Marching to Vegas: Picking a Dark Horse

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoops) on February 28th, 2014

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

‘Tis the time of year when we really dive into favorites. It makes sense as those usually come first. We pick our favorite candy, friend, player, etc., first whenever organizing. And with the NCAA Tournament fast approaching (you guys realize tomorrow is March, right?) our immediate dialogue turns to picking the favorites to win the thing. Well let’s take a step back from the NCAAs and away from favorites for a second and get ahead of ourselves and talk about who might be a dark horse winner of the Pac-12 Tournament. Semantics would suggest that I’m just citing the favorite rally through a few upsets in Vegas, but I’d disagree. The favorites to win the tournament are foregone. As Tad Boyle recently said, ““There are 11 other teams in the Pac-12 and then there’s Arizona.” There ya have it folks, the favorites debate is settled. Which isn’t to say that anyone not named “Wildcats” is a dark horse champion candidate. Quite the contrary. I like UCLA’s odds and think a senior-laden Stanford crew could most certainly make noise. Arizona State has one of the most dynamic players in the country in Jahii Carson with a red hot support staff in Jermaine Marshall and the conference’s all-time leading shot blocker in Jordan Bachynski making the Sun Devils another viable title option.

Yeah, Arizona Is The Favorite, We Know That Already. Give Us An Underdog (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

Yeah, Arizona Is The Favorite, We Know That Already. Give Us An Underdog. (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

But whoopdie doo, Adam! These guys are all in the top half of the conference. That’s why it’s not too exciting, right now in this column, to discuss the favorites. We know them. So what about those dark horses, the un-favorites. I’d say that the criteria to fit this bill is slim. You have had to show the propensity to: A) beat top teams, B) do something elite, and/or C) get wildly hot with top talent. Let’s get something out of the way: USC and Washington State fit none of these bills. The Trojans have demonstrated that not only can they not beat elite teams, but they can’t beat anyone. They will not win the Pac-12 Tournament. Likewise, the Cougars won’t either. Did you know that they put up 0.46 points per possession in a game this season? They couldn’t even bust the 1.0 PPP mark against Oregon State. At this point we have covered the favorites and the least favorites. Leaving us right where we want to be, looking at my favorite dark horse candidates to win the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas, Nevada (it’s two weeks away, by the way).

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Pac-12 M5: 02.28.14 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on February 28th, 2014

