Rushed Reactions: #1 Duke 66, #2 Gonzaga 52

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 29th, 2015

RTC National Columnist Bennet Hayes is in Houston this week for the South Regional semifinals and final.

Three Key Takeaways.

Both Jones' -- Tyus And Matt -- Were Instrumental In Duke's Elite Eight Victory Over Gonzaga (Photo: Duke Chronicle)

Both Jones’ — Tyus And Matt — Were Instrumental In Duke’s Elite Eight Victory Over Gonzaga (Photo: Duke Chronicle)

  1. Offenses Fail To Get Going, Again. In Friday night’s regional semifinals, four teams that began the night among the 65 most accurate three-point shooting teams in the country combined to shoot 23 percent from long-range. Much was made of the clumsy dome setup inducing the offensive malaise, but the forecast for Sunday was still for efficient offense by the bucket-load, given the firepower Duke and Gonzaga brought to the table. The two teams got off to a fast start – 22 points in the first five minutes – but things settled down significantly from there on out. Gonzaga and Duke combined to shoot 41 percent from the floor, including just 38 percent for the victorious Blue Devils. Duke did do two things extremely well offensively: shoot the ball accurately from three-point range (8-19) and maximize possessions (an amazing three total turnovers for the game). Gonzaga was less proficient in each category, making only two of 10 three-point attempts and turning the ball over 13 times. There were glimpses of the offensive brilliance we witnessed from both these teams all season, but this regional final never escalated into the explosive matchup many expected.
  2. Matt Jones, Who? Matt Jones. The Duke sophomore supplied the game of his life in this Regional Final. Jones, who entered Sunday averaging just 5.9 points per game, finished with 16 points (one shy of his season and career highs) and converted four of Duke’s eight made three-point field goals. With Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones again struggling to find the range from deep (combined 2-8 on three-point attempts), Jones’ unexpected scoring was crucial in getting the Blue Devils into the final minutes with a lead. Mark Few said afterwards that concerns about guarding Justise Winslow had led to Gonzaga to do a significant amount of cross-matching with Kyle Wiltjer defending Jones, a reasonable coaching decision that devolved into a disastrous result for the Zags. Jones, Duke’s fifth starter and a Texas native (like Friday night hero Justise Winslow) playing in his home state, was as important as any of his more acclaimed teammates Sunday afternoon.
  3. Wiltjer-Winslow Matchup. This was the matchup many fixated on in advance of Sunday afternoon, and with good reason: Winslow was coming off a scintillating Friday night performance, while Wiltjer has been arguably the Zags best player all season. Mixing and matching by both coaches saw both players spend a good deal of time defending elsewhere, but Wiltjer kept Gonzaga close in the first half, scoring 13 points on 5-7 field-goal shooting. Meanwhile, Winslow forced the action early and managed just five points in the opening frame, missing five of his six field-goal attempts. Things changed dramatically after intermission, however. Wiltjer struggled to get touches and was a virtual non-factor in the second half, while Duke’s freshman swingman found his Friday night form, pumping in 11 second-half points. Among the 11 was the biggest shot of the night, a three-pointer with the shot clock winding down and less than three minutes to go that put Duke up nine. Both players finished with 16 points, but Winslow’s big second-half was a key differentiator for Mike Krzyewski’s team.

Star of the Game. Tyus Jones, Duke. None of Duke’s big four – Jones, Winslow, Jahlil Okafor and Quinn Cook – played anything close to a perfect game today. Heck, they combined to shoot 15-45 from the field. Still, it was Jones that catalyzed Duke’s quick start, scoring seven points as the Blue Devils jumped out to a 17-10 lead. The South Region’s Most Outstanding Player finished the day with 15 points, six assists and no turnovers, helping Duke to that minuscule turnover total of three. Matt Jones’ unexpected scoring was a huge boost Sunday afternoon, but it was the more familiar Jones on the Duke roster who dictated this game’s flow from the outset. His ball-handling and all-around savvy will now be put to use in Indianapolis.

Quotable. “It’s meant everything. Best team I have ever been on talent-wise and the best group of guys. We can look back and be pretty happy with what we have been able to do.” –Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga senior point guard, on what this Gonzaga season has meant to him.

“It’s a shot he makes. It’s a shot he makes 499 times out of 500.” –Mark Few, on Kyle Wiltjer’s missed layup with 4:51 to go that would have tied game. Duke went on a 13-1 run to close the game after the miss.

