Rushed Reactions: #4 UCLA 77, #12 Stephen F. Austin 60

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 23rd, 2014

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Kyle Anderson (left), Zach LaVine, and Norman Powell had a lot to celebrate about as the Bruins easily advanced to the Sweet 16. (AP)

Kyle Anderson (left), Zach LaVine, and Norman Powell had a lot to celebrate about as the Bruins easily advanced to the Sweet 16. (AP)

  1. UCLA – Sweet Sixteen. Remember back when this program was absolutely rolling under Ben Howland in the middle of the last decade? That went away fast, sure. But, now for the first time since 2008, the Bruins are back in the Sweet Sixteen, this time under first-year head coach Steve Alford — who himself is back in the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 1999 at Southwest Missouri State. Picky UCLA fans did not take kindly to Alford upon his hire and they took an even longer time to come around to this fun and exciting young team. But this weekend in San Diego, UCLA fans traveled well, were enthusiastic throughout, and seem to be back on the bandwagon. Their biggest nemesis from the last decade – Florida – is once again in the way. And if things do not go well on Thursday in Memphis, there might be a lot of Bruins’ fans with broken ankles as they jump back off the bandwagon, complaining about an easy path to the Sweet Sixteen and other silliness. But for now, UCLA basketball is cool again.
  2. Stormin’ Norman. Under Alford, Norman Powell found increased minutes, an increased role, and a level of freedom that he clearly enjoys. For a guy who was rumored to be considering transferring at the end of last season, he turned into a difference-maker for the Bruins this season. And in the postseason (including Pac-12 Tournament play), he’s taken his game to a new level. He has regularly harassed his man on defense into off games (today for instance, he held Friday night’s star Desmond Haymon to 3-of-11 shooting), he got nine steals in five games, and he made countless highlight-reel plays. Today’s best was putting the ball behind his back in transition just prior to laying the ball in deftly between a couple of defenders for a hoop. And then, rather than celebrate his play, he got back on defense and knocked a pass out of bounds to kill an SFA transition attempt.
  3. Scrappy ‘Jacks. The Lumberjacks, led by sophomore forward Thomas Walkup, are a team that is hard not to like. The bulk of their team is between 6’3” and 6’6”, but they play bigger than their size, they get after it on defense, they sell out for loose balls and they’re just talented enough (seems like everybody can stroke a jumper and make a pretty pass) to play a little finesse game on offense. Walkup in particular won over quite a few fans this weekend. A 6’4” sophomore forward who plays bigger than his size and older than his age, he does just about everything well. He drew early fouls on the bigger UCLA frontcourt, he grabbed eight boards in the first 11 minutes of action he saw, he defended with passion, he was a facilitator for the squad in the high post, he knocked down jumpers; he did everything but hand out water bottles in the huddle. The ‘Jacks lose three seniors, but expect them to be a force in the Southland going forward. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reaction: #4 UCLA 76 #13 Tulsa 59

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 22nd, 2014

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion@RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. UCLA Defense. Let’s face it, the star of the show in most UCLA games is going to be the Bruins’ highly efficient offense, currently ranked 13th in the nation. Future pros abound and even those without professional futures are above-average offensive players. But for this team to make a run in this Tournament, they need to be able to improve upon what was a defensive slide late in the regular season. Last week in the Pac-12 Tournament, they took the first steps down that path, and they continued that today. They focused in on Tulsa’s leading scorer and rebounder James Woodard,  making sure that he wouldn’t beat them, and in the deciding second half, they limited him to a single point. Down the stretch, after the Golden Hurricane had pulled to within five points, the Bruins held them to just two points over the next seven possessions and forced three turnovers along the way. The Bruins’ offense is a given; but when they turn up the defense is when they can become special.

