Colorado returns six players who were part of the extended rotation last year, highlighted by Andre Roberson – likely a preseason All-Pac-12 player – but also extending down to two talented guards back for sophomore seasons, a seven-foot Aussie ready for more action and a couple wings who will probably enjoy similar roles this year as they did last year. We’ll go through all of those guys below, in order of last year’s scoring totals.
Andre Roberson Has Proven His Rebounding Prowess, But Will Need To Play A Bigger Role For The Buffs This Year
Andre Roberson, Junior, Forward (11.6 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 1.9 BPG) – When Roberson arrived on campus two years ago, not much was expected of him immediately. He was long and athletic, yes, but also skinny and raw. And, with a veteran lineup, he figured to at best earn some minutes at the back end of the rotation. But once fall practice began, CU coaches knew he was going to force his way onto the court, and in his first game he pulled down 11 boards in 21 minutes. He remained heavily in the rotation the rest of the way, dominated on the glass (try a 25.5% defensive rebounding percentage and 15.1% on the offensive end), wreaked havoc defensively, leading the team in both blocks and steals (oh, and also fouls – committing more than five fouls per 40 minutes), and found nearly every possible way to contribute mightily to his team without ever once having a play run for him. As a sophomore, his usage shot way up and, as happens, his offensive efficiency numbers dropped a bit, but his rebounding numbers were just as impressive – he was second in the nation in grabbing 29.6% of all opponents’ missed shots, while also grabbing 12.7% of his own team’s misses. Now, heading into his junior season, he is squarely on the NBA’s radar and ready to show off even more skills. With Carlon Brown and Austin Dufault now gone, expect Roberson to find even more shots. And, with his NBA future likely tied to the small forward spot, expect to see him show off his improving perimeter jumper as well as his solid handle in the halfcourt; however, he needs to be careful that he doesn’t completely abandon the dirty work he does inside while he shows off his newfound skills on the wing.
Nine players earned significant playing time for the Buffaloes in 2011-12, but for the most part it was a six-man rotation with five of those averaging somewhere between 27-31 minutes per game. Of those five players, three have used up their eligibility and will be playing for a paycheck in one place or another next year. Gone is Colorado’s leading scorer, its point guard and leading assist man, and its heart and soul along the front line. With a strong six-man recruiting class coming in, there will be no problem finding bodies to replace the departed, but the experience and savvy they possessed is not something that can be expected of most freshmen. In other words, these guys will be missed.
In One Season At Colorado, Carlon Brown Led The Team In Scoring And Earned The Pac-12 Tournament MVP
Carlon Brown – Brown played just one season in Boulder after transferring over from Utah, but he had a big impact in his single year. He was the team’s most athletic wing and most willing shooter, taking more than 28% of their shots when he was in the game. And, unlike his previous years with the Utes, he actually made more shots than he missed and hit enough from deep to keep opposing defenses honest. But despite his ability to fill it up on offense, he was never much more than a hired gun, and one who at times openly bristled about the rare times when he rode the pine late in games while freshman teammates Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie finished things out. Still, his time with the Buffs went down as a success, as he was named the Pac-12 Tournament MVP following the Buffs’ wild ride to the conference’s automatic bid, averaging 15.8 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.3 steals over the course of those four games.
Two years ago, Colorado was riding seven straight seasons without an NCAA Tournament, was mired in mediocrity at the back of the Big 12 and was in the middle of welcoming in a new coaching staff after Jeff Bzdelik abruptly left Boulder in the wake of three unimpressive seasons. Jump ahead in time and the Buffaloes have improved under new head coach Tad Boyle each of the last two years, they’ve made a splash in their one year in their new conference, and they not only broke their string of NCAA Tournament-less years, but they scored their first NCAA Tourney win since 1997. Along the way they’ve turned the Coors Events Center into a formidable home court advantage. In short, for a program who has only once in its long history won more than a single NCAA Tournament game, the future looks bright.
