Conference Report Card: Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 13th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West conferences. We will be publishing a series of conference report cards over the next week for conferences that received multiple NCAA bids to recap the conference, grade the teams, and look at the future for the conference.

Conference Recap:

After an awful 2009-10 season in which the Pac-10 had to limp into a second NCAA Tournament bid when Washington hit the gas pedal down the stretch, the four tournament bids the conference received this year was a huge improvement. With Arizona advancing to the Elite Eight, the Pac-10 advanced a team beyond the Sweet 16 for the first time in three seasons, and the conference was a much deeper collection of teams than last year. And without a doubt, that came as a result of the enhanced talent level across the conference. Coming into the season, there were just 17 seniors on rosters across the conference, and the youngsters showed vast  improvement this year, notably Derrick Williams (an All-American and national player of the year candidate), Isaiah Thomas, Tyler Honeycutt, and Klay Thompson with several other players making big strides in their games. While the Pac-10 still struggled to gain national respect, it was clear to fans that the level of play is on the rebound from its 2009-2010 nadir.

The Pac-10 was Derrick Williams' personal playground in 2011, and the Wildcats displayed perhaps the most impressive performance of the NCAA Tournament in their dismantling of Duke. (AZ Daily Star/M. Popat)

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Pac-10 Wrap & Tourney Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 9th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 Conference. Get set for this weekend’s conference tournament with RTC’s season recap and postseason preview.

Tournament Preview

This tournament is as wide open as a Pac-10 tournament has ever been. One of Arizona, UCLA or Washington is the favorite (in some order or another) and the three teams likely to be invited to the NCAA Tournament regardless of the outcome of the Pac-10 Tourney. However, Cal, USC and Washington State are three teams who will be playing for their NCAA Tournament lives (none of the three are likely to be in the final field of 68 without a Pac-10 championship this weekend) and each is more than capable of stringing together three straight wins and earning the conference’s automatic bid. Of course, each of those teams has shown that they are more than capable of bowing out in the first round on the wrong end of a blowout. What will actually go down in Los Angeles this weekend is anybody’s guess, but what it lacks in predictability, it could make up for in excitement.

Final Standings:

  1. Arizona                                  25-6        14-4
  2. UCLA                                      22-9        13-5
  3. Washington                           20-10     11-7
  4. USC                                         18-13     10-8
  5. Cal                                           17-13     10-8
  6. Washington State              19-11     9-9
  7. Oregon                                  14-16     7-11
  8. Stanford                                 15-15     7-11
  9. Oregon State                        10-19     5-13
  10. Arizona State                        12-18     4-14

Superlatives:

  • Player of the Year - Derrick Williams, Sophomore, Arizona. On the best team in the conference, Williams was far and away the best player. A shoo-in for the All-America first team, Williams is among the top ten players in the nation in effective field goal percentage, true shooting percentage, fouls drawn per 40 minutes and the rate at which he gets to the foul line. Oh, and the guy is shooting over 62% from behind the three-point line, a number that is truly astounding, even considering his mere 45 attempts, and especially considering that the three wasn’t even part of his game in his first year in Tucson. While Williams was one of the best players in the Pac-10 as a freshman, no one could have predicted the extent of his improvement as a sophomore. His free throw percentage is up eight points, his effective field goal percentage has skyrocketed from simply very good to excellent, his rebounding has jumped, and this season he was the second most efficient high-use offensive player in the nation, behind Hofstra’s Charles Jenkins. In short, while guys like Klay Thompson and Isaiah Thomas have had strong seasons for their respective teams, those two guys were a not even on the radar for this award; this year was all Derrick Williams.
  • Coach of the Year - Mike Montgomery, California. This was a year in the Pac-10 when there was no shortage of strong candidates for this honor. Dana Altman, Sean Miller and Ben Howland all did strong jobs with their respective teams (in fact, even two weeks ago I figured Altman was the no-brainer for this recognition), but the nod goes to Montgomery for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is his amazing player development. All over his roster, Montgomery has gotten contributions from players above and beyond what was expected of them. Below, you’ll see Jorge Gutierrez as my pick for the conference’s Most Improved Player, but Harper Kamp and Markhuri Sanders-Frison exhibited an effectiveness down low that nobody outside of the biggest Cal homers had any reason to expect. Allen Crabbe turned a mediocre non-conference performance into a great first run through the Pac-10 schedule. And Brandon Smith, a guy who committed to Cal as a walk-on two years back and registered an offensive efficiency rating below 70 last season, stepped in as the starting point guard after freshman Gary Franklin abruptly announced his decision to transfer out of the program in the middle of the season, and delivered an extremely solid performance for the Bears down the stretch. For a program that lost its top four scorers from last season (and eight of their top ten scorers from last year – just 14% of their scoring from last season returned), what Montgomery did this season in Berkeley was nothing short of spectacular.
  • Freshman of the Year - Allen Crabbe, California. Crabbe’s season can really be divided into two categories: with Gary Franklin and without Gary Franklin. With Franklin, Crabbe averaged less than 8.5 points per game and shot just 33.3% from three; after he transferred out, Crabbe scored 16.5 points per game and hit 46.4% from deep. If you eliminate the game in which Crabbe suffered a concussion against Washington and his first game back against UCLA, where he was obviously not quite right yet, Crabbe averaged 18.4 PPG after Franklin. Throw in the fact that, at 6’4 and with long arms, Crabbe was an effective perimeter defender, capable of matching up defensively with opposing small forwards and even helping out his big guys on the glass (5.4 RPG), Crabbe has been an efficient and versatile offensive threat for the surging Bears.
  • Defensive Player of the YearMalcolm Lee, Junior, UCLA. On the most efficient defensive team in the conference, Lee epitomizes everything that went right for Ben Howland and the Bruins this season. Last season the Bruins were 138th in the nation defensively; this year they have vaulted back to 29th, certainly not back to the level of the elite Bruin teams from 2006-2008, but a drastic improvement. And Lee was a big part of that, making a habit of shutting down opposing guards like Isaiah Thomas, Allen Crabbe, Jeremy Greens and even Jimmer Fredette, helping his interior defenders by using his long frame to discourage post feeds and just generally harassing the opposition. While his effort doesn’t show up a whole lot in the stat sheet in terms of steals and blocked shots, without a doubt the Bruin defense is significantly less efficient when Lee is not at full strength.
  • Most Improved Player: Jorge Gutierrez, Junior, California. There’s no argument that last year Gutierrez was a good, solid role player on a senior-laden Golden Bear roster. He played about 20 minutes a game, provided irksome and aggressive defense, never failed to hustle after a loose ball and every once in a while knocked down a shot along the way for 5.5 points per game. But with Jerome Randle, Patrick Christopher and others plying their trade elsewhere this season, Gutierrez was called upon for far more than just hustle. At times he has been the team’s de facto point guard, other times he has been their go-to scorer, but along the way he has kept his energetic way. This season he leads the Bears in scoring (14.8 PPG), assists (4.5 APG), steals (1.6 SPG), and certainly in clutch plays. While it stood to reason that Gutierrez’ role would increase this season, the extent to which he has taken on new responsibilities has been impressive.

All Pac-10 First Team:

  • G Isaiah Thomas, Junior, Washington (16.6 PPG, 5.7 APG)
  • G Klay Thompson, Junior, Washington State (22.4 PPG, 4.0 APG)
  • G Jorge Gutierrez, Junior, California (14.8 PPG, 4.5 APG)
  • F Derrick Williams, Sophomore, Arizona (19.0 PPG, 8.3 RPG)
  • F Nikola Vucevic, Junior, USC (17.6 PPG, 10.3 RPG)

All Pac-10 Second Team:

  • G Allen Crabbe, Freshman, California (12.6 PPG, 5.4 RPG)
  • G Jeremy Green, Junior, Stanford (16.4 PPG, 3.5 RPG)
  • F Reeves Nelson, Sophomore, UCLA (13.9 PPG, 9.0 RPG)
  • F Matthew Bryan-Amaning, Senior, Washington (16.2 PPG, 8.4 RPG)
  • F Joevan Catron, Senior, Oregon (14.8 PPG, 6.4 RPG)

Power Rankings

  1. Arizona (25-6, 14-4) Projected NCAA Seed #6: For all the Pac-10 teams expecting to be invited to the NCAA Tournament (and that includes Arizona, UCLA and Washington), the current seeding expectations are somewhat fluid. If Zona, for instance, were to run through the Pac-10 tourney and some other things ahead of them break their way, it is not out of the question that they wind up with a four seed (although really, a #5 is a more realistic high). Likewise, if they bomb out in the opening round against Stanford, maybe they drop all the way to an eight (and again, a #7 is probably the more realistic low). The big question, however, is how far they can go once they get to the Tournament. While Williams is an elite enough player to carry a team a long ways, the question mark remains about the Wildcats’ complementary parts. The Oregon schools showed last week that if you just limit Williams, there’s a good chance the rest of the Arizona team may not be good enough to put their team over the top, and I think that possibility will increase as they run into better and better competition. Throw in the fact that as a forward, Williams is in need of other players to get him the ball where he can impact the game and the ‘Cats could be ripe for an early round exit.
  2. UCLA (22-9, 13-5) Projected NCAA Seed #7: While the Bruins outperformed expectations this season and showed vast improvement from last year’s team, the fact remains that this is the third straight year in Westwood without a Pac-10 title. And there is some frustration arising around the UCLA basketball program as a result. Los Angeles Times columnist T.J. Simers has repeatedly bashed Ben Howland and his coaching style, Bill Plaschke has likewise questioned Howland’s coaching and recently the Bruins Nation blog dedicated a post to asking whether Howland’s offense has taken the Bruins as far as they can go. Now Simers has the reasoning ability of a plough-horse and Plaschke’s column came before the Bruins improved in the last couple months of the season, but the fact remains that there is a significant portion of the UCLA fanbase that is unhappy with the results under Howland. Three straight Final Fours were awful nice, but there was always an undercurrent of dismay around the program that the Bruins didn’t finish the job on any of those occasions. As good of a job as Howland has done with the team to this point, UCLA fans have some very high expectations, and a second-place finish, no matter what degree of improvement occurred along the way, is not really regarded as an accomplishment. While the Bruins are capable of winning the Pac-10 Tourney this week, and even pulling an upset and getting to the Sweet Sixteen or a bit further (another accomplishment that won’t earn Howland many plaudits among boosters), it is exceedingly unlikely that this UCLA squad is capable of putting together the type of run that will make all of these questions go away.
  3. Washington (20-10, 11-7) Projected NCAA Seed #11: The Huskies are probably safe for inclusion in the NCAA Tournament, but as of right now Lorenzo Romar has got to have a little gnawing feeling in the pit of his stomach. Washington’s resume is paper thin. There are no quality wins outside of their conference, and they went 4-6 down the stretch in conference play, despite having a pretty favorable schedule. And yet, this team is talented enough that it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see them as the sole Pac-10 Sweet 16 team, much like last year when they finished third in the conference and got a favorable draw to run to the second weekend on the Tournament. For that to happen, Isaiah Thomas will need to get his swagger back. After playing the best basketball of his career through much of late January and all of February, in his two games in March he has averaged 12.5 points on 32% shooting, is 0/6 from deep and has just one more assist (six) than turnover (five). As Thomas goes, so go the Huskies, so he’ll need to turn it back up, and fast.
  4. California (17-13, 10-8) NIT: The Bears are streaky, and currently they’re streaking good. They’ve won four straight games, after having previously lost four straight, and even that streak came at the end of an entirely different four-game win streak. The four-game losing streak in the middle can be explained away partly because Crabbe played just ten total minutes in the final three games of that slide after sustaining an injury against Washington, and the first of those four losses was an epic three-overtime loss to conference champion Arizona. In other words, when this team has been whole, their only loss since late January was a two-point loss in triple overtime. Of the teams not currently expected to earn NCAA Tournament invites on Sunday, I’d take Berkeley as the most likely team to win the automatic bid.
  5. USC (18-13, 10-8) NIT: While I’d take Cal as the upset pick for the Pac-10 title, the Trojans aren’t far back. USC has won five of its last six and Vucevic is absolutely on fire of late, having racked up double-doubles in his last eight games, while shooting 55% from the field and adding a previously unknown three-point shot to his game. While the fact that the Trojans get most of their minutes from just a six-player rotation may wear them down in a three-game tournament, this squad will not go quietly.
  6. Washington State (19-11, 9-9): The Cougars are the last of the teams currently on the outside of the bubble that stands a reasonable shot at winning this tournament, now that it is clear that Klay Thompson will be available for the Pac-10 tournament. Thompson was arrested for possession of marijuana following Thursday night’s win over USC and Ken Bone’s hand was forced to suspend him for the final game of the season, a close loss to UCLA. Bone, however, announced on Monday that his suspension was ended and that he would be available for the Pac-10 tourney. Of additional concern is the health of point guard Reggie Moore, who also missed the UCLA game due to an injured foot and whose status is still uncertain.
  7. Oregon (14-16, 7-11): The Ducks faded down the stretch, losing their last four games, but the fact is that a 7-11 conference mark is a pretty good outcome given how big of a hit the program took in the offseason. And with reinforcements arriving next year, there is little doubt that Altman has this program headed in the right direction. The Ducks have shown the ability to sneak up and surprise teams in the upper division of the conference (they’ve beaten Washington, Washington State and USC twice), but the odds of them stringing together the four wins necessary to win the conference tournament are quite large.
  8. Stanford (15-15, 7-11): Much like the Ducks, the Cardinal have a good future ahead of them despite all the lumps they took in conference this year. With no graduating seniors, five freshmen who got significant time and all-conference player Jeremy Green returning for his senior season, this Cardinal team could be trouble next year. And, really, if Green catches fire in the conference tournament and freshman Dwight Powell turns in one of his all-too-rare good performances, this Cardinal team could spring an upset. Patching together several upsets seems unlikely.
  9. Oregon State (10-19, 5-13): This Beaver team is one of the more frustrating teams I’ve ever come across. Under no circumstances is this the ninth most talented team in the conference. There is certainly a higher level of talent here than on Stanford or Oregon, and you could make the argument that this team has more horses than WSU or USC. They put up wins over Washington, Arizona and USC, yet got swept by Oregon and were one of the worst teams in the nation in three-point shooting, defending the three (and really, defending any shot), and turning the ball over. They return a lot of exciting talent next season, but this team is in need of a complete attitude makeover.
  10. Arizona State (12-18, 4-14): Break up the Devils. After a nightmare season, they enter the Pac-10 Tournament on a two-game winning streak, having swept the Oregon schools in Tempe by an average of 17 points. Their three seniors, Ty Abbott, Rihards Kuksiks and Jamelle McMillan, combined for a total of 105 points in the final two games, more than 20 points higher than their average for the rest of the season. If those three can continue the fiery end to the careers, it is not out of the question that they could end the Pac-10 tourney for a higher seed or two.
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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 24th, 2011

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

A Look Back

This was the week the west was (all but) won. With Arizona’s thrilling victory over Washington Saturday and UCLA’s overtime loss at Cal on Sunday, the Wildcats now own a two-game lead over the Bruins in the Pac-10 with four games to play. And with UCLA having to travel to the Washington schools to close the conference season after hosting the Arizona schools this week, while it is still possible that the ‘Cats could be caught, it would take a Westwood-favorable convergence of events for that to happen.

Team of the Week: Arizona – I’ll admit, I’ve been slow to come around on this version of the Wildcats. Sure, Derrick Williams is on the very short list of Player of the Year candidates, went my thinking, but the rest of that roster is ordinary. Well, looking back at what Arizona has done to this point is impressive. They’ve won eight in a row and 12 of their 14 conference games. Even if this conference isn’t up to the caliber of the 2009 vintage, that’s mighty impressive. Outside of their inexplicable loss at Oregon State on the first Sunday of the year, the other three Arizona losses have come against teams ranked in Ken Pomeroy’s top 11 right now. Momo Jones has stepped up as a legitimate major conference point guard and a good second scoring option, having scored in double figures in eight of his last nine games. Solomon Hill has established himself as a do-everything scrapper up front, Kyle Fogg has proven to be a capable distributor (he’s had six or more assists three times in this winning streak), Kevin Parrom has turned into a deadly three-point shooter (nine-of-16 from deep during the streak) and a terrific defensive presence and Jesse Perry has become an enforcer up front, averaging 8.8 rebounds per game in their last ten. And if all that isn’t enough, Jamelle Horne, the lone senior on the club, has shown a penchant for knocking down big threes when his team needs it the most. Aside from Williams, the individual pieces on this club may not blow you away on a regular basis, but Sean Miller has done a masterful job molding them into a legitimate threat to make a deep run in March.

