Pac-12 Conversation: Did the Pac-12 Get Hosed?

Posted by Adam Butler & RJ Abeytia on March 14th, 2018

With the Pac-12 already off to an inauspicious start given UCLA‘s First Four loss to St. Bonaventure, Pac-12 microsite writers Adam Butler (@pachoopsAB) and RJ Abeytia (@rj_abeytia) break down the burning questions facing ArizonaArizona State and the rest of the conference.

It’s Been That Kind of Year in the Pac-12 (USA Today Images)

Adam Butler: OK – let me start with the obvious – as Pac-12 bloggers, did the Pac get hosed by the NCAA?

R.J.:  I say we start with USC. Screwed or not screwed?

Adam Butler: Screwed! Whenever you’re “the somethingest to not something,” you’ve been screwed.

R.J.: USC was but most people are framing the argument incorrectly. It’s the whole body of work and the committee once again proved that there is no line of demarcation in their view between conference and non-conference play and, if anything, non-conference > conference. Andy Enfield has historically scheduled gutlessly in the non-conference realm but a #34 RPI is still a #34 RPI.

Adam Butler: Well… and this is where it gets weird with the 36 at-larges. Are they the 36 best teams remaining or the 36 most deserving?

R.J.: It has to be the 36 most deserving. I hate when an undeserving team gets in and then people retroactively declare them worthy of inclusion.

Adam Butler: Further – are you buying the FBI conspiracies? That the toothless NCAA is taking passive-aggressive jabs at schools explicitly under investigation?

R.J.:  This is not the first time USC has been made an example, only to have other schools get lesser penalties for greater infractions.

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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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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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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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Ten Questions to Consider: Duke vs. Virginia Headlines This Weekend

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 26th, 2018

With no NFL action this weekend, Duke vs. Virginia should get the proper attention it deserves. That match-up of top-five teams leads 10 things that I will be paying attention to this weekend.

Duke Got the Best of Virginia in their Last Matchup (USA Today Images)

  1. Will Duke vs. Virginia come down to Duke’s offensive rebounding? In two ACC games against opponents with a top-10 offensive rebounding rate, Virginia allowed both to collect offensive rebounds more than 48 percent of the time. Even with a defensive efficiency that is better than any other team in the 17-year KenPom database, the nation’s best offensive rebounding team should give Virginia all it can handle.
  2. Is Notre Dame a strong Matt Farrell performance away from snapping out of its skid? After winning its first two games without the services of injured star Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame has now lost four straight games with Matt Farrell shooting 25 percent on his three-point attempts in his last two outings. Farrell’s 32.4 percent shooting from distance in conference play is down from a 45 percent clip a season ago. A hot-shooting Farrell is what Notre Dame needs to get back into the win column this weekend against Virginia Tech.
  3. Can Maryland show defensive signs of life against Michigan State? Maryland’s defense has fallen apart in Big Ten play, giving up 15 more points per 100 possessions than its season average. In its lopsided loss at Michigan State earlier this month, the Terrapins allowed the Spartans to shoot 57 percent on both two-point and three-point attempts. Maryland is 12-1 at home this season, but it will need a great defensive effort on Sunday to beat Michigan State. Read the rest of this entry »
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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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Pac-12 Non-Conference Reset (non-Arizona State Edition)

Posted by RJ Abeytia on December 28th, 2017

It may seem out of sync with the Holiday Spirit to practice exclusion, but we’ve spent SO much time on Arizona State already and quite honestly, their unblemished 12-0 record should be more than enough to keep Sun Devil fans happy. They have played great ball to date and, entering conference play, are sitting prettier than they have in quite some time. We’ve heard enough about the story of the year in the Pac-12, so let’s take some stock from the rest of the Conference of Champions with Pac-12 play ready to begin this week.

