NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Pac-12 Teams

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 16th, 2015

Three Pac-12 teams turned on the Selection Show Sunday knowing they’d hear their names called. A fourth turned it on probably expecting to be disappointed. Below we’ll break down those four conference teams, from highest seed to lowest.

Arizona's Path To The Elite Eight Makes Them The NCAA's Unofficial Fifth #1 Seed (USA Today)

Arizona’s Path To The Elite Eight Makes the Wildcats the NCAA’s Unofficial Fifth #1 Seed (USA Today)

Arizona (#2 seed, West Region). The Wildcats certainly have the type of resume that would have landed them squarely on the #1 seed line in most seasons. But in a year with many qualified contenders for the top line, Arizona has no reason to be disappointed. The Wildcats got a #2 seed out West where they’ll play first weekend games in Portland before advancing to the regional in Los Angeles. Fan support in both places will be high, so it’s realistic to view Arizona as this year’s fifth #1 seed. Now that certainly doesn’t mean we can pencil them into the Final Four because, you see, that #1 seed in their region is none other than Wisconsin, a high-caliber team in their own right. Over the weekend in Las Vegas, Sean Miller‘s program exorcised the demon of not having won a Pac-12 Tournament since 2002. For Miller to kill off that other big demon – the tag of being the best head coach to have never made a Final Four – the Wildcats may get a chance to avenge last year’s overtime regional final loss to Wisconsin, again in the Elite Eight.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Rushed Reactions: Arizona 70, UCLA 64

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 13th, 2015

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

When Arizona and UCLA Match Up, Especially In March, Great Things Are Bound To Happen (Mamta Popat, Arizona Daily Star)

When Arizona and UCLA Match Up, Especially In March, Great Things Are Bound To Happen (Mamta Popat, Arizona Daily Star)

  1. This Rivalry Never Disappoints. The six-point final margin doesn’t begin to hint at the sustained intensity in the MGM Grand Arena over the course of 40 minutes of another great college basketball game. Over the past three seasons, the Bruins and the Wildcats have met three times in this very arena in the Pac-12 Tournament, and each of those games has been an instant classic. While the Pac-12 Conference has yet to see fit to make sure that these guys are scheduled to play each other twice every season, the basketball gods have stepped in and seen fit to getting these two together in March. And the classics have had plenty of similarities. As Adam Butler pointed out, the game was tied at 68 with 43 seconds remaining last year when Jordan Adams hit a big three to propel UCLA to the win. Tonight, it was Stanley Johnson with a three with 39 seconds remaining to bump the Arizona lead up to 66-61 and effectively seal the game. The big takeaway is quite simply this: When these two teams play, especially in March, it is required viewing.
  2. One Big Run. Midway through the second half, a slashing Norman Powell layup in the middle of the Arizona defense put UCLA up 47-40, prompting a Sean Miller timeout. Over the next five minutes, Arizona reeled off 15 straight points to flip the script. They never trailed again. So, what goes into a run? How about three T.J. McConnell assists and a layup, five team offensive rebounds, a forced turnover and limiting UCLA’s other five possessions to five missed jumpers and an immediate defensive rebound?
  3. Rebounding. UCLA can probably come up with plenty of excuses: Kevon Looney’s facial injury and resultant mask; Tony Parker’s early foul trouble; having to play zone defense for much of the game. But Arizona’s ability to get on the glass and get putbacks was a key here. The Wildcats’ came away with 40 percent of their own missed shots, turning those into 12 points, a key in a close game. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who struggled offensively, had five of those offensive boards by himself. If UCLA had been as good cleaning the defensive glass today (against admittedly above-average competition) as they have been all year long, maybe they’d still be playing on Saturday.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Five Storylines from Championship Week Thursday

Posted by Henry Bushnell on March 13th, 2015

As we reach the pinnacle of Championship Week over the next few days, we’ll take a breath each morning to run down the top five storylines from the previous day’s action. There were 60 games spread across 18 conference tournaments on Thursday — here’s the TL;DR version of what happened.