Player of the Week: Derrick Williams, Junior, Arizona – 26 points in each of his games this week. 19 total rebounds. A couple of assists per game. Fifteen of 26 shooting from the field and 20-21 from the line (this from a guy who shot 68% from the line last year). Oh, and throw in ten points over the last six minutes against Washington, a couple of big threes, including one with just over a minute left to give the ‘Cats the lead back, then a monstrous rejection on the Huskies’ last viable chance, and it was a very good week for Williams. For the season, the guy hasn’t been kept out of double figures once, has nine double-doubles, is shooting 63% from the field, 75% from the line and an absolutely absurd 68% from deep, averages over two points per shot, is one of the most efficient high-use players in the land and is an absolute shoo-in as a first-team All-American.

Newcomer of the Week: Chase Creekmur, Freshman, Arizona State – With apologies to C.J. Wilcox, Maurice Jones and Jay-R Strowbridge, who all had excellent weeks bombing from deep, let’s recognize this freshman wing from Marshalltown, Iowa who had the game of his very short career this week in helping the Sun Devils to just their second conference win. Creekmur played the most minutes of his career against Washington State and came up with 18 huge points on five-of-eight shooting from behind the arc while also grabbing three rebounds and handing out a couple of assists. As Herb Sendek turns his eye towards the future of the ASU program, Creekmur has thrown his hat into the ring as someone to keep an eye on.

Game of the Week: Arizona 87, Washington 86 – Game of the week, for sure. On the short list with the Arizona/Cal three-overtime epic for game of the year in the conference as well. While the Arizona/Cal game had 15 extra minutes and all the drama and scrappiness that you could ask for in a college basketball game, this one had a national television audience and both teams playing for a potential conference championship. Down the stretch, both teams had its stars step up, as Williams carried the Wildcats on home and Isaiah Thomas did the same for the Huskies, handing out in rapid succession three beautiful lob passes that ended in Washington dunks. In the end, however, it was Williams sending back a Darnell Gant attempt in dramatic fashion with under a second left that sealed the game for the Wildcats.

Game of the Upcoming Week: Arizona (23-4, 12-2) at UCLA (19-8, 10-4), 2/26, 1PM, FSN – While this will no longer be a game for the top spot in the conference, following UCLA’s upset loss at Cal on Sunday night, this should still tell us a lot about both teams. UCLA is still a complete cipher. They’ve beaten BYU and St. John’s (arguably the two best wins by any team in the Pac-10 this year – although the crosstown rival has a major bone of contention there), but in their big “up” games in the Pac-10 (at Arizona and at home against Washington), they’ve lost by 11 points each time. They’ve got a loss to a mediocre Montana team on their rap sheet and while clearly a talented team, they turn the ball over at a ridiculous pace (turnovers on almost a quarter of all possessions) and have efficiency numbers of both ends of the court that are merely average. For Arizona, while we have discussed all the good things they have done, there is still a gaping hole in their resume: lack of quality road wins. To this point their best win away from the McKale Center is either at Washington State or Cal, neither a team that is in the NCAA picture any longer. While a win at an average UCLA team is not normally a resume highlight, given the Wildcats’ relatively weak schedule, this win would be very welcome. Oh, and then there’s the fact that an Arizona win here in all likelihood clinches the Pac-10 title.

Power Rankings

1. Arizona (23-4, 12-2): So, the Wildcats are a lead-pipe cinch to get invited to the NCAA Tournament next month, even without a Pac-10 tournament championship. But where do they wind up seeded? They’ve got road games against the Los Angeles schools and home games against the Oregon schools to finish things up, and while a 2-2 record to finish things up is not impossible, we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that they’ve earned and say they finish up 3-1, then advance to the Pac-10 title game before losing. And that’s the worst-case scenario. If that happens, they wind up at 28-6 on the season with the wins over Washington and UCLA as their sole wins over NCAA Tournament teams (barring some well-placed upsets in Championship Week). What is that good for? Three-seed seems too high for the lack of quality wins, while a six-seed seems too low for a team that won their regular season conference title, finished the season 8-2 (in our scenario) and winds up with a top-20 RPI. I say this team tops out at a four-seed (might have a chance at a three with the Pac-10 tourney title and a couple other dominoes falling ahead of them) with a five-seed the low end.

Looking ahead: While you can’t overlook anything in the Pac-10, this week presents the final large challenges to Arizona’s Pac-10 title dreams. The Wildcats travel to face a suddenly resurgent USC team on Thursday night, then battle UCLA on Saturday with a chance to wrap up the conference championship.

2. Washington (19-8, 10-5): It was a disappointing week for the Huskies, coming up just short in the desert. And while the tightness of the game and the excitement of the final minutes indicate that Washington was right there to the end with the ‘Cats, a close look at the box score reveals some disturbing numbers. To begin with, the Huskies allowed the Wildcats to grab 50% of all offensive rebound opportunities – an unforgivable number – and on the other end, Arizona limited the Huskies to an offensive rebounding percentage of just 24%. While Lorenzo Romar’s team has been just average cleaning the defensive glass this season, in part because they challenge a ton of shots, their inability to positively affect the game on the offensive glass had to be disturbing. That, combined with the fact that Washington wasn’t getting a lot of clean looks from deep, and the looks they were getting weren’t falling, explains the loss. But all things considered, a controversial one-point loss on one of the toughest roadies in the Pac-10 in a game in which you didn’t play all that well is not a terrible result.

Looking ahead: The Huskies are done with the road for the season, and thankfully, as six of their eight losses so far came on the road (the other two were neutral site games in Maui). Back in the friendly confines of the Hec Ed, Washington fully expects to take care of business the rest of the way against Washington State (on Sunday), UCLA (next Thursday) and USC (next Saturday).

3. UCLA (19-8, 10-4): The Bruins are in second place in the conference and the only team with much of a remaining shot at catching Arizona for first place. But I wouldn’t dare put this team as the second strongest team in the conference. They’ve won seven of their last eight, 11 of their last 13, and as referenced above, they’ve got two of the best wins of any team in the Pac-10 this season. This week they got a hard-fought and acceptable road split at the Bay Area schools, but a deeper look at the team reveals serious flaws. But regardless of all that, if the season ended today, the Bruins would be safely in the NCAA Tournament. And yet, the season doesn’t end today.

Looking ahead: Ahead for the Bruins lies danger. This week they’ve got Arizona State and Arizona at home. The Bruins have flirted all season long with giving away conference games against teams that they should beat, but thus far have escaped with perfectly explainable losses. They’ll need to keep up that streak by taking care of business against ASU and not allowing the specter of the Arizona battle to lead to a bad loss. Then come the Wildcats, where a win is a great outcome and a loss is, well, expected. To wrap up the season, Ben Howland takes his team to Washington and Washington State, probably the toughest road trip in the Pac-10 this year. A sweep is almost unthinkable, a split is brilliant and an oh-fer-the-road-trip is a potential nightmare. Even if the worst case scenario comes true and the Bruins go 1-3 down the stretch, winning their first round Pac-10 game to get to 21 wins on the season, paired with wins over BYU and St. John’s, and the Bruins probably limp in. Lose in the first round, and sweat it out on Selection Sunday.

4. USC (15-12, 7-7): From here on down, we are looking at teams that either need to win the Pac-10 Tournament or consider their options for the NIT. And, perhaps most importantly in the short-term for these next five teams, is the fact that teams one through six in the conference receive a first-round bye in the conference tournament. You don’t want to finish seventh here. For the Trojans, they jump from the back of this middle pack last week to the top of it here on the strength of a road sweep of the Bay Area schools. Kevin O’Neill’s club was sparked this week by freshman Maurice Jones, who, after being relegated to coming off the bench for the first time in his college career, took exactly one half to wallow in pity before exploding for 22 second-half points to fend off an attempted-comeback back Cal. Jones followed that game up with another ten points in the win at Stanford, and it looks like he’ll be an asset providing a scoring punch off the bench the rest of the way. Elsewhere, Nikola Vucevic was typically excellent this week, averaging 20 points and 12 rebounds, but also knocking down a surprising five threes this week, which was more than a quarter of his total coming into the game.

Looking ahead: Like the Bruins, the Trojans have a tough row to hoe the rest of the way: Arizona, Arizona State, at Washington State and at Washington.

5. Oregon (14-12, 7-7): The Ducks tore past Oregon State this week to put the wraps on a season-sweep of the Civil War. With the game still somewhat in doubt early in the second half, Jay-R Strowbridge knocked down three straight three-pointers to push Oregon further out ahead. A three by Tyrone Nared followed, as did one by E.J. Singler, then Strowbridge added another and after six straight threes by Oregon, an eight-point Duck lead had turn into a 20-point lead. All in all, Oregon knocked down 13 threes, forced 19 Beaver turnovers and eased home with a 19-point victory.

Looking ahead: Oregon hosts Cal and Stanford in a pair of games that will be very important for Pac-10 Tournament seeding.

6. Cal (14-13, 7-8): The Golden Bears snapped a four-game losing streak on Sunday night, fighting through an improbable buzzer-beating three by Malcolm Lee that sent the game into overtime, to squeak one out in overtime. Junior guard Jorge Gutierrez was phenomenal throughout, scoring 34 points, handing out six assists, grabbing three boards, swiping three steals and just epitomizing toughness and grit. Freshman guard Allen Crabbe returned in that game after missing two straight games and most of a third with a concussion. While Crabbe did not play as well as he had played before the injury, his importance to the club was emphasized during his absence.

Looking ahead: Cal travels to the Oregon schools this week, a good opportunity for a talented club to get right and jump back up the Pac-10 standings.

7. Washington State (17-10, 7-8): Instead of catching the Wildcats looking forward to the Washington game last week, the Cougars found themselves with a post-Arizona hangover when they played Arizona State on Saturday, and my, what a headache that turned out to be. Despite 58 points on the week from junior Klay Thompson, Washington State limped back home with an 0-2 record on the road trip and with any hopes of an NCAA at-large bid dashed upon the rocks. What seemed to be a promising season around Christmastime has turned into utter disappointment, although it is not merely sarcastic to say that this season is a vast improvement over last season’s total collapse.

Looking ahead: The Cougars play two of their final three at home, but it is not an easy stretch by any means. After traveling to play the Huskies in Seattle on Sunday, they’ll host USC and UCLA next week. It looks like they’ll need to win two of those three to feel comfortable about getting a first round Pac-10 bye.

8. Stanford (13-13, 6-9): Getting swept at home in conference play in a week is never a good thing. And now, riding their second losing streak of at least three games this season, the Cardinal find themselves staring up at seven teams above them in the conference standings. Against UCLA, Jeremy Green continued his hot streak, knocking down nine-of-16 shots and five three-pointers on the way to 27 points, his fifth straight 20-point game. But USC was able to get Green off his game, limiting him to 3-13 shooting and just ten points in the 16-point loss.

Looking ahead: The Cardinal travel to Corvallis and Eugene this week for game that border on must-wins.

9. Oregon State (9-16, 4-10): I’ve said enough about the Beavers for the year, I think. They’ve been a fascinating and utterly frustrating team. I’ll throw out bipolar and underachieving as two fairly apt adjectives that I don’t think I’ve used to describe them yet this year. But mostly, I just want to point you to George Dohrmann’s excellent blog post where he spares no quarter in describing the many faults of this Oregon State team. Maybe next week we’ll talk about what the future holds for this Beaver team, but for now they just make me tired.

Looking ahead: Stanford and Cal come calling this week. Who knows what will happen.

10. Arizona State (10-16, 2-12): I love it when we get to wrap up one of these posts on a positive note. There’s not much happy news to report at the bottom of the standings, and certainly one win in a sea of conference losses isn’t much to get excited about, but the ASU win over Washington State on Saturday will have to do. Playing without injured seniors Rihards Kuksiks and Ty Abbott (addition by subtraction much?), the Sun Devils got a career performance by Chase Creekmur (18 points, five threes), the best performance by the team’s leading scorer, Trent Lockett (20 points, eight rebounds), since November and the best performance from freshman guard Corey Hawkins in his brief career (29 minutes, six assists). The Devils knocked down nine threes, outshot the Cougars from the field and played their best defense in about a month and now head into the final weeks of the season with a puncher’s chance at not finishing in last in the conference.

Looking ahead: The Sun Devils travel to UCLA and USC before hosting Oregon and Oregon State. They’ll need to win two of those games and have Oregon State lose all of their to take ninth place, but at least it is something to play for.

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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 3rd, 2011

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

A Look Back

Two weeks back, Washington beat Arizona pretty convincingly to grab sole control of the Pac-10 lead. A week later, the Wildcats snuck back into a first-place tie when they held serve at home against the Los Angeles schools on the same weekend the Huskies turned the ball over 24 times in a loss at Washington State. Such is life in the Pac-10 this year. The Huskies are the big favorite in the league and look for all the world to be head-and-shoulders above the rest of the competition, but every time they wrest away sole possession of first place, they give it back shortly later. And now, as we make the corner and head for the second turn around the conference, Washington and Arizona sit atop the leaderboard with 7-2 records, with UCLA just a half-game back and Washington State and Cal just another game back from there. To make a long story short, there is no room for mistakes for anyone at the top of the conference in the back half of the schedule.

Team of the Week: Arizona – There aren’t a ton of impressive wins on the Wildcat schedule, but they just keep plugging along solidly and taking care of business. And really, you don’t rack up an 18-4 record, even against mediocre competition, without being a pretty good team. This week they handled their business at home, knocking off UCLA and USC with relative ease and establishing themselves beyond any doubt as Washington’s main competition for the conference title.

Player of the Week: Klay Thompson, Junior, Washington State – With plenty of great games out of Derrick Williams and Isaiah Thomas lately, Thompson has been something of a forgotten man in the Pac-10. And yet, he leads the conference in scoring (22.3 PPG), three-point field goals (65), he’s third in assists (4.4 APG), third in steals (2.0 SPG) and in the top 20 in rebounding (5.3 RPG). And this week, he led his Cougs to a huge home win over in-state rival Washington by posting 25 points and constantly disrupting the Husky offense on his way to five steals. While Thomas and Williams may get most of the ink in the conference Player of the Year discussion, let’s not forget that this is still really a three horse race.

Newcomer of the Week: Allen Crabbe, Freshman, California – After no one really distinguished themselves in the non-conference portion of the schedule, Crabbe has taken a commanding lead in the race for Pac-10 Freshman of the Year with eight straight double-figure scoring performances in conference play. He continued his excellence this week by averaging 15 points, seven rebounds, two steals and two threes per game in a Golden Bear home sweep of the Oregon schools.

Game of the Week: UCLA 73 Arizona State 72 (OT) – After getting a reality check in Tucson on Thursday night, the Bruins looked like a focused team early against the Sun Devils on Saturday. They built up a lead as high as 15 points in the second half behind balanced offense, smothering defense, and a good dose of ASU ineptness. But Herb Sendek’s squad didn’t quit, and when the Bruins eased off the gas a bit, the Devils were able to tighten things up. Still, it took back-to-back Ty Abbott threes and a rebound-and-putback of a missed free throw by Trent Lockett to tie things up in regulation and send the game to overtime. In the extra period, the Bruins jumped out to a 9-2 run behind three consecutive threes by Lazeric Jones, Malcolm Lee and Jerime Anderson in the first two minutes, and from there the Bruins held on for a much-needed win.

Game of the Upcoming Week: Arizona (18-4, 7-2) at California (12-9, 5-4), 2/5, 5PM PST, Fox Sports Arizona – UCLA plays an interesting game this weekend when they host St. John’s in the Steve Lavin Bowl, but this is the game that may ultimately have the biggest effect on the conference race. All four of the Wildcat losses have come away from the McKale Center, and the Bears have won three of their four conference games at Haas Pavilion. And given Cal’s gritty defense, strong frontcourt play, excellent head coaching and the emergence of Crabbe and junior Harper Kamp as solid offensive threats, the Wildcats will have their work cut out for them on Saturday. Of course, Mike Montgomery still has to devise some sort of plan to slow Williams, so both coaches may not rest easy on Friday night.