Tad Boyle’s Buffaloes Have Improved In Each Of His Two Seasons In Boulder
In Boyle’s first season in Boulder, he inherited a talented bunch from Bzdelik, with future NBA lottery pick Alec Burks paired with senior wing Cory Higgins to form an impressive one-two punch. With seniors Marcus Relphorde and Levi Knutson chipping in, the Buffs rolled out one of the most efficient offensive teams in the game in 2010-11. Unfortunately, they were about as bad defensively as they were good offensively. Still, after losing six out of seven games in the middle of their Big 12 schedule, they found themselves in contention for an NCAA Tournament bid on Selection Sunday after scoring two wins over Kansas State and a win over Texas down the stretch. Unfortunately, when the brackets were announced, the Buffs were nowhere to be seen. And with Burks joining the three seniors on the way out of town, it looked like 2011-12 – CU’s first season in the Pac-12 – would be an exercise in rebuilding.
We skipped last week because of a dearth of news as we head into the dead days of summer, so now we’ve got a couple week’s worth of catching up to do. The biggest news in the past two weeks was the NBA Draft, where more Pac-12 players heard their names called than conference teams did on Selection Sunday. Washington, who won the regular season title but was banished to the NIT, had two players – Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten, Jr. – get drafted, while Oregon State’s Jared Cunningham became just the 13th Beaver picked in the first round – the first since Corey Benjamin went with the second-to-last pick of the first round in 1998. The Huskies, meanwhile, have had much more recent success on draft night, with nine players drafted in the past eight years, six of those in the first round, a record that head coach Lorenzo Romar is making sure gets heard. With many elite recruits using college as a mere launching point toward NBA careers, Romar’s success at sending players to the NBA can only help his recruiting efforts.
The Huskies also landed a new player this week when it was announced that seven-foot center Gilles Dierickxwould be transferring into the program from Florida International. Dierickx (gee, thanks basketball gods – I only just got used to confidently spelling Krystkowiak) was a freshman last season with FIU, where he played just under 15 minutes a game and averaged 2.6 points and 2.2 rebounds. He’s a face-up stretch four who will be eligible to play for UW beginning in 2013-14. But, as Ben Knibbe at the UW Dawg Pound points out, this leaves Romar with just three open scholarships for the 2013 class, a highly regarded recruiting class in which the Huskies are pursuing several five-star talents. As we’ve seen elsewhere, the fact that a program has a player under scholarship doesn’t preclude the possibility of a coach running off one or more players who are no longer necessary in order to make room for a more desirable prospect, but with the Huskies putting so much emphasis on the 2013 class, this is something of a head-scratcher.
At this point in the summer, no news is generally good news for most collegiate programs. It means that nobody is getting into trouble with the law, nobody’s getting injured while working on their game, and nobody’s making a late decision to transfer. About the only really exciting news for a program at this time of the year is the announcement of the upcoming schedule, something Utah did last week. And, wow, is it ever underwhelming. The first three home games are an exhibition against something called Simon Fraser, then the season opener against Division III Willamette, followed by a match-up with Sacramento State. Now, to be fair, SSU was actually ranked higher than the Utes in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings last season (#292, compared to UU’s #303). The next three home games are part of a four-team round robin event on the Utah campus over Thanksgiving weekend, when the Utes will play Central Michigan, Idaho State and Wright State. Elsewhere in the non-conference schedule are games against Evergreen State of the NAIA and Cal State Northridge. There’s also a home-and-home series with SMU, a visit from Boise State, a trip to Texas State, and their renewal of their annual rivalry with BYU at the Cougars’ Provo campus. In other words, the Utes should be ready to dial up significantly more wins than the three non-conference wins they posted last year, while the ever-important RPI number should still remain in the gutter. Also of note, the Utes also finalized their plans for their trip to Brazil this summer, where they will play five games against Brazilian teams over the course of their 12-day trip.
Another thing to keep an eye on as the summer progresses is landing spots for Pac-12 players who weren’t drafted by the NBA. For instance, former Colorado point guard Nate Tomlinsonis heading back home to Australia to play professionally for the Melbourne Tigers. And he’s even trying to do a little recruiting of his own, trying to get former teammate Austin Dufault to follow him along, although he is also considering Europe and China. Meanwhile, Carlon Brown hasn’t yet given up on his NBA dreams despite going undrafted. The 6’5” wing is hoping to catch on with a summer league team and may need to go the D-League route. Elsewhere, Washington State forward Abe Lodwickwill be playing professionally in Germany, while Arizona’s Kyle Fogg and Brendon Lavenderboth still harbor dreams of NBA careers, with Fogg set to play for Houston’s summer league team and Lavender putting on an Atlanta Hawk jersey for the summer.
