Stanford Week: A State Of the Program Address

Posted by Connor Pelton on July 22nd, 2012

We’ve been all around the Stanford program in the past week, but we’ve got time for one more post. At the end of every week we like to take a step back and look at the overall state of the program – not just how the team performed last year or is expected to perform next year, but what the long-term prognosis for the program is. At Stanford, while the short-term future appears to be bright (no pun intended), things could take a turn for the worse quickly. As we pointed out earlier this week, before current head man Johnny Dawkins took over in 2008-09, the Cardinal had made 13 out of the last 14 NCAA Tournaments. They haven’t gone dancing since, but the pieces are there to make it back soon enough. The problem in the past four seasons have been mid-season losing streaks. Not only do they usually kill all excitement around the team, but it ruins any chance at gaining an at-large entry into the Big Dance. Let’s take a look at some of these mid-season collapses:

This Photo May Have Been Taken Prior To The 2008-09 Season, But It’s A Scene That Fans Have Seen Many Times In The Past Four Years (credit: Roundball Nuts)

  • 2011-12 : Started out the season 15-3, including double-figure victories against Colorado State and Oklahoma State. Then immediately dropped five of their next six, all by double figures.
  • 2010-11 : It wasn’t going to be an NCAA Tournament year anyway, but dropping five out of seven games from early January to early February put all postseason dreams to rest.
  • 2009-10 : The Cardinal lost five of six games from late January to mid-February, putting a footnote on Dawkins’ worst season on the Farm.
  • 2008-09 : By far the worst collapse of Dawkins’ tenure came in his first season. Stanford started out the season with an 11-1 record, picking up home victories against Colorado, Northwestern, Texas Tech, and Arizona, while going on the road and beating Colorado State and Santa Clara. Then, out of nowhere, disaster struck. An NCAA Tournament season became a “scrape-your-way-into-the-CBI” campaign after dropping eight of 10 contests in more than a month-long span.

Terrible. Just terrible. And it happens like clockwork every year.

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Stanford Week: Evaluating The Recent Past

Posted by Connor Pelton on July 16th, 2012

Things were looking good for Stanford after the 2010-11 season came to a close. It wasn’t a great year by any means, but the Cardinal finished the regular season with a winning percentage of .500, picking up wins against #18 Washington and at Washington State along the way, all without a senior on the roster. Things took a turn for the worse, though, when leading scorer Jeremy Green announced he would be forgoing his senior season in Palo Alto to enter the NBA Draft. But instead of going somewhere like Sacramento or Dallas, Green ended up playing three games for the D-League’s Los Angeles D-Fenders before moving to glamorous Erie to finish the final 21 games of his inaugural pro season. Meanwhile, back on the Farm, the Cardinal was making some noise without him. Stanford won 15 of its first 18 games, led by sensational freshman Chasson Randle.

Randle Introduced Himself To Pac-12 Opponents Early And Often In 2011-12, Including In Stanford’s Four-Overtime Win At Oregon State (credit: Rick Bowmer)

Taking Green’s place in the starting lineup, Randle made an immediate impact for Stanford. At times early in non-conference action he struggled to score the ball consistently, which is expected for a freshman when facing opponents like Oklahoma State, Syracuse, NC State, and Butler. But he made up for his lapses on the defensive end, constantly bugging opponents with his ability to poke the ball away and get the occasional block.

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Pac-12 Morning Five: 12.14.11 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on December 14th, 2011

  1. Oregon State bounced back from its Friday night loss to Idaho by taking out its frustrations on Illinois-Chicago last night, torching the Flames with a 64.9% eFG in their 95-53 win last night. Sophomore guard Roberto Nelson had the second-best scoring game of his career, going for 21 points on 5-of-7 shooting from deep, while redshirt freshman forward Eric Moreland grabbed a career-high 14 rebounds and blocked five shots. Prior to the game, head coach Craig Robinson called the loss on Friday an anomaly due in part to the shock of the death of OSU football player Fred Thompson last Wednesday. After last night’s performance, we’re a bit closer to buying that explanation.
  2. While Oregon came away with a win Monday night against Portland State, they also suffered an injury blow in the second half when senior forward Tyrone Nared went down with a knee injury during a scramble for a loose ball. While the extent of his injury is not currently known, head coach Dana Altman said that he is expecting Nared to miss at least the next four games, taking the team right up to conference play. The Ducks are deeper this season along the front line and Nared is getting less than 20 minutes per game, but he is one of their best frontcourt defenders and a surprisingly efficient offensive player.
  3. Washington State has been on a roll lately, and they’ve been doing it all without some key contributors. Senior guard Faisal Aden has missed the last three games with the after-effects of a concussion, Mychal Ladd has missed the last five games with a sprained thumb, and senior forward Abe Lodwick has yet to play this season due to a fractured foot. But all three of those guys are nearing a return, although head coach Ken Bone made it clear that each of them will have to earn back their playing time. In Ladd’s absence, freshman Dexter Kernich-Drew has stepped into a bigger role, while fellow freshman DaVonte Lacy has helped cover for Aden. But more than any other Coug, it has been little-used senior Charlie Enquist who had stepped up in recent games to spur WSU on to their four-game winning streak.
  4. Washington may have left their temporary New York residency with an 0-2 record, but head coach Lorenzo Romar was able to find some positives in the trip. To begin with, Romar was very appreciative of the fan support his team received in Madison Square Garden, and proud of the national exposure his team has earned. Having played in the last three NCAA Tournaments, the Maui Invitational last year, the two games in New York this past week, and with a spot in the Hall of Fame Classic next year along with Ohio State and others, the Huskies are hopeful that their national presence will help them continue to get recruits from across the country.
  5. In a feature piece on Stanford’s sophomore point guard Aaron Bright in the San Francisco Chronicle, some of last year’s struggles for the Cardinal were laid at the feet of some “friction” between last year’s six-man freshman class and “some upperclassmen who thought their roles were threatened.” Given that said friction is apparently gone this year and that the only player not back from last year’s team is Jeremy Green (last year’s leading scorer who headed off in search of an NBA paycheck a year early), one can read between the lines and consider the decision by Green to depart Palo Alto to be a classic case of addition by subtraction.
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Pac-12 Team Previews: Stanford

Posted by Connor Pelton on November 2nd, 2011

Over the next two weeks, we’ll be previewing each of the Pac-12 teams as we head into the season.

Stanford Cardinal

Strengths.  The Cardinal returns four starters from last year’s team, including senior power forward Josh Owens. Owens led the team in points and rebounds last year, and with the addition of freshman guard Chasson Randle in the backcourt, there is reason for hope in Palo Alto after a mediocre 15-16 season. While they have a highly-touted freshman in Randle, the Cardinal also have a great sophomore class that got a ton of experience last year. Leading that group is guard/forward Anthony Brown, who one minute will be draining threes from behind the arc, and the next he will be posting up in the paint. The second of the sophomore sensations is forward Dwight Powell, who averaged 8.1 PPG in 26 starts last year. However, Owens is the rock of this team, and if he is “on” night in and night out, the Cardinal will find themselves in a major postseason tournament come March. He has the ability to guard either position, back a big guy down in the paint, and beat someone off the dribble. Also, if you are looking for a guy besides Oregon State’s Jared Cunningham for a highlight-reel dunk, Owens is guaranteed to provide a few.

Stanford Will Rise and Fall With Owens Leading the Cardinal

Weaknesses.  They lose Jeremy Green to the NBA D-League, and he was by far the best outside shooter on the team. Sophomore Aaron Bright will be asked initially to fill Green’s shoes, which by last year’s stats will be an 11.6 drop in PPG. Finding a dynamic, outside scorer at the guard position is the main thing the Cardinal need to work out in preseason practices, because at the end of the day, Bright is much more comfortable dishing the ball off than taking his own shot.

Nonconference Tests.  The Cardinal have a very manageable nonconference slate with the exception of three games. They will likely play in the NIT semifinals on Nov. 23 against (presumably) Oklahoma State and on Nov. 25 in either the championship or consolation game against (most likely) Syracuse or Virginia Tech. The final challenge will come against the Butler Bulldogs on Dec. 22 in Palo Alto. If Stanford can get out of that stretch 2-1 or 3-0, it will mean a lot for their RPI come Selection Sunday.
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Early Entry Winners & Losers

Posted by rtmsf on May 9th, 2011

Now that the NBA Draft early entry withdrawal has passed (Midnight ET on Sunday night), it’s time to take a look at who the winners and losers were from this year’s process.  Of the nearly 70 players who declared as early entrants for this year’s NBA Draft, we count a dozen or so who will return and make their teams significantly better next year.  The biggest impact will be felt at the following places…

The Winners

Jones Fills Out a Ridiculous UK Lineup in 2011-12

  • Kentucky.  How do we figure that a team that ends up losing its best scorer and best perimeter defender is a winner?  Because of who they didn’t lose.  Terrence Jones will team with Kentucky’s fabulous duo of incoming forwards — Michael Gilchrist and Anthony Davis — to produce the most dynamic and talented front line college basketball has seen in some time.  As good as Brandon Knight was in a Kentucky uniform, his loss to the draft also ensures that there’s no question as to who lead this team next year, as incoming superstar Marquis Teague will take over the reins from day one.  The loss of DeAndre Liggins was surprising and will hurt, but on balance, the player UK most needed to return did.
  • The Big East.  With the notable exception of NPOY candidate and Final Four MOP Kemba Walker and the somewhat shocking departures of Notre Dame’s Carleton Scott and Louisville’s Terrence Jennings, the Big East avoided losing three of its better returning players for the 2011-12 season.  Georgetown’s Hollis Thompson, Pittsburgh’s Ashton Gibbs and West Virginia’s Kevin Jones will all return to teams that could not afford to lose them; with so many talented seniors leaving the Big East, it was imperative for the league’s overall health that these talented upperclassmen come back.
  • Missouri.  A very early Christmas came for new Tigers head coach Frank Haith as two of his best returnees, Kim English and Laurence Bowers, made smart decisions to return to Columbia for their senior seasons.  With leading scorer Marcus Denmon already back in the fold, Haith is walking into a situation where his top six players will be back next year.  So long as he can enable his more methodical system with a group that loves to run and press, Mizzou fans should be excited for the possibility of something special in 2011-12.
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Dissecting the Law of Unintended Consequences, Early Entry Style

Posted by rtmsf on May 9th, 2011

Welcome to the law of unintended consequences, folks.

