Pac-12 Media Day: Team Capsules Filled With Evidence

Posted by Adam Butler on October 12th, 2018

A great focus of Thursday’s Pac-12 Basketball Media Day was “evidence.” It came up as both a recommendation from the Pac-12 as well as an implemented rule that the NCAA can use third-party investigations (evidence? information?) to enact punishment. Further, in defending the conference and an allusion to wide-spread corruption (half of the conference’s teams have been mentioned in a federal court in Lower Manhattan this week), commissioner Larry Scott referred to last November’s NCAA charter that all schools conduct internal investigations regarding their compliance. In doing such, the Pac-12’s member institutions found no EVIDENCE of wrongdoing.

All Hands on Deck Yesterday in SF (credit: UCLA Athletics)

Alas, this was a basketball Media Day with the presumed burden of evidence on coaches and players. The EVIDENCE (and media voting suggests) that Oregon will win the conference. But in evaluating what we have for basketball evidence, we find ourselves with very little to know. Players in attendance at Media Day (two per school) averaged just 19 starts last year. Five players started zero games (or weren’t Pac-12 players at all last year). Of course, this trend among the 24 players in attendance is a microcosm of the sport: roster fluidity, consistently new names, etc. It makes evidence difficult. Despite that, however, I’d like to present the most optimistic team-by-team 2018-19 BASKETBALL evidence:

  • Arizona – Sean Miller went out of his way, unprompted, to mention his star freshman, Brandon Williams. When he committed to the Wildcats for the second time, Miller had secured the top point guard recruit of his Arizona tenure. Further, Miller has managed to bring in some intriguing graduates (Justin Coleman, Ryan Luther) to help stabilize an unproven roster — and, in fact, naming Coleman a team captain.
  • Arizona State – Remy Martin showed flashes of scoring brilliance and an ability to slash and shoot, suggesting little drop off from the Tra Holder era. Beyond that, the Devils introduce Zylan Cheatham (SDSU transfer), Luguentz Dort (5-star recruit) and Taeshon Cherry (4-star recruit) to an already intriguing set of athletic forwards (Mickey Mitchell, Romello White) with the hope of improving on a porous defense. Bob Hurley spoke – almost to a man – about defensive prowess and ability.

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Pac-12 NCAA Tournament Prospects Looking Slim

Posted by RJ Abeytia on March 13th, 2018

And then there were three. The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee took its Excalibur Sharpies and scrawled in the names of Arizona, UCLA and Arizona State onto its 68-team bracket and left an entire conference reeling in its wake. I’ll touch upon USC at another time, but the upshot should not really be that much of a revelation: Conference affiliation is ultimately arbitrary in the case of making the Big Dance. But enough digression. Let’s take a quick look at the three teams who did make it and assess their prospects for this weekend and beyond.

DeAndre Ayton is a Problem for Any Team in His Path (USA Today Images)

Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton gave everybody in Las Vegas a tantalizing glimpse of the dominance he’s capable of inflicting. He became the first player in Pac-10/12 history to ever win Freshman of the Year, Player of the Year, and Most Outstanding Player of the conference tournament. Sean Miller said months ago that “we go as DeAndre goes,” and truer words have never been spoken. Unfortunately, there are two things conspiring to thwart Miller’s Quixotic journey to the Final Four. The first is the Wildcats’ lack of consistent defensive play, a very conspicuous attribute in the Miller Era. This year the Wildcats finished 70th in Defensive Rating, per KenPom, and in the previous three seasons that number was 29th, 29th and third. The strange thing is that with Ayton, Rawle Alkins, Keanu Pinder and Dusan Ristic, you’d think the Wildcats would be a good defensive team.

