Pac-12 Weekend Round-Up: Arizona, Justin Cobbs, Hallice Cooke and More…

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 3rd, 2014

What a great sports weekend, am I right? There were 10 Pac-12 basketball games since last Wednesday and eight of them were decided by two possessions or fewer. The #1 team in the nation went down. Outside of the Pac-12, the #2 team survived by the skin of its teeth in overtime. Wichita State and San Diego State continued highly successful (and improbable) seasons. I’m sure there were even some sporting events that didn’t involve basketball, too. Maybe. But before we let the weekend get behind us, let’s spend some time to look back at several of the important things we learned in this week of Pac-12 basketball. Because if you hold a blink a beat too long, the next time you open your eyes, we’re going to be in the middle of conference tournaments. Yes, this season is getting away from us. It’s now February, and every conference school has finished half of its conference slate. And despite all that, we’ve still got more questions than ever.

Brandon Ashley Is Done For the Year, But Arizona Still Has Plenty Of Talent (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

Brandon Ashley Is Done For the Year, But Arizona Still Has Plenty Of Talent (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

  • First, Arizona. The Wildcats took their first loss on Saturday night to Cal (and in the process assured that the 1972-73 UCLA squad will remain the last team to go through conference play without a loss), then took an even worse loss on Sunday when it was confirmed that sophomore power forward Brandon Ashley is done for the season with a broken foot. That doesn’t make things any rosier for the Wildcats’ long-term outlook, but there were more than a handful of things from Saturday night’s game that should give Arizona fans plenty of hope. First, as much as junior point guard T.J. McConnell has earned props for his ability to run an offense, contribute defensively and just intangible his way into Arizona fans’ hearts, he hadn’t displayed much of an ability to help out by putting the ball through the hoop. But in a couple of close recent games, he averaged 12 points per night and showed a willingness to get his own when it was appropriate. Hopefully fans across the nation are starting to see just how good this guy is. He’s like Aaron Craft-lite with perhaps a bit more offense. Read the rest of this entry »
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Pac-12 M5: 12.03.13 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on December 3rd, 2013

pac12_morning5

  1. California Golden Blogs meets in roundtable form to discuss some leftovers (get it?) from California‘s recent trip to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational. Included is some projections as to how the Golden Bears would have fared with senior forward Richard Solomon playing in the final two games, as well as the impression David Kravish made on everyone during the trip. While the tournament ended on a bit of a downer thanks to an 18-point loss against Dayton, Monday’s victory over Arkansas was huge as it not only gave the Cal an extra notch in the win column but also put it in the winner’s bracket and match-ups with a pair of solid RPI-enhancing opponents. Where the Golden Bears go from their performance in Maui before conference play is very important. Finishing 10-3 against the non-conference slate is definitely possible, but Mike Montgomery has to make sure the team avoids slip-ups against intrastate rivals UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara, and Fresno State.
  2. UCLA‘s Steve Alford has led the Bruins to a 7-0 start this season, and believe it or not, that is a record among first-year coaches in Westwood. And while critics will be quick to point out that the best UCLA win has probably come against Drexel or Northwestern, 7-0 is still 7-0. This article takes a look at other Bruin head coaches and how each started their careers. The Bruins will go for their eighth consecutive victory tonight against UC Santa Barbara.
  3. Arizona joined the 7-0 club on Friday with its NIT Season Tip-Off Championship victory over Duke, and the Wildcats climbed to number two in the week five AP poll as a result. The poll can be found in full here, where you’ll see the Cats also earned two first place votes. A couple of other 7-0 Pac-12 teams, Oregon and UCLA, checked in at #13 and #18, respectively. If you go down to the “Also Receiving Votes” category you’ll find 7-1 Colorado garnering enough votes to put itself at #36. Arizona State remains without a vote despite having already won seven games, including a victory at UNLV and at home against Marquette.
  4. Sticking in Tucson, USA Today‘s Nicole Auerbach says Arizona is in midseason form three weeks into the season. Head coach Sean Miller didn’t back away from high expectations back in October, and for good reason, because with a true point guard in junior T.J. McConnell and a do-everything scorer in shooting guard Nick Johnson, the Wildcats are winning games and looking good while doing it. A second straight undefeated non-conference season is possible if Arizona can get past Michigan on December 14.
  5. We close with this feature on Utah guard Parker Van Dyke. Van Dyke, a freshman from Salt Lake City, was planning on a two-year church mission immediately after graduating from high school, but decided that his best opportunity for playing time for the Utes would come this season. The mission was put on hold, and the decision has paid off in spades. Van Dyke is typically one of the first guards off the bench for coach Larry Krystkowiak and has already emerged as one of the top shooters on the undefeated Utes.
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Pac-12 M5: Thanksgiving Day Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 28th, 2013