“Our defense the last 16 minutes was spectacular — not (just) good. I love these guys and they came through.” –Mike Krzyewski, Duke head coach

“This team is eight guys. There is not someone hiding in the locker room that is going to come out and appear.” -Krzyewski.

Sights & Sounds. Whether it was the Sunday afternoon time slot, a Final Four bid on the line, or just the anticipation of the region’s top two seeds meeting, there was an urgency in NRG Stadium that never existed Friday night. The Duke faithful significantly outnumbered Gonzaga supporters (rough estimate — 5:1 ratio of Duke to Gonzaga fans), but enough folks from the Pacific Northwest made the journey South to create a back-and-forth feel to the cheering. In the end, however, the final image of NRG Stadium was all too familiar: Thousands of contented Duke fans standing in acknowledgment of a Blue Devil team advancing to face their next challenge.

What’s Next?  Duke advances to the program’s 16th Final Four, where it will take on Tom Izzo and Michigan State in Indianapolis. The fourth overall meeting between Mike Krzyewski and Tom Izzo in the NCAA Tournament will double as the second time they have met in a National Semifinal. Duke has won two of those three prior matchups, which includes a Sweet 16 game two seasons ago. On the other side, the loss to Duke ends what will likely go down as the greatest season in Gonzaga history. The Zags, now 0-2 all-time in the Elite Eight, will finish the year at 35-3. Mark Few loses Byron Wesley, Gary Bell and WCC Player of the Year Kevin Pangos to graduation after an undeniably special year in Spokane.

 

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Gonzaga 87, #7 Iowa 68

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 22nd, 2015

rushedreactions

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.

Gonzaga Rolled into the Sweet Sixteen Today in Seattle (USA Today Images)

Gonzaga Rolled into the Sweet Sixteen Today in Seattle (USA Today Images)

  1. Skilled Bigs. In order to have a chance to beat Gonzaga, you’ve need size to deal with their trio of bigs – Kyle Wiltjer, Prezemek Karnowski, and Domantas Sabonis. But simply having size is not enough to slow down this group. Wiltjer, as he showed tonight, has the ability to step out well beyond the three-point line and rain jumpers from deep. Karnowski’s nimble feet and deft passing ability belie his 288 pounds and brick-wall defensive ability. And Sabonis’ intelligence and polished post moves are impressive for an 18-year-old freshman. The left-handed Karnowski and Sabonis present a different look for defenses. Oh, and these guys go 6’10”, 7’1”, 6’10”, respectively. They fouled out Iowa bigs Adam Woodbury and Gabe Olaseni and got three fouls on Aaron White. They scored 40 points in the paint and dominated on the glass. There aren’t a lot of teams in the nation outside of Lexington, Kentucky, that can match the Zags’ imposing and talented size.
  2. Useful Parts. You know all about those Gonzaga bigs. You also know about senior guards Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell. But something that will serve the Bulldogs extremely well from here on out is some of their bit pieces deeper down their bench. Kyle Dranginis has been described by head coach Mark Few as a “Swiss Army knife,” a guy who can do a little bit of everything. Tonight, after Iowa forward Jarrod Uthoff got off to a hot start draining sevearl mid-range jumpers, Dranginis earned that assignment for large stretches for the final three-quarters of the game, challenging his shots and generally making him uncomfortable. Vanderbilt transfer Eric McClellan only played 12 minutes but he served as an athletic defensive stopper on the perimeter, a tertiary ball-handler and another veteran leader. And then there’s USC transfer Byron Wesley who, although a starter and a double-figure scorer, flies under the radar. He’s another guy who Few can rely on as a lockdown defender on the perimeter against teams with strong guards. The stars on this team are one thing, but this Gonzaga roster checks off every box you look for in a Final Four contender.
  3. Defensive Questions, Still. Look, the Zags were phenomenal on offense today. The final numbers – 1.28 points per possession, 13-of-21 from three, 74% eFG. Those are ridiculous offensive statistics. But we know this is a talented team offensively. If this team is going to get to a Final Four, they’re going to need to get some stops. Iowa tonight did not have a lot of things go well for it, but they still shot a better than 50% eFG and averaged a point per possession. Gonzaga has some nice defensive pieces but they’ve also got some liabilities. How far they will go may depend on how well they can mask those issues.

