Arizona State Week: Evaluating the Recent Past

Posted by AMurawa on June 11th, 2012

Over the course of the next 12 weeks, during the dog days of summer while there is relatively little going on in the college basketball world, we’re going to take the opportunity to fill you in on the status of each program in the Pac-12. Beginning this week with Arizona State, we’re going to dedicate a week’s worth of Pac-12 microsite posts to each program in the conference. We’ll take a little bit of a look at the recent history of the program and then dig into what the team is going to look like in 2012-13. Along the way we’ll have some interviews with coaches and players, we’ll take a look at schedules for the upcoming year, and we’ll introduce you to some of the new faces we’ll all be meeting. By the time kids are heading back to school in September, we hope to have kept you entertained while giving you a good primer for the Pac-12 conference in the next college basketball season.

Our first subject, Arizona State, is coming off back-to-back disappointing seasons. When Herb Sendek took over the program in 2006-07, his team struggled to an 8-22 finish as the Sun Devils featured four freshmen in their eight-man rotation. But, for the next three seasons, ASU won at least 20 games, earned an NCAA Tournament appearance (including a first-round win) in 2008-09, and finished as high as second in the conference in 2009-10. Along the way, the Sun Devils sent a couple different players to the NBA, with reigning NBA Sixth Man of the Year James Harden going third in the 2009 NBA Draft and Jeff Pendergraph turning a second round pick into a couple years worth of NBA experience. “We really experienced a fantastic and very quick turnaround,” said Sendek last week when RTC talked to him. “Three consecutive postseason tournaments, three consecutive 20-win seasons – but then, we’ve had a series of unfortunate things happen.”

Herb Sendek, Arizona State

After Three Straight 20-Win Seasons, Arizona State Has Slipped The Last Two Years (Harry How, Getty Images)

Those series of unfortunate things have led to the last two seasons, where little has gone right for the Sun Devils. In 2010-11, ASU lost 12 of its first 13 conference games on the way to a 12-19 record, as the senior trio of Ty Abbott, Rihards Kuksiks and Jamelle McMillan took a step back from their performances in the previous year and the team could never find replacements for a couple of graduates: big man Eric Boateng and underrated point guard Derek Glasser. Those exact same areas also plagued the Sun Devils in 2011-12.

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Conference Report Card: Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 13th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West conferences. We will be publishing a series of conference report cards over the next week for conferences that received multiple NCAA bids to recap the conference, grade the teams, and look at the future for the conference.

Conference Recap:

After an awful 2009-10 season in which the Pac-10 had to limp into a second NCAA Tournament bid when Washington hit the gas pedal down the stretch, the four tournament bids the conference received this year was a huge improvement. With Arizona advancing to the Elite Eight, the Pac-10 advanced a team beyond the Sweet 16 for the first time in three seasons, and the conference was a much deeper collection of teams than last year. And without a doubt, that came as a result of the enhanced talent level across the conference. Coming into the season, there were just 17 seniors on rosters across the conference, and the youngsters showed vast  improvement this year, notably Derrick Williams (an All-American and national player of the year candidate), Isaiah Thomas, Tyler Honeycutt, and Klay Thompson with several other players making big strides in their games. While the Pac-10 still struggled to gain national respect, it was clear to fans that the level of play is on the rebound from its 2009-2010 nadir.

The Pac-10 was Derrick Williams' personal playground in 2011, and the Wildcats displayed perhaps the most impressive performance of the NCAA Tournament in their dismantling of Duke. (AZ Daily Star/M. Popat)

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Pac-10 Wrap & Tourney Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 9th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 Conference. Get set for this weekend’s conference tournament with RTC’s season recap and postseason preview.

Tournament Preview

This tournament is as wide open as a Pac-10 tournament has ever been. One of Arizona, UCLA or Washington is the favorite (in some order or another) and the three teams likely to be invited to the NCAA Tournament regardless of the outcome of the Pac-10 Tourney. However, Cal, USC and Washington State are three teams who will be playing for their NCAA Tournament lives (none of the three are likely to be in the final field of 68 without a Pac-10 championship this weekend) and each is more than capable of stringing together three straight wins and earning the conference’s automatic bid. Of course, each of those teams has shown that they are more than capable of bowing out in the first round on the wrong end of a blowout. What will actually go down in Los Angeles this weekend is anybody’s guess, but what it lacks in predictability, it could make up for in excitement.

Final Standings:

  1. Arizona                                  25-6        14-4
  2. UCLA                                      22-9        13-5
  3. Washington                           20-10     11-7
  4. USC                                         18-13     10-8
  5. Cal                                           17-13     10-8
  6. Washington State              19-11     9-9
  7. Oregon                                  14-16     7-11
  8. Stanford                                 15-15     7-11
  9. Oregon State                        10-19     5-13
  10. Arizona State                        12-18     4-14

Superlatives:

  • Player of the Year - Derrick Williams, Sophomore, Arizona. On the best team in the conference, Williams was far and away the best player. A shoo-in for the All-America first team, Williams is among the top ten players in the nation in effective field goal percentage, true shooting percentage, fouls drawn per 40 minutes and the rate at which he gets to the foul line. Oh, and the guy is shooting over 62% from behind the three-point line, a number that is truly astounding, even considering his mere 45 attempts, and especially considering that the three wasn’t even part of his game in his first year in Tucson. While Williams was one of the best players in the Pac-10 as a freshman, no one could have predicted the extent of his improvement as a sophomore. His free throw percentage is up eight points, his effective field goal percentage has skyrocketed from simply very good to excellent, his rebounding has jumped, and this season he was the second most efficient high-use offensive player in the nation, behind Hofstra’s Charles Jenkins. In short, while guys like Klay Thompson and Isaiah Thomas have had strong seasons for their respective teams, those two guys were a not even on the radar for this award; this year was all Derrick Williams.
  • Coach of the Year - Mike Montgomery, California. This was a year in the Pac-10 when there was no shortage of strong candidates for this honor. Dana Altman, Sean Miller and Ben Howland all did strong jobs with their respective teams (in fact, even two weeks ago I figured Altman was the no-brainer for this recognition), but the nod goes to Montgomery for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is his amazing player development. All over his roster, Montgomery has gotten contributions from players above and beyond what was expected of them. Below, you’ll see Jorge Gutierrez as my pick for the conference’s Most Improved Player, but Harper Kamp and Markhuri Sanders-Frison exhibited an effectiveness down low that nobody outside of the biggest Cal homers had any reason to expect. Allen Crabbe turned a mediocre non-conference performance into a great first run through the Pac-10 schedule. And Brandon Smith, a guy who committed to Cal as a walk-on two years back and registered an offensive efficiency rating below 70 last season, stepped in as the starting point guard after freshman Gary Franklin abruptly announced his decision to transfer out of the program in the middle of the season, and delivered an extremely solid performance for the Bears down the stretch. For a program that lost its top four scorers from last season (and eight of their top ten scorers from last year – just 14% of their scoring from last season returned), what Montgomery did this season in Berkeley was nothing short of spectacular.
  • Freshman of the Year - Allen Crabbe, California. Crabbe’s season can really be divided into two categories: with Gary Franklin and without Gary Franklin. With Franklin, Crabbe averaged less than 8.5 points per game and shot just 33.3% from three; after he transferred out, Crabbe scored 16.5 points per game and hit 46.4% from deep. If you eliminate the game in which Crabbe suffered a concussion against Washington and his first game back against UCLA, where he was obviously not quite right yet, Crabbe averaged 18.4 PPG after Franklin. Throw in the fact that, at 6’4 and with long arms, Crabbe was an effective perimeter defender, capable of matching up defensively with opposing small forwards and even helping out his big guys on the glass (5.4 RPG), Crabbe has been an efficient and versatile offensive threat for the surging Bears.
  • Defensive Player of the YearMalcolm Lee, Junior, UCLA. On the most efficient defensive team in the conference, Lee epitomizes everything that went right for Ben Howland and the Bruins this season. Last season the Bruins were 138th in the nation defensively; this year they have vaulted back to 29th, certainly not back to the level of the elite Bruin teams from 2006-2008, but a drastic improvement. And Lee was a big part of that, making a habit of shutting down opposing guards like Isaiah Thomas, Allen Crabbe, Jeremy Greens and even Jimmer Fredette, helping his interior defenders by using his long frame to discourage post feeds and just generally harassing the opposition. While his effort doesn’t show up a whole lot in the stat sheet in terms of steals and blocked shots, without a doubt the Bruin defense is significantly less efficient when Lee is not at full strength.
  • Most Improved Player: Jorge Gutierrez, Junior, California. There’s no argument that last year Gutierrez was a good, solid role player on a senior-laden Golden Bear roster. He played about 20 minutes a game, provided irksome and aggressive defense, never failed to hustle after a loose ball and every once in a while knocked down a shot along the way for 5.5 points per game. But with Jerome Randle, Patrick Christopher and others plying their trade elsewhere this season, Gutierrez was called upon for far more than just hustle. At times he has been the team’s de facto point guard, other times he has been their go-to scorer, but along the way he has kept his energetic way. This season he leads the Bears in scoring (14.8 PPG), assists (4.5 APG), steals (1.6 SPG), and certainly in clutch plays. While it stood to reason that Gutierrez’ role would increase this season, the extent to which he has taken on new responsibilities has been impressive.

All Pac-10 First Team:

  • G Isaiah Thomas, Junior, Washington (16.6 PPG, 5.7 APG)
  • G Klay Thompson, Junior, Washington State (22.4 PPG, 4.0 APG)
  • G Jorge Gutierrez, Junior, California (14.8 PPG, 4.5 APG)
  • F Derrick Williams, Sophomore, Arizona (19.0 PPG, 8.3 RPG)
  • F Nikola Vucevic, Junior, USC (17.6 PPG, 10.3 RPG)

All Pac-10 Second Team:

  • G Allen Crabbe, Freshman, California (12.6 PPG, 5.4 RPG)
  • G Jeremy Green, Junior, Stanford (16.4 PPG, 3.5 RPG)
  • F Reeves Nelson, Sophomore, UCLA (13.9 PPG, 9.0 RPG)
  • F Matthew Bryan-Amaning, Senior, Washington (16.2 PPG, 8.4 RPG)
  • F Joevan Catron, Senior, Oregon (14.8 PPG, 6.4 RPG)