However, college basketball is a guard’s game, and Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Allonzo Trier have slid significantly on defense from last year. Jackson-Cartwright has gone from an exceptional defender (99.0 DRtg in 2016-17) to essentially average at 105.0. Trier has gone from acceptable (101.0) to a turnstile (107.5) With a 131.0 Offensive Rating in tow, Trier is too good to keep off the court, but by far the biggest basketball question mark for Arizona is the ability of its backcourt to get stops. The other issue is the draw. Arizona by chalk would be looking at #5 Kentucky (gulp) in the Second Round and #1 Virginia in the Sweet Sixteen. By chalk, Arizona would then play #2 Cincinnati in the Elite Eight. That’s a tall order and likely even too tall for the seven-foot Ayton. Best case: Ayton continues to be a Basketball Godzilla and simply carries the Wildcats to San Antonio. Worst case: Kentucky gets revenge for its 1997 championship game loss and maybe Miller’s most talented team fails to reach the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

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Arizona State’s Stars and the Infrequence of its Bench

Posted by Adam Butler on March 7th, 2018

Earlier this season, as many were asking if Arizona State was the best team in the country, it was hard to disagree. The Sun Devils were 12-0 and had logged wins over Xavier and Kansas, now-and-then teams projected to be fantastic. On the eve of Pac-12 play, they were ranked among the nation’s top five in the national polls and rated 20th by KenPom. Bobby Hurley was America’s coaching darling and Tra Holder was outpacing Deandre Ayton for the Pac-12 Player of the Year (although I did call Holder a dark horse favorite for the award). But now, at season’s end, the Devils are 8-10 in a mediocre-at-best Pac-12 and no longer our national sweethearts (to the extent a Devil ever could be). It wasn’t the level of competition (exclusively) that caused this collapse. A win at Kansas is rarely a mistake. Even Washington went 10-8 in the same conference! What happened to Arizona State?

Arizona State Was Flying High Earlier This Season (USA Today Images)

I chose to call it a “Curtain of Exhaustion.” Back when the Sun Devils were streaking, we noted that Hurley was very rarely leveraging his bench. Now, to be clear, leveraging a bench is a complex topic. In the college game specifically, a bench isn’t always a required or an available asset. Arizona State started the season without Mickey Mitchell or Kimani Lawrence, both of whom wound up playing significant-if-not-impactful roles throughout the conference season. Regardless of their availability, the Sun Devils still finished the season with just one-quarter of their available minutes (305th nationally) going to the bench. Again, this isn’t always a death sentence for teams, but in closely examining Arizona State’s tumble, it seems clear. Holder and Shannon Evans — who have played 87 percent and 86 percent, respectively, of their team’s available minutes — are exhausted. Their totals represent the fourth and fifth most minutes in the Pac-12 this season. To further visualize this thesis, here are their rolling field goal percentages this season:

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Ten Questions to Consider: Final Regular Season Weekend

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 2nd, 2018

Regular season finales and conference tournaments make this a must-watch weekend of college hoops. Here are 10 questions I have for the action this weekend.

The Lowest Seed in the Big Ten Tournament is Still Alive (USA Today Images)

  1. Will the Big Ten Tournament playing a week early ultimately be advantageous? While Big Ten teams were forced to played a compacted conference season, teams will have an extra week of rest leading up to the NCAA Tournament by finishing this week. Additionally, all the committee’s eyes can be focused on the games this weekend at Madison Square Garden, something that could be favorable to any remaining Big Ten bubble teams.
  2. Can either the Atlantic Sun or Big South Tournament champion win a game in the NCAA Tournament? Florida Gulf Coast possesses the best profile from the Atlantic Sun if it could cut down on turnovers (bottom 100 nationally). This weekend would also be a good time to get to know UNC Asheville and its sharp-shooting pair of MaCio Teague and Raekwon Miller. Before #DunkCity and UNC Asheville begin dreaming of victories over power conference teams in the NCAA Tournament, they must both cut down their conference nets this weekend.
  3. Who finishes ACC play on a two-game losing streak: Duke or North Carolina? Both the Blue Devils and Tar Heels suffered last-second losses earlier in the week and are now fighting for ACC Tournament seeding. The biggest change since these two rivals played in early February has been the reemergence of Grayson Allen. Allen is averaging 20.5 PPG over his last six games.
  4. Will San Diego State make a statement against Nevada? The Aztecs have now won five straight, including a key win against Mountain West second-place Boise State. After a mid-season stretch in which San Diego State allowed an opponent’s offensive efficiency of 100 or more in eight of nine games, the Aztecs have held each of their last four opponents under 93 points. Brian Dutcher‘s team is turning the corner at just the right time. Read the rest of this entry »
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Ten Questions to Consider: A Weekend of Important Match-ups

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 9th, 2018

As the second weekend of February approaches, it also means the days until March are getting fewer. Here are 10 things I am looking at around college basketball this weekend.