    Norman Powell's Defensive Intensity And Transition Explosiveness Are A Key To UCLA's Success (Associated Press)

    Norman Powell’s Defensive Intensity And Transition Explosiveness Are A Key To UCLA’s Success (Associated Press)

  2. Norman Powell. Of all the talented UCLA guards this season, it seems Powell – the team’s third starting guard – has flown under the radar somehow. Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams are all-conference types, Zach LaVine earned plenty of buzz with his phenomenal start to the season; and of course, Bryce Alford has been the subject of plenty of talk. But Powell has been rock solid all year. Maybe the team’s best perimeter defender, he’s a whirlwind in transition and a more-than-capable performer in the half-court offense. And tonight, down the stretch, he was Adams’ running mate, regularly making big-time plays on the way to transition hoops. Most spectacularly, with just over four minutes left and UCLA starting to run away, Powell ran under a long Tulsa pass in the backcourt, like a free safety tracking an errant bomb, corralled the ball, tip-toed along the baseline to remain in bounds, then turned, attacked the rim and finished with the hoop and the harm to put a nail in Tulsa’s coffin. All told, UCLA outscored Tulsa 21-5 on points off of turnovers, a big part of which came off of plays by Powell and Adams. Read the rest of this entry »
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History Lesson: What 2014 UCLA Can Learn From 1994 UCLA’s Loss Against Tulsa

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 21st, 2014

When UCLA hosts Tulsa this evening in San Diego, the Bruins will be solid favorites over an upstart Golden Hurricane team, much as they were 20 years ago when they lost to a Tubby Smith-coached Tulsa team that advanced to the Sweet Sixteen before eventually losing to national champion Arkansas. Below, we’ll compare a few areas where that 1994 team failed with what this year’s UCLA team needs to do in order to advance to Sunday’s round of 32.

Shea Seals, Here Stealing The Ball From Charles O'Bannon, Helped Tulsa To A First-Round Win Over UCLA in 1994

Shea Seals, Here Stealing The Ball From Charles O’Bannon, Helped Tulsa To A First-Round Win Over UCLA in 1994

Show up ready to play. No offense to that talented Golden Hurricane team of 20 years ago, but it was clear from the start that UCLA did not show up ready to play. The Bruins didn’t take their opponent seriously prior to the game (I believe the quote was: “Tulsa – where’s that?”) and once the game did start, their defensive effort was lackluster at best in the halfcourt, while in transition it was even worse. Priority number one for Steve Alford is to avoid any repeats of games like the regular season finale at Washington State where the team basically confessed that it focused on the task at hand. Roll out tape of the Wazzu game; roll out tape of Tulsa 20 years ago; do what you gotta do, but make sure everybody is focused on this game and this game only. Coming off Saturday afternoon’s emotional Pac-12 Tournament win over Arizona, everybody needs to be able to duplicate that energy and take James Woodard, Rashard Smith, Shaquille Harrison and company as seriously as they took Nick Johnson, Aaron Gordon and T.J. McConnell.

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Bracket Prep: On Wichita’s Draw, the Loaded South and Non-Conference SOS…

Posted by Chris Johnson on March 17th, 2014

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At this point, you’ve probably filled out at least five brackets and torn up a few more. There are some match-ups you can’t wait to see and others you’re not so psyched about. There are trendy upset possibilities you agree with and some you’re staying away from precisely because everyone else seems to be leaning that way. You feel good about two of your four Final Four picks; the other two are toss-ups. If you filled out multiple brackets, there may be 16 teams about which you’ve casually tell your friends and co-workers, “I have them in the Final Four.” Me? I filled out one bracket, but I’m not here today to reveal my picks. That’d be more embarrassing than anything else; over the years I’ve come to learn a painful lesson: Watching and write about college hoops doesn’t make you any more likely to win your bracket pool than your football-obsessed friend who’s taken in two full games all season. What you see below are simply the first four thoughts that coalesced in my mind after I printed and scanned this year’s bracket for the first time, mere minutes after the selection show.

The Midwest region isn't as tough as it seems (Getty).

The Midwest region isn’t as tough as it seems (AP).

Did Wichita State Really Get ‘Screwed’? 

The reaction to Wichita State’s placement in the Midwest region with #2 Michigan, #3 Duke, #4 Louisville and #8 Kentucky was nearly unanimous: The Shockers are toast. This sentiment is understandable. Duke and Michigan are incredibly tough to guard; both rank in the top three in the country in points scored per possession. Louisville ranks second in Ken Pomeroy’s team ratings and has won 12 of its last 13 games, seemingly peaking at the perfect time. And in three SEC Tournament games, Kentucky more closely resembled the juggernaut we all predicted in the preseason – wrongfully, might I add – that would reach the Final Four. None of those teams will be easy to beat. This is a tough region; I’m not disputing that. Wichita State will have its hands full, for sure. But saying Wichita State got ‘screwed,’ or even that it faces a much tougher road to Arlington than, say, Florida, is a bit of a stretch, if you ask me. The most arduous path the Shockers could face is the following: Kentucky in the round of 32, Louisville in the Sweet Sixteen, and Duke in the Elite Eight. The only game out of those three I wouldn’t take Wichita State in is against Louisville, and that one would be a toss-up.

