Marching to Vegas: In Defense of the Pac

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

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

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

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

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

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Washington’s Big Comeback Win Says More About USC

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 4th, 2016

For something like 25 minutes on Sunday afternoon, this post was going to be about moving USC from contending for an NCAA Tournament invitation to a potential sleeper among the top of the Pac-12 race. The Trojans were up 61-42 at Washington and appeared to be headed for an opening weekend road sweep. They had scored on seven of their first eight second half possessions, mixing dunks in transition with threes, sharing the ball and locking in defensively. But when junior guard Julian Jacobs came out of the game with an ankle injury at the 16:18 mark, things quickly went off the rails.

Minus Julian Jacobs, The Trojans Lost Their Composure, And Their Lead (Ted S. Warren, AP)

Minus Julian Jacobs, The Trojans Lost Their Composure, And Their Lead. (Ted S. Warren, AP)

From that point forward, the Huskies outscored Andy Enfield’s bunch by a score of 45-24. Until he called his team’s final timeout with 6:58 remaining (20 possessions later), the Trojans managed a grand total of 10 measly points, a stretch that featured eight turnovers and five missed layups on the offensive end, along with six layups and five defensive rebounds allowed on the defensive end. Worse yet, after appearing to have regained their poise and settled into a workable seven-point lead with two minutes left, the Trojans melted down again. Washington finished the game on a 9-0 run as sophomore point guard Jordan McLaughlin turned it over twice more and the Huskies grabbed three crucial offensive boards, including one from senior guard Andrew Andrews that became the game-winning bucket. All told, it was a thrilling comeback 87-85 win for the Huskies and a demoralizing failure for the Trojans.

That said, it’s still just one game in a long season. Aside from all the gruesome details about USC’s blown lead, what can we take away from the game? At first blush, the storyline in Seattle seemed to be more about the losers than the victors. This is program that has won a total of six Pac-12 games in 40 tries under Enfield. Only two of those wins have come on the road, and both of those came against Washington State (once at the end of the 2013-14 season; the other on Friday night). In other words, this is not a team with a lot of experience at winning, much less winning in tough environments. Throw in the injury to Jacobs that left USC without arguably its most important player and when things started to go south, they did so in a hurry. Jacobs — aside from being an athletic scoring threat, the team’s most secure ball-handler, and a solid perimeter defender — is also the team’s most veteran presence, capable of acting as a calming influence. When McLaughlin got flustered during the Huskies’ big 26-10 run, he typically would have had Jacobs there to settle things down. No such luck on Sunday, and there were times down the stretch when the Trojans looked to freshman Bennie Boatwright, of all people, to handle the ball and create offense in the half-court. Needless to say, that decision did not end well.

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Pac-12 Bests and Worsts of the Week: Opening Weekend Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 4th, 2016

As the rest of us file back for what promises to be a dreary work week, conference play in college basketball is well under way. In the opening weekend, Arizona re-established itself as the team to beat while California reclaimed some of its considerable preseason hype. Washington, a team no one picked to do anything this season, is unbeaten after two games. While Utah, a team several analysts picked to win the conference, is still searching for its first conference victory. The opening weekend of action didn’t reveal anything particularly enlightening about any one team, but it signaled to Pac-12 fans that they are in for a wild couple of months.

Worst Way to Finish Off a Game: There is no way that Utah should have lost to Stanford on Friday night, and especially not at the free throw line. But the conference’s best foul shooting team entering the game made just 11-of-24 freebies, including four key misses down the stretch in regulation and two more in overtime to gift wrap a comeback win for the Cardinal. This loss was an especially tough pill to swallow because the Utes subsequently lost to California on Sunday (despite shooting better than 80 percent from the line, incidentally). A loss in Berkeley is understandable on an at-large resume, but Stanford is expected to finish at the bottom of the conference. Utah is now forced to dig itself out of a self-made 0-2 hole — certainly not the way the team wanted to start the 2016.

Jakob Poetl and the Utes Are Not Off To The Start They Envisioned. (AP)

Jakob Poeltl and the Utes Did Not Start Pac-12 Play The Way  They Envisioned. (AP)

Worst Job of Keeping It Together: At the risk of sounding sanctimonious, Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley looked a little foolish in his ejection from the tail end of the Sun Devils’ weekend loss to Arizona. Hurley’s passion and fire make an impact on his team and are a big reason why Arizona State is overachieving this season, but his team still had a chance to win until his antics erased that with two quick technical fouls. He shouldn’t have to apologize for his fiery personality, as it is a big part of his success as a coach, but it rings somewhat hollow when he simultaneously claims that he “always wants the spotlight on the guys in the game.” Some may argue that there is a fine line between toning it down and losing their edge, but that notion too rings hollow. Hurley should be able to keep the chip on his shoulder without making a spectacle that overshadows his team’s resilience.

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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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