Happy New Conference Year: A Pac-12 Reset

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on December 31st, 2015

Happy New Year’s everyone! May you all celebrate the arbitrary tick of the clock on an arbitrary day on the arbitrarily human-invented calendar in whichever arbitrary fashion pleases you the most! Here in this space we’re turning our attention to something far less arbitrary, a tradition older than the hills, a ritual that goes back to before the first organism crawled out of the ocean and onto dry land however many million years ago: the transition from non-conference college basketball to Pac-12 conference play. At least seven unnamed sources indicate that such a sacrament is timeless. And so, to celebrate, let’s take a spin around the Pac-12 and do a quick reset, preparing you for what will seem, as it always does, like a sprint from New Year’s to March Madness.

All-Conference Team (No Surprises Edition)

Jakob Poeltl and Gary Payton II May Wind Up Fighting Over Conference Player of the Year Honors (Godofredo Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Jakob Poeltl and Gary Payton II May Wind Up Fighting Over Conference Player of the Year Honors. (Godofredo Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports)

  • G Gary Payton II, Sr, Oregon State
  • G Tyrone Wallace, Sr, California
  • F Josh Scott, Sr, Colorado
  • F Ryan Anderson, Sr, Arizona
  • C Jakob Poeltl, So, Utah

When we put together our preseason all-conference picks back in November, Poeltl and Payton were unanimous choices as first-teamers, and here they are at the turn of the calendar as the heavy Player of the Year favorites in the conference. Wallace was also on our preseason first-team and he’s been fine, if not spectacular. Scott and Anderson were second-team guys and have both been rock-solid as seniors. Scott has struggled some in his team’s two losses, but if he can lead the Buffaloes to an upper division finish, he might yet have a say in the Player of the Year race as well. Read the rest of this entry »

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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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At Monmouth, Confidence Oozes Up and (Very Far) Down the Roster

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 30th, 2015

There simply aren’t many teams in college basketball with a better trio of wins to this point than Monmouth, power conference or otherwise. The Hawks, picked to finish sixth in the MAAC, have already toppled UCLA in Pauley Pavilion, upset #17 Notre Dame in the AdvoCare Invitational and staved off USC to place third in the event. From a mid-major perspective, King Rice’s bunch simply owned the month of November. And yet, despite the spate of upsets and already-exceeded expectations, Monmouth’s achievements on the court have taken a backseat to its swagger directly off of it. You already know what we are talking about here: that bow-and-arrow-shooting, touchdown-tossing, feather-flapping, best-show-in-town bench mob of theirs. Not only have the antics been picked up by myriad blogs and news outlets around the country, they earned split-screen airtime during the team’s semifinal and third-place games over the weekend. But while the bench’s hilariousness and popularity is obvious and undeniable (the crew’s Twitter handle, @MonmouthBench, now has over 3,300 followers), its tangible connection to Monmouth’s on-court success deserves a deeper look. After all, what could be a better reflection of team culture than a bunch of no-names performing choreographed, multi-act celebration routines?

Daniel Pillari, Greg Noack and Monmouth's bench are taking college hoops by storm. (Getty Images)

Daniel Pillari, Greg Noack and Monmouth’s bench had some fun in November (Getty Images)

Make no mistake – the Hawks have talent, and their winning ways are not altogether shocking. Diminutive point guard Justin Robinson, a 5’8” preseason first-team all-conference pick, ranks sixth nationally in scoring (24.4 PPG) and racked up 77 combined points over the holiday weekend on his way to being named the AdvoCare Invitational MVP. Junior Je’lon Hornbeak, once a four-star recruit, has been an immediate contributor since transferring from Oklahoma. So too has freshman Micah Seaborn, another highly-touted prospect who went for 20 points against USC on Sunday, including 4-of-8 shooting from behind the arc. Deon Jones (7.0 PPG, 7.2 RPG), Collin Stewart (11.0 PPG) and Chris Brady (7.2 PPG) are all upperclassmen who have developed into solid players during their time in West Long Branch. This team is built to compete. Yet, Rice, a former North Carolina point guard under Dean Smith, seemed to suggest before the season that the toughness-based culture change he sought to create in 2012 has only now come to fruition because of his decision to loosen things up. “I think I understand the position probably more than when I first started, I learned everything doesn’t have to be my way or the highway type of deal,” he told the Asbury Park Press in mid-November.

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Pac-12 Best and Worst of the Week

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 24th, 2015

It was an eventful opening week in the Pac-12. Here are a few of the highlights — and lowlights — from the early action out west.

Best Showing from a Supposedly Bad Team: Most pundits expected USC to be vastly improved from last season, so it may be a slight mischaracterization to say USC was “supposed to be bad”. But it was still surprising to watch USC dismantle a good New Mexico team so easily on Saturday. The difference for the Trojans has been shooting. Last season, the Trojans’ effective field goal percentage was just 46.8 percent while making only 32.9 percent of their shots from downtown. This season, in a small sample size, USC’s effective field goal percentage is 56.2 percent and the Trojans are shooting 37.9 percent from downtown. The defense is still a work in progress with so many underclassmen in the rotation, but the pieces are there and if the offense can keep up, the Trojans could have a shot to go dancing in March.

