2017-18 Pac-12 Big “Ifs”

Posted by RJ Abeytia on November 10th, 2017

The Pac-12 has had a starring role in the extracurricular tomfoolery brought to life by the FBI this offseason. Certainly this story has no expiration date on the horizon, but the games are coming and there will be no shortage of intrigue this year in the Conference of Champions. Here are 12 Big Ifs separating each team from its best-case scenario this season.

Is This Finally the Year For Arizona (USA Today Images)?

  1. Arizona: There is just nowhere else to look when sizing up the Pac-12 favorites. Once Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins’ returns were secure, the combination of those two plus the arrival of heralded freshman DeAndre Ayton is just too much top shelf talent, buttressed by an outstanding roster that also includes returning glue guys Dusan Ristic and Parker Jackson-Cartwright along with Ayton’s freshman co-stars Brandon Randolph, Emmanuel Akot and Alex Borcello.  If this roster remains intact come March and the FBI distractions don’t do just that, Miller has his best shot at breaking through that Final Four barrier that has stonewalled him to this point in Tucson.
  2. USC: The Trojans are bringing back 98 percent of their scoring and 96 percent of their rebounding to a team that won two NCAA Tournament games last season. Bennie Boatwright, De’Anthony Melton, Chimezie Metu, Jordan McLaughlin and Alijah Stewart form the only returning starting quintet in the league. Can they improve upon a defense that finished a middling seventh in the Pac-12 in efficiency last season?
  3. Oregon:  The Ducks return the least amount of points, rebounds and blocks of any team in the conference and yet they return the most important piece of their success: head coach Dana Altman. Oregon has top recruits Troy Brown and Victor Bailey, Jr., joining three transfers this season: Paul White (Georgetown), Elijah Brown (New Mexico), and MiKyle McIntosh (Illinois State). If Altman works not just well but quickly then Oregon could be ready in time for Pac-12 contention.
  4. Stanford: The Cardinal owned the 10th-rated offense in Pac-12 play last year, largely from scoring only 23.5 percent of their points from three-point range last year, a number that makes consistent offense virtually impossible. If Stanford can ascend to just the national average on three-point production this time around, it should be an NCAA Tournament team. Read the rest of this entry »
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Expectations Bring Growing Pains at Oregon State

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 9th, 2016

When Gary Payton II graduated from Oregon State last spring, it was well understood that the Beavers were losing one of their best players of all-time and would face an uphill battle back to the NCAA Tournament. With one month of this season now in the books, dancing again in March seems all but forgotten. Oregon State lost a close road game to a marginal Charlotte team last weekend, dropping its overall record to 3-6 and reflecting the team’s sixth straight loss to a Division I opponent. While head coach Wayne Tinkle‘s two-year extension and raise in light of the team’s first NCAA appearance since 1990 was well-deserving, Oregon State knew the program would spend this season rebuilding. Still, even though they were clearly confident in the direction of the program, this is not the kind of disastrous backslide that anyone in Corvallis envisioned.

Things In Corvallis Have Not Gone According to Wayne Tinkle's Plan This Season. (Getty)

Things In Corvallis Have Not Gone According to Wayne Tinkle’s Plan This Season. (Getty)

Building basketball prestige in a place where there isn’t much requires a lot of things to go right. Wins on the court or on the recruiting trail help build buzz around the brand, which can often be the start of something more sustainable. Tinkle looked to doing just that, but the team’s brutal start this year has undone a lot of that momentum. The importance of Payton’s loss cannot be overstated, but it appeared as if the program was in good hands with rising sophomores Stephen Thompson, Jr., Tres Tinkle and Drew Eubanks. Thompson, however, missed six of the team’s first seven games with a foot injury, and Tinkle, who was the team’s leading scorer, broke a bone in his wrist. Mix in an ACL rehab that is keeping freshman Ben Kone on the bench as well as a pair of suspensions for promising wing Keondre Dew, and it is somewhat surprising the elder Tinkle has managed to keep his sanity in place. Read the rest of this entry »

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Weekly Pac-Five: Players Who Need to Step Up

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 1st, 2016

As part of a new weekly feature here on the Pac-12 microsite, we will be creating many lists of five: five best players; five best coaches; five best and worst teams. The topics are never-ending and we intend to cover a lot of ground over the next few months. As we close out the first month of the season, we tackled five Pac-12 players who need to elevate their play, effective immediately.

