Marching to Vegas: In Defense of the Pac

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) on January 14th, 2016

The Pac-12 is exactly what we want it to be, at least in a season like this. In a conference whose most tenured coach has a 0.456 winning percentage over his last four seasons and the second most tenured is Johnny Dawkins, we’ve got what we want. The Pac isn’t producing basketball we’ll soon tell our grandchildren about or write new defensive schematics to contain something transcendent. Only Bill Walton could contextualize the Pac-12 as historically brilliant right now. He’s wrong. He knows he’s wrong but he’ll say it anyway because he’s Bill Walton and he’s forgotten more basketball than we’ll ever know. What if he’s right, though (he’s not)?

Don't Worry Pac-12, We've Got Your Back.

Don’t Worry Pac-12, We’ve Got Your Back.

Because right now the Pac-12 is competitive. We can quantify that, for starters. Noting that 45 percent of its games – according to KenPom – have been close; that there hasn’t been a “blowout” of 19-points or more through 29 conference games. Remember 2012, when we lamented what a poor Pac-12 we had? Just 19 percent of those games were close and 18 percent were blowouts. That’s nearly 40 percent of conference basketball with seemingly no balance. Think about that. In easily the worst Pac play we’ve ever seen, the games weren’t even close. Competition breeds success. The Pac-12 in 2016 isn’t the greatest basketball we’ve ever seen. In 2009 it collectively led the nation in efficiency. This year it’s 15th. But when I sit down to watch Pac-12 basketball, I’m watching an entertaining product. We’re watching a game worth celebrating and not lamenting because there aren’t necessarily rosters littered with disciplined executioners (2015 Wisconsin, Gonzaga, Arizona, Virginia) or uber-talented transcendents (2015 Kentucky, Duke). This isn’t last season. If you want that, here’s a link to CSN Bay Area and all of the Warriors highlights you can handle. And yes, it is unfair to compare anything to those Warriors. It’s also unfair to compare any of these 2016 teams against what was a historically fantastic 2015. Read the rest of this entry »

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Making Sense of the Wild Pac-12 Standings

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on January 11th, 2016

We’re now through two weeks of Pac-12 play and Washington sits alone atop the conference with a 3-0 record. USC, Oregon State and Oregon are the next three teams, with only one loss. Teams among the conference favorites – for example, Arizona and Utah – sit with sub-.500 records. And Arizona State, a team expected to be in the mix somewhere in the middle of the conference race, is sitting alone in last place with an 0-3 record. Sure, given that teams have only played a fraction of the conference schedule, most of this is meaningless. But here are some more relevant facts. At halfway through the college basketball regular season, 11 of the 12 conference teams are ranked among the KenPom top 100 — only Washington State sits out at #122. If RPI is more your thing (for some reason), those 11 teams rank among the top 75 of that metric. If you want to throw out Stanford and Washington, the top nine teams in the conference rank among the top 66 in KenPom and the top 48 in RPI. The conference is listed as the #2 strongest collection of teams in the land by RPI, while KenPom puts the league third. Oregon is rated highest in RPI (#11), while Arizona tops KenPom at #16.

Two Weeks Into Conference Play, One Thing Is Clear: It's Going To Be A Wild One (Gary A. Vasquez, USA Today)

Two Weeks Into Conference Play, One Thing Is Clear: It’s Going To Be A Wild One (Gary A. Vasquez, USA Today)

Enough numbers for now; the important question is what do they all mean? To begin with, this is a conference that runs deep with good teams. In a season seeming to lack great teams on a national level, the Pac-12 will again be expected to extend its streak of seasons without a Final Four entrant to eight. However, because of that lack of dominant team on the national landscape, if this NCAA Tournament tends towards wild upsets (as sometimes happens), the Pac-12 has some teams in that next tier of strength that could either be the upsetter or take advantage of brackets thinned out by upsets.

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Pac-12 Bracketology: Non-Conference Season

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 9th, 2016

The heavy lifting for Pac-12 teams has just begun but the non-conference games each team is leaving behind won’t stay in the rear-view mirror very long. They make a dramatic reappearance in the next two months when some of those games played two and three months prior might be the difference between getting a coveted invitation to the Big Dance and being shut out. This means that the only consistent way to analyze how each team did in non-conference play is to evaluate each resume as if the teams were on the bubble. In general, Pac-12 teams did a lackluster job of scheduling legitimate competition (and beating it). Even with a seriously stretched definition of what counts as a “quality win,” it was still tough to get excited about the success of these teams. Let’s run through it.