Over the course of the next two weeks, the Pac-12 Microsite will break down each team’s season: what went well, what didn’t, and a look ahead at the future.Today’s subject: Colorado.
What Went Right
In its first season in the Pac-12, Colorado came into the season missing its top four scorers from 2010-11 and was picked to finish right near the bottom of the conference. Instead, the Buffs rode a strong homecourt advantage to an upper-division finish in the regular season then they ripped through the conference tournament to earn an NCAA Tournament bid. Not content to stop there, they actually won a game, upsetting UNLV in the round of 64, quite a season for a team for whom there were no real expectations in November. Head coach Tad Boyle gets a lot of credit for shuffling these pieces together in such a way as to make the most of the team’s talent, but even with three serious contributors to this year’s success on the way out due to graduation, the Buffaloes developed plenty of young talent this season that should prepare them for some successful seasons in the near future.
Tad Boyle Led A Team Picked To Finish Near The Bottom Of The Standings To A Conference Championship (Stephen Dunn, Getty Images)
What Went Wrong
If there was one real problem for Colorado this season it was its relative inability to produce wins in a true road environment against quality competition. Despite a 4-7 record on the road, a closer look shows those wins coming against Air Force (7th place in the Mountain West), USC, Arizona State, and Utah (three teams that finished between #10 and #12 in the Pac-12). While the Buffs lost just two home games this season and just one home game in conference play, they’ll need to find a way to score quality road wins in order to compete for a regular season Pac-12 title.
They were the last hope for the Pac-12, and for 30 minutes or so, it looked like Colorado had a good chance to extend their Cinderella run through the weekend. But too much Brady Heslip and too little defensive rebounding doomed the Buffaloes against Baylor, sending the conference to an early end in the NCAAs. But, looking back on the season for Colorado, it was a magical run, including a five-game win streak taking them from the outside of the tournament bubble to a Round of 32 appearance with a Pac-12 Tournament title mixed in there. All things considered, it was as good of a season as could have been expected of a Buff team that was missing its four leading scorers from the previous season and was picked as low as 11th in preseason Pac-12 rankings. And, despite the loss of seniors Carlon Brown, Nate Tomlinson, and Austin Dufault, the future is bright in Boulder.
There are a handful of Pac-12 teams whose season still go on in lesser tournaments, highlighted by Oregon, who pulled off a 108-97 win over Iowa on Sunday in the second round of the NIT in the highest scoring game in regulation this season. The Ducks trailed by as many as 15 in the game, but behind E.J. Singler’s 25 points and four other players who scored in double figures, the Ducks advanced.
And the Ducks next step is a trip up I-5 to Seattle for a quarterfinal matchup with conference rival Washington, who advanced by slamming Northwestern on Friday night, 76-55. The Huskies earned the win by using their athleticism to kill the Wildcats on the glass, force plenty of bad shots and just generally get them out of rhythm. Oh, and Terrence Ross lit them up for 32 points and eight rebounds. Tony Wroten, who took a lot of heat in the aftermath of the Huskies’ Pac-12 Tournament loss has struggled to rediscover his scoring touch (just 11 points on ten field goal attempts in two NIT games), but has handed out 15 dimes. Oregon State is the final Pac-12 team still playing, and they’ll get their season back underway tonight when they host TCU in the CBI.
While we’re on the topic of the three remaining Pac-12 schools, all in the northwest, The Columbian points out that one of the reasons that the Pac-12 may be down is their inability to tie up local prospects. By way of example, Greg Jayne points out that the quintet of Peyton Siva, Brad Tinsley, Terrence Jones, Kyle Wiltjer, and Brian Conklin – all kids from either Oregon or Washington who are playing elsewhere – would be a pretty darn good start on an NCAA Tournament team. The gauntlet is thrown for Lorenzo Romar, Craig Robinson, and Dana Altman: keep your local prospects at home.
