Morning Five: 01.24.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 24th, 2013

morning5

  1. With many observers expecting the NCAA to hand down its notice of allegations soon to Miami, the NCAA instead revealed that it was essentially putting its investigation from the Nevin Shapiro scandal on hold while it hires an external agency to look into a charge of improperly obtaining information for its investigation. The NCAA has retained the services of Kenneth Wainstein, who has previously served in the roles of Homeland Security Advisor, Assistant Attorney General for National Security, and FBI General Counsel. It is a rather sudden turn of events and means that both Miami and other involved parties (see: Missouri’s Frank Haith) can breathe easy for a little while. It remains to be determined whether this will affect any punishments that are ultimately handed down or if in fact the NCAA will have to abandon the entire case, but if the latter is true, it’s safe to say that it will probably be the most embarrassing moment in the NCAA’s long history of rules enforcement.
  2. Leslie McDonald, who missed North Carolina‘s last three games with an injury to his right knee, will be out for another three games, but not because of his knee. Instead, he will miss the additional games because he did not take care of his “responsibilities as a student-athlete.” While this could mean a variety of things, we are assuming that the “student-athlete” bit means scholastic problems. In any event, the Tar Heels will need to overcome McDonald’s extended absence as they appear to have turned a corner (for now) but have games at home against Georgia Tech and on the road at North Carolina State and Boston College. With the weakness of the top teams in the power conferences so far this year, North Carolina would still be in the NCAA Tournament as of today, but they cannot afford too many more mistakes.
  3. After quite a bit of drama and instability in the first couple months of the season, UCLA has seemed to put the pieces back together in recent weeks but there are still some loose ends to tie up. Enigmatic former center Josh Smith has resurfaced at Georgetown, but until yesterday, it was still undetermined where former guard Tyler Lamb would end up. While Smith looked to get as far away from Westwood as possible, Lamb is simply moving about 30 miles southwest to the LBC. He will suit up for Dan Monson’s Long Beach State squad beginning in 2013-14, bringing a solid scoring punch and ability to distribute the ball to a team that appears to be following the Missouri template for adding talented high-major transfers in bulk (Keala King, Dan Jennings, and Tony Freeland). Lamb chose LBSU over San Diego State and began practicing with the team yesterday.
  4. Luke Winn‘s weekly Power Rankings came out prior to Wednesday night’s games, but as we all know, the real value in his column comes from the unique statistical analysis and sartorial commentary that Winn provides each week. Perhaps portending Duke’s struggles at Miami (FL) last night, Winn examines the Blue Devils without Ryan Kelly in the lineup while also making time to evaluate a disturbing trend in Nike uniforms adding a logo to the team’s chest (we completely agree, by the way). As always, you’ll learn more reading this column in 10 minutes that you will reviewing 95% of the college basketball coverage on the web, so get on over there and give it a try if it’s not part of your weekly routine.
  5. A final note about a quirky scheduling anomaly where the nation’s highest scoring team, Northwestern State (85.0 PPG), will face the nation’s lowest scoring defense, Stephen F. Austin (allowing 49.4 PPG), in a battle of contrasting Southland Conference tempos this coming weekend. According to a press release put out by the league on Wednesday, this is the first time that anyone can remember in college basketball history that such a game will occur. We can’t say that we’re going to set aside two hours to watch this one at 4:00 PM ET on Saturday, but we will keep an curious eye on the result to determine whether the old coaching adage is true that great defense is preferred over great offense.
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Morning Five: 01.14.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 14th, 2013

