Pac-12 Post-Mortems: Stanford

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 24th, 2014

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll go through each Pac-12 team one by one and recount the season that has just completed and begin to turn the page to what we might see next season. Today, Stanford.

What Went Right

It wasn’t always pretty, and you probably still can’t say that this Stanford team ever consistently played up to its potential, but Johnny Dawkins and his senior class finally got to the NCAA Tournament. And they didn’t stop there, beating two solid teams – New Mexico and Kansas – in the Big Dance in order to earn an unlikely Sweet Sixteen appearance. The team was well-balanced on both ends of the court; Chasson Randle took that long-awaited next step in his personal development; and Dwight Powell eventually slid into a new role in order to begin potentially a new era for Stanford basketball.

Chasson Randle Had A Breakout Season In Leading The Cardinal To The Sweet Sixteen (Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP Photo)

Chasson Randle Had A Breakout Season In Leading The Cardinal To The Sweet Sixteen (Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP Photo)

What Went Wrong

One major problem plagued the Cardinal all year: team-wide inconsistency. We saw it early in the season when the team decided to forgo any inkling of defense in a loss to BYU while giving up 112 points; or a couple weeks later when they were unable to come up with any more than a half worth of good basketball in Brooklyn in the Legends Classic; or in conference play where they backed up their non-conference accomplishments with an 0-2 start in the Pac-12. Nowhere was this more evident than in the Sweet Sixteen where, coming off of a win over Kansas, the Cardinal had a beatable Dayton team between them and a date with the Elite Eight. What happened? The Flyers scored at will against the Cardinal; Randle was at his brick-tastic worst; and Dawkins and company let a big opportunity slip away without much of a fight.

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Pac-12 Post-Mortems: UCLA

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 23rd, 2014

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll go through each Pac-12 team one by one and recount the season that has just completed and begin to turn the page to what we might see next season. Today, UCLA.

What Went Right

Although it took some time to get there, this Bruins team coalesced nicely as the season wore on. Kyle Anderson turned into an All-American talent while the pieces around him were, by and large, rock solid. Team chemistry was light years better than under the previous administration, and eventually Steve Alford’s first team in Westwood won over a wary fan base. While a Sweet Sixteen appearance is not going to earn accolades from the most jaded fans, the first year of the Alford era was definitely a step forward for the program.

Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams Were Vital To UCLA's Success (Don Liebig/ASUCLA Photography)

Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams Were Vital To UCLA’s Success (Don Liebig/ASUCLA Photography)

What Went Wrong

Honestly, for this program and with this team, a loss in the Sweet Sixteen to a #1 seed isn’t exactly an underachievement. Sure, maybe a better performance by the Bruins’ frontcourt against Florida could have extended their season, and maybe Alford made some substitution errors in dealing with some minor foul trouble in that game. Certainly there were some defensive breakdowns too (how does Michael Frazier get that wide open that often?). But all told, Alford got about what he should have gotten out of this season’s UCLA club.

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Pac-12 Post-Mortems: Oregon

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 21st, 2014

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll go through each Pac-12 team one by one and recount the season that has just completed and begin to turn the page to what we might see next season. Today, Oregon.

What Went Right

Bringing in offense-first transfers like Joseph Young, Jason Calliste and Mike Moser, it became clear that this was going to have to be a team that outdid opponents with relentless offense before the Ducks even played a game. And, for the most part, Dana Altman’s squad did just that. With little in the way of an offensive post player and few on the roster interested in hard-nosed defense, this became a team that wanted to get up and down the floor, find early looks for any number of shooters, get to the line on a regular basis, and score, score, score. When it worked, which it did often, the result was an entertaining, if at times frustrating, display of basketball.

Joseph Young Led The Way For The Offensive-Minded Ducks (AP Photo)

Joseph Young Led The Way For The Offensive-Minded Ducks (AP Photo)

What Went Wrong

As good as this team was offensively, the Ducks were pretty bad defensively. In 21 of 34 games, the Ducks allowed their opponent to score better than a point per possession and Oregon went just 11-10 in those games. Only five times all year did it hold a top-100 KenPom team under a point per possession. Part of this was a result of the make-up of the roster – undersized players and offense-first (if not –only) mindsets – but part of it also had to do with circumstance. Sophomores Dominic Artis and Ben Carter were suspended for the first nine games of the season for receiving improper benefits, and those two guys, particularly Artis, may have been among the team’s three best defensive players. In the end, while the Ducks poured in a superb 1.18 points per possession against a good Wisconsin defense in the NCAA Tournament, their own lack of defense was their downfall, as they allowed the Badgers to score 1.31 points per possession to win the game. Read the rest of this entry »

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Get to Know Cuonzo Martin: Cal’s New Head Coach

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 16th, 2014

With the sudden announcement on Tuesday that California had hired Cuonzo Martin – last seen taking Tennessee to the Sweet Sixteen – as their new head coach, the Pac-12 coaching carousel appears to be done for the year, barring a major surprise. After names like Chris Mooney, Chris Mack, Russell Turner, Eric Musselman and, last season’s associate head coach under Mike Montgomery, Travis DeCuire, were brought up and discarded, landing a talented young coach like Martin is a strong hire for Cal and its athletic director, Sandy Barbour. And Martin isn’t headed to Berkeley alone, as before he was even officially announced as the new guy, 7’1” recruit Kingsley Okoroh released the news that he would be changing his commitment from Tennessee to California. There’s a lot to get to, so let’s jump right in.