Purdue Looks to Regroup After a Heartbreaking Loss to Ohio State (USA Today Images)

  1. Can Michigan State make it two losses in a row for Purdue? Michigan State and Purdue are the only two teams in America with offensive and defensive efficiency rankings among the top 20. While Sparty owns the best two-point defense in college basketball, they will be tested by Purdue’s elite three-point shooting (42.7%, first nationally). Michigan State has already allowed six Big Ten opponents to shoot 40 percent or better from distance this season.
  2. Can Creighton stay perfect at home against Xavier? Creighton is 13-0 at the CenturyLink Center this season with double-figure home wins against both Butler and Seton Hall. In the Bluejays’ loss to Xavier earlier this year, Creighton logged its season-high turnover percentage and suffered a season-low of just two points from Khyri Thomas.
  3. Will the three-point line be the difference again in North Carolina vs. N.C. State? In the recent overtime thriller between North Carolina and North Carolina State, the Tar Heels shot 4-of-19 on their three-point attempts while the Wolfpack nailed 15-of-30. The 33-point resulting difference was enough for the Wolfpack to overcome their inability to slow North Carolina from scorching shooting inside the arc (64% 2FG). Read the rest of this entry »
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What’s Trending: Upset Saturday

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 5th, 2018

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Matthew Eisenberg (@matteise) is your weekly host.

Saturday was an utterly wild day around the world of college basketball. With Duke and Kansas losing in the early afternoon (to St. John’s and Oklahoma State, respectively), Kentucky dropping a game to Missouri a little later than that, the nightcap featured an Arizona team trying to avoid joining the group of illustrious programs with a loss on the day. After tying things up late, it all came down to this…

https://twitter.com/BleacherReport/status/960025983825801216

A few days prior to calling the Michigan State/Indiana game, ESPN analyst Dan Dakich took to Twitter to claim that Miles Bridges “has no game.” Dakich would then go on to say that his comment meant Bridges’ game might not translate well to the next level. It raises the question, though, why can we not appreciate college players for being great college players?

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Ten Questions to Consider: Super Bowl Weekend (College Hoops Version)

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 2nd, 2018

While college basketball will take a backseat to the Super Bowl Sunday afternoon, there is plenty of action on the hardwood before then. Here are ten questions I have for this weekend.

Rhode Island is Quietly Rising, But How Good Are the Rams? (USA Today Images)

  1. Is Rhode Island THAT GOOD or is the Atlantic 10 THAT BAD? Rhode Island sits at 10-0 in conference play with a three-game lead over VCU, Davidson and Richmond. With its next three games against that trio, Rhode Island could have the regular season crown wrapped up by mid-February. Only three Atlantic 10 teams own a KenPom top 100 ranking this season, a far cry from the past five seasons when the conference has averaged 7.4 teams among the top 100.
  2. Will Texas Tech stay within reach of Kansas? Only one game behind Kansas in the Big 12 standings, Texas Tech faces a crucial road test at TCU on Saturday. In two of its three conference losses, Texas Tech has been unable to force turnovers at its season rate of 23.7 percent, which ranks among the top 10 nationally. The Red Raiders will match up against a TCU offense that has the lowest turnover rate in conference play.
  3. Which Los Angeles team steps up in the crosstown battle?  While USC has its eyes on the Pac-12 title (one game behind Arizona), UCLA is looking to make its seat on the bubble a little more comfortable. An area to watch in this game is the three-point line, where over its last five games UCLA is shooting 33-of-111 (29.7%) and allowing its opponents to shoot 41-of-87 (47.1.%). Read the rest of this entry »
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Pac-12 Needs the Two Cs to Recover