Jordan McLaughlin And The Trojans Are Challenging Old Notions About USC Basketball

Jordan McLaughlin And The Trojans Are Challenging Old Notions About USC Basketball. (AP)

Worst Showing from a Supposedly Good Team: Through Miami’s first five games, the Hurricanes have looked like an offensive juggernaut that cannot be slowed down. But if Utah is going to be a team with Sweet 16 aspirations, they should never look as lifeless as they did against the Canes. The Utes turned the ball over 16 times in that game and allowed the Hurricanes to shoot better than 50 percent from everywhere on the floor. Jakob Poeltl and company were also easily out-rebounded. The Utes have struggled shooting the ball from long range this season, and relatedly, senior point guard Brandon Taylor has been an abject disaster on both ends of the floor. Still, there’s reason to be believe that both those early trends are aberrations, and losing to Miami isn’t the end of the world. But there’s no denying it: for the present moment, the way they lost has left Pac-12 supporters with a bitter taste in their mouths.

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Pac-12 Week One Honors

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 23rd, 2015

Week one in college basketball is in the books. And yes, we’re counting week one as going back to opening day a couple Fridays back. Sure, that makes 10 days, but this is a sport that claims a Feast Week that runs for 10 days or more, a Championship Week which is actually a fortnight, and a March Madness that stretches into April. All of those semantics now out of the way, our normal Monday Pac-12 Honors post will wrap up the previous week, unveil our weekly power rankings, and anoint a Team, Player, Freshman and Newcomer of the Week. Let’s jump right in.

Team of the Week: Washington

Andrew Andrews And The Huskies Have Been Electric Early (Dean Rutz, Seattle Times)

Andrew Andrews And The Huskies Have Been Electric Early (Dean Rutz, Seattle Times)

The Huskies are not the best team in the conference, or at least they probably aren’t. But for a team that wiped the slate clean after last season and brought in eight brand new players, they sure are fun to watch. After going to China and coming away with a win against a veteran Texas team on opening night, the Huskies have poured it on, backing up a 33-point win over Mount St. Mary’s with a 37-point win over Penn. They’ve played three straight games of 80 or more possessions, have the third-highest tempo in the nation, and get in and out of a possession in just over 12 seconds, the quickest such team in college basketball. Loaded down with aggressive free-wheeling freshmen, these Huskies have been a pleasant surprise and everything we want a Lorenzo Romar team to be.

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A Twelve-Pack of Important Pac-12 Newcomers

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 2nd, 2015

At this time of year, it is easiest to get excited about the unknown. We have some idea what to expect from players like Jakob Poeltl and Josh Scott and Bryce Alford and Elgin Cook, but the new guys in their new environments? The sky’s the limit. Below we’ll count down our picks for the 12 guys in a conference of 12 teams who have us most intrigued heading into the season.

12. Bennie Boatwright, Freshman, USC – The Trojans’ offense was abysmal last season. There are plenty of things that need to happen for that to change, but Boatwright’s ability to fill it up from deep could provide an immediate boost. He averaged 27.8 PPG as a high school senior, knocking in eight threes in a single game two separate times.

Bennie Boatwright Getting Ready To Bomb From Deep - Get Used To That Sight (Photo by Kelly Kline/adidas)

Bennie Boatwright Getting Ready To Bomb From Deep – Get Used To That Sight (Kelly Kline/adidas)

11. Lorenzo Bonam, Junior, Utah – Just one of many candidates on the Utah roster to help ease the post-Delon Wright transition, Bonam averaged 16.5 points, 6.8 boards and 3.4 assists per game last season at Gillette College in Wyoming. In his Huntsman Center unveiling last month, he had 16 points in about 32 minutes of action.

10. Dejounte Murray, Washington – On a team loaded with new faces, Murray is the most highly regarded of them. He was the 2015 Washington boy’s high school basketball Player of the Year after averaging 25.0 points and 12.4 boards per game, while notching 24 double-doubles and 14 triple-doubles on the season. Read the rest of this entry »

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Five Things That Scare Us About the Pac-12

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 30th, 2015

Nothing says Halloween like a hastily constructed list replete with a truly cringe-worthy title…or something. The kickoff to the college basketball season is rapidly approaching and one can never have enough preseason analysis. So without further ado and in honor of everyone’s favorite pseudo-holiday, here are the five scariest things happening in the PAC 12 as we head into the season.