Power Rankings

  1. Arizona (25-6, 14-4) Projected NCAA Seed #6: For all the Pac-10 teams expecting to be invited to the NCAA Tournament (and that includes Arizona, UCLA and Washington), the current seeding expectations are somewhat fluid. If Zona, for instance, were to run through the Pac-10 tourney and some other things ahead of them break their way, it is not out of the question that they wind up with a four seed (although really, a #5 is a more realistic high). Likewise, if they bomb out in the opening round against Stanford, maybe they drop all the way to an eight (and again, a #7 is probably the more realistic low). The big question, however, is how far they can go once they get to the Tournament. While Williams is an elite enough player to carry a team a long ways, the question mark remains about the Wildcats’ complementary parts. The Oregon schools showed last week that if you just limit Williams, there’s a good chance the rest of the Arizona team may not be good enough to put their team over the top, and I think that possibility will increase as they run into better and better competition. Throw in the fact that as a forward, Williams is in need of other players to get him the ball where he can impact the game and the ‘Cats could be ripe for an early round exit.
  2. UCLA (22-9, 13-5) Projected NCAA Seed #7: While the Bruins outperformed expectations this season and showed vast improvement from last year’s team, the fact remains that this is the third straight year in Westwood without a Pac-10 title. And there is some frustration arising around the UCLA basketball program as a result. Los Angeles Times columnist T.J. Simers has repeatedly bashed Ben Howland and his coaching style, Bill Plaschke has likewise questioned Howland’s coaching and recently the Bruins Nation blog dedicated a post to asking whether Howland’s offense has taken the Bruins as far as they can go. Now Simers has the reasoning ability of a plough-horse and Plaschke’s column came before the Bruins improved in the last couple months of the season, but the fact remains that there is a significant portion of the UCLA fanbase that is unhappy with the results under Howland. Three straight Final Fours were awful nice, but there was always an undercurrent of dismay around the program that the Bruins didn’t finish the job on any of those occasions. As good of a job as Howland has done with the team to this point, UCLA fans have some very high expectations, and a second-place finish, no matter what degree of improvement occurred along the way, is not really regarded as an accomplishment. While the Bruins are capable of winning the Pac-10 Tourney this week, and even pulling an upset and getting to the Sweet Sixteen or a bit further (another accomplishment that won’t earn Howland many plaudits among boosters), it is exceedingly unlikely that this UCLA squad is capable of putting together the type of run that will make all of these questions go away.
  3. Washington (20-10, 11-7) Projected NCAA Seed #11: The Huskies are probably safe for inclusion in the NCAA Tournament, but as of right now Lorenzo Romar has got to have a little gnawing feeling in the pit of his stomach. Washington’s resume is paper thin. There are no quality wins outside of their conference, and they went 4-6 down the stretch in conference play, despite having a pretty favorable schedule. And yet, this team is talented enough that it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see them as the sole Pac-10 Sweet 16 team, much like last year when they finished third in the conference and got a favorable draw to run to the second weekend on the Tournament. For that to happen, Isaiah Thomas will need to get his swagger back. After playing the best basketball of his career through much of late January and all of February, in his two games in March he has averaged 12.5 points on 32% shooting, is 0/6 from deep and has just one more assist (six) than turnover (five). As Thomas goes, so go the Huskies, so he’ll need to turn it back up, and fast.
  4. California (17-13, 10-8) NIT: The Bears are streaky, and currently they’re streaking good. They’ve won four straight games, after having previously lost four straight, and even that streak came at the end of an entirely different four-game win streak. The four-game losing streak in the middle can be explained away partly because Crabbe played just ten total minutes in the final three games of that slide after sustaining an injury against Washington, and the first of those four losses was an epic three-overtime loss to conference champion Arizona. In other words, when this team has been whole, their only loss since late January was a two-point loss in triple overtime. Of the teams not currently expected to earn NCAA Tournament invites on Sunday, I’d take Berkeley as the most likely team to win the automatic bid.
  5. USC (18-13, 10-8) NIT: While I’d take Cal as the upset pick for the Pac-10 title, the Trojans aren’t far back. USC has won five of its last six and Vucevic is absolutely on fire of late, having racked up double-doubles in his last eight games, while shooting 55% from the field and adding a previously unknown three-point shot to his game. While the fact that the Trojans get most of their minutes from just a six-player rotation may wear them down in a three-game tournament, this squad will not go quietly.
  6. Washington State (19-11, 9-9): The Cougars are the last of the teams currently on the outside of the bubble that stands a reasonable shot at winning this tournament, now that it is clear that Klay Thompson will be available for the Pac-10 tournament. Thompson was arrested for possession of marijuana following Thursday night’s win over USC and Ken Bone’s hand was forced to suspend him for the final game of the season, a close loss to UCLA. Bone, however, announced on Monday that his suspension was ended and that he would be available for the Pac-10 tourney. Of additional concern is the health of point guard Reggie Moore, who also missed the UCLA game due to an injured foot and whose status is still uncertain.
  7. Oregon (14-16, 7-11): The Ducks faded down the stretch, losing their last four games, but the fact is that a 7-11 conference mark is a pretty good outcome given how big of a hit the program took in the offseason. And with reinforcements arriving next year, there is little doubt that Altman has this program headed in the right direction. The Ducks have shown the ability to sneak up and surprise teams in the upper division of the conference (they’ve beaten Washington, Washington State and USC twice), but the odds of them stringing together the four wins necessary to win the conference tournament are quite large.
  8. Stanford (15-15, 7-11): Much like the Ducks, the Cardinal have a good future ahead of them despite all the lumps they took in conference this year. With no graduating seniors, five freshmen who got significant time and all-conference player Jeremy Green returning for his senior season, this Cardinal team could be trouble next year. And, really, if Green catches fire in the conference tournament and freshman Dwight Powell turns in one of his all-too-rare good performances, this Cardinal team could spring an upset. Patching together several upsets seems unlikely.
  9. Oregon State (10-19, 5-13): This Beaver team is one of the more frustrating teams I’ve ever come across. Under no circumstances is this the ninth most talented team in the conference. There is certainly a higher level of talent here than on Stanford or Oregon, and you could make the argument that this team has more horses than WSU or USC. They put up wins over Washington, Arizona and USC, yet got swept by Oregon and were one of the worst teams in the nation in three-point shooting, defending the three (and really, defending any shot), and turning the ball over. They return a lot of exciting talent next season, but this team is in need of a complete attitude makeover.
  10. Arizona State (12-18, 4-14): Break up the Devils. After a nightmare season, they enter the Pac-10 Tournament on a two-game winning streak, having swept the Oregon schools in Tempe by an average of 17 points. Their three seniors, Ty Abbott, Rihards Kuksiks and Jamelle McMillan, combined for a total of 105 points in the final two games, more than 20 points higher than their average for the rest of the season. If those three can continue the fiery end to the careers, it is not out of the question that they could end the Pac-10 tourney for a higher seed or two.
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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 20th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West Conferences.

A Look Back

Just as it seemed everything was playing out for a relatively easy run through the league for the Washington Huskies, with a 4-0 conference record in the books for the first time since 1984 despite the sudden loss of point guard Abdul Gaddy to a season-ending knee injury, the Huskies had a rough little stretch. First, there was the disturbing story out of Seattle involving the Huskies, as a “prominent member” of the Washington basketball team was accused by a 16-year-old girl of rape. No charges have been brought as of the time of this post, and there has been no new information in this case for over a week. But with the situation a cloud over the entire program, the full Washington roster headed into Maples Pavilion for a battle with Stanford last Thursday night and looked flat, took bad shots, and didn’t even hit many of their good looks on the way to an upset loss. The Huskies did bounce back with a dominating win over Cal on Sunday, and still remain the team to beat in the conference, but we were all reminded that going on the road in conference play is never an easy proposition.

Team of the Week: Arizona – It’s been a couple of weeks since we’ve done this, so while the Wildcats haven’t exactly looked great in posting three straight wins, they get the nod simply because they are the only Pac-10 team without a loss over those two weeks. The last time we checked in on the Pac-10, we spent a lot of time talking about how Derrick Williams, despite his immense talents, was simply not being aggressive enough, either within the Wildcat offense or on the boards. I’m not for a second saying he heard my call to step up (although, if he’s not a regular reader, he should be, right?), but in two of the last three games, Williams has been a different player, twice posting career-highs with 31 points. In both games (wins over Cal and Arizona State), he was very involved in the Arizona offense, taking 12 field goal attempts each time (making seven against Cal and eight against ASU) and getting to the line a whopping 38 times (connecting on 31) in the two games combined. Perhaps more importantly, Williams was a beast on the glass, posting 31 rebounds over the entire three-game span. The rest of the talent on the Wildcat squad is good, but they’ll only go so far as they let Williams take them. Luckily for all involved, they’ve let Williams take over of late.

Player of the Week: Isaiah Thomas, Junior, Washington – Given the numbers mentioned above for Derrick Williams, the fact that he’s not getting this honor should tell you how good Thomas has been of late. Following the misfortune of the season-ending injury to Gaddy, the big question around Seattle for the Huskies was how effective their point guard play would be. It’s only been two week and four games, but I think Thomas went has provided an answer: try 20 PPG, 9.3 APG, and eleven three-pointers on for size. Add in the fact that the 5’9 star threw down his first dunk in a collegiate game against Oregon, just for a little spice, and while the Huskies will still miss Gaddy’s presence, Lorenzo Romar has to feel confident with his point guard play going forward.

Newcomer of the Week: Terrence Ross, Freshman, Washington and Allen Crabbe, Freshman, California – In the two weeks since we’ve done this, we’ve had a lot go down, but I wanted to mention Ross and his breakout performance a couple weeks back at the Hec Ed. While Ross has had some games this season where he grabbed the spotlight (most notably his 18 points and four threes in Washington’s Pac-10 opening win at USC), the homestand against the Oregon schools featured the biggest game of his young career and his first iteration of big back-to-back performances. Against Oregon, Ross went off with 25 points (on 11-18 shooting, including three threes), four rebounds, four steals, two blocks and no turnovers while earning a season-high 27 minutes. To back that game up, he posted a more reserved 14 points (6-11 field goals) and seven rebounds in just 16 minutes against Oregon State. With Gaddy’s 23 minutes a game up for grabs, Ross went a long way towards staking his claim for some extra run. Since then Ross has come back to earth, scoring just six points in the Huskies’ trip to the Bay Area, but he’s shown what he can do. Crabbe too had an up-and-down non-conference portion of the season, but since backcourt-mate Gary Franklin announced his decision to transfer out of the program, he has stepped into a major role in the Cal offense. Over the last four games, Crabbe has averaged 20 points a night, including a career-high 30 in an overtime upset of Washington State during which he played 44 of a possible 45 minutes. He has scored in double figures in six of the last seven games and has given a Golden Bear offense which sputtered on a regular basis early in the year, an explosive option to pair with their bruising frontcourt.

Game of the Week: Stanford 58, Washington 56 – Upsets like these don’t come easy, as Cardinal head coach Mike Montgomery was reminded on Thursday. After a Josh Owens tip-in put Stanford up two with 29 second left, he knew he’d have to survive one last Washington possession. And what an eventful possession it was. First, junior Scott Suggs missed a potential game-winning three-pointer from the corner, but Husky forward Justin Holiday was able to come away with the rebound and draw a foul from Jeremy Green with two seconds left. But, after missing the first free throw, Holiday was forced to miss the second one on purpose in order to give his team another chance to tie. Stanford freshman Dwight Powell was able to grab the rebound, but was called for a travel, giving U-Dub one last chance at the win. However, Holiday – who had a game-high 15 points, missed at the buzzer and Stanford escaped with a shocking win.

Game of the Upcoming Week: Arizona (15-3, 4-1) at Washington (13-4, 5-1) 1/20, 7:30PM PST, FSN – The battle between the top two teams in the conference also provides Arizona with yet another chance to prove that they belong in the conversation at the top of the conference. So far, the Wildcats have failed every significant test they have faced, and have earned their 4-1 conference start with a mixture of home cooking and light competition. Not only are the Huskies a completely different story, the trip to Washington’s Hec Ed Pavilion is as tough of a place to play as the edition of the Wildcats has seen so far. For Arizona to hang around in this game, Derrick Williams will need to duplicate the intensity and aggressiveness he displayed against Cal and Arizona State, and the Wildcats will need to keep the tempo somewhat slow. If the Huskies turn this game into a fast-break affair, expect the Dogs to expose the ‘Cats flaws.

Power Rankings

1. Washington (13-4, 5-1): We’ve talked about Thomas above, but we’ve also got to mention Matthew Bryan-Amaning, who kept up his hot streak after winning our last Pac-10 Player of the Week, by posting averages of 16.8 points and 10.3 rebounds over the past four games. In the bounce-back win over Cal, Bryan-Amaning was one of three Huskies to score more than 20 points, when he posted 22 points and 11 rebounds. Thomas led all scorers in that game with 27 (and 13 assists for good measure), while Holiday added 23.

Looking ahead: Our game of the week is the big one on the schedule for the Huskies, with a visit from Arizona State following on Saturday.

2. Arizona (15-3, 4-1): According to the standings, the Wildcats are in second place in the conference; a look at their schedule to date gives one at least some pause. A win over conference-doormat Oregon, a surprising loss to a team that lost to Utah Valley State (!!), a two-point win over a down Cal squad, a workmanlike win over a young Stanford squad and a solid win over a hapless Arizona State team does not exactly indicate that this is a classic Arizona team. Still, Derrick Williams is as good as anybody in the conference (if not the nation), Sean Miller is a terrific head coach, and this is a deep roster. If Miller can find somebody to step up to be a consistent threat when paired with Williams, this team could be in business. Senior Jamelle Horne threw his name into that ring with a 16-point, 12-rebound performance against Stanford, where he also knocked down all four of his three-point attempts, including two clutch bombs in the last four-minutes to put down one final Cardinal rally, but his inconsistency showed up again against ASU, when he had just four points and two rebounds in 20 minutes.

Looking ahead: The trip to Washington is one thing, but if the Wildcats aren’t careful, the matchup with Washington State on Saturday could be awful difficult as well. An 0-2 weekend in Washington is not going to be an uncommon result around the conference this season.

3. UCLA (11-6, 3-2): The Bruins lost to USC for the fourth straight time a couple of weeks back when Malcolm Lee and Tyler Honeycutt combined to make four of their 15 field goal attempts and turn the ball over eight times against just four assists. Freshman center Josh Smith was slightly more effective, notching eight points on four-of-six shooting, but he fouled out in 22 minutes after committing multiple dumb fouls, even after Howland lessened his duties in defending the pick-and-roll. To make matters worse, he then went and acted very much like the freshman that his is after the game, further embarrassing a proud program that is struggling through some tough times right now. UCLA did bounce back by sweeping the Oregon schools on the road, in a couple of hard-fought games. Against OSU on Thursday, UCLA completely blew a 17-point second half lead before recovering to score the final seven points of the game and escape with a five-point win. Smith played the hero in that game, knocking down four straight free throws and grabbing four rebounds in the final 2:30 to seal the game.

Looking ahead: UCLA hosts the Bay Area schools this week, giving them a reasonable chance to extend their winning streak to four games.

4. Washington State (13-5, 3-3): Home cookin’ never tasted so good. On the heels of a nearly two-week road trip that ended with a couple of conference-opening losses in Los Angeles, Ken Bone and company were in desperate need of a Beasley Coliseum homestand. And the Cougars made good on their return to the Paloose, pulling out a pair of 14-point wins over the visiting Oregon schools. On the following road trip to the Bay Area, the Cougs managed only a split, losing a tough overtime game to Cal this past Thursday. Klay Thompson has continued to shine for WSU, 25.5 PPG and 7.3 RPG over the last four, but when the Cougs are going good, they give him plenty of help. In the two wins over the Oregon schools,  three additional Cougars scored in double figures in each game, but Thompson’s teammates struggled more offensively against the Bay Area schools. Luckily, WSU’s second-leading scorer, junior Faisal Aden, bounced back from a bit of an offensive downturn to contribute 20 points in the three-point win at Stanford.

Looking ahead: In the Pac-10, each team has a geographic traveling partner. When Washington is playing at Arizona, Washington State is playing at Arizona State. And vice versa. This situation gives the traveling partner of a dominant team in the league a bit of an advantage. For instance, Arizona is going to be sky-high for their game against Washington. Win or lose, you can expect the Wildcats to suffer something of a letdown in their next game at Washington State on Saturday. If the Cougs can take care of business against ASU on Thursday and take advantage of an Arizona letdown on Saturday, a 2-2 week would look mighty good.

