Who Won the Week? Two Undefeated Teams, But Certainly Not The Third…

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker) on February 7th, 2014

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Who Won the Week? is a regular column that outlines and discusses three winners and losers from the previous week of hoops. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.

WINNER: Wichita State

Cleanthony Early was outstanding for the Shockers. (AP)

Cleanthony Early was outstanding this week for the Shockers. (AP)

The nation’s winningest team cleared its toughest conference hurdle Wednesday night in defeating Indiana State in Terre Haute, led by senior forward Cleanthony Early’s 19 points. From here on, the Shockers have better than 50 percent odds to go undefeated in the regular season, according to KenPom.com, and about 35 percent odds to make it to the NCAA Tournament unblemished. Wichita State’s reign over the Missouri Valley has been so strong this year that only two teams – Missouri State and Indiana State – have even finished within 10 points of them. Tomorrow’s game at Northern Iowa is the toughest remaining tilt for the Shockers, which also sandblasted Evansville 81-67 last Saturday.

(Related winners: Gregg Marshall, whose stock will never be higher, even if he never wants to leave; the Missouri Valley, which is certain to get some more NCAA Tournament win shares, even without Creighton in the conference. Related losers: Indiana State, the MVC”s second-best team, which probably has to win Arch Madness to make the NCAAs; Evansville, perpetually anonymous in purple.)

LOSER: Arizona

Of the triumvirate of teams that came into last weekend undefeated, only two came out unscathed. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they weren’t one of them. Their road trip to California, the toughest game left on their schedule at that point, turned out to be undone by a last-second jumper from Golden Bears’ guard Justin Cobbs over center Kaleb Tarczewski, giving Cal a 60-58 win. That news was bad enough, but worse was what came after — that sophomore forward Brandon Ashley, a starter, had broken his foot during the game and would be out for the season. In Thursday’s 67-65 win over Oregon, Arizona looked disjointed offensively and saw star freshman Aaron Gordon injure his leg in a game in which he made just 2-of-11 free throws. The Wildcats actually trailed the disintegrating Ducks with just 90 seconds left before point guard T.J. McConnell made a three-pointer that gave them the lead for good. Sean Miller only played seven players, even accounting for Gordon’s injury, and its lack of depth could be problematic should more injuries arise or should fouls accumulate. It’s a shame to see this happen because a full-strength Arizona team looked to be head and shoulders above all but a few others around the country.

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Arizona Shows Off Its NCAA Tournament Credentials

Posted by Kenny Ocker on February 3rd, 2013

Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) is a journalist based in the Northwest who filed this story after Arizona’s win against Washington State in Pullman on Saturday night.

Halfway through its Pac-12 schedule, Arizona looks like a team prepared to make an impact come March. The Wildcats have wiggled their way back into a tie for the Pac-12 lead with Oregon despite losing in Eugene in mid-January. The one other loss came at home to UCLA two weeks later, but neither snowballed for Arizona. Instead, the Wildcats have run straight through everything that could have derailed the momentum they built up in the non-conference season with wins over Florida, Miami and San Diego State. Even on the road against Washington State, two days after a last-possession win against Washington, with Kevin Parrom ejected for elbowing Cougars guard DaVonte Lacy in the first half and star senior guard Mark Lyons picking up three first-half fouls, Arizona barely blinked, taking a 40-26 lead into halftime in Pullman, which led to a 79-65 win.

Solomon Hill had six three-pointers in the first half to lead Arizona back into a tie for first in the Pac-12.

Solomon Hill had six three-pointers in the first half to lead Arizona back into a tie for first in the Pac-12.

But what makes Arizona so good? Is it having senior leadership? Is it having a talented offense? Is it having a stingy defense? It seems to be all of those things. On a night where Lyons picked up four fouls by the 17-minute mark of the second half and Parrom was booted, fellow senior Solomon Hill filled in the gap for Sean Miller’s squad with six three-pointers – including a three-quarter-court heave at the halftime buzzer – finishing with 18 points. For the season, the trio is averaging around 36 points per game and are three of the Wildcats’ top four scorers, along with sophomore guard Nick Johnson. Arizona’s offense is one that benefits from its best-in-the-conference free-throw shooting, especially thanks to the fouls drawn by ball-handlers Lyons and Johnson, who can get into the lane at will. Once they get there, they capitalize at a team-wide 75 percent rate. That, combined with strong offensive rebounding, leads to the conference’s most efficient offense, despite average two-point and three-point shooting and pedestrian turnover numbers. Where the Wildcats stand out most is on the defensive end. They force turnovers on nearly one in five opponent possessions, allow 40 percent shooting and clear the boards better than anyone in the Pac-12. Johnson’s quick hands lead to more than two steals per game, and Hill averages just more than a steal per game.

