of-the-art facility that makes an already appealing Oregon basketball program that much more of a force in the Pac-12. That doesn’t mean that everything is going along without a hitch in Eugene. A report issued on Monday showed that financial revenue projections for the arena have been drastically cut, dropping by as much as 30% in some revenue categories, and that the athletic department will likely show annual net deficits for as many as five years beginning in 2013. As is usually the case with these types of projects, the revenue projections may have been purposefully inflated in order to increase the appeal of the building, and now that the project is complete, those projections are free to return to reality. Case in point, while the revenue for men’s basketball ticketing looks like it will hit about $2.4 million for this year, that number is down $400,000 from previous projections.
Most of the talk around the conference Coach of the Year award has centered around names like Tad Boyle, Mike Montgomery and even Dana Altman – all fine choices, to be sure. But what about Lorenzo Romar? He’s taken a team that was projected to finish fourth in the conference prior to the season and turned them into a team on the verge of a regular season title with a 22-8 overall record that features close losses to Duke and Marquette along with some other less palatable losses. He’s taken a team that had some chemistry problems early in the year and built a coherent squad that has significantly improved as the year has gone on. For me, it comes down to Romar or Boyle, and while I agree that Romar’s coaching job is looking better and better by the week, I’m still blown away by Boyle’s success in his first year in the conference.
The flip side of the COY discussion is the hot seat discussion, and The Husky Haul took a crack at that yesterday, ranking Kevin O’Neill, Herb Sendek, Craig Robinson, Johnny Dawkins and Larry Krystkowiak as the five most likely to be swept aside. There are serious problems with this list, beginning with the inclusion of Krystkowiak here; if anything, the Utes have overachieved this season given the dearth of talent in Salt Lake City. Sendek and Dawkins have both recently received contract extensions as well, and seem unlikely to be going anywhere (although their seats are both definitely warming), while USC athletic director Pat Haden has made it very clear that O’Neill will get a pass for this season’s failures. And while Oregon State’s season will go down as a disappointment, it seems like Robinson at least has his team moving in the right direction. Odds are, none of those schools will be looking for new coaches this offseason. In fact, if there was to be a coaching change this year, Ben Howland at UCLA or Ken Bone at Washington State would be more likely to be relieved of their duties than any of the five on this list. In the end, my guess is that we’ll have the same 12 coaches back in this conference next season.
It’s the time of year when, more than anything else, you hear talk about the bubble. Who will be the last few teams in? Who will be left out? At present, Arizona is one of those teams who will likely be sweating it out come Selection Sunday, barring a run through the Pac-12 Tournament. But for Sean Miller and the Wildcats, they know that they can’t get caught up worrying about the bracketology, because their best bet to increase the attractiveness of their resume is to keep winning. For what it’s worth, Joe Lunardi’s latest bracket has the Wildcats in as a #12 seed, while our own Zach Hayes has them as the 69th team, just out of the field of 68.
Colorado is in much the same boat as the Wildcats, but they’ve got another goal in mind: just go ahead and win the Pac-12 regular season title. They’re a game behind Washington and California in the loss column, but they’ve got the Golden Bears coming into town this weekend, and they’ve yet to lose at home in the Pac-12. Last year at this time, the Buffaloes were in a similar spot, firmly on the bubble, but that team last year spent a lot of time trying to gauge where they were in relation to other bubble teams. This year they’re in striking distance of a conference title, and for now, that’s their goal.
Up in Washington, they’re in position for a possible Pac-12 championship as well, and for the time being, that is the only focus for guys like Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten. However, there is already speculation running rampant about the possibility that one or both of these players might be finishing up their college eligibility as we speak. In fact, during the Huskies’ win over Arizona on Saturday, Ross was treated to the “one more year!” chant from the student section, in reference to the thought that he could leave after his sophomore year. Both players would likely be first round draft picks should they enter the 2012 NBA Draft (Draft Express has Ross as the #16 pick, Wroten #27), but each could possibly inch into the lottery with another year of experience.