5. Stanford (10-6, 3-2): In each of the last two weeks, the Cardinal have come away with splits. And, in each case, that had to be considered a pretty good result for Johnny Dawkins’ young team. On the road trip to Arizona, Stanford took care of business in pummeling the Sun Devils, then lost a tough roadie at the McKale Center. Coming back home, they were able to score the big upset over Washington, but then maybe let down a bit for the follow-up game against Washington State and lost by three after blowing a nine-point halftime lead, when Jeremy Green’s potential game-tying three at the buzzer rimmed out. With so many freshmen dotting the roster, some inconsistency is to be expected, but Dawkins has to be pleased to see guys like Dwight Powell and Anthony Brown make some big contributions on occasion.

Looking ahead: Tough road trip for the Cardinal this week as they head south to face their southern California brethren: at USC on Thursday and at UCLA on Saturday.

6. USC (10-8, 2-3): We can briefly mention USC’s fourth straight win over UCLA, in which Nikola Vucevic scored 20 and Alex Stepheson double-doubled with 13 points and 16 rebounds. Impressive win. Not as impressive? Anything since then. This past week, the Trojans got swept on the Oregon trail, easily the softest road trip in the Pac-10. While Vucevic continued to look strong, averaging 18.5 points and 13.5 rebounds in the two games, the rest of the Trojans were awful. Their trademark tough defense was largely absent, the offense moved in fits and starts and the Trojans twice built up big second half deficits (20 points against Oregon, 14 vs. OSU) before making a too-late charge towards a respectable final margin. The fact that Oregon won without scoring a field goal in the final nine minutes of the game says it all. While Kevin O’Neill’s club has some good performances on its resume, there are too many awful losses there for this team. Throw in the fact that freshman Bryce Jones, who averaged over 30 minutes per game in the first nine games of the season but had seen his minutes dry up to the point where he only averaged seven minutes over the last five games, has announced his decision to transfer from the program and the warm and fuzzy feelings that were surrounding this program quite recently have vanished completely.

Looking ahead: With the Bay Area schools due into town this weekend, the Trojans have an excellent chance to turn their bad luck streak around.

7. Oregon State (8-9, 3-3): After a journey back to reality for the Beavers, with an 0-2 record on their tough Washington road trip, they gave UCLA all they could handle before losing down the stretch, but then handled USC with ease to break a three-game losing streak. While the 3-3 record looks very ordinary, OSU has shown significant improvement in their conference schedule. However, they have to work on finishing their games. They stuck around with Washington State for 32 minutes before letting a 61-57 game turn into a 14-point Cougar win, then they battled Washington to a one-point halftime deficit before getting thumped in the second half. Against UCLA they roared back from a 17-point second deficit, even briefly gaining the lead, but then gave up the final seven points of the game in a loss. The good news is that the Beavers showed improvement in this area against USC. When the Trojans came back from a 14-point second half deficit to cut the lead to four, OSU responded with a couple big plays – an over the shoulder no-look pass from Joe Burton to Jared Cunningham for a bucket, followed by a Calvin Haynes steal and breakaway – to staunch the bleeding. Cunningham remains the versatile star of the program – leading the team in points while currently sitting at second in the nation with one steal roughly every 17 possessions – freshman Roberto Nelson is coming fast, averaging over ten points per game over the last four contests.

Looking ahead: The Beavers host intrastate rival Oregon on Saturday.

8. Cal (9-8, 2-3): In the immediate aftermath of the Gary Franklin transfer, Cal fans rallied around their remaining troops with the typical “oh, we’ll be better off without him” mantra. After four games, it looks like they may have been right. Yes, the Golden Bears have gone just 2-2 in those four games, and they’re coming off a 21-point thrashing at the hands of Washington. But gone are the bad shots and possession stalling dribbling and in his absence, fellow freshman Allen Crabbe has exploded with consistently strong efforts. A third freshman, Richard Solomon, has also come along nicely, averaging 11 points in the Washington homestand; Solomon however needs to add bulk and strength before he can be a consistent contributor at the Pac-10 level. While this team is never going to be as explosive as last year’s offensive powerhouse, the Golden Bears are getting good help from their veterans. Junior Jorge Gutierrez is running the offense, scoring when needed and defending his heart out on a nightly basis, and he went for 12.2 PPG over the last two weeks, while senior big man Markhuri Sanders-Frison, who is fighting through some painful plantar fasciitis, and junior Harper Kamp provide a solid duo up front.

Looking ahead: At UCLA tonight, then USC on Saturday.

9. Arizona State (9-8, 1-4): Disastrous couples of weeks for the Sun Devils, losing two games at home to Stanford and Cal, teams that they need to beat to have any hope of an upper division finish, then getting handled pretty easily by Arizona. ASU fans can point to senior point guard Jamelle McMillan missing both games against the Bay Area schools due to injury and sophomore leading scorer Trent Lockett still not being back to 100% following his own injury, but the fact of the matter is that this group is not leading this Sun Devil team anywhere fast. And, you start to get the feeling that Herb Sendek understands that, which is why you see names like Carrick Felix and Ruslan Pateev suddently getting starts and huge bumps in minutes. Felix has been up and down, but does have four double-figures games in his last five, including a 21-point outburst in the Sun Devils’ win over Tulsa last Wednesday in their final non-conference game of the season.

Looking ahead: Tough couple of games ahead at Washington State and Washington. The Devils would be lucky to get a split this week.

10. Oregon (8-10, 1-5): After a couple more losses on the court, and a handful of injuries to go with them for good measure, a couple of weeks ago, the Ducks bounced back to open their $227 million state-of-the-art Matthew Knight Arena in style with an impressive win over USC. First to the injuries. After getting hurt in the Oregon loss at Washington, Malcolm Armstead missed the Ducks’ loss at Washington State last weekend, although he did return for the homestand. Worse yet, senior Joevan Catron and junior Jeremy Jacob were injured in the first half of that Washington State game and didn’t return to the court in the second half. Catron still has not come back, while Jacob did return for the UCLA game. For a team that was already short-handed, injuries leave this team counting on walk-ons for significant minutes as Nicola Fearn, Matt Losli and Martin Seiferth notched 31 minutes between them against WSU. There was some good news for the future of the Duck program,, aside from the successful opening of their new arena, as head coach Dana Altman secured the transfer of point guard Devoe Joseph, formerly of Minnesota. Joseph enters school this semester and will be eligible in December 2011.

Looking ahead: Oregon heads to Corvallis on Saturday for a battle with OSU.

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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by rtmsf on December 23rd, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West conferences.

A Look Back

  • For the first time this season, the Pac-10 had a week where a handful of teams combined to put together some good efforts, and more importantly, some good wins over quality competition. As of Saturday morning, it looked like more of the same for Pac-10 teams, as USC headed to Lawrence and put up a valiant effort against Kansas, before letting it slip away – a familiar course of action from around the conference. But, later that afternoon UCLA handed BYU its first loss of the season in the Wooden Classic, one of the leading candidates to that point for the best win of the season by a Pac-10 school. The next day, Arizona beat North Carolina State in Raleigh, qualifying as a decent road win. And then on Tuesday, USC wrapped up its tough two-game road trip with a win at Tennessee, probably making the Saturday UCLA win take a back seat. At any rate, while some success has come the Pac-10’s way lately, the conference still sits at 72-39 on the season, with the really quality wins over quality opponents remaining few and far between.
  • Team of the Week.  USC – This award was headed to the Southland one way or another. But USC gets the nod over its L.A. rival after basically playing Kansas and Tennessee to draws on the road, escaping with a win in Knoxville despite coming up short at the Allen Fieldhouse. The Trojan win over Tennessee gives Kevin O’Neill’s club perhaps the two best Pac-10 wins in non-conference play to this point (the other a win over Texas), with the start of Pac-10 play a week away. Junior point guard Jio Fontan saw his first action as a Trojan this week, after sitting out the first semester due to his transfer from Fordham. He was effective in his first two games (he had 15 points at Kansas and 13 points,  four assists and three steals at Tennessee), but is still working on getting comfortable with his teammates. As he settles into his role, he has the ability to make the rest of his team better, meaning the Trojans of February and March should be even more dangerous than they are now.
  • Player of the Week. Klay Thompson, Junior, Washington State – The week started out a little iffy for Thompson, as for most of the Cougars’ game at Santa Clara on Sunday, his shots weren’t falling. Throw in six turnovers and Thompson had his Washington State club on the verge of being upset. But with 17 seconds to go, he hit a three to tie the game at 71. From there the game went to overtime, where Thompson scored another seven points and his Cougs pulled out a tough one by six. Thompson wound up with 23 points (albeit on 5/16 shooting), seven rebounds, six assists, five steals, a couple blocks and four threes along the way. Not bad for a rough night. He followed that performance up with a much crisper performance in the opening round of the Diamond Head Classic on Wednesday, with 28 points and four more threes in a Cougar win over Mississippi State. He is now averaging 21 points per game on the season while hitting 48% of his shots and leading his team in assists and steals.
  • Newcomer of the Week.  Josh Smith, Freshman, UCLA – Smith was a major factor in UCLA’s Saturday win over BYU, scoring 15 points, grabbing eight rebounds and playing gutsy and smart minutes down the stretch, despite playing with four fouls, as UCLA fought off the Cougars. Smith picked up his fourth foul on a questionable call with about 15 minutes left in the game, and after he went to the bench BYU scored 11 straight points to cut the UCLA lead to just two. However, rather than keep Smith on the pine until late in the game, head coach Ben Howland showed a lot of faith in his big kid, putting him back in the game with over ten minutes still to play. Smith responded immediately, rebounding his own miss and getting the put-back just after re-entering on his way to seven points, three rebounds and perhaps the biggest defensive play of the game in a span of just over four minutes. That big defensive play occurred when Smith, playing with those four fouls, slid over in the lane in front of a driving Jimmer Fredette, and drew an offensive foul, the fourth foul on BYU’s All-American candidate. Smith has been up and down in his first month as a collegiate player, but if the Bruins entertain hopes of an NCAA Tournament invitation, they’ll need to continue to get play like this from their big and talented youngster.
  • Game of the Week.  USC 65, Tennessee 64 – In all honesty, that USC/Kansas game was probably the more entertaining game. But in a week where the Pac-10 actually pulled out some big wins, I wanted to mention a Pac-10 win in this space for the first time this season. After leading by as much as eight in the middle of the second half at Thompson-Boling Arena, the Trojans had to hang on down the stretch in order to pull this one out. Senior guard Donte Smith continued his hot play of late by hitting a big three with just over two minutes left to give USC some breathing room at 65-60, but Tennessee pulled back within striking distance with four straight free throws. But USC stepped up the defensive pressure down the stretch and forced a deep Volunteer three which rattled off the rim as time expired to earn the win. USC won despite a rough night for leading scorer Nikola Vucevic who was held to just four points and one rebound before fouling out after just 24 minutes. The Trojans were led by 5’7 freshman guard Maurice Jones and his 15 points, four rebounds, four assists, four steals and three three-pointers.
  • Game of the Upcoming Week.  Washington State in the Diamond Head Classic, ESPN on 12/23 and 12/25 – The Cougs should get a chance or two at some quality opponents in Honolulu. With a win over a short-handed Mississippi State team already under their belts, they get to face Baylor in the semifinal round. Baylor will present quite a challenge for WSU, but it also gives the Cougars a chance to put another good win on their resume. Win or lose, they should then get a chance to face either Butler or Florida State on Christmas Day, either in the championship game or the third-place game. While neither one of those opponents is ranked, they each present Ken Bone’s club with another opportunity to face some big-league competition.

Power Rankings

1. Washington State 9-1.  We mentioned the Cougars’ overtime win at Santa Clara above while awarding the Player of the Week award to Klay Thompson, but several other Cougs contributed in that game. Junior forward Marcus Capers hit all five of his shots in that game, ending up with 14 points and seven rebounds, and front-court mate DeAngelo Casto scored 15, including five in the overtime period, and added ten more rebounds. From Santa Clara, WSU headed to Honolulu for the Diamond Head Classic, and got things off to a strong start there, taking apart Mississippi State in the second half of their opening round game there. WSU outscored MSU 44-17 in the second half while hitting 12 of their 24 three-point attempts for the game and outrebounding the Bulldogs 39-23.

Looking ahead: Baylor awaits in the second round of the Diamond Head tournament, with Butler or Florida State rounding up the weekend. Once back on the mainland, all thoughts turn to conference play as a trip to Pauley Pavilion opens Pac-10 play next Wednesday.

2. Washington 7-3.  Two wins this week by an average of 29 points over teams with a combined 7-15 record tells us little or nothing about this Husky team. We know they can beat up on bad teams – they’ve made a living out of doing so. Isaiah Thomas led the way for the Huskies as he broke out his own personal 10-0 run to start the second half of Washington’s 30-point victory over San Francisco. And he took that streak and turned it into a season-high 24 points in the 28-point win over Nevada on Wednesday. Thomas’ numbers this season thus far are up nearly all the way across the board. While his scoring average is down a bit, he’s averaging career-bests in assists, steals, field goal percentage, three-point percentage, assist-to-turnover ratio, with a career low in turnovers. With competition going up a notch as conference play nears, we’ll keep an eye on those numbers to see if Thomas can keep up that level of play.

Looking ahead: A trip to Los Angeles in advance of the new year, with the Pac-10 opener at USC on 12/29 followed by a visit to Pauley Pavilion on New Year’s Eve.