morning5

  1. And then there were none. With Michigan and Duke going down over the weekend we are without an unbeaten team yet again as we are going on 37 years and counting since the last time men’s college basketball had an undefeated team. This year marks the second earliest point in a season we have been without an unbeaten team dating back to that 1976 season. We are pretty confident that barring some catastrophe or NCAA investigation Michigan will not be repeating the collapse that Clemson experienced in 2007 and became so synonymous with that program that it spawned its own word (even if it was later applied to the school’s football program).
  2. While Michigan and Duke lost their first game of the season Syracuse may have lost much more as senior forward James Southerland was declared ineligible over the weekend for undisclosed reasons that some media sources are speculating is an academic matter. We still are not sure about whether or not Southerland can rectify whatever the problem is that led to this suspension and after last season’s Fab Melo disaster we can understand if Syracuse fans are having a sense of déjà vu, but this appears to be a slightly different situation particularly in that the team still has a chance to regroup. However, this has the potential to derail whatever chance the Orange had of making a national title run.
  3. The scariest moment of the basketball weekend occurred on Saturday in Dayton, Ohio when Rotnei Clarke went headfirst into the basket stanchion and stayed on the floor for nearly eight minutes. Thankfully Butler’s sharpshooter appears to have only sustained a sprained neck. While Brad Stevens has stated that Clarke’s injury  “is not season-ending by any means,” he is out of Wednesday’s game against Richmond and probably 50/50 for their showdown on Saturday against Gonzaga. Given the gravity of the situation and the potentially devastating/life-alternating nature of these situations we will be glad just to see Clarke back on the court again at any point in the near future.
  4. As if Rick Pitino needed to engender any more animosity from Big Blue Nation he may have done it by comparing his current Louisville team to his legendary 1996 Kentucky team, which is considered by many to be one of the best college basketball teams of any era. Ok, maybe Pitino isn’t saying that this group is as good as that Kentucky team or that they even could be. Instead he is merely using that group of Wildcats as an example of how this group of Cardinals should aim to play in terms of style and fearlessness if not the end result of dominance. We can take issue with the lack of historical perspective that some of his players (particularly Chane Behanan) have. Of course, as the article points out Behanan was only three years old when that Kentucky team was playing so perhaps he deserves a little bit of a break.
  5. With UCLA starting to show signs of life again perhaps it is fitting that both of the players who have transferred from the program this season have found new homes. With Josh Smith having committed to Georgetown recently, fellow former Bruin Tyler Lamb has also found a new home in the form of Long Beach State. Lamb is not quite the talent that Smith is, but he does not have as clear of an underlying issue as Smith does (weight). Instead, it appeared that Lamb’s issue was just that Ben Howland brought in more talented players, which pushed Lamb further down the bench and ultimately off the team. We would expect Lamb to have a prominent role at Long Beach State although it is a big step going from a role player to the star, but Lamb will have the benefit of playing against lesser competition than he did at UCLA (save your Pac-10/-12 jokes).
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Pac-12 Burning Questions: So… About Those Preseason Predictions?

Posted by AMurawa on December 31st, 2012

With non-conference play all but wrapped up, we start to turn our attention to conference play this week. But, before we do we want to take a look back and see what we talked about prior to the season.

“We made a lot of predictions and bold statements prior to the season. Which prognostication did you nail and which did you completely whiff on?”

Adam Butler: I wish I’d had the stones to say things like “Jordan Adams will be UCLA’s best player” or “Josh Smith will leave the Bruins” or “USC will utterly flop.” No, on each of those insights I was sightless. I was the cool kid picking USC to overachieve and who was gobbling up Shabazz hyperbole like flavored vodka at a sorority house. I went out on the limb to say Arizona and Colorado would be good. I have said Spencer Dinwiddie would be All-Conference and, to date, he’s held up his side of that bargain, and I still love his game when he shows up (although, zero points vs. Fresno?). The one thing I’ve nailed but I don’t think it’s been terribly bold has been that Mark Lyons, no matter what he did numbers-wise, was going to have an overwhelming effect on this Wildcats team. I think it’s safe to say that he’s been a lightning rod of attention and criticism and handled it all in stride, strides that have taken him straight to winning buckets against Florida and SDSU. Lyons brings a dynamic to Tucson that was sorely needed and he has not let them down. As for whiffs? I figured Washington would be better and that Oregon would be worse. I thought Jio Fontan would hover around conference POY talk and that Dewayne Dedmon would be a big surprise: fails. There’s still time to play out but it’s hard to say that any of those thoughts will right themselves in my predictive favor. And in that remaining time, I’m excited to see just what UCLA will do and how Arizona’s freshmen bigs will develop within the routine of Pac-12 play. Moving forward, a few additional thoughts: Can Herb’s team keep up their pace? No. Is Solomon Hill going to win the conference POY award? No (but he may be the MVP). Can Colorado be the second best team in the Pac? Yes. Will Stanford be better then their 8-4 record? Yes. Alas, predictions are meaningless but oh-so-fun.