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Gonzaga: Why You Should Take The Zags Seriously This Year

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 17th, 2015

Maybe it is just that the naysayers are louder. Maybe it is the whole “once bitten, twice shy” nature of postseason college basketball. But despite a 32-2 record, a #6 overall KenPom ranking, a #2 seed in the South Region, and a veteran-heavy lineup, the once beloved Gonzaga Bulldogs seem to be going the way of Rodney Dangerfield. Not only are they getting no respect on the national scene from the average college basketball fan, they’re at a point in the program’s history where the combination of overwhelming regular season success (they’ve won 14 of the last 15 WCC titles, for example) and relative lack of postseason success (just three Sweet Sixteen appearances in that same span) has drawn a peculiar combination of jealousy and dismissal. Fans around the WCC are sick of their dominance the way New York-hating baseball fans love to hate the Yankees, while the rest of the country doesn’t take them all that seriously due to their handful of NCAA Tournament flameouts.

Despite a 32-2 Record, Many Dismiss Gonzaga's Chances

Despite a 32-2 Record, Many Dismiss Gonzaga’s Chances. (Getty)

Now, I wrote about Gonzaga a year ago following their blowout loss to Arizona in the Round of 32. I stand by everything I wrote there: Gonzaga’s postseason record is a result of a combination of bad luck in a small sample size and, frankly, a relative lack of talent. I wrote about them again back in December, wondering if this year was really any different than those in the past. I’ve now watched the Zags play maybe a dozen times this season. I’ve seen them up close and personal four of those times. I’ve seen them grow from a point in December when they easily handled UCLA at Pauley Pavilion to last Tuesday night in Las Vegas when they took home another WCC Tournament title. And let me tell you, from a guy who watches a lot of college basketball, there aren’t very many teams in this country that are better than Gonzaga.

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Is Anything Really Different With Gonzaga This Year?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 15th, 2014

At the end of last season — after Gonzaga was run out of the NCAA Tournament by Arizona, and amid all the hubbub and wailing and weeping and gnashing of teeth that tends to accompany the Bulldogs’ exit from March Madness — I wrote a little bit about the Zags. Go back and read it. I’m biased, but I think it is a pretty good summation of the Bulldogs basketball program. Sixteen straight NCAA Tournament appearances! Fifteen in a row since Mark Few has taken over the program! Sure, there have been some disappointing exits, but you find some interesting things if you look back over the years. Namely, in all of those years, only six Gonzaga players have been taken in the NBA Draft. Or that 14 of the 16 teams that have knocked Gonzaga out of the Tournament have had future NBA players on their teams. Or that they’ve run into some extremely bad luck in some of their March exits.

Fifteen Straight NCAA Tournament Appearances For Mark Few Speaks For Itself (David Becker, Getty Images)

Fifteen Straight NCAA Tournament Appearances For Mark Few Speaks For Itself (David Becker, Getty Images)

So, with that history fresh in our minds, let’s turn to this year’s vintage of the Zags, a team that just finished a three-game mini-tour of Pac-12 basketball with a road win over UCLA, a home win against Washington State and a heart-breaking overtime loss at Arizona. If you read college basketball scribes from around the nation, you’ve already seen plenty of love for Gonzaga. ESPN‘s Jeff Goodman went out on a limb and picked Gonzaga to win the NCAA Championship, while John Gasaway, Seth Greenberg, Jeff Borzello and Joe Lunardi all punched Mark Few’s team into the Final Four. Several other national writers from around the country are on the bandwagon too. So, the obvious question is whether Gonzaga is again being set up to be called, erroneously, March failures.

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Who Won The Week? Kentucky, Gonzaga and Cal!

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker) on November 21st, 2014

wonweekWho 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 Tacoma-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.

WINNER: Kentucky

The #1 Wildcats put in as dominant a performance against a top-five team as I can remember, eviscerating Kansas 72-40 on Tuesday. As many blocks as field goals surrendered? Holding an elite opponent under 20 percent field goal shooting on a neutral court? Sign me up. If this team plays defense together half this good on a nightly basis, it won’t be on the bottom end of a box score very often this season. The beatdown Kentucky put on Kansas completely justifies overlooking the halftime deficit to Buffalo on Sunday, which became a 71-52 win.  This is as no-doubt a winner as I’ve ever had in this column. (Welcome to year three, kids.)

John Calipari is in a good mood with this many All Americans on his roster (AP).