pac12_morning5

  1. Things didn’t start out great for the Pac-12 on Wednesday night, as Arizona spotted Drexel 19 early points in the first half of their NIT Season Tip-Off Semifinal, and, make no mistake, Arizona looked completely awful in that first half. The Wildcats recorded zero assists in 20 minutes, their frontcourt looked overmatched against a smaller Dragons frontcourt and in no way, shape or form, did the Wildcats look like a Top 25 team, much less the top five team that both the most recent AP and RTC polls declared that they were. But, after what was likely a blistering halftime locker room speech, Kaleb Tarczewski, Nick Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, in particular, were impressive in leading their squad back from the brink to earn the much-sought-after match-up with Duke in the championship game on Friday evening. Must-see-TV, indeed. Oh, and those of you who wrote off UCLA after a similarly tough battle with Drexel, do you care to re-assess? Likely not.
  2. At roughly the same time as the Wildcats were struggling with the Dragons, California was in the process of getting pretty well handled by Dayton. Certainly, the fact that the Golden Bears were again playing without one of their best players in Richard Solomon – out due to a corneal abrasion — didn’t do much to help their cause. But, aside from senior point guard Justin Cobbs, who scored Cal’s first 12 points of the second half and wound up with 31 on the night, and David Kravish (12 points, 14 rebounds, five blocks), Mike Montgomery got almost zero production out of the rest of the gang. After an intriguing start to the Maui Invitational, with that win over a tough match-up in Arkansas, Golden Bears fans are left wondering what could have been had Solomon been able to go.
  3. Utah had quite a bit more success on Wednesday night, albeit against lesser competition. Still, if you haven’t gotten around to taking a peek at Ute junior college transfer point guard Delon Wright, it is about time you avail yourself of that opportunity. Once again, Wright proved himself to be a versatile, jack-of-all-trades guy for head coach Larry Krystkowiak, scoring 23 points, handing out seven assists, swiping seven steals, snatching four boards and even swatting a shot. And, for good measure, he made a statement about the supposed weakness in his game: his outside shot. Wright knocked down both of his two attempts from beyond the three-point arc as well in the Utes 19-point win over Ball State.
  4. We take a step away from the court to mention that Oregon head coach Dana Altman was awarded with a three-year contract extension by his university on Wednesday. After the extension, his current contact keeps him in Eugene through 2020, dialing in his compensation at $1.8 million. Given the highs to which  Altman has led the Ducks in his three-plus years on campus so far, this formality is a no-brainer. It wouldn’t be a complete surprise if Altman, by the time his tenure at Oregon is up, has vaulted the Duck basketball program to the levels that Chip Kelly, et al., have launched the Oregon football progam.
  5. And, while we don’t actually have any football games in conference until the day after Thanksgiving, just in case we don’t get a chance to assemble a Morning Five tomorrow night, due to some combination of turkey, stuffing, beer and Arizona State/Creighton (not necessarily – but likely – in that order), we thought Connor and I would unveil our picks for the football weekend herewith. Last week, again, both of us went 3-3 on the week, bringing our totals on the year to 64-21 for Connor and 63-22 for me. In case you need a little help with those numbers (believe me, I can relate), that puts me a game back. With this the last big weekend of football, it is fitting that Connor and I have enough differences of opinion in our picks this weekend to make this interesting. We’ve selected USC/UCLA as our game of the week, even though it is as meaningless as any other game this weekend in the grand scheme of things. But, really, in a week with USC/UCLA, Oregon/Oregon State, Washington/Washington State and Arizona/Arizona State, there clearly ain’t anything approaching a meaningless game on the slate. Anyway, our picks:pickem-rivarlyweek
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Pac-12 M5: 11.26.13 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on November 26th, 2013