1. Who Wants to Make the NCAA Tournament? Anybody?

Monte Morris Lifted His Team to a Thrilling Comeback Win Over Texas (USA Today Images)

Monte Morris Lifted Iowa State to a Thrilling Comeback Win Over Texas (USA Today Images)

It was a big day for bubble teams all around the country, as many were facing possible “win-and-in” situations but a shocking number of them played like teams under suffocating pressure. Illinois looked downright disinterested in a blowout loss to Michigan. Texas got out to a big lead over Iowa State and had all but locked up a spot when it was up 10 points with under four minutes remaining, but the Longhorns crumbled late. Miami and NC State lost to better teams, but both came out flat. And two much-discussed SEC bubblers, Texas A&M and Ole Miss, found ways — for the Rebels, that way was fouling a desperation three-point shooter with a second left — to lose to Auburn and South Carolina, respectively. Even Iowa, though not really a bubble team, was awful in a Big Ten Tournament loss to Penn State. That makes wins for Indiana and UCLA (and off days for Purdue, LSU, and others) all the more important.

2. The Stage is Set in the ACC…

Upsets are fun. But really good basketball is even more fun, and that’s exactly what we’ll get in the ACC Tournament this evening. All four favorites held serve yesterday in Greensboro, giving us a regional-worthy treat between four top 20 teams. First we’ll get Virginia, which labored through its game yesterday with Florida State, taking on a North Carolina team that appears to be improving. The Tar Heels started slowly but were impressive for the final 25 minutes against Louisville on Thursday. The other semifinal pits Duke against Notre Dame, another fabulous matchup. Thursday wasn’t a memorable day at the ACC Tournament, but because of that outcome, Friday could be.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Key Individual Matchups in Pac-12 Quarterfinals

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 12th, 2015

It’s quarterfinal day in Las Vegas, with the Pac’s four top teams facing the upstarts who survived yesterday’s mayhem. Below, by way of previewing today’s games, we’ll look at one of the key matchups in each game that will help determine the eventual winner.

Arizona/California

Stanley Johnson vs. Jabari Bird. Now, I don’t know that this is necessarily going to be the matchup that the Golden Bears go with on Johnson, but I know that there is not really an obvious solution for them. They’re going to have to put some size on the floor in order to match up with the Arizona bigs, so somebody out of Jordan Mathews, Tyrone Wallace or Bird is going to have to try to check Johnson. And Bird is the Bear with the physical tools that give him the best chance to check the Wildcat’s physical specimen. Johnson’s ability to bully Bird in the post or off the bounce give him a big advantage, but Bird’s got some impressive ability of his own, even if it only has come in fits and starts so far. But the sophomore has started to emerge recently, averaging 13.9 points in the Bears’ last seven games. If he can keep Johnson busy when the Bears have the ball, it will serve a dual good. Because really, for a undermanned Cal team against the elite Wildcats, just about everything is going to have to go right.

Can Cal Find Anyone To Slow Stanley Johnson?

Can Cal Find Anyone To Slow Stanley Johnson?

UCLA/USC

Norman Powell vs. Elijah Stewart. After scoring in double figures just twice in the first three months of the season, Stewart has reached the mark in each of the last three games, including a career-high 27 in USC’s come-from-behind victory over Arizona State in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament. But it will be a whole different challenge should the Bruins sic their best individual defender in Powell on him. Powell may instead be charged with slowing the penetration of Trojan point guard Julian Jacobs, but regardless, if Powell can limit the effectiveness of either of those key offensive players for SC, the Trojans’ already difficult task will be enhanced. And on the defensive end, while Stewart does have 35 blocks on the season, he hasn’t yet shown the defensive consistency that will be required to slow Powell’s slashing style. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

NCAA Tourney Best & Worst Cases for Pac-12 Teams

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 10th, 2015

Believe it or not, another Pac-12 regular season is behind us. The final standings are in, the conference tournament bracket is set, and as I type this, we’re less than a week away from finding out which teams get sent where on Selection Sunday. We’ll have much more on this front throughout the week, but below we’ll review the Pac-12’s most likely NCAA Tournament suspects and figure out where they stand with only conference tournament play remaining before the field is set.