Power Rankings

1. Washington (15-5, 7-2): When Lorenzo Romar got the stat sheet Sunday night after Washington’s loss in Pullman, I’m guessing his eyes went directly to the turnover column. And he couldn’t have liked what he saw there. Washington 24, Washington State 12. Isaiah Thomas, seven turnovers. Scott Suggs, five turnovers. Justin Holiday, four turnovers. Despite the Huskies’ dominance on the glass at both ends (they grabbed 85.7% of the available defensive rebounds and 37.8% of the offensive ones), the sheer number of turnovers was just something they couldn’t overcome. While the hope is that this game was just an aberration (the Huskies have actually been very good on the season, turning the ball over just under 17% of all their possessions – 16th-best in the nation), the fact is that Thomas’ turnovers have been increasing of late. In four of his last five games, he has turned the ball over at least four times, although the good news is that he has been handing out so many assists, his assist-to-turnover ratio over that span has still been better than two-to-one. Nevertheless, it will be worthwhile to keep an eye on Thomas in the coming games to see if he begins taking better care of the ball.

Looking ahead: The northwest flavor of the Washington schedule continues this week, with a trip to the Oregon schools and a good chance to right the ship.

2. Arizona (18-4, 7-2): I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: beyond Derrick Williams – who is as talented a player as there is in the nation – this roster looks completely ordinary. So how have they gotten to this 18-4 record, and how do we find them tied with the Huskies atop the Pac-10? Three things: (1) they shoot a great percentage from the field (eighth in the nation in effective field goal percentage and three-point percentage), (2) they defend the hell out of the three (their opponents shoot just 26.7% from behind the arc against them, the lowest percentage in the nation) and (3) they get to the line effectively (they shoot almost half as many free throws as field goals) and once there, knock down the gimmes at 74.3% rate. Now, in all of these areas, Williams is the linchpin behind these numbers. He’s first in the nation in effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage, while knocking down a spectacular 70% of his threes. And he is second in the nation in fouls drawn per 40 minutes and in free throw rate. But the fact is, the rest of his teammates are excellent complements to him and his skills. Sure, if you take Williams out of the lineup, this team will fight with Oregon State and Arizona State at the bottom of the conference, but the way things are, the Wildcats are a formidable opponent.

Looking ahead: A trip to the Bay Area looms and the Wildcats have a big mid-term ahead of them this week. A couple wins would be mighty impressive, while a split would be perfectly acceptable.

3. UCLA (15-7, 7-3): The Bruins had a chance to make a big splash this week in their trip to the McKale Center, but despite escaping with a one-point overtime win at ASU on Saturday, Ben Howland and crew returned home with plenty of regrets about a missed opportunity. But the fact was, UCLA’s defense just wasn’t very good, especially against Williams. Plenty of Bruins had their chance at slowing him, and none were very effective. Throw in the fact that Lazeric Jones and Tyler Honeycutt combined to make just one of their 15 field goal attempts and the Bruins left the desert feeling like they had left some money on the table. However, they were able to post a big win last night, knocking off cross-town rival USC and breaking a four-game losing streak in the series. Still, questions remain about the overall maturity on the team. As good as Reeves Nelson has been at times this year, he has a tendency to pout and sulk when things aren’t going his way, and he’s disappeared from a game on more than one occasion. Freshman center Josh Smith has had similar apparent attitude problems, could still stand to lose a pound or 50 and has struggled with foul difficulty all season long. And on Thursday night against Arizona, it was the junior point guard Jones who picked up a dumb technical on an intentional elbow at an inopportune time in the second half. The Bruins will need to get more consistency and more maturity in order to have a serious effect on the Pac-10 championship race, but given all the mistakes they’ve made thus far, the fact that they are right near the top of the standings has to be encouraging.

Looking ahead: On Saturday, UCLA welcomes Steve Lavin back to Westwood, as their former coach returns with his athletic St. John’s team in tow.  Next week, they host the Oregon schools, so this is a big stretch for the Bruins where they are capable of stringing together a streak of wins.

4. Washington State (15-6, 5-4): The Cougars really needed a win on Sunday night against Washington. A loss would have put them under .500 on the first swing around the conference and would have relegated them to long-shot NCAA Tournament consideration at best. But the win they got serves as by far their best win on the season. It’s not their fault teams like Baylor and Gonzaga have been underwhelming, but losses to similarly disappointing teams like Kansas State, Butler and a few tough losses around the Pac-10 were concerning. However, they got solid play and contributions from up and down the roster. Beyond Thompson, Reggie Moore (18 points, five assists), DeAngelo Casto (11 points, eight rebounds) and Faisal Aden (15 points, three three-pointers) all had impressive statlines, while role players like Abe Lodwick, Brock Motum, Marcus Capers and even little-used freshman Patrick Simon helped out.

Looking ahead: A road-trip to the Oregon schools gives the Cougars a good chance at potentially getting a record-boosting road sweep.

5. Cal (12-9, 5-4): In a way, it’s been a tale of two seasons for the Golden Bears. Remember, this is a team that scored five points in the first half against Temple the day after Thanksgiving. They followed that performance up with a 15-point second half a couple of days later against Boston College, and all told in the Old Spice Classic, they averaged 49 points per game. And, not to blame it all on one kid, but in the 13 games prior to Gary Franklin abruptly quitting the team, the Bears averaged 65.9 points; in the eight games since then (in games with roughly the same average number of possessions), they have averaged 77.1 points per game. A lot of this can be attributed to the emergence of Crabbe as a strong offensive weapon, but there is little doubt that the Cal offense has run much more smoothly and efficiently since Brandon Smith has joined the starting backcourt alongside Jorge Gutierrez in place of the departed Franklin.

Looking ahead: The Bears host the Oregon schools this week, and given the way the Pac-10 has played out thus far, no one really knows what to expect in those games.

6. USC (12-11, 4-6): The Trojans do one thing exceedingly well: they clean the defensive glass with abandon, grabbing over 72% of all available rebounds on that end of the floor. Last week, they were even better than that, grabbing 85.7% of the defensive rebounds against a poor rebounding Arizona State team, and then posting a 77.3 defensive rebound percentage against Arizona. But last night against UCLA, even that escaped them as they allowed UCLA to grab 40.7% of their misses. While the defensive rebounding is usually a strength, unfortunately for Kevin O’Neill, this team doesn’t do much else very well. Against ASU, the Trojans escaped with a two-point win primarily because the Sun Devils missed 13 of their 25 free throw attempts, while against the Wildcats on Saturday, the Trojans had no such luck. Not only was Arizona at least competent from the free throw line, but they were unconscious from the field, posting a 71.4 effective field goal percentage while hitting 10 of their 19 three-point attempts. The lack of defensive acumen has to be particularly galling to O’Neill, widely regarded as a defensive wizard who had these Trojans post the second best defensive efficiency numbers in the country last year. Given that USC’s players are just average offensively, if they can’t pick up their game on the defensive end, this becomes the middle-of-the-road bunch that their record suggests.

Looking ahead: After the Bruin game last night, USC has the weekend off in preparation for the Oregon schools next week, a pair of relatively easy games that the Trojans are desperately in need of. While NCAA Tournament at-large hopes are long gone at this point, USC needs to string together some wins to be considered for the other postseason tournaments.

7. Stanford (11-9, 4-5): The Cardinal have got to be kicking themselves over their loss at Maples Pavilion to Oregon, the first time they had lost at home to the Ducks since 1986. Stanford got off to a slow start and never led in the first half, but came back early in the second half to take a brief lead. But after they let the Ducks rip off a 12-0 run in the middle of the half, they never led again. The two main deficiencies in the loss were their failures at the free throw line and their inability to keep the undersized Ducks off the offensive glass. The Cardinal did bounce back on Saturday, defeating Oregon State and salvaging a home split, but Jeremy Green was particularly bad this weekend, making just five of his 19 shots in the two games. In fact, in the last eight games, Green has shot just 28.4% from the field and has posted just a 35.3 effective field goal percentage. But Johnny Dawkins has to be pleased with the development of a couple of his freshmen, as forward Dwight Powell scored 23 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, blocked six shots and swiped five steals on the weekend, while Anthony Brown had 33 points, 11 rebounds, six threes and four steals.

Looking ahead: The Cardinal play the back half of a four-game homestand this week with visits from Arizona on Thursday and Arizona State on Saturday.

8. Oregon (10-11, 3-6): I’ve written similar things in this space several times this year, but one more time won’t hurt anybody: Dana Altman can-flat out coach. The win over Stanford isn’t a whole lot to write home about, but the fact that this Duck squad has three conference wins and is within shouting distance of a .500 overall record is pretty impressive. This week, senior forward Joevan Catron returned to prominence for the Ducks after some mid-season injury problems, leading the team in scoring in both games and 18.5 PPG and 7 RPG. Malcolm Armstead was also effective in both games (13 PPG, 5 APG) and has now wrapped a pair of strong back-to-back performances around his stinker at Oregon State.

Looking ahead: The Ducks host the Washington schools, a daunting task for anyone in the conference.

9. Oregon State (8-12, 3-6): Remember when the Beavers were 2-0 in the conference, Jared Cunningham looked like the second coming of Russell Westbrook and there was much excitement about the potential of the OSU youngsters? Well, if so, you’re lucky, because watching the Beavers bumble through the last seven games should have rightfully given any basketball fan an amnesia-inducing brain aneurysm. Now I see how this team lost to Utah Valley State. Since Cunningham’s streak of nine straight double-digit games, he has been up and down. He posted a very strong 24-point performance against USC a couple weeks back, but in the four games around that outburst he has averaged 7.5 points per game on five-of-25 shooting. Freshman Roberto Nelson, who briefly stole Calvin Haynes’ starting spot, has been even less effective, scoring 21 total points in the last four games, making just seven of 30 shots and turning the ball over ten times, on his way towards giving that starting spot right back. Joe Burton has been better than both of them, but has never since approached his eye-opening play against the Arizona schools. The talent is under there somewhere, and we’ll see over the next couple of years if head coach Craig Robinson is capable of coaxing it out.

Looking ahead: Washington comes calling on Thursday, with a visit from Washington State on the slate for Saturday.

10. Arizona State (9-12, 1-8): The Sun Devils in no way looked like a 1-8 team this weekend. They played both USC and UCLA right down to the wire, losing the two games by a grand total of three points, but tucked away in the middle of two very close games were some details that ASU didn’t take care of that could have been the difference between a 0-2 weekend and a 2-0 weekend. Against USC, the team missed 13 of its 25 free throw attempts in losing a two-point game. Against the Bruins, they were better in that category, missing just nine of their 24 foul shots, but an inability to connect from the floor for huge swaths of the game condemned them to a 15-point second half deficit. They did scrape back to tie the game and send it to overtime, but allowing three straight open threes to start the extra period again doomed them to trying to fight back from behind; this time they simply ran out of time.

Looking ahead: The Devils travel to Cal and Stanford this weekend, and it will be interesting to see where this team’s head is at. Are they ready to pack it in, or will the three ASU seniors rally the troops and go out fighting?

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ATB: The Day After

Posted by jstevrtc on January 28th, 2011

The Lede. Hopefully everyone was over their Jimmer hangovers by the time the games started tonight. Judging by Twitter, and…well, pretty much every sports outlet in the nation, the transitive verb “to Jimmer” has entered the American sporting lexicon with some serious impact. We can’t remember when a college baller’s name has ever been used in this fashion; nobody ever said “You got Turnered/Walled,” or “He Morrisoned them,” or “They Hansbrough’d the heck out of that poor team.” And the only name we can think of that contains a reverent “The” at the beginning that’s in regular use today belongs to U2 guitarist The Edge, though — and credit to Seth Davis for starting the trend — “The Jimmer” is now commonplace usage in referring to just about everybody’s favorite player.

Darius Morris and Crew Start the Celebration (J.Gonzalez/Detroit FP)

But enough of that for now. We’ll have many chances to discuss him later. Tonight we saw three tough conference road wins, two of them in games involving bitter rivals. We have a couple of RTCs we have to weigh in on, and a pair of outstanding tweets from the Gonzaga vs St. Mary’s game. First, though, we start…with Sparty.

Your Watercooler Moment. On the halftime coverage of ESPN2′s St. Mary’s @ Gonzaga game, when asked about how dire the situation was for Michigan State this year after their loss to Michigan tonight, even the understated Dan Dakich hesitated for effect and said gravely, “Well…it’s pretty serious.”

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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 27th, 2011

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

A Look Back

The big story in the Pac-10 last week was the battle between the prohibitive favorite in the conference, Washington, and its biggest supposed contender, Arizona. If you’ve followed this here series all year, you know that we haven’t really bought into the Wildcats as serious threats to the Huskies, but despite Washington’s 17-point win on Thursday night, Arizona did actually post what was, to me, by far their most impressive performance of the season on Saturday, when they followed up their disappointing loss with a tough road victory in Pullman over Washington State. While that one victory still doesn’t mean the ‘Cats are a serious threat to the Huskies, it does set up a battle this week between Arizona and UCLA, each 5-2 in the conference, for the inside track to the two-seed in the conference tournament come March. With this week wrapping up the first half of the conference season, this is a major battle. Elsewhere around the conference, Stanford looked awful in its road trip to Southern California, posting just a 30.5 effective field goal percentage on the weekend. Arizona State continued to look terrible, dropping a couple more games this week (they’re now 1-6 in conference play). And Oregon State continued its vacillating season with a come-from-ahead loss at home against in-state rival Oregon.

Team of the Week: Washington – Both the Huskies and UCLA posted 2-0 records on the week, but while the Bruins won their games in uninspiring fashion, the Huskies garnered the big win over Arizona, then added a tougher-than-expected win over Arizona State on Saturday. Isaiah Thomas continued to be just excellent in the role of point guard for Lorenzo Romar, posting another 18 assists this week, while he is still scoring in bunches (20.5 PPG this week), knocking down threes (three more this week), playing great pressure defense and keeping the high-octane Husky offense running smoothly. Matthew Bryan-Amaning also continued his hot play, averaging 24 PPG and 8 RPG this week.

Player of the Week: Isaiah Thomas, Junior, Washington – For the second week in a row, I’m dissing Derrick Williams and his spectacularly efficient numbers (19.5 PPG, 15 RPG this week and shooting a stunning 70% from three on the season, albeit on just 27 attempts – still amazing) in favor of the diminutive floor general in Seattle. In a 17-point win like the Arizona game on Thursday, it is hard to say that there is one play that determines the game. But, if there was that one play in that game, anyone who watched it knows what it is. With Washington clinging to a 56-50 lead, a Husky turnover led to an Arizona breakaway. Junior forward Darnell Gant hustled back to make a great block in transition, sending the ball towards the corner of the court, seemingly headed out of bounds. But Thomas didn’t stop, went hurtling head-first after the ball and was able to save the ball to teammate Aziz N’Diaye in bounds. After Thomas regained his footing, N’Diaye got the ball back to the Huskies’ leader who brought the ball back up court, drove into the meat of the Wildcat defense and was able to kick it out to an open Gant for a three-pointer, completing a five-point swing. From there, the Huskies slowly put the game away, sparked by the great hustle by both Gant and Thomas. That play, along with several others, prompted Arizona head coach Sean Miller to say the following about Thomas: “Isaiah Thomas, it’s not even close, there’s not one player in the country who’s more disrespected across the nation than him. Not one. It’s not even close. If he’s not one of the top four or five point guards in the country, then I’m going to tell you I want to invite these guys who vote to come and watch film.”

Newcomer of the Week: Lazeric Jones, Junior, UCLA – It was not a pretty week for the Bruins. Freshman center Josh Smith went down midway through the Cal game with a concussion and did not return the rest of the weekend. Sophomore forward Reeves Nelson struggled with foul trouble on Saturday, while junior guard Malcolm Lee fouled out early on Thursday night. And in both cases, the Bruins were awful lucky to have Jones, a junior college transfer, along to bail them out. On Thursday against Cal, the Bruins seemingly had the game under control late, with a comfortable lead. But when Lee fouled out, Cal freshman Allen Crabbe went wild, scoring 13 of his 17 points once his defensive shadow had been disqualified and getting the Bears right back into a tie game. But Jones kept the Bruins steady, knocking down eight of his ten free throws down the stretch on his way to a career-high 24 points. On Saturday, Jones added another 17 important points for a Bruin team lacking its normal big production from their frontcourt. And on the season, Jones is now averaging 11.5 PPG (including 16.5 PPG in his last four), 3.1 APG and a solid 1.5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Game of the Week: Arizona 65, Washington State 63 – In a game that both teams considered very important to their postseason hopes, the Wildcats escaped from their Washington trip with a split when Klay Thompson’s clean look in the lane came up short and Faisal Aden was unable to get up a second shot before the buzzer sounded after securing the offensive rebound. Derrick Williams led the ‘Cats with 17 points and 19 rebounds, while WSU’s two top scorers, Thompson and Aden, struggled all night, combining to hit just six of their 23 field goal attempts and just two of their ten attempts from beyond the arc. Arizona’s Jamelle Horne, the lone senior on either roster, was the hero for the second time in four games, knocking down two big threes around the two-minute mark to extend a 56-55 Zona lead to a 62-57 game. From there, Washington State took advantage of some missed Arizona free throws, including two misses by Kyle Fogg with 15 seconds left, to get back within striking range, but Thompson’s miss at the end left WSU back at .500 in the conference.