Lastly, in what must be considered good news for UCLA and Ben Howland, Shabazz Muhammadwill be taking his final official visit to the Westwood campus at some point in early April and then will announce his decision a couple of days later. While Muhammad hadn’t previously intended to use an official visit at UCLA (since he had already visited the campus on multiple occasions unofficially), the plan is to check back in with the Bruin program in the wake of last month’s controversial Sports Illustrated article and “get the nuts and bolts of that,” according to his father Ron Holmes. Still, as UCLA has long been considered the favorite to earn the services of the elite high school prospect, the fact that he is heading back to Los Angeles just days before his announcement at the very least gives Howland and company to make the final big sales pitch.
With California’s defeat in the First Four on Wednesday night, Colorado is left alone to carry the flag for the Pac-12 conference in the NCAA Tournament. And they made a fine showing on Thursday night, roaring out to a 20-point second half lead over UNLV before letting off the gas, and allowing the Rebels back into the game. But, the Buffaloes were able to cobble things back together, sparked by a great block from Andre Roberson that turned into a Carlon Brown slam on the other end. At the end of the regular season, the Buffs were in a do-or-die scenario, needing to win the Pac-12 Tournament to advance even this far. But, it is clear now, as they ride a five-game winning streak that “do” was the choice the team made.
In the wake of California’s loss to South Florida, there is a feeling of disappointment around the Golden Bear program. Heading into the final two weeks of the season, they were tied for first in the Pac-12 conference and seemed to be on the road to a special season. Instead, they lost four of their last five, capped by a terrible performance against the Bulls. Now seniors Jorge Gutierrez and Harper Kamp move on, while head coach Mike Montgomery is, apparently, left to rebuild around guards Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs. But with every season the 65-year-old head coach wraps up, there is some question as to whether he’s nearing the end. Thus far, there are no indications that he’s planning a retirement party in the immediate future, but, especially after October’s bladder cancer scare, there is the chance that at any time, Montgomery could be ready to move on.
One of the defenses of Johnny Dawkins’ poor showing in his time at Stanford is that he inherited a bare cupboard when he took the program over fromTrent Johnson. But Jon Wilner sees through that claim and shoots it down, noting that Dawkins’ first roster included two all-conference honorable mention selections from the previous year (Anthony Goods and Mitch Johnson), an all-conference first-team member from two years previous (Lawrence Hill) and junior forward Landry Fields who was about to turn into an NBA-caliber player. Now, of course Dawkins should get some credit for Fields’ development, but the fact is there was enough talent on the Cardinal roster to finish higher than the ninth-place slot they wound up in.
Utah’s offseason is off to a pretty good start, as head coach Larry Krystkowiak got his first oral commitment from a 2013 recruit on Thursday, from 6’3” point guard Julian Jacobs. With freshman Kareem Storey having taken over the lead guard role in the wake of Josh Watkins’ dismissal this year, he may have the edge on Jacobs when the newcomer arrives, but as Krystkowiak learned this season, you can never have too many point guards.
Outworked. For roughly the first 30 minutes of this game, Colorado was the significantly better team. They were killing UNLV on the glass (and wound up recording a 75.5 OR% and a 30 DR%) and blistering them from the field in building the lead as high as 20. Colorado was beating the Rebels to every loose ball, running crisp offense and defending like crazy, rapidly turning a highly anticipated game into a blowout.
Bounceback. But, the Rebels didn’t give up and mounted a furious comeback, getting within two after a 26-8 run. They turned on a full-court press which gave CU all sorts of trouble (the Buffs turned it over 14 times in the second half on the way to 23 for the game), did a better job of attacking the hoop and even saw some three-pointers fall. Part of the reason for the turnaround seemed to be that the Buffaloes felt they had the game in the bag and let off the gas a little bit and it took them a while to right the ship. But when Andre Roberson blocked an Anthony Marshall shot, collected the loose ball and fired a Kevin Love-esque full-court pass to Carlon Brown for a dunk, the Buffs had their mojo going again and finished off the game from there.