Arizona – IN

Sean Miller's Team is Of Course Easily In, But How High? (USA Today Images)

Sean Miller’s Team is Of Course Easily In, But How High? (USA Today Images)

  • KenPom Non-Conference Strength of Schedule: #292
  • Quality Wins: at Gonzaga, UNLV, Boise State (2x)
  • Bad Losses: None

The Wildcats look like the class of the Pac so the team’s at-large candidacy likely won’t matter much because they’re in regardless. They didn’t exactly challenge themselves in the first half of their schedule, playing  what amounts to the easiest non-conference slate in the conference. But Arizona also didn’t lose to anyone unexpected and beat a few decent teams too. It is possible that the win in Spokane against Gonzaga will be the only one to stand up as a true quality win, but for now, wins over Boise State (twice) and UNLV build a solid foundation for an at-large resume.

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UCLA: Predictably Unpredictable?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 8th, 2016

Conventional wisdom on UCLA, after taking down KenPom #16 Arizona on Thursday night to pair with earlier wins over then-#2 Kentucky and then-#19 Gonzaga, is that the Bruins are inconsistent and unpredictable. And conventional wisdom, as is often the case, may only be partially right. The more complete argument may be that the Bruins are consistent in their inconsistency and predictable in their unpredictability. This isn’t one of those riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma bits of nonsense. There’s a method to UCLA’s madness. Let’s dig in.

Just Another Predictable Night In Westwood (ESPN)

Just Another Predictable Night In Westwood (ESPN)

First, let’s take a look at the current landscape of college basketball. Again, using those KenPom rankings, Virginia is ranked sixth in the nation and has lost road games to George Washington (#72) and Virginia Tech (#119). Miami is ranked 10th and the Hurricanes took a home loss to Northeastern (#81). North Carolina was the AP preseason #1 team and currently ranks 11th in KenPom; the Tar Heels have suffered road losses to Northern Iowa and Texas. Dig a bit further down the rankings and there are many other examples of big-time teams losing to small-time teams. It’s been said that there aren’t any great teams this year, and that may well be true (although reserving that judgment until all of the classwork is in might be in order), but more to the point, there just may be less of a difference this season between the top team and the 50th-best team in the country than ever before. And perhaps more to the point, there is almost assuredly less difference between a team like the 10th-best team and the 90th-best team. In other words, big time teams are susceptible to taking losses against lesser ones, especially when they go on the road.

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Dear Santa: Here’s Our Pac-12 Holiday Wish List

Posted by Mike Lemaire (@Mike_Lemaire) & Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on December 18th, 2015

Here at the Pac-12 microsite we are hardly immune to the allure of a cheesy holiday-themed post, and so in the spirit of the season, we created a wish list for each team in the conference. Although none of the teams are even close to a finished product and it may be too early in the season to thoughtfully examine strengths and weaknesses, everyone has played enough games that we can start to draw worthwhile conclusions from what we’ve seen. As with any holiday wish list, there are some wants and needs that are easier to satisfy than others but hey, you have to dream big when gifts are involved.

Arizona: Another Shooter

Arizona Could Stand To See Mark Tollefsen Dial In His Perimeter Shot (USA Today Sports)

Arizona Could Stand To See Mark Tollefsen Dial In His Perimeter Shot. (USA Today Sports)

Even without post anchor Kaleb Tarczewski, the Wildcats have been and will continue to be the conference’s best defensive team. But the offense has been a work in progress primarily because the outside shooting has been ugly. The team is shooting just 31 percent from downtown, down from 38 percent last season and Gabe York is pretty much the only one making shots behind the three-point line with any regularity. York has been much better of late and is one of the most dangerous shooters in the country when he gets hot, but he is pretty much the only one on the roster who can shoot. The big reason why the Wildcats rank near the bottom of the country in 3PA/FGA is because Sean Miller knows his team can’t really shoot it from there. The best hope is that Mark Tollefson rebounds from a slow start and becomes the 36 percent three-pointer shooter he was coming into the season.