Cuonzo Martin's Name Came Out Of Nowhere As California's Choice For Head Coach (msn.foxsports.com).

Cuonzo Martin’s Name Came Out Of Nowhere As California’s Choice For Head Coach (msn.foxsports.com).

First, Martin hadn’t really even been on the radar for the Cal job until Tuesday morning, as the hot name had been primarily Mooney. But he was anxious to get away from Tennessee, where he was never embraced despite good success there: In three seasons, he logged three postseason appearances including one NCAA Tournament appearance (in which his team advanced to the Sweet Sixteen), and one year where the Volunteers were the first team left out of the Big Dance, all while taking over a program that Bruce Pearl had left in something of a mess. Still, Volunteers fans started an online petition (with 36,000+ signees) before the season was over to fire him and bring back Pearl, so his ducking out the door despite recently pledging his commitment to the program is no big surprise. In fact, the players who battled for Martin this season came out to publicly support his decision to move on. For Martin, really, this is a no-brainer. With the Vols losing seniors Jordan McRae, Jeronne Maymon and Antonio Barton, and with Jarnell Stokes heading to the NBA a year early, Martin gets out of town, signs a new, secure contract and gets a minimum of three or four years to prove that he is worthy of an extension at Cal.

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Pac-12 Post-Mortems: Utah

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 15th, 2014

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll go through each Pac-12 team one by one and recount the season that has just completed and begin to turn the page to what we might see next season. Today, Utah.

What Went Right

For the first time since Larry Krystkowiak took over a shell of a program from Jim Boylen, Utah basketball fans had a team that they knew could be competitive night in and night out. Of the Utes’ 12 losses this season, seven were by a single possession. The talent level is clearly back to the point where the Utes can be competitive in the Pac-12, defense has become a priority, and the future appears bright.

In His Third Season In Salt Lake City, Larry Krystkowiak's Squad Began To Turn The Corner (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

In His Third Season In Salt Lake City, Larry Krystkowiak’s Squad Began To Turn The Corner (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

What Went Wrong

So, those seven losses by a single possession? Well, that’s not good, is it? Time and time again, the Utes had chances to win close games down the stretch, and time and time again they wound up with losses in those games. Their record in games decided by a single possession was 0-7. They lost all three of their overtime games. And only six times all season did they win games decided by fewer than 10 points. In other words, unless the Utes were blowing out their opponent, odds were good that they were losing. Chalk some of that up to bad luck, another portion to a young team still learning to win games, and more to some coaching breakdowns. But the good news is that if next year’s Utes can find some ways to win those close games, they should be looking at a very good record.

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Pac-12 Post-Mortems: Washington State

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 14th, 2014

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll go through each Pac-12 team one by one and recount the season that has just completed and begin to turn the page to what we might see next season. Today, Washington State.

What Went Wrong

Lots. The Cougars finished the season 140th in the nation in defensive efficiency, and they were far better on the defensive end of the court than they were on the offensive end. If you just look through the Washington State KenPom page and sort through all the stats, the only place where you see any type of green (which means good) is in its defensive rebounding numbers. Everywhere else it is red. Shooting the ball; keeping the other team from shooting ball well; turning it over; getting to the foul line; not fouling defensively; shooting the three; shooting the two; shooting the one; blocking shots; creating steals. In none of these areas (and more) were the Cougars even an average basketball team. Thus, it should be no surprise that they lost 17 of their final 21 games and Ken Bone is now the former head coach at Washington State.

It Was A Rough Season For Ken Bone And The Cougars, And The Washington State Program Will Now Move On Without Him (AP)

It Was A Rough Season For Ken Bone And The Cougars, And The Washington State Program Will Now Move On Without Him (AP)

What Went Right

Not much. Above we mentioned that the one area where Washington State was very good was defensive rebounding, in large part due to the efforts of senior center D.J. Shelton (third in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage). So there was that. Beyond that, the only other bright spot is something we’ll get to in our next bullet point.

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Pac-12 Post-Mortems: Arizona State

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 10th, 2014

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll go through each Pac-12 team one by one and recount the season that has just completed and begin to turn the page to what we might see next season. Up first, Arizona State.