3. UCLA 7-4.  The importance of the UCLA win over BYU can’t be overstated. For a young team, bouncing back from a horrific 09-10 campaign, with an 0-3 record in their three biggest games of the season and a painful loss to Montana to boot, the BYU win showed this young team that they are capable of playing with top-25 caliber programs. But, just as important as their performance in a highly anticipated game was how they would respond in the next game, against a team without as much name recognition. After UCLA’s strong performance in a loss at Kansas a few weeks back, they got caught napping in their next game against Montana. This time, they faced Montana State after the BYU game, and while there were lapses of concentration (after leading by as many as 15 in the first half, UCLA got sloppy and allowed Montana  State to retake the lead), UCLA was able to pull away late and secure a 16-point win behind Malcolm Lee’s 18 points. Ben Howland would have preferred more consistent play in the follow-up game, but at least his team was able to come away with the win.

Looking ahead: The Bruins wrap up their pre-Pac-10 non-conference slate on Thursday with a visit from UC Irvine before hosting the Washington schools in the opening weekend of conference play.

4. Arizona 11-2.  The Wildcats looked pretty bad in knocking off Northern Arizona by five last Thursday, but bounced back with a solid win over NC State on Sunday night, and then a blowout of overmatched Robert Morris on Wednesday. In the NAU game, Arizona was outrebounded 28-18 and had to fight back from a seven-point half-time deficit to get to a tie game with just over a minute left. From there, Kevin Parrom connected on a three-point play, and then Brendon Lavender got a steal that led to a breakaway bucket to complete the final margin. The NC State game was much less dramatic, as the Wildcats never trailed in the second half, but they did get outrebounded again, this time by a 36-28 margin, including an 18-7 deficit on the offensive end. The Robert Morris game was a whole other level of undramatic, as the Wildcats won by 26. Derrick Williams continued his efficient play, scoring almost 19 points per game this week, although his rebounding numbers have fallen off some – he had just eight total rebounds in the first two games before grabbing nine against RMU. The sophomore Parrom was the most impressive Wildcat this week, with his 14 points, five rebounds, four assists and three threes against NAU making up the best line of his young career.

Looking ahead: Nothing but Pac-10 play from here, as the Wildcats open with visits to the Oregon schools beginning on 12/30.

5. USC 7-5.  We’ve talked about USC pretty extensively above, so we’ll just point out here that aside from the addition of Fontan, the Trojans have plenty of room to grow defensively. In each of the last four seasons, USC ranked in the top 25 teams in the nation in terms of defensive efficiency, according to Ken Pomeroy, and last year they were number two in the country in that area. This year, they sit at a respectable 44th, but if we know Kevin O’Neill, you can expect that ranking to improve as the year goes on.

Looking ahead: Lehigh on Thursday is the last non-conference game of the regular season, with conference play kicking off Wednesday with a visit from pre-season Pac-10 favorite, Washington.

6. Arizona State 6-4.  The Sun Devils scored a couple of solid wins this week, with a three-point road-win over Nevada and a 17-point home handling of Long Beach State. The concern around Tempe has been the relatively quiet performances from seniors Rihards Kuksiks, Ty Abbott and Jamelle McMillan, but no such worries this week. Kuksiks led the way in the Nevada game with 20 points and four threes. But it was Ty Abbott who hit a clutch three just under a minute to silence a run by the Wolfpack and give the Sun Devils some breathing room. Abbott wound up with 17 in that game, then followed that up with a team-high 15 against LBSU. McMillan was also solid this week, averaging six assists per game and snagging six steals in the Long Beach game alone. Freshman Kyle Cain also had a big game against the 49ers, grabbing 16 rebounds and scoring 12 points.

Looking ahead: North Carolina A&T is the final non-conference visitor prior to Pac-10 play, with a trip to Corvallis kicking things off there next Thursday.

7. Cal 6-5.  Win a game you should win, lose a game you should lose. That’s the story of the Golden Bear week, as a loss to Kansas followed a win over Cal Poly. The bad news is this team doesn’t seem to be improving a whole lot as the season goes on. We knew that this Cal team had some growing pains ahead of it, with a slew of youngsters trying to replace last year’s decorated but now-departed seniors. In the early going, Mike Montgomery has relied on veterans like front-court grinders Markhuri Sanders-Frison and Harper Kamp and backcourt annoyance Jorge Gutierrez to keep the Bears in games out of sheer determination. These guys fight and scrap and bother the opposition (at times to the point of retaliation, as we saw with Kansas’ Marcus Morris and his flagrant elbow on Wednesday night), but they’re just not the type of guys who you can create offensive opportunities, a problem which leads to things like the infamous Cal five-point half. The hope for Golden Bear fans was that freshmen guards Allen Crabbe and Gary Franklin would use the non-conference season to settle in and be ready to break out in Pac-10 play, but while Crabbe has had some moments on his way to averaging 7.4 points and 4.7 assists per game, Franklin has struggled mightily. He’s turned the ball over more than he’s handed out assists and he’s shooting an awful 28.4% from the field. Montgomery keeps running him out there though, for 26-plus minutes a night every night, hoping that his confidence in his talented freshman will rub off some. If it does, this Cal team could surprise some people; if it doesn’t, they’ll just continue to annoy people.

Looking ahead: A meeting with Hartford on Tuesday wraps up the non-conference slate, then it is on to Palo Alto for their Pac-10 opener with Stanford.

8. Stanford 6-4.  From here on down to the last place team in the conference, there is nothing but bad news and losses this week. Stanford’s struggles started Saturday when they were dominated at Butler. After already trailing by 19 at halftime, the Cardinal were outscored 10-0 to start the half by Matt Howard alone as Butler got all over Johnny Dawkins’ club in every aspect of the game. On Tuesday, in what was the final game of an 8-4 Big 12 win in the Big 12/Pac-10 challenge, Stanford tripped up against at Oklahoma State. Juniors Jeremy Green and Josh Owens led the Cardinal again this week, as they have done most of the season, scoring 33.5 points per game between the two of them this week, as opposed to the 28 they normally average. However, there hasn’t been even a semi-consistent third option anywhere else, although freshman guard Aaron Bright threw his hat into the ring for that role against Oklahoma State with 15 points and four assists.

Looking ahead: The Cardinal host Yale on Thursday, then get their conference play opened on the second day of the new year with a battle against Bay Area rival Cal at the Farm.

9. Oregon 7-5.  Losses to Virginia and Idaho this week turn what had been a reasonably good non-conference slate for the Ducks into just a typical ugly record for a team expected to finish near the bottom of the conference. Oregon showed this week that not only are they an undersized team, they’re also simply an under-talented team, as they shot just 34% from the field combined. Senior Joevan Catron continued to produce – he led the Ducks in scoring and rebounding in each game – but he’s still playing out of position and is more or less surrounded by an underwhelming cast.

Looking ahead: The Arizona schools come to town, starting on Thursday, in what should be a long and ugly conference run for the Ducks.

10. Oregon State 5-6.  The Beavers had two very winnable games this week at home, and came away with a 1-1 record. First, the bad news: a loss against George Washington in which they turned the ball over 19 times, forced just nine turnovers and missed 15 of their 19 attempts from three. A forgettable performance, so let’s just forget it, especially since the win this week was a 20-point blowout of Illinois-Chicago, a team that just got done beating Illinois, a top 25 team. Not only is that a pretty good win for the Beavs, the way that did it has to have their fans excited, as four OSU players scored in double figures: a sophomore, a redshirt freshman and two true freshmen. Sophomore Jared Cunningham led the way with 22 points and three steals. Highly-anticipated redshirt freshman Roberto Nelson went from 14 in just his third game in a Beaver uniform. Freshman Ahmad Starks had 12 points, three assists and four threes, and fellow freshman Devon Collier had ten points, seven rebounds and three steals. When Craig Robinson assembled these kinds of recruits in Corvallis, this is what OSU fans had in mind. Throw in guys like senior forward Omari Johnson and sophomore centers Joe Burton and Angus Brandt and all of a sudden you’ve got the makings of a rotation that looks like a passable Pac-10 group. And that’s without even mentioning senior guard Calvin Haynes, a guy capable of going for 27 points, as he did against Charlotte, although just as likely to go for two points on five field goals attempts in 25 minutes, as he did in a blowout loss at Colorado. This is still a bad Beaver team, but there is no reason this team can’t at least be competitive in many games in a down Pac-10.

Looking ahead: It’s all Pac-10 play from here, as the Beavers will host the Arizona schools next week.

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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 16th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West conferences.

A Look Back

  • Much like the rest of the country, this week in the Pac-10 was mighty slow as student-athletes focused on their schoolwork in anticipation of winter break. And, much like the rest of the Pac-10 season to date, the three challenging games on the schedule this week for Pac-10 institutions all went down as losses, as Arizona got destroyed by BYU, Washington continued its run of losing to quality competition in a loss to Texas A&M (a loss that also sealed the Pac-10’s fate in the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Challenge) and Cal dropped a nail-biter against Southern Mississippi. With just a couple more weeks of non-conference play remaining, the Pac-10 is in danger again of having few if any viable candidates for at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament.
  • Team of the Week: VACANT – Really. There’s not a team out there that did anything this week to earn any accolades. Who is this supposed to go to? USC for beating Northern Arizona? UCLA for unimpressive wins over Cal Poly and UC Davis? Stanford for not slipping up against UC Riverside and North Carolina A&T? Cal for only losing to Southern Miss by two? Nah. There’s just not a team in the conference that did anything worthwhile this week.
  • Player of the Week: E.J. Singler, Sophomore, Oregon – While Singler certainly owes a portion of this award to the fact that it was a light schedule around the conference, he did his fair share to outright win this honor as well. Kyle’s little brother averaged 16 points and 12 rebounds per game in leading his Ducks to a pair of easy wins over a couple teams with a combined record of 5-14, including Willamette of Division III, a game in which Singler went for 18/17 and three steals. So far this season, the versatile Singler is second on his team in scoring (13.1 PPG), and leads the team in rebounding (6.7 RPG), blocks (11 on the year) and threes (14-26 from deep), while putting in just a minute less than the team-leader in minutes, Joevan Catron.
  • Newcomer of the Week: Faisal Aden, Junior, Washington State – Aden has moved to the bench with point guard Reggie Moore now back from his wrist injury, but his production hasn’t slowed a whole lot. He added another 20-point game this week in WSU’s by-the-books win over Texas Pan-American, with a season-high seven rebounds and another four three-pointers along the way, and is presently averaging 18.3 points per outing while hitting at a rate of 49.6% from the field. Aden’s continued ability to providing a scoring punch off the bench makes the Cougars one of the top contenders for the conference crown.
  • Game of the Week: Texas A&M 63, Washington 62 – Another week, and another disappointing Pac-10 loss takes home our Game of the Week honors, this time the Huskies coming up short in their attempt to beat somebody – anybody – of consequence. Despite their perfect 16-16 night from the foul line and the Aggies’ imperfect night from deep (0-8 from three), the Huskies were outrebounded, outworked and outclassed by their Big 12 opponent. And yet, with time winding down, they still had a chance when Isaiah Thomas snuck up on Nathan Walkup in the open court and picked his pocket with six seconds left, then raced up court to the free throw line before running out of room and out of time. He forced a shot up as time expired into the waiting arms of Aggie junior David Loubeau who sent it back and, with it, sent the Huskies back to Seattle with three losses in their three attempts against top-tier opponents. Soon enough, all these Pac-10 teams will be playing each other, so we’ll have to choose a game in which a Pac-10 team leaves victorious.
  • Game of the Upcoming Week: USC at Kansas, 12/11, 9:00 AM PST, ESPN – While this would not normally be the type of game you would look down the schedule and circle, there are a couple of interesting debuts here that should have all college basketball fans – not just Pac-10 fans – very interested. For the Jayhawks, freshman guard Josh Selby will make his debut, while Trojan fans will get their first glimpse at their new point guard, Jio Fontan, a junior transfer from Fordham. While Selby’s unveiling will get the most attention, given that he was a McDonald’s All-American and one of the most highly regarded recruits in the nation this offseason, Kevin O’Neill and the Trojans are just as excited about Fontan. “He’s our best player,” O’Neill said. “He’s our best leader. He’s our best scorer. He’s our best defender. He’s our best passer. He’s our best guard. He’s our best player.” Whether he’ll be able to fit right in with the Trojans and move them beyond the up-and-down 6-4 squad we’ve seen so far remains to be seen, but O’Neill at least has some experience with getting midseason transfers to step in at point and change the look of his team, as Pat Gerrity did last season for USC. Last year, Gerrity stepped in about this time and led the Trojans to an improbable blowout win over then ninth-ranked Tennessee in his first game back. If Fontan can make anywhere near that type of splash in his first game back, the Trojans could head into Pac-10 play with postseason hopes.

 

 

Power Rankings

1. Washington State (7-1): Following this week’s Washington and Arizona losses, it is time to bump the Cougars up to the top spot in the league, even in a week where all they did was post a 22-point win over an outmanned Texas-Pan American squad. This is far from a perfect WSU team, but they’ve cleaned up some of their weaknesses from last season – namely, defensive efficiency – and even improved on their strengths. Last season, Klay Thompson started out the season on fire, ripping through the non-conference schedule with a barrage of shots from deep, but this season he has clearly returned as a more complete player. He’s added the ability to score off the dribble effectively, he’s become a much more effective passer (he has led the team in assists thus far, stepping in as the team’s playmaker as the incumbent point, Reggie Moore, sat out the first five games with a wrist injury), while still rebounding at a good rate (4.3 RPG). Throw in juco transfer Faisal Aden as a consistent offensive threat alongside Thompson, plus the return of Moore at point and frontcourt contributors like DeAngelo Casto and Marcus Capers, and the emergence of sophomore Brock Motum and freshman Patrick Simon and this is a solid WSU team that is not going anywhere once conference play kicks in.