pac12_morning5

  1. Did you see Arizona on Wednesday night? Did you see them run through California at McKale in a barrage of suffocating defense and ridiculous transition throwdowns? Did you think what I thought? As Greg Hansen of the Arizona Daily Star points out, Wednesday night was the Wildcats’ demonstration that they have healed and moved on since losing Brandon Ashley. He won’t, and I won’t, and I doubt anyone will claim that the Wildcats are better without Ashley, but they have definitely worked their way back to the point where they’re roughly as good, and as dominant, as they were before their sophomore power forward went down. There are still certainly some weaknesses there, but I’ll gladly put Arizona right up there with the best in the nation as equally deserving of national championship contender status.
  2. Thursday night, UCLA hosted Oregon and did so without their two best players, as sophomores Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams watched after being suspended in the middle of the day on Thursday for a “violation of team rules.” And, midway through the second half with the Bruins down 14, it looked like Oregon would walk away with an easy win that would help bolster their tournament resume. Well, those Ducks got that all-important win, but it took them an extra 10 minutes to do so, as a wild, literally-last second David Wear three forced overtime, much-maligned freshman point guard Bryce Alford went nuts for 31 points in 49 minutes and still the Bruins weren’t able to overcome the effort of Oregon transfer guards Joseph Young and Jason Calliste. For UCLA, it is no harm, no foul when it comes to their NCAA prospects while Oregon comes away a game south of .500 in the conference with three to play and another solid win for their resume. Anderson and Adams are expected to be back Sunday for UCLA’s home finale against Oregon State and in the end, no harm done, but hopefully a lesson learned.
  3. Tonight, Washington and Washington State will reignite their rivalry in an in-state battle that few outside of the Evergreen State will pay much attention to, even on a night largely barren of meaningful college basketball games. As Christian Caple of The News Tribune calls it, “apathy” has set in, as neither the Huskies nor the Cougars have been much worth watching in recent years. Their match-up earlier this year drew the least number of fans in more than a decade and excitement for Friday night’s match-up isn’t a whole lot stronger than it was.
  4. We mentioned this way back in October and were taken to task for it by a Washington fan, but… at what point does Lorenzo Romar’s seat on the sideline at Hec Edmunson Pavilion get a little tingly? Athletic director Scott Woodward still calls Romar the “right man for the job” and his contract that runs through 2020 (at $1.7 million per year) , which should guarantee that he won’t be run off too hastily. But the Huskies are now heading into their third-straight March on the outside looking in come the NCAA Tournament. And, with C.J. Wilcox graduating and the recruiting pipeline starting to dry up, there is no end in sight to the drought. Make no mistake, Romar’s still got plenty of leash in Seattle, but questions about his long-term viability absolutely need to be considered these days.
  5. Below is our panel’s selections for this weekend in Pac-12 basketball. We head to the mountains for our game of the week, where all three of us took the host Utes in a rare Saturday morning game. In fact, there is no differential between our panel’s selections this week. Very boring.
    Game Connor (27-7) Drew (23-11) Adam (22-12)
    Washington State @ Washington Washington Washington Washington
    Colorado @ Utah Utah Utah Utah
    California @ Arizona State Arizona State Arizona State Arizona State
    Stanford @ Arizona Arizona Arizona Arizona
    Oregon State @ UCLA UCLA UCLA UCLA
    Oregon @ USC Oregon Oregon Oregon
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Pac-12 Roundup: Week 15

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) & Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on February 26th, 2014

Out of the country? Living under a rock? Here’s what you missed in the 15th week of Pac-12 basketball. 

Power Rankings (as voted upon by Connor Pelton, Andrew Murawa, and Adam Butler)

Arizona is once again the unanimous number one in our weekly power rankings, but no team except the Wildcats and last place USC were completely agreed upon. Check the results below to see the jumbled mess that is the Pac-12.

Nick Johnson Led Arizona To A Huge Sweep In The Rockies Last Week

Nick Johnson Led Arizona To A Huge Sweep In The Rockies Last Week

  1. Arizona (25-2, 3 Points)
  2. UCLA (21-6, 7 Points)
  3. Stanford (18-8, 8 Points)
  4. California (18-9, 15 Points)
  5. Colorado (20-8, 18 Points)
  6. Arizona State (19-8, 19 Points)
  7. Utah (18-9, 21 Points)
  8. Oregon (18-8, 22 Points)
  9. Washington (15-13, 26 Points)
  10. Oregon State (14-12, 27 Points)
  11. Washington State (9-18, 33 Points)
  12. USC (10-17, 36 Points)

Best Game – Arizona at Utah: This baby ended up being much better than the more-hyped game between Arizona and Colorado that was played three days later in Boulder. Desperate for a resume-boosting win, Utah fought the Wildcats for 45 minutes as hard as anyone has all season. The visitors led by as many as 12 in the second half before the Utes came storming back. Sophomore forward Jordan Loveridge split a pair of free throws with 30 seconds left in regulation to tie the game at 56, and the two teams went to overtime when Wildcat guard T.J. McConnell missed a jumper at the buzzer. Fourth-ranked Arizona would survive in the extra period, making five free throws in the final 20 seconds to win, 67-63. Sean Miller‘s team all but locked up a one seed in the NCAA Tournament with the sweep of Utah and Colorado. The Utes kept their slim at-large hopes alive by blowing out Arizona State on Sunday, but they likely still need to win their final three regular season games thanks to a low RPI.