pac12_morning5

  1. Feast Week got off to a good start for the Pac-12, as California got the Maui Invitational underway with some strong second half play from its frontcourt to provide the margin in an eight-point win over Arkansas. Richard Solomon picked up a third personal foul early in the second half, but head coach Mike Montgomery trusted his senior, and the mercurial big man responded with 11 second-half points. His frontcourt-mate David Kravish led all players with 19 points and 15 rebounds, and now the Golden Bears will get a chance to avenge last year’s season-ending loss to Syracuse in today’s semifinal round. Some 5,000 miles away and a dozen hours later, Cal’s Bay Area counterpart, Stanford, bounced back from an awful first half against Houston to come up with a semifinal win in the Legends Classic. They’ll play Pitt in the championship game tonight.
  2. Arizona has a big week ahead of it as well, as they’ll compete in the NIT Season Tip-Off at Madison Square Garden beginning tomorrow night against Drexel with a potential date on the line with Duke on Friday. But despite the national accolades (the Wildcats are ranked #4 in the latest AP poll) and hype surrounding freshman Aaron Gordon, this is still about improving and being able to go toe-to-toe with other elite programs for head coach Sean Miller.
  3. Colorado got a big win on Sunday, knocking off a game Harvard team with a 40-20 second half blistering. While the Buffaloes struggled out of the gate defending the perimeter against a sweet-shooting Crimson squad, head coach Tad Boyle had to be pleased with his team’s effort in getting a hand in the face of three-point shooters after some early problems, causing the Crimson to miss 26 of their 30 three-point attempts over the game’s final 36 minutes. Boyle also pointed out his happiness with the boisterous Colorado fans, as nearly 10,000 patrons helped keep the Buffs energy up in that impressive second half.
  4. Oregon may not be playing in one of the more well-known holiday tournaments this weekend, but it does have a three-game homestand over the weekend as part of the Global Sports Hardwood Challenge, where they’ll play Pacific, North Dakota and Cal Poly. Sure, those aren’t exactly the three most exciting games coming up this week, but it will give the Ducks three more chances to get their bevy of newcomers a chance to learn more about playing with each other. While you probably know by now about guys like Mike Moser and Joseph Young, a couple other new faces around Eugene – Jason Calliste and Elgin Cookhave turned into big-time contributors for head coach Dana Altman as well. Cook and Calliste led the Ducks in scoring on Sunday night in a win against San Francisco, and both players have carved out solid roles for themselves on this talented roster.
  5. Lastly, Washington took another loss on Monday. What’s that, you say? They didn’t have a game on the schedule? Correct, but junior guard Hikeem Stewart announced his decision to transfer from the university. Mired deep on the depth chart behind several other talented wings, Stewart had earned just 6.3 minutes per game this year and had only scored in one of their five games. Lorenzo Romar has wished Stewart the best and given him a full release from his commitment to the Husky program.
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Feast Week Mission Briefing: California in the Maui Invitational

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on November 25th, 2013

With Feast Week tipping off over the weekend, we’re outlining the roads ahead for prominent Pac-12 teams involved in neutral site events this week.

