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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Pac-12 Halfway Home Awards

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on February 4th, 2015

The calendar has been flipped to February. The Super Bowl is in the rearview mirror. And all Pac-12 teams have nine conference games in the books. It’s a nice, tidy point to recap what we’ve seen so far and take a brief look ahead as the college basketball regular season takes the main stage (really, who actually watches regular season NBA games?) and we begin the downhill run to March Madness. We’ll be reconvening in Vegas before we know it.

Player of the Midyear

He May Not Be The "Best" Player In The Conference, But He's Arguably The Most Important (Arizona Athletics)

He May Not Be the “Best” Player in the Conference, But He’s Arguably the Most Important One (Arizona Athletics)

A couple weeks back, my friend and colleague Adam Butler drew a line in the sand and argued that Stanford’s Chasson Randle and Utah’s Delon Wright were the only two options for Pac-12 Player of the Year. I read that post. I enjoyed that post. I disagreed – and continue to disagree – with that post. Don’t get me wrong. Both of those guys are very much in the conversation for the award. Both of those guys are awesome. Both of those guys are part of the reason why I love college hoops so much. And both of those guys currently take a back seat to Arizona’s T.J. McConnell in my POY calculus. Look, I get it: McConnell is not actually the best player in the Pac-12. He’s not even the best player on his team (I’d give that honor to either Rondae Hollis-Johnson or Stanley Johnson – or maybe Rondley Jeffer-Hollisson). In considering a national All-American team, I’d certainly consider Wright and Randle, while leaving McConnell’s name on the cutting room floor. But “Player of the Year”? That title is so open to interpretation. Here’s what I know: Arizona is the best team in the conference. Take away one of Jefferson, or Johnson, or Brandon Ashley or Kaleb Tarczewski, and that sentiment still stands. Take away McConnell and the whole darn thing is bound to fall apart. He is the catalyst for everything that Arizona does well. He gets the ball in the hands of the right players. He sets the defensive tone. And when the rest of the team is sleep-walking through a first half against the biggest contender to Arizona’s throne, there’s McConnell putting his team on his back and serving as a human alarm clock. He’s not the best player in his conference. He’s not the best player on his team. But at this midway point, he’s my Player of the Year front-runner.

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A Swing Around the Pac-12 After Five Games

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 21st, 2015

Just a collection of thoughts, compiled over the course of the past two weekends of Pac-12 play.

Arizona – This Utah game actually set up really nicely for the Wildcats. Utah was on a roll and feeling invincible despite the fact that it hadn’t beaten a good team since early December. Arizona, meanwhile, had plenty to prove amid accusations of selfishness and overratedness. The ‘Cats weathered the storm early, rode T.J. McConnell while settling in, and then turned on the juice in the second half. But, really, there are two big takeaways from this game. First, my impression all year long was that this vintage of the Wildcats does not have the high-end defensive ceiling that last year’s team had. And then, I look up on January 17 and they’ve got basically the same defensive efficiency numbers as they had last season and just finished a game where they completely shut down everything Utah wanted to do. This squad still needs to prove an ability to bring that intensity on a regular basis, but they absolutely have the ability to be just about as good defensively as last year’s team (although I still have a concern that they don’t have the type of individual stoppers that they had in Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon). Offensively, my eyes tell me this team has some problems in the half-court and that, while Stanley Johnson is clearly the team’s most talented player, Sean Miller has yet to figure out a good way to find shots for him. Then I look at the stats and I see that this team is pretty much the same offensively as last year’s group, getting similar percentages of shots from all three ranges on offense. And the best part? They’re still feeling their way around. Make no mistake, Arizona in mid-January is still a top 10 team — maybe top five — and the exciting part is that the Wildcats have enough upside that they could be significantly better by March.