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Pac-12 M5: 02.26.14 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on February 26th, 2014

pac12_morning5

  1. It’s been another rough season on the Palouse for Washington State and head coach Ken Bone. Last year, Bone’s job was saved after a disappointing season in part because of a large buyout. But this time around, expectations are that athletic director Bill Moos is going to have to move on from Bone and bring in a new head coach. The question is, who? Vince Grippi of The Spokesman-Review suggests a plan is already in place, but it remains to be seen if it will be a retread coach (Ben Howland makes a lot of sense in a lot of ways), an assistant from some big-time job earning his first head spot, or a mid-major guy taking a big step up.
  2. Oregon is still very much alive in terms of their chances to earn their way back onto the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble. But, according to Steve Mims of the Eugene Register-Guard, various people from around the conference peg the Ducks as a strong candidate to repeat as the Pac-12 Tournament champions and earn the conference’s automatic bid. Both Ernie Kent –an analyst with the Pac-12 Networks – and Mike Montgomery note that Oregon’s ability to get hot and score in bunches could be a major advantage when it comes to having to win four games in four days.
  3. While nothing is official yet, it appears that sophomore guard Damyean Dotson will play for Oregon on Thursday night when the Ducks travel to UCLA. Dotson, who missed Sunday’s game against Washington State after being cited for using a fake ID at a Eugene Bar, had started the previous 60 games for the Ducks. Head coach Dana Altman reports that no decision has been made yet, but that the situation is “moving in the direction” of Dotson being available to play against the Bruins.
  4. After a weekend where junior point guard T.J. McConnell had 16 assists and no turnovers while leading his team to a pair of road wins, there were hopes around Tucson that he would wind up with the Pac-12 Player of the Week award. That was not to be, but head coach Sean Miller made it clear on Monday how much he values McConnell’s contributions to the team, praising not only his effectiveness at running the offense, but also his defensive prowess.
  5. As for the Wildcats’ in-state rival Arizona State, despite getting swept last week by the schools in the Rockies, the Sun Devils are still in good shape to make the NCAA Tournament, according to Doug Haller of AZCentral.com. Their RPI is still rock solid, they’ve got three wins against teams in the top 50 of the RPI and, given the struggles other teams in contention for NCAA Tournament consideration have gone through, they’re pretty comfortably in the field. But, Haller points out five areas where the Sun Devils need to improve between now and Tournament time: urgency, shooting, leadership, consistency and… Jahii Carson. Much as we talked about most recently on Monday, while Carson has been good this season, he hasn’t approached the elite level of play he turned in regularly during his sparkling freshman season.
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Pac-12 Roundup: Week 14

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) and Drew Murawa (@AMurawa) on February 18th, 2014

Out of the country? Living under a rock? Here’s what you missed in the 14th week of Pac-12 basketball. 

Power Rankings (as voted upon by Connor Pelton and Andrew Murawa)

T1. Arizona State (19-6, 4 Points). Comment: “Is Arizona State even an accredited university? Or is it like DeVry?” – Jordan Majewski (@jorcubsdan)

T1. UCLA (20-5, 4 Points). Comment: “UCLA student section chanting “one more year” to Zach LaVine. I’m guessing NBA scouts want in on that chant too.” – Drew Murawa (@AMurawa)

T1. Arizona (23-2, 4 Points). Comment: “He touched the rim. RT @jskarp Sean Miller should be a delight after this game.” – Kevin Danna (@Kevo408)

Senior Guard Jermaine Marshall Celebrates After Knocking Off #2 Arizona On Friday (credit: Matt York)

Senior Guard Jermaine Marshall Celebrates After Knocking Off #2 Arizona On Friday (credit: Matt York)

4. Colorado (19-7, 5 Points). Comment: “Someone is SKIing in Los Angeles right now.” – Adam Butler (@pachoopsab)

5. California (17-8, 8 Points). Comment: “California escapes for an 80-76 overtime win in Pullman and avoids losing to the two worst teams in the conference.” – Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28)

T6. Oregon (16-8, 14 Points). Comment: “You want to know how well Oregon is playing? I don’t even have anything bad to say about Waverly Austin.” – Matt Daddy (@mattdaddysblog)

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Pac-12 Roundup: Week 12

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) and Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on February 5th, 2014

Out of the country? Living under a rock? Here’s what you missed in the 12th week of Pac-12 basketball. 