John Calipari is in a good mood with this many All-Americans on his roster. (AP)

(Related winners: The nine high-school All-Americans who get to play 20 minutes each a game while playing against the best opposing players in the country in practice every day, getting to boost their abilities and NBA draft stock simultaneously. Related losers: Kansas, because yeesh. Buffalo, because blowing a halftime lead wasn’t nearly as bad as the six-plus feet of blowing snow dropped on their city later in the week – after a win at Texas-Arlington, at least.) Read the rest of this entry »

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2014-15 RTC Preseason O26 All-America Teams

Posted by Tommy Lemoine and Adam Stillman on November 12th, 2014

Considering the sheer number of teams competing in O26 conferences, reaching a consensus on the top 15 players – much less the top five – is an incredibly difficult task. Alas, here are our Preseason O26 All-Americans, along with the Player of the Year, Coach of the Year and Newcomer of the Year for the upcoming season. Where did we go wrong?

Player of the Year

Fred VanVleet is our O26 Preseason Player of the Year. (Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports)

Fred VanVleet is our O26 Preseason Player of the Year. (Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports)

Fred VanVleet – G – Wichita State. Evaluating players based on their “leadership” and “composure” and ability to “play within themselves” can be a slippery slope, prone to subjectivity and flaws in perception. But when the numbers seem to back those claims up – a sparkling offensive rating, an eye-popping assist-to-turnover ratio – the intangible qualities quickly seem much more tangible. Which brings us to VanVleet. The 5’11’’ junior possesses nearly all the skills and qualities you could want in a point guard: He is a floor general, who posted the best assist rate in the Missouri Valley last season and fourth-best assist-to-turnover ratio in the entire country; he is an efficient scorer who shot 41 percent from behind the arc and 83 percent from the stripe; he is a good defender who recorded four-plus steals on six different occasions. And by all accounts he is a true leader on and off the court, the steady hand guiding the steadiest bunch in mid-major hoops. Considering all those attributes, VanVleet is our Preseason O26 Player of the Year.

First Team

  • Fred VanVleet – G – Wichita State. See our Player of the Year writeup above. VanVleet is one of the best point guards in the entire country, regardless of league.
  • Ron Baker – G – Wichita State. If VanVleet is the best non-power conference guard in the country, then Baker, his backcourt running mate, is not far behind. The 6’3’’ junior punctuated an impressive 2013-14 campaign (13.1 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 3.1 APG) by scoring 20 points on 4-for-6 three- point shooting against Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament last March and squashing any doubt about whether he could compete at the highest level. Baker now enters this season as the offensive cornerstone for a top 15 team, whose versatility and perimeter shooting is only expected to shine brighter for the Shockers.

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Pac-12 Post-Mortems: USC

Posted by Andrew Murawa on May 6th, 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, USC.

What Went Wrong

The problems of USC basketball in 2013-14 can largely – but not entirely – be attributed to previous administrations and the changing of the guard. New head coach Andy Enfield was, for the most part, left with a roster of ne’er-do-wells and misfits thrown together into a system in which few of them fit. Almost nobody on the roster would have been a guy that Enfield would have thought would fit perfectly into his system, and among the handful of guys who did, there wasn’t a ton of buy-in. Let’s put it this way: The team’s two captains were senior J.T. Terrell and junior Byron Wesley, who between the two of them were suspended for a total of 10 games and couldn’t get out of the program fast enough once the season ended.

J.T. Terrell Wearing A "C" On His Right Shoulder: Never A Good Sign

J.T. Terrell Wearing A “C” On His Right Shoulder: Never A Good Sign

What Went Right

Well, on Wednesday March 12, the Trojans took a three-point loss against Colorado in the Pac-12 Tournament, a game which served as a mercy killing of the USC season. Better days likely await the program under Enfield, but man, this season needs to be put in the past right quick. Beyond that snarky answer, Enfield really did begin to implement the type of basketball he would like this Trojans team to play in the future. They got up and down the court, found transition offense on 30 percent of all possessions, and averaged offensive possessions of just 16 seconds, good for 26th in the nation. Once Enfield can begin to fill roster spots with players who will better fit into his scheme, we’ll get a better idea of how the Enfield era will work at USC.

