Pac-12 Weekly Honors: Week 15

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 4th, 2015

Each week the Pac-12 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, which typically will include a Team, Player and Newcomer of the Week, along with our weekly Power Rankings.

Team of the Week: Arizona

Arizona Earned Another Conference Title On The Strength Of A Full Team Effort (USA Today)

Arizona Earned Another Conference Title On The Strength Of A Full Team Effort. (USA Today)

Two teams in the conference went on the road and came away with sweeps last week. Alas, we can only pick one in this space, so we leave Oregon – and their likely NCAA Tournament-clinching week aside – to go with the team that locked up a share of the conference title by knocking off upstart Utah in Salt Lake City. After blowing out Colorado in a dominant performance with everybody contributing, Saturday night’s game was all about toughness. The Wildcats started fast and closed fast, taking home the Pac-12 title largely on the strength of their calling card, defense. In a one-point game down the stretch, the Wildcats held Utah without a point in their final four possessions to pull out the title-clinching win.

(Also receiving votes: Oregon)

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RTC Top 25: Week Fifteen

Posted by Walker Carey on March 2nd, 2015

The penultimate weekend of the college basketball regular season gave #1 Kentucky, #2 Virginia, #4 Villanova, #5 Arizona, #6 Wisconsin, and #9 Wichita State an opportunity to either a guaranteed a share of a conference title or the outright crown. Kentucky moved its record to 29-0 and earned the SEC regular season title on Saturday with a dominating 17-point home victory over #21 Arkansas. Virginia guaranteed itself at least a share of the ACC title with a Saturday matinee victory over Virginia Tech in Charlottesville. The Cavaliers will attempt to win the title outright for the second straight year, hitting the road this week for games at both Syracuse and #16 Louisville. Villanova rebounded from a seven-point halftime deficit at Xavier to earn its 10th consecutive win and clinch the outright Big East title for the second consecutive year. Arizona earned itself at least a share of the Pac-12 crown with one of the most impressive road victories of the season. The Wildcats went to #10 Utah and scored a thrilling 63-57 triumph on Saturday evening. Wisconsin wrapped up a share of the Big Ten title Sunday — aided tremendously by National Player of the Year candidate Frank Kaminsky’s season-high 31 points — with a home victory over Michigan State. Finally, Wichita State showed Saturday afternoon that it is still the class of the Missouri Valley with a 74-60 home win over #13 Northern Iowa. With just one week to go in the regular season, it will be intriguing to see if Virginia, Arizona, and Wisconsin can become the outright champions of their leagues as well as what will happen in the crazy Big 12 race.

This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump…

rtc25 w15

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Pac-12 Basketball Programs as Craft Breweries

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 2nd, 2015

I really like college hoops. I really like craft beer. I have no idea why I never had this idea before, but here’s a simple, fun game: go through each Pac-12 program and find the brewery most simpatico in style, substance, history and quality. Now, I’ve had my fair share of beers in fine establishments all over the West, but living in California with the sheer number of excellent breweries in this state, we’re going to wind up with plenty of choices from the Golden State on this list. It would be nice to pick more geographically-fitting breweries, but for instance, while there are plenty of fine Arizona breweries, none can match the quality and national importance of the home Wildcats, so we’ll have to go elsewhere for that comparison. And by no means have I got the finger on the pulse of every single craft brewery that has arisen. So, if you’ve got better comparisons in mind, I’m interested in hearing them, especially true toward the bottom of the list where I admittedly ran out of steam. Enough nonsense, let’s get to the list!