Starting with Jared Sullinger’s surprising decision to return to school in the aftermath of #1 Ohio State’s upset loss at the hands of Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament last month, a number of projected top draft picks have similarly shocked the world by deciding to stick around their college campuses for another season.  Subsequent to Sullinger, Baylor’s Perry Jones — another top five pick — followed that up with his own shocker.  Next, UNC’s Harrison Barnes and John Henson — both projected lottery picks this June — each decided that another year in Chapel Hill was to their liking.  On Saturday, Kentucky’s Terrence Jones was the latest projected lottery pick to spurn guaranteed millions in favor of playing as an amateur for another season (ok, stop your snickering about the word “amateur”).

Counting up the number of lottery pick slots that opened up in the June draft, we come up with a total of five (of 14) and certainly the following early entrants will be this summer’s beneficiaries: Arizona’s Derrick Williams, Duke’s Kyrie Irving, Kentucky’s Brandon Knight, UConn’s Kemba Walker, and Kansas’ Marcus Morris.  Five additional slots in the first round, though, isn’t the same as a floodgate opening, and we fear that the oft-repeated mantra of “weak draft” combined with a lack of an opportunity for players to get good evaluation feedback (thanks, ACC coaches!) has led to a bunch of poor decisions at the back end this year.  Like we said, the law of unintended consequences.

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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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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 3rd, 2011

 

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

A Look Back

A week ago, the conference was all but won. Arizona had a two game lead, and even with a Los Angeles road trip looming, it looked like it would take a complete collapse for the Wildcats to lose their grip on the Pac-10. But a week later, USC is riding a four-game winning streak, UCLA has won eight of its last nine, Arizona has dropped two in a row and now we’re left with the Wildcats and the Bruins tied atop the conference. And yet, this is still the Wildcats’ conference to lose. While UCLA heads north to visit the Washington schools this week, Arizona heads back home to host the Oregon schools. If the ‘Cats can take care of business in the McKale Center, UCLA would need to complete a road sweep of the Huskies and Cougars in order to seal the tie at the top of the conference. More importantly, with Selection Sunday just a week and a half away, both UCLA and Arizona have basically sewn up at-large bids, but Washington, once considered the obvious favorite in the Pac-10 and a shoo-in for NCAA inclusion, has put its NCAA at-large candidacy back in question. A closer look at their resume reveals only a home win over Arizona and a road win over UCLA as wins to hang their hat on, with their win over Long Beach State their only other win over likely participants in the NCAA Tournament. While the bubble at the back of the line is probably soft enough for the Huskies to still get in, they surely want to wrap up the season in style with wins over UCLA and USC in order to ease their worried minds.

  • Team of the Week: UCLA – Back from the dead, the Bruins now sit back where Westwood expects them to sit: atop the Pac-10 standings. After last year’s disastrous 14-18 season, the Bruins worst season since Ben Howland’s first year of rebuilding after the Steve Lavin era ended in ruins, after a frightening home loss to Montana to cap a four-game losing streak back in December, after the fourth consecutive loss to cross-town rival USC in their first meeting this season, the Bruins being tied atop the Pac-10 in March seemed exceedingly unlikely. And while this Bruin team looked decidedly ordinary over the course of the Pac-10 schedule, all of a sudden they are playing their best ball of the year. Without a doubt, the Bruins’ 22-point thrashing of Arizona in the final game at Pauley Pavilion before it begins renovations, a game in which John Wooden’s great-grandson, Tyler Trapani, scored the final basket ever recorded in the building’s grand history, was the best Bruin performance in the past two seasons. While they still have a lot to prove in the coming days and weeks, the fact that this team is beginning to gel just as the calendar turns to the most important month in the sport is of great comfort to Bruin fans.
  • Player of the Week: Nikola Vucevic, Junior, USC – In the story of the Trojans’ sudden rebirth, Vucevic is the leading man. While the junior from Montenegro has been very good all season long, averaging 17.5 PPG and 10.3 RPG, over the Trojans four-game winning streak he has been nothing short of excellent. In that span he has averaged 21.3 points and 11.5 rebounds, has knocked down eight of his twelve attempts from beyond the arc and has scored over 30% of USC’s points. If Vucevic can keep his Trojans on their winning ways in Washington this weekend, USC may be just good enough to sneak back into bubble conversations in advance of the Pac-10 Tournament.
  • Newcomer of the Week: Allen Crabbe, Freshman, California – Well, I think he’s back. After sparkling through much of the first 11 games in the conference season, Crabbe’s excellent rookie campaign hit a major speed bump when he suffered a concussion against Washington on February 10. He missed the rest of that game, two more games and was clearly not back to full strength when he did return against UCLA, but this week he proved that he is ready to go forward at full strength. This week he scored 45 points, knocked down ten of his 16 three-point attempts and grabbed eight rebounds in helping his Golden Bears to a sweep of the Oregon schools.
  • Game of the Week: USC 65, Arizona 57 – There were nine games this week, and none closer than USC’s eight-point upset win over the Wildcats on Thursday night. While this was by no means a thing of beauty (the teams combined for six assists on 40 field goals, the Trojans went 1-10 from three and shot just over 40% from the field, and still won with relative ease), the result did send shockwaves around the conference, as Bruin fans were forced to admit that they were pulling for the Trojans – and hard. In the end, USC got two big blocked shots by Alex Stepheson and Marcus Simmons after the Wildcats came back to tie the game at 56, and the Trojans converted those defensive plays into four made free throws on the offensive end. Vucevic led the way for the Trojans with 25 points and 12 rebounds, while junior point Jio Fontan had by far his best game since his first week of eligibility, posting 21 points and adding three assists. But the big key for the Trojans had to be limiting Arizona’s Derrick Williams to just 3-11 shooting, just two free throw attempts (seven below his season average) and just eight total points – his first game of the season in which he failed to score in double figures.
  • Game of the Upcoming Week: UCLA (21-8, 12-4) at Washington (19-9, 10-6), 3/3, 6pm PST, ESPN2 – Between the two teams tied at the top of the conference heap, the Bruins have by far the toughest road remaining. The Huskies have lost just once at home all season, and just four times in the last three years, and UCLA hasn’t won at the Hec Ed since 2004. But, they’ve got to assume that they need two wins in their remaining two games in order to tie for the Pac-10 title, and if they’re to rise to that challenge, it starts here. In the first matchup, the Huskies strung together a 27-10 run spanning halftime to break open a close game and propel them to an eventual 11-point win at Pauley. In that game Joshua Smith fouled out in a relatively ineffective 22 minutes, Lazeric Jones was completely absent, nobody off the Bruin bench made a field goal and the Huskies shot the Bruins out of the gym. For UCLA to get this win, Howland would like to see Smith stay out of foul trouble, pound the Huskies in the paint and get some offensive contributions from Jones. Even if UCLA can pull off this difficult road win, they’ll need to back it up with a win at Washington State on Saturday to ensure a Pac-10 title.

Power Rankings

 1. Arizona (23-6, 12-4): I’ve been saying all year long that if opponents can limit Williams offensively, the ‘Cats don’t have enough firepower on the rest of their roster to beat good teams. We learned this against BYU and we learned this against Oregon State. Of course, then Arizona and Momo Jones and Kevin Parrom shot that theory down in dramatic fashion in triple overtime against Cal, but in the back of my mind, I still didn’t buy this Wildcat squad as an elite team. Fast forward to the last week in February, when USC and UCLA held Williams to 23 points on 8-22 shooting and just six total free throw attempts in handing the Wildcats a oh-for-L.A. weekend. No other Wildcat was able to score more than 12 points in his place over the weekend (Jesse Perry had 12 against USC, Parrom added ten in that game and Kyle Fogg had ten against UCLA) and the rest of the roster combined to shoot a less-than-impressive 32.9% from the field. This is still a good Arizona team, but the concept of this squad being a top ten team (where it was ranked last week) is ludicrous. The concept of this squad even being a top 25 team (where it is still ranked) is still a stretch.

Looking ahead: The Wildcats return to the McKale Center this week, and need to stop the bleeding immediately by avenging their opening weekend loss to Oregon State on Thursday. Then they wrap up the season on Saturday by hosting Oregon. Arizona needs both of these games.

2. UCLA (21-8, 12-4): Sometimes basketball is a pretty simple game. Sure, you’ve got to make your shots, and you can have cold shooting nights that doom you or hot shooting nights by opponents that do the same. But the fact of the matter is, if you play tough defense, rebound well and don’t turn the ball over, you’re most of the way there. And, in those areas, the Bruins are suddenly looking good. At the start of the year, their defense was not up to par. In particular, the loss to Virginia Commonwealth in Madison Square Garden was abysmal, the type of defense that Bruin fans hated seeing last season. But in conference play, things have turned around and now this UCLA squad is excellent defensively. But the biggest factor this weekend in the Bruins’ sweep of the Arizona schools may have been their total of 16 turnovers for the weekend. Considering that the Bruins turned the ball over 18 times against Cal, 19 times in their win over St. John’s and their loss at Arizona, and even 26 times in their win over Oregon State, the eight turnovers that they posted in each game this weekend was a critical improvement. In order for the Bruins to be a serious threat come the NCAA Tournament, they’ll need to keep those turnover totals similarly low.

Looking ahead: Washington on Thursday night and Washington State on Saturday, a pair of games that make up the toughest road trip in the Pac-10. And the Bruins need to win both to secure a conference title.

3. Washington (19-9, 10-6): The Huskies have this rationalization to fall back on, following their home loss to Washington State on Sunday: they didn’t play that bad. The Huskies dominated the offensive glass, grabbing 23 rebounds, exactly 50% of every missed shot that came off the rim on the offensive end. But, they turned the ball over 16 times, missed far too many of the put-back attempts and shot a lowly 36.6% from inside the three-point arc. All in all, Lorenzo Romar and company have to forget about this game and take care of business this week against the hot Los Angeles schools that are coming storming through Seattle. Anything less than a sweep and the Huskies are limping into the Pac-10 tourney.

Looking ahead: UCLA on Thursday, USC on Saturday.