While the above teams have plenty to think about the rest of the season, at Arizona Statethere is already an eye toward next year. With guys like transfers Bo Barnes and Evan Gordon along with ineligible freshman point guard Jahii Carson practicing with the team, there is plenty of hope that the influx of talent will flip things for the Sun Devils next year. Those players, combined with bright spots amid the wreckage of this year, like freshman wing Jonathan Gilling, sophomore center Jordan Bachynski and junior team leader Trent Lockett, should give Sun Devil fans hope for next season. One thing is for sure, whatever happens next year for ASU, Herb Sendek will be the man on the sidelines.
At UCLA, it hasn’t been quite as bad as in Tempe, but it has certainly been a down year for the Bruins. They still hope to make some noise in the Pac-12 Tournament, but for guys like sophomore guard Tyler Lamb, there is also the quest to build consistency in preparation for the rest of his career. Lamb’s game against St. John’s on Saturday summed up just how well his talent is enmeshed with inconsistency. While he scored 18 points, grabbed six boards and handed out four assists, he also turned the ball over eight times, an absolute no-no. Whether the focus is on a run in the Pac-12 tourney or future success in Westwood, Lamb needs to become a more steady force for the Bruins.
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-12 conferences.
We have heard it all before. The Pac-12 is down. The Pac-12 is terrible. The Pac-12 is a one-bid league. The Pac-12 sucks. There’s some relative truth in some of those and in others, not so much, but one thing is for sure as we sit here with three weeks remaining the regular season and five teams within a game of the regular season title. The Pac-12 is tight. Going into this week, California and Washington are tied for first (with the Golden Bears holding the tiebreaker between the two teams on the strength of their win in Seattle a couple of weeks back), while Oregon, Colorado, and Arizona are all lurking just one game back. We have got a race.
Cal, Currently In First Place, May Have The Best Chance At An At-Large Bid To The NCAA Tournament (George Nikitin/AP)
Aside from a couple of games between top five teams last Thursday night, when Oregon throttled Washington and Arizona took care of Colorado, every other team in the top grouping took care of business against lesser opponents. In fact, looking at the standings right now, the top six teams in the conference are all riding winning streaks while the bottom six are all headed in the wrong direction. At least it now appears that the top of the conference is gaining some separation from the bottom. California, Washington, and Oregon all saw their RPIs improve this week, while Colorado and Arizona saw their number drop a bit, but at least now all five of those teams are at least in the at-large conversation. Our own Zach Hayes has California and Arizona in the tournament in his latest bracket, while Colorado, Washington and Oregon are all among the first eight out. Joe Lunardi’s latest bracket has the Bears and the ‘Cats in as well, with the Huskies and Ducks among the first eight out. Andy Glockner, however, is a bit more pessimistic about the conference’s chances, putting just California in the field with Arizona among the first four out and teams like Seton Hall, North Carolina State, Northwestern, and Xavier all currently higher in the pecking order than the Pac-12 schools.
What to Watch For
With all of the above in mind, every game is going to be critical from here on out for those five teams at the top of the standings. They all need to not only beat up on teams 6-12, but it is time for a couple or three of them to differentiate themselves from the others. We thought last week that Washington might be on the verge of doing that, and then they went out and got blown out by Oregon. Meanwhile, California, and Arizona are the hot teams this week with the Golden Bears on a three-game streak and the Wildcats on a four-game run. Both will find significant tests awaiting them this week, but Cal has the benefit of facing their tests in the comfort of Haas Pavilion, against Oregon Thursday night and then Oregon State on Saturday night. Arizona has to go on the road, and they head to Washington State tomorrow night before a Saturday afternoon marquee matchup with Washington.
Washington, meanwhile, will also have to take care of business against tenth-place Arizona State on Thursday while Oregon travels to Stanford on Sunday afternoon. The Palo Alto trip could be a problem for the Ducks, especially coming off of the big game Thursday night. The other game involving one of the top five schools comes Saturday afternoon, when Colorado travels to Utah. The Buffaloes have won just two conference games on the road thus far, and those came against the teams currently holding down two of the bottom three spots in the standings; if they can handle the Utes, it will become three wins against the three bottom teams in the standings.