Much like the ubiquitious Lagunitas Brewing Company, Arizona fans are a national presence. (AP)

Much like the ubiquitous Lagunitas Brewing Company, Arizona fans are a national presence. (AP)

  • Arizona: Lagunitas Brewing. My first instinct was to go Russian River here, but comparatively speaking, Russian River is a niche brewer. It’s legendary and excellent, but it’s also pretty small. Lagunitas, by comparison, is a national power. It’s the fifth-largest craft brewer in the nation (and the 11th biggest brewery overall, even on a list with the big boys) and ubiquitous, yet it still manages to crank out superbly high quality beers without fail. And if you’ve ever done the brewery tour, you know that Lagunitas is definitely A Player’s Program. The only significant problem I find with this selection is that Lagunitas’ mascot is a dog.
  • UCLA: Sierra Nevada. If Arizona is Lagunitas, the Bruins have to be somebody equally as big, so we’ll go with the Chico mainstay. Sierra Nevada is an old school classic. This brewery has been around forever; it has great history; it’s still committed to quality. But let’s be honest, it’s also been bypassed by a handful of other institutions, and although they still shoot for the stars, sometimes it disappoints. Here’s one thing Sierra has over UCLA, though — unlike Pauley Pavilion, their tap room is never whisper quiet.
  • Utah: Epic Brewing. I have some reservations about comparing a basketball program with the history of the Utes to a Beehive State-based microbrewery given the lack of history that the state has with sensible alcohol laws. But I’ll rationalize this choice by saying that Epic, a brewery that formed after Utah slightly modernized its regulations over the last decade, is making history of its own. Plus, like the current Utes squad, the beers that Epic makes are big and bold.

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Previewing the Pac-12 Game of the Year: Arizona at Utah

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 28th, 2015

It’s the game of the year in the Pac-12, a battle between the top two teams — Arizona and Utah — with only a game separating them in the standings and a week to play. It’s also on the short list of the biggest games ever played in the Huntsman Center, quite a statement for a building with its long and illustrious history. Both teams have legitimate Final Four aspirations. Both teams have every expectation of being top three seeds when the brackets are announced on Selection Sunday. As many as four players in this game could hear their name called in the first round of the NBA Draft in June, each of those players with lottery potential. In short, on the final day of February, we’ll be treated to full-on March basketball. Let’s break it down, with three keys to tonight’s game.

Odds Are Good That Little Will Come Easy In Tonight's Collision in Salt Lake City

Odds Are Good That Little Will Come Easy In Tonight’s Collision in Salt Lake City

  • Home court advantage. Playing at just under 5,000 feet in Salt Lake City, the Utes enjoy quite a home court advantage at the Huntsman Center. They’ve won all 17 of their games there this season by an average of 24 points per outing. They’re outscoring teams there by an average of 0.40 points per possession. Only one team (Wichita State) has managed to keep within 14 of the Utes. And the MUSS will be rabid tonight. Despite all those considerations, the Wildcats are no slouches on the road. All three of their losses this season have come  in games where maybe they overlooked their opponents. Understand that there is no chance that the ‘Cats will overlook the Utes today. Still, the Utes will come out riding a wave of momentum following Senior Day ceremonies for Delon Wright and Dallin Bachynski. Their home fans will be load and raucous. Whenever Utah needs a shot of adrenaline in the middle of the game, the Huntsman Center will have its back. And perhaps most importantly against an Arizona team that really only wants to play six players, maybe that elevation could be a deciding factor down the stretch. We’ve certainly seen short-benched Arizona teams struggle against the Rocky Mountain schools in the past.

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RTC Weekly Primer: Who Can Make a Run in March?

Posted by Henry Bushnell on February 24th, 2015

It happens every year. Every single year. Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but more often than not, there comes a time in a college basketball season when the entire hoops world witnesses the birth of something. It can begin with a bang; but it can also begin innocuously. It can occur in plain sight; but it can also be the tree in the middle of a deserted forest. This birth, of course, is the preliminary stage of a postseason run. And the run, of course, is the one that in a few weeks time will be the talk of college basketball. Back in 2011, it was Shelvin Mack, Brad Stevens and Butler. In 2012, it was Lorenzo Brown and NC State. In 2013, it was very nearly Marshall Henderson and Ole Miss. A season ago, it was Jordan McRae and the upstart Tennessee Volunteers. NCAA Tournament runs usually don’t just appear out of thin air. Typically, there’s a backstory. In 2015, the time has come for those backstories to develop. Next month’s headlines will start formulating themselves right now.