Arizona

As Long As Arizona Gets Good Geographical Placement, Either A One or A Two-Seed Will Do

As Long As Arizona Gets Good Geographical Placement, Either a #1 or #2 Seed Will Do. (Getty)

  • Outlook: The Wildcats were the class of the conference this season, running through the Pac-12 with a 16-2 record a full three games better than runners-up Utah and Oregon. What’s more, their 28-3 overall record and #7 RPI rating puts the Wildcats squarely in the conversation for a #1 seed. Kentucky’s got one of those four spots locked up. It’s hard to foresee Virginia and Duke failing to get two others, leaving Arizona in a battle with Villanova, Wisconsin and even Kansas for the final top seed. In the grand scheme of things, though, it doesn’t matter if the ‘Cats get a #1 or a #2 seed so long as they stay out west and away from Kentucky for as long as possible, preferably in the Los Angeles regional. Right now it appears that Wisconsin and Villanova are slightly ahead of Arizona in overall resume, so even if the Wildcats win the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas this week, Arizona may be locked into a #2 regardless. All of which paints the specter of a possible Arizona/Wisconsin regional final as an intriguing possibility.
  • Best case: #1 seed in the West.
  • Worst case: #2 seed anywhere but the West.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Pac-12 Senior Days: UCLA’s Norman Powell

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 4th, 2015

I sat down to write a post about Norman Powell and had no idea what to say. After 10 minutes of staring at a blank Word document, I started to think about taking the easy way out and just throwing a bunch of links to videos and Vines of Powell attacking the rim and finishing in a variety of spellbinding ways. But that would be taking the easy way out, something Powell never did in his four years at UCLA. So instead of getting to spend a few minutes geeking out on dunks and twisting, merry-go-round finishes, you’ve got to read my blather for a few hundred words. And you’ve got Powell to thank for that.

Norman Powell Has Been UCLA's Heart and Soul For Four Years (Associated Press)

Norman Powell Has Been UCLA’s Heart and Soul For Four Years. (Associated Press)

Think back on your favorite Bruins in the past decade or so, whether you count yourself as a UCLA fan or just a fan of college basketball. Guys like Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams, Darren Collison, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, Arron Afflalo, Jordan Farmar, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute are the names that likely come to mind. One thing all those players have in common is that none ever saw their own Senior Day. Now, let’s be clear; I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. But there is something special about a senior’s growth that occurs over four years — about the dedication and drive you need to begin something as difficult as being a student-athlete and seeing it through to the very end. And there is something special about seeing a guy like Powell come down the stretch and lift his game to a higher level in pursuit of righteously closing out that career.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Pac-12 Basketball Programs as Craft Breweries

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 2nd, 2015

I really like college hoops. I really like craft beer. I have no idea why I never had this idea before, but here’s a simple, fun game: go through each Pac-12 program and find the brewery most simpatico in style, substance, history and quality. Now, I’ve had my fair share of beers in fine establishments all over the West, but living in California with the sheer number of excellent breweries in this state, we’re going to wind up with plenty of choices from the Golden State on this list. It would be nice to pick more geographically-fitting breweries, but for instance, while there are plenty of fine Arizona breweries, none can match the quality and national importance of the home Wildcats, so we’ll have to go elsewhere for that comparison. And by no means have I got the finger on the pulse of every single craft brewery that has arisen. So, if you’ve got better comparisons in mind, I’m interested in hearing them, especially true toward the bottom of the list where I admittedly ran out of steam. Enough nonsense, let’s get to the list!