What Went Right

Jermaine Marshall and Shaquielle McKissic were largely excellent in their only seasons in Tempe (McKissic will be petitioning the NCAA for an additional season of eligibility). Jordan Bachynski capped his stellar Sun Devils career with his best season and an all-time conference record for career blocked shots. And Herb Sendek and the Sun Devils earned their first NCAA Tournament appearance since James Harden was on campus.

Arizona State

Arizona State Went Dancing, But It Ended With a Heartbreaking Putback by Texas

What Went Wrong

Still, despite that major accomplishment, you’ve got to feel that this team left money on the table at the end of the year. First, just the way they lost their NCAA Tournament game, falling to Texas on a buzzer-beater when the Longhorns’ last two buckets came on offensive rebounds after airballs – ouch! And Jahii Carson, the team’s best player and arguably a more talented player than what he showed, struggled through a rough season, with questions about his game confirmed and others about his leadership raised anew. Sendek did a solid job with this team, a squad that had some obvious holes in it. But still, this feels like a team that had an NCAA Tournament win (or two) in them but failed to get the job done.

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Farewell, and Thank You, to Pac-12 Writer Connor Pelton

Posted by AMurawa on April 9th, 2014

As the 2013-14 season wraps up, so too does the third season of the Rush the Court Pac-12 microsite. And, as we put a bow on another great college basketball season, we also have reached an end of an era here in our own small little corner of the college hoops universe, as my right-hand man here for the past three seasons, Connor Pelton, will be moving on to greener pastures. Connor and I have had more than a little help manning the RTC Pac-12 beat (dap to Parker Baruh, Adam Butler, Kenny Ocker, and others), but by and large, if you’ve read much about Pac-12 basketball at Rush the Court the past three years, it’s likely been the two of us you’ve been reading. Along the way, we’ve spent time disagreeing about Tony Wroten, Jahii Carson and Joseph Young, etc., bemoaning the failures of the conference we write about, and generally having a lot of fun. While Connor’s input here will be greatly missed, we wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors. And you can bet we’ll be bugging him on the regular to send us over a guest post every now and then.

As for the offseason plans, we’ve got team-by-team post-mortems planned for the near future and posts as events warrant them, so be sure to check back in between now and next season as we continue to keep you up to date on the trials and tribulations of the Pac-12 conference.

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Your Way-Too-Early 2014-15 Pac-12 Power Rankings

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on April 9th, 2014

Another season in the books; another Pac-12 disappointment. We’ve got plenty of time to look back on the 2013-14 season, but it is onward and upward from here as we briefly look ahead to next year. We’re still not entirely sure exactly which of the players we watched this year will move on to greener pastures, and there are sure to be some surprise transfers (both incoming and outgoing) ahead of us, but in the days after the national championship, it is time to start dreaming about the 2015 NCAA Tournament. Below are our way-too-early Pac-12 power rankings.

Arizona's Back In The Familiar Spot of A 1-Seed And An NCAA Favorite (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

McConnell, Hollis-Jefferson, and Tarczewski, Among Others, Make Arizona The Pac-12 Favorite Again (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

  1. Arizona – Sure, Aaron Gordon’s stay in Tucson was brief. And yeah, Pac-12 Player of the Year Nick Johnson may join him in the NBA. But barring some surprises, five of the following six players are going to be comprising Sean Miller’s starting lineup next season: T.J. McConnell, Gabe York, Stanley Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Brandon Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski. Goodness gracious sakes alive, that is a lot of talent. And, the West Regional will not be held in Anaheim next season, so let’s go ahead and pencil Miller and his Wildcats into his first-ever Final Four.
  2. Stanford – Johnny Dawkins and company broke through this year with their first NCAA Tournament appearance under the current regime. And while some important players move on, a returning nucleus of combo guard Chasson Randle, wing Anthony Brown and big man Stefan Nastic is solid. Throw in a recruiting class with four different four-star recruits (as ranked by ESPN) and a bevy of talented returning youngsters and we’ll make the Cardinal the best bet in the league to challenge the Wildcats. Read the rest of this entry »
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Assessing an Awkward Coaching Situation in Corvallis

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on April 2nd, 2014

Craig Robinson said these words following Oregon State‘s season ending loss against Radford, a game played in front of fewer than 1,500 fans in Corvallis.

That game ended his sixth season in Corvallis, with no single campaign resulting in a postseason finish higher than the CBI, and comprising the lowest attendance totals in Gill Coliseum history. Needless to say, Beaver fans aren’t happy and would like to see a change. Still, with that all laid out on the table, I thought Robinson’s joke was hilarious. Timely, self-deprecating, and unexpected — a perfect combination for a laugh in my book. Unfortunately, his boss, athletic director Bob DeCarolis, did not find it as humorous, which is understandable since he has been in Robinson’s corner since day one. “A bad joke at a bad time,” he said the next day. A little over a week later, DeCarolis penned a letter to his biggest boosters, telling them that he had chosen to retain Robinson as head coach for another season.