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Bracket Prep: South Region Analysis

Posted by Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) on March 17th, 2014

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Throughout Monday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (10:00 AM), Midwest (11:00 AM), South (1:00 PM), West (2:00 PM). Here, Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) breaks down the South Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC South Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCsouthregion).

You should also check out our upcoming RTC Podblast with Bennet breaking down the South Region, which will drop both on the site and on iTunes Tuesday.

South Region

Favorite: #1 Florida (32-2, 21-0 SEC). The Gators are the clear front-runner to win the South region, and after winning their last 26 games, should also be the presumptive favorite to cut down the nets in Dallas. Winning four games in a row to reach the Final Four is never an easy chore, but the field’s #1 overall seed has all the necessary ingredients to make a fourth final four run under Billy Donovan.

Billy Donovan And Scottie Wilbekin Are Both Huge Reasons Why Florida Enters The NCAA Tournament As The #1 Overall Seed

Billy Donovan And Scottie Wilbekin Are Both Huge Reasons Why Florida Enters The NCAA Tournament As The #1 Overall Seed

Should They Falter: #2 Kansas (24-9, 15-5 Big 12). The Jayhawks’ case is a tricky one. With Joel Embiid, Kansas is easily the scariest #2 seed in the field and a serious threat to win it all; but the Jayhawks are far more difficult to quantify without their gifted freshman big man. Nothing is definite with Embiid’s prognosis, but if healthy and able to play, Kansas would only be the slightest of underdogs in an Elite Eight rematch with Florida. The outlook gets a little gloomier if the future trumps the present for the potential #1 overall pick in April’s NBA Draft (the one named Joel), but Andrew Wiggins’ recent offensive explosions still make Kansas a threat to run deep in this Tournament. Don’t forget that they will have a nice home court advantage in St. Louis for rounds two and three, and that crutch could help the Jayhawks advance to the second weekend without too much fuss – with or without Embiid. It’s still Bill Self and KU; don’t make the mistake of believing Joel Embiid’s health will be the sole determinant of the Jayhawk’s fate.

Grossly Overseeded: #8 Colorado (23-11, 12-9 Pac-12). There are no egregious examples of overseeding in this region, but Colorado stands out as the South’s most overvalued team. #3 Syracuse and #5 VCU may also have been generously awarded an extra seed line, but as currently constructed, the Buffs deserved to be closer to the cut-line than their #8 seed would suggest they actually were. Since Spencer Dinwiddie went down on January 12, Colorado managed only a .500 record in the Pac-12 and rarely looked competitive in outings against the upper echelon of the league. They are just 64th in KenPom’s rankings (only NC State is worse among at-large selections), and each of their three wins since February 19 was earned by the narrowest of margins (quirky note: all had final scores of 59-56). Askia Booker has remade himself in Dinwiddie’s absence and Tad Boyle deserves a ton of credit for navigating CU through the storm and into this field, but Colorado is just not one of the 32 best teams in college basketball.

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Pac-12 M5: 03.17.14 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on March 17th, 2014