With Lorenzo Romar starting from square one, things could get scary. (USA TODAY Sports)

With Lorenzo Romar starting from square one, things could get scary. (USA TODAY Sports)

Lorenzo Romar’s Job Security

The head coach of the Huskies since 2002, Romar is far and away the longest-tenured coach in the Pac-12 and with pretty good reason. The Huskies won 20 games just once under predecessor Bob Bender. Since Romar took over, the Huskies have won 20 games six times and Romar has been the conference Coach of the Year three times. Unfortunately for Romar, the good times have mostly rolled to a halt in Seattle. The Huskies have barely broken .500 in each of the last three seasons and the team’s best player, Nigel Williams-Goss, transferred in the off-season due to concerns about the direction of the program. To his credit, Romar continues to be an excellent recruiter and has brought in another new crop of talent ready to contribute immediately. Still, even with help from the newcomers, the Huskies figure to finish in the bottom third of the conference standings. If (when?) that happens, Romar’s goodwill may have finally run out.

Watching USC Try To Score

In fairness to the Trojans, almost everyone expects the team’s offense to make a major jump this season. But the flip side of that coin is that making the jump offensively shouldn’t be difficult because of how staggeringly bad the team was on that end last season. In the Pac 12, only Oregon State was less efficient offensively than the Trojans last season. USC also managed to rank near the bottom of the country in every meaningful shooting category (63.4 percent from the free-throw line!). The futility was understandable considering the team was almost exclusively underclassmen, but with a mostly unchanged roster returning, points are likely to still be at a premium. If Jordan McLaughlin is healthy, his shooting should improve, but his shot selection needs a lot of work too. The same can be said for Katin Reinhardt, the team’s most gifted offensive player but also its most trigger-happy. Coach Andy Enfield likes his teams to play with tempo. Last season that led to a lot of running and bricking. Everyone who plans to watch the Trojans this season has their fingers crossed that things will be different this time around.

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Five Pac-12 Players Coming Back From Injury

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 28th, 2015

Earlier today we reviewed five players from around the Pac-12 who are dealing with serious injuries expected to cost them at least some portion, if not all, of the upcoming season. Happier topics are on tap this afternoon as we grab a peek at five guys who missed all or part of last year but are expected to return to full strength this time around.

Kameron Rooks, California – Let’s start with the Golden Bears big man who we haven’t seen in a game since February 2014. At that time, he was (prematurely) wrapping up a freshman season in which he averaged 1.3 points and 1.6 boards in 7.0 MPG. That campaign ended early due to a stress reaction in his foot. His sophomore season didn’t even get that far, stopping before it began when Rooks tore his left ACL over the summer. Now, the son of former Arizona star Sean Rooks appears to be back to full strength and is expected to provide quality size and depth (along with sophomore Kingsley Okoroh) along the front line for the Bears. Don’t expect a ton of points from the redshirt sophomore, especially considering the offensive punch that exists in the Cal backcourt, but on a team with aspirations of making a national splash, he could play a large part in determining who winds up cutting down various nets this season.

If Kameron Rooks Can Play A Full Season, The Golden Bears Will Have A Deep Frontcourt (Kelley Cox, USA Today)

If Kameron Rooks Can Play A Full Season, The Golden Bears Will Have a Deep Frontcourt (Kelley Cox, USA Today)

Jordan McLaughlin, USC – We spent some time on Monday discussing the importance of McLaughlin to the Trojans’ season-long hopes. To summarize: On a team with plenty of talent, USC needs a floor general who can not only produce his own offense but can also open things up for the players around him. McLaughlin’s freshman season was cut short when his shoulder “popped out of its socket.” He underwent surgery on both shoulders over the summer in hope of preventing this reoccurring injury from, well, reoccurring, but the success of the procedure remains to be seen. If McLaughlin returns to the lineup without incident, he and junior guard Julian Jacobs will need to learn to coexist in the backcourt. This shouldn’t be too  much of an issue, though, especially if the sophomore guard spends more of his on-court time playing off the ball.

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USC Preview: The Andy Enfield Experiment Continues

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 26th, 2015

In the next three weeks leading up to season tipoff, the Pac-12 microsite will be evaluating each of the league’s 12 teams. Today, we head to Los Angeles.

USC Trojans

Two years into the Andy Enfield experiment, the state of the USC basketball program is still in doubt. In season one, the Trojans, despite an 11-21 overall record, showed sporadic reason for hope, earning wins over Xavier and a road win at Dayton in non-conference play. Year two? No such luck. Until the Trojans outscored Arizona State 18-4 in the final nine minutes to win an opening round Pac-12 Tournament game (that, coincidentally, probably spelled the end of Herb Sendek’s employment in Tempe), there was no win against a team ranked inside of the KenPom top 100 on their resume. But with talent already in the program and with Enfield continuing to succeed on the recruiting trail, momentum is headed in the right direction.

Two Years In, Andy Enfield Has Not Had The Success Trojan Fans Had Hoped For

Two Years In, Andy Enfield Has Not Had The Success Trojan Fans Had Hoped For

Strengths. There is some talent here. There are five players on this roster – Katin Reinhardt, Jordan McLaughlin, Elijah Stewart, Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu – that were considered four-star recruits coming out of high school. Throw in vets Nikola Jovanovic and Julian Jacobs along with a handful of other role players, and complaints about talent level on this roster are no longer valid. Now is the time for the Trojans to turn that talent into actual on-court accomplishments. Read the rest of this entry »

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