Much like the ubiquitious Lagunitas Brewing Company, Arizona fans are a national presence. (AP)

Much like the ubiquitous Lagunitas Brewing Company, Arizona fans are a national presence. (AP)

  • Arizona: Lagunitas Brewing. My first instinct was to go Russian River here, but comparatively speaking, Russian River is a niche brewer. It’s legendary and excellent, but it’s also pretty small. Lagunitas, by comparison, is a national power. It’s the fifth-largest craft brewer in the nation (and the 11th biggest brewery overall, even on a list with the big boys) and ubiquitous, yet it still manages to crank out superbly high quality beers without fail. And if you’ve ever done the brewery tour, you know that Lagunitas is definitely A Player’s Program. The only significant problem I find with this selection is that Lagunitas’ mascot is a dog.
  • UCLA: Sierra Nevada. If Arizona is Lagunitas, the Bruins have to be somebody equally as big, so we’ll go with the Chico mainstay. Sierra Nevada is an old school classic. This brewery has been around forever; it has great history; it’s still committed to quality. But let’s be honest, it’s also been bypassed by a handful of other institutions, and although they still shoot for the stars, sometimes it disappoints. Here’s one thing Sierra has over UCLA, though — unlike Pauley Pavilion, their tap room is never whisper quiet.
  • Utah: Epic Brewing. I have some reservations about comparing a basketball program with the history of the Utes to a Beehive State-based microbrewery given the lack of history that the state has with sensible alcohol laws. But I’ll rationalize this choice by saying that Epic, a brewery that formed after Utah slightly modernized its regulations over the last decade, is making history of its own. Plus, like the current Utes squad, the beers that Epic makes are big and bold.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

RTC Weekly Primer: Who Can Make a Run in March?

Posted by Henry Bushnell on February 24th, 2015

It happens every year. Every single year. Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but more often than not, there comes a time in a college basketball season when the entire hoops world witnesses the birth of something. It can begin with a bang; but it can also begin innocuously. It can occur in plain sight; but it can also be the tree in the middle of a deserted forest. This birth, of course, is the preliminary stage of a postseason run. And the run, of course, is the one that in a few weeks time will be the talk of college basketball. Back in 2011, it was Shelvin Mack, Brad Stevens and Butler. In 2012, it was Lorenzo Brown and NC State. In 2013, it was very nearly Marshall Henderson and Ole Miss. A season ago, it was Jordan McRae and the upstart Tennessee Volunteers. NCAA Tournament runs usually don’t just appear out of thin air. Typically, there’s a backstory. In 2015, the time has come for those backstories to develop. Next month’s headlines will start formulating themselves right now.

Most Every Team is Looking For Its Butler Moment (USA Today Images)

Most Every Team is Looking For Its Butler Moment (USA Today Images)

Who will those headlines be written about this year? Who will be the team that sees everything come together at the right time? Who will be that team? It’s time to start considering some possibilities:

  • Georgetown – The Hoyas aren’t exactly in the same category as the Butlers and Ole Misses of years past, but they seem to be flying somewhat under the radar. Georgetown has the pieces to make a run. The Hoyas are a top-20 defensive team, boast an occasionally dominant post presence in senior center Josh Smith, and have a guard in D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera who can take over a game. After getting smoked by Villanova a couple weeks ago, they’ve now won three straight and have the week off to prepare for St. John’s in Madison Square Garden on Saturday. That’s the kind of win that could propel the Hoyas to a #4 or #5 seed and their first Sweet Sixteen (or better) run since 2007.
  • Indiana – Another team that is solidly in the NCAA Tournament, the Hoosiers certainly will never be considered a Cinderella story. But most projections have them as a #8 or #9 seed right now, meaning they aren’t being discussed as a legitimate contender either. This team has notable flaws in its personnel and it has a coach who many have questioned in recent years. But it’s also arguably got the most lethal backcourt in the country — just the type of thing that can carry a team on a surprising journey through March. The Hoosiers, which have struggled on the road but have been dynamite at home, travel to Northwestern on Wednesday night before a two-game home swing featuring Iowa and Michigan State. It’s really the perfect slate to build some March momentum.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Best of the West: Top 25 Teams in the West