What They’ve Done So Far: There hasn’t been a whole lot of flash on the California schedule so far, with Denver and Oakland (no, not the Broncos and the Raiders) headlining the early slate. As a result, the Bears are out to a 4-0 record, with only Oakland having thrown a challenge their way. But for a team breaking in five freshmen and replacing Pac-12 Player of the Year Allen Crabbe, that recipe has been just fine. The mostly highly regarded freshman of the bunch, Jabari Bird, is the primary guy replacing Crabbe and he’s been great out of the gate, averaging 13.5 points per game while stroking 50 percent of his shots from three. Meanwhile, versatile sophomore wing Tyrone Wallace looks like he’s working on a breakout season, having made great strides with a previously broken jump shot. Finally, the veteran frontcourt tandem of Richard Solomon and David Kravish has also combined to account for about 20 points, 20 rebounds and four blocks per night, and it is all held together by senior point guard Justin Cobbs, who hasn’t yet had to take on a big scoring burden but is capable if needed.

Jabari Bird Has Adapted To The College Game Quickly (GoldenBearSports.com)

Jabari Bird Has Adapted To The College Game Quickly (GoldenBearSports.com)

First Round Preview: Arkansas is first up for the Golden Bears to tip off the Maui Invitational this morning and this game will be a clash of tempos. While Cal is more than willing to slow things down and grind it out in the half-court with set plays and lock-down defense, the Razorbacks want to get up and down the court with alacrity. Junior wing Alandise Harris leads the way for the Hawgs, averaging 18 points per game, earned mostly on the attack, whether making tough shots from penetration or getting to the line to take advantage of his excellent free throw shooting. Bird and/or Wallace will be primarily responsible for checking Harris and they’ll need to make sure to keep out of foul trouble, as he is one of the best players in the nation at drawing fouls. Luckily, Cal teams under Mike Montgomery are not known to foul recklessly. The one spot where the Bears can take advantage of Arkansas is on the offensive glass, where Solomon and Kravish have done a good job this season; Arkansas, meanwhile, is not great at cleaning their defensive glass. Still, while the Bears are the slightly more talented team here, if they’re not on top of things early on the island, this is a game they could lose.

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The RTC Interview Series: Pac-12 Preview with Don MacLean and Miles Simon

Posted by Walker Carey on November 6th, 2013


Rush The Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you periodically throughout the offseason. If you have any specific interview requests or want us to interview you, shoot us an email at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. To read through the entire 2013-14 preseason interview series, click here. As part of our national preview with the Pac-12, RTC correspondent Walker Carey recently had the pleasure of speaking with two Pac-12 experts in Pac-12 Network analyst and former UCLA star, Don MacLean, and ESPN analyst and former Arizona star, Miles Simon. (Ed. note – we spoke to each individual separately, but for the sake of expediency, combining their answers into a round table format made the most sense.)

Don MacLean and Miles Simon Shared Their Pac-12 Thoughts With Us

Don MacLean and Miles Simon Shared Their Pac-12 Thoughts With Us

Rush the Court: Arizona is the overwhelming preseason favorite in the league. What is it about Sean Miller’s team that has expectations so high in Tucson?

Don MacLean: The talent level there is very high. Sean Miller has brought in some very high-level recruits. Aaron Gordon brings another dimension for the team with his great athleticism and versatility to play inside and on the perimeter. T.J. McConnell is going to be great for the team. I worked the exhibition game last week and I was really impressed by McConnell. I think he is really good. He is the first true point guard that Sean Miller has had since he has been at Arizona. When you have all that talent, you need a pass-first guy to spread the ball around. From what I have seen, McConnell seems to be that guy. Sean Miller is also a great coach. With this roster, the depth that the team has, and Miller’s coaching, I think it is warranted to put Arizona as the best team in the league right now.

Miles Simon: Sean Miller obviously brought in a tremendous recruiting class. Getting Aaron Gordon, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Elliott Pitts to come in is a good place to start with this team. Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell is going to be an excellent addition for the team at point guard. When you look at this team, it is just so long and athletic. I think defensively, this might be the best group that Sean Miller has had since he has been at Arizona. There are just so many positives with this team going into the season.