Game of the Upcoming Week: UCLA (13-6, 5-2) at Arizona (16-4, 5-2), 1/27, 6PM PST, ESPN2 – There was a time in the recent past, where this game between these schools would go a long way towards deciding the eventual regular season champion. While both schools have struggled through some downturns of late, this rivalry is back on the map and the winner of this game remains just one game back of Washington in the conference. Josh Smith is expected back from a concussion for UCLA, but the biggest question for Ben Howland is how to slow Williams. Nelson will likely take much of that responsibility (with additional eyeballs on Williams at all times), but he has found himself mired in game-long foul trouble twice in the past two weeks, and the Bruins will need him to contribute offensively to have a chance to get the road win. For the Wildcats, they’re still waiting for a consistent second option to arise alongside Williams, to no avail yet. Horne has hit some big shots recently, but has failed to secure his head coach’s complete trust. Momo Jones has scored in double figures the last two times out, but he’s seemingly just as often a liability as an asset. And Solomon Hill, the ‘Cats second leading scorer on the season at 8.5 PPG, is more suited to the role of garbage man than as a go-to offensive player. So far, riding Williams has worked out just fine, but Miller may need to have somebody else step up in this game to secure this win.

Power Rankings

1. Washington (15-4, 7-1): In the last three games, head coach Lorenzo Romar has gone with junior Scott Suggs in the starting lineup, choosing to bring the energy of Venoy Overton off of the bench, and Suggs has produced four threes in those games. In the first two games as a starter, a sole three-pointer seemed to be the only production that Suggs contributed, but in the Arizona State game on Saturday, he knocked down two key second-half threes to help propel the Huskies to victory. With Thomas, Bryan-Amaning and Justin Holiday established offensive weapons, Romar just needs Suggs to provide the three-point threat and some solid defense in his minutes on the floor, but with gunners like C.J. Wilcox and Terrence Ross waiting in reserve, Suggs had better keep knocking down the threes in order to retain his starting job.

Looking ahead: The Huskies travel to Pullman on Sunday for a game that the Cougars are going to be very interested in winning. An in-state rival coming calling on a team who has not yet lived up to their lofty expectations for themselves? Yeah, the Huskies better be ready for a street fight on Sunday.

2. Arizona (16-4, 5-2): We’ve detailed Arizona’s visit to the Washington schools above, so let’s just take a look at their NCAA Tournament resume to this point. They’ve played four teams in Ken Pomeroy’s top 70 teams in the nation, and their win at Washington State on Saturday was their first positive outcome. In the three losses (to Kansas, BYU and Washington), they’ve lost by an average of over 15 points per contest. Aside from the WSU win, their best result was a road win over an underachieving NC State team that was missing its best player. Beyond that, a couple of ugly home wins against the Bay Area schools are the best thing they’ve got going. Sure, “16-4” looks real good, but upon closer inspection, there is just not a lot of meat on the bones of the Arizona resume, to the point where it is possible they’ll need some more appealing wins in the conference schedule in order to secure an at-large bid.

Looking ahead: This week’s homestand against the Los Angeles schools is a good place to start. Hosting UCLA on Thursday and USC on Saturday gives the Wildcats to pick up a couple more wins over KenPom’s top 70 teams.

3. UCLA (13-6, 5-2): The good news for the Bruins is that they posted a couple wins and overcame some adversity in order to do so; the fact that neither game was anywhere near a work of art is beside the point. Against Cal on Thursday, they blew a 14-point lead in a game that was seemingly in hand and had to get a spectacular tip-in by Nelson at the buzzer to avoid overtime. Then, against Stanford on Saturday, they got off to a terrible start, building up their own 14-point deficit early before turning it on late in the first half to get back to within one at the break and then skating through the second half to an 11-point win. While the defense has at times looked very much like a typically stout Howland defense, unfortunately the offense has looked very much like a stagnant Howland offense, a concerning development considering the offensive talent on the roster.

Looking ahead: To this point in the season, the Bruins have done very little to prove to their fans that the ’10-’11 version of the team is significantly different than the ’09-’10 version. On Thursday, they’ll have a good chance to change that perception. But given that they have a history of letting down after a big game, they’d be wise to make sure they don’t take Arizona State lightly on Saturday.

4. Washington State (14-6, 4-4): This was the week for the Cougars to get right back in the mix at the top of the conference. The schedule set up perfectly, with Arizona State coming in on Thursday and Arizona – off of its big battle with Washington – showing up on Saturday. But while they took care of business on the front end, cold shooting from their stars doomed them against the Wildcats. Thompson’s shooting percentage took a significant dip during last year’s conference play, but there is a major difference this year: he’s still able to contribute in other areas when his shot isn’t falling. Against Arizona, he hit just four of his 16 shots, but at least he was able to contribute team highs with eight rebounds and seven assists. But given that Thompson’s scoring is such a focal point of the Coug offense, what will be remembered from that game is his missed shots, and specifically, the final missed shot.

Looking ahead: The Cougs host Washington on Sunday to wrap up the front-end of the Pac-10 conference schedule. For Ken Bone’s club to hold any hopes of competing for a conference title, this is a game they absolutely have to have.

5. USC (11-9, 3-4): Following their lost weekend in Oregon, the Trojans came out strong against Stanford on Thursday and just demolished them. They held the Cardinal to a 24.6 effective field goal percentage on the way to a 23-point victory. Relying on defense, slowing the tempo down on offense, and getting offense from Nikola Vucevic and Jio Fontan, USC looked every bit the part of the upper division Pac-10 team that they occasionally pretend to be. Against Cal on Saturday, it was back to the bad Trojans again, however. Outside of senior guard Donte Smith going absolutely bonkers from deep (eight of 11 threes for a career-high 24 points), the offense was non-existent. The Trojans defended well enough to still have a shot at the win on the final shot of the game, but the Fontan three at the buzzer came up short, a perfectly emblematic offensive possession for the Trojans.

Looking ahead: The Trojans will need to win both of their games in Arizona this week (ASU on Thursday, Arizona on Saturday), in order to complete the first lap of conference play above .500.

6. Cal (10-9, 3-4): Really, a two-point win and a two-point loss for a split on the Southern California road trip, that’s a perfectly defensible result. But the fact that the Golden Bears rallied from a 14-point second half deficit against UCLA and scored 23 points in the final 3:20 to get back to even for the first time since the score was tied at 6-6, then lost on a offensive rebound putback at the buzzer, had to be particularly heartbreaking. The flip side of that is that head coach Mike Montgomery was able to get his team to rebound from that crushing defeat with a fine performance against USC on Saturday is a credit to his coaching ability. Freshman Allen Crabbe continued his hot streak, averaging 14.5 PPG this week and has now hit double figures in six straight games, while junior forward Harper Kamp led the team in scoring in both games, averaging 20 points per contest and bumping his streak of double-digit scoring to eight games.

Looking ahead: The Bears host the Oregon schools this week, and given the way the Pac-10 has played out thus far, no one really knows what to expect in those games.

7. Stanford (10-8, 3-4): With the Cardinal’s two losses in Southern California this week, the team is now 1-5 in true road games this season and 1-2 in neutral site games. Those two wins? Over Arizona State and DePaul, and everybody beats Arizona State and DePaul. For a team with no real veteran point guard and a lot of freshmen counted on for serious contributions off the bench, struggling away from home is not an unheard of proposition, but the way Stanford struggled this week was particularly ugly. In the two games in the LA area, the Cardinal had a combined effective field goal percentage of 30.5%. Against USC, their traditional field goal percentage was 22.2%, their lowest total since the adoption of the 35-second shot-clock. Basically, this Cardinal team is a historically bad offensive team. Johnny Dawkins does have a commitment from class of ’11 recruit Chasson Randle, and he may be able to start at the point from his first day on campus. If he can turn into a playmaking point, the Cardinal could have quite a few nice pieces around him next year, with Jeremy Green and Josh Owens as seniors and youngsters like Dwight Powell, Aaron Bright and Anthony Brown with a year of experience under their belt.

Looking ahead: The Oregon schools come to Maples this week, so the Cardinal have a good shot at getting over .500 this week.

8. Oregon State (8-10, 3-4): Let’s start by saying that these last three teams in the conference are all a jumble. I’m putting OSU 8th based on talent and, you know, a better record, but this is a team that just got done losing at home to Oregon, arguably the least talented team in the conference (and really, there isn’t even much of an argument). While the Beavers have the type of talent that has their fans dreaming of competing for a conference title, those talented players are still awful young and inexperienced. Guys like sophomore Jared Cunningham and freshman Roberto Nelson have shown tantalizing touches of incredible ability, but in the game with the Ducks, those two combined to make just seven of their 21 field goal attempts and Nelson in particular needs to tighten up his shot selection considerably. Also of news this week was Nelson starting ahead of senior Calvin Haynes for the second straight game. It had been thought that the true changing of the guard wouldn’t take place until after the season, but it looks like Craig Robinson will be using the remainder of the season to get experience for his youngsters. While that is a perfectly cromulent decision, it is a shame to see a senior of Haynes’ ability and unselfishness lose minutes down the stretch of his senior year.

Looking ahead: The Beavers travel to Cal on Thursday, then to Stanford on Saturday, and the way they’re playing right now, anything is possible.

9. Oregon (9-10, 2-5): I don’t think it is doing a disservice to the guys on the Oregon roster to say that this is not an overly talented bunch. There aren’t any five-star recruits on this roster; I don’t think there are even any four-star guys here. But, so far this season they’ve played Missouri to a standstill, knocked off USC (a top-50 team according to Ken Pomeroy), and just this week knocked off intra-state rival Oregon State. You generally don’t give Coach of the Year consideration to a guy whose team is 9-10 on the year (with the majority of those nine wins against the dregs of Division I), but it cannot be repeated enough how great of a job head coach Dana Altman has done with these Ducks. This is an undersized, under-talented team that has had to deal with offseason defections, in-season injuries and more talented opposition, but Oregon has continued to scrap, Altman has begun rebuilding the talent base on the recruiting trail, and Duck fans have to be optimistic about the future of the program

Looking ahead: The Ducks travel to Stanford and Cal this week, and while road wins are not likely, given how hard this team competes, the Bay Area schools will be in for a fight.

10. Arizona State (9-10, 1-6): In the interest of remaining positive, wow, has Ty Abbott been on fire from deep lately. He’s had 22 threes in the last five ASU games, averaging 18.6 points per game over that stretch. Unfortunately, the only Sun Devil win over those five games was a non-conference win over Tulsa. ASU’s sole win in conference play was a road win in the final game at Mac Court.  Really, this collapse is almost inexplicable. The Sun Devils have as much talent on board as any of the five teams at the bottom of this conference, and they’ve got something that no other team in the conference can boast: three experienced seniors. While Abbott has been excellent of late, as a whole the senior class has had a very disappointing year, and as the old saw goes, “you’re only as good as your seniors.”

Looking ahead: The Devils welcome USC and UCLA into Tempe this week, and while they’ll be underdogs in both games, there is no good reason this team can’t be competitive in both of these games.

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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by rtmsf on December 23rd, 2010

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

A Look Back

  • For the first time this season, the Pac-10 had a week where a handful of teams combined to put together some good efforts, and more importantly, some good wins over quality competition. As of Saturday morning, it looked like more of the same for Pac-10 teams, as USC headed to Lawrence and put up a valiant effort against Kansas, before letting it slip away – a familiar course of action from around the conference. But, later that afternoon UCLA handed BYU its first loss of the season in the Wooden Classic, one of the leading candidates to that point for the best win of the season by a Pac-10 school. The next day, Arizona beat North Carolina State in Raleigh, qualifying as a decent road win. And then on Tuesday, USC wrapped up its tough two-game road trip with a win at Tennessee, probably making the Saturday UCLA win take a back seat. At any rate, while some success has come the Pac-10’s way lately, the conference still sits at 72-39 on the season, with the really quality wins over quality opponents remaining few and far between.
  • Team of the Week.  USC – This award was headed to the Southland one way or another. But USC gets the nod over its L.A. rival after basically playing Kansas and Tennessee to draws on the road, escaping with a win in Knoxville despite coming up short at the Allen Fieldhouse. The Trojan win over Tennessee gives Kevin O’Neill’s club perhaps the two best Pac-10 wins in non-conference play to this point (the other a win over Texas), with the start of Pac-10 play a week away. Junior point guard Jio Fontan saw his first action as a Trojan this week, after sitting out the first semester due to his transfer from Fordham. He was effective in his first two games (he had 15 points at Kansas and 13 points,  four assists and three steals at Tennessee), but is still working on getting comfortable with his teammates. As he settles into his role, he has the ability to make the rest of his team better, meaning the Trojans of February and March should be even more dangerous than they are now.
  • Player of the Week. Klay Thompson, Junior, Washington State – The week started out a little iffy for Thompson, as for most of the Cougars’ game at Santa Clara on Sunday, his shots weren’t falling. Throw in six turnovers and Thompson had his Washington State club on the verge of being upset. But with 17 seconds to go, he hit a three to tie the game at 71. From there the game went to overtime, where Thompson scored another seven points and his Cougs pulled out a tough one by six. Thompson wound up with 23 points (albeit on 5/16 shooting), seven rebounds, six assists, five steals, a couple blocks and four threes along the way. Not bad for a rough night. He followed that performance up with a much crisper performance in the opening round of the Diamond Head Classic on Wednesday, with 28 points and four more threes in a Cougar win over Mississippi State. He is now averaging 21 points per game on the season while hitting 48% of his shots and leading his team in assists and steals.
  • Newcomer of the Week.  Josh Smith, Freshman, UCLA – Smith was a major factor in UCLA’s Saturday win over BYU, scoring 15 points, grabbing eight rebounds and playing gutsy and smart minutes down the stretch, despite playing with four fouls, as UCLA fought off the Cougars. Smith picked up his fourth foul on a questionable call with about 15 minutes left in the game, and after he went to the bench BYU scored 11 straight points to cut the UCLA lead to just two. However, rather than keep Smith on the pine until late in the game, head coach Ben Howland showed a lot of faith in his big kid, putting him back in the game with over ten minutes still to play. Smith responded immediately, rebounding his own miss and getting the put-back just after re-entering on his way to seven points, three rebounds and perhaps the biggest defensive play of the game in a span of just over four minutes. That big defensive play occurred when Smith, playing with those four fouls, slid over in the lane in front of a driving Jimmer Fredette, and drew an offensive foul, the fourth foul on BYU’s All-American candidate. Smith has been up and down in his first month as a collegiate player, but if the Bruins entertain hopes of an NCAA Tournament invitation, they’ll need to continue to get play like this from their big and talented youngster.
  • Game of the Week.  USC 65, Tennessee 64 – In all honesty, that USC/Kansas game was probably the more entertaining game. But in a week where the Pac-10 actually pulled out some big wins, I wanted to mention a Pac-10 win in this space for the first time this season. After leading by as much as eight in the middle of the second half at Thompson-Boling Arena, the Trojans had to hang on down the stretch in order to pull this one out. Senior guard Donte Smith continued his hot play of late by hitting a big three with just over two minutes left to give USC some breathing room at 65-60, but Tennessee pulled back within striking distance with four straight free throws. But USC stepped up the defensive pressure down the stretch and forced a deep Volunteer three which rattled off the rim as time expired to earn the win. USC won despite a rough night for leading scorer Nikola Vucevic who was held to just four points and one rebound before fouling out after just 24 minutes. The Trojans were led by 5’7 freshman guard Maurice Jones and his 15 points, four rebounds, four assists, four steals and three three-pointers.
  • Game of the Upcoming Week.  Washington State in the Diamond Head Classic, ESPN on 12/23 and 12/25 – The Cougs should get a chance or two at some quality opponents in Honolulu. With a win over a short-handed Mississippi State team already under their belts, they get to face Baylor in the semifinal round. Baylor will present quite a challenge for WSU, but it also gives the Cougars a chance to put another good win on their resume. Win or lose, they should then get a chance to face either Butler or Florida State on Christmas Day, either in the championship game or the third-place game. While neither one of those opponents is ranked, they each present Ken Bone’s club with another opportunity to face some big-league competition.