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  1. Junior guard Joseph Young leads his Oregon team with 18.6 PPG, but his style of play in no way represents a dominating ball hog. The Houston transfer’s efficiency isn’t based on over-dribbling, but rather a quick-release jumper and the ability to come off screens as well as anyone else in the conference. He can also force his way into the lane and convert at the rim with ease, which keeps his averages up when he’s cold from outside. Young could very well declare for this June’s NBA draft, as he’s got all the necessary tools to go late in the first round or early in the second. That may ultimately depend on if he can improve his stock even more with an NCAA Tournament run over the next couple weeks. He’s come up clutch in big games throughout his first season in Eugene, scoring 25 points in an overtime win against BYU, and 26 in double overtime to hold off UCLA in Westwood. Tournament run or not, this has been a terrific and rare season for Young, and head coach Dana Altman‘s biggest recruiting job this spring could be trying to convince Young to return for a senior campaign.
  2. After a somewhat boring opening three rounds at the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas, guard Jordan Adams shot UCLA to the league’s automatic bid in a thrilling 75-71 victory against top-seeded Arizona. Adams had 19 points on Saturday afternoon at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, including a three-pointer with 45 seconds left to break a 68-68 tie. While ugly at times in the final few minutes, the game was fast-paced and heart-pounding, and everything about it screamed March. The Bruins finished the regular season at 26-8 with the upset, while the Wildcats dropped to 30-4.
  3. Calling to replace Oregon State coach Craig Robinson? Great, you must not be the guy in charge of doing it. At least that’s what John Canzano says, citing the fact that the Beavers can’t afford to fire their coach, and even if they could, no one worth replacing Robinson would want the job. The fact of the matter is, in some ways, you can’t afford not to let him go. Recruiting is down, and will continue to decline as prospects see a quarter-filled Gill Coliseum night in and night out. That translates into even less wins, and more empty seats. It’s a vicious cycle.
  4. Washington may not have a game scheduled yet for next season, but the 2015-16 campaign does have one. The Huskies and Texas will meet on November 14, 2015 in Shanghai, a day after the regular season begins back home in the United States. The game is part of the conference’s Globalization Initiative, which began in 2011, and will actually be the project’s first regular season basketball game.
  5. Yesterday, of course, was Selection Sunday, and six teams from the Pac-12 were chosen for the NCAA Tournament. Arizona led the conference as a #1 seed, and Pac-12 Tourney champion UCLA was placed on the four line. Oregon and Colorado followed as #7 and #8 seeds, respectively, and the conference’s representation was rounded out by Arizona State and Stanford on the #10 line.
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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Pac-12 Teams

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) & Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 16th, 2014

Six Pac-12 teams were invited to the NCAA Tournament today. Let’s break down each of them in this instareaction format.

Arizona – NCAA, #1 seed in West region, San Diego pod, vs. Weber State, 3/21 - The Pac-12’s regular season champion earns a #1 seed and gets to play in San Diego and Anaheim until the Final Four in Arlington. The selection committee didn’t throw us any curveballs with this one, as each of the major prognostications have had the Wildcats on the top line and staying out west for some time now. They get Big Sky champion Weber State in the opener, and while the potential Third Round game is much more interesting, we’ll get to that in a moment. The Wildcats from Ogden finished the year at 19-11 and won both conference tournament games by an average of 12 points. Senior guard/forward Davison Berry is their only main offensive threat, averaging 19.1 PPG. Weber lost by 23 at UCLA in their final game before Christmas break, it’s only Pac-12 competition of the season.  Sean Miller’s team will face either Gonzaga or Oklahoma State in that one. The Bulldogs are the only team besides Creighton in this region that will travel as well as Arizona fans, so that potential matchup wouldn’t necessarily be a “home game” for the Cats. If it’s Oklahoma State in that second game, the one seed gets a hot Cowboy team; always a dangerous matchup come tournament time. They have won five of their last seven, with the two losses coming against Top 20 opponents in overtime. Sophomore point guard Marcus Smart is a difficult matchup for anybody, and Senior Markel Brown is averaging over 17 PPG. Oklahoma State went 3-1 against opponents shared with Arizona (Colorado and Texas Tech), while the Wildcats are 3-0.

Arizona's Back In The Familiar Spot of A 1-Seed And An NCAA Favorite (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

Arizona’s Back In The Familiar Spot of A 1-Seed And An NCAA Favorite (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