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 18th, 2015

We’re now less than four weeks from Selection Sunday, so it’s a good time to check back in with our Best in the West, with a special focus on these 25 teams’ NCAA Tournament prospects. If you haven’t seen this post before, we take all the schools west of the Rockies (basically the schools from the Pac-12, Mountain West, West Coast, and Big West Conferences, and then some of the schools from the Big Sky and Western Athletic Conferences) and list the top 25 teams. Rather than just ranking schools #1 though #25, though, we divide them into tiers, because, for instance, while one team may be ranked third overall and another fourth, there may be a huge gap between teams three and four. Below are ourTop 25 teams in the West (their overall rank will be in parentheses) with descriptions of what we think the teams in each tier have in common, plus brief comments on each and their NCAA Tournament hopes

The Best of the Best – In a league of their own.

Gonzaga is #2 in The AP Poll And In The Mix For A #1 Seed in March

Gonzaga is #2 in The AP Poll And In The Mix For A #1 Seed 

  • Gonzaga (#1 overall, WCC #1) – The Bulldogs are 26-1 with the lone defeat an overtime loss at the McKale Center on the first weekend of December. For me, an overtime road loss equates to a win in the grand scheme of things, so I’ve got Gonzaga slightly ahead of that team that came out on the good side of the scoreboard in Tucson. Admittedly, the rest of the Gonzaga resume is a little light. Their best win is, what, a road win at St. John’s? Or is it the one at BYU? Or maybe the one at UCLA? All of those are good wins to be sure, but none of those are mindblowingly great entries on the Zags’ balance sheet compared with the teams with whom they will be competing for a #1 seed. For instance, the other two teams in this category both have better wins and tougher overall schedules than the Zags. But if they’re able to get from here to Selection Sunday with a “1” on the right-hand side of that record (which would mean additional wins at Saint Mary’s, over BYU and then another over one of those two teams in the WCC Championship game, they’ll probably nose out either Arizona or Utah. Now, teams like Virginia, Duke, Wisconsin and Villanova (not to mention Kentucky) may be a different story.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Marching to Vegas: Keep Watching

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) on February 11th, 2015

Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) of Pachoops will again be joining us all year, providing us with his weekly take on our favorite conference as we begin the March to Vegas.

I suppose it’s not a comfort that’s befallen me so much as an acceptance. I first recognized the Pac-12’s general ineptitude as I found myself unaware of game schedules, player success (or otherwise) and disinterest in the whole thing. Let’s also be serious that I was still paying attention. Close attention. And I still want to. After all, we’re not at 2012 levels where just three players wound up drafted and Jorge Gutierrez was the conference Player of the Year. Washington was not invited to dance despite winning the regular season title. This is a story lead that could last forever. Alas, we’re not there but we have the excuse to excuse the rest of this season. It’s more than likely that your team is fighting for a three lettered tournament, at best. What’s there to support? What’s there to watch? The Pac-12 has hosted the highest percentage of in-conference blowouts. Where’s the intrigue? Let me tell you.

Pac-12 Basketball: It's Grrr-... Well, It's Okay.

Pac-12 Basketball: It’s Grrr-… Well, It’s Okay.

Now let’s preface this by saying that I don’t love the format of this column. I generally prefer to tell a story with words and numbers. But I also don’t like to watch middling college basketball teams in the Conference of Champions so I’m cool with it. A list it is. Six reasons to continue watching Pac-12 basketball in 2015:

1. Byes. Not Byes as in “saying goodbye to the 2015 season,” but rather, who among the muck will rise to finish in the third and fourth slots? The top-four seeds receive a Wednesday bye in Las Vegas. Have you ever tried to stay four nights in Vegas? Near impossible. You want the bye. So who’s in the running? The primary candidates are Oregon and Stanford (we’re ignoring Arizona and Utah, as they’re essentially locked in). The Ducks collected a big last-second win on Wednesday, improving to 6-4 in conference play. The rest of their schedule is road heavy but doesn’t include any more games against Arizona and they’ll host Utah. The team ahead of Oregon in the standings, Stanford, had seemed to be a lock to finish in the top three, but after a loss to Washington State I’m not so sure. Oh, then they lost at home to UCLA, a team which is now knocking on the bye door. This is usually the part where we note the wildcard teams, but then I’d be laying out a power rankings of unpowerful teams. Right now, there is a four-way tie for third. In all honesty, keep an eye on Arizona State and ignore USC.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