UCLA is the Surprise Team of the Pac So Far (USA Today Images)

Team of the Non-Conference: UCLA snatched this award away just moments before Santa and his reindeer took flight on the strength of a huge neutral court win over Kentucky on December 23. The Bruins have three wins over Power 6 teams right now (Georgia Tech, Wisconsin, Kentucky) which is second-most in the league behind… well, you already know. The Bruins are doing all this despite the suspensions/departures of three freshmen expected to contribute this year in LiAngelo Ball, Jalen Hill and Cody Riley. Aaron Holiday and Thomas Welsh have been providing the on-court stability the Bruins were expecting, with both playing heavy minutes and logging true shooting percentages of about 57 percent. UCLA, a team with a relatively short roster, has damned the torpedoes and pushed the ball up at a pace of 74.5 possessions per game, 27th-fastest nationally. Lunardi currently lists UCLA as one of the first four out of the NCAA Tournament, but those three solid wins along with no bad losses (KenPom #29 Creighton, #33 Michigan, and #10 Cincinnati) gives it a good shot to work Pac-12 play to a decent seed in March. Credit head coach Steve Alford for moving past all the distractions and keeping things together in Westwood.

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Ten Questions to Consider: Christmas Weekend

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on December 22nd, 2017

Other than the eight teams participating in the Diamond Head Classic, there will be a three-day break from action beginning on Sunday. Here are 10 things to watch while binging to basketball and Christmas carols on Friday and Saturday.

Texas Is a Tough Team to Figure Out (USA Today Images)

  1. How concerned should Texas be with its offense? Texas currently ranks among the bottom 20 nationally in both three-point and free-throw percentage, is 141st in adjusted offensive efficiency, and only one Big 12 team since the 2006-07 season has finished conference play with both a winning record and offense outside the top 100 (2014 Kansas State).
  2. Will the third time be the charm for Northern Iowa? Northern Iowa and Xavier met twice in a span of six days last season with the Musketeers handily winning both games. Xavier held Northern Iowa to 32.7 percent shooting on two-point attempts while forcing the Panthers’ third- and fourth-worst turnover rates last season. The one thing going for Northern Iowa? Xavier has only played one true road game so far this season (a win at Wisconsin).
  3. What will Trae Young do next? Oklahoma’s Trae Young is coming off of a 26-point, 22-assist game against Northwestern State earlier this week. The sensational freshman guard currently leads the country in both points and assists per game, and no player has finished among the top 10 nationally in both categories dating back to the 2001-02 season. Only five players have finished among the top ten in scoring and top 20 in assists over that same time period. What’s next?
  4. Has Marshall’s Dan D’Antoni found his Steve Nash? Under Dan D’Antoni, Marshall has consistently been one of the fastest-paced teams in college basketball. The high-octane offense is led by Jon Elmore. Elmore, like Oklahoma’s Young, currently ranks among the top 10 nationally in both points and assists per game. Elmore’s 23.5 PPG could see an uptick as well, as he is currently shooting a lousy 25.7 percent from three-point range — nearly 10 percent lower than his first two years at Marshall. Read the rest of this entry »
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Ten Questions to Consider: Hall of Fame Classic Tips Off Weekend Action

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on December 8th, 2017

The best way to start a weekend of college basketball is by having a quality triple-header on Friday night, and the Hall of Fame Classic in Los Angeles will deliver that to us.

Trae Young Headlines a Strong Group of Teams in Los Angeles Tonight

  1. Which will prevail — good offense or good defense? The Hall of Fame Classic begins this evening with a match-up between St. John’s and Arizona State. Arizona State is ranked among the top 20 nationally in offensive efficiency, three-point percentage, and two-point percentage, while St. John’s ranks among the top 20 in effective field-goal defense, turnover, block and steal rates. In their one loss, the Red Storm allowed Missouri to shoot 51 percent from distance and gave up 26 free throws.
  2. Can USC end its losing streak? The second game from the Staples Center tonight features a pair of interesting teams in Oklahoma and USC. After starting the season 4-0, USC has dropped its last two games. One area that has let the Trojans down is fairly simple — shooting the ball. In its first four games, USC shot 41 percent from beyond the arc; in losses to Texas A&M and SMU, USC shot just 27 percent from distance. If the Trojans fail to get a win tonight against Oklahoma, USC’s resume will be devoid of a quality non-conference win.
  3. How will TCU fare with the late tip-off time? Not only does TCU have to prepare for a talented and undefeated Nevada squad, but the tip-off time back home in Fort Worth will be midnight. While TCU has held three opponents to under 30 percent three-point shooting this season, the Horned Frogs tonight face Nevada’s Caleb Martin and Kendall Stephens, a pair of 6’7″ forwards who are each shooting better than 44 percent in high-volume three-point attempts. Read the rest of this entry »
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