Power Rankings (as voted upon by Connor Pelton, Andrew Murawa, and Adam Butler)

For the first time in more than a month, Arizona is no longer the unanimous number one team in our Power Rankings. Check the results below to see which team placed first, and the rest of the jumbled mess that is the Pac-12.

Cooke, left, and Roberto Nelson have led the Beavers to victory in four of their last five conference games. (Rockne Andrew Roll/RTC)

Cooke, left, and Roberto Nelson have led the Beavers to victory in four of their last five conference games. (Rockne Andrew Roll/RTC)

  1. Arizona (21-1, 4 Points)
  2. California (15-7, 5 Points)
  3. Stanford (14-7, 13 Points)
  4. Arizona State (16-6, 14 Points)
  5. UCLA (17-5, 15 Points)
  6. Colorado (16-6, 16 Points)
  7. Oregon State (13-8, 19 Points)
  8. Oregon (15-6, 25 Points)
  9. Utah (14-7, 26 Points)
  10. Washington State (9-12, 30 Points)
  11. Washington (13-9, 31 Points)
  12. USC (10-12, 35 Points)

Best Game – Arizona @ California: This was undoubtedly the best week of Pac-12 basketball in the 2013-14 campaign. The number one team in the country was nearly taken to overtime last Wednesday. UCLA hit a game-winning jumper with five seconds left at Oregon after winning a jump ball, then lost at Oregon State three days later. And oh yeah, three games actually DID go to overtime. And yet, none of those games rivaled Arizona vs. Cal on Saturday night. Neither team led by more than two possessions in the final 10 minutes, and on the Golden Bears’ bench, it was Justin Cobbs time. He scored the only Cal points in that period, including the fadeaway jumper with less than a second remaining that put his team up 60-58, sending the gold-out Haas Pavilion crowd into a premature court-rushing frenzy. The upset more than made up for California’s setback at USC two weeks ago, and gets them off the bubble for the moment. The Wildcats are now ranked second in the nation behind unbeaten Syracuse, but more important than losing the top spot and their undefeated record is the loss of sophomore forward Brandon Ashley. Ashley is gone for the season after breaking his right foot in Berkeley, and it will be interesting to see how the Wildcats’ offense performs without his services.

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Pac-12 M5: 02.03.14 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on February 3rd, 2014