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Morning Five: 04.30.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on April 30th, 2014

morning5

  1. USC transfer Byron Wesley has reportedly cut his list to Pittsburgh, Gonzaga, and Oklahoma State. As we mentioned last week, Wesley’s departure is a huge blow for Andy Enfield and he could become a significant addition to one of these three teams. Last season Wesley averaged 17.8 points (shooting 46.7% FG) and 6.3 rebounds per game. He will visit the three schools in the next few weeks before making his decision.
  2. Donnie Tyndall might not be able to keep Cuonzo Martin’s recruits, but he is making progress in terms of scheduling.Yesterday, Tennessee and Butler announced that they had agree to home-and-home series. Butler will travel to Knoxville this December and Tennessee will travel to Hinkle Fieldhouse in 2015. Obviously this had been in the works from well before Tyndall’s hiring, but was probably contingent on the approval of Tyndall (or whoever the new coach) was.
  3. Southern Mississippi is one of the few remaining coaching openings, but it appears that they might be closing in on their target as they offered Stephen F. Austin coach Brad Underwood their head coaching position. Underwood just completed his first year at Stephen F. Austin, but led the team to a 32-3 record including 18-0 in the Southland Conference and a NCAA Tournament win over VCU. With Donnie Tyndall having left for Tennessee fairly recently this would appear to be an outstanding hire for Southern Miss if Underwood accepts.
  4. With no new numbers to crunch one might expect Ken Pomeroy to not have much to do in the off-season. Of course, he has time to work on his algorithm, but he also has time to look back at the past such as with his review of  2002. Using his previously collected data, Pomeroy points out some key things that many people have forgotten like how ridiculously good that Duke team was that lost in the Sweet 16. If he is going to continue with this for other years, it could be one of the more interesting things to follow this off-season.
  5. On Tuesday, PJ Hairston signed with an agent. Although the articles that we have seen do not go into detail about Hairston’s agent we do not see any connection for this agent to Fats Hayden, who as you may remember was involved in the fiasco that led to Hairston losing his NCAA eligibility. Despite Hairston’s turbulent final year at North Carolina (or in and out of) he is still projected to be a mid- to late-first round pick although with his absence from the scene for nearly a year now we assume that his workouts will have a bigger effect on his draft stock than they otherwise would.
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Morning Five: 04.17.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on April 17th, 2014

morning5

  1. There were a few NBA Draft announcements yesterday, but nothing that was particularly surprising. Jahii Carson made it official that he would be declaring for the NBA Draft, but that was hardly a surprise as he said he would be doing so before the start of the season and never backed off that statement. The other big announcements also came from the Pac-12 where Kyle Anderson and Zach Levine declared for the draft. Anderson is considered a borderline lottery pick while Carson and Levine are closer to fringe first round picks. Carson is probably about where he would be in a year as a prospect, but Levine has significant upside so it is a little surprising to see him leave so soon particularly without what we would consider a legitimate guarantee of being a first round pick. On the other side, A.J. Hammons announced that he will be returning to Purdue for his his junior season. Hammons averaged 10.8 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 3.1 blocks last season and with his size had a chance to be a late first round pick. Fortunately for Matt Painter and Boilermaker fans he will be back in West Lafayette next season.
  2. The Andy Enfield experiment is not going as planned at USC. After coming to LA off the high of the Dunk City experience, Enfield made sure to let everybody know how great he was then followed it up with a 11-21 record including a putrid 2-16 in the Pac-12. It does not appear that next season will be much easier as Byron Wesley, the team’s best player last season, announced that he planned to graduate from USC this summer and transfer for his final year of eligibility. If he does graduate, Wesley would be available to play immediately with a graduate student waiver and would be among the most sought-after transfers on the market as it is pretty rare to find a guy who averaged 17.8 points (47% FG), 6.4 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game on the market.
  3. Jim Christian’s challenge of turning around Boston College got significantly easier as Olivier Hanlan announced that he would be back next season. With Ryan Anderson already transferring, Hanlan’s announcement is even more important. Hanlan averaged 18.5 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 2.9 assists last season so he will be the focal point of the Eagles’ offense and with the the lack of support he will have opposing teams will be tailoring their defenses to stop him. Still next season should be a rough one for Christian as he takes over a team that went 8-24 last season and have lost a significant pieces from that team.
  4. One of the more confusing aspects of the early entry system is the myriad of deadlines from both the NCAA and NBA (DraftExpress had a good explanation here). Both sided have pointed fingers at the other when asked about the issue of early entry and the age restriction. As John Infante notes the NCAA would be wise to take control of this issue before the NBA decides for them. As usual Infante offers a logical argument although we are not sure that the NCAA will follow his advice because as we all know the NCAA doesn’t always follow logic when making its decisions.
  5. And finally today we give you a somewhat surprising draft announcement… for the NFL. Miami forward Erik Swope announced that he will be entering the NFL Draft. Swope averaged 5 points and 2.7 rebounds last season so he was at best an overseas player so going the NFL route makes the most sense although the timing of his announcement (just a few weeks before the NFL Draft) seems a little strange. With the success of former basketball players in the NFL we are surprised that more marginal basketball players don’t go this route.
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Pac-12 Player of the Year and All-Conference Teams