With Stanley Johnson Just Beginning To Reach His Potential, Arizona's Upside Is Staggering (Rick Scuteri, AP Photo)

With Stanley Johnson Just Beginning To Reach His Potential, Arizona’s Upside Is Staggering. (Rick Scuteri, AP Photo)

Utah – The Utes lost. Bury ‘em, right? Not so fast, but we do need to have a talk about a couple of players in particular. First Jordan Loveridge, the team’s junior power small forward. What’s to complain about? In the five Pac-12 games since he returned from injury, he’s averaging better than 10 points per game and shooting at a 54.2% eFG rate, knocking in 11-of-24 shots from deep. In that same time frame, he’s taken twice as many shots from behind the arc as he has from inside; he’s attempting free throws at about a third of the rate of his field goal attempts; and he’s grabbing a rebound about every five minutes. In short, Loveridge has gone from being one of the more promising interior players in the conference to a three-point shooting specialist. That’s about all he does anymore. I understand that at 6’6” his upside at the four is limited, and if he is ever going to play in the NBA, it will be at the three. But this is college ball. And while his ability to hit the three and pull bigs away from the hoop is a useful skill, it’s only a fraction of what Loveridge could be doing for this team. For what it’s worth, I promise that this is the last time I will rip a guy with an offensive rating of 115.0 and a three-point percentage of 47.5 percent. The other guy I want to touch on briefly is Jakob Poeltl. We still like him as a player: like his skills; like his effort; like his upside. And sure, NBA scouts love him. But he really needs a lot of work, especially in the weight room. He got pushed around by the Wildcats all night long on Saturday. And if you go back and look at the results, anytime he has gone up against long interior players (San Diego State, Kansas, UNLV, Colorado, Arizona, even BYU), he has struggled. You can’t really throw the ball into him in the post because he doesn’t know what to do with it yet, so you have to rely on him to get his own miss off the glass if he’s going to have any offensive impact, and he’s not strong enough to do that on a regular basis. He’s still an important part of this Utah team, but his major leap forward probably won’t come until next year, at which time he should hopefully still be in college. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 M5: 11.20.14 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 20th, 2014


  1. Arizona just keeps on rolling, and not just because the Wildcats knocked off Big West favorite UC Irvine in Tucson on Wednesday night, but because Sean Miller keeps dialing in elite recruiting classes. He’s already got four signees locked up and is working on adding more to next year’s class , and he’s already gotten a head start on a strong 2016 class with a verbal commitment from San Diego-area power forward T.J. Leaf. Leaf is a 6’9” combo forward with the size to play the four and the skill set to play the three. In fact, he cited Miller’s history of allowing his forwards to display a wide variety of skill sets as a big reason why he chose Arizona over other big-time schools like UCLA and Florida.
  2. Tad Boyle is getting to ready to welcome some young talent into his rotation, as freshman point guard Dominique Collier may see his first action in a Colorado uniform against Wyoming this weekend. Collier was suspended for the Buffaloes’ first two games of the season and has been dealing with a nagging ankle injury on top of that, but he’s finally practicing at full speed and ready to contribute. With Xavier Talton acquitting himself nicely in the early going, don’t expect Collier to jump into a huge role in the rotation right away. But the two-time Colorado Mr. Basketball is another talent who should make Boyle’s already deep bench even stronger.
  3. UCLA freshman Kevon Looney is another youngster that you’ll get to know a lot about this season. Through two games of his college career, the former McDonald’s All-American from Milwaukee is averaging 19.5 points and 11.5 boards per game for the Bruins, albeit against overmatched competition. Looney’s 7’5” wingspan certainly accounts for some of his naturally-gifted rebounding ability, and the fact that he’s so athletic factors in there too. According to his teammates, thought, what makes Looney so good on the glass are his simple instincts.
  4. Oregon State is off to its first 2-0 start since 2000-01, but with wins over the likes of Rice and Corban, it is not advisable to get too excited about this young team. Still, as Gary Horowitz of the Statesman Journal notes, this Beavers program is at least worth watching. With a bevy of athletic wings who can handle the ball, versatile legacy Gary Payton II and a few surprisingly skilled bigs, Wayne Tinkle has his team playing an entertaining brand of ball while laying the foundation for future success. Sure, there are plenty of losses on the team’s immediate horizon, but with a strong recruiting class due next season, this is at the very least a basketball program with a chance at a fairly bright future. One word of warning, however: It is going to get worse before it gets better.
  5. There’s another new head coach in the conference who is also in the midst of trying to turn a program around with very little talent. Ernie Kent has sweet-talked all the locals around the Washington State program, but an 0-2 start to the season with losses by an average of 20 points in a mini-tour of middle-of-the-road (at best) Texas schools quickly put a damper on any buzz around this year’s squad. Just watch how the tenor of tweets from the CougCenter contributors went downhill quickly as the Cougars’ 27-point loss to TCU progressed.
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