UCLA – NCAA, #4 seed in South region, San Diego pod , vs. Tulsa, 3/21 – When UCLA fans saw their team pop up on the #4 line in San Diego, they had to be pleased; their team not only earns a high seed, but also gets to play just a quick jaunt down Interstate 5. That pleasure, however, was probably short-lived, as Tulsa appearing on the #13 line across from them likely brought back some bad memories of a game 20 years ago in 1994, when a Tubby Smith-coached Tulsa team hung 112 on Ed O’Bannon, Tyus Edney and Jim Harrick’s squad and booted the Bruins in round one. Back in 1994, UCLA was a young and talented team that had yet to consistently live up to its vast potential despite flashes of brilliance, quite similar to the Bruins 20 years later. Back then, Tulsa was a team that went 15-3 in the Missouri Valley Conference largely on the stretch of an up-tempo offense and a pair of big-time scorers (Gary Collier and Shea Seals – who combined for 54 in the win over UCLA) for an up-and-coming head coach. This time around, second-year head coach Danny Manning has Tulsa getting it done mostly on the defensive end, with undersized grinders keeping the Golden Hurricane in the top 30 nationally in defensive efficiency. The Pac-12 team with roughly the same type of efficiency numbers as Tulsa would be Colorado, a team that UCLA beat in their two meetings by an average of 15.5 points per game. Tulsa will certainly test UCLA, but the Bruins are used to playing teams with defenses in the same vicinity and then going out there and simply outscoring them. Plus, for whoever winds up seeing UCLA across the court from them this postseason, the big question is: who checks Kyle Anderson? An answer is not immediately apparent for the Golden Hurricane. Looking further down the line for UCLA, Virginia Commonwealth potentially awaits in the round of 32, a team that can cause all sorts of matchup problems in a quick turnaround. And if the Bruins are fortunate enough to get out of the first weekend, they can expect to see #1 overall seed Florida in the Sweet Sixteen. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there, but that is an utterly winnable game for the Bruins.

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Bracket Prep: UCLA, New Mexico, New Mexico State

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 16th, 2014

As we move through the final stages of Championship Week, we’ll continue to bring you short reviews of each of the automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket next week. Here’s what you need to know about the most recent bid winners. 

UCLA

Steve Alford's Hire Was Met With Resistance Last Spring, But Less Than Twelve Months Later, He Has The Bruins Back On Top Of The Pac-12

Steve Alford’s Hire Was Met With Resistance Last Spring, But Less Than Twelve Months Later, He Has The Bruins Back On Top Of The Pac-12. Next Stop: NCAA Tournament.

  • Pac-12 Champion (26-8, 15-6)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #21/#16/#16
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +13.8
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #4-#5

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. In making Arizona look mortal for the first time all week in Vegas, UCLA became Pac-12 Tournament champions and earned the league’s automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament. UCLA has now scored 75 points against the Wildcats in both meetings this season, and since Michigan is the only other Wildcat opponent to score 70+ points on Sean Miller’s team, it’s an achievement worth noting. If you can score on Arizona, you can score on anyone, and UCLA looks likely to accomplish just that in the Tournament. Each member of Steve Alford’s eight-man rotation is capable of scoring in double figures on any given night, paced by leading scorer Jordan Adams (17.2 PPG, 2.7 SPG). The high game totals that the Bruins’ quick pace generates obscures what has actually been a pretty decent defensive effort (UCLA has the 49th best defense in the country according to Ken Pom), but there’s no hiding that it’s the hyper-efficient offense that makes the Bruins go.
  2. Kyle Anderson (14.9 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 6.6 APG) is a joy to watch on the court, but it might be even easier to appreciate him on KenPom.com, especially if you like to spend Saturday nights poring through free throw rates and true shooting percentages. The All-Pac 12 selection and Pac-12 Tournament MOP ranks in the top-500 in a whopping 12 of 15 individual categories on the site, with the only average categories being percentage of shots taken (who cares), offensive rebounding percentage, and turnover rate. Figuring out how many players have a similar variety in their statistical profile would take quite a while, but it’s difficult to imagine any player in college basketball even having ten of their fifteen categories among the top-500. He’s as proficient at cleaning the glass as he is setting up teammates, equally likely to knock down a three as he is to a shot block a shot. There will be only one Kyle Anderson is the 2014 NCAA Tournament, and that absurd Ken Pom stat-line is testament to just how diversely special he has been all season.
  3. Steve Alford is a massive part of the UCLA narrative heading into this NCAA Tournament. Alford has done a wonderful job in Westwood this season, but don’t think it’s nearly enough for him to outrun his shaky Tournament resume. Seeing is believing, and the latter will only happen with Alford after the former occurs.  The reticence to trust the UCLA head man stems from Alford’s 3-6 Tournament record at Iowa and New Mexico, a mark that includes exactly zero Sweet Sixteen appearances and one nice ugly upset to #14 seeded Harvard just twelve months ago. Do you want to believe in Alford already? Hang your hat on the differences between this UCLA team and the eleven previous ones he coached at Iowa and New Mexico, because only one of those teams (2004 Iowa) finished among the top-100 teams in possessions per game (and still just 66th). The Bruins are currently 14th in the metric, and there’s little doubt that this is the most up-tempo, offensively efficient basketball team that Alford has ever coached.