Jio Fontan In The Player Of The Year Race? Not So Much. (AP Photo)

Jio Fontan In The Player Of The Year Race? Not So Much. (AP Photo)

Connor Pelton: Looking back on it, I made some interesting (to say the least) picks back in October. But I did nail a few of those, starting with the pick of Arsalan Kazemi as an All-Pac-12 performer. I was the only one to include the Rice transfer on my 15-player ballot, and he has answered by averaging 9.2 PPG, 10.4 RPG, and 3.1 SPG so far. In fact, if he had not had been so tentative shooting the ball at the beginning of the season, it is not a stretch to say he would not only be leading the team in rebounds but points as well. Another pick I am liking was that of Jonathan Gilling as an all-conference three-point shooter. Kevin and I were the only ones to include the sophomore on our lists, and he has proved us right by knocking down 30 triples, second highest in the conference. But the pick I am most proud of is selecting USC at 10th in the conference, while everyone else here had the Trojans sixth or seventh. The thing that made me so skeptical about USC at the beginning of the season was the question, “Where do the points come from behind Jio Fontan?” Some said senior forward Aaron Fuller, who’s averaging a stellar 2.9 PPG. Case closed.

Now, onto the whiffs. While Chasson Randle hasn’t had a great season, there is no question he should be second team All-Pac-12 right now. I did not even include him on my list of 15, opting instead for guys like Ricky Kreklow and Kaleb Tarczewski. Whoops. It is easy to look bad when projecting an all-newcomer team, and boy have I done that. I did not include Mark Lyons on my team, or Jahii Carson, or Josh Scott. Those guys are averaging 13.4, 17.9, and 12.5 PPG, respectively. As we move into conference play, the picks that are on the fence of good and bad will begin to clear up. Are the Buffaloes an NCAA Tournament team? I said yes in October, and I still think they are now. Can Washington rebound from an awful start and make the NIT? No. Can California win a big game? It has to happen eventually, right?

Time will answer everything, and before we know it, we will be filling out brackets and talking about surprises and snubs on Selection Sunday.

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Pac-12 M5: 11.29.12 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton on November 29th, 2012

  1. UCLA lost its second player in just four days on Wednesday when it was announced that junior center Joshua Smith had left the team. After not practicing on Tuesday due to weight issues and to mull over his future with the program, it was revealed mid-day Wednesday that Smith was gone for good. As we mentioned above, Tyler Lamb left the program on Sunday, just another example of players leaving in droves, something that has become all too familiar the past few seasons in Westwood. Smith said he was departing Ben Howland’s team for “personal reasons.” So, what does UCLA lose in the big man? Smith was a decent rebounder for his size, averaging 4.2 RPG so far in 2012-13; however, his inability to stay on the court for long periods of time resulted in dwindling minutes, and when he was on the floor he wasn’t exactly Mr. Productive for the Bruins’ offensive game. Freshman forward/center Tony Parker will see an increase of about five minutes per game in the coming weeks with Smith’s departure.
  2. Oregon State received bad news as well when it was revealed that freshman center Daniel Gomis would need season-ending surgery on his left leg. Gomis is the second Beaver center to be lost in just over two weeks, as senior Angus Brandt tore his ACL against Purdue on November 16. This is actually Gomis’ second year in Corvallis, but he was lost for all of the 2011-12 season with a broken leg. Expect to see a continued increase in freshman Jarmal Reid’s minutes without Gomis.
  3. In yet more depressing big man news, junior wing Anthony Brown will miss the rest of Stanford’s season with a hip injury. Brown will have surgery in mid-December according to head coach Johnny Dawkins. The guard/forward averaged 3.0 PPG in Stanford’s first four outings before sitting out the next three.
  4. Former Oregon head coach Ernie Kent will call nine Duck games for the Pac-12 Networks in 2012-13, six of which to be played in the arena he helped build. And when Oregon meets Texas-San Antonio tonight at Matthew Knight Arena, it will be only the second time Kent’s been inside Oregon’s posh new palace. His return home will hopefully be marked by many chants from the Pit Crew and a long standing ovation; after all, while the ending of his time in Eugene may have been ugly, this is the coach that led the resurgence of Oregon basketball. Kent, who doesn’t know whether he’ll ever coach again, was a finalist for the Colorado State job last spring before it went to Larry Eustachy. What we do know is that he looks pretty comfortable, and is also very good at his new job as a commentator and studio analyst with the Pac-12.
  5. We close with something new for our Pac-12 microsite as we introduce a Pac-12 Hoops Pick’em that will run from now up until Championship Week. Between Adam, Parker, Drew, and I, the four of us will post our picks for the weekend basketball games and keep track of our records as we go along. Also included will be a national and conference game of the week, where we will include our score prediction. For the opener, we have selected Thursday’s Kentucky-Notre Dame match-up and Saturday’s UCLA-San Diego State showdown in Anaheim for those respective games.
Game Connor (0-0) Drew (0-0) Parker (0-0) Adam (0-0)
Texas-San Antonio at Oregon Oregon Oregon Oregon Oregon
Kentucky at Notre Dame UK 85-75 UK 70-63 UK 75-62 UK 81-67
Utah at Texas State Texas State Utah Utah Utah
Oregon State vs Kansas Kansas Kansas Kansas Kansas
Arkansas-Pine Bluff at Oregon Oregon Oregon Oregon Oregon
Arizona at Texas Tech Arizona Arizona Arizona Arizona
Sacramento State at Arizona State Arizona State Arizona State Arizona State Arizona State
UCLA vs San Diego State SDSU 73-71 UCLA 70-63 SDSU 63-61 UCLA 67-61
Colorado at Wyoming Wyoming Colorado Colorado Colorado
Portland at Washington State WSU WSU WSU WSU
California at Wisconsin Wisconsin Wisconsin Wisconsin Wisconsin
Denver at Stanford Stanford Stanford Stanford Stanford
Cal State Fullerton at Washington Washington Washington Washington Washington