RTC Weekly Primer: Duke’s Hell Week

Posted by Henry Bushnell on January 27th, 2015

The hurdles just keep on coming. That’s what Mike Krzyzewski and Duke must be thinking right now. After a glorious Sunday and heartfelt celebrations, including a hero’s welcome back home in Durham, the Blue Devils have no time to bask in the glory of Coach K’s 1,000th win. Instead, they must hop aboard another plane, this time to the Midwest, and begin a murderous week. The ACC isn’t quite as relentless and unforgiving as the Big 12. But when it can deal a team a Wednesday-Saturday weekly slate that includes two games on the road at top-10 teams, it’s pretty darn strong. This past weekend on College Gameday, Jay Bilas even tried to argue that the ACC is the best conference in America. I’m not going to go that far (his logic was arbitrary and therefore a bit flawed), but it’s certainly up there. At the very least, the ACC will provide more marquee matchups than any other league. For evidence, look no further than this week.

After Sunday's Celebration, No Rest This Week for the Blue Devils (USA Today Images)

After Sunday’s Celebration, No Rest This Week for the Blue Devils (USA Today Images)

Three for the Money

  • Duke at Notre Dame | Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. EST, ESPN2. It’s an ACC trifecta this week because, as mentioned above, Duke’s mettle is going to be put to the test. And what’s more, that test, which begins Wednesday in South Bend, should be a whole lot of fun. Both Duke and Notre Dame are top-five offensive clubs nationally, and especially recently, neither is particularly stout defensively. The floor will be beautifully spread, three-pointers will be flying, and the Joyce Center should be rocking. If Notre Dame can match Duke blow for blow, and especially if it can win, it’ll be time to accept the Fighting Irish as a legitimate top-10 team.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Marching to Vegas: On Pace of Play in the Pac

Posted by Adam Butler on January 23rd, 2015

Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) of Pachoops will again be joining us all year, providing us with his weekly take on our favorite conference as we begin the March to Vegas.

Earlier this week, our very own Andrew Murawa wrote thoughtfully and critically of college basketball. BLASPHEMY. But he’s not wrong. He was sure to cite his love of the sport no matter its flaws and I’d like to note a few of the tempo-related items concerning our Pac-12. Historically it’s been a frenetic pace. During a Thursday morning Twitter conversation, I was brought to this 1988 Arizona Wildcats highlight. In it you’ll notice the Wildcats crashing the offensive glass (possessions!) and sprinting out on the break off a turnover (more possessions!). Arizona would win that game, 78-70, a point total far lower than their season average this year. In 1988, Arizona scored 84.8 point per game, 15th-best in the nation. That would be a top-five scoring total in each of the last 14 seasons.

Up-tempo Exciting Basketball Used To Be The Norm In The Pac-12

Uptempo Exciting Basketball Used To Be The Norm In The Pac-12

Of course Total Points isn’t a statistic we love to note. It bypasses many important factors and qualifiers in understanding how the game is played. Unfortunately, tempo isn’t readily available for that historical context. A Google search, however, can easily deliver a handful of articles that articulate the slowing of the game. What I really want to do, though, is look at the history of this conference. One that saw UCLA and Cal split their 1995 series by a cumulative score of 197-188. That’s two games. By comparison, Cal’s 2012 sweep of UCLA looked like this: 132-158. This is anecdotal and perhaps not indicative of the quality of those respective games; however, there’s been a shift to how the game has been played, particularly in our conference. The century mark is a jaw-dropping feat. It used to get me tacos in McKale.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story