  • Dylan Ennis, Senior, Oregon. Maybe his 18-point, six-rebound performance against Boise State was the start of an upward trend, but Ennis looked like someone who hadn’t played in a full year prior to Monday night’s performance. He is still just 4-of-25 from downtown on the season and so far hasn’t been the same defensive weapon he was at Villanova. There is still plenty of time for the senior to shake off the rust, but the Ducks need him to get right quickly because they the offense needs a shot in the arm that could be provided if he finally heats up.
Dylan Ennis (USA Today Images)

Dylan Ennis Could Stand to Revert to his Play at Villanova Soon (USA Today Images)

  • Keondre Dew, Junior, Oregon State. Now that Tres Tinkle is out for six weeks with a broken wrist, it is imperative that Oregon State starts getting production from its junior forward. For that to happen, Dew, who has already been suspended twice this season and has admitted that he was his own worst enemy at Tulsa, needs to wake up. The junior college transfer is a long and versatile offensive weapon — or, he could be if he could stay focused long enough to produce something. In 59 minutes of action so far this season, Dew is only 4-of-16 from the field, 2-of-6 at the free throw line and has more than twice as many turnovers (10) as assists (4). He has the talent to help Oregon State turn its season around and weather the injury storm if he ultimately decides he wants to.

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Pac-12 Burning Questions: Can Stephen Thompson Jr. Make the Leap?

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 21st, 2016

It has been a weird offseason for Oregon State. If you were looking ahead at the team’s prospects for this upcoming season last March, the future looked very bright even if do-everything guard Gary Payton II was graduating. But Payton’s heir apparent, combo guard Derrick Bruce, transferred out of the program in April followed by steady senior Malcom Duvivier leaving the program for personal reasons in September. These departures suddenly left the Beavers’ backcourt without most of its depth and experience, isolating sophomore Stephen Thompson Jr. as the lone returnee with any on-court experience. Yet Wayne Tinkle and Beavers’ fans are still bullish on their team’s potential this season, with Thompson being the biggest reason why.

Stevie Thompson Jr. Is Now The Big Man on Campus in Corvallis (AP Photo/Timothy J. Gonzalez)

Stevie Thompson Jr. Is Now The Big Man on Campus in Corvallis (AP Photo/Timothy J. Gonzalez)

The son of former Syracuse great Stephen Thompson, the younger Thompson was the crown jewel of Tinkle’s touted 2015 recruiting class that may already be one of the best in program history. At times last season, he lived up that billing, scoring 18 points in a home win against Washington and dropping 23 in a crucial road win against UCLA two weeks later. At other times, he looked like a trigger-happy freshman who struggled to find his offensive rhythm — especially in the half-court. His inconsistency was understandable from an experience perspective, but it was also driven by Payton II dominating most of the team’s offensive possessions. This year Thompson will become the focal point of Oregon State’s perimeter offense and that means the team won’t be able to weather his shooting slumps quite as easily.

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Rushed Reactions: #10 VCU 75, #7 Oregon State 67

Posted by Steven Smith on March 18th, 2016

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

Three Key Takeaways.

Mo Alie-Cox was a force to deal with. (Scott K. Brown Photography, Inc.)

Mo Alie-Cox was a force to deal with. (Scott K. Brown Photography, Inc.)

  1. VCU came out ready to play. The Rams hit the floor in warm-ups and you could tell they were ready to play. Oregon State, on the pother hand, were flat from pre-game warmups and that continued through most of the game. Despite a four minute window in the second half where the Beavers showed some life, VCU’s intensity dominated the game.
  2. VCU dominated the inside despite a size disadvantage. Mo Alie-Cox simply took over the paint on both ends. He blocked shots, threw down dunks over Eubanks, and just out-muscled the taller Oregon State players.
  3. A balanced attack. VCU effectively spread the court and played well as a team. JeQuan Lewis was consistent throughout and hit some key shots down the stretch, and Melvin Johnson was solid.

Star of the Game. Mo Alie-Cox, VCU. Alie-Cox dominated inside on both there offensive and defensive ends. He had three monster rejections and 20 points to go along with 8 rebounds, 7-of-8 from the field and 6-of-6 from the line. Read the rest of this entry »

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Take Notes: Oregon State’s Scheduling Aids Tournament Push

Posted by Mike Lemaire on March 2nd, 2016

Buried in the middle of the always fun 5,000-word weekly Bubble Watch column from ESPN was a statement that requires additional unpacking. While analyzing the resumes of Pac-12 bubble teams, Eamonn Brennan mentioned that Oregon State remains “the nation’s best testament to the power of intelligent non-conference scheduling.”