RTC: Oregon made a surprise trip to the Sweet Sixteen last March after pulling off upsets over Oklahoma State and Saint Louis. Gone from last season’s team are Arsalan Kazemi and E.J. Singler, but the Ducks did secure the services of UNLV transfer Mike Moser. With Moser joining a team that has the talented backcourt of Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson returning, should Dana Altman’s squad take a step forward in the Pac-12 this season and should another NCAA Tournament run be expected?

MacLean: You can never expect an NCAA Tournament run, but I think the team should be just as good. Do not forget that Oregon also added Joseph Young, the transfer from Houston. Adding Mike Moser as a fifth-year guy is an important piece and Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson will be better as second-year players. With what Dana Altman does with his style of play and the way he changes up defenses, I think the Ducks will be as good as they were last season.

Simon: I think Oregon will get back to the NCAA Tournament. It really has some nice pieces, but when you lose guys like Arsalan Kazemi, E.J. Singler, Tony Woods and Carlos Emory, you are losing what was the heart and soul of your team. A lot of leadership and toughness left with those guys. If Mike Moser is able to return to where he was with UNLV two years ago, he will be excellent. The backcourt of Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson should be explosive and one of the best in the league. Johnathan Loyd is the third guard and he has some experience because he had to play a lot when Artis was injured last season. When you consider these pieces, this is a team that should get back to the NCAA Tournament and finish in the top half of the Pac-12.

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Pac-12 Team Preview: California Golden Bears

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on October 31st, 2013

We continue unveiling our team-by-team breakdowns, in roughly the reverse order of where we expect these teams to finish in the conference standings.

California Golden Bears

Strengths. I’m not going to sit here and tell you it is a good thing that shooting guard Allen Crabbe is gone after averaging 18.4 PPG last season. However, Crabbe’s departure opens the door for freshman two guard Jabari Bird, a five-star recruit out of Salesian High School (CA). If things go according to plan, Bird will be on the Pac-12′s All-Freshmen team next March. Providing strength, explosiveness, a high basketball IQ, and the ability to float to open areas on the court and hit from anywhere after doing so, Cal has another legitimate scoring threat to play along senior Justin Cobbs in the backcourt. Cobbs became more of a score-first point guard last season, and for the most part, it worked out just fine. If he nears the same type of production, this duo will be a lethal one.

Bird Needs To Live Up To The Lofty Expectations Put Upon Him If The Golden Bears Want To Go Dancing In 2012-13 (credit: Dennis Lee)

Bird Needs To Live Up To The Lofty Expectations Put Upon Him If The Golden Bears Want To Go Dancing In 2012-13 (credit: Dennis Lee)

Weaknesses. The Golden Bears have potential up front, but it is a very thin group. And this is where they go from an NCAA Tournament lock to the bubble. Richard Solomon and David Kravish are solid players but won’t do anything that jumps off the page, and after that it gets scary. Mike Montgomery will have to go small for the majority of games and desperately needs 7’0″ freshman Kameron Rooks to be ready immediately when the two starters need a break.

Non-Conference Tests. California will face five tough opponents in its non-conference schedule, four of which come within a one-week span. It’ll open Feast Week in Lahaina against Arkansas in the first round of the Maui Invitational, then face either Syracuse or Minnesota a day later. Gonzaga highlights the four options for its final game on the Islands before Cal returns home to face UC Irvine, a team projected by most to take the Big West. The final non-conference test will be played December 22 at Creighton.

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Why is Doug Gottlieb Picking Cal as a Top Ten Team?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 23rd, 2013

It’s the time of year where everybody and their brother are locking in their picks for the upcoming college basketball season. You’ve got All-America teams and conference projections and Top 25s. And it is all good fun. And I get it, you don’t want to have roughly the same picks as everybody else; at some point you want to go out on a limb and say, “Hey, this may be completely wrong, but I’ve got a hunch about Player A or Team B.” And that’s cool. And that’s fun. But. Doug Gottlieb, who is more often right than he is wrong and has probably forgotten more about the sport than I’ll ever know, picked California 10th – in the nation, mind you, not the conference. And now I’m completely befuddled and I’m looking at the Golden Bears and I’m thinking to myself: “What the hell is he seeing that I am missing?”