pac12_morning5

  1. Oregon forced 16 steals in its win against USC on Saturday night in Eugene, setting a Matthew Knight Arena record and falling one short of a program best. The performance was encouraging for a team that had struggled mightily on the defensive end of the floor in the month of January, and while one could easily dismiss the effort as it came against an opponent with a 10-12 record, the required energy and interest was certainly there. Dana Altman turned in one of his best coaching jobs in awhile, pulling the right strings and calling for a full court press that forced the issue and got the Ducks into a rhythm. It’s going to take an equally as impressive game plan and execution if Oregon is to shock Arizona in Tucson on Thursday night.
  2. The Ducks brought in a season high for home attendance for their match-up with the Trojans, drawing a crowd of 11,178. How did a team that had lost six of its last seven manage to do that? By the power of free stuff. The university honored its super donor in honor of Phil Knight’s 76th birthday coming up this month, and the Duck fans flocked on “Appreciation Knight” (get it?). Altman provided what may be the quote of the year after the game: “Make sure the team doesn’t get any so we don’t put it on eBay and sell them.” Dana was of course referring to the reasons for the suspensions of Dominic Artis and Ben Carter, who sat out the first nine games of the year for selling their team gear.
  3. Down the road in Corvallis this weekend, Oregon State scored a huge victory before the Super Bowl on Sunday morning. Down by as many as 11 points, some timely scoring and heady play from freshman point guard Hallice Cooke brought the Beavers all the way back and then some, taking a 65-54 lead with two and a half minutes left. Despite UCLA having a chance to take the lead inside the final 15 seconds (the furious comeback would fall short thanks to a Jordan Adams offensive foul), the Beavers survived for a four point win that lifts them into a five way tie for fourth place in the conference.
  4. Just one week ago, things were looking bleak for the Pac-12 conference. Oregon’s only win since January 2 had come against last place Washington State, a Spencer Dinwiddie-less Colorado team was struggling mightily to even keep games close, and California, once thought to be the second best team in the Pac, had just been swept by the Los Angeles schools. Fast forward seven days and the outlook has completely changed. Arizona State won in overtime at California, and then the same Golden Bear team turned around three days later and defeated top ranked Arizona. Colorado broke its losing streak with a rivalry win over Utah on Saturday morning, and UCLA fell at Oregon State a day later. The conference, while more muddled than ever, is also at its strongest in the projected NCAA Tournament fields, putting seven teams in Joe Lunardi‘s latest bracket.
  5. Did I say this league looks muddled? I leave you with the Pac-12 Wheel of Suck, which shows just how cannibalistic the conference has been in its first half of the season. The wheel wouldn’t have worked without USC’s shocker against California, which begs the question, what will be the Pac’s biggest upset of its final five weeks? I’m taking Washington State over UCLA on the final day of the regular season in Pullman. Leave your prediction in the comments section.
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Pac-12 M5: 01.31.14 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 31st, 2014

pac12_morning5

  1. Oregon fought back late against UCLA on Thursday night to force a tight game, but wound up losing at home. Still, the Dana Altman transfer society is not going to end anytime soon in Eugene, as the Ducks are getting their first glimpse of Providence transfer Brandon Austin in practices and like what they see. Austin was a highly-regarded recruit at Providence, but he never played a minute there after earning a suspension for a violation of the school’s Code of Conduct. He’s been in Eugene since the start of the semester and has shown his teammates and coaches that he will be a force in the future, but he will first have to wait until the end of the fall semester next season in order to gain eligibility for the Ducks.
  2. Arizona remained undefeated on Wednesday night, pulling off a hard-fought road win at Stanford. And with 21 wins in their pocket and no strikes against them, the inevitable contrarian columns begin: Is it actually good to be undefeated? Let’s put these types of things to bed right now. Is it good to be undefeated? Um, yeah. Sure, why not? You play these games to win, right? Now, just because, yes, it is good to be king, it does not necessarily follow that taking a loss is terrible either. It’s a long year. Road games are tough. Odds are good that Arizona (and Syracuse and even Wichita State) will slip up somewhere before March. But if they don’t, that doesn’t really put any more pressure on any of those teams. They’ll continue to get everybody’s best shot regardless of whether they have zero losses or one loss. And once it gets to the NCAA Tournament? It’s not like having a loss – or not – in their past is really going to have any effect on their play down the stretch in a tight tourney game. One of the reasons the Wildcats got out of Palo Alto on Wednesday night with a win was their defense against Stanford guard Chasson Randle, who was harassed by T.J. McConnell and Nick Johnson into a 3-of-15 night from the field. For his career at Stanford, he is now 10-of-42 from the field in three games against the Wildcats. Suffice it to say, that’s not good.
  3. Meanwhile, across the bay in Berkeley on Wednesday night, California fought back from an early deficit to force overtime against Arizona State. But after getting outscored by 11 in the extra period, the once-streaking Golden Bears have now dropped their third straight game. In a game where Justin Cobbs missed a layup in “unusual” fashion, Cal was close, but so far away. For a team that fewer than two weeks ago looked like perhaps the biggest challenger to Arizona’s conference throne, the Golden Bears are now faced with an almost must-win match-up against the nation’s #1 team on Saturday night. And, really, the Bears probably don’t match up very well with the Wildcats.
  4. Lastly, Washington State, perhaps more than any other team in the conference, is in desperate need of good news. And expectations are that they will get it on Saturday, when junior guard DaVonte Lacy is expected to make a return from his rib injury against Washington. Lacy practiced this week and will be a game time decision, but All Coug’d Up asks, if Lacy isn’t back to 100 percent yet, why force him back early if he’s not clearly ready to go. Stay tuned.
  5. We close with the second week of our basketball pick’em contest. Boasted by a Stanford overtime win at USC and UCLA surviving a late comeback attempt by California, Connor swept last week’s selections. Our game of the week to close out the month (worth either two wins or two losses) will feature top-ranked Arizona traveling to a hostile Haas Pavilion to face the Golden Bears. Each member on our three-man panel agrees the Wildcats will take that one.
    Game Connor (7-0) Drew (4-3) Adam (5-2)
    Utah at Colorado Colorado Colorado Utah
    Arizona State at Stanford Stanford Arizona State Arizona State
    Washington at Wash. State Washington Washington Washington
    USC at Oregon Oregon Oregon Oregon
    Arizona at California Arizona Arizona Arizona
    UCLA at Oregon State Oregon State Oregon State UCLA
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Pac-12 Roundup: Week 11