4. USC (17-12, 9-7): Out of nowhere, a four-game winning streak (they had not won more than two-in-a-row all season) and a newly formidable Trojan squad. Vucevic has been excellent all year, but USC is at its best when his frontcourt mate Stepheson is a major contributor. During the four-game winning streak, he has average 13 points and nine rebounds a game, while during the seven Pac-10 losses he has averaged just over seven points and rebounds per game. The Trojans are 11-4 when he scores in double figures, just 6-8 when he does not. The numbers are clear: Kevin O’Neill needs Stepheson to provide a threat alongside Vucevic for USC to be at its best.

Looking ahead: If USC can continue its streak and get wins at Washington State and Washington, you’d have to say their resume (which would then include wins over Texas, at Tennessee, UCLA, Arizona and at Washington) would be superior to the Huskies. A couple more wins in the Pac-10 tourney could be enough to get them dancing.

5. Cal (16-13, 9-8): I think a lot of people would probably go with Washington State as the next best team in the conference, but Cal has proven to be the more dangerous, more balanced team over the course of conference play. Despite a four-game swoon in February that coincided rather clearly with Crabbe’s four-game absence (Crabbe’s concussion overlapped with three of the four losses), the Golden Bears have been impressive this season under Mike Montgomery’s excellent guidance. Junior Jorge Gutierrez has improved dramatically from the hustling role-player that he portrayed in his first two years on campus, and stepped it up even more spectacularly of late, scoring in double figures in his last ten games and averaging 20.3 PPG, 5.4 APG and 4.2 RPG over that span. Crabbe, too, has shown rapid improvement under Montgomery; after taking a couple months to get comfortable, he has been clearly the best freshman in conference play, averaging 18.4 PPG (excepting the two games around his concussion) since the abrupt transfer of fellow freshman Gary Franklin after the first Stanford game. Likewise, sophomore Brandon Smith, who averaged less than seven minutes per game last year, has been transformed into a solid Pac-10 level point guard since the Franklin departure, averaging 11.4 PPG and 5.1 APG in the 16 games since. And with Markhuri Sanders-Frison and Harper Kamp doing yeoman’s work up front, this is a seriously tough Cal team that could cause a lot of problems in the Pac-10 tourney.

Looking ahead: The Bears wrap up the season with a visit from Stanford on Saturday.

6. Washington State (18-10, 8-8): The mere fact that I’m putting a team as good as this Cougar team as the sixth best team in the conference indicates that while the Pac-10 is not back to the glory days of Kevin Love, the Lopez twins, James Harden and O.J. Mayo (among numerous others), this conference has come a long ways since last year’s mediocre conference. However, the fact that a team this talented is just .500 in the conference raises some other questions. We’ll save those for later, however, as the Cougs are coming off an big win over Washington on Sunday, a game during which they got to the line 36 times and made a mighty impressive 32. Sure, they turn the ball over too much, and they still can get killed on the glass (witness the 23 offensive rebounds they gave up Sunday), but Klay Thompson is one of the best scorers in the nation, DeAngelo Casto is a big, bouncy forward who has turned it on lately (15.5 PPG and 8.0 RPG over the last six games) after an injury-riddled start to the season and Ken Bone is blessed with plenty of willing role players. Much like USC and Cal, this team may need to win the Pac-10 Tournament to get invited to the NCAA Tournament (so far their resume consists of a win over Gonzaga and a season sweep of Washington), but they’re very capable of doing so.

Looking ahead: The Cougars host USC and UCLA this weekend, and they’ll need to prove in those games that their win at Washington wasn’t just a one-off blip before anyone should take them too seriously.

7. Oregon (14-14, 7-9): Home losses to the Bay Area schools this week put a damper on the buzz surrounding the Ducks, but head coach Dana Altman has still done a fantastic job with an undermanned roster. This week the concept of defense escaped Oregon, as they allowed Cal to post a 64.7 effective field goal percentage, only to get worse, as Stanford shot 65.7%. On the week, the Ducks allowed 1.22 points per possession.

Looking ahead: Oregon’s season concludes with a visit to the Arizona schools, where they’ll need to make up ground on WSU in order to avoid the opening round games in the Pac-10 tournament, a possibility that now seems remote.

8. Stanford (15-14, 7-10): The Cardinal came out of Oregon with a split, an acceptable if not enthralling outcome, that nevertheless leaves them without much hoping of earning a bye in the Pac-10 tourney. Jeremy Green did re-establish his hot streak, however, knocking down 15 of 24 shots for 39 points on the Oregon trip. He continued that run in the final non-conference regular season game of the Pac-10 schedule with 22 more points on seven-of-nine shooting in an 11-point win over Seattle on Tuesday.

Looking ahead: The Cardinal travel to Berkeley on Saturday to wrap up the regular season against Cal.

9. Oregon State (10-17, 5-11): The good Beavers were back for a spell this week, knocking off Stanford before posting a come-from-ahead loss against Cal on Saturday. In the Cal game, OSU actually won the battle of the boards and forced twice as many turnovers as they committed, but allowed the Bears to shoots a 71.7% efg. Against the Cardinal, five Beavers scored in double figures and OSU came from behind at the end, outscoring Stanford 13-5 in the final 2:18 to win by seven.

 

Looking ahead: Oregon State travels to Arizona on Thursday, then ASU on Saturday.

10. Arizona State (10-18, 2-14): Another week, another couple of losses by an average of 17 points. Against UCLA on Thursday, no Sun Devils scored in double figures, Ruslan Pateev led the team with five rebounds and Ty Abbott led the team with four assists. While Trent Lockett, the team’s leading scorer with 13.7 PPG, is a nice piece, Herb Sendek has to look awful hard at this team to determine  how to get back from here to competitiveness. Among next year’s possible returnees, besides Lockett, only freshman Chase Creekmur, a relatively one-dimensional shooter, has posted an offensive efficiency number above 100. It’s a long way back from here.

 

Looking ahead: The Sun Devils finish up an awful season with two winnable games at home against the Oregon schools. Here’s hoping the ASU seniors finish things off right with a win over Oregon State on Saturday. Or not. Have they really earned it?

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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 24th, 2011

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

A Look Back

This was the week the west was (all but) won. With Arizona’s thrilling victory over Washington Saturday and UCLA’s overtime loss at Cal on Sunday, the Wildcats now own a two-game lead over the Bruins in the Pac-10 with four games to play. And with UCLA having to travel to the Washington schools to close the conference season after hosting the Arizona schools this week, while it is still possible that the ‘Cats could be caught, it would take a Westwood-favorable convergence of events for that to happen.

Team of the Week: Arizona – I’ll admit, I’ve been slow to come around on this version of the Wildcats. Sure, Derrick Williams is on the very short list of Player of the Year candidates, went my thinking, but the rest of that roster is ordinary. Well, looking back at what Arizona has done to this point is impressive. They’ve won eight in a row and 12 of their 14 conference games. Even if this conference isn’t up to the caliber of the 2009 vintage, that’s mighty impressive. Outside of their inexplicable loss at Oregon State on the first Sunday of the year, the other three Arizona losses have come against teams ranked in Ken Pomeroy’s top 11 right now. Momo Jones has stepped up as a legitimate major conference point guard and a good second scoring option, having scored in double figures in eight of his last nine games. Solomon Hill has established himself as a do-everything scrapper up front, Kyle Fogg has proven to be a capable distributor (he’s had six or more assists three times in this winning streak), Kevin Parrom has turned into a deadly three-point shooter (nine-of-16 from deep during the streak) and a terrific defensive presence and Jesse Perry has become an enforcer up front, averaging 8.8 rebounds per game in their last ten. And if all that isn’t enough, Jamelle Horne, the lone senior on the club, has shown a penchant for knocking down big threes when his team needs it the most. Aside from Williams, the individual pieces on this club may not blow you away on a regular basis, but Sean Miller has done a masterful job molding them into a legitimate threat to make a deep run in March.

Player of the Week: Derrick Williams, Junior, Arizona – 26 points in each of his games this week. 19 total rebounds. A couple of assists per game. Fifteen of 26 shooting from the field and 20-21 from the line (this from a guy who shot 68% from the line last year). Oh, and throw in ten points over the last six minutes against Washington, a couple of big threes, including one with just over a minute left to give the ‘Cats the lead back, then a monstrous rejection on the Huskies’ last viable chance, and it was a very good week for Williams. For the season, the guy hasn’t been kept out of double figures once, has nine double-doubles, is shooting 63% from the field, 75% from the line and an absolutely absurd 68% from deep, averages over two points per shot, is one of the most efficient high-use players in the land and is an absolute shoo-in as a first-team All-American.

Newcomer of the Week: Chase Creekmur, Freshman, Arizona State – With apologies to C.J. Wilcox, Maurice Jones and Jay-R Strowbridge, who all had excellent weeks bombing from deep, let’s recognize this freshman wing from Marshalltown, Iowa who had the game of his very short career this week in helping the Sun Devils to just their second conference win. Creekmur played the most minutes of his career against Washington State and came up with 18 huge points on five-of-eight shooting from behind the arc while also grabbing three rebounds and handing out a couple of assists. As Herb Sendek turns his eye towards the future of the ASU program, Creekmur has thrown his hat into the ring as someone to keep an eye on.

Game of the Week: Arizona 87, Washington 86 – Game of the week, for sure. On the short list with the Arizona/Cal three-overtime epic for game of the year in the conference as well. While the Arizona/Cal game had 15 extra minutes and all the drama and scrappiness that you could ask for in a college basketball game, this one had a national television audience and both teams playing for a potential conference championship. Down the stretch, both teams had its stars step up, as Williams carried the Wildcats on home and Isaiah Thomas did the same for the Huskies, handing out in rapid succession three beautiful lob passes that ended in Washington dunks. In the end, however, it was Williams sending back a Darnell Gant attempt in dramatic fashion with under a second left that sealed the game for the Wildcats.

Game of the Upcoming Week: Arizona (23-4, 12-2) at UCLA (19-8, 10-4), 2/26, 1PM, FSN – While this will no longer be a game for the top spot in the conference, following UCLA’s upset loss at Cal on Sunday night, this should still tell us a lot about both teams. UCLA is still a complete cipher. They’ve beaten BYU and St. John’s (arguably the two best wins by any team in the Pac-10 this year – although the crosstown rival has a major bone of contention there), but in their big “up” games in the Pac-10 (at Arizona and at home against Washington), they’ve lost by 11 points each time. They’ve got a loss to a mediocre Montana team on their rap sheet and while clearly a talented team, they turn the ball over at a ridiculous pace (turnovers on almost a quarter of all possessions) and have efficiency numbers of both ends of the court that are merely average. For Arizona, while we have discussed all the good things they have done, there is still a gaping hole in their resume: lack of quality road wins. To this point their best win away from the McKale Center is either at Washington State or Cal, neither a team that is in the NCAA picture any longer. While a win at an average UCLA team is not normally a resume highlight, given the Wildcats’ relatively weak schedule, this win would be very welcome. Oh, and then there’s the fact that an Arizona win here in all likelihood clinches the Pac-10 title.