Looking ahead: The Cougars travel to Santa Clara on Sunday before heading off to Honolulu for the Diamondhead Classic, where they’ll open against Mississippi State (with Renardo Sidney and Dee Bost) with a potential matchup with Baylor awaiting in the semis, assuming both squads advance.

 

2. Washington (6-3): It cannot be said enough, just how disappointing the Huskies have been thus far. Sure, KenPom loves them, still rating them as the sixth best team in the country and the seventh most efficient offense in the land, but even a slightly closer look reveals a team with some cracks. Sure, their three losses are to Kentucky, Michigan State and Texas A&M – all three teams that figure to be dancing come March – but in all three of those games, they were outrebounded (in the Kentucky and A&M games, severely). Worse yet, for a vaunted offensive team, they turned the ball over, didn’t shoot particularly well and were consistently slowed by their defensive-minded opponents. Then there’s Isaiah Thomas, the pint-sized point with the over-sized game. However, thus far he has struggled to take on his new role as the team’s go-to offensive player. In previous seasons he has been at best a secondary option for Lorenzo Romar, but now he needs to be the man for the team when the game is on the line, and thus far, he has been largely ineffective in the team’s three losses: a 13-point average on a combined 10-32 with 11 turnovers and nine assists. Certainly, the team’s three losses aren’t entirely on Thomas’ shoulders, but if he’s going to take over the role of team leader, he’ll need to be a lot more effective in their big games.

Looking ahead: A couple home games against San Francisco and Nevada round up the pre-conference slate (although the Huskies do have one more non-conference game with Seattle mixed in with their Pac-10 play) before the Washington schools visit the Los Angeles area in the last week of December to kick off the conference season.

 

3. UCLA (5-4): Following the Montana debacle, the Bruins got back on track this week with some ho-hum victories over UC Davis and Cal Poly at Pauley Pavilion. While names like Tyler Honeycutt, Reeves Nelson, Malcolm Lee and Joshua Smith (19 points and 12 rebounds against Cal Poly) jump off the box scores for UCLA, a closer look reveals signs of life from much-maligned point Jerime Anderson. Anderson handed out 11 assists against just one turnover while knocking down three of his seven three-point attempts in these two games and looked solid defensively. Clearly this means one of two things: either Anderson is starting to come around and, while he’ll probably never live up to his advance-billing as a highly-regarded recruit, is ready to make solid positive contributions for Ben Howland, or he’s more suited to play at the Big West level. Anderson’s taken enough abuse in his first two seasons as a Bruin, so in the spirit of finding that silver-lining for a hard-working kid, either one of those possibilities is an improvement for a guy who has struggled mightily living up to his expectations in Westwood.

Looking ahead: The last major test for the Bruins before conference play comes Saturday in the Wooden Classic against BYU. However, given their earlier experiences with overlooking Montana following a tough loss at Kansas, UCLA would do well to pay attention when Montana State comes calling on Tuesday.

 

4. Arizona (8-2): There’s no sense in beating around the bush: Arizona got completely destroyed by BYU in Salt Lake City on Saturday. A year after allowing Jimmer Fredette to go for 49 points at the McKale Center, the Wildcats were fortunate to hold the All-American candidate to a mere 33 points and nine assists in this year’s matchup. Perhaps more disturbing than their inability to reign in Fredette – a guy who few teams in the country have been able to control – was their own inability to get their All-American candidate, Derrick Williams, free. Williams was efficient against BYU, tallying 13 points on nine shots, but the Cougars denied him the ball and collapsed on him when he did touch it, forcing other ‘Cats to beat them. Sophomore point Momo Jones did his best, going for 20 points (on 7-11 shooting with four threes mixed in) in his best game of the season, but the rest of the team aside from Williams and Jones combined to make just nine of their 40 shots. At this, point the entirety of the Arizona resume is that they played Kansas sort of close on national television, losing by just eight. Sorry, but an eight-point loss as your best performance of the season doesn’t present major qualifications for a conference title, even in a weakened Pac-10.  

Looking ahead: The Wildcats host Northern Arizona in something called the Fiesta Bowl Basketball Classic on Thursday (even though the Fiesta Bowl is a football game, and one that won’t even be played for about two more weeks), then travel to Raleigh for a pretty tough roadie against North Carolina State.

 

5. USC (6-4): The Trojans have been the epitome of an up-and-down team so far. They won their first two against less-than-stellar completion, then dropped their next two against only slightly better teams. Two more unimpressive wins followed, backed up by even more unimpressive losses. The good Trojans have been back for the last two, the upset of Texas a couple weekends back and their dispatching of Northern Arizona this week, during which senior point guard Donte Smith caught absolute fire in the middle of the second half, scoring 14 straight points to offer a strong response to an NAU team that had cut a 12-point halftime lead to just three. Smith started his run by knocking down a three, then stole the ball on the defensive end and turned that into a breakaway layup, before wrapping up his outburst with three more threes to send the Trojans on their way to an eight-point win.  

Looking ahead: Given the Trojans two-up/two-down pattern, this week’s road trips to Kansas and Tennessee look even less promising, although maybe newly eligible point guard Jio Fontan will be able to break the USC streak.

 

6. Arizona State (4-4): The Sun Devils played just one game this week, a 71-48 thrashing of Gardner-Webb, but there are some signs that they might be on the verge of turning things around. While sophomore Trent Lockett and freshman Kyle Cain have been pretty solid contributors for Herb Sendek this season, the Devils’ trio of seniors (Ty Abbott, Rihards Kuksiks and Jamelle McMillan) have been disappointing. Not to read to much into a win over Gardner-Webb, but those three combined for 39 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists and nine threes in that win. Given that each of those guys has been a consistent contributor for the Devils over their time in Tempe, they might be ready to turn it on for conference play.

Looking ahead: The Sun Devils make a trip to Reno to face Nevada on Friday before returning home to host Long Beach State, a pair of games that should not be overlooked.

 

7. Cal (5-4): Three games into the season, Mike Montgomery looked like he was on the verge of pulling off something special in Berkeley. Despite losing four starters from last year’s Pac-10 champion, along with a host of other reserves to various maladies and defections, the Golden Bears opened with wins over CS Northridge, New Mexico and Temple, the last two on that list particularly impressive. Since then, the Bears have gone 2-4, scored five points in a half on one occasion and followed that up with a 15-point outburst in a half the next night out, and have lost twice by 20 or more. This week’s slip-up was quite a bit closer than that, as they lost at home to Southern Mississippi in a nail-biter, with the game undecided until a potential game-winning three by Jorge Gutierrez clanged off the heel at the buzzer. The Golden Eagles’ Gary Flowers scored the last 12 points for Southern Miss on his way to a game high 28, including the game-winner with three seconds left, but the game was really won on the glass as Cal was outrebounded 31-22 on the game and 11-1 on the offensive end, an unsettling stat given the Bears’ desire to rely on the toughness of their frontcourt duo of Harper Kamp and Markuri Sanders-Frison. One highlight for the Bears was junior Nigel Carter’s 16 points on 4-4 shooting from deep, matching his entire output from last season in one afternoon. Carter hasn’t exactly been a consistent scorer for the Bears this season (he has just 14 total points in the other eight Cal games), but after Sunday’s performance, he has made eight of his 11 three-point attempts on the season.

Looking ahead: Cal hosts Cal Poly on Saturday before being the last of four Pac-10 teams to get a crack at Kansas (at least in the regular season) this year.

 

8. Stanford (6-2): Stanford got its first action since the 76 Classic in this week, although the competition wasn’t exactly top-notch: UC Riverside and North Carolina A&T. Junior Jeremy Green led the way with nine three-pointers this week while averaging 20 points a night and junior Josh Owens stepped up as the likely candidate to be Green’s running mate this season, notching 14.5 points and nine rebounds per game this week and proving himself a good Mr. Inside to Green’s Mr. Outside. While Johnny Dawkins won’t learn a whole lot about his team against competition of this caliber, at least the Cardinal had a chance to get back out on the court and get the relatively unexperienced team used to playing with each other.  

Looking ahead: A significant bump up in the level of talent this week, as the Cardinal travel to Indianapolis for a meeting with Butler on Saturday before a Tuesday matchup with Oklahoma State in Stillwater.

 

9. Oregon (7-3): The Ducks continue to be rock solid under new head coach Dana Altman, generally beating the teams they are supposed to beat while giving solid efforts in their losses. This week the competition was meager (Willamette, a Division III school and Jacksonville State), but the Ducks took care of business with a great deal of maturity. Instead of sleepwalking through overmatched opponents, Oregon did exactly what they were supposed to do. They beat Willamette by 33 while dominating on the glass, then never trailed in the crisply-played game against Jacksonville State, handing out 20 assists on their 29 field goals. While I’ve still got Oregon down here near the bottom of the conference, this is a solid ninth-place team, a team that will not beat itself, that will give consistent effort on a nightly basis, and a team that will probably finish further up the standings despite the limitations of this roster.

Looking ahead: So far, the Ducks have played every game on their schedule within the friendly confines of the state of Oregon. That changes on Friday with a trip to Charlottesville to face Virginia, a significant test for a young Duck team. They return home on Tuesday to face Idaho at Mac Court.

 

10. Oregon State (4-5): I’m going to try to get through this Oregon State review without mentioning how bad this Beaver team is. Wait. Does that count? Oh well. The good news for the Beavers is that their savior has finally arrived. Highly regarded recruit Roberto Nelson has finally played his first game in a Beaver uniform, over 15 months since he first set foot on the campus as a student, after battling with the NCAA over academic eligibility issues. While his debut performance in the Beavers’ 20-point win over Texas-Pan American was underwhelming (15 minutes, four points, three turnovers), OSU fans got a glimpse of the type of talent that made him a top-100 recruit a couple years back, as Nelson scored 13 in a five-point loss at Montana. While he’s not going to turn this team into a contender overnight, he is a badly needed dash of talent on an otherwise very ordinary roster.

Looking ahead: George Washington and Illinois-Chicago visit Corvallis – two very winnable games for the Beavs.

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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 2nd, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West conferences.

 

A Look Back

After an up-and-down start to the season, this past week was more or less just down. The ten Pac-10 member institutions posted a combined 11-11 record on the week and the majority of those wins were against teams that were simply overmatched, schools like Sacramento State, Houston Baptist and something called Utah Valley State.

As for the losses, in the conference’s big tests of the week, aside from Cal’s Old Spice first round victory over Temple, the results came back negative. Yes, Arizona looked pretty good in their eight-point loss against #4 Kansas, but it was still a loss, as was UCLA’s four-point loss in the NIT consolation game against VCU. Same for Arizona State’s nine-point loss to St. John’s in the Great Alaskan Shootout final, and two-thirds of Stanford’s 76 Classic debacle, right up until they ran up against a BCS conference school in DePaul that was in worse shape than they were. The fact is, after just about three weeks of the college basketball season, the Pac-10 schedules are littered with near-misses and embarrassments, and as we welcome December, only Washington State maintains an unblemished record on the season. However, they too have a big exam coming up with a visit from Kansas State in the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series on Friday night.

Team of the Week

Washington State – The Cougars take down this award almost by default, joining only Washington as the two Pac-10 teams who escaped this week unscathed. The most impressive win for Ken Bone’s team this week was an 11-point victory at Fresno State on Friday, as junior college transfer Faisal Aden continued his early season tear, racking up 28 points on six threes while adding three assists.  WSU turned the game around with a 14-0 run in the second half that flipped a seven-point deficit upside down. The Cougs followed that up with an 84-36 thrashing of Sacramento State on Tuesday, sparked by a 27-0 run to start the game, holding their opponent scoreless until the 10-minute mark of the first half. While there isn’t a great win on the Washington State resume yet, they’ve taken care of business to this point, which is more than some other teams around the conference can say.

Player of the Week

Derrick Williams (Sophomore), Arizona – Williams continued his amazing start to the season this week, averaging 24.5 points per contest and throwing in five three-pointers. In the Wildcats’ loss to Kansas in the Las Vegas Invitational, Williams kept Zona in the game with 27 points and eight rebounds before fouling out with under three minutes remaining. So far on the season, Williams has put up 20.5 points and 7.7 rebounds a night in a mere 24 minutes per game, while hitting an excellent 67.1% from the field and an amazing 80% from three (albeit on just ten attempts). While he’s unlikely to keep up that pace over the course of the season, he has shown that he used the offseason to improve his game. Last year he wasn’t much of a threat outside of the key, but he’s improved his jumper and extended his range out to the arc, he’s added quickness and he’s even stronger than he already was, a scary proposition for teams around the Pac-10 trying to figure out an answer for the talented sophomore.

Newcomer of the Week

C.J. Wilcox (Freshman), Washington – It would be easy enough to reprise the selection of Faisal Aden here, as his torrid early pace has not slowed a bit, but in the interest of a little variety, we’ll go with Wilcox, who caught fire in the sole Huskies game of the week with six three-pointers (in eight attempts) on the way to a career-high in both points (20) and minutes (23) as the Huskies ran away from Long Beach State. Wilcox has seen his minutes fluctuate early in his career, but his three-point shooting has been nothing less than stellar, with 17 makes in his first 29 attempts, good for a 58.6 percentage – just what the Huskies needed, another potent offensive weapon.