California? Tenth In The Nation? Am I Missing Something? (credit: Mark J. Terrill)

California? 10th In The Nation? Am I Missing Something? (Mark J. Terrill)

Now, don’t get me wrong, there is clearly plenty of talent on that roster. Point guard Justin Cobbs returns for his senior year. Freshman Jabari Bird is one of the most highly regarded rookie wings in the nation. There’s a pair of returning upperclassman starters up front in Richard Solomon and David Kravish. And there are plenty of other interesting pieces, like versatile sophomore wing Tyrone Wallace, and talented, if oft-injured shooter Ricky Kreklow. And Bird’s not the only freshman expected to make an impact, with Jordan Mathews likely to step right into a big role and seven-footer Kameron Rooks coming along far more quickly than had been previously expected. And, perhaps most importantly, head coach Mike Montgomery is a wizard who routinely gets the most out of his teams. But 10th? In the nation? Huh?

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Thoughts on the Pac-12 Quarterfinals, Evening Session

Posted by AMurawa on March 15th, 2013

Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-12 Conference. He filed this report after the second session of the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas on Thursday evening.

The evening pair of quarterfinals began with the expectation that there was no way it could live up to the atmosphere and excitement of the afternoon session. And, while it took some time for all of the fans to filter in from happy hour, by the second half of the first game, we had a really good crowd. And what a game that first one was as Utah stormed back from an eight-point second-half deficit against California, survived a seven-minute scoreless streak and got a miraculous Jarred DuBois three over the outstretched arm of 6’10” David Kravish in the waning moments to force overtime, where they would eventually win the game. Lots of little things to mention from this contest:

  • First and foremost, gotta give props to Larry Krystkowiak. Aside from rebuilding his roster from scratch, he’s also done a great job getting incremental improvements out of this team over the course of the season. Remember when this team lost to Stanford by 31? Or lost at the Oregon schools by an average of 14.5 points per game? Now this team is riding a four-game winning streak, shows all the hallmarks of being a well-coached team and is a deserving semifinal entrant. Just wait until the talent level gets to where he wants it.

    Larry Krystkowiak, Utah

    Larry Krystkowiak Has Done A Great Job Getting A Rebuilding Program Into The Pac-12 Semis

  • Utah freshman Jordan Loveridge struggled early, missing seven of his first nine shots, but then hit back-to-back threes to give Utah its first second-half lead, then hit another big three at the start of overtime to extend the Utes’ momentum. He’s had some ups and downs in his first year for the Utes, but he’s a special talent who will eventually, maybe as soon as next year, be an all-conference guy.
  • Richard Solomon continues to be one of my favorite/most-frustrating players in the conference. Dude’s got all the talent in the world, but his motor is often lacking. Case in point tonight: He got 37 minutes of action, probably competed really hard for about 20 of those minutes, and wound up with eight points, 11 boards and three steals.
  • Cal’s Ricky Kreklow, who has missed 24 of his team’s 31 games this season due to a foot injury, played 18 minutes tonight, his most in a game since November, and knocked down two big threes in the first half that kept the Bears sticking around when little else was going right. A lanky wing with a nice shooting touch, it would be a nice addition if he’s good to go without concern for his foot.

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Pac-12 Report Card: Volume IV

Posted by AMurawa on January 30th, 2013

Another week of classes, another week of grades from Professor Pac. As midterms approach, only Oregon is on pace for a A this semester.