Power Rankings

1. Arizona (23-4, 12-2): So, the Wildcats are a lead-pipe cinch to get invited to the NCAA Tournament next month, even without a Pac-10 tournament championship. But where do they wind up seeded? They’ve got road games against the Los Angeles schools and home games against the Oregon schools to finish things up, and while a 2-2 record to finish things up is not impossible, we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that they’ve earned and say they finish up 3-1, then advance to the Pac-10 title game before losing. And that’s the worst-case scenario. If that happens, they wind up at 28-6 on the season with the wins over Washington and UCLA as their sole wins over NCAA Tournament teams (barring some well-placed upsets in Championship Week). What is that good for? Three-seed seems too high for the lack of quality wins, while a six-seed seems too low for a team that won their regular season conference title, finished the season 8-2 (in our scenario) and winds up with a top-20 RPI. I say this team tops out at a four-seed (might have a chance at a three with the Pac-10 tourney title and a couple other dominoes falling ahead of them) with a five-seed the low end.

Looking ahead: While you can’t overlook anything in the Pac-10, this week presents the final large challenges to Arizona’s Pac-10 title dreams. The Wildcats travel to face a suddenly resurgent USC team on Thursday night, then battle UCLA on Saturday with a chance to wrap up the conference championship.

2. Washington (19-8, 10-5): It was a disappointing week for the Huskies, coming up just short in the desert. And while the tightness of the game and the excitement of the final minutes indicate that Washington was right there to the end with the ‘Cats, a close look at the box score reveals some disturbing numbers. To begin with, the Huskies allowed the Wildcats to grab 50% of all offensive rebound opportunities – an unforgivable number – and on the other end, Arizona limited the Huskies to an offensive rebounding percentage of just 24%. While Lorenzo Romar’s team has been just average cleaning the defensive glass this season, in part because they challenge a ton of shots, their inability to positively affect the game on the offensive glass had to be disturbing. That, combined with the fact that Washington wasn’t getting a lot of clean looks from deep, and the looks they were getting weren’t falling, explains the loss. But all things considered, a controversial one-point loss on one of the toughest roadies in the Pac-10 in a game in which you didn’t play all that well is not a terrible result.

Looking ahead: The Huskies are done with the road for the season, and thankfully, as six of their eight losses so far came on the road (the other two were neutral site games in Maui). Back in the friendly confines of the Hec Ed, Washington fully expects to take care of business the rest of the way against Washington State (on Sunday), UCLA (next Thursday) and USC (next Saturday).

3. UCLA (19-8, 10-4): The Bruins are in second place in the conference and the only team with much of a remaining shot at catching Arizona for first place. But I wouldn’t dare put this team as the second strongest team in the conference. They’ve won seven of their last eight, 11 of their last 13, and as referenced above, they’ve got two of the best wins of any team in the Pac-10 this season. This week they got a hard-fought and acceptable road split at the Bay Area schools, but a deeper look at the team reveals serious flaws. But regardless of all that, if the season ended today, the Bruins would be safely in the NCAA Tournament. And yet, the season doesn’t end today.

Looking ahead: Ahead for the Bruins lies danger. This week they’ve got Arizona State and Arizona at home. The Bruins have flirted all season long with giving away conference games against teams that they should beat, but thus far have escaped with perfectly explainable losses. They’ll need to keep up that streak by taking care of business against ASU and not allowing the specter of the Arizona battle to lead to a bad loss. Then come the Wildcats, where a win is a great outcome and a loss is, well, expected. To wrap up the season, Ben Howland takes his team to Washington and Washington State, probably the toughest road trip in the Pac-10 this year. A sweep is almost unthinkable, a split is brilliant and an oh-fer-the-road-trip is a potential nightmare. Even if the worst case scenario comes true and the Bruins go 1-3 down the stretch, winning their first round Pac-10 game to get to 21 wins on the season, paired with wins over BYU and St. John’s, and the Bruins probably limp in. Lose in the first round, and sweat it out on Selection Sunday.

4. USC (15-12, 7-7): From here on down, we are looking at teams that either need to win the Pac-10 Tournament or consider their options for the NIT. And, perhaps most importantly in the short-term for these next five teams, is the fact that teams one through six in the conference receive a first-round bye in the conference tournament. You don’t want to finish seventh here. For the Trojans, they jump from the back of this middle pack last week to the top of it here on the strength of a road sweep of the Bay Area schools. Kevin O’Neill’s club was sparked this week by freshman Maurice Jones, who, after being relegated to coming off the bench for the first time in his college career, took exactly one half to wallow in pity before exploding for 22 second-half points to fend off an attempted-comeback back Cal. Jones followed that game up with another ten points in the win at Stanford, and it looks like he’ll be an asset providing a scoring punch off the bench the rest of the way. Elsewhere, Nikola Vucevic was typically excellent this week, averaging 20 points and 12 rebounds, but also knocking down a surprising five threes this week, which was more than a quarter of his total coming into the game.

Looking ahead: Like the Bruins, the Trojans have a tough row to hoe the rest of the way: Arizona, Arizona State, at Washington State and at Washington.

5. Oregon (14-12, 7-7): The Ducks tore past Oregon State this week to put the wraps on a season-sweep of the Civil War. With the game still somewhat in doubt early in the second half, Jay-R Strowbridge knocked down three straight three-pointers to push Oregon further out ahead. A three by Tyrone Nared followed, as did one by E.J. Singler, then Strowbridge added another and after six straight threes by Oregon, an eight-point Duck lead had turn into a 20-point lead. All in all, Oregon knocked down 13 threes, forced 19 Beaver turnovers and eased home with a 19-point victory.

Looking ahead: Oregon hosts Cal and Stanford in a pair of games that will be very important for Pac-10 Tournament seeding.

6. Cal (14-13, 7-8): The Golden Bears snapped a four-game losing streak on Sunday night, fighting through an improbable buzzer-beating three by Malcolm Lee that sent the game into overtime, to squeak one out in overtime. Junior guard Jorge Gutierrez was phenomenal throughout, scoring 34 points, handing out six assists, grabbing three boards, swiping three steals and just epitomizing toughness and grit. Freshman guard Allen Crabbe returned in that game after missing two straight games and most of a third with a concussion. While Crabbe did not play as well as he had played before the injury, his importance to the club was emphasized during his absence.

Looking ahead: Cal travels to the Oregon schools this week, a good opportunity for a talented club to get right and jump back up the Pac-10 standings.

7. Washington State (17-10, 7-8): Instead of catching the Wildcats looking forward to the Washington game last week, the Cougars found themselves with a post-Arizona hangover when they played Arizona State on Saturday, and my, what a headache that turned out to be. Despite 58 points on the week from junior Klay Thompson, Washington State limped back home with an 0-2 record on the road trip and with any hopes of an NCAA at-large bid dashed upon the rocks. What seemed to be a promising season around Christmastime has turned into utter disappointment, although it is not merely sarcastic to say that this season is a vast improvement over last season’s total collapse.

Looking ahead: The Cougars play two of their final three at home, but it is not an easy stretch by any means. After traveling to play the Huskies in Seattle on Sunday, they’ll host USC and UCLA next week. It looks like they’ll need to win two of those three to feel comfortable about getting a first round Pac-10 bye.

8. Stanford (13-13, 6-9): Getting swept at home in conference play in a week is never a good thing. And now, riding their second losing streak of at least three games this season, the Cardinal find themselves staring up at seven teams above them in the conference standings. Against UCLA, Jeremy Green continued his hot streak, knocking down nine-of-16 shots and five three-pointers on the way to 27 points, his fifth straight 20-point game. But USC was able to get Green off his game, limiting him to 3-13 shooting and just ten points in the 16-point loss.

Looking ahead: The Cardinal travel to Corvallis and Eugene this week for game that border on must-wins.

9. Oregon State (9-16, 4-10): I’ve said enough about the Beavers for the year, I think. They’ve been a fascinating and utterly frustrating team. I’ll throw out bipolar and underachieving as two fairly apt adjectives that I don’t think I’ve used to describe them yet this year. But mostly, I just want to point you to George Dohrmann’s excellent blog post where he spares no quarter in describing the many faults of this Oregon State team. Maybe next week we’ll talk about what the future holds for this Beaver team, but for now they just make me tired.

Looking ahead: Stanford and Cal come calling this week. Who knows what will happen.

10. Arizona State (10-16, 2-12): I love it when we get to wrap up one of these posts on a positive note. There’s not much happy news to report at the bottom of the standings, and certainly one win in a sea of conference losses isn’t much to get excited about, but the ASU win over Washington State on Saturday will have to do. Playing without injured seniors Rihards Kuksiks and Ty Abbott (addition by subtraction much?), the Sun Devils got a career performance by Chase Creekmur (18 points, five threes), the best performance by the team’s leading scorer, Trent Lockett (20 points, eight rebounds), since November and the best performance from freshman guard Corey Hawkins in his brief career (29 minutes, six assists). The Devils knocked down nine threes, outshot the Cougars from the field and played their best defense in about a month and now head into the final weeks of the season with a puncher’s chance at not finishing in last in the conference.

Looking ahead: The Sun Devils travel to UCLA and USC before hosting Oregon and Oregon State. They’ll need to win two of those games and have Oregon State lose all of their to take ninth place, but at least it is something to play for.

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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 17th, 2011

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

A Look Back

This was the type of week in the Pac-10 to lull you back to sleep. On the heels of last week’s Washington meltdown, this week was all about the chalk. Arizona took care of their last place in-state rival with ease. UCLA put the clamps on the Oregon schools in Pauley. And Washington broke their three-game losing streak, using the home crowd to get them back on track with a couple of wins over the Bay Area schools. With just three weeks remaining in the regular season, it’s Arizona at the top of the Pac with a 10-2 record, with UCLA just one game back and the Huskies just a game back from there. Beyond that, Washington State sits two games further back and in desperate need of a big winning streak to end the season in order to entertain any hopes of an NCAA invite.