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) & Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on January 29th, 2014

Out of the country? Living under a rock? Here’s what you missed in the 11th week of Pac-12 basketball. 

Power Rankings (as voted upon by Connor Pelton and Andrew Murawa):

Arizona is once again the unanimous top choice this week, but the rest of this league is a jumbled mess. Check the full results below.

Jordan Adams Averaged 15.5 PPG Last Week In UCLA's Sweep Of The Bay Area Schools. (credit: Stephen Dunn)

Sophomore Guard Jordan Adams Averaged 15.5 PPG Last Week In UCLA’s Sweep Of The Bay Area Schools. (credit: Stephen Dunn)

  1. Arizona (20-0, 2 Points). Comment: “Sky is blue, grass is green, Arizona is No. 1, Monday’s still suck” – @azdesertswarm
  2. UCLA (16-4, 4 Points). Comment: “Alford’s contract itself counts as theft or misappropriation of UCLA property.” – Gary Scott (@RB_GScott)
  3. Arizona State (15-5, 7 Points). Comment: “Hindsight might be 20/20, but Sendek’s mid-season makeover might have ultimately served dual purposes: muting the clamoring over his future in Tempe, while also preserving any chance ASU still has to make the NCAA tournament.” – Dave Dulberg (@TheDoubleD)
  4. California (14-6, 9 Points). Comment: “Well, 15 minutes left, but this looks like a lost weekend for Cal. Last week I was looking for a way to put them in the top 20 nationally.” – Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa)
  5. Stanford (13-6, 11 Points). Comment: “Ultimately always the story under Dawkins. Any success is unsustainable. (Except in the NIT!) – Scott Allen (@RuleofTree)
  6. Washington (13-8, 13 Points). Comment: “This performance, if nothing else, should dispel the nonsense about Coach Romar “rolling out the balls and letting the guys play undisciplined ball.” To dominate the game inside against a bigger opponent, and only “lob up” outside shots when necessary (nearly 70% of Washington’s baskets were either layups or from inside 5 feet), suggests a well though out game plan.” – Andy Wooldridge (@BuildingTheDam) Read the rest of this entry »
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Pac-12 M5: 01.29.14 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 29th, 2014