Power Rankings

1. Washington State 9-1.  We mentioned the Cougars’ overtime win at Santa Clara above while awarding the Player of the Week award to Klay Thompson, but several other Cougs contributed in that game. Junior forward Marcus Capers hit all five of his shots in that game, ending up with 14 points and seven rebounds, and front-court mate DeAngelo Casto scored 15, including five in the overtime period, and added ten more rebounds. From Santa Clara, WSU headed to Honolulu for the Diamond Head Classic, and got things off to a strong start there, taking apart Mississippi State in the second half of their opening round game there. WSU outscored MSU 44-17 in the second half while hitting 12 of their 24 three-point attempts for the game and outrebounding the Bulldogs 39-23.

Looking ahead: Baylor awaits in the second round of the Diamond Head tournament, with Butler or Florida State rounding up the weekend. Once back on the mainland, all thoughts turn to conference play as a trip to Pauley Pavilion opens Pac-10 play next Wednesday.

2. Washington 7-3.  Two wins this week by an average of 29 points over teams with a combined 7-15 record tells us little or nothing about this Husky team. We know they can beat up on bad teams – they’ve made a living out of doing so. Isaiah Thomas led the way for the Huskies as he broke out his own personal 10-0 run to start the second half of Washington’s 30-point victory over San Francisco. And he took that streak and turned it into a season-high 24 points in the 28-point win over Nevada on Wednesday. Thomas’ numbers this season thus far are up nearly all the way across the board. While his scoring average is down a bit, he’s averaging career-bests in assists, steals, field goal percentage, three-point percentage, assist-to-turnover ratio, with a career low in turnovers. With competition going up a notch as conference play nears, we’ll keep an eye on those numbers to see if Thomas can keep up that level of play.

Looking ahead: A trip to Los Angeles in advance of the new year, with the Pac-10 opener at USC on 12/29 followed by a visit to Pauley Pavilion on New Year’s Eve.

3. UCLA 7-4.  The importance of the UCLA win over BYU can’t be overstated. For a young team, bouncing back from a horrific 09-10 campaign, with an 0-3 record in their three biggest games of the season and a painful loss to Montana to boot, the BYU win showed this young team that they are capable of playing with top-25 caliber programs. But, just as important as their performance in a highly anticipated game was how they would respond in the next game, against a team without as much name recognition. After UCLA’s strong performance in a loss at Kansas a few weeks back, they got caught napping in their next game against Montana. This time, they faced Montana State after the BYU game, and while there were lapses of concentration (after leading by as many as 15 in the first half, UCLA got sloppy and allowed Montana  State to retake the lead), UCLA was able to pull away late and secure a 16-point win behind Malcolm Lee’s 18 points. Ben Howland would have preferred more consistent play in the follow-up game, but at least his team was able to come away with the win.

Looking ahead: The Bruins wrap up their pre-Pac-10 non-conference slate on Thursday with a visit from UC Irvine before hosting the Washington schools in the opening weekend of conference play.

4. Arizona 11-2.  The Wildcats looked pretty bad in knocking off Northern Arizona by five last Thursday, but bounced back with a solid win over NC State on Sunday night, and then a blowout of overmatched Robert Morris on Wednesday. In the NAU game, Arizona was outrebounded 28-18 and had to fight back from a seven-point half-time deficit to get to a tie game with just over a minute left. From there, Kevin Parrom connected on a three-point play, and then Brendon Lavender got a steal that led to a breakaway bucket to complete the final margin. The NC State game was much less dramatic, as the Wildcats never trailed in the second half, but they did get outrebounded again, this time by a 36-28 margin, including an 18-7 deficit on the offensive end. The Robert Morris game was a whole other level of undramatic, as the Wildcats won by 26. Derrick Williams continued his efficient play, scoring almost 19 points per game this week, although his rebounding numbers have fallen off some – he had just eight total rebounds in the first two games before grabbing nine against RMU. The sophomore Parrom was the most impressive Wildcat this week, with his 14 points, five rebounds, four assists and three threes against NAU making up the best line of his young career.

Looking ahead: Nothing but Pac-10 play from here, as the Wildcats open with visits to the Oregon schools beginning on 12/30.

5. USC 7-5.  We’ve talked about USC pretty extensively above, so we’ll just point out here that aside from the addition of Fontan, the Trojans have plenty of room to grow defensively. In each of the last four seasons, USC ranked in the top 25 teams in the nation in terms of defensive efficiency, according to Ken Pomeroy, and last year they were number two in the country in that area. This year, they sit at a respectable 44th, but if we know Kevin O’Neill, you can expect that ranking to improve as the year goes on.

Looking ahead: Lehigh on Thursday is the last non-conference game of the regular season, with conference play kicking off Wednesday with a visit from pre-season Pac-10 favorite, Washington.

6. Arizona State 6-4.  The Sun Devils scored a couple of solid wins this week, with a three-point road-win over Nevada and a 17-point home handling of Long Beach State. The concern around Tempe has been the relatively quiet performances from seniors Rihards Kuksiks, Ty Abbott and Jamelle McMillan, but no such worries this week. Kuksiks led the way in the Nevada game with 20 points and four threes. But it was Ty Abbott who hit a clutch three just under a minute to silence a run by the Wolfpack and give the Sun Devils some breathing room. Abbott wound up with 17 in that game, then followed that up with a team-high 15 against LBSU. McMillan was also solid this week, averaging six assists per game and snagging six steals in the Long Beach game alone. Freshman Kyle Cain also had a big game against the 49ers, grabbing 16 rebounds and scoring 12 points.

Looking ahead: North Carolina A&T is the final non-conference visitor prior to Pac-10 play, with a trip to Corvallis kicking things off there next Thursday.

7. Cal 6-5.  Win a game you should win, lose a game you should lose. That’s the story of the Golden Bear week, as a loss to Kansas followed a win over Cal Poly. The bad news is this team doesn’t seem to be improving a whole lot as the season goes on. We knew that this Cal team had some growing pains ahead of it, with a slew of youngsters trying to replace last year’s decorated but now-departed seniors. In the early going, Mike Montgomery has relied on veterans like front-court grinders Markhuri Sanders-Frison and Harper Kamp and backcourt annoyance Jorge Gutierrez to keep the Bears in games out of sheer determination. These guys fight and scrap and bother the opposition (at times to the point of retaliation, as we saw with Kansas’ Marcus Morris and his flagrant elbow on Wednesday night), but they’re just not the type of guys who you can create offensive opportunities, a problem which leads to things like the infamous Cal five-point half. The hope for Golden Bear fans was that freshmen guards Allen Crabbe and Gary Franklin would use the non-conference season to settle in and be ready to break out in Pac-10 play, but while Crabbe has had some moments on his way to averaging 7.4 points and 4.7 assists per game, Franklin has struggled mightily. He’s turned the ball over more than he’s handed out assists and he’s shooting an awful 28.4% from the field. Montgomery keeps running him out there though, for 26-plus minutes a night every night, hoping that his confidence in his talented freshman will rub off some. If it does, this Cal team could surprise some people; if it doesn’t, they’ll just continue to annoy people.

Looking ahead: A meeting with Hartford on Tuesday wraps up the non-conference slate, then it is on to Palo Alto for their Pac-10 opener with Stanford.

8. Stanford 6-4.  From here on down to the last place team in the conference, there is nothing but bad news and losses this week. Stanford’s struggles started Saturday when they were dominated at Butler. After already trailing by 19 at halftime, the Cardinal were outscored 10-0 to start the half by Matt Howard alone as Butler got all over Johnny Dawkins’ club in every aspect of the game. On Tuesday, in what was the final game of an 8-4 Big 12 win in the Big 12/Pac-10 challenge, Stanford tripped up against at Oklahoma State. Juniors Jeremy Green and Josh Owens led the Cardinal again this week, as they have done most of the season, scoring 33.5 points per game between the two of them this week, as opposed to the 28 they normally average. However, there hasn’t been even a semi-consistent third option anywhere else, although freshman guard Aaron Bright threw his hat into the ring for that role against Oklahoma State with 15 points and four assists.

Looking ahead: The Cardinal host Yale on Thursday, then get their conference play opened on the second day of the new year with a battle against Bay Area rival Cal at the Farm.

9. Oregon 7-5.  Losses to Virginia and Idaho this week turn what had been a reasonably good non-conference slate for the Ducks into just a typical ugly record for a team expected to finish near the bottom of the conference. Oregon showed this week that not only are they an undersized team, they’re also simply an under-talented team, as they shot just 34% from the field combined. Senior Joevan Catron continued to produce – he led the Ducks in scoring and rebounding in each game – but he’s still playing out of position and is more or less surrounded by an underwhelming cast.

Looking ahead: The Arizona schools come to town, starting on Thursday, in what should be a long and ugly conference run for the Ducks.

10. Oregon State 5-6.  The Beavers had two very winnable games this week at home, and came away with a 1-1 record. First, the bad news: a loss against George Washington in which they turned the ball over 19 times, forced just nine turnovers and missed 15 of their 19 attempts from three. A forgettable performance, so let’s just forget it, especially since the win this week was a 20-point blowout of Illinois-Chicago, a team that just got done beating Illinois, a top 25 team. Not only is that a pretty good win for the Beavs, the way that did it has to have their fans excited, as four OSU players scored in double figures: a sophomore, a redshirt freshman and two true freshmen. Sophomore Jared Cunningham led the way with 22 points and three steals. Highly-anticipated redshirt freshman Roberto Nelson went from 14 in just his third game in a Beaver uniform. Freshman Ahmad Starks had 12 points, three assists and four threes, and fellow freshman Devon Collier had ten points, seven rebounds and three steals. When Craig Robinson assembled these kinds of recruits in Corvallis, this is what OSU fans had in mind. Throw in guys like senior forward Omari Johnson and sophomore centers Joe Burton and Angus Brandt and all of a sudden you’ve got the makings of a rotation that looks like a passable Pac-10 group. And that’s without even mentioning senior guard Calvin Haynes, a guy capable of going for 27 points, as he did against Charlotte, although just as likely to go for two points on five field goals attempts in 25 minutes, as he did in a blowout loss at Colorado. This is still a bad Beaver team, but there is no reason this team can’t at least be competitive in many games in a down Pac-10.

Looking ahead: It’s all Pac-10 play from here, as the Beavers will host the Arizona schools next week.

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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 16th, 2010

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

A Look Back

  • Much like the rest of the country, this week in the Pac-10 was mighty slow as student-athletes focused on their schoolwork in anticipation of winter break. And, much like the rest of the Pac-10 season to date, the three challenging games on the schedule this week for Pac-10 institutions all went down as losses, as Arizona got destroyed by BYU, Washington continued its run of losing to quality competition in a loss to Texas A&M (a loss that also sealed the Pac-10’s fate in the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Challenge) and Cal dropped a nail-biter against Southern Mississippi. With just a couple more weeks of non-conference play remaining, the Pac-10 is in danger again of having few if any viable candidates for at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament.
  • Team of the Week: VACANT – Really. There’s not a team out there that did anything this week to earn any accolades. Who is this supposed to go to? USC for beating Northern Arizona? UCLA for unimpressive wins over Cal Poly and UC Davis? Stanford for not slipping up against UC Riverside and North Carolina A&T? Cal for only losing to Southern Miss by two? Nah. There’s just not a team in the conference that did anything worthwhile this week.
  • Player of the Week: E.J. Singler, Sophomore, Oregon – While Singler certainly owes a portion of this award to the fact that it was a light schedule around the conference, he did his fair share to outright win this honor as well. Kyle’s little brother averaged 16 points and 12 rebounds per game in leading his Ducks to a pair of easy wins over a couple teams with a combined record of 5-14, including Willamette of Division III, a game in which Singler went for 18/17 and three steals. So far this season, the versatile Singler is second on his team in scoring (13.1 PPG), and leads the team in rebounding (6.7 RPG), blocks (11 on the year) and threes (14-26 from deep), while putting in just a minute less than the team-leader in minutes, Joevan Catron.
  • Newcomer of the Week: Faisal Aden, Junior, Washington State – Aden has moved to the bench with point guard Reggie Moore now back from his wrist injury, but his production hasn’t slowed a whole lot. He added another 20-point game this week in WSU’s by-the-books win over Texas Pan-American, with a season-high seven rebounds and another four three-pointers along the way, and is presently averaging 18.3 points per outing while hitting at a rate of 49.6% from the field. Aden’s continued ability to providing a scoring punch off the bench makes the Cougars one of the top contenders for the conference crown.
  • Game of the Week: Texas A&M 63, Washington 62 – Another week, and another disappointing Pac-10 loss takes home our Game of the Week honors, this time the Huskies coming up short in their attempt to beat somebody – anybody – of consequence. Despite their perfect 16-16 night from the foul line and the Aggies’ imperfect night from deep (0-8 from three), the Huskies were outrebounded, outworked and outclassed by their Big 12 opponent. And yet, with time winding down, they still had a chance when Isaiah Thomas snuck up on Nathan Walkup in the open court and picked his pocket with six seconds left, then raced up court to the free throw line before running out of room and out of time. He forced a shot up as time expired into the waiting arms of Aggie junior David Loubeau who sent it back and, with it, sent the Huskies back to Seattle with three losses in their three attempts against top-tier opponents. Soon enough, all these Pac-10 teams will be playing each other, so we’ll have to choose a game in which a Pac-10 team leaves victorious.
  • Game of the Upcoming Week: USC at Kansas, 12/11, 9:00 AM PST, ESPN – While this would not normally be the type of game you would look down the schedule and circle, there are a couple of interesting debuts here that should have all college basketball fans – not just Pac-10 fans – very interested. For the Jayhawks, freshman guard Josh Selby will make his debut, while Trojan fans will get their first glimpse at their new point guard, Jio Fontan, a junior transfer from Fordham. While Selby’s unveiling will get the most attention, given that he was a McDonald’s All-American and one of the most highly regarded recruits in the nation this offseason, Kevin O’Neill and the Trojans are just as excited about Fontan. “He’s our best player,” O’Neill said. “He’s our best leader. He’s our best scorer. He’s our best defender. He’s our best passer. He’s our best guard. He’s our best player.” Whether he’ll be able to fit right in with the Trojans and move them beyond the up-and-down 6-4 squad we’ve seen so far remains to be seen, but O’Neill at least has some experience with getting midseason transfers to step in at point and change the look of his team, as Pat Gerrity did last season for USC. Last year, Gerrity stepped in about this time and led the Trojans to an improbable blowout win over then ninth-ranked Tennessee in his first game back. If Fontan can make anywhere near that type of splash in his first game back, the Trojans could head into Pac-10 play with postseason hopes.

 

 

Power Rankings

1. Washington State (7-1): Following this week’s Washington and Arizona losses, it is time to bump the Cougars up to the top spot in the league, even in a week where all they did was post a 22-point win over an outmanned Texas-Pan American squad. This is far from a perfect WSU team, but they’ve cleaned up some of their weaknesses from last season – namely, defensive efficiency – and even improved on their strengths. Last season, Klay Thompson started out the season on fire, ripping through the non-conference schedule with a barrage of shots from deep, but this season he has clearly returned as a more complete player. He’s added the ability to score off the dribble effectively, he’s become a much more effective passer (he has led the team in assists thus far, stepping in as the team’s playmaker as the incumbent point, Reggie Moore, sat out the first five games with a wrist injury), while still rebounding at a good rate (4.3 RPG). Throw in juco transfer Faisal Aden as a consistent offensive threat alongside Thompson, plus the return of Moore at point and frontcourt contributors like DeAngelo Casto and Marcus Capers, and the emergence of sophomore Brock Motum and freshman Patrick Simon and this is a solid WSU team that is not going anywhere once conference play kicks in.

Looking ahead: The Cougars travel to Santa Clara on Sunday before heading off to Honolulu for the Diamondhead Classic, where they’ll open against Mississippi State (with Renardo Sidney and Dee Bost) with a potential matchup with Baylor awaiting in the semis, assuming both squads advance.