 

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Pac-12 M5: 11.26.12 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton on November 26th, 2012

  1. Things are getting bad up in Seattle. Washington has dropped three of its last four games, and hasn’t won a game in regulation since its opening night back on November 11. Being outplayed on the boards, by a HUGE margin, has been the main problem for the Huskies. Combine the poor effort on the glass with injuries to the likes of Scott Suggs and Shawn Kemp, Jr., and the Dawgs are off to a worse start than the one we saw last season. That campaign saw losses to Saint Louis, Nevada, and South Dakota State all before Christmas. Hopefully Washington gets more competitive as we roll along up until Pac-12 play, if only to help the rest of the conference’s overall RPI. And to help me look better too, as I picked UW and Aziz N’Diaye to be the surprise team/player in the conference this year.
  2. In its first game since the loss of senior center Angus Brandt to a torn ACL, Oregon State took advantage of its lone, pre-Kansas warmup game by outlasting Montana State yesterday. It was “fill-in by committee” for Craig Robinson’s squad, with nearly everyone tasked to the job stepping up nicely to lead the Beavers to a 13-point victory. An energized Joe Burton saw increased touches on his special “N7″ night at Gill, and he responded by pouring in 21 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Freshman forward Olaf Schaftenaar even came off the bench to drain a trio of triples, his first points of the season. The Beavs now have five days to prepare for their meeting with Kansas on Friday night in Kansas City.
  3. A pair of technical fouls in the final two minutes of the game doomed USC’s chances in the Pac-12’s only game against a ranked opponent yesterday. After a terrible first half in which the Trojans only managed 23 points, Eric Wise led the team to a 18-4 run coming out of the locker rooms to cut the deficit to two. The comeback would prove futile, however, as San Diego State pulled out a key interconference 66-60 victory at the Galen Center.
  4. CBSSports’ Matt Norlander sums it up perfectly with this column after UCLA was upset by Cal Poly last night in Los Angeles. Quite frankly, it’s time to panic in Westwood. Of course, Ben Howland has lost some head-scratchers in the past; defeats at the hands of Loyola Marymount, Middle Tennessee, and Montana come to mind, but there’s always been some excuse to explain it. Not this time, not with guys like Jordan Adams, Shabazz Muhammad, and Travis Wear out on the floor. If the Bruins can’t find a way to salvage a split of their next four (Cal State Northridge, San Diego State, Texas, Prairie View A&M), the local grumblings for Howland’s job will start being heard nationwide.
  5. Sunday had already gotten off to a bit of an inauspicious start for UCLA when it was announced that junior guard Tyler Lamb would be transferring. Lamb had trouble working his way back into the rotation after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in October. And with the clearance of Muhammad by the NCAA a little over a week ago, it was widely understood that Lamb would receive very limited action in 2012-13. Lamb did not specifically specify a reason for the move, nor did he release any names of schools he’d be interested in, but the wing averaged 9.o PPG as a sophomore in 2011-12 and will presumably be a nice pick-up for some enterprising team.
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Morning Five: 11.26.12 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 26th, 2012