Wayne Tinkle: Coach of the Year? (Godofredo Vasquez, USA Today)

Wayne Tinkle’s Team Is Finally Reaping the Benefits of Its Gutsy Scheduling (USA Today)

Brennan can say this so confidently because 10-loss teams barely flirting with .500 in conference play usually aren’t serious NCAA Tournament contenders, yet here we are in March with all of the respected bracketologists penciling the Beavers in as one of the 68 teams in the field. A team with Oregon State’s ho-hum record ordinarily wouldn’t even warrant a conversation, but thanks to a sparkling RPI and strength of schedule, Wayne Tinkle’s team is comfortably projected into the field. College basketball fans around the country can only hope that their schools are paying attention.

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It’s Time Everyone Started Appreciating Gary Payton II

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 15th, 2016

Colorado blew out Oregon State on Wednesday night behind 25 points and 12 rebounds from Josh Scott to improve to 2-2 in the Pac-12 standings. But with apologies to the victors, that game may have been a better display for the skills of another league star: Gary Payton II. The senior guard, or, as the Colorado student section dubbed him, “Daddy’s Shadow”, exploded for a career-high 26 points and season-high 15 rebounds in the losing effort. He also did this. Which, if you have been staying up late to watch the Pac-12 in the last two weeks, is becoming a regular occurrence.

Gary Payton II Is Not Only The Best Point In The Pac, He's One Of It's Best Players (Oregon State Athletics)

Gary Payton II Is Making His Case To PAC-12 Opponents and NBA Scouts Alike This Season (Oregon State Athletics)

Even in defeat, Payton owned everyone’s attention. He was pretty much working on his own, but that didn’t seem to matter; the senior had posted nearly a double-double at halftime, then scored 18 points in the second half when he was clearly the only option. Payton was impossible to keep out of the lane (he went 9-of-10 from the charity stripe) and off the offensive glass (five of his 15 rebounds came there). His full line: 26 points, 15 rebounds, three assists, three steals and three turnovers. These kinds of stat lines are also becoming a regular occurrence.

Four days earlier in a home win against California, Payton posted a 20-point, 11-rebound, eight-assist, four-steal performance (against just one turnover). Three days before that, he had 22 points, nine rebounds, six assists, two steals and just two turnovers in the loss to Stanford. Before that, it was a modest 12/6/6 effort in the win over Oregon. It’s still early, but Payton leads the conference in steal percentage (4.2%) and assist rate (small sample size, but 40.7% is elite); he is also fourth in the conference in defensive rebounding percentage and 19th in offensive rebounding percentage (not bad for a wing). In short, Payton has been both the best and most entertaining player in the conference since New Year’s Day.

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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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Oregon State Preview: Can the Beavers Finally Break Out?

Posted by Michael Lemaire on November 6th, 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 Corvallis.

Oregon State Beavers

After years of sustained mediocrity under former head coach Craig Robinson, Oregon State took a (very) small step forward in its first season under new coach Wayne Tinkle. The Beavers may have won only 17 games and still finished below .500 in the Pac-12, but they did it with a roster returning just one meaningful contributor and quickly earned a reputation as one of the toughest defensive teams in the country. After surprising plenty of observers last season with their newfound competitiveness, Tinkle’s team isn’t going to sneak up on anyone this season. His squad not only returns almost every key player but also adds four of the top 150 recruits in the country. The result of those two things should be the addition of a little firepower to what was often a punchless offense. There are still a lot of moving parts that will be Tinkle’s responsibility to clean up and fit together, but all of a sudden the Beavers have become one of the deepest and most experienced teams in the Pac-12. If the freshmen can live up to even a portion of their hype and the trademark suffocating defense doesn’t disappear, the Beavers could find themselves in the NCAA Tournament by the end of the season.