pac12_morning5

  1. Pac-12 play gets back underway tonight with the Arizona schools visiting the Bay Area. And that means Arizona freshman forward and prized recruit Aaron Gordon is making his return to his old high school stomping grounds, where he played at Archbishop Mitty. As he was in high school, Gordon remains a coach’s dream in college, a hard-working, versatile player that is a great teammate who is always improving. Cal head coach Mike Montgomery, who was among the coaches hot in pursuit of Gordon’s commitment, joined Arizona head coach Sean Miller in praising Gordon’s ability. But, more importantly for the Wildcat’s season than one player’s return home is the chance to again prove their mettle in tough conference road games.
  2. As for California, tonight they host Arizona State in an attempt to get back on track. But the Sun Devils provide significant and diverse challenges for the Golden Bears. First, along the frontline, Richard Solomon will need to continue his strong play as he matches up mostly against the Sun Devils’ senior center Jordan Bachynski who has four inches on him. And then in the backcourt, senior point guard Justin Cobbs may have the experience edge on Arizona State’s sparkplug Jahii Carson, but Carson’s got the clear quickness advantage. And, as always when the nation’s #1 team is up next, the Golden Bears need to make sure they’re not looking ahead to Saturday against Arizona.
  3. Good news everyone! Washington State junior guard DaVonte Lacy may return as early as this weekend when they host Washington on Saturday. Lacy has had a rough 2014 so far, missing time following surgery to remove his appendix, returning for 11 minutes and then injring his ribs. And, without their best scorer and leader, the Cougars have been, well, just awful. While it remains to be seen if he’ll actually play on Saturday or possibly wait until next week, it will likely take some time for him to get back to full strength. And until he is back at full strength, the Cougs really don’t have much of a chance to compete on a regular basis. But, assuming he’s back to full strength by March, and assuming Que Johnson’s time in the spotlight has been put to good use, there’s a chance these guys are talented enough to spring an upset on day one of the Pac-12 Tournament. Maybe not a good chance, but a chance.
  4. Tomorrow night, Oregon gets a chance to build upon its win over Washington State last weekend by protecting its homecourt against the invaders from UCLA. While the Ducks shut down the Cougars defensively on Sunday, holding them to 44 points (0.73 points per possession), the Bruins offer a whole different challenge, with talented offensive players up and down their rotation. After the up-tempo Ducks allowed 80 points or more in five consecutive games prior to the Washington State matchup, they welcome in the Bruins, who have scored at least 69 points in every game this year and 80 or more in 12 out of their 20. With both teams in the top 20 in the nation in shortest offensive possession length and with KenPom.com projecting a final score in the upper-80s, this may well be one of the most enticing conference games of the season.
  5. Lastly, yuck. I didn’t want to do this. I didn’t want to do this at all. It has been an emerging policy at least among RTC Pac-12 writers to ignore Bruins Nation, a UCLA “fan” site that has repeatedly shown an ignorance about basic basketball strategy and is a shining beacon in the world of applying actual events to pre-determined narratives, no matter how silly those applications turn out to be. Given that there are so many better sources for news and opinion about UCLA basketball, there is no reason to usher people in the direction of the TMZ of UCLA basketball coverage. But, in the spirit of comedy, they outdid themselves on Tuesday, suggesting that one of the reasons that freshman guard Zach LaVine (regularly projected as a lottery or border-line lottery selection in the 2014 NBA Draft) may be considering entering the draft following this season is because head coach Steve Alford is playing favorites and will hand the point guard position next year (assuming, safely, that Kyle Anderson is NBA-bound) to his son Bryce Alford, regardless of the competition. Now, we’re not actually going to link to this Onion-esque bit of prose (which, among other things, suggests that LaVine, third on the team in minutes this year, might still be relegated to the bench next season if Anderson leaves), but suffice it to say that this is odd, at best. Right now, without any bit of doubt whatsoever, Alford is the team’s second-best point guard. LaVine is terrific off the ball (seriously, coming off a solid screen and squaring up to get a good look at the hoop from deep, there are very few more fearsome shooters in the nation), but has shown an inability to create for himself or others with anything more than one or two dribbles, and is loose with his handle. He’s a terrific pro prospect because of his athleticism, ridiculous upside and potential to improve those glaring weaknesses. And if he winds up forgoing his final three years of eligibility, it is entirely because he is likely to get paid handsomely for such an opportunity. Either way, while he may well develop into a point guard in time, right now, he would struggle running the point – he’s an attacking wing in transition and a deadly catch-and-shoot guy. But the idea that the criminally-underrated Alford is only receiving playing time because his dad has a soft spot in his heart for him indicates a writer who has decided not to spend any time actually watching UCLA basketball.
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Dana Altman’s Ducks Stop the Bleeding on Sunday

Posted by Kenny Ocker on January 27th, 2014

Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker) is a national columnist for Rush The Court. He filed this story Sunday evening after the Oregon Ducks and Washington State Cougars played at Friel Court in Pullman, Washington.