Game of the Week

Kansas 87, Arizona 79 – For the second consecutive week, we’re dropping a Pac-10 loss in the Game of the Week section, a pretty good summation of how the season is going thus far for the Pac-10 (Utah Valley State?). Much like last week’s winner here, the Kentucky/Washington matchup in Maui, this game was a matchup of one of the top two teams in the conference against one the premier programs in the country, and while the Wildcats looked impressive in this game, the end result in still a loss. Arizona had to scrape back from a big early deficit (at 31-15, the game looked on the verge of blowout territory), but three straight three-pointers by junior Kyle Fogg, who was coming off the bench for disciplinary reasons, jumpstarted the Zona offense and he and Derrick Williams kept the ‘Cats close until late in the second half. But after Williams fouled out in the game’s closing finish, Sean Miller’s club was unable to finish the deal, yet another Pac-10 case of close, but no cigar.

Game of the Upcoming Week

Gonzaga @ Washington State, 12/8, 8:00 PM PST, FSN – The Cougars have a big week ahead of them, with both Kansas State and Gonzaga visiting the Palouse this week. We’ll take the Zag game as the game of the week, as not only is it a slightly more winnable game for the conference (baby steps, Pac-10, baby steps), but it is also an excellent local rivalry, the battle of eastern Washington. Juniors Faisal Aden and Klay Thompson have been on fire in the early going for WSU, but this week they’ll face a significantly higher level of competition than in their first five games. Luckily, sophomore point guard Reggie Moore is due back from his wrist injury, although he’ll wear a splint on his wrist and will need some adjustment time, especially with Jacob Pullen his matchup on his first night back. Also, DeAngelo Casto is expected back this week after missing the last two Cougar games with a right foot injury, meaning WSU will be healthy (or at least marginally healthy) for the first time all season.

Power Rankings

1. Washington (4-2): The Huskies took things a little bit easy this week after returning from their Maui trip, with just a visit from Long Beach State for the week, and they came out ready to play. Seven players scored in double figures and the team posted a stellar 71.6% effective field goal percentage, with C.J. Wilcox, Abdul Gaddy, Darnell Gant and Justin Holiday going 12-14 from behind the arc between them. However, junior guard Isaiah Thomas continues to struggle with his shot, as he missed all six of his attempts from long range. Head coach Lorenzo Romar made a little switch in his starting lineup, sliding junior center Aziz N’Diaye into the starting lineup and bumping senior Matthew Bryan-Amaning to the pine. Bryan-Amaning responded with a perfect 7-7 night from the field for 14 points, and he added five rebounds and four blocks, while N’Diaye was ineffective.

Looking ahead: A couple home games for the Huskies, as they welcome in Texas Tech as part of the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series on Saturday, then host Portland on Monday.

2. Arizona (6-1): The big story of the week was the Wildcats’ matchup with Kansas in the Las Vegas Invitational, which we detailed above in our game of the week section, but prior to that the Cats ripped through Santa Clara on their way to a 23-point victory, and following that they added a 27-point win over Rice, meaning Zona has won their six non-Kansas games by an average of 30 points. Granted, beating up on the “little sisters of the poor” (thanks, Gordon Gee) is not exactly all that much to write home about, but it certainly beats losing to, you know, Utah Valley State or something. While Derrick Williams (see our Player of the Week section) has been nothing short of amazing, Sean Miller has yet to settle into a rotation yet, with plenty of players getting time and posting widely divergent lines as a result. One thing seems clear though in the early going, the point guard position is not yet settled in Tucson. Starter Momo Jones has shown an inability to both get his own points and distribute the ball in the same game, as the only three times he has handed out more than three assists, he has failed to score in double figures. Freshman Jordin Mayes has gotten looks in relief of Jones, but he is still a work in progress, and the best creator for the Wildcats has been off-guard Kyle Fogg, the only player on the squad to average more than three assists per game. That weakness could be a killer come conference play.

Looking ahead: Arizona hosts Oklahoma and CS Fullerton, two games that the Cats should win with relative ease.

3. Washington State (5-0): The lone undefeated Pac-10 team, and the winner of this week’s Pac-10 Team of the Week, has been on fire from the field in the early-going. They rank fourth in the nation with an effective field goal percentage of 60.6% and they are second in the nation with a two-point field goal percentage of 65.2%. While those numbers are drastically improved from last season’s totals, the real improvement for the Cougars has come at the other end of the court. In 2010, they were 155th in the nation in defensive efficiency but thus far this season rank #40. Now, these numbers should be taken with just a grain or two of salt, since last year at this time, the Cougars were 6-0 heading into matchups with Gonzaga and Kansas State, where they began to get exposed a bit, and thus far this season, their most difficult opponent has been Portland, but nevertheless, the focus that Ken Bone and his staff have put on the defensive end is evident and that work should pay off come conference play.

Looking ahead: Last year, the Cougs played at Gonzaga on 12/2 and at Kansas State on 12/5. This year, it’s Kansas State on 12/3 and Gonzaga on 12/8, and the games are at home instead of away, but the importance of these two games remains the same. Last year it was a five-point loss in Spokane and a 15-point loss in Manhattan, and if the Cougs really have improved upon last season, we’ll see it this week.

4. UCLA (3-2): The sole Bruin game of the week was a disappointing loss to Virginia Commonwealth in an NIT consolation game that was anything but consoling to fans in Westwood. While UCLA owned the glass with a 41-26 rebounding margin, VCU got to the line 26 times compared to just 12 free throw attempts for UCLA — worse yet, 21 Bruin turnovers, including five each by their biggest offensive playmakers, junior point guard Lazeric Jones and sophomore forward Tyler Honeycutt. Turnovers have been a problem for Honeycutt all season long, as he has had four or more turnovers in four of UCLA five games. A bright spot for Ben Howland’s club was the play of junior Malcolm Lee, who had 23 points and five threes and looks to be all the way back from his early ankle injury.

Looking ahead: One big test for the Bruins and one relative breather, as UCLA heads to Lawrence tonight for a battle with Kansas before returning home to face Montana in Pauley Pavilion on Sunday.

5. Cal (4-2): It shows a lot about the strength and depth (or lack thereof) of the Pac-10 this season that after a week in which the Golden Bears scored a whopping five points in a half against Notre Dame and then followed that up with by comparison a blistering 15-point second half against Boston College, they maintain their ranking as the fifth best team in the conference. The fact is, while Mike Montgomery’s team looked awful in the final two games of the Old Spice Classic, they did come away with an opening round win over a Temple team that had been ranked. Nevertheless, it is clear that the Bears have a ways to go on the offensive end, although their five-man freshman class does have some pieces, notably guards Allen Crabbe and Gary Franklin. Franklin, in particular, has struggled from the field, hitting less than 30% of his shots in the first five games, but he did rebound to score a team-high 13 points in Cal’s Wednesday night win over UC Davis. Montgomery will need those freshman guards to settle down and become relatively consistent scoring threats prior to conference play for this Golden Bear team to be of importance in the Pac-10 race.

Looking ahead: Cal travels to Iowa State for a winnable Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood game, then gets San Diego State at home next Wednesday night. Given the difference between the way the Bears have played in Haas Pavilion and elsewhere, that SDSU game may actually be the more winnable of the two.

6. Arizona State (3-2): The Sun Devils brought a little warmth to the Great Alaskan Shootout this week, going 2-1 with a big win over Houston Baptist, a squeaker over Weber State and a come-from-ahead loss against an average St. John’s team in the final. In most conferences, that would spell a drop in the power rankings, but not this one. While the outcome had to be a disappointment for Herb Sendek and his team, there were some bright spots. Sophomore wing Trent Lockett continued to be the most impressive Sun Devil, averaging 17.3 points and seven rebounds per game in Alaska, while going for a career-high 24 points in the win against Weber, including the game winner with 8.4 seconds left. Senior Ty Abbott showed up in the final for ASU, knocking down six threes on the way to 22 points in the game, the senior trio of Abbott, Jamelle McMillan and Rihards Kuksiks are still only shooting 37.8% from the field between them. While Lockett has been a revelation, he’ll need those seniors to step up for the Sun Devils to have an upper-division Pac-10 finish.

Looking ahead: A Brutal week for the Sun Devils, as they head to Waco for a Big 12/Pac-10 matchup with Baylor, then back home to host Richmond. A split this week is brilliant for Sendek and company, with Richmond being the more likely conquest, although still not a safe bet.

7. Stanford (4-2): Considering the Cardinal went to Anaheim for the 76 Classic with an undefeated record, and came away from a fairly unintimidating field with only a win over DePaul to show for their troubles, Thanksgiving weekend was a disaster. Junior guard Jeremy Green struggled all weekend, making just 18 of his 47 attempts from the field and handing out just four assists in 97 minutes of play, then had insult added to injury when he collapsed after the win over DePaul due to exhaustion after dealing with illness all weekend. The Stanford freshman class was predictably inconsistent, with Dwight Powell turning the ball over ten times over the course of the weekend before wrapping things up with a 13-point, ten-rebound game in the finale against DePaul. Anthony Brown was also impressive in the DePaul game, scoring 14 and making several key plays in the overtime, but relatively absent elsewhere this weekend. However, the big issue for the Cardinal is going to be at the point. Neither Green nor junior guard Jarrett Mann are capable playmakers and freshman point Aaron Bright is more equipped to be a distributor and shooter than a creator. With no easy solution walking through the door anytime soon, head coach Johnny Dawkins will have his work cut out for him creating coherent offense all season long.

Looking ahead: Nothing this week for Stanford as they prep for finals, but they return on 12/12 with a game against UC Riverside before hosting North Carolina A&T a few days later.

8. Oregon (4-2): The Ducks hosted the Singler family reunion in the Rose Garden in Portland on Saturday night, providing the perfect platform for that showoff Kyle to go for 30 points in an NBA arena. Little brother E.J. struggled early with the situation, failing to score in the first half, but eventually winding up with 14 second-half points in the Ducks 27-points loss to the number one team in the land. While the Ducks were outshot and outrebounded, one Dana Altman stamp has become apparent on this team: they are going to take care of the ball. Oregon only turned the ball over 11 times against Duke, and they’re in the top 40 in the nation in lowest offensive turnover percentage. The Ducks simply don’t have the horses to really compete this season, but Altman will have this team beat more than a couple teams that are more talented than them over the course of the season and soon enough, Oregon will be a frightening place to go again.

Looking ahead: Now that I’ve written about the Ducks not turning the ball over, they immediately get to test that theory when they host Missouri and Mike Anderson’s pressure defense on Saturday. Things get a bit easier following that with a game against Portland State.

9. USC (4-4): Up and down, up and down. A couple wins over munchkins, a couple losses to relative munchkins. A couple more wins over teams the Trojans should beat on talent alone, a couple more headscratching losses. This week’s bombs? Opening the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series with a loss at Nebraska, one of the strong contenders for last place in the Big 12, after having a 20-point first half lead, then following that up with a loss at TCU, a team in the bottom half of the Mountain West. Up front, the Trojans are just fine with Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson, but the backcourt is young and, really, a mess. While Kevin O’Neill again has his team defending like mad men, there is just no flow offensively. The freshman point guard Maurice Jones turns the ball over just about as much as he hands out assists, and is shooting just 35.6% from the field, although that hasn’t diminished his zeal for continuing to pull the trigger, as he is putting up 13 shots a night. Sure Jio Fontan is eligible soon and maybe he has a magical elixir that will make this team a tournament team overnight. More likely, the Trojans will be better come conference play, but still fatally flawed.

Looking ahead: The Trojans host Texas on Sunday. Watch them beat the Longhorns. Just watch.

10. Oregon State (3-3): Just awful. I wish there were already 12 teams in the conference, just so I could rank this team somewhere lower than 10th. The Beavers lost to Utah Valley State on Wednesday night, and were somehow outrebounded by UVSU by 10. Utah Valley State even went out of their way to open the door for OSU, turning the ball over a generous 24 times, but the Beavs couldn’t take advantage of that. I mean, really. Utah Valley State? It’s a good thing that head coach at Oregon State isn’t a cabinet position or the First Brother-in-Law might be asked to resign in disgrace. The UVSU debacle comes after the Beavers actually made the trip to D.C. to play in front of President Obama and family, and they avoided disaster there by coming back from a halftime deficit against Howard and pulling out a ten-point win behind 60% shooting after the half. But, again, Utah Valley State? Really?

Looking ahead: OSU heads to Boulder for their Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood matchup with Colorado. Chalk that one up for the Big 12.

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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 25th, 2010

Andrew Murara is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference and the Pac-10.

A Look Back

After a disappointing season last year when the conference needed a late Washington rally to qualify just two teams to the NCAA Tournament, the Pac-10 was looking to get off to a faster start this season, but with early results in, the reviews are definitely a mixed bag. While four of the conference teams remain undefeated, conference favorite Washington limped home to a 4th place finish in the Maui Invitational and the bottom of the conference is littered with embarrassing losses, such as USC losing at home by 20 to Rider and Oregon State dropping games to Seattle and Texas Southern. While the Bay Area schools have had some strong performances and Arizona and UCLA have looked solid in the early going, the questions about the overall strength of the Pac-10 remain unanswered.

Team of the Week

Stanford – The Cardinal’s best win thus far is a 21-point drubbing of an underwhelming Virginia squad, but Johnny Dawkins’ crew wins this week mention not so much because of the quality of their opponents, but the ease with which the Cardinal have handled them. Stanford sandwiched the Virginia game with a 16-point win over San Diego in their opener and a 43-point victory over Arkansas-Pine Bluff, and in the process they have had seven players score in double figures at least once, have had different rebound and assist leaders in each game and have consistently controlled the boards. While Dawkins and company still have a ways to go to match the success that Mike Montgomery and Trent Johnson (in his brief tenure) had on the farm, given their talented youngsters and early success, the Cardinal certainly appear on their way.