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Pac 12 M5: 11.21.12 Edition

Posted by PBaruh on November 21st, 2012

  1. Although Colorado and Tad Boyle are pleased with their early season performance and championship in the Charleston Classic, not everyone is content on the Buffaloes. Wesley Gordon, a surprising redshirt freshman who many thought would impact the Buffaloes this year due to their lack of depth in the front court, has not been able to help the Buffaloes early on this year. Gordon chose to redshirt, but in the final of the classic against Murray State, the Buffaloes’ Andre Roberson and Josh Scott both got into foul trouble and Colorado had to rely on players like Xavier Johnson and Jeremy Adams to step up. Neither Adams Nor Johnson are 6’8″ and 225 pounds like Gordon and neither has the defensive ability that Gordon possesses. Even though Gordon did choose this on his own for betterment of the program, early on, he seems to be adjusting to his decision slowly.
  2. With the Oregon Ducks losing three starters in Devoe Joseph, Garret Sim, and Olu Ashaolu last year to graduation, there were doubts about this team, but the defense has picked up the slack to start off the year. For the second consecutive game, Oregon held their opposition to 20 points in the first half. Adding Arsalan Kazemi to a team with Tony Woods up front certainly has helped. The Ducks have registered 40 steals in their first four games and blocked 17 shots. Even better for Dana Altman, the players believe they have a long way to go still on defense, which isn’t good news for the rest of the Pac-12.
  3. The other team in Oregon, the Oregon State Beavers, are still dealing with the season-ending injury of Angus Brandt. Coach Craig Robinson seems unfazed by the injury as he still believes his team can make the NCAA Tournament. In Brandt’s absence, the Beavers will have to use more of the 6’9″  freshman Olaf Schaftnaar off the bench and most likely start other 6’7″ freshman Jarmal Reid in Brandt’s place. Additionally, the Beavers will need more out of Joe Burton, Eric Moreland, and Devon Collier. The Beavers are fine from a depth standpoint to replace Brandt, but they’ll need to improve their overall play up front to truly make Craig Robinson forget Brandt’s injury.
  4. As if the Washington State Cougars didn’t have enough trouble last night, getting dominated by Kansas 78-41, they also lost DaVonte Lacy to an apparent knee injury. Lacy left the game after only five minutes and was unable to play tonight in the Cougars’ 55-54 loss to Texas A&M, a result that could have changed were able to play. No news has come out yet on Lacy’s injury as he will be evaluated today in Pullman, but a loss of a starter and 8.5 PPG so far this year would be a major problem for the Cougars if he’s out for a prolonged period of time. Given that was Lacy is a major contributor for the team-wide project of finding a replacement for the dismissed Reggie Moore, the WSU problems at the lead guard position may have just gotten worse.
  5. Everything is still the same for Sean Miller down in Arizona. If you can shoot the lights out and score on offense, it won’t matter if you can’t play defense. That’s exactly Kevin Parrom‘s dilemma. Parrom went 5-5 from three putting up 15 points in 20 minutes, but Sean Miller said his playing time will be predicated on how he plays defense. The Wildcats gave up 14 threes to Long Beach and Parrom’s guarding of Long Beach’s shooting guards was a main reason for this. Parrom knows he has to improve on defense, and if he does, he will continue to see the floor. If not, guys like Jordin Mayes and freshman Gabe York are more than willing to steal some minutes.
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Pac-12 After the Buzzer: Panic in Tucson?

Posted by Connor Pelton on October 28th, 2011

The Lede.  In the “Did that just happen” category, we have the Seattle Pacific Falcons, who promptly marched into the McKale Center on Thursday night and stunned the Arizona Wildcats, 69-68, in the first Pac-12 exhibition game of the season. This wasn’t your usual “LeMoyne over Syracuse” upset, where a D-II team gets very lucky and catches multiple breaks. The Falcons came in with an excellent game plan, executed it to perfection, and just flat out-played the Cats for 40 minutes. SPU understandably came out tight, with the Wildcats scoring the first six points of the game and the Falcons not making a basket until Jobi Wall put home a three two and a half minutes in. From there until the final ten minutes of the SECOND half, it was all Falcons, building up a thirteen-point advantage that they would hold on to for most of the game.

Get 'Em Out of Your System Now, Coach... (credit: Az Republic/D. Kadlubowski)

Arizona would finally regain the lead at 63-61 with 4:03 left, but Wall put the Falcons back on top with a layup two minutes later. The last minute of the game was absolute nuts, beginning with Arizona’s Solomon Hill bringing the Cats to within three with a free throw with 23 seconds remaining. After an SPU miss on the free throw line, Arizona pulled within one on a layup with five seconds to go. The inbounds pass would then be intercepted at half court, but a desperation three at the buzzer by the freshman Nick Johnson would fall short, clinching the surprising one-point victory for the Falcons.
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