Most Every Team is Looking For Its Butler Moment (USA Today Images)

Most Every Team is Looking For Its Butler Moment (USA Today Images)

Who will those headlines be written about this year? Who will be the team that sees everything come together at the right time? Who will be that team? It’s time to start considering some possibilities:

  • Georgetown – The Hoyas aren’t exactly in the same category as the Butlers and Ole Misses of years past, but they seem to be flying somewhat under the radar. Georgetown has the pieces to make a run. The Hoyas are a top-20 defensive team, boast an occasionally dominant post presence in senior center Josh Smith, and have a guard in D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera who can take over a game. After getting smoked by Villanova a couple weeks ago, they’ve now won three straight and have the week off to prepare for St. John’s in Madison Square Garden on Saturday. That’s the kind of win that could propel the Hoyas to a #4 or #5 seed and their first Sweet Sixteen (or better) run since 2007.
  • Indiana – Another team that is solidly in the NCAA Tournament, the Hoosiers certainly will never be considered a Cinderella story. But most projections have them as a #8 or #9 seed right now, meaning they aren’t being discussed as a legitimate contender either. This team has notable flaws in its personnel and it has a coach who many have questioned in recent years. But it’s also arguably got the most lethal backcourt in the country — just the type of thing that can carry a team on a surprising journey through March. The Hoosiers, which have struggled on the road but have been dynamite at home, travel to Northwestern on Wednesday night before a two-game home swing featuring Iowa and Michigan State. It’s really the perfect slate to build some March momentum.

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RTC Top 25: Week Fourteen

Posted by Walker Carey on February 23rd, 2015

Former Big East rivals #16 West Virginia and #18 Louisville probably turned in the most eventful week in college basketball. The Mountaineers jumped eight spots this week after earning victories against two ranked opponents, beginning on Monday when senior guard Juwan Staten made a layup with four seconds remaining to give his team a one-point home triumph over #8 Kansas. Bob Huggins’ squad followed that up on Saturday when it grabbed a nice 10-point win at Oklahoma State. Those two Big 12 wins moved West Virginia’s conference record to 9-5, which at this point still gives the Mountaineeers a glimmer of hope in the Big 12 race. While West Virginia’s week had a great week, Louisville experienced something of a media circus that concluded with the dismissal of one of its key players. First, news broke Tuesday evening that senior guard Chris Jones was suspended indefinitely and would not be with the team for Wednesday’s game at Syracuse. Predictably, Louisville blew a second half lead at the Carrier Dome and lost to the Orange by 10 points. Jones was then reinstated on Thursday for Saturday’s home game versus Miami (FL), a game in which Louisville overcame a 10-point halftime deficit on its way to a much-needed two-point win. Just when it seemed like things were returning to normal for Rick Pitino’s program, the school then announced on Sunday afternoon that Jones had been formally dismissed from the program. The Cardinals now have the unenviable task of finishing the balance of the regular season and the postseason without their senior point guard and one of their best offensive threats. College basketball is often where the unexpected happens, and that was certainly on display at Louisville last week.

This week’s Quick N’ Dirty Analysis after the jump…

rtc25 02.23.15

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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Best of the West: Top 25 Teams in the West

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 18th, 2015

We’re now less than four weeks from Selection Sunday, so it’s a good time to check back in with our Best in the West, with a special focus on these 25 teams’ NCAA Tournament prospects. If you haven’t seen this post before, we take all the schools west of the Rockies (basically the schools from the Pac-12, Mountain West, West Coast, and Big West Conferences, and then some of the schools from the Big Sky and Western Athletic Conferences) and list the top 25 teams. Rather than just ranking schools #1 though #25, though, we divide them into tiers, because, for instance, while one team may be ranked third overall and another fourth, there may be a huge gap between teams three and four. Below are ourTop 25 teams in the West (their overall rank will be in parentheses) with descriptions of what we think the teams in each tier have in common, plus brief comments on each and their NCAA Tournament hopes

The Best of the Best – In a league of their own.