Main Matchup. Roberson and Mike Moser are similar players and coming into the game, their matchup was the primary individual matchup to keep an eye on. While Moser may be the name more known nationally, Roberson’s team not only won the war, but he won the battle. While Moser’s ten points and nine rebounds look okay, they came along with inefficient offense and despite the fact that Roberson, who wound up with 12 points and 16 rebounds, beat Moser to loose balls time and time again
Star of the Game. Andre Roberson. He was spectacular at the start, a major cog in the Buffs building up their early lead and he was instrumental in getting the Buffs back rolling again after they stalled out. While plenty of players made major contributions for CU, they’re heading back to Boulder if not for Roberson.
Sights & Sounds. After a stellar showing at the Pac-12 Tournament last weekend, the Colorado student section did it again tonight, turning out a big crowd and making The Pit a home floor for their Buffaloes. Apparently the CU athletic department put together an offer too good to be refused, offering students transportation to the game, a ticket and lodging all for $50 a person. If it helped earn the Buffs an extra game in the NCAA Tournament, it was a great deal for CU.
Wildcard. Askia Booker was a sparkplug for the Buffaloes off the bench in the first half, scoring 12 spectacular points in 11 minutes (on his way to 16 points on the game) and providing several plays that helped staunch a building sense of Rebel momentum.
Quotable.Brown on Booker’s statement that he is surprised at his success in his freshman year: “Can I say something to that? He’s not surprised. He just told you a nice lie because earlier when we were in the room he said, “Man, as long as Colorado got me, we’re going to win.” So he’s very confident in himself. We’re glad he’s confident. He played a great game today, and glad to have him.”
What’s Next? Colorado faces Baylor Saturday evening, hoping to extend their season-high winning streak to six games and advance to the Sweet Sixteen. Roberson will get another chance to add to his credentials when he matches up with the talented Baylor frontline.
Here’s a look at each Pac-12 team’s postseason capsule, by order of each team’s tip-off. Enjoy!
Who, When, Where: vs. LSU (18-14) in Eugene, Oregon, NIT First Round, 3/13, 6:30 PM PDT, ESPN
First Up: What the Tigers lack in scoring they make up in rebounds and points in the paint. LSU averages 37 RPG and they are led by big men Justin Hamilton and Storm Warren. What makes the Tigers dangerous is their ability to adapt to a certain style. They will play at the pace you want the game at, and then beat you with your own style.
Best Case Scenario: With the way Oregon has been playing of late (Pac-12 Tournament notwithstanding), the Ducks can easily make a run in this tournament. With players like Devoe Joseph and Garrett Sim that are able to create and knock down their own shots, Oregon should be able to beat LSU in the first round. After that things get much more tough, but I can’t see the Ducks losing a “best case scenario” game until they would likely meet either Seton Hall or Arizona in the championship.
Worst Case Scenario: Even if the Ducks do not play well against the Tigers, home-court advantage should pull them through to the next round. However, they would likely have to travel to Dayton in the second round, and the Flyers pose matchup problems all over the court for Oregon. Expect an Oregon-Dayton matchup to be much like last Thursday’s Colorado-Oregon game. The Flyers stingy defense and potent offense should build a large lead early on against the Ducks, and while Oregon battles to cut the deficit to three with four minutes left, it is never able to come all the way back after a long road trip and an emotinal comeback drians all of its energy.
Devoe Joseph's offensive prowess has the Ducks dreaming of a trip to Madison Square Garden. (credit:Jayne Kamin)
Brendon Mulvihill is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday’s final round at the Pac-12 Tournament.
The Colorado Buffaloes won the Pac-12 Tournament in their first year as a member of the conference. Driven by strong inside play, senior leaders, a 2011 snub, and 50 of their most rabid fans, the Buffaloes are making an unlikely appearance in the 2012 NCAA Tournament.
1. Strong inside play and missed free throws – Prior to the game, the key match-ups were going to be in the paint. Arizona’s Solomon Hill, Jesse Perry, and Angelo Chol versus Colorado’s Andre Roberson, Austin Dufault, and Shane Harris-Trunks. The Buffs ended up dominating the glass with a 37-29 rebounding margin and 12-10 second chance point margin. The long arms of Roberson proved to be the difference on the glass. Additionally, Arizona’s inability to make free throws cost them the game. The Wildcats were 10-18 from the free throw line. With a tournament bid on the line, free throws are too important to miss in these tight games.