The relationship between Robinson, the athletic department and Oregon State fans has grown incredibly awkward. The coach needs fans to buy tickets in order to attract recruits. The fans have stopped coming until they start to see a winning product. And there won’t be a winning product until the recruits head to Corvallis. It’s a vicious cycle, one that Robinson has been tasked with breaking. What he doesn’t seem to understand is that his mouth is getting him in trouble. And I’m not talking about his joke to reporters last month. It’s the other quotes like, “Next year’s team could be ranked in the Top 25.” Not likely when he loses Roberto Nelson, Devon Collier, and Angus Brandt. Or, “If Eric Moreland returns, we will be one of the top teams in the conference.” He’s already building in excuses for next season six months before practice even starts. No one wants to hear that. And then there is his agent, Rick Giles, saying that the 2013-14 Beavers were “two wins away from the NCAA Tournament.” Um, try two wins away from the NIT — maybe. The empty promises, excuses, and over-inflated expectations aren’t cute anymore. It’s annoying and a waste of time.

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Pac-12 Coaching Turnover: Montgomery Out; Kent In; Robinson Holds

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on April 1st, 2014

At the end of the Pac-12 Tournament, it seemed like we would get through this offseason with just one Pac-12 head coaching change – Washington State, where Ken Bone’s five-year run in Pullman was coming to an end. There was some smoke around the status of Oregon State head coach Craig Robinson, but conference commissioner Larry Scott seemed to put a damper on that notion prior to the Pac-12 title game when he announced that Robinson and his staff would be coaching a team of barnstorming Pac-12 stars in China later this year. Elsewhere around the conference, it seemed like continuity was the rule of the day.

In 32 Seasons as a Division I Head Coach, Montgomery Had Just One Losing Season (Ben Margot, AP)

In 32 Seasons as a Division I Head Coach, Montgomery Had Just One Losing Season (Ben Margot, AP)

Then on Sunday, as college basketball fans were enjoying a day of great Elite Eight competition, word snuck out that the dean of Pac-12 coaches, Mike Montgomery, was weighing the possibility of stepping down from his position at California. That possibility became a fact on Monday when Montgomery announced his retirement. His accomplishments are legion, including 32 seasons of Division I basketball coaching and winning records in 31 of those campaigns. In 1986, he took over a Stanford program that hadn’t been to an NCAA Tournament in 45 years and was coming off a 23-loss season and turned it into an NCAA Tournament team in just his third season there. All told, there were 12 NCAA Tournament bids at Stanford (including at least one NCAA win in his last 10 seasons on The Farm), one trip to the Final Four (1998, behind Arthur Lee, Kris Weems, Peter Sauer, Mark Madsen and Tim Young), an Elite Eight, and 677 career wins. He coached in the Pac-12 for 24 years and ranks third on the all-time wins list in conference play behind only Lute Olson and John Wooden. He retires as the best coach in Stanford basketball history and the best coach at Berkeley since the legendary Pete Newell.

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Disappointing Endings For Arizona, UCLA, and Stanford, But The Future Is Bright

Posted by AMurawa on March 31st, 2014

Six NCAA Tournament teams, three Sweet Sixteen seasons, one Elite Eight appearance and yet when the final quartet of teams still standing show up at the Final Four next weekend in North Texas, there will not be a Pac-12 team among them. This will now mark the sixth consecutive season (dating back to the last of UCLA’s three straight last decade) where college basketball’s premier weekend will dance away without a Pac-12 partner. So, yeah, Pac-12 fans, in a year where the hope was that the Pac was back, you’re right to feel some disappointment.

Worse yet, along with outgoing seniors like Roberto Nelson and Justin Cobbs and Mike Moser and C.J. Wilcox, the conference has also seen the last of guys like Kyle Anderson and Aaron Gordon and Jahii Carson and Zach LaVine with guys like Nick Johnson, Jordan Adams, Joseph Young, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson still weighing their options. But you know what? These are good things. It hurts to see guys like these go, but such is the nature of the beast. And in the long run, a program like Arizona providing an appealing and welcoming temporary landing spot for a player the caliber of Gordon will make it more likely that future Aaron Gordons will wind up playing for Sean Miller as well. And, in the great circle of life that is college athletics, out goes Gordon, in comes Stanley Johnson; rinse and repeat.

While Aaron Gordon's Time In Tucson Is Short, His Success Will Pay Dividends For the Arizona Program

While Aaron Gordon’s Time In Tucson Is Short, His Success Will Pay Dividends For the Arizona Program

Below, three quick thoughts on the status of the three Pac-12 schools whose seasons ended this past weekend in the NCAA Tournament.

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