Gonzaga is #2 in The AP Poll And In The Mix For A #1 Seed in March

Gonzaga is #2 in The AP Poll And In The Mix For A #1 Seed 

  • Gonzaga (#1 overall, WCC #1) – The Bulldogs are 26-1 with the lone defeat an overtime loss at the McKale Center on the first weekend of December. For me, an overtime road loss equates to a win in the grand scheme of things, so I’ve got Gonzaga slightly ahead of that team that came out on the good side of the scoreboard in Tucson. Admittedly, the rest of the Gonzaga resume is a little light. Their best win is, what, a road win at St. John’s? Or is it the one at BYU? Or maybe the one at UCLA? All of those are good wins to be sure, but none of those are mindblowingly great entries on the Zags’ balance sheet compared with the teams with whom they will be competing for a #1 seed. For instance, the other two teams in this category both have better wins and tougher overall schedules than the Zags. But if they’re able to get from here to Selection Sunday with a “1” on the right-hand side of that record (which would mean additional wins at Saint Mary’s, over BYU and then another over one of those two teams in the WCC Championship game, they’ll probably nose out either Arizona or Utah. Now, teams like Virginia, Duke, Wisconsin and Villanova (not to mention Kentucky) may be a different story.

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Pac-12 Weekly Honors: Week 13

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 17th, 2015

Each week the Pac-12 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, which typically will include a Team, Player and Newcomer of the Week, along with our weekly Power Rankings.

Team of the Week: Arizona

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson And The Wildcats Were Atypically Awesome This Week

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson And The Wildcats Were Atypically Awesome This Week

You go on the road and get a sweep in the Pac-12, then you’re our Team of the Week. So, welcome back, Wildcats. The fact that they won both weekend games against the Washington schools by an average of more than 25 points per game is just icing on the dominant, dominant cake. With all of its long and athletic stoppers littered around the roster, team defense has never really been a question mark for Arizona this season. But as we make the turn into the home stretch of the regular season, the Wildcats are starting to also put together some terrific offensive performances. This week the ‘Cats return to Tucson to host the Los Angeles schools, including our lone scheduled renewal of the Arizona-UCLA rivalry game on Saturday. All of which is just preamble for a renewal of my complaint about UCLA and Arizona only being scheduled once in a season. It may take some fancy scheduling or creative thinking and it may have the side effect of forcing USC-Arizona State upon as twice every year — but for the good of both programs, for the good of the conference, for the good of the sport and for the love of all that is good and holy, get these two teams scheduled against each other twice every season. Read the rest of this entry »

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RTC Weekly Primer: UNC-Duke, No. 1 Seeds, and a Tight Bubble

Posted by Henry Bushnell on February 17th, 2015

They say time flies when you’re having fun, so by the transitive property, they might as well say time flies during college basketball season. But seriously, this season seems to have sped by. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe it’s because a busy schedule has eaten up my down time. Maybe it’s something subconscious. But I genuinely feel like conference play just started and yet we’re already approaching March. The logical explanation for that? Maybe it’s because the overarching narratives of the season have been in constant flux. Or — another way of putting it — maybe it’s because Selection Sunday is just 25 days away and we really only know one thing: Kentucky is good. Really good. After that, everything is tight — tight with two heavily enunciated ‘t’s. According to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, eight teams have a 25 percent or greater chance at a No. 1 seed, but only Kentucky’s odds surpass 60 percent. And moving down the hierarchy, there’s just so much additional uncertainty. There’s been a definitive top eight for over a month now, and nobody below that threshold appears too intent on breaking into it. Teams like Iowa State and North Carolina have invariably followed up big wins with baffling losses, and teams like Utah and Louisville simply haven’t separated themselves in a meaningful way. Even further down the Top 25, the bubble is nothing more than a mess. But that’s the case every year. And even as all-encompassing as it is right now, there are bound to be teams that stage late surges to put themselves in contention. There are also bound to be teams that spin out of control in the other direction. To put it succinctly… there is bound to be madness. That might as well be a slogan for college hoops in general, but especially this year.