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Eight Predictions For The Pac-12 On Selection Sunday

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on March 16th, 2014

  • Arizona will get a #1 seed in the West region. This one’s almost too easy. Without a team west of Wichita vying for a seed above the four line, the Wildcats have no competition for this spot. They have been locked into a one seed ever since their dominating performance at Colorado on February 22, and losses to Oregon and UCLA in the final two weeks of the season doesn’t change that. Expect Sean Miller‘s team to also be sent to San Diego for its opening games in the tournament.
  • UCLA is underseeded, and its opponents will pay for it. Without a signature non-conference win and losses like the 18-point one suffered at Washington State dotting its schedule, I think the committee slots UCLA as a #6 seed, instead of the four or five the Bruins probably deserve. This will hurt their second and third round opponents more than anything, as we’ve seen in recent years.

    UCLA Guard Jordan Adams Is Averaging 17.2 PPG And Has Come Up Clutch In Big Games (Stephen Dunn)

    UCLA Guard Jordan Adams Is Averaging 17.2 PPG And Has Come Up Clutch In Big Games (Stephen Dunn)

  • Oregon avoids the 8/9 game, is gifted a #7 seed. The committee loves rewarding teams that finish the season strong, and Oregon closed the year on an 8-1 tear. I think the Ducks avoid the 8/9 game (and therefore a matchup with a top seed in their second game), and will play a #10 seed in their opener.
  • Colorado and Stanford do play the 8/9 game. Both the Buffaloes and Cardinal had a chance to pull an Oregon and avoid the eight or nine line, but some spectacular flameouts in Las Vegas make that impossible. Both will play in an 8/9 game. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: UCLA 75, #3 Arizona 71

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 15th, 2014

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Three Key Takeaways:

  1. Rare Talent. If you watched the game, you saw it all over the place. You saw it in UCLA’s 6’9” sophomore point guard Kyle Anderson, who had 15 defensive rebounds to go with 21 points, five assists and just one turnover. You saw it in Arizona’s freshman power forward Aaron Gordon, who spent time trying to check the opposition’s point guard as well creating plays of his own, dishing out a whopping eight assists (many of them of the spectacular variety, such as an epic alley-oop to junior Nick Johnson). Speaking of Johnson, this is a 6’3” guy who looks like your average ordinary Joe, right up until the point that his feet leave the ground and then just keep going up and up and up. Jordan Adams, Norman Powell, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, T.J. McConnell, Gabe York, and the Wear twins. There was no shortage of talent on the MGM Grand Arena court this afternoon and with many of them turning in elite performances, it was a fantastic game to watch.

    Kyle Anderson and UCLA Took Home The Conference Title In Spectacular Fashion Saturday (Julie Jacobson, AP Photo).

    Kyle Anderson and UCLA Took Home The Conference Title In Spectacular Fashion Saturday (Julie Jacobson, AP Photo).

  2. Toughness. Despite all the high-flying wonderment and spectacular plays, tournament titles require toughness, and there was no shortage of that today. Often things like this are measured in rebounding, and guys like Anderson and Gordon did not disappoint there with Tony Parker (seven boards), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (eight) and Kaleb Tarczewski (seven) chipping in as well. But it is more than just that. It is setting and fighting through hard screens, like the one Parker set to free up Jordan Adams for what would turn out to be the game-winning three. It is getting on the floor for loose ball, as happened several times today, most famously when Travis Wear dug down deep and outraced Gordon to dive for a loose ball near the end line. As Arizona head coach Sean Miller put it afterward, “If you want to love college basketball, just watch that.” And if you want to win championships, you’ve gotta do that too. Read the rest of this entry »
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Pac-12 Tourney Underwhelms on the Way to a Much-Anticipated Arizona/UCLA Final

Posted by AMurawa on March 15th, 2014

Let’s be blunt: through ten of the 11 games in the Pac-12 Tournament, this has not been a particularly thrilling tourney. Just three games have been decided by single figures; the other seven games have had final margins of an average of more than 20 points. Neither Arizona nor UCLA, the two teams that will appear in today’s championship game, have been tested at all, with the Wildcats winning their two games by an average of 26 points and the Bruins relatively sneaking by with an average margin of victory of just 23 points. But none of that matters now. In a season where Arizona and UCLA were scheduled to play just once (at Pauley Pavilion, way back on January 9), the basketball gods have seen fit to correct such an egregious oversight by the conference schedule-makers and arranged for the conference’s two elite programs to get another crack at it. As Adam Butler so eloquently put it, it is the title game we need and deserve.