The 2012 Pac-12 Tournament Champions - Colorado Buffaloes
2. 2011 Bubble Motivation – After going 21-13 and 8-8 in the Big 12 in 2011, the Buffaloes sat squarely on the bubble. The Tournament selection committee did not end up giving them a bid and it has stuck with the team all season long. At the post-game press conference, coach Tad Boyle said he sent a text at 1:30AM to six of the players on that team last season and told them today’s game was for them. Boyle welled up with tears when asked what this win meant to him relative to the emotions he and his team went through last year. This win meant more to the Buffs than most of us could have imagined.
The biggest on the court story this week was Colorado knocking off California on Sunday afternoon, leaving the Bears a game back in the loss column of conference leader Washington. The Huskies took care of their business last week, coming back from a 13-point deficit midway through the second half to knock off Washington State. As a result, a UW win tonight at USC (which seems almost a given – the Huskies will be a significant favorite) will earn them at least a share of the conference title. And if they back that up with a win at UCLA on Saturday, they’ll earn their second regular season conference title in four years. If they slip up in one of those games, the Golden Bears can force a tie by knocking off Stanford at Maples Pavilion Sunday in the final conference game of the regular season, and in that case, Cal would also earn the #1 seed in the conference tournament by virtue of their win at Washington in January.
Behind the leaders, there are three teams fighting for the two remaining first-round byes in the conference tournament; Arizona, Colorado and Oregon all sit with five conference losses. Arizona has an advantage over the others, however, in that they have only one remaining game – against lowly Arizona State on Sunday afternoon. Oregon and Colorado, meanwhile, will go a long way towards breaking their tie tonight, as the Ducks host the Buffaloes in Eugene.
While whichever of these three teams winds up as the #5 seed will have the opportunity to breeze through USC in the opening round game, the addition of an extra obstacle in the way prior to the Pac-12 quarterfinals will harm that team’s chances at running the table and coming away with the Pac-12’s automatic bid.
Arizona Took Care Of Business Against The Los Angeles Schools And Can Now Earn A First-Round Bye (Chris Morrison/US Presswire)
And that automatic bid will certainly be a very important thing for most teams in this conference. At this point, Cal looks like a pretty safe bet to earn an at-large bid, although they don’t want to press their luck with a loss at Stanford and a loss in the quarters of the conference tourney. They’ve got the best RPI in the conference (see all the numbers below) and they’ve got a couple of top 50 wins (both over Oregon, so take those with a grain of salt). While it looks like they’re safe, if they finish the season poorly, they’ll have no right to complain if they are left out of the eventual bracket.
Washington, meanwhile, seems to be in pretty good shape as well – right now at least. However, they’re towards the back of the bus right now and if a handful of teams come out of the woodwork to steal bids over the next couple of weeks, Washington’s margin for error could get mighty slim.
As for the rest of the bunch, there are some who continue to say that teams like Arizona and Colorado are right on the bubble, but looking at the numbers, they’d do well to just go ahead and win the Pac-12 Tournament if they have any real designs on an NCAA bid. Oregon’s got the best RPI numbers, but they’re 0-5 against top 50 teams. Colorado’s got a couple top 50 wins (over Oregon and Cal – unfortunately, if they beat Oregon this weekend, it will probably drop the Ducks out of the top 50 and take CU back to just 1-3 against the top 50), but they’ve also got four bad losses and an RPI that’s of no use either.
vs. RPI 1-25
vs. RPI 1-50
vs. RPI +100
So, really, the only chance I see for the Pac-12 to shoehorn three different teams into the bracket is this: (1) California and Washington win their final games of the regular season this weekend, (2) then they both take care of business in the quarterfinals, with one of them advancing to the Pac-12 final while the other loses in the semis, (3) whoever the opponent is in the Pac-12 final wins the championship, earning the automatic bid and (4) bid stealers are kept to a minimum and both Cal and Washington squeak into the field on Selection Sunday, along with the conference champion.
Lastly, one of the best college basketball reads every week is John Gasaway’s Tuesday Truths at Basketball Prospectus. Aside from giving some insights on the 14 best conferences in the nation, he lays out the margin between average points scored and average points allowed per possession, a good measure of a team’s overall strength, throwing out the luck factor.