  • Team of the Week: UCLA – While the Huskies broke their losing streak and the Wildcats continued theirs, we’re gonna take the time to give the Bruins, who have been more or less flying under the radar this season, some love. While the UCLA offense is not exactly a thing of beauty, they are now definitely playing the type of defense you would expect from a Ben Howland team. In each of the five games in the Bruins current win streak, they have held their opponents to less than 40% shooting from the field. Against Oregon State on Saturday, the Bruins racked up a ridiculous 16 blocked shots, including eight by sophomore wing Tyler Honeycutt. Unfortunately, some of that defensive effort was offset by an absurd 26 turnovers, again led by Honeycutt in this category, with seven. While the offense is still a ways away from being considered of championship-caliber, the UCLA defense that looked awful in their last loss, at Arizona, may have turned the corner.
  • Player of the Week: Isaiah Thomas, Junior, Washington – Thomas got his mojo back in a big way against the Cal Bears on Thursday night, knocking down a career-high six three-pointers on his way to 23 points as he led the Huskies to their first win in four games. He added nine assists in that game, then back that effort up with 22 points and another four threes in the win over Stanford on Saturday, in which he scored 14 points in the final three minutes of the first half to get the Huskies on their way.
  • Newcomer of the Week: C.J. Wilcox, Freshman, Washington – Wilcox shook off a couple months worth of a slump by hitting six threes this week on his way to a 12 PPG average. The sharpshooter who redshirted last season got his most minutes in a week since a staph infection in late December killed the momentum he had built up in his first month of play in Seattle. But with Wilcox back in the swing of things, head coach Lorenzo Romar has yet another offensive toy to play with as the Huskies try to get back on top of the Pac-10.
  • Game of the Week: Washington State 75, Cal 71 – As the only game decided by less than ten points this week, this game is the easy choice. This was the game to decide fourth place in the conference this week, and really, an elimination game. While neither team is a strong candidate to make the NCAA Tournament, the Cougars win at least keeps that hope alive, while the Golden Bears now know they’ll need to win the Pac-10 Tournament in March in order to go dancing in March. Junior guard Jorge Gutierrez did everything he could to get Cal back into this game after they fell behind by as many as 11 early in the second half, scoring all 19 of his points after the break, but his attempt at a potential game-tying three with three second left came up short and the Cougars added a free throw at the end to clinch the game. WSU was led by sophomore Brock Motum with 19 points and five rebounds.
  • Game of the Upcoming Week: Washington (17-7, 9-4) at Arizona (21-4, 10-2), 2/19, 3PM PST, ESPN – With three weeks to go, three teams are still in the running for the Pac-10 regular season title. And the fun part is we’ll get one game a week between two of those three teams down the stretch. This week, the Wildcats look for revenge after the Huskies won by 17at the Hec-Ed in mid-January. In that game, Arizona kept it close for about 30 minutes before Washington, sparked by this great play by Thomas and Darnell Gant, pulled away late. Thomas wound up with 22 points and ten assists, while Derrick Williams posted 22 points of his own to go with 11 rebounds, but the rest of the Arizona team went 16-45 from the field. Of late, Sean Miller has done a great job getting contributions from role players on the U of A roster, and he’ll need to continue that trend on Saturday. If that happens, the Wildcats will be in a very good position to all but knock the Huskies out of the Pac-10 title race.

Power Rankings

1. Arizona (21-4, 10-2) – In the Wildcats’ win over Arizona State on Sunday, the Sun Devils surrounded Williams with two and three players every time he touched the ball, limiting him to just five field goal attempts and three free throw attempts. But, as the ‘Cats have made a habit of doing all season long, they had somebody else step up and lead the offense in Williams’ stead. Junior guard Kyle Fogg was the hero this time, popping for a career-high-tying 26 points and six three-pointers. Fogg has been up and down this whole season, but mostly down in Pac-10 play, hitting just 30% of his three-pointers in conference play prior to this weekend, down significantly from last year’s 42% on the season. Perhaps Fogg’s breakout against ASU is a positive sign for the stretch run.

Looking ahead: Arizona hosts the Washington schools this week with a chance to not only beat somebody of significance this week, but also a chance to extend their lead in the conference.

2. Washington (17-7, 9-4): So, is this the start of the patented Husky late-season run? With a game against Arizona coming up this week, the Huskies have a chance to get right back in the thick of things at the top of the conference, but they’ll need some help in order to come away with the regular season title. Aside from the exploits of Thomas and Wilcox, detailed above, Romar got production from all over his roster this week with seven different players scoring in double figures at some point this week. Matthew Bryan-Amaning, in particular, had a big week, averaging 16.5 PPG and 7.5 RPG, while Venoy Overton had his best offensive game of the season with 12 points and four assists against Stanford.

Looking ahead: While Arizona State should be something of a breather on Thursday night, the game against the ‘Cats on Saturday afternoon is huge.

3. UCLA (18-7, 9-3): As of right now, the Bruins are golden. They’ve got 18 wins, they’re on a five-game winning streak and they have won nine of their last ten games. Wins over BYU and St. John’s highlight their resume, and while their RPI in the 40’s isn’t brilliant, if the season ended today, the Bruins would be safely in the tournament. But, the season doesn’t end today. And still ahead on the schedule for UCLA are road trips to the Bay Area and Washington schools wrapped around a homestand against the Arizona schools. While the Arizona State game can safely be chalked up as a win, the other five games remaining in the regular season are perilous. It’s likely that if they come away with a split of those six games, they’ll still be good (although their potential seeding will take a hit). Dreaming bigger, if the Bruins can take advantage of the opportunity to play Washington and Arizona and take care of business in the other games, a Pac-10 title is still within reach, as is a pretty strong seed.

Looking ahead: The road starts this week with a trip to Stanford on Thursday, followed by Cal on Sunday, a pair of games that the Bruins could win, but, as always, a tough intraconference road trip.

4. Washington State (17-8, 7-6): The Cougars have just never gained any traction in Pac-10 play. It’s been two games down one week, two games up the next, and splits abounding. And then after they knocked off the hated Huskies at home, to get back over .500 in the conference, they turn in a complete stinker at Oregon. They get back to even, then let Stanford spank them at home. At this point, it would take stringing together several wins against the rather difficult five games ahead of them in order to make any sort of convincing argument that they are worthy of at-large consideration, even in a week bubble.

Looking ahead: The Cougars travel to Arizona on Thursday, where they’ll hope to catch the Wildcats looking ahead to Saturday’s showdown with Washington. Then, on Saturday, they’ll need to take care of business against the Sun Devils. A 2-0 week here would be a dream come true for Ken Bone and company, and would put the Cougs right back on the bubble again.

5. Cal (13-12, 6-7): This was a very disappointing week for the Golden Bears. After having won four of their last five games, with the only loss a triple overtime knock-down, drag-out battle, they were looking primed to sneak back into the at-large discussion. Then, Washington came out and drilled them something awful on Thursday night, outscoring the Bears by 24 in the first half alone, and 32 on the game. To make matters worse, freshman wing Allen Crabbe sustained a concussion, a turn of events which may have cost them the game on Saturday at Washington State. Fellow freshman Jeff Powers started in his place and did contribute three threes on the way to 14 points, but he was no substitute for Crabbe and the Bears fell by six in Pullman. With the Los Angeles schools visiting this week, a road trip to Oregon next week and a season-closing battle with Stanford the remaining games on the schedule, a 5-0 finish to the season is not out of the question, but even that would probably leave the Bears wanting come Selection Sunday, barring a run to the Pac-10 Tournament Championship.

Looking ahead: The Bears host USC on Thursday, a game in which Crabbe is still questionable. At the very least, Cal fans have to hope he is ready to go by Sunday for the matchup with the Bruins.

6. Oregon (13-12, 6-7): All things considered, a split in Los Angeles for this team is a pretty good week. Malcolm Armstead continued to be a team leader off of the bench, contributing 24 points and 12 assists this week in a total of 65 minutes and the Ducks got threes from seven different players in their win over USC on Saturday.

Looking ahead: The basketball version of the Civil War comes on Saturday when the Ducks host the Beavers at Matt Court.

7. Stanford (13-11, 6-7): Much like the Ducks above, the Cardinal have to be pretty pleased with a road split on the week, especially considering the Washington road trip may well be the toughest trip in the Pac-10 this season. Against Washington State on Thursday, Stanford his seven of their eight first-half three-point attempts on the way to a 17-point halftime lead, then continued to play solid basketball throughout the second half on the way to a 13-point win. The Cardinal wound up with nine threes on the night (compared to just 3-18 shooting from behind the arc for the Cougs) and 20 assists on their 25 made field goals in a very efficient game. Against the Huskies, they weren’t quite as good, still hitting shots at a 55% effective field goal percentage for the game, but turning the ball over 19 times against the Husky pressure. Jeremy Green had a big week, scoring 24 points in each game, and he has now definitely put his midseason slump behind him, averaging 23 PPG over his last four games and having knocked down 15 threes in that span.

Looking ahead: Green can expect to see plenty of UCLA’s Malcolm Lee on Thursday night, and if Green can get the better of the Bruins’ best defender, the Cardinal could get their homestand against the southern California schools off to a good start.

8. USC (13-12, 5-7): In this four-team mush in the middle of the conference (with teams five through eight each having posted 13 total wins and seven conference losses on the season), the Trojans are the team that has struggled the most to get to this point. They haven’t won two games in a week since before Christmas, their offensive efficiency has never picked up, and going forward, they’ll only be a favorite against Arizona State the rest of the way. After the Trojans gave Kansas everything they could handle in mid-December, then beat Tennessee a couple of nights later, the idea of this USC team staring a 6-12 conference season in the face was decidedly improbable. And yet, here they are.

Looking ahead: Cal on Thursday night and Stanford on Saturday are two games that the Trojans are capable of winning. This team’s track record tells us that a split is the best case scenario.

9. Oregon State (9-15, 4-9): The Beavers found plenty of different ways to lose in Los Angeles last week. Against USC they got killed on the glass, they turned the ball over 19 times and they hit just one of their 11 three-point attempts. Against UCLA, they took an entirely different approach. While they still turned the ball over 14 times, they actually forced 26 Bruin turnovers. On the glass, Oregon State performed pretty well, grabbing 38% of all offensive rebound opportunities. But, this time, the Beavers just couldn’t hit from the field, making just 23 of their 70 field goal attempts, and three of those makes coming after UCLA had turned to their walk-ons for mop-up duty. To put it mildly, this Oregon State team is capable of losing games in a wide variety of ways. Craig Robinson has his work cut out for him.