 

2. Washington (6-3): It cannot be said enough, just how disappointing the Huskies have been thus far. Sure, KenPom loves them, still rating them as the sixth best team in the country and the seventh most efficient offense in the land, but even a slightly closer look reveals a team with some cracks. Sure, their three losses are to Kentucky, Michigan State and Texas A&M – all three teams that figure to be dancing come March – but in all three of those games, they were outrebounded (in the Kentucky and A&M games, severely). Worse yet, for a vaunted offensive team, they turned the ball over, didn’t shoot particularly well and were consistently slowed by their defensive-minded opponents. Then there’s Isaiah Thomas, the pint-sized point with the over-sized game. However, thus far he has struggled to take on his new role as the team’s go-to offensive player. In previous seasons he has been at best a secondary option for Lorenzo Romar, but now he needs to be the man for the team when the game is on the line, and thus far, he has been largely ineffective in the team’s three losses: a 13-point average on a combined 10-32 with 11 turnovers and nine assists. Certainly, the team’s three losses aren’t entirely on Thomas’ shoulders, but if he’s going to take over the role of team leader, he’ll need to be a lot more effective in their big games.

Looking ahead: A couple home games against San Francisco and Nevada round up the pre-conference slate (although the Huskies do have one more non-conference game with Seattle mixed in with their Pac-10 play) before the Washington schools visit the Los Angeles area in the last week of December to kick off the conference season.

 

3. UCLA (5-4): Following the Montana debacle, the Bruins got back on track this week with some ho-hum victories over UC Davis and Cal Poly at Pauley Pavilion. While names like Tyler Honeycutt, Reeves Nelson, Malcolm Lee and Joshua Smith (19 points and 12 rebounds against Cal Poly) jump off the box scores for UCLA, a closer look reveals signs of life from much-maligned point Jerime Anderson. Anderson handed out 11 assists against just one turnover while knocking down three of his seven three-point attempts in these two games and looked solid defensively. Clearly this means one of two things: either Anderson is starting to come around and, while he’ll probably never live up to his advance-billing as a highly-regarded recruit, is ready to make solid positive contributions for Ben Howland, or he’s more suited to play at the Big West level. Anderson’s taken enough abuse in his first two seasons as a Bruin, so in the spirit of finding that silver-lining for a hard-working kid, either one of those possibilities is an improvement for a guy who has struggled mightily living up to his expectations in Westwood.

Looking ahead: The last major test for the Bruins before conference play comes Saturday in the Wooden Classic against BYU. However, given their earlier experiences with overlooking Montana following a tough loss at Kansas, UCLA would do well to pay attention when Montana State comes calling on Tuesday.

 

4. Arizona (8-2): There’s no sense in beating around the bush: Arizona got completely destroyed by BYU in Salt Lake City on Saturday. A year after allowing Jimmer Fredette to go for 49 points at the McKale Center, the Wildcats were fortunate to hold the All-American candidate to a mere 33 points and nine assists in this year’s matchup. Perhaps more disturbing than their inability to reign in Fredette – a guy who few teams in the country have been able to control – was their own inability to get their All-American candidate, Derrick Williams, free. Williams was efficient against BYU, tallying 13 points on nine shots, but the Cougars denied him the ball and collapsed on him when he did touch it, forcing other ‘Cats to beat them. Sophomore point Momo Jones did his best, going for 20 points (on 7-11 shooting with four threes mixed in) in his best game of the season, but the rest of the team aside from Williams and Jones combined to make just nine of their 40 shots. At this, point the entirety of the Arizona resume is that they played Kansas sort of close on national television, losing by just eight. Sorry, but an eight-point loss as your best performance of the season doesn’t present major qualifications for a conference title, even in a weakened Pac-10.  

Looking ahead: The Wildcats host Northern Arizona in something called the Fiesta Bowl Basketball Classic on Thursday (even though the Fiesta Bowl is a football game, and one that won’t even be played for about two more weeks), then travel to Raleigh for a pretty tough roadie against North Carolina State.

 

5. USC (6-4): The Trojans have been the epitome of an up-and-down team so far. They won their first two against less-than-stellar completion, then dropped their next two against only slightly better teams. Two more unimpressive wins followed, backed up by even more unimpressive losses. The good Trojans have been back for the last two, the upset of Texas a couple weekends back and their dispatching of Northern Arizona this week, during which senior point guard Donte Smith caught absolute fire in the middle of the second half, scoring 14 straight points to offer a strong response to an NAU team that had cut a 12-point halftime lead to just three. Smith started his run by knocking down a three, then stole the ball on the defensive end and turned that into a breakaway layup, before wrapping up his outburst with three more threes to send the Trojans on their way to an eight-point win.  

Looking ahead: Given the Trojans two-up/two-down pattern, this week’s road trips to Kansas and Tennessee look even less promising, although maybe newly eligible point guard Jio Fontan will be able to break the USC streak.

 

6. Arizona State (4-4): The Sun Devils played just one game this week, a 71-48 thrashing of Gardner-Webb, but there are some signs that they might be on the verge of turning things around. While sophomore Trent Lockett and freshman Kyle Cain have been pretty solid contributors for Herb Sendek this season, the Devils’ trio of seniors (Ty Abbott, Rihards Kuksiks and Jamelle McMillan) have been disappointing. Not to read to much into a win over Gardner-Webb, but those three combined for 39 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists and nine threes in that win. Given that each of those guys has been a consistent contributor for the Devils over their time in Tempe, they might be ready to turn it on for conference play.

Looking ahead: The Sun Devils make a trip to Reno to face Nevada on Friday before returning home to host Long Beach State, a pair of games that should not be overlooked.

 

7. Cal (5-4): Three games into the season, Mike Montgomery looked like he was on the verge of pulling off something special in Berkeley. Despite losing four starters from last year’s Pac-10 champion, along with a host of other reserves to various maladies and defections, the Golden Bears opened with wins over CS Northridge, New Mexico and Temple, the last two on that list particularly impressive. Since then, the Bears have gone 2-4, scored five points in a half on one occasion and followed that up with a 15-point outburst in a half the next night out, and have lost twice by 20 or more. This week’s slip-up was quite a bit closer than that, as they lost at home to Southern Mississippi in a nail-biter, with the game undecided until a potential game-winning three by Jorge Gutierrez clanged off the heel at the buzzer. The Golden Eagles’ Gary Flowers scored the last 12 points for Southern Miss on his way to a game high 28, including the game-winner with three seconds left, but the game was really won on the glass as Cal was outrebounded 31-22 on the game and 11-1 on the offensive end, an unsettling stat given the Bears’ desire to rely on the toughness of their frontcourt duo of Harper Kamp and Markuri Sanders-Frison. One highlight for the Bears was junior Nigel Carter’s 16 points on 4-4 shooting from deep, matching his entire output from last season in one afternoon. Carter hasn’t exactly been a consistent scorer for the Bears this season (he has just 14 total points in the other eight Cal games), but after Sunday’s performance, he has made eight of his 11 three-point attempts on the season.

Looking ahead: Cal hosts Cal Poly on Saturday before being the last of four Pac-10 teams to get a crack at Kansas (at least in the regular season) this year.

 

8. Stanford (6-2): Stanford got its first action since the 76 Classic in this week, although the competition wasn’t exactly top-notch: UC Riverside and North Carolina A&T. Junior Jeremy Green led the way with nine three-pointers this week while averaging 20 points a night and junior Josh Owens stepped up as the likely candidate to be Green’s running mate this season, notching 14.5 points and nine rebounds per game this week and proving himself a good Mr. Inside to Green’s Mr. Outside. While Johnny Dawkins won’t learn a whole lot about his team against competition of this caliber, at least the Cardinal had a chance to get back out on the court and get the relatively unexperienced team used to playing with each other.  

Looking ahead: A significant bump up in the level of talent this week, as the Cardinal travel to Indianapolis for a meeting with Butler on Saturday before a Tuesday matchup with Oklahoma State in Stillwater.

 

9. Oregon (7-3): The Ducks continue to be rock solid under new head coach Dana Altman, generally beating the teams they are supposed to beat while giving solid efforts in their losses. This week the competition was meager (Willamette, a Division III school and Jacksonville State), but the Ducks took care of business with a great deal of maturity. Instead of sleepwalking through overmatched opponents, Oregon did exactly what they were supposed to do. They beat Willamette by 33 while dominating on the glass, then never trailed in the crisply-played game against Jacksonville State, handing out 20 assists on their 29 field goals. While I’ve still got Oregon down here near the bottom of the conference, this is a solid ninth-place team, a team that will not beat itself, that will give consistent effort on a nightly basis, and a team that will probably finish further up the standings despite the limitations of this roster.

Looking ahead: So far, the Ducks have played every game on their schedule within the friendly confines of the state of Oregon. That changes on Friday with a trip to Charlottesville to face Virginia, a significant test for a young Duck team. They return home on Tuesday to face Idaho at Mac Court.

 

10. Oregon State (4-5): I’m going to try to get through this Oregon State review without mentioning how bad this Beaver team is. Wait. Does that count? Oh well. The good news for the Beavers is that their savior has finally arrived. Highly regarded recruit Roberto Nelson has finally played his first game in a Beaver uniform, over 15 months since he first set foot on the campus as a student, after battling with the NCAA over academic eligibility issues. While his debut performance in the Beavers’ 20-point win over Texas-Pan American was underwhelming (15 minutes, four points, three turnovers), OSU fans got a glimpse of the type of talent that made him a top-100 recruit a couple years back, as Nelson scored 13 in a five-point loss at Montana. While he’s not going to turn this team into a contender overnight, he is a badly needed dash of talent on an otherwise very ordinary roster.

Looking ahead: George Washington and Illinois-Chicago visit Corvallis – two very winnable games for the Beavs.

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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 2nd, 2010

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

 

A Look Back

After an up-and-down start to the season, this past week was more or less just down. The ten Pac-10 member institutions posted a combined 11-11 record on the week and the majority of those wins were against teams that were simply overmatched, schools like Sacramento State, Houston Baptist and something called Utah Valley State.

As for the losses, in the conference’s big tests of the week, aside from Cal’s Old Spice first round victory over Temple, the results came back negative. Yes, Arizona looked pretty good in their eight-point loss against #4 Kansas, but it was still a loss, as was UCLA’s four-point loss in the NIT consolation game against VCU. Same for Arizona State’s nine-point loss to St. John’s in the Great Alaskan Shootout final, and two-thirds of Stanford’s 76 Classic debacle, right up until they ran up against a BCS conference school in DePaul that was in worse shape than they were. The fact is, after just about three weeks of the college basketball season, the Pac-10 schedules are littered with near-misses and embarrassments, and as we welcome December, only Washington State maintains an unblemished record on the season. However, they too have a big exam coming up with a visit from Kansas State in the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series on Friday night.

Team of the Week

Washington State – The Cougars take down this award almost by default, joining only Washington as the two Pac-10 teams who escaped this week unscathed. The most impressive win for Ken Bone’s team this week was an 11-point victory at Fresno State on Friday, as junior college transfer Faisal Aden continued his early season tear, racking up 28 points on six threes while adding three assists.  WSU turned the game around with a 14-0 run in the second half that flipped a seven-point deficit upside down. The Cougs followed that up with an 84-36 thrashing of Sacramento State on Tuesday, sparked by a 27-0 run to start the game, holding their opponent scoreless until the 10-minute mark of the first half. While there isn’t a great win on the Washington State resume yet, they’ve taken care of business to this point, which is more than some other teams around the conference can say.

Player of the Week

Derrick Williams (Sophomore), Arizona – Williams continued his amazing start to the season this week, averaging 24.5 points per contest and throwing in five three-pointers. In the Wildcats’ loss to Kansas in the Las Vegas Invitational, Williams kept Zona in the game with 27 points and eight rebounds before fouling out with under three minutes remaining. So far on the season, Williams has put up 20.5 points and 7.7 rebounds a night in a mere 24 minutes per game, while hitting an excellent 67.1% from the field and an amazing 80% from three (albeit on just ten attempts). While he’s unlikely to keep up that pace over the course of the season, he has shown that he used the offseason to improve his game. Last year he wasn’t much of a threat outside of the key, but he’s improved his jumper and extended his range out to the arc, he’s added quickness and he’s even stronger than he already was, a scary proposition for teams around the Pac-10 trying to figure out an answer for the talented sophomore.

Newcomer of the Week

C.J. Wilcox (Freshman), Washington – It would be easy enough to reprise the selection of Faisal Aden here, as his torrid early pace has not slowed a bit, but in the interest of a little variety, we’ll go with Wilcox, who caught fire in the sole Huskies game of the week with six three-pointers (in eight attempts) on the way to a career-high in both points (20) and minutes (23) as the Huskies ran away from Long Beach State. Wilcox has seen his minutes fluctuate early in his career, but his three-point shooting has been nothing less than stellar, with 17 makes in his first 29 attempts, good for a 58.6 percentage – just what the Huskies needed, another potent offensive weapon.

Game of the Week

Kansas 87, Arizona 79 – For the second consecutive week, we’re dropping a Pac-10 loss in the Game of the Week section, a pretty good summation of how the season is going thus far for the Pac-10 (Utah Valley State?). Much like last week’s winner here, the Kentucky/Washington matchup in Maui, this game was a matchup of one of the top two teams in the conference against one the premier programs in the country, and while the Wildcats looked impressive in this game, the end result in still a loss. Arizona had to scrape back from a big early deficit (at 31-15, the game looked on the verge of blowout territory), but three straight three-pointers by junior Kyle Fogg, who was coming off the bench for disciplinary reasons, jumpstarted the Zona offense and he and Derrick Williams kept the ‘Cats close until late in the second half. But after Williams fouled out in the game’s closing finish, Sean Miller’s club was unable to finish the deal, yet another Pac-10 case of close, but no cigar.

Game of the Upcoming Week

Gonzaga @ Washington State, 12/8, 8:00 PM PST, FSN – The Cougars have a big week ahead of them, with both Kansas State and Gonzaga visiting the Palouse this week. We’ll take the Zag game as the game of the week, as not only is it a slightly more winnable game for the conference (baby steps, Pac-10, baby steps), but it is also an excellent local rivalry, the battle of eastern Washington. Juniors Faisal Aden and Klay Thompson have been on fire in the early going for WSU, but this week they’ll face a significantly higher level of competition than in their first five games. Luckily, sophomore point guard Reggie Moore is due back from his wrist injury, although he’ll wear a splint on his wrist and will need some adjustment time, especially with Jacob Pullen his matchup on his first night back. Also, DeAngelo Casto is expected back this week after missing the last two Cougar games with a right foot injury, meaning WSU will be healthy (or at least marginally healthy) for the first time all season.

Power Rankings

1. Washington (4-2): The Huskies took things a little bit easy this week after returning from their Maui trip, with just a visit from Long Beach State for the week, and they came out ready to play. Seven players scored in double figures and the team posted a stellar 71.6% effective field goal percentage, with C.J. Wilcox, Abdul Gaddy, Darnell Gant and Justin Holiday going 12-14 from behind the arc between them. However, junior guard Isaiah Thomas continues to struggle with his shot, as he missed all six of his attempts from long range. Head coach Lorenzo Romar made a little switch in his starting lineup, sliding junior center Aziz N’Diaye into the starting lineup and bumping senior Matthew Bryan-Amaning to the pine. Bryan-Amaning responded with a perfect 7-7 night from the field for 14 points, and he added five rebounds and four blocks, while N’Diaye was ineffective.

Looking ahead: A couple home games for the Huskies, as they welcome in Texas Tech as part of the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series on Saturday, then host Portland on Monday.

2. Arizona (6-1): The big story of the week was the Wildcats’ matchup with Kansas in the Las Vegas Invitational, which we detailed above in our game of the week section, but prior to that the Cats ripped through Santa Clara on their way to a 23-point victory, and following that they added a 27-point win over Rice, meaning Zona has won their six non-Kansas games by an average of 30 points. Granted, beating up on the “little sisters of the poor” (thanks, Gordon Gee) is not exactly all that much to write home about, but it certainly beats losing to, you know, Utah Valley State or something. While Derrick Williams (see our Player of the Week section) has been nothing short of amazing, Sean Miller has yet to settle into a rotation yet, with plenty of players getting time and posting widely divergent lines as a result. One thing seems clear though in the early going, the point guard position is not yet settled in Tucson. Starter Momo Jones has shown an inability to both get his own points and distribute the ball in the same game, as the only three times he has handed out more than three assists, he has failed to score in double figures. Freshman Jordin Mayes has gotten looks in relief of Jones, but he is still a work in progress, and the best creator for the Wildcats has been off-guard Kyle Fogg, the only player on the squad to average more than three assists per game. That weakness could be a killer come conference play.

Looking ahead: Arizona hosts Oklahoma and CS Fullerton, two games that the Cats should win with relative ease.