The Only Thing We Know For Certain is that Kentucky is Really Good (USA Today Images)

The Only Thing We Know For Certain is that Kentucky is Really Good (USA Today Images)

One for the Money

North Carolina at Duke | Wednesday, 9:00 PM EST, ESPN

No matter which team you root for, no matter where you live, there’s only one game this week that is must-watch television. And even if Dickie V. won’t be on the call, you have to tune in for the first of two battles between North Carolina and Duke. When you think of college sports, almost all of the notions of amateur athletics are embodied by the Tobacco Road rivalry. Games are played with passion and intensity. They are played with unrelenting pressure and in front of hostile crowds. They are played enveloped by the shadows of history, in front of legends and ghosts of years past. They are laden with folklore and religiously maintained traditions. They turn the otherwise forgotten into heroes and the otherwise successful into villains. The Duke-Carolina games are as singularly powerful as nearly any regular season game in any sport, and this year’s annual rite of passage begins Wednesday night.

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Marching to Vegas: Keep Watching

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) on February 11th, 2015

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

I suppose it’s not a comfort that’s befallen me so much as an acceptance. I first recognized the Pac-12’s general ineptitude as I found myself unaware of game schedules, player success (or otherwise) and disinterest in the whole thing. Let’s also be serious that I was still paying attention. Close attention. And I still want to. After all, we’re not at 2012 levels where just three players wound up drafted and Jorge Gutierrez was the conference Player of the Year. Washington was not invited to dance despite winning the regular season title. This is a story lead that could last forever. Alas, we’re not there but we have the excuse to excuse the rest of this season. It’s more than likely that your team is fighting for a three lettered tournament, at best. What’s there to support? What’s there to watch? The Pac-12 has hosted the highest percentage of in-conference blowouts. Where’s the intrigue? Let me tell you.

Pac-12 Basketball: It's Grrr-... Well, It's Okay.

Pac-12 Basketball: It’s Grrr-… Well, It’s Okay.

Now let’s preface this by saying that I don’t love the format of this column. I generally prefer to tell a story with words and numbers. But I also don’t like to watch middling college basketball teams in the Conference of Champions so I’m cool with it. A list it is. Six reasons to continue watching Pac-12 basketball in 2015:

1. Byes. Not Byes as in “saying goodbye to the 2015 season,” but rather, who among the muck will rise to finish in the third and fourth slots? The top-four seeds receive a Wednesday bye in Las Vegas. Have you ever tried to stay four nights in Vegas? Near impossible. You want the bye. So who’s in the running? The primary candidates are Oregon and Stanford (we’re ignoring Arizona and Utah, as they’re essentially locked in). The Ducks collected a big last-second win on Wednesday, improving to 6-4 in conference play. The rest of their schedule is road heavy but doesn’t include any more games against Arizona and they’ll host Utah. The team ahead of Oregon in the standings, Stanford, had seemed to be a lock to finish in the top three, but after a loss to Washington State I’m not so sure. Oh, then they lost at home to UCLA, a team which is now knocking on the bye door. This is usually the part where we note the wildcard teams, but then I’d be laying out a power rankings of unpowerful teams. Right now, there is a four-way tie for third. In all honesty, keep an eye on Arizona State and ignore USC.