Looking ahead: The Beavs travel to Eugene on Saturday for their battle with the Ducks.

10. Arizona State (9-15, 1-11): And then there are the Sun Devils. 2011 actually got off to a pretty good start for Herb Sendek and his team. They went to Eugene and knocked off the Ducks on New Year’s Day to even their conference record at 1-1, a road split in the first week of the season a pretty good thing. That’s the last time this team won a game in the Pac-10. This week it was another uninspiring effort against Arizona. Senior Jamelle McMillan continued his recent hot steak, scoring 12 points and handing out five assists, and he has now scored in double figures in four straight games, but saying that he is a bright spot is going overboard. There are no bright spots here.

Looking ahead: The Sun Devils host the Washington schools. Not much should be expected, but at some point in the last six games, this ASU team will win a game. They’re simply too good to be this bad.

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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 10th, 2011

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

A Look Back

It was another one of those weeks in the Pac-10. Just when you thought the wheat had been separated from the chaff, everything gets all mixed up again. Conference-leading Washington drops two games in stunning fashion. Oregon rises up from the back of the pack to sweep the Washington schools, marking their fourth win in five games and getting back to within a game of .500. Oregon State shows signs of life, while Washington State, after seemingly being back in the mix, looks horrible in earning a split and UCLA has now having won seven of eight. And through it all, Arizona just keeps winning games and now finds itself at 20-4 on the season, 9-2 in the Pac-10, a game and a half ahead of UCLA, and #16 in the latest RTC poll despite not having beaten a team ranked in KenPom’s top 40 this season.

  • Team of the Week: Oregon – With all due respect to Arizona, this recognition has to go to the Ducks this week. All season long we’ve noted that this team probably has the least talent in the conference, yet they keep doing everything necessary to give themselves the best chances to stick around and maybe even beat you in the end. And then, on Thursday night, they throw that book right out the window and just pummel Washington State, 69-43, their largest margin of victory in the conference in almost five years. Joevan Catron continues to amaze, going for 37 points and 18 rebounds over the week, while getting help from all over the roster. Jay-R Strowbridge continued his recent run of providing instant and efficient offense off the bench, scoring 27 points on 11-21 shooting this week. Malcolm Armstead has taken his move to the bench in stride (take note Drew family), going for 16 points, eight assists and ten steals this week, while still getting plenty of minutes off the pine. E.J. Singler: 26 points, ten rebounds, six assists. Tyrone Nared: 14 points and six boards against Washington. Garrett Sim: 13 points and four assists against Washington State. And then solid contributions from Jonathan Loyd and Teondre Williams. All this and we haven’t even gotten to head coach Dana Altman who is on his way to running away with the Pac-10 Coach of the Year honors and throwing his name in the hat as a potential longshot National Coach of the Year contender. While this program has a long ways to go to get back to the level it wants to be at, clearly Altman and these Ducks have gone a long way towards taking that first step.
  • Player of the Week: Lamont “Momo” Jones, Sophomore, Arizona – With Arizona down three in the waning moments of regulation against Cal on Saturday night, Jones drove the baseline, drew a bump from Cal’s Markhuri Sanders-Frison, and flipped in a runner, then proceeded to the line and confidently knocked down the game-tying free throw. In the second overtime, with the ‘Cats again down three and with time dripping off the clock, Jones this time pulled up from deep and drilled the game-tying three. And then in the decisive third overtime, Jones put Arizona ahead for good with a layup at the one-minute mark. When Zona’s 107-105 triple-overtime victory was done, Jones had gone for a career-high 27 points. “I’ve played like this my whole life,” Jones boasted after the game. “To other people it might be something new, but to me it’s just another day in the life of Momo Jones.” Nevermind the fact that a quick glance through Jones’ game log in his two seasons with the Wildcats disproves that statement, but for one night at least, Jones was the best player in the Pac-10.
  • Newcomer of the Week: Jay-R Strowbridge, Senior, Oregon – Strowbridge is used to being a newcomer. He was a newcomer-to-be at Murray State, where he originally signed, before decommitting and enrolling at Nebraska, where he was a newcomer as a freshman. Then he was a newcomer at Jacksonville State after transferring there after Nebraska. Then, he was briefly a newcomer at Arkansas State, after using the NCAA rule that allows graduates to transfer to a school offering a graduate program not offered at his current school, but left there when ASU turned out to be under NCAA investigation. Now, he’s officially a newcomer at Oregon. Despite what that history of transfers and travels may suggest, he’s been a strong veteran presence for the Ducks, while providing some good offensive firepower off the bench. In Oregon’s four wins in their last five games, he has averaged 13.8 PPG and posted a 59.5 effective field goal percentage, and it seems at long last, Strowbridge has found a good home.
  • Game of the Week: Arizona 107, Oregon State 105 (3OT) – Not only is this the game of the week, it is the leader in the clubhouse for game of the year in the Pac-10, and a strong contender for game of the year in the country. 14 ties, 17 lead changes, numerous clutch plays on both sides of the ball, career-highs littering the stat sheets. And RTC Live was lucky enough to be there.
  • Game of the Upcoming Week: California (13-10, 6-5) at Washington (15-7, 7-4), 2/10, 6PM PST, FSN – Around this time of year, it starts to seem that every game is a huge one. For the Huskies, riding a three-game losing streak, they need to stop the free fall immediately. They’ve dug themselves a hole in the race for the conference title, but there is still plenty of time to dig back out, provided they can turn things around. For the Golden Bears, there is still hope of getting back in the NCAA Tournament at-large discussion, but following the heart-breaking loss to Arizona on Saturday, they’ll need to bounce back right away. For one of these teams, the bad luck streak continues, while the other has temporarily righted the ship.

Power Rankings

1. Arizona (20-4, 9-2): Last week in this space, I said that a road sweep of the Bay Area schools would be mighty impressive, and I stand by that claim. While Stanford and Cal both gave them a run, the Wildcats did what was necessary to come away with a pair of wins. Most impressive of all, however, was getting the win at Cal, despite playing without Derrick Williams for the last 15+ minutes of the game, after he had fouled out. Throwing aside the perception that this was Williams and a bunch of guys riding his coattails, Jones, Kevin Parrom and Brendon Lavender took over the game in the overtime periods and willed the Cats to victory. Between those three, they had 33 of the 34 Arizona points scored after Williams fouled out (Jones 15, Parrom 13, Lavender 5), proving once and for all that this team is capable of beating good teams in tough environments, even without Williams.

Looking ahead: The ‘Cats travel to Tempe to face in-state rival Arizona State in a game that looks like it should be a breather. But we’ve already learned this season that there is nothing that should be taken for granted in this conference, especially in a road environment against your heated rival.

2. Washington (15-7, 7-4): Let’s not go crazy with Washington and kill them for their performance last week in Oregon. Sure, for the team that was the favorite in the conference, losing back-to-back games to those teams is alarming. But, as Lorenzo Romar was quick to point out following their loss Saturday at Oregon, this type of play in the middle of the season is typical for the Huskies. Maddening, for sure, but typical. In 2006, the Huskies lost three games in a row in the middle of Pac-10 play, dropping to 5-5, then proceeded to heat back up again, finish second in the conference and advance to the Sweet 16. Last year, the Huskies lost three in a row near the start of conference play, dropping as far as 3-5 in the conference, before winning 12 of their last 14 in the regular season and again advancing to the Sweet 16. We had been promised that this year would be different, and when the Huskies powered through the distractions of a sexual assault case (which, incidentally, has been dropped by the King County prosecutor) and a season-ending loss of their starting point guard, Abdul Gaddy, we bought into that idea for a while. But now, the Huskies have lost three in a row again and look for all the world to be the same old Huskies. You know, the Sweet 16 variety.

Looking ahead: The Huskies invite Cal and Stanford into the Hec-Ed, with all parties looking to rebound from last weekend’s disappointments.

3. UCLA (16-7, 7-3): We haven’t talked much about the Bruins to this point, but they are coming off a big week for them. First, on Wednesday they broke a four-game losing streak to cross-town rival USC. Then, on Saturday they came back and defeated former head coach Steve Lavin in his return to the sidelines at Pauley Pavilion as the first-year head coach of St. John’s. We detailed the USC game in last week’s Pac-10 Check-in, but the game against the Johnnies on the weekend was a case of the good Bruins getting the better of the bad Bruins. The good Bruins? Try grabbing 51.9% of all offensive rebounds, getting four players in double-digit scoring and outscoring their opponent from the charity stripe 27-5. The bad Bruins, however, showed up in repeated turnovers (19 total, although I swear it seemed like double that) and allowing the Red Storm to grab nearly 37% of their own offensive rebounds. In the end, Ben Howland’s crew needed an unlikely three by Reeves Nelson (who had 12 points and 17 rebounds on the day) to finally put St. John’s away, after they had cut an 11-point Bruin lead at the five-minute mark to just three in the final minute.

Looking ahead: The Bruins host the Oregon schools this week, and you can bet the coaching staff will use Washington’s struggles last week as a major teachable moment: these are not teams to overlook.

4. Washington State (16-7, 6-5): The Cougars loss at Oregon on Thursday night was just disgusting. They posted a sub-30% effective field goal percentage, got killed on the boards and look passive defensively. Junior Klay Thompson turned the ball over six times, missed nine of his 13 field goal attempts (including six of his eight three-pointers) and was frustrated repeatedly by Oregon’s Malcolm Armstead. All of which led to an entirely forgettable 26-point loss. If there was good news for Ken Bone this week, it was that the Cougars were able to put that monstrosity behind them and still go to Oregon State a couple of days later and come away with a hard-fought win. The performance was only marginally better looking (Thompson was just 2/7 in this game and he turned the ball over five times, while his teammates coughed it up 15 other times), but they did just enough work on the boards to escape from Oregon with one win in a completely unimpressive weekend.

Looking ahead: The Cougars host Stanford and Cal this week, and really need to get both of these in order to begin re-establishing their tournament credentials.