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 10th, 2014

Before we announce our Player of the Year and our all-Pac-12 Teams, a quick note on our methodology here — we had each of our three voters – Andrew Murawa, Connor Pelton, and Adam Butler – rank their top 15 players in the conference and awarded points to each player based on those votes (1st place vote =15 points, 2nd place =14, etc.). Normally, when putting together an all-conference team, we’d make an effort to balance our team by position, with either three guards and two frontcourt players on each team, or vice versa. But in this season’s guard-heavy conference we didn’t get a lot of frontcourt votes, which is why you’ll see a five-guard first team when you scroll down. As for our Player of the Year voting, it was simple enough. The player with the most points in our all-conference balloting was our Pac-12 Player of the Year.

Player of the Year

Nick Johnson, Junior, Arizona – As expected, it came down to a close two-man race for Player of the Year, but Johnson squeaked out the win by one point over UCLA sophomore Kyle Anderson. Johnson is not only the leading scorer on the Wildcats, he is also their key defensive catalyst. As Adam Butler wrote justifying his vote for Johnson over Anderson: “Nick Johnson was the most critical player on the best team in the conference. As he went, the Wildcats went and more often than not (see 28-3), Nick Johnson played well. Nay, great.” To look at it the other way, compare Johnson’s performance in the three Arizona losses to their 28 wins. In those three losses, Johnson averaged fewer than 10 points per game on 23.9% eFG; in the wins, he posted a 50.8% eFG on his way to 16.8 points per win.

Nick Johnson's Prowess On Both Ends Of The Court For The Conference's Best Team Earns Him The RTC Pac-12 Player of the Year (Christian Petersen)

Nick Johnson’s Prowess On Both Ends Of The Court For The Conference’s Best Team Earns Him The RTC Pac-12 Player of the Year (Christian Petersen)

All-Conference

First Team

  • Nick Johnson, Junior, Arizona (16.1 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.2 SPG)
  • Kyle Anderson, Sophomore, UCLA (14.9 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 6.6 APG, 1.7 SPG, 48% 3FG) – The versatile Anderson has been one of the nation’s most improved players, registering as not only a terrific play-maker but an elite rebounding  guard.
  • Delon Wright, Junior, Utah (16.1 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 5.3 APG, 2.6 SPG, 1.3 SPG, 59.7% eFG) – The junior college transfer came out of nowhere to become arguably the most versatile player in the conference – if not the most versatile in the nation. These three players were almost unanimously the top three players in the conference this season.
  • Justin Cobbs, Senior, California (15.6 PPG, 5.8 APG) – Cobbs ranked no higher than fifth but no lower than eighth on any of the three ballots, a consistency which earned him a first-team all-conference spot.
  • Roberto Nelson, Senior, Oregon State (20.6 PPG, 3.7 APG, 3.6 RPG) – Nelson was in the top five on two of three ballots, but was left completely off of a third (ahem, Butler). He still had enough votes to sneak on to the first team.

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Pac-12’s Good Players on Bad Teams

Posted by AMurawa on January 28th, 2014

While the Pac-12 may not be all it was cracked up to be early in the season, eight of the conference teams have generally been regarded for most of the past month or so as at least good. That leaves four teams at the bottom of the conference – USC, Oregon State, Washington, and Washington State – that haven’t been taken seriously and that have been described, at one point or another, as straight out bad. A couple of those teams are beginning to come around some, but really until they prove themselves over long stretches, we’re still going to group them at the bottom of the Pac. But, aside from being bad teams, another thing that each of these teams has in common is (at least) one very good player. We’re not spending a ton of time here talking about the Trojans, Beavers, Huskies, and Cougars, but today we’ll give those very good players their due.