  1. The ongoing suspension of Michael Dixon remains one of the most confusing elements of the season so far. When Missouri coach Frank Haith initially reported the indefinite suspension the decision on when Dixon would return was supposedly in Haith’s hands, but now reports are coming out that it might not be in Haith’s hands and the inciting incident may not be as benign as Haith and the Missouri basketball program initially reported. Based on a series of tweets from former Tiger star Kim English the case that Dixon is involved in is in front of the school’s Student Conduct Committee indicating that it is a fairly significant issue. We have heard several rumors about the case, but without confirmation it would be reckless (and unprofessional) to post them, but they are out there if you want to find them. If the rumors are true, we should be hearing about this case (officially) in the near future.
  2. One of the great things about getting talented recruits is that you get the talented recruits. The downside is that it often pushes your older players down the bench or in some cases out the door. The latter is the case for UCLA as Tyler Lamb has decided to transfer from the school. Lamb, a junior who averaged 5.8 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game as a Bruin, saw his minutes shrink after returning from arthroscopic knee surgery and seeing the incoming freshmen–Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams, and Shabazz Muhammad–take away many of his minutes. Lamb has not revealed any of his potential destinations, but it is worth noting that his last four before he decided on UCLA were Arizona, USC, San Diego, and UC Santa Barbara. With the first two almost definitely out because of restrictions against transfers within the same conference that leave just San Diego and UC Santa Barbara unless Lamb decides he wants to continue to play at the BCS conference level.
  3. You will not being seeing Morehead State coach Sean Woods tonight when his team plays against Norfolk State as Woods was given a one-game suspension for his treatment toward Devon Atkinson late in the team’s loss at Kentucky last week. The suspension shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given the media’s reaction to it, but it is refreshing to see a school take action when a coach behaves badly instead of always seeing the athlete punished (obviously the athlete wasn’t going to be punished here, but you usually see the coach get away without anything more than a slap on the wrist). As we said last week, the bigger issue for Woods and Morehead State should be how recruits view Woods’ actions and whether they will want to play for him.
  4. We have to give the NCAA credit for sticking by its guns no matter how misguided they may be as it upheld its ridiculous nine-game suspension for Indiana freshmen Hanner Perea and Peter Jurkin. We already have discussed our thoughts on this case (their sponsor was technically a booster based on an old $185 donation) so we won’t go into too much detail here about why this is so ridiculous, but it is unfortunate that “the kids” have to be punished here because of the NCAA’s disapproval of a certain AAU program. However, now that it is known this should be a warning to all players and programs that the NCAA will treat these interactions in this manner so we won’t feel bad for the next player that gets stuck in this situation.
  5. We have seen plenty of amusing attempts to lure a recruit to a school, but we have to tip our hats to a pair of students at BYU who printed 6,300 shirts saying “Chicago to Provo” in hopes of convincing Jabari Parker, considered by many to be the top recruit in this year’s class, to come to BYU. The shirts were a small part in a campaign that has gone viral (see the attached video in the above link) in hopes of getting Parker, who would be by far the biggest recruit to ever end up in Provo. Parker isn’t expected to announce for another month or two at earliest and he hasn’t commented on the campaign, but we doubt that it hurt BYU’s chances.

Bonus: Just after we completed the Morning Five the news came out that Louisville center Gorgui Dieng would be out indefinitely with a fractured scaphoid in his left wrist. This is a big blow to the Cardinals, who depend on Dieng’s interior defense as they lack an adequate back-up for his interior presence and solid if unspectacular inside game. The school should release more information about how long Dieng is expected to be out after he meets with an orthopedic surgeon later today.

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Shabazz Muhammad Reinstated, Will Play Monday

Posted by AMurawa on November 16th, 2012

A week ago about this time, as college hoops fans everywhere were celebrating their return of their favorite sport, the NCAA threw some cold water on an excited UCLA fan base, getting ready to open their newly remodeled Pauley Pavilion and welcome their highly regarded freshman class. The news from the NCAA that Shabazz Muhammad was ineligible for action last Friday night was hardly a surprise, but the lack of clarity about the future was concerning for fans of the sport. Now, a week later, the NCAA has just given Bruin fans reason to celebrate, releasing a statement just minutes ago that Muhammad’s eligibility case had been resolved and that the talented freshman would be ready to go immediately.