Arizona State: a Personal Offensive Coach for Savon Goodman

Goodman is almost as bad at shooting and passing as he is good at everything else he does on the court. He is a vicious dunker, a suffocating defender, one of the better rebounding wing players in the entire country and a good finisher at the rim. But, like many freak athletes on the basketball court, as he moves farther away from the basket, his effectiveness disappears. Goodman has missed all seven of the three-pointers he has attempted in his collegiate career and he is a career 57 percent free throw shooter. Also, his assist rate is below 5.0, which means once he gets the ball, he isn’t looking to get rid of it again. Goodman’s offensive issues are a good microcosm for Arizona State’s offensive issues. The team is athletic and defends hard, but they don’t have any truly skilled offensive players. Goodman will likely never become a consistent three-point threat but imagine how good he and the Sun Devils could be if he develops some feel for his shot.

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Pac-12 Notebook: A Stroll Around the League

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

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

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

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

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

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Pac-12 Bests and Worsts of the Week: Vol. III

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 16th, 2015

With notable results filtering in throughout the week, the complexion of the Pac-12 has undergone significant change in the last seven days. Here’s a look at some of the highlights — and lowlights — of recent action.

Best Audition for NBA Scouts

Colorado's George King Has The Shooting And The Size To Make NBA Scouts Take Notice

Colorado’s George King Has The Shooting And The Size To Make NBA Scouts Take Notice.

Last week we highlighted the NBA potential of a stretch seven-footer like UCLA’s Thomas Welsh and this week it is Colorado forward George King’s moment in the spotlight. The 6’6″, 220-pounder is shooting 50 percent from behind the three-point arc after making four of his six attempts in the Buffs’ win over BYU and has an NBA body so we have to imagine he is getting looked at a little. The redshirt sophomore has zero track record or pedigree, which makes his efficiency all the more surprising. With all the talk in the NBA of the importance of threes and free throws, what is better than a player who is doing exactly that and little else? And therein lies the rub. King has three-and-defense potential but he currently doesn’t play very much defense and he doesn’t pass much either. He is primarily an offensive player at this point and although he is a gifted shooter, he won’t shoot 50 percent from downtown this season. If he can stay efficient and work hard on becoming a better rebounder and defender, there is no doubt he has NBA ability.

Best Non-Conference Scheduling

UCLA is obligated to play a star-studded non-conference schedule because of who they are but it sure seems like the Bruins are cutting their teeth against a legitimate Sweet Sixteen contender every week. Oh wait… they ARE playing a legitimate Sweet Sixteen contender every week. After an impressive win over Gonzaga in Spokane over the weekend, UCLA now owns two (the other is Kentucky) of the most impressive non-conference wins of any team in the country. Considering two of the team’s three losses were in a preseason tournament halfway across an ocean, we are inclined to believe those wins will vastly outweigh the losses in the eyes of any committee that may or may not evaluate the Bruins for postseason play. The Bruins will likely end up in a lot of bubble discussions in February and there is no doubt these games help teams prepare for the pressure of similar games in the postseason. They aren’t done either. UCLA plays North Carolina in Brooklyn on Saturday.

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RTC Top 25: Week Four Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on December 15th, 2015

Another exciting week of college basketball is in the books and it was accompanied by two teams in particular standing out in earning impressive victories. #3 Oklahoma moved its overall record to 7-0 by earning victories over #11 Villanova and Oral Roberts. What made the former triumph so notably impressive was that the Sooners blew out the previously unbeaten Wildcats by a non-competitive 23-point margin. The Big 12 race this season figures to be hotly contested with #2 Kansas, #8 Iowa State, #15 Baylor, and #20 West Virginia all looking strong, but if the Sooners can replicate their performance in the victory over Villanova, Lon Kruger’s team could certainly be the team that emerges with the league crown. #5 Virginia has now won six straight games after its opening week setback at #25 George Washington. Last Tuesday’s dominant win over West Virginia once again showcased the beast that is Virginia basketball. The Cavaliers trailed by six at halftime before turning the heat on in the second half and out-scoring the Mountaineers by 22 points in the second stanza. This week’s slate is relatively light until Saturday, which is jam-packed with tremendous action. The Quick N’ Dirty is after the jump.

Screen Shot 2015-12-14 at 11.21.07 PM

Quick N’ Dirty Thoughts.

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Pac-12 Bests and Worsts of The Week

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 8th, 2015

With notable results filtering in throughout the week, the complexion of the Pac-12 has undergone significant change in the last seven days. Here’s a look at some of the highlights — and lowlights — of recent action.