Byron Wesley Gets Forgotten Playing With USC, But He's Been Excellent As A Junior (John McGillen)

Byron Wesley Gets Forgotten Playing At USC, But He’s Been Excellent As A Junior (John McGillen)

Byron Wesley, USC – Maybe you haven’t seen Andy Enfield’s first crack at turning the Galen Center into a basketball Mecca, and if so, no one would blame you. The roster is a mishmash of parts, many of whom are ill-suited to Enfield’s style, let along major conference basketball. But Wesley? This dude would carve out a spot anywhere in the nation. In the past, he’s been known as a solid fundamental wing who is best at the defensive end of the court, and he’s still very much that, but offensively he’s blossomed in his junior year. Despite playing approximately the same number of minutes as he’s played his first two years with the Trojans, his number of possessions used has skyrocketed and in turn his per game averages in points, rebounds, and assists have all ballooned, all while playing at a more efficient level than ever before. While the range on his jumper is still a work in progress (he is just 10-for-34 from deep this year), he’s turned into a solid mid-range shooter. But most impressively, his game off the bounce is far better than it has been in the past, and he’s been getting past defenders, getting into the lane, getting better than 45% of his shots at the rim and converting a healthy percentage of those. And defensively? Goodness, one would shudder to think how bad this USC team would be without the ball if Wesley were not around. Case in point, Wednesday night in their best win of the season over a streaking Cal team. Wesley checked Golden Bear sophomore wing Tyrone Wallace the bulk of the night, and held him to his first single-digit scoring output since early December, on just 2/10 shooting. Wesley may not be as flashy as some of the guys we’re going to talk about later, but if he was playing on a better team, he’d be getting all sorts of accolades.

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Pac-12 M5: 01.28.14 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 28th, 2014

pac12_morning5

  1. Oregon broke its five-game losing streak on Sunday night, but given that it came against the worst team in the league, doubts still remain as to whether its win over Washington State was a sign of a turnaround or merely the exploitation of a bad team. The good news is that we’ll get a good read on the answer to that question on Thursday night when the Ducks will host UCLA in Eugene. With the Bruins featuring both the second best offense and defense in conference play (according to KenPom.com) and the Ducks ranking sixth and ninth, respectively, clearly Oregon takes a step up in competition this week.
  2. Likewise, Arizona State turned things around a bit last week, backing up two road losses with a pair of road wins against the Rockies’ schools. One notable change for the Sun Devils came with sophomore forward Eric Jacobsen replacing junior wing Jonathan Gilling in the starting lineup. Gilling still earned more minutes than Jacobsen (55 to 36), but the change came in order to help give the 6’10” sophomore a potential confidence boost. While the numbers for Jacobsen weren’t huge (10 points, seven boards for the weekend), maybe the biggest benefit will come to Gilling who can give the Sun Devils a scoring jolt off the bench. Last week he made all seven of his three-point attempts and is averaging 12.5 points, 4.5 boards and 3.5 assists per game in his new role.
  3. Utah caught the attention of the nation for better than 30 minutes of action on Sunday night as the Utes gave Arizona a run for their money at the McKale Center. But, as has been the case often this year, Utah was unable to finish strong, fading late to the nation’s top-ranked team. While Larry Krystkowiak has turned his squad into a very competitive team (their five losses come by a combined total of 22 points), they’ve still got to learn how to take these strong efforts and turn them into wins. But with more talent on the way next year and almost everybody of note from this team expected to return, the future is bright indeed in Salt Lake City.
  4. USC played its best pair of back-to-back games over the weekend in coming away with a home split against the Bay Area schools. On Sunday afternoon they took Stanford to overtime, but once there, junior guard Chasson Randle carried the Cardinal home, scoring seven strong points in the overtime period. Still, the Trojans are coming along slowly but surely. Byron Wesley continues to be amazing; Strahinja Gavrilovic appears to be a piece worth planning around; and the Trojans’ top recruit – point guard Jordan McLaughlin – took in the game from the stands.
  5. Lastly, Washington freshman point guard Nigel Williams-Goss had his breakout performance on Saturday when he set a freshman single-game scoring record at the school with a 32-point outburst against Oregon State. With Oregon State focused on slowing C.J. Wilcox, Williams-Goss went wild, helping to bring the Huskies back from a double-figure second half deficit. And not only did he score in droves, but he did so in super-efficient fashion, getting all of his points in just 15 total field goal attempts.
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