Oregon was a desperate team. Forward Mike Moser said it; Dana Altman said it; both were unprompted. After three-plus weeks of bad shooting, nonexistent defense, or both – and being a last-second dunk away from a winless mark in conference – the team once ranked #10 in the nation was destined to be pressing. But the Ducks, thanks especially to an 8-of-10 shooting performance from reserve guard Jason Calliste, managed to get that monkey off their back, blowing out Washington State 71-44 on Sunday in Pullman.

D.J. Shelton and his Oregon mates deperately needed a win. They played like a desperate team Sunday, outhustling Wazzu to a much-needed W. (Getty)

Elgin Cook (23) and his Oregon mates desperately needed a win. They played like a desperate team Sunday, out-hustling Wazzu to a much-needed W. (Getty)

“We desperately needed that. It was a little bit bigger than a monkey,” Altman said after the game. “I think it turned into a gorilla. I felt good for the guys; they were relieved in the locker room. It’s been a long three weeks.” The Ducks only trailed Washington State for a 21-second stretch early in the first half, a change Altman welcomed after his team has spent most of the conference season trying to chase teams down with little success. But Oregon (14-5, 2-5 Pac-12) only pulled away slowly at first, with Calliste’s perfect 6-of-6 shooting in the first half and 14 points eventually leading to a 13-point halftime lead. “Jason really did a tremendous job. He was the difference in the game,” Altman said of Calliste, who finished with 20 points. “That first half, going 6 for 6 he gave us an advantage and then we could play from the lead.” Though Calliste cooled off, the rest of the Ducks took off in the second half, led by all nine of Moser’s points. If it weren’t for a pair of garbage-time three-pointers from reserve Cougars forward Brett Boese, Oregon’s 41-point second-half barrage would have outscored Washington State (8-12, 1-7) for the game.

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Oregon State Finds Success By Swapping Starting Point Guards

Posted by Kenny Ocker on January 23rd, 2014

Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) is a Northwest-based national columnist for Rush The Court and filed this report Wednesday night from Washington State’s Friel Court in Pullman.

Craig Robinson might have just figured it out just in time to make something of this Pac-12 season. The Oregon State coach, who has struggled for consistent point guard play since taking over in Corvallis back in 2008, has given the reins of the offense to freshman guard Hallice Cooke in the last four games, and it’s paid immediate dividends. After a middling non-conference performance that included losses to Coppin State, DePaul and Hawaii, and an 0-2 start to conference play, Robinson put Cooke in the starting lineup in place of junior Challe Barton, and the Beavers (11-7, 3-3 Pac-12) have looked like a different team.

Oregon State point guard Hallice Cooke (#3) has started the last four games, in which the Beavers have gone 3-1. (AP)

Oregon State point guard Hallice Cooke (#3) has started the last four games, in which the Beavers have gone 3-1. (AP)

Let’s not forget that Oregon State shooting guard Roberto Nelson is the top-scoring player in the Pac-12, putting in more than 21 points per night, and the Beavers’ interior triumvirate of Angus Brandt, Eric Moreland, and Devon Collier each average more than 10 points per game themselves. Cooke doesn’t have to do a lot to help his team. But his skill set – the third-best three-point shooting rate in the country at nearly 56 percent, and the team’s second-best assist rate behind Nelson – fits well within the construct of a team led by three inside scorers and a perimeter scorer (Nelson) who commands double-teams. The Beavers have a 3-1 record in games in which Cooke has started, including home upsets of Stanford and Oregon, and a 66-55 road win at Washington State on Wednesday night.

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