5. Cal (13-10, 6-5): There were so many times during the Arizona game on Saturday night where Bear fans had to be telling themselves: “We’re this close to being just a game out of first place in the conference.” Unfortunately for them, in each of those cases, they just couldn’t close the door. Sure, the foul called on Sanders-Frison on the Momo Jones runner at the end of regulation was iffy at best. But the Bears have to be kicking themselves for Jorge Gutierrez’s charge (and fifth foul) on a fast break in the first overtime, for failing to get a hand in Jones’ face at the end of the second overtime, for missed free throws and missed jumpers at the end of the third overtime, and many other plays down the stretch. The fact is, Cal had numerous chances to dance into the night with a victory, but each time it was the Wildcats who made the plays to get the job done. Now, all that being said, this is still a good Golden Bear team that, provided they can shake this loss off and learn from it, could be very much a factor in the final month of the regular season and into the Pac-10 Tournament.

Looking ahead: A trip up north to visit a couple of very angry Washington squads does not make a bounce-back victory easy to come by for Mike Montgomery and company. But if they want to keep their distant NCAA at-large hopes on life support, they’ll need to get right back to business.

6. Oregon (12-11, 5-6): We covered it all above in the Team of the Week section, but let me just repeat how amazed I am that this team has a winning record on the season, is just a game below .500 in the Pac-10 and is worthy of being ranked #6 in the conference; just a stunning coaching job by Altman.

Looking ahead: At UCLA on Thursday, at USC on Saturday – the Ducks have proven that they are capable of winning these types of games, and they have won two of their last three on the road.

7. Stanford (12-10, 5-6): The Cardinal just keep plodding along. Win a game, lose a game, rinse and repeat as necessary. Aside from getting swept in their Southern California road trip, the Cardinal have earned a split in every other week in the Pac-10 schedule thus far. This week, it was a home loss against Arizona after hanging tight for much of the game, then taking care of business against last-place Arizona State on Saturday. Jeremy Green woke up from a slump by scoring 20 or more in back to back games for the first time since before Thanksgiving. He poured in 21 against the Wildcats in a volume shooting effort, taking 21 shots on the night. But against ASU, he was incredibly efficient, knocking down six of his eight field goals, including all five of his attempts from behind the arc, and six of his eight free throw attempts on his way to a 23-point effort. Josh Owens was again his right-hand man, averaging 14.5 points and 8.5 rebounds this week. And junior point guard Jarrett Mann had his best week of the season, doing a little of everything: 25 points, 12 assists, 11 rebounds, and five steals on the week.

Looking ahead: Stanford takes to the highway with visits to highly motivated Washington squads this week. If they can continue their affinity for weekly splits, this week will have to be considered a success.

8. USC (12-11, 4-6): The Trojans are a disappointment, in a lot of ways. KenPom says their defensive efficiency is 43rd in the nation – you can bet that’s at least a couple dozen notches lower than what Kevin O’Neill had hoped. But, worse than that has been their offense, currently the 73rd most efficient offense in the country. The Trojans simply don’t have the firepower offensively to keep up in the Pac-10. It was expected that junior point guard Jio Fontan would provide them with a spark in the backcourt, but while he has done a pretty good job feeding big men Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson, he just hasn’t provided the scoring punch that he showed in his freshman season at Fordham. Right now, the best offense the Trojans can muster on a regular basis is a missed shot, as Vucevic and Stepheson have both been good – albeit not great – offensive rebounders. In just four of their ten Pac-10 games have they averaged more than a point per possession, but surprisingly, they have only won one of those games. They’ve got a 1-3 record in their four best offensive games, but a 3-3 record in the games in the games in which they score less than a point per possession. I know their best chance at winning is to ugly up their games, but that is ridiculous.

Looking ahead: The Trojans host Oregon State and Oregon in an effort to prove that they haven’t quit on the season.

9. Oregon State (9-13, 4-7): This Beaver team makes an art out of being inconsistent. It seems like at every point this season when I’ve written them off completely, they respond with an improbable victory. I overreact to their win, pronounce them one of the top-five most talented teams in the conference, and then they proceed to stink up the gym for a week or two. This week, they added the win over Washington to their hysterically schizophrenic resume. Yes, they’re a young team. But after four months of playing together, you’d think they’d at least be marginally predictable. Obviously, Craig Robinson has a lot of rope in Corvallis, given that there is at least some life in this once moribund program, but I’m ready to see some results – the talent is there.

Looking ahead: A trip to sunny southern California, the home of four of the Beavers best players.

10. Arizona State (9-14, 1-10): Herb Sendek is deep in the middle of a terrible nightmare, and nobody will even do him the solid to wake him up. Nobody thought this was going to be the Arizona State team that would make Sun Devils fans forget all about James Harden or Super Mario or Byron Scott and Fat Lever. But likewise, nobody thought that they would be this bad. The Devils didn’t look great in the non-conference schedule, but they had wins over UAB and Long Beach State and Nevada at least, they played Richmond and St. John’s well. You figured, maybe a lower division Pac-10 finish, but they’ll be right around .500 when all is said and done. They opened Pac-10 play with a home split against the Oregon schools, not great, but not exactly time to slit the wrists. They mixed in a win over a decent Tulsa team in the midst of conference play, but beyond that, they’re left staring at a nine-game conference losing streak. How? This team had three senior returning starters, almost more than the rest of the league combined. This team had, and still has, some good young pieces. How is this team so bad in a year when the Pac-10 is not exactly great? Just look at their Ken Pom page and it all becomes clear. They don’t do anything well, they’re efficiency numbers are mediocre on both ends of the court, they’re terrible at getting to the line and getting on the offensive glass (although that last one is at least by design), and they’ve only got four players on the roster who just squeak over the century mark in offensive efficiency. And worst of all, for a team that relies so heavily on the three (over 40% of their field goal attempts come from behind the arc), they’re just not a very good three-point shooting team, hitting just 34.7% of their attempts from back there, good for 145th in the country. Ouch.

Looking ahead: The massacre continues when Arizona comes to visit on Sunday. Although, you have to figure, if those three-pointers ever start falling at a higher-than-historical rate, they’ll beat somebody. Right?

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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 3rd, 2011

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

A Look Back

Two weeks back, Washington beat Arizona pretty convincingly to grab sole control of the Pac-10 lead. A week later, the Wildcats snuck back into a first-place tie when they held serve at home against the Los Angeles schools on the same weekend the Huskies turned the ball over 24 times in a loss at Washington State. Such is life in the Pac-10 this year. The Huskies are the big favorite in the league and look for all the world to be head-and-shoulders above the rest of the competition, but every time they wrest away sole possession of first place, they give it back shortly later. And now, as we make the corner and head for the second turn around the conference, Washington and Arizona sit atop the leaderboard with 7-2 records, with UCLA just a half-game back and Washington State and Cal just another game back from there. To make a long story short, there is no room for mistakes for anyone at the top of the conference in the back half of the schedule.

Team of the Week: Arizona – There aren’t a ton of impressive wins on the Wildcat schedule, but they just keep plugging along solidly and taking care of business. And really, you don’t rack up an 18-4 record, even against mediocre competition, without being a pretty good team. This week they handled their business at home, knocking off UCLA and USC with relative ease and establishing themselves beyond any doubt as Washington’s main competition for the conference title.

Player of the Week: Klay Thompson, Junior, Washington State – With plenty of great games out of Derrick Williams and Isaiah Thomas lately, Thompson has been something of a forgotten man in the Pac-10. And yet, he leads the conference in scoring (22.3 PPG), three-point field goals (65), he’s third in assists (4.4 APG), third in steals (2.0 SPG) and in the top 20 in rebounding (5.3 RPG). And this week, he led his Cougs to a huge home win over in-state rival Washington by posting 25 points and constantly disrupting the Husky offense on his way to five steals. While Thomas and Williams may get most of the ink in the conference Player of the Year discussion, let’s not forget that this is still really a three horse race.

Newcomer of the Week: Allen Crabbe, Freshman, California – After no one really distinguished themselves in the non-conference portion of the schedule, Crabbe has taken a commanding lead in the race for Pac-10 Freshman of the Year with eight straight double-figure scoring performances in conference play. He continued his excellence this week by averaging 15 points, seven rebounds, two steals and two threes per game in a Golden Bear home sweep of the Oregon schools.

Game of the Week: UCLA 73 Arizona State 72 (OT) – After getting a reality check in Tucson on Thursday night, the Bruins looked like a focused team early against the Sun Devils on Saturday. They built up a lead as high as 15 points in the second half behind balanced offense, smothering defense, and a good dose of ASU ineptness. But Herb Sendek’s squad didn’t quit, and when the Bruins eased off the gas a bit, the Devils were able to tighten things up. Still, it took back-to-back Ty Abbott threes and a rebound-and-putback of a missed free throw by Trent Lockett to tie things up in regulation and send the game to overtime. In the extra period, the Bruins jumped out to a 9-2 run behind three consecutive threes by Lazeric Jones, Malcolm Lee and Jerime Anderson in the first two minutes, and from there the Bruins held on for a much-needed win.

Game of the Upcoming Week: Arizona (18-4, 7-2) at California (12-9, 5-4), 2/5, 5PM PST, Fox Sports Arizona – UCLA plays an interesting game this weekend when they host St. John’s in the Steve Lavin Bowl, but this is the game that may ultimately have the biggest effect on the conference race. All four of the Wildcat losses have come away from the McKale Center, and the Bears have won three of their four conference games at Haas Pavilion. And given Cal’s gritty defense, strong frontcourt play, excellent head coaching and the emergence of Crabbe and junior Harper Kamp as solid offensive threats, the Wildcats will have their work cut out for them on Saturday. Of course, Mike Montgomery still has to devise some sort of plan to slow Williams, so both coaches may not rest easy on Friday night.

Power Rankings

1. Washington (15-5, 7-2): When Lorenzo Romar got the stat sheet Sunday night after Washington’s loss in Pullman, I’m guessing his eyes went directly to the turnover column. And he couldn’t have liked what he saw there. Washington 24, Washington State 12. Isaiah Thomas, seven turnovers. Scott Suggs, five turnovers. Justin Holiday, four turnovers. Despite the Huskies’ dominance on the glass at both ends (they grabbed 85.7% of the available defensive rebounds and 37.8% of the offensive ones), the sheer number of turnovers was just something they couldn’t overcome. While the hope is that this game was just an aberration (the Huskies have actually been very good on the season, turning the ball over just under 17% of all their possessions – 16th-best in the nation), the fact is that Thomas’ turnovers have been increasing of late. In four of his last five games, he has turned the ball over at least four times, although the good news is that he has been handing out so many assists, his assist-to-turnover ratio over that span has still been better than two-to-one. Nevertheless, it will be worthwhile to keep an eye on Thomas in the coming games to see if he begins taking better care of the ball.