While the eye test may tell you that Washington has been the best team in the conference, a look at the stats shows that they are only outscoring their opposition by 0.07 points per possession, while Cal is outscoring its opponents by double that, 0.14 points per possession (for comparison’s sake, Kentucky is outscoring its opponents by 0.25 points per possession – an absurdly good number). In fact, the Huskies are fifth in the conference using this metric, behind even UCLA. In fact, of Washington’s 13 conference wins, five came by four points or less, with another five where the margin was less than ten.
According to Ken Pomeroy, Washington has been the 29th luckiest team in the country (what a great time we live in, where luck can be accounted for by statistics). Long story short, the Huskies may go into the conference tournament as the regular season champion, but they need not necessarily be the favorite to win the automatic bid.
Tony Wroten Is Well On His Way To Earning Freshman Of The Year Honors, But Will He Take Down the POY As Well? (Drew Sellers/Sportspress Northwest)
Three picked Jared Cunningham, and then one each selected Terrence Ross, Devoe Joseph and Jorge Gutierrez. We’ve been down this road before, so I won’t beat a dead horse too much, but while Wroten’s traditional numbers look just fine (16.7 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 3.5 APG), just digging even a little bit deeper reveals some significant problems with his all around game: turnovers on 22% of his possessions, using far too many possessions in an inefficient manner, his insistence on continuing to shoot threes (poorly at that) and his poor field goal percentages.
Still, after last weekend, you can understand why some are still searching for somebody to throw their support behind. Going into last week, it looked like Gutierrez and Ross might be the favorites. So what did each player do in the second-to-last week of the year? Gutierrez went 0-for-7 from the field and failed to score in a loss at Colorado, while Ross fouled out in 21 minutes against Washington State and had as many turnovers (two) as points. Certainly the wrong time for both players to turn in their worst performances of the year, but their overall body of work still leave them as the top two choices for POY.
Coach of the Year Watch
I’ve long since conceded the fact that Tony Wroten will win Freshman of the Year, so we’ll skip that for the week and take a look at the COY race.
Looking at the same poll from ESPN, we see that five different coaches received at least one vote, with Tad Boyle leading the way with six votes, Mike Montgomery earning three, Sean Miller getting a couple and Lorenzo Romar and Dana Altman each earning a single vote.
First, before we get into the credentials for each coach, can we just recognize for a minute just how good a set of coaches the Pac-12 has? Any one of those coaches would be a seriously desirable candidate for just about any job in the country, which makes the struggles in this conference all the more puzzling. As for the award this year, it is hard to argue with Boyle. His team lost its four leading scorers from last season and was picked to finish around tenth in the league by most people. Instead, with two games remaining, they’re among the best teams in the conference.
It is somewhat surprising that Romar hasn’t received more consideration for this award, seeing as he had to replace four major senior contributors last season, lost senior leader Scott Suggs to an injury before the season, dealt with chemistry issues in the non-conference slate, and now has his team on the verge of a conference title. Any of the five deserve consideration for the award, but for my money, Boyle and Romar (at present in that order) are the leaders.
Lorenzo Romar Has His Huskies In First Place, But Is Getting No Love For Coach Of The Year (Getty Images)
There was only one change in our weekly power rankings this week, as USC finally (and rightfully) reclaimed the last spot in the conference from Utah after spending an inexplicable three weeks ranked 11th. The top of the conference is still California, Washington, Oregon, Arizona and Colorado.
While we gave Washington our Team of the Week honors for the second straight week (and fourth time on the season), we continued our improbable streak of seemingly awarding a new Player of the Week every week. To this point, in 16 weeks, only one player (Jared Cunningham) has taken home our POTW honor more than once. This week, it was Kyle Fogg’s first chance earn our award. Similarly, in 16 weeks of handing out a Newcomer of the Week award, we’ve named 12 different players, with Tony Wroten earning it five times and Carlon Brown twice. This week, it was USC’s Byron Wesley.