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RTC Weekly Primer: Road Warrior Week as Pressure Mounts at the Top

Posted by Henry Bushnell on February 10th, 2015

As we approach Selection Sunday — and, yes, it is now a mere 33 days away — two ends of the spectrum dominate the college basketball conversation. One of those is the bubble. The other, of course, is the top line. And while it’s a bit too early to paint a decipherable picture of those teams vying for positions in the play-in games, the competition for the four No. 1 seeds is beginning to take shape. There appear to be three solid bets. Kentucky is near-lock. Virginia, with only one loss — a good loss, mind you — and a handful of impressive wins, is another. And Gonzaga, despite a relatively weak conference slate, is a third. Even if the Zags were to suffer one more defeat along the way, they might still be safe in a position on the top line. The fourth spot, however, is truly up for grabs. On the back of a splendid array of wins away from home, Duke would appear to be the front-runner. But Wisconsin, Kansas, Arizona and Villanova aren’t too far behind the Blue Devils. If the Badgers run the table the rest of the way — a real possibility — they’d make the committee’s job on this decision excruciating. Villanova could also cause a few headaches if they enter the discussion as a two-loss team. And Kansas, with its top-ranked schedule and plethora of top-50 wins, could close the season at No. 1 in the RPI. The pressure is on at the top. We’ll see which teams can handle it.

Gonzaga Continues to Roll Along to a Likely #1 Seed (USA Today Images)

Gonzaga Continues to Roll Along to a Likely #1 Seed (USA Today Images)

Road Warrior Week

This week isn’t overflowing with marquee matchups, so we’ll forgo Three for the Money in favor of a more general theme. It’s road warrior week. Duke got things started on Monday night when it went to Florida State and escaped with a narrow victory in Tallahassee. Some other top-10 teams this week might not be so fortunate, as eight of those — including the Blue Devils — will play on the road at an unranked team between Monday and Friday. It starts on Tuesday night when Kentucky travels to LSU; Notre Dame makes the long trek to Clemson; Kansas plays at Texas Tech; and Wisconsin heads to Nebraska. Kentucky perhaps faces the stiffest test of all. LSU, an up-tempo squad with a big and physical front line, will try to get out in transition and score before Kentucky can set up its suffocating half-court defense. Notre Dame, however, is the most likely of the four to lose. The Fighting Irish are only three-point favorites against the Tigers, a hard-luck team that has lost a bunch of close games this year. Wisconsin revisits the site of last year’s memorable Cornhuskers upset on ‘no-sit Sunday.’

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RTC Rewind: Celebrating the Life of a Legend, Duke-Kentucky, Arizona’s #1 Seed Hit…

Posted by Henry Bushnell on February 9th, 2015

One thousand. Two weeks ago, this column and many more around the country led with that number. Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski had just become the first men’s college basketball coach to reach the 1,000-win plateau on an historic Sunday at Madison Square Garden, and in the aftermath, Coach K and that number were the talk of the sports world.

The Basketball World Paused on Sunday to Honor Dean Smith's Passing (USA Today Images)

The Basketball World Paused on Sunday to Honor Dean Smith’s Passing. (USA Today Images)

Today we celebrate another ACC legend. But we do so for a different reason, and in a different tenor. We’ll get to the basketball soon enough, but as you’ve probably heard by now, legendary North Carolina coach Dean Smith — a former rival of Krzyzewski’s — passed away on Saturday. He was 83. Since the news broke Sunday morning, messages extolling Smith’s many virtues have come from far and wide. They’ve come from former players and adversaries, columnists and commentators, even from the President of the United States. Many of us have mourned college basketball’s loss, but even more have celebrated a life that so special to so many people. And that’s what this should be: a celebration.

Like Krzyzewski, Smith was obviously an outstanding basketball coach. He was innovative, sharp and bold — and, without question, driven by his competitiveness. He too set a number of records while at the helm in Chapel Hill, but those accomplishments are only the subtext to the discussion. That’s because Smith wasn’t defined by his numbers, as good as they were. Ask anybody who knew the man, and they’ll tell you the same thing: Dean Smith was defined by the way in which he impacted the lives of others. He was defined by stories of grace, loyalty and sincerity. Smith coached before my time. But it’s through those stories that I have gotten to know him, and it is those stories that allow everybody — well beyond the entire college hoops community — to recognize how truly wonderful a man he was. I can’t relate those anecdotes myself, but others — like ESPN‘s Dana O’Neil and The Washington Post‘s John Feinstein — have. And they’re beautiful.

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