Arizona State – A

Way back in June, Herb Sendek was talking about how his new Sun Devil team was going to get out and run and be as uptempo as anybody in the Pac-12. But, since getting run off the court by an athletic DePaul team back in early December, Arizona State had gone eight straight games without getting 70 possessions in a ball game. This past week when they hosted USC and UCLA and came away 2-0, they went over 70 possessions in both games and averaged 76 possessions – and 88 points – for the week. Sure, the USC game was aided by an extra five minutes of play, but the Sun Devils still played with more pace this past week than they have done in some time.

Focus on: Jonathan Gilling. We’ve talked a ton about Jahii Carson and Jordan Bachynski, we’ve touched on Carrick Felix and Evan Gordon on a regular basis, but Gilling is the fifth member of the starting unit, and criminally underrated. While his shooting percentages have dipped compared with his freshman campaign, Gilling is doing everything else better this season. He’s turned into an exceedingly effective rebounder and an underrated passer. He’s one of just two players in the conference to average seven rebounds and three assists per game (the other is Kyle Anderson) and as you could see by this week’s performance when he has 14 dimes, he finds exceedingly good looks for his teammates. Of those 14 assists, eight led to either layups or dunks, while four more ended in threes. And he’s an equal-opportunity distributor; Felix, Bachynski, and Gordon were each on the receiving end of four of Gilling’s assists.

While His More Heralded Teammates Get Most Of The Pub, Jonathan Gilling Has Been Great For ASU This Season (Jae C. Hong, AP Photo)

While His More Heralded Teammates Get Most Of The Pub, Jonathan Gilling Has Been Great For ASU This Season (Jae C. Hong, AP Photo)

Looking ahead: The Sun Devils are the toast of the conference this week, but with a road trip up north to the Washington schools ahead, things can go south in a hurry. The Cougars and Huskies may not be the most intimidating opponents, but they’re more than capable of knocking off the Sun Devils.

Colorado – A

Don’t look now, but after an extended hangover effect following the debacle in the desert, the Buffaloes have won three straight by an average of 13 points and are back to .500 in the conference. And while the offense has been steadily improving, they’ve been doing it with defense. They’ve held their three opponents in that win streak to a 40.5 eFG%.

Focus on: Xavier Johnson. Doomed to play roughly the same position as the nation’s leading rebounder, Andre Roberson, Johnson has been lurking in the shadows somewhat most of the year. But on Sunday, when Roberson was limited to just two first half minutes due to foul trouble, Johnson had his breakout game, notching his first double-double of his career and scoring 18 points on just ten field goal attempts. In fact, over the course of this Buff winning streak, Johnson has been a major contributor. He’s scored in double figures in every game and has been hyper-efficient; he’s averaging 14.3 points per game and shooting a 74 eFG%.

Looking ahead: The Buffs have a short week, with only a trip to Salt Lake City to face a Utah team coming off its worst performance of the season. If the Buffs don’t have a four-game win streak at this point next week, they may be the recipient of the year’s first F.

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Pac-12 Team Previews: California Golden Bears

Posted by KDanna on October 23rd, 2012

Throughout the preseason, the Pac-12 microsite will be rolling out these featured breakdowns of each of the 12 league schools. Today’s release is the California Golden Bears.

Strengths: Despite losing two of the team’s top four scorers from last year, the Golden Bears have guys who can score at pretty much every position on the floor. It starts on the wing with the smooth Allen Crabbe, who was the last-ever Pac-10 Freshman of the Year in 2010-11. The sharpshooter hit just about 40 percent of his three-point attempts en route to a team-leading 15 points per game. He does well to create his shot and can knock down shots in traffic. He will be fed largely by the dual-threat Justin Cobbs, the Minnesota transfer who led the Golden Bears in assists and three-point field goal percentage (though his sample size wasn’t nearly as large as that of Crabbe’s). Head coach Mike Montgomery will welcome back forward Richard Solomon to the lineup after missing about 60 percent of last season due to academic problems. A good low-post defender, Solomon’s finishing touch and athleticism will go nicely with David Kravish, who provides the Golden Bears with an above-average Pac-12 offensive post threat.