Wayne Tinkle: Coach of the Year? (Godofredo Vasquez, USA Today)

Wayne Tinkle Has Oregon State Thinking About Dancing. (Godofredo Vasquez/USA Today)

Strengths: Tinkle has always been known for his hard-nosed approach on defense, but few could have predicted that last season’s roster full of question marks would quickly evolve into one of the 20 most efficient defenses in the entire country. Some of this is a byproduct of the super-slow pace that the Beavers play, but led by reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Gary Payton II, the Beavers harassed opposing teams into poor shooting nights, forced turnovers and protected the rim. The team allowed opponents to score 70 points or more just seven times all season, hounding opponents into shooting just 30 percent from downtown along the way. This year’s team should be at least as good defensively as it was last season. If the Beavers can keep the opposition off the free throw line — something at which they failed miserably last season — they should be even better. Also, aside from losing troubled but talented forward Victor Robbins, who was dismissed in June, Oregon State returns literally everyone who played meaningful minutes, giving Tinkle heavy doses of both depth and experience. This should allow the head coach the luxury of fitting the newcomers into places where they can succeed.  Lineups can also be mixed and matched in a way that enables the Beavers to compete with both big and small teams. Bottom line: If Oregon State can maintain its defensive efficiency this season, the Beavers should be competitive in every game they play. Read the rest of this entry »

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West Coast Bias: Pac-12 Media Day Happenings

Posted by Adam Butler on October 16th, 2015

They say the media doesn’t pay attention to anything that happens out West, but no such claim could be made yesterday. Here is a team-by-team breakdown of the 2015 edition of Pac-12 Media Day, in order of their appearance.

USC Trojans

You only take the podium first if you’re the commissioner or the last place team in the conference. Andy Enfield isn’t Larry Scott. His squad is the latter. Andy Enfield is interesting to me in that Enfield “won the presser.” He was the flashy hire meant to breathe life into a stale program. And then he spouted off about UCLA! Of course those remarks were “off the record” and not meant to be disseminated anywhere beyond his practice. Two years ago we thought he was every bit the flashy hire Pat Haden promised. They’ve won six conference games since and Enfield really hasn’t had a ton to say. This year, however, he seemed to receive more questions and have more to say. It was a refreshing change from the previous platitudes. And while he didn’t say much – and distinctly promised nothing – there seems to be optimism inside this program. They’re older, wiser, stronger, and presumably better. Enfield has a talented roster: How will it translate?

Washington Huskies

Another program with the allusion of optimism, but I maintain it’s going to be a long one in Seattle. They’re bringing in a top recruiting class and return a senior point guard, but the Huskies feel another year away to me. Which of course is not the seat you want to sit in when you’ve had four progressively worse seasons. It’s the seat of a team predicted to finish 11th by the media. But let’s talk about the important stuff: #Globalization. The PAC is sending its Dawgs to China for the first ever regular season game – collegiate or professional – in China. LoRo’s squad will square off against Shaka Smart’s first Longhorn team in an overseas battle. The Huskies, in fact, are taking classes in prep for this trip. Fact: Andrew Andrews seamlessly spoke Mandarin during Pac-12 Media Day. Fact: Malik Dime is bilingual and the best Mandarin speaker on the team (according to Andrews). And while these are all admirable things, they might not be enough to create a particularly good basketball team.

Lorenzo Romar's Team Will Begin A Do-Or-Die Season For Their Coach In China Against Texas (Photo: Seattle Times)

Lorenzo Romar Will Begin A Do-Or-Die Season In China Against Texas (Photo: Seattle Times)

Colorado Buffaloes

Tad walked in all smiles and I loved it. At Media Day, while there isn’t anything particularly stressful, it isn’t everyone’s favorite day. There are logistics, entrances, platitudes, smiles for the camera, and a lot of ‘hey howya doings.’ Media Day is polite. But Tad Boyle waltzed onto the stage with his senior leader, Josh Scott, and a genuine grin on his face. He said, “I was just sitting down with Josh in the waiting room right there, and I’m not sure I have a lot to say. I’m just ready to play.” And doesn’t that make sense? Colorado closed last season in joyless fashion, watching a plethora of players transfer and a senior – Askia Booker – decline an invitation to play in the CBI. About five months ago, there was little to smile about surrounding Colorado basketball. “Looking at last year, I think me and my teammates kind of had to evaluate where we went wrong as a group, and in looking at it, we were afraid to call each other out,” Scott said. Now winning doesn’t necessarily demand a bunch of guys telling each other they’re out of position or screwing up, but it doesn’t hurt to have the kind of trust where teammates work together towards a common goal. The Buffs might not be great this year, but it seems they might be working towards cohesion. And that’s got Tad smiling.

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