Arizona and UCLA Will Meet In The Pac-12 Title Game For Just The Second Time Ever (Julie Jacobson, AP Photo)

Arizona and UCLA Will Meet In The Pac-12 Title Game For Just The Second Time Ever (Julie Jacobson, AP Photo)

We need it, because not only has it become clear that these are, in fact, the two best teams in the conference, but also because missing out on a return game of the conference’s best rivalry in the name of progress is certainly an example of progress not being made. And, we deserve it because, after the past handful of years (hitting rock bottom in 2011-12 when the regular season conference champion was shipped to the NIT), Pac-12 basketball diehards have earned a little good karma. Arizona/UCLA in a conference championship game will occur for only the second time in history (the last time was 1990 – the final conference tournament for more than 10 seasons), and it will give us a chance to relive and come to terms with last year’s controversial semifinal game.

Arizona will head into the title game on an absolute roll, playing arguably their best ball of the season at precisely the right time, as somewhere in the neighborhood of a seven-point favorite. In their two Pac-12 Tournament games so far, the ‘Cats have allowed just 0.72 points per possession. Aaron Gordon seems to be on a crusade to highlight the lunacy of his absence from the Pac-12 All-Defensive team, with five blocks and five steals punctuating his versatile and harassing defense. He’s capable of dominating a Wear twin if Sean Miller decides to go that way, or he could make things very uncomfortable for Kyle Anderson if the ‘Cats decide to check the UCLA point guard/power forward with their most versatile defender. Meanwhile, Nick Johnson (who did make the Pac-12 All-Defensive team) has already this season showed his ability to completely lock up Jordan Adams. In fact, in that first match-up, the Wildcats’ held Anderson and Adams to a combined 10-of-30 from the field along with five turnovers. Furthermore, the Wear twins were largely invisible, combining for 10 points and four boards in 40 minutes of action. These are the types of things this Arizona defense is capable of doing, namely shutting off the water for a handful of key cogs on the opposition.

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Rounding Up Pac-12 Quarterfinal Thursday

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 14th, 2014

The big talk around the conference tournament on Wednesday was Utah’s potential. A KenPom darling ranked in the upper 30s by that metric with a history of playing everybody – including conference elite Arizona – tough, they were usually somewhere around the “Next Four Out” section of most bracketology projections. A win over Arizona in Thursday’s quarterfinal, and maybe they jump California for the seventh Pac-12 team in line for an NCAA bid. For the first segment of the game Thursday afternoon, things were fine, with the Wildcats holding a 7-6 lead at the under-16 timeout. And then. Well. Adjectives fail to adequately describe, so let’s jump right to the numbers: over the remainder of the half, Arizona outscored the Utes 27-6 and 44-11 over the next roughly 23 minutes of game time. At the half, Utah was averaging less than a point every two possessions (0.48 PPP). Arizona was grabbing 92.9% of defensive rebound opportunities and 53.8% on the offensive end. They were leading 8-0 in fast break points, 9-2 in points off turnovers and 16-8 in points in the paint. Three Utes scored in the first half, and their top-three leading scorers on the year – Delon Wright, Jordan Loveridge and Brendan Taylor – were not among them. We could go on.

Arizona's Defensive Dominance Was Displayed Early and Often Thursday Afternoon (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

Arizona’s Defensive Dominance Was Displayed Early and Often Thursday Afternoon (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

There are more stats to be spouted about how dominant the Wildcats were on Thursday afternoon, but there will be more opportunities for them to show off for the rest of the country. Put simply, if the Arizona team that showed up today, and that showed up a couple weeks back dominating the Bay Area schools, continues to be the default Wildcat team, they’ve got a very good chance of cutting down the nets in April. As for Utah, they’ll have an opportunity to continue their season in the NIT, and they’ll be a very tough out there. And next year, behind Wright and Loveridge, they’ll be a favorite for an upper-division Pac-12 finish and an NCAA Tournament invitation. Neither of those things, however, give them much solace now.

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