Allen Crabbe, California

Allen Crabbe Is Ready to Take the Next Step (AP)

Weaknesses: Replacing the production of Jorge Gutierrez and Harper Kamp might not be a huge issue, but replacing their intensity and toughness could very well be a problem. The Golden Bears limped into and out of the Pac-12 Tournament and NCAA Tournament last year, and Kamp was quick to call his team out for being soft after a loss in the regular season finale to Stanford. When the going gets tough this year, who will the Golden Bears look to as their vocal leader? Gutierrez didn’t exactly finish his Cal career that well (he went a combined 3-15 with eight points in his last two regular season games before picking things up slightly in the postseason), but he was still the Pac-12 Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. That last honor will be what Cal misses most — his defensive toughness and overall “pesty-ness” really gave opposing guards fits. Gutierrez was a wealthy man’s Venoy Overton on defense with a much larger skill set on offense.  For a team that had trouble stopping much of anyone as the season came to a close (the Golden Bears gave up at least 70 points in four of their final five games after they allowing an average of 61 on the season), perimeter defense could raise some eyebrows in Berkeley.

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California Week’s Burning Question: Which Player Are You Most Excited To See in 2012-13?

Posted by Connor Pelton on June 24th, 2012

The 2012-13 California team will feature a lot of untapped talent, both in newcomers and players who started to break the surface last season, but are primed to have a breakout season next year. While there should be some growing pains early, this team’s potential has Cal fans excited. Which player are you most excited to see (new or returning), and what story will they have written by next April?

Connor Pelton: Sophomore-to-be forward David Kravish showed incredible strides last season as a true freshman, so I’m excited to see whether he is ready or not to be one of the top forwards in the conference in 2012-13. The coaching staff did a tremendous job in just the three short weeks they had to get Kravish ready for his freshman season, and he responded immediately by putting up good numbers on the glass. By December, the wiry freshman was also enough of a scoring threat that opposing defenses had to stop focusing on Richard Solomon and Harper Kamp and devote a lot of time in the game-plan to him. Now, Kamp is gone, and the next step in Kravish’s growth as a player will be to increase his buckets on a more consistent basis. That will be tough, as he will no longer be the off-the-radar freshman. But if he can improve his face-up game and bulk up over the summer, there is no doubt that he will be the man in the middle for the Golden Bears when they need a late basket.

Justin Cobbs Gets Ready To Put Home A Layup, And David Kravish Is Prepared To Get The Rebound If It Doesn’t Fall. (credit: AP)

Andrew Murawa:  For the past two seasons, Jorge Gutierrez was a focal point of the Golden Bear backcourt, playing something of a combo guard for Mike Montgomery’s team and acting as a cult of personality on which fans up and down the Pac-12 conference all had an opinion on. With Gutierrez’s graduation, however, the Cal backcourt is firmly in the hands of a couple of juniors: Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs. While Crabbe is the one with the brightest future (6’6” shooting guards who can stroke the three at 40% tend to draw the interest of NBA general managers), Cobbs most piques my interest, and he may be the guy who has the biggest impact on the 2012-13 Golden Bears. While it took Cobbs some time to get comfortable in his new Berkeley digs after transferring from Minnesota,  by mid-season he was often the best player on the team, carrying the team to a blowout win over UC Santa Barbara in the absence of Gutierrez (25 points on 10-12 shooting), and twice notching double-digit assist games in conference play while consistently playing nearly 40 minutes a night. In his sophomore year he showed a great rapport with Crabbe in the backcourt, able to find his teammate for clean looks, while still maintaining his own dangerous offensive game. While Cobbs may not quite rise to the level of a first team Pac-12 performer next season (at least in any reasonable five-man first team, i.e. not the 28-man first team that the conference regularly puts out), by next April he’ll have the reputation of a guy who is as important to his program as any player in the conference, a guy just as comfortable playing the role of distributing point guard as he is knocking down threes at a high rate, getting to the line on a regular basis and being one of the most efficient guards in the conference.

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