It doesn’t go down as a surprise of any kind, but Colorado’s win over California on Sunday afternoon certainly doesn’t lack in importance. The Buffaloes got off to a strong start and withstood some pushback from the Golden Bears to lead for the final 30 minutes of the game and knock Cal from their perch atop the conference standings. Colorado, meanwhile, kept themselves in the mix for one of the four first-round byes in the Pac-12 Tournament. The Buffaloes were led by Austin Dufault and Nate Tomlinson, who celebrated their Senior Day in style, as Dufault went for 15, while Tomlinson had 11, four assists, and four boards and had a major hand in throwing a wrench into the Cal backcourt. Jorge Gutierrez and Justin Cobbs were held to a combined three-of-18 from the floor Sunday night, and in both games against Colorado this season, that duo was just eight-of-44 (18.2%) from the field. Lost in all the lovey-dovey Senior Day celebrating was fellow Colorado senior Carlon Brown slumping on the bench and seemingly not all that pleased to watch freshmen Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker finish the game off. Maybe Tad Boyle is already sick of Brown’s act (it is his first year of eligibility in Boulder after transferring from Utah), but with important games still remaining for Colorado (not just their trip to Oregon next week, but the Pac-12 Tournament, which it seems like they will need to win in order to earn an NCAA Tournament invite), Boyle will have to find some way to get something out of Brown, who is just 22-of-76 from the field in the month of February.
The California loss leaves Washington all by its lonesome in first place in the conference. The Huskies needed a second-half comeback to knock off Apple Cup rivalWashington State on Saturday, and they earned that victory largely at the free throw line, not bad for a team in the bottom 10% of the nation in free throw percentage. The Huskies made ten of its final 12 free throw attempts while the Cougars hit just 17 of their 32 second half attempts from the charity stripe and U-Dub escaped with a four-point win. Tony Wroten led the way with 21 points (albeit on 6-18 from the field), while Terrence Ross, in his first game after being declared the Pac-12 POY favorite by yours truly, was limited to just 21 ineffective minutes by foul trouble – he was just one-of-five from the field with two points and three rebounds.
It’s been a long, rough season for Utah, with little talent and as a result, little to play for. But, give credit to head coach Larry Krystkowiakwho has kept the Utes scraping hard all season long, and give credit to his team, who the head man describes as “resilient.” It took until the middle of December for the Utes to win a game against Division I competition, and there have been two separate eight-game losing streaks, but Utah got back on the right side of the final score on Saturday, knocking off Stanford 58-57. Junior ChrisHines hit a game-winning three with 27 seconds left and Cardinal senior Josh Owens missed a potentially game-tying free throw with eight seconds, and the Utes escaped with just their sixth win of the year. Meanwhile, for a Stanford team that looked brilliant on Thursday in handing Colorado its first home loss in Pac-12 play, it is just the latest in a long line of uneven performances in conference play.
Normally, if there’s an Arizona/UCLA game being played on the last weekend in February, that’s the headliner in this conference. But, the fact is, as go the Bruins and the Wildcats, so goes the Pac-12. There have been more problems around the conference than just some ordinary teams in Westwood and Tucson, but you have to imagine that if these two stalwarts had lived up to their reputations, there would be a lot less jabbering about the weakness in the conference. As far as the game goes, the Wildcat seniors protected their Senior Day with Kyle Fogg leading the way. The senior guard has averaged at least 24 minutes per game every year of his career, but he is certainly wrapping up his eligibility in style. After going for his second double-double in three games against USC on Thurdsay (and the only two double-doubles of his career), Fogg came just one rebound shy of yet another double-double, but still wound up with 20 points and nine rebounds. The ‘Cats tried to give the game away down the stretch, missing four of six free throws in the final minute, but a Jerime Anderson jumper that could have sent the game to overtime was awry.
Elsewhere around the conference this weekend, the nightmare season for USC continued with a four-point loss at Arizona State, as the undersized and undermanned Trojans couldn’t deal with Sun Devil sophomore center Jordan Bachynski who had 19 points and nine boards. However, it was embattled point guard Chris Colvinwho iced the game, converting a three-point play with 19 seconds left to seal the win. Freshman guard Byron Wesley has come up big recently for USC, with new career-highs in each of his last two games, but there just isn’t enough help there for now. And, Sunday night, Oregon held off Oregon State in the 337th edition of the basketball version of the Civil War behind 25 points from Oregon senior guard Garrett Sim, whose parents are both Oregon State alumni.