Posted by RJ Abeytia on February 1st, 2018

The Pac-12 is struggling. About that there can be no doubt. The conference has no teams in the top 10 in the RPI and only two among the top 40 (#16 Arizona, #37 USC). Joe Lunardi’s latest edition of bracketology holds those two teams plus Arizona State in his field of 68, with only Washington landing among the first four out. Jeff Sagarin ranks the conference sixth overall with only (again) the Wildcats and Trojans cracking his top 40. Nothing amazing is going to happen in February to salvage the league this year. The question is whether there are any signs of daylight cracking through the wall of despair the league has built between it and the upcoming NCAA Tournament. First, let’s look to youth. A quick scan of the PER leaders among freshmen shows a pretty impressive group of players.

Player School
DeAndre Ayton Arizona
Kenny Wooten Washington
Romello White Arizona State
Jalen Nowell Washington
McKinley Wright IV Colorado
Donnie Tillman Utah
Justice Sueing California
Kris Wilkes UCLA
Remy Martin Arizona State
Troy Brown Oregon

 

Now, this list does not encapsulate the entirety of elite freshman talent in the Pac. Stanford alone has Daejon Davis, who has already won a Pac-12 Player of the Week award, and KZ Okpala, who despite not playing until the final non-conference game is already garnering calls to the Cardinal offices from NBA scouts. Speaking of Players of the Week, Arizona’s Dusan Ristic and Utah’s Justin Bibbins just ended a three-week stretch from the new year onward when a freshman was the conference player of the week. The most intriguing part of this list is that, aside from Ayton, there isn’t a surefire NBA lottery pick in the group. That’s not to say there isn’t NBA talent on that list or elsewhere across the league. It’s to say instead that, aside from Ayton, most of this group should be back for at least one more season. That certainly matters, because Ayton’s ongoing brilliance isn’t going to single-handedly bring the conference back to glory.

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What’s Trending: Send It In, Jerome!

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 29th, 2018

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Matthew Eisenberg (@matteise) is your weekly host.

I did not expect to highlight a Campbell box score when the week began, but then the Camels went out and did this…

The Butler program experienced tremendous heartache when Andrew Smith passed away a couple years ago. His legacy, however, lives on, and Matt Norlander of CBSSports.com wrote a brilliant piece on Project 44, change borne out of the tragedy of Smith’s passing.

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Pac-12’s Week 2 Cannibal Routine May Prove Costly

Posted by RJ Abeytia on January 11th, 2018

The Pac-12’s Cannibalization hit full swing this week as once again the road proved significantly difficult for even the best teams in the conference. The first week of Pac-12 play saw six of the 10 games finish with margins of 10 points or more. In the second week, only four of 10 games ended with such margins, and two of those included California, which is really only an approximation of a Pac-12 team on most nights this year. Arizona State and Arizona, the conference’s clear upper tier at this point, dropped from sixth and 19th in the RPI, respectively, to 14th and 24th. They weren’t the biggest losers this past week, however, as Utah, in getting swept by those two schools in Salt Lake City, went from 35th to 63rd. That’s going from fringe NCAA Tournament status to deep in the heart of NIT City.

One of the more problematic teams over the course of the Pac-12 season could be Stanford. The Cardinal enjoyed a miraculous home sweep of the Bruins and Trojans last weekend, and vaulted from 214th to 154th in the RPI as a result. The Bruins and Trojans correspondingly dropped from 40 and 44th to 46th and 56th, respectively, after their Maples heartbreaks. The Stanford problem is that with the Cardinal now playing with its healthiest possible roster (Kezie Okpala and Dorian Pickens have returned while Marcus Sheffield will take a medical redshirt), they are a much tougher team. But because their cumulative performance to date (8-8 overall, the aforementioned +200 RPI) has been so underwhelming, beating Stanford isn’t going to do much for teams’ resumes. Conversely, losses — even if they’re more understandable now — are still going to sting.

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