Shabazz Muhammad

With Eligibility Questions Now Behind Him, Muhammad Joins A UCLA Team Loaded At The Wing

On the heels of last night’s exciting demolition of James Madison and with a matchup with Georgetown looming on Monday (not to mention the possibility of Indiana on Tuesday), this is obviously great news for UCLA. The NCAA ruled that Muhammad needs to repay $1,600 in impermissible benefits related to a pair of unofficial visits to North Carolina and Duke and sit out 10% of the season, a figure equivalent to three games. Since Muhammad has already missed three games, he’ll be in uniform and ready to go Monday night.

Odds are good he’ll be in the starting lineup, but with the emergence of fellow freshman Jordan Adams, and with returnees Norman Powell and Tyler Lamb vying for minutes, it will be interesting to see exactly how Howland decides to disburse minutes for the Bruins at a loaded wing spot.

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Pac-12 All-Defense Team and All-Newcomer Team

Posted by PBaruh on November 7th, 2012

The college basketball season is now just days away and here are some more of the Pac-12 microsite’s predictions for the season with our All-Defense Team and All-Newcomer Team.

All-Defense Team

  • C Aziz N’Diaye (Sr. 7’0″ 260 lbs.) Washington. N’Diaye was a physical presence and an exceptional defender for the Huskies and Lorenzo Romar last year. He’s a great rebounder and shot-blocker, averaging 7.1 per boards per game and blocking a shot a night last season. N’Diaye covers the paint very well for the Huskies and is legitimate 7-footer who is mobile for his size. As a result, he can recover quickly and play great help defense. His length should cause problems for opposing offenses all year long.
  • F- Andre Roberson (Jr. 6’7″ 210 lbs.) Colorado. The second-best defensive rebounder in the nation last year, Roberson picked up 401 total and 290 defensive rebounds last year. He has been a defensive force ever since he’s arrived at Colorado by blocking everything that comes his way. Roberson averaged 1.9 blocks per game last year and also averaged 1.3 steals a game to boot. It’s very hard to score on Roberson as he never gives up second chances and tips rebounds to himself if necessary, and he can even step outside and guard perimeter players on the wing. Overall, Roberson is an outstanding defender and is underrated defensively because of his size.
  • F- Eric Moreland (So. 6’10” 215 lbs.) Oregon State. The Pac-12’s leading shot blocker last year is an imposing defender with his size and speed. Moreland averaged 1.9 blocks per game last year and totaled 69 blocks on the season. Although at first glance it may seem Moreland is not a great rebounder due to his 6.8 RPG average last year, he was second in defensive rebound percentage in the Pac-12 at 26.8%. With more minutes possibly headed his way this season, you could see his traditional rebounding numbers jump.

Eric Moreland has a knack for blocking shots and getting the ball.

  • F- Josh Huestis (Jr. 6’7″ 230 lbs.) Stanford. Huestis doesn’t have one particular skill at which he excels on defense. He can block shots and he’s a decent rebounder, but more importantly, he’s just a good all-around defender. When he’s in the game, players rarely score on him. Huestis is a smart player and knows where to play help defense and how to position himself on the floor, and his athletic ability helps him make up for a relative lack of size. With plenty of minutes available in the Stanford frontcourt, Huestis should provide great defense down low for the Cardinal this season. Read the rest of this entry »
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Marching to Vegas: How Can UCLA Find It’s Way?

Posted by AMurawa on October 19th, 2012

From the moment it was first rumored, the relocation of the conference tournament to Las Vegas has created quite a buzz among Pac-12 basketball fans. Adam Butler (@pachoopsAB) of PacHoops will be here every week as he offers his unique perspective along our March to Vegas.

Midnight’s madness has come and gone and so it begins. Or something like that. There still aren’t games or standings but there’s optimism and the knowing that those eternally glorious things are soon to come. And with season’s beginning there’s new dialogue. From transfers to healed wounds to recruiting classes and seniors, the Pac-12 dialogue hasn’t necessarily centered on last season’s monstrosity but rather the potential for a return to glory. Or at least something resembling such.

Howland Has Loads of Talent Now, But Is It His Kind of Talent? (credit: LA Times)

The unfortunate twist is the immense questioning of the prognosticated success in Westwood. Here is a program that needs no introduction but gross amounts of explanation and dissection when examining their current state. I could rattle off the tribulations of the recent past but that’d feel like piling on which I’d feel is unfair considering the optimism surrounding this program in light of their 2012 recruiting haul.