Looking ahead: The northwest flavor of the Washington schedule continues this week, with a trip to the Oregon schools and a good chance to right the ship.

2. Arizona (18-4, 7-2): I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: beyond Derrick Williams – who is as talented a player as there is in the nation – this roster looks completely ordinary. So how have they gotten to this 18-4 record, and how do we find them tied with the Huskies atop the Pac-10? Three things: (1) they shoot a great percentage from the field (eighth in the nation in effective field goal percentage and three-point percentage), (2) they defend the hell out of the three (their opponents shoot just 26.7% from behind the arc against them, the lowest percentage in the nation) and (3) they get to the line effectively (they shoot almost half as many free throws as field goals) and once there, knock down the gimmes at 74.3% rate. Now, in all of these areas, Williams is the linchpin behind these numbers. He’s first in the nation in effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage, while knocking down a spectacular 70% of his threes. And he is second in the nation in fouls drawn per 40 minutes and in free throw rate. But the fact is, the rest of his teammates are excellent complements to him and his skills. Sure, if you take Williams out of the lineup, this team will fight with Oregon State and Arizona State at the bottom of the conference, but the way things are, the Wildcats are a formidable opponent.

Looking ahead: A trip to the Bay Area looms and the Wildcats have a big mid-term ahead of them this week. A couple wins would be mighty impressive, while a split would be perfectly acceptable.

3. UCLA (15-7, 7-3): The Bruins had a chance to make a big splash this week in their trip to the McKale Center, but despite escaping with a one-point overtime win at ASU on Saturday, Ben Howland and crew returned home with plenty of regrets about a missed opportunity. But the fact was, UCLA’s defense just wasn’t very good, especially against Williams. Plenty of Bruins had their chance at slowing him, and none were very effective. Throw in the fact that Lazeric Jones and Tyler Honeycutt combined to make just one of their 15 field goal attempts and the Bruins left the desert feeling like they had left some money on the table. However, they were able to post a big win last night, knocking off cross-town rival USC and breaking a four-game losing streak in the series. Still, questions remain about the overall maturity on the team. As good as Reeves Nelson has been at times this year, he has a tendency to pout and sulk when things aren’t going his way, and he’s disappeared from a game on more than one occasion. Freshman center Josh Smith has had similar apparent attitude problems, could still stand to lose a pound or 50 and has struggled with foul difficulty all season long. And on Thursday night against Arizona, it was the junior point guard Jones who picked up a dumb technical on an intentional elbow at an inopportune time in the second half. The Bruins will need to get more consistency and more maturity in order to have a serious effect on the Pac-10 championship race, but given all the mistakes they’ve made thus far, the fact that they are right near the top of the standings has to be encouraging.

Looking ahead: On Saturday, UCLA welcomes Steve Lavin back to Westwood, as their former coach returns with his athletic St. John’s team in tow.  Next week, they host the Oregon schools, so this is a big stretch for the Bruins where they are capable of stringing together a streak of wins.

4. Washington State (15-6, 5-4): The Cougars really needed a win on Sunday night against Washington. A loss would have put them under .500 on the first swing around the conference and would have relegated them to long-shot NCAA Tournament consideration at best. But the win they got serves as by far their best win on the season. It’s not their fault teams like Baylor and Gonzaga have been underwhelming, but losses to similarly disappointing teams like Kansas State, Butler and a few tough losses around the Pac-10 were concerning. However, they got solid play and contributions from up and down the roster. Beyond Thompson, Reggie Moore (18 points, five assists), DeAngelo Casto (11 points, eight rebounds) and Faisal Aden (15 points, three three-pointers) all had impressive statlines, while role players like Abe Lodwick, Brock Motum, Marcus Capers and even little-used freshman Patrick Simon helped out.

Looking ahead: A road-trip to the Oregon schools gives the Cougars a good chance at potentially getting a record-boosting road sweep.

5. Cal (12-9, 5-4): In a way, it’s been a tale of two seasons for the Golden Bears. Remember, this is a team that scored five points in the first half against Temple the day after Thanksgiving. They followed that performance up with a 15-point second half a couple of days later against Boston College, and all told in the Old Spice Classic, they averaged 49 points per game. And, not to blame it all on one kid, but in the 13 games prior to Gary Franklin abruptly quitting the team, the Bears averaged 65.9 points; in the eight games since then (in games with roughly the same average number of possessions), they have averaged 77.1 points per game. A lot of this can be attributed to the emergence of Crabbe as a strong offensive weapon, but there is little doubt that the Cal offense has run much more smoothly and efficiently since Brandon Smith has joined the starting backcourt alongside Jorge Gutierrez in place of the departed Franklin.

Looking ahead: The Bears host the Oregon schools this week, and given the way the Pac-10 has played out thus far, no one really knows what to expect in those games.

6. USC (12-11, 4-6): The Trojans do one thing exceedingly well: they clean the defensive glass with abandon, grabbing over 72% of all available rebounds on that end of the floor. Last week, they were even better than that, grabbing 85.7% of the defensive rebounds against a poor rebounding Arizona State team, and then posting a 77.3 defensive rebound percentage against Arizona. But last night against UCLA, even that escaped them as they allowed UCLA to grab 40.7% of their misses. While the defensive rebounding is usually a strength, unfortunately for Kevin O’Neill, this team doesn’t do much else very well. Against ASU, the Trojans escaped with a two-point win primarily because the Sun Devils missed 13 of their 25 free throw attempts, while against the Wildcats on Saturday, the Trojans had no such luck. Not only was Arizona at least competent from the free throw line, but they were unconscious from the field, posting a 71.4 effective field goal percentage while hitting 10 of their 19 three-point attempts. The lack of defensive acumen has to be particularly galling to O’Neill, widely regarded as a defensive wizard who had these Trojans post the second best defensive efficiency numbers in the country last year. Given that USC’s players are just average offensively, if they can’t pick up their game on the defensive end, this becomes the middle-of-the-road bunch that their record suggests.

Looking ahead: After the Bruin game last night, USC has the weekend off in preparation for the Oregon schools next week, a pair of relatively easy games that the Trojans are desperately in need of. While NCAA Tournament at-large hopes are long gone at this point, USC needs to string together some wins to be considered for the other postseason tournaments.

7. Stanford (11-9, 4-5): The Cardinal have got to be kicking themselves over their loss at Maples Pavilion to Oregon, the first time they had lost at home to the Ducks since 1986. Stanford got off to a slow start and never led in the first half, but came back early in the second half to take a brief lead. But after they let the Ducks rip off a 12-0 run in the middle of the half, they never led again. The two main deficiencies in the loss were their failures at the free throw line and their inability to keep the undersized Ducks off the offensive glass. The Cardinal did bounce back on Saturday, defeating Oregon State and salvaging a home split, but Jeremy Green was particularly bad this weekend, making just five of his 19 shots in the two games. In fact, in the last eight games, Green has shot just 28.4% from the field and has posted just a 35.3 effective field goal percentage. But Johnny Dawkins has to be pleased with the development of a couple of his freshmen, as forward Dwight Powell scored 23 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, blocked six shots and swiped five steals on the weekend, while Anthony Brown had 33 points, 11 rebounds, six threes and four steals.

Looking ahead: The Cardinal play the back half of a four-game homestand this week with visits from Arizona on Thursday and Arizona State on Saturday.

8. Oregon (10-11, 3-6): I’ve written similar things in this space several times this year, but one more time won’t hurt anybody: Dana Altman can-flat out coach. The win over Stanford isn’t a whole lot to write home about, but the fact that this Duck squad has three conference wins and is within shouting distance of a .500 overall record is pretty impressive. This week, senior forward Joevan Catron returned to prominence for the Ducks after some mid-season injury problems, leading the team in scoring in both games and 18.5 PPG and 7 RPG. Malcolm Armstead was also effective in both games (13 PPG, 5 APG) and has now wrapped a pair of strong back-to-back performances around his stinker at Oregon State.

Looking ahead: The Ducks host the Washington schools, a daunting task for anyone in the conference.

9. Oregon State (8-12, 3-6): Remember when the Beavers were 2-0 in the conference, Jared Cunningham looked like the second coming of Russell Westbrook and there was much excitement about the potential of the OSU youngsters? Well, if so, you’re lucky, because watching the Beavers bumble through the last seven games should have rightfully given any basketball fan an amnesia-inducing brain aneurysm. Now I see how this team lost to Utah Valley State. Since Cunningham’s streak of nine straight double-digit games, he has been up and down. He posted a very strong 24-point performance against USC a couple weeks back, but in the four games around that outburst he has averaged 7.5 points per game on five-of-25 shooting. Freshman Roberto Nelson, who briefly stole Calvin Haynes’ starting spot, has been even less effective, scoring 21 total points in the last four games, making just seven of 30 shots and turning the ball over ten times, on his way towards giving that starting spot right back. Joe Burton has been better than both of them, but has never since approached his eye-opening play against the Arizona schools. The talent is under there somewhere, and we’ll see over the next couple of years if head coach Craig Robinson is capable of coaxing it out.

Looking ahead: Washington comes calling on Thursday, with a visit from Washington State on the slate for Saturday.

10. Arizona State (9-12, 1-8): The Sun Devils in no way looked like a 1-8 team this weekend. They played both USC and UCLA right down to the wire, losing the two games by a grand total of three points, but tucked away in the middle of two very close games were some details that ASU didn’t take care of that could have been the difference between a 0-2 weekend and a 2-0 weekend. Against USC, the team missed 13 of its 25 free throw attempts in losing a two-point game. Against the Bruins, they were better in that category, missing just nine of their 24 foul shots, but an inability to connect from the floor for huge swaths of the game condemned them to a 15-point second half deficit. They did scrape back to tie the game and send it to overtime, but allowing three straight open threes to start the extra period again doomed them to trying to fight back from behind; this time they simply ran out of time.

Looking ahead: The Devils travel to Cal and Stanford this weekend, and it will be interesting to see where this team’s head is at. Are they ready to pack it in, or will the three ASU seniors rally the troops and go out fighting?

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