3. Washington State (5-0): The lone undefeated Pac-10 team, and the winner of this week’s Pac-10 Team of the Week, has been on fire from the field in the early-going. They rank fourth in the nation with an effective field goal percentage of 60.6% and they are second in the nation with a two-point field goal percentage of 65.2%. While those numbers are drastically improved from last season’s totals, the real improvement for the Cougars has come at the other end of the court. In 2010, they were 155th in the nation in defensive efficiency but thus far this season rank #40. Now, these numbers should be taken with just a grain or two of salt, since last year at this time, the Cougars were 6-0 heading into matchups with Gonzaga and Kansas State, where they began to get exposed a bit, and thus far this season, their most difficult opponent has been Portland, but nevertheless, the focus that Ken Bone and his staff have put on the defensive end is evident and that work should pay off come conference play.

Looking ahead: Last year, the Cougs played at Gonzaga on 12/2 and at Kansas State on 12/5. This year, it’s Kansas State on 12/3 and Gonzaga on 12/8, and the games are at home instead of away, but the importance of these two games remains the same. Last year it was a five-point loss in Spokane and a 15-point loss in Manhattan, and if the Cougs really have improved upon last season, we’ll see it this week.

4. UCLA (3-2): The sole Bruin game of the week was a disappointing loss to Virginia Commonwealth in an NIT consolation game that was anything but consoling to fans in Westwood. While UCLA owned the glass with a 41-26 rebounding margin, VCU got to the line 26 times compared to just 12 free throw attempts for UCLA — worse yet, 21 Bruin turnovers, including five each by their biggest offensive playmakers, junior point guard Lazeric Jones and sophomore forward Tyler Honeycutt. Turnovers have been a problem for Honeycutt all season long, as he has had four or more turnovers in four of UCLA five games. A bright spot for Ben Howland’s club was the play of junior Malcolm Lee, who had 23 points and five threes and looks to be all the way back from his early ankle injury.

Looking ahead: One big test for the Bruins and one relative breather, as UCLA heads to Lawrence tonight for a battle with Kansas before returning home to face Montana in Pauley Pavilion on Sunday.

5. Cal (4-2): It shows a lot about the strength and depth (or lack thereof) of the Pac-10 this season that after a week in which the Golden Bears scored a whopping five points in a half against Notre Dame and then followed that up with by comparison a blistering 15-point second half against Boston College, they maintain their ranking as the fifth best team in the conference. The fact is, while Mike Montgomery’s team looked awful in the final two games of the Old Spice Classic, they did come away with an opening round win over a Temple team that had been ranked. Nevertheless, it is clear that the Bears have a ways to go on the offensive end, although their five-man freshman class does have some pieces, notably guards Allen Crabbe and Gary Franklin. Franklin, in particular, has struggled from the field, hitting less than 30% of his shots in the first five games, but he did rebound to score a team-high 13 points in Cal’s Wednesday night win over UC Davis. Montgomery will need those freshman guards to settle down and become relatively consistent scoring threats prior to conference play for this Golden Bear team to be of importance in the Pac-10 race.

Looking ahead: Cal travels to Iowa State for a winnable Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood game, then gets San Diego State at home next Wednesday night. Given the difference between the way the Bears have played in Haas Pavilion and elsewhere, that SDSU game may actually be the more winnable of the two.

6. Arizona State (3-2): The Sun Devils brought a little warmth to the Great Alaskan Shootout this week, going 2-1 with a big win over Houston Baptist, a squeaker over Weber State and a come-from-ahead loss against an average St. John’s team in the final. In most conferences, that would spell a drop in the power rankings, but not this one. While the outcome had to be a disappointment for Herb Sendek and his team, there were some bright spots. Sophomore wing Trent Lockett continued to be the most impressive Sun Devil, averaging 17.3 points and seven rebounds per game in Alaska, while going for a career-high 24 points in the win against Weber, including the game winner with 8.4 seconds left. Senior Ty Abbott showed up in the final for ASU, knocking down six threes on the way to 22 points in the game, the senior trio of Abbott, Jamelle McMillan and Rihards Kuksiks are still only shooting 37.8% from the field between them. While Lockett has been a revelation, he’ll need those seniors to step up for the Sun Devils to have an upper-division Pac-10 finish.

Looking ahead: A Brutal week for the Sun Devils, as they head to Waco for a Big 12/Pac-10 matchup with Baylor, then back home to host Richmond. A split this week is brilliant for Sendek and company, with Richmond being the more likely conquest, although still not a safe bet.

7. Stanford (4-2): Considering the Cardinal went to Anaheim for the 76 Classic with an undefeated record, and came away from a fairly unintimidating field with only a win over DePaul to show for their troubles, Thanksgiving weekend was a disaster. Junior guard Jeremy Green struggled all weekend, making just 18 of his 47 attempts from the field and handing out just four assists in 97 minutes of play, then had insult added to injury when he collapsed after the win over DePaul due to exhaustion after dealing with illness all weekend. The Stanford freshman class was predictably inconsistent, with Dwight Powell turning the ball over ten times over the course of the weekend before wrapping things up with a 13-point, ten-rebound game in the finale against DePaul. Anthony Brown was also impressive in the DePaul game, scoring 14 and making several key plays in the overtime, but relatively absent elsewhere this weekend. However, the big issue for the Cardinal is going to be at the point. Neither Green nor junior guard Jarrett Mann are capable playmakers and freshman point Aaron Bright is more equipped to be a distributor and shooter than a creator. With no easy solution walking through the door anytime soon, head coach Johnny Dawkins will have his work cut out for him creating coherent offense all season long.

Looking ahead: Nothing this week for Stanford as they prep for finals, but they return on 12/12 with a game against UC Riverside before hosting North Carolina A&T a few days later.

8. Oregon (4-2): The Ducks hosted the Singler family reunion in the Rose Garden in Portland on Saturday night, providing the perfect platform for that showoff Kyle to go for 30 points in an NBA arena. Little brother E.J. struggled early with the situation, failing to score in the first half, but eventually winding up with 14 second-half points in the Ducks 27-points loss to the number one team in the land. While the Ducks were outshot and outrebounded, one Dana Altman stamp has become apparent on this team: they are going to take care of the ball. Oregon only turned the ball over 11 times against Duke, and they’re in the top 40 in the nation in lowest offensive turnover percentage. The Ducks simply don’t have the horses to really compete this season, but Altman will have this team beat more than a couple teams that are more talented than them over the course of the season and soon enough, Oregon will be a frightening place to go again.

Looking ahead: Now that I’ve written about the Ducks not turning the ball over, they immediately get to test that theory when they host Missouri and Mike Anderson’s pressure defense on Saturday. Things get a bit easier following that with a game against Portland State.

9. USC (4-4): Up and down, up and down. A couple wins over munchkins, a couple losses to relative munchkins. A couple more wins over teams the Trojans should beat on talent alone, a couple more headscratching losses. This week’s bombs? Opening the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series with a loss at Nebraska, one of the strong contenders for last place in the Big 12, after having a 20-point first half lead, then following that up with a loss at TCU, a team in the bottom half of the Mountain West. Up front, the Trojans are just fine with Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson, but the backcourt is young and, really, a mess. While Kevin O’Neill again has his team defending like mad men, there is just no flow offensively. The freshman point guard Maurice Jones turns the ball over just about as much as he hands out assists, and is shooting just 35.6% from the field, although that hasn’t diminished his zeal for continuing to pull the trigger, as he is putting up 13 shots a night. Sure Jio Fontan is eligible soon and maybe he has a magical elixir that will make this team a tournament team overnight. More likely, the Trojans will be better come conference play, but still fatally flawed.

Looking ahead: The Trojans host Texas on Sunday. Watch them beat the Longhorns. Just watch.

10. Oregon State (3-3): Just awful. I wish there were already 12 teams in the conference, just so I could rank this team somewhere lower than 10th. The Beavers lost to Utah Valley State on Wednesday night, and were somehow outrebounded by UVSU by 10. Utah Valley State even went out of their way to open the door for OSU, turning the ball over a generous 24 times, but the Beavs couldn’t take advantage of that. I mean, really. Utah Valley State? It’s a good thing that head coach at Oregon State isn’t a cabinet position or the First Brother-in-Law might be asked to resign in disgrace. The UVSU debacle comes after the Beavers actually made the trip to D.C. to play in front of President Obama and family, and they avoided disaster there by coming back from a halftime deficit against Howard and pulling out a ten-point win behind 60% shooting after the half. But, again, Utah Valley State? Really?

Looking ahead: OSU heads to Boulder for their Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood matchup with Colorado. Chalk that one up for the Big 12.

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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 25th, 2010

Andrew Murara is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference and the Pac-10.

A Look Back

After a disappointing season last year when the conference needed a late Washington rally to qualify just two teams to the NCAA Tournament, the Pac-10 was looking to get off to a faster start this season, but with early results in, the reviews are definitely a mixed bag. While four of the conference teams remain undefeated, conference favorite Washington limped home to a 4th place finish in the Maui Invitational and the bottom of the conference is littered with embarrassing losses, such as USC losing at home by 20 to Rider and Oregon State dropping games to Seattle and Texas Southern. While the Bay Area schools have had some strong performances and Arizona and UCLA have looked solid in the early going, the questions about the overall strength of the Pac-10 remain unanswered.

Team of the Week

Stanford – The Cardinal’s best win thus far is a 21-point drubbing of an underwhelming Virginia squad, but Johnny Dawkins’ crew wins this week mention not so much because of the quality of their opponents, but the ease with which the Cardinal have handled them. Stanford sandwiched the Virginia game with a 16-point win over San Diego in their opener and a 43-point victory over Arkansas-Pine Bluff, and in the process they have had seven players score in double figures at least once, have had different rebound and assist leaders in each game and have consistently controlled the boards. While Dawkins and company still have a ways to go to match the success that Mike Montgomery and Trent Johnson (in his brief tenure) had on the farm, given their talented youngsters and early success, the Cardinal certainly appear on their way.

Player of the Week

Derrick Williams (Sophomore), Arizona – Williams has led the Wildcats in scoring in each of their four victories this season and in rebounding on three occasions on his way to a 19.3 scoring average and 8.3 rebounds per contest early on, while converting on a whopping 74.3 percent of his attempts from the field. While the ‘Cats haven’t played their typically brutal non-conference schedule to this point, Williams had his best performance in Arizona’s second game when he went for 27 points and 14 rebounds, six of which came on the offensive end, in a 26-point win over the Aggies. Things get tougher for Sean Miller’s team this week, with a neutral-site matchup with Kansas in Las Vegas on Saturday, and if Williams can keep on his roll, the Wildcats could give the Jayhawks a good run.

Newcomer of the Week

Faisal Aden (Junior), Washington State – With sophomore point guard Reggie Moore sidelined for the Cougars’ first three games due to a wrist injury, Aden, a junior college transfer who is originally from Somalia, got a chance to step into the starting lineup and made the most of his opportunity, leading Washington State in scoring in each of their first two games and pouring in 21.7 points per game in their first three games. While Moore is currently day-to-day and could be back as soon as Friday against Fresno State, Aden has definitely staked his claim as a key contributor to this Coug offense and a potential second scoring threat to take some of the pressure off of junior wing Klay Thompson.

Game of the Week

Kentucky 74, Washington 67 – While clearly not the score that Pac-10 fans want to see as their game of the week, this outcome sums up the state of the conference. All offseason, the Huskies were pointing towards this game as a chance to make a statement on a big stage and as a chance for some type of revenge against Kentucky and their freshman Terrence Jones for his change of heart after originally committing to Washington. So, the Huskies come out revved up and riding their momentum rip off a big huge run right out of the starting gate, well, right up until Kentucky coach John Calipari called a timeout to stop that short at 4-0, that is. A 20-2 Kentucky run later and the Huskies had to spend the rest of the first half scrapping back to even. Then, down the stretch, it was the youngsters of Kentucky who had the most poise. Washington senior defensive specialist Venoy Overton struggled with cramps and was unable to stop Wildcat freshman Brandon Knight, and junior guard Isaiah Thomas struggled to score throughout the night, finishing just 4-14 from the field, 0-4 from three and 5-10 from the line as the Huskies missed a big chance to score an early signature win.

Game of the Upcoming Week

Arizona vs. Kansas in Las Vegas, 7:30 PM PST, ESPN2 – Arizona’s first big test of the season against a BCS conference opponent, and it is a big one as they face the Jayhawks in the centerpiece game of the Las Vegas Invitational. The ‘Cats dodge a bullet in facing Kansas without the services of freshman guard Josh Selby, but they’ll still have their hands full with the Morris twins who have been dominating up front with 30 points and 17 rebounds a night between them and junior guard Tyshawn Taylor who has taken over the Kansas point guard position without missing a beat. Arizona will need Derrick Williams to continue his excellent play and guards Kyle Fogg and Momo Jones to lend a hand in order to spring the Saturday night special in Vegas.

Power Rankings

1. Washington (3-2): Sure, the Huskies have as many losses as any team in the conference, but given that those two losses have come in relatively tight games against top 10 teams, the Huskies are still the top dog in the Pac-10. Isaiah Thomas has shot poorly in both Washington losses (shooting a combined 8-25 from the field), and Lorenzo Romar’s team has yet to iron out their roles and rotation. One of the bright spots early for the Huskies has been the play of junior college transfer Aziz N’diaye who has shown the ability to block shots and rebound with the best of them, swatting five against Kentucky and pulling down double-digit rebounds twice in limited minutes early. Freshman guard C.J. Wilcox has also impressed with his sharpshooting, knocking down ten of his 19 three-point attempts thus far. Once the guards settle into their roles and typically excellent performance, the Huskies will be as tough to beat as ever.

Looking Ahead: Things quiet down significantly for the Huskies, with just a visit from Long Beach State on Tuesday before a visit from Texas Tech on 12/4.

2. Arizona (4-0): Sean Miller has used the Wildcats relatively light early season schedule to get a look at a variety of players on his squad. In the season-opening 48-point win over Idaho State, 15 Wildcat players saw time, and in their first four games, ten different players have averaged at least 12 points per game. When your average margin of victory is 32.5 points, you have that luxury, but with a higher caliber of opponent on the horizon, expect that rotation to tighten up a bit. Of the new faces on the Wildcat roster, it has been Jordin Mayes who has made the biggest contribution in relief of starting point Momo Jones, averaging seven points and two assists while knocking down five of his 11 three-point attempts in 16 minutes per night.

Looking Ahead: The Wildcats head to the Las Vegas Invitational for matchups with Santa Clara and Kansas on back-to-back nights before heading to Houston to face Rice next Wednesday.

3. UCLA (3-1): After four games, the difference between this year’s Bruin team and last year’s edition is pretty evident. To begin with, the addition of junior college transfer Lazeric Jones as the team’s starting point guard improves that position, not to the point where it is a strength, but at least to the point where it is not an Achilles’ heel. Up front, sophomores Reeves Nelson and Tyler Honeycutt are more comfortable and are starting to make plays, with the two finishing first and second, respectively, in points scored in each of UCLA’s first three games. But it was the fourth game, UCLA’s NIT Season Tip-Off semifinal matchup with Villanova, that really showed where Ben Howland’s club is at this point. Last year at this time, the Bruins had already lost to Cal State Fullerton and were about to get embarrassed by Portland and Long Beach State. This year, the Bruins hung tight with one of the best teams in the country for most of the game, only to run out of steam against a more talented, more physical, and more experienced opponent. While this by no means is a great UCLA team, they’ve got the ship pointed in the right direction and should be a strong contender for an NCAA Tournament berth.

Looking Ahead: The Bruins will wrap up their NIT play with a consolation game against VCU before heading back home for a few days to get ready for a road trip to Lawrence for another matchup with a highly-touted opponent, Kansas.

4. Washington State (3-0): The Cougars are yet another undefeated Pac-10 team without a really impressive victory on their resume yet. Their best win came over Portland (4-2) in Seattle on Tuesday when Klay Thompson exploded for 35 points, including WSU’s first nine en route to a 24-4 run to open the game. Thompson has averaged 24.3 points per game, but has also chipped in 5.3 rebounds per game and six assists a night in the absence of starting point guard Reggie Moore. Thompson and Faisal Aden, my Pac-10 Newcomer of the Week, have averaged 46 points per game between them and are the only two players on the squad to average double digits thus far.

Looking Ahead: The Cougars travel to Fresno State for their first true road test of the year on Friday, then return home for a relative breather with Sacramento State as a warm-up for hosting Kansas State in the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series on December 3.