[Enter: ominous cloud]

But that’s right, we’re all too familiar with the investigative cloud hovering over new Pauley and the once glowing forecast of the 2012-13 Bruins. Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson continue to be investigated by the NCAA. You don’t need me to tell you that this is not good news considering much of UCLA’s projected success was centering on these young talents, particularly Muhammad. As the investigation drags on (ask Jahii Carson about timelines on such matters), the ominous cloud grows darker. How long will Anderson (he who faces the less stiff allegations) be held out? Is Muhammad done for the year? How big of a distraction is this to the team? Then of course we could question just how good the current, confirmed roster is. Has Larry Drew II matured? Will Josh Smith ever realize his potential? What sort of progress have Tyler Lamb (now injured) and Norman Powell made? Are the twins capable of being difference makers or are they role players?

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Pac-12 Team Previews: UCLA Bruins

Posted by AMurawa on October 16th, 2012

Throughout the preseason, the Pac-12 microsite will be rolling out these featured breakdowns of each of the 12 league schools. Today’s release is the UCLA Bruins.

Strengths.  Talent. The Bruins feature seven former McDonald’s All-Americans on their roster, including three from last year’s game. The argument could be made that this roster has more raw talent than any other team in the country. The challenge for head coach Ben Howland is going to be harnessing this talent, as some players on this roster – most notably junior center Joshua Smith and senior point guard Larry Drew II – have yet to live up to those expectations. Still, the talent is there, and what’s more it is big, with four guys in the rotation checking in a 6’9” or better and an additional group of five different wings standing between 6’4” and 6’9”.

Joshua Smith, UCLA

Joshua Smith’s Talent Is Undeniable, But He Has Still Yet To Live Up To His Potential

Weaknesses. Despite all that talent, it remains to be seen just how the roles get distributed on this team. For instance, with freshman small forward Shabazz Muhammad expected to see the beginning of his likely brief college career delayed by an NCAA investigation, and with junior wing Tyler Lamb already laid up after getting his knee scoped, the Bruins find themselves mighty thin at the three. What’s more, with Smith, the Wear twins and freshman center Tony Parker all best suited for either the four or the five, there is quite a wait for playing time at those positions. Then there are the question marks at the point; Drew is expected to take the reins there from the get-go, but his performance and leadership at his previous stop in Chapel Hill leaves some dubious as to his ability to run this team. Meanwhile, freshman wing Kyle Anderson has all the offensive skills necessary to be an elite playmaker for the team, but could be a liability if forced to guard smaller, quicker lead guards.

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Pac-12’s Five Most Important Non-Conference Games

Posted by KDanna on October 10th, 2012

The best thing about October isn’t watching football or the MLB playoffs; no, it’s all about analyzing college basketball non-conference schedules. Where are the potential RPI boosts? Trap games? Guarantee ones? So many possibilities for those ’12 or ’13 tilts!

But way out west, promise has quickly turned into embarrassment in November and December for the Pac-12 in recent years. Last season, the Pac went 9-38 against teams that finished the regular season in the RPI Top-100 and 3-28 against those finishing 50th or above, according to realtimerpi.com. Numbers like those are why Washington didn’t get an at-large bid even as the conference’s regular-season champion. So, it goes without saying that the first two months of the season are HUGE for a conference like the Pac-12 to regain respect around the college basketball world. With that in mind, we’re ready to begin circling some dates to keep an eye on in the conference calendar. Here are my choices for the five most important non-conference games for the Pac in 2012-13, in order of appearance:

Maui Invitational

USC Will Represent The Pac-12 At The Maui Invitational This Year (Alex Prosperi, EA Sports Maui Invitational)

1. USC vs. Illinois (November 19) - Talk about the ultimate RPI-boost game. Illinois is the Trojans’ first-round opponent of the Maui Invitational, which means a certain D-II team will be lurking in the consolation bracket. If the Trojans beat the Illini, they get to play Texas, another high-quality RPI opponent. If the Trojans lose… that’s right, Chaminade is up next (assuming Texas doesn’t Oklahoma 2010-11 it). In case you were wondering, the Silverswords are not a high-quality RPI opponent. Neither the Trojans nor the Illini are coming off storybook seasons (USC went 1-17 in an extremely down Pac-12, while Illinois absolutely imploded, finishing the season 2-12 after a 15-3 start), but a little early-season karma can do a body of work good. And, we’ll get a chance to see just how much difference USC’s new faces (like Ari Stewart, J.T. Terrell and Eric Wise) and newly healthy returnees (with senior point guard Jio Fontan exhibit A) can make.