Player of the Week

Derrick Williams (Sophomore), Arizona – Williams has led the Wildcats in scoring in each of their four victories this season and in rebounding on three occasions on his way to a 19.3 scoring average and 8.3 rebounds per contest early on, while converting on a whopping 74.3 percent of his attempts from the field. While the ‘Cats haven’t played their typically brutal non-conference schedule to this point, Williams had his best performance in Arizona’s second game when he went for 27 points and 14 rebounds, six of which came on the offensive end, in a 26-point win over the Aggies. Things get tougher for Sean Miller’s team this week, with a neutral-site matchup with Kansas in Las Vegas on Saturday, and if Williams can keep on his roll, the Wildcats could give the Jayhawks a good run.

Newcomer of the Week

Faisal Aden (Junior), Washington State – With sophomore point guard Reggie Moore sidelined for the Cougars’ first three games due to a wrist injury, Aden, a junior college transfer who is originally from Somalia, got a chance to step into the starting lineup and made the most of his opportunity, leading Washington State in scoring in each of their first two games and pouring in 21.7 points per game in their first three games. While Moore is currently day-to-day and could be back as soon as Friday against Fresno State, Aden has definitely staked his claim as a key contributor to this Coug offense and a potential second scoring threat to take some of the pressure off of junior wing Klay Thompson.

Game of the Week

Kentucky 74, Washington 67 – While clearly not the score that Pac-10 fans want to see as their game of the week, this outcome sums up the state of the conference. All offseason, the Huskies were pointing towards this game as a chance to make a statement on a big stage and as a chance for some type of revenge against Kentucky and their freshman Terrence Jones for his change of heart after originally committing to Washington. So, the Huskies come out revved up and riding their momentum rip off a big huge run right out of the starting gate, well, right up until Kentucky coach John Calipari called a timeout to stop that short at 4-0, that is. A 20-2 Kentucky run later and the Huskies had to spend the rest of the first half scrapping back to even. Then, down the stretch, it was the youngsters of Kentucky who had the most poise. Washington senior defensive specialist Venoy Overton struggled with cramps and was unable to stop Wildcat freshman Brandon Knight, and junior guard Isaiah Thomas struggled to score throughout the night, finishing just 4-14 from the field, 0-4 from three and 5-10 from the line as the Huskies missed a big chance to score an early signature win.

Game of the Upcoming Week

Arizona vs. Kansas in Las Vegas, 7:30 PM PST, ESPN2 – Arizona’s first big test of the season against a BCS conference opponent, and it is a big one as they face the Jayhawks in the centerpiece game of the Las Vegas Invitational. The ‘Cats dodge a bullet in facing Kansas without the services of freshman guard Josh Selby, but they’ll still have their hands full with the Morris twins who have been dominating up front with 30 points and 17 rebounds a night between them and junior guard Tyshawn Taylor who has taken over the Kansas point guard position without missing a beat. Arizona will need Derrick Williams to continue his excellent play and guards Kyle Fogg and Momo Jones to lend a hand in order to spring the Saturday night special in Vegas.

Power Rankings

1. Washington (3-2): Sure, the Huskies have as many losses as any team in the conference, but given that those two losses have come in relatively tight games against top 10 teams, the Huskies are still the top dog in the Pac-10. Isaiah Thomas has shot poorly in both Washington losses (shooting a combined 8-25 from the field), and Lorenzo Romar’s team has yet to iron out their roles and rotation. One of the bright spots early for the Huskies has been the play of junior college transfer Aziz N’diaye who has shown the ability to block shots and rebound with the best of them, swatting five against Kentucky and pulling down double-digit rebounds twice in limited minutes early. Freshman guard C.J. Wilcox has also impressed with his sharpshooting, knocking down ten of his 19 three-point attempts thus far. Once the guards settle into their roles and typically excellent performance, the Huskies will be as tough to beat as ever.

Looking Ahead: Things quiet down significantly for the Huskies, with just a visit from Long Beach State on Tuesday before a visit from Texas Tech on 12/4.

2. Arizona (4-0): Sean Miller has used the Wildcats relatively light early season schedule to get a look at a variety of players on his squad. In the season-opening 48-point win over Idaho State, 15 Wildcat players saw time, and in their first four games, ten different players have averaged at least 12 points per game. When your average margin of victory is 32.5 points, you have that luxury, but with a higher caliber of opponent on the horizon, expect that rotation to tighten up a bit. Of the new faces on the Wildcat roster, it has been Jordin Mayes who has made the biggest contribution in relief of starting point Momo Jones, averaging seven points and two assists while knocking down five of his 11 three-point attempts in 16 minutes per night.

Looking Ahead: The Wildcats head to the Las Vegas Invitational for matchups with Santa Clara and Kansas on back-to-back nights before heading to Houston to face Rice next Wednesday.

3. UCLA (3-1): After four games, the difference between this year’s Bruin team and last year’s edition is pretty evident. To begin with, the addition of junior college transfer Lazeric Jones as the team’s starting point guard improves that position, not to the point where it is a strength, but at least to the point where it is not an Achilles’ heel. Up front, sophomores Reeves Nelson and Tyler Honeycutt are more comfortable and are starting to make plays, with the two finishing first and second, respectively, in points scored in each of UCLA’s first three games. But it was the fourth game, UCLA’s NIT Season Tip-Off semifinal matchup with Villanova, that really showed where Ben Howland’s club is at this point. Last year at this time, the Bruins had already lost to Cal State Fullerton and were about to get embarrassed by Portland and Long Beach State. This year, the Bruins hung tight with one of the best teams in the country for most of the game, only to run out of steam against a more talented, more physical, and more experienced opponent. While this by no means is a great UCLA team, they’ve got the ship pointed in the right direction and should be a strong contender for an NCAA Tournament berth.

Looking Ahead: The Bruins will wrap up their NIT play with a consolation game against VCU before heading back home for a few days to get ready for a road trip to Lawrence for another matchup with a highly-touted opponent, Kansas.

4. Washington State (3-0): The Cougars are yet another undefeated Pac-10 team without a really impressive victory on their resume yet. Their best win came over Portland (4-2) in Seattle on Tuesday when Klay Thompson exploded for 35 points, including WSU’s first nine en route to a 24-4 run to open the game. Thompson has averaged 24.3 points per game, but has also chipped in 5.3 rebounds per game and six assists a night in the absence of starting point guard Reggie Moore. Thompson and Faisal Aden, my Pac-10 Newcomer of the Week, have averaged 46 points per game between them and are the only two players on the squad to average double digits thus far.

Looking Ahead: The Cougars travel to Fresno State for their first true road test of the year on Friday, then return home for a relative breather with Sacramento State as a warm-up for hosting Kansas State in the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series on December 3.

5. Cal (3-0): The Golden Bears have what is arguably the best win by a Pac-10 team of the new season, a 25-point blowout of New Mexico on Saturday. Jorge Gutierrez and Harper Kamp have been the biggest producers for a revamped Golden Bear team that lost four starters from last season’s regular season Pac-10 champion. Gutierrez has done a little bit of everything for the Bears, averaging 19 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 2.5 steals and a three per game, while Kamp has returned from a medical redshirt year to lead a bruising Cal frontline with 18.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per night. Of the highly regarded five-man freshman class, guard Gary Franklin has been the most comfortable early, adding 16 points (including four threes) and four assists in the New Mexico victory.

Looking Ahead: Cal competes in the Old Spice Classic this Thanksgiving weekend, with a good opening round battle with Temple followed by a matchup with either Georgia or Notre Dame on Friday.

6. Stanford (3-0): The Cardinal may be our team of the week, but they’ve still got a lot to prove before they start skyrocketing up our rankings. In the early going, they look solid, getting production from go-to scorer Jeremy Green when possible (he had 21 in each of the Cardinal’s last two games), but not forcing the issue when their opponents attempt to take him away. In the opener against San Diego, the Torreros ran a lot of defenders at Green, holding him to just one field goal on seven attempts and forcing him to give up the ball time and again. However, in his stead, Johnny Dawkins had players like junior forward Andrew Zimmerman and sophomore guard Gabriel Harris step up. Zimmerman had 14 in the opener (and added 12 in the next game) while Harris knocked down a couple of open threes on the way to 12 for the game. Stanford has also had multiple freshmen contribute, with 6’10 center Dwight Powell most prone to spectacular plays from time to time. Aside from Powell, point guard Aaron Bright, wing Anthony Brown and forward Josh Huestis and Stefan Nastic have all made positive contributions, giving this Cardinal team plenty of exciting upside.

Looking Ahead: The Cardinal get their chance to prove that they are for real in a big way this weekend at the 76 Classic. They’ll open with one of last year’s Cinderellas in Murray State, then get a crack at either UNLV or Tulsa in round two.

7. Arizona State (1-1): The Sun Devils didn’t have the scheduling fortune to open with the cupcakes that so many of their conference brethren did, and they got bit. They opened with a tough road trip to The Pit to face New Mexico, a scary proposition even for a group of seasoned veterans, but this young ASU team suffered from lapses, most evident during a 20-0 first half Lobo run, and despite some spectacular play by sophomore wing Trent Lockett – 22 points and eight rebounds – they just didn’t hit their shots, shooting poorly from three (5-21) and from the line (13-23), leading to a 14-point loss. Lockett has been strong in both Sun Devil games, averaging 20.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and three assists. However, the senior trio of Ty Abbott, Jamelle McMillan and Rihards Kuksiks has been inconsistent at best thus far, with Kuksiks particularly absent (5.0 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 30.8% FG). While it would be no surprise to see the explosive Lockett lead the team throughout the year, he’ll need help from that senior class for the Devils to compete for a postseason berth.

Looking Ahead: The Sun Devils look to heat up in the great white north, as they head to the greatly diminished Great Alaskan Shootout, where the most interesting possible opponent would be St. John’s.

8. Oregon (4-1): The mere fact that head coach Dana Altman has this ragtag bunch of Ducks considered to be something other than the worst team in the Pac-10 is a testament to his coaching ability. After a nightmare of an offseason during which four players transferred out of the program, and another left in the shadow of NCAA investigations, what is left is a severely undersized team with 6’6 senior forward Joevan Catron, coming off of a medical redshirt year, considered the team’s big man, and with E.J. Singler, who is more suited to a wing position asked to assume a role close to that of power forward. And, most impressively, both players have looked good in doing so. Catron led the team in scoring in each of their first four games, averaging 21.8 point in those games, while Singler has added 11.6 points and 5.2 rebounds per outing. And while the Ducks have escaped with close wins over UC Santa Barbara and North Dakota State, their only blemish is a loss to undefeated San Jose State on a late three-point play. While these Ducks probably don’t have the firepower to really compete this year in the Pac-10, fans in Eugene have to be pleased with the direction Altman has this program going.

Looking Ahead: Okay, all those good and happy thoughts above? Yeah, well, table those for a week. Duke rolls into Portland for a Singler family reunion that is likely to have all the brotherly affection of Cain and Abel. And after the Ducks deal with the best team in the nation on a neutral court, they head back home to welcome Missouri. Yikes.

9. USC (4-2): Two games into the season, things were looking good for Kevin O’Neill and his Trojans. Junior Nikola Vucevic was continuing the strong play of his sophomore campaign and taking over a leadership position, senior forward Alex Stepheson was doing the dirty work with zeal and freshman Bryce Jones and Maurice Jones (unrelated) were doing some heavy lifting offensively. Then Rider rolled into town as part of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off event and laid a whooping on the Trojans in front of their home crowd, 77-57, as Rider’s Justin Robinson led the Broncs with 28 points on an absurd 9-10 from the field, while making all five of his three-point attempts and all five of his free throws. And the rest of his team wasn’t too bad either, torching the USC defense with 60.7% shooting from the field and making 12 of their 19 three-point attempts. A few nights later, a good Bradley team got the better of the Trojans in Springfield, Massachusetts, before SC was able to bounce back with victories over New Mexico State and Cal State Fullerton. Despite what Rider did to the Trojans, they still have had a very efficient defensive performance early in the season, and with Fordham transfer Jio Fontan becoming eligible in mid-December, all is not lost for this Trojan team. If Vucevic keeps up his strong early play (17.8 PPG, 11.3 RPG) and the freshmen continue to improve, this team should be rounding into excellent shape just in time for conference play.

Looking Ahead: A couple road games against beatable teams for the Trojans, although I’m thinking that these games would be far more appealing on the gridiron than on the hardwood: USC at Nebraska on Saturday, then USC at TCU on Monday.

10. Oregon State (2-2): Well, I guess there’s a bright side here. Last season Oregon State welcomed Seattle, a Division I Independent, into Corvallis and head coach Cameron Dollar and his team drilled the Beavers by 51 points. This year Oregon State repaid Seattle’s kindness with a trip to their place and only lost by three. So, the Beavers are a lot better this year, right? In fact, Oregon State had the powerful Redhawks on the ropes midway through the second half, the scrappy Beavs up 10 with just 10 to play, before the inevitable happened and Seattle turned on the juice and pulled away with a 20-5 run. Oregon State made one final stand, and actually had a chance to send the game to overtime, but senior Calvin Haynes had the ball knocked out of his hands before he could attempt the game-tying three. What a wonderful victory it could have been for the David from small-town Corvallis to storm into Goliath’s lair in big-city Seattle and slay the might giant, but it was not to be. The sad part is, that’s probably not the worst loss for the Beavers this season, as a few nights later, they lost at home to Texas Southern, a team that Oregon drilled by 23. It’s going to be a long season for Craig Robinson. It’s a good thing he’s got friends in high places.