5. Cal (3-0): The Golden Bears have what is arguably the best win by a Pac-10 team of the new season, a 25-point blowout of New Mexico on Saturday. Jorge Gutierrez and Harper Kamp have been the biggest producers for a revamped Golden Bear team that lost four starters from last season’s regular season Pac-10 champion. Gutierrez has done a little bit of everything for the Bears, averaging 19 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 2.5 steals and a three per game, while Kamp has returned from a medical redshirt year to lead a bruising Cal frontline with 18.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per night. Of the highly regarded five-man freshman class, guard Gary Franklin has been the most comfortable early, adding 16 points (including four threes) and four assists in the New Mexico victory.

Looking Ahead: Cal competes in the Old Spice Classic this Thanksgiving weekend, with a good opening round battle with Temple followed by a matchup with either Georgia or Notre Dame on Friday.

6. Stanford (3-0): The Cardinal may be our team of the week, but they’ve still got a lot to prove before they start skyrocketing up our rankings. In the early going, they look solid, getting production from go-to scorer Jeremy Green when possible (he had 21 in each of the Cardinal’s last two games), but not forcing the issue when their opponents attempt to take him away. In the opener against San Diego, the Torreros ran a lot of defenders at Green, holding him to just one field goal on seven attempts and forcing him to give up the ball time and again. However, in his stead, Johnny Dawkins had players like junior forward Andrew Zimmerman and sophomore guard Gabriel Harris step up. Zimmerman had 14 in the opener (and added 12 in the next game) while Harris knocked down a couple of open threes on the way to 12 for the game. Stanford has also had multiple freshmen contribute, with 6’10 center Dwight Powell most prone to spectacular plays from time to time. Aside from Powell, point guard Aaron Bright, wing Anthony Brown and forward Josh Huestis and Stefan Nastic have all made positive contributions, giving this Cardinal team plenty of exciting upside.

Looking Ahead: The Cardinal get their chance to prove that they are for real in a big way this weekend at the 76 Classic. They’ll open with one of last year’s Cinderellas in Murray State, then get a crack at either UNLV or Tulsa in round two.

7. Arizona State (1-1): The Sun Devils didn’t have the scheduling fortune to open with the cupcakes that so many of their conference brethren did, and they got bit. They opened with a tough road trip to The Pit to face New Mexico, a scary proposition even for a group of seasoned veterans, but this young ASU team suffered from lapses, most evident during a 20-0 first half Lobo run, and despite some spectacular play by sophomore wing Trent Lockett – 22 points and eight rebounds – they just didn’t hit their shots, shooting poorly from three (5-21) and from the line (13-23), leading to a 14-point loss. Lockett has been strong in both Sun Devil games, averaging 20.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and three assists. However, the senior trio of Ty Abbott, Jamelle McMillan and Rihards Kuksiks has been inconsistent at best thus far, with Kuksiks particularly absent (5.0 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 30.8% FG). While it would be no surprise to see the explosive Lockett lead the team throughout the year, he’ll need help from that senior class for the Devils to compete for a postseason berth.

Looking Ahead: The Sun Devils look to heat up in the great white north, as they head to the greatly diminished Great Alaskan Shootout, where the most interesting possible opponent would be St. John’s.

8. Oregon (4-1): The mere fact that head coach Dana Altman has this ragtag bunch of Ducks considered to be something other than the worst team in the Pac-10 is a testament to his coaching ability. After a nightmare of an offseason during which four players transferred out of the program, and another left in the shadow of NCAA investigations, what is left is a severely undersized team with 6’6 senior forward Joevan Catron, coming off of a medical redshirt year, considered the team’s big man, and with E.J. Singler, who is more suited to a wing position asked to assume a role close to that of power forward. And, most impressively, both players have looked good in doing so. Catron led the team in scoring in each of their first four games, averaging 21.8 point in those games, while Singler has added 11.6 points and 5.2 rebounds per outing. And while the Ducks have escaped with close wins over UC Santa Barbara and North Dakota State, their only blemish is a loss to undefeated San Jose State on a late three-point play. While these Ducks probably don’t have the firepower to really compete this year in the Pac-10, fans in Eugene have to be pleased with the direction Altman has this program going.

Looking Ahead: Okay, all those good and happy thoughts above? Yeah, well, table those for a week. Duke rolls into Portland for a Singler family reunion that is likely to have all the brotherly affection of Cain and Abel. And after the Ducks deal with the best team in the nation on a neutral court, they head back home to welcome Missouri. Yikes.

9. USC (4-2): Two games into the season, things were looking good for Kevin O’Neill and his Trojans. Junior Nikola Vucevic was continuing the strong play of his sophomore campaign and taking over a leadership position, senior forward Alex Stepheson was doing the dirty work with zeal and freshman Bryce Jones and Maurice Jones (unrelated) were doing some heavy lifting offensively. Then Rider rolled into town as part of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off event and laid a whooping on the Trojans in front of their home crowd, 77-57, as Rider’s Justin Robinson led the Broncs with 28 points on an absurd 9-10 from the field, while making all five of his three-point attempts and all five of his free throws. And the rest of his team wasn’t too bad either, torching the USC defense with 60.7% shooting from the field and making 12 of their 19 three-point attempts. A few nights later, a good Bradley team got the better of the Trojans in Springfield, Massachusetts, before SC was able to bounce back with victories over New Mexico State and Cal State Fullerton. Despite what Rider did to the Trojans, they still have had a very efficient defensive performance early in the season, and with Fordham transfer Jio Fontan becoming eligible in mid-December, all is not lost for this Trojan team. If Vucevic keeps up his strong early play (17.8 PPG, 11.3 RPG) and the freshmen continue to improve, this team should be rounding into excellent shape just in time for conference play.

Looking Ahead: A couple road games against beatable teams for the Trojans, although I’m thinking that these games would be far more appealing on the gridiron than on the hardwood: USC at Nebraska on Saturday, then USC at TCU on Monday.

10. Oregon State (2-2): Well, I guess there’s a bright side here. Last season Oregon State welcomed Seattle, a Division I Independent, into Corvallis and head coach Cameron Dollar and his team drilled the Beavers by 51 points. This year Oregon State repaid Seattle’s kindness with a trip to their place and only lost by three. So, the Beavers are a lot better this year, right? In fact, Oregon State had the powerful Redhawks on the ropes midway through the second half, the scrappy Beavs up 10 with just 10 to play, before the inevitable happened and Seattle turned on the juice and pulled away with a 20-5 run. Oregon State made one final stand, and actually had a chance to send the game to overtime, but senior Calvin Haynes had the ball knocked out of his hands before he could attempt the game-tying three. What a wonderful victory it could have been for the David from small-town Corvallis to storm into Goliath’s lair in big-city Seattle and slay the might giant, but it was not to be. The sad part is, that’s probably not the worst loss for the Beavers this season, as a few nights later, they lost at home to Texas Southern, a team that Oregon drilled by 23. It’s going to be a long season for Craig Robinson. It’s a good thing he’s got friends in high places.

Looking Ahead: The Beavers head to Washington, D.C. for a matchup with Howard. Hopefully the Beavers can beat Howard. I mean, he’s just one guy, right?

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After the Buzzer: 24 Hours of Hoops Review

Posted by rtmsf on November 17th, 2010

Since we’re running late on this, we’re only going to hit some of the most-telling items from yesterday’s 24 Hours of Hoops Marathon.

Yesterday’s Hits…

  • Ohio State’s Offense.  Like Syracuse last season after downing UNC, OSU’s dominant win over Florida makes the Buckeyes the media darling to challenge Duke for the 2011 national championship.  We’ve been high on the Buckeyes since well before last night and the reason is that Thad Matta has weapons everywhere on the floor (although they need to shore up that defense — see “Misses” below).  Perhaps only the Blue Devils have an equal or better amount of experience and offensive talent to avoid prolonged scoring droughts during a game, one of the key differences between good and great teams.  We knew Jared Sullinger was going to be great (22/12 in two games), but Aaron Craft’s 2.8:1 assist-to-turnover ratio has been a revelation.
  • SDSU = Best in the West?  People were buzzing about this throughout last evening as SDSU repeatedly staved off Gonzaga’s advances to become only the fifth visiting team to ever win at the Kennel.  Billy White was outstanding, going for 30/9 on 14-18 shooting, but we’re honestly not sure if this game said more about Gonzaga than it did about SDSU (see “Misses” below).
  • NIT as a Real Tourney.  The last one standing.  Still, it’s worth mentioning that VCU’s “upset” road victory over Wake Forest in the Preseason NIT wasn’t actually for naught, as their players will be rewarded with a trip to New York City and an opportunity to play two games in Madison Square Garden.  Hooray for tournaments that actually advance their winners!!! 
  • Abdul Gaddy.  Quietly, the biggest bust of the freshman class of 2009 is putting together a nice start to the season.  In two games, Gaddy has shot 9-14 from the field and hit four of six three-pointers.  He’s also dished out eleven assists to only three turnovers.  Granted, the competition thus far has been weak, but this game is all about confidence, so it’ll be interesting to see how he handles the much-better competition he’ll see next week in Maui.  He’s worth keeping an eye on.
  • Delvon Roe.  The junior theater major had a night he’ll never forget.  After seamlessly starring in Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” as Charles the Wrestler in a school play a couple of hours before MSU’s game with South Carolina, he then exited stage left to the Breslin Center where he dropped 15/5/6 assts in a virtuoso encore performance.  Can you imagine what he was thinking when he saw that the schedules come out?
  • Trent Lockett’s Dunk.  We don’t have to say anything, just watch…

…and Misses.

  • Butler’s Mystique.  That didn’t last long.  In a classic Pitino-fires-up-the-troops situation, Butler learned a valuable lesson as to what it’s like to be hunted at the highest level.  Prior to last season’s NCAA Tournament run to the championship game, the Bulldogs were well aware of what it meant to be the top dog in the Horizon League, where every one of its road games is the biggest game on an opponents’ schedule.  Now Brad Stevens’ team has climbed the pole to where it has also become the featured game on the schedule even at a tradition-rich powerhouse like Louisville.  This step up in class will take some getting used to, although we fully expect Stevens and his crew to figure it out (Matt Howard looked great, by the way, and we still don’t believe in the long-term viability of the Cards).
  • Syracuse’s Slow Start.  Jim Boeheim is spitting mad at his team, and with good reason.  Fab Melo has been disappointing thus far — he has more fouls (13) in three games than points (8), but it’s the play of expected breakout star Kris Joseph that should have him worried.  The junior has shot 6-23 from the field, including a dreadful oh-fer last night against Detroit where he fouled out in nineteen minutes of action.  The Orange are 3-0, but they’re not playing well.  The good news is that they have a fairly light schedule until Big East play (one notable exception is a game against #2 Michigan State at the Jimmy V Classic. 
  • Ohio State’s defense.  By the same token, we should at least raise an eyebrow that OSU gave up 61% shooting to Florida, a team prone to mediocre shooting who never came anywhere close to that mark last season (57% against Jacksonville).  The Buckeyes made up for it by convincingly winning the turnover margin (+10), but we’re going to want to see a much better performance on that end of the court before anointing OSU a title favorite.
  • Gonzaga & Elias Harris.  In three games, Harris is playing like a guy who spent all summer thinking about how good he was supposed to be.  He’s averaging a pedestrian 8/3, but Mark Few’s team needs him to at least double that.  Harris has NBA athleticism and tools to be dominant, but he looked overwhelmed by the big SDSU front line last evening, and the Zags will be nowhere without him.
  • LSU/Texas Tech/Wake Forest/DePaul.  All four major conference schools lost at home last night to a mid-major.  There’s a little more than meets the eye here if you look a little more closely.  Frankly, VCU is a better team than re-building Wake so that’s hardly an upset, and North Texas (an NCAA team last year) defeating Texas Tech shouldn’t really surprise that many people.  DePaul’s several years from becoming competitive again in the Big East, and LSU seems to be treading water these days. 

Tweet of the Day.  It was that kind of a night/day/night around the twittersphere, as Ryan Feldman’s reply suggested last night.

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RTC 2010-11 Impact Players – Southwest Region

Posted by rtmsf on November 1st, 2010

Welcome to our RTC Impact Players series.  The braintrust has gone back and forth on this and we’ve finally settled on a group of sixty players throughout ten geographic regions of the country (five starters plus a sixth man) to represent the who and where of players you should be watching this season.  Seriously, if you haven’t seen every one of these players ball at least once by the end of February, then you need to figure out a way to get a better television package.  As always in a subjective analysis such as this, some of our decisions were difficult; many others were quite easy.  What we can say without reservation is that there is great talent in every corner of this nation of ours, and we’ll do our best to excavate it over the next five weeks in this series that will publish on Mondays and Thursdays.  Each time, we’ll also provide a list of some of the near-misses as well as the players we considered in each region, but as always, we welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments.

You can find all previous RTC 2010-11 Impact Players posts here.

Southwest Region (NM, AZ, NV, HI, SoCal)

  • Jio Fontan – Soph, G – USC. Last year, USC was the talk of the college basketball world for a stretch, when senior point guard Mike Gerrity, a transfer from Charlotte, took over the team in December and promptly led the Trojans to an upset blowout victory over then #8 Tennessee in his first game of the season. The Trojans went on to win their next five games, including the inaugural Diamond Head Classic, with Gerrity serving as a big spark. In 2010-11, head coach Kevin O’Neill and his team will welcome another Division I transfer to the active roster over the winter break, and they hope to sustain the bump in talent they’ll get when Fontan joins the team as a midseason transfer from Fordham. In fact, Fontan was in the midst of an on-campus visit last December 19 when Gerrity was leading the Trojans to their win over the Volunteers and he committed to the school just days later, perhaps seeing the blueprint for his own success in Gerrity’s. Luckily enough for O’Neill and the Trojans, Fontan will have more than just the one semester of eligibility that Gerrity had.  But while their paths to the USC roster may seem similar, their games are different. Fontan is more of a combo-guard, capable of running an offense, but more adept at creating for himself than being a pure distributor. Not that he isn’t capable of handing out assists – he averaged more than four assists per night during his one season plus five games at Fordham – but Fontan is at his best with the ball in his hands, able to both blow by defenders and hit from long range, scoring the ball to the tune of 15.3 points per game in his freshman season on his way to Atlantic 10 rookie of the year honors. Paired with established frontcourt returners Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson and a talented group of newcomers, including 5’7 point guard Maurice Jones who will handle the lead guard duties until Fontan is eligible, Fontan will be surrounded by far more talent than he ever was in his time at Fordham. And if things go as well as could be hoped for, Fontan will have a chance to reprise Gerrity’s Trojan debut, as Southern Cal will travel to Kansas (and then, three days later, they’ll play the return game in the Tennessee series) for Fontan’s first game, giving USC a chance to make another big mid-season splash on the national stage.
  • Tre’Von Willis* – Sr, G – UNLV. For a good part of last summer, Tre’Von Willis, the star shooting guard for the Runnin’ Rebels, may have thought that his collegiate career was over thanks to his June 29 arrest for felony battery involving an ugly incident with a woman in nearby Henderson, Nevada.  Willis ultimately copped to a plea agreement of a lesser charge of misdemeanor domestic battery, and in interviews since the incident he has shown considerable sincerity and self-awareness in suggesting that he placed himself in a bad situation.  After he serves a mandated three-game suspension meted by coach Lon Kruger, Willis will likely be back in action for UNLV’s second regular season game against Southeastern Louisiana.  And it’s a good thing that he will be, as the Rebel program has eyes on putting together its best season since the understated head coach rolled into town several years ago.  Considering that the Rebs have been to a Sweet Sixteen and won 30 games in a season under his tutelage (both in 2006-07), those are lofty goals.  But they are also realistic ones so long as some of the injury problems that Willis and several others have recently endured are controlled.  Willis in particular continues to experience knee pain as a result of arthroscopic surgery in August to repair cartilage, a recurring problem which caused the capable scorer to lose some of his lift at the end of last season and definitely impacted his effectiveness.  As an example, after scoring twenty or more points ten times through mid-February, Willis only hit the figure one more time during the last eight games of the year, a sure indication that he was not at 100%.  The hope is that his summer surgery,  a new outlook on opportunity as a result of his legal troubles, a sprinkling of maturity (he also had a daughter) and much-needed rest will encourage Willis to come back with an all-America caliber season.  He was chosen as a first-team all-MWC guard in 2009-10 when he contributed an all-around game of 17.2 PPG, 3.9 RPG and 3.5 APG while increasing his previously-sketchy shot selection to the point where he added nearly 10% (from 38% to 48%) on his field goal percentage.  If he can truly put everything from last summer behind him and remain healthy for an entire season, the new Aria Hotel may not be the only must-see on The Strip this winter.

Tre'Von Willis Has to Sit Three Games (LV Sun/S. Morris)

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