Best Audition for NBA Scouts: Most of the NBA’s attention has been on Tony Parker this season, but it has been sophomore seven-footer Thomas Welsh who has been UCLA’s best offensive player and rim protector. Welsh logged back-to-back double-doubles against Kentucky and Long Beach State and is shooting 62 percent from the field — some five percentage points better than Parker even though the senior attempts nearly twice as many shots at the rim. Furthermore, Welsh has been close to automatic on 15-foot jumpers this season, shooting better than 60 percent on such attempts. NBA teams will always find a place for a legitimate big man who can stretch the floor with a mid-range game. If Welsh can keep it up, he will get plenty of attention from scouts throughout the season.

Thomas Welsh Was Massive On Both Ends Of The Court Thursday

Thomas Welsh Has Been Arguably UCLA’s Best Player At This Point In The Season

Best Travel Experience: Arizona wasn’t supposed to beat Gonzaga in Spokane, not with Kaleb Tarczewski sidelined with foot issues and especially not when trailing by double-figures at halftime. But Gabe York and Allonzo Trier sparked the offense; Dusan Ristic held his own inside against Domantas Sabonis; and Sean Miller’s team played its trademark stingy defense down the stretch. The result was one of the most impressive road wins of the young season for any team and the rise of a notion that maybe Arizona won’t need to spend this year “rebuilding” after all. If its defense can remain as ruthlessly efficient as it has been and some of the underclassmen continue to develop, this team will be there again late in March.

Worst Travel Experience: Oregon left the friendly climes of Eugene for the first time this season, but a trip to Sin City didn’t quite go according to plan. Instead the Ducks were greeted rudely by UNLV, who buried the unsuspecting team under a barrage of three-pointers while harassing it into 15 turnovers. If there is one subtle flaw in Oregon’s roster, it’s a profound lack of of experience from top to bottom, especially as injuries continue to sideline key rotation players. The Ducks have shown a knack for gaining fuel from the atmosphere at Matthew Knight Arena, which will makes stealing road wins very difficult for visitors (just 10 losses in four seasons). But road games have been the more pressing recent issue. If the Ducks want to be considered legitimate conference title contenders, they will need to win on the road with some degree of regularity.

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What Went Right For UCLA That Has Gone Wrong So Far

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 4th, 2015

24-0. 41-7. 61-20. 83-44. No, this is not my high school locker combination. Rather, a handful of snapshots of scores during the Kentucky/UCLA game in Chicago about 50 weeks ago. Those scores and that domination will never go away. But on Thursday night, the Bruins began to earn back some of the capital they tossed away that Saturday afternoon nearly a year ago. Along the way, they also began to bounce back from their early-season underachieving ways, putting losses to Monmouth and Wake Forest behind them for the time being. Below, here are four, er, five things that went right for UCLA on Thursday night — things that haven’t been going right in recent days, weeks, months and years.

UCLA Fans: It's OK to Be A Fan (UCLA Athletics)

UCLA Fans: It’s OK to Be A Fan (UCLA Athletics)

  1. Fan Support. It’s a funny thing that fans can overreact to one way or the other. Great fan support and a raucous crowd in the arena and fans walk out thinking they may as well be part of the team. Empty arena as quiet as a library and fans walk out blaming the team for playing without passion and energy. Two sides of the same coin. For the better part of the past half-decade, Kentucky has been the exemplar of the first scenario. Sure, they’ve had great talent, but you’re can’t tell me that playing to a packed house at home every night hasn’t contributed to a win or two here and there that wouldn’t have otherwise happened. UCLA, on the other hand, has been exhibit A for option B. Talented players playing a fun brand of basketball in a great college arena in front of sparse crowds, leading to head scratching losses that an overly critical fan base blames on the coach, the administration and the players, rather than their collective self. Thursday night in Pauley Pavilion showed what a boost an actually supportive crowd can provide to a group of players in need of some confidence. Sure, no one is going to mistake Pauley last night for the great atmospheres in college basketball. Empty seats in the lower bowl were masked by yellow giveaway t-shirt deep into the first half. But, there was a visible and vocal crowd, something that has become the exception rather than the rule. Extra special mention is reserved for the Bruin student section. And, for that one night, the entirety of Bruin fans deserve at least some credit. The truth is, UCLA fans, UCLA students, you guys had some small part in this win tonight. Flip that coin the other way and recognize the other truth: you guys had some small part in that Monmouth loss as well. You can’t expect to be a great program on the level of Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, Michigan State, etc., when you’re not providing fan support on the level of those great programs. One little tip: it’s okay to get into your seats early prior to the game (traffic on the 405 is not a legit excuse) and return from halftime (Komodo food truck, also not a legit excuse) in time second-half action. Read the rest of this entry »
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