Looking Ahead: The Beavers head to Washington, D.C. for a matchup with Howard. Hopefully the Beavers can beat Howard. I mean, he’s just one guy, right?

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RTC Conference Primers: #6 – Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 1st, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West Conferences and an occasional contributor.

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Washington (13-5)
  2. Arizona (12-6)
  3. UCLA (11-7)
  4. Washington State (10-8)
  5. Arizona State (10-8)
  6. Cal (9-9)
  7. USC (9-9)
  8. Stanford (6-12)
  9. Oregon State (6-12)
  10. Oregon (4-14)

All-Conference Team

  • G: Isaiah Thomas. Jr, Washington (16.9 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 3.2 APG)
  • G: Klay Thompson, Jr, Washington State (19.6 PPG, 5.1 RPG).
  • G: Jeremy Green, Jr, Stanford (16.6 PPG, 3.8 RPG)
  • F: Derrick Williams, Soph, Arizona (15.7 PPG, 7.1 RPG)
  • F: Nikola Vucevic, Jr, USC (10.7 PPG, 9.4 RPG)

6th Man

Ty Abbott, Sr, Arizona State (12.0 PPG, 4.4 RPG)

Impact Newcomer

Josh Smith, Fr, UCLA: Smith is the biggest incoming recruit in the conference, in more ways than one. Ranked the 20th-best recruit in the 2010 class according to ESPNU, Smith also tipped the scales at somewhere over three bills when he stepped onto the UCLA campus this summer. Immediately, head coach Ben Howland put him in a conditioning program and Smith changed his dietary habits as well, putting him on the road towards dropping 40 pounds already. Paired with his soft hands and quick feet, the trimmed-down Smith will play a vital role in the Bruins’ attempts to bounce back from last year’s brutal campaign.

UCLA’s Ben Howland is among several Pac-10 coaches looking to make the conference an NCAA Tournament threat again after a poor showing in 2009-10.

What You Need to Know

  • Pac-10 Blues: Last year, the Pac-10 was saved from the indignity of receiving only one NCAA Tournament berth when Washington won nine of their last 11 games of the regular season, then proceeded to win the Pac-10 Tournament to clinch the automatic berth. Together with regular season champion California, the Huskies represented the Pac-10 well, advancing to the Sweet 16 before losing to eventual Final Four team West Virginia, while the Golden Bears fell in the second round to eventual champion Duke. However, the Pac-10’s limited success in the tournament did little to hide the fact that last season was a down year across the conference, and with 11 of last year’s top 20 scorers, and nine of the top 20 rebounders gone, it doesn’t seem that the talent level across the conference is ready to skyrocket.
  • Stability and Youth: But, while there aren’t loads of household names up and down the rosters in the conference, there is some stability, as only Oregon welcomes a new head coach (Dana Altman, formerly of Creighton) and teams across the conference average a total of 3.2 returning starters. And there is plenty of youth, with just 17 seniors on rosters across the conference. Schools will need to see their youngsters step up quickly for the Pac-10 to improve upon last year’s showing. There is a bright side here, though. Even with five members of last year’s all-tournament team (all except the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, Isaiah Thomas) and six of the ten All-Pac-10 first team members having graduated, most teams around the conference, with the significant exception of Cal, return the majority of their production – eight of the ten conference schools return more than 50% of their scoring production, and nine of the ten return more than 50% of their rebounding production. If the kids around the conference can put some of that experience they earned last season to use, this could be a much-improved conference, as the veteran coaches around this conference have proven their ability to coach up their players. There are five coaches in the Pac-10 with more than 300 career wins, and that doesn’t even include some of the most respected young coaches in the land like Sean Miller and Lorenzo Romar. While the talent level seems to be down across the conference, expect this lineup of stellar coaches to get the most out of what they do have.
  • Last Roundup: This season marks the end of the Pac-10 conference. Next year the conference will welcome Colorado and Utah, officially becoming the Pac-12. In the process, plenty of tradition will be discarded: no more home-and-home round robin and the resultant crowning of a true regular season champion, the biggest change. There will be years where UCLA doesn’t visit McKale and Oregon won’t visit Hec Ed, for instance. But in the long run, the conference will add a Utah program that has had some significant success over the years (including a run to the national championship game in 1998) and a Colorado program that, well…hey, they made a Final Four in 1955, I’m told. In any event, come 2011-12, basketball season around the conference will have a different feel.

Predicted Champion

Washington (NCAA Seed: #5): The Huskies are pretty much the de facto favorite, given that last year’s regular season champion Cal lost about 85% of its scoring, but Lorenzo Romar’s team, despite having plenty of talent, still has some question marks. Not in question is the team leader, 5’8 junior point guard Isaiah Thomas, a dynamo who is the team’s leading returning scorer and an interesting personality. Paired in the backcourt with 6’0 senior Venoy Overton (8.5 PPG, 3.1 APG. 2.9 RPG), the duo are undersized but form an intimidating pair for opposing ballhandlers, with the quickness and aggressiveness to get up into their opponents, keeping the opposition from getting comfortable in the half-court set and forcing turnovers which the Huskies can use to jump-start their transition game. They can be overpowered by bigger guards in the half-court game, but use their quickness to good advantage defensively. On the offensive end, Thomas plays with a style that belies his stature, getting into the lane and drawing fouls or finishing in often spectacular ways. The Huskies also return sophomore guard Abdul Gaddy (3.9 PPG, 2.3 APG), the second-ranked point guard in the 2009 recruiting class, who struggled finding his rhythm in his rookie campaign. Should he get his swagger back and become a consistent offensive force for Washington, they could have one of the stronger backcourts in the nation, with junior Scott Suggs (4.7 PPG, 1.2 RPG) providing depth and a good long-range threat. However, up front the team still has something to prove, given the graduation of last year’s leading scorer Quincy Pondexter and the retirement from basketball over the summer of forward Tyrese Breshers due to medical issues. Matthew Bryan-Amaning (8.8 PPG, 5.9 RPG) and Justin Holiday (5.9 PPG, 4.5 RPG) figure to start at the forward spots, giving the Huskies an undersized but athletic starting five. Bryan-Amaning will need to prove himself capable of taking over Pondexter’s role, but all signs show that he is ready for that challenge, as he finished his junior season strong and was one of the big reasons for Washington’s improvement down the stretch. Depth up front will come from 6’8 junior scrapper Darnell Gant (2.5 PPG, 2.4 RPG), 7’0 transfer Aziz N’Diaye and 6’6 wing Terrence Ross, one of the conference’s most heralded newcomers, and a guy who could be an offensive weapon immediately for Romar, provided he can earn the minutes. In a conference where the talent level is presently in question, there is little doubt that the Huskies have plenty of talent. But they’d like to come out of the gates more quickly than they did last season and prove that they are ready to win on the road on a consistent basis, something they struggled with in 2009-10, when they lost their first seven games away from the Hec Ed. Odds are, they’ll be improved in that area due to an extra year of experience for their hyper-talented backcourt, but they’ll have a good early season test of that theory when they travel to the Maui Invitational during Thanksgiving week.

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Summer School in the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on August 24th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West Conferences.

Around the Pac-10:

  • Down Times: Last season was clearly one of the low points in Pac-10 basketball history. It took a late-season run out of Washington to ensure two NCAA Tournament bids from the conference, with California earning the other after a strong but somewhat disappointing season. The conference had just one player (the Huskies’ Quincy Pondexter) picked in the first round of the NBA Draft, and just two players picked overall (with Stanford’s Landry Fields somewhat surprisingly being drafted by the Knicks, much to the chagrin of New York fans in attendance, with the 39th pick). The two total players drafted were the lowest total for the league since 1986.
  • Returning Fire: Despite the lack of players picked in the NBA Draft, just nine of the league’s top 20 scorers from last year return, although Rihard Kuksiks is still uncertain whether he will return for his senior season at Arizona State. Likewise, just 11 of the league’s top 20 rebounders return.
  • Fresh Blood: But not to worry, plenty of excellent new talent is headed the Pac-10’s way. Or not. Actually, out of Scout’s Top 100 list, just ten players (and just four out of the top 50) committed to Pac-10 institutions, with the highest ranked player, Washington’s Terrence Ross, checking in at #26. According to ESPNU’s projections, the outlook is slightly rosier, with the Pac-10 accounting for 12 of the top 100 players, five of the top 50, and UCLA’s Josh Smith checking in at #20. Either way, while there is some new talent, it is not of the caliber of the other BCS conferences. There was some intrigue here, however, as Enes Kanter (Scout #3 overall recruit, ESPNU #25) originally verbally committed to Washington before backing out and heading to Kentucky. Additional salt in the wound came when Washington’s top recruit, Terrence Jones (ESPU #9 overall, Scout #8) announced at a press conference that he would be committing to Washington, but then failed to sign a letter of intent and wound up changing his mind and committing to Kentucky as well, giving Husky fans an entirely new Cal to dislike.
  • Head Honchos: While a lot of familiar players have moved on, there is consistency in the hot seat for all but one team: Oregon ended the Ernie Kent era and will welcome new head coach Dana Altman, formerly of Creighton. While Altman wasn’t the sexy hire that Pat Kilkenny and Phil Knight wanted to start the new era in Oregon basketball, he is an excellent coach who will likely have the sleeping giant in Eugene back in the thick of things in the Pac-10 very quickly.
  • Home Cooking: The coaching change isn’t the only big news in Eugene, as the Ducks will break in a new arena this season, when the brand-new gleaming Matthew Knight Arena (named after Knight’s son who died prematurely in a scuba-diving accident) replaces the venerable old McArthur Court in January. The Ducks had planned to kick off the Pac-10 season in the new venue, but the move-in date has been pushed back for a variety of reasons.

Newcomer Terrence Ross will look to keep Washington atop the Pac-10.

Power Rankings:

  1. Washington: The Huskies lose last year’s lone Pac-10 NBA first rounder in Quincy Pondexter, but just about everyone else of consequence returns. Pint-sized point Isaiah Thomas (no, not the suspiciously crazy one who ran the Knicks into the ground) leads the way in a talented backcourt, with energetic pace-setter Venoy Overton back for another season of annoying opposing guards. Also keep your eye on sophomore Abdul Gaddy, who was at one time considered the second-best point guard in the ’09 high school class. He struggled as a 17-year-old freshman, but Lorenzo Romar will certainly give him plenty of chances to earn more playing time this season. Up front, senior Matthew Bryan-Amaning will need to take a big step forward as the frontcourt scoring threat for this squad, with Tyreese Breshers and Darnell Gant doing the dirty work in the paint. Additionally, Romar welcomes three freshmen, including Terrence Ross to add some more talent to the backcourt and 7’0 juco transfer Aziz Ndiaye to add size, if not a polished offensive game, to a relatively small frontcourt. Senior Justin Holliday and junior Scott Suggs will add depth at the wings. The Huskies suffered from lapses in concentration last season, but an additional year of experience for a veteran roster should fix that problem.
  2. Arizona: The Wildcats are on their way back from their struggles at the end of legend Lute Olson’s regime. But while I’ll nab them as my number two team here, this is not a Wildcat team that is going to make any McKale denizens forget the 1988 or 1997 teams – this ranking is more of an indication of the conference’s weakness. However, sophomore forward Derrick Williams is the conference’s fourth leading returning scorer and second-leading returning rebounder and an absolute beast in the paint. Senior Jamelle Horne will start alongside Williams, and he’ll be called on to improve on the nine points and six rebounds he provided nightly last season. Shooting guard Kyle Fogg displayed some nice offensive punch last season, and he’ll be asked for even more, but the most pressure will be felt by sophomore point Lamont “MoMo” Jones, who will be tasked with taking over for departed fixture Nic Wise. The development of frontcourt sophomores Solomon Hill and Kyryl Natyazhko and incoming freshman guards Daniel Bejarano and Jordin Mayes will be important for team depth. This is still an undersized team, which hurts them a bit on the boards and on defense, two areas where they will need to improve from last season.
  3. UCLA: While the 2009-10 season was a nightmare for the Bruins, the cupboard is not completely empty in Westwood. There are a lot of unanswered questions here, however, and the biggest one is at the point. Malcolm Lee got plenty of time there last season, but he is more ideally suited to play on the wing, and if all goes well for the Bruins, that’s where he’ll be this season. With the Jerime Anderson era justifiably considered a failure to this point, Ben Howland has brought in juco transfer Lazeric Jones to man the point, with any positive contributions that Anderson might provide just being bonus. Sophomore Tyler Honeycutt is a skilled ball handler and passer at the three, so he’ll be around to add an additional guard when necessary. Up front, Reeves Nelson was perhaps the biggest bright spot for UCLA in his freshman season, when he averaged 11 points and six rebounds a night in just over 20 minutes per game. He’ll need to keep out of foul trouble to gain additional minutes, and he’ll need to improve his horrid free throw shooting as well, but he looks ready for a big leap forward, especially considering he’ll be joined by UCLA’s big (and I do mean big, once listed at 320, now working towards approaching 270) freshman Josh Smith, a skilled and soft-handed center. Freshman wing Tyler Lamb will also get some early run. But the fact is, there is plenty of talent here, and if the Bruins get nothing more than a caretaker at the point, Howland will win games in a weak Pac-10 with this team. Read the rest of this entry »
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