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Pac-12 M5: 10.09.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on October 9th, 2012

  1. Way back on April 11, Shabazz Muhammad signed with UCLA, guaranteeing Ben Howland one of the year’s best recruiting classes and boosting the hopes of Bruins’ fans. While there have been some good moments since then (such as when Tony Parker eventually committed to UCLA as well), now nearly six months later, the Bruins are on a bit of a losing streak even though they have yet to play a game. They learned yesterday that returning starter Tyler Lamb will miss at least a month while recovering from knee surgery. Throw that on top of the NCAA investigations into Muhammad and fellow recruits Parker and Kyle Anderson, along with bad news from Joshua Smith’s scale, and there is some concern as to where this season is going. However, on the bright side, Lamb will likely be back soon after the season begins, and even if UCLA plays without him for a handful of games, sophomore guard Norman Powell should be ready and willing to step in and use the available minutes to make his case for more playing time.
  2. As for the other question marks mentioned above, UCLA fans are hoping to get some positive answers. First, on the matter of Joshua Smith’s diet, once again progress is being reported. Though there is still no one that will actually go on record with a three-digit number meant to accurately represent his weight, Smith claims that his body fat percentage is down from 25% when he came to campus two years ago to just 17% today, with a future goal of 10%. Still, at this point, especially given last year’s often lackluster effort, college basketball fans will largely take a wait-and-see approach to Smith’s waistline. Meanwhile, Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson have begun preliminary workouts with the Bruins despite the fact that the NCAA has yet to rule on their eligibility. This means (correct me if I am wrong) that for the next 45 days, these guys are eligible to practice with the team and play in games. Once those 45 days expire, either they must be cleared or they must stop working out with the team until their investigations are resolved. The scuttlebutt is that Anderson will be cleared by the NCAA (although, until that actually happens, Bruins fans have every right to be nervous), while any guess on Muhammad’s eventual status is just that, a guess.
  3. Lamb’s knee surgery isn’t the only big injury news around the conference. California head coach Mike Montgomery announced on Monday that sophomore guard Ricky Kreklow underwent surgery on his right foot and will be out of action for up to two months. Kreklow transferred into Berkeley after spending one season at Missouri, where he shot 28.3% from three in limited minutes as a freshman in 2010-11. After sitting out last season per NCAA rules, the former Mr. Basketball in Missouri in 2010 was expected to jump into the Golden Bear starting lineup this season as a three-point shooting specialist, but instead will have to serve as a midseason reinforcement. Coupled with the transfers of guards Alex Rossi and Emerson Murray this offseason, the Bears now find themselves slightly shorthanded in the backcourt, with returning starters Justin Cobbs and Allen Crabbe being joined by Brandon Smith and freshman Tyrone Wallace. The injury could mean that instead of employing a three-guard starting lineup of Cobbs, Crabbe and Kreklow, Cal could opt to go bigger along the front line. Stay tuned.
  4. Last week, the consensus #1 player in the 2013 recruiting class, Jabari Parker, narrowed his list of potential schools down to five. This is important for Pac-12 fans for a couple of different reasons. First, and foremost, Stanford is one of the quintet of schools remaining as possible landing spots for the versatile wing. Johnny Dawkins already has commitments from the Allen twins (Marcus and Malcolm), but adding an elite recruit the level of Parker would bring a whole different level of recruit to The Farm. The other bit of interest about Parker involves Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak, who apparently was shown on a Salt Lake City television station talking about Parker, a potential NCAA violation. However, Rob Dauster argues that since the Utes no longer stand a chance of landing Parker (the Utes are not among his final five), Krystkowiak can get off on a technicality. Still, the coach should know better.
  5. It’s not all bumbles and stumbles along the recruiting trail for Krystkowiak, however, as the Utah head man continues his pursuit of Michael Williams, a 6’2” point guard out of Texas. He just finished an official visit with the program last week and now will decide between the Utes, TCU and Penn. The fact that those are the other schools in on Williams’ recruitment indicates that he’s not likely to be a player who makes a huge impact, but he is a bigger lead guard than anybody currently on the roster with Glen Dean and Brandon Taylor both checking in under six feet. Krystkowiak already has a couple 2013 shooting guard commitments, while also chasing Las Vegas point guard Julian Jacobs